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Public Official Covers Up For Massive Failure By Approving Torture

[ 48 ] December 14, 2014 |

Kindly old Condi Rice:

Condoleezza Rice gave permission for the CIA to use waterboarding techniques on the alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah as early as July 2002, the first known official approval for the technique, according to a report released by the Senate intelligence committee yesterday.

The revelation indicates that Rice, who at the time was national security adviser and went on to be secretary of state, played a greater role than she admitted in written testimony last autumn.

The committee’s narrative report (pdf) also shows that dissenting legal views about the interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly. The mood within the Bush administration at the time is caught in a handwritten note attached to a December 2002 memo from Donald Rumsfeld, the then defence secretary, on the use of stress positions. “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” he asked.

In conclusion, the real villains here are people who object to Rice being given huge checks and ornamental degrees to read platitudes at graduation events.

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Foreign Entanglements: Killer Robots Redux

[ 1 ] December 14, 2014 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Kelsey Atherton and I jabber about killer robots, Tolkien, and Star Wars:

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Book Review: Hecht, Morrison, and Padoch, eds. The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence

[ 2 ] December 14, 2014 |

For those interested in environmentalism, the dominant narrative of the state of the forests is one of decline and collapse in the face of industrial development. While wilderness protection was won for some American forests in the second half of the twentieth century, around the world, the decline of the rainforest in the wake of logging, ranching, and slash-and-burn farming makes first world environmentalists fear for the planet’s future. In this narrative, forests are largely seen as the victims of humans, despoiled wildernesses that properly should not be centers of human economic activity.

The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence, edited by Susanna Hecht, Kathleen Morrison, and Christine Padoch,
pushes back against this narrative by focusing on forest economies and forest history to argue for a more complex examination of human interactions with the forests. Largely examining tropical forests, the twenty-eight essays that make up this collection situates forests within communities, stressing the necessity of nuanced understandings of their role in regional economies if we want to have a realistic shot of not letting them all go under the saws of industrial logging.

Behind the ways we think about forests is that poor people have an outright negative impact upon them. James Fairhead and Melissa Leach analyze how social scientists have talked about environmental degradation in west African forests to note that scholars see the landscape as degraded. But actually examining the historical advance of vegetation shows this is categorically not true. Using historical photographs and narratives going back to the eighteenth century, they show there is no discernible difference in the level of vegetation for much of the area. Similarly, while the Sahel is often portrayed as encroaching desert because of human activity, Chris Reij argues that Niger especially has actually re-greened the area to a significant extent, with a significant national gain in tree cover over the last twenty years.

Historians have noted how the creation of wilderness has often led to the expulsion of people’s traditional use of that land. That continues today in the developing world. Among many problems with this is that it creates resentment toward those forests and the animals within them. Without a strong government presence, these colonialist parks can’t be properly guarded and thus can actually be counterproductive in the long-term for environmentalist goals. Moreover, while in Europe, as Roderick Neumann states in his essay, has long seen biodiversity woven into history and culture, these very Europeans are conceiving of tropical biodiversity as completely separate from human history and culture.

Several essays discuss the human history and anthropology of tropical forests. Rather than be seen as untrammeled wilderness, it’s important that we understand these forests have long had human involvement. The essay by Heckenberger, et al., shows the “massive forest alterations” people created in the pre-Columbian Amazon, with earthworks, roads, and artificial ponds still observable. David Lentz and Brian Lane explore the long-term effects of an early Mayan site on the forests of Belize today, where trees of economic importance to the Maya are still more common than usual in areas of former population centers than the forest as a whole. Are these forests wilderness today? Does the term even have value? Should the nature/culture divide be broken down? The overarching theme of these essays is yes on the latter question.

When we do think of tropical forests and industrial production, John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfector remind us that most of these forests are fragmented, not fully deforested, which makes a significant difference in how we perceive of environmental problems and solutions. If we see everything through a lost Eden declension narrative, the will to solve problems with the forests that remain become much more difficult. And when people leave the forests to move to cities, they often still rely on the forest for their livelihood, an important issue for crafting forest policy according to Padoch, et al in their essay on the people and forests around Pucallpa, Peru. And in fact, people will need to make a living off the forest and do in creative ways, including minority populations in the uplands of Southeast Asia producing forest tea that they can and do market in a sophisticated manner to discerning rich consumers. Commercialized agricultural is also transforming many forests, including the Laos uplands as Yayoi Fujita Lagerquvist details. This has led to a lot of landscape degradation but understanding the choices farmers have made are important for governments to craft more environmentally and socially responsible policies.

Are there lessons we can learn from these essays for forest management here in the United States? Only one of the twenty-eight chapters discusses the U.S., but I think it’s useful to explore it. Peter Crane, et al write about the “Chicago Wilderness,” or the biodiversity hotspot that surrounds Chicago. Of course, not much of that is in anything close to a pristine state and even the open spaces are often overrun with invasive species. Yet managing those open spaces for both biodiversity and human enjoyment has great potential to bring people and the forest together for a lot of people who can’t make it to the great wilderness areas of the West. That’s what is happening in Chicago by organizations bringing volunteers and children into the wilderness for rehabilitation projects and education efforts. This is also why I like a lot of what The Nature Conservancy does. That organization is I think often unfairly maligned for the compromises it makes with corporations but it goes a long ways to preserve small spots, often near urban areas, that do a lot to promote biodiversity and help urban dwellers engage with the natural world.

To quote Hecht: “As forests become increasingly pivotal in global climate politics, understanding the dynamics of forest transitions, successions, and their social underpinnings—the social lives of forests—is a critical step for whatever resilience we might hope for in the maelstrom of twenty-first century climate change” (113). This sums up the book’s social purpose. If we see forests as “lost” whenever humans work in them, what we lose is the ability to marshal the resources we have to deal with global environmental problems while also giving local people a chance to live.

The Social Lives of Forests
is probably too technical for general readers. The essays range from fairly detailed short histories of forests to heavily data-driven articles. But for those concerned with the long-term sustainability of the global environment, the insights in these essays are very useful.

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Mariota

[ 36 ] December 13, 2014 |

I’ve been waiting for this since before Marcus Mariota was born. Bill Musgrave was a fringe Heisman candidate in 1989 and 1990.  Both Reuben Droughns and Akili Smith received some attention in the late 1990s, with Smith famously promising to bring the Heisman to Eugene.  Joey Harrington was made the center of a notorious PR campaign for the Heisman, and ended up as the only finalist in school history.  The award belonged to Dennis Dixon, until a terrible night in Tucson.  By the time LaMichael came along, the award had become the domain of of dual-threat quarterbacks.

And so it’s about time.

Here’s to hoping that Mariota will be able to buy a suit that fits with the immense amount of money he should start making next year.

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Heisman

[ 5 ] December 13, 2014 |

The greatest has won.

920x1240

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Post Oat Flakes

[ 9 ] December 13, 2014 |

Discuss

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The Great Cycle of Torture and Arbitrary Detention

[ 38 ] December 13, 2014 |

The C.I.A. tortured its own informants.  And it tortured innocent people because of bad information obtained through torture:

The Senate Democratic staff members who wrote the 6,000-page report counted 119 prisoners who had been in C.I.A. custody. Of those, the report found that 26 were either described in the agency’s own documents as mistakenly detained, or released and given money, evidence of the same thing.

Among the others mistakenly held for periods of months or years, according to the report, were an “intellectually challenged” man held by the C.I.A. solely to pressure a family member to provide information; two people who were former C.I.A. informants; and two brothers who were falsely linked to Al Qaeda by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 planner, who “fabricated” the information after being waterboarded 183 times.

In addition, the report says, “C.I.A. records provide insufficient information to justify the detention of many other detainees.”

Admittedly, the findings that an arbitrary, unaccountable torture regime was a human rights catastrophe that was useless or counterproductive in protecting national security are very, very partisan.

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Post-Racial America

[ 49 ] December 13, 2014 |

Structural racism is obviously dead in this country:

White households’ median wealth ticked up to $141,900 in 2013, up 2.4 percent from three years earlier, according to a Pew Research Center report released Friday.

Net worth for black households dropped by a third during that time to $11,000. Hispanic families experienced a 14 percent decline in wealth to $13,700.

Whites have 13 times the net worth of blacks, the largest wealth gap that’s existed since George H.W. Bush was president in 1989. The ratio of net worth between whites and Hispanics now stands at more than 10, the widest it has been since 2001.

Much of the focus in recent years has been the growth in income inequality, with the Top 1 percent capturing most of the post-Recession gains. But wealth inequality is also troubling.

There are several reasons for the growing gap, says Pew, citing Federal Reserve Bank data.

Minority households’ median income fell 9% between 2010 and 2013, compared to a drop of only 1% for whites. So minority households may not have been able to sock away as much or may have had to use more of their savings to cover expenses.

13 times the net worth of blacks. Post-racial America indeed.

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Law school fires (or otherwise terminates with extreme prejudice) nearly 60% of its faculty

[ 18 ] December 13, 2014 |

terminate

Long-time LGM readers may remember the Western Michigan Thomas M. Cooley Law School from such posts as “Change the Name if the Product’s Weak,” “If Your Lies Are Really Egregious They Don’t Count as Fraud,” and “SLAPP Suits As Experiential Learning.”

Because certain irresponsible critics have been spreading what WMUTMCLS’s Dean and President for Life Don LeDuc has characterized as the “myth” that it has become difficult for graduates of low-ranked law schools to get jobs as lawyers, the school’s federal student loan conduits enrollment has declined from just under 4,000 JD students four years ago to 1,754 this fall. This led WMUTMCLS to announce in August that it was laying off some faculty, although as is the way of such things, the school was very vague regarding how extensive these layoffs would be.

“The process is not complete. I don’t have numbers for you,” Robb told the Lansing City Pulse last Thursday. “And I don’t know that we will release numbers, frankly.”

One source told the Lansing City Pulse that layoffs could be higher than 50 percent. Asked about the number, Robb told the publication, “I think you’re hearing wrong.”

This week’s publication of ABA 509 disclosure forms answers the question that Cooley wouldn’t.

Full Time Faculty:

Spring 2011: 101

Fall 2011: 106

Spring 2012: 110

Fall 2012: 103

Spring 2013: 117

Fall 2013: 115

Spring 2014: 119

Fall 2014: 49

Holy new gilded age Batman. (Among other things these numbers illustrate how LeDuc and Co. seemed to have made the mistake of believing their own propaganda about how prosperity was just around the corner, as the school increased the size of its faculty even after its applicant pool collapsed.)

I guess firing 70 of your 119 full-time faculty in one fell swoop in the kind of gust of creative destruction that’s necessary to protect those precious non-profit margins, that allowed the school to pay President for Life LeDuc $675,626 last year, and kicking $373,550 to the school’s founder Thomas Brennan, for what the school estimated to be five hours of “work” per week, while still maintaining a net surplus of $2.5 million in revenues over expenses. (Additionally I’ve been told — although I will hasten to add before I get served again that I don’t know whether this is actually the case — that WMUTMCLS is a veritable hive of nepotism for the relatives of the school’s powers that be, comparable in this and in no other regard, to a classic Francis Ford Coppola film).

I can’t remember at the moment if I’ve already written about the possibility that law schools will use the genuine need for significant financial restructuring as an excuse to “down-size,” in the all-too-common sense of getting rid of people in reverse proportion to both the magnitude of their salaries and the extent to which they do any useful work.

And sure enough, when we look at the category “Deans, librarians and others who teach” (this doesn’t include adjuncts, who are by definition part-time) we find:

Spring 2011: 25

Fall 2011: 26

Spring 2012: 31

Fall 2012: 28

Spring 2013: 26

Fall 2013: 27

Spring 2014: 24

Fall 2014: 26

This principle explains why staff are always fired before faculty, junior faculty are always fired before their senior colleagues, and why the most useless and highly paid administrators will, along with other remarkably adaptive species, inherit the post-apocalyptic earth.

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Those Douche Country Bros Are Whiny Boys

[ 137 ] December 13, 2014 |

The purveyors of bro-country (I prefer douche country myself) are real sensitive to women criticizing their idiotic and terrible songs. I hope those guys are giving each other manly bro-hugs to console themselves before writing another song about a half-naked women riding in the back of their pickup to their favorite rural swimming hole.

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The Conservation Biology Divide

[ 37 ] December 13, 2014 |

Conservation biologists are currently in another civil war over the meaning of the field. In short, should conservation be concerned more with humans or should it be concerned more with biodiversity? I find these conversations frustrating because they are so either/or. In other words, they reflect the larger debate among environmentalists over the past several decades around wilderness and the role of humans. Are humans strictly destructive and thus nature should be protected from humans or should we just accept the reality that there is no pristine and realize that the rest of the world is probably going to start looking like Europe, with a heavily managed and overpopulated landscape, albeit not one without any green spaces?

As much as I love wilderness, it’s more likely that the long-term answer is accepting human activity in most spaces in some way, even if that does cost some biodiversity. The major reason for this is political. Keeping people out is a short-term possibility but if people don’t develop a respect for environmental values, if those government structures begin to tumble, or are not strong to being with, it becomes really hard to enforce those legal restrictions. Plus, restricting people from land can cause resentment and incentivize poaching and other activities that can have a political angle against the wealthy white people from around the world coming to take their safaris instead of letting me farm this land so I am going to kill the animals they like plus feed my family. The best case scenario here is probably a Costa Rica, where you do have a lot of preserved land and a lot of biodiversity protected and mass deforestation everywhere else.

The Nature Conservancy ends up playing an outsized role in these debates. I like The Nature Conservancy because I think it is vitally important that small spaces are protected for the masses to visit. Yes, TNC works with corporations. No, they are not pure. But there are many rivers of environmentalism and ensuring that a piece of land outside Providence is not developed because some unique plants live there actually has value, both in preserving that biodiversity and in providing green spaces to people. But a lot of conservation biologists loathe this organization for, essentially, being sell-outs.

In any case, even within a single discipline there needs to be room for different methods and goals. It’s not like if all the conservation biologists stand together, the world is going to listen. All the climate scientists are standing together and the powerful just call their science a hoax. Rather, while these debates should exist in a field, I don’t think it’s particularly productive to go to war over them. After all, here I am writing about this and not noting some recent victory in the field of conservation.

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Put Your Face On and Forget It

[ 15 ] December 12, 2014 |

Discuss

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