Later On

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

Archive for March 5th, 2021

If you eat a hamburger, make sure it includes a slice of avocado. Here’s why.

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

A Sorrel Peacock Leopard Appaloosa

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Daily life

When Identity Politics Turns Deadly

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Paul Krugman puts a current controversy into a new context in his column in the NY Times:

Relieving yourself in public is illegal in every state. I assume that few readers are surprised to hear this; I also assume that many readers wonder why I feel the need to bring up this distasteful subject. But bear with me: There’s a moral here, and it’s one that has disturbing implications for our nation’s future.

Although we take these restrictions for granted, they can sometimes be inconvenient, as anyone out and about after having had too many cups of coffee can attest. But the inconvenience is trivial, and the case for such rules is compelling, both in terms of protecting public health and as a way to avoid causing public offense. And as far as I know there aren’t angry political activists, let alone armed protesters, demanding the right to do their business wherever they want.

Which brings me to my actual subject: face mask requirements in a pandemic.

Wearing a mask in public, like holding it in for a few minutes, is slightly inconvenient, but hardly a major burden. And the case for imposing that mild burden in a pandemic is overwhelming. The coronavirus variants that cause Covid-19 are spread largely by airborne droplets, and wearing masks drastically reduces the variants’ spread.

So not wearing a mask is an act of reckless endangerment, not so much of yourself — although masks appear to provide some protection to the wearer — as of other people. Covering our faces while the pandemic lasts would appear to be simple good citizenship, not to mention an act of basic human decency.

Yet Texas and Mississippi have just ended their statewide mask requirements.

President Biden has criticized these moves, accusing the states’ Republican leaders of “Neanderthal thinking.” But he’s probably being unfair — to the Neanderthals. We don’t know much about our extinct hominid relatives, but we have no reason to believe that their political scene, if they had one, was dominated by the mixture of spite and pettiness that now rules American conservatism.

Let’s start with the objective realities.

We’ve made a lot of progress against the pandemic over the past couple of months. But the danger is far from over. There are still substantially more Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 now than there were, say, last June, when many states were rushing to reopen and Mike Pence, the vice president then, was assuring us that there wouldn’t be a second wave. Roughly 400,000 deaths later, we know how that worked out.

It’s true that there is now a bright light at the end of the tunnel: The development of effective vaccines has been miraculously fast, and the actual pace of vaccinations is rapidly accelerating. But this good news should make us more willing, not less, to endure inconvenience now: At this point we’re talking about only a few more months of vigilance, not a long slog with no end in sight.

And keeping infections down over the next few months will also help rule out a potential epidemiological nightmare, in which new, vaccine-resistant variants evolve before we get the existing variants under control.

So what’s motivating the rush to unmask? It’s not economics. As I said, the costs of mask-wearing are trivial. And basic economics tells us that people should have incentives to take into account costs they impose on others; if potentially exposing those you meet to a deadly disease isn’t an “externality,” I don’t know what is.

Furthermore, a resurgent pandemic would do more to damage growth and job creation, in Texas and elsewhere, than almost anything else I can think of.

Of course, we know what’s actually going on here: politics. Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America 2021.)

This medical version of identity politics seems to trump everything, up to and including belief in the sacred rights of property owners. When organizers at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference asked attendees to wear masks — not as a matter of policy, but simply to abide by the rules of the hotel hosting the meeting — they were met by boos and cries of “Freedom!” Do people shriek about rights when they see a shop sign declaring, “No shoes, no shirt, no service”? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 2:14 pm

Has a person duped into saying yes actually given consent?

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Dr. Sommers, an assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and whose research often uses empirical techniques from the social sciences to clarify legal concepts, writes in the NY Times:

Imagine the following hypothetical situation: Frank and Ellen meet at a night course and end up getting drinks together after class several times. The drinks start to feel like dates, so Ellen asks Frank if he is married, making it clear that adultery is a deal-breaker for her. Frank is married, but he lies and says he is single. The two go to bed. Is Frank guilty of rape?

To most people, even those who consider Frank a dishonorable creep, the answer is clearly no. The law agrees: In most American jurisdictions, Frank is not liable for any tort or crime, let alone something as serious as sexual assault.

But why? This question has been a source of contention among legal experts for decades, ever since the law professor Susan Estrich argued that the law of rape should prohibit fraud to procure sex, just as the law of theft prohibits fraud to secure money. Ellen did not consent to have sex with a married man, the argument goes, so the sex she had with Frank was not consensual.

To many feminist legal scholars, the law’s failure to regard sexual fraud as a crime — when fraud elsewhere, such as fraud in business transactions, is taken to invalidate legal consent — shows that we are still beholden to an antiquated notion that rape is primarily a crime of force committed against a chaste, protesting victim, rather than primarily a violation of the right to control access to one’s body on one’s own terms.

It’s a powerful argument. Still, to many people, even those concerned about accountability for sexual misconduct, the notion that Frank has committed sexual assault remains deeply counterintuitive. How are we to reconcile these competing considerations?

I recently conducted a series of psychological studies that shed light on this debate. My research suggests that the reason people think Frank is not guilty of rape has less to do with their treating rape differently from other offenses and more to do with how they understand consent. Many people, it turns out, believe that an individual can give consent even though she was lied to by the person seeking her consent.

I asked hundreds of research participants to evaluate hypothetical situations in which a person is tricked into agreeing to something he would otherwise refuse. In one situation, a patient agrees to a medical procedure as a result of a doctor’s false representations. In another, a civilian allows police officers into his home because they lie about what they are searching for. In another, a research participant agrees to enroll in a study after the researcher lies about its purpose.

Surprisingly, I found that most people say that the victims in all these cases have “consented.” I also found that most people agree with the moral and legal implications of that view: For instance, they say that a doctor who performs a surgery after obtaining consent by lying deserves less punishment for medical battery than a doctor who simply performs the surgery without asking permission.

These findings fly in the face of the standard scholarly understanding of consent, which is that it is an expression of an individual’s autonomous will — controlling one’s life as one would like. Interestingly, my participants agreed with this standard legal understanding when presented with situations in which coercion or threats were used to achieve the same ends, such as when someone agreed to sex as a result of blackmail. It was only when the situations involved deception that respondents thought the victim’s “yes” counted as consent.fSo it seems that the reason many people have a strong intuition that Frank didn’t rape Ellen is that they think it’s fair to say she consented, not because they think rape must involve physical force. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 2:02 pm

Stunning balloon animals — repeat: balloon animals!

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

The Black Death: A New Culprit?

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Alexander Lee writes in History Today about a new player in the Black Death story:

When it comes to the Black Death, rats are usually cast as the villains of the piece – and with good reason. After all, it was most likely thanks to them that the plague (Yersinia pestis) was reintroduced to Europe. Though there has been some debate about how and where the original infection occurred, there is little doubt that Italian traders caught the disease from rat fleas in Black Sea ports before taking it back to Messina aboard Genoese galleys in October 1347. Granted, rats were probably not solely responsible for the speed with which the pestilence spread in the weeks that followed. In 2018, researchers from the universities of Ferrara and Oslo demonstrated that human fleas and lice played at least as important a role in transmission between people. But because rats can tolerate higher concentrations of the bacillus in their blood, and tend to live in close proximity to humans, they greatly amplified its virulence. Exactly how many people died is difficult to establish, but it is estimated that, in the period 1347-53, the plague killed 30-50 per cent of the European population. Understandably, rats have borne most of the blame.

But is this really fair? A recent study suggests marmots might have been just as guilty.

Lost origins

It all boils down to where the plague came from. This is a notoriously tricky issue. Although we know a great deal about the course of Y. pestis after its arrival in Europe, we are much less well informed about the route it followed before reaching the Black Sea. There are no narrative accounts comparable to Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron or Ibn Khaldun’s Kitāb al-ʻIbar for regions further east; references to outbreaks of sickness in local sources are often lacking in detail; and Gabriele de’ Mussis’ Istoria de morbo sive mortalitate quae fuit anno domini MCCCXLVIII – which contains perhaps the most vivid description of the plague’s Asian trajectory – appears to have been written without the author ever having left his home in Piacenza.

This has not stopped historians speculating, of course. For many years, it has been assumed that, since the plague was certainly present in the Caucasus in 1347, it most probably began its journey somewhere in Central Asia around 1331-32, before spreading south to China and India and west through Persia. But the exact site of its birth and the reasons for its sudden dispersal have proved elusive. There have been plenty of theories. In the mid-1970s, for example, William McNeill speculated, rather fancifully, that it originated in the Himalayas. By contrast, in the 1990s, Rosemary Horrox placed its beginnings in the eastern steppe and argued that unspecified ‘ecological changes’ drove infected rodents closer to human settlements. But, in the absence of documentary evidence, it has been impossible to say which, if any, of these is right.

The new discipline of palaeogenetics has changed everything, though. In the 1980s, scientists discovered how to recover ancient DNA (aDNA) from archaeological remains – and it was quickly realised that this had the potential to revolutionise the study of the Black Death. The technique was first brought to bear on a piece of housekeeping. Using samples from an unusually well-dated mass grave in London’s Smithfield, it was possible to confirm beyond any doubt that Y. pestis was indeed the causative agent of the 1347-53 epidemic in Europe. But in recent years, it has been used to shed light on the origins and trajectory of the bacillus itself.

The idea behind this is relatively simple. As we all know, DNA is a double helix, consisting of two connected strands, which resemble a twisted ladder. Each ‘rung’ on the ladder consists of a pair of bonded nucleotides. These come in four varieties: cytosine (C), guanine (G), thymine (T) and adenine (A). The combinations in which these occur is distinctive, but over time, the DNA of a micro-organism like Y. pestis will undergo a certain amount of random mutation. An A-T pair in one generation might become a C-T pair in the next. Of course, not all mutations will lead anywhere. Most will simply be outcompeted by the original version and disappear from the gene pool. But, every now and then, a mutation wins out. Either it will give one of the organisms an advantage over the others or – more often – it will be transplanted to another area, where there is less competition and it can establish itself more easily. Once it is dominant, the process can start again.

This means that, for any organism, we should be able to draw a kind of family tree (known as a phylogenetic tree) showing how mutations relate to each other and when a new branch breaks off from the main trunk. The easiest way to do this is by observing the changes as they happen. But it can also be done retrospectively by comparing modern DNA with aDNA. It is not easy, of course. The great difficulty with aDNA is that remains have not always survived for every mutation; and, the further back in time you go, the more gaps there are in the genetic record. But, because mutations occur in sequence, it is possible to identify how many took place between two particular samples – and, by extension, how and when different varieties branched off from one another.

Enter the marmot

This is where marmots come in. As well as rats, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 1:16 pm

Create Escape: Banksy with Bob Ross

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Art, Video

Remarkable shave — one of those beyond the ordinary — and my guess as to why

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I fairly often experience this sort of result from a Monday shave, when I remove a two-day stubble (and almost always by means of a slant razor), but though it does happen during the week, as it did today, it is not so common, and thus I naturally try to figure out the causes.

I’m sure that one major factor is Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, which I’ve lately begun to use. I have used it all week, so what was different about today? One difference: I had stopped timing the first step (rubbing a pea-sized lump of the pre-shave into my wet stubble for a minute), and — come to think of it — I was not so careful to get that much. I had been using as a measure more like half a pea than a full-sized pea. This morning after I took out as much as I usually used and rubbed it on my face, I reconsidered the size and went back for more, to make the full pea-sized amount.

I also was not measuring the time I spent massaging the pre-shave into my stubble. I timed it a few times, figured I had it right, and just went by my estimate. Today I timed it again: After I had the pre-shave on my face, I started my Sonicare toothbrush and stood it on the counter top,, where it buzzed away. After 30 seconds, the buzz blipped to indicate it was time to move to brushing the next quadrant, and a second blip measured a minute. When I did this I realized that when I was not timing myself I was doing more like 20 seconds than minute.

So that’s one reason. Another is the soap, but I always use a good shaving soap. Still, some credit is surely due to Stubble Trubble and its Lavender & Lemonade concoction done in partnership with Above the Tie. (Unfortunately, Stubble Trubble is not longer active.) The lather was quite good, and with a very good lather that has a pleasant fragrance one naturally lingers a little longer in the initial lathering. That may also have contributed.

Finally, the RazoRock Lupo is an excellent razor. Though quite comfortable and not inclined to nick, it has more blade feel than one might expect, and I suspect that is a reason for its high efficiency. With the pre-shave providing support, the glide was a pleasure and perhaps enabled a slightly firmer pressure without any increase in danger.

Taken as granted that one will use a high-quality shaving soap, the main differences today seem to be:

1. Grooming Dept pre-shave application: larger amount, massaged in longer; and
2. RazoRock Lupo razor, a razor I don’t use every day.

The interesting question is whether I will get the same result with a change in razors while keeping the other factors unchanged. As luck would have it, I’ll be shaving again tomorrow, so I’ll give it a go. Any particular razor you’d like to see me try?

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2021 at 9:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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