Later On

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

Archive for November 26th, 2021

Lesson learned in knife sharpening

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I’ve been sharpening my kitchen knives, and I just learned something: I use 100 grit to set the bevel. You can use a black magic marker on the edge and see what angle removes it, so you stick with original bevel, but my eyes are not so good, and I find it easier just to set a new bevel. I use 15º for me (good cutting, delicate edge) and 19º for others (still good cutting, edge not so delicate). After the 100 grit, I’ve been going 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, and 1500. What I learned is to skip the last two. Stopping after 1000 leaves some toothiness to the edge so that it cuts a bit more aggressively.

After the knife’s been used a while, the edge will curl over from the pressure of cutting and will seem dull, but by using a smooth sharpening steel you can easily straighten the curl and thus “sharpen” the knife. Eventually, of course, the edge wears down and the knife truly is dull and the sharpening steel will not do the trick — you actually have to resharpen the knife. That goes quickly and easily if you’re not resetting the bevel.

The ridged sharpening steels are IMO not so good as the smooth ones, and the diamond and ceramic steels, which actually grind away some metal, are very bad since they can totally screw up the bevel. Here’s an example of the sort I like.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2021 at 10:24 pm

Posted in Daily life

Autumn Leaves – Chet Baker & Paul Desmond Together

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Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2021 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

Knife-sharpening update

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All my kitchen knives have been sharpened, and all have 15º bevels. That’s a little acute for some knives, but I don’t have to worry about bones, for example. The toughest thing I cut is a squash.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2021 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Cost of Sentimentalizing War

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Carlos Lozada reviews a new book by Elizabeth Samet in the New Yorker:

The terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, supposedly launched a new kind of American war, with unfamiliar foes, unlikely alliances, and unthinkable tactics. But the language deployed to interpret this conflict was decidedly old-school, the comfort food of martial rhetoric. With the Axis of Evil, the menace of Fascism (remixed as “Islamofascism”), and the Pearl Harbor references, the Second World War hovered over what would become known as the global war on terror, infusing it with righteousness. This latest war, President George W. Bush said, would have a scope and a stature evoking the American response to that other attack on the U.S. “one Sunday in 1941.” It wouldn’t be like Desert Storm, a conflict tightly bounded in time and space; instead, it was a call to global engagement and even to national greatness. “This generation will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future,” Bush avowed.

Elizabeth D. Samet finds such familiarity endlessly familiar. “Every American exercise of military force since World War II, at least in the eyes of its architects, has inherited that war’s moral justification and been understood as its offspring: motivated by its memory, prosecuted in its shadow, inevitably measured against it,” she writes in “Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A professor of English at West Point and the author of works on literature, leadership, and the military, Samet offers a cultural and literary counterpoint to the Ambrose-Brokaw-Spielberg industrial complex of Second World War remembrance, and something of a meditation on memory itself. It’s not simply that subsequent fights didn’t resemble the Second World War, she contends; it’s that the war itself does not resemble our manufactured memories of it, particularly the gushing accounts that enveloped its fiftieth anniversary. “The so-called greatness of the Greatest Generation is a fiction,” she argues, “suffused with nostalgia and with a need to return to some finest hour.” Those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it, but those who sentimentalize the past are rewarded with best-seller status.

The mythology of the Second World War features six main elements, by Samet’s tally: that the United States joined the war in order to rid the world of tyranny and Fascism; that “all Americans were absolutely united” in their commitment to the fight; that “everyone” in the country sacrificed; that Americans got into the war reluctantly and then waged it decently; that the war was tragic but ended on a happy note; and, finally, that “everyone has always agreed” on the first five points.

The word choices here—“all,” “absolutely,” “everyone,” and “always”—do stretch the myths to the point of easy refutability, but some of the best-known popular chronicles clearly display the tendencies Samet decries. “Citizen Soldiers,” Stephen Ambrose’s 1997 book about Allied troops in Europe, presents the reticence of American G.I.s in describing their motivations as a kind of self-conscious idealism and aw-shucks humility. “They knew they were fighting for decency and democracy and they were proud of it,” Ambrose writes. “They just didn’t talk or write about it.” But, without such oral or written records, can one really divine such noble impulses? Samet dismisses Ambrose’s œuvre, including the nineteen-nineties best-sellers, “Band of Brothers” and “D-Day,” as “less historical analysis than comic-book thought bubble.” Obsessed with notions of masculinity and chivalry, Ambrose indulges in “a fantasy that American soldiers somehow preserved a boyish innocence amid the slaughter,” she writes. If anything, the boyish innocence may belong to Ambrose himself, who admits that he grew up venerating veterans of the Second World War, a youthful hero worship that, Samet notes, “tends to overwhelm the historian’s mandate.”

For a more accurate account, Samet highlights a multivolume study, “The American Soldier,” by the sociologist Samuel Stouffer and a team of collaborators. During the war, they studied the ideological motives of American troops, and concluded that, “beyond acceptance of the war as a necessity forced upon the United States by an aggressor, there was little support of attempts to give the war meaning in terms of principles and causes.” Samet finds this real-time depiction of a nonideological American soldier to be credible. In the words of the military sociologist Charles C. Moskos, who studied the motivations of soldiers in the Second World War and in Vietnam, each man fights a “very private war . . . for his own survival.” Or, as John Hersey put it in a later foreword to “Into the Valley,” his narrative of U.S. marines battling on Guadalcanal, the soldiers fought “to get the damn thing over and go home.”

Samet argues that Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie “Saving Private Ryan,” from 1998, is “wholly unrepresentative” of Second World War attitudes toward the individual soldier. She contrasts the 1949 film “Twelve O’Clock High,” in which a brigadier general (played by Gregory Peck) insists that his men place collective loyalties above personal ones. After one pilot breaks formation, during a sortie over Nazi Europe, in order to assist a fellow-aviator at risk of being shot down, Peck lashes out, “You violated group integrity. . . . The one thing which is never expendable is your obligation to this group. . . . That has to be your loyalty—your only reason for being.” By focussing on the fate of a single survivor, Samet writes, Spielberg’s film “effectively transforms the conflict from one characterized by mass mobilization and modern industrial warfare to something more old-fashioned, recalling the heroism of ancient epics,” in which individual glories and tragedies take narrative precedence over the wider war.

Samet is particularly harsh on Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation,” also from 1998, with its “explicitly messianic agenda” of showing us a cohort so packed with honor and honesty and self-sacrifice that it was, as the newsman writes, “birthmarked for greatness.” In a section titled “Shame,” Brokaw acknowledges the racism that was so “pervasive in practice and in policy” in this greatest of eras, but he responds with uplifting sketches of members of racial minorities who manage to overcome it. (“It is my country, right or wrong,” one of them concludes. “None of us can ever contribute enough.”) Samet dissents, stressing, for instance, that the conflict in the Pacific, “begun in revenge and complicated by bitter racism” against the Japanese, has been overshadowed by the less morally troubling sagas of European liberation.

“Unity must always prevail,” Samet writes of the war myths. “Public opinion must turn overnight after Pearl Harbor, while the various regional, racial, and political divisions that roiled the country must be immediately put aside as Americans rally toward a shared cause.” A more complicated reality emerges in Studs Terkel’s 1984 “ ‘The Good War’ ” (the title includes quotation marks because the notion of a good war seemed “so incongruous,” Terkel explained), an oral history that amasses the recollections of wartime merchant marines, admirals, U.S.O. entertainers, G.I.s, and nurses. Their views on the war span “the sentimental and the disillusioned, the jingoistic and the thoughtfully patriotic, the nostalgic and the dismissive,” Samet writes.

To investigate cultural attitudes toward G.I.s in the aftermath of the war, she considers such novels as John Horne Burns’s “The Gallery” (1947), in which American soldiers in Italy engage in black-market transactions with locals; and such movies as “Suddenly” (1954), in which Frank Sinatra portrays a veteran turned contract killer who hopes that his war record will win him sympathy. (“I’m no traitor, Sheriff. I won a Silver Star.”) In other noir films of the era, returning G.I.s are loners disillusioned not just with the war and the years taken from them but also with what their country seemed to have become in their absence: hard, greedy, indifferent. Samet even scours military handbooks, including a 1945 one, memorably titled “112 Gripes About the French,” which admonished American G.I.s that they “didn’t come to Europe to save the French,” or “to do anyone any favors,” so they should stop stomping through the Continent as though expecting everyone’s gratitude. Not exactly “Band of Brothers,” is it?

There is a before-and-after quality to the Second World War in American political writing. The adjective “postwar” still clings to this one conflict, as if no American soldiers had wielded weapons in battle since. But if memories of one conflict shape attitudes toward the next, Samet writes, then the Good War legend has served “as prologue to three-quarters of a century of misbegotten ones.” There’s plenty of support for this quandary. In “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam” (1988), Neil Sheehan identified the “disease of victory,” wherein U.S. leaders, particularly in the military ranks, succumbed to postwar complacency and overconfidence. Samet recalls the reflections of Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque, a Second World War veteran who retired during Vietnam, and who told Terkel that “the twisted memory” of the Good War “encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in the world.”

Memories of the Good War also helped shape the views of military life held by the men who fought in Vietnam. Samet takes up Philip Caputo’s Vietnam memoir . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — or just read Samet’s book.

I think what the book discusses why the US is the most war-inclined nation on earth, constantly involved in formal wars and in covert military operations, nonstop.

Robot mass-production of bowling balls

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I posted a video a while back that explained the technology of bowling balls (and bowling alleys). This video is simpler: it follows the production sequence in a Japanese semi-automated bowling-ball factory.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2021 at 12:44 pm

What We Shall Never Know

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In Gizmodo, Ryan F. Mandelbaum has a lengthy but clear article on the hard limits on scientific knowledge about the universe. It’s a good summary review of much you doubtless already know, but gathered into a single article. It begins:

There is a realm the laws of physics forbid us from accessing, below the resolving power of our most powerful microscopes and beyond the reach of our most sensitive telescopes. There’s no telling what might exist there—perhaps entire universes.

Since the beginning of human inquiry, there have been limits to our observing abilities. Worldviews were restricted by the availability of tools and our own creativity. Over time, the size of our observable universe grew as our knowledge grew—we saw planets beyond Earth, stars beyond the Sun, and galaxies beyond our own, while we peered deeper into cells and atoms. And then, during the 20th century, mathematics emerged that can explain, shockingly well—and, to a point, predict—the world we live in. The theories of special and general relativity describe exactly the motion of the planets, stars, and galaxies. Quantum mechanics and the Standard Model of Particle Physics have worked wonders at clarifying what goes on inside of atoms.

However, with each of these successful theories comes hard-and-fast limits to our observing abilities. Today, these limits seem to define true boundaries to our knowledge.

That Which We Cannot Know

On the large end, there is a speed limit that caps what we can see. It hampers any hope for us to observe most of our universe first-hand.

The speed of light is approximately 300,000,000 meters per second (or 671,000,000 miles per hour, if that’s how your brain works). The theory of special relativity, proposed by Albert Einstein in 1905, forbids anything from traveling faster than that. Massless things always travel this speed in a vacuum. Accelerating massive objects to this speed essentially introduces a divide-by-zero in one of special relativity’s equations; it would take infinite energy to accelerate something with mass to the speed of light.

If, as a child, you hopped on a spaceship traveling out of the solar system at 99% the speed of light, you might be able to explore other parts of the galaxy before succumbing to age, but because time is relative, your friends and family would likely be long gone before you could report your observations back to Earth. But you’d still have your limits—the Milky Way galaxy is 105,700 light-years across, our neighboring galaxy Andromeda is 2.5 million light-years away, and the observable universe is around 93 billion light-years across. Any hope of exploring farther distances would require multigenerational missions or, if using a remote probe, accepting that you’ll be dead and humanity may be very different by the time the probe’s data returns to Earth.

The speed of light is more than just a speed limit, however. Since the light we see requires . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2021 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Science

Health Insurance Deductibles Give Black Friday a Whole New Meaning

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Abdul el-Sayed writes in the New Republic:

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to teach a course on pathways to universal healthcare in the United States. To be clear, I have a very particular viewpoint on this—I literally co-wrote the book on Medicare for All. But I do my best to explain precisely why Medicare for All is head and shoulders a more efficient, effective, and yes, even politically plausible approach to solving our healthcare crisis. 

Yet as someone who spends a lot of my time thinking about our healthcare system, I sometimes forget just how inured I’ve become to how broken it really is. And I was reminded anew by the disgusted reaction my students had to some of the most galling aspects of American healthcare we tend to take for granted. There were a lot of things they didn’t like, but none elicited quite the same reaction as the concept of a deductible. 

Many of you are probably shuttering just thinking about your deductible. That’s because, if you think about it, a deductible is the paywall to get the insurance you already paid for. It’s like signing up for a streaming service and then having to pay extra to watch the movie you wanted, except that it’s thousands of dollars instead of $14.99. Health insurance companies use deductibles to kick costs back onto their beneficiaries, who may choose to pay less up front in premiums (what you have to pay every two weeks to have health insurance). 

Deductibles have more than doubled over the past decade. One 2020 estimate put the median family deductible at $8,439. Considering the median American family earned $67,521 that same year, you can imagine the financial burden the deductible adds. It means that despite being insured, families are left paying out of pocket for every single healthcare interaction until they reach their deductible, which some families never reach. That’s on top of paying their premiums, which have increased by 55 percent over the past decade.

Given the rapidly increasing deductibles and the financial strain they put on families, the Kaiser Family Foundation calculated an annual “Deductible Relief Day,” the day when the average family finally pays down its deductible—like a bizarro, late-stage capitalism family Black Friday.  In 2019, Deductible Relief Day didn’t come until May 19—meaning that for nearly half the year, insured families had to pay out of pocket for their healthcare. 

And those deductibles renew every year. So for millions of families, time is running out to fit in those last-minute healthcare needs. When the clock strikes 12 in just 35 days on January 1, 2022, they’ll find their healthcare back behind the deductible paywall. It gives Black Friday a whole new meaning. 

Health insurers argue that deductibles are a simple “cost-sharing” strategy—forcing patients to have “skin in the game” when it comes to using healthcare (beyond their actual skin, I guess?). Cost-sharing, they argue, prevents beneficiaries from using unnecessary, “low-value” healthcare. They point to an out-dated 1970s-era experiment run by the Rand Corporation. It showed that patients who had to pay at the point of care did, in fact, use less healthcare, and that their health outcomes were no different than those who did not have to pay. The healthcare they forwent, the study suggests, was “low value,” unnecessary care. 

The experiment unlocked a Pandora’s Box of cost-sharing in health insurance plans. But there’s an obvious difference between the deductible they tested in the Rand experiment and the ones health insurers charge today: They are astronomically larger. 

Later studies have shown that deductibles don’t simply prevent “low value” care, but all care. One study of employees of a company that switched its coverage from a zero-cost-sharing plan to a high-deductible plan found that after the switch, their employees even used fewer diabetes medications and got fewer colonoscopies—high-value healthcare, indeed. Another study found that women who were forced into a high-deductible plan delayed breast cancer screenings. Those who went on to develop breast cancer had their treatment delayed by an average of nine months!

High-minded blather about reducing healthcare costs aside, health insurers are charging high deductibles because they can. It’s a simple, easy, and now accepted way to fleece patients by forcing them to pay for their insurance twice. After all, if it were just about cost-sharing, insurance companies could end deductibles entirely, and charge co-pays or co-insurance instead. If it was about forcing patients to have (more) skin in the game, these mechanisms that charge patients per healthcare use are arguably more effective. They charge patients for each use, rather than all or nothing depending upon the time of year, like deductibles do. But like cost-sharing in general, deductibles are simply about maximizing a bottom line. 

For families around the country, that means . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The US heathcare system is a sick joke.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2021 at 12:05 pm

Dapper Doc’s and Baby Smooth make for a great shave

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I do like Dapper Doc’s Old Time Lilac & Fig’s fragrance, and when embodied in Phoenix Artisan’s CK-6 formula, it’s remarkable. A wonderful lather (CK-6) with a fine fragrance (Dapper Doc’s) made lathering a pleasure, which helps one extend the initial application of lather, thus producing a better shave.

The Baby Smooth, I’m told, does not work for everyone, but it works great for me. Three extremely comfortable passes produced an extremely smooth result, and a blast of Old Time Lilac & Fig aftershave (with a squirt of Hydrating Gel) finished the shave in fine style.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2021 at 9:15 am

Posted in Shaving

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