Later On

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

Archive for October 27th, 2020

Trump’s Border Wall Is Costing Taxpayers Billions More Than Initial Contracts

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Perla Trevizo and Jeremy Schwartz report in ProPublica:

On the same day in May 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a pair of contracts worth $788 million to replace 83 miles of fence along the southwest border. [$9,493,976 per mile; $1798 per foot – LG]

The projects were slated to be completed in January 2020, the Corps said then. Four months into this year, however, the government increased the value of the contracts by more than $1 billion, without the benefit of competitive bidding designed to keep costs low to taxpayers.

Within a year of the initial award, the value of the two contracts had more than tripled, to over $3 billion, even though the length of the fence the companies were building had only grown by 62%, to 135 miles. The money is coming from military counter-narcotics funding.

Those contract spikes were dramatic, but not isolated. A ProPublica/Texas Tribune review of federal spending data shows more than 200 contract modifications, at times awarded within just weeks or months after the original contracts, have increased the cost of the border wall project by billions of dollars since late 2017. This is particularly true this year, in the run-up to next week’s election. The cost of supplemental agreements and change orders alone — at least $2.9 billion — represents about a quarter of all the money awarded and more than what Congress originally appropriated for wall construction in each of the last three years.

President Donald Trump made construction of the border wall a signature issue during his 2016 campaign, claiming that his skills as a builder and businessman would allow his administration to build the wall in a more cost-efficient way than his predecessors. “You know the wall is almost finished,” he told a crowd of supporters in Arizona recently, and they weren’t paying a “damn cent” for the border wall. It was “compliments of the federal government.”

Yet an accounting of border wall contracts awarded during his presidency shows that his administration has failed to protect taxpayer interests or contain costs and stifled competition among would-be builders, experts say. In all, Trump’s wall costs about five times more per mile than fencing built under the Bush and Obama administrations.

Experts say the frequent use of so-called supplemental agreements to add work or increase the price has amounted to giving no-bid contracts to a small group of pre-selected construction firms, many with executives who have donated to Trump or other Republicans.

Some contracts and add-ons have been handed out without press releases or announcements, making it harder for the public to track the expanding costs.

Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore contracting expert, said the contracting actions involving the border wall project are unusual for the normally restrained Corps, whose contracts aren’t typically characterized by massive price increases. Tiefer called the amount of money awarded through modifications “amazingly high.”

“These (border wall) modifications do not look like something the Army Corps of Engineers would get by competitive bidding,” Tiefer said. “The taxpayer is paying much more than if the whole contract were out for competitive bids.”

The Government Accountability Office told ProPublica and the Tribune that it was looking into the contract modifications as part of a broader review of the process the Corps has used to award border wall contracts using military funds. The report is expected to be released early next year.

While adding work to a contract is not unusual on its own, some of the very rapid and significant supplemental agreements in some of the border wall contracts raise red flags and don’t always provide enough information to determine if they are problematic, said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of Celero Strategies and former deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and reform during the Clinton administration.

Raini Brunson, a spokesperson for the Corps, said . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 10:43 pm

Hidden criteria that cause an approach that works to be rejected: Drug treatment division

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Abby Goodnough reports in the NY Times:

Steven Kelty had been addicted to crack cocaine for 32 years when he tried a different kind of treatment last year, one so basic in concept that he was skeptical.

He would come to a clinic twice a week to provide a urine sample, and if it was free of drugs, he would get to draw a slip of paper out of a fishbowl. Half contained encouraging messages — typically, “Good job!” — but the other half were vouchers for prizes worth between $1 and $100.

“I’ve been to a lot of rehabs, and there were no incentives except for the idea of being clean after you finished,” said Mr. Kelty, 61, of Winfield, Pa. “Some of us need something to motivate us — even if it’s a small thing — to live a better life.”

The treatment is called contingency management, because the rewards are contingent on staying abstinent. A number of clinical trials have found it highly effective in getting people addicted to stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine to stay in treatment and to stop using the drugs. But outside the research arena and the Department of Veterans Affairs, where Mr. Kelty is a patient, it is nearly impossible to find programs that offer such treatment — even as overdose deaths involving meth, in particular, have soared. There were more than 16,500 such deaths last year, according to preliminary data, more than twice as many as in 2016.

Early data suggests that overdoses have increased even more during the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced most treatment programs to move online.

Researchers say that one of the biggest obstacles to contingency management is a moral objection to the idea of rewarding someone for staying off drugs. That is one reason publicly funded programs like Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the poor, do not cover the treatment.

Some treatment providers are also wary of giving prizes that they say patients could sell or trade for drugs. Greg Delaney, a pastor and the outreach coordinator at Woodhaven, a residential treatment center in Ohio, said, “Until you’re at the point where you can say, ‘I can make a good decision with this $50,’ it’s counterproductive.”

Two medications used to treat opioid addiction, methadone and buprenorphine, have often been viewed with similar suspicion because they are opioids themselves, even though there is abundant research showing they substantially reduce the risk of death and help people stay in treatment. But the federal government has started aggressively promoting such treatment for opioid addiction, and has heavily invested in expanding access to it.

As of yet, there are no medicines proven to suppress the intense cravings that come with addiction to meth and cocaine. Instead, there are a raft of behavioral interventions, some of which have very little evidence of effectiveness.

“The most common treatment is to do whatever the hell you feel like,” said Michael McDonell, an associate professor at Washington State University who has conducted a number of studies on contingency management. “We had two statewide meetings about meth recently, and at one, a colleague said, ‘Why aren’t we just doing contingency management? Why would we spend all this money on interventions that won’t work?’”

The fact that no public or private insurer will pay for contingency management, except in a few pilot programs, is a major challenge to expanding it; the biggest obstacle is that offering motivational rewards to patients has been interpreted as violating the federal anti-kickback statute. A group of treatment experts recently asked the Department of Health and Human Services to waive the statute for two years as it pertains to contingency management, but the agency refused, saying programs that provide rewards need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Congress recently told states that they could start spending federal “opioid response” grants on treatment for stimulant addiction, but the agency that distributes the grants allows only $75 per patient, per year to be spent on contingency management — far less than what research has found effective.

“The biggest question is . . .

Continue reading.

The refusal to support a program that works because one has moral objections (to things that work?) seems to me to be itself morally objectionable (not to mention short-sighted if not outright stupid).

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 8:58 pm

The Epigenetic Secrets Behind Dopamine, Drug Addiction, and Depression

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This is a fascinating article by Douglas fields in Quanta:

s I opened my copy of Science at home one night, an unfamiliar word in the title of a new study caught my eye: dopaminylation. The term refers to the brain chemical dopamine’s ability, in addition to transmitting signals across synapses, to enter a cell’s nucleus and control specific genes. As I read the paper, I realized that it completely upends our understanding of genetics and drug addiction. The intense craving for addictive drugs like alcohol and cocaine may be caused by dopamine controlling genes that alter the brain circuitry underlying addiction. Intriguingly, the results also suggest an answer to why drugs that treat major depression must typically be taken for weeks before they’re effective. I was shocked by the dramatic discovery, but to really understand it, I first had to unlearn some things.

“Half of what you learned in college is wrong,” my biology professor, David Lange, once said. “Problem is, we don’t know which half.” How right he was. I was taught to scoff at Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and his theory that traits acquired through life experience could be passed on to the next generation. The silly traditional example is the mama giraffe stretching her neck to reach food high in trees, resulting in baby giraffes with extra-long necks. Then biologists discovered we really can inherit traits our parents acquired in life, without any change to the DNA sequence of our genes. It’s all thanks to a process called epigenetics — a form of gene expression that can be inherited but isn’t actually part of the genetic code. This is where it turns out that brain chemicals like dopamine play a role.

All genetic information is encoded in the DNA sequence of our genes, and traits are passed on in the random swapping of genes between egg and sperm that sparks a new life. Genetic information and instructions are coded in a sequence of four different molecules (nucleotides abbreviated A, T, G and C) on the long double-helix strand of DNA. The linear code is quite lengthy (about 6 feet long per human cell), so it’s stored neatly wound around protein bobbins, similar to how magnetic tape is wound around spools in cassette tapes.

Inherited genes are activated or inactivated to build a unique individual from a fertilized egg, but cells also constantly turn specific genes on and off throughout life to make the proteins cells need to function. When a gene is activated, special proteins latch onto DNA, read the sequence of letters there and make a disposable copy of that sequence in the form of messenger RNA. The messenger RNA then shuttles the genetic instructions to the cell’s ribosomes, which decipher the code and make the protein specified by the gene.

But none of that works without access to the DNA. By analogy, if the magnetic tape remains tightly wound, you can’t read the information on the cassette. Epigenetics works by unspooling the tape, or not, to control which genetic instructions are carried out. In epigenetic inheritance, the DNA code is not altered, but access to it is.

This is why cells in our body can be so different even though every cell has identical DNA. If the DNA is not unwound from its various spools — proteins called histones — the cell’s machinery can’t read the hidden code. So the genes that would make red blood corpuscles, for example, are shut off in cells that become neurons.

How do cells know which genes to read? The histone spool that a specific gene’s DNA winds around is marked with a specific chemical tag, like a molecular Post-it note. That marker directs other proteins to “roll the tape” and unwind the relevant DNA from that histone (or not to roll it, depending on the tag).

It’s a fascinating process we’re still learning more about, but we never expected that a seemingly unrelated brain chemical might also play a role. Neurotransmitters are specialized molecules that transmit signals between neurons. This chemical signaling between neurons is what enables us to think, learn, experience different moods and, when neurotransmitter signaling goes awry, suffer cognitive difficulties or mental illness.

Serotonin and dopamine are famous examples. Both are monoamines, a class of  neurotransmitters involved in psychological illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and addiction. Serotonin helps regulate mood, and drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are widely prescribed and effective for treating chronic depression. We think they work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain, which boosts communication between neurons in the neural circuits controlling mood, motivation, anxiety and reward. That makes sense, sure, but it is curious that it usually takes a month or more before the drug relieves depression.

Dopamine, on the other hand, is the neurotransmitter at work in the brain’s reward circuits; it produces that “gimme-a-high-five!” spurt of euphoria that erupts when we hit a bingo. Nearly all addictive drugs, like cocaine and alcohol, increase dopamine levels, and the chemically induced dopamine reward leads to further drug cravings. A weakened reward circuitry could be a cause of depression, which would help explain why people with depression may self-medicate by taking illicit drugs that boost dopamine.

But (as I found out after reading that dopaminylation paper), research last year led by Ian Maze, a neuroscientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, showed that serotonin has another function: It can act as one of those molecular Post-it notes. Specifically, it can bind to a type of histone known as H3, which controls the genes responsible for transforming human stem cells (the forerunner of all kinds of cells) into serotonin neurons. When serotonin binds to the histone, the DNA unwinds, turning on the genes that dictate the development of a stem cell into a serotonin neuron, while turning off other genes by keeping their DNA tightly wound. (So stem cells that never see serotonin turn into other types of cells, since the genetic program to transform them into neurons is not activated.)

That finding inspired Maze’s team to wonder whether dopamine might act in a similar way, regulating the genes involved in drug addiction and withdrawal. In the April Science paper that so surprised me, they showed that the same enzyme that attaches serotonin to H3 can also catalyze the attachment of dopamine to H3 — a process, I learned, called dopaminylation.

Together, these results represent a huge change in our understanding of these chemicals. By binding to the H3 histone, serotonin and dopamine can regulate transcription of DNA into RNA and, as a consequence, the synthesis of specific proteins from them. That turns these well-known characters in neuroscience into double agents, acting obviously as neurotransmitters, but also as clandestine masters of epigenetics.

Maze’s team naturally began exploring this new relationship. First they examined postmortem brain tissue from cocaine users. They found a decrease in the amount of dopaminylation of H3 in the cluster of dopamine neurons in a brain region known to be important in addiction: the ventral tegmental area, or VTA.

That’s just an intriguing correlation, though, so to find out whether cocaine use actually affects dopaminylation of H3 in these neurons, the researchers studied rats before and after they self-administered cocaine for 10 days. Just as in the human cocaine users’ brains, dopaminylation of H3 dropped within the neurons in the rats’ VTA. The researchers also found . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 8:27 pm

Hummus-like substance

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I made this in my 3.5qt Kitchenaid foood processor:

1/4 cup almond butter
juice of 1 lemon (a fairly juicy one)

Process for a minute. It will get very thick. Add:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
about 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, sliced (whole garlic may not get processed)
3 thick scallions cut into 1″ lengths (including leaves)
1 large jalapeño, top cut off but with core and seeds, sliced
about 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
about 1/3 teaspoon cayenne
a good dash of hot sauce (I used Louisiana Hot Sauce)
a good dash of Worcestershire sauce

Process another minute. Add:

1 can no-salt-added garbonzo beans, rinsed, 1/2 can at a time

Process for about a minute for each half can.

Pretty tasty. And it checks both bean and nut boxes in the Daily Dozen.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 7:18 pm

Wings of Desire: How birds became beautiful and art got weird.

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Fascinating article (and note the mapping into memes: mathematics, for example) by Dean Kissick in GrowByGingko:

Deep in the rainforests of Borneo, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula lives what some consider to be the most beautiful creature in the world: the male Great Argus pheasant. Going about his daily business, he doesn’t look like much — basically, a very long wild turkey. But when he runs into a possible mate, a quite extraordinary transformation takes place. He suddenly becomes beautiful.

In preparation, he clears a six-yard stage on the forest floor, picking up leaves, twigs and roots with his little white beak, finally beating his wings to blow away the debris. And then his dance begins. Starting off with a neurotic meta-bit, he struts around theatrically, pecking at the clear stage. Then, in the blink of an eye, he twirls out his wings, transforming himself into a dazzlingly large, intricately patterned circle, and starts performing a pheasant version of the fan dance from Madam Butterfly — vibrating, shaking and shimmering for up to 15 seconds at a time. Finally, resuming his old form, he returns to his routine, strutting around, pecking the ground.

The polka dots, washed-out stripes and swirling op-art waves that pattern his wing feathers are gorgeous, and the 300 pale yellow spots radiating over them, absolutely mesmerizing. A complicated trick of the eye is at play here. The spots increase in size as they rise up his wings, creating a forced perspective illusion. To the hen facing him on the dance floor, they all appear the same size, while their delicate color gradients, shaded around the bottom curve and highlighted on the top, conjure the illusion that they’re three-dimensional spheres, bright glowing golden orbs floating there in the heart of the dark rainforest. For the duration of his episode, the Great Argus is a nightclub full of sparklers; a piece of performance art millions of years of evolution in the making; a living Yayoi Kusama installation; at the center of which, peeking out behind his feathers, can be glimpsed his pleading blue, small hopeful face.

How do you evolve into such a spectacle?

Where It Comes From

While 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire saw nature as a forest of symbols, colors, lines and sounds connected by mysterious affinities only a poet could decipher, evolutionary biologist Richard O. Prum, author of The Evolution of Beauty (2017), sees it as a chaotic, irrational and endlessly surprising exhibition that can only be understood through Charles Darwin’s lesser-known theory of sexual selection. Prum’s book expounds on the aesthetic mating choices made by animals to explain the human experience of beauty in much of its variety.

“The sight of a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” Darwin once ranted. He had reason to be pissed. The peacock’s huge, colorful appendage appeared to undermine much of what he’d claimed in his book On the Origin of Species (1859). The bird’s ornamentation didn’t seem to help it survive in the wild, so it was hard to explain through his theory of natural selection. By 1871, however, he had resolved the contradiction in a follow-up book. In The Descent of Man, he hypothesized that peahens chose peacocks with the most impressive tails, allowing those peacocks to sire the most chicks, which over time would evolve to sport more and more extravagant tails.

Darwin — whose body of work has been critiqued for its inherent white supremacy and sexism — believed that the most outlandish and impractical forms of beauty, like peacock’s tails and Great Argus’s wings, had evolved to be pleasurable for other birds of the same species to observe, and had no other purpose but sexual charm. This was his theory of mate choice. Not only were natural and sexual selection different processes, they operated independently of one another.

Many biologists working after Darwin have adopted more conservative, less sensual interpretations. While few deny that sexual selection takes place, the prevailing counterargument is that ornamentation and displays provide specific, honest information about an animal’s quality and condition; meaning that these features have an objective, rather than a subjective, allure. Beauty is thus a reflection of an animal’s integrity.

For Prum, however, this cannot be. His argument is that while ornamentation may perhaps have been an honest indicator of quality in the beginning, over time that correlation would surely have been lost, leading to ornamentation for ornamentation’s sake. The fact that most animals can choose their own mates from an array of suitors leads to an aesthetically inspired and massively unpredictable evolutionary force: sexual attraction to forms of ornamentation and display in and of themselves.

Prum recalls having lunch at a college one day and describing his ideas about why sexual ornamentation had grown to be so diverse, and so beautiful, to a fellow evolutionary biologist: “Toward the end of the lunch, he cried out, ‘But that’s nihilism!’” Prum’s interpretation seemed horribly bleak to his colleague because, in some sense, it deprives us of any purpose or meaning in our lives. If feathers evolved to be merely beautiful, and pleasing to the eye, rather than to indicate some other more vital quality, it implies that the universe isn’t rational; that we all live in a world of trompe-l’oeil, smoke and mirrors and sensual temptations. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and do keep in mind the parallels to the evolution of memes. (E.g., for beauty, I offer the Mandelbrot set.)

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 6:13 pm

John Gray: ‘What can we learn from cats? Don’t live in an imagined future’

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Tim Adams interviews John Gray in the Guardian:

What’s it like to be a cat? John Gray has spent a lifetime half-wondering. The philosopher – to his many fans the intellectual cat’s pyjamas, to his critics the least palatable of furballs – has had feline companions at home since he was a boy in South Shields. In adult life – he now lives in Bath with his wife Mieko, a dealer in Japanese antiquities – this has principally been two pairs of cats: “Two Burmese sisters, Sophie and Sarah, and two Birman brothers, Jamie and Julian.” The last of them, Julian, died earlier this year, aged 23. Gray, currently catless, is by no means a sentimental writer, but his new book, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, is written in memory of their shared wisdom.

Other philosophers have been enthralled by cats over the years. There was Schrödinger and his box, of course. And Michel de Montaigne, who famously asked: “When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?” The rationalist René Descartes, Gray notes, once “hurled a cat out of the window in order to demonstrate the absence of conscious awareness in non-human animals; its terrified screams were mechanical reactions, he concluded.”

One impulse for this book was a conversation with a fellow philosopher, who assured Gray that he “had taught his cat to be vegan”. (Gray had only one question: “Did the cat ever go out?” It did.) When he informed another philosopher that he was writing about what we can learn from cats, that man replied: “But cats have no history.” “And,” Gray wondered, “is that necessarily a disadvantage?”

Elsewhere, Gray has written how Ludwig Wittgenstein once observed “if lions could talk we would not understand”, to which the zookeeper John Aspinall responded: “He hasn’t spent long enough with lions.” If cats could talk, I ask Gray, do you think we would understand?

“Well, the book is in some ways an experiment in that respect,” he says. “Of course, it’s not a scientific inquiry. But if you live with a cat very closely for a long time – and it takes a long time, because they’re slow to trust, slow to really enter into communication with you – then you can probably imagine how they might philosophise.”

Gray believes that humans turned to philosophy principally out of anxiety, looking for some tranquillity in a chaotic and frightening world, telling themselves stories that might provide the illusion of calm. Cats, he suggests, wouldn’t recognise that need because they naturally revert to equilibrium whenever they’re not hungry or threatened. If cats were to give advice, it would be for their own amusement.

Readers of Gray will recognise this book as a postscript or coda to Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, the 2002 bestseller in which he elegantly dismantled the history of western philosophy – with its illusory faith in our species living somehow “above” evolving life and outside the constraints of nature. That book aimed its fire particularly at the prevailing belief of our time: that of the inevitably steady forward progress of humankind brought about by liberal democracy. When the book came out, as George W Bush was demanding “regime change” in Iraq, it struck a particular nerve. In the two decades since, its argument that the advance of rational enlightened thought might not offer any kind of lasting protection against baser tribal instincts or environmental destruction or human folly has felt like prophecy.

Gray never bought the idea that his book was a handbook for despair. His subject was humility; his target any ideology that believed it possessed anything more than doubtful and piecemeal answers to vast and changing questions. The cat book is written in that spirit. If like me you read with a pencil to hand, you will be underlining constantly with a mix of purring enjoyment and frequent exclamation marks. “Consciousness has been overrated,” Gray will write, coolly. Or “the flaw in rationalism is the belief that human beings can live by applying a theory”. Or “human beings quickly lose their humanity but cats never stop being cats”. He concludes with a 10-point list of how cats might give their anxious, unhappy, self-conscious human companions hints “to live less awkwardly”. These range from “never try to persuade human beings to be reasonable”, to “do not look for meaning in your suffering” to “sleep for the joy of sleeping”.

Does he see that 10-point plan, offered half in earnest (“as a cat would offer it”) as an answer to those people who criticised Straw Dogs for offering little in place of what it debunked? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 4:01 pm

The Destruction of Data: A report on the Trump administration

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HuffPost has a lengthy report on how the Trump administration has ignored and/or destroyed. I learned for it from an email they sent:

Four years ago, Donald Trump won the presidency while relentlessly fearmongering about refugees. So it came as no surprise when, in March 2017, his White House ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to study the long-term costs of refugee resettlement. A few months later, HHS returned with their results: Far from being a drain on resources, refugees had, in fact, contributed $63 billion more in government revenue than they had received in benefits between 2005 and 2014. The numbers were not to the White House’s liking—and so senior adviser Stephen Miller simply buried them. “The president believes refugees cost more, and the results of this study shouldn’t embarrass the president,” he reportedly told agency staff.

That’s just one example out of a myriad of instances during the last four years where the Trump administration has purposefully destroyed, manipulated, subverted and sidelined data—the lifeblood of a functioning government. Are honey bee colonies on the verge of collapse? How toxic is mercury? Are people of color paid less for the same work? How economically devastating has the COVID-19 pandemic been? The Trump administration’s war on data has made each of those questions, and many more, harder to answer—and thus harder to do anything about. As writer Samanth Subramanian puts it in the introduction to Data Disappeared, “by attacking numeracy, it is attacking democracy.” In 2021, for example, the United States will accept no more than 15,000 refugees, down from an annual average of 76,000 during the Obama administration.

Over the past year, a team of reporters at HuffPost has tracked and vetted these data distortions, using published accounts, NGO reports and government documents. What we present to you today is by no means an exhaustive list. Instead, it’s a chilling collection of the Trump administration’s most consequential and well-documented assaults on science—and reality itself.

The HuffPost is definitely worth reading. Here is its table of contents:

0 INTRODUCTION
1 THE PANDEMIC
2 CLIMATE CHANGE
3 THE MOST VULNERABLE
4 POLLUTION
5 SCIENCE
6 FOOD
7 CONSERVATION
8 THE CENSUS
9 CREDITS

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 3:41 pm

Great SR-71 anecdote

with 2 comments

This is audio only, but it’s a good one.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Daily life

Canadian Thanksgiving a cautionary tale for Americans amid coronavirus surge

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Amanda Coletta and Adam Taylor report in the Washington Post:

As the holiday season approaches amid a surge in novel coronavirus cases across the country, a Thanksgiving-related spike in Canada may serve as a cautionary tale for the United States.

Case counts in much of Canada are climbing, even in parts of the country that imposed new autumn restrictions. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, and both provincial and federal officials have pointed to the holiday as a culprit.

“In some areas we are learning that gathering during the Thanksgiving weekend contributed to the elevated case counts we are seeing today,” Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa. “Our actions matter.”

Before the holiday, officials advised Canadians to curtail their plans by limiting celebrations to those living under the same roof or moving the party online, but it is not clear how widely the advice was heeded.

In the United States, where Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday in November, officials issued similar warnings. Last week, the United States hit an all-time high in new coronavirus cases, exceeding 80,000 in a day for the first time.

In an interview with CBS News earlier this month, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, warned that Thanksgiving events could lead to new cases.

“That is, unfortunately, a risk, when you have people coming from out of town, gathering together in an indoor setting,” he said. “It is unfortunate, because that’s such a sacred part of American tradition.” . . .

Continue reading.

Take sensible precautions. For example, wear a face mask when in public places: the evidence is overwhelming that wearing face masks reduces the rate of infection. Wear a seat belt in the car. Requiring the public to observe such measures is not “tyranny” (as overheated conservatives exclaim) but a matter of protecting public health and promoting the general welfare, both well-defined (and heretofore well-accepted) missions of government, much like ensure that the air we breath and the water we drink are not polluted  (though, to be sure, Republicans view regulations that ensure clean water and pure air as a form of tyranny as well and work hard to remove such regulations).

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 12:59 pm

How to Speak: The Lecture on Effective Communication That Was an MIT Tradition for 40+ Years

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This is part of the open courseware available from MIT. For this particular course (which is this lecture), check out its page for links to resources, TOC (with times) of the talk, and so on.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 12:34 pm

What some Senator should have said — and what Rob Donaldson did say on Facebook

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I don’t know Rob Donaldson, and I discovered him only after doing a search on a portion of the speech text — “The Daily Caller News Foundation traced the speech to an Oct. 16 Facebook post from user Rob Donaldson. He confirmed in a Facebook direct message to the DNCF that he created the message.” The message is written as a Senator addressing the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Although no Senator did say these words (which, I imagine represent what many of them thought), Donaldson’s powerful indictment should be remembered:

Mr. Chairman, I will ask no questions because there’s no point in doing so. We all know this is a pro forma charade with the outcome already locked up. I will simply take a few moments to address Judge Barrett directly.

Judge Barrett, I feel genuinely sorry for you. You have strong credentials and merits. However, you are here not because of them. You are here only because you are a token, a pawn.

Throughout the rest of the history of this country, your name will have an asterisk by it, denoting that your place on the Supreme Court is illegitimate, the result of hypocritical, amoral conniving to turn the Court into a far-right political rubber stamp by two-faced mandarins of a Republican Party destined to go down in flames, consumed by its own internal rot and the fire of its own decrepitude.

You will forever be denied the opportunity to compete truly on your own merits. You are in that seat only because, despite all your protests to the contrary, your record has convinced the GOP king-makers that you will be a reliable robot to help them implement their dark, Hobbesian, plutocratic vision for America.

Object and hide behind high-flown jurisprudential rhetoric all you want, but no one will believe you.

Everyone, Democrat and Republican, knows that you are before us only because the history of your teaching, your scholarship, and your public statements has convinced Trump, McConnell, Leonard Leo, the Koch brothers, and all the billionaire backers of the Federalist Society and the right-wing dark money machine that you will be a reliable Handmaid, doing their bidding even if you yourself don’t think so or don’t realize it.

I feel sorry for you because you will take the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a titan of American jurisprudence, who will go down in history as everything you will not: independent, her own person, dedicated to the marrow of her bones to equal rights for all, and an implacable foe of anyone, no matter how well-funded or how well-cloaked behind anonymous shell corporations, who tried to push any American into second-class status, any woman into less than full equality, any political activity into the shadows, any marginalized minority into permanent subservience, and any religious bigotry into political power.

You represent the opposite of Justice Ginsburg in every imaginable way: the way you got here, the way you will be counted on to rule, and the ways in which your presence on the Court threatens everything Justice Ginsburg stood for.

This is a sad, sad fate for a woman as accomplished as you. I am profoundly sorry for you, and for our country as you take your illegitimate, corrupted, forever asterisked seat on the Supreme Court.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 12:09 pm

Late start but great shave, with a peculiarly nice (but inexpensive) shaving brush — and Dark Limes

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I positioned the brush to the right for better light on it. This is another octagonal handle with a slight waist (but also a cute little base), but whereas yesterday’s brush handle was in cross section a regular octagon — all angles and sides equal — today’s brush is an octagon with all angles equal but sides alternately wide and narrow: like cutting the corners off a square at a 45º angle, but not so much of the corner as to make all the resulting sides equal, but somewhat less.

It’s a satisfying handle, but what struck me most about the brush today is the knot — a silvertip, as you see. It’s a Whipped Dog silvertip set at the usual depth. (I don’t like deep-set knots which to my taste lack sufficient give.) In using it this morning I made an excellent lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Dark Limes (a fragrance that I increasingly like: definitely lime, but not so bright/fresh as most lime fragrances — thus, I suppose, the name).

As I worked the lather up on my face and into the stubble, I became aware that this knot — at least when well loaded with good soap and blossoming with lather — feels unusually good: it soft, but not fluffy; it yields, but with some resistance; it is not so much “dense” as thick — not in the least scrubby, but no pushover. Yielding but definitely not just giving up.

It’s hard to describe, but this morning it struck me as a superb brush. The knots for comparison that came first to mind were the knots of my (much more expensive) Rooney Emilion and Rooney Victorian, but this knot has more loft and thus a little more “give.” The brush cost $35 some years ago, and I will definitely be using it more often. This is one of those badger knots that synthetics have not yet matched.

Well-lathered — and I did take my time, because I was enjoying the experience so much — I picked up the Yaqi double-open-comb razor and quickly and easily got as smooth a finish as one could ever want.

A general splash of Geo. F. Trumper West Indian Extract of Limes aftershave, and I feel very good about the day already.

A note on MT Soaps: a reader let me know of the difficulty of procuring these soaps, and my former sources are of no help: StraightRazorDesigns.com is no more (Lynn retired) and Maggard Razors no longer carries the brand. You can, of course, order from Meißner Tremonia directly if you live in one of the countries to which they will ship (US and Canada not included).

GiftsAndCare.com (in Spain) and Smallflower.com (in the US) both carry Meißner Tremonia and I’ve ordered several times from each with no problem. Two notes about G&C.com:

  1. They also carry MT shaving pastes (which they call shaving creams, though the MT product is much stiffer than a shaving cream — more like a… well, a paste); and
  2. If you don’t live in the EU, you don’t pay the VAT, so look at the lower price in the lighter font: that’s the price without VAT.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 11:47 am

Posted in Shaving

Good manners are a form of tact

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“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

— Emily Post, author and columnist (27 Oct 1872-1960) 

Empathy is the key, along with kindness. One must not only be aware of the feelings of other but also want not to hurt them. Some, I’ve observed, are aware of how others feel but take pleasure in being cruel — the opposite of good manners.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 5:49 am

Posted in Daily life

Tempeh incubator box V2

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The top of my V1 tempeh incubator box, made from a cardboard carton with a base 18″ x 12″ and 12″ high, lacked strength, and after a couple of batches of good tempeh, it caved in because the interior is humid enough to weaken the cardboard.

Back to the drawing board. I found an even better (and cheaper) approach: 1″ thick rigid foam insulation, which you can get in 24″ x 24″ squares.  You’ll need three squares ($18 total), which you cut to size (a sharp thin knife works well — I used a cheap utility knife with extendable blade). The key in cutting is to keep the knife perpendicular to the sheet.

UPDATE: This post has detailed step by step assembly instructions, so I’ve deleted from this post my first-draft ideas.

Assembly easy. Result is much better than the V1 incubator: a stronger box that provides better insulation and tolerates humidity. Moreover, the V2 incubator is much cheaper to make than V1.

Of course, the V1 box was designed to fold flat and this box won’t. However, I found I didn’t really need to fold the box flat. I just store it in a dead space beneath a table. If collapsing the box when it’s not in use is important, it might work not to glue the box and just hold the sides in place with a stretchy cord around them.

This post is what Stephen Covey calls “the first creation”: the plan. The “second creation” — the actual box — will be later. I’ll post an update.

UPDATE May 27, 2021: I glued the incubator together and wrote step-by-step assembly instructions based on my experience.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2020 at 4:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Non-animal diet, Technology

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