Later On

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

Archive for July 27th, 2021

I just watched “Chef” again

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It’s on Netflix. I really enjoy that movie. Chef was written and directed by Jon Favreau, released in 2014. Starring Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguziamo, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. , Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt. A feel-good movie for foodies. Good soundtrack, too.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Movies & TV

Some clips from police testimony on the January 7 insurrection

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Watch not only this clip, but click the date of the tweet and read the thread.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 4:56 pm

A Soil-Science Revolution Upends Plans to Fight Climate Change

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Gabriel Popkin writes in Quanta:

The hope was that the soil might save us. With civilization continuing to pump ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, perhaps plants — nature’s carbon scrubbers — might be able to package up some of that excess carbon and bury it underground for centuries or longer.

That hope has fueled increasingly ambitious climate change–mitigation plans. Researchers at the Salk Institute, for example, hope to bioengineer plants whose roots will churn out huge amounts of a carbon-rich, cork-like substance called suberin. Even after the plant dies, the thinking goes, the carbon in the suberin should stay buried for centuries. This Harnessing Plants Initiative is perhaps the brightest star in a crowded firmament of climate change solutions based on the brown stuff beneath our feet.

Such plans depend critically on the existence of large, stable, carbon-rich molecules that can last hundreds or thousands of years underground. Such molecules, collectively called humus, have long been a keystone of soil science; major agricultural practices and sophisticated climate models are built on them.

But over the past 10 years or so, soil science has undergone a quiet revolution, akin to what would happen if, in physics, relativity or quantum mechanics were overthrown. Except in this case, almost nobody has heard about it — including many who hope soils can rescue the climate. “There are a lot of people who are interested in sequestration who haven’t caught up yet,” said Margaret Torn, a soil scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A new generation of soil studies powered by modern microscopes and imaging technologies has revealed that whatever humus is, it is not the long-lasting substance scientists believed it to be. Soil researchers have concluded that even the largest, most complex molecules can be quickly devoured by soil’s abundant and voracious microbes. The magic molecule you can just stick in the soil and expect to stay there may not exist.

“I have The Nature and Properties of Soils in front of me — the standard textbook,” said Gregg Sanford, a soil researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The theory of soil organic carbon accumulation that’s in that textbook has been proven mostly false … and we’re still teaching it.”

The consequences go far beyond carbon sequestration strategies. Major climate models such as those produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are based on this outdated understanding of soil. Several recent studies indicate that those models are underestimating the total amount of carbon that will be released from soil in a warming climate. In addition, computer models that predict the greenhouse gas impacts of farming practices — predictions that are being used in carbon markets — are probably overly optimistic about soil’s ability to trap and hold on to carbon.

It may still be possible to store carbon underground long term.  Indeed, radioactive dating measurements suggest that some amount of carbon can stay in the soil for centuries. But until soil scientists build a new paradigm to replace the old — a process now underway — no one will fully understand why.

The Death of Humus

Soil doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Its constituents are tiny, varied and outrageously numerous. At a bare minimum, it consists of minerals, decaying organic matter, air, water, and enormously complex ecosystems of microorganisms. One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bacteria, fungi and other microbes than there are humans on Earth.

The German biologist Franz Karl Achard was an early pioneer in making sense of the chaos. In a seminal 1786 study, he used alkalis to extract molecules made of long carbon chains from peat soils. Over the centuries, scientists came to believe that such long chains, collectively called humus, constituted a large pool of soil carbon that resists decomposition and pretty much just sits there. A smaller fraction consisting of shorter molecules was thought to feed microbes, which respired carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

This view was occasionally challenged, but by the mid-20th century, the humus paradigm was “the only game in town,” said Johannes Lehmann, a soil scientist at Cornell University. Farmers were instructed to adopt practices that were supposed to build humus. Indeed, the existence of humus is probably one of the few soil science facts that many non-scientists could recite.

What helped break humus’s hold on soil science was physics. In the second half of the 20th century, powerful new microscopes and techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray spectroscopy allowed soil scientists for the first time to peer directly into soil and see what was there, rather than pull things out and then look at them.

What they found — or, more specifically, what they didn’t find — was shocking: there were few or no long “recalcitrant” carbon molecules — the kind that don’t break down. Almost everything seemed to be small and, in principle, digestible.

“We don’t see any molecules in soil that are so recalcitrant that they can’t be broken down,” said Jennifer Pett-Ridge, a soil scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “Microbes will learn to break anything down — even really nasty chemicals.”

Lehmann, whose studies using advanced microscopy and spectroscopy were among the first to reveal the absence of humus, has become the concept’s debunker-in-chief. A 2015 Nature paper he co-authored states that “the available evidence does not support the formation of large-molecular-size and persistent ‘humic substances’ in soils.” In 2019, he gave a talk with a slide containing a mock death announcement for “our friend, the concept of Humus.”

Over the past decade or so, most soil scientists have come to accept this view. Yes, soil is enormously varied. And it contains a lot of carbon. But there’s no carbon in soil that can’t, in principle, be broken down by microorganisms and released into the atmosphere. The latest edition of The Nature and Properties of Soils, published in 2016, cites Lehmann’s 2015 paper and acknowledges that “our understanding of the nature and genesis of soil humus has advanced greatly since the turn of the century, requiring that some long-accepted concepts be revised or abandoned.”

Old ideas, however, can be very recalcitrant. Few outside the field of soil science have heard of humus’s demise.

Buried Promises

At the same time that soil scientists were rediscovering what exactly soil is, climate researchers were revealing that  . . .

Continue reading. The payoff is further down.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 4:28 pm

Against Persuasion: The Wisdom of Socrates

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Agnes Callard writes in Boston Review:

Philosophers aren’t the only ones who love wisdom. Everyone, philosopher or not, loves her own wisdom: the wisdom she has or takes herself to have. What distinguishes the philosopher is loving the wisdom she doesn’t have. Philosophy is, therefore, a form of humility: being aware that you lack what is of supreme importance. There may be no human being who exemplified this form of humility more perfectly than Socrates. It is no coincidence that he is considered the first philosopher within the Western canon.

Socrates did not write philosophy; he simply went around talking to people. But these conversations were so transformative that Plato devoted his life to writing dialogues that represent Socrates in conversation. These dialogues are not transcripts of actual conversations, but they are nonetheless clearly intended to reflect not only Socrates’s ideas but his personality. Plato wanted the world to remember Socrates. Generations after Socrates’s death, warring philosophical schools such as the Stoics and the Skeptics each appropriated Socrates as figurehead. Though they disagreed on just about every point of doctrine, they were clear that in order to count themselves as philosophers they had to somehow be working in the tradition of Socrates.

What is it about Socrates that made him into a symbol for the whole institution of philosophy? Consider the fact that, when the Oracle at Delphi proclaims Socrates wisest of men, he tries to prove it wrong. As Plato recounts it in the Apology:

I went to one of those reputed wise, thinking that there, if anywhere, I could refute the oracle and say to it: “This man is wiser than I, but you said I was.” Then, when I examined this man—there is no need for me to tell you his name, he was one of our public men—my experience was something like this: I thought that he appeared wise to many people and especially to himself, but he was not. I then tried to show him that he thought himself wise, but that he was not. As a result he came to dislike me, and so did many of the bystanders. So I withdrew and thought to myself: “I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know.”

If Socrates’s trademark claim is this protestation of ignorance, his trademark activity is the one also described in this passage: refuting the views of others. These are the conversations we find in Plato’s texts. How are the claim and the activity related? Socrates denies that his motivations are altruistic: he says he is not a teacher, and insists that he is himself the primary beneficiary of the conversations he initiates. This adds to the mystery: What is Socrates getting out of showing people that they don’t know what they take themselves to know? What’s his angle?

Over and over again, Socrates approaches people who are remarkable for their lack of humility—which is to say, for the fact that they feel confident in their own knowledge of what is just, or pious, or brave, or moderate. You might have supposed that Socrates, whose claim to fame is his awareness of his own ignorance, would treat these self-proclaimed “wise men” (Sophists) with contempt, hostility, or indifference. But he doesn’t. The most remarkable feature of Socrates’s approach is his punctilious politeness and sincere enthusiasm. The conversation usually begins with Socrates asking his interlocutor: Since you think you know, can you tell me, what is courage (or wisdom, or piety, or justice . . .)? Over and over again, it turns out that they think they can answer, but they can’t. Socrates’s hope springs eternal: even as he walks toward the courtroom to be tried—and eventually put to death—for his philosophical activity, he is delighted to encounter the self-important priest Euthyphro, who will, surely, be able to say what piety is. (Spoiler: he’s not.)

Socrates seemed to think that the people around him could help him acquire the knowledge he so desperately wanted—even though they were handicapped by the illusion that they already knew it. Indeed, I believe that their ill-grounded confidence was precisely what drew Socrates to them. If you think you know something, you will be ready to speak on the topic in question. You will hold forth, spout theories, make claims—and all this, under Socrates’s relentless questioning, is the way to actually acquire the knowledge you had deluded yourself into thinking you already had.

Let me sketch a little dialogue you might have with Socrates.

Socrates: What is courage?

You: Courage is being willing to take big risks without knowing how it’s going to work out.

Socrates: Such as risking your life?

You: Yes.

Socrates: Is courage good?

You: Yes.

Socrates: Do you want it for yourself and your children?

You: Yes.

Socrates: Do you want your children to go around risking their lives?

You: No. Maybe I should’ve said that courage is taking prudent risks, where you know what you are doing.

Socrates: Like an expert investor who knows how to risk money to make lots more?

You: No, that isn’t courageous. . . .

At this point, your pathways are blocked. You cannot say courage is ignorant risk-taking, and you cannot say courage is prudent risk-taking. You do not have a way forward. You are in what Socrates’s interlocutors called aporia, a state of confusion in which there is nowhere for you to go.

Suppose that the conversation goes no further than this—that, as is typical for Socrates’s interlocutors, you storm off in a huff at this point. Where does that leave you, and where does that leave Socrates?

Let’s start with you first. You might . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 12:09 pm

How Bad is American Life? Americans Don’t Even Have Friends Anymore

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Umair Haque has a somewhat gloomy piece in Medium, which includes the chart above. He writes:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 11:58 am

Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper: Great Art Explained

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 11:01 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Up in Smoke

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Debra Kahn, Lorraine Woellert and Catherine Boudreau write in Politico:

Massive wildfires in Oregon and Washington are torching more than vegetation. They’re also burning through the very policies states and businesses are using to fight climate change.

The Bootleg Fire is raging through a carbon storage project in southern Oregon, where 400,000 acres of forest owned by Green Diamond Resource Co. are being preserved to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Microsoft in February paid Green Diamond to offset a quarter million tons of the tech giant’s 2021 carbon emissions.

Two other wildfires are active within a Colville Indian Reservation carbon project in eastern Washington.

Here’s how it works. Carbon offsets — which are created by planting trees, preserving mangroves, buying renewable energy and other activities — are bought and sold as a tool to reduce emissions.

Landowners pledge to keep their forests healthy enough to store carbon for at least 100 years. They sell the resulting credits to refineries, factories and other big emitters, which use them as a substitute for reducing their own emissions.

But if trees are burning less than 10 years into their projected lifetimes, that’s a problem for landowners, industry and policymakers — not to mention the forests, which are estimated to store about twice as much carbon than they emit and are a crucial component of global plans to address climate change. The increasing severity and frequency of wildfires could reverse their role.

The Bootleg Fire so far has covered 23.9 percent of Green Diamond’s project area, according to data provider CarbonPlan.

The Colville Indian Reservation project is one of the largest sellers of credits under a California cap-and-trade program. The Summit Trail and Chuweah Creek fires have covered about 3.5 percent of its 453,000 acres, CarbonPlan estimates.

Rules governing offsets anticipate damage from fires. Landowners are required to store a certain percent of a project’s credits in a buffer pool they can tap if acreage is lost to wildfires, disease or insect outbreaks.

For now, the buffer pool, with about 28.5 million credits, is large enough to absorb the recent fires, said Dan McGraw, head of Americas at Carbon Pulse, a market analysis firm. But if acreage keeps burning, the carbon accounting system could find itself in the red.

“We’ve had two projects be affected by fires, and it’s July,” McGraw said. “It’s only going to get worse.”

Debra Kahn has the details.

While we’re here: California is moving to cut off water to farmers as the drought dries up rivers and streams in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds. The Water Resources Control Board will vote on the emergency order Aug. 3.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led the United Nations from 2007 to 2016, an era that saw the rise of multilateral climate action culminating in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Since leaving the U.N., he has used his leadership positions at civil society groups to continue his campaign against climate change. One of his driving messages is that the U.S. and other rich nations need to do more individually and collectively through the World Bank and other international institutions. He spoke to POLITICO about skeptics, former President Trump and Pope Francis.

Is it time to ban financing and subsidies of fossil fuels, especially where the World Bank and IMF are concerned?

I think it is necessary. There are many countries who have been financing [fossil fuels] through public financial organizations. Unfortunately, my own country, Korea, was one of them. I raised this issue very strongly with the office of the president of Korea and other ministers. Now, Korea has decided not to provide any public financial support, except those which are now going on.

And you think the U.S. is not doing enough to help.

That’s right.

In the U.S. during the Trump administration, a lot of private companies made a lot of promises. Are they delivering?

In fact, the private sectors are doing better and more than government. Government has their restrictions and laws and opposition parties. But corporations, when the owners, presidents or chairmen have conviction, they can do more.

Lorraine has the full interview.

Continue reading. There’s more.

Climate change has hit and hit hard. And we’re just getting started.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 10:23 am

Paris Sportif: The Contagious Attraction of Parkour

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I first encountered parkour in a Luc Besson movie, District 13 (from 2004, original title Banlieue 13), but it has a longer history, discussed by Macs Smith in an extract from his book Paris and the Parasite: Noise, Health, and Politics in the Media City published in The MIT Reader:

In a city fixated on public health and order, a viral extreme sport offers a challenge to the status quo.1955, Letterist International, a Paris-based group of avant-garde authors, artists, and urban theorists, published “Proposals for Rationally Improving the City of Paris.” The group, which would become better known as Situationist International, or SI, and play an important role in the May 1968 demonstrations, put forward wild suggestions for breaking the monotony of urban life. Some of these, like the call to abolish museums and distribute their masterpieces to nightclubs, were iconoclastic and anti-institutional, reflecting the group’s anarchic political leanings.

Others were less overtly political and testified to a thirst for excitement. To appeal to “spelunkers” and thrill-seekers, they called for Paris’s rooftops and metro tunnels to be opened up to exploration. The group believed that the mundaneness of urban life in the 1950s was integral to bourgeois capitalism. Boredom was part of how the government maintained order, and so a more equal city would necessarily have to be more frightening, more surprising, more fun.

SI disbanded in 1972, but its ideas about the links between emotion and urban politics have been influential. Among the best examples are the subcultures centered around urban thrill-seeking that exist today, like urban exploration (Urbex), rooftopping, and skywalking, all of which involve breaking into dangerous or forbidden zones of the city. The most famous inheritor to SI’s call to experience urban space differently is parkour, which was invented in the Paris suburb of Lisses in the 1980s. It was inspired by Hébertisme, a method of obstacle course training first introduced to the French Navy in 1910 by Georges Hébert. David Belle learned the principles of Hébertisme from his father, Raymond, who had been exposed to it at a military school in Vietnam. David, along with a friend, Sébastien Foucan, then adapted those principles, originally conceived for natural environments, to the suburban architecture of their surroundings.

Over time, parkour has incorporated techniques from tumbling, gymnastics, and capoeira, resulting in a striking blend of military power and balletic artistry. Parkour involves confronting an urban map with an embodied experience of urban space. It is often defined as moving from points A to B in the most efficient way possible, and parkour practitioners, called traceurs, often depict themselves as trailblazers identifying routes through the city that cartography does not capture. Traceurs sometimes evoke the fantasy of tracing a straight line on the map and finding a way to turn it into a path, although in practice, they more often work at a single point on the map — a park, a rooftop, an esplanade — and end a session back where they started.

Traceurs’ desire to rewrite the map is another thing they share with the Situationists, who liked to cut up maps and glue them back together to show the psychological distance between neighborhoods. But parkour distinguishes itself from SI through its use of video, which continues to be a point of debate within the practice. In the early 2000s, Sébastien Foucan reignited this debate when he broke away from Belle to pioneer his own version of the training system.

Foucan’s appearance in the 2003 documentary “Jump London” cemented “freerunning” as the name for this alternate practice, which put a greater emphasis on stylized movements. Foucan would go on to play a terrorist bomb-maker in Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale,” leaping from cranes with Daniel Craig’s James Bond in pursuit. Some parkour purists see this as a degradation of the utilitarian roots of their training, and insist instead on a physio-spiritual discourse of communion with the environment, mastery of fear, and humility. They reject freerunning as a brash corruption of Hébert’s principles. The sociologist Jeffrey Kidder notes in his interviews with traceurs in Chicago that they dismiss participants who lack interest in serious rituals like safety, humility, and personal growth. They react negatively to media coverage that highlights parkour’s danger or assimilates it into adolescent rebellions like skateboarding, drug use, or loitering.

In my own email interview with the leaders of Parkour Paris, the official parkour organization of Paris, the same will to blame media is evident: “Parkour has been mediatized in ‘connotated’ films. The traceurs depicted in those fictions were friendly delinquents a bit like Robin Hood. Friendly, yes, but for the immense majority of people they were still delinquents from the banlieue,” they gripe. “It’s been very hard to shake that image.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And it includes this 50-minute video, Jump London:

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 10:17 am

La Toja and Baby Smooth

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With a shave stick, I return to MR GLO for the pre-shave, and the lather this morning was very nice. I do like this Copper Hat shaving brush. RazorRock’s Baby Smooth is a terrific razor: always kind and comfortable for all its fierce efficiency. Three passes left my face smooth and undamaged, and a splash of La Toja aftershave with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel added left my face feeling wonderful and my outlook improved.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 8:26 am

Posted in Shaving

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