Later On

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

Archive for January 7th, 2023

Ominous: Conservatives Hawk “Birch Gold” In Run-Up to Debt Ceiling Crisis

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Dave Troy writes in The Washington Spectator about something that seems particularly ominous:

For the last several years, prominent conservatives including Dr. Ron Paul, Steve Bannon, and Ben Shapiro, have been promoting gold and gold-backed assets to their audiences. One company in particular, Birch Gold Group, has earned prominent public endorsements from all of these figures, with each of them participating in various cross-marketing activities.

Birch Gold is one of a number of smaller outlets pushing precious metals to conservative audiences. Where large, established firms like State Street offer “GLD,” a gold-backed exchange-traded fund (ETF) which is among the largest such funds in the world, Birch offers “physical gold” in the form of coins and other gold-based products.

One line of products called “goldbacks” resemble laminated 19th century banknotes, each themed around Nevada, New Hampshire, Utah, and Wyoming. The company’s website claims that they contain “micro-thin layers of 24 karat gold protected by layers of durable polymer.” Another Birch-affiliated company, BitIRA, offers Bitcoin-backed IRA products to similar audiences.

Birch Gold was founded in Los Angeles in 2003 by Iraqi-born Laith Paul Alsarraf. The company occupies offices in Burbank, across the street from Warner Brothers’ studio. The company’s name is an obvious nod to the John Birch Society, the group founded in 1958 by candy magnate Robert Welch and named after John Birch, a US soldier killed by Chinese communists at the close of World War II in 1945. Many Birchers claim Birch was “the first victim of World War III,” and the group has maintained a paranoid, staunchly anti-communist stance in the decades since.

Alsarraf, now 53, rose to prominence in the 1990’s with the rise of the online pornography industry, when his company, Cybernet Ventures, provided a payment and age-verification service called Adult Check. The San Fernando Valley, home to both Birch Gold and Cybernet, has historically been a stronghold of the pornography industry, as well as so-called “Russian Armenian” organized crime activity.

Mr. Alsarraf founded the company with a partner, Vartan “Marty” Sarkisov. Alsarraf and Sarkisov, an American of Armenian descent, co-founded multiple business ventures over the years. Forbes estimated Adult Check’s 2001 revenue at approximately $320 million. According to online records, the company was dissolved in late 2011.

Mr. Alsarraf, who appears to be the principal owner of Birch Gold per 2018 court records, has not sought the media spotlight in relation to his work with Birch Gold. Instead,  . . .

Continue reading. There is a lot more.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 9:10 pm

Over-reliance on English hinders cognitive science

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A very interesting paper in Trends in Cognitive Science. It begins:


  • The cognitive sciences have been dominated by English-speaking researchers studying other English speakers.
  • We review studies examining language and cognition, contrasting English to other languages, by focusing on differences in modality, form-meaning mappings, vocabulary, morphosyntax, and usage rules.
  • Critically, the language one speaks or signs can have downstream effects on ostensibly nonlinguistic cognitive domains, ranging from memory, to social cognition, perception, decision-making, and more.
  • The over-reliance on English in the cognitive sciences has led to an underestimation of the centrality of language to cognition at large.
  • To live up to its mission of understanding the representational and computational capacities of the human mind, cognitive science needs to broaden the linguistic diversity represented in its participants and researchers.


English is the dominant language in the study of human cognition and behavior: the individuals studied by cognitive scientists, as well as most of the scientists themselves, are frequently English speakers. However, English differs from other languages in ways that have consequences for the whole of the cognitive sciences, reaching far beyond the study of language itself. Here, we review an emerging body of evidence that highlights how the particular characteristics of English and the linguistic habits of English speakers bias the field by both warping research programs (e.g., overemphasizing features and mechanisms present in English over others) and overgeneralizing observations from English speakers’ behaviors, brains, and cognition to our entire species. We propose mitigating strategies that could help avoid some of these pitfalls.

The cognitive science of English speakers

The past decade has brought an urgent reflection and reassessment of the generality and scope of the cognitive sciences. Rather than studying diverse human populations, most of the discipline has focused narrowly on individuals from societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) []. This discussion has resulted in increased awareness of the importance of culture in the cognitive sciences, although studies of non-WEIRD populations and diversity within WEIRD societies remain rare [, ]. Much less recognized as a potential barrier to progress in the cognitive sciences is the overwhelming dominance of the English language and its speakers.

Globally, one in six people speaks some variety of English with some proficiency [], which makes it the most widely used language to have existed in the history of our species. Its dominance extends well beyond raw numbers of speakers. English has become the lingua franca in most spheres of international interactions, including science, and English-speaking countries are dominant global actors. The cognitive sciences are no exception. This state of affairs has resulted in a homogenous Anglocentric setup: English-speaking scientists explore the nature of the human mind by studying other English-speaking individuals in English-speaking countries (Box 1). In addition, while English itself is constituted of a number of distinct varieties around the world, including regional dialects, vernaculars, and Creoles, it is only a narrow set of these that participate in this near monopoly, most prominently Standard American English and British English [].

Continue reading.

From later in the paper:

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Ancient Greece had extreme polarization and civil strife too – how Thucydides can help us understand Jan. 6 and its aftermath

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Rachel Hadas, Professor of English, Rutgers University – Newark, writes in The Conversation:

The second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection is upon us. And each new revelation about that brutal mob assault on our government raises a host of fresh questions about what transpired in the days prior to January 6, notably who was involved in planning the events of that day. Why, for instance, did former President Donald Trump reportedly consider a blanket pardon for all the insurrectionists?

An answer to that question and others will surely raise more questions and ultimately reveal the scope of what we still do not, and may never, know. But maybe now, two years on, we finally have the perspective to see that the lie Trump told about the 2020 election – that he won and President Joe Biden lost – is still shredding the fabric of our democracy.

But how do we make sense of it all?

As a professor of English and a student of the classics, I suggest that the insights and objectivity of a historian who lived nearly 2,500 years ago can bolster our understanding of the country’s current plight.

Early in his great work, “History of the Peloponnesian War,” [free ebook version – LG]about the decades-long war (431–404 BC) between Athens and Sparta, Athenian historian Thucydides (460-400 BC) expresses the hope that his “History” would be “judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future.”

Divisions fracture democracies

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thucydides was cited frequently, and for good reason.

In “History,” he devotes a brief passage to the Great Plague that struck Athens in 432. After describing the symptoms, he seems to stand back and comment on the dire damage done by The Plague, not only to people’s bodies but to their behavior – and by extension to the city-state that had prided itself on its democracy. Civic responsibility gave way to a desperate emphasis on individual survival or immediate gratification, and the spirit of cooperation crucial for a working democracy withered. Journalists, historians and professors of classics alike wrote not only about the similarities between the long-ago Great Plague and COVID-19, but also about the timeless force of Thucydides’ insight.

When it comes to an equally celebrated passage on civil war, later in the same work, Thucydides uses the same technique. First he provides a granular description of chaotic factionalism. Then, he stands back and offers a coolly objective assessment of the larger disorders attendant on civil strife. He writes about the civil conflict in Corcyra (modern Corfu) over the broader war between Athens and Sparta over territory and power. The Jan. 6 committee argues that Trump’s election lie sparked civil unrest in the United States and ignited the insurrection.

The causes of civil strife differ, but some of Thucydides’ conclusions about democracy and civil unrest applied to American society two years ago – and still apply now.

It will happen again

Among Thucydides’ trenchant insights, I believe two stand out in our moment.

First is how people . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 6:47 pm

Technology beyond the capability of the US

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Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 5:34 pm

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

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This extract, published in the Washington Post more than a decade ago (on April 27, 2012) was written by two totally establishment figures:

Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available Tuesday.

The American Enterprise Institute is a conservative think tank. Brookings Institution is more toward the center.

Here’s the extract:

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

What happened? Of course, there were . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

And over the past decade, things have gotten even worse, with a direct assault on the US Capital with the goal of overthrowing the government and murdering politicians (Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence in particular) and an overt and expressed desire by some Republicans to destroy the US government, possibly by forcing default on the US public debt. In the meantime, the Republican party has focused on taking away or limiting the rights of Americans (voting, abortion, education, healthcare, and so on).

America, I fear, is sailing into a disaster with many if not most citizens (and politicians and journalists) still in denial. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The pattern of the takeover of a country by a fascist authoritarian rule is well known, and it seems to be underway in the US.

Here’s a minor instance of the processes now underway: New Mexico Democrats’ homes, offices shot at over past month

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 5:27 pm

Fermented Potatoes, reprised with enhancements

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A one-liter canning jar filled with diced yellow potatoes, with some chopped red onion and 2 springs of tarragon, in brine.

I am on a fermenting roll (doesn’t sound very tasty), and I am revisiting the idea of fermenting potatoes. The post at the link explains the nutritional benefits of fermented potatoes. That earlier attempt was somewhat tentative, due to my inexperience. I since have gained a fair amount of experience, so today I went deeper:

• 3 medium yellow potatoes (not the same as Yukon Gold)
• 1/4 large red onion, chopped large
• 2 sprigs tarragon
• salt

As I did with the beets yesterday, I diced enough potatoes to fill my 1-liter canning jar (after first chopping the red onion and adding that to the jar). I dumped the contents of the jarful of potatoes and onions into a bowl already tared on the scale: 350g of additional weight from potatoes and onions.

I added to the bowl 2.5% of that weight — 8.75g, call it 9g — of sea salt and used a rubber spatula to mix well: potatoes, onion, and salt.

[Update – I think I should have skipped this step and just used the brine for salt. Mixing salt with potatoes isn’t like mixing salt with cabbage, say. The potatoes don’t really absorb the salt, and this salt just will dissolve, making the brine much stronger. Next time I’ll not add any salt to the potatoes and rely purely on the brine for salt.]

Then I refilled the 1-liter jar to about the 1/3 mark. I put a coiled sprig of tarragon on top, added more potato and onion to the 2/3 mark, put in another coil of tarragon, and finished filling the jar. The potatoes were heaped high, but a little pressure from the kraut tamper compacted the mass to below the jar’s shoulder. I filled the jar to the shoulder with 2% brine.

Then I went to the beets I started yesterday. They were already active last night — when I tilted the jar, a string of bubbles floated to the surface — and they had brine well above the weight. I took about two tablespoons of excess brine from each of the two jars to serve as the starter for this jar.

I capped the jar of potatoes with the lid and screwed on the lid-ring firmly, then shook it well to mix the culture through the jar (thus the cloudiness of the water). I then uncapped the jar, used the kraut pounder to press the potatoes back down to below the liquid, and added a fermentation weight. No cabbage leaf was needed for this batch since potatoes sink rather than float. I replaced the lid with a fermentation airlock, screwed the lid-ring on to hold it in place, and Robert is your mother’s brother.

This will go for two weeks — January 21 is its date. When I fermented potatoes previously, I let it ferment for just two days (and without any starter culture). I think this will do better.

After 5 days

Canning jar half-filled with diced potatoes with some chopped red onion and some tarragon. Slightly cloudy liquid fills the jar.

The photo at the right shows the potatoes (and onion and tarragon) after 5 days. There is still fermentation underway — tilting jar results in some bubble emerging from their hiding places — but fermentation is not nearly so active as it was on days 2 and 3.

I still plan to continue fermentation for two weeks. The previous potato fermentation went only 52 hours, and that was without using a starter. I think this will be much better.

After 7 days

I decided to call it done after 7 days. Perhaps next time I’ll go for two weeks, but I was eager to try it. It definitely is better than the two-day batch. Adding the tarragon and onion was a good idea, and next time I’ll also add some garlic, ginger, and jalapeño peppers — and maybe some apple slices or chopped dates to provide more nourishment to the microbes. And I think I’ll use Yukon Gold potatoes — more potassium than yellow potatoes.

I put some of the fermented potatoes in a bowl and added a good serving of Tempeh Greens on top. Very good. I might have added roasted pumpkin seeds as well.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Food, Non-animal diet, Recipes & Cooking

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Aion Nourishing Balm as an aftershave

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Shaving setup: short shaving rush with black hand and a synthetic knot having a bad of beige, a band of black and gray tips, next to a white tub of shaving soap. Tp the right is a small bottle with a white pump cap labeled "Aion Nourishing Balm." Lying ont the tub of soap is a double-edge razor with a double-open-comb design, the cap as well as the guard being a comb pattern.

This time I remember Steve Riehle’s suggestion that I photograph the razor with the top visible so that the DOC (double open comb) is more apparent. 

But first, the (wonderful) lather from that tub of Dr. Selby’s 3X Concentrated Shaving Cream. The fragrance is certainly pleasant — lavender, a classic choice for shaving soap — but the headline attraction is the quality of the lather and the ease with which it’s made, in this case with a nifty travel brush from New England Shaving.

Phoenix Artisan’s Ascension is a terrific little razor — I have two copies, just in case — and it did an excellent job easily this morning: three passes, perfect finish, no damage.

Aion Nourishing Balm is something new — it’s an aftershave that, as the catalog copy says, goes beyond an aftershave. This is a quintessential aftershave balm, whose total focus, as the name suggests, is on skin care and skin nourishment, not fragrance. Indeed, the product seems to have no fragrance, a definite benefit if you are going to be in close quarters (as on a plane). If you do want fragrance, you can of course use an EDT, where fragrance is the primary goal. 

The ingredients in Aion Nourishing Balm:

Green Tea Extract, Water, Kukui Nut Oil, Moringa Oil, Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride, Squalane (Olive), Argan oil, Propanediol, Cupuaçu Butter, Radish Seed Extract, Brassica Glycerides, Glyceryl Laurate, Glycerine, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Pracaxi Oil, Oat Oil, Xylitol, Beta Glucan, Seaweed Extract, Kelp Extract, Jojoba Esters, Galactoarabinan, Beta Sitosterol, Ginkgo Biloba Extract, Edelweiss Extract, Echinacea Extract, Serine, Proline, Taurine, Inositol, Histidine, Bisabolol, Sodium Levulinate and Sodium & Anisate, Gluconolactone & Sodium benzoate, Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Tocopherols.

What does all that mean? Here’s an explainer.

It feels very nice and leaves my skin feeling good — much like Grooming Dept Rejuvenating Serum. I’ll have to use these side by side to compare.

The tea this morning, #2 in the run-through, is Murchie’s Baker Street Blend, a favorite: “Lapsang Souchong, smooth Keemun, rich Ceylon, Gunpowder, and floral Jasmine.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 10:18 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Hundreds of Free Movies on YouTube

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OpenCulture points out the wealth of free movies on YouTube:

We lived in the age of movie theaters, then we lived in the age of home video, and now we live in the age of streaming. Like every period in the history of cinema, ours has its advantages and its disadvantages. The quasi-religiosity of the cinephile viewing experience is, arguably, not as well served by clicking on a Youtube video as it is by attending a screening at a grand revival house. But on the whole, we do have the advantage of access, whenever and wherever we like, to a great many films that most of us may have been wholly unable to see just a couple of decades ago — and often, we can watch them for free.

That said, these are still relatively early days for on-demand viewing, and finding out just where to do it isn’t as easy as it could be. That’s why we’ve rounded up this collection of Youtube channels with free movies, which together constitute one big meta-collection of hundreds of films. Among them are numerous black-and-white classics, of course, but also critically acclaimed pictures by international auteurs, rather less critically acclaimed (but nonetheless enjoyable) cult favorites, documentaries on a wide variety of subjects, and even twenty-first-century Hollywood releases.

Which films you can watch will vary, unfortunately, depending on which part of the world you happen to be watching them in. But no matter your location, you should easily be able to find more than a few worthwhile selections on all these channels. One under-appreciated aspect of our streaming age is that, though the number of choices may sometimes overwhelm, it’s never been easier to give a movie a chance. One click may, after all, transport you into a picture that changes the way you experience cinema itself — and if it doesn’t, well, at least the price was right.

Continue reading. There are more.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 3:15 am

Posted in Movies & TV, Technology

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