Later On

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

Tampa Bay is a possible catastrophe

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In July of 2017, I blogged about an article by Darryl Fears in the Washington Post, which begins:

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Mark Luther’s dream home has a window that looks out to a world of water. He can slip out the back door and watch dolphins swim by his private dock. Shore birds squawk from nearby nests in giant mangroves.

He said it’s hard to imagine ever leaving this slice of paradise on St. Petersburg’s Bayou Grande, even though the water he adores is starting to get a little creepy.

Over the 24 years since he moved into the house, the bayou has inched up a protective sea wall and crept toward his front door. As sea level rises, a result of global warming, it contributes to flooding in his Venetian Isles neighborhood and Shore Acres, a neighboring community of homes worth as much as $2.5 million, about 70 times per year.

“Why stay?” asked Luther, an oceanographer who knows perfectly well a hurricane could one day shove 15 feet of water into his living room. “It’s just so nice.”

Tampa Bay is mesmerizing, with 700 miles of shoreline and some of the finest white sand beaches in the nation. But analysts say the metropolitan area is the most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage if a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit.

A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe.

Yet the bay area — greater Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — has barely begun to assess the rate of sea-level rise and address its effects. Its slow response to a major threat is a case study in how American cities reluctantly prepare for the worst, even though signs of impacts from climate change abound all around.

State leaders could be part of the reason. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has reportedly discouraged employees from using the words “climate change” in official communications. Last month, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved bills allowing any citizen to challenge textbooks and instructional materials, including those that teach the science of evolution and global warming.

The sea in Tampa Bay has risen naturally throughout time, about an inch per decade. But in the early 1990s, scientists say, it accelerated to several inches above normal, so much that recent projections have the bay rising between six inches and more than two feet by the middle of the century and up to nearly seven feet when it ends. On top of that, natural settling is causing land to slowly sink.

Sea-level rise worsens the severity of even small storms, adding to the water that can be pushed ashore. Hard rains now regularly flood neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater.

y a stroke of gambler’s luck, Tampa Bay hasn’t suffered a direct hit from a hurricane as powerful as a category 3 or higher in nearly a century. Tampa has doubled down on a bet that another won’t strike anytime soon, investing billions of dollars in high-rise condominiums along the waterfront and shipping port upgrades and expanding a hospital on an island in the middle of the bay to make it one of the largest in the state.

Once-sleepy St. Petersburg has gradually followed suit, adorning its downtown coast with high-rise condominiums, new shops and hotels. The city is in the final stages of a plan to build a $45 million pier as a major attraction that would extend out into the bay.

Worried that area leaders weren’t adequately focused on the downside of living in a tropic, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council reminded them of the risks by simulating a worst-case scenario hurricane, a category 5 with winds exceeding 156 mph, to demonstrate what would happen if it entered the Gulf of Mexico and turned their way.

The fictitious Phoenix hurricane scenario projects that wind damage would destroy nearly half a million homes and businesses. About 2 million residents would require medical treatment, and the estimated death toll, more than 2,000, would top the number of people who perished from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Florida’s most densely populated county, Pinellas, could be sliced in half by a wave of water. The low-lying county of about a million is growing so fast that there’s no land left to develop, and main roads and an interstate connecting it to Tampa get clogged with traffic even on a clear day.

“If a hurricane 4 or 5 hit us,” St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Darden Rice said, referring to the two highest category storms, “there’s no doubt about it. The plan is you’d better get out of Dodge.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s warning was even starker. Standing outside City Hall last year, he described what would happen if a hurricane as small as a category 3 with 110 mph to 130 mph winds hit downtown.

“Where you’re standing now would be 15 feet under water,” he said. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more. It’s a lengthy article and if Fiona hits Tampa, we’ll know how much of the article is reliable.

Thank God Tampa’s had the past five years to prepare and reduce the risk. However, important but non-urgent things tend to be pushed aside by urgent matters (whether those are important or not).

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2022 at 1:09 pm

The whole megillah Grooming Dept shave

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All today’s shave software is from Grooming Dept, and for the occasion, I brought out Moisturizing Pre-Shave from back room — seldom on-stage, he’s a vital part of the entire ensemble and plays his vital role in every shave. I continue to learn more how best to use this and now take the smallest smidge to prepare my wet stubble for the lather to come.

And what a lather Mallard Corretto makes! The first impression is the lather’s velvety thickness, closely followed by the pleasure of the fragrance: “Coffee, Brandy, Plum, Berries, Honey, Cacao Dust, Vanilla, Patchouli.” My Rooney Victorian did a great job, but it had a great soap to work with. The soap’s ingredients:

Water, Stearic Acid, Duck Fat, Kukui Nut Oil, Goat Milk, Castor Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Cupuacu Butter, Kokum Butter, Glycerin, Jojoba Oil, Myristic Acid, Shea Butter, Sodium Hydroxide, Fragrance, Coconut Milk, Tamanu Oil, Lauryl Laurate, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax, Allantoin, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Betaine, Sodium Lactate, Silk Amino Acids, Oat Amino Acids, Sesame Oil, Macadamia Oil, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Gluconate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Tocopherols, Silk Peptides.

With my stubble so well prepped, RazoRock’s Game Changer .68-P had an easy time of it, gliding comfortably through the stubble, removing all roughness with no effort.

The new arrival is the Rejuvenating Serum, in this case Grapefruit + Vetiver (which I bought through Italian Barber, which has a good variety of Grooming Dept products on hand). This product is more like a skin treatment and a far cry from an aftershave splash. You apply one or two drops to your damp, clean-shaven face and massage it in a bit. It does indeed leave the skin feeling younger. The secret’s in the ingredients:

Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides, Jojoba Oil, Camelina Oil, Argan Oil, Kukui Nut Oil, Abyssinian Oil, Meadowfoam Oil, Moringa Oil, Safflower Oil, Olive Squalane, Borage Oil, Avocado Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Pumpkin Seed Oil, Blackberry Seed Oil, Calendula Extract, Radish Seed Extract, Pomegranate Seed Extract, Bisabolol, Tocopherols

Altogether, a very nice shave. Great start to the day.

The tea this morning is another varietal, Murchie’s Ceylon Kenilworth: “A true ‘Orange Pekoe‘ size leaf, producing a bright, oaky taste with body and strength. The Kenilworth Estate is known for producing creamy teas with rich, full body.”


Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2022 at 10:19 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Why COVID isn’t like the flu (yet) in one brutal graph

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Via The Eldest, Erin Prater’s article in Fortune, which leads with the chart above and continues:

Since COVID first hit the U.S., some have argued that the nascent disease is no more dangerous than the flu, which sweeps the U.S. every fall and winter.

“This is a flu. This is like a flu,” former President Donald Trump insisted at a Feb. 26, 2020, press briefing, just as the virus hit the U.S“It’s a little like a regular flu that we have flu shots for.”

While the two can present with similar symptoms—like fever, cough, fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, and headache—and are both more likely to be fatal for the elderly and immunocompromised, the comparison falls apart when it comes to the death toll. 

One graph in particular shows just how stark the mortality difference is between the two. Flu deaths appear almost flat compared to surges in COVID deaths over the past three years. 

“We’re now trying to treat [COVID] like a seasonal influenza and it’s just not yet,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), recently told Fortune.

There were 1,055 COVID deaths in the U.S. two weeks ago, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to only 4 flu deaths the same week.

COVID deaths have spiked several times over the past few years due to new variants of the virus, taking hundreds of thousands of lives annually (463,210 last year). By contrast, the flu only took an estimated 22,000 lives during the 2019-2020 season, according to the CDC

Over the past 12 years, the flu’s estimated annual death toll has been as low as 12,000, but never higher than 61,000—just an eighth of COVID’s death toll in the first year of the pandemic.

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, weekly COVID deaths have been at least 15 times that of weekly flu deaths—and sometimes as much as 811 times.

Since COVID first hit the U.S., some have argued that the nascent disease is no more dangerous than the flu, which sweeps the U.S. every fall and winter.

“This is a flu. This is like a flu,” former President Donald Trump insisted at a Feb. 26, 2020, press briefing, just as the virus hit the U.S“It’s a little like a regular flu that we have flu shots for.”

While the two can present with similar symptoms—like fever, cough, fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, and headache—and are both more likely to be fatal for the elderly and immunocompromised, the comparison falls apart when it comes to the death toll. 

One graph in particular shows just how stark the mortality difference is between the two. Flu deaths appear almost flat compared to surges in COVID deaths over the past three years. 

“We’re now trying to treat [COVID] like a seasonal influenza and it’s just not yet,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), recently told Fortune.

There were 1,055 COVID deaths in the U.S. two weeks ago, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to only 4 flu deaths the same week.

COVID deaths have spiked several times over the past few years due to new variants of the virus, taking hundreds of thousands of lives annually (463,210 last year). By contrast, the flu only took an estimated 22,000 lives during the 2019-2020 season, according to the CDC

Over the past 12 years, the flu’s estimated annual death toll has been as low as 12,000, but never higher than 61,000—just an eighth of COVID’s death toll in the first year of the pandemic.

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, weekly COVID deaths have been at least 15 times that of weekly flu deaths—and sometimes as much as 811 times.

Here for the long haul

COVID’s death toll is unlikely to sink to flu levels any time soon, experts say, even though U.S. health officials have expressed hope that COVID boosters will soon become an annual occurrence, much like the flu shot.

“I think COVID deaths will continue to exceed flu deaths for a while, unless we see something new in influenza,” like a deadlier strain developing, Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins Department of Medicine, recently told Fortune.

When it comes to leading causes of death in the U.S., COVID has landed as No. 3 for the last two years, while influenza and pneumonia, grouped together, have landed as No. 9, according to the CDC. 

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees with Ray. He says 

COVID’s death toll is unlikely to sink to flu levels any time soon, experts say, even though U.S. health officials have expressed hope that COVID boosters will soon become an annual occurrence, much like the flu shot.

“I think COVID deaths will continue to exceed flu deaths for a while, unless we see something new in influenza,” like a deadlier strain developing, Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins Department of Medicine, recently told Fortune.

When it comes to leading causes of death in the U.S., COVID has landed as No. 3 for the last two years, while influenza and pneumonia, grouped together, have landed as No. 9, according to the CDC. 

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees with Ray. He says 

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2022 at 8:45 am

Eat More Dairy, Less Red Meat to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

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I wish I had known this long ago. Miriam E. Tucker reports in Medscape:

Among animal protein foods, low-fat dairy consumption may minimize the risk of developing type 2 diabetes while red meat raises that risk, a new analysis finds.

“A plant-based dietary pattern with limited intake of meat, moderate intake of fish, eggs, and full-fat dairy, and habitual consumption of yogurt, milk, or low-fat dairy, might represent the most feasible, sustainable, and successful population strategy to optimize the prevention of type 2 diabetes,” lead author Annalisa Giosuè, MD, of the University of Naples Federico II, Italy, told Medscape Medical News.

She presented the findings from an umbrella review of 13 dose–response meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies on September 20 at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) 2022 Annual Meeting.

The study is believed to be the first comprehensive overview of the available evidence from all published meta-analyses on the relationship between well-defined amounts of animal-origin foods and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Giosuè and colleagues focused on animal-based foods because they represent a gap in most guidelines for type 2 diabetes prevention, she told Medscape Medical News.

“The existing evidence and dietary recommendations for type 2 diabetes prevention are mainly based on the appropriate consumption of plant foods: high amounts of the fiber-rich ones and low consumption of the refined ones as well as those rich in free sugars. And also on the adequate choice among fat sources — reduction of saturated fat sources like butter and cream and replacement with plant-based poly- and monounsaturated fat sources like nontropical vegetable oils. But not on the most suitable choices among different animal foods for the prevention of type 2 diabetes,” she explained.

The new findings are in line with the Mediterranean diet in that, while plant-based, it also limits red meat consumption, but not all animal-based foods, and has consistently been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Vegetarian diets have also been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, but far less data are available for that, she said.

Asked for comment, session moderator Matthias Schulze, MD, head of the department of molecular epidemiology at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Berlin, told Medscape Medical News: “Decreasing intake of red and processed meat is already a strong recommendation, and these data support that. You have to make choices for and against [certain] foods. So, . . .

Continue reading.

There are substantiated health risks in eating animal protein foods in general, so rather than cutting back animal protein intake to “limited intake of meat, moderate intake of fish, eggs, and full-fat dairy, and habitual consumption of yogurt, milk, or low-fat dairy,” it made sense to me to eliminate all of those from my diet and stick to whole-food plant-based foods. I get plenty of variety, the food is tasty and satisfying, and avoid all the problems associated with eating animal proteins. Plus it is simpler just to eliminate animal protein entirely rather than trying to figure out “moderate” intake. One doesn’t need those foods, they carry risks, so why eat them? (I know: they’re tasty. But so are whole-food plant-based foods — or at least they can be. Recent example.)

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2022 at 6:16 am

Ribollita My Way

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After I had the Tuscan White Bean and Kale Soup blogged earlier, I decided I could make a better (more nutritious and — who knows? — tastier) version of my own. And then I came across a Wikipedia article on ribolitta. That sounded like just the ticket, though I would do it my way (hence the title), which for one thing meant no bread (an essential ingredient in ribollita) — not a whole food. But oat groats certainly can thicken as well as any old bread and have the benefit of being a whole food (and a grain, to complement the beans).

When I start thinking up a recipe, I hope a TextEdit page and list ingredients. Here’s the list I came up with, after being modified slightly in the making — modifications in square brackets

• Black beans (have more nutrients than white beans — lentils would be even better)
• Kale — Lacinato kale, I think; seems appropriate
• Red cabbage, shredded and allow to rest 45 minutes
• Leek or spring onion or scallions; maybe red onion as a fallback [red onion it was]
• Some diced carrot — 1 medium regular carrot or 1/2 Nantes carrot [1/2 Nantes]
• Diced purple potato [used half of an enormous Stokes Purple potato]
• Tomatoes [6 Roma — the season for San Marzano seems over]
• 3/4 cup oat groats [next time 1 cup oat groats — or possibly hulled barley]
• 2 Red Habanero Pepper, seeded [should have worn gloves — fingers on fire]
• Garlic [4 cloves Russian red garlic — enormous cloves]
• [2 garlic scapes I found in the fridge]
• Ginger [I used only part of the root shown
• Turmeric + Black Pepper [4 turmeric roots, chopped fine]
• Dried Marjoram [about 2 tablespoons]
• Dried Thyme [about 1 tablespoon]
• Mexican oregano [about 3 tablespoons]
• Salt substitute [about 2 teaspoons]
• MSG [about 1 teaspoon]
• Water [enough; I used water from cooking beans and then a little more]

Half the Stokes Purple potato

I Evo-sprayed my 6-qt wide diameter pot well — probably 2 teaspoons (8 sprays) and prepared the vegetables, putting them in the pot as I went. 

I wanted to sauté some of the vegetables, so I held back on tomatoes, beans, and oat groats. Everything else went into the pot (except black pepper — wanted to add that after pot had liquid because pepper can burn). Because prep took a while, the garlic and red cabbage (which I did first) had some time to rest.

I sautéed what was in the pot for a few minutes, stirring frequently, then added the tomatoes, beans, oat groats, black pepper, and water — the water in which the beans were cooked and more water to boot. Here’s what it looked like (on the left, before cooking; on the right, after cooking — and you can click on any of these photos to enlarge):

I cooked it roughly an hour, all told. The “timer” in this case is the grain: once the oat groats are cooked, it’s ready. (The beans were cooked until not quite done in the expectation that they would finish cooking in the ribollita.) 

I just had a small bowl of the soup to test it. The habaneros are certainly present, but they are not overwhelming (probably because of the amount of soup and presence of potatoes, carrots, beans, and grain). The grain will probably open a bit more after it sits overnight in the fridge and then on being rewarmed.

Some observations after having a few small (“tasting”) bowls:

  1. The intensity of the habaneros quickly faded. Now the soup is just warm (in the spicy sense).
  2. I added some of Simnett’s vegan buffalo sauce on top — very nice.
  3. Encouraged by the buffalo sauce, I decided to have a small bowl of soup after putting in a spoonful of cashew butter. Also very nice.

I think this worked out really well, and I’m sure I’ll make it again. All the purple vegetables (red onion, red cabbage, purple potatoes) are full of nutrients — see this post.

I’d stack this up against regular ribollita any day, strictly on nutrient value. And next time I’ll use Du Puy lentils instead of black beans (already bought them), and that will take the nutrient value up a level.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 5:31 pm

The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer

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Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, History, Video

The Problem Isn’t “Polarization” — It’s Right-Wing Radicalization

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Aurelien Mondon and Evan Smith write in Jacobin:

Joe Biden’s recent attacks on Donald Trump and “MAGA Republicans” have caused outrage on the US right. What should surprise us is not the strength of the attack — against what are, after all, blatantly antidemocratic forces — but the departure it represents from the approach mainstream political actors have generally taken: that is, one which has tended to euphemize the far-right threat and draw a false equivalence with the forces resisting it.

The concept of “polarization” is increasingly used in mainstream circles to lament the current state of politics. It is a liberal parallel to right-wing moral panics about cancel culture, “wokeness” — or what used to be called “political correctness gone mad.” Such moral panics are generally based on ridiculous nonevents that nonetheless seep into public discourse, often with the help of mainstream media. As Nathan Oseroff-Spicer has documented, the “woke” panic has spread to strip clubs, the military, corporations, medical education, and the British monarchy, among others. While the liberal center may see the right-wing “war on woke” as overblown, they insist on casting it as one side of a duopoly of extremism from both Left and Right. The Right may have indulged extremist and authoritarian tendencies, it argues, but so has the Left. Trumpists and Brexiteers are the flipside of antifa and overzealous woke students.

The solution, we are patronizingly told, lies in a more reasonable middle ground based on tolerance toward diverging viewpoints. Think, for example, of the proliferation of pieces about left-wing people refusing to kiss reactionaries or the need to “build bridges” or “dine across the divide.” Is this not what has allowed our societies to progress to this advanced state of democracy? Who was the great philosopher who once said “there are very fine people on both sides”?

This is nothing new, of course. It has long been central to abstract liberalism and has served well to protect against too radical a democratic change that would have challenged interests bound to the status quo. It is thus not altogether surprising to see its recent resurgence under such trite phrases as “the marketplace of ideas.” We are told that we should not be scared of ideas we may disagree with: if they are bad but confronted in a public setting, they will be defeated, and reason will prevail. That seems sensible — unless you have paid any attention to political developments in the past few decades and what is really at stake in modern politics.


It is easy to see how this positioning is appealing and reassuring to those in a comfortable position. As they see it, our freedom is currently under threat by those who argue certain ideas are out of bounds, whether on the Left or on the Right. This soft, grown-up, sensible middle-ground approach to politics could not appear more reasonable. If this status quo happens to benefit those who defend this position — well, that’s just an added bonus.

This is, however, reasonable only if . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 10:51 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Politics

Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright Conduct a Masterclass on the Banal Horror of U.S. Foreign Policy

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I wonder what it would be like if the US government tried — actually made an attempt — to stop lying. I imagine we’ll never know. Lies and the lying liars who tell them seem to be deeply embedded within the political system. In the Intercept Jon Schwarz takes a brief look at two of the most brazen of the liars and calls out their lies. He writes:

AT THE BEGINNING of a new “MasterClass” on diplomacy with Condoleezza Rice and the late Madeleine Albright, Rice explains that “some people have even said, ‘The diplomat lies for their country.’”

Soon afterward, Albright makes similar remarks: “There are some incredible definitions of diplomacy, which is, it gives you the capability to go and lie for your country.”

If this is in fact what diplomacy is all about — and presumably Rice and Albright would be in a position to know — this MasterClass shows that they are both incredibly committed diplomats.

Albright, who died earlier this year, was America’s first female secretary of state, serving during the Bill Clinton administration. Rice was the second, during the administration of George W. Bush.

It’s not all lies, of course. The entire Rice/Albright video lasts almost 3.5 hours, the same length as the extended DVD version of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Most of the time, the two emit a quiet murmur of mind-obliterating platitudes, accompanied by what seems to be the music from C-SPAN and stock footage of a chessboard. For instance, Albright tells us that “Americans didn’t recognize well enough how fragile democracy was, but at the same time how resilient democracy was,” which is somehow both banal and incomprehensible.

In fact, the lies are just as boring as the parts that are true. You might assume Rice and Albright would mislead viewers in cunning, complex ways that would require extensive effort to refute. Instead, they both just straightforwardly deny reality.

All in all, watching the languorous, dull-but-accurate parts is like being forced to eat eight gallons of stale banana pudding. Then the lies are like a batch of botulism mixed in. By the end, you will definitely feel ill, but you can only ascribe it to the entire experience, rather than being able to narrow it down to one specific cause.

Explicating all of Rice and Albright’s deceptions would require an article that would take longer to read than the running time of the MasterClass itself. So let’s just hit the highlights.

The cruelest segment of the video, as measured by the chasm between the promised content and what’s actually delivered, is called “Learning From Failed Decisions.” The text below this title claims that Rice will share “her mistakes on 9/11 and Iraq.”

However, it turns out the only mistake Rice made was believing her incompetent underlings. “I was in two situations,” she begins, “where the intelligence turned out in one case to be lacking, and in another case to be wrong.”

The first, of course, is the 9/11 attacks. On September 11, 2001, Rice was Bush’s national security adviser — i.e., arguably the person most responsible in the U.S. government for addressing any threats of terrorism. Here’s her explanation for how she and her colleagues missed what was going on:

All that the intelligence reports were saying … was, something big is going to happen. “There will be a wedding,” which was terrorist code for some kind of attack. But all of the intelligence actually pointed to something happening outside of the country.

When I heard Rice say this, my brain seized up and ground to a confused halt. My thought process went something like:

I —
where am i. have i slipped into an alternate universe where up is down & the sky is green & giraffes sing hit duets with taylor swift?

This was because — although it may be fading from living memory — the most famous moment of Condoleezza Rice’s life occurred in 2004, when she acknowledged in front of the 9/11 Commission that the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus warned Bush that an Al Qaeda attack might be imminent inside America. Here, watch it for yourself:

That’s right: The presidential daily brief delivered to Bush on August 6, 2001, one month before the 9/11 attacks, was headlined “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” You can read the whole thing here. The very first sentence states, “Bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.” Later, the brief warns that “FBI information … indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.”

So here, Rice put essentially no effort into her deceit. But what she says next is somehow even worse:

We had a pretty bright wall between what the FBI could do and what the CIA could do. They didn’t talk to each other. So just to give an example — probably by now everybody knows the case of [Zacarias] Moussaoui, who was the flight student in Arizona who only wanted to learn to fly one way. That might have been a signal. He was known to the FBI. He was not known to the CIA.

Almost everything about this is inaccurate. Rice is correct that Moussaoui was a member of Al Qaeda who came to the U.S. and attended flight school, where he did behave in peculiar ways. However, he did not go to flight school in Arizona, as Rice says; it was in Oklahoma and Minnesota. It’s not the case that he “only wanted to fly one way.” (According a report by the Justice Department inspector general, “Media reports later incorrectly reported that Moussaoui had stated that he did not want to learn to take off or land a plane.”)

Most importantly, whatever wall prevented some information from passing between the FBI and the CIA, it did not stop Moussaoui from being caught. His . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 10:29 am

The Value of the Liberal Arts

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A friend pointed out this excellent essay by Hina Azam in Life & Letters, the official magazine for UT Austin’s College of Liberal Arts. The essay begins:

Those of us who teach in liberal arts colleges are passionate about the value of a liberal arts education. But for those outside of academia – even for those who might have received a degree in UT’s College of Liberal Arts – the precise meaning of “liberal arts” can be murky.  What, exactly, is meant by the “liberal arts”? What is the history of the idea, and how does it translate into the educational concept we know as a “liberal-arts curriculum,” or, more broadly, a “liberal education”? What is the value of a liberal arts education to both individual and collective life? This essay presents a brief overview of the idea, history, purposes, and values of liberal arts education, so that you, our readers, may understand the passion that inspires our faculty’s teaching and scholarship, and be similarly inspired.

What are the Liberal Arts?

The idea of the liberal arts originates in ancient Greece and was further developed in medieval Europe. Classically understood, it combined the four studies of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music – known as the quadrivium – with the three additional studies of grammar, rhetoric, and logic – known as the trivium. These artes liberales were meant to teach both general knowledge and intellectual skills, and thus train the mind. This training of the mind as well as this foundational body of content knowledge and intellectual skills was regarded by scholars and educators as necessary for all human beings – and especially a society’s leaders – in order to live well, both individually and collectively.

These liberal arts were distinguished from vocational or clinical arts, such as law, medicine, engineering, and business. These latter were conceived as servile arts – i.e. arts that served concrete production or construction. These productive/constructive arts were also known as artes mechanicae, “mechanical arts,” which included crafts such as weaving, agriculture, masonry, warfare, trade, cooking, and metallurgy. In contrast to the vocational or mechanical arts, the liberal arts put greater weight on intellectual skills – the ability to think and communicate clearly, and to analyze and solve problems. But more distinctively, the liberal arts emphasized learning and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, independent of immediate application. The liberal arts taught not only bodies of knowledge, but – more dynamically – how to go about finding and creating knowledge – that is, how to learn. Finally, the liberal arts taught not only how to think and do, but also how to be – with others and with oneself, in the natural world and the social world. They were thus centrally concerned with ethics.

Notably, the term “liberal arts” has nothing to do with liberalism in the contemporary political or partisan sense; the opposite of “liberal” here is not “conservative.” Rather, the term goes back to the Latin root signifying “freedom,” as opposed to imprisonment or subjugation. Think here of the English word “liberty.” The liberal arts were historically connected to freedom in that they encompassed the types of knowledge and skills appropriate to free people, living in a free society. The term “art” in this phrase also must be understood correctly, for it does not refer to “art” as we use it today in its creative sense, to denote the fine and performing arts. Rather, from the Latin root ars, “art” is here used to refer to skill or craft. The “liberal arts,” then, may be thought of as liberating knowledges, or alternatively, the skills of being free.

What is a Liberal Arts Education?

A liberal (arts) education is a curriculum designed around imparting core knowledge and skills through engagement with a wide range of subjects and disciplines. This core knowledge is taught through general education courses typically drawn from the humanities, (creative) arts, natural sciences, and social sciences. The humanities include disciplines such as language, literature, poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, religion, history, law, geography, archaeology, anthropology, politics, and classics. Natural sciences include subjects such as geology, chemistry, physics, and life sciences such as biology. Social sciences comprise disciplines such as sociology, economics, linguistics, psychology, and education. Through a core curriculum or general education courses, students gain a basic knowledge of the physical and natural world as well as of human ideas, histories, and practices.

A liberal arts education comprises more than learning only content, but also honing skills and cultivating values. Intellectual and practical skills at the heart of the liberal arts are reading comprehension, inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, information and quantitative literacy, teamwork and problem-solving. Values that are central to liberal education are personal and social responsibility, civic knowledge and engagement, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action, and lifelong learning.

Why a Liberal Education? Purposes and Values

Four overarching purposes anchor the idea of an education in the liberal arts. One of those is

Continue reading. Full disclosure: I was graduated from a small college whose sole focus was educating through the liberal arts.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 10:16 am

After the Rain and a blade change for the #102

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The Omega Pro 48 (10048) is always a good way to start the week, and today Declaration Grooming’s After the Rain, in their Milksteak formulation, provided the grist for its mill. Well-loaded, the brush easily formed a fine lather on my face, the stubble ready after their workout with a tiny smidge of Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave.

The iKon Shavecraft #102 is one of my favorite razors and, IMO, is a superb slant, but this morning during the first pass I was having to work a little too hard, so I paused to replace the blade, which made the second and third passes a pure pleasure. 

My perfectly smooth face, once rinsed and dried, was read for a splash of 4711 aftershave augmented with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel. “4711” is the street address of the aftershave’s maker, which seems to be the pattern with numerically named aftershaves: Floris 89, TOBS No. 74, Alpa 378, et al.

A fine way to start the week, especially with the morning sunny and cool.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Royal Grey: “Currants and cream with a twist of bergamot, a modern take on the timeless Earl Grey.”

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 9:43 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

That shortage of home healthcare workers

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post that has two graphs. The first shows that the shortage is real, the second offers a possible reason for the shortage. Here’s the second:

His post is worth reading. In it, he notes:

The only way this gets better is if we pay home health care workers considerably more than we do now. But of course lots of people can’t afford that. And that’s why this is ultimately a Medicare problem: we desperately need to make long-term nursing care part of Medicare, and we need to pay workers more if we want to attract higher quality folks. This would be expensive, but it’s inevitable that it will happen someday. The sooner we accept that the better.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 8:03 am

6 Things to Know About the Microbiome and Your Health

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Brian Simpson writes at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:

Jotham Suez has a tough job.

He studies the microbiome—the universe of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes that each of us is home to. In sheer numbers, there are many of them as there are human cells in the body.

“We’re studying the whole complexity of the human body. We’re also studying the complexity of billions of microbes of hundreds of different species—each one of them with their own genes and their own proteins,” says Suez, PhD, MSc, an assistant professor in the W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.

Why study the bugs in our gut, on our skin, behind our ears? Because science is increasingly revealing the massive influence they have on our health.

Below, Suez shares six things you need to know about the microbiome.

1. Your microbiome is like a biological fingerprint.

The collection of bacteria, viruses, and other bugs you have is unique to you. Researchers swabbed computer keyboards in an office for microbes and then swabbed fingertips of workers for a 2010 study. Then they were able to determine which keyboard was used by which person. These person-to-person differences in the microbes that we host can affect everything from our responses to diets and drugs, to disease risk, and even our behavior—they’re as important to our health as our own genes.

2. You have more than one microbiome.

Microbes find multiple ecological niches in and on your body. Your skin microbiome is distinct from your gut microbiome or oral microbiome. Each one has adapted to the conditions there, such as the lack of nutrients on the skin, the moisture or dryness of different areas of the armpit, or the acidity in the vagina.

In fact, while at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, Suez worked with gastroenterology colleagues to sample from 18 different sites along the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract of 46 people. In two papers in the journal Cell (here and here), he found that each site had its own unique microbiome signature.

“When we’re trying to understand the mechanisms of how microbes cause disease or promote health, we need to make sure that we’re looking in the right place,” says Suez. “For example, if you’re interested in interactions between the microbiome and the immune system, you might learn more from studying the microbes in the small intestine, rather than the ones washed out in stool samples.”

3. Ask your microbiome what’s the best diet for you. 

Dietary advice is often based on the food’s calories or carbohydrate content rather than who eats the food. It assumes, for example, that if two people ate identical pieces of bread, the changes in the blood glucose would be roughly the same.

Not so.

Suez and his colleagues found that blood glucose levels spiked in some people but didn’t budge in others. In fact, they measured widely different glucose responses to any given food. The takeaway is that the same food or diet can be healthy for some but unhealthy for others.

Based on data collected from hundreds of participants, Suez and colleagues developed an algorithm that could predict glucose responses based on the microbiome alone. In follow up studies by his collaborators, the algorithm was able to recommend a diet that was healthier for individuals with type 1 diabetes or prediabetes than a traditional diet that excluded high-carbohydrate foods like bread altogether.

4. Your medications may soon be changed based on your microbiome. 

Doctors typically  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

The big one, IMO, is No. 6:  Noncaloric artificial sweeteners may damage your microbiome–and your health.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2022 at 8:15 pm

Mental Health Is Political

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Dr. Danielle Carr, assistant professor at the Institute for Society and Genetics at U.C.L.A., writes in the NY Times:

What if the cure for our current mental health crisis is not more mental health care?

The mental health toll of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the subject of extensive commentary in the United States, much of it focused on the sharp increase in demand for mental health services now swamping the nation’s health care capacities. The resulting difficulty in accessing care has been invoked widely as justification for a variety of proposed solutions, such as the profit-driven growth of digital health and teletherapy start-ups and a new mental health plan that the Biden administration unveiled earlier this year.

But are we really in a mental health crisis? A crisis that affects mental health is not the same thing as a crisis of mental health. To be sure, symptoms of crisis abound. But in order to come up with effective solutions, we first have to ask: a crisis of what?

Some social scientists have a term — “reification” — for the process by which the effects of a political arrangement of power and resources start to seem like objective, inevitable facts about the world. Reification swaps out a political problem for a scientific or technical one; it’s how, for example, the effects of unregulated tech oligopolies become “social media addiction,” how climate catastrophe caused by corporate greed becomes a “heat wave” — and, by the way, how the effect of struggles between labor and corporations combines with high energy prices to become “inflation.” Examples are not scarce.

For people in power, the reification sleight of hand is very useful because it conveniently abracadabras questions like “Who caused this thing?” and “Who benefits?” out of sight. Instead, these symptoms of political struggle and social crisis begin to seem like problems with clear, objective technical solutions — problems best solved by trained experts. In medicine, examples of reification are so abundant that sociologists have a special term for it: “medicalization,” or the process by which something gets framed as primarily a medical problem. Medicalization shifts the terms in which we try to figure out what caused a problem, and what can be done to fix it. Often, it puts the focus on the individual as a biological body, at the expense of factoring in systemic and infrastructural conditions.

Once we begin to ask questions about medicalization, the entire framing of the mental health toll of the Covid crisis — an “epidemic” of mental illness, as various publications have called it, rather than a political crisis with medical effects — begins to seem inadequate.

Of course, nobody can deny that there has been an increase in mental and emotional distress. To take two of the most common diagnoses, a study published in 2021 in The Lancet estimated that the pandemic had caused an additional 53.2 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76.2 million cases of anxiety disorder globally.

Let’s think about this. The fact that incidences of psychological distress have increased in the face of objectively distressing circumstances is hardly surprising. As a coalition of 18 prominent mental health scholars wrote in a 2020 paper in The Lancet: “Predictions of a ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems as a consequence of [Covid] and the lockdown are overstated; feelings of anxiety and sadness are entirely normal reactions to difficult circumstances, not symptoms of poor mental health.”

Things get even less surprising when you look more closely at the data: If you bracket the (entirely predictable) spike in psychological distress among health care workers (a fact that itself only reinforces the idea that the major causal vectors in play here are structural), the most relevant predictors of mental health are indexes of economic security. Of course, it’s not simply a question of the numbers on your bank statement — although that is a major predictor of outcomes — but of whether you live in a society where the social fabric has been destroyed.

Before we go further, let me be clear about what I am not arguing. I am not arguing that mental illnesses are fake, or somehow nonbiological. Pointing out the medicalization of social and political problems does not mean denying that such problems produce real biological conditions; it means asking serious questions about what is causing those conditions. If someone is driving through a crowd, running people over, the smart move is not to declare an epidemic of people suffering from Got Run Over by a Car Syndrome and go searching for the underlying biological mechanism that must be causing it. You have to treat the very real suffering that is happening in the bodies of the people affected, obviously, but the key point is this: You’re going to have to stop the guy running over people with the car.

This principle is what some health researchers mean by the idea that there are social determinants of health — that effective long-term solutions for many medicalized problems require nonmedical — this is to say, political — means. We all readily acknowledge that for diseases like diabetes and hypertension — diseases with a very clear biological basis — an individual’s body is only part of the causal reality of the disease. Treating the root cause of the “epidemic” of diabetes effectively, for example, would happen at the level of serious infrastructural changes to the available diet and activity levels of a population, not by slinging medications or pouring funding into clinics that help people make better choices in supermarkets filled with unregulated, unhealthy food. You’ve got to stop the guy running over people with the car.

But if the public health consensus around diabetes has shifted somewhat in response to what we know, it’s been remarkably hard to achieve the same when it comes to mental health.

Psychiatric sciences have long acknowledged the fact that stress is causally implicated in an enormous range of mental disorders, referring to the “stress-diathesis model” of mental illness. That model incorporates the well-documented fact that chronic stressors (like poverty, political violence and discrimination) intensify the chance that an individual will develop a given diagnosis, from depression to schizophrenia.

The causal relationship may be even more direct. Remarkably, all throughout decades of research on mood disorders, scientists doing . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2022 at 8:11 pm

This ‘wine mom’ never questioned her drinking. Then she stopped for a month.

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Cathy Alter has an interesting article in the Washington Post on how she interrupted her drinking. It was particularly interesting to me because I have realized that I have stopped drinking without having made a conscious decision to stop. I have always enjoyed alcohol in the form of wine and spirits and (good) cocktails, but when I started tracking my budget more closely, I realized how much wine and spirits cost, so I decided to cut back on buying them. And as I read more about the effect of alcohol on health, I realized that in fact drinking alcohol significantly increases health risks. The health risk from a single glass of wine or just one cocktail is insignificant, but as I discussed in an earlier post, the “compound-interest” effect of consistently (e.g., daily) doing something that, on any one day, makes but a small difference, will over time result in major gains (e.g., Nordic walking) or major losses (e.g., smoking cigarettes).

One Nordic walk will not do much to improve one’s fitness; daily Nordic walking for a month will make a noticeable improvement. One cigarette (or one drink) will not do much to damage one’s health; daily smoking (or drinking) will in time do considerable damage.

At any rate, once I started tracking my weekly grocery/miscellaneous budget, I stopped buying alcohol. That was at the beginning of this year, and since restaurants are no longer really a thing for me since Covid, I haven’t eaten out much. (When I had dnner in a restaurant, I usually had a drink before dinner and a glass of wine with the meal.)

So, without really meaning to, I did stop drinking, and once I had gone several months without a drink, I realized I didn’t much want a drink because I didn’t like the fuzziness of mind that it produces.

I doubtless will have a drink at Thanksgiving and at Christmas as part of a family celebration, but the occasional and rare drink doesn’t present a problem. It’s the day-in, day-out glass of wine or evening cocktail that presents the compound-interest outcome and, eventually, a serious problem — just as the day-in, day-out Nordic walk results in a significant improvement in fitness (an improvement that is not really noticeable when comparing one day to the following day).

At any rate, I found Cathy Alter’s article (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post quite interesting — and the comments also are interesting. The article begins:

It all started with a news release. As a journalist, I get multiple pitches a day: “Best and Worst Cities for Healthy Dogs,” “Why the Buzz about Glutathione?” and, sit down for this one, the opportunity to talk to the founder of Parting Stone, a start-up that turns the ashes of loved ones into smooth rocks and pebbles (40 to 60 of them).

But this email, from Dry Together, really got my attention. Despite sounding like a communal bathhouse, Dry Together is an online hamlet for midlife moms who are seeking ways to cope — with work, with family, with life — that don’t involve a tumbler of alcohol. Founders and former college roommates Holly Sprague and Megan Barnes Zesati, who are both nondrinkers, were inviting women ages 35 to 60 to participate in their second annual Dry January challenge, which would include, among other avenues of support, a weekly one-hour Zoom get-together facilitated by Sprague and Barnes Zesati. “A month without alcohol is sometimes just what moms need in order to

Also by Cathy Alter: When the ‘mean girl’ is a woman

Being the 56-year-old mother of a 10-year-old named Leo and having a nightly habit of a glass or two of boxed red, I met the criteria and, to some degree, the “wine mom” stereotype. I do own a pair of socks that read “My Favorite Salad is Wine.” I once considered bringing a colossal wine glass — a gag gift capable of holding an entire bottle — to my book club. And I texted friends the link to that “Saturday Night Live” sketch where Aidy Bryant unwraps her birthday gifts, a series of increasingly barbed wooden signs reading, for example, “I like you better when I’m effed up.” (Scary Mommy wrote a piece entitled “ ‘SNL’ Wine Skit Is Hilarious Because It’s True.”)

The fact that I was a stereotype gave me pause. Perhaps it was time for me to take a break and, as suggested by Dry Together’s promotional email, consider my relationship with alcohol. I also had recently lost 30 pounds gained in a covid stress haze and had been talking to my husband, Karl, about wanting to get healthier. January, after all, is a time for new beginnings.

I hadn’t gone cold turkey since I was pregnant. But in less time than it takes to say Beaujolais, I paid the $39 monthly fee and awaited instructions.

According to a recent study, while Americans drank 14 percent more compared with before the pandemic, women increased their alcohol intake by 41 percent. I saw this play out in real time, not only in my own uptick (think three glasses of wine on “Bachelor” nights), but also in the renewed habit of a dear friend, an empty nester and recovered alcoholic who had been sober for 40 years.

“Once covid hit, and I was alone in my apartment, I started drinking a glass or two of Prosecco every night — just to ease the loneliness and fear,” she told me. She assured me that she has since stopped, adding: “The precipice is deep and always close.”

Dry Together, which has 40 members, does not ask anyone to identify as an alcoholic. It doesn’t even ask its members to quit drinking — during the month or forever. Abstinence is a choice and, as I learn the first night, a few of the women present were already planning to go back to drinking come February, while others weren’t sure what they would do. It’s a delicate dance, this come-here-go-back dalliance with booze.

As we went around the Zoom room, the 15 women — . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2022 at 6:39 pm

What I can control and what I cannot

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This is very much related to Covey’s circle of concern (no personal control) and circle of influence (personal control and/or influence). See this post.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2022 at 2:35 pm

A Chinese Spy Wanted GE’s Secrets, But the US Got China’s Instead

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Jordan Robertson and Drake Bennett report in Bloomberg Businessweek:

In January 2014, Arthur Gau, an aerospace engineer who was nearing retirement age, received an unexpected email from a long-lost acquaintance in China. Years before, Gau had made a series of trips from his home in Phoenix to speak at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, or NUAA, one of China’s most prestigious research institutions. The original invitation had come from the head of a lab there studying helicopter design. Increasingly, however, Gau had heard from someone else, a man who worked at the university in a vague administrative capacity. Little Zha, as the man called himself, was the one who made sure Gau never had to pay his own airfare when he came to give talks. When Gau brought his mother on a 2003 visit, Zha arranged and paid for them to take a Yangtze cruise to see the river’s dramatically sculpted middle reaches before they were flooded by the Three Gorges Dam.

The relationship had ended awkwardly, though, when Zha offered Gau money to come back to China with information about specific aviation projects from his employer, the industrial and defense giant Honeywell International Inc. Gau ignored the request, and the invitations stopped.

Now, in 2014, Little Zha was reaching out again. The two started corresponding. In early 2016, Gau, whose interests extended far beyond avionics, said he’d planned a trip to China to visit some friends in the musical theater world. Zha was there that spring to meet him at the airport in Beijing. Waiting with him was a colleague Zha was eager for Gau to meet.

Xu Yanjun was on the tall side, at 5 feet 10 inches, with closely cropped hair, glasses, and a tendency toward bluntness. The three had dinner and met up again before Gau flew back to the US. Over pastries in Gau’s hotel room, they discussed Taiwanese politics—Gau grew up there—as well as the engineer’s evolving responsibilities at Honeywell. Late in the evening, Xu handed Gau $3,000 in cash. Gau would later testify that he tried to hand it back, but Xu was insistent. “And then, you know, back and forth, but I took it eventually.”The next year, Gau came back to China to give another lecture—this time a private one in a hotel room to several engineers and officials, including Xu. In preparation, Gau had emailed over PowerPoint slides containing technical information, including algorithms and other sensitive design data for the aircraft auxiliary power units Honeywell makes. “Because of the payment, I felt obligated,” he would later tell a judge.

Xu paid him $6,200 more, and two of his associates accompanied the visiting engineer on a two-day sightseeing trip to West Lake, famed for its picturesque gardens, islands, and temples. Gau was planning his next visit when, in the fall of 2018, agents from the FBI appeared at his home in Arizona to execute a search warrant. There would not be another trip. Xu, the agents explained, was not in Nanjing anymore. He wasn’t even in China. He was in Ohio, in a county jail awaiting trial.

The issue of Chinese industrial espionage is a fraught one. In November 2018, Jeff Sessions, then the Trump administration’s attorney general, announced a program called the China Initiative, intended to combat “the deliberate, systematic, and calculated threats” from Chinese government-directed intellectual-property theft. The program, however, ended up targeting largely academics—not for stealing secrets, but for failing to report affiliations with Chinese research institutions. In some instances, even those charges proved meritless. In February, amid concerns over ethnic profiling and the criminalization of scientific collaboration, the Biden administration shut down the China Initiative, though it vowed to continue pursuing cases involving the country.

Nonetheless, the remit of Chinese intelligence services does cover industrial secrets as well as military and government ones, and their leadership takes that responsibility seriously. It’s what rising economic powers have always done: In the late 18th century, the newly independent US offered bounties for textile workers to smuggle loom designs from the great British cotton mills. Those mills had been built in part to specifications once pilfered from Italian silk spinners. And that industry, in turn, wouldn’t have existed without silkworm eggs spirited out centuries before from China.

The modern Chinese industrial espionage apparatus—in its organization, scope, and ambition—far eclipses those predecessors. “We consistently see that it’s the Chinese government that poses the biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a speech in July. Since the 1990s, prosecutors have charged almost 700 people with espionage, IP theft, illegally exporting military technology, and other crimes linked to China. Two-thirds of the cases have led to convictions, according to a database kept by Nick Eftimiades, a former official at the US Department of Defense and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council; most of the rest are pending or involve fugitives. All are part of an intelligence-gathering apparatus that relies not only on trained spies and officers of China’s Ministry of State Security but also on ordinary engineers and scientists. This machinery remains largely opaque to outsiders. Limited to going after the people feeding information to handlers in China, US authorities have been like narcotics investigators pursuing low-level buy-and-busts while the larger criminal infrastructure hums along unscathed.

At least, that was the case until Xu Yanjun’s trial last fall. His arrest marked the first time an MSS officer was lured out of China and extradited to the US. And it was more than a symbolic victory, yielding an extraordinary trove of digital correspondence, official Chinese intelligence documents, even a personal journal. When Xu was apprehended, he had with him an iPhone whose contents he’d faithfully backed up to the cloud, a lapse that allowed FBI investigators to recover all the data from Apple Inc. Asked about the case, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded, “The accusations by the US are completely fabricated. We demand the US handle the case in a fair manner and ensure the legitimate rights of Chinese citizens.”

Over two and a half weeks from late last October into November, federal prosecutors in a courtroom in Cincinnati drew on the wealth of digital material the 41-year-old Xu had stockpiled to lay out a portrait of him—his training, methods, and ambitions, his vices and private doubts and grievances. Translated from the original Mandarin, it’s an unprecedentedly intimate portrait of how China’s economic espionage machine works, and what life is like for its cogs. . .

Continue reading. No paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2022 at 1:53 pm

Exercise your diaphragm

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NPR’s Allison Aubrey has an interesting report:

It’s well known that weightlifting can strengthen our biceps and quads. Now, there’s accumulating evidence that strengthening the muscles we use to breathe is beneficial too. New research shows that a daily dose of muscle training for the diaphragm and other breathing muscles helps promote heart health and reduces high blood pressure.

“The muscles we use to breathe atrophy, just like the rest of our muscles tend to do as we get older,” explains researcher Daniel Craighead, an integrative physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. To test what happens when these muscles are given a good workout, he and his colleagues recruited healthy volunteers ages 18 to 82 to try a daily five-minute technique using a resistance-breathing training device called PowerBreathe. The hand-held machine — one of several on the market — looks like an inhaler. When people breathe into it, the device provides resistance, making it harder to inhale.

How it works

The video weirdly says that the device “strengthens the lungs,” but that doesn’t make any sense. The lungs have no muscular tissue to strengthen. The device does clearly strengthen the diaphragm (a muscle) and probably also muscles in the rib cage, but the lungs? I don’t think so. 

I suspect the error is from an uninformed marketing person want to make a product sound better, much like advertising copy that describes radio receivers as “powerful” if the receiver can effectively amplify weak signals. Transmitters can be powerful, but good receivers are sensitive. A “powerful” receiver makes no sense. Nor does the idea making the lungs “stronger.”

The article continues:

“We found that doing 30 breaths per day for six weeks lowers systolic blood pressure by about 9 millimeters of mercury,” Craighead says. And those reductions are about what could be expected with conventional aerobic exercise, he says — such as walking, running or cycling.

A normal blood pressure reading is less than about 120/80 mmHg, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These days, some health care professionals diagnose patients with high blood pressure if their average reading is consistently 130/80 mmHg or higher, the CDC notes.

The impact of a sustained 9 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure (the first number in the ratio) is significant, says Michael Joyner, a physician at the Mayo Clinic who studies how the nervous system regulates blood pressure. “That’s the type of reduction you see with a blood pressure drug,” Joyner says. Research has shown many common blood pressure medications lead to about a 9 mmHg reduction. The reductions are higher when people combine multiple medications, but a 10 mmHg reduction correlates with a 35% drop in the risk of stroke and a 25% drop in the risk of heart disease.

The training helps prevent high blood pressure too

“I think it’s promising,” Joyner says about the prospects of integrating strength training for the respiratory muscles into preventive care. It could be beneficial for people who are . . .

Continue reading.

I ordered this model ($26) rather than the POWERbreathe ($115). Both models will give your diaphragm a good workout.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2022 at 12:02 pm

The unspoken reason women leave the workforce

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Terry Weber, CEO of Biote, has an interesting article in Fast Company (no paywall):

It’s no secret women are leaving the workplace in record numbers. Millions of women are now gone from the workforce compared to pre-COVID-19, and while men are rapidly recouping lost jobs, women are returning to the workforce at a much slower rate.

The most commonly cited reason is sky-high childcare costs, caregiving responsibilities, and pressure or burnout from juggling multiple obligations. Analysts are eager to point to the many reasons that would cause women, specifically, to leave the workforce. And yet they continue to leave one reason off the list. 

The Taboo of Menopause in the Workplace

Currently, up to 20% of the U.S. workforce is affected by menopause symptoms.

And unlike women who leave the workforce because of childcare challenges, women who struggle with menopause symptoms rarely find established company guidelines, support, or a sympathetic ear.

As a female CEO in male-dominated industries for most of my career, I can almost see the eye-rolling. How can this be a severe issue when you’ve never heard anyone say menopause was their reason for ending employment?

Working in the life sciences industry, I’ve heard directly from patients whose lives were being upended by menopause symptoms but didn’t think to seek medical help until their symptoms became too disruptive at work.

But that is only the beginning. Once someone decides to seek help, an alarming number of health care providers are uncomfortable treating menopause or unfamiliar with the variety of symptoms that hormonal imbalances can cause. Even when women do seek medical care, they are often . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2022 at 8:05 pm

Could a Heineken ad from 2017 actually hold the key to reducing partisan animosity?

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Rob Walker writes in Fast Company (no paywall):

Partisan and ideological divides in the U.S. and elsewhere seem to deepen on a daily basis. What can be done about it? It turns out, a beer ad may actually have an answer.

This suggestion isn’t as wild as it might sound. Very serious and wide-ranging recent research from Stanford, of all places, cites a memorable Heineken commercial from a few years back as part of a potential intervention the researchers judged to be particularly effective at reducing “partisan animosity.”

We’ll get to the ad, below, but first, the back story. Last month, Robb Willer and Jan G. Voelkel of Stanford’s sociology department, in collaboration with scholars at a number of other universities, published a “megastudy” designed to identify “successful interventions to strengthen Americans’ democratic attitudes.” The resulting paper, running to more than 200 pages, covers a lot of ground, assessing 25 proposed online interventions like quizzes, interactive experiences, and videos (chosen from hundreds submitted), and comparing their effectiveness in a range of such categories as helping remedy antidemocratic attitudes and counter support for political violence.

Called the Strengthening Democracy Challenge, the project ran for three years and involved 32,000 American “partisan” participants. As Fast Company previously reported, the results varied, but showed flashes of promise. The research also drew some broader conclusions, noting how some strategies worked to address certain problems but not others, underscoring the need for further research.

But unexpectedly, as some observers on Twitter noticed, the top-scoring intervention in the category of reducing partisan animosity among study subjects was an exercise that involved watching a Heineken ad from 2017, titled “Worlds Apart.”

Clocking in at four and a half minutes—very little of that time referencing the beer brand in any way whatsoever—it’s practically a short film. It involves three pairs of ideological opposites who have never met: a right wing, antifeminist white guy and a lefty, feminist woman of color; a climate-change denier and an environmental activist; and a trans woman and a man who says that being trans is “not right.”

Each pair is left alone with some tasks to complete (building simple furniture), and little alternative but to talk, answering some prepared questions. They’re evidently given no guidance, and the “experiment” (to determine whether there might be “more that unites than divides”) is not explained to them. After building a preliminary bond,  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall) 

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2022 at 7:38 pm

The Antitrust Shooting War Has Started

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

In the big tech-financed DC-tip sheet Axios four days ago, Dan Primack asked and answered an important question. “Who’s afraid of Joe Biden’s antitrust enforcers?” he queried. “Fewer people than last month.” Primack was responding to the Department of Justice Antitrust Division losing an important merger challenge between UnitedHealth and Change Healthcare, as well as the FTC losing a similar case. And while advocates want more cases, his colleague Ashley Gold noted, “it’s not clear who benefits if losses start to stack up.”

Then yesterday, news came out about another Division loss in a sugar merger. Both the UnitedHealth and sugar case were heard by Trump-appointed corporate judges, and I’ll get into that. More broadly, just what is going on? What do these losses mean?

For most Europeans, the first eight months of World War II were a snooze fest. Unlike the first world war, little but bureaucratic chatter seemed to happen for almost a year after Germany and the U.S.S.R. invaded Poland in September of 1939. This changed in May of 1940, when Germany attacked France and the low countries, winning much of continental Europe in just six weeks. But until then, those eight months were anti-climactic for the many peoples who were expecting, as they had experienced a little over twenty years earlier, mass slaughter.

This period came to be known as ‘the Phony War.’

Since the beginning of the Biden administration, we’ve had something of a Phony War around antitrust. Lots of chatter, bureaucratic shuffling, procedural motions, document demands, Congressional testimony and campaign ads. Calls to break up Google and Facebook and Amazon, do something about consolidation in health care and groceries, private equity and so forth. But limited shooting.

Over the past month, the antitrust Phony War has ended. What looked like little action was bureaucratic ramp-up. Lina Khan was hired to run the Federal Trade Commission and finally given a working majority five months ago, Jonathan Kanter was put in place at the Antitrust Division, and the Biden administration laid out a whole-of-government competition policy framework. Now it’s time for the shooting war, with the ebb and flow between the anti-monopoly movement and the bureaucratic and institutional obstacles in government and the judiciary.

The start of the conflict is easy to miss, since big dramatic actions, like breaking up Google or Amazon, haven’t happened. For instance, Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher, who are important opinion leaders, made the case on their influential podcast Pivot that Lina Khan has so far delivered nothing, either big or small, on big tech. And there is some merit to this pessimism. Both agencies have suffered stinging court losses. These include defeats in criminal wage fixing cases, and merger challenges against Illumina-GrailUnitedHealth-ChangeAltria-Juul, and U.S. Sugar-Imperial Sugar.

But in other areas, corporations are changing their behavior and markets are becoming more open. So to overlook the accomplishments is imprecise, just as it would be wrong not to concede some real setbacks for anti-monopolists. To decipher this set of affairs, I’ll lay out the good, the bad, and the ugly as the shooting starts.

The Good: Markets Are Becoming More Open

First, let’s start with the good, which is, from my perspective, the resurrection of dormant antitrust law. The agencies had 14 mergers blocked or abandoned in the last year, in important areas such as refrigerated shipping, hospitals, semiconductors, retail, and the defense sector. In some, like aerospace, these merger challenges reshaped an entire landscape. Still, blocked mergers, while they stop things from getting worse, only indirectly address the broader concentration crisis.

There’s a lot more than mergers. This summer, the Federal Trade Commission announced three different cases around firms trying to make it harder to repair their products, fruits of advocacy by the ‘right-to-repair’ movement. None of them targeted Apple, but Apple, like other big firms such as Microsoft, has begun to change the design of its products in response to this changing legal environment. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. In the section on The Bad, Stoller links to this video:

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2022 at 3:18 pm

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