Later On

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

Archive for March 2nd, 2021

Things that cause us wonder: Example

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I wonder why I never thought of using the immersion blender to make hummus — or, in the case at hand, a hummus variant. I had no lemons, so:

• 1 can no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
• 1/4 cup tahini
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
• good amount of cayenne pepper (probably 1/4 teaspoon at least)
• about a teaspoon of ground cumin
• 6-8 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
• several dashes Louisiana hot sauce
• dash of fish sauce

I put that in a tall pot of small diameter (the All-Clad 2qt Stainless pot) and blended it well. I then sliced about 10 slices from a daikon radish, stacked them,, and bisected them so I had half-moon-shaped scoopers.

Very tasty. And clean-up is a snap. Why didn’t I think of this before now?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2021 at 7:58 pm

Like Sheep: On Translating a Literary Plague in a Time of Pandemic

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This is probably a good time to read the literature of pandemics — surprisingly vast (or not so surprisingly, given that pandemics have plagued humanity (literally) from time immemorial (thus one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rides the pale horse of plague)). A.E. Stallings writes in the Hudson Review:

Plagues, real and imaginary, spread like viruses through literature. The Iliad starts with one. It’s right there in line 10, a disease sent by far-shooting Apollo, god of music and medicine, plague and archery, because Agamemnon has snatched the girl Chryseis from her father, Chryses, one of Apollo’s own priests. The god shoots his arrows of contagion, striking first at the mules and dogs (it is interesting that the poet seems to be aware of zoonosis, pathogens that jump from animals to people), and then at men, so that the funeral pyres are crowded and burn without ceasing. The first deaths of the poems are not from war, but disease. Agamemnon, compelled to give the girl back to her father, takes Achilles’ “spear-bride” Briseis instead, setting in motion all of the tragic events to follow.

It is a plague too, this time in the city of Thebes, that sets Oedipus on the path to knowledge that will reveal the enigmatic and devastating truth of his birth and his marriage. When Oedipus asks the priest of Zeus what is wrong with his people, he answers (Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, lines 25–30, translation by Sir Richard Jebb):

A blight has fallen on the fruitful blossoms of the land, the herds among the pastures, the barren pangs of women. And the flaming god, the malign plague, has swooped upon us, and ravages the town: he lays waste to the house of Cadmus, but enriches Hades with groans and tears. . . .

Notice it is the crops and the herds that are first affected. The priest concludes dryly with the sentiment, as Jebb has it, “Neither walled town nor ship is anything, if it is empty and no men dwell within.”

Mythological plagues are often indications that something is very wrong, an invitation to look more closely at assumptions and injustice, a judgment. It is worth remembering that Sophocles’ famous play debuted in 429 BC. The plague of Athens had broken out the previous year, and 429 saw a second wave. The references to a plague, in combination with a criticism of state leadership, would have been eerily topical and resonant for the audience in a time of war and pandemic, for all that the play is set in a legendary past and another city.

Thucydides’ prose account of the Athenian plague in his history of the Peloponnesian Wars describes not legend, but events Thucydides had experienced firsthand: the first outbreak of plague in 430 BC, when nearly one in three residents of Athens perished. (A mass grave of plague victims was excavated by archaeologists in 1994 in the Kerameikos, the potters’ quarter, of the city.) Thucydides is a survivor and describes the symptoms both as an eyewitness and a former sufferer. Even Pericles, the leader of Athens, will succumb to the disease. According to Thucydides, the contagion arose in northern Africa and entered Athens by the bustling port of Piraeus. The symptoms begin with fever and red eyes, a swollen and bloody tongue, but go on to include a cough, and an assortment of other effects: the genitals can be affected, and sometimes a sufferers lose their extremities, their eyesight or even their memory. In describing the horror of mass civilian deaths, Thucydides uses the phrase “dying like sheep.”

Thucydides’ plague has a moral dimension: some people are afraid to do the right thing by caring for the sick (it is the health workers, in fact, who are hardest hit); worship of the gods falls by the wayside as prayer proves ineffectual, and people immerse themselves in pleasures, vices and crimes, excesses of the moment, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, and confident they will not be brought to justice. The proper disposal of the dead—religious observations as well as cremation—one of the most sacred aspects of ancient life, is abandoned. People toss a corpse on top of funeral pyres already in progress or set fire to a pyre painstakingly arranged by others to cremate their own dead. The plague becomes a symptom for a societal breakdown, a society with a weakened immune system that is slipping into decline and will lose the war as well as its hegemony and status.

Lucretius, the 1st century BC Roman poet who would be such an important model for Virgil in turn takes up Thucydides’ plague. In his didactic epic, De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of Things,” a poem about life, the universe, and everything, that lays out tenets of the atomic theory and Epicurean philosophy, Lucretius ends the poem—at least as the version of the poem has come down to us, supposedly edited by Cicero—on a Latin versification of Thucydides’ prose eyewitness account of the Athenian plague. Some of it is almost straight translation. Consider (translation mine):

At no time did the greedy disease let up. It caught and spread
From one man to another, as though they were so many head
Of fleecy sheep and cattle. . . .

Yet here as elsewhere Lucretius elaborates, inventing more lurid detail about the disease itself—not only are the genitals affected, for instance, but desperate victims even castrate themselves—and also expanding on the suffering of animals, such as noble dogs. In a 7,000-plus-line poem whose purpose is purportedly to free its readers from the fear of death, there is something counterintuitive about ending on this terrifying plague, on death coming alike to sinner and saint, weak and strong. The poem ends on the scene of people coming to bloodshed over funeral pyres, where others might try to throw random corpses:

Squalid Poverty and Sudden Disaster would conspire
To drive men on to desperate deeds—so they’d place on a pyre
Constructed by another their own loved ones, and set fire
To with wails and loud lament. And often they would shed
Much blood in their struggle rather than desert their dead.

That is the poem’s unsettling conclusion. Because of the nature of Latin syntax, the whole poem ends, or perhaps is abandoned, on the verb “desererentur.”

***

Virgil’s Georgics is his poetic masterpiece (John Dryden famously called it “the best Poem of the best Poet”), composed between his debut Eclogues and his grand epic project, the Aeneid; Virgil would die before the last was finished, and supposedly ordered it to be burned. The Georgics hits a sweet spot in both effervescent accomplishment and achieved ambition, the poet at the apogee of his powers. In four “books,” it purports to be advice to the Italian farmer, with a chapter on ploughing and crops, a chapter on vines and orchards, a chapter on animal husbandry, and a chapter on apiculture; but these topics seem to be pretexts for a discursive poem of natural history, learned allusion, the beauties of Italy, philosophical explorations of man’s essential condition, and exploration of the nature of civilization. Somehow the section about tending bees culminates in an exquisite retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The plague section comes at the very end of Book Three, the one on animal husbandry. After elucidating how to deal with common ailments of sheep, the poem goes on to recount a plague from some previous era that wiped out cattle, sheep, and even wild animals. This is  . . .

Continue reading.

I found the essay quite interesting, and I hope you do as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2021 at 7:31 pm

So I roasted some vegetables and made a good sauce

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I cooked these to serve as Other Vegetables. The vegetables, cut into good-sized pieces:

• 1 turnip
• 1 beet
• 1 carrot
• 1 chayote squash
• 1 leek
• 1 big red bell pepper

And, not cut into pieces:

• 8 medium mushrooms
• 2 jalapeños (caps cut off  but otherwise left whole) — next time I’ll use 4 or 6: they’re very good

I put all othat into a bowl and stirred it with some olive oil, then spread into a single layer on two half-sheet baking pans using a silicone baking mat as lining.

They went into a 375ºF oven for an hour — probably 50 minutes would be enough.

After they cooled, I returned them to the bowl (which still a little olive oil in it) and poured over them a sauce that I made by using the immersion blender and the beaker that came with it to blend:

• 2 peeled lemons
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• about 2 tablespoons pickled ginger (the thinly sliced kind served with sushi)
• 2-3 dashes hot sauce
• 2-3 dashes of fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or soy sauce
• about 1-2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
• about 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Blend well, pour over the vegetables, stir to mix.

Obviously, you can use other vegetables: zucchini, eggplant, delicata squash, parsnips, garlic, red onion (cut into chunks, though leek works quite well). And you can vary the sauce to suit your taste. But I didn’t need to tell you that, did I?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2021 at 2:20 pm

How to reduce your chances of heart failure, kidney failure, atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes

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Dr. Michael Greger describes several options:

Should we be concerned about high-choline plant foods such as broccoli producing the same toxic TMAO that results from eating high-choline animal foods such as eggs?

Choline- and carnitine-rich foods—meat, eggs, and dairy—can be converted by our gut flora into trimethylamine, which in our livers is then turned into TMAO, a toxic compound that may increase our risk of heart failure, kidney failure, and atherosclerosis, or heart attacks and strokes. The good news, though, is that this “opens up exciting new nutritional and interventional prospects” for prevention, as I discuss this in my video How to Reduce Your TMAO Levels.

Okay, so how do we do it? Well, if our gut bacteria can take meat, dairy, and eggs and turn them into TMAO, all we have to do is…destroy our gut flora! We could give people antibiotics to eliminate the production of TMAO. However, that could also kill our good bacteria and “facilitate the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.”

What about probiotic supplements? Maybe if we add good bacteria, they will crowd out the ones that take the meat, egg, and dairy compounds and turn them into the TMA that our liver turns into TMAO. But, that doesn’t work. Adding good bacteria doesn’t seem to get rid of the bad. What if we added new bacteria that could somehow siphon off the TMA made by the bad bacteria? Well, there’s a bacterium inside the guts of cows and sheep that turns trimethylamine into methane. Could we use that bacterium to get rid of some of the trimethylamine from our gut, like a cow fecal transplant? There’s a problem with that. If it didn’t take, you’d have to keep giving it to people: “Continuous administrations may be necessary if subjects do not become colonized.” So, might the fact that Consumer Reports found fecal contamination in every sample of beef it tested be a good thing? No. Methane-producing bacteria may be able to eat up our TMAO, but, unfortunately, these bacteria may be associated with a variety of diseases, from gum disease down to colorectal cancer, as you can see at 2:15 in my video.

If antibiotics and probiotics aren’t going to work to prevent gut bacteria from taking meat, dairy, and eggs and turning them into the trimethylamine, which our liver makes TMAO out of, I guess we have no choice but to cut down on…our liver function!

That was the billion-dollar answer to cholesterol. The same foods—meat, dairy, and eggs—raise our cholesterol, but dietary change isn’t very profitable. So, the drug industry developed statin drugs that cripple the liver’s enzyme that makes cholesterol. Could “pharmacologic inhibition” of the enzymes in our liver that make TMAO “potentially serve as a therapy for CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk reduction”? Trimethylaminuria is a genetic condition in which this enzyme is naturally impaired, in which there is a build-up of trimethylamine in the bloodstream. The problem is that trimethylamine is so stinky it makes you smell like “dead fish.” So, “given the known adverse effects…from sufferers of fish odor syndrome, the untoward odorous side effects of inhibiting this enzyme make it a less attractive [drug] target.”

Do we have to choose between smelling like dead fish or suffering from heart and kidney disease? If only there were some other way we could stop this process from happening. Well, what do those with trimethylaminuria often do to cut down trimethylamine levels? They stop eating animal products.

About a third of those who complain of bad body odor despite good personal hygiene test positive for the condition, but reducing or eliminating meat, egg, and dairy intake can be a real lifesaver. But, given what we now know about how toxic the end product TMAO can be for normal people, cutting down on animal products may not just save the social lives of people with a rare genetic disorder, but help save everyone else’s actual lives.

The “simplest point of intervention” is to simply limit the consumption of foods rich in choline and L-carnitine, which “can be an effective strategy to limit circulating TMAO.” But, wait! We could always try to genetically engineer a bacterium that eats up trimethylamine, but “the simplest and safest recommendation” may just be to eat more healthfully. You can completely eliminate carnitine from the diet, since our body makes all we need, but choline is an essential nutrient so we do need some. Thankfully, we can get all we need in fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. “However excess choline, such as that found in eggs, may be worth avoiding.”

Need we worry about high-choline plant foods, like broccoli? Consumption of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a significantly longer life and less cardiovascular disease mortality, as you can see at 5:34 in my video. To see what was going on, researchers took the vegetable highest in choline, brussels sprouts, and had people eat two cups a day for three weeks. What happened? Their TMAO levels actually went down. It turns out that brussels sprouts appear to naturally downregulate that TMAO liver enzyme—not enough to make you stinky, but just enough to drop TMAO.

And, people who eat completely plant-based may not make any TMAO at all—even if you try. You can give a vegan a steak, which contains both choline and carnitine, and there will not even be a bump in TMAO because vegetarians and vegans have different gut microbial communities. If we don’t eat steak, then we don’t foster the growth of steak-eating bacteria in our gut. So forget the cow—how about getting a fecal transplant from a vegan? From a TMAO standpoint, we may not have to eat like a vegan as long as we poop like one.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2021 at 9:55 am

Things (on average) are not so bad as many believe

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Take a look at this post by Kevin Drum. It begins:

Over at the New Republic, Clio Chang tells the story of Richard Ault, a Silicon Valley technologist who fell on hard times and ended up in debt to the tune of $60,000:

“It’s ridiculous to me to think that $1,000 to every family in this country is going to save the country,” Ault said of the government’s sporadic relief checks, especially living in a city with such a high cost of living. “It’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Ault is one of millions in the United States facing a similar crisis. Household debt, which has been on the rise for the last decade, reached an astronomical $14.56 trillion at the end of last year. As rent and mortgage debt piles up, nearly a third of people in the country are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. While credit card debt, which is now at $820 billion, fell overall, in part due to a decline in spending, some 51 million people still saw it increase during the pandemic. Student loan debt, the second-biggest type of household debt after mortgages, continues to skyrocket, reaching nearly $1.6 trillion.

This is an example of a writer who’s just not willing to give up a standard narrative regardless of the facts. First off, here are blue-collar hourly earnings: . . .

Continue reading. The post contains several charts that contradict the thesis of Clio Chang’s article (which seems to be based on the experience of one person).

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2021 at 8:59 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Memes

Groom Dept pre-shave with a tub soap: Great

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Grooming Dept pre-shave works quite well with a tub soap, as I reconfirmed in this morning’s shave, with the tub of Sandalwood Rose shaving soap from Mystic Water: zero problems with lather, and a very smooth and easy shave indeed, though some credit must surely go to RazoRock’s Baby Smooth.

It seems the cap of my Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera Toner was broken in the move. It didn’t leak — for a move, I remove the cap, place a small plastic sheet cut from a baggie over the opening, and screw the cap back on. I do this for all bottles that have a flip-up opening. So when this cap broke, nothing leaked thanks to the plastic-sheet backup.

Thayers witch hazel in any of its fragrances and formulations works well as an aftershave. The fragrances are short-lived, but enjoyable while they last.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2021 at 8:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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