Later On

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Archive for June 22nd, 2021

James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth

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Every day brings inew information and ideas, often of some depth, as Mike Leeder writes in Inference:

JAMES HUTTON WAS a chemist, geologist, agriculturist, and prominent member of the Edinburgh intelligentsia during the height of the Scottish Enlightenment. His contemporaries and friends included Robert Adam, David Hume, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, and James Watt. Hutton’s major work, Theory of the Earth, published first in 1788 and expanded in 1794, describes his geological observations and resulting theory for the cycling of the earth.1 His conclusion was startling: “We find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.”2 It was a unique perspective among seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific efforts, expressed freely and without regard for any scriptural constraints. Hutton’s ideas are easily recognizable in today’s understanding of deep time and the geodynamic cycling of the earth by plate tectonics. Like a Lazarus taxon, which disappears from the fossil record and resurfaces later, his notion of a recycling earth was born from scientific endeavor in the Age of Enlightenment and resurrected in the nuclear age.

Vita Lineae

THE MAJOR SOURCES for what is known of Hutton’s life and work come courtesy of his friend and biographer James Playfair, as well as seventeen preserved items of personal correspondence.3 Hutton was born in 1726 in Edinburgh of prosperous merchant stock. His father and elder brother died when he was young, and he and his sisters were raised by their mother. At the University of Edinburgh, he followed the mathematics lectures of Isaac Newton’s protégé Colin Maclaurin and studied humanities and medicine. Hutton never practiced the latter, but its study was the best route to pursue his interest in chemistry. From 1747, he continued his studies at the Universities of Paris and Leiden, and graduated from Leiden with a medical degree in 1749. Returning to Edinburgh, he set up with a friend in the profitable manufacture of sal ammoniac, a salt used for dyeing and metalworking, using chimney soot as raw material. He then made a radical change in life direction. In the early 1750s, he took a two-year stint on a Norfolk farm where he learned advanced agricultural practices. He took charge of two family farms in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders and there became a hands-on landlord who developed the land by applying the latest techniques in agriculture and landscaping.

From the mid-1760s, Hutton lived with his sisters in central Edinburgh and threw himself into the city’s scientific and philosophical life. Over the next twenty years, he gained enough field experience to have a detailed understanding of the basic geology of Scotland, England, and Wales, and so established himself as the premier Scottish geological philosopher. His practice of geology gained breadth and substance through his love of chemistry, extensive surveys of the French scientific literature, and a close friendship with the prolific chemist Joseph Black. It was Black who discovered the latent heat of steam, invented the eighteenth century’s most precise analytical balance, and discovered carbon dioxide, a product of animal respiration and organic fermentation. He also produced aqueous precipitates of calcium carbonate and investigated silica precipitation from Icelandic geyser waters.

Version 1: 1785–1788

AN INITIAL VERSION of Theory of the Earth was read to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on two occasions in 1785, the first by Black when Hutton was ill, and the second by Hutton himself. Organized in four parts, the work was published three years later in the debut volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The intellectual method in Hutton’s magnum opus was influenced by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 June 2021 at 5:56 pm

Why Bamboo Salt Is So Expensive

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I had no idea that such a thing as bamboo salt existed, but now I’m dying to try it. I think I’ll hold off until I win the lottery, though.

Written by Leisureguy

22 June 2021 at 2:44 pm

New Records Show the NYPD’s Favored Punishment: Less Vacation Time

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It makes no sense for police departments to police themselves. The conflict of interest is glaringly obvious. Moiz Syed and Derek Willis report in ProPublica:

After the repeal of a state law shielding New York police officers’ disciplinary histories from disclosure, the New York Police Department in March released several years’ worth of disciplinary records for its officers. However, the agency published the records in a way that made it difficult to see which officers had been disciplined and how.

To understand how the NYPD has been holding its own accountable, ProPublica downloaded profile information for all of the agency’s 34,000 officers and pulled out disciplinary information for the more than 1,300 officers for whom that information was listed. The department limited disclosure to cases where officers were judged guilty or pleaded no contest in its trial process — some of the most severe cases.

What those records show is that the most common form of punishment was docking vacation time. In some 89% of the cases made public, reduced vacation time was one of the penalties levied, and in more than 60% of the cases it was the only punishment. Officers in the database can have multiple cases filed against them.

The number of vacation days docked varied widely even when the charges appear to be similar. For example, the penalties for a single charge of applying a chokehold ranged from five vacation days to 20. Single instances of wrongful use of force charges resulted in the loss of between two and 30 days.

The NYPD last year announced guidelines known as the “matrix,” which aims to set clear penalties for certain kinds of misconduct. However, the commissioner ultimately has the final say in how officers are punished.

“The loss of vacation days — which is equivalent to a fine — is an effective and efficient way to enact a penalty,” said Sgt. Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokesperson, in a statement. “The loss of a vacation day or days translates to a significant amount of money — often thousands of dollars depending on the number of days docked.”

Below, we’ve published all the cases in which the only penalty handed down was reduced vacation days. Though the descriptions of the officer’s misconduct are often vague, the details provided, coupled with the numbers of days docked, offer new insights into a police disciplinary system long defined by secrecy. You can use the slider to see just cases where a specific number of vacation days were docked, or use the search bar to filter by phrases or officers’ names. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more at the link, including the interactive tool described.

Written by Leisureguy

22 June 2021 at 2:24 pm

Kyrsten Sinema’s Filibuster Defense Is Factually Untrue

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Incompetence quickly becomes tiresome — especially in elected officials. Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Earlier this month, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, speaking to reporters, laid out a thoroughly ahistorical defense of the filibuster. To be fair to Sinema, her initial error, crediting the filibuster to the Founders (who in fact rejected it, only for it to emerge by mistake decades later) is a common one, and she was speaking extemporaneously.

Today, Sinema has a second shot to explain her thinking in a Washington Post op-ed. But her revised filibuster rationale, despite having the benefit of premeditated thought and editing, still relies on utterly false grounds.

Sinema’s central argument is captured in the headline “We have more to lose than gain by ending the filibuster.” She warns that a majority-rule Senate would allow Republicans to easily roll back any Democratic policy gains:

And, sometimes, the filibuster, as it’s been used in previous Congresses, is needed to protect against attacks on women’s health, clean air and water, or aid to children and families in need …

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to expand health-care access or retirement benefits: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to later see that legislation replaced by legislation dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women’s reproductive health services?

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to empower federal agencies to better protect the environment or strengthen education: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see federal agencies and programs shrunk, starved of resources, or abolished a few years from now?

Almost every specific example she cites here as a possible or actual grounds of defense by the filibuster cannot be protected by the filibuster.

The reason is that the Senate has work-arounds for the filibuster. One is for confirmation of judges or executive-branch appointments. The other is for bills that change taxes and spending. The latter, called budget reconciliation, can be passed with 51 votes.

Almost every program Sinema cites above is a spending program that can be defunded through budget reconciliation: women’s health, aid to children and families in need, health care, Medicaid, Medicare, women’s reproductive services, funding for federal agencies to protect the environment and education. Several of them have been targeted in budget reconciliation bills.

Budget reconciliation rules do exempt Social Security (an exemption that is itself yet another of the Senate’s arcane, idiosyncratic distinctions that serve no logical purpose — why should Social Security alone have a protection that, say, Medicare and Medicaid don’t?). Likewise, regulations (such as clean air and water) can’t be repealed through budget reconciliation, though their enforcement can be defunded, or simply curtailed through administrative neglect, neither of which is subject to filibustering.

Given that Republicans could roll back any of the vast array of federal programs cherished by Democrats with a majority in both chambers and the presidency, why didn’t they do it either of the last two times they enjoyed full control of government?

The answer points to the essential fallacy of Sinema’s reasoning. Nearly all those programs are popular — so popular that even Republican voters would blanch at attacks on them. Republicans suffered grievous political damage when they attempted to defund Obamacare. (That episode points to yet another asymmetry of the filibuster — a law that required 60 votes to enact could have been destroyed with a mere 51.)

The federal government is filled with functions that the modern version of the Republican Party would never agree to create. The 1970 Clean Air Act, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, passed both chambers by a cumulative vote of 447-1, an unimaginable outcome today. And yet those programs and agencies generally earn broad public support and prove impossible to uproot.

A system in which both parties can advance their popular beliefs when they have control of government therefore benefits Democrats disproportionately. Republicans may have some measures they could pass in the absence of a filibuster but not otherwise, yet over the long run, Democrats have far more. That is why, when they controlled government, Republicans frankly confessed that filibuster was “what’s prevented our country for decades from sliding toward liberalism.”

If Republicans have policies they can pass with majorities in both chambers, then they should pass them. If those policies attract broad public legitimacy, they will stay in place. If they are as repellent as Sinema fears, they will be repealed when Democrats have their turn in power. There’s simply no reason why preventing Republicans from trying out their preferred policies is so vital that it justifies handicapping Democrats in the same fashion.

The Republican argument for a filibuster is perfectly coherent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 June 2021 at 2:17 pm

How ancient people fell in love with bread, beer, and other carbs

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Amaia Arranz-Otaegui (right) examines grain growing in northeastern Jordan, near the Shubayqa 1 archaeological site where she and her colleagues found evidence that bread had been baked there some 14,000 years ago, several millennia before domestication of grains. Credit: Joe Roe

So much for the idea of a meat-centered Paleo diet. Andrew Curry writes in Nature:

On a clear day, the view from the ruins of Göbekli Tepe stretches across southern Turkey all the way to the Syrian border some 50 kilometres away. At 11,600 years old, this mountaintop archaeological site has been described as the world’s oldest temple — so ancient, in fact, that its T-shaped pillars and circular enclosures pre-date pottery in the Middle East.

The people who built these monumental structures were living just before a major transition in human history: the Neolithic revolution, when humans began farming and domesticating crops and animals. But there are no signs of domesticated grain at Göbekli Tepe, suggesting that its residents hadn’t yet made the leap to farming. The ample animal bones found in the ruins prove that the people living there were accomplished hunters, and there are signs of massive feasts. Archaeologists have suggested that mobile bands of hunter-gatherers from all across the region came together at times for huge barbecues, and that these meaty feasts led them to build the impressive stone structures.

Now that view is changing, thanks to researchers such as Laura Dietrich at the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. Over the past four years, Dietrich has discovered that the people who built these ancient structures were fuelled by vat-fulls of porridge and stew, made from grain that the ancient residents had ground and processed on an almost industrial scale1. The clues from Göbekli Tepe reveal that ancient humans relied on grains much earlier than was previously thought — even before there is evidence that these plants were domesticated. And Dietrich’s work is part of a growing movement to take a closer look at the role that grains and other starches had in the diet of people in the past.

The researchers are using a wide range of techniques — from examining microscopic marks on ancient tools to analysing DNA residues inside pots. Some investigators are even experimentally recreating 12,000-year-old meals using methods from that time. Looking even further back, evidence suggests that some people ate starchy plants more than 100,000 years ago. Taken together, these discoveries shred the long-standing idea that early people subsisted mainly on meat — a view that has fuelled support for the palaeo diet, popular in the United States and elsewhere, which recommends avoiding grains and other starches.

The new work fills a big hole in the understanding of the types of food that made up ancient diets. “We’re reaching a critical mass of material to realize there’s a new category we’ve been missing,” says Dorian Fuller, an archaeobotanist at University College London.

A garden of grinding stones

Dietrich’s discoveries about the feasts at Göbekli Tepe started in the site’s ‘rock garden’. That’s the name archaeologists dismissively gave a nearby field where they dumped basalt grinding stones, limestone troughs and other large pieces of worked stone found amid the rubble.

As excavations continued over the past two decades, the collection of grinding stones quietly grew, says Dietrich. “Nobody thought about them.” When she started cataloguing them in 2016, she was stunned at the sheer numbers. The ‘garden’ covered an area the size of a football field, and contained more than 10,000 grinding stones and nearly 650 carved stone platters and vessels, some big enough to hold up to 200 litres of liquid.

No other settlement in the Near East has so many grinding stones, even in the late Neolithic, when agriculture was already well-established,” Dietrich says. “And they have a whole spectrum of stone pots, in every thinkable size. Why so many stone vessels?” She suspected that they were for grinding grain to produce porridge and beer. Archaeologists had long argued that stone vats at the site were evidence of occasional ceremonial beer consumption at Göbekli Tepe, but thought of it as a rare treat.

Teasing answers from the stones there and at other sites is not a simple process. In archaeology, it is much easier to spot evidence of meat meals than ones based on grains or other plants. That’s because the bones of butchered animals fossilize much more readily than do the remains of a vegetarian feast. The fragile nature of ancient plant remains makes archaeobotany — the study of how ancient people used plants — tricky, time-consuming work. Researchers use sieves, fine mesh and buckets to wash and separate debris from archaeological sites. Tiny bits of organic material such as seeds, charred wood and burnt food float to the top, while heavier dirt and rocks sink.

The vast majority of what emerges amounts to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 June 2021 at 11:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

Tempeh bacon and new-batch progress

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Pictured above are thin slices of black-bean-&-black-rice tempeh — a very good batch — in the marinade for tempeh bacon. I have made this before, but with a batch of tempeh that was less solid than this, so I’m eager to see how this one comes out. To the recipe at the link, I added about 1/2 – 1 teaspoon Wright’s liquid smoke.

UPDATE: Subsequent tempeh bacon photos below. — And now that I think about it, I see now reason why I should not sauté this in a non-stick skillet — faster and easier. I also vary the marinade — e.g., by adding garlic powder. 

The chickpea-peanut batch is coming along well. Below is a photo after 48 hours. I plan to let it continue until 96 hours, so this is half done.

Here is the tempeh bacon as it progressed in the oven:

Not a lot of visible difference, but from L to R: Ready for oven; after 25 minutes; brushed with marinade and ready to return to oven; after the final 25 minutes.

It’s quite tasty. Not so crisp as bacon, but I did cut fairly thick slices. It’s very tasty with a Manhattan made with Canadian Club 100% rye, Cinzano Rosso, and Fee Brothers Peach Bitters.

Written by Leisureguy

22 June 2021 at 10:50 am

Tobacco and leather and a great shave

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Another tiny brush that handles it job easily, this Omega silvertip produced a great lather from Ariana & Evans Tertius: “Leather, Tobacco & Oud, supported by a hint of Rose & Patchouli.” I like the soap — their Kaizen formula, according to their website — quite a bit.

Three passes — with, across, and against the grain — left my face perfectly smooth, thanks to the efficiency of RazoRock’s Game Changer .68-P, and perfectly undamaged, thanks to its comfort. With a splash of Leviathan aftershave, whose fragrance goes well with that of Tertius, my shave is done and the day begun.

Written by Leisureguy

22 June 2021 at 9:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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