Later On

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

Archive for July 20th, 2021

More corruption in Trump administration

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York indicted three men for illegally influencing the foreign policy positions of a presidential candidate and then, after the election, of the United States government.

They were acting in the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a wealthy country in the Persian Gulf. The candidate was Donald Trump, and one of the three men was his ally Thomas Barrack. Another was Matthew Grimes, a 27-year-old employee who reported to Barrack. The third was UAE citizen Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, who lived in California until 2018, leaving abruptly after the FBI interviewed him about the case.

The return of Barrack to the news recalls the outsized influence of foreign actors in the previous administration, and how U.S. policy appeared to change to suit their interests. On Twitter, Mark Mazetti of the New York Times wrote: “One of the mysteries of Trump’s first six months was why the administration came out of the gate so hot for Saudi and UAE—with Trump traveling to Saudi Arabia and then going along with the Qatar blockade. The Tom Barrack indictment explains a lot.”

A billionaire private equity real-estate investor and longtime ally of Trump, Barrack was a key fundraiser for Trump’s campaign, which he advised between April and November 2016. In June 2018, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote a profile of Barrack, explaining that he is the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles and so grew up speaking Arabic, which helped him do business and make contacts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Barrack got to know Trump in the real estate world of the 1980s, and by 2010, he acquired $70 million of Jared Kushner’s debt and retired enough of it to keep Kushner from bankruptcy. When Trump launched his 2016 campaign with anti-Muslim rhetoric, Barrack calmed his Middle East contacts down, assuring them that Trump was simply using hyperbole.

Barrack urged Trump to hire Paul Manafort—fresh from his stint working for a Ukrainian oligarch—and served as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee. Grimes and Barrack proposed to contacts in the UAE that it should use “its vast economic surplus to obtain a level of influence…which the country should rightfully command.” They suggested it should use financial investments to “increase [its] influence with USA and European governments and people.”

A final draft of their proposal explained that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also…garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [the recently elected Candidate, hereinafter, the ‘President-Elect’]….We will do so by sourcing, investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.”

Barrack’s investment firm raised more than $7 billion between 2016 and 2018, 24% of it from either the UAE or Saudi Arabia.

According to today’s charges, once Trump was in office, Barrack continued to lobby for the UAE until April 2018. He allegedly worked with allies in the UAE to draft passages of Trump’s speeches, hone press materials, and prepare talking points to promote UAE interests. Without ever registering as a foreign agent, he worked to change U.S. foreign policy and appoint administration officials to meet a “wish list” produced by UAE officials.

Barrack helped to tie the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, turning the US away from Qatar, an ally that hosts US air bases (although they are now being closed as bases and in the process of becoming housing for our Afghan allies before their US visas come through). From the beginning, the administration worked closely with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who controls $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds and essentially rules the UAE, and with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Prince Mohammed championed.

In May 2017, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Saudi and UAE leaders, met without the knowledge of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk about blockading Qatar. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a blockade on June 5, 2017, Trump cheered them on, although the State Department took a neutral stand and the Pentagon thanked Qatar for hosting US troops.

Today, prosecutors said that Barrack provided foreign government officials “with sensitive non-public information about developments within the Administration, including information about the positions of multiple senior United States government officials with respect to the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.”

They say he also “met with and assisted senior leaders of the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], a close ally of the UAE.”

In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an emergency to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 9:50 pm

Snack: Unpolished barnyard millet & mushrooms

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Actually, a little more.

Barnyard millet: I toasted 1 cup of unpolished barnyard millet in a pan until it was fragrant, then added 2 cups of water, a pinch of salt, and a little goat butter (not vegan, but a rare treat), turned heat to low, covered and simmered. The recipe said to simmer for 15 minutes, but all water was absorbed after 10 minutes. I took the pan off the heat and let it sit covered while I cooked the mushrooms:

Mushrooms: Some olive and about 2/3 of a large red onion chopped small, which I sweated in a nonstick skillet that had a lid. I added a good pinch of salt, and when the onion was soft and transparent, I added about 6 cloves of garlic chopped small that had been allowed to rest for 10 minutes.

I cooked that for a couple of minutes, then added 8 or 9 medium domestic white mushrooms, sliced. I covered the pan and cooked those, stirring from time to time, until they had browned and were done, having released their liquid.

Serving: I fluffed the millet with a fork. Unpolished millet is fluffy, not clumpy, and I highly recommend you avoid polished millets.  I put some of that into a bowl, topped it with some of the mushrooms and a splash of hot sauce: very tasty.

More on millets in this video (which explains, among other things, the particular benefits of barnyard millet). Like broccoli and some other foods, they are goitrogenic, so your diet should include adequate iodine (which it should in any case). Two sheets of nori a day is fine, or you can use iodized salt. (I don’t — I prefer Diamond Crystal kosher salt or Maldon salt.) Avoid kelp: too much iodine.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 9:33 pm

Daniel Hale exposed the machinery of America’s clandestine warfare. Why did no one seem to care?

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Relevant to the story: Eye in the Sky, with Helen Mirrin and Alan Rickman—Alan Rickman’s last movie, in fact, and a terrific movie.

Kerry Howley writes in New York:

Daniel Everette Hale was the best dishwasher in Nashville. He was faster, more efficient, more knowledgeable about the machinery that makes a restaurant run. He could predict when the kitchen would need bowls and when small plates; he could take apart the dishwasher and deliver an impromptu lecture on the proper cleaning thereof. He was 31, slight, with a buzz cut and tattoos down his taut forearms, and while he thought himself the best, in the minds of the men for whom he worked he was a touch too invested. If something broke, such as a spray nozzle, he’d show up the next day with a new spray nozzle and tools to install it, having never checked with management at all, at which point management might say, “Daniel, we already had a backup spray nozzle.” Despite the excellence of his washing, he had been fired many times from many kitchens for generally being a pain in the ass. He was, for instance, persistently pressing the staff to demand higher wages and was repeatedly disappointed that the staff seemed uninterested.

There was only one restaurant that lived up to the standards of the best dishwasher in Nashville. This was Folk, which Daniel recalls as a “beautiful, just beautiful brand-new restaurant with, like, impeccable aesthetics and these big ceiling-high windows that let the light shine in during the midday and a beautiful marble bar and all these fresh, locally sourced ingredients.” The staff was disciplined and well trained and not given to the episodes of sexual harassment he had seen in other restaurants. In the open kitchen, he discovered “this really cool dish machine, a single-rack dish machine I hadn’t used before.” The staff was “like a family,” and the much-celebrated chef was “always, always there,” not at all like the “complete asshole dirtbag restaurant guys” he’d worked for before. But eventually, as he had in many other Nashville kitchens, Daniel became too difficult an employee to manage, too time-consuming in his ever-expanding list of ideas for improvement, and one evening in May 2019, the chef let him go.

Daniel got drunk, met a woman, went home with her, and immediately regretted it. In the night, he opened a condom but didn’t use it. He returned to his apartment early the next morning and called a close friend to whom he would lament the loss of his job. “I loved it there,” he was telling his friend, there on the porch on a wet May morning in Nashville. “I loved it. I loved every minute of it.”

Daniel heard a rustling in the leaves beside the porch and thought perhaps it was his roommates, though in retrospect they would not be up at 6 a.m. on a Thursday. He stopped speaking.

A man in black ran toward him with a drawn gun. Then two more men. Then six.

This is it, Daniel thought. Finally.

The FBI agents swarmed him, searched him. Last time this had happened, the agents had seemed to Daniel contemptuous, but these guys seemed slightly embarrassed, as if to acknowledge that it was all “a little excessive.” An FBI agent stuck his hand in Daniel’s pocket and pulled out the unwrapped condom.

“You couldn’t have warned me?” the agent said.

On the drive to work that morning, the chef turned on NPR, which is how he learned that the dishwasher he had just fired had been seized for stealing documents about the secret assassination program we have come to call the drone war.

Anyone can build a combat drone. If you build a drone for your little makeshift country, no one will be impressed. We may think of drones as indestructible, ironclad, and this is the impression defense companies attempt to impart with the hard names they give the machines they build — Predator drone, Reaper drone, Hunter drone — but in fact the original word, drone, is elegantly apt, and all of these are an attempt to mask the dumb delicacy it captures. Drones are flimsy, light little wisps of things, vulnerable to lost signals and sleepy pilots, vulnerable to gusts of wind and hard rain, lightning, ice. You will send a drone whirling into the sand should you turn too hard into a breeze or press the wrong button on your joystick; should you fly into an area of excessive electromagnetic noise or accidentally fly the drone upside down for a long while, oblivious. They slam into mountains, crash into other planes, fall into farms, sidewalks, and waterways. Sometimes they simply go silent and float away, never to be found again. Hundreds and hundreds of military drones we have lost this way, scattered across the globe. It’s okay. They’re cheap. We make new ones.

What is notable is not the drone but the network that keeps it aloft. This is where American power asserts itself: the satellites we rocket into the sky and the shallow-bowled receivers we nail to the ground. Concrete bases, trucks dragging satellites in their beds, the cables American soldiers lay in ditches they’ve dug into someone else’s desert. (“A fuck-ton of cables,” as one whistleblower explained it to me.)

Most of this hard and heavy infrastructure is maintained in a secrecy upheld by the CIA, which runs one drone program, the military, which runs another, the agencies that serve them, and the contractors that serve the agencies. In 2015, an insider leaked dozens of pages of documents about the inner workings of the American drone program, including information about the bureaucracy behind the “kill list” over which Barack Obama then presided. The Intercept published an eight-part series centered on these documents that became a book. “A ‘second Snowden’ Leaks to The Intercept,” announced CNN, an alliteration that would prove irresistible across media; “A Second Snowden Has Leaked a Mother Lode of Drone Docs,” read a headline in WiredAmnesty International called for a congressional investigation. First Snowden called it “an astonishing act of civil courage.”

Nearly no one knew who Second Snowden was then or for years afterward. After he was seized in the early-morning raid and released on bail and prosecuted through a pandemic, he stopped shaving and grew what a friend called “a ZZ Top beard.” He lost weight and began to wear clothes donated by concerned acquaintances; someone else’s large khakis hung off him, the waistband folded over, a belt yanked to the last loop. Friends pressed him to go public with the story of how and why, but Daniel maintained that in talking about himself, he would be taking the spotlight from victims of the drone war. He rarely left his room.

In November 2020, his housemate coaxed him out for a beer at a place called Moreland’s Tavern in Northwest D.C. When Daniel arrived, eight people he knew were seated at tables outside in the cold. The intervention had been arranged by the housemate and by one of Daniel’s closest friends, an activist named Noor Mir, who knew that Daniel was hesitant to impose on people and that he needed help. “I think it’s hard for men to understand that it’s okay to feel really, really scared,” Mir told me.

They went around the table, one by one, and told Daniel that he had to get his shit together. He needed to participate in his defense. He needed to prepare for the possibility of prison. He needed to consider the future care of his cat. He needed to tell his story, because if he failed to do that, the prosecution’s story would stand unchallenged. Daniel had his feet on a chair, his arms around his knees, supremely uncomfortable. Two hours in, the last person said what he had come to say. They waited for Daniel to respond.

“All right, everybody,” he said, half-smiling for the first time that evening. “Can we shut the fuck up now?”

Daniel told none of his friends he was ready to talk, but on April 4, he called me. He said he didn’t want to be called a whistleblower. He preferred the word traitor.

No one owns a secret state, and no one answers for it. There was a moment in 2012, 2013, when various people outside Yemen and Pakistan and Afghanistan began to notice that inside Yemen and Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S. was waging constant, secret war under a set of rules known to few. It was May 2013 when Obama finally felt it necessary to give his big drone speech, in which he acknowledged that drones were morally complicated, promised to “review proposals to extend oversight,” deemed them an unfortunate necessity for the safety of Americans, and generally gave the impression that he would make the program accountable. But everything of note that happens in this story happened after such gestures were forced, and made, and forgotten.

aniel did not come to the Air Force so much as he surrendered. He had grown up the son of a disapproving, Bible-quoting truck-driver father in Bristol, Virginia, which is just across the state line from Bristol, Tennessee. He is a descendant of Nathan Hale, hanged by the Brits in 1776 for attempting to pose as a Dutch schoolmaster and steal information on troop movements (according to Daniel, “not a very good spy”). Daniel’s parents were under constant stress: food pantries, endless dinners of rice and beans. The services he attended as a child were “fire and brimstone” — country music, his sister said, was sufficiently sinful to send you to hell. Among the various Appalachian churches was one, Emmanuel Baptist Church, where the pastor was revealed to be raping and torturing a young girl he and his wife had kidnapped. It was 1998, and Daniel was 11.

By the time he finished high school, Daniel trusted a single source of information, which was Democracy Now! Daniel’s father had, from a very young age, suggested the military as a way out of poverty, but Daniel was already on an intellectual journey in which he would come to see Edward Snowden as insufficiently extreme; he wanted nothing to do with it. He tried enrolling in a regional UVA campus and dropped out. He tried community college and dropped out. He met a friend on the internet playing World of Warcraft, moved to Vegas to look for work at a casino, could find no such work (“I was kind of a dipshit at the time,” he says), and moved back home. He answered a job ad that said it did not require experience and was given a bus ticket to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he joined a bunch of kids he describes as “mostly runaways.” The company put them up, two to a room, in hotels, and had them selling magazines door-to-door. You could get rich, the managers said, if you kept at it. You could be like them. It would be hard to imagine a worse salesman than Daniel Hale, who once told me he has frequent nightmares because “any person of conscience in America builds up a sense of dread.” Humiliated, he asked his dad for a ride home. Now he was in Bristol again, 21, with no real prospects and a sense of how brutal the world could be to a man with no skills for which the world had asked. He and his father got into a fight that became physical. Daniel walked into a military-recruitment office in a strip mall near a Walmart. He took a test, aced it, and was told he could do anything he wanted.

It wasn’t so bad, the life he had accepted when no others made themselves known, under a new president who made promises in which it was tempting to believe: the closing of Guantánamo, an end to forever war. Daniel assumed it was impossible to be a president without becoming a war criminal, but he had attended an Obama rally in his hometown. At the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, he studied Mandarin for the greater glory of the state. He adored his classmate Michael, with whom he had long conversations about politics and indie rap. He thought a lot about ways to get dishonorably discharged, but he woke up in the morning and went to class.

Obama did not in fact close Guantánamo in his first 100 days. He did not end the drone program or usher in a new age of transparency. Not a week into office, he authorized two drone strikes that killed 14 people, many of whom were not the targets. Obama increased the tempo of attacks and would, two years later, introduce the novel element of killing American citizens. At first the strikes had been limited to “Al Qaeda and associated forces,” but gradually they were found useful for forces it was extremely hard to argue were associated with Al Qaeda. It was useful, Obama found, to employ drone strikes against the tribal enemies of various governments the U.S. was supporting. It was useful to target not just high-ranking members of various organizations but low-level members; useful to evolve the whole thing from an assassination program to a holistic counterinsurgency machine. In parts of Pakistan, locals had stopped drinking Lipton tea, out of fear that the tea bags were homing devices used by the CIA to attract drones.

In early 2001, the U.S. did not know how to launch a missile from a Predator drone without damaging the drone. In early 2001, one could not have run an assassination program based on geolocation, simply because terrorism was not yet run on cell phones. Fourteen years later, the Pentagon was planning to spend nearly $3 billion on unmanned aerial vehicles in a single year. The president had access to technologies available to no president before him, and he opted to use them.

Obama, Daniel concluded, was “a clown,” “just a complete fraud,” who would uphold the worst policies of his secretive predecessor. But now it was 2010, and the national security state’s ability to keep its secrets was beginning to break down. While at the Defense Language Institute, Daniel says, an officer came into his classroom and forbade them from searching for a term relatively new to the world: WikiLeaks. If they did so, they’d lose their security clearance. Julian Assange had packaged, edited, and dramatically unveiled leaked footage of American soldiers shooting a man holding a camera because they had thought the camera was a gun. On YouTube, one could watch the photographer die and one could watch a van pull up and a man jump out to help the photographer the Americans had shot. One could watch, on YouTube, as the Americans shot up the van, though if one were watching closely, one would already have seen that in the front of the van were two small children. One could hear a deep silence as the American soldiers watched the limp children being carried from the van.

“Well, it’s their fault,” one hears a soldier say, “for bringing their kids into battle.”

Daniel was sent to Fort Meade, which he describes as . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more.

Why the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is “42”

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A lightly edited passage from Was It Really Like That?: Volume 2: a Glimpse into the Later History of the Gammaldi Family the Migrant Story Continues, by Gino Grimmaldi:

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the supercomputer Deep Thought is built by a race of hyper-intelligent alien beings to determine the answer to “life, the universe, and everything.” Deep Thought determines that the answer is, somewhat anticlimactically, “42.”

It sounds like a joke, but is there more to this answer? Douglas Adams was an unabashed computer nerd and knew a heck of a lot about programming language and coding. In programming, an asterisk is commonly used to translate as “whatever you want it to be.” In ASCII, the most basic computer code for information interchange, “42” is the designation for an asterisk. A computer, Deep Thought, was asked what the true meaning of life was. It answered as a computer would. 42 = “anything you want it to be.” Genius.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 1:46 pm

Learning to Love G.M.O.s: Purple tomatoes and other great foods

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I’ve never been against genetically modified organisms per se. How could I be? I love modern-day vegetables and fruit, which have been genetically modified — often greatly — through centuries of selective breeding and hybridization. Domesticated animals, too, have been genetically modified through selective breeding: sheep bred for wool bear much more wool than their wild forebears, and meat animals too are more productive.

I do dislike genetic modification done purely to enrich big corporations — plants bred specifically to allow the use of toxic pesticides, or plants modified to require the purchase of new seeds every season. But genetic modification in general is often quite beneficial.

Jennifer Kahn has an interesting article in the NY Times, this time with no paywall, and you can listen to the audio version at the link. The article begins:

On a cold December day in Norwich, England, Cathie Martin met me at a laboratory inside the John Innes Centre, where she works. A plant biologist, Martin has spent almost two decades studying tomatoes, and I had traveled to see her because of a particular one she created: a lustrous, dark purple variety that is unusually high in antioxidants, with twice the amount found in blueberries.

At 66, Martin has silver-white hair, a strong chin and sharp eyes that give her a slightly elfin look. Her office, a tiny cubby just off the lab, is so packed with binders and piles of paper that Martin has to stand when typing on her computer keyboard, which sits surrounded by a heap of papers like a rock that has sunk to the bottom of a snowdrift. “It’s an absolute disaster,” Martin said, looking around fondly. “I’m told that the security guards bring people round on the tour.” On the desk, there’s a drinks coaster with a picture of an attractive 1950s housewife that reads, “You say tomato, I say [expletive] you.”

Martin has long been interested in how plants produce beneficial nutrients. The purple tomato is the first she designed to have more anthocyanin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory compound. “All higher plants have a mechanism for making anthocyanins,” Martin explained when we met. “A tomato plant makes them as well, in the leaves. We just put in a switch that turns on anthocyanin production in the fruit.” Martin noted that while there are other tomato varieties that look purple, they have anthocyanins only in the skin, so the health benefits are slight. “People say, Oh, there are purple tomatoes already,” Martin said. “But they don’t have these kind of levels.”

The difference is significant. When cancer-prone mice were given Martin’s purple tomatoes as part of their diet, they lived 30 percent longer than mice fed the same quantity of ordinary tomatoes; they were also less susceptible to inflammatory bowel disease. After the publication of Martin’s first paper showing the anticancer benefit of her tomatoes, in the academic journal Nature Biotechnology in 2008, newspapers and television stations began calling. “The coverage!” she recalled. “Days and days and days and days of it! There was a lot of excitement.” She considered making the tomato available in stores or offering it online as a juice. But because the plant contained a pair of genes from a snapdragon — that’s what spurs the tomatoes to produce more anthocyanin — it would be classified as a genetically modified organism: a G.M.O.

That designation brings with it a host of obligations, not just in Britain but in the United States and many other countries. Martin had envisioned making the juice on a small scale, but just to go through the F.D.A. approval process would cost a million dollars. Adding U.S.D.A. approval could push that amount even higher. (Tomato juice is known as a “G.M. product” and is regulated by the F.D.A. Because a tomato has seeds that can germinate, it is regulated by both the F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A.) “I thought, This is ridiculous,” Martin told me.

Martin eventually did put together the required documentation, but the process, and subsequent revisions, took almost six years. “Our ‘business model’ is that we have this tiny company which has no employees,” Martin said with a laugh. “Of course, the F.D.A. is used to the bigger organizations” — global agricultural conglomerates like DowDuPont or Syngenta — “so this is where you get a bit of a problem. When they say, ‘Oh, we want a bit more data on this,’ it’s easy for a corporation. For me — it’s me that has to do it! And I can’t just throw money at it.”

Martin admitted that, as an academic, she hadn’t been as focused on getting the tomato to market as she might have been. (Her colleague Jonathan Jones, a plant biologist, eventually stepped in to assist.) But the process has also been slow because the purple tomato, if approved, would be one of only a very few G.M.O. fruits or vegetables sold directly to consumers. The others include Rainbow papayas, which were modified to resist ringspot virus; a variety of sweet corn; some russet potatoes; and Arctic Apples, which were developed in Canada and resist browning.

It also might be the first genetically modified anything that people actually want. Since their introduction in the mid-1990s, G.M.O.s have remained wildly unpopular with consumers, who see them as dubious tools of Big Ag, with potentially sinister impacts on both people and the environment. Martin is perhaps onto something when she describes those most opposed to G.M.O.s as “the W.W.W.s”: the well, wealthy and worried, the same cohort of upper-middle-class shoppers who have turned organic food into a multibillion-dollar industry. “If you’re a W.W.W., the calculation is, G.M.O.s seem bad, so I’m just going to avoid them,” she said. “I mean, if you think there might be a risk, and there’s no benefit to you, why even consider it?”

The purple tomato could perhaps change that calculation. Unlike commercial G.M.O. crops — things like soy and canola — Martin’s tomato wasn’t designed for profit and would be grown in small batches rather than on millions of acres: essentially the opposite of industrial agriculture. The additional genes it contains (from the snapdragon, itself a relative of the tomato plant) act only to boost production of anthocyanin, a nutrient that tomatoes already make. More important, the fruit’s anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties, which seem considerable, are things that many of us actively want.

Nonetheless, the future of the purple tomato is far from certain. “There’s just so much baggage around anything genetically modified,” Martin said. “I’m not trying to make money. I’m worried about people’s health! But in people’s minds it’s all Dr. Frankenstein and trying to rule the world.”

In the three decades since G.M.O. crops were introduced, only a tiny number have been developed and approved for sale, almost all of them products made by large agrochemical companies like Monsanto. Within those categories, though, G.M.O.s have taken over much of the market. Roughly 94 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified, as is more than 90 percent of all corn, canola and sugar beets, together covering roughly 170 million acres of cropland.

At the same time, resistance to G.M.O. foods has only become more entrenched. The market for products certified to be non-G.M.O. has increased more than 70-fold since 2010, from roughly $350 million that year to $26 billion by 2018. There are now more than 55,000 products carrying the “Non-G.M.O. Project Verified” label on their packaging. Nearly half of all U.S. shoppers say that they try not to buy G.M.O. foods, while a study by Jennifer Kuzma, a biochemist who is a director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, found that consumers will pay up to 20 percent more to avoid them.

For many of us, the rejection of G.M.O.s is instinctive. “For people who are uncomfortable with this, the objection is that it isn’t something that would ever happen in nature,” says Alan Levinovitz, a professor of religion and science at James Madison University. “With genetic engineering, there’s a feeling that we’re mucking about with the essential building blocks of reality. We may feel OK about rearranging genes, the way nature does, but we’re not comfortable mixing them up between creatures.”

Our distrust might also stem from the way G.M.O.s were introduced. When the agribusiness giant Monsanto released its first G.M.O. crop in 1996 — an herbicide-resistant soybean — the company was in need of cash. By adding a gene from a bacterium, it hoped to create crops that were resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in its trademark herbicide, RoundUp, enabling farmers to spray weeds liberally without also killing the soy plant itself — something that wasn’t possible with traditional herbicides. Commercially, the idea succeeded. By 2003, RoundUp Ready corn and soy seeds dominated the market, and Monsanto had become the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds, responsible for more than 90 percent of G.M.O. crops planted globally.

But the company’s rollout also alarmed and antagonized farmers, who were required to sign restrictive contracts to use the patented seeds, and whom Monsanto aggressively prosecuted. At one point, the company had a 75-person team dedicated solely to investigating farmers suspected of saving seed — a traditional practice in which seeds from one year’s crop are saved for planting the following year — and prosecuting them on charges of intellectual-property infringement. Environmental groups were also concerned, because of the skyrocketing use of RoundUp and the abrupt decline in agricultural diversity.

“It was kind of a perfect storm,” says Mark Lynas, an environmental writer and activist who protested against G.M.O.s for over a decade. “You had this company that had made Agent Orange and PCBs” — an environmental toxin that the E.P.A. banned in 1979 — “that was now using G.M.O.s to intensify the worst forms of monoculture farming. I just remember feeling like we had to stop this thing.”

That resistance was compounded because early G.M.O.s — which focused largely on pest- and herbicide-resistance — offered little direct benefit to the consumer. And once public sentiment was set, it proved hard to shift, even when more beneficial products began to emerge. One of these, Golden Rice, was made in 1999 by a pair of university researchers hoping to combat vitamin A deficiency, a simple but devastating ailment that causes blindness in millions of people in Africa and Asia annually, and that can also be fatal. But the project foundered after protests by anti-G.M.O. activists in the United States and Europe, which in turn alarmed governments and populations in developing countries.

“Probably the angriest I’ve ever felt was when anti-G.M.O. groups destroyed fields of Golden Rice growing in the Philippines,” says Lynas, who publicly disavowed his opposition to G.M.O.s in 2013. “To see a crop that had such obvious lifesaving potential ruined — it would be like anti-vaxxer groups invading a laboratory and destroying a million vials of Covid vaccine.”

In recent years, many environmental groups have also quietly walked back their opposition as evidence has mounted that existing G.M.O.s are both safe to eat and not inherently bad for the environment. The introduction of Bt corn, which contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally insect-resistant bacterium that organic farmers routinely spray on crops, dropped the crop’s insecticide use by 35 percent. A pest-resistant Bt eggplant has become similarly popular in Bangladesh, where farmers have also embraced flood-tolerant “scuba rice,” a variety engineered to survive being submerged for up to 14 days rather than just three. Each year, Bangladesh and India lose roughly four million tons of rice to flooding — enough to feed 30 million people — and waste a corresponding volume of pesticides and herbicides, which then enter the groundwater.

In North America, though, such benefits can seem remote compared with what we think of as “eating naturally.” That’s especially true because . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 1:19 pm

How Bell’s Theorem Proved ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ Is Real

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Bell’s Theorem was stunning, and here’s a good explanation. Ben Brubaker writes in Quanta:

We take for granted that an event in one part of the world cannot instantly affect what happens far away. This principle, which physicists call locality, was long regarded as a bedrock assumption about the laws of physics. So when Albert Einstein and two colleagues showed in 1935 that quantum mechanics permits “spooky action at a distance,” as Einstein put it, this feature of the theory seemed highly suspect. Physicists wondered whether quantum mechanics was missing something.

Then in 1964, with the stroke of a pen, the Northern Irish physicist John Stewart Bell demoted locality from a cherished principle to a testable hypothesis. Bell proved that quantum mechanics predicted stronger statistical correlations in the outcomes of certain far-apart measurements than any local theory possibly could. In the years since, experiments have vindicated quantum mechanics again and again.

Bell’s theorem upended one of our most deeply held intuitions about physics, and prompted physicists to explore how quantum mechanics might enable tasks unimaginable in a classical world. “The quantum revolution that’s happening now, and all these quantum technologies — that’s 100% thanks to Bell’s theorem,” says Krister Shalm, a quantum physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Here’s how Bell’s theorem showed that “spooky action at a distance” is real.

Ups and Downs

The “spooky action” that bothered Einstein involves a quantum phenomenon known as entanglement, in which two particles that we would normally think of as distinct entities lose their independence. Famously, in quantum mechanics a particle’s location, polarization and other properties can be indefinite until the moment they are measured. Yet measuring the properties of entangled particles yields results that are strongly correlated, even when the particles are far apart and measured nearly simultaneously. The unpredictable outcome of one measurement appears to instantly affect the outcome of the other, regardless of the distance between them — a gross violation of locality.

To understand entanglement more precisely, consider a property of electrons and most other quantum particles called spin. Particles with spin behave somewhat like tiny magnets. When, for instance, an electron passes through a magnetic field created by a pair of north and south magnetic poles, it gets deflected by a fixed amount toward one pole or the other. This shows that the electron’s spin is a quantity that can have only one of two values: “up” for an electron deflected toward the north pole, and “down” for an electron deflected toward the south pole.

Imagine an electron passing through a region with the north pole directly above it and the south pole directly below. Measuring its deflection will reveal whether the electron’s spin is “up” or “down” along the vertical axis. Now rotate the axis between the magnet poles away from vertical, and measure deflection along this new axis. Again, the electron will always deflect by the same amount toward one of the poles. You’ll always measure a binary spin value — either up or down — along any axis.

It turns out it’s not possible to build any detector that can measure a particle’s spin along multiple axes at the same time. Quantum theory asserts that this property of spin detectors is actually a property of spin itself: If an electron has a definite spin along one axis, its spin along any other axis is undefined.

Local Hidden Variables

Armed with this understanding of spin, we can devise a thought experiment that we can use to prove Bell’s theorem. Consider a specific example of an entangled state: a pair of electrons whose total spin is zero, meaning measurements of their spins along any given axis will always yield opposite results. What’s remarkable about this entangled state is that, although the total spin has this definite value along all axes, each electron’s individual spin is indefinite.

Suppose these entangled electrons are separated and transported to distant laboratories, and that teams of scientists in these labs can rotate the magnets of their respective detectors any way they like when performing spin measurements.

When both teams measure along the same axis, they obtain opposite results 100% of the time. But is this evidence of nonlocality? Not necessarily.

Alternatively, Einstein proposed, each pair of electrons could come with an associated set of “hidden variables” specifying the particles’ spins along all axes simultaneously. These hidden variables are absent from the quantum description of the entangled state, but quantum mechanics may not be telling the whole story.

Hidden variable theories can explain why same-axis measurements always yield opposite results without any violation of locality: A measurement of one electron doesn’t affect the other but merely reveals the preexisting value of a hidden variable.

Bell proved that you could rule out local hidden variable theories, and indeed rule out locality altogether, by measuring entangled particles’ spins along different axes.

Suppose, for starters, that one team of scientists happens to rotate its detector relative to the other lab’s by 180 degrees. This is equivalent to swapping its north and south poles, so an “up” result for one electron would never be accompanied by a “down” result for the other. The scientists could also choose to rotate it an in-between amount — 60 degrees, say. Depending on the relative orientation of the magnets in the two labs, the probability of opposite results can range anywhere between 0% and 100%.

Without specifying any particular orientations, suppose that the two teams agree on a set of three possible measurement axes, which we can label A, B and C. For every electron pair, each lab measures the spin of one of the electrons along one of these three axes chosen at random.

Let’s now assume the world is described by a local hidden variable theory, rather than quantum mechanics. In that case, each electron has its own spin value in each of the three directions. That leads to eight possible sets of values for the hidden variables, which we can label in the following way: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Science

Casual arrogance and willful ignorance of the elite: Caltech says it regrets drilling holes in sacred Native American petroglyph site

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Unauthorized drilling of core samples by a Caltech professor left dozens of 1-inch-diameter holes at the petroglyph site in the Volcanic Tablelands.
(David Lee)

Louis Sahagún reports in the LA Times:

Inside federal Ranger Chris Mason’s patrol truck, the radio crackled with alarming news: People were seen lugging bags of heavy equipment into a protected site containing prehistoric rock carvings.

Archeologists know the site as the Volcanic Tablelands, an otherworldly landscape of pink-hued cliffs and terraces shaped by wind, rain and earthquakes. It was also an area where it was not unusual to find looters armed with shovels and saws prowling for anything that could be sold in the illegal antiquities market.

But when Mason arrived at the scene on Earth Day 2017, he determined that the suspicious activity involved a faculty member and students from Caltech, the prestigious private research university in Pasadena known for its strength in science and engineering, and for managing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Joseph Kirschvink, a professor of geoscience, had used a portable pneumatic drill to extract core samples for paleomagnetic studies, officials said. He drilled into rock face roughly three feet from a petroglyph and left the site riddled with 29 1-inch diameter holes marked with blue paint.

The trouble is, Kirschvink was not authorized to conduct research in the area designated to be of critical concern in California’s eastern Sierra Nevada, and that was the reason he and Caltech came under investigation for violating the Archeological Resources Protection Act.

The site, near Bishop, is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The expansive petroglyph site is one of the oldest recorded in the West and easily accessible by road. A placard at a popular viewing site roughly one mile north of where the damage occurred warns visitors that “no person may excavate, remove, damage or otherwise deface any archeological resource.”

It took four years to resolve the case due to delays caused by the pandemic, and the strict requirements and complexities of the agency’s forensic protocol and damage assessment procedures, officials said.

Kirschvink did not respond to requests for comment. [I hope from a sense of shame, but I think it’s more likely arrogance. – LG]

Native Americans, archeologists and federal land managers have long complained that unlawful removal and destruction of artifacts and sacred sites destroy priceless cultural connections, along with scientific data that allow a better understanding of the earliest inhabitants of North America.

An uptick in unauthorized incursions by university professors armed with geology picks and pneumatic drills in recent years has only compounded their frustrations. The area is known for its Bishop tuff — a type of rock formed by super-heated volcanic ash, which is of interest to researchers.

“Those formations and the prayers etched into them so many thousands of years ago belong to the public,” said Kathy Jefferson Bancroft, tribal historic preservation officer for the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation. “They are not sources of raw material for unpermitted academic studies.”

Linea Sundstrom, co-chair of the nonprofit American Rock Art Research Assn.’s conservation and preservation committee, agrees.

“There’s no excuse for it,” she said. “It’s bad education if university professors are not making their students aware of laws protecting archeological sites on public lands.”

Beyond that, Barbara Bane, archeological curator at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, Calif., wondered aloud: “Are these university professors actually saying they couldn’t have gone someplace else to drill their holes? Really?”

The answer to that question is reflected in the penalties meted by Bureau of Land Management officials after lengthy investigations. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Later in the article:

It’s not just Caltech.

The University of Texas at Dallas in 2018 paid $19,842 in connection with 41 holes drilled two years earlier without authorization into a rock art site on agency land just over the Nevada border, about 25 miles east of the Volcanic Tablelands.

That research was led by John Geissman, 69, a university professor at the time, who said he deeply regrets the incident.

“I made a big mistake, and it haunts me to this day,” said Geissman, who recently retired. “I have obligations as a geoscientist and a human being to do the right thing.”

As required under terms of that university’s 3-year-old settlement with the Bureau of Land Management, Geissman said he is working on an article to be published in an American Geophysical Union journal that “will include a sufficiently detailed section on my mistake.”

“Honestly, I recognize that I have been slow on this,” he said. “For the past few years I have been trying to graduate all my PhD students in a timely fashion, and that involves a lot of editing of many versions of manuscripts for publication.”

Then there was Cal State Northridge, which in 2008 paid $25,397 to settle a case that involved the unauthorized drilling of 41 1-inch holes into a petroglyph site on agency land about 15 miles south of Bishop. . .

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 11:43 am

Discovery about vitamin A: Leafy greens alone don’t do the job very well

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Supplementation becomes important as you age — even those who regularly consume meat, dairy, and eggs find that a B12 supplement becomes necessary as the move into and past middle age. But with vitamin A, earlier supplementation seems to be a good idea. Christine Grillo writes for the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, a part of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:

Al Sommer is more than a public health legend—he’s a fighter of uphill battles. Perhaps best known for his involvement in saving millions of lives through research on vitamin A supplementation, his greatest feat may have been getting the right people to pay attention to the right research.

For decades before Sommer began his research in the 1970s, scientists and physicians had been trying to address vitamin A deficiency in the developing world, focusing on the problem of blindness. Sommer observed another correlation with vitamin A deficiency: higher mortality from infectious diseases like measles. Addressing the deficiency was complicated, because in resource-poor nations in Asia, most people did not have access to eggs, fish, and other animal products that contain the best sources of vitamin A. The workaround—and accepted wisdom at the time—was that dark, leafy greens could bridge the gap. Greens are rich in beta carotene, a plant pigment that the human body converts into vitamin A.

“The nutritionists all said a cup of leafy greens would cure it,” Sommer says. “And I accepted it.”

Agencies such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) had relied on studies showing that the body needs three molecules of beta carotene to create one molecule of vitamin A. But that was in a test tube. Cooked, the conversion rate was more like six to one.

“I bought that standard line,” says Sommer.

He advocated for mixing leafy greens into the rice that children ate—and then he observed how the kids would pick the greens out before eating the rice. That’s when he started to tell people that leafy greens were not a solution.

“We were feeding moms and kids tons of green, leafy vegetables, and nothing changed,” he says.

In 1972 at a WHO meeting, new research was presented indicating that large amounts of green leafy vegetables had little impact on vitamin A status. Sommer thought it the best paper presented. No one else believed the results. According to Sommer, when the findings were presented, “all the nutritionists said rubbish.” Subsequent studies, two decades later, demonstrated that the standard, accepted six to one ratio was more like twenty-four to one. During those two decades, researchers such as Sommer, Saskia De Pee (who had worked with Muhlilal and currently collaborates with the Center for a Livable Future), and Keith West (at the Bloomberg School) presented similar data, while the global community held fast to their beliefs about dark, leafy greens. Finally fed up, Sommer organized an unofficial three-day meeting with a 15-member expert advisory group of people who would emerge from the meeting with evidence-based recommendations.

“I decided that we needed to stop woofing around and face facts,” says Sommer. “We had to stop with all this horticultural stuff. To get enough beta carotene, kids would have to eat a pound of greens every day, and their stomachs simply weren’t big enough.”

After three days, the group emerged with the same old story.

“I went bonkers,” says Sommer. “I said, ‘What the f— are you guys talking about?’ and I told them to go back and re-think their recommendations—after they actually reviewed the data. They completely changed their recommendations.”

In the end, millions of lives were saved because Sommer had finally convinced the agencies to provide vitamin A supplements.

The lessons that Sommer draws from this experience? First, people have their belief systems, and they don’t want to let go of them—and scientists are not in the least immune. Belief systems must be challenged; call people on what doesn’t sound true and isn’t supported by the evidence. Second, when you ask people to draw new conclusions by challenging their belief systems, allow them to own their conclusions. Let them come up with it themselves. Let them write it in their own words. Let them make recommendations, and encourage them to submit them to scientific journals if they can. And third, keep doing good research. “There are so many crappy studies,” says Sommer. “We have to  call these out and keep people honest.”

These days, two of the issues Sommer feels most strongly about are . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 10:55 am

Ariana & Evans — another ultra-premium soap — and a thought on boar brushes

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After a shave, I rinse out my shaving brush (with hot water until the water runs clear when I squeeze the knot, and then with cold water), shake it well, and place it on the shelf in front of the mirror to dry before I return it to the rack (rather crowded these days). So when I went to the sink to shave this morning, I saw yesterday’s Omega Pro 48 (10048), ready to be put away, and that made me think again of how good that knot feels on my face, and I had a sudden insight. It’s the combination of good resilience (from boar bristles) combined with generous loft (which provides leverage so that, even though the bristles are resilient, they bend readily under light pressure). I realized that there is no way that a badger brush could have such a loft: the bristles, when wet, would possibly fall right over and in any case would exhibit no resilience — it would truly be a “floppy” brush.

Of course, badger brushes are not made with such a generous loft for exactly that reason, and that means that boar brushes bring to the party something badger brushes cannot offer: strong resilience and great loft, which results in a special feel on the face that I like a lot — and perhaps you would as well. (Usual caveats apply: If you get a new boar brush, for a week just load it and lather in your palm and don’t attempt to use it, because new boar bristles kill lather. After a week, the lathercidal substance is washed away, and the brush can be used, although it will continue to improve over several weeks of regular use.) I do recommend Omega boar brushes, and specifically the Pro 48 or 20102, although some say the Pro 49 isn’t bad. Overall, I would give the Pro 48 top billing. Some like Semogue, but the length of the break-in period those brushes require far exceeds my patience.

So much for my afterthoughts on yesterday’s shave. Turning now to this morning’s shave, I will say again that Ariana & Evans makes an ultra-premium soap in the same league as Declaration Grooming’s Milksteak formula, Phoenix Artisan’s CK-6 formula, and Grooming Dept’s three formulae. The lather, so easily aroused (this morning with my Plisson European Grey), is thick, slick, and nourishing — and highly effective on the stubble.

Three passes with the Above the Tie S1, which has a minimal slant — the sort of slant a maker would put in a razor if he didn’t believe the slant did anything but just wanted to tap into the market for slants. I would like the razor better if it slanted more, but it did do a good job, much like their R1.

Again I balmified the aftershave splash by adding a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel to the small puddle of Tabac in my palm. I really like the effect of that.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 9:22 am

Posted in Shaving

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