Later On

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

Archive for December 18th, 2022

How the Western Diet Has Derailed Our Evolution

leave a comment »

Moises Velasquez-Manoff wrote in Nautilus in 2015:

For the microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg, that career-defining moment—the discovery that changed the trajectory of his research, inspiring him to study how diet and native microbes shape our risk for disease—came from a village in the African hinterlands.

A group of Italian microbiologists had compared the intestinal microbes of young villagers in Burkina Faso with those of children in Florence, Italy. The villagers, who subsisted on a diet of mostly millet and sorghum, harbored far more microbial diversity than the Florentines, who ate a variant of the refined, Western diet. Where the Florentine microbial community was adapted to protein, fats, and simple sugars, the Burkina Faso microbiome was oriented toward degrading the complex plant carbohydrates we call fiber.

Scientists suspect our intestinal community of microbes, the human microbiota, calibrates our immune and metabolic function, and that its corruption or depletion can increase the risk of chronic diseases, ranging from asthma to obesity. One might think that if we coevolved with our microbes, they’d be more or less the same in healthy humans everywhere. But that’s not what the scientists observed.

“It was the most different human microbiota composition we’d ever seen,” Sonnenburg told me. To his mind it carried a profound message: The Western microbiome, the community of microbes scientists thought of as “normal” and “healthy,” the one they used as a baseline against which to compare “diseased” microbiomes, might be considerably different than the community that prevailed during most of human evolution.

And so Sonnenburg wondered: If the Burkina Faso microbiome represented a kind of ancestral state for humans—the Neolithic in particular, or subsistence farming—and if the transition between that state and modern Florence represented a voyage from an agriculturalist’s existence to 21st-century urban living, then where along the way had the Florentines lost all those microbes?

Earlier this year I visited Sonnenburg at Stanford University, where he has a lab. By then he thought he had part of the answer. He showed me, on his computer, the results of a multigenerational experiment dreamed up by his wife, Erica, also a microbiologist.

When the Burkina Faso study was published, in 2010, the question of what specific microbes improved human health remained maddeningly elusive, but evidence was beginning to suggest that diversity itself was important. So despite their relative material poverty, these villagers seemed wealthy in a way that science was just beginning to appreciate.

Where did that diversity come from? Humans can’t digest soluble fiber, so we enlist microbes to dismantle it for us, sopping up their metabolites. The Burkina Faso microbiota produced about twice as much of these fermentation by-products, called short-chain fatty acids, as the Florentine. That gave a strong indication that fiber, the raw material solely fermented by microbes, was somehow boosting microbial diversity in the Africans. . .

Continue reading.

And BTW, the two vegetable ferments I have going, the Christmas ferment and the Beets & Leeks ferment, are doing fine.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2022 at 7:25 pm

No-power Christmas cooking in Ukraine

leave a comment »

I enjoy Webspoon World, and somehow I always thought that it took place in Germany — but no: it’s in Ukraine. So in this most recent episode, they have to deal with power outages:

And they’re good:

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2022 at 5:00 pm

Amazing if you like dance: Maurice Ravel – Boléro (choreographed by Maurice Béjart) with Nicolas Le Riche

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2022 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Art, Video

Tagged with ,

The Myth of the Secret Genius

leave a comment »

Amazingly dorky virtual reality image of a creepy-looking avatar of Zuckerberg in front, staring wide-eyed at nothing, and in the background a field with a medium-size Eiffel toward, some peculiar trees and bushes, with hemispherical hills in the distance. It's the sort of image that makes one shudder.
Image from Meta (2022).

After reading the previous post and the article to which it links, you may be wondering how Musk gets away with it (beyond the strategies set forth in the article). Brian Klaas has a good analysis in The Garden of Forking Paths — so good, in fact, that I’ve subscribed to the free version and may upgrade at some point. He writes:

If he’s super rich, he must be a super genius.

That conclusion is a cognitive mistake many continue to make when they encounter a seemingly incongruous state of affairs, such as Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, behaving like an irrational idiot. [Perhaps thinking the person is a secret genius is the easiest way to resolve the cognitive dissonance. – LG] And yet, behave like an idiot he does, day after day, a public jester who can buy the world’s most expensive jewels or light $44 billion on fire, but hasn’t yet found a shop to sell him self-awareness or common sense.

Elon Musk is part of a small class of extremely rich people who are rich partly because they’re effective at making others think they’re Secret Geniuses.

Other alleged Secret Geniuses are constantly in the news these days: Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos (heading to prison); Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX (probably heading to prison); Adam Neumann of WeWork (who produced a spectacular financial collapse); and Mark Zuckerberg of Meta (who has, so far, poured $30 billion into a metaverse that looks like a PlayStation 2 game from 2001).

Likewise, whenever Donald Trump did something extremely stupid, his supporters would often claim that people simply didn’t understand his “four dimensional chess” game. Just wait until he checkmates you! The election forecasts must be wrong, because they didn’t understand that his Twitter outbursts were secretly winning over swing voters. But it was all a mirage. (The simplest explanation was the correct one: he just wasn’t that smart and he had no self-discipline because he was a narcissist).

But those who doubt The Secret Geniuses, or express skepticism about their methods or their madness, must simply not be smart enough to see the bigger picture. If you question the Secret Geniuses, then all you’re doing is exposing yourself as one of the stupid proles, someone unable or unwilling to Think Big.

If you can’t understand why it was secretly smart for Elon Musk to pick a fight with the advertisers who used to give Twitter billions of dollars of annual revenue, well then you’ll just have to live with the fact that you’re too conventional and too conformist. We pity you for not seeing the bigger picture, they say.

Why are so many people seduced by these rich hucksters?

The first problem is that many still falsely believe we . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2022 at 1:28 pm

Elon’s stale playbook

leave a comment »

In Business Insider (now apparently named just Insider), Linette Lopez has a vivid and informative profile of Elon Musks’s pattern in his business ventures. It begins:

Elon Musk has a pretty tried-and-true playbook for doing business — he’s used it for years to build companies from Tesla to SpaceX. Unfortunately for him, it is not a model that can turn Twitter into a profitable company. It’s one that will take the social-media company down in flames.

Here’s the Musk playbook: Enter a field with very little competition. Claim that your new company will solve a massive, global problem or achieve a seemingly impossible goal. Raise money from a fervent group of true believers and keep them on the hook with flashy, half-baked product ideas. Suck up billions from the governmentUnderpayundervalue, and overwork your employees. Repeat.

Twitter is the antithesis of an “Elon Musk company.” It’s an influential but small player in a field that is dominated by giant, well-funded competitors. The government is more likely to put the clamps on Twitter than give it some windfall contract. And Twitter’s employees have options: They can leave and work for companies that treat them much better than Musk ever would.

But perhaps most importantly, a lot of people think Twitter — and Musk’s ownership of the company — is part of a global media problem, rather than some grand solution. And without a big, world-changing promise to paper over his sophomoric product ideas and erratic management, Musk’s Twitter takeover is doomed.

Elon is trying to run the same playbook

Musk’s Twitter takeover has led to a lot of shocked pearl-clutching, but if you’ve been paying attention to his businesses at all over the past decade, the brutal slash-and-burn approach he’s taken is unsurprising.

Take his callous treatment of Twitter’s employees. The stories coming from the company’s San Francisco headquarters are certainly ugly: thousands of workers fired days before Thanksgiving, brutal working schedules that have pushed the remaining employees to sleep in the office, and a general culture of fear and mistrust. The lack of respect for his employees is galling, but across all of his business ventures, Musk has proven himself to be a miserable boss. Tesla and SpaceX are known for their grueling workplace culture. SpaceX agreed to pay employees $4 million in 2016 as part of a settlement after they sued the company for failing to provide work breaks and adequate wages. Tesla factory workers have been intimidated by the company for trying to unionize, and as part of the union push, workers at its California factory said in 2017 they were underpaid compared to their unionized autoworker peers. Tesla has for years been castigated for safety violations at its factories, and has already been hit with lawsuits for its treatment of construction workers at its new Texas plant. And of course, there’s the racism that Musk refused to do anything about. A judge ruled in 2021 that Tesla had to pay $137 million to a Black man who was subjected to racist taunts while working as an elevator operator at the company’s factory in Fremont, California.

This chaotic management stands in contrast to the goals that Musk claims his companies are capable of achieving. Right now, Musk is making big promises about what the future of Twitter will look like to entice people to the platform: amazing video tools, 4,000-character-count tweets, a suite of premium features, an end to annoying bots. These sort of product teases are also standard for any Musk-led Tesla presentation. In 2019, he promised that the company would have “over 1 million robo-taxis on the road” by the next year. So far, Tesla has none. More than two years after taking initial orders, the faithful are still waiting for their Cybertrucks. Even products that do materialize, like Tesla’s Model 3, arrive years later than promised. And as it was being built, employees complained to me that Tesla’s lack of planning and testing in building the Model 3 line led to sloppiness and defects down the road.

Back in 2016, Musk used a sham product launch to convince Tesla shareholders to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2022 at 1:02 pm

%d bloggers like this: