Archives for September 2018

The FBI will treat Kavanaugh’s lies as ‘a flashing signal to dig deeper’

James Comey writes:

F.B.I. agents are experts at interviewing people and quickly dispatching leads to their colleagues around the world to follow with additional interviews. Unless limited in some way by the Trump administration, they can speak to scores of people in a few days, if necessary.

They will confront people with testimony and other accounts, testing them and pushing them in a professional way. Agents have much better nonsense detectors than partisans, because they aren’t starting with a conclusion.

Yes, the alleged incident occurred 36 years ago. But F.B.I. agents know time has very little to do with memory. They know every married person remembers the weather on their wedding day, no matter how long ago. Significance drives memory. They also know that little lies point to bigger lies. They know that obvious lies by the nominee about the meaning of words in a yearbook are a flashing signal to dig deeper. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports:

President Trump said on Saturday that the F.B.I. will have “free rein” to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, but the emerging contours of the inquiry showed its limited scope.

Four witnesses will be questioned in coming days about aspects of the assault accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, according to two people familiar with the matter. Left off the list were former classmates who have contradicted Judge Kavanaugh’s congressional testimony about his drinking and partying as a student.

The White House will decide the breadth of the inquiry, though presidential advisers were working in concert with Senate Republicans, said the two people, one a senior administration official, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation.

The White House can order investigators to further examine the allegations if their findings from the four witness interviews open new avenues of inquiry, and Mr. Trump seemed to stress that part of the plan in a tweet late on Saturday.

“I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion,” Mr. Trump wrote. He denied an NBC News report that he was limiting the inquiry and that investigators were not permitted to examine the claims of Julie Swetnick, a woman who has said she witnessed a severely drunken Judge Kavanaugh mistreat women at parties in high school, and that he had attended parties where high school boys gang-raped teenage girls.

Investigators will interview one of the witnesses, a high school friend of Judge Kavanaugh’s named Mark Judge, about Ms. Swetnick’s accusations, the two people said. [Continue reading…]

Hundreds of migrant children quietly moved to a tent camp on the Texas border

The New York Times reports:

In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas.

Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases.

But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.

These midnight voyages are playing out across the country, as the federal government struggles to find room for more than 13,000 detained migrant children — the largest population ever — whose numbers have increased more than fivefold since last year. [Continue reading…]

Human-caused climate change severely exposes the U.S. national parks

File 20180923 129868 z009ld.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Trees have died in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo., as climate change has intensified bark beetle infestations and drought.
Patrick Gonzalez, CC BY-ND

By Patrick Gonzalez, University of California, Berkeley

Human-caused climate change is disrupting ecosystems and people’s lives around the world. It is melting glaciers, increasing wildfires, and shifting vegetation across vast landscapes. These impacts have reached national parks around the world and in the United States. Until now, however, no analysis had examined climate change trends across all 417 U.S. national parks.

The United States established the first national park in the world, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. U.S. national parks today protect some of the most irreplaceable natural areas and cultural sites in the world. Colleagues and I aimed to uncover the magnitude of human-caused climate change on these special places. We conducted the first spatial analysis of historical and projected temperature and precipitation trends across all U.S. national parks and compared them with national trends.

Our newly published results reveal that climate change has exposed the national parks to conditions hotter and drier than the country as a whole. This occurs because extensive parts of the parks are in extreme environments – the Arctic, high mountains, and the arid southwestern United States.

[Read more…]

Does language spring from the things it describes?

Mark Vernon writes:

In conversation at the Hay Festival in Wales this May, the English poet Simon Armitage made an arresting observation. Discussing the nature of language and why it is so good at capturing the experience of being alive, he said: ‘My feeling is that a lot of the language that we use, and the best language for poetry, comes directly out of the land.’ Armitage was placing himself within the Romantic tradition’s understanding of the origins of language, which argues that words and grammar are not the arbitrary inventions of human brains and minds, but are rather suggested to human beings by nature and the cosmos itself. Language is an excellent way to understand the Universe, because language springs from the things it describes.

The English philosopher Owen Barfield, a member of the Oxford Inklings in the 1930s and ’40s, whose work as a philologist convinced him that the Romantic tradition was broadly right, put it succinctly. Words have soul, he said. They possess a vitality that mirrors the inner life of the world, and this connection is the source of their power. All forms of language implicitly deploy it. Poets are arguably more alert to it because they consciously seek it out.

It’s an insight with radical implications for theories about the origins of language, primarily because the dominant hypotheses in modern science regard words very differently, as soulless signs that act as labels for objects and symbols that facilitate cognitive agility. [Continue reading…]

Music: Shai Maestro Trio — ‘Treelogy’


Why Kavanaugh is unfit for the Supreme Court

Yascha Mounk writes:

At this moment of feverishly intense partisanship, it takes a great deal of courage to tiptoe away from your own tribe. Sen. Jeff Flake has not yet announced that he is willing to part for good; in the end, he may yet betray his professed principles and cast his vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. And yet, we should not underestimate how much strength it took for him to demand an investigation into Christine Blasey Ford’s serious allegations of sexual assault and delay the judge’s confirmation by at least a week. For now, he has proved to be one of the few people in the Senate—and perhaps one of the few in the whole country—who have insisted on taking Ford’s allegations seriously even though he actually shares most of Kavanaugh’s judicial views.

For the sake of our country, all of us should now hope that the FBI manages to uncover conclusive evidence that either supports or dispels Ford’s accusations. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. So the big risk we now face is that the same hell we have lived through for the past 48 hours will be repeated in even more farcical form next week. And that is why it’s very important to use this time to reflect seriously on how judicious people—and perhaps especially senators like Flake who profess to be conscientious conservatives—should vote if they have not made up their mind about the allegations.

It is painfully obvious that most Republican senators will vote to confirm Kavanaugh if the allegations against him are anything short of iron-clad; indeed, one shocking poll suggests that a majority of Republicans voters, and nearly half of evangelicals, would support his confirmation even if they did believe that he is guilty. It is also obvious that most Democrats will vote against his confirmation even in the unlikely case that the FBI should somehow manage to disprove Ford’s allegations; indeed, Kavanaugh’s extreme views on executive power provide a strong reason for any defender of liberal democracy to oppose his nomination. And yet, I think that one very important consideration has largely been overlooked.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Kavanaugh is an innocent man. If that’s the case, the raw anger he displayed during Thursday’s confirmation hearing is certainly understandable. While we might wish for a public figure to keep his poise even when his reputation is being impugned, it is perfectly human to lose your countenance under such circumstances.

But even under that charitable interpretation, Kavanaugh’s performance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee makes him eminently unfit to sit on the highest court of the land. [Continue reading…]

Let’s not pretend the Kavanaugh facts are unknowable

Caleb Mason, a litigator and former federal prosecutor, writes:

There’s nothing arcane or even particularly difficult about the investigatory steps the government could take to reach a reasonable factual conclusion about the Kavanaugh allegations. I simply cannot understand why the Judiciary Committee refuses to use the resources it has—namely, subpoena power, through which the committee can compel witnesses to testify and produce documents.

The committee’s approach to the Kavanaugh hearings reinforces the false image of trial practice as just throwing two people up there and letting the jury decide whom to believe. That’s not what trials are. When both sides have adequate resources (an important caveat), trials—and the months-long periods of document production and deposition testimony that lead up to them—are extraordinarily good vehicles for arriving at the truth.

I have the same satisfying feeling in every case as the evidence gradually fills in the gaps and a story begins to emerge. People leave remarkably specific paper trails of their activities, and are remarkably honest when they’re under oath. Most witnesses are very hesitant to outright lie in sworn testimony. They’ll squirm; they’ll be nonresponsive; they’ll have sudden failures of memory. But a good trial lawyer eats all that for breakfast; the coin of the realm in our business is the ability to pin a reluctant witness down to a concrete, definite answer. It’s common, moreover, for lawyers to investigate and litigate allegations of decades-old behavior. There’s nothing inherently unfair in a proceeding that seeks to uncover facts about such allegations. [Continue reading…]

How reliable are the memories of sexual assault victims?

Jim Hopper writes:

Incomplete memories of sexual assault, including those with huge gaps, are understandable–if we learn the basics of how memory works and we genuinely listen to survivors.

Such memories should be expected. They are similar to the memories of soldiers and police officers for things they’ve experienced in the line of fire. And a great deal of scientific research on memory explains why.

I’m an expert on psychological trauma, including sexual assault and traumatic memories. I’ve spent more than 25 years studying this. I’ve trained military and civilian police officers, prosecutors and other professionals, including commanders at Fort Leavenworth and the Pentagon. I teach this to psychiatrists in training at Harvard Medical School.

As an expert witness, I review videos and transcripts of investigative interviews. It’s like using a microscope to examine how people recall – and don’t recall – parts of their assault experiences. I’ve seen poorly trained police officers not only fail to collect vital details, but actually worsen memory gaps and create inconsistences.

Ignorance of how memory works is a major reason why sexual assault is the easiest violent crime to get away with, across our country and around the world.

Yet when I teach military service members and police officers, it’s mostly about making light bulbs go on in their heads and helping them connect the dots from their own traumatic memories to those of sexual assault survivors.

Soldiers and police know that traumatic memories often have huge gaps. They know it can be difficult or impossible to recall the order in which some things happened. They know they’ll never forget some things from that alley in Ramadi where their best friend died—even though they can’t remember many details of the battle, or which month of their third Iraq rotation it was.

That’s why soldiers and police often approach me after trainings to say, “You get it,” or “now I understand how it’s no different for people who’ve been sexually assaulted.” [Continue reading…]

Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100

The Washington Post reports:

Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.

A rise of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 4 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed. [Continue reading…]

‘I can’t believe I’m in Saudi Arabia’

Lindsey Hilsum writes:

In June the circus came to town. Nothing remarkable, you might think, except that the town was Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where until two years ago all forms of entertainment were banned. The previous week, the head of the General Entertainment Authority—sometimes called the Ministry of Fun—had been fired because a female performer in another circus had worn a tight-fitting, flesh-colored outfit that had sparked protests on Twitter (75 percent of Saudis use social media, about the same as Americans). The mutaween—the religious police—had carefully vetted the circus I attended, and the ankle-length black leggings and sparkly long sleeves of the lady with the dancing Dalmatians had passed muster, as had the body-hugging dark costumes worn by a group of androgynous flamenco-style dancers.

It was a particular joy to be in the audience, watching the delight of both children and adults, oohing and aahing at the tightrope walkers and convulsing with laughter at an act involving a large poodle leaping in and out of a garbage can. In the intermission I canvassed opinion. It was a few days after women had been permitted to drive legally for the first time, and spectators understood that this was about more than the right to go to the Big Top. “I hope that everybody benefits from change while respecting our religion first of all,” said a woman whose face was covered by a niqab, sitting with her husband and three kids who were munching popcorn. “It’s a big change here, with women driving and everything,” said a knowing ten-year-old girl. “I can’t believe I’m in Saudi Arabia!” [Continue reading…]