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Archive for December 2020

A Tale of Two Vermouths

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Laura Fraser has an interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine:

It all started when I was in the mood for a Negroni—a classic Italian cocktail that is herbaceous, bitter but balanced, and made from a combination of equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, with a twist of orange. But I was out of Campari, and wanted something less lethal than a martini, which left only the vermouth.

But who drinks vermouth by itself? It’s the dusty bottle at the back of the liquor cabinet, brought out only for the occasional Manhattan or martini–and viewed, in the latter case, with a good deal of suspicion. Winston Churchill’s instruction for a martini was, allegedly, to “drink a tumbler of gin and bow in the direction of France.” Alfred Hitchcock’s martini recipe called for “five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth.” The mania for the dry martini, beginning in the 1950s, made vermouth unfashionable. Only Julia Child championed the much-maligned, herb-infused wine, inventing the “reverse martini,” where the vermouth took center stage, with only a splash of gin.

Well. In matters of taste—and with nothing else open in the liquor cabinet–are you going to listen to gin-guzzling gourmands or a French-inspired gourmet? I poured some vermouth on the rocks, added a twist, and drank it more or less straight—the way, it turns out, Europeans have been drinking it for centuries. It was surprising: light and refreshing, while satisfying that Negroni-like urge for something complex with a bitterness that bites back. I did glance at the bottle, as Hitchcock suggested, and considered that if I’d opened a fresh one sometime within the past seven years, it might have tasted even better. Vermouth is mainly wine—and wine, once opened, even if infused with herbs and fortified with brandy—doesn’t keep forever.

ntrigued, I began tasting other vermouths, starting in Italy, and spreading out to new artisanal varieties being made in the United States. It turns out that while I was rediscovering vermouth, so were the craft cocktail crowd and small-batch vintners, who have made this old-fashioned drink hip again. “Fifteen years ago, no one in the U.S. knew what a Negroni was, and even in Italy, vermouth was out of fashion,” says wine expert Claudio Villani of InoVino in San Francisco, who is from Florence. “Then the bar became central in restaurants, and you needed a mixologist, seasonal ingredients, and hand-crafted cocktail mixers, including vermouth.” In Barcelona, people have been going mad for vermouth bars, drinking the aperitif during “La hora de vermut,” which usually lasts three hours, not one; Spaniards tend to like their vermouth poured from the tap over ice with an olive and an orange twist, accompanied with a selection of anchovies, olives, mussels, and other savory snacks.

These days, if you take a seat at a bar with a serious mixology program in Brooklyn or San Francisco and ask for a vermouth, they don’t look at you like you just asked for a glass of your grandmother’s sweet sherry. They’ll ask which of the many new artisan brands you’d prefer. There’s even a bar in my neighborhood in San Francisco, the Alembic, that serves Brown Label vermouth on tap, made on the other side of town by a man named Carl Sutton. This made me curious to compare his vermouth—and how upstarts like him make it—with the Italian giants who’ve been concocting secret vermouth recipes since the mid-18th century.


Despite the vermouth revival, most Americans—including me, until recently—don’t understand what vermouth is, nor do they necessarily care to find out. When I opened a bottle of Italian amber vermouth for friends before a dinner party—a delicacy I’d bought in a musty shop in Turin and carried home—it was met with wrinkled noses and a request for white wine. Part of vermouth’s tainted reputation in this country is that it has mainly been made cheaply and in bulk in California, the herb flavors masking poor-quality wine, and it’s often the choice of down-on-their-luck drunks. But vermouth—perhaps the most complexly-crafted of wines—is usually much, much better than that.

Essentially, vermouth is neutral-tasting white wine that has been flavored with aromatic herbs, roots, and bark, and fortified with a neutral grape spirit, like must or brandy. In Italy, the definition of vermouth is stricter, requiring that caramel may be the only coloring, that it ranges between 14.5% and 22% alcohol, and that it contains one essential ingredient: artemesia, otherwise known as wormwood. The word “vermouth,” it turns out, is derived from “wermut,” the German name for the bark of this tree. Artemisia absintheum is the variety of wormwood that goes into absinthe, and all types contain the compound thujone, which has been considered dangerous and hallucinogenic, though recent scientists have ascribed the supposedly psychoactive effects of absinthe to overindulgence in the alcohol itself. In any case, thujone was banned from the U.S. for many years, and continues to be strictly regulated, which has made it difficult in this country to make what the Italians consider a “real vermouth.”

The invention of aromatized wine has been credited to Hippocrates, who used wormwood, dittany, and other Greek herbs to create a medicinal wine to help with digestion; “wormwood” was actually a treatment for intestinal worms. It became known as “Hippocratic wine” throughout antiquity, and the Romans improved the recipe by adding more herbs, including thyme, rosemary, and celery. But vermouth didn’t achieve its modern character until the Middle Ages, when Marco Polo introduced spices to the region, and the Venetians began their monopoly trade in cinnamon, myrrh, cloves, ginger, rhubarb, and other exotic botanicals.

Piedmont, a wine region in the north of Italy, which had been producing Hippocratic wines since the 18th century and grew abundant aromatic plants in its hills, was one of the first areas to begin cultivating the new exotics. In 1786, Antonio Benedetto Carpano, of the Fratelli Branca’s Carpano Antica distillery, took aromatized wine one step further and is credited with creating the modern vermouth. (To this day, Antica Formula remains a popular brand worldwide). The Carpanos’ success inspired others around Turin, including the Cinzano family, which opened its vermouth facility in 1816. Three years earlier, in southern France,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2020 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Drinks

She Noticed $200 Million Missing, Then She Was Fired

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Corporations, as one can readily observe, are legal persons: sociopaths who will do anything for money and have no guiding ethical or moral principles. In ProPublica Scott Morris provides an excellent example:

Earlier this year, the governing board of one of California’s most powerful regulatory agencies unleashed troubling accusations against its top employee.

Commissioners with the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, accused Executive Director Alice Stebbins of violating state personnel rules by hiring former colleagues without proper qualifications. They said the agency chief misled the public by asserting that as much as $200 million was missing from accounts intended to fund programs for the state’s blind, deaf, and poor. At a hearing in August, Commission President Marybel Batjer said that Stebbins had discredited the CPUC.

“You took a series of actions over the course of several years that calls into question your integrity,” Batjer told Stebbins, who joined the agency in 2018. Those actions, she said, “cause us to have to consider whether you can continue to serve as the leader of this agency.”

The five commissioners voted unanimously to terminate Stebbins, who had worked as an auditor and budget analyst for different state agencies for more than 30 years.

But an investigation by the Bay City News Foundation and ProPublica has found that Stebbins was right about the missing money.

Just days before Stebbins was fired, CPUC officials told California’s Department of Finance that the agency was owed more than $200 million, according to a memo obtained by the news organizations. The finance agency launched an investigation into the uncollected funds.

The news organizations’ investigation also found flaws in the State Personnel Board report that Batjer used to terminate Stebbins. Three former CPUC employees said in interviews that the report contained falsehoods. The report alleged that the auditor who discovered the missing money was unqualified. But hiring materials obtained by the news organizations show that state officials had determined that the auditor was the most qualified candidate, awarding him an “excellent” rating in every category.

Batjer, a former casino executive, was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to lead the commission in July 2019, the same month Stebbins briefed the commissioners on problems with the agency’s accounting practices. Early on, Batjer scrutinized Stebbins’ personnel decisions, according to previously unreported text messages obtained by the news organizations. Shortly after she was sworn in as president in August, Batjer texted a former colleague in Newsom’s cabinet.

Batjer told Julie Lee, who was serving as California’s acting secretary of Government Operations, or GovOps, that she was “very concerned”: She believed the auditor was not qualified for the job and was upset that Stebbins had given him a raise after putting him in charge of additional employees. Batjer had previously served as head of GovOps, which oversees the State Personnel Board.

“I find this outrageous!” Batjer wrote to her old colleague. “I’m terribly worried. Thanks much for any advice/help you can get before this gets much worse.”

“Let’s get together and figure this out!” Lee responded. “We will help you fix, don’t stress.”

The commissioners appear to have violated state transparency laws when they later exchanged text messages among themselves about whether to fire Stebbins. California law prohibits the majority of a public body from discussing matters under its jurisdiction outside of a regular meeting, particularly to build a consensus, legal experts said.

“I can’t imagine her remaining,” Batjer wrote a fellow commissioner in a private text message.

Stebbins filed a wrongful termination suit against the CPUC this month. In a series of interviews, the most extensive since her termination, she described an agency mired in disorganization and ineptitude. An experienced administrator, she was recruited by the previous president to clean up a dysfunctional agency. She found some of her employees did not know basic information about the utilities they were supposed to be regulating — in one case, lacking even current contact information for regulated water companies. Audits dating back to 2012 had found ineffective budget management and a need for improved fiscal monitoring.

“You’ve got just systemic issues,” Stebbins said in an interview. “The only way you can make those changes is to really tear it apart.”

Batjer did not respond to requests for an interview. The other commissioners did not return emails seeking comment. The CPUC has not yet responded to Stebbins’ lawsuit. Through a spokesperson, Lee denied that she triggered or influenced the investigation into Stebbins. The State Personnel Board declined to comment on their investigation.

In response to detailed questions, commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said that Stebbins’ allegation of $200 million in missing fines and fees was the result of a misunderstanding of the commission’s accounting practices.

Prosper did not address the apparent open meeting violations, citing pending litigation. But she said Stebbins’ manipulation of the hiring process warranted her dismissal. She acknowledged “some inaccuracies” in the state personnel report but dismissed them as “nonsubstantive details.”

“Her allegation that she was dismissed for finding alleged budget irregularities flies in the face of the clear public action taken by the CPUC,” Prosper said.

A Cleanup Job

The CPUC was formed in the early 20th century to regulate railroads. Since then, numerous other industries have been placed under its oversight, including giant electric and gas monopolies, phone companies, water providers and transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, making it one of the most powerful agencies in California.

But in recent years, the CPUC has faced accusations that it has become too cozy with utilities. In 2010, a PG&E gas line exploded in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, killed eight and destroyed 30 homes. The CPUC president at the time, a former energy executive, resigned after it was revealed he and his staff were helping a PG&E executive pick the judge for an upcoming rate case.

Stebbins was hired as the agency’s executive director in February 2018 to bring fresh scrutiny to its finances and operations.

Stebbins was disturbed by what she found at the CPUC. Fiscal mismanagement and disorganization made holding utilities accountable impossible, she said. She ordered extensive audits of agency divisions, accounting practices and specialized programs for providing services to impoverished and disabled California residents.

She quickly fired the head of the Water Division, who oversaw 110 investor-owned utilities serving about 6.3 million residents. Stebbins said that the division wasn’t . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting albeit infuriating. Example:

Stebbins was disturbed by what she found at the CPUC. Fiscal mismanagement and disorganization made holding utilities accountable impossible, she said. She ordered extensive audits of agency divisions, accounting practices and specialized programs for providing services to impoverished and disabled California residents.

She quickly fired the head of the Water Division, who oversaw 110 investor-owned utilities serving about 6.3 million residents. Stebbins said that the division wasn’t keeping basic records like contact information for the utilities it regulates.

An audit found division staff members were often not conducting required on-site visits and when they did, the inspections were brief and incomplete. When a utility was found out of compliance with regulations, the division rarely issued citations, even when violations persisted. One utility had been collecting fees from ratepayers for 19 years and failing to send the money to the CPUC, Stebbins said.

“It was a nonfunctioning division, and it’s still for the most part nonfunctioning,” Stebbins said.

One audit Stebbins ordered found the CPUC was doing a poor job collecting on debts. It found $49.9 million in outstanding collections as of the end of 2019. That included more than $12 million in enforcement fines, more than $22 million in telecommunication fines and more than $14 million in reimbursable contracts. About $21.1 million had been due since before 2017.

“Given that nearly $50 million is owed to the CPUC,” the audit said, “CPUC should investigate whether the program areas utilize appropriate collection efforts against companies with delinquent payments and to what extent follow up occurs.”

I’m beginning to have some doubts about Gavin Newsom.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2020 at 3:13 pm

Backstory to Apple’s new M1 System on a Chip: How an obscure British PC maker invented ARM and changed the world

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Image by Jason Korchinsky

Jason Torchinsky has in Ars Technica a fascinating article that includes videos. His article begins:

Let’s be honest: 2020 sucks. So much of this year has been a relentless slog of bad news and miserable events that it’s been hard to keep up. Yet most of us have kept up, and the way most of us do so is with the small handheld computers we carry with us at all times. At least in America, we still call these by the hilariously reductive name “phones.”

We can all use a feel-good underdog story right now, and luckily our doomscrolling 2020 selves don’t have to look very far. That’s because those same phones, and so much of our digital existence, run on the same thing: the ARM family of CPUs. And with Apple’s release of a whole new line of Macs based on their new M1 CPU—an ARM-based processor—and with those machines getting fantastic reviews, it’s a good time to remind everyone of the strange and unlikely source these world-controlling chips came from.

If you were writing reality as a screenplay, and, for some baffling reason, you had to specify what the most common central processing unit used in most phones, game consoles, ATMs, and other innumerable devices was, you’d likely pick one from one of the major manufacturers, like Intel. That state of affairs would make sense and fit in with the world as people understand it; the market dominance of some industry stalwart would raise no eyebrows or any other bits of hair on anyone.

But what if, instead, you decided to make those CPUs all hail from a barely-known company from a country usually not the first to come to mind as a global leader in high-tech innovations (well, not since, say, the 1800s)? And what if that CPU owed its existence, at least indirectly, to an educational TV show? Chances are the producers would tell you to dial this script back a bit; come on, take this seriously, already.

And yet, somehow, that’s how reality actually is.

In the beginning, there was TV

The ARM processor, the bit of silicon that controls over 130 billion devices all over the world and without which modernity would effectively come to a crashing halt, has a really strange origin story. Its journey is peppered with bits of seemingly bad luck that ended up providing crucial opportunities, unexpected technical benefits that would prove absolutely pivotal, and a start in some devices that would be considered abject failures.

But everything truly did sort of get set in motion by a TV show—a 1982 BBC program called The Computer Programme. This was an attempt by the BBC to educate Britons about just what the hell all these new fancy machines that looked like crappy typewriters connected to your telly were all about.

The show was part of a larger Computer Literacy Project started by the British government and the BBC as a response to fears that the UK was deeply and alarmingly unprepared for the new revolution in personal computing that was happening in America. Unlike most TV shows, the BBC wanted to feature a computer on the show that would be used to explain fundamental computing concepts and teach a bit of BASIC programming. The concepts included graphics and sound, the ability to connect to teletext networks, speech synthesis, and even some rudimentary AI. As a result, the computer needed for the show would have to be pretty good—in fact, the producers’ demands were initially so high that nothing on the market really satisfied the BBC’s aspirations.

So, the BBC put out a call to the UK’s young computer industry, which was then dominated by Sinclair, a company that made its fortune in calculators and tiny televisions. Ultimately, it was a much smaller upstart company that ended up getting the lucrative contract: Acorn Computers.

An Acorn blooms

Acorn was a Cambridge-based firm that started in 1979 after developing computer systems originally designed to run fruit machines—we call them slot machines—then turning them into small hobbyist computer systems based on 6502 processors. That was the same CPU family used in the Apple II, Atari 2600, and Commodore 64 computers, among many others. This CPU’s design will become important later, so, you know, don’t forget about it.

Acorn had developed a home computer called the Atom, and when the BBC opportunity arose, they started plans for the Atom’s successor to be developed into what would become the BBC Micro.

The BBC’s demanding list of features ensured the resulting machine would be quite powerful for the era, though not quite as powerful as Acorn’s original Atom-successor design. That Atom successor would have featured two CPUs, a tried-and-true 6502 and an as-yet undecided 16-bit CPU.

Acorn later dropped that CPU but kept an interface system, called the Tube, that would allow for additional CPUs to be connected to the machine. (This too will become more important later.)

The engineering of the BBC Micro really pushed Acorn’s limits, as it was a pretty state-of-the-art machine for the era. This resulted in some fascinatingly half-ass but workable engineering decisions, like having to replicate the placement of an engineer’s finger on the motherboard with a resistor pack in order to get the machine to work.

Nobody ever really figured out why the machine only worked when a finger was placed on a certain point on the motherboard, but once they were able to emulate the finger touch with resistors, they were just satisfied it worked, and moved on.

Here, listen to one of the key engineers tell you himself: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s fascinating (to me, at any rate).

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2020 at 1:16 pm

“All I Want for Christmas,” Star-Trek style

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Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2020 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Memes, Movies & TV, Music, Video

An English word that has come down directly from Proto-Indo-European

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Sevindj Nurkiyazova writes in Nautilus:

One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classic.” But Guy, who has lived in the city for the past 17 years, is passionate about lox for a different reason. “The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably ‘lox,’ and that’s exactly how it is pronounced in modern English,” he says. “Then, it meant salmon, and now it specifically means ‘smoked salmon.’ It’s really cool that that word hasn’t changed its pronunciation at all in 8,000 years and still refers to a particular fish.”

How scholars have traced the word’s pronunciation over thousands of years is also really cool. The story goes back to Thomas Young, also known as “The Last Person Who Knew Everything.” The 18th-century British polymath came up with the wave theory of light, first described astigmatism, and played a key role in deciphering the Rosetta Stone. Like some people before him, Young noticed eerie similarities between Indic and European languages. He went further, analyzing 400 languages spread across continents and millennia and proved that the overlap between some of them was too extensive to be an accident. A single coincidence meant nothing, but each additional one increased the chance of an underlying connection. In 1813, Young declared that all those languages belong to one family. He named it “Indo-European.”

Today, roughly half the world’s population speaks an Indo-European language. That family includes 440 languages spoken across the globe, including English. The word yoga, for example, which comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, is a distant relative of the English word yoke. The nature of this relationship puzzled historical linguists for two centuries.

In modern English, well over half of all words are borrowed from other languages. To trace how language changes over time, linguists developed an ingenious toolkit. “Some parts of vocabulary are more stable and don’t change as much. The linguistic term [for these words] is ‘a core vocabulary.’ These are numbers, colors, family relations like ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ ‘sister,’ ‘brother,’ and basic verbs like ‘walk’ and ‘see,’ says Guy. “If you look at words of that sort in different languages, it becomes fairly clear which ones are related and which ones are not. For example, take the English word for number two, which is dva in Russian and deux in French, or the word night, which is nacht in German and noch in Russian.”

Analyzing the patterns of change that words undergo, moving from one language to another, showed how to unwind these changes and identify the possible originals. “Reconstructed vocabulary of Indo-European is based on a comparison of descendant languages,” explains Guy. “You collect words that mean more or less the same thing in all the languages, and if they look like each other in terms of their pronunciation, then it’s a good candidate for a descendant from a common ancestor.” The English word honey is madhu in Sanskrit and myod in Russian. Sanskrit and Russian haven’t shared a common ancestor since Indo-European, so these words had to come from the same source. (There are also the words mead in English, met in German and mjød in Danish that refer to an alcoholic drink made from honey.)

After discovering a word that might have existed in the Indo-European, linguists compared how its pronunciations changed from language to language. For example, sound [k] changes to [h] from Latin to Germanic, and the Latin word casa transforms into the English house while the French word cœur transforms into the English heart.* With hints like that, linguists could undo the sound changes and trace the original pronunciation. In several thousand years, most words change beyond recognition, like the word wheel, which initially might have sounded “kʷékʷlos.” But there were some remarkable exceptions—like the timeless lox.

The family tree of the Indo-European languages sprawls across Eurasia, including such different species as English and Tocharian B, an extinct language once spoken on the territory of Xinjiang in modern China. In Tocharian B, the word for “fish/salmon” is laks, similar to German lachs, and Icelandic lax—the only ancestor all these languages share is the Proto-Indo-European. In Russian, Czech, Croatian, Macedonian, and Latvian, the [k] sound changed to [s,] resulting in the word losos.

This kind of millennia-long semantic consistency also appears in other words. For example, the Indo-European porkos, similar to modern English pork, meant a young pig. “What is interesting about the word lox is that it simply happened to consist of sounds that didn’t undergo changes in English and several other daughter languages descended from Proto-Indo-European,” says Guy. “The sounds that change across time are unpredictable, and differ from language to language, and some may not happen to change at all.”

The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived. The fact that those distantly related Indo-European languages had almost the same pronunciation of a single word meant that the word—and the concept behind it—had most likely existed in the Proto-Indo-European language. “If they had a word for it, they must have lived in a place where there was salmon,” explains Guy. “Salmon is a fish that lives in the ocean, reproduces in fresh water and swims up to rivers to lay eggs and mate. There are only a few places on the planet where that happens.”

In reconstructed Indo-European, there were words for bearhoneyoak tree, and snow, and, which is . . .

Continue reading.

There’s also a good discussion of this in David Anthony’s fascinating book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.

See also this earlier post and this one as well.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2020 at 11:36 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Memes

La Toja and the (original) Game Changer

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La Toja has a great backstory, which I recounted in a previous post, and the soap makes a great lather and does seem especially good in its effect on my skin. The original (.68-P) Game Changer is for me a wonderful razor, and three passes did a fine job. A splash of La Toja aftershave, and here we are at Christmas Eve. Have a good day!

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2020 at 11:27 am

Posted in Shaving

100 Tips for a Better Life

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The end of the Gregorian calendar year seems to bring forth many listicles. Here’s another one, which nabbed me with its first tip:


1 .If you want to find out about people’s opinions on a product, google <product> reddit. You’ll get real people arguing, as compared to the SEO’d Google results.

2. Some . . .

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

An Open Letter to the Woman in Smith’s Food and Drug Who Was Enraged That Land O’Lakes Removed the Native American Logo from Its Butter Tub

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A wonderful missive by Liz Reuss in McSweeney’s:

Dear Smith’s Food and Drug Shopper,

I couldn’t help but overhear your tirade in the dairy aisle as you loudly complained about how Land O’Lakes kowtowed to the “libtards” by removing the image of the “Indian” woman from its butter tub.

I would apologize for eavesdropping, but the decibel of your voice indicated you wanted us all to know the “PC Police are coming for our freedoms.” Assuming “freedoms,” in this case, means being able to look at a drawing of a Native American woman holding a stick of butter while eating that same stick of butter. And assuming PC Police are not a deputized group of individuals but rather a general shift in our collective consciousness away from exploiting stereotypes in order to sell products.

Perhaps I misread your tone. Maybe you’re upset about the lack of representation of Indigenous Peoples and are using your white privilege to speak on behalf of a group that for centuries has been mistreated by white Europeans and their descendants. However, based on how heavily you stressed the first syllable of “INdian,” I’m making assumptions. So shame on me, who’s stereotyping now?

You might be right that I am a “slave to woke culture” by assuming Mia, the Land O’Lakes maiden, is a stereotype. According to Robert DesJarlait of the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation, whose father redesigned her image in 1954, “Mia seems to have stirred a sense of remembrance and place” among many Native Americans who never objected to her representation. Maybe you only wanted to amplify their voices when you pivoted from butter to football and declared that to you, they will always be the Washington Redskins. You, a white woman of indeterminate older age, living 1,873 miles away from FedEx Field.

We could both be wrong, and Land O’Lakes told the truth when it said the logo redesign was to recognize the dairy farmers who make its products. Butter was never a part of the traditional Native American diet anyway. Particularly for the Ojibwe people, whose diets revolved around beans, wild rice, berries, and game meats. But look at me — telling you this as if you don’t know it already!

I was troubled to hear you threaten to take your business to Trader Joe’s, where they have resisted the “Strong Arm of the Left” and continue to sell their vaguely ethnic foods under the Trader Ming’s, Trader José, and Arabian Joe banners. First, it is my duty to inform you there isn’t a single Trader Joe’s in Edgewood, New Mexico. You’ll have to drive to Albuquerque, which is 60 minutes round trip, unless it’s rush hour, and then you’re looking at 90 minutes, maybe two hours. All for butter? It’s madness! Second, Trader Joe’s butter is just called “Butter,” not something racist and catchy, which I think is what you’re looking for.

I implore you to consider . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 11:51 am

Posted in Daily life

Oddly compelling series on Netflix: The Uncanny Counter

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I didn’t expect all that much when I decide to watch some of the first episode of The Uncanny Counter, but I find it strangely gripping. It’s one where episodes are released weekly, but right now 8 episodes are available (and I’m in episode 4).

You might try watching the first episode and see what you think. Korean, subtitles, police/supernatural.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 11:35 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Emotional moment worth watching: California Senatorial appointment

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Watch this brief clip.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 10:37 am

“I’m Haunted by What I Did as a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department”

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worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department from 2016-18, writes in the NY Times:

I was an attorney at the Justice Department when Donald Trump was elected president. I worked in the Office of Legal Counsel, which is where presidents turn for permission slips that say their executive orders and other contemplated actions are lawful. I joined the department during the Obama administration, as a career attorney whose work was supposed to be independent of politics.

I never harbored delusions about a Trump presidency. Mr. Trump readily volunteered that his agenda was to disassemble our democracy, but I made a choice to stay at the Justice Department — home to some of the country’s finest lawyers — for as long as I could bear it. I believed that I could better serve our country by pushing back from within than by keeping my hands clean. But I have come to reconsider that decision.

My job was to tailor the administration’s executive actions to make them lawful — in narrowing them, I could also make them less destructive. I remained committed to trying to uphold my oath even as the president refused to uphold his.

But there was a trade-off: We attorneys diminished the immediate harmful impacts of President Trump’s executive orders — but we also made them more palatable to the courts.

This burst into public view early in the Trump administration in the litigation over the executive order banning travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, which my office approved. The first Muslim ban was rushed out the door. It was sweeping and sloppy; the courts quickly put a halt to it. The successive discriminatory bans benefited from more time and attention from the department’s lawyers, who narrowed them but also made them more technocratic and therefore harder for the courts to block.

After the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision upholding the third Muslim ban, I reviewed my own portfolio — which included matters targeting noncitizens, dismantling the Civil Service and camouflaging the president’s corruption — overcome with fear that I was doing more harm than good. By Thanksgiving of that year, I had left my job.

Still, I felt I was abandoning the ship. I continued to believe that a critical mass of responsible attorneys staying in government might provide a last line of defense against the administration’s worst instincts. Even after I left, I advised others that they could do good by staying. News reports about meaningful pushback by Justice Department attorneys seemed to confirm this thinking.

I was wrong.

Watching the Trump campaign’s attacks on the election results, I now see what might have happened if, rather than nip and tuck the Trump agenda, responsible Justice Department attorneys had collectively — ethically, lawfully — refused to participate in President Trump’s systematic attacks on our democracy from the beginning. The attacks would have failed.

Unlike the Trump Justice Department, the Trump campaign has relied on second-rate lawyers who lack the skills to maintain the president’s charade. After a recent oral argument from Rudy Giuliani, Judge Matthew Brann (a Republican) wrote that the campaign had offered “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.” Even judges appointed by Mr. Trump have refused to throw their lots in with lawyers who can’t master the basic mechanics of lawyering.

After four years of bulldozing through one institution after another on the backs of skilled lawyers, the Trump agenda hit a brick wall.

The story of the Trump campaign’s attack on our elections could have been the story of

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 8:36 am

Why are there so few children’s books set in the suburbs?

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Philip Reed, a professor of philosophy at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, writes in Psyche:

Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sandbank underneath the root of a very big fir tree. One day, their mother dropped them off at soccer practice and picked them up promptly afterward. When they got home, they all had bread and milk and blackberries.

That is roughly how the classic Beatrix Potter story from 1902 would go if it had been set in the American suburbs. But even if Potter hadn’t set her books in England’s Lake District, she would never have chosen a suburban setting. The suburbs kill the narrative adventure that is the lifeblood of children’s literature.

Reading picture books to my children over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed how many of the stories shun a suburban setting. This is no accident: the tales that most grip the imagination of children (and adults), with few exceptions, require rural or urban locations for their drama and vitality.

To simplify, the antithesis of North American suburbia is walkability, and picture books with literary merit love walkability. Compelling children’s stories require that their characters are able to navigate their setting at a pedestrian scale and pace. For example, in the US author Arnold Lobel’s classic stories of the 1970s, Frog and Toad never appear in a car, despite being thoroughly anthropomorphised. What most draws the reader into the stories are the adventures that the amphibians experience between their houses – in the meadow, the woods and the tall grass. They climb mountains and swim in ponds, but they also walk everywhere: to fly a kite, to buy ice-cream, to fulfil a to-do list.

The plots of the Frances stories of the 1960s and ’70s written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban also revolve around walkability. Frances can walk to the general store and buy a tea set or a Chompo bar. Her trips on foot to her friends’ houses frequently initiate narrative adventure. ‘Today is my wandering day,’ announces Frances’s friend Albert, on which he likes to catch snakes, walk on fences and look for crow feathers. ‘Wandering days’ in American suburbs, however, are infrequent or nearly impossible. Walkable environments preserve independence for the young, who are often the main characters in children’s stories.

Consider George and Martha as yet another example. The only cars we see them in are the bumper cars at the amusement park. The US writer and illustrator James Marshall’s beloved hippopotamuses of the 1970s and ’80s consistently engage meaningful, walkable destinations rather than sprawling subdivisions. They can hopscotch home after a visit to the store, comfort each other on their walk home from a scary movie, or push a bed to a picnic using roller skates.

In urban settings, walkability is closely linked to public transport, which is another narrative avenue for rich engagement with one’s environment. Accordingly, the number of picture books that feature trains and buses is significantly greater than the number of trains and buses that most Americans experience. Yet I’ve never seen a picture book that features a minivan or an SUV.

The zookeeper in Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night, Gorilla (1994) lives within walking distance of the zoo. In Erin and Philip Stead’s A Sick Day for Amos McGee (2011), the zookeeper takes the bus to work. Both commutes are integral to the stories’ plots, enabling shenanigans for the zoo animals.

Besides public transport, urban settings give other ample opportunities for  . . .

Continue reading.

I find his point about the importance of “walkability” an interesting insight, which, now that I live in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, I understand. Think of places you’ve lived in which you mostly got around by walking (and perhaps public transportation as well) rather than by car. Being in a car is isolating, walking among people or being among them by using public transportation involves you more in the daily lives of others.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 8:30 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Memes

Trump moved cyber security budget to pay for his wall before major hacking assault

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Stuti Mishra reports in the Independent:

A former FBI deputy has alleged that President Trump has been diverting money from cybersecurity resources to build a wall at a time when the “nation is under attack”.

Speaking to MSNBC on Thursday about a report published in Politico that revealed that hackers accessed systems at the National Nuclear Security Administration, Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI deputy director for counterintelligence, said that the reason such attacks are occurring is that the budget for cybersecurity under the Trump administration had been squeezed in order to prioritise other things.

“Make no mistake, our nation is under attack and it appears to be ongoing,” said Mr Figliuzzi. “How does something like this happen of this magnitude? Where 300,000 clients of a private company are potentially impacted including the most sensitive agencies in our government, it is because the Russias were able to find a single point of failure in our supply chain.”

“Meaning this product that comes from SolarWinds is a network management product used by too many, quite frankly, of all government agencies and too many of our top telecommunications companies. Ten of which were compromised as far as we know — so far. So, it is a larger issue, Nicolle, of supply chain management.”

He also said that it’s more than merely an intelligence failure but rather “it’s a national defense failure.”

“This is the defence of our nation and systems and failure to oversee our supply chain in a form of allowing one company to service so many of our government agencies,” he said.

“The Russians found that weakness and exploited it and we’re still learning the extent of the damage and Natasha reported that hour now our nuclear components have been impacted and one of the words that jumped out there the reporting is damaged.”

On Thursday, Politico reported that the Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 8:24 am

Kushner OK’d Trump Campaign Shell Company That Secretly Paid Trump’s Inner Circle

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Rachel Olding in the Daily Beast describes the details of how Trump’s scam “send me money to fight election outcome” works:

ared Kushner approved the creation of a shell company that operated like a “campaign within a campaign” and secretly funneled millions of dollars in campaign cash to Trump family members, Business Insider reports. The company, American Made Media Consultants Corporation and American Made Media Consultants LLC, took more than half of the Trump campaign’s massive $1.26 billion war chest and was largely shielded from having to publicly report financial details. However, a source told Business Insider that Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump was the company’s president, Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew was its VP, and Trump campaign CFO Sean Dollman was treasurer and secretary.

The mysterious company caused consternation among other campaign staffers, who had no idea how it was spending money, and the Campaign Legal Center filed a civil complaint with the FEC in June accusing the Trump campaign of laundering $170 million largely through it. A campaign spokesperson . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 8:13 am

Otoko Organics, the wonderful odd shaving soap

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Otoko Organics has an odd formulation, with a distinctive (and mild) fragrance from the pear essence in it. Its lather also is distinctive, an odd stiffish lather, pleasant to apply and highly effective. I treasure my tub — which, incidentally is made so that top interlocks with the bottom. This clearly is a design to facilitate stacking, but it also means that the top performs perfectly as a pedestal. Previously, I had not noticed that, but ever since Steve Riehle pointed out that using the top as the tub’s pedestal solves the problem of where to put the top (in my bathroom with its paucity of counter space, I’ve been using that method. This is the first tub I encountered where the top interlocked with the btom, but I bet my Eufros shaving soap in the plastic tubs might do that as well. We’ll see.

At any rate, a very fine lather emerged using my Yaqi Target Shot brush, and the Yaqi DOC razor did its usual superb job. This is an exceptional razor. Three passes always produce a totally smooth result, and it never so much as threatens to nick.

A splash of Barrister & Mann’s Fougère Classique finished the job. A great start to an overcast but not rainy day, so another walko — 6600 steps yesterday, gas a few oing for 8000 today. And on the way way I pass a store that has a few remaining heads of locally grown red Russian garlic, which I will scoop up (if any are left by time I arrive), since that garlic will not be seen again until October at the earliest.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2020 at 8:03 am

Posted in Shaving

How Claude Shannon Invented the Future

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David Tse writes in Quanta:

Science seeks the basic laws of nature. Mathematics searches for new theorems to build upon the old. Engineering builds systems to solve human needs. The three disciplines are interdependent but distinct. Very rarely does one individual simultaneously make central contributions to all three — but Claude Shannon was a rare individual.

Despite being the subject of the recent documentary The Bit Player — and someone whose work and research philosophy have inspired my own career — Shannon is not exactly a household name. He never won a Nobel Prize, and he wasn’t a celebrity like Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman, either before or after his death in 2001. But more than 70 years ago, in a single groundbreaking paper, he laid the foundation for the entire communication infrastructure underlying the modern information age.

Shannon was born in Gaylord, Michigan, in 1916, the son of a local businessman and a teacher. After graduating from the University of Michigan with degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics, he wrote a master’s thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that applied a mathematical discipline called Boolean algebra to the analysis and synthesis of switching circuits. It was a transformative work, turning circuit design from an art into a science, and is now considered to have been the starting point of digital circuit design.

Next, Shannon set his sights on an even bigger target: communication.

Communication is one of the most basic human needs. From smoke signals to carrier pigeons to the telephone to television, humans have always sought methods that would allow them to communicate farther, faster and more reliably. But the engineering of communication systems was always tied to the specific source and physical medium. Shannon instead asked, “Is there a grand unified theory for communication?” In a 1939 letter to his mentor, Vannevar Bush, Shannon outlined some of his initial ideas on “fundamental properties of general systems for the transmission of intelligence.” After working on the problem for a decade, Shannon finally published his masterpiece in 1948: “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.”

The heart of his theory is a simple but very general model of communication: A transmitter encodes information into a signal, which is corrupted by noise and then decoded by the receiver. Despite its simplicity, Shannon’s model incorporates two key insights: isolating the information and noise sources from the communication system to be designed, and modeling both of these sources probabilistically. He imagined the information source generating one of many possible messages to communicate, each of which had a certain probability. The probabilistic noise added further randomness for the receiver to disentangle.

Before Shannon, the problem of communication was primarily viewed as a deterministic signal-reconstruction problem: how to transform a received signal, distorted by the physical medium, to reconstruct the original as accurately as possible. Shannon’s genius lay in his observation that the key to communication is uncertainty. After all, if you knew ahead of time what I would say to you in this column, what would be the point of writing it?

This single observation shifted the communication problem from the physical to the abstract, allowing Shannon to model the uncertainty using probability. This came as a total shock to the communication engineers of the day.

Given that framework of uncertainty and probability, Shannon set out in his landmark paper to systematically determine the fundamental limit of communication. His answer came in three parts. Playing a central role in all three is the concept of an information “bit,” used by Shannon as the basic unit of uncertainty. A portmanteau of “binary digit,” a bit could be either a 1 or a 0, and Shannon’s paper is the first to use the word (though he said the mathematician John Tukey used it in a memo first).

First, Shannon came up with a formula for the minimum number of bits per second to represent the information, a number he called its entropy rate, H. This number quantifies the uncertainty involved in determining which message the source will generate. The lower the entropy rate, the less the uncertainty, and thus the easier it is to compress the message into something shorter. For example, texting at the rate of 100 English letters per minute means sending 26100 possible messages every minute, each represented by a sequence of 100 letters. One could encode all these possibilities into 470 bits, since 2470 ≈ 26100. If the sequences were equally likely, then Shannon’s formula would say that the entropy rate is indeed 470 bits per minute. In reality, some sequences are much more likely than others, and the entropy rate is much lower, allowing for greater compression.

Second, he provided a formula for the maximum number of bits per second that can be reliably communicated in the face of noise, which he called the system’s capacity, C. This is the maximum rate at which the receiver can resolve the message’s uncertainty, effectively making it the speed limit for communication.

Finally, he showed that reliable communication of the information from the source in the face of noise is possible if and only if  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 December 2020 at 4:30 pm

Congress helped with US medical fees — and reminded us of how bad it is

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Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post:

In the 5,593 pages of the covid-19 relief and spending bill that will soon become law, there are some awful things and some wonderful things. And at least one provision is both.

It’s a provision that protects patients from “surprise medical bills,” just one of many horrors unique to the American health care system. It’s wonderful that the relief bill addresses the problem. It’s awful that it was even necessary.

Here’s how surprise medical bills work. You have an injury or an accident or some other kind of medical crisis, and since you don’t want to get hit with a huge bill, you go to the emergency room of a hospital in your network. Then a few weeks later you get a bill for hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, because unbeknownst to you, someone who treated you wasn’t in your network. Surprise!

Maybe it was the doctor in the ER; it could have been someone who showed up when you were unconscious, so even if you had the presence of mind to ask every person in the room “Are you in my network?” as you were bleeding all over the place, you still wouldn’t have avoided the bill.

As The Post notes, “A study this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation of millions of insurance claims found that nearly 1 in 5 emergency room visits nationwide led to at least one unexpected bill for care outside the patient’s insurance network.”

This worked out great for the health care industry, as long as it didn’t attract too much attention. Insurers could avoid some costs, and as the New York Times reports, “Some private-equity firms have turned this kind of billing into a robust business model, buying emergency room doctor groups and moving the providers out of network so they could bill larger fees.” What an inspiring story of entrepreneurial creativity.

Now the responsibility has been taken off the backs of patients. But Congress excluded ambulance rides, which are usually not in-network and cost hundreds of dollars. And the new rules won’t take effect for another year.

To repeat: It’s great that Congress addressed this problem, even if imperfectly. And it’s absolutely insane that we have a health care system that victimizes us this way in the first place.

You probably know the basic problem: America pays far more than any other country on earth for health care, yet we have tens of millions of people with no insurance at all, and our health outcomes are no better than countries that spend much less. We spend twice as much per capita as the average country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, yet we have the lowest life expectancy among those advanced countries.

Underneath that broad reality is an orgy of exploitation and victimization in ways large and small, ranging from the bill that’s merely annoying to the one that drives you into bankruptcy.

That the industry has convinced us that we can do no more than tinker around the edges of this system has to count as one of the great propaganda triumphs in history. Wendell Potter, an insurance industry whistleblower, will be happy to explain how he and others spread the lie that the Canadian health care system is a nightmare when it’s superior to ours in almost every way, to convince people that serious reform is impossible and they should be happy with what they have.

Yet if you asked someone from anywhere else in the industrialized world how their country handles surprise medical bills, they’d answer, “What now?” That’s because they don’t have them. Nor do they have “medical debt.” Or “the uninsured.” Or “networks” a provider could be in or out of. It’s just not a thing.

That’s because while there are many different health care models — Britain’s is different from Canada’s, which is different from Germany’s, which is different from Japan’s — all start from the premise that everyone deserves care they can afford. When that requires strong government to make sure prices stay reasonable and patients are protected — even if it means your orthopedist might drive a Volkswagen and not a Porsche — that’s what they use.

Our system, on the other hand, is based on the premise that health care is, at its heart, a business that should continue to generate massive profits, with some regulation that curbs its worst excesses. The result is not only that we have to pay so much for a system with so many holes, but that periodically we learn about some horrific practice like surprise billing, which continues until it gets enough attention that Congress resists industry lobbying and gets rid of it. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 December 2020 at 4:17 pm

Vegetable melange template

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The way I cook and what I cook changes over time. For example, in May of last year I discontinued adding salt to the foods I cook or eat (and avoid foods high in salt — for example, sauerkraut, pickles, potato chips). And I stopped (in general — occasional exceptions) eating meat, dairy, eggs, and fish — which initially made it difficult for me to think out a meal, but then I found Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen and have used that as a general guide since.

In this post I’ll describe how I now approach a vegetable dish. I’m not sure what to call it — it’s not a stew, exactly, and it’s always a combination of vegetables. I’ll go with “vegetable melange.” (I also cook a variety of greens together, so I’ll describe later my “greens melange.”) The vegetable melange fits the Daily Dozen category of “Other Vegetables.” (See also an earlier and somewhat different take in this post.)

I now keep on hand some form of cooked beans (beans, lentils, tempeh) and some kind of cooked intact whole grain (kamut most commonly, but also whole rye, hulled barley, red fife wheat — and also occasionally quinoa or amaranth). These take care of the Beans and Grain categories, and when I serve vegetable melange it is with Beans and Grain (and sometime Nuts/Seeds: usually walnuts or pepitas/pumpkin seeds).


Vegetables tend to be bulky (though not so bulky as Greens) until they cook down, so I often use my 6-qt 11.3″-diameter pot (wide diameter helps with cooking), but if I’m going to sauté the vegetables, then I’ll use a large (12″) cast-iron skillet or my 4-qt d3 All-Clad Stainless sauté pan.


I use extra-virgin olive oil (and get a reliable brand), and generally about 1.5 tablespoons. Not much is needed since I include vegetables that will release some liquid during cooking (e.g., mushrooms, tomatoes, summer squash)


I always include garlic. Since the dish is large — I like cook once to get multiple meals — I use a fairly large amount of garlic, generally a head of garlic. I peel the cloves and slice (using a garlic mandoline) or chop them. I do this first in preparing the vegetables so the garlic will have time to rest.

I also include leeks or scallions or (in season) spring onions. I don’t use storage onions all that often since the leaves (of leeks, scallions, and spring onions) have considerable nutritional value and storage onions lack those.

  • Leeks: Use all but the root; the leaves are very nutritious, but rinse the top well after halving the leek lengthwise: dirt tends to collect at the base of the leaves. As a snack, I like to roast short sections of the white part of a leek, and then I save the top (green) part to cook in my next vegetable melange.
  • Scallions: I use these often since they are always available and the generous extent of green enhances the nutritional value. I much prefer thick scallions to those the diameter of knitting needles. I certainly use scallions in salads but mostly in cooking.
  • Spring onions are available in only one season, which I will at some point reveal. They are really excellent, and they come in both white and red varieties. (I always go for a darker vegetable color if there’s a choice: darker pignments in general are a sign of more phytonutrients.) Spring onions have a definite bulb and large, long leaves.
  • Storage onions: These are always available. I prefer red to yellow and yellow to white. White onions are easy to peel but very low in nutritional value (but good dietary fiber). Sweet storage onions (Walla Walla, Vidalia, Maui, Texas Sweet) are good in salads but not so good in cooking. They lack the pungency of regular storage onions because they are grown in soil low in sulfur (and presumably because of their genetics).
  • Shallots: These can be considered a type of storage onion, and I do use them occasionally. “Shallot” is pronounced “sha-LOT” and not “SHALL-ut” (despite what you may hear — and while I’m on the topic, “basil” is “BAZ-ul” and not “BAY-sel”).


I always include mushrooms because (a) I like the taste and mouthfeel, (b) they are a good source of pantothenic acid (B5) and when I was using Cronometer I found that my regular diet was a tad light in that, and (c ) they release their water as they cook which aids in cooking the vegetables. I sometimes use oyster mushrooms but more often domestic white or crimini mushrooms. (When crimini mushrooms grow up, they are called portobello mushrooms.) Depending on my mood, I chop them coarsely or slice them, thickly or thinly.

Root vegetable

I generally will include one or two root vegetables.

  • Daikon radish has a variety of good nutrients, but the one of interest to me is potassium, since Cronometer showed I was running light on that. (Tomato paste is also a good source, and I often use that as well.) One short section, diced, is enough.
  • Beets: Naturally I prefer dark red to golden beets (the darker the color, the more nutrients (in general)), and I just dice them. The juice from raw beets doesn’t stain the way juice from cooked beets does. I rinse them well but don’t peel them, and I follow this rule in general (with some exceptions — e.g., bananas, oranges). One beet is enough.
  • Carrots: Again, I just dice the carrot, and one is enough.
  • Turnip: Same as carrot. Though turnips are not terribly high in food value, I like the taste.
  • Potatoes: Never. Potatoes raise my blood glucose, plus regular potatoes (russet, Yukon gold, white potatoes) seem boring. So far as I’m concerned, they don’t bring much to the party. Sweet potatoes are more interesting (and more nutritious), and I particularly like purple sweet potatoes, which have a wonderful flavor, but there is for me the blood glucose problem.
  • Celeriac/celery root: I actually don’t eat this often, but it’s a good choice and quite tasty. I think I’ll get some.
  • Parsnips: Same problem as potatoes: too great an impact on blood glucose.
  • Turmeric: I like to include turmeric root — generally a couple of pieces about 2″  long that I chop small. And to make the nutrients bioavailable, it’s important to include a fair amount of ground black pepper. I especially don’t peel turmeric; since it is so stainy, I handle it as little as possible.
  • Ginger: Good fresh ginger is a nice addition. I will either chop it fine or slice it on my garlic mandoline.


Peppers are always good, both hot (jalapeño, habanero, Thai red or green, serrano) and mild (Anaheim, poblano, bell peppers (green, red, yellow, or orange), banana peppers, Hungarian peppers). Hot peppers I chop including core and seeds; mild peppers I remove core and seeds. A small can of chipotles in adobo is a nice addition — cut up the chipotles with kitchen scissors — if you like spicy.


I like to include eggplant from time to time, either Japanese or Italian. I dice it in large dice so I can get the taste and mouthfeel. (I do not, of course, even thinking of peeling them.) When I include eggplant, I generally omit the root vegetables, and I also include:

  • Zucchini and/or summer squash: Like eggplant, cut in rather large dice so it will maintain some structure.
  • Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes (generally whole Roma/San Marzano tomatoes, which I cut up with kitchen scissors after adding to the pot; sometimes diced tomatoes) or fresh tomatoes (usually halved cherry tomatoes). I also use sun-dried tomatoes (no oil — I find them at Whole Foods), which I cut up with kitchen scissors.
  • Tomato paste: One small can — good source of potassium, as noted above. And it’s worth noting that the lycopene in tomatoes, unlike the lycopene in watermelon (an excellent source), is not bioavailable until and unless the tomatoes have been cooked. Raw fresh tomatoes (in a salad, for example) are for decoration and taste, not nutrition.
  • Pitted kalamata olives: A good amount. Sometimes I halve them to increase the likelihood of getting an olive taste in each spoonful and to check for pits. Often I use them whole.
  • Mexican oregano: A good amount — 1/4 cup, say — and often also thyme (about 2 teaspoons).
  • Italian parsley: I chop an entire bunch — no point in keeping half a bunch of parsley on hand to rot.
  • Red wine or red vermouth: About 1/4-1/2 cup.
  • Diced lemon: A diced lemon works well in here, at least for me.

As you can see, once eggplant enters the picture, it tends to take over the dish and pushes it toward ratatouille, but still I resist — for example, I might also include some chopped fresh fennel.


Besides summer squash (yellow crookneck or patty pan) and/or zucchini, I might also include diced winter squash: delicata, buttercup (a favorite), or kombucha. I don’t use an entire winter squash, but just a quarter or a half. The rest I’ll probably roast, and then I also roast the seeds.


I chop fresh fennel, both fronds and bulb (but not the core), are cook them or use them raw in salads (see: Salad Checklist).


If I’m going to cook leaves, I generally am cooking a batch of Greens, but some leaves are good in cooked vegetables. Italian parsley I’ve already mentioned, but I might also use one or two baby bok choy or baby Shanghai bok choy, or a section of red cabbage (depending on the size of the head, one-eighth or one-quarter), chopped. Cilantro I would add at the end, not during cooking. Fresh tarragon has a wonderful flavor.


I don’t often see, but it is excellent to add: peel and dice. It’s also good raw, slivered for salad.

Flavor boosters

Last, I always include flavor enhancers.

  • Umami booster: Tamari or soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce or fish sauce (preferably Red Boat)
  • Added acid: Acid brightens the taste. I use a good splash of vinegar (apple cider or red wine or sherry or rice vinegar) and/or lemon pulp. Sometimes I dice a whole lemon (cut off and discard ends, cut lemon into slabs and dice them), which works best if the peel is thin. Meyer lemons are excellent for this.
  • Herbs/spices: Crushed red pepper, Mexican oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, herbes de Provence, paprika, and so on — whatever catches your eye and sounds good.
  • Liquid smoke: If I’m in the mood. Just a littlle is plenty. Wright’s is a good brand. Colgin includes additives that don’t appeal to me.
  • Miso: A good big spoonful of miso (red, white, brown…) adds a nice flavor.

This is one of those posts to which I’m sure I’ll return and augment as additional things occur to me. But I think there’s enough here to get you started.

Written by Leisureguy

22 December 2020 at 12:18 pm

Marvelous razor, marvelous soap, marvelous shave

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And the brush (Phoenix Artisan’s Green Ray) is alo very nice. Stubble Trubble is, alas, no more, and so this tub of Up & Adam, with a vanilla-espresso fragrance, is the last I’ll have. I treasure it: excellent lather and divine fragrance.[

iKon’s open-comb razor, sold now with a B1 coating, is a remarkably good razor: totally comfortable and yet efficiently produces a totally smooth result in three passes: no effort, no danger, no kidding. I love the razor.

A good splash of Phoenix Artisan’s excellent Spring-Heeled Jack coffee-fragrance aftershave (which drys down to a kind of musky wood fragrance) and the (very sunny) day begins, with a few vestiges of snow from yesterday’s sullen cold weather.

Written by Leisureguy

22 December 2020 at 9:55 am

Posted in Shaving

Donald Trump’s desperate fight for psychic survival

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David Pell wrote las month:

How, after four years of this, can many Americans keep finding themselves shocked by Donald Trump’s behavior. As my psychoanalyist friend Dr. Michael Levin explains: “This disconnect exists because we’re living in a world that is grounded and checked by reason. His is grounded only in his emotional needs and fantasies. I think this is a useful framework to understand why we all have repeatedly been shocked by his behavior for years. It’s just a bridge too far for most of our psychological imaginations … Most of the commentary I’m seeing in the press about his narcissism seems not to get that, deep down, it’s not about feeling good. It’s about psychic survival. I think this is the case with most of his base too. It’s not the garden variety narcissism of someone like Elon Musk or Bill Clinton. It’s much more desperate and psychotic.” Indeed, we keep applying strategic goals to what is a narcissistic sociopath’s emotionally disturbed reaction to a fear of shame and humiliation. Trump truly believes he’s being cheated because the alternative is too brutal and painful to accept; even if democracy has to be destroyed so his fantasy, and thus his psychic existence, can survive. When we see mental illness play out in public or celebrity spheres, we often view it as a sideshow. When we encounter it in real life, we know it’s the whole show. Those politicians who cynically use Trump as a battering ram for their own ends will be able to let go of him when his usefulness declines. For his true believers, the relationship is less transactional and operates more like a religion. And that’s a lot to ask someone to give up because of the small reality of a few million votes. Will the unnerving and democracy-smashing coup-like attempt continue? How far will the GOP enablers take this? I don’t know. But I do know that the psychic frenzy it’s stirred up among millions of Americans cannot be turned off with a switch. An addiction to falsehoods is not easy to relinquish. And no one wants to go cold turkey for Thanksgiving.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2020 at 9:20 pm

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