Later On

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

Archive for April 11th, 2020

A good Manhattan

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I usually have a Manhattan on the rocks, but straight up is very nice. The key is that the ice cubes be (a) very cold and (b) complete cubes (not crush or shattered, which would result in too much dilution). The key elements to success:

  1. A good sweet vermouth — Carpano Antica Formula is excellent but even a run-of-the-mill sweet vermouth Cinzano will co.

  2. Good bitters — I usually go with Angostura, but also use on occasion Peychard or Fee Brothers or local artisanal bitters.

  3. About 2 teaspoons of Grand Marnier — smooths the drink and provides a nice hint of orange.

  4. A good Canadian Rye — Odd Society’s Commodore is excellent, or Canadian Club 12 year old or Chairman’s Select, or Crown Royal Northern Harvest, or Lot 40, or … well, there are quite a few of them up here.

The total result is very nice, especially if you use a vegetable peeler to cut a strip of skin off a lemon and twist it over the drink.

I usually skip the cherry. But if I do use a cherry, a Luxardo cherry (the original maraschino cherry) is the only choice.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2020 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Drinks

A slew of hotels are heeding cities’ pleas for help. Trump’s aren’t.

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Of course they aren’t. Anita Kumar reports in Politico:

New York City needs more space — additional field hospitals, rooms for medical workers, shelters for the homeless. But President Donald Trump’s flagship property remains open and isn’t among the 20-plus hotels that have offered up empty rooms.

It’s a situation playing out across the country. In the seven American cities with Trump luxury hotels, no local officials said the Trump properties were in discussions to house overflow patients or medical personnel.

In three cities — New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — the president’s properties are still open, even though they have few guests, according to hotel, union and city officials and industry representatives. In four other cities — Las Vegas, Miami, Honolulu and Charlottesville, Va. — Trump’s properties are closed.

The Trump hotels aren’t alone. Thousands of hotels in New York and elsewhere have not responded to the voluntary requests of local and state officials, though they could do so later as the outbreak grows. Hotels that are used for shelters or housing — as opposed to hospitals — might even be able to keep some employees on staff.

“The city is actively working to expand our hospital capacity and increase the number of beds as quickly as possible,” said Omar Bourne, press secretary at the New York City Emergency Management Department. “We are exploring all options, including using hotels as medical surge facilities.”

At the White House podium, Trump has repeatedly praised private businesses for their assistance in helping the federal government fight coronavirus — talking up projects to help people get tested, efforts to overhaul assembly lines to make much-needed medical supplies and projects to feed children who are home from school.

The White House’s official Twitter account has even praised hotels for housing medical workers during the pandemic. “Thank you to hotels around the country for providing healthcare workers and first responders a place to stay while they’re on the front lines of the pandemic,” the post read.

Yet the president’s own businesses have not yet stepped into the breach, a fact Trump’s critics were quick to pounce on but that most state and local officials didn’t want to directly address.

“It’s entirely unsurprising,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a House Oversight Committee member who has pushed for investigations into whether Trump’s businesses are illegally profiting from U.S. taxpayers and foreign governments. “It never occurred to me the business would engage in philanthropic activity.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2020 at 1:24 pm

Molly on TV

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Just this morning:

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2020 at 11:09 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

Unified theory of evolution

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Michael Skinner,professor of biological science at Washington State University and the principal investigator at the Skinner laboratory with research interests that include environmental epigenetics and disease etiology, writes in Aeon:

The unifying theme for much of modern biology is based on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the process of natural selection by which nature selects the fittest, best-adapted organisms to reproduce, multiply and survive. The process is also called adaptation, and traits most likely to help an individual survive are considered adaptive. As organisms change and new variants thrive, species emerge and evolve. In the 1850s, when Darwin described this engine of natural selection, the underlying molecular mechanisms were unknown. But over the past century, advances in genetics and molecular biology have outlined a modern, neo-Darwinian theory of how evolution works: DNA sequences randomly mutate, and organisms with the specific sequences best adapted to the environment multiply and prevail. Those are the species that dominate a niche, until the environment changes and the engine of evolution fires up again.

But this explanation for evolution turns out to be incomplete, suggesting that other molecular mechanisms also play a role in how species evolve. One problem with Darwin’s theory is that, while species do evolve more adaptive traits (called phenotypes by biologists), the rate of random DNA sequence mutation turns out to be too slow to explain many of the changes observed. Scientists, well-aware of the issue, have proposed a variety of genetic mechanisms to compensate: genetic drift, in which small groups of individuals undergo dramatic genetic change; or epistasis, in which one set of genes suppress another, to name just two.

Yet even with such mechanisms in play, genetic mutation rates for complex organisms such as humans are dramatically lower than the frequency of change for a host of traits, from adjustments in metabolism to resistance to disease. The rapid emergence of trait variety is difficult to explain just through classic genetics and neo-Darwinian theory. To quote the prominent evolutionary biologist Jonathan B L Bard, who was paraphrasing T S Eliot: ‘Between the phenotype and genotype falls the shadow.’

And the problems with Darwin’s theory extend out of evolutionary science into other areas of biology and biomedicine. For instance, if genetic inheritance determines our traits, then why do identical twins with the same genes generally have different types of diseases? And why do just a low percentage (often less than 1 per cent) of those with many specific diseases share a common genetic mutation? If the rate of mutation is random and steady, then why have many diseases increased more than 10-fold in frequency in only a couple decades? How is it that hundreds of environmental contaminants can alter disease onset, but not DNA sequences? In evolution and biomedicine, the rates of phenotypic trait divergence is far more rapid than the rate of genetic variation and mutation – but why?

Part of the explanation can be found in some concepts that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed 50 years before Darwin published his work. Lamarck’s theory, long relegated to the dustbin of science, held, among other things, ‘that the environment can directly alter traits, which are then inherited by generations to come’. Lamarck, a professor of invertebrate zoology at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, studied many organisms including insects and worms in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He introduced the words ‘biology’ and ‘invertebrate’ into the scientific lexicon, and wrote books on biology, invertebrates and evolution. Despite this significant academic career, Lamarck antagonised many of his contemporaries and 200 years of scientists with his blasphemous evolutionary ideas.

At the start, Lamarck might have been pilloried as a religious heretic, but in modern times, it is the orthodoxy of science – and especially Darwin’s untouchable theory of evolution – that has caused his name to be treated as a joke. Yet by the end of his career, Darwin himself had come around; even without the benefit of molecular biology, he could see that random changes were not fast enough to support his theory in full.

The question is this: if natural selection isn’t acting on genetic mutations alone, then what molecular forces create the full suite of variation in traits required for natural selection to finish the job? One clue came almost a century after Darwin proposed his theory, in 1953, just as James Watson and Francis Crick were unravelling the mysteries of DNA and the double helix. In that year, the developmental biologist Conrad Waddington of the University of Edinburgh reported that fruit flies exposed to outside chemical stimulus or changes in temperature during embryonic development could be pushed to develop varying wing structures. The changes the scientists induced in that single generation would, thereafter, be inherited by progeny down the lineage. Waddington coined a modern term – ‘epigenetics’ – to describe this phenomenon of rapid change. Notably, before Watson and Crick had even revealed their DNA structure, Waddington recognised the potential impact his discovery could have on the theory of evolution: the single-generation change in the fruit-fly wings were supportive of the original ideas of the heretic Lamarck. It appeared that the environment could directly impact traits.

Although Waddington described the general role of epigenetics, he was no more aware of the molecular elements or mechanisms involved than Lamarck or Darwin. But the more molecular biology decodes the workings of life, the more Waddington’s concepts – and Lamarck’s – make sense. Indeed, although the vast majority of environmental factors cannot directly alter the molecular sequence of DNA, they do regulate a host of epigenetic mechanisms that regulate how DNA functions – turning the expression of genes up or down, or dictating how proteins, the products of our genes, are expressed in cells.

Today, that is the precise definition of epigenetics: the molecular factors that regulate how DNA functions and what genes are turned on or off, independent of the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetics involves . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Later in the article:

Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance has now been observed in plants, insects, fish, birds, rodents, pigs and humans. It is, therefore, a highly conserved phenomenon. The epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of phenotypic trait variation and disease has been shown to occur across a span of at least 10 generations in most organisms, with the most extensive studies done in plants for hundreds of generations. One example in plants, a heat-induced flowering trait first observed by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century, was later found to be due to a DNA methylation modification that occurred in the initial plant, and has been maintained for 100 generations. In worms, . . .

For I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me . . .”

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2020 at 10:29 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

How America’s Earliest Colonists Dictate Today’s Coronavirus Response

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Colin Woodared lays out an intriguing idea in the Washington Monthly:

President Trump has failed to lead America during the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, it has been up to state and local leaders to fight the virus. The month of March became a macabre laboratory of federalism, illustrating how some places took the pandemic quite seriously—and how others did not.

Some local leaders took the threat seriously early on, moving first to limit public gatherings, then to close schools, then restrict restaurants, close non-essential business and, ultimately, issue shelter-in-place orders. Others chose to follow our criminally irresponsible president in underplaying the virus, encouraging people to carry on as usual, from going out to bars and restaurants to partying on the beaches. The epidemiological implications are obvious, and the unbearable human price will be paid this month.

What is less immediately obvious is why some leaders and constituents acted fast while others lagged behind. At the state level one can track when a governor took steps to lockdown their state to slow the spread of the virus in the hope of preventing the hospitals from collapsing. (This has been analyzed in a study by a group of researchers at the University of Washington.) At the county level, one can see the measurable effect this did or didn’t have among constituents, thanks to cell phone tracking data which allowed the firm Cuebiq to measure how much people slowed their movements (feeding this article in the New York Times.) The geographic maps do not conform neatly to any of America’s most commonly discussed fault lines.

As other commentators have noted, restrictions were not strictly partisan. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, was the first out of the blocks in starting to shutdown his state. His G.O.P. counterparts in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maryland also took the threat seriously, implementing restaurant restrictions and non-essential business closures early on, the UW study shows, while Democratic governors in Kansas and Montana did not.

Others pointed out that, on a county-level, people living in rural areas reduced their movements less than those in urbanized ones. But they failed to explain why rural people in New England, Upstate New York and the Upper Great Lakes States stayed put while those in Kentucky and Idaho—which were also under statewide lockdown orders—did not. Or why rural people in the easternmost counties of New Mexico ignored lockdown advice while those in the rest of the state generally followed them. Or why residents of southernmost Florida stopped in their tracks while those elsewhere—urban or rural, coastal or interior, richer or poorer—did not.

But the pattern is remarkably consistent with centuries old fissures that stem from the earliest days of America’s colonization. Different settlers created communities with divergent ideas about the role of government and the balance between individual liberty and the common good. These divides have stuck around for hundreds of years, resulting in radically different policy responses to the pandemic, further jeopardizing the survival of our Balkanized federation.

I first revealed these differences in my 2011 book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. For those unfamiliar with the American Nations paradigm, the book shows that our country is an unstable alliance of eleven regional cultures, most of them the legacy of rival colonial projects and respective early colonization patterns. These have shaped our history, our constitutional structure, and, of course, electoral politics—past and present. (I have written about its political implications on several previous occasions in the Monthly.)

The fundamental philosophical divide between these regional cultures is over the question of how best to organize American society. There are four “nations” which place a greater emphasis on the common good and the need to sustain and protect a free community. Yankeedom, which constitutes much of the upper Midwest and New England, was settled by religious congregations that prize community and support self-denial on behalf of the common good. New Netherland, the modern-day New York area, has a dedication to free expression and multiculturalism that stems from the eighteenth-century Dutch commitment to globalization. On the Left Coast, New Englanders and Appalachian settlers combined to create a culture with both Yankee utopianism and Appalachian individualism. The Midlands was first founded by English Quakers who believed in human’s inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations; it spawned the culture of Middle America, which is communitarian, even as it is skeptical of top-down government intervention. (First Nation, confined in the U.S. to very sparsely populated parts of northern and western Alaska, is the most communitarian of all.)

By contrast, three large and important nations have cultures that see freedom’s path lying almost exclusively with individual liberty and personal sovereignty. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2020 at 9:26 am

The occasional question: “Why is today’s shave especially good?”

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It’s been a long time since I’ve had a bad shave — good products and much practice does provide a strong safety net — but still from time to time I find that a shave is unexpectedly good: better than the usual daily shave.

Naturally enough, when this happens I try to figure out why. I had such a shave this morning. My best guess:

  1. Prep products. The Emperor 3 Super is a fine brush, but I think most credit must go to The Dead Sea, an unusual (and unusually good) shaving soap from Italian Barber. It requires only a barely damp brush — you can add a little water, gingerly, if the brush is not loading, but take care: this soap can easily be over-watered. The soap is good in terms of both lather and fragrance.

  2. Prep duration. Because I was enjoying the brush and the lather (fragrance and feel), I prolonged the lathering beyond my usual quick job.

  3. Razor + blade. The right combination for you of razor and blade makes an enormous difference, of course — that’s where the steel meets the face. The Above the Tie R1 works extremely well for me, and I haven’t used it for a while so I forgot what a fine razor it is. It holds a Personna Lab Blue blade, and those also work quite well for me (but perhaps not for you: you have to do your own exploration to find your own best blade for each razor).

  4. Technique. At this point, my technique has been developed through years of practice, and that’s why my shaves are always good now. But when technique is added to the above, the result is exceptional, as it is today.

A splash of Latha’s Post-Shave Splash provided a fine finish, and the weekend lies before me, ready for anything reasonable.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2020 at 8:37 am

Posted in Shaving

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