Later On

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

Archive for May 2021

‘Centrism’: an insidious bias favoring an unjust status quo

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Rebecca Solnit writes in The Guardian:

The idea that all bias is some deviation from an unbiased center is itself a bias that prevents pundits, journalists, politicians and plenty of others from recognizing some of the most ugly and impactful prejudices and assumptions of our times. I think of this bias, which insists the center is not biased, not afflicted with agendas, prejudices and destructive misperceptions, as status-quo bias. Underlying it is the belief that things are pretty OK now, that the people in charge should be trusted because power confers legitimacy, that those who want sweeping change are too loud or demanding or unreasonable, and that we should just all get along without looking at the skeletons in the closet and the stuff swept under the rug. It’s mostly a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it’s not.

I saw a tweet the other day that said the Secret Service and US Capitol police must have been incompetent or complicit to be blindsided by the 6 January insurrection. The writer didn’t seem to grasp the third option: that the Secret Service was unable to see past the assumptions that middle-aged conservative white men don’t pose a threat to democracy and the rule of law, that elected officials in powerful places weren’t whipping up a riot or worse, that danger meant outsiders and others. A decade ago, when I went to northern Japan for the first anniversary of the Great Tohuko Earthquake and tsunami, I was told that the 100ft-high wave of black water was so inconceivable a sight that some people could not recognize it and the danger it posed. Others assumed this tsunami would be no bigger than those in recent memory and did not flee high enough. A lot of people died of not being able to see the unanticipated.

People fail to recognize things that do not fit into their worldview, which is why those in power have not adequately responded to decades of terrorism by white men – anti-reproductive-rights-driven killings, racial violence in churches, mosques, synagogues and elsewhere, homophobia and transphobia, the pandemic-scale misogynist violence behind a lot of mass shootings, attacks on environmentalists, and white supremacy in the ranks of the police and the military. Finally, this year the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, called this terrorism by its true name and identified it as “the most dangerous threat to our democracy”. The constant assumption has been that crime and trouble comes from outsiders, from “them”, not “us”, which is why last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were constantly portrayed by conservatives and sometimes the mainstream as far more violent and destructive than they were and the right has had such an easy time demonizing immigrants.

What violence and destruction did take place in or adjacent to Black Lives Matter protests was often the work of the right wing. That includes the murder of a guard at a federal court in Oakland, allegedly by an air force sergeant and Boogaloo Boy, while a BLM protest was going on nearby. It also reportedly includes some of the arson in Minneapolis shortly after George Floyd’s murder, as well as attacks on protesters. USA Today reported 104 such attacks by cars driven into crowds, many of them apparently politically motivated.

No one has ever loved the status quo more than the editorial board at the New York Times, which recently composed an editorial declaring it a misstep for “the city’s Pride organizers … to reduce the presence of law enforcement at the celebration, including a ban on uniformed police and corrections officers marching as groups until at least 2025”. They found a lesbian of color who is also a cop and focused on this individual feeling “devastated”, rather than the logic behind the decision. Pride celebrates the uprising against longtime police violence and criminalization of queerness at the Stonewall Bar in 1969.

Police officers are in no way banned from participating out of uniform, if they so desire, but that’s not enough for these “can’t we all get along” editorialists, who also wrote: “But barring LGBTQ officers from marching is a politicized response and is hardly worthy of the important pursuit of justice for those persecuted by the police.” You want to shout that the whole parade is political, because persecution and inequality have made being LGBTQ political, and the decision to include the police would be no less political than to exclude them. And who decides what’s worthy? The idea that there is some magically apolitical state all should aspire to is key to this bias and to why it refuses to recognize itself as a bias. It believes it speaks from neutral ground, which is why it forever describes a landscape of mountains and chasms as a level playing field.

The status-quo bias is something I’ve encountered over and over again as gender violence, particularly as the refusal or inability to recognize that a high-status man or boy, be he film mogul or high-school football player, can also be a vicious criminal. Those who cannot believe the charges, no matter how credible, often dismiss and blame the victim instead (or worse: reporting a rape too often leads to death threats and other forms of harassment and intimidation intended to make an uncomfortable truth go away). Society has a marked failure of imagination when it comes to grasping that such predators treat their low-status victims in secret differently than their high-status peers in public, and that failure of imagination denies the existence of such inequality even as it perpetrates it.

It’s a failure born out of undue respect for the powerful. (Here I think of all the idiots who kept discovering “the moment Trump became presidential” over and over again, unable to comprehend that his incompetence was as indelible as his corruption and malice, perhaps because their respect for the institution inexorably extended to the grifter who barged into it.) Centrist bias is institutional bias, and all our institutions historically perpetrated inequality. To recognize this is to delegitimize them; to deny it is to have it both ways – think yourself on the side of goodness while insisting no sweeping change is overdue. A far-right person might celebrate and perpetrate racism or police brutality or rape culture; a moderate might just play down its impact, past or present.

To recognize the pervasiveness of sexual abuse is to have to listen to children as well as adults, women as well as men, subordinates as well as bosses: it’s to upend the old hierarchies of who should be heard and trusted, to break the silences that protect the legitimacy of the status quo. More than 95,000 people filed claims in the sexual-abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America, and what it took to keep all those children quiet while all those hundreds of thousands of assaults took place is a lot of unwillingness to listen and to shatter faith in an institution that was itself so much part of the status quo (and in many ways an indoctrination system for it).

Centrists in the antebellum era were apathetic or outright resistant to ending slavery in the US and then in the decades before 1920 to giving women the vote. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2021 at 9:25 am

Project Leather from Wholly Kaw

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Wholly Kaw makes good soaps, and Project Leather is no exception. I have the tallow version:

Potassium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Aqua, Donkey Milk, Glycerin, Potassium Tallowate, Sodium Tallowate, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Potassium Shea Butterate, Sodium Shea Butterate, Garcinia Indica (Kokum) Butter, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract, Lanolin, Fragrance, Benzyl Benzoate, Coumarin, Geraniol, Eugenol

The same fragrance is available in a vegan formulation:

Potassium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Aqua, Glycerin, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Potassium Mango Stearate, Sodium Mango Stearate, Potassium Shea Butterate, Sodium Shea Butterate, Garcinia Indica (Kokum) Butter, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Polyquaternium-10, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract, Soybean Glycerides, Shea Butter Unsaponifiables, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Fragrance, Benzyl Benzoate, Coumarin, Geraniol, Eugenol

The Vie-Long horsehair did its usual fine job, and my Fatip Testina Gentile comfortably stripped away the stubble. A splash of Stetson’s Sierra aftershave, and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2021 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

The Effect of Animal Protein on Stress Hormones, Testosterone, and Pregnancy

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Animal protein doesn’t seem to be all that good for you, particular if you eat it every day — and some eat animal protein in every diet. Indeed, some eat only animal protein — the carnivore diet. I’ll be interested to see scientific studies of the long-term effects of their diet (not their own personal impressions).

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 1:55 pm

The Unbearable Burden of Invention

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Novelty is not ipso facto good, as those with some life experience have learned. Witold Rybczynski looks at architecture for examples and finds that innovation grounded in past practice is often good (being version n.0 of past practices), but mere innovation tends to turn out badly (being version 1.0 of a new approach). As he notes in the article, “history was canceled—no more looking back, no more learning from earlier trial and error.” He writes in The Hedgehog Review:

Buildings’ nicknames are the public’s attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. Several odd-looking London skyscrapers have cheekily illustrative monikers: the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie. Angelenos call the mammoth Pacific Design Center the Blue Whale. Beijingites offhandedly refer to the headquarters of China Central Television as Big Underpants. A Shanghai skyscraper with an aperture at the top is the Bottle Opener, and Bilbao has the Artichoke, Frank Gehry’s titanium Guggenheim museum. My favorite is the nickname of an addition to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam—the Bathtub.

The original Stedelijk Museum, or city museum, was built in 1895 in the style of the sixteenth-century Dutch Renaissance. The gingerbread red-brick building with pale stone stripes is pretty as a picture. The 2012 modern addition, which doubled the size of the museum, is the work of the Amsterdam architectural firm Benthem Crouwel. The competition-winning design ignores its neighbor and obviously aspires to be the Dutch equivalent of the Bilbao Guggenheim, an in-your-face architectural icon. From certain angles, the windowless white form, raised in the air and covered in a reinforced synthetic fiber finished in glossy white paint, really does resemble a giant hot tub. Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times observed that “entering an oversize plumbing fixture to commune with classic modern art is like hearing Bach played by a man wearing a clown suit.” Not good.

“Good architecture can be startling, or at least might not look like what we are used to,” writes the critic Aaron Betsky in Architect magazine. “Experimentation can sometimes look weird at first, but it is a necessary part of figuring out how to make our human-built world better.” Now so used to buildings that break the bounds of convention, we find the suggestion that experimentation is an essential part of good architecture unremarkable, even banal. But is it true?

Berlin’s Altes Museum, built in 1822, doesn’t look like a plumbing fixture. Its architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, modeled the 300-foot façade of giant Ionic columns on an ancient Greek stoa (a covered walkway or portico). Inside, he based a two-story-high rotunda on the Roman Pantheon. Schinkel was one of the most inventive architects of the nineteenth century—the plan of the museum, with its circuit of long, narrow galleries, was without precedent, and the severe side and rear elevations, which would inspire later modernists such as Mies van der Rohe, were almost shockingly plain. Yet like so many architects before him, Schinkel kept one eye on the past. That meant imitation as well as invention.

Imitation was at the heart of the Italian Renaissance. Starting with Filippo Brunelleschi, architects sketched and measured Roman ruins and incorporated the capitals, friezes, and moldings into their own work. Although the functions of the buildings they designed, such as hospitals, palazzos, and country villas, were new, the elements of their architecture—its language—were old. Renaissance architects also copied from each other. Andrea Palladio copied the so-called Palladian window, an arch-and-columns motif, from the Library of Saint Mark in Venice, whose architect, Jacopo Sansovino, had copied it from Donato Bramante, who used it first in the choir of Santa Maria Del Popolo in Rome.

Bramante was responsible for another architectural invention. When he designed the Tempietto, a commemorative monument on the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion in San Pietro di Montorio in Rome, he modeled the tiny chapel on the circular Temple of Hercules Victor, the oldest surviving marble temple in Rome, and he incorporated Roman spolia (repurposed building materials) in the form of reused Tuscan columns. But he also added something novel: a tall drum surmounted by a dome projected above the circular colonnade. This combination of new and old struck his contemporaries as a stroke of genius. Bramante’s influence is apparent in Michelangelo’s great dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as in domed buildings such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Panthéon in Paris, and the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Invention, always a part of architecture, was usually restricted to a few gifted individuals—the rest followed. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness,” wrote Oscar Wilde. Yet imitation not only allowed lesser talents to learn from the masters, and in the process raised the level of workaday buildings, it also permitted great architects such as Michelangelo and Schinkel to build on the achievements of their predecessors.

The architectural Modern Movement of the early twentieth century put a stop to this practice. The credo of the movement was . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Technology

US government sinks to new depths of dysfunction

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The Republican party has blocked an independent commission (which met  the demands the Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans insisted on). This makes sense if the Republicans were complicit in that attack.

A special shout out to Sen. Joe Manchin, who insisted that the filibuster remain, regardless of the damage it does.

I don’t see much hope for the US government going forward. Nicholas Fandos reports in the NY Times:

Republicans on Friday blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, using their filibuster power in the Senate for the first time this year to doom a full accounting for the deadliest attack on Congress in centuries.

With the vast majority of Republicans determined to shield their party from potential political damage that could come from scrutiny of the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, only six G.O.P. senators joined Democrats to support advancing the measure. The final vote, 54 to 35, fell short of the 60 senators needed to move forward.

The vote was a stinging defeat for proponents of the commission, who had argued that it was the only way to assemble a truly comprehensive account of the riot for a polarized nation. Modeled after the inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the proposed panel of experts would have been responsible for producing a report on the assault and recommendations to secure Congress by the end of the year.

The debate played out in the same chamber where a throng of supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, egged on by his lies of a stolen election and efforts by Republican lawmakers to invalidate President Biden’s victory, sought to disrupt Congress’s counting of electoral votes about five months ago.

Top Republicans had entertained supporting the measure as recently as last week. But they ultimately reversed course, and the House approved it with only 35 Republican votes. Leaders concluded that open-ended scrutiny of the attack would hand Democrats powerful political ammunition before the 2022 midterm elections — and enrage a former president they are intent on appeasing.

“I do not believe the additional extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “Frankly, I do not believe it is even designed to do that.”

Though Mr. McConnell said he would continue to support criminal cases against the rioters and stand by his “unflinching” criticisms of Mr. Trump, the commission’s defeat is expected to embolden the former president at a time when he has once again ramped up circulation of his baseless and debunked claims.

In a matter of months, his lies have warped the views of many of his party’s supporters, who view Mr. Biden as illegitimate; inspired a rash of new voting restrictions in Republican-led states and a quixotic recount in Arizona denounced by both parties; and fueled efforts by Republican members of Congress to downplay and reframe the Capitol riot as a benign event akin to a “normal tourist visit.”

“People are just now beginning to understand!” Mr. Trump wrote in a statement on Thursday.

Democrats denounced the vote as a cowardly cover-up. They warned Republicans that preventing an independent inquiry — led by five commissioners appointed by Democrats and five by Republicans — would not shield them from confronting the implications of Mr. Trump’s attacks on the democratic process.

“Do my Republican colleagues remember that day?” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, asked moments after the vote. “Do my Republican colleagues remember the savage mob calling for the execution of Mike Pence, the makeshift gallows outside the Capitol?”

“Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they are afraid of Donald Trump,” he added.

The six Republicans who voted to advance debate on the commission included . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 12:25 pm

New prep technique for beans that will become tempeh

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Previously I have drained the cooked beans (soybeans, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, whatever) that I was using to make tempeh, put them in a bowl and tried to dry them (using a hairdryer and paper towels), then let cool to 90ºF, add vinegar (1 tablespoon per cup of uncooked beans) and culture, and bag it in Ziplock fresh produce bags for the incubator.

It suddenly occurred to me that the beans would dry more easily and cool faster if, after I drained them through a sieve, I spread them on a clean white cotton dishtowel and cover them with another dishtowel, pressing gently and rocking the beans to pick up the moisture. (A hair dryer can also be used, but you have to be careful not to blow the beans away.) Once the beans are cool — and they can even coool to room temperature, since the incubator box maintains a steady 88ºF and will warm the beans if they are too cool — I can then move them to a bowl to mix in vinegar and culture and then bag them.

That will be so much easier and faster than what I’ve done in the past. Once again, experience can teach one a lot.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 11:40 am

The Real Problem With the AP’s Firing of Emily Wilder

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Janine Zacharia has a piece in Politico that’s worth reading. Who is she?

Janine Zacharia reported on the Middle East and foreign policy for close to two decades including stints as Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, State Department correspondent for Bloomberg News, Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post, and Jerusalem correspondent for Reuters. She is currently the Carlos Kelly McClatchy lecturer in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, where she teaches news reporting and writing fundamentals and foreign correspondence. She is the co-author ofHow to Responsibly Report on Hacks and Disinformation.

Here’s what she has to say:

In the aftermath of The Associated Press’ May 19 firing of Emily Wilder, a spirited discussion has broken out about social media policies and practices in newsrooms. Wilder, a 22-year-old news associate in Arizona with an online record of pro-Palestinian activism in college, was dismissed, according to the AP, for “some tweets” it said “violated AP’s News Values and Principles.” Which tweets? The organization didn’t say. But Wilder’s firing came on the heels of a campaign by the Stanford College Republicans and allies to portray her as an “anti-Israel agitator” and thus call the AP’s objectivity on the issue into question.

For me, the issues surrounding her firing are important for journalism, but they’re personal, too: She was my student at Stanford.

Since her dismissal, many journalists and commentators have focused on the dissatisfaction and disagreements in newsrooms over how reporters should behave online. It’s a cacophony that’s creating headaches for reporters and managers alike. Without consensus, McClatchy News, for example, says it’s OK to put #BlackLivesMatter in your Twitter handle, while Wilder’s AP editor told her to delete it from hers.

This all needs to be fixed. But unclear, opaque and inconsistently enforced social media policies aren’t the biggest problem here. For the AP and other news managers, the most urgent issue in Wilder’s dismissal is that a reporter was targeted by a disinformation campaign—in this case, by people who took issue with Wilder’s documented pro-Palestinian views—and rather than recognizing it as such, the organization essentially caved to it.

Disinformation campaigns against journalists are a growing problem in our age of information overload, and it’s essential that news outlets in particular are able to distinguish between organic outpourings of outrage or grievance online and targeted campaigns that seek to undermine the legitimacy of news organizations and obscure the facts around conflicts.

As someone who spent many years reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including posts in Jerusalem for Reuters and the Washington Post, I am more sensitive than most to the kind of scrutiny newsrooms face over their coverage of this issue.

But I am perhaps even more sensitive to disinformation campaigns. I also spent two years recently as part of a Stanford working group studying the way actors use information warfare for political purposes.

And during those discussions, my colleague Andrew Grotto, a former senior director for cybersecurity at the White House, and I concluded journalists were themselves vulnerable to propaganda campaigns by foreign and domestic actors who want to harm our democracy. We realized that newsrooms could benefit from a straightforward protocol for situations involving various forms of propaganda. The first news outlet we consulted as we were developing our guidelines was the AP.

“Remember that journalists are a targeted adversary and see yourself this way when digesting disinformation,” we wrote in our playbook. “Familiarize everyone in your newsroom with this minefield so they are aware of the risks.”

The campaign against Wilder is an excellent case study of these risks. On May 17, the Stanford College Republicans posted a Twitter thread of old social media posts and articles from her undergraduate years and described her as an “anti-Israel agitator.”

Soon, conservative commentators and news outlets were circulating the tweets to increasingly wider audiences.

These attacks on Wilder came at a particularly useful time for defenders of Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Israeli forces had recently destroyed the building where the AP was located in Gaza City, alleging Hamas operated out of it, too, a claim for which Israel has not yet given evidence. But the confusion over the strike was fertile ground for those who allege pro-Palestinian bias in the media.

The disinformation in this case was that Wilder’s college advocacy for Palestinian rights would “fuel concerns about the AP’s objectivity amid revelations that the news outlet shared an office building with Hamas military intelligence in Gaza,” as the Washington Free Beacon wrote, echoing a theory about possible cooperation between Hamas and the AP made by prominent Republicans, including Senator Tom Cotton.

Within hours of a story on Fox News’ website May 19, Wilder was fired. The Stanford College Republicans responded. “Emily Wilder is not a journalist, she is an unhinged, Marxist, anti-Israeli agitator. We are proud that our efforts directly led to this outcome—the leftist media must be held accountable, and that happened in this case,” the group gloated. They thanked those who amplified their original Twitter attack, including former Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro and Cotton.

It bore all the classic marks of a disinformation campaign. Pushing the Wilder story refocused attention from Israel’s bombing of the AP bureau to a junior news associate who had just started in Arizona. As Grotto and I warned in our guidance: “Beware of campaigns to redirect your attention from one newsworthy event to another.”

This disinformation technique was not dissimilar from the redirect used by Russia in 2016. When the Washington Post published the audio from an old Access Hollywood recording, which featured a famously lewd comment by Donald Trump, WikiLeaks followed less than 60 minutes later with the release of Russian-hacked Democratic National Committee emails. Journalists need to be on high alert for stories intended to shift the news cycle.

Several disinformation experts saw parallels in the Wilder case. “Influence Ops are not just the domain of foreign gov’ts, and journalists are definitely targets,” Nathaniel Gleicher head of security at Facebook, said in a tweet of Wilder’s case. Disinformation expert Kate Starbird at the University of Washington explained how Wilder’s firing was an “example of a coordinated active measures campaign meant to do its damage through the reaction of the target (in this case the AP).”

When drafting our recommendations on how to report on disinformation, I was eager to have the AP adopt them because they are indeed the news organization that customarily leads. When the AP decided to capitalize Black last summer, for instance, most organizations quickly followed.

Perhaps most important, Grotto and I recommended news outlets focus on the “why” something was leaked as opposed to the “what.” In this case, AP managers scrutinized Wilder’s few social media posts since being hired that included one opining on the meaning of objectivity in language chosen to describe the conflict, her retweets of stories about the devastation in Gaza and the digital record of her college activism as opposed to why the College Republicans may have dug up all this stuff in the first place—to go after a former classmate whose views they loathed and to perpetuate a false perception that the AP is biased in its reporting on the conflict.

The AP’s firing of Wilder demonstrates that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 11:31 am

Exercise and eating right reduces your biological age

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Wikipedia has an extensive article on the topic of biological age, determined by DNA methylation levels. From that article:

In 2010, a new unifying model of aging and the development of complex diseases was proposed, incorporating classical aging theories and epigenetics.[20][21] Horvath and Raj[22] extended this theory, proposing an epigenetic clock theory of aging with the following tenets:

  • Biological aging results as an unintended consequence of both developmental programs and maintenance program, the molecular footprints of which give rise to DNA methylation age estimators.
  • The precise mechanisms linking the innate molecular processes (underlying DNAm age) to the decline in tissue function probably relate to both intracellular changes (leading to a loss of cellular identity) and subtle changes in cell composition, for example, fully functioning somatic stem cells.
  • At the molecular level, DNAm age is a proximal readout of a collection of innate aging processes that conspire with other, independent root causes of ageing to the detriment of tissue function.

More information is found on this page.

DNAm age can be reversed to some degree by a good diet (such as a whole-food plant-based diet) and regular exercise, along with adequate rest and an optimistic outlook. Science Daily has a report of a clinical trial that measured this:

A randomized controlled clinical trial was conducted among 43 healthy adult males between the ages of 50-72. The 8-week treatment program included diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients.

Aging published “Potential reversal of epigenetic age using a diet and lifestyle intervention: a pilot randomized clinical trial” which reported on a randomized controlled clinical trial conducted among 43 healthy adult males between the ages of 50-72. The 8-week treatment program included diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients.

Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis was conducted on saliva samples using the Illumina Methylation Epic Array and DNAmAge was calculated using the online Horvath DNAmAge clock (also published in Aging).

The diet and lifestyle treatment was associated with a 3.23 years decrease in DNAmAge compared with controls.

DNAmAge of those in the treatment group decreased by an average 1.96 years by the end of the program compared to the same individuals at the beginning with a strong trend towards significance.

This randomized controlled study, published in Aging, suggests that specific diet and lifestyle interventions may reverse Horvath DNAmAge epigenetic aging in healthy adult males.

The study’s lead author, Kara Fitzgerald ND IFMCP, from The Institute for Functional Medicine said, “Advanced age is the largest risk factor for impaired mental and physical function and many non-communicable diseases including cancer, neurodegeneration, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Methylation clocks are based on systematic methylation changes with age.

DNAmAge clock specifically demonstrates about 60% of CpG sites losing methylation with age and 40% gaining methylation.

Almost a quarter of the DNAmAge CpG sites are located in glucocorticoid response elements, pointing to a likely relationship between stress and accelerated aging. Cumulative lifetime stress has been shown to be associated with accelerated aging of the methylome.

Other findings include that PTSD contributes to accelerated methylation age; and that greater infant distress is associated with an underdeveloped, younger epigenetic age.

This is to say the authors have tentatively accepted the hypothesis that the methylation pattern from which the DNAmAge clock is computed is a driver of aging, thus they expect that attempting to directly influence the DNA methylome using diet and lifestyle to set back DNAmAge will lead to a healthier, more “youthful” metabolism.

The Fitzgerald Research Team concluded . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 10:40 am

Dr. Jon’s Eucalyptus & Spearmint for a sunny late Spring morning

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A brilliantly sunny morning seemed to call for something light and minty, and Dr. Jon’s Eucalyptus & Spearmint seemed just the ticket. This is his Vol. 3 formula and makes quite a fine lather, this morning with my Mühle Gen 2 synthetic. 

We learn from experience and later iterations (Vol. 3, Gen 2) grow from the lessons experience teaches. I have completed my V. 2 tempeh box, and in doing that learned several things that would make a V. 3 box better (and less costly — three 24″ squares rather than one 24″x 8′  board — and easier: by increasing the length of the box and buying the squares, I make fewer cuts. I updated this post to include lessons learned, but the box as built will work fine. As I write, soybeans are simmering for a new batch of tempeh.

Back to shaving. RazoRock’s superb MJ-80A is everything that the Edwin Jagger razor aspires to be: a head made of a substantial material, a better handle, and the excellent performance the design provides. Three passes left my face remarkably smooth, and a splash of La Toja’s very nice aftershave finished the job.

The long weekend is in view.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 9:52 am

Posted in Shaving

Why hatred should be considered a contagious disease

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Izzeldin Abuelaish, Professor of Global Health, University of Toronto, writes in The Conversation:

A significant portion of violence in the world is based on hatred. People find so many reasons to hate one another: their class, gender, authority, religion, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed, customs, nationality, political opinions, physical attributes or imagined attributes. And many of those who are targets of hatred in turn hate their haters and return the violence.

Hatred and violence are threats to human health and global stability. As a medical doctor who researches public health as a tool for peace, I consider hatred a contagious disease and a health emergency of international concern.

Hatred and violence have considerable costs in terms of human health and life. Hatred should be acknowledged as a contagious disease, a public health issue and a determinant of health because prevention is needed — and because of the limited health-care resources available to fight it.

In a 2002 report, the World Health Organization called violence a “leading worldwide public health problem” and estimated that 1.6 million lose their lives to violence every year. The report is almost 20 years old now. How many more have died as a result of violence since then?

A long history of hatred

The world has recently seen the latest example of hatred-inspired violence playing out between Palestinians and Israelis.

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced after 11 days of violence that killed more than 250 people, including 66 children and 39 women, and wounded 2,000 in Gaza. Beyond the deaths is the destruction to infrastructure from the Israeli attacks — called a war crime by some international organizations — that has displaced thousands of Palestinians.

What do we expect from all those who are exposed to different varying aspects of harm from discrimination, racism, violence, intimidation, humiliation, oppression, occupation, hate crime, hate speech, incitement and violence?

The WHO defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.”

Fueled by hate

Health, freedom, justice, education, well-being, violence and war depend on who you are and where you live. Many of the current violent civil or civil-military conflicts across the globe are either based on, or fuelled by, hatred.

In an academic paper I co-authored in 2017 with Dr. Neil Arya, entitled The Palestinian–Israeli conflict: a disease for which root causes must be acknowledged and treated, we noted that hatred goes side by side with violence. Hatred self-perpetuates, usually through cycles of hatred and counter-hatred, violence and counter-violence — sometimes manifested as revenge.

Hatred has been studied for centuries by philosophers and theologians, and more recently by social psychologists, anthropologists and evolutionary scientists.

There is no consensus on a definition of hatred that is scientific, comprehensive and holistic.

Hatred is more than just . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 9:11 pm

Noah Smith offers a few thoughts on depression

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Noah Smith writes:

In 2013 I wrote a post about clinical depression on my old blog. To this day, people still write to me to tell me that this post was helpful for them. One time, pretty recently, someone even told me that in a grocery store line. So of all the posts I’ve ever written, this is the only one that I’m reasonably sure did some net good for the world. In any case, if you suffer from depression, or if you know someone who does, I hope this helps in some way.

Like everyone else, I’m very sad to hear about the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the gifted programmer and activist. I had heard of him a few times, but never really knew all the things he did. I wish I could have known him. Really, that’s the worst thing about people dying…all the living people who will never get to benefit from their continued existence.

What do I have to say about Swartz’ death? Well, maybe a little bit, since Swartz is said to have suffered from clinical depression. I do know a little bit about this topic, since I myself have struggled with depression for over a decade. Mine was first triggered by the sudden death of my mother in 1999, although I also have a family history of depression on my mom’s side (the Swartz side, ironically, though I don’t think Aaron and I were related).

Obviously, everyone’s experience of depression is different, so I don’t intend these thoughts to be a universal guide or general theory. Also, bipolar disorder, or “manic depression”, is another thing entirely. But that said, here are my thoughts on depression.

1. Depression is not sadness. During the most intense part of a major-depressive episode, what I’ve felt is nothing at all like sadness. Mostly, it’s a kind of numbness, and utter lack of desire and will. Underneath that numbness, there’s the sense that something awful is happening – there’s a very small voice screaming in the back of your mind, but you hear it only faintly. There’s an uncomfortable wrongness to everything, like the world is twisted and broken in some terrible but unidentifiable way. You feel numb, but it’s an incredibly bad sort of numbness. This is accompanied by a strange lack of volition – if a genie popped out and offered me three wishes at the depth of my depression, my first wish would be for him to go away and not bother me about the other two. Looking back on this experience, I’ve conjectured that part of depression might be like some kind of mental “fire sprinkler system” – the brain just floods the building completely to keep it from burning down.

Depressed people often remark that it’s impossible to remember what depression is like after it’s over, and impossible to imagine feeling any other way when you’re in the middle of it. Therefore, most of what I’m saying here comes from things I wrote when I was in the middle of major depressive episodes. I think my most colorful description was that depression was like “being staked out in the middle of a burning desert with a spear through your chest pinning you to the ground, with your eyelids cut off, staring up at the burning sun…forever.”

2. Coming out of depression is the most dangerous time. Coming out of depression, I’ve found, is like having your emotional system turned back on. But when it’s turning back on, it sputters and backfires. You feel incredibly raw. You have days where you feel elated, like you’re walking on air. And you have days when you feel black despair, rage, hysterical sadness. These latter are the only times that I’ve seriously thought about harming myself. And I’ve done a few…unwise things during these periods.

One of the most common negative episodes, for me, is what I’ve heard people call the “spiral” – a flood of negative emotions makes you feel like you’re bringing down the people around you, which triggers more negative emotions, etc. I often experience this when coming out of depression. It comes on very rapidly. If you see this happening to a depressed person, get them away from large groups of people and high-energy social situations, as fast as possible.

3. Depressed people don’t need good listeners, a sympathetic ear, or a shoulder to cry on. Most of the time, when our friends are having life problems, what they need is a sympathetic ear. They need someone to listen to their problems, to understand and accept the validity of their feelings, and to empathize. So when our friends have depression, the natural urge is to sit there and listen, and ask “What’s it like?”, and “Why do you feel that way?”, and to nod, and make a concerned face, and tell them you understand (even though you don’t), and to give them a hug. This is a good impulse, but when the person is depressed rather than sad, it’s a completely misplaced impulse. This is not what depressed people need, and although it doesn’t hurt them, in my experience it doesn’t do them any good at all. One reason is that depressed people tend not to think that anyone can really understand what they’re going through (and in fact it’s very hard for a non-depressed person to understand, thank God). Another is that, while for a normal sad person, getting negative thoughts out in the open helps expunge them, for depressed people airing the negative thoughts just forces them to think their negative thoughts, without expunging them. Another is that the emotional disconnection that I mentioned in point 1 tends to short-circuit the warm, good feeling that usually comes from someone being sympathetic and friendly toward you.

4. Depressed people do need human company. [And it’s interesting to me that in his commencement address today at Johns Hopkins, Michael Bloomberg talked at length about the importance of human relationships for happiness, for creativity, for productivity, and for getting the most out of life. – LG] For some reason, human company helps. In fact, it is the single thing that helps the most. But not the kind of company a sad person needs. What a depressed person needs is simply to talk to people, not about their problems or their negative thoughts or their depression, but about anything else – music, animals, science. The most helpful topic of conversation, I’ve found, is absurdity – just talking about utterly ridiculous things, gross things, vulgar offensive things, bizarre things. Shared activities, like going on a hike or playing sports, are OK, but talking is much, much more important. I really have never figured out why this works, but it does.

And of course,

relationships are very, very important. Friends, I think, are the most important, because friends offer opportunity for understanding and positive interaction without much feeling of obligation or shame (see point 6). Family and lovers are important, but really, the friendship component of these relationships has to dominate, so the depressed person doesn’t constantly think negative thoughts about how they’ve let you down. Essentially, to help a depressed person, friends need to become a bit more like family, and family a bit more like friends. Also, you should realize that just because your depressed friend or family member is unresponsive, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing him or her a lot of good.

5. Cognitive behavioral therapy really works. I’ve taken one antidepressant drug (Lexapro), but it did nothing perceptible for me. (This is not to say that antidepressants in general don’t work; for that, ask PubMed. This is just about my personal experience.) What has worked for me is cognitive behavioral therapy. The “cognitive part” is the most important. Basically, depressed people have negative thoughts that they can’t get out of their head; cognitive therapy teaches you to habitually identify, examine, and correct these negative thoughts. That really helps; once those negative thoughts aren’t always racing unnoticed through the back of your mind, your brain has a much easier time repairing the damage done by a depressive episode. Also, “behavioral” therapies can be important for improving your lifestyle.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is best done by a counseling therapist, and there are many good therapists, but also many crappy ones. It is easy to see who is good and who is crappy, but since depressed people have low volition, sometimes they need a push to ditch a bad therapist and keep looking for a good one.

6. . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 9:00 pm

The Oldest Grandson is graduating from college today.

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A side-effect of the pandemic event is that much experience has been gained in the live-streaming of ceremonial events, so I am in (remote) attendance as he receives his degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Postscript: The ceremony was terrific, and not just the technology. It moved along at a good pace, interesting photos and videos were intermixed with speeches, and Michael Bloomberg gave an excellent commencement address. He emphasized the importance of personal relationships sustained and nourished by in-person (not merely online) encounters. I agree with him. He pointed out that being together in person promotes creativity and productivity, as well as one’s own emotional well-being and happiness.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The long-delayed tempeh incubator completed

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I update this post from time to time as I learn more from experience. Most recent update June 13, 2021.

Let me say out that outset that a tempeh incubator is not needed if your oven has a “proofing” setting (used to incubate yeast in bread dough), since that works as well for tempeh (and probably for yogurt as well).  But I found that my tempeh incubator v. 1.0 helped a lot in getting a good batch of tempeh, but being constructed of cardboard it fared ill in the humid environment it enclosed as the tempeh guys did their job. The heating mat and thermostat worked well, but I needed a better box. (I don’t put the tempeh directly on a mat, but on this raised rack after bagging it in Ziploc fresh-produce bags.)

The photo shows the tempeh incubator v. 2.0, but from what I’ve learned, I here describe v 3.0, also made of rigid 1″ foam insulation, but purchased as 24″ squares. From those, you can cut all pieces pieces required. Dimensions given here are v. 3.0 dimensions, to better accommodate a heating mat 20.75″ long by making the internal space 22″ long, which also provides the side benefit of eliminating the need for some cuts.

Base: 24″ x 12″ — ends are glued to the top of the base, sides glued to the side of the base, as shown in photo
2 Ends: 12″ x 8″ — a small hole cut in the bottom of one end for the electrical plug from the heat mat*
2 Sides: 24″ x 9″
Lid: 24″ x 14″ — the lid covers the top, but it can be slanted so the incubator is partially open if the tempeh starts getting too hot as it matures — for a 3-cup batch, I had to remove the lid altogether because the tempeh was generating so much heat. I usually place a heavy book on the lid when the incubator is working.

* the link is to the one I got, which seems to be gone; this one is much the same and will work fine.

The interior dimensions are thus 22″ long, 12″ wide, 8″ high.

With those dimensions only three 24″ squares are needed:

Square 1, from which the base and ends are cut 
Square 2, from the sides are cut
Square 3, from which the top is cut

Important: When cutting, make sure the knife stays perpendicular to the surface of the board so that the cut edges are square and don’t slant.

Use galvanized 2″ nails around the edges of the sides (going through the side and into the base and ends) and across the ends of the base (going up into the end pieces of the box) as reinforcement. I left the weight on the box overnight to give time for the glue to fully set. Some nails are placed during glue-up, others added later. See assembly steps below.

Once the glue has set, push the nails through the edge of the side that’s on top into the base end pieces. Then turn the box to put the other side on top and repeat. You can push the nails in with your hand, though in a few places (where the nail encounters glue) you may need to tap the nail with a hammer. After the nails are in place, tap them gently with a hammer to seat the nails. They seem to be securely held.

I used Clear Gorilla Glue, though the original Gorilla Glue will work as well. Detailed assembly directions are below. The books stacked on top serve to clamp the pieces together until the glue is fully set. I left it overnight.

I now see in the photo that the glue dripped. So it goes. This project is not headed for the county fair or anything like that — it’s purely utilitarian, and it will work as well with or without glue drips.

Optional reinforcement: You can reinforce the box more by getting small right-angle braces and gluing them to sides/ends and base and to ends and sides. I didn’t do this because it didn’t seem necessary. I can always do it later if needed.

Step-by-step assembly instructions

In thinking about my experience in assembling the box and the missteps I made, I realized exactly how I should have assembled it. This recommended assembly sequence will avoid the problems I encountered. First, cut the pieces to the sizes listed above. Then follow these steps:

  1. Cut the mousehole for the power cord in the center of the bottom edge of one end (the bottom edge being the one that will rest on the base).
  2. Secure the bottom of the ends to the base. Each end will sit atop the base, flush with the edges of the base. Put an end in place and then fix the end piece in place with two of the 2″ galvanized nails. Push each nail through the bottom of the base into the bottom of the end piece, placing the nail 1/2″ from the end of the base, and 1″ from each side of the end of the base — thus 4 nails are used, 2 for each end. This is not a particularly strong join, but it will keep the ends from slipping out of position as you do the next step. If you want, you can also glue the bottom of the ends to the base, but I don’t think it is actually required.
  3. The result of step 1 is a U-shaped thing, the base with the two upright ends attached by the nails. Place that on its side so that a side piece will go on top, flush with the outer edges of the U. Take one of the side pieces and run a bead of glue 1/2″ from the edge along the length of the side and across each end of the side. This will glue the side to the base and the end pieces. Place the side on the assembled portion, and push a nail through each corner of the side 1/2″ in from each edge. Two nails will go into the end pieces (at the top) and two into the base piece (at the bottom of the box). This will keep the side in place as the glue dries. Look for any glue drips and wipe them off. Put some weight (heavy books, cast-iron skillet, whatever) on the side and leave it for a couple of hours until the glue has set reasonably well.
  4. Remove the weight and turn the structure over, so that the second side piece can also be placed on top of the assembly so far. Again run the bead of glue, put the side in place, and push a nail through each corner of the side piece into the end pieces and base. Again, put weights on top, and this time leave it overnight.
  5. Now push or tap a series of nails around three edges of the side, into the ends and the base, spacing the nails 2-3 inches apart. This will reinforce the structure. You could also push a series of nails through the bottom into the end pieces, but I don’t see that as necessary.

First batch in new incubator

Success! This is the first trial batch after about 40 hours. I’m going to let it go a little longer, but already it’s pretty solid. (The tempeh mold welds the beans together into a solid mass.) The dark spot is not a problem but rather a place where the mold is sporing. (I finally figured out that sporing is triggered by too high a temperature after the tempeh mold has taken hold. See this post for more information on the incubation.)

I’m delighted with the success and that the (sturdy) box worked so well. 

I made just a small test batch (1 cup dried beans). My usual batch is larger (2 cups dried beans), but my next batch will be another small batch to see if I can use a portion of this batch for the starter culture rather than using a purchased starter culture. (I get mine from Cultures for Health.)

I think I’ll use some for tempeh breakfast sausage. The recipe at the link works well and produces tasty sausage. Tempeh bacon is also tasty. Mostly, though, I dice tempeh and use it in stews, stir-fries, and chili.

My basic post on how I make tempeh reflects the learning curve, and it begins with a summary of what I learned in the process. I highly recommend making your own tempeh — it’s considerably better than the store-bought I’ve had.

Full basic guide to making tempeh at home

I gathered all that I learned through trial and error and wrote a summary step-by-step to successful tempeh making. This includes some things to avoid and why — that is, what will happen if you don’t avoid them. It look longer than I expected to be able to make a good batch on purpose and not just by accident. If you follow the guide at the link, you will avoid problems I encountered.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Non-animal diet, Techie toys

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Why It’s Almost Impossible to Do a Quintuple Cork in Tricking

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Like so many things, many I have yet to discover, tricking is new to me. This brief video gives a little history before diving into the details of a particular trick.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games, Science, Video

One Man’s Amazing Journey to the Center of the Bowling Ball

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Brendan I. Koerner has in Wired a profile of a bowling ball designer, which includes a deep dive in the physics of the bowling ball’s core: a dense asymmetrical weight. The article begins:

THE SWEET CLANG of scattering pins echoed through Western Bowl, a cavernous 68-lane bowling alley on the edge of Cincinnati. It was day one of the 1993 Super Hoinke, a Thanksgiving weekend tournament that drew hundreds of the nation’s top amateurs—teachers, accountants, and truck drivers who excelled at the art of scoring strikes. They came to the Super Hoinke (“HOING-key”) to vie for a $100,000 grand prize and bowling-world fame.

Between games, many bowlers drifted to the alley’s pro shop to soak in the wisdom of Maurice “Mo” Pinel, a star ball designer for the sporting-goods giant AMF. Pinel had come to Cincinnati to promote his latest creation, the Sumo. The bowling ball had launched the year before, backed by a TV commercial featuring a ginormous Japanese wrestler bellyflopping down a lane, with the tagline “Flat out, more power than you’ve ever seen in a bowling center.” The ball had quickly become a sensation, hailed for the way it naturally darted sideways across the lane—a quality known as flare. To congratulate Pinel on the sale of the 100,000th Sumo, AMF had given him a chunky medallion embossed with writing in kanji, a bauble that dangled from his neck as he held court at the Super Hoinke.

The paunchy, shaggy-haired Pinel spent hours regaling the pro-shop crowd with his opinions on the Sumo and all things ball-related. His blunt commentary, delivered in the thick Brooklynese of his youth, ranged from the correct technique for drilling finger holes to his rival designers’ failure to appreciate Newton’s second law. The audience lapped up his acerbic takes on how to improve the sport’s most essential piece of equipment.

Fifteen-year-old Ronald Hickland Jr. was among the enthralled. A gifted math and science student who was falling in love with bowling, Hickland was captivated by Pinel’s zest for breaking down the technical minutiae of why balls roll the way they do. He was equally impressed by the flashiness of Pinel’s jewelry: In addition to the gaudy kanji necklace, Pinel sported a top-of-the-line Movado wristwatch—a luxury he was able to afford thanks to the $3-per-ball royalty he was getting from AMF.

Hickland had traveled from Indiana to cheer on his dad at the Super Hoinke. Listening to Pinel, he found his calling in life. “It was like lightning,” he recalls. “And I was like, well, how do I get your job when I grow up?”

Pinel cautioned the teenager that the road ahead would be difficult. He would first have to earn a degree in mechanical or chemical engineering, after which he’d need vast amounts of persistence and luck: The number of full-time bowling ball designers in the world could be counted on two hands.

Hickland took that advice to heart, and he would eventually become one of the fortunate few to carve out a long career in ball design. He knows many would dismiss his chosen profession as frivolous. Bowling is easy to shrug off as a mere leisure pursuit—a boozy weekend pastime in which anyone with decent hand-eye coordination can perform well enough. But hardcore bowlers have a very different take on the sport: To them it’s a physics puzzle so elaborate that it can never be mastered, no matter how many thousands of hours they spend pondering the variables that can ruin a ball’s 60-foot journey to the pins. The athletes who obsess over this complexity also understand the debt they owe to Pinel, whose career as a ball designer was just beginning when he attended the Super Hoinke in 1993. Notorious as a bit of a colorful crank, he is also the figure most responsible for transforming how bowlers think about the scientific limits of their sport.

IN THE EARLY days of the pandemic, when ambulance sirens wailed nonstop in my hard-hit Queens, New York, neighborhood, I often soothed myself by bingeing YouTube clips of bowling. I can’t remember how I first plunged down that rabbit hole, though it might have involved clicking a “Recommended for You” video in the sidebar next to the Jesus Quintana scene from The Big Lebowski. My personal experience with bowling amounted to little more than a few madcap nights with friends, yet I devoured hours’ worth of highlights from professional matches, marveling at the athletes’ ability to arc their shots with such precision. Flair atop flare. There was something hypnotic about the physics of the balls’ movement, how those sleek orbs danced along the gutters before gracefully breaking toward the pins as if nudged by unseen hands.

Gorging on this content piqued my curiosity about the role a ball’s physical properties play in determining the outcome of each shot. A bowler’s prowess is clearly what matters most, but I assumed the composition of the balls must factor into the equation—arguably more so than in any other sport, given bowling’s simplicity. I became keen to learn how bowling balls are constructed and how much of an edge a bowler can glean by using a ball that’s been tailored to enhance their skills.

Grasping the basics of ball design turned out to be more complicated than I’d imagined. When I waded into the archives of Bowling This Month to study the magazine’s ball reviews, I was overwhelmed by . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And there’s also a video on the virtual impossibility of converting a 7-10 split. (Though the Greek Church is converted less frequently, the reason for that is psychological: choosing a sure thing over a risky bet.)

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 1:19 pm

Depression and its treatment

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Depression is the most common mental illness in the US, so it’s a good idea to know more about it. Astral Codex 10 has a lengthy post describing depression and various treatments, along with a lengthy collection of comments following the post. The post begins:

I’m trying to build up a database of mental health resources on my other website, Lorien Psychiatry. Every time I post something, people here have made good comments, so I want to try using you all as peer review.

This is a rough draft of my page on depression. I’m interested in any feedback you can give, including:

1. Typos

2. Places where you disagree with my recommendations / assessment of the evidence

3. Extra things you think I should add

4. Your personal stories about what things have or haven’t helped, or any extra insight that your experience with depression has given you

5. Comments on the organization of the piece. I don’t know how to balance wanting this to be accessible and easy-to-read with having it be thorough and convincing. Right now I’ve gone for a kind of FAQ format where you can only read the parts you want, but I’m doubtful about this choice.

6. Comments on the level of scientific formality. I tried to get somewhere in between “so evidence-based that I won’t admit parachutes prevent injury without an RCT” and “here’s some random stuff that came to me in a dream”, and signal which part was which, but tell me if I fell too far to one side or the other.

Ignore the minor formatting issues inevitable in trying to copy-paste things into Substack, including the headings being too small and the spacing between words and before paragraphs being weird. In the real page, the table of contents will link to the subsections; I don’t know how to do that here so it might be harder to read.

Here’s the page:


The short version: Depression has a combination of biological, psychological, and social causes. You can address the social causes by changing your life circumstances (and research suggests people underestimate the potential benefits of making major life changes). You can address the psychological causes with therapy; possible therapies are diverse and complicated but I especially recommend “behavioral activation” therapy (where you try to keep a schedule and also do new, interesting things) and David Burns’ book Feeling Good. You can address the biological causes with a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and supplements. Consider exercising more and adapting a modified Mediterranean diet. Consider taking antidepressants like escitalopram and bupropion, and supplements like l-methylfolate. Other non-chemical biological options include light therapy (safe and easy), transcranial magnetic stimulation (more complicated), and electroconvulsive therapy (difficult but extremely effective last-ditch solution). If something treats your depression, continue it for some length of time depending on the type of intervention, then consider withdrawing it to see if you can maintain your mood without it.

The long version:

1. What is depression?
1.1: Is depression caused by biochemistry or life events?
1.2. How can I tell if I have depression?
1.2.1. How do I know if I have depression vs. something else?
2. How do you treat depression?
2.1. What kind of lifestyle changes help with depression?
2.1.1: What do you mean by getting away from the depressing thing?
2.1.2: What kind of diet helps with depression? What if I have special dietary needs (vegetarian/vegan/paleo/gluten-free/etc)?
2.1.3: What kind of exercise helps with depression?
2.1.4: What’s the role of sunlight in treating depression?
2.1.5: What’s the role of hygiene, routine, and behavioral activation in treating depression?
2.2. What kind of therapies help with depression?
2.2.1. How can I get a therapist?
2.2.2. How can I get therapy without a therapist?
2.3. What kind of medications help with depression?
2.4. What kind of supplements help with depression?
2.5. What else treats depression?
2.6. What should I try to treat my depression?
2.7. If something helps treat my depression, how long do I have to do it for?

1. What is depression?

Depression is a condition marked by low mood, low motivation, persistent negative self-talk, and countless similar and related issues.

Although it’s fair to call it a “mental illness” as a heuristic, it isn’t “just” “in your head”. Severe depression sometimes affects the psychomotor system as well, producing unusually slow movements and decreased muscle strength. Some depressed people feel like their limbs “have lead weights tied to them”, and this feeling is “real” – it’s the extra work it takes to maintain a posture despite decreased ability to exert muscle force. It’s linked to decreased efficiency in almost every part of the body, including the immune system, the cardiovascular system, and (especially) the gastrointestinal system. Chronically depressed people live almost a decade less than non-depressed people, and there’s increasing evidence that this isn’t just because they’re too depressed to eat right and exercise, it’s also because the same neurological processes affecting their emotional system are affecting the nerves that regulate the heart, lungs, stomach, etc. The emotional / psychological symptoms of depression are so striking that they trick us into thinking depression is “just” an emotion – but even if you could eliminate every emotional symptom tomorrow, depression would still be a serious disease of dysregulated bodily systems.

We don’t understand exactly what depression is, but we have clues about how it works on a neurological, biochemical, and cognitive levels. The following is extremely speculative but (I think) the best picture we can draw from the evidence so far.

On the neurological level,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 12:44 pm

Russia is truly a hostile power

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Liz Alderman reports in the NY Times:

The mysterious London public relations agency sent its pitch simultaneously to social media influencers in France and Germany: Claim that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is deadly and that regulators and the mainstream media are covering it up, the message read, and earn thousands of euros in easy money in exchange.

The claim is false. The purported agency, Fazze, has a website and describes itself as an “influencer marketing platform” connecting bloggers and advertisers. But when some of the influencers tried to find out who was running Fazze, the ephemeral trail appeared to lead to Russia.

“Unbelievable. The address of the London agency that contacted me is bogus,” Léo Grasset, a popular French health and science YouTuber with more than one million followerswrote on Twitter Monday. “All the employees have weird LinkedIn profiles … which have been missing since this morning. Everyone has worked in Russia before.”

Mirko Drotschmann, a German health commentator with 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, said in a tweet that the P.R. agency had asked if he wanted to be part of an “information campaign” about Pfizer deaths in exchange for money. After doing some research, he concluded: “Agency headquarters: London. Residence of the CEO: Moscow.”

Their responses prompted two other social media influencers to come forward and say they, too, were approached last week with the offer of a “partnership” to criticize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. One was offered 2,000 euros. It’s uncertain how many influencers received the solicitations, or if any acted on them.

And it’s not at all clear that there ever was a Fazze agency. Within hours of the questions on social media, the employee profiles on the agency’s LinkedIn account had disappeared, and someone scrubbed its Facebook page blank. Its Instagram account was made private. Its website offers no way to contact the company.

The French health minister, Olivier Véran, denounced the operation on Tuesday, calling it “pathetic and dangerous.” He did not elaborate on whether the government was investigating the matter.

While France is trying to speed efforts to achieve so-called herd immunity from Covid-19 before summer with faster vaccine rollouts, it remains one of Europe’s largest vaccine-sceptic countries, with nearly a third of its people saying they don’t want a jab. Since spring, many residents have refused to take the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports that it may cause blood clots, prompting the government to switch largely to Pfizer, which more people have been willing to accept. About 15 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. . .

The messages from the so-called Fazze agency, in broken English, urged the social media influencers to create posts and videos on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram to “explain” that “the death rate among the vaccinated with Pfizer is almost 3x higher than the vaccinated by AstraZeneca.”

In Mr. Grasset’s case, a message from a person who identified himself as Anton boasted that the agency had a “quite considerable” budget for an “information campaign” about “Covid-19 and the vaccines offered to the European population, notably AstraZeneca and Pfizer.”

Mr. Grasset, who posted screenshots of the messages he received, said Anton had been willing to pay for 45- to 60-second videos on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube warning that the Pfizer vaccine was deadly. Anton also asked him to “act like you have the passion and interest in this topic,” while avoiding the terms “advertising” and “sponsored” in posts. “The material should be presented as your own independent view,” the pitch said.

“Encourage viewers to draw their own conclusions, take care of themselves and their loved ones,” the instructions continued.

The influencers described being urged to question why governments were buying the Pfizer vaccine, and to portray the European Union, which signed a deal last month for 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as a monopoly that was causing harm to public health. They were also asked to tell their followers that “the mainstream media ignores this theme.”

Before the coronavirus broke out, Russian trolls were already using vaccine debates to sow discord, according to a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Twitter accounts that Russian agents used to meddle in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 11:49 am

Flowers of the front-yard palm

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I don’t actually know whether these are flowers or the flower phase is over and we’re onto fruit — though it does strike me as flowers. From this post:

Palm trees have separate male and female flowers. Sometimes they’re on the same plant, and sometimes, as in the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), the male and female flowers are on separate trees.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 10:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Leviathan rules

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Leviathan shaving soap from Barrister and Mann is perfectly satisfying in fragrance and lather, the latter this morning brought to me by the Aerolite Amber from Phoenix Artisan. I chose of the razors up for today (I take out on Sunday the next six razors in rotation and use those during the week) The Holy Black’s SR-71 slant, which is a bit of a leviathan itself: the handle feels stubby but very hefty, like a little whale. (In fact, the handle is the same length as the Merkur 37C, from whose head the SR-71 is cloned.) The heft is because the handle is solid brass.

It was a fine shave, though this time the amount of edge feel surprised me. No nicks, but it felt possible. But  all’s well that ends well, and in this case the end was a splash of Leviathan aftershave, a very good ending indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 9:26 am

Posted in Shaving

There’s a hole at the bottom of math

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This is an excellent presentation of fascinating ideas (some of which I struggle with — the spectral gap, for instance), and enough is clearly presented to be pleasing and satisfying. Worth watching the entire 34 minutes.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2021 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Math, Memes, Philosophy, Science

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