Later On

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

Archive for November 26th, 2020

Food movies — and a note on garlic

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It’s no secret that I am exploiting as much as I can the two-week free trial the Criterion Channel offers — obviously not secret, since I just wrote a blog post about it earlier today.

It’s also no secret to anyone who reads my recipe posts that I like garlic (and onions) — it’s rare that one of my recipes will lack garlic. One book I loved and wish I had kept is Garlic Is Life: A Memoir With Recipes, by Chester Aaron. I’ve commented several times on the wonderful Russian red garlic grown locally

The local garlic I enjoy (cloves from one head)

Criterion Collection offers groups of movies that share some theme, and I just came across the group “Glorious Food,” which includes some favorites — Tampopo, My Dinner With Andre, Babette’s Feast, Tom Jones, for example — those are ones I’ve seen and would enjoy rewatching (and in fact I’m rewatching My Dinner With Andre  right now) — and some I’ve not yet seen. I just watched one of the latter: Garlic Is Worth Ten Mothers, a very nice 50-minute film set in Northern California (including several scenes at Chez Panisse) that is a paean to garlic. Definitely include that in your trial run through of their offerings.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2020 at 5:55 pm

Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway

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Rebecca Solnit writes at Lit Hub:

When Trump won the 2016 election—while losing the popular vote—the New York Times seemed obsessed with running features about what Trump voters were feeling and thinking. These pieces treated them as both an exotic species and people it was our job to understand, understand being that word that means both to comprehend and to grant some sort of indulgence to. Now that Trump has lost the 2020 election, the Los Angeles Times has given their editorial page over to letters from Trump voters, who had exactly the sort of predictable things to say we have been hearing for far more than four years, thanks to the New York Times and what came to seem like about 11,000 other news outlets hanging on the every word of every white supremacist they could convince to go on the record.

The letters editor headed this section with, “In my decade editing this page, there has never been a period when quarreling readers have seemed so implacably at odds with each other, as if they get their facts and values from different universes. As one small attempt to bridge the divide, we are providing today a page full of letters from Trump supporters.” The implication is the usual one: we—urban multiethnic liberal-to-radical only-partly-Christian America—need to spend more time understanding MAGA America. The demands do not go the other way. Fox and Ted Cruz and the Federalist have not chastised their audiences, I feel pretty confident, with urgings to enter into discourse with, say, Black Lives Matter activists, rabbis, imams, abortion providers, undocumented valedictorians, or tenured lesbians. When only half the divide is being tasked with making the peace, there is no peace to be made, but there is a unilateral surrender on offer. We are told to consider this bipartisanship, but the very word means both sides abandon their partisanship, and Mitch McConnell and company have absolutely no interest in doing that.

Paul Waldman wrote a valuable column in the Washington Post a few years ago, in which he pointed out that this discord is valuable fuel to right-wing operatives: “The assumption is that if Democrats simply choose to deploy this powerful tool of respect, then minds will be changed and votes will follow. This belief, widespread though it may be, is stunningly naive.” He notes that the sense of being disrespected “doesn’t come from the policies advocated by the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t come from the things Democratic politicians say. Where does it come from? An entire industry that’s devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them. The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity.”

There’s also often a devil’s bargain buried in all this, that you flatter and, yeah, respect these white people who think this country is theirs by throwing other people under the bus—by disrespecting immigrants and queer people and feminists and their rights and views. And you reinforce that constituency’s sense that they matter more than other people when you pander like this, and pretty much all the problems we’ve faced over the past four years, to say nothing of the last five hundred, come from this sense of white people being more important than nonwhites, Christians than non-Christians, native-born than immigrant, male than female, straight than queer, cis-gender than trans.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that “you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.” This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore “fuck your feelings” shirts at its rallies and popularized the term “snowflake.”

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naïve version of centrism, of the idea that if  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

She concludes:

. . . Some of us don’t know how to win. Others can’t believe they ever lost or will lose or should, and their intransigence constitutes a kind of threat. That’s why the victors of the recent election are being told in countless ways to go grovel before the losers. This unilateral surrender is how misogyny and racism are baked into a lot of liberal and centrist as well as right-wing positions, this idea that some people need to be flattered and buffered even when they are harming the people who are supposed to do the flattering and buffering, even when they are the minority, even when they’re breaking the law or lost the election. Lakoff didn’t quite get to the point of saying that this nation lives in a household full of what domestic abuse advocates call coercive control, in which one partner’s threats, intimidations, devaluations, and general shouting down control the other.

This is what marriages were before feminism, with the abused wife urged to placate and soothe the furious husband. Feminism is good for everything, and it’s a good model for seeing that this is both outrageous and a recipe for failure. It didn’t work in marriages, and it never was the abused partner’s job to prevent the abuse by surrendering ground and rights and voice. It is not working as national policy either. Now is an excellent time to stand on principle and defend what we value, and I believe it’s a winning strategy too, or at least brings us closer to winning than surrender does. Also, it’s worth repeating, we won, and being gracious in victory is still being victorious.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2020 at 1:20 pm

Cognitive Biases that Interfere with Critical Thinking and Scientific Reasoning

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Dr. Hershey H. Friedman, Professor of Business at the Murray Koppelman School of Business, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, has an interesting PDF with the title shown. Its free and you can download it from that link. It begins:

Abstract: It is clear that people do not always behave in a rational manner. Sometimes they are presented with too much information or they may want to make a quick decision. This may cause them to rely on cognitive shortcuts known as heuristics (rules of thumb). These cognitive shortcuts often result in cognitive biases; at least 175 cognitive biases have been identified by researchers. This paper describes many of these biases starting with actor-observer bias and ending with zero-risk bias. It also describes how one can overcome them and thereby become a more rational decision maker.

***

Many of the fundamental principles of economic theory have recently been challenged. Economic theory is largely based on the premise of the “rational economic man.” Rational man makes decisions based solely on self-interest and wants to maximize his utility. However, the rational man theory may be a theory that is dead or rapidly dying. After the Great Recession of 2008, Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress: “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders” (Ignatius, 2009). Nouriel Roubini, a prominent economist known as Dr. Doom for predicting the housing market collapse in 2006, stated that “The rational man theory of economics has not worked” (Ignatius, 2009). Kahneman (2011: 374) avows: “Theories can survive for a long time after conclusive evidence falsifies them, and the rational-agent model certainly survived the evidence we have seen, and much other evidence as well.”

Kahneman (2011: 269) describes how he was handed an essay written by the Swiss economist Bruno Frey that stated: “The agent of economic theory is rational, selfish, and his tastes do not change.” Kahneman was astonished that economists could believe this given that it was quite obvious to psychologists that “people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable. Our two disciplines seemed to be studying different species, which the behavioral economist Richard Thaler later dubbed Econs and Humans.”

Many economists now realize that man does not always behave in a rational manner. Thaler and Mullainatha (2008) describe how in experiments involving “ultimatum” games, we see evidence that people do not behave as traditional economic theory predicts they will. People will act “irrationally” and reject offers they feel are unfair:

In an ultimatum game, the experimenter gives one player, the proposer, some money, say ten dollars. The proposer then makes an offer of x, equal or less than ten dollars, to the other player, the responder. If the responder accepts the offer, he gets x and the proposer gets 10 − x. If the responder rejects the offer, then both players get nothing. Standard economic theory predicts that proposers will offer a token amount (say twenty-five cents) and responders will accept, because twenty-five cents is better than nothing. But experiments have found that responders typically reject offers of less than 20 percent (two dollars in this example).

This is why we must also draw on insights from the discipline of psychology. Ariely (2008) uses the latest research to demonstrate that people are predictably irrational; they use heuristics or rules of thumb to make decisions. Heuristics may be seen as “cognitive shortcuts” that humans utilize when there is a great deal of required information to collect in order to make a correct decision but time (or desire to do the extensive research) and/or money is limited (Caputo, 2013). Using rules of thumb may help a person make quick decisions but might lead to a systematic bias. Smith (2015) lists 67 cognitive biases that interfere with rational decision making. A cognitive bias is defined as:

a systematic error in thinking that affects the decisions and judgments that people make. Sometimes these biases are related to memory. The way you remember an event may be biased for a number of reasons and that in turn can lead to biased thinking and decision-making. In other instance, cognitive biases might be related to problems with attention. Since attention is a limited resource, people have to be selective about what they pay attention to in the world around them (Chery, 2016).

Download to continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2020 at 12:13 pm

Did Viruses Create the Cell Nucleus?

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A very intriguing idea discussed in a Quanta article by Christie Wilcox:

Different as the cells from animals, plants, fungi and protozoa can be, they all share one prominent feature: a nucleus. They have other organelles, too, like the energy-producing mitochondria, but the presence of a nucleus — a well-defined porous pouch full of genetic material — is what inspired the biologist Édouard Chatton in 1925 to coin the term eukaryotes, which referred to living things with a “true kernel.” All the rest he labeled prokaryotes, for life “before kernel.” This dichotomy between nucleated and nonnucleated life became fundamental to biology.

No one knows exactly how the nucleus evolved and created that division. Growing evidence has persuaded some researchers, however, that the nucleus might have arisen through a symbiotic partnership much like the one believed to have produced mitochondria. A crucial difference, though, is that the partner responsible for the nucleus might not have been a cell at all, but a virus.

“What we [eukaryotes] are is a classic case of what they call emergent complexity,” explained Philip Bell, the head of research for the yeast biotechnology company MicroBioGen. Bell proposed a viral origin for the eukaryotic nucleus back in 2001 and refreshed the theory in September. “It’s three organisms that came together to make a new community, which eventually integrated to such an extent that it became, effectively, a new life-form.”

He and other researchers take their confidence from findings such as the demonstration that giant viruses build “viral factories” inside prokaryotic cells — compartments that, much like the nucleus, uncouple the processes of transcription (reading genes) and translation (constructing proteins). “I think it’s now the strongest model,” he said.

Most researchers who study the origins of eukaryotes might not agree with him; some still describe it as an idea on the fringe. But proponents of a viral origin point out that several recent discoveries line up conveniently with a viral model — and they believe that conclusive evidence in their favor is finally within reach.

A Viral Gift or Grift

Scientists generally think eukaryotes first came on the scene between 2.5 billion and 1.5 billion years ago, when evidence suggests that a bacterium took up residence inside a different kind of prokaryote, an archaeon, and became its mitochondrion. But a deeper mystery surrounds the emergence of the nucleus; no one even knows whether that ancient archaeon was already a kind of proto-eukaryote with a nucleus, or whether the nucleus came later.

Any origin story for the eukaryotic nucleus needs to explain several of its features. There’s the nature of the structure, for starters: its nested inner and outer membranes, and the pores that connect its interior to the rest of the cell. There’s also the curious way it compartmentalizes the expression of genes within itself but leaves the construction of proteins outside. And a truly persuasive origin story must also explain why the nucleus exists at all — what evolutionary pressures pushed those ancient cells to wall up their genomes.

For most of the past century and more, conjectures about the origin of the nucleus failed to answer at least one of those questions. But around the turn of the 21st century, two researchers independently came up with the idea that viruses were responsible for the nucleus.

In Japan, Masaharu Takemura (then a research associate at Nagoya University) was studying the biochemistry of DNA polymerases — enzymes that cells use to copy DNA — when he became interested in their evolution. “I performed a phylogenetic analysis of DNA polymerases including eukaryotic, bacterial, archaeal and viral ones,” Takemura, now a molecular biologist and virologist at Tokyo University of Science, recalled in an email. His analysis revealed that one group of viruses (the poxviruses) had DNA polymerases that were surprisingly similar to one of the major classes of polymerases from eukaryotes. He hypothesized that the eukaryotic enzyme originated as a contribution from some ancient poxvirus.

Takemura also knew that poxviruses create and replicate inside compartments within the cells they infect. This combination of facts led him to theorize that the eukaryotic cell nucleus was derived from one of these ancestral poxvirus compartments — a proposal he published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution in May 2001.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Bell had come to a similar conclusion for different reasons. As a graduate student in the early 1990s, he had taken an interest in theories about the origin of the nucleus, especially the idea that, like mitochondria, it might have started as an endosymbiont. “Five minutes of looking and I go, ‘Jeez, if it’s an endosymbiont, it’s not a bacterial one,’” he recalled. There were just too many differences between bacterial and eukaryotic genomes, he felt, like the fact that eukaryotes have linear chromosomes while bacteria tend to have circular ones.

But when he looked at viral genomes, he came across striking similarities between the genome structure of poxviruses and eukaryotes. “It took me nine years to publish the first version of the model,” he noted. Then it took 18 months of back-and-forth to get the paper published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution … four issues after Takemura’s paper.

Now, nearly 20 years later, both Takemura and Bell have independently updated their hypotheses. Takemura’s revision was published online in Frontiers in Microbiology on September 3, Bell’s in Virus Research on September 20. “He’s done it to me again,” Bell said, laughing.

Both scientists cited recent discoveries involving an extraordinary group of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2020 at 10:51 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

“Red Beard,” a wonderful movie by Akira Kurosawa — and the Criterion Channel’s free trial with suggestions for use

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I just watched Red Beard, a long (3 hours) B&W movie, Kurosawa’s last movie with Toshiro Mifune and also his last in the cinematic widescreen ratio of 2.35 to 1. (He moved to a more moderate ratio to be more accommodating to television: 1.8 to 1).

The movie is about a medical clinic for the poor in 19th century Japan, and it is in effect a big ensemble effort with many characters playing out their stories. One advantage of the movie’s length is that it provides time for us to see gradual change in characters. Indeed, it’s like a lengthy 19th century novel (think Dickens’s Great Expectations, for example).

I don’t want to spoil the movie, but I do highly recommend it. I’m now going to watch it again because, having seen it once, I’ll know better what to look for so I’m sure I’ll see more on a second viewing. But I will mention one them.

“Red Beard” is the nickname given to Toshiro Mifune’s character, the somewhat gruff but wise and insightful doctor who runs the clinic. Obviously, given the setting, the idea of curing people is much in the foreground. One thing that comes through, as we see it in various people and contexts, is that forgiving is curative. People  infected with anger or frustration or sadness can cure themselves through understanding (and thus forgiving) the offender. This forgiveness may not help the offender, but it does help cure the forgiver by relieving them of the burden of negative thoughts and emotions.

A very good film — and on the Criterion Channel you can also watch it with a good commentary.

You can enjoy the Criterion Channel for two weeks free with a trial membership, so that’s what I’m doing now. I enjoyed rewatching Hopscotch (Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterson, Ned Beatty, and Herbert Lom, among others), and I’m going to see again The Makioka Sisters, which I was very impressed with when I saw it in the 1980s. And Videodrome, a very weird David Cronenberger film (that’s somewhat redundant) with James Woods. And… well, there’s quite a list.

I highly recommend the two-week Criterion Channel free trial just to see some of these movies. You can cancel after a couple of days (from the dropdown list by your name), and they’ll still allow you to continue watching for the full two weeks. This tactic is not a cheat — they want you to use the two-week free trial. That’s why they offer it.

I found their “All Films” list not very browse-friendly, but you can filter it by genre, decade, etc. One good way to pick films is to go to Amazon and search “Criterion Collection,” which will bring up a lot of titles with descriptions. You can then search the titles you want on the Criterion Channel (though they’re not all there: the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight) is in the Amazon list but not available on the Channel. Still, it’s an easy way to find possibilities.

UPDATE: And another film you definitely should watch: “Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers,” a 50-minute film on garlic (which I eat at pretty much every meal).

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2020 at 10:43 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Woody Almond and a surprise in a brush I know well

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This Style 1 Size 1 Rooney I thought I knew quite well — the Rooney equivalent of the Simpson Stubby, in my mind, based mainly on the handle. But this morning I suddenly noticed that it actually has quite a long loft — longer than the Rooney Style 3 Size 1. Odd that I never noticed it before, my impression being dominated by the handle.

The lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond shaving paste was excellent, and “paste” is a good name for it: not a soap, not a cream, but something in between.

As I’ve mentioned, my Feather AS-D1 is one of the good ones, efficient as well as comfortable. Three pleasurable passes produced a pristine face.

TOBS Bay Rum is very good, IMO, with a full well-rounded fragrance and a great feel on the skin. I accidentally took a photo of the reverse instead of the obverse of the bottle, but that does give you a (mostly unreadable) look at the ingredients. Click photo to enlarge.

A very fine and pleasant shave for a Thanksgiving morning.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2020 at 9:45 am

Posted in Shaving

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