Later On

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

Archive for March 9th, 2023

How the US power grid is a target for far-right groups

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Mike Wendling reports for BBC News:

Far-right groups are increasingly talking about attacking the US power grid to cause chaos and advance their cause, terrorism experts say.

The warnings come as the founder of a neo-Nazi group and a woman he met in prison are scheduled to appear at a plea hearing on Friday.

They are charged with plotting to attack power installations around Baltimore.

Brandon Russell, 27, and Sarah Clendaniel, 34, face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

In messages revealed in court filings, Ms Clendaniel described their alleged plot as “legendary” and hoped it “would completely destroy the whole city”.

The pair were arrested before the alleged attack was carried out. Prosecutors said thousands would have been left without power if it had gone ahead.

Attacks against infrastructure are a long-standing obsession of far-right and white nationalist groups, and they are increasingly being discussed in extremist spaces online.

Veryan Khan, president and CEO of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (Trac) says attacks are “not a matter of if, it’s when”.

Recent attacks

In addition to the alleged Baltimore plot, investigators are looking into several recent attacks on power installations, including incidents in North Carolina, Oregon and Washington state.

The North Carolina attack, in Moore County in early December, knocked out . . .

Continue reading.

In the George W. Bush administration, reports were prepared on the likely sources of domestic terrorist activity from the Left and from the Right. Republicans in Congress were outraged that there was a report on the possibility of domestic terrorism from the Right and forced the report to be withdrawn.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 8:00 pm

Your brain could be controlling how sick you get — and how you recover

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Diana Kwon has an interesting article in Nature:

Hundreds of scientists around the world are looking for ways to treat heart attacks. But few started where Hedva Haykin has: in the brain.

Haykin, a doctoral student at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, wants to know whether stimulating a region of the brain involved in positive emotion and motivation can influence how the heart heals.

Late last year, in a small, windowless microscope room, she pulled out slides from a thin black box, one by one. On them were slices of hearts, no bigger than pumpkin seeds, from mice that had experienced heart attacks. Under a microscope, some of the samples were clearly marred by scars left in the aftermath of the infarction. Others showed mere speckles of damage visible among streaks of healthy, red-stained cells.

The difference in the hearts’ appearance originated in the brain, Haykin explains. The healthier-looking samples came from mice that had received stimulation of a brain area involved in positive emotion and motivation. Those marked with scars were from unstimulated mice.

“In the beginning we were sure that it was too good to be true,” Haykin says. It was only after repeating the experiment several times, she adds, that she was able to accept that the effect she was seeing was real.

Haykin, alongside her supervisors at the Technion — Asya Rolls, a neuroimmunologist, and Lior Gepstein, a cardiologist — are trying to work out exactly how this happens. On the basis of their experiments so far, which have not yet been published, activation of this brain reward centre — called the ventral tegmental area (VTA) — seems to trigger immune changes that contribute to the reduction of scar tissue.

This study has its roots in decades of research pointing to the contribution of a person’s psychological state to their heart health1. In a well-known condition known as ‘broken-heart syndrome’, an extremely stressful event can generate the symptoms of a heart attack — and can, in rare cases, be fatal. Conversely, studies have suggested that a positive mindset can lead to better outcomes in those with cardiovascular disease. But the mechanisms behind these links remain elusive.

Rolls is used to being surprised by the results in her laboratory, where the main focus is on how the brain directs the immune response, and how this connection influences health and disease. Although Rolls can barely contain her excitement as she discusses her group’s eclectic mix of ongoing studies, she’s also cautious. Because of the often-unexpected nature of her team’s discoveries, she never lets herself believe an experiment’s results until they have been repeated multiple times — a policy that Haykin and others in her group have adopted. “You need to convince yourself all the time with this stuff,” Rolls says.

For Rolls, the implications of this work are broad. She wants to provide an explanation for a phenomenon that many clinicians and researchers are aware of: mental states can have a profound impact on how ill we get — and how well we recover. In Rolls’s view, working out how this happens could enable physicians to tap into the power of the mind over the body. Understanding this could help to boost the placebo effect, destroy cancers, enhance responses to vaccination and even re-evaluate illnesses that, for centuries, have been dismissed as being psychologically driven, she says. “I think we’re ready to say that psychosomatic [conditions] can be treated differently.”

She is part of a growing group of scientists who are mapping out the brain’s control over the body’s immune responses. There are multiple lines of communication between the nervous and the immune systems — from small local circuits in organs such as the skin, to longer-range routes beginning in the brain — with roles in a wide range of diseases, from autoimmunity to cancer. This field “has really exploded over the last several years”, says Filip Swirski, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Some parts of the system — such as the vagus nerve, a huge highway of nerve fibres that connects the body to the brain — have inspired treatments for several autoimmune diseases that are currently being tested in clinical trials. Other studies, investigating how to recruit the brain itself — which some think could provide powerful therapies — are still nascent. Rolls, for one, has just begun examining whether the pathways her team has found in mice are also present in humans. And she has launched a start-up company to try to develop treatments based on her findings.

Although these developments are encouraging to researchers, much is still a mystery. “We often have a black box between the brain and the effect we see in the periphery,” says Henrique Veiga-Fernandes, a neuroimmunologist at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon. “If we want to use it in the therapeutic context, we actually need to understand the mechanism.”

A tale of two systems

For more than a century, scientists have been finding hints of a close-knit relationship between the nervous and the immune systems. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example, scientists demonstrated that cutting nerves to the skin could curb some hallmarks of inflammation2.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that researchers in this field began drawing connections to the body’s master conductor, the brain. Neurosurgeon Kevin Tracey . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 6:37 pm

These Stupid Trucks are Literally Killing Us

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This is long (35 minutes) but worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 1:37 pm

15 pairs of words that seem etymologically related but are not

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Arika Okrent writes in The Week:

A crayfish is not a fish, an outrage is not a rage, and there’s no bomb in bombast. Words suggest one thing, but their histories tell us another.


Pencil originally referred to a paintbrush with a fine, tapered end, and can be traced back to the Latin penicillus, for paintbrush. Pen, on the other hand, goes back to Latin penna, for feather, which is what the original pens were.


Where male goes back to Latin masculusfemale comes through French femelle from Latin femella. The eventual overlap in pronunciation was accidental.


In Middle English . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 12:59 pm

America Doesn’t Know Tofu

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I’ve been eating more tofu lately, partly because I like using my Tofubud. Right now it is pressing a block of fava-bean tofu (no soy). George Stiffman’s article in AsteriskMag shows me that I have not even scratched the surface:

Guiyang didn’t have many restaurants, per se. The metropolis was more of a city-wide night market. Even in the pre-COVID days, streets like Qingyun Road were only half-filled with cars, to leave room for tents and tables that stretched to the horizon, and for smoke and steam that rose into the clouds. Eateries didn’t burden you with 14-page menus, common at Shanghainese or Northeastern restaurants. No — a làoguō 烙锅 shop sold laoguo (think Korean BBQ with more vegetables, cooked over a clay pot dome). A sīwáwa 丝娃娃 shop sold siwawa (shreds of 20-plus varieties of fresh and pickled vegetables that you roll into a thin, rice cake-like taco). And tofu stands sold tofu. But probably not the tofu you’re thinking of.

Pale slabs of bean curd shivered over a sputtering steel grill box. As their tops bathed in the cool summer air, their bottoms tensed and colored. When Auntie flipped over a piece, the tofu’s underside was purplish like a black eye, its thick skin waxy and crackly like a fried egg bottom. And then it started expanding.

The tofu began puffing up, convulsing like a pot of water that couldn’t quite boil. For a minute or two it grew, and grew, and grew, until the tofu had ballooned to double its original size. Finally a ray of hot steam broke through the taut, leathery skin. Out trickled a lazy stream of creamy, off-white liquid.

Auntie furrowed a small hole on one end of the tofu and spooned in her signature sauce: ground fire-roasted chiles, soy sauce, ginger, mint, and a medicinal root prized for its grassy, fishy scent (鱼腥草 yúxīngcǎo). She passed over her creation: liàn’ài dòufuguǒ 恋爱豆腐果. The tofu dumpling of love.

I bit in. Out seeped a viscous, sulfurous liquid, rich as an egg yolk custard but clean as freshly ground soymilk. Firm tofu had sacrificed itself, melting into juice. My tongue refused to believe it. This was tofu?

I had found it painful going vegan in college, giving up most of the foods that I loved. But after spending a summer in China, all that changed. I was now here on the pretense of “study abroad,” but really just crisscrossing the country to find foods that would excite me and other would-be vegans back in Los Angeles. I had to learn about the tofu dumpling of love.

Guiyang’s streetside tofu vendors are part of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 12:55 pm

The Michigan Miracle

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Jay Kuo posts some good news (and we could all use some):

Every time I open the news lately, it seems like there’s another great story coming out of Michigan. In recent months, voters there not only enshrined the right to abortion into the state constitution, they also flipped the state legislature to the Democrats and reelected their very competent and hardworking governor, Gretchen Whitmer, giving the Democrats an amazing trifecta of power that can now get serious business done.

Just this week, I saw headlines that brought a broad smile: protections against discrimination for LGBTQ+ (and, especially, trans people), an end to union-busting laws, sensible gun safety regulation moving forward, and abortion rights protected.

Before I get into the specifics of those actions, let’s review what actually accounts for this amazing turn of events. The story starts in a sadder, more undemocratic time some twelve years ago, but it has a very happy ending.

From among the worst maps in the country to the fairest

When Republicans swept to power nationwide in the 2010 midterms, they were determined to cement that power for a generation, just as the Democrats had done with the state’s maps in the 1960s and 70s. Michigan was among the states where Republican-controlled legislatures drew political maps that virtually guaranteed impregnable majorities for them going forward. In a state where they received 50 percent or less of the state Senate, state House and Congressional district votes in 2014, the Republicans still held commanding majorities in each. Gerrymandering was the culprit.

But in 2018 the GOP lost its power to use maps to win elections as a result of a citizen-led initiative in the state to establish an independent commission to draw the lines following the 2020 census. As I wrote about over a year ago, this didn’t happen by magic. It took a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people, but it started with just one woman. As I observed back then,

It all began, as many things do these days, with a Facebook post by a woman named Katie Fahey back in 2016. “I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan,” Fahey wrote. “If you’re interested in doing this as well, please let me know.” Before long, this became a 5,000 member strong organization called “Voters Not Politicians.” They organized a ballot initiative, mocked gerrymandered districts by dressing up in costumes as them, and despite GOP efforts to block the initiative, prevailed before the state Supreme Court to get their initiative on the ballot, then won a landslide victory in November 2018, with 61 percent in favor.

The new maps approved by the Commission in 2021 had a slight Republican lean, not for any nefarious reason, but because Democrats simply tend to live more tightly packed together around major urban areas, and there are rules around keeping towns and counties together when you can. But the new maps made many races highly competitive and were in place in time for the 2022 midterms.

As we know, in November 2022, the voters in Michigan and other battleground states turned out in force to reject GOP extremism. In Michigan, they handed the Democrats majorities in both chambers of the legislature, along with returning Gretchen Whitmer to the governor’s mansion.

An impressive list of accomplishments already

The new Democratic majority went to work right away in January, and by early March, progressive legislators began to notch some important wins—including some major bipartisan ones.

LGBTQ+ rights. On March 1, 2023 . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s good.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 12:27 pm

A fearful country

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Dan Froomkin on Mastodon quoted this tweet:

RT @Rob_Weissman
It’s actually even worse than the $886B for the Pentagon.

Total spending on “security” is $1 trillion.

Everything else (excluding mandatory programs like SS and Medicare) totals $560 billion.

This is the budget of a fearful nation, not that of a caring country.

“A fearful nation” seems about right, when people feel they must arm themselves when they go to the grocery store, children in schools routinely have active-shooter drills (and actual active-shooter evens, including multiple dead, regularly recur).

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 11:04 am

Phoenix Shaving’s Quantum razor and Grooming Dept’s Amber Rose

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A shaving brush with a black wasp-waist handle and a white synthetic knot with gray tips next to a tub of shaving soap with a black label that has an image of a long-stemmed rose with the name "Amber Rose" and at the top, in white letters, "West Coast Shaving." Next is a transparent rectangular glass bottle with a white cap labeled "Pink After Shave.'" In front, lying on its side, is a DE razor with a stainless handle and cap and brass baseplate. Another brass baseplate lies next to the razor, with a comb guard reinforced by a bar across the tips of the teeth.

Grooming Dept Amber Rose is a West Coast Shaving Exclusive, and it has a lovely fragrance: “honey, rose, amber, orris, myrrh, oakmoss, vanilla, benzoin, musk, and patchouli.” It is made with Grooming Dept’s Donkeymilk formula, and the lather is superb. Today I used the fourth and final of my wasp-waist brushes, this one a $10 22mm synthetic from Maggard Razors, an excellent brush.

The razor arrived yesterday from Phoenix Shaving, aka Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (and referred to by me as simply “Phoenix Artisan”). The website shows the name “Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements” but the URL is so I’m using the name that matches the URL. 

This is the Quantum razor, modeled on the Eclipse Red Ring, one of which I had for a while. It’s an interesting design: it uses a modified comb guard, with a reinforcing bar attached behind the tips of the tines. It works like a charm, and so far as I can recall the action is very like the original: extremely comfortable and highly efficient. The Quantum lacks, however, the small magnet that was embedded in the base of the Red Ring’s handle, very useful in picking up razor blades lying on a countertop. 

The Quantum comes with two baseplates, the Alpha (more aggressive) and the Omega. (On the back of each baseplate the appropriate Greek letter, α (lower-case) or Ω (upper-case), is engraved.) This morning I used the Omega, and tomorrow the Alpha will get a go. 

Photo of optional handle tips in various colors.

The razor has excellent heft, and the knurling, based on the design Gillette used for its flare-tip razors of yesteryear, is crisp and effective. The gold-colored base can be unscrewed, and bases in a variety of colors are available. The workmanship — fit and finish — is first-rate.

The shave was remarkably comfortable and effective: after three passes, no trace of roughness remains. I’m very glad I bought this razor. I’ve been missing the Red Ring, and this seems every bit as good in feel and performance, and the feel in the hand is even better: a thicker and heftier handle with a better grip.

A splash of D.R. Harris Pink After Shave with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept’s Aion Hydrating Gel and the (cloudy) day begins.

The caffeine this morning is via Murchie’s Black Currant Tea: “A blend of rich, smooth black teas enhanced with the zesty essence of black currants. Dried blueberries and blue cornflower are added to the sweet-smelling tea blend.”  

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 9:38 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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