Later On

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

Archive for September 10th, 2020

Ethan Hawke talks about creativity

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Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2020 at 11:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Some skepticism about “confirmation” of Goldberg’s story

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Glenn Greenwald looks with a jaundiced eye at the claimes of “confirmation” of Jeffrey Goldberg’s report on the (insensitive and uncomprehending) things President Trump said about American troops. The whole report is worth reading, and he puts his finger on something that bothered me: when someone “confirms” a statement from an anonymous source by using an anonymous source, how do we know that they did not go to the same person who made the initial anonymous claim? If they did, that is not confirmation, that is simply having someone repeat a claims. At the very least, confirmation requires getting the information from an independent source, and there is no sign that was done.

Obviously, the report is credible, based on quite public remarks from Donald Trump, before and after his becoming President. But that is a separate issue: the point is whether the “confirmations” were in fact confirmations, and so far as I can tell, we don’t know.

From Greenwald’s column (but read the whole thing — he recounts a terrible error CNN made and then erased):

. . .  IT SEEMS THE SAME MISLEADING TACTIC is now driving the supremely dumb but all-consuming news cycle centered on whether President Trump, as first reported by the Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, made disparaging comments about The Troops. Goldberg claims that “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day” — whom the magazine refuses to name because they fear “angry tweets” — told him that Trump made these comments. Trump, as well as former aides who were present that day (including Sarah Huckabee Sanders and John Bolton), deny that the report is accurate.

So we have anonymous sources making claims on one side, and Trump and former aides (including Bolton, now a harsh Trump critic) insisting that the story is inaccurate. Beyond deciding whether or not to believe Goldberg’s story based on what best advances one’s political interests, how can one resolve the factual dispute? If other media outlets could confirm the original claims from Goldberg, that would obviously be a significant advancement of the story.

Other media outlets — including Associated Press and Fox News — now claim that they did exactly that: “confirmed” the Atlantic story. But if one looks at what they actually did, at what this “confirmation” consists of, it is the opposite of what that word would mean, or should mean, in any minimally responsible sense. AP, for instance, merely claims that “a senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks to The Associated Press,” while Fox merely said “a former senior Trump administration official who was in France traveling with the president in November 2018 did confirm other details surrounding that trip.”

In other words, all that likely happened is that the same sources who claimed to Jeffrey Goldberg, with no evidence, that Trump said this went to other outlets and repeated the same claims — the same tactic that enabled MSNBC and CBS to claim they had “confirmed” the fundamentally false CNN story about Trump Jr. receiving advanced access to the WikiLeaks archive. Or perhaps it was different sources aligned with those original sources and sharing their agenda who repeated these claims. Given that none of the sources making these claims have the courage to identify themselves, due to their fear of mean tweets, it is impossible to know.

But whatever happened, neither AP nor Fox obtained anything resembling “confirmation.” They just heard the same assertions that Goldberg heard, likely from the same circles if not the same people, and are now abusing the term “confirmation” to mean “unproven assertions” or “unverifiable claims” (indeed, Fox now says that “two sources who were on the trip in question with Trump refuted the main thesis of The Atlantic’s reporting”).

It should go without saying that none of this means that Trump did not utter these remarks or ones similar to them. He has made public statements in the past that are at least in the same universe as the ones reported by the Atlantic, and it is quite believable that he would have said something like this (though the absolute last person who should be trusted with anything, particularly interpreting claims from anonymous sources, is Jeffrey Goldberg, who has risen to one of the most important perches in journalism despite — or, more accurately because of — one of the most disgraceful and damaging records of spreading disinformation in service of the Pentagon and intelligence community’s agenda).

But journalism is not supposed to be grounded in whether something is “believable” or “seems like it could be true.” Its core purpose, the only thing that really makes it matter or have worth, is reporting what is true, or at least what evidence reveals. And that function is completely subverted when news outlets claim that they “confirmed” a previous report when they did nothing more than just talked to the same people who anonymously whispered the same things to them as were whispered to the original outlet.

Quite aside from this specific story about whether Trump loves The Troops, conflating the crucial journalistic concept of “confirmation” with “hearing the same idle gossip” or “unproven assertions” is a huge disservice. It is an instrument of propaganda, not reporting. And its use has repeatedly deceived rather than informed the public. Anyone who doubts that should review how it is that MSNBC and CBS both claimed to have “confirmed” a CNN report which turned out to be ludicrously and laughably false. Clearly, the term “confirmation” has lost its meaning in journalism.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2020 at 10:27 am

Trees Have Their Own Way of Social Distancing

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Evolution produces astonishing (and detailed) solutions. Zoë Baillargeon writes in Atlas Obscura:

FOR MOST OF HER YOUNG life, Margaret “Meg” Lowman, a forest canopy specialist and self-described “arbor-naut,” looked up at the treetops from the ground. It wasn’t until she traveled to Panama for a research trip that, perched on a canopy access crane that belonged to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, she was able to get a bird’s-eye-view. The alternate perspective showed her something striking: The highest layer of the forest canopy wasn’t a uniform layer of green, but a patchwork of green islands separated by rivers of empty space.

What Lowman witnessed is a phenomenon called crown shyness, which describes the gaps that trees maintain between their top-most branches. From below, this sometimes creates a beguiling, seemingly backlit geometric pattern against the sky. First appearing in scientific literature in the 1920s, crown shyness has now been studied and observed in forests around the world, mostly in trees of the same species: lodgepole pines in British Columbia, Australian eucalyptus, Malaysia’s Borneo camphor, Sitka spruce, Japanese larch.

Although there are many different theories, Lowman believes that trees have adapted to protect themselves and the collective forest from pests, diseases, and severe winds and storms. In this sense, she says, crown shyness has an uncanny similarity to the social distancing that has helped slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Atlas Obscura asked Lowman what humans can learn from trees about adaptation, communication, and collective health.

You’ve been described as a “Real-Life Lorax” and “Canopy Meg.” What drew you to study trees and their canopies?

I played outdoors since about age three, growing up in very rural upstate New York. There were no movie theaters or computers or cell phones, so nature was our playmate. I just learned to love nature that way, and I’ve been very focused on trees because they’re a home for so many things. They’re such an important piece of keeping us alive.

What exactly is crown shyness?

I would describe crown shyness as the tree equivalent of social distancing! Leaving space between you and your next neighbor because it’s going to enhance your health. It’s a tree’s way of keeping healthy.

Can you tell me about the first time you saw this phenomenon in person?

I probably saw it all the time as a kid, but I never knew what I was looking at. When I finally got to graduate school in Australia, I had my first exposure. I spent most of my time in the canopy, not looking up at it. But when I started reading and doing expeditions to the Amazon, which I’ve been doing for 25 years, I did a lot more training in the understory and looking up. That’s when I really became aware of it. It’s more extreme in the tropics.

I was very interested in trying to figure out how insects get between trees. That’s my expertise, actually: insect-plant interaction in canopies. Half of the biodiversity on the land part of our planet is estimated to live in the treetops… beetles, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, flies, walking sticks. So we have this extraordinary group of insects that focus exclusively on foliage, and they have a big salad bar in the sky. The leaves can’t get away.

If you’re a tree, and you can’t run away from your enemies who are trying to eat you up, one good thing to do would be to try to minimize their ability to get to you. And I think crown shyness is a perfect example: The gaps minimize any chance of insects traveling between them. It also minimizes the physical damage caused when the wind blows hard. It’s gonna knock those leaves and branches together and probably cause a lot of physical damage if they’re really interlaced. So it makes a lot of sense to allow their leaves, which are the energy machines of the tree, a little bit more space.

Some scientists have also theorized that crown shyness allows more sunlight and energy resources to be shared with the lower canopy.

Possibly. There are a lot of ways that trees maximize their ability to give light to lower foliage. A lot of trees have an architecture that allows sunlight to move between the leaves and the branches. I think it’s more about protecting from damage and protecting from insects and predators. If it really was to let light into the understory, there would probably be a lot bigger spaces than what there are.

Where has crown shyness been observed around the world, and in what species of trees?

I’ve seen it in the sassafras tree in Australia, the cardboard tree in Africa. I’ve seen it in some of the montane oak trees in Costa Rica. Because I’m an “arbornaut,” I probably look up at the canopy more than most people. But it’s not [always] something you’re sure to see, because of the layers of the understory and whatnot. There’s a special structure for a forest called a cathedral forest, where the forest has lost its understory and the big, giant canopy trees kind of over-arch, and those are the places where people tend to photograph crown shyness.

But I’ve also seen plenty of forests where I haven’t observed it. The interesting thing is that with younger forests—say, with trees growing up in the understory that have been the result of some selective logging or clearing—you might not be able to observe it from the ground. So I’m not saying that it’s not there, but I’ve certainly been in forests where I couldn’t photograph it, or wasn’t aware of it.

So then it could also be more prevalent in old-growth forests than new-growth?

Right! And I would think yes, because the older trees would be much more adapted. The younger trees are sometimes growing really fast to get to the light, and they might not strategize about worrying about herbivores or wind so much.

Are there other ways that trees have evolved to communicate, protect, and support each other?

There are a lot. Of course, there’s a whole literature on the chemicals, the volatile oils that leaves exude. When they’re eaten, for example, they release some of these volatile compounds that warn and communicate to the neighboring trees, Hunker down! Get your leaf chemicals ramped up because things are eating us! And then there are, for some species, underground mycorrhizal fungal associations and networks. The bite triggers a reaction in the leaf, which in turn engages the survival of the species.

Could this natural example of social distancing inspire us to cope with quarantine and work together as a collective?

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2020 at 9:52 am

America’s myth is fraying

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You can kick the can down the road only until you come to the end of the road. Robin Wright (the writer, not the actress/director/producer) writes in the New Yorker:

The United States feels like it is unravelling. It’s not just because of a toxic election season, a national crisis over race, unemployment and hunger in the land of opportunity, or a pandemic that’s killing tens of thousands every month. The foundation of our nation has deepening cracks—possibly too many to repair anytime soon, or, perhaps, at all. The ideas and imagery of America face existential challenges—some with reason, some without—that no longer come only from the fringes. Rage consumes many in America. And it may only get worse after the election, and for the next four years, no matter who wins. Our political and cultural fissures have generated growing doubt about the stability of a country that long considered itself an anchor, a model, and an exception to the rest of the world. Scholars, political scientists, and historians even posit that trying to unite disparate states, cultures, ethnic groups, and religions was always illusory.

“The idea that America has a shared past going back into the colonial period is a myth,” Colin Woodard, the author of “Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood,” told me. “We are very different Americas, each with different origin stories and value sets, many of which are incompatible. They led to a Civil War in the past and are a potentially incendiary force in the future.”

The crisis today reflects the nation’s history. Not much, it turns out, has changed. The country was settled by diverse cultures—the Puritans in New England, the Dutch around New York City, the Scots-Irish dominating Appalachia, and English slave lords from Barbados and the West Indies in the Deep South. They were often rivals, Woodard noted: “They were by no means thinking of themselves belonging to a protean American country-in-waiting.” The United States was “an accident of history,” he said, largely because distinct cultures shared an external threat from the British. They formed the Continental Army to stage a revolution and form the Continental Congress, with delegates from thirteen colonies. Almost two hundred and fifty years later, a country six times its original size claims to be a melting pot that has produced an “American” culture and a political system that vows to provide “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Too often, it hasn’t.

Centuries later, the cultural divide and cleavages are still deep. Three hundred and thirty million people may identify as Americans, but they define what that means—and what rights and responsibilities are involved—in vastly different ways. The American promise has not delivered for many Blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asian-Americans, myriad immigrant groups, and even some whites as well. Hate crimes—acts of violence against people or property based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender identity—are a growing problem. A bipartisan group in the House warned in August that, “as uncertainty rises, we have seen hatred unleashed.”

When Athens and Sparta went to war, in the fifth century B.C., the Greek general and historian Thucydides observed, “The Greeks did not understand each other any longer, though they spoke the same language.” In the twenty-first century, the same thing is happening among Americans. Our political discourse has become “civil war by other means—we sound as if we do not really want to continue to be members of one country,” Richard Kreitner wrote, in the recently released book “Break It Up: Secession, Division and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union.” At different times in America’s history, the Union’s survival was produced as much by “chance and contingency” as by flag-waving and political will. “At nearly every step it required morally indefensible compromises that only pushed problems further into the future.”

The attempt to reckon with our unjust past has produced more questions—and new divisions—about our future. In Washington, D.C., last week, a group commissioned by the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, recommended, in a report, that her office ask the federal government to “remove, relocate, or contextualize” the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and statues to Benjamin Franklin and Christopher Columbus, among others. The committee compiled a list of people who should not have public works named after them, including Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem. After a deluge of criticism, Bowser said on Friday that the report was being misinterpreted and that the city would not do anything about the monuments and memorials. But a question remains, not just because we live in the era of Black Lives Matter: What is America about today? And is it any different from its deeply flawed past?

There was always an ambiguity about what the United States was supposed to be, Woodard said. Was it supposed to be an alliance of states (as the European Union, with twenty-seven distinct governments, is today), or a confederation (like Switzerland, with its three languages and twenty-six cantons), or a nation-state (like post-revolutionary France), or even a treaty mechanism, to prevent intra-state conflict? After the American Revolution, the “ad-hoc solution” was to celebrate the shared victory against the British; core differences were not addressed. Today, America is still conflicted about its values, whether over the social contract, the means of educating its children, the right to bear or ban arms, the protection of its vast lands, lakes, and air, or the relationship between the states and the federal government.

Last week, President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funds to four major cities—New York, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Portland—because of “anarchist” activities during weeks of protests. “My Administration will not allow Federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones,” the President’s five-page memo said. It was the latest of many acts by Trump that have further divided the nation, although the trend did not start with him.

Since the eighteen-thirties, the United States has gone through cycles of crises that threatened its cohesion. The idea of a revolutionary republic committed to equality (at the time, only for white men) started to erode as regional differences surfaced and the first generation of revolutionaries died out. States or territories have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2020 at 9:13 am

Tradition and pleasure in a shave

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My Simpson Persian Jar 2 Super is a fine brush, and this now-vintage shaving soap, made (I’m told) by Truefitt & Hill in a traditional lavender fragrance, made a superb lather. The Edwin Jagger is an excellent razor, and three passes produced a smooth face. A splash of Royal Copenhagen, which has a traditional old-time aftershave fragrance, finished the job and started the day.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2020 at 8:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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