Later On

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

Archive for November 2021

How Shareholder Capitalism Crashed a Plane (Two, Actually) 

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I have called the malignant phenomenon of capitalism run amok “hypercapitalism,” seeking only profit and willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to increase it, but the name “shareholder capitalism” works as well. Moe Tkacik interviews Peter Robison for New York:

Three years ago, after the crash of two Boeing 737 Max jets in less than five months, an explanation emerged that was almost impossible for many civilian travelers to comprehend: The company had inadvertently outfitted the new planes with software that could cause them to dive into the ground. Wasn’t Boeing the undisputed master of its field? How could a treasure of American industry have committed such a deadly error?

Peter Robison knew the answers. A Seattle-based investigative journalist for Bloomberg Businessweek, he has been watching the company’s behind-the-scenes decline for two decades. His new book, Flying Blind: The 737 Max Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing, traces the twin crashes directly to a 1997 merger that replaced the company’s engineering-focused culture with one obsessed with delivering “shareholder value” to investors. Rushed aircraft development, inadequate testing, and faulty code may have been the immediate causes of 347 deaths and the destruction of the reputation of America’s last great manufacturer. But before all that, it was a pathological form of capitalism that poisoned Boeing. I highly recommend this book for anyone traveling by Amtrak or Airbus this holiday season.

What made you want to take on this project?
I felt like I had to write it because I was the only reporter I knew of who had been a beat reporter covering Boeing at the time of the McDonnell Douglas merger in 1997 and was still involved in covering the Max. And it seemed to me the exact concerns that many engineers at the time had about how the company’s culture was shifting away from engineering and the long-term consequences of treating engineers like “line replaceable units,” in their words, had been proven true. I think some people have this thought: All workplaces have problems; it can’t be true that something from 20 years ago is having direct effects today. But people don’t understand how long these things take to play out, especially with such long-lasting products as commercial airplanes. Changes take a long time to be seen.

Now we’ve come to the point where in six years, two of their brand-new airplanes have been taken out of the sky by the FAA. Their marquee airplane, the 787 Dreamliner, currently has 100 planes on the ground because of manufacturing defects. And from 2000 to 2020, the FAA cited Boeing for 20 safety violations, while Airbus has been cited three times. When I started covering Boeing, any one of those things would have been unheard of.

That’s one reason the journalism on this story has been so rich because I think all the reporters covering it have been animated by the extreme outrage of their sources, who remember the Boeing of Japan Air Lines Flight 123 in 1985.

That crash comes up often with the old Boeing heads as the trigger for a lot of productive soul-searching — and the inspiration behind the ultracollaborative culture that produced the 777 program.
It was the biggest single aircraft accident ever: A 747 crashed into a mountain and killed 520 people. And Boeing, within a month, admitted that it was its own fault because seven years earlier, a Boeing mechanic had performed a repair on the jet that was not entirely up to standard. Everyone was shocked. Authorities in Japan had been settling in for long negotiations.

Let’s talk about the original sin that led to the 2018 crashes by unleashing a combination of brain drain and moral rot. It generally gets referred to as “the McDonnell Douglas merger” of 1997, but it could just be dubbed “the ’90s.
Right. For whatever reason, a lot of companies in Seattle had decided that if customers or employees come first, profits will follow. It worked: Costco is famous for paying its employees well because it gets better results if it doesn’t have a lot of turnover. Starbucks is famous for customer service and offering health insurance to part-timers. Amazon is famous for its obsession with customers. And Boeing, at the time, was all about supporting customers in the field. They would have someone meet every landing of every new plane after they were delivered.

At some point — and I feel like I watched it happen — after the McDonnell Douglas merger, there was a decision that shareholders come first, a philosophy most closely associated with GE’s Jack Welch. The CEO of McDonnell Douglas, Harry Stonecipher, was a longtime Jack Welch protégé, and by controlling a vital voting bloc of the board, Stonecipher muscles his way into de facto control of the company.

There’s a lot of national pride tied up in aircraft building, which is considered the premier expression of manufacturing excellence. Stonecipher couldn’t care less about that. Because the way they were trained at GE was they could parachute into any business, whether it was aircraft engines or MRI machines or plastics, and implement the same model. At the same time Stonecipher is doing this at Boeing, his eventual successor, Jim McNerney, is doing it at 3M — and within two years, the guy who invented Post-it notes was saying he didn’t recognize the company anymore. The whole era is just really corrosive.

Of course, the pathology of eternal downsizing eventually kills shareholders too. If you’d put $100,000 into GE shares when Jack Welch was God in 2000, you’d have $20,000 today.
Right, the Jack Welch playbook works very well for the period when you’re running down the existing assets and the existing product lines for all the cash they contain. And then of course, there’s nothing left to milk.

We should establish here: In 2013, a series of battery fires caused the FAA to ground the brand-new 787 Dreamliner, which was already three years late and had lost $40 billion. They’re hitting that point where there’s nothing left to milk.
And yet over the next five years, they spent $43 billion on buybacks alone, which could have produced many, many new planes. McNerney said, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2021 at 5:46 pm

Dinner greens

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This is how this recipe turned out. It’s spicy — not only the Beyond Sausage, but also the jalapeño and 3 red Thai chiles. But spicy is good on a night like tonight. I had a bowl with hulled barley and soybeans, and now I think I’ll have a small bowl of fermented vegetables to end with.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2021 at 4:37 pm

A Harvard nutritionist and brain expert shares the 5 foods she eats every day to sharpen her memory and focus

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A particularly frustrating type of error message — or any sort of instruction — is being told what is wrong without providing any information on what is right. So, to accompany the previous post by Dr. Uma Naidoo, here are 5 foods not to avoid, from a CNBC article by Lauren Armstrong, who interviewed  Dr. Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, faculty member at Harvard Medical School and author of This Is Your Brain on Food, “about what she eats to sharpen her memory, focus and overall brain health.”

1. Extra-dark chocolate

The article actually said “extra dark chocolate,” but I don’t think anyone who has some dark chocolate considers any of it “extra.” I feel certain that what was meant was “extra-dark” chocolate.

I love dark chocolate, but I find that I cannot keep it around. However much I buy seems to be a single serving — well, not quite true: I do keep dark unsweetened baking chocolate on hand for making chili. But a 100% cacao chocolate bar? It’s a single serving.

That said, I do buy 100% cacao chocolate bars from time to time — for my health, you know.

2. Berries

One of the Daily Dozen, so I eat a serving a day — usually frozen mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, and blackberres, and sometimes also strawberries) that I thaw, but sometimes fresh.

3. Turmeric (with black pepper)

Again on the Daily Dozen list. I eat 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric with lots of freshly ground black pepper, and I also often cook greens or other veggies with minced fresh turmeric root (again with lots of black pepper). The pepperine in the pepper coaxes the liver into allowing the good stuff from the turmeric to be absorbed by the body. I just earlier updated an earlier post to include fresh turmeric. I thought of it as I was mincing garlic, ginger, and jalapeño pepper.

4 Leafy greens

Again on the Daily Dozen list. I eat at least two servings a day, sometimes more. I had some of the tung ho I recently cooked earlier, and I’m about to go cook the collards now.

5. Fermented foods

I eat these daily, now that I started fermenting my own veggies. BTW, using some of the liquid from the fermented Cabbage & Red to start the Leek Kraut with Tarragon was not totally successful: after a couple of days, fermentation was slack. So I hydrated some of the starter culture and added it to the jar, so I think i’ll see some activity soon.

On the whole, I’m doing well with these foods, though I think I’ll make a point of buying 1 extra-dark chocolate bar per week. A good resolution, I think, and easy to keep.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2021 at 3:13 pm

A Harvard nutritionist and brain expert says she avoids these 5 foods that ‘weaken memory and focus’

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Four out of five ain’t bad. 🙂

The CNBC article by Dr. Uma Naidoo lists 5 foods, and offers reasons to avoid them. The foods, with my own reasons, are:

1. Added Sugars

I automatically avoid these because I eat a whole-food plant-based diet. Added sugars are always refined sugars (unless they use date sugar (ground whole dried dates), and no one does), and I don’t eat highly processed foods (the foods that you buy that contain such sugars are highly processed). Of course, you could also add (refined) sugar to you coffee or tea. I don’t. So yes, I avoid added sugars. (I do eat fruit every day, but the sugar in fruit does not affect your body in the way refined sugar does.)

2. Fried foods

This category focuses mainly on deep-fried foods (generally breaded, which involves refined and highly processed flour, thus I avoid), rather than (say) vegetables cooked in a tablespoon of olive oil. The specific foods mentioned: “French fries, tempura, samosas, fish and chips and chicken-fried steak.” Nope, not even close.

3. High-glycemic-load carbohydrates

Such carbohydrates are found in highly refined (and highly processed) foods: bread, cake, pastries, and the like, but also in potatoes and white rice. Potatoes (including sweet potatoes) are whole foods but they do impact my blood glucose, so I don’t eat them. White rice is a refined food (bran removed), and I eat only intact whole grain — but even so I avoid brown rice: blood-glucose impact. Black rice seems to be okay.

4. Alcohol

This one is apparently not to be avoided altogether, according to the author:

In 2018, in the British Medical Journal, they reported that people who had abstained from alcohol completely or who consumed more than 14 drinks per week had a higher risk of dementia compared to those who drank alcohol in moderation.

In general, men who consume more than 14 drinks per week or more than four drinks in a single day at least once a month are considered to be heavy drinkers, as are women who drink more than seven drinks per week or three drinks per day. But different people (and their brains) respond differently to alcohol abuse.

Still, it’s wise to be careful, and alcohol is indeed hard on the liver. My own view is that someone who partakes of alcohol daily should take a break. A recovering alcoholic I knew once told me that alcohol is sneaky, and I have always been cautious about it — perhaps because one of my grandfathers succumbed to alcoholism and died when I was an infant.

I do enjoy a drink — beer, wine, or spirits — as my blog readers know, but my limit is generally one drink, at most two, and I don’t drink at all most days. (Not drinking also helps the budget, of course: a twofer.)

5. Nitrates

These I doubly skip: highly processed (so not whole foods) and meat (thus not plant-based). Fuggedaboutit.

It’s interesting how much nutritional trouble one avoids by sticking to whole foods that are not meat, dairy, or eggs.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2021 at 2:23 pm

Cumulative COVID-19 Deaths per Million in the US and Europe

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Kevin Drum’s post has this graph of cumulative deaths per million by country:

He notes:

. . . The United States continues to be worse than nearly all our peer countries in Europe. The two big exceptions are Hungary and Czechia, which act as cautionary tales. Hungary began a huge upsurge last November and eventually acted on it. But it was too late. Lackadaisical policies allowed infections to get out of control, and new mask mandates were both late and not enough.

Czechia is even more heartbreaking. They had great policies and were the envy of Europe for over a year. But then they declared victory too early, and with an election coming up last October the government didn’t want to bring in unpopular countermeasures. The result was catastrophic.

The United States, needless to say, has never adopted suitable policies and has paid a bigger and bigger price for that. We haven’t always been quite the worst performer among our peers, but we are now with the exception of the two outliers.

But we just don’t care enough.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2021 at 1:11 pm

Stout-hearted morning with the excellent MJ-90A

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The very fine bristles in Yaqi’s “cashmere” knot made a very fine-grained and thick lather, redolent with the fragrance of stout — Guinness stout, to be specific. I’m not sure of the “oatmeal” — Guinness is made from barley — but perhaps the oatmeal is in the fragrance. Mystic Water notes:

A dark brown soap made with Guinness stout and scented with a smooth beer fragrance that is blended with creamy oatmeal, orange peel, butterscotch, farm-fresh milk, almond, and vanilla.  It doesn’t smell like actual beer but it is a warm, comforting scent.  Fragrance and lanolin.

So the oatmeal is a fragrance note, not a soap ingredient (though oatmeal is indeed used in some soaps, though not, so far as I know, in shaving soaps). Her soaps are

made with beef tallow combined with stearic acid, shea butter, castor oil, sustainably sourced organic palm oil, avocado oil, aloe vera, bentonite clay, silk protein, allantoin, and extra glycerin. It offers exceptional protection, glide and post-shave skin care and is excellent for even sensitive skin and tough beards. Most of my shaving soaps also include lanolin, and I use both botanical essential oils and high quality fragrances in my soap. 

The clay explains why I had to add a little water as I loaded the brush. I wondered at that, because I had forgotten that this soap contains clay. 

Well-lathered, I picked up my RazoRock MJ-90A, which, like yesterday’s razor, has a stainless handle and a black head, though the blackness of the MJ-90A’s head is not from a DLC coating but from the machined aluminum head being anodized. Also unlike yesterday’s razor, though the MJ-90A certainly does a fine job if you use light pressure and the correct blade angle, it is not nearly so picky about those as the iKon stainless slant. Whereas the MJ-90A would be a fine choice for a novice razor, I think that the iKon stainless slant requires that the user has some experiential knowledge of good shaving technique in order to avoid difficulties. (In contrast, I believe the iKon Shavecraft #102 slant would perform well for a novice.)

Modeled on the design used in the Edwin Jagger head, the MJ-90 did a superb job this morning: completely smooth result after a very pleasurable shave. A splash of MLS’s The Drunken Goat carried forth the Guinness theme and left me read for a day indoors, while the weather outside gets sorted.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2021 at 11:06 am

Posted in Shaving

They Knew Industrial Pollution Was Ruining the Neighborhood’s Air. If Only Regulators Had Listened.

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Lisa Song, with additional reporting by Ava Kofman, has an interesting if enraging article in ProPublica. It’s enormously frustrating when the government simply refuses to do its job (as the FDA simply ignored the Congressional directive to certify OTC hearing aids until President Biden directly ordered them to get to work). It’s often unclear whether the problem is negligence, incompetence, conflict of interest, or being under resourced — or a combination. The article begins:

The white ranch house in Pascagoula, Mississippi, was supposed to be Barbara Weckesser’s retirement plan. In 2010, it was getting harder for the real estate agent and her husband to climb the stairs of their home on Dauphin Island, Alabama. She imagined a quiet existence of gardening and puttering around her porch. The Cherokee Forest subdivision seemed like just the place to do it. Rabbits wandered the lawns among the dozens of modest homes built in the 1960s and ’70s; families stayed put for decades. The ranch was a fixer-upper, so the couple tackled it together, installing drywall and hanging up new doors and cabinets.

Then came the dust. Weckesser, who was 64 at the time, first saw it after she left a window open one fall day in 2011 and black soot settled onto her new kitchen countertops. “I said, ‘Holy hell, what in the world is this?’” She later found a grayish film on her black car. She knew it wasn’t pollen because it felt gritty, like sand. Her first guess was that it was coming from VT Halter Marine, a shipbuilder located 800 feet away that was undergoing repairs to fix damage from Hurricane Katrina. The site later became the scene of constant painting, sandblasting and welding, as workers rushed to fulfill contracts with the Navy and Coast Guard.

Months passed and the dust kept falling in Pascagoula — more than she had ever witnessed growing up near Kentucky’s coal fields. Weckesser got headaches from chemical odors and wondered if it was safe to eat the tomatoes she’d planted. Fed up, she found a number for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency charged with ensuring clean air. It had issued operating permits to the shipbuilder and a dozen other major industrial facilities nearby, including a huge Chevron oil refinery and a chemical plant. She wanted the regulators to find out where the noxious fumes were coming from.

When she called MDEQ in March 2012 about a “welding gas” smell that left a metallic taste in her mouth, it took four days for an inspector to drive by the shipyard. The inspector noted strong odors and a billowing yellowish-white cloud near Mississippi Phosphates, a local fertilizer manufacturer. The company told MDEQ that the cloud was probably steam. That was the extent of the investigation and Weckesser’s first glimpse of a larger, frustrating reality.

Neither industrial polluters nor the regulators who govern them know exactly how much hazardous air pollution is billowing out of smokestacks at any given time, nor the degree to which that pollution is finding its way into surrounding neighborhoods. The law doesn’t require them to.

Back in 1990, when the Clean Air Act mandated how the Environmental Protection Agency would regulate industrial air pollution, monitoring methods were crude, expensive and limited. So the EPA allowed facilities to estimate their emissions of hazardous air pollutants, also called air toxics, like hexavalent chromium and ethylene oxide that can cause cancer, respiratory illnesses, heart problems and other ailments. The agency entrusted states to enforce these rules through air permits, which set limits on the amount of chemicals each facility could emit. Despite dramatic advances in technology, a lot of these permits still rely on self-reported estimates that are often outdatedincomplete or inaccurate. Only rarely do regulators check to see if what is reported matches reality.

“We built this whole regulatory system based on a lack of good data,” said Adam Babich, a Tulane professor who specializes in environmental law. It “gets harder and harder to argue with a straight face that it’s unreasonable to require extensive monitoring.”

The EPA and state agencies could install air monitors in communities to gauge how much toxic pollution reaches neighborhoods. But there’s no federal requirement to do that. ProPublica, in an unprecedented analysis of modeled EPA emissions data, identified more than 1,000 hot spots of toxic air pollution nationwide. Yet the EPA spends only $5 million per year to run 26 monitoring stations across the country; it offered another $5 million last year for state and local air monitoring grants and will use $25 million from President Joe Biden’s coronavirus stimulus package to help communities monitor for air pollutants of interest, including air toxics.

If a neighborhood is among the minority of hot spots to actually get a monitor installed, and if that monitor reveals that residents are, indeed, breathing in troubling levels of air toxics, the law doesn’t require regulators to investigate to see whether nearby polluters are violating air permits.

“There’s often no environmental cop on the beat,” said Judith Enck, a former . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2021 at 5:15 pm

Pro Home Cooks on Rice Bowls — and how to make them better

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Michael G. has a good video (below) on rice bowls, including good tips for the novice cook. However, I strongly recommend using brown rice, not white — that is, use intact whole-grain race. Removing a grain’s bran (to produce white rice or pearled barley or the like) also removes a substantial amount of the nutritional value. Refined or highly processed foods lack the nutrition of whole foods. Whole grains include the bran. See what the Harvard School of Public Health has to say about whole grains.

He says he uses white rice because brown rice takes a long time to cook.  ???  Why not cook the (brown) rice ahead of time — like the day before? Cook a large batch, put it in a storage container, refrigerate it, and then take servings from the container as you need them

This has two benefits:

  1. Refrigerating the cooked intact whole grain will make the starch resistant and not so quickly digested, with the result that you don’t get hungry so quickly and it also nourishes your gut microbiome.
  2. When you go to make the dish, the rice is already cooked — it takes no cooking time at all (not even so much as cooking white rice) because you already cooked it. Just take the amount you need and put it in with the foods you’re cooking, or sauté it with a little oil (and perhaps onion or garlic or shallots) to heat it up, or just eat it cold.

And in fact, why use rice at all? Try cooking hulled barley (that’s intact whole-grain barley, with the bran still in place), or whole rye, or Kamut®, or spelt, or intact whole-grain rye — those also take a long time to cook, so cook a batch the day before. These grains are much more nutritious than rice — even brown rice. (White rice is not worth discussing.) Just use these cooked grains as you would use rice.

That said, the video does have some good tips. But he’s wrong in his approach to rice.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2021 at 2:56 pm

Dinner thoughts with Beyond Meat’s Beyond Sausage

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Dinner — after I cook it and serve it with hulled barley and lentils

The Eldest told me that Beyond Meat’s Beyond Sausage is quite tasty. I’ve been wanting to vary my greens (thus yesterday’s combo of tung ho, bitter melon, fresh bamboo shoot, red onion, jalapeño, and Japanese condiments (shoyu sauce, mirin, and brown-rice vinegar). That turned out very tasty, but I thought a spicy sausage would spruce up greens a lot.

I want the taste and the mouthfeel, but not the other things that go with regular sausage: salt, saturated fat, IGF-1, risk of E. coli contamination (do a search on “sausage recalls” or “ground meat recalls”), preservatives, and outright animal cruelty. So getting the taste and mouthfeel from healthful ingredients? Sounds to me like a big win. And the ingredients of Beyond Sausage look pretty good:

Water, pea protein*, refined coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavor, contains 2% or less of: rice protein, faba bean protein, potato starch, salt, vegetable juice (for color), apple fiber, methylcellulose, citrus extract (to protect quality), calcium alginate casing.

*Peas are legumes. People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy. Contains no peanuts or tree nuts.

Too bad about the nuts, but I can stir in some walnuts if I want. The only odd ingredient is methylcellulose. It helps with mouthfeel and is not digested — and very little of that is used: it’s way down on the list of the items that together constitute 2% “or less” of the product. 

A couple of the sausage links, cut into sections and sautéed with the onion, jalapeño, garlic, and ginger before I add the chopped collards and a little Bragg’s apple-cider vinegar (and perhaps a dash of Red Boat fish sauce), will make this a tasty winter version of Greens. I’ll have it with the hulled barley that I have on hand and the rest of the lentils. (I got some dried soybeans to cook; I might make tempeh with those, or just have them as cooked beans.)

The price I paid for the sausage is (in US$) $2.15 per sausage. For an occasional treat, that seems fine.

Update: Remembered the fresh turmeric root — 2 good-sized roots — and of course black pepper. And I decided also to dice a couple of Roma tomatoes and include those for their liquid (and lycopene). It’s cooking now: after sautéing all but the collard leaves (minced stems were included with the initial sauté) and tomatoes, I added chopped collard leaves, finely chopped tomato, Red Boat fish sauce, and vinegar, set burner to 200ºF for 30 minutes, covered the pan, and now am relaxing.

Today I also cooked a pound of soybeans, now in fridge, and a cup of hulled barley, also in fridge.

Here’s how it turned out:

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2021 at 1:49 pm

Keto v. whole-food plant-based for loss of body fat — and an onion note

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Onion note first: the antioxidant content of onions varies by layer. The outermost layer, just under the papery skin, has the highest concentration of antioxidants, and the antioxidant drops, layer by layer, and you move to the center, with the innermost layers have basically no antioxidant content. And onions follow the general rule for vegetables: the darker the vegetable, the higher the antioxidant content, so red onions are better than yellow, and yellow onions are better than white. (That’s the takeaway from this video.)

The following video compares the effect on the loss of body fat (not just loss of weight, which can be merely water loss) of a keto (low-carb high-fat) diet vs. what he calls a “vegan” diet but from the context seems to be rather a whole-food plant based diet. (The vegan diet is not limited to whole foods but can include refined foods and highly processed foods.)

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2021 at 11:47 am

Entertaining reunion and family dynamic

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Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2021 at 11:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Where we stand with Covid Omicron

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The Eldest works at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, so she has access to good up-to-date information. She writes:

Where we are now with Omicron: 

  • No deaths linked to Omicron have yet been reported.
  • Scientists don’t yet know if Omicron causes more severe disease. Understanding that will take several more weeks.
  • The level of protection against Omicron afforded by vaccination and previous infection are not yet understood.
  • Travel bans:
    • Japan and Israel have banned entry to all foreigners, while Morocco banned all incoming flights starting today, AP reports.
    • The moves follow the US and other countries’ decisions last week to halt flights from southern Africa.
Reality check: There are huge disparities in how much sequencing countries are doing: 1) the country that 1st reports may not be origin; 2) penalizing countries that report variants may have a chilling effect on surveillance for variants.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2021 at 9:15 am

The terrific Monday-morning shave — and a few things I noticed

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I really look forward to Monday mornings because the two-day stubble is a bit irksome and the shave is always a pleasure — today a particular pleasure because I particularly like Van Yulay’s Achilles. The lather is excellent and the ingredients are intriguing, and the fragrance (always a YMMV aspect) is one that I like a lot. The soap ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Coconut Fatty Acid, Palm Stearic, Castor, Potassium Hydroxide, Glycerin, Tobacco Tea, Aloe Vera, Coconut-Emu-Tallow-Meadow Foam-Borage-Argan Oils, Kentucky Bourbon, Sodium Lactate, Herbal Ground Tea, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Allantoin, Silica, Bentonite Clay, Glycerin Soap, Tobacco Absolute, Mica, and Fragrance.

BTW, the Van Yulay site is currently closed due to a move. It shall return.

The first thing I noticed this morning is that the Omega Pro 48 really is noticeably better than the Omega 20102 I used today. I used to recommend the 20102, but this morning it was evident that the Pro 48’s knot has better flex (due to slightly longer loft) and better coverage — the 20102 knot seems to be hollow, compared to the Pro 48’s.

Still, the 20102 is perfectly serviceable (though if I get another new brush at some point, I know which brush will depart the rack to make room), and the lather it made was first rate.

The second thing I noticed was how much I now like my iKon stainless slant (here with a DLC coating, though now sold with a B1 coating — more durable). I went through a period where the razor seemed to nick in every shave, and I finally realized that this razor simply requires a very light pressure and the correct blade angle — the latter most readily found by keeping the razor’s cap in contact with the skin.

Once you use light pressure and the right blade angle, this razor is a delight — highly efficient and totally comfortable. But it is not, I would say, a razor for a novice. Get accustomed to light pressure (just barely enough to keep the razor’s cap touching your face) and the best blade angle (the angle at which, if you moved the handle any farther from your face, the razor would stop cutting and just glide along on the cap), and then get one of these. They’re marvellous. 

After three easy passes, my face was truly BBS, and a good splash of Achilles aftershave finished the job. Now the day already seems very good indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2021 at 9:05 am

Posted in Shaving

Odd: Drastic drop in cost of funerals

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The chart is from a post in which Kevin Drum presents three other charts (including one that indicates the statistics on Covid-19 deaths are pretty accurate). 

One of looking at the drop in cost is puzzling: when demand increases, normally prices also increase. But that doesn’t seem to be what actually happened, so that’s not the right way to look at it.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Giant bamboo shoot is misleading — only the core is eaten

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The photo shows some of the things I’ll cook together. I think also I’ll add a jalapeño and a bunch of tung ho. Although the bamboo shoot seems enormous — well, it is enormous — only the very core is eaten. So you cut off and discard the tip part, and then cut away the outer layer of leaves. [update: I just figured out the best way to do this, I think: cut the bamboo shoot into slabs about 3/4″ thick. Then it’s easy to remove the outer leaves from around the slab core. The core slabs can then be diced. – LG]

After removing the leaves and dicing the core, I got 3 cups of bamboo shoot. I simmered it 20 minutes, drained the water and simmered 10 minutes more, then drained the shoots and set them aside.

I diced the bitter melons (the 2 warty-cucumber-looking things) by quartering each lengthwise and then cutting across. I sautéd the bitter melon with chopped red onion and celery and one jalapeño until it seemed to cook down some — about 10 minutes.

I then added the bamboo shoots and chopped tung ho and cooked that for 30 minutes or so covered — with shoyu sauce (2 Tbsp), mirin (4 Tbsp), and brown rice vinegar (4 Tbsp) (all three from Eden Foods). I stirred it occasionally to see how it was getting along.

It’s quite tasty. The tung ho comes through, and the bamboo shoots are sort of crunchy. Not hot at all (I had only 1 jalapeño). The bitter melon seems subdued — that is, not very bitter. The most noticeable tastes are tung ho and the crunch of water chestnut, though there is some bitterness in the aftertaste (which I like).

Update:  Nutritional value of bamboo shoots — not bad at all. /update

I’m having a bowl with some hulled barley and green lentils mixed in: grain, beans, greens, and other vegetables all together. 

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 3:36 pm

The Deadly Myth That Human Error Causes Most Car Crashes

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Like most cities, Victoria has its share of dangerous intersections — that is, intersections at which the number of traffic accidents is abnormally high. When something is posted in the local Facebook group about yet another accident, I usually post something about bad design and another guy always comments “Bad drivers.”

I point out that the intersection in question gets the same mix of drivers as other intersections nearby, but this intersection has significantly more accidents. Something is different about this intersection (the greater number of accidents), and it’s not the drivers (same mix of drivers as other intersections). So it seems obvious to me that the problem is not “bad drivers,” but something in the design fo the intersection.

He won’t have it. For him, it has to be bad drivers. I don’t understand why. If drivers can be bad, then so can those who design intersections, but truly there is no convincing him. When I suggest that the design could be improved, he grows irate at the idea of “coddling” bad drivers, and says that if intersections and highways are designed to avoid accidents, drivers will become much worse. (I think he has some sort of Darwinian misconception in mind.)

At any rate, I thought of him immediately upon reading an Atlantic article by David Zipper, a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government. The article begins:

More than 20,000 people died on American roadways from January to June, the highest total for the first half of any year since 2006. U.S. road fatalities have risen by more than 10 percent over the past decade, even as they have fallen across most of the developed world. In the European Union, whose population is one-third larger than America’s, traffic deaths dropped by 36 percent between 2010 and 2020, to 18,800. That downward trend is no accident: European regulators have pushed carmakers to build vehicles that are safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and governments regularly adjust road designs after a crash to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

But in the United States, the responsibility for road safety largely falls on the individual sitting behind the wheel, or riding a bike, or crossing the street. American transportation departments, law-enforcement agencies, and news outlets frequently maintain that most crashes—indeed, 94 percent of them, according to the most widely circulated statistic—are solely due to human error. Blaming the bad decisions of road users implies that nobody else could have prevented them. That enables car companies to deflect attention from their decisions to add heft and height to the SUVs and trucks that make up an ever-larger portion of vehicle sales, and it allows traffic engineers to escape scrutiny for dangerous street designs.

The recently passed infrastructure bill will encourage some safety improvements, including technology to prevent drunk people from operating a car and better crash tests to address risk to people outside a vehicle. Yet even as the federal government prepares to shovel out hundreds of billions of dollars for roadwork, Americans’ fundamental misconception of traffic deaths as merely a profusion of individual mistakes will go largely uncorrected.

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation, published a two-page memo declaring that “the critical reason, which is the last event in the crash causal chain, was assigned to the driver in 94% of the crashes.” The memo, which was based on the NHTSA’s own analysis of crashes, then offered a key caveat: “Although the critical reason is an important part of the description of events leading up to the crash, it is not intended to be interpreted as the cause of the crash.”

To understand what the NHTSA was trying to say, imagine the following scenario: It’s a foggy day, and the driver of an SUV is traveling along a road at the posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour. The limit then drops to 25 as the road approaches a town—but the road’s lanes do not narrow (which would naturally compel a driver to apply the brakes), and the lone sign announcing the lower speed limit is partially obstructed. Oblivious to the change, the driver keeps traveling at 40. As he enters the town, a pedestrian crosses the road at an intersection without a stoplight. The driver strikes the pedestrian.

By the federal government’s definition, the “critical reason” for this hypothetical crash—the last event in the causal chain—is the error made by the driver who was speeding at the time of the collision. Almost certainly, the police will hold him responsible. But that overlooks many other factors: The foggy weather obscured the driver’s vision; flawed traffic engineering failed to compel him to slow down as he approached the intersection; the SUV’s weight made the force of the impact much greater than a sedan’s would have been.

The authors of the 2015 NHTSA report were aware of such contributing factors. But their disclaimer that the “critical reason” for a crash is not the same as the “cause” has been largely ignored. Even a page on the agency’s own website whittles the message down to “94% of serious crashes are due to human error.”

Seeking to find a single cause for a crash is a fundamentally flawed approach to road safety, but it underpins much of American traffic enforcement and crash prevention. After a collision, police file a report, noting who violated traffic laws and generally ignoring factors like road and vehicle design. Insurance companies, too, are structured to hold someone accountable. Drivers aren’t the only ones who face such judgments. Following a crash, a pedestrian might be blamed for crossing a street where there is no crosswalk (even if the nearest one is a quarter mile away), and a cyclist might be cited for not wearing a helmet (although a protected bike lane would have prevented the crash entirely). News stories reinforce these narratives, with stories limited to the driver who was speeding or the pedestrian who crossed against the light.

Indeed, journalists have disseminated the misleading 94 percent line on influential platforms including The Wall Street JournalABC News, and The Washington Post. Research institutions such as the University of Michigan and the University of Idaho have done it too. Even former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has helped sow confusion, as have transportation departments in states such as IllinoisUtah, and Texas.

“The 94 percent line is a repeated reference at almost every state [department of transportation] conference I’ve ever attended,” Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, told me. When the Michigan DOT spokesman Jeff Cranson speculated in a 2019 podcast that human error is actually responsible for more than 95 percent of crashes, the Michigan State University engineering professor Timothy Gates responded, “Yeah, I would agree with that, there’s very few crashes caused by a vehicle defect or road defect, a lot of it really is human error.” That’s a convenient perspective for engineers designing vehicles and roads.

And if the buck stops with the driver, automakers feel less pressure to make lifesaving safety features standard across their models—which many of them do not. Last year, Consumer Reports found that the average vehicle buyer would have to pay $2,500 for a blind-spot-detection system. Pedestrian-detection technology was standard on 13 of the 15 most popular vehicle models—but unavailable on one and part of a $16,000 optional package on another.

With responsibility falling on those directly involved in a crash, it’s unsurprising that so many highway-safety efforts revolve around education campaigns, assuming that if people were just more careful, we’d all be okay. Officials at the NHTSA and state DOTs pour millions of dollars into these programs, but their benefits seem modest at best. Officials “see their role as trying to cajole people on the roads to make smarter decisions,” Seth LaJeunesse, a senior research associate at the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center, told me. “Wear a seat belt, don’t be drunk when driving, and signal appropriately. I think it’s misguided. After all, who’s going to address structural problems, if it’s just people being stupid out there on the road?” . . ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 3:12 pm

Leek Kraut with Tarragon

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Leek kraut underway

At right is new fermentation batch:

• 2 large, long leeks, sliced thinly, green tops reserved for other use
• 1/2 large red onion, sliced and then cut into short sections
• 1 jalapeño, chopped (including core and seeds)

That made a quart. I put it in a large bowl, added

• 2 tablespoons Celtic coarse grey sea salt (1.1 oz)

Using a spatula, I stirred and tossed it all to mix well, then used my hand to squeeze and mash the mixture to bruise it and have it release some juices.

I took a 1-liter jar, put one-third of the leek mixture into the jar, added one spring of tarragon, added another third of the leek mixture and the another spring of tarragon. I pressed the mixture down and added the last third, pressing it into place.

I covered the veggies using the liquid from the jar of Cabbage & Red ferment, whose contents I had eaten, put a fermentation weight on top of the veggies, and then screwed on the fermentation airlock lid. I labeled it with today’s date. I’ll let it ferment until December 11. That’s two weeks, which is probably long enough.

Update Dec 6 – It has fermented 8 days, and I decided to try a small bowl of it. It’s quite tasty. I don’t detect any jalapeño heat, but I do get some flavor from the tarragon. Mouthfeel is good. Leek kraut works well. // Dec 8 – Had another bowl. I like it a lot. I’m refrigerating the rest of the jar and will eat it with no further fermentation. I definitely will make this again, plus I think a kraut of equal parts of leek and cabbage will be good. I will try 2 weeks for that. /update

A bit more on calculating the salt amount can be found in the “Leek Kraut with Tarragon” section of my main fermentation post.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 1:22 pm

What A Key Grip Does On Set

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This is a useful little video. The clips with Steve Buscemi (as director) and Dermot Mulroney (as cinematographer) are from the excellent comedy Living in Oblivion, which also stars Catherine Keener and Peter Dinklage. Worth seeing. (It streams on the Criterion Channel.) The clip from Boogie Nights reminded me that Ricky Jay was in that movie, which I had totally forgotten.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 10:47 am

The Glass Builder: The story of Annieglass

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When I lived in Santa Cruz, Annieglass had a studio that sold seconds. I discovered it because it was in a somewhat isolated cluster of buildings that included a little movie theater I liked. After I moved to Monterey, The Wife-to-Be and I would go to Santa Cruz on outings, and one time (this is about 30 years ago) I took her to the studio, where she bought some Roman Antique bowls. The Wife loves Annieglass, and so I was excited to see Peggy Townsend’s article in Craftsmanship about Annieglass and Annie herself. The article begins:

1. Rebel With a Cause
2. The Patent
3. The Hunt For Buyers
4. The Fake White House Invitation
5. Failure 101
6. Innovate Or Die
7. Customer Service On Steroids
8. The Marriage of Art and Technology
9. Glassware That Can Fight Off a Hurricane
10. Resources

One afternoon in 1981, when Ann Morhauser was just 24 years old, she watched a 4,500-pound carton of glass sheets dangle from a crane outside her tiny Santa Cruz studio. “Holy shit, what have I done?” she thought as the queen-bed-sized package, more than twice as heavy as she’d expected, descended from the sky. The carton cracked through the wooden deck in front of her shop, sending her landlord running across the parking lot, his arms flapping as if his anger might launch him, birdlike, into the air.

When Morhauser and her neighbors managed to move the glass into her studio, the carton broke through the sheetrock wall. As Morhauser pondered the accumulating disasters, she realized that another might be coming her way: the $1,500 check she’d written for the glass delivery was probably going to bounce.

Instead of panicking, Morhauser apologized to her landlord, and covered the check by borrowing cash from her soon-to-be husband, who could not afford the bill either. To those who know her, these were classic Morhauser moves: unafraid, adaptable, daring—even to the point of disaster, which Morhauser somehow turns into victory. “Certainly, persistence and flexibility are a requirement of this business,” says Morhauser, with her trademark smile: half serious, half impish. “It especially helps when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”

Today, Morhauser has achieved a level of success that most artisans only dream about. She turns out 50,000 to 70,000 handmade items a year, has 26 employees, 25 independent sales representatives, and owns a 16,000-square-foot studio and retail shop. Plates and platters from Annieglass, as her company is called, have graced tables from the White House to the homes of Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Anniston. A few are even on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s American Museum of Art in Washington DC.

Any trajectory like that begs two questions: How did she pull it off? And are there any models or lessons in her journey that could help other artisans make a living in today’s highly industrialized, global marketplace?


From all indications, Morhauser’s formula revolves around passion—and the impulse to take chances, which it seems she learned at a very early age. Morhauser grew up in southern New Jersey (Patti Smith territory is how she describes it), with three rough-and-tumble older brothers who gave her regular lessons in never crying uncle. She attended  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 8:56 am

The mainstream media are failing us

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Heather Cox Richardson points out how the US is being undermined by click-oriented (instead of thoughtful) journalism. She writes:

Today, Nate Cohn noted in the New York Times that the policies President Joe Biden and the Democrats are putting in place are hugely popular, and yet Biden’s own popularity numbers have dropped into the low 40s. It’s a weird disconnect that Cohn explains by suggesting that, above all, voters want “normalcy.”

Heaven knows that Biden, who took office in the midst of a pandemic that had crashed the economy and has had to deal with an unprecedented insurgency led by his predecessor, has not been able to provide normalcy.

In her own piece, journalist Magdi Semrau suggests that the media bears at least some of the responsibility for this disconnect, since it has given people a sense of the cost of Biden’s signature measures without specifying what’s in them, focused on negative information (negotiations are portrayed as “disarray,” for example), and ignored that Republicans have refused to participate in any lawmaking, choosing instead simply to be obstructionist. As Semrau puts it: “Democrats want to fix bridges, provide childcare and lower drug costs. Republicans don’t. These are political facts and voters should be aware of them.”

To this I would add that Republican attacks on Democrats, which are simple and emotional, get far more traction and thus far more coverage in the mainstream press than the slow and successful navigation of our complicated world.

In illustration of the unequal weight between emotion and policymaking, Biden’s poll numbers took a major hit between mid-August and mid-September, dropping six points. That month saw the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was widely portrayed as a disaster at Biden’s hands that had badly hurt U.S. credibility. In fact, Biden inherited Trump’s deal with the Taliban under which the U.S. promised to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, so long as the Taliban met several requirements, including that it stop killing U.S. soldiers.

When Biden took office, there were only 3500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000 during the Obama administration. Biden had made no secret of his dislike of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and, faced with the problem of whether to honor Trump’s agreement or send troops back into the country, committed to complete the withdrawal, although he pushed back the date to September.

What he did not know, in part because Trump’s drawdown had taken so many intelligence officers out of the country, was that as soon as Trump’s administration cut the deal with the Taliban, Afghan troops began to make their own agreements to lay down their arms. The Biden administration appears to have been surprised by the sudden collapse of the Afghan government on August 15. As the Taliban took the capital city of Kabul, Afghans terrified by the Taliban takeover rushed to the Kabul airport, where an attack killed 13 U.S. military personnel who were trying to manage the crowd.

Republicans reacted to the mid-August chaos by calling for Biden’s impeachment, and the press compared the moment to the 1975 fall of Saigon. That coverage overshadowed the extraordinary fact that the U.S. airlifted more than 124,000 people, including about 6000 U.S. citizens, out of Afghanistan in the six weeks before the U.S. officially left. This is the largest airlift in U.S. history—the U.S. evacuated about 7000 out of Saigon—and evacuations have continued since, largely on chartered flights.

By comparison, in October 2019 under Trump, the U.S. simply left Northern Syria without helping former allies; the senior American diplomat in Syria, William V. Roebuck, later said the U.S. had “stood by and watched” an “intention-laced effort at ethnic cleansing.” And yet, that lack of evacuation received almost no coverage.

Complicating matters further, rather than agreeing that the withdrawal was a foreign policy disaster, many experts say that it helped U.S. credibility rather than hurt it. According to Graham Allison, the former dean of Harvard Kennedy School, “The anomaly was that we were there, not that we left.”

And yet, in mid-September, while 66% of the people in the U.S. supported leaving Afghanistan, 48% thought Biden “seriously mishandled” the situation.

Aside from getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, is it true that Biden has not accomplished much?

Biden set out to prove that democracies could deliver for their people, and that the U.S. could, once again, lead the world. He promptly reentered the international agreements Trump had left, including the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization, and renewed those Trump had weakened, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Biden set out to lead the world in coronavirus vaccinations, making the U.S. the world’s largest donor of vaccines globally, although U.S. vaccinations, which started out fast, slowed significantly after Republicans began to turn supporters against them.

Under Biden, the U.S. has recovered economically from the pandemic faster than other nations that did not invest as heavily in stimulus. In March 2021, the Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package to rebuild the economy, and it has worked spectacularly. Real gross domestic product growth this quarter is expected to be 5%, and the stock market has hit new highs, as did Black Friday sales yesterday. Two thirds of Americans are content with their household’s financial situation.

The pandemic tangled . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 3:26 am

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