Later On

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Archive for October 5th, 2020

Good things that everyone else already knows about: Olive oil edition

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I just recently — very recently, when I was making the garlic soup — discovered how great olive-oil drizzling spouts are. These are narrow spouts that dispense a thin stream of olive oil so that “drizzling” can be a fact instead of a word.

Up to now, I’m embarrassed to say, I just poured olive oil from a bottle. I buy a 3-liter tin of a good (true) extra-virgin olive oil, and I refill as needed a dark-green 1-quart bottle that originally held California Olive Ranch EVOO. That bottle does have a pour-insert as shown in the image at the right — which, as you note, shows pouring and not drizzling. In the garlic soup recipe (and, in fact, in general), you definitely want to drizzle: first over the bread cubes before toasting in the oven, and then over the soup as it’s served. A pour would be way too much.

So I bought a drizzler top. This article discusses good drizzler tops. Note that some drizzler tops are designed to fit bottle openings smaller than most bottles. I got an Oxo drizzler which works well and does fit the bottle I use but not so tightly as I would like — I’m thinking I might get a wine bottle to use: dark glass, half bottle (so not so tall), but I’m also looking at the top recommendation at the link.

In summary: if you use EVOO get a drizzler top. It’s a big improvement. I suspect there’s a reason olive oil producers don’t provide drizzler tops and instead encourage pouring.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2020 at 7:25 pm

Adam Smith warned us about sympathizing with the elites

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Blake Smith, a collegiate assistant professor at the University of Chicago, writes in Psyche:

In his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith developed a theory of psychology based on ‘sympathy’ and outlined a way of living based on ‘reason and philosophy’. These ideas not only banish the (already disappearing) stereotype of Smith as a pioneer of free-market policies, but challenge some of our most cherished ideas about the sources of happiness.

Published 17 years before The Wealth of Nations (1776), Moral Sentiments begins by rejecting the idea that people are basically self-interested. ‘How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others,’ Smith declares. We are often motivated, and indeed dominated, by our emotional involvement with our ideas about other people, which Smith calls ‘sympathy’.

It’s easy to misunderstand what Smith is getting at. ‘Sympathy’, taken etymologically, comes from Greek roots meaning ‘feeling with’. In our everyday speech, we often take sympathy to be a process driven by emotion. In his book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (2016), the psychologist Paul Bloom cites Moral Sentiments many times, arguing that by ‘sympathy’ Smith means what he himself means by ‘empathy’: ‘feeling other people’s pain and pleasure’. But this is not at all what Smith means.

Sympathy, Smith believed, was inseparable from imagination and from reasoning. We can’t access what other people feel. Instead, we imagine what other people must be feeling, or rather what we believe that we would feel if we were in their position. Consider a mother listening to the cries of her sick infant. The baby ‘feels only the uneasiness of the present instant’. The mother, however, not only suffers from the pain she believes that her baby feels, but also from the ‘unknown consequences of its disorder’. She sympathises not with her child but with this ‘image of misery and distress’, created by her imagination and her inferences about the future.

Scholars have tried for generations to square Smith’s emphasis on sympathy in Moral Sentiments with his apparent endorsement of selfishness in Wealth of NationsMoral Sentiments, however, presents a paradox of its own. While Smith argued that sympathy is a key to our psychological life, he also warned that it’s the cause of superstition, political and economic inequality, and everyday misery.

Sympathy often leads us to feel and act in ways that diminish our freedom and happiness. We sympathise with the dead, imagining how unhappy we would be if we were deprived of life’s pleasures. Our belief in the afterlife, Smith suggests, arises out of this ‘illusion of the imagination’ that sympathises with those who no longer suffer.

We make a similar mistake, he warns, when we think about the ‘the rich and the powerful’. We imagine the happiness they enjoy, and share in that imagined happiness so strongly that we come to believe they deserve it. We grieve for ‘every injury that is done them’, although we feel ‘indifference’ for the ‘misery’ of the poor. Thinking about their lives gives us no vicarious happiness.

But the rich and powerful, Smith argued, are neither happier nor morally superior to other people. They are often miserable and vicious. And they use our illusions about them to justify their privileges. Elites benefit from inequalities of wealth and power in our society because the basic structure of our emotional life, sympathy, leads us to identify with our oppressors.

Sympathy drives us to ambition as well as superstition and oppression. Smith invited readers to contemplate a ‘poor man’s son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition’. Such a person sympathises with the rich and powerful, working hard to become like them. He sacrifices ‘the real happiness of life’, which consists of ‘ease of body and peace of mind’. He makes himself miserable trying to imitate the rich, who are not happy themselves.

There is an alternative. Smith suggests that we can free ourselves from sympathy by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2020 at 4:31 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Health Care: The Best and the Rest

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In the NY Review of Books David Oshensky reviews a book that takes a look at the healthcare systems of various countries.

Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?

by Ezekiel J. Emanuel
PublicAffairs, 453 pp., $30.00

“Bow your heads, folks, conservatism has hit America,” The New Republic lamented following the 1946 elections. “All the rest of the world is moving Left, America is moving Right.” Having dominated both houses of Congress throughout President Franklin Roosevelt’s three-plus terms in office (1933–1945), Democrats lost their majorities in a blowout. Some blamed it on the death of FDR, others on the emerging Soviet threat or the bumpy return to civilian life following World War II. The incoming Republican “Class of ’46” would leave a deep mark on history; its members, including California’s Richard Nixon and Wisconsin’s Joseph McCarthy, were determined to root out Reds in government and rein in the social programs of the New Deal.

One issue in particular became fodder for the Republican assault. In 1945 President Harry Truman had delivered a special message to Congress laying out a plan for national health insurance—an idea the pragmatic and immensely popular FDR had carefully skirted. As an artillery officer in World War I, Truman had been troubled by the poor health of his recruits, and as chairman of a select Senate committee to investigate the defense program during World War II, his worries had grown. More than five million draftees had been rejected as “unfit for military service,” not counting the 1.5 million discharged for medical reasons following their induction. For Truman, these numbers went beyond military preparedness; they spoke to the glaring inequities of American life. “People with low or moderate incomes do not get the same medical attention as those with high incomes,” he said. “The poor have more sickness, but they get less medical care.”

Truman proposed federal grants for hospital construction and medical research. He insisted, controversially, not only that the nation had too few doctors, but that the ones it did have were clustered in the wrong places. And he addressed the “principal reason” that forced so many Americans to forgo vital medical care: “They cannot afford to pay for it.”

The facts seemed to bear him out. Close to half the counties in the United States lacked a general hospital. Government estimates showed that about $11 million was spent annually on “new treatments and cures for disease,” as opposed to $275 million for “industrial research.” Though the nation claimed to have approximately one physician per 1,500 people, the ratio in poor and rural counties regularly dipped below one per 3,000, the so-called danger line. On average, studies showed, two thirds of the population lacked the means to meet a sustained health crisis.

The concept of government health insurance was not entirely new. A few states had toyed with instituting it, but their intent was to replace wages lost to illness or injury, not to pay the cost of medical care. Truman’s plan called for universal health insurance—unlike the Social Security Act of 1935, which excluded more than 40 percent of the nation’s labor force, mostly agricultural and domestic workers. Funded by a federal payroll tax, the plan offered full medical and dental coverage—office visits, hospitalization, tests, procedures, drugs—to all wage and salary earners and their dependents. (“Needy persons and other groups” were promised equal coverage “paid for them by public agencies.”)

People would be free to choose their own doctors, who in turn could participate fully, partly, or not at all in the plan. Private health insurance programs would continue to operate, with policyholders required to contribute to the federal system as well—a stipulation the president compared to a taxpayer choosing to send a child to private school. “What I am recommending is not socialized medicine,” Truman insisted. “Socialized medicine means that all doctors work as employees of government. The American people want no such system. No such system is here proposed.”

It did him no good. At the first Senate hearing on the proposal, Ohio’s Robert A. Taft, a perennial presidential candidate known to his admirers as “Mr. Republican,” denounced it as “the most socialistic measure that this Congress has ever had before it.” A shouting match ensued, with one Democrat warning Taft to “shut your mouth up and get out of here.” Taft retreated, but not before vowing to kill any part of the plan that reached the Senate floor.

Taft was not without allies. A predictable coalition soon emerged, backed by pharmaceutical and insurance companies but directed by the American Medical Association, which levied a $25 political assessment on its members to finance the effort. At its crudest, the campaign pushed a kind of medical McCarthyism by accusing the White House of inventing ways to turn a brave, risk-taking people into a bunch of “dainty, steam-heated, rubber-tired, beauty-rested, effeminized, pampered sissies”—easy pickings for the nation’s godless cold war foe. “UNAMERICAN SYSTEM BLUEPRINTED IN THE KREMLIN HEADQUARTERS OF THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONALE,” read one AMA missive describing the origins of Truman’s plan.

Precious freedoms were at stake, Americans were told: when the president claimed that medical choices would remain in private hands, he was lying; federal health insurance meant government control; decisions once made by doctors and patients would become the province of faceless bureaucrats; quality would suffer and privacy would vanish. Skeptics were reminded of Lenin’s alleged remark—likely invented by an opponent of Truman’s heath plan—that socialized medicine represented “the keystone to the arch of the socialized state.”

The economist Milton Friedman once described the AMA as “perhaps the strongest trade union in the United States.” It influenced medical school curriculums, limited the number of graduates, and policed the rules for certification and practice. For the AMA, Truman’s proposal not only challenged the profession’s autonomy, it also made doctors look as if they could not be trusted to place the country’s needs above their own. As a result, the AMA ran a simultaneous campaign congratulating its members for making Americans the healthiest people in the world. The existing system worked, it claimed, because so many physicians followed the golden rule, charging patients on a sliding scale that turned almost no one away. If the patient was wealthy, the fee went up; others paid less, or nothing at all. What was better in a free society: the intrusive reach of the state or the big-hearted efforts of the medical community?

Given the stakes, the smearing of national health insurance was not unexpected. What did come as a surprise, however, was the palpable lack of support for the idea. For many Americans, the return to prosperity following World War II made Truman’s proposal seem less urgent than the sweeping initiatives that had ended the bread lines and joblessness of the Great Depression. Even the Democratic Party’s prime constituency—organized labor—showed limited interest. During the war, to compensate workers for the income lost to wage controls, Congress had passed a law that exempted health care benefits from federal taxation. Designed as a temporary measure, it proved so popular that it became a permanent part of the tax code.

Unions loved the idea of companies providing health insurance in lieu of taxable wages. It appeared to offer the average American the sort of write-off reserved for the privileged classes, and indeed it did. Current studies show that union members are far more likely to have health insurance and paid sick leave than nonunion workers in the same industry. Employer-sponsored health insurance now amounts to the nation’s largest single tax exemption, costing the government more than $250 billion annually in lost revenue.

At about the same time, popular insurance plans like Blue Cross emerged to offer cheap, prepaid hospital care, followed by Blue Shield for doctors’ visits. In 1939 fewer than six million people carried such insurance; by 1950, that number had increased fivefold. In the years after Truman’s plan died in Congress, the government filled some of the egregious gaps in the private insurance system with expensive programs for the poor, the elderly, and others in high-risk categories, thereby cementing America’s outlier status as the world’s only advanced industrial nation without universal health care.

What the United States does have in common with several of these nations, says Ezekiel Emanuel in his valuable Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?, is that its health care struggles have not been unlike theirs, despite the markedly different outcomes. The United Kingdom, for example, decided in favor of national health care at the very moment that Truman’s plan was being shredded. And the main adversary turned out to be the British Medical Association, which used the hated specter of Nazism (as opposed to Bolshevism) to demonize the proposed National Health Service as a Hitlerian menace run by a “medical fuhrer.”

The NHS succeeded because . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the column:

The UK and the US are the bookends of the eleven health care systems that Emanuel has studied—not so much to determine which one is “best” or “worst,” as which one most closely resembles a socialized system. (The others are Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and Taiwan.) The UK excels in universal coverage, simplicity of payment, and protection of low-income groups. While the NHS remains quite popular, it also is seriously underfunded: the UK ranks dead last in both health care spending per capita ($3,900) and health care spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (9.6) among the six European nations under examination. The most common complaints, not surprisingly, concern staff shortages and wait times for primary care appointments, elective surgeries, and even cancer treatments, which can stretch for months. “The public does not want to replace the system with an alternative,” writes Emanuel. “All the public wants is a fully operational NHS.”

By contrast, the US health care system—if one can call it that—excludes more people, provides thinner coverage, and is far less affordable. It combines socialized medicine practiced by the Department of Veterans Affairs, four-part federal Medicare (A, B, C, D) for the elderly and disabled, state-by-state Medicaid for the poor, health coverage provided by employers, and policies bought privately through an insurance agent or an Affordable Care Act exchange—all of which still leave 10 percent of the population unprotected. Among the biggest problems, says Emanuel, is that Americans are baffled by their health care: uncertain of the benefits they’re entitled to, the providers that will accept their insurance, the amount of their deductibles and copays, and the accuracy of the bills they receive. It is a system, moreover, in which people are regularly switching insurers out of choice or necessity—a process known as churning. “The United States basically has every type of health financing ever invented,” Ezekiel adds. “This is preposterous.”

And extremely expensive. America dwarfs other nations in both health care spending per capita ($10,700) and health care spending as a percentage of GDP (17.9). Hospital stays, doctor services, prescription drugs, medical devices, laboratory testing—the excesses are legion. Childbirth costs on average about $4,000 in Western Europe, where midwives are used extensively and charges are bundled together, but close to $30,000 in the US, where the patient is billed separately by specialists—radiologists, pathologists, anesthesiologists—whom she likely never meets, and where charges pile up item by item in what one recent study called a “wasteful overuse of drugs and technologies.” There is no evidence that such extravagance makes for better health care outcomes. The rates of maternal and infant death in the US are higher than in other industrialized nations, partly because the poor, minorities, and children are disproportionately uninsured.

For head-spinning price disparities, however, nothing compares to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2020 at 1:56 pm

“Lion City Rising,” a time-lapse short of Singapore growing

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Keith Loutit shot this over the past 8 years in 988 shoot days.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2020 at 1:44 pm

Speed of insight vs. Speed of growth

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Years ago I noticed that insight occurs quickly — an “Aha!” instant when things come together and fall into place — even though the groundwork that enables the “Aha!” may take time, rumination, effort, and sleeping on it.

Still, the insight itself occurs in an instant, in contrast to the development of a skill. Skills require establishing new pathways in the brain, and they occur at the speed of growth, like the development of a garden or a tree or a baby.

Adults who are learning to play the piano are more accustomed to the speed of insight and often have difficulty in accommodating the slower pace of growth. Patience, it strikes me, is a skill, and thus (like all skills) is acquired through practice, so perhaps it would help those chaffing at the bit when involved in a process of growth to view the process as an opportunity to practice (and thus improve) their skill of patience.

I was thinking about this as I ponder my Esperanto progress. I had unrealistic expectations (to say the least) that a couple of months of steady study would result in any sort of fluency, and now, two weeks short of six months, I recognize that acquiring fluency in any language is one of those things that progresses at the rate of growth.

In looking back over my acquisition of English, I recognize that fluency followed years of practice and study. Six months’ study of Esperanto certainly has taken me further toward fluency that would six months’ study of (say) Russian, but it still leaves me far short of my fluency in English. Of course.

So I’m practicing patience, and doing the daily work and looking forward to where I am six months from now.

Esperanto aside, note how often people will grow frustrated from their failure to recognize when a process must proceed at the speed of growth, not the speed of insight. Adults who are learning to cook want to be there now. It just doesn’t work that way, and thinking it should deprives one of the enjoyment that they might otherwise have in observing the slow improvement of their knowledge and skill with the same attitude they would have the growth and development of a flowering plant: the first tiny, leaves, the developing stalk, the first signs of buds, the slow unfolding of the flower. That’s the pace to match in developing a skill.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2020 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Daily life

Herbs & Spices from Daily Dozen Digest

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From Dr. Greger’s newsletter series on the Daily Dozen, taken one by one.

Quick Tips

Herbs and Spices – Add ¼ tsp of turmeric to your smoothies, oatmeal, or any savory dish. Blend it with cashews, pitted dates, and water for an adventurous drink. Use it in curries and soups.

View: Turmeric topics page and Spices topic page

Fast Facts

*Turmeric caution: Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric?

Tasty Recipes

Morning Grain Bowls

Leftover cooked grains are a great way to start the day—and quick, too! If you don’t have leftover grains, cook up a pot of your favorite grain the day before and you’ll have the start of something good in the morning.

Veggie Mac & Cheese

A cruciferous spin on macaroni and cheese, this recipe takes comfort food to a whole new level, and is a tasty way to check off a few servings on the Daily Dozen checklist. This recipe comes from Kristina, our Director of Nutrition & Social Media Strategy.

Three Bean Chili

Enjoy this tasty chili alone or on a bed of brown, red, or black rice or cooked greens (or both!). It’s also a great topper for sweet potatoes.

Top Viewed Videos on Herbs and Spices

Which Spices Fight Inflammation?

An elegant experiment is described in which the blood of those eating different types of spices such as cloves, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric is tested for anti-inflammatory capacity

Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin

Dietary strategies, including the use of black pepper (piperine), can boost blood levels of curcumin from the spice turmeric by up to 2,000%.

Ginger for Migraines

An eighth teaspoon of powdered ginger found to work as well as the migraine headache drug sumatriptan (Imitrex) without the side-effects.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2020 at 9:44 am

Meißner Tremonia Pink Grapefruit and the very pleasant Parker Semi-Slant

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Although Meißner Tremonia shaving soaps and pastes are quite nice, I’ve heard from one reader that they are hard to obtain, at least for those who don’t reside in Germany (or perhaps the EU). That would explain why the various US vendors that once carried MT soaps no longer seem to stock them.

It’s too bad, because they are pleasant and interesting, and I do like this pink grapefruit + eucalyptus combination: fine lather, nice fragrance, and interesting consistency. The Phoenix Artisan Starcraft shaving brush easily worked up a very good lather.

The Parker Semi-Slant is in fact simply a slant — the “semi” is, I believe, the idea of some marketer’s effort to make the razor less intimidating to those who (for whatever reason) fear the slant. The razor is quite comfortable and very efficient, and it has the advantage of being widely available (e.g., on Amazon). The original handle was too long for my taste, so I swapped it for this Yaqi handle.

Three passes, total smoothness, and a splash of Fine’s Fresh Vetiver, and the week is underway.

The garlic soup that I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to make: it was terrific — and also quite easy.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2020 at 8:53 am

Posted in Daily life

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