Later On

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

Archive for August 2019

Interesting superhero take on capitaism: “The Boys” on Amazon

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I’m watching “The Boys” on Amazon and find it captivating since I never know what direction it will go. It starts out as the usual Marvel-style superhero movie but quickly shows itelf to be a scathing satire of American capitalism. Definitely worth watching. Jac Quaid (the protagonist) is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2019 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Business, Memes, Movies & TV

How a Banana-Chicken Casserole Defined Swedish Cuisine

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Luke Fater describes a dish I’d really like to try: Flying Jacob. The article at the link begins:

IN HIS BEST-SELLING NORDIC COOKBOOK, internationally renowned chef Magnus Nilsson praises the Flying Jacob, writing that “few dishes are as emblematic and unique to the contemporary food culture of Sweden.” The original recipe calls for shredded, grilled chicken topped with sliced bananas and Italian salad spice to be submerged in a mixture of whipped cream and Heinz chili sauce. After baking, it’s to be sprinkled with fried bacon chunks and peanuts—an unusual combination of ingredients that’s been called “anti-epicurean,” and “a truly horrifying mash-up of things.”

Swedes beg to differ. In the nearly half-century since its inception, the casserole has become ubiquitous. Peaking in popularity through the 1980s, it’s still served in cafeterias and nursing homes, sold as a frozen meal, and offered as a baby-food flavor. And it’s not a one-off—the popularity of Flying Jacob reflects a uniquely Swedish sensibility toward food. . .

And concludes:

. . . you should know that most foreigners who express dismay at the ingredient list go on to praise Flying Jacob once they’ve tried it, confessing shame over their previous reservations or complimenting the brilliant pairing of sweet bananas, Italian spice, and smoky bacon fat. If you plan to cook it at home on your own, Dr. Tellström advises, “it must be Heinz chili sauce.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2019 at 11:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Barrister & Mann Reserve Spice and the Game Changer .68-P

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Barrister & Mann’s Reserve soaps call for a synthetic brush, and I like this Keyhole brush a lot. It did a fine job, producing a fragrant and thick lather. RazoRock’s Game Changer .68-P is a wonderful razor, and the ribbed handle is interesting and comfortable, with a large knob at the end that simplifies the ATG pass. A splash of Reserve Spice aftershave and the weekend opens before me.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2019 at 7:47 am

Posted in Shaving

Why official dietary guidelines are not to be trusted

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Laura REiley reports in the Washington Post:

The Trump administration is limiting scientific input to the 2020 dietary guidelines, raising concerns among nutrition advocates and independent experts about industry influence over healthy eating recommendations for all Americans.

For the first time, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, which oversee the committee giving recommendations for the guidelines, have predetermined the topics that will be addressed. They have narrowed the research that can be used only to studies vetted by agency officials, potentially leaving key studies out of the mix.

The 80 questions the committee has been asked to answer do not cover several pressing issues the panel explored five years ago. This includes the consumption of red and processed meat, as well as the dramatic proliferation of ultraprocessed foods, which account for a growing percentage of calories consumed by Americans. Nor will the committee explore appropriate sodium levels for different populations.

A wide range of experts say these are among the most critical questions as the nation faces an epidemic of lifestyle diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They also represent the issues that large food companies find most objectionable because they would probably cast high-sodium, high-sugar, high-saturated fat and highly processed foods in a poor light.

Since 1980, the federal government has revised dietary guidelines every five years, and the recommendations have a wide impact on American health and commerce. The guidelines, their CliffsNotes version once known as the food pyramid, are the road map to how the government administers school lunches as well as food assistance programs. And many manufacturers formulate their products based on these guidelines so they can participate in those programs, which buy $100 billion of food a year.

Half of American adults already live with one or more diet-related chronic illnesses, and poor diet is the No. 1 cause of ill health in the country, leading to 700,000 deaths annually, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that pushes for safer and healthier foods.

Even if the debate around issues such as red meat and salt remains unresolved, leading nutritionists say it is hard to fathom why the federal panel wouldn’t try to assess the evidence and craft recommendations.

“The cutting-edge issues in dietary advice in 2019 are about eating less meat, avoidance of ultra-processed foods, and sustainable production and consumption,” says Marion Nestle, a nutrition scholar at New York University. “Guidelines that avoid these issues will be years behind the times.”

In a statement, the USDA confirmed that topics not listed among its 80 questions will not be addressed.

It said it decided on the topics based on . . .

Continue reading.

It’s well known that industry lobbyists have considerable influence on the content of the guidelines. Later in the report:

Some experts say that because the USDA has explicitly prohibited research conducted before 2000 from being considered, much of the strongest science-based advice on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease risk will be excluded. And for establishing guidance for the feeding of babies and toddlers, renowned experts have collaborated on guidelines — for example, on the role of breast-feeding in infant nutrition — that will be ineligible for consideration because they aren’t the USDA scientists’ own systematic reviews.

“Why ignore all this work already being done?” asked Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “My guess is the USDA wants to control the evidence that can be examined by the new advisory committee. By excluding existing reviews, it can essentially ignore all of the previous reviews that made meat, dairy and sugary drinks look bad.”

And in concluding, the article notes:

Critics are also concerned about the makeup of the committee itself.

The 2020 committee is composed of eminent doctors, registered dietitians and academics with degrees in public health, but many were put forward by and have worked closely with the food industry, according to a Freedom of Information Act document obtained by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that listed which organizations nominated committee members.

Thirteen of the 20 have ties to industry. Several committee members were nominated by four or more food industry groups, including the National Potato Council to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the trade association of the snack food industry. The majority were nominated by institutes backed by food industry lobby groups, and nine were put forward by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietitians, which has received funding from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Mars.

According to several experts in the nutrition field, the prevalence of industry ties is far greater than in previous committees. Conflict of interest statements from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee indicates that only two of 12 members had connections to industry organizations. (No exact comparative document on conflicts of interests is available for the current committee.)

The Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services staff, which administers the nation’s domestic nutrition assistance programs, is also led in this administration by former food industry executives. Chief of staff Maggie Lyons was a former lobbyist for the National Grocers Association and policy adviser Kailee Tkacz was a former lobbyist for the corn syrup and snack food industries. The latter’s appointment required an ethical waiver from former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a waiver granting her permission “to participate personally and substantially in matters regarding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans process. ”

Current members of the panel are not permitted to talk to the media about the guidelines process.

When asked about the makeup of the committee, a USDA spokesman said, “The scientists selected to serve on the committee are national leaders in the areas of nutrition and health. . . . Their extensive scientific expertise in their respective fields offers valuable knowledge that will directly benefit the consumers who depend on America’s safe, affordable, and nutritious food supply.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 5:20 pm

The Death of Alexander the Great: One of History’s Great Unsolved Mysteries

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Update: See also Alexander the Great and West Nile Virus Encephalitis  /update

Anthony Everitt writes at Literary Hub:

Alexander the Great’s death is an unsolved mystery. Was he a victim of natural causes, felled by some kind of fever, or did his marshals assas­sinate him, angered by his tyrannical ways? An autopsy would decide the question, but it is too late for that.

The trail is long cold. All who recalled the terrible fortnight of his dying had their own reputations to protect and they were not under oath when publishing their memoirs. The secret of Alexander’s end will not be discovered by poring over disputed narratives, but by as­sessing his interaction with others. Who were the men and women he knew, and who his friends and enemies? What did they think of him and he of them? Where lay their loyalties, and where the imperatives of self-interest?

In the year 323 BC, Alexander enjoyed an overdue vacation in the deluxe metropolis of Babylon in Mesopotamia. This was one of the great cities of the Persian empire and over the centuries had grown ac­customed to looking after the needs of invaders. Its Hanging Gardens were one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. A few weeks there of uninterrupted leisure and pleasure were just what Alexander and his careworn soldiers needed.

The youthful Macedonian monarch had spent a good ten years fighting his way nonstop through the Per­sian empire to its Indian frontier, deposing the Great King and seizing power himself. After winning victories in the Punjab and along the Indus River, he marched back to civilization through a searing desert, losing thousands of his men for lack of water before reaching the safety and the comforts of Mesopotamia.

Alexander was still a handsome man in his prime whose triumphant past augured a shining future. His next and imminent project was to establish commercially viable townships along the Arabian coast. A port had been specially built near Babylon to house a new fleet. Mean­while the army prepared to march south by land. Victory was taken for granted, but after that, who knew what?

For now, in late May, as the unrelenting heat of summer ap­proached, he needed a good rest. Babylon had all the necessary facili­ties. There was water everywhere; the river Euphrates on its way to the Persian Gulf passed through the center of the city and poured into the moats that lay alongside the lofty defensive walls of baked mud brick. And beyond the walls lay swamps and lagoons bursting with wildlife, irrigation channels, and reservoirs.

Two colossal palaces stood in the north of Babylon, with offices and workshops. One of them functioned, at least in part, as among the world’s earliest museums, housing treasured artifacts from earlier times, and was probably where kings and their families lived in grand but private seclusion. The other, which modern archaeologists have named the Southern Palace, was set aside mainly for administration and for ceremonial functions. Offices and workshops surrounded five courtyards, one of which opened onto a vast throne room whose walls were glazed in blue and yellow tiles and decorated with floral reliefs, lions, and fan-shaped designs suggesting the fronds of a palm tree.

On the river’s edge beside the palace, the Hanging Gardens as­tounded visitors. A set of ascending terraces, angled back one above the other, rested on great brick vaults. Each terrace contained a deep bed of earth and was planted with trees and shrubs. The effect was of a wooded hillside. A staircase led up to all the floors, and water drawn from the river by mechanical pumps irrigated each tier. The story was told that Babylon’s most successful king, Nebuchadnezzar II, con­structed the Hanging Gardens for his wife, who missed the mountains of her childhood.

In principle, there was nothing so very unusual about them, for they were a condensed urban version of the large walled garden or park much favored by the wealthy and the powerful, who sought refreshing green relief from the parched landscapes of the east. The Greek word for such a garden was paradeisos, from which we derive our “paradise.”

As the design of the Hanging Gardens goes to show, the people of Babylon and other Mesopotamians were skillful managers of water. They built canals and irrigation systems, and just to the north of the Southern Palace they constructed what seems to have been a large res­ervoir.

On the eastern side of Babylon, an outer wall formed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

“Sapiens” condensed

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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a fascinating book. You should read it, but this blog post outlines the argument. Note the importance of memes in our evolution as humans.

The post begins:

I spent over 25 hours building a cut-down version of Sapiens. The goal? Future-me should be happy to read this once future-me forgets how we evolved. It’s massive for a blog post, just under 30 minutes, but that’s the best I could do, condensing 9 hours worth of material.

I’ve tried to keep editing to a minimum: It’s the original text, edited to ensure it still flows like the book.

You can get the book here1

The best way of navigating is clicking on the images. These are best experienced on a tablet or a laptop. I’ve also included the table of contents, which work well on every screen size.

. . .

Development of brains

What caused our brains to develop? We’re not sure.

It doesn’t seem likely. A larger brain needs more energy and thus reduces the chance you’ll survive. Getting more energy meant hunting more.

One contributing factor was the domestication of fire. Fire paved the way for cooking.

Whereas chimpanzees spend 5 hours a day chewing raw food, a single hour suffices for people eating cooked food. The advent of cooking enabled humans to eat more kinds of food, to devote less time to eating, and to make do with smaller teeth and shorter intestines. Some scholars believe there is a direct link between the advent of cooking, the shortening of the human intestinal track, and the growth of the human brain. Since long intestines and large brains are both massive energy consumers, it’s hard to have both. By shortening the intestines and decreasing their energy consumption, cooking inadvertently opened the way to the jumbo brains.

And, we weren’t alone. Competing with us were the Neanderthals, among other species. They were stronger, they had bigger brains, and they could survive the cold. How come, then, did we “win”?

We aren’t sure. The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.

Cognitive Revolution . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Books, Evolution, Memes, Science

Lessons learned by FBI agent who infiltrated white supremacist groups

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Jon Sexton reports in ProPublica:

Late in 2017, ProPublica began writing about a California white supremacist group called the Rise Above Movement. Its members had been involved in violent clashes at rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, and several cities in California. They were proud of their violent handiwork, sharing videos on the internet and recruiting more members. Our first article was titled “Racist, Violent, Unpunished: A White Hate Group’s Campaign of Menace.”

More articles followed, and another neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, was exposed.

Michael German, a former federal agent who spent years infiltrating white supremacist groups, said the work of the groups constituted “organized criminal activity,” and he asked, in so many words, “Where is the FBI?”

Federal authorities wound up arresting eight members of the Rise Above Movement, and five of them have since pleaded guilty to federal riot charges. This summer, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that, over the last nine months, the bureau’s domestic terrorism investigations had led to 90 arrests, many of them involving white supremacists. And in recent weeks, there have been additional arrests: a Las Vegas man said to be affiliated with Atomwaffen and a young man in Chicago affiliated with Patriot Front, another white supremacist group.

The activity concerning the threat of white racists has gone beyond arrests. There have been a variety of proposals making their way through Congress aimed at creating federal criminal statutes that might make prosecuting domestic terrorism threats more effective. The FBI Agents Association has supported new laws.

We went back to German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program and the author of the forthcoming book “Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide: How the New FBI Damages Democracy,” to inquire about the significance of the seeming burst of enforcement efforts.

The FBI, made aware of German’s observations and arguments, declined to comment, but it provided a link to recent testimony by bureau officials before Congress.

There have been a handful of arrests of alleged white supremacists in recent weeks. What do you make of them? A temporary reaction to the El Paso, Texas, massacre? Evidence of a deeper commitment by the FBI? Coincidence?

First, the arrests of several white nationalists allegedly planning acts of violence since the El Paso attack demonstrate beyond question that the FBI has all the authority it needs to act proactively against white supremacist violence. Claims from the FBI Agents Association and other current and former Justice Department officials that the government needs new laws to target this violence are false. I worked successful domestic terrorism undercover operations against white supremacists in the 1990s, and no one ever suggested we didn’t have all the authority we needed.

It is hard to know if these arrests mark a new increase in attention to far-right violence because the Justice Department doesn’t keep reliable data about how many investigations and prosecutions it conducts against white supremacists. It sometimes categorizes them as domestic terrorism, other times as hate crimes or even gang crimes, obscuring the true scope of the violence they inflict on our society. And since the Justice Department defers the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes to state and local law enforcement, the FBI doesn’t even know how many people white supremacists kill each year.

The Justice Department and FBI de-prioritize the investigation and prosecution of far-right violence as a matter of policy, not a lack of authority. These recent cases are a result of increased public pressure to do something about these crimes. But the Justice Department and FBI have done nothing to amend their policies that de-prioritize the investigation of white supremacist crimes. Maintaining public pressure and focusing on changing the biases that drive these policies is essential to forcing a change in priorities at these agencies.

At least two of the arrests appear to have involved a certain infiltration of white hate groups online. Noteworthy? Overdue

Many researchers have suggested that the internet fuels white nationalist violence and therefore suppression of these online communities is necessary. But white supremacists have been killing people in this country for more than a 100 years before the internet was created. They use the internet more to communicate today than 20 years ago, just like all the rest of us do, but that doesn’t mean there is more violence. In fact, as the recent cases suggest, internet communications make them far easier to track and infiltrate, so it is more a boost to law enforcement more than to violent militants.

But mass monitoring of social media for clues isn’t an effective strategy, as there are far more people expressing racist ideas online than committing violence. The FBI would be very busy chasing down false leads, which would only dull the response. Instead, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies should work from reasonable criminal predicates. Where there is objectively credible evidence that someone is planning to do harm they should act. The number of homicides in the U.S. has fallen significantly since the 1980s and 1990s, but so has the clearance rate. Even though there are fewer homicides now, fewer are being solved. I think it is because we are spending so much time and resources on suspicion-less surveillance and intelligence gathering rather than traditional evidence-based law enforcement tactics.

There is a variety of proposed legislation aimed at creating more specific federal domestic terrorism statutes. Worthy? Wrongheaded?

Congress shouldn’t pass broad new laws or stiffer penalties, as there are already dozens of federal statutes outlawing domestic terrorism, hate crimes and organized violent crime that carry significant sentences. There are bills that demand better data collection by the Justice Department, which would reveal where counterterrorism resources should be devoted and where they are being wasted. This is the better approach. Proper policies can’t be developed without a better understanding of the crime problem.

In the meantime, Congress should explore mechanisms to fund and implement community-led restorative justice practices that would redress the communal injuries hate crimes are designed to inflict. White supremacists try to intimidate and marginalize the communities they attack. Making sure these communities are cared for, protected and supported after an attack frustrates that goal. More policing isn’t always the right answer, and certainly not the only one.

There was recently news coverage of leaked FBI threat assessments listing the promotion of an array of political conspiracy theories as a domestic menace. What did you make of that? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 12:57 pm

The Justice Department Can’t Keep Its Own Law Secret Forever

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Cristian Farias writes in Politico:

When the Supreme Court and lower courts interpret the Constitution and laws, their decrees are public, accessible and subject to debate. In some instances, if an interpretation of the law doesn’t sit well with the public, Congress can respond by amending the law, effectively nullifying a court’s decision. Or if a ruling on a constitutional question is especially egregious, a constitutional amendment, though unlikely, remains an option.

But it turns out there’s a whole category of American law that is above such checks and balances. The public knows nothing about it and there’s no way to challenge it in court, let alone debate it in the halls of Congress.

For decades, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has flexed its interpretive power as the ultimate arbiter of what the law is for the executive branch, building a whole body of secret law that remains shielded from public view. Very little is known about these opinions—which carry the force of law, resolve disputes between agencies, direct the conduct of federal officials and can even affect civil rights and liberties. In the view of one scholar, these opinions date “to the beginning of the Republic” and can even “rival the opinions of the Supreme Court.”

These decisions number in the thousands, and the few that become public see the light of day at the discretion of the Justice Department. But the vast majority stay secret—binding executive branch officials and activities across administrations. Because almost everyone who isn’t a lawyer in the office is kept in the dark about these legal conclusions, Congress and the public can’t debate them or seek amendments in the event of abuses. Courts are of no help either.

Indeed, without transparency to test these legal opinions in a court of law or the court of public opinion, it is often the case that the Justice Department has the final say on the actions of federal agencies and officers, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. From Robert Mueller’s decision to follow a 1973 Justice Department recommendationthat a president can’t be indicted while in office to numerouspronouncements shielding Donald Trump or officials in his administration from congressional oversight, the Office of Legal Counsel makes law that holds tremendous sway over issues of public concern.

And yet despite the influence of the office’s opinions across the executive branch and their centrality to many of Trump’s controversies, all the public knows about them is the smattering of decisions that are made public from time to time. The Justice Department claims to have the last word over what gets released to the public, subject to a secretive “publication review committee” that calls the shots.

According to one former Justice Department official, in 1991, when Attorney General William Barr first led the Justice Department, the government only published 13 opinions out of an estimated 625 that the Office of Legal Counsel gave to other agencies—a paltry 2 percent that leaves Americans with little understanding of the law that guided the United States’ government at the time.

In 2016, Congress amended the Freedom of Information Act to place a 25-year cap on documents previously shielded by what the Justice Department calls “deliberative process privilege”—which the government has cited in the past to keep Office of Legal Counsel’s precedent-setting legal opinions secret. By law, then, that type of privilege should no longer cover such decisions older than 25 years—though some or portions of them may still be kept from disclosure if, for example, they contain classified information. And neither should the department be allowed to claim attorney-client privilege over these opinions, which aren’t legal advice but controlling decisions of law.

With this understanding of the law and with an eye toward greater transparency, a group of scholars last week filed a lawsuit in federal courtarguing that Office of Legal Counsel memoranda that are at least 25 years old should be disclosed to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Among the plaintiffs are historians of presidential power, the civil rights movement, the laws of war, government surveillance and immigration—all areas where the government’s enormous discretion to enforce the law has been guided by legal judgments that our citizenry would be well served to understand and reckon with, even today. The Justice Department didn’t comply with an earlier administrative request for these opinions.

Understanding past overreach could help us better understand today’s.Barr, then and now, is the kind of attorney general whose expansive views of executive power deserve legal scrutiny—and the public is entitled to know to what extent the Office of Legal Counsel abetted or disregarded his maximalist impulses. More than 25 years ago, he was behind some of the Justice Department’s darkest hours: From a lawless surveillance programhe approved that long predated the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 excesses to his role in recommending pardons for officials implicated in the Iran-Contra affair, the American people deserve to know how much secret law he helped create for the presidents he’s served—and how much of it may still be good law for the rest of the executive branch today. For all we know, some of these decisions may have been overruled by later administrations, presidents or attorneys general; the enduring secrecy of these opinions makes it difficult to tell.

Right now, we see these opinions’ weight and opacity playing out. In  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 10:57 am

What That Comey Email Report Really Says

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Benjamin Wittes writes at Lawfare:

The inspector general of the Justice Department has determined that it is misconduct for a law enforcement officer to publicly disclose an effort to shut down his investigation.

Michael Horowitz would probably not describe his findings that way. But that seems to me the inescapable message of the inspector general’s report, released today, on former Director James Comey’s handling of his memos on his interactions with President Trump.

To be sure, you have to read through a lot of pages, facts and argument to get there. But get there you do if you read the document carefully. It’s an extraordinary message for an inspector general to send. And it warrants scrutiny.

For all that Horowitz spent two years on this investigation, there aren’t a lot of new facts—at least not major ones—in this document. The reason is simple: Comey has never been anything but straightforward concerning why he wrote the seven memos in question, what he did with them, whom he shared them with and what his motives were in doing so. On all significant factual questions, the 62-page report merely fleshes out a story that has been known to the public for the better part of two years.

What the report adds is loud condemnation. Horowitz reserves the last 10 pages of the report for howling about how Comey “violated applicable policies and his Employment Agreement,” about his release of “official FBI information and records to third parties without authorization,” and about his failure to “immediately alert the FBI” when he learned that material he had given his lawyers “contained six words … that the FBI had determined were classified at the ‘CONFIDENTIAL’” level.

Most of all, however, he’s upset by Comey’s “unauthorized disclosure of sensitive law enforcement information about the [Michael] Flynn investigation.”

The president is thrilled:

For my part, I’m baffled—for reasons I’ll explain.

The facts are these—and, as I say, have been known for a long time: Comey wrote memos detailing seven of nine interactions he had with the president. Most of these memos were unclassified. Comey did not consider these unclassified memos to be FBI records but personal ones, aids to his own memory. So in addition to keeping copies at the bureau, where he shared them with close advisers, he stored them in his personal safe at home. Consistent with his attitude toward them, when he was fired, he did not return them to the FBI but kept the memos. What’s more, he also asked a friend—Dan Richman—to share the substance of one of them with New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt in an effort to precipitate the appointment of a special counsel. Comey also shared a larger group of the memos with his three lawyers (including Richman). When the FBI reviewed the memos in advance of Comey’s June 2017 testimony before Congress, however, the team—in an abundance of caution—classified brief segments of two of the previously unclassified memos at the “Confidential” level. When Comey disclosed to Congress that he had given the material to Richman, the FBI sought to retrieve the memos from him, and it succeeded in doing so. No classified material was ever disclosed publicly—as Horowitz acknowledges.

Ironically, the main new thing to be learned from the inspector general’s report on a factual level is merely the details of the process the FBI used to retroactively examine these memos for possibly classified material. As the report details, the supposed “Deep State” conspirators, who were out to conduct a treasonous “coup” against the president, took a break from coup plotting and busied themselves with carefully examining the work of their former leader to make sure that no words infringed upon the president’s right to keep classified material secret. And Lisa Page, Peter Strzok and Jim Baker—along with some others—recommended that a few passages be classified at the Confidential level, the lowest level, because of diplomatic sensitivities.

In retroactively classifying this material, the FBI folks seem to have been been overly cautious. A recent court decision, as the inspector general notes in footnote 78, “upheld the FBI’s classification of one of the words redacted in Memo 2 (the name of a country) but ruled that the FBI had not carried its burden to support the redaction of the remaining words.”  So recall as you read further that the classified content here boils down ultimately to a single word, the name of a country. But never mind that. There is no doubt that Comey, as the FBI director, had the authority to make the initial judgment about what was classified, and that the FBI after he left had the authority to revisit the matter and make a different judgment. And there is no doubt that once the FBI made this judgment, Comey and his lawyers needed to return the material, which—in fact—is exactly what happened.

So what has Horowitz reaching for smelling salts? It’s actually a little hard to tell once you strip away his table pounding.

The foundation of much of his distress is that the inspector general disagrees with Comey about whether these documents were personal notes or agency records. He thinks they are FBI documents, not Comey’s personal memory aids. Fair enough. He may well even be right about that. The rules here are pretty sweeping. The government claims very broad rights over everything employees write, think or produce in the remotest connection to government service. These were, after all, memos about information to which Comey had access only because he was FBI director. And they do involve sensitive government information.

But as Comey would say, lordy! Keeping or retaining personal copies of unclassified government records is hardly a big deal. An enormous number of government officials make notes to themselves and retain them. Officials routinely leave office and write books about their government service. Writing a few notes to one’s own files pales in comparison. So sure, if Horowitz wants to consider this a big deal, he’s entitled to say whatever he likes. But that aspect seems kind of foolish as the basis for the kind of hand-waving that Horowitz engages in.

Yet on this foundation, much of the rest of the report rests. Comey should have returned the memos once he left office, Horowitz argues, before the FBI came to collect them. He didn’t. He shouldn’t have given any of the memos to his lawyers. And when he learned that the FBI had retroactively classified some material—and remember, we’re now talking about one word of properly classified material—he should have “immediately alert[ed] the FBI” about the unauthorized disclosure. According to the report (see p. 59 if you don’t believe me), Comey learned of the classification decision on June 7, 2017, and he disclosed publicly during his congressional testimony the following day that he had given material to Richman. Within another 24 to 48 hours, Richman had informed the bureau that the lawyers had other memos. In Horowitz’s view, the fact that Richman (not Comey) notified the FBI after Comey’s testimony does not “fulfill[] Comey’s obligation to immediately report his disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons.”

But most of all, Horowitz seems upset because Comey, through Richman, disclosed the substance of the Flynn memorandum to Schmidt. The fact that the president suggested the FBI director should “let … go” the investigation into Flynn is, Horowitz argues, law enforcement sensitive—though not classified—material. The move was thus the “unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome” (the appointment of a special counsel). Comey had earlier declined to confirm the Flynn investigation in testimony before Congress while still FBI director. Now he was taking that step by having Richman disclose the contents of his memo to the New York Times.

But Horowitz has a big factual problem on this point. Comey, in fact, did not disclose anything about the Flynn investigation in that memo that was not already public. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 10:09 am

Catie’s Bubbles Waterlyptus and Esbjerg aftershave gel, with the Baby Smooth

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Catie’s Bubbles Waterlyptus has an interesting fragrance that seems good as a summertime shave, and the Yaqi 24mm synthetic worked up a great lather from it.

The Baby Smooth is, right now, my favorite razor. I have difficulty in naming a favorite, given the variety of razors I have, but today I would definitely name the Baby Smooth as the favorite. Three extremely comfortable passes produced an extremely smooth result, and a smal dab of Esbjerg’s Aftershave Gel was a perfect finish: cool, with a wonderfully fresh fragrance.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 8:30 am

Posted in Shaving

Bad vegan diets, continued

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I have have often mentioned that a vegan (or vegetarian) diet is not automatically a good diet. A diet of soda pop, white-bread sandwiches with brown-sugar-and-jam filling, potato chips, corn chips, popcorn, and beer is totally a vegan/vegetarian diet and is also totally a bad diet. I blogged earlier about another bad vegan diet. Plus I’m not a fanatic: I’m going next week to visit my son and his family, and I fully expect to eat an omnivorous diet while there. Why not?

What I am following is a good whole-food plant-based diet. Like the vegan diet, the whole-food plant-based diet excludes meat, dairy, and eggs, but unlike the vegan diet, the WFPB diet also excludes refined foods (refined sugar and foods that contain it, fruit juice (though whole fruit is fine and definitely included: I eat three pieces of fruit a day plus a bowl of berries), foods made from flour). Moreover, the WFPB diet excludes product foods manufactured by industrial processes from refined ingredients with a variety of additives and sold packaged under a brand name: imitation “bacon,” imitation “sausage,” imitation “burger,” imitation “cheese,” bottled salad dressings, and so on. Both those exclusions are because those are not whole foods.

But a raw diet? Given me a break. Have you tried to eat raw dried beans? You’ll break your teeth. Raw intact whole grain? None for me, thanks. Many foods—tomatoes, for example—have much more nutritional value when cooked (the lycopene in tomatoes is not bioavailable unless the tomato’s cooked, although the lycopene in watermelon doesn’t require cooking to be used by the body). So for good nutritional value as well as simple edibility, a diet of raw foods strikes me as silly.

And variety is important: I eat a wide variety of vegetables, grains, beans, fruit, nuts, and spices, and I also monitor my nutrient intake with Cronometer.com. It’s free, and it will track your nutrient intake. If you hover the mouse over the progress bar for a nutrient, a popup displays a sorted list of your sources of that nutrient. Under “Trends > Nutrition Report” you can see the daily averages for the nutrients for any date range you specify. If some nutrient is deficient, search “foods high in” that nutrient and add one or two of those to your diet. This is better than using a supplement, since nutrients are usually better absorbed from food than from a supplement, and indeed some supplements don’t work at all. For example, I found I was short of selenium, so I added 1 brazil nut a day to my diet, and that provides 125% of the RDA for selenium.

And I can see that I am in fact getting all the nutrients I need. Over the past 4 weeks my daily average iron intake, for example, has been 228% of the RDA for iron (a fair amount from lentils, which I have favored recently—I don’t think anyone eats raw lentils).

With that as preface, Vice has an interesting article on vegans (several of whom seem not to know much about nutrition and some who seem to border on having an eating disorder) who have given up their vegan ways. Some were vegans who ate only raw food, and how that could even seem to be a good idea is beyond me. The article includes some videos of “confessions,” which are not inappropriate in that these people were not simply talking about their diet and relating their discoveries—my approach—but were selling merchandise, selling coaching services, and in general trying to make money from it.

Cassiday Dawn Graves writes:

Last March, vegan YouTuber Yovana Mendoza posted a video on her channel, Rawvana, that rocked her followers to their cores.

“I definitely did not feel ready to talk about this,” Mendoza told the camera, her expression solemn.

She had garnered nearly two million subscribers for her raw vegan diet content, but had recently been spotted with a plate of fish and called out for her ostensible hypocrisy. In the video, which has since been made private, she explained that while six years of raw veganism “elevated [her] consciousness,” recently, her health had begun to suffer. She lost her period, she was “basically anemic,” and she was riddled with digestive issues. Eventually, she said, she couldn’t take it anymore, and started eating fish and eggs to alleviate her ailments.

“I decided to put my health first. For a while, I hadn’t put it first,” she said.

Her followers were unsympathetic. “You must change your name. LIEvana,” one commented. “You are asking others to follow a diet that almost killed you… Wow just wow!!” said another. Others plastered the comments section of her Instagram posts with an unending torrent of fish emoji.

Mendoza was just one case in a bona fide trend of vegan influencers giving up the faith. In November 2018, vegan athlete Tim Shieff admitted in a video that he’d eaten eggs and salmon, stepping down from his vegan clothing brand in the process. In January 2019, Bonny Rebecca and Stella Rae both released videos announcing their departure from eating entirely plant-based. Around the same time as Rawvana’s announcement, Raw Alignment’s Alyse Parker broke similar news. “The vegan YouTube community is crumbling,” The Daily Beast declared in March.

It didn’t stop there. In April, longtime-vegan food blogger Minimalist Baker told her 1.6 million Instagram followers that the site would start including some recipes using animal products, as its founder Dana Schultz had adopted an omnivorous diet for health reasons. That same month, actress Anne Hathaway revealed she’d broken her veganism with Icelandic salmon, and that “[her] brain felt like a computer rebooting.” In May, Finnish vegan blogger Virpi Mikkonen told The Daily Mail that she now eats butter, meat, and goat cheese after finding out that her gluten-free, grain-free, plant-based diet was giving her menopausal hormone levels.

And Mendoza wasn’t the only one to receive hateful remarks and cries of hypocrisy after being exposed for daring to eat meat. Commenters, as well as fellow vegan YouTubers, raced to condemn all of these bloggers for straying from their beliefs.

“How pathetic you are. How about a video where you explain precisely what is in chicken periods and dead fish that is going to make your health problems disappear??? Would love to see you attempt that!! You could have gone on a low oxalate diet and stayed vegan, idiot!” one Instagram commenter told Bonny Rebecca.

“I am extremely disappointed in this and the contradiction of saying you are going to include rotting flesh recipes and then talk about honoring our bodies. You can’t honor your body by poisoning it. It sounds like money was involved in this decision and for that I question morals,” said another, in response to Minimalist Baker’s non-vegan revamp.

“I am completely an [sic] utterly heart broken [sic] to hear this. And also, absolutely disgusted,” another YouTube commenter replied to Tim Shieff’s explanation video.

In her “coming out” video (which has over one million views), Bonny Rebecca said she felt “a lot of shame, a lot of guilt,” and “completely lost [her] identity” after breaking from rigid veganism. Some of these vloggers known for their staunch dietary principles were ostensibly eating animal products in secret for weeks or months before telling their followers. But many of them explain in their videos that they felt they had no other choice.

Of course, many vegans are perfectly healthy. “Most healthy people should be able to adapt to an all-plant diet,” says Marion Nestle, nutritionist, professor, and James Beard Award-winning author. She emphasizes eating a “variety of plant food sources, taking in enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, and finding a good source of vitamin B12.”

But Samantha Elkrief, a therapist and holistic health coach, says it’s also important for vegans to monitor their protein and iron levels, and consume an adequate amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. According to the NHS, a lack of B12 and iron can cause memory problems, dizziness, and fatigue. When defecting from their plant-based diets, these bloggers and influencers claimed a variety of onset health problems such as losing their periods; skin issues, like rashes and acne; brain fog and memory loss; and digestive issues.

Nestle notes these problems are more associated with “starvation” than a standard plant-based diet, which “should not cause people to lose weight or have any of those issues.” However, Nestle adds that a diet high in fibrous plants can take time to adapt to, and people who have been advised to eat a low-fiber diet “will have problems eating a wide enough variety of plant foods to meet nutrient needs.” In other words, many of these influencers may be masking disordered eating habits that are unsustainable.

“I have definitely seen a growing trend of influencers shifting away from veganism for health reasons,” says Carina Wolff, a writer who runs the food blog and Instagram Kale Me Maybe. “I think influencers specifically are dropping labels because they’ve found they’ve gotten too caught up in the rigidity of eating a certain way and it ends up being unhealthy for them.”

Anyone can find themselves in too deep with a diet plan, but influencers tend to be under a more specific type of pressure because their large followings (and sponsors) expect a consistent brand when it comes to their personality and posts. A Guardian feature on influencers found many “felt tied to a static, inauthentic identity,” which took a psychological toll. Some influencers have even hired life coaches to help them cope with the pressure they feel to please and grow their online followings. When what you consume in your day-to-day life is the basis of this identity, the consequences can be more than just psychological.

Though the Guardian called veganism “a national phenomenon” last year, a 2018 Gallup poll shows the amount of vegetarians and vegans in America has more or less stayed the same over the past 20 years. However, data has shown sales of plant-based groceries have increased, which points to a growing interest in healthful eating and environmentalism, plus greater access to plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products as seen in the success of start-ups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. In fact, recent data indicates omnivores are buying those companies’ meatless burgers more than vegetarians and vegans are.

“Vegan[ism] means you don’t eat animal products. It’s not by default healthier, and that’s something we often forget about,” adds Elkrief. She became vegetarian at age 5 and was vegan “most of [her] life,” but in 2008, health issues led her to cut out more categories, like legumes and grains.

To diversify her diet, she started eating fish and eggs, and more recently, a bit of meat. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2019 at 3:04 pm

Making my own tempeh

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I decided to make my own tempeh because (a) tempeh is very nutritious, and (b) I enjoy making my own foods (examples: mayonnaise, ketchup (for both, see this post), Worcestershire sauce, and pepper sauce/hot sauce. You can find my posts on those by searching the blog. Also, my current diet is the whole-food plant-based diet set out in Part 2 of How Not to Die, and among other foods, it has three servings of beans (or lentils) a day, and tempeh is a good way to satisfy that requirement. (More — much more — at that link.)

For tempeh, I like the idea of using my own choice of beans/lentils and adding enhancements as I want (for example, my first batch: pinto beans with flax seeds and cumin seeds and minced jalapeño).

This video shows one approach, and the video content is also in a blog post at Veganlovlie. I follow her advice and don’t bother dehulling beans (and that seems to apply mainly to soybeans, which I’ve not yet tried but will in time).

Here’s a brief summary of the first four batches:

Batch 1
Pinto bean, flax seed, cumin seed, and jalapeño: 4 sandwich size zip-lock bags plus beans in 2 open dishes. Successful except that jalapeño should have been added after cooking since the flavor was attenuated in the end product. But good, solid tempeh. 

Lesson learned: Add minced jalapeño after beans are cooked.

Batch 2
Peanuts and kamut with curry powder. A semi-success. Curry powder contains ground coriander, an antifungal, and that undermined the mold.

Lesson learned: Check ingredients to verify no antifungal properties.

Batch 3
Black bean and green lentils with chia seed. A failure. Chia seed, which I added right at the end of cooking the lentils, forms a glutinous, pulpy coating that holds water. The mold never had a chance.

Lesson earned: Follow the instructions. The instructions in the starter packet state:

Dry the [cooked] beans by patting with a clean towel or using a hair dryer on low heat. Beans must be dry to the touch before continuing.

Batch 4
Black bean and green lentils, with no fancy stuff. I cooked 2 cups black beans and 1 cup green lentils, so 1/3 larger than the 2-cup batch of the instructions. I decided to go with all bags this time, bags well perforated with my small-hole punch, each bag ~11 ounces. I used no weight on the bags of tempeh: I just put them on a rack in a baking sheet (to ensure good elevation). They firmed up fine as the mold grew.

Batch was a success, though the mold was not so dense and binding as in the open dishes of batch 1. I think, in retrospect, that this was because I insufficiently dried the beans and lentils.

Lessons learned: The open-dish method seems to work better than the punctured-baggie method. Also: heat the beans after they have been drained to make sure they are dry. Residual moisture counteracts the mold noticeably (comparing this batch 4 to the next batch 5).

Batch 5
I used red kidney beans (because I have a lot on hand), and I cooked 3 cups dried beans instead of 2 cups. In the video above, she adds 4 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar toward the end of cooking (for 2 cups dried beans). I therefore used 6 tablespoons (for 3 cups dried beans), adding the vinegar to the water toward the end of cooking. I had also added vinegar toward the end of cooking in batch 1 (the best of the first four batches) but not batches 2 and 4 (batch 3 being an utter failure and discarded).

After the beans were cooked, I did heat them in the pot to ensure that they were well dried. Then I added 3 tablespoons brown-rice vinegar as suggested in the starter instructions. (They suggest 2 tablespoons but that’s for 2 cups dried beans, so again I increased the amount by 50%.) I used the “open” method, spreading the beans on the bottom of a 9″x13″ Pyrex baking dish—they made a thick enough layer using the entire dish. I used the open-dish method because that was a good success in the first batch. This post shows the progressive development of batch 5. When the tempeh was done, it had structural integrity from internal cohesion and required a knife to cut it.

Lessons Learned: The beans on top and edges dried out a bit, though they will still work fine (particularly, I think, in a chili), but next time I will use a loose tented-foil cover, with some slits to admit air. The big Pyrex dish worked much better than ziplock baggies, probably because more of the mold has access to air. Another lesson learned: I must stir in the starter more thoroughly (see the 24-hour photo in the post linked above.)

Batch 6
For Batch 6, I used 2 cups dried red kidney beans and 1 cup whole kamut. I cooked them separately and then combined. I took care to insure that they were dry to the touch before I added the vinegar and culture. This time I used white vinegar, which did fine. Because I add vinegar at the end, I decided to skip adding vinegar during the last stage of cooking. Interestingly, the mold initially favored the beans over the wheat: photos at 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours.

I also noted that the tempeh starter instructions say that after 12-24 hours, the tempeh can be moved to room temperature because at that point it’s generating its own heat. So after 48 hours I took it from the oven and left it on the countertop, loosely tented with aluminum foil in which I had cut ventilation slots. At 72 hours I called it done. In the photo linked above, you see black and grey areas, but those are fine, just the sign that the mold has begun to sporulate. The slab felt thicker—probably because the extra 24 hours gave time for more growth of the mold.

Lessons learned: Remove the tempeh from the oven-incubator after 24 hours. Continue with the large-dish method, but tent loosely with foil. There’s a fair amount of humidity once the mold gets going, so make sure the foil has plenty of ventilation slots. By using the foil, there was no “dried-out” parts.

Batch 7
Green lentils for batch 7, nothing fancy. I used 3 cups of uncooked lentils, simmered them until they were just tender (they will continue to cook for a while after they are drained since you don’t rinse them with cold water, which would stop the cooking), made sure they were dry (let hot water evaporate as they sat in a colander and also poured them onto paper towels), cooled them to 95ºF, poured them into the Pyrex 9×13 baking dish, and mixed them with 3 tablespoons brown-rice vinegar and a packet of starter. Photos: start, after 24 hours, after 48 hours, and I decided it was done at 48 hours.

I then loosely covered the dish with a pierced aluminum-foil tent. After 24 hours in the oven with the light on, I moved it to the countertop, where it did indeed generate plenty of heat (bottom of dish was quite warm to the touch and when I checked the internal temperature using a digital probe thermometer I found it was 106ºF after sitting out overnight). After 24 hours, it throws off a lot of moisture, so I periodically turned over the tent to let the condensed moisture evaporate and ultimately I cut an exhaust hole about the size of a quarter in the center of the tent, something I will include as part of the process from now on.

Lessons learned: Remove tempeh to countertop after 24 hours in oven incubator. Cut a large hole in the center of the foil tent in addition to the slotted perforations made with a paring knife. Indeed, the tent may not be needed at all. The beans ended up wet in the center with less of the tempeh mold there, so the venting seems inadequate. Next time I do lentils, I won’t use the cover after the first 24 hours.

Batch 8
Soybeans at last, the traditional tempeh bean — and no fancy stuff this time. I cooked 3 cups dried organic soybeans, didn’t bother with any de-hulling, and made sure they were reasonably dry. I did not add vinegar during cooking; after the cooked beans had be drained and dried, I mixed in 4 tablespoons white vinegar and one packet of the starter (which seemed puny compared to the amount of beans, but the mold will grow).  Photo: at start; and after 24 hours and after 48 hours and after 56 hours Note the use of a dishtowel as a cover after the batch’s been moved from oven to countertop.

It is very tasty — better, I think, than the other tempehs, which perhaps is why soybeans are generally the bean used. Certainly the next batch will be soybeans.

Lessons learned: Use a clean dishtowel to cover the tempeh. Leave it in the oven incubator (i.e., oven light turned on) for 36 hours and then try the countertop (with dishtowel cover in place). Use soybeans again — they’re really good.

Batch 9
Another soybean batch, and this might be the last batch I log because it is so uneventful. I feel at this point that I know what I’m doing. I took 4 cups of soybeans this time, and soaked, cooked, drained, dried, and cooled them to 95ºF. Although the packet of starter says it’s for 2 cups of beans, I figure that the mold would grow in any case. I poured 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of white vinegar over the beans, mixed well, and mixed in the starter. I did not add any vinegar during cooking; from now on, I’ll add vinegar only after beans are cooked, drained, dried, and cooled. The beans in the 9″x13″ dish seemed to deep, so I brought out an ancillary 9″x9″ pan and transferred some beans to that so that the layer was only about an inch deep in both. I used the dishtowel cover, and put them in the oven-with-light-on incubator. You can see the baby pictures (after 24 hours) in this post.

The first batch

I used this tempeh starter. It works fine if you follow the instructions and avoid antifungal ingredients. I am going to try starting a new batch by mixing in some of the mold from the old batch.

I’ll describe the first batch in detail; subsequent batches followed the same patter. I put two cups of pinto beans and 1/4 cup brown flax seed into a pot, covered them with water and let them soak overnight. I would have included also 3 tablespoons cumin seed but I used the last of my jar last night in making roasted carrots, so I had to buy more. I added the cumin seed before I cooked the beans, but soaking them with the beans would be better, I think.

I added the minced jalapeño when I started to cook the beans and simmered the pepper with the beans. That was a mistake: the jalapeño s not noticeable in the finished tempeh. I should have added the minced jalapeños after the beans were cooked and drained.

The Eldest offered some intriguing suggestions:

• French green lentils and white beans with bouquet garni and mustard seeds (see below);
• Indian kidney beans and black lentils with garam masala;
• Moroccan chickpeas with ras al hanout;
• Ethiopian red lentils with berbere.

I made a batch using raw peanuts (without the shell) as the legume (batch 2). That was tasty and fit with Thai food (which uses peanut sauces). I use raw peanuts and simmered them for a couple of hours and then combined them with cooked whole-grain kamut.  I used the  2 tablespoons brown-rice vinegar (called for by the starter instructions) and also 2 tablespoons curry powder [the bad idea: curry powder includes ground coriander, an antifungal that stymied the mold .

Having learned from that experience, I dropped the idea of using mustard seed: mustard oil is an antifungal, and mustard seed contains mustard oil. (At for the third batch I checked in advance.) I used chia seed along with the green lentils (1 cup dry lentils and 1 cup dry beans, cooked separately) and the fatal two tablespoons chia seed, which ruined the batch by making the mix wet.

Resuming the summary of my first-batch effort. Once the beans, flaxseed, cumin seed, and jalapeños had simmered until the beans were almost done, I added  4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar  (as called for in the Veganlovelie method) and continued simmering until beans were tender. I no longer do that. I follow the starter instructions and just add 2 tablespoons brown-rice vinegar (not sweetened) to the beans after they’ve cooked and dried.

Once the beans had cooled to 95ºF, I followed the instructions included with the packet of tempeh starter (which contained 3 foil envelopes of starter, enough for 3 batches), adding 2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar to the dried beans.Then I stirred in 1 packet of starter.

I used a bamboo cocktail pick to poke holes in two ziplock bags for that method, and I also used two glass storage containers for that method (see video above). I subsequently ordered a small-hole (1/16″) punch to make ventilating the plastic bags easier. That works quite well. Indeed, I think you could use a regular (1/8″) hole punch. Here is the “before” photo of the beans in the glass containers:

I put the beans in the oven with the oven light on,  the two bags pressed between two cutting boards and the two glass containers on top under a large dome.

Update after 19 hours

Tempeh after 19 hours

A friend indicated that this looked unappealing, but I know that she likes Roquefort and gorgonzola and other mold-ripened cheeses, and she also likes bread, made with yeast which (like mold) is a fungus. And I personally like mushrooms a lot, so I am comfortable with culinary fungus, and tempeh mold is just another example—and a rather interesting and tasty one.

Update at 29 hours

I am going to let it go tonight and take it out tomorrow morning. The tempeh in the ziplock bags has at this point not done so well for, I think, two reasons:

  1. The holes were too small. I used a bamboo cocktail pick, thus the purchase of the small-hole punch mentioned above.
  2. Mashing the bags between cutting boards more or less seals the holes so the mold does not get enough air.

I decided ultimately to forego the weighting and simply place the bagged tempeh on a  tight-grid wire rack resting on a baking sheet..

The tempeh in the glass storage container, though, did quite well and formed a solid brick.

38 hours & done

I’m calling this done. Here’s the tempeh in the containers:

And here it is removed from the container and turned over. It is indeed a solid block:

I tasted a slice. Quite good, and the cumin is noticeable though not (in that taste) the jalapeño. Perhaps crushed red pepper would be a better bet (provided it’s not a antifungal). Or add the minced jalapeño after the beans are cooked. Maybe I’ll also add a dash of Wright’s liquid smoke next time.

The tempeh in the bags I’m leaving in a little longer since those got a late start. for the last 24 hours  I took off the top cutting board and let them breathe.

I call it a success.

Tempeh in bags, 42 hours and done

These were quite solid because, I presumed, they were pressed during fermentation. Now I think it was not so much the pressing as the beans being well dried before adding the brown-rice vinegar and the tempeh starter. I repeated the bag method again, but with bigger holes.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2019 at 8:22 am

Yaqi travel razor, with Otoko Organics and Speick

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I always forget just how excellent the lather from Otoko Organics is. This morning the Kent Infiinity made a wonderful lather, a pleasure to use.

This Yaqi razor very neatly fits into the little leather case shown. The handle is in two sections that are screwed together for use, and the razor has a very nice heft and feel in the hand. The grooves in the handle are well-defined with crisp edges and provide a secure grip. It’s quite efficient, has good blade feel, and I would rate it as comfortable (vs. the Yaqi double-open-comb razor, which I would say is very comfortable). I did get two small nicks, child’s play for My Nik Is Sealed to fix.

Three passes to a very smooth face—it’s efficiency is excellent—and then a splash of Speick to finish the job. A very nice start to the morning.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2019 at 8:06 am

Posted in Shaving

Broccolini Magic, with peppers, plus Mixed Berry Drink with mint

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I returned to this recipe, with some changes.

I put my large (No. 12) Field Company cast-iron skillet (see my review of cast-iron skillets) in the oven, turned it on to 350ºF and while that heated I prepared:

• 6 cloves garlic, chopped small – do these first so they can rest 15 minutes
• 1 large red onion, chopped
• 9 ounces mushrooms, sliced somewhat thick
• 2 bunches broccolini, chopped
• 2 Hungarian peppers, seeded and chopped
• 2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped
• 1 large jalapeño pepper, chopped whole (stem cut off, but core and seeds included)

When the oven reaches temperature, let skillet remain heating for 5 minutes or so, then turn on large burner to medium-high heat (assuming you have an electric range). When burner is hot, turn off oven, remove skillet and put on burner. At this point I put the handle glove on the handle since otherwise I would forget an grab the hot handle.

Add:

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• all the prepared vegetables
• 1 tablespoon dried spearmint
• 1 tablespoon dried majoram
• some grindings of black pepper

Cooking, stirring often at first and then from time to time until the broccolini is cooked and the mushrooms have given up their liquid and the onion has softened.

I ate about one-third of that for lunch. Then I made myself a nice iced berry drink:

1 cup frozen mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries)
handful of fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon erthritol

Put that into the immersion blender’s 2-cup beaker, add water to cover, and blend to smoothness. Add more water to the 2-cup line, stir, and drink with great pleasure.

I find myself increasingly consciousness about the healthfulness of what I eat and drink. That heightened awareness makes it easy to bypass unhealthful treats.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2019 at 1:29 pm

A hard look at keto as a standard (rather than therapeutic) diet

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2019 at 11:20 am

Yaqi Target Shot and DOC razor with Martin de Candre and Guerlain Vetiver

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I really like this Yaqi brush—both knots, the silvertip and this synthetic bi-color knot. And it made a very fine lather from Martin de Candre.

This razor’s head is the Yaqi double open-comb, the same head as in the earlier razor with the camouflage color, just in a different finish. This is an extremely good head, and I’m going to have to update my Sharpologist article to list it among my favorites. They have a number of (very reasonably priced) razors available with this head.Three passes to total smoothness with nary a threat of a nick.

A good splash of Guerlain’s Vetiver, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2019 at 9:41 am

Posted in Shaving

Cruciferous blowout: Red cabbage, baby Shanghai bok choy, turnips, and horseradish

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This turned out very tasty:

a bag of baby Shanghai bok choy mue, chopped
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
3 medium turnips cubed
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon good soy sauce
1.5 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon horseradish (from the regriferated section) – optional
juice of a lemon
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (or Amontillado sherry)
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

Baby bok choy mue is just smaller than baby bok choy, so you can substitute baby bok choy (or even grown-up bok choy).

Put all ingredients in a pot with a lid, bring to brisk simmer over high heat, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes.

It’s quite tasty. I stirred in some cooked hulled (whole-grain) barley.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 5:16 pm

Capitalism Is Making Us Sick: An Interview

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In New York Sarah Jones interviews Emily Guendelsberger about her new book, On the Clock:

Back in 1980, Dolly Parton had it all figured out. “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living!” she sang. “Barely gettin’ by, it’s all taking, and no giving. They just use your mind, and they never give you credit. It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.” Work hasn’t changed much since Parton wrote the words of what would later become Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign song. Americans work more than almost anyone else in the developed world, and for many, that work is getting more and more unpleasant. The rise of automation has been accompanied with jobs that, increasingly, force workers to behave like robots.

The psychological burdens imposed by this regime can be serious, as Emily Guendelsberger documents in her new book, On the Clock, out now from Little, Brown and Company. After her newspaper closed, Guendelsberger, a journalist, took three low-wage jobs. At an Amazon warehouse in Kentucky, a call center in North Carolina, and a McDonald’s in San Francisco, Guendelsberger dealt with threatening customers and isolation at work, physical pain and emotional turmoil. Her book, a clear successor to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, recounts those experiences alongside explorations of the history of work. Technology may have created software that monitors every minute of a person’s workday down to their bathroom breaks, but the quest to turn human workers into docile drones predates the invention of the computer. The problems workers face, then, are much larger than any single corporation — even Amazon. Here, Guendelsberger talks to Intelligencer’s Sarah Jones about her reporting, and why capitalism is making us all sick.

Sarah Jones: What really struck me most about your book is that the jobs you held — at Amazon, and Convergys, and McDonald’s — were not jobs designed to let human beings be human beings. What sort of psychological effect does that have on workers?

Emily Guendelsberger: That is the takeaway that I hope people have. The book was mostly written for people who have not had one of these jobs, to clue people in, I suppose. But I also wanted workers from these industries who read it to be able to recognize that it is all the same struggle. People in fast food should have common cause and solidarity with people who work at Amazon. I think the Fight for 15 has done a really great job of showing fast-food workers that this is one fight. It’s not just unionizing McDonald’s or just unionizing Burger King, it’s all fast food. And I think that the inescapability of the sort of computer business systems and timing and monitoring systems that I talk about in the book, I tried to draw sort of a thread between them. And it’s been really cool, honestly. The feedback I expected to get on the book was just people saying that millennials don’t have any work ethic, people don’t know how to work hard, it’s their own fault if they can’t keep these jobs, no one’s holding a gun to their head. But honestly the response that I’ve gotten from almost everybody who’s actually had one of these jobs is, wow, I didn’t realize it was this similar in other industries. I thought it was just my job that sucked.

We’ve gotten so good at technology that can quantify workers’ job performance with metrics. And since it’s pretty much the same everywhere, it’s difficult, especially for unskilled workers, to vote with their feet the way they used to be able to, and the way that classical economics says that they should be able to. You know, if you don’t like your job, you go find another job, and then the previous job can’t find workers and it goes out of business. But when the situation is the same at pretty much everywhere you go, you’re expected to be a robot — whether it’s mentally, like at Convergys or McDonald’s, where you’re supposed to suppress all of your anger and shame and rage when people treat you like garbage, or Amazon, where you have to really push your physical limits.

The mental effects are what I think is even more dangerous than the physical stuff, which is what people generally focus on when they talk about Amazon. Amazon has been getting mowed down by the press lately. But it’s not just Amazon: At other warehouses it’s as bad or worse. I found that, at least among people who had had other warehouse jobs, they tended to find Amazon to be comparatively safe and comparatively well-paying. The problem is that they hate being treated like robots, like where you’re expected to not need to talk to people all day or you’re expected to have to do this extremely monotonous, repetitive job without any sort of mental distraction.

You go into this a bit in the book, but could you tell me more about the specific coping mechanisms that you and your co-workers devised to stay sane?

Well, Amazon is the easiest one to describe, because the mental part is mostly isolation and it’s really difficult. Most jobs in an Amazon warehouse are set up so that you don’t really ever get to talk to your co-workers except on break and lunch.

I was a music theory major, I went to Oberlin, and I did a lot of singing stuff in college. Especially weird, 13th-century chant stuff. So I probably weirded a lot of people out doing some Hildegard von Bingen bangers out there. I definitely sang all the time so that I wouldn’t go crazy. I snuck in headphones at one point, and I’m sure other people do that too. But you can get in real trouble for doing that.

And at Convergys and McDonald’s, where you are in a customer-facing job, I think the coping mechanism that I ended up with and saw mirrored in my co-workers was that you just have to stop caring about the customers. Because otherwise, it leaves you kind of vulnerable, that American work ethic where you make sure the customer has the best possible experience and you go above and beyond to give good service.

There’s a perception, and I think it’s a bipartisan perception, that minimum-wage or low-wage work is typically performed by either teenagers or young adults. That it’s supposed to be your first job, a way to get paid work experience. But many if not most of your co-workers were supporting families with their pay, right?

It’s a weird upper-class idea that people who are teenagers don’t need to make a living wage; in the first place I worked with teenagers at Convergys who had children, like multiple children. But the average age of a fast-food worker is 29. And I believe that a third of them are supporting at least one dependent. If I could, I would force Congress to go have to work one of these jobs during recess, without telling people who they were. Amazon lately has been trying to counter all the bad publicity they’ve been getting with warehouse tours, and it’s just so comical, the idea that walking through it is somehow the same as working there.

The whole thing is gonna be so stage-managed.

Yeah, exactly. I went to tour a new one pretty recently. You walk around with some tour guide, and I was with another reporter who was there to write about my impression of the warehouse. And she had a PR person with her constantly, hovering over her shoulder when she was talking to workers. Don’t be ridiculous! Of course people aren’t going to be honest with you if they have some higher-ups looking over their shoulder. If people want to know what it’s like, just go hang out at the smoking area and talk to people without someone hovering over your shoulder, or go work there. It’s easy to get a job there.

Speaking of Amazon, it suffered another wave of bad press recently because of these Twitter accounts from people from people saying that they were fulfillment-center employees.

Yeah, I’ve known about this for quite awhile. It’s an interesting thing. I really dislike people dragging these people on Twitter or saying they’re bots or whatever. They’re the real people. I met plenty of people at Amazon warehouses that were very enthusiastic about it because in a lot of rural places, especially since the $15-an-hour raise, it is a better job than you can get in a lot of places. A lot of people are very grateful for it.

It’s hard to talk about because Amazon does need to treat their people better. They need to treat them like human beings, and not burn through them like they’re rental cars. But the mainstream understanding, the Twitter understanding, of what makes Amazon jobs bad is not right. It’s not about the pay or hours. People I worked with thought that they paid pretty well and had good benefits back when I was working there, when it was $10.50 an hour. [Ed. note: In 2018, Amazon raised its company-wide minimum wage to $15 an hour.] The long hours — most of the year it’s usually ten-and-a-half-hour shifts, though during peak it’s longer than that — people from the outside tend to look at that as if it’s egregious. But a lot of the people that I talked to actually liked the ten-and-a-half-hour shift because that meant they only had to work four days a week, which made child care a lot easier.

Anyway, be nice to those people! They are real. They probably are not being exactly honest, but it’s not like a PR bot or something. They are real Amazon workers who work in fulfillment centers. They are on the clock when they’re doing it. There are better fights to pick out there.

How have your co-workers reacted to the book since it came out? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Jeff Bezos Mocks France

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Those of you who have read BIG for awhile know that I pay a lot of attention to foreign enforcers. I wrote up how the Russians are actually effective at protecting competition in search, whereas the EU is not. I’m also intrigued by Rod Sims in Australia, who is likely to take significant action.

My favorite enforcer in Europe is the German head of their cartel office, Andreas Mundt. Mundt has been the most aggressive antitrust enforcer in the world when it comes to Facebook. In February, his office attacked the core of its targeted advertising program, ruling “that the company stop automatically sharing data among the services it owns, like Instagram and WhatsApp, or websites that use its “like” and “share” buttons.”

This ruling wasn’t just about privacy. Data is a key input in advertising, so preventing Facebook from using data to undermine its competitors who sell advertising would have a big impact on the market. Mundt is also a fighter. A German court just ruledagainst Mundt using the rationale that Facebook’s collection of data isn’t a competition problem. And Mundt is appealing.

Mundt, however, is on the leading edge of enforcement. Many European officials are, like center-left Americans in the antitrust bar, still libertarian-leaning, though sort of embarrassed about it. The most recent example of European unwilling to confront power happened last month when the French decided to impose a tax on big techinstead of restructuring market power directly. The tax applies to companies with revenue of higher than 750 million euros and 25 million euros in France.

So what did Jeff Bezos do? His response is almost comical.

Virginie Lemaire recently opened her email to an unsettling message from Amazon: fees for sellers like her in France will be increasing by 3%.

Lemaire, a single mother of two, started her jewelry company Perle d’un jour in 2011. Trained as an artisan jeweler, she makes handmade custom pieces like necklaces, bracelets and rings.

The French small business owner started selling her products on Amazon two years ago and now generates one-fifth of her sales from the e-commerce giant’s marketplace.

So it was an unwelcome surprise when she found out Amazon would be raising seller fees for her and thousands of other small and medium-sized French businesses starting in October. The reason the company cited was simple: a 3% digital tax passed by the French government in July.

Yup, Amazon just passed the tax along to French businesses. That’s monopoly power, baby. Bezos can simply impose private taxes, pretty much at willThe idea of taxing monopolies, instead of breaking them up, is coming from those who like centralized power but are uncomfortable with American control of it.

Another example of this philosophy is the just leaked documents of plans to create a $100 billion European sovereign wealth fund to build European competitors to American and Chinese big tech.

The officials identify Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent among the companies Europe needs to rival. “Europe has no such companies,” their document notes.

Europeans are embarrassed they don’t have large tech companies, instead of recognizing the leverage this gives them. Financing competitors to monopolists isn’t likely to work, and it will also violate trade commitments. And conceptually it’s problematic because it mis-frames the problem as Europeans not being innovative enough to compete. But Europeans are just as innovative as anyone else. The problem is that European markets, like markets dominated everyone by big tech, are monopolized by centralized institutions.

This philosophy also misframes leverage. Europe is not some weak set of feckless states who must bow before Google or Amazon. These are countries with sovereign power, and Amazon and Google need European markets a hell of a lot more than these countries need Amazon and Google. Europe should just break these guys up, as Mundt is effectively doing with Facebook.

The reason these officials do not want to break up big tech monopolies is that they don’t fear concentrated power, they just believe that only European leaders should be able to concentrate it. Similarly, some on the left in the U.S. just do not care that Google and Facebook have monopolized advertising, thinking as they do that advertising is a dirty business. They prefer publicly financed media, a sort of ‘we like centralized power but the people in charge have to be nice people.’ This preference for centralized power goes all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt and the New Nationalists, so the debate isn’t new.

Jeff Bezos’s almost casual ability to ward off France’s digital tax shows, however, that the philosophy of ‘concentrate power but in nice peoples’ hands’ is conceptually flawed. The only way to deal with big tech is by going at their monopoly power directly. Doing so will requires more enforcers within the European regulatory apparatus adopting Mundit’s creativity and aggressiveness, and more importantly, his philosophy that concentrations of private power are intrinsically a threat to liberty.

One of the key officials who has to change her mind is Margareth Vestager, the head of the European Competition Authority (though for how much longer it’s not clear). Vestager is somewhat assertive and gets big fines from Google, but on a conceptual level she basically accepts the thinking of big tech lobbyists. This attitude came out when she was asked about Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up big tech. She said she opposes it, and explained why. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 10:11 am

A well-prepared brush and another Yaqi razor

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This 24mm Yaqi badger brush has a fairly dense but still soft knot, and yesterday I made three lathers with it: loading the brush, working up a lather in my palm, rinsing the brush completely, and then repeating that twice more. Today, there was not the slightest sign of a lather fade during the course of the shave, so I would say the brush is now fully broken in.

Stubble Trubble’s Up & Adam is a favorite, and I’m sorry the soap is no onger made. It has a wonderful fragrance and makes a fine lather, and this Yaqi razor, an Edwin Jagger clone, did a very nice job indeed.

A rinse, dry, and splash of Phoenix Artisan’s Spring-Heeled Jack, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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