Later On

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Archive for November 3rd, 2021

What is romantic friendship?

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Sukaina Hirji and Meena Krishnamurthy write in the New Statesman:

The 20th-century novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch had a profound love for her closest friend, the philosopher, Philippa Foot. The two women first met when they were students taking classes in philosophy at Somerville College, Oxford. They remained friends for over six decades. From the 1940s to the 1990s, Murdoch wrote over 250 letters to Foot, some of which were recently published.

The relationship between Murdoch and Foot gave shape and meaning to both of their lives. Murdoch referred to Foot as “essential you” and said that Foot was “a constant figure” in her “mental world”. During a period of estrangement, Murdoch wrote: “Losing you, and losing you in that way, was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I hope very much that we can now recapture something.”

After a reconciliation she wrote, “Pippa, you know without my telling you that my love for you remains as deep and tender as ever – and always will remain, it is so deep in me and so much part of me. I cannot imagine that anyone will ever take your place. I think of you very often. My dear heart, I love you.” After Murdoch’s death, Foot reported that Murdoch was “the light” of her life.

Some interpreters have suggested that this was not a mere friendship but a lesbian love affair. In fact, their relationship did become sexual at one point. But, as Foot explained to Murdoch’s friend and biographer, Peter Conradi, they realised that their feelings for each other were not best expressed in this way. The sexual aspect of their relationship stopped soon after it began.

What, then, were Murdoch and Foot to each other? Close friends? Lovers? Murdoch herself grappled with this question. She wrote to Foot, “Sometimes I feel I have to invent a language to talk to you in, though my heart is very full of definite things to say. You stir some very deep part of my soul. Be patient with me and don’t be angry with my peculiarities. I love you very much.” It seems Murdoch herself didn’t quite know how to characterise her affections for Foot.

What they had may best be described as a “romantic friendship”. The term has recently gained traction in popular discourse and is used to refer to relationships that are intensely intimate, but that in some way fall short of full-blown romantic relationships. Although the term is recent, the concept is not new. The Ancient Greek word “philia” or “friendly love”, did not distinguish between romantic and non-romantic friendships. And the term “Boston marriage”, coined by Henry James, was used in the 19th century to describe intimate partnerships between women that were not always sexual. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2021 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Psychology

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Diet-related diseases pose a major risk for Covid-19. But the U.S. overlooks them.

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Helena Bottemiller Evich reports in Politico:

The same week British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care for Covid-19, two studies came out identifying obesity as a significant risk factor for serious illness and death. It was April 2020, and doctors were scrambling to understand why coronavirus gave some people mild symptoms and left others so sick they were gasping for air.

After Johnson recovered, he became vocal about the role he believed his obesity had played in his brush with the virus: “When I went into ICU, when I was really ill … I was way overweight,” he said.

That summer, Johnson, a conservative who in the past has colorfully railed against “the continuing creep of the nanny state,” launched a new governmentwide obesity strategy, complete with a ban on junk food advertising on TV before 9 p.m., new mandates to label calories in restaurants and a requirement that healthier products be stocked near checkout lines. The prime minister began jogging daily and urged the public to adopt healthier habits.

Other countries, too, have ramped up action as officials begin to recognize diet-related diseases such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes have made their citizens much more vulnerable during the pandemic. Some states in Mexico recently went as far as banning junk food sales to children — on top of the country’s existing taxes on sugary drinks and fast food. Chile was already deep in its own crackdown on unhealthy products, having imposed the first mandatory, national warning labels for foods with high levels of salt, sugar and fat along with a ban on marketing such foods to kids.

In Washington, there has been no such wake-up call about the link between diet-related diseases and the pandemic. There is no national strategy. There is no systemswide approach, even as researchers increasingly recognize that obesity is a disease that is driven not by lack of willpower, but a modern society and food system that’s almost perfectly designed to encourage the overeating of empty calories, along with more stress, less sleep and less daily exercise, setting millions on a path to poor health outcomes that is extremely difficult to break from.

“Nobody is doing anything about this. Nobody is saying this has to stop,” said Marion Nestle, a longtime New York University professor and author of numerous books about food policy. “And how do we stop it? With great difficulty and political will.”

“If you’re going to do anything about it, you have to take on the food industry, which no one wants to do,” she added.

There’s also a deep-seated belief in America that obesity and other diet-related diseases are the result of personal choices and anything the government does to meddle with our diets is an assault on American liberty. That narrative is increasingly being challenged by science. Research shows that once someone has obesity, there are almost no dietary or exercise interventions that are successful at reversing the disease over the long term and many people lack access to more aggressive treatments like drugs and bariatric surgery. Humans, it turns out, are largely hardwired to keep weight on once they gain it.

The problem is deeply entrenched and staggering in scale: More than 42 percent of American adults — about 100 million people — had obesity before the pandemic began, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly three-fourths of American adults are overweight or have obesity. Roughly one in five children now have obesity. The costs associated with this epidemic, along with diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer, all related to diet, are among the greatest threats to the fiscal future of the United States, not to mention the health, well-being and productivity of millions of people.

Researchers have estimated that nearly two-thirds of Covid-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. were related to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart failure. One study found that patients with a body mass index of 45 or higher (severe obesity) were about a third more likely to be hospitalized and more than 60 percent more likely to die from the virus compared with individuals without the disease.

The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have also  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The US is an outlier, and not always on the good side.

Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2021 at 4:14 pm

Tse Chi Lop, The Company Man

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Stephen Marche writes in Toronto Life:

Tse Chi Lop doesn’t look like the biggest drug lord in history. He looks like a bedraggled, exhausted, late-middle-aged trader in commodities, which is exactly what he is. Tse’s commodities just happen to be high-margin, addictive, illegal drugs—heroin, ketamine and methamphetamine. Tse runs a drug syndicate known to law enforcement as “Sam Gor,” Cantonese for “Third Brother,” and to its members simply as the Company. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that Sam Gor’s annual revenue could be as high as $21 billion, the same as Citibank’s.

Practically every newspaper in the West has described Tse Chi Lop as Asia’s El Chapo. The comparison could hardly be less accurate. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, has claimed personal responsibility for up to 3,000 murders in a drug war that took some 300,000 lives. That is not Tse’s way. He achieved the size of Sam Gor not by murder and torture, but by industrializing his business, reducing the cost per unit, providing an excellent product at a fair price, and establishing well-maintained networks of key partnerships. There’s also the question of scale. El Chapo’s cartel was worth, at its peak, $3 billion—a fraction of Sam Gor’s value.

Toronto taught Tse his business. The seeds for what would become the world’s largest drug empire were planted during his days surviving what police still remember as the “wild wild west” of the heroin glut in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Insofar as a man as cosmopolitan and as mobile as Tse Chi Lop has a home, Toronto is his.

Tse’s career reflects the changing nature of crime, and of the methods of synthetic drug manufacture that are rendering traditional police practices null, but it also reflects the changing nature of business in general. Traditional organized crime was a 20th-century affair. Sam Gor is pure 21st-century innovation. Its success comes down to technological innovation, relentless focus on customer experience, and mastery of globalized logistics. Tse Chi Lop is much more effective—and dangerous—than El Chapo. He is the Jeff Bezos of the drug trade.

From early in his career, Tse Chi Lop was an innovator. He was born in 1963 and grew up in Guangzhou in Guangdong province, the mainland neighbour to Hong Kong. When he was 25, he moved to Canada, part of the wave of emigration before Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty. Tse brought his fiancée with him, and his parents soon followed. He and his wife had children in Toronto, first a daughter, then a son. He also got decent jobs, working for Fujifilm and Kodak.

Back then, Toronto was a cauldron of competing Asian criminal organizations, including a group of Vietnamese gangsters supported by Born to Kill from New York City, and the Boston-backed Fukienese, all fighting for territory. Maclean’s called the shocking violence of the time “Terror in the Streets.” In 1990, Peter Yuen, now a deputy chief of the Toronto Police Service, was a detective constable working undercover during the height of the violence. “You had gun battles, 15 rounds at the corner of Dundas and Spadina on a Saturday afternoon,” Yuen says. One night, he snuck into an illegal gaming house. Four gang members burst in, taking customers’ jewellery and wallets along with the house’s money. They found Yuen’s police badge on him, so they beat him until his shirt was soaked in blood. One thief put a .45-calibre automatic in his mouth, another put a .357 magnum to his head. He heard the click of a hammer, and the guys fled. A forensic test revealed the gun had misfired. It is pure fluke that Yuen is alive today. “It was like watching a triad movie,” he says. “And the cops were just like dogs, too. We wanted to tell them, ‘We own these streets.’ ”

At that time, Tse belonged to the Big Circle Boys, if belonging is the right word. He was a mid-level player, but with outsized ambitions, on the way up. The BCB were a collective of international apex criminals who’d emerged out of Guangzhou in the 1960s. Triads or the mafia or biker gangs or Japanese yakuza share certain traits. They have formal hierarchies with membership; they wear uniforms; they undergo initiation rituals; they control territories and they control the use of their names. Some Chinese triads have been known to require 36 separate oaths. Mafia families do not allow non-members to use their name without permission; if you call yourself a member of the Gambino crime family, you’d better be one. None of this applies to the BCB. They’re basically just colleagues—there’s no strict hierarchy, no codified set of rules. They’re criminals and they’re organized, but they’re not organized crime.

David Au, a former sergeant in the RCMP specializing in Asian organized crime, explains that traditional gangs, like the Hells Angels, are like marbles in a glass jar, with every marble in its own position. “That jar is in the middle of the table, and around the table are the police investigators, and they can study the jar of marbles. And by studying this jar of marbles, you see where every marble sits.” In Au’s metaphor, the BCB is the jar turned over, with all the marbles bouncing around, constantly in motion. Anyone on the street can call themselves a Big Circle Boy. As a police officer, how do you know you’ve got who you think you’ve got? When you’ve broken up a cell, what have you broken up? How do you infiltrate an organization that breaks up and reforms for every project?

These radical criminal businessmen began as Communist partisans and Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and were sent to Guangdong province in southeast China for re-education in the 1960s and ’70s. Some later fled to Hong Kong, either across the mountains or by swimming 12 kilometres across Deep Bay, with many drowning en route.

Unlike local Hong Kong gangs, the BCB had paramilitary training, and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2021 at 2:43 pm

Some reasons to avoid eating meat, dairy, and eggs — and the shortcut in the video didn’t work

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Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2021 at 2:31 pm

The weirdness of the world

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Perhaps it’s just me, but this morning the world seems very odd and a little off.

When I arise, it’s generally too early to start the day, so I open my laptop and browse my email and then the internet. The first thing that I chanced upon was Cory Doctorow’s review in Medium of Daniel Pinkwater’s Crazy in Poughkeepsie. (Perhaps the title was a clue that things were about to go off-track.)

The review is an entertaining look at the bizarre events and plot in Daniel Pinkwater’s new Young Adult novel. The story was strange enough that I read the Wikipedia entry for Daniel Pinkwater. Some things I learned that struck me as odd. Here are a few snippets from the article:

Born Manus Pinkwater in Memphis, Tennessee, to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland. He describes his father, Philip Pinkwater, as a “ham-eating, iconoclastic Jew” who was expelled from Warsaw by the decent Jews. 
. . . 
A moment of fame came when he posed as Inspector Fermez LaBouche for the fumetti strip that ran in the final issues of Help! (September 1965); he had been spotted at a party by Terry Gilliam. Pinkwater rode in a Volkswagen convertible to a photo shoot with Gilliam, Robert Crumb, and Help’s creator Harvey Kurtzman—none of the men had any interest in the others. He met a children’s book editor by chance at a party; he invited her to his studio to promote an African artist’s cooperative, and she suggested that he illustrate a book. Pinkwater received a $1,500 advance for his first book, The Terrible Roar (1970), after replying that he would try to write the book himself.

With his wife Jill, Pinkwater published a dog training book and ran an obedience school while living in Hoboken, New Jersey. At the time, he was training to become an art therapist, but found he was unsuited to the work and dropped his studies. However, he attended a meeting of an unspecified cult with a therapy client, and later joined the cult. Pinkwater says “the quality of the [cult’s] rip-off was so minor you could ignore it”, although both he and Jill later left the cult. 
. . .
He adopted the name Daniel in the 1970s after consulting his cult’s guru, who said his true name should begin with a “D”. 
. . .
Pinkwater authored the newspaper comic strip Norb, which was illustrated by Tony Auth. The strip, syndicated by King Features, launched in 70 papers, but received nothing but hate-mail from the readers. Auth and Pinkwater agreed to end the project after 52 weeks.[2] The daily strips were released in a 78-page collection by MU Press in 1992.

Pinkwater was a longtime commentator on All Things Considered on National Public Radio. He regularly reviewed children’s books on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. For several years, he had his own NPR show: Chinwag Theater. Pinkwater was also known to avid fans of the NPR radio show Car Talk, where he has appeared as a (seemingly) random caller, commenting, for example, on the physics of the buttocks (giving rise to the proposed unit of measure of seat size: the Pinkwater), and giving practical advice as to the choice of automobiles. In the early 1990s Pinkwater voiced a series of humorous radio advertisements for the Ford Motor Company.

I wondered whether Pinkwater had concocted his entry as a kind of surrealistic exercise, but on reading one of the source articles linked in the Wikipedia footnotes, it seems to be about right. (That article says that Pinkwater’s father was expelled from Warsaw not so much for eating ham as for being a gangster.)

A little discombobulated, I next read the Doctorow article I had meant to read in the first place. (The Pinkwater article was the first article in the list, and so had caught my eye.) My original goal was an article about the power that large tech companies — YouTube, Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, et al. — have to decide whether to allow content to remain on their platforms. 

Consider a content creator who suddenly finds that work developed over months or years of effort is suddenly gone, with no good appeal procedure to get it restored. Doctorow’s article is well worth reading. A few snippets:

After Novara’s channel was deleted, the group tried to find out more. The email that Youtube sent announcing the removal was terse (“YouTube said Novara was guilty of ‘repeated violations’ of YouTube’s community guidelines, without elaborating”). Novara editor Gary McQuiggin “filled in a YouTube appeal form,” which disappeared into the ether.

Then McQuiggin went to YouTube’s creator support chatbot, which introduced itself as “Rose.” What happened next is the stuff of Kafka-esque farce:

“I know this is important,” [Rose said,] before the conversation crashed.

The Times’s story quite rightly homes in on the problems of doing content moderation at scale without making errors. It notes that YouTube deletes 2,000 channels every hour to fight “spam, misinformation, financial scams, nudity, hate speech.” . . .

The platforms remove content in the blink of an eye, often through fully automated processes (such as copyright filters). Takedown systems are built without sparing any expense (YouTube’s copyright filter, Content ID, cost the company $100,000,000 and counting).

But the put-back processes — by which these automated judgments are examined and repealed — are slow-moving afterthoughts. If you’re a nightclub owner facing a takedown of the promo material sent to you by next week’s band, the 2.5-year delay you face in getting that content put back up is worse than a joke. . .

The reality is that there is no army of moderators big enough to evaluate 2,000 account deletions per hour. . .

YouTube’s takedown regime has to contend with 500 hours’ worth of new video every minute, in every language spoken. It has to parse out in-jokes and slang, obscure dialects, and even more obscure references.

In such a seemingly dystopian system, what do content creators do? For one thing, they face challenges — see “8 Challenges Even Millionaire YouTuber Ali Abdaal Faces,” by Amardeep Parmar. That article describes the strange (to me) work situation of a modern-day content creator. Their lives seem to be unceasing effort to move faster and do more, while overhead hangs a sword of Damocles: that a twitch of a corporate algorithm can delete in an instant all the work they’ve posted. 

I myself am involved in this same ecosystem of software, information, creation, and business practices, but at a very low level with little at stake. Having my livelihood depend on such an unstable and slippery amalgam of forces would make me uneasy indeed.

Reading the above collection of weird expressions of human culture — memetic evolution creating very odd results — made me want to read something about nature, something calming and restorative. I happened on the article “Do Not Eat, Touch, Or Even Inhale the Air Around the Manchineel Tree,” by Dan Nosowitz — a tree that likely played a role in the death of Ponce de Leon. It was interesting, but did nothing to dispel this morning’s fog of weirdness. It did make me recalll that natural evolution, just like cultural evolution, can go in strange directions — for example:


Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2021 at 10:45 am

Fatip’s Lo Storto is a truly excellent slant

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I am really impressed with this razor. I purchased mine from Top of the Chain for CA$50, so about US$40. (update: The Razor Company sells the gold model in the US: $40.) Maggard Razors has the razor in chrome for $33. 

The razor is available with a comb guard (inexplicably called “open comb”) or a bar guard (which Maggard Razors calls a “closed comb” — ?? how do you close a comb?). I got the bar guard version, though I imagine the comb-guard model is equally comfortable and efficient.

The Rooney Victorian made a very good and honey-scented lather from Mystic Water’s Sardinian Honey shaving soap, and Lo Storto removed that along with the stubble with pleasurable action.

A splash of Planet Java Hive, and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2021 at 10:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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