Later On

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

Archive for November 28th, 2021

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?

REBEL WITH A CAUSE

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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