Later On

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

Archive for June 4th, 2021

Game over for the US? — U.S. Waged Secret Legal Battle to Obtain Emails of 4 Times Reporters

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Some governments fight strenuously against the truth and those who report it. The US is joining them. Charlie Savage and Katie Benner report in the NY Times:

In the last weeks of the Trump administration and continuing under President Biden [important point — the corruption runs deep. – LG] the Justice Department fought a secret legal battle to obtain the email logs of four New York Times reporters in a hunt for their sources, a top lawyer for the newspaper said Friday night.

While the Trump administration never informed The Times about the effort, the Biden administration continued waging the fight this year, telling a handful of top Times executives about it but imposing a gag order to shield it from public view [certainly don’t want the public to know what its government is doing – LG], said the lawyer, David McCraw, who called the move unprecedented.

The gag order prevented the executives from disclosing the government’s efforts to seize the records even to the executive editor, Dean Baquet, and other newsroom leaders.

Mr. McCraw said Friday that a federal court had lifted the order, which had been in effect since March 3, freeing him to reveal what had happened. The battle was over an ultimately unsuccessful effort by the Justice Department to seize email logs from Google, which operates The Times’s email system, and which had resisted the effort to obtain the information.

The disclosure came two days after the Biden Justice Department notified the four reporters that the Trump administration, hunting for their sources, had in 2020 secretly seized months of their phone records from early 2017. That notification followed similar disclosures in recent weeks about seizing communications records of reporters at The Washington Post and CNN.

Mr. Baquet condemned both the Trump and Biden administrations for their actions, portraying the effort as an assault on the First Amendment.

“Clearly, Google did the right thing, but it should never have come to this,” Mr. Baquet said. “The Justice Department relentlessly pursued the identity of sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest in the final 15 days of the Trump administration. And the Biden administration continued to pursue it. As I said before, it profoundly undermines press freedom.”

There was no precedent, Mr. McCraw said, for the government to impose a gag order on New York Times personnel as part of a leak investigation. He also said the government had never before seized The Times’s phone records without advance notification of the effort.

A Google spokeswoman said that while it does not comment on specific cases, the company was “firmly committed to protecting our customers’ data and we have a long history of pushing to notify our customers about any legal requests.”

Anthony Coley, a Justice Department spokesman, noted that “on multiple occasions in recent months,” the Biden-era department had moved to delay enforcement of the order and it then “voluntarily moved to withdraw the order before any records were produced.”

He added: “The department strongly values a free and independent press, and is committed to upholding the First Amendment.”

Last month, Mr. Biden said he would not permit the Justice Department during his administration to seize communications logs that could reveal reporters’ sources, calling the practice “simply, simply wrong.” (Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department had gone after such data in several leak investigations.)

The letter this week disclosing the seizure of phone records involving the Times reporters — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt — had hinted at the existence of the separate fight over data that would show whom they had been in contact with over email.

The letters said the government had also acquired a court order to seize logs of their emails, but “no records were obtained,” providing no further details. But with the lifting of the gag order, Mr. McCraw said he had been freed to explain what had happened.

Prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney in Washington had obtained a sealed court order from a magistrate judge on Jan. 5 requiring Google to secretly turn over the information. But Google resisted, apparently demanding that The Times be told, as its contract with the company requires.

The Justice Department continued to press the request after the Biden administration took over, but  . . .

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

The reason such governments fight against the truth is the obvious one: the truth exposes them for what they are.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 8:47 pm

(Trying To) Study Textbooks Effectively: A Year of Experimentation

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An interesting post at LessWrong:

When I started studying the art of studying, I wanted to understand the role of book learning. How do we best learn from a textbook, scientific article, or nonfiction book? What can a student of average intelligence do to stay on top of their homework? Is it possible to improve your annual knowledge growth rate by one or two percent by learning how to learn? Should a motivated student take a maximizing or satisficing approach to their coursework? How many of the skills of a top scholar are strategic, collaborative, psychological, or involve merely a set of habits and technological proficiencies?

Fortunately, I started with the most esoteric of approaches, exploring visualization. I tried using a memory palace to memorize a textbook. It was vivid, fun, and creative. Exploring visualization helped me understand chemical diagrams, led me to invent a math problem, and made learning a lot more fun. But I simply couldn’t jam that much detailed technical knowledge into my head. The method didn’t help me pass my final exam, and I dropped it.

Posts from this era include Visual Babble and PruneUsing a memory palace to memorize a textbookThe point of a memory palaceVisualizing the textbook for fun and profit,

After that, I explored speed reading. I read the theory, experimented both with physical technique and speed reading apps, and kind of broke my reading habits developing this difficult-to-correct tendency to skim. This tendency to read too quickly persisted long after I’d dropped deliberate attempts at speed reading. I finally made some intellectual progress, which preceded correcting the reading habit itself, in The Comprehension Curve.

Then I explored the world of Anki and tried to use flashcards to memorize a textbook instead (or at least a few chapters). After simulating the sheer amount of flashcard review I’d have to do to keep a strategy like that up long-term, I dropped that too. I felt that forming memories of narrow facts (like the structure of RNA polymerase or the name of the 7th enzyme in glycolysis) was the costliest way to learn. And I found the achievement of world-class memory champions irrelevant to real-world learning, which just seems like an entirely different task.

Posts from this area (not all on flashcards specifically) include The Multi-Tower Study StrategyDefine Your Learning Goal: Competence Or Broad KnowledgeProgressive Highlighting: Picking What To Make Into FlashcardsGoldfish ReadingCurious Inquiry and Rigorous Training, and Using Flashcards for Deliberate Practice.

During this time, I also played around with “just reading,” without a conscious technique. Posts from this era include Check OK, babble-read, optimize (how I read textbooks)Wild Reading,

Notes are cheap. It takes a lot less time to write down a fact than to memorize it. But I went further. I developed an elaborate and carefully-specified system of shorthand notation to represent causal, temporal, and physical structures. It used Newick notation for tree structures, variants on arrow signs to articulate causation, sequence, combination, and more, templates to rewrite the stereotyped information presented by textbooks in a uniform format, and hyperlinks in Obsidian to represent the relationships between concepts.

Not only did I take notes on the textbook, I also took notes on each individual homework problem. I also developed notes for other problems. I wrote Question Notes for The Precipice. This means that for each paragraph in the book, I wrote down one question to which that paragraph was a valid answer.

I never published any posts on note-taking. Partly, note-taking itself scratched that itch. But more importantly, it was a very fast iterative cycle. My methods developed day by day, over the course of months. I was experimenting with different software apps, tweaking the templates I used, figuring out how to expand my particular method of shorthand to represent complex structures. After all the shifts I’d made on my previous experiments, I thought I would spare LessWrong the tedious minutiae of my developing thoughts on note-taking. I’m confident that crafting the perfect notes in an elaborate and precise shorthand system is no a panacaea, so I don’t know if it’s worth bothering.

Exploring note-taking was as useful as visualizing was fun. The rigid structure of my note-taking approach gave me clear guidance on what it means to “read” or “study” a textbook chapter. They became a useful reference for looking things up. The idea of bringing together any data, formula, charts, or techniques I needed to solve a problem, and then making a plan of attack before setting to work, was a big upgrade for my accuracy and sense of ease.

Yet when my note-taking . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 12:26 pm

Appreciation vs. True Appreciation

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I was thinking about the bonsai video I posted earlier today, and also about a Medium article I recently published, “Become Aware of What You Don’t See.” When I see an attractive bonsai, I appreciate it, but that is not true appreciation because I am responding only to the tip of the iceberg: what I can see when I look at it.

Watching the video of a bonsai designer at work — like watching dancers rehearse — expands my vision to a degree because I start to understand the work that went into it (bonsai or dance) — how it came to be, what choices were made. So my appreciation is deeper because of my greater understanding.

But true appreciation, I think, requires shared experience. Those who have actually worked on a bonsai both understand the choices made — the result of which we see — and also have have a feeling for the choices rejected. If you’ve had the experience, you understand the range of choices you can make, and you have experienced the process of eliminating some choices and making others.

That is true for dance, for bonsai, for music (composition and performancce), for cooking, for sports, and so on: true appreciation comes from those who have in a sense been there: who have faced a blank page or canvas or stage and have created.

I am glad that I have more appreciation of bonsai, but without bonsai experience of my own, I cannot have true appreciation. Perhaps better: “appreciation vs. deep appreciation.”

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 11:55 am

Posted in Art, Daily life

The Lost Prophet of California Agriculture

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Charlie Siler has a well-illustrated and very interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine. He writes:

  1. Lessons of The Dust Bowl
  2. The Joys of Tinkering
  3. The Search For The Perfect Machine
  4. What Could Have Been

Al Ruozi, age 97, is a high-school dropout from Bakersfield, California, who made his living selling farm machinery that he designed and welded together, using handmade machinery that he built himself, in a building that he and his brother assembled. His primary invention, created in the 1950s, was a machine that gave cotton farmers a better way to clear their land. While little-known in the U.S., Ruozi’s invention has been emulated around the world, leading the way to a new generation of farm equipment that can save water, improve soil quality, and maybe even fight climate change.

“Al Ruozi was the inspiration for much of the innovation that happened over the next 30 years,” says Jeff Mitchell, a conservation specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Bakersfield was a harsh place in the 1930s, when Ruozi quit school to help out on the family farm. The dust storms of the U.S. prairies had sent thousands of farmers west to California in search of jobs and land. The country was still recovering from the Great Depression, with unemployment improving only after 1933, when it peaked at 25 percent.

The Okies in the shantytowns of Bakersfield had to contend with hostile locals and inadequate sanitation that sometimes led to dysentery, impetigo or hookworm. In December 1936, concern about disease led a group of Bakersfield citizens to burn down an Okie slum that housed 1,500 people.


We now know that the seeds of the Dust Bowl were sown in the 1920s, when the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains was broken by gasoline-driven plows, destroying native grasses and ruining the ability of the land to hold itself together, and thus retain moisture. In the 1930s, the ecological payback of the disaster wasn’t as clear as it is today. Yet somehow, the lessons of the prairies’ raging dust storms were not completely lost on a teenaged Ruozi. He saw that land could be ruined, and he suspected that the plow was to blame.

He nursed his concerns as he worked behind a horse-drawn plow, tilling his family’s land by slashing into the compacted dirt with the very practice that had contributed to the plight of the refugees huddled in squalid camps a few miles away. “The idea hit me,” he recalled during a recent conversation in his Bakersfield office. “I thought, why is the ground so hard?” Ruozi resolved to find a way to make it more “pliable.”

He got his chance about a decade later, when he returned to Bakersfield following some time in welding school and a stint in the Army during World War II. In 1948, Ruozi and his brother Gilbert bought and assembled a Quonset hut, one of the semi-cylindrical pre-fabricated structures that were used by the U.S. military in World War II and sold as surplus to the public afterward.


Ruozi called the new company Interstate Equipment and Manufacturing Corp. He worked there with his torch, using his welding skills to make potato-tillage equipment for a nearby manufacturer. All the while, he kept tinkering. “I’d pick up an old machine here or there, any time there was a scrap machine, and see if I could make it work,” Ruozi says. “I started out that way. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”

By the early 1950s, he was making his own patented machine. He called it the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some good photos.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 10:46 am

The Frightening New Republican Consensus

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David A. Graham writes in the Atlantic:

Former President Donald Trump has been speaking publicly about running to reclaim the White House in 2024, but he’s also reportedly expecting to make a comeback before then. “Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August,” Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’ ace Trump reporter, tweeted Tuesday.

There’s no such thing as reinstating a president, but Trump is echoing claims made by Sidney Powell, the lawyer who briefly pursued his specious election-fraud claims in court after the November election. Trump “can simply be reinstated,” she said this weekend. “A new inauguration date is set, and Biden is told to move out of the White House, and President Trump should be moved back in.” Powell is the same person who argued in a court filing this spring that no reasonable person would believe her election-fraud arguments.

If reinstatement sounds kooky, that’s because it is. Most Republicans don’t believe that Trump is set to return to the Oval Office later this summer. But there is widespread agreement inside the GOP that Democratic fraud is stealing elections, and that Republicans must not let that happen. If there’s a civil war in the Republican Party, it’s not about whether the problem exists, but how to fix it—by trying to undo the 2020 result, or instead by preparing for 2024.

From the most devoted QAnon fringes of the GOP to the surviving redoubts of old-school country-club Republicanism, the party’s leaders have come to a shared conclusion that the party doesn’t lose close elections—Democrats steal them. Republicans grant that Democrats win in heavily blue areas. Hardly anyone doubts that Democrats are winning big in majority-minority U.S. House districts in the South or in urban centers (though Trump did question low vote tallies for Republican candidates in Philadelphia).

But in close elections—which in this divided era include practically every presidential race and many U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races—the GOP has come to largely reject the notions that it didn’t turn out its core supporters, failed to persuade swing voters, or alienated former supporters by nominating fringe candidates. Instead, Republicans insist, they are losing because of rampant and systemic fraud. If this were true (which it is not), then it would stand to reason that Republicans must be able to prevent such theft or, failing that, overturn the results. In the Senate last week, the GOP caucus even filibustered a bipartisan panel to investigate the violent attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

Conservatives have long complained about election shenanigans, especially in urban areas. Historically, there is evidence that major fraud once occurred, but changes to laws and processes make old-school corruption nearly impossible, and even advocacy groups have been able to find only a handful of cases of fraud, despite diligent searching—practically none of it having been enough to swing an election’s outcome. (One rare counterexample, in a U.S. House race in North Carolina, benefited the Republican candidate.)

The new claims are different in scale—encompassing jurisdictions across the country—and popular support. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that more than half of Republicans view Trump as the true president. But even GOP leaders who reject Trump’s allegations of fraud are happy to back stricter voting laws predicated on bogus fraud claims.

The responses of elected Republicans to this new consensus form a spectrum from the ridiculous to putatively respectable. On the far end of the range are chimerical answers such as those that Powell and Trump are apparently spreading, rooted in faith but with no factual basis.

More dangerous, and slightly more realistic—or at least achievable—are calls for a coup to topple the Biden presidency, which these opponents view as illegitimate. Over the weekend,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 10:35 am

Black cumin’s health benefits and how I use it

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Some time back I learned about black cumin, which (as studies have confirmed) has a variety of nutritional benefits, some of which are of particular interest to diabetics with other benefits generally useful. Evolution has made seeds generally difficult to digest: the fruit acts as bait for an animal, and the seeds pass through through its digestive track unharmed and later sprout where deposited, generally far from the parent plant. Thus the animal unwittingly assists the plant by ensuring a wider propagation (plants in general being deficient in mobility, thus the observation that the apple falls not far from the tree). Other seeds reflect other strategies not depending on being consumed. Dandelion, milk thistle, and maple seeds take flight and are dispersed by the wind — they have no fruit because their propagation doesn’t require it. Cockleburs, burdock, and other seeds hitch a ride by sticking to the fur (or clothing) of passing animals.

To be actually digested, seeds in general must be cracked or ground, so (for example) I grind the flaxseed and peppercorns that I eat. Some seeds — sesame seeds, for example — can be ground by chewing; other seeds — cumin, for example — are generally sold already ground.

I tried grinding black cumin in the whirling-blade grinder, which works well for flaxseed, but it seemed that black cumin seeds are too small and tough for that to work. So I bought a pepper mill and filled it with black cumin. You need only a little black cumin to gain its benefits, and this seemed like a good approach. (At the bottom of the mill you see some peppercorns that came with it. I’ll soon work through those and reach the black cumin.)

The three-minute video below explains some of the benefits (and see also this video for how it helps with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid).

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 10:08 am

Watch what a bonsai artist does

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Often I have a general idea about some activity, and then as I learn more, I realize that my “general idea” was so shallow as to be worthless. Finding out more about what is truly involved, I feel as though I knew little more than how to spell the activity’s name. This happens a lot, so that I feel that much of my “knowledge” is paper-thin, giving me the impression that I know something of which I am almost totally ignorant.

Take, for example, bonsai. I know the term refers to growing plants — trees the usual subject, but also other aspects of a treescape: moss, arrangement of rocks, and so on. And I know that trees can be grown singly or in small groups — even to suggest a miniature forest. (Click photo to enlarge.)

So it was interesting to me to watch this guy at work as, over the course of a year, he creates a striking bonsai tree from what looked to me like a worthless specimen. This is from an Open Culture post by Colin Marshall, and I encourage you to read the post. The post includes another video — at least as interesting — on restoring a neglected Chinese juniper bonsai, along with several good links, the first three of which are:

The Art & Philosophy of Bonsai

This 392-Year-Old Bonsai Tree Survived the Hiroshima Atomic Blast & Still Flourishes Today: The Power of Resilience

A Digital Animation Compares the Size of Trees: From the 3-Inch Bonsai, to the 300-Foot Sequoia

After watching this I subscribed to the guy’s channel.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 9:25 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Memes

Tagged with

Sandalwood morning

with 10 comments

This is the good (i.e., old) Geo. F. Trumper and that RazoRock Italian-flag synthetic easily created a fine lather. The Baby Smooth (here in stainless steel) was unexpectedly unruly this morning, delivering a couple of good nicks on my upper lip during the across-the-grain pass. No idea why it suddenly turned vicious, but I replaced the blade since I’ve observed that some brands become quite nicky as they age. (It was a Treet Platinum, generally a very nice blade for me. I replaced it with an Astra Keramik Platinum.)

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave’s Sandalwood Extract EDT as an aftershave, and the day begins. Despite the nicks, the overall result of the shave is a remarkable smoothness of face.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 8:13 am

Posted in Shaving

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