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

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