Later On

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

Archive for September 29th, 2021

“The Maze,” by Mary-Kim Arnold

leave a comment »

From here. The poem:

I dislike uncertainty. Take no pleasure in the element of surprise.
I’ll carry the clipboard and checklists around
at my own birthday party. No need to leave anything to chance.

It was my son’s idea of course. There was a plastic pirate out front
and the promise of treasure at the end. I paid, then
shuffled behind, his voice ringing out, follow me

All glass and mirrors. I saw myself reflected a thousand times
all of them weary, impatient. Some days motherhood is just
din and obstacle. I was thinking about

the letter I had received. Another dead end
in my family search. No contact information, no forwarding address.
No one—no one—had been looking for me.

At a certain point, I stopped trying. Extended my arms and felt
along the walls for edges. It was cheating maybe but plodding along
without pleasure or intent doesn’t get you to the end any faster.

It’s been forty-five years. My mother, my father, they
are not getting any younger. Perhaps I waited too long. Perhaps
if I had started earlier there would have been other options. Other

people to reach out to. I read once in my file that I had
a “very good memory,” that I memorized the names
of all the neighborhood dogs. I would like to know them now.

I saw him before he saw me. He was looking around and pacing
not panicked yet but on the verge. I stopped and watched him for as long
as I thought he could bear. He turned when I emerged at last

and ran up and showed me the flag he had won
for making it through first. You were so slow, he told me. It was so
easy. Next time, don’t take so long.

The author says about the poem:

“The poem itself is narrative, so I don’t have a lot to say about it except that I wrote it several years ago, and since then I’ve had a lot more practice living with uncertainty. My relationship to the idea of the future has changed, but probably the clipboard part is still true.”
Mary-Kim Arnold

And about the poet:

Mary-Kim Arnold is a Korean American poet and the author of The Fish & The Dove (Noemi Press, 2020). She lives in Rhode Island, on Narragansett land.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Art, Books

“Count Me In” on Netflix: If you like drums and rock & roll

leave a comment »

Count Me In is an interesting and highly dynamic documentary.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Music

Dudley Moore parodies a Beethoven sonata

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Humor, Music, Video

Slime Mold Time Mold on the obesity epidemic

leave a comment »

The Browser interviews Slime Mold Time Mold:

Uri Bram: Today I’m delighted to welcome Slime Mold Time Mold, the authors of a fascinating new series about the obesity epidemic — could you start by introducing that series to our audience please?

Slime Mold Time Mold: Sure! Each of us had been separately following the literature on obesity for a couple years. It was clear that most of the theories that seemed promising in the 1990s and 2000s were falling apart. Even experts have felt this way for almost a decade now, maybe especially experts, since they’re the ones following the literature most closely.

On a long car ride we discussed that some of the mysteries that seem hard to explain otherwise would make sense if obesity were caused by environmental contaminants, so we decided to take a closer look. We started writing and looking into this idea, and the evidence ended up being much stronger than we expected.

Now we’re here. 🙂

Uri Bram: That’s awesome. Before we dig in further to the specifics about obesity, I actually have a meta question for you: how do you evaluate whether a massive social trend is monocausal or multi-causal? Does the pattern around obesity make it seem more likely that the rise is caused by “just one thing”, or a bunch of different factors coming together?

One Cause or Many Causes?

Slime Mold Time Mold: This is a really great question. Unfortunately we don’t think there’s an easy rule of thumb! We might say generally, you should assume a multicausal explanation until someone can make a monocausal case, because most things are complicated. Obesity looks kinda monocausal because there’s such an abrupt shift around 1980. But a lot of things changed around 1980 so it could go either way.

It’s good to keep your options open epistemically. Right now we think there is a good case for just a few contaminants. But we keep an open mind about there being more causes, so we’re still looking into others — for example, we recently took a look at glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup), and we feel good about that even though we ended up concluding that glyphosate doesn’t seem to cause obesity.

Uri Bram: Ok great! I don’t want to make you repeat too much from your series — to everyone reading this I really recommend checking it out starting here, it’s just a phenomenally engrossing read and it’s definitely started a lot of conversations – but I’m just going to ask some questions that came to mind for me while reading.

Slime Mold Time Mold: Sure! Just to clarify, it’s not over yet!

The obesity you don’t see

Uri Bram: Ahahah, for sure. So: one question is about the relationship between obesity and either wealth or socioeconomic class. Anecdotally, just from everyday life, it seems that there’s a strong relationship there — I don’t think you see a lot of obesity among the “elite” professional class or on fancy college campuses. But you have some counterintuitive findings around that, so I wanted to ask you to speak a little about how the environmental contaminant model could be compatible with the relationship between socioeconomics and obesity.

Slime Mold Time Mold: So first of all, it’s totally compatible with contaminants. Poor people are more likely to have jobs like janitor, coal miner, or factory worker, where they get direct contact with lots of different contaminants. The president of 3M gets a lot less exposure to pretty much everything than his workers do. Same thing for college campuses. And there’s a general environmental justice issue here — poor people are more likely to live next to a factory or downstream from a coal mine. See Flint, MI.

But also, we’ve taken a look and just don’t think there is much of a relationship between poverty and obesity! If there is an effect, it’s pretty small. This seems pretty well-supported and we’ve done a review of the literature in a recent post.

Uri Bram: That’s pretty surprising for people, isn’t it?

Slime Mold Time Mold: Yeah, like many things in this area it’s very counter-intuitive!

Uri Bram: Suppose that someone said to you, though, that they look at their social circle and don’t see a lot of obesity. What would you say to that? Is this a misunderstanding of what “obese” looks like in practice?

Slime Mold Time Mold: It . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:08 pm

A food problem I didn’t know about — and another reason why fried foods are bad

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:01 pm

The Advantage of Permission & The Fall Of Oligarchies

leave a comment »

Ian Welsh writes on his website:

One of the main advantages of capitalism is “permission.” It gives more people permission to do things than oligarchical or state capitalism. This was, actually, a lot of what Adam Smith was complaining about in “The Wealth of Nations”: that state monopolies and controls were limiting who could effectively participate in the economy: you might have a great idea, but you couldn’t do anything with it.

Capitalism, as a Western system, also has other features, of course, including wide-scale theft of capital from the majority of the population, of which the enclosure of the commons was one part (the commons were property rights). Society becomes divided into those who have capital, and those who don’t, who are compelled by Marx’s “whip of hunger” to work for wages. (Thus wage-slavery, a term coined in the 19th century when this process was happening in America.)

Still, the explosion of businesses of all sizes is much of what drove the success of capitalism: the ability to DO things, and not be stuck in old forms.

This is also at the heart of much of the success of China. What Westerners don’t realize is that, despite all the cries of totalitarianism, the Chinese government is one of the most decentralized in the world: over 70% of spending decisions are made below the national level: this makes it the most decentralized national government in the developed world.

China’s central leaders make decisions and laws, to be sure, but much of how that is implemented in any locale is up to the local party, and definitely not micro-managed.

If China had tried to micro-manage everything, they would never have succeeded in becoming the World’s largest economy, or lifted so many people out of poverty. Instead they would have succumbed to the same diseases that did in the USSR. (Which had its own successes, but stalled out for a variety of reasons.)

Some years ago, in an old book I can’t find, I read an introduction where the author, who had lived thru WWII, noted that the idea that fascism was the superior form of government had been proved to be absolute nonsense: when the Allies turned their economy around and pointed it at war production and mobilization it produced miracles precisely because decision making wasn’t bottle-necked at the top. A dictator and his few trusted cronies can be decisive, but their unwillingness to extend trust down the chain cripples them.

This requires social consensus and trust, however. America and Britain and Canada and Australia had to be behind the war at a population level: but they were, and while guidance was needed and often correction, it is precisely that many people could make decisions which made the war effort possible and helped crush the Nazis.

The problem we have now in the West is dual-barreled; we both  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And see also this post, which supports the premises of the argument.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 12:51 pm

The economic basis of the current social structure

leave a comment »

A grotesque level of economic inequality weakens the connections that make a society prosper and can ultimately lead to its downfall, sometimes by violence and revolution and sometimes by a withering away. The US is well on its way to an extreme of economic inequality, and it seems to be getting worse.

Anand Giridharadas wrote a book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, about some of the drivers of the situation. (I previously blogged the Prologue to Winners Take All. It’s worth (re)reading. )

The book begins with two epigraphs:

I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making hjm carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible…except by getting off his back.
— Leo Tolstoy, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence

Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.
— Letter to Bahá’í from the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel

Bahá’í is an interesting religion. FWIW, Dizzy Gillespie was a lifelong member of that faith.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:56 am

Snapshot of the sad state of the US

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the fight over the debt ceiling continued. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that breaching the debt ceiling would delay Social Security payments and military paychecks, as well as jeopardizing the status of the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered Senate Republicans “a way out” from having to participate in raising the ceiling, despite the fact that the Republicans had added $7.8 trillion to the now-$28 trillion debt during Trump’s term. Schumer asked for unanimous consent to pass a debt ceiling increase with a simple majority that the Democrats could provide alone.

Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked the effort. “There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy, so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible,” he said.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that McConnell is deliberately running out Congress’s clock, and it is hard to ignore that the big item on the Senate’s agenda is the Freedom to Vote Act, which Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Angus King (I-ME) have worked to hammer out in place of the voting rights bills passed by the House.

The Freedom to Vote Act protects the right to vote. It also bans partisan gerrymandering.

States have already begun to carve up districts based on the 2020 census numbers. The Texas legislature, for one, has gerrymandered its state—one that is imperative for the Republicans to hold for the 2024 presidential election—to protect Republicans and underrepresent Black and Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic. (Growth in the Latino population is what gave the state two new representatives.) If Texas redistricting is completed by November 15, the candidate filing period will end on December 13. At that point, after candidates have filed according to established district lines, it will be significantly harder for courts to overturn those lines before the 2022 election.

So if McConnell can tie up Democrats over the absolutely must-pass debt ceiling increase and can stave off a voting rights bill, Republican gerrymandering might well survive for the 2022 election.

Indeed, the political news out of Washington must all be read with an eye to the 2022 election, including the other big story from today: the testimony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Before his testimony, Milley submitted a statement that was quietly remarkable. A highly decorated career soldier, Milley was appointed by former president Trump and, after making the mistake of walking with Trump across Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square in June 2020 for the former president’s ill-received photo-op with a Bible, has become a principled and outspoken advocate for the military’s defense of the United States Constitution, even, when necessary, against domestic enemies.

In his statement, Milley laid out the course of the war in Afghanistan. He noted that in 20 years there, more than 800,000 U.S. military personnel served; 2,461 were killed in action, 20,698 were wounded, and countless others came home with internal scars. Milley expressed his opinion that their service in Afghanistan prevented another attack on America from terrorists based there.

Then Milley talked of our exit from the country, emphasizing that it is a mistake to focus only on our rushed exit in August. In 2011, we began a long-term drawdown of troops from their peak of 97,000 U.S. troops and 41,000 NATO troops. On February 29, 2020, when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban, there were 12,600 U.S. troops, 8,000 NATO troops, and 10,500 contractors in Afghanistan. With that agreement, known as the Doha Agreement, we agreed to withdraw if the Taliban met seven conditions that would lead to a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, while we agreed to eight conditions.

Milley wrote that the Taliban honored only one of its seven required conditions: it did not attack U.S. personnel. It did not cut ties to al Qaeda, and it significantly increased, rather than decreased, its attacks on Afghan civilians. Nonetheless, in the 8 months after the agreement, “we reduced US military forces from 12,600 to 6,800, NATO forces from 8,000 to 5,400 and US contractors from 9,700 to 7,900….”

On November 9, 2020, six days after the presidential election, Milley and then–Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recommended stopping the withdrawal until the Taliban met the required conditions. Two days later, on November 11, then-president Trump ordered the military to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. Blindsided, military officers were able to talk Trump out of that rushed timetable, but on November 17, Trump ordered Milley to reduce troop levels to 2,500 no later than January 15.

So, when President Biden took office, only about 3,500 U.S. troops, 5,400 NATO troops, and 6,300 contractors were still in Afghanistan, leaving him with the problem that he would have either to leave altogether or to put in more troops in anticipation of resumed hostilities with the Taliban. Biden ordered a review of the situation and ultimately decided to withdraw from the country altogether.

Milley went on to explain . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:52 am

The Tomb of Maid Marian

leave a comment »

The historical Maid Marian seems to have been a formidable person.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:43 am

Posted in Daily life, History

The Macaroni in ‘Yankee Doodle’

leave a comment »

Among other interesting things in the article: how quickly a term of approbation switched to a term of condemnation. Michael Waters writes in Atlas Obscura:

Generations of American kids forced to sing “Yankee Doodle” have grown up justifiably puzzled by its lyrics.

Though the song, set to an upbeat melody, appears to satirize Americans, it is today treated as a patriotic anthem. Anyone who is not given proper context—that “Yankee Doodle” was originally created by the British to ridicule Americans, and that American soldiers reclaimed it during the Revolutionary War—might well question the point of the song.

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni

Yankee Doodle, keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy!

The “macaroni” in question does not, however, refer to the food, but rather to a fashion trend that began in the 1760s among aristocratic British men.

On returning from a Grand Tour (a then-standard trip across Continental Europe intended to deepen cultural knowledge), these young men brought to England a stylish sense of fashion consisting of large wigs and slim clothing as well as a penchant for the then-little-known Italian dish for which they were named. In England at large, the word “macaroni” took on a larger significance. To be “macaroni” was to be sophisticated, upper class, and worldly.

In “Yankee Doodle,” then, the British were mocking what they perceived as the Americans’ lack of class. The first verse is satirical because a doodle—a simpleton—thinks that he can be macaroni—fashionable—simply by sticking a feather in his cap. In other words, he is out of touch with high society. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including more illustrations of the dandies who affected a macaroni style.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life, History

The destruction of Sodom: Perhaps a large meteor

leave a comment »

Update: See also this article.

A meteor strike would certainly have been seen as God striking. Science News reports a finding from UC Santa Barbara:

In the Middle Bronze Age (about 3600 years ago or roughly 1650 BCE), the city of Tall el-Hammam was ascendant. Located on high ground in the southern Jordan Valley, northeast of the Dead Sea, the settlement in its time had become the largest continuously occupied Bronze Age city in the southern Levant, having hosted early civilization for a few thousand years. At that time, it was 10 times larger than Jerusalem and 5 times larger than Jericho.

“It’s an incredibly culturally important area,” said James Kennett, emeritus professor of earth science at the UC Santa Barbara. “Much of where the early cultural complexity of humans developed is in this general area.”

A favorite site for archaeologists and biblical scholars, the mound hosts evidence of culture all the way from the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, all compacted into layers as the highly strategic settlement was built, destroyed, and rebuilt over millennia.

But there is a 1.5-meter interval in the Middle Bronze Age II stratum that caught the interest of some researchers, for its “highly unusual” materials. In addition to the debris one would expect from destruction via warfare and earthquakes, they found pottery shards with outer surfaces melted into glass, “bubbled” mudbrick, and partially melted building material, all indications of an anomalously high-temperature event, much hotter than anything the technology of the time could produce.

“We saw evidence for temperatures greater than 2,000 degrees Celsius,” said Kennett, whose research group at the time happened to have been building the case for an older cosmic airburst about 12,800 years ago that triggered major widespread burning, climatic changes and animal extinctions. The charred and melted materials at Tall el-Hammam looked familiar, and a group of researchers including impact scientist Allen West and Kennett joined Trinity Southwest University biblical scholar Philip J. Silvia’s research effort to determine what happened at this city 3,650 years ago.

Their results are published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Salt and Bone

“There’s evidence of a large cosmic airburst, close to this city called Tall el-Hammam,” Kennett said, of an explosion similar to the Tunguska Event, a roughly 12-megaton airburst that occurred in 1908, when a 56-60-meter meteor pierced the Earth’s atmosphere over the Eastern Siberian Taiga.

The shock of the explosion over Tall el-Hammam was enough to level the city, flattening the palace and surrounding walls and mudbrick structures, according to the paper, and the distribution of bones indicated “extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans.”

For Kennett, further proof of the airburst was found by conducting many different kinds of analyses on soil and sediments from the critical layer. Tiny iron- and silica-rich spherules turned up in their analysis, as did melted metals.

“I think one of the main discoveries is shocked quartz. These are sand grains containing cracks that form only under very high pressure,” Kennett said of one of many lines of evidence that point to a large airburst near Tall el-Hammam. “We have shocked quartz from this layer, and that means there were incredible pressures involved to shock the quartz crystals — quartz is one of the hardest minerals; it’s very hard to shock.”

The airburst, according to the paper, may also explain the “anomalously high concentrations of salt” found in the destruction layer — an average of 4% in the sediment and as high as 25% in some samples.

“The salt was thrown up due to the high impact pressures,” Kennett said, of the meteor that likely fragmented upon contact with the Earth’s atmosphere. “And it may be that the impact partially hit the Dead Sea, which is rich in salt.” The local shores of the Dead Sea are also salt-rich so the impact may have redistributed those salt crystals far and wide — not just at Tall el-Hammam, but also nearby Tell es-Sultan (proposed as the biblical Jericho, which also underwent violent destruction at the same time) and Tall-Nimrin (also then destroyed).

The high-salinity soil could have been responsible for the so-called “Late Bronze Age Gap,” the researchers say, in which cities along the lower Jordan Valley were abandoned, dropping the population from tens of thousands to maybe a few hundred nomads. Nothing could grow in these formerly fertile grounds, forcing people to leave the area for centuries. Evidence for resettlement of Tall el-Hammam and nearby communities appears again in the Iron Age, roughly 600 years after the cities’ sudden devastation in the Bronze Age.

Fire and Brimstone

Tall el-Hamman has been the focus of an ongoing debate as to whether it could be the biblical city of Sodom, one of the two cities in the Old Testament Book of Genesis that were purportedly destroyed by God for how wicked the cities and their inhabitants had become. According to the story, one denizen, Lot, is saved by two angels who instruct him not to look behind as they flee. Lot’s wife, however, lingers and is turned into a pillar of salt. Meanwhile, fire and brimstone fell from the sky; multiple cities were destroyed; thick smoke rose from the fires; city inhabitants were killed and area crops were destroyed in what sounds like an eyewitness account of a cosmic impact event.

“All the observations stated in Genesis are consistent with a cosmic airburst,” Kennett said, “but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 9:56 am

Speick for a great shave

with 2 comments

I knew that Speick referred to an Alpine flowering plant, and I thought that Speick products used the blossoms. Not so:

High in the Austrian Alps grows a little plant, which has lent its name to our Speick soaps and body care range. The precious Speick plant extract, used in all our Speick products, is carefully taken from individual roots of the plant. The exclusively in-house development of the whole Speick range of products has taken place over many decades, so we can guarantee that none of the products is tested on animals, either by us or by others. The practice of animal testing in the development of cosmetics has been illegal since 1998. It is of utmost importance to our business to satisfy the modern day needs for a healthy lifestyle through use of natural ingredients and plant extracts. Due to the requirements of our customers and our own code of practice, all ingredients are exhaustively tested for side- or after effects before use. As the body care culture develops further, we endeavour to react dynamically to current changes in both technology and environmental considerations. Thus, new products are created which satisfy this demand.

The shave stick is quite good, though not so good as an ultra-premium soap, but nowadays we are spoiled. The shaving stick’s foil contains no product brand identification — a mistake in the view of this former product marketing manager — but the bottom of the plastic base does identify it as from “Walter Rau GmbH & Co. Speickwerk” in Stuttgart, Germany.

My WSP Monarch had no problem in getting a fine lather from the soap left on my face after rubbing the stick against the grain on my (washed, wet) stubble, and the amazing and wonderful Dorco PL602 made the shave totally pleasurable: highly efficient and very comfortable.

A splash of Speick aftershave — another favorite — and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 9:39 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: