Why So Few Brave Men?

The summary of the report on U.S. Torture, released yesterday by the United States Senate Intelligence Committee can only be read in small doses.  Almost every paragraph stuns one into vertigo.

 

This morning one man who took part in some of what was reported spoke about his lasting shame.

I can’t be forgiven for what I did at Abu Ghraib

I was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. I tortured.

… , the Senate released its torture report. Many people were surprised by what it contained: accounts of waterboardings far more frequent than what had previously been reported, weeklong sleep deprivation, a horrific and humiliating procedure called “rectal rehydration.” I’m not surprised. I assure you there is more; much remains redacted.

Eric Fair is a brave man for saying this, publicly and in a widely read forum.  He is not as brave as he wishes he might have been.  In another piece he gives more details.

Eric Fair – An Iraq Interrogator’s Nightmare

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

… While I was appalled by the conduct of my friends and colleagues, I lacked the courage to challenge the status quo. That was a failure of character and in many ways made me complicit in what went on. I’m ashamed of that failure, but as time passes, and as the memories of what I saw in Iraq continue to infect my every thought, I’m becoming more ashamed of my silence.

So, the question is, how do we relearn the values of courage, of resistance to illegal orders, of non-participation in evil?  I dont’ know if Eric Fair has any good ideas.  I bet he wishes he had stood up after his first experience and said “no more,” and damn the consequences.  I know I wish hundreds more had said: I will not participate.

The stars and stripes are now the stars and bars, the red of tortured men running down.


Led-ites in Copenhagen

On a day of otherwise ghastly leading news — The Senate summary of their CIA Torture Report -- take a moment to applaud one city’s efforts to reach a carbon zero stage by the year 2025: Copenhagen.

COPENHAGEN — On a busy road in the center of town here, a string of green lights embedded in the bike path — the “Green Wave” — flashes on, helping cyclists avoid red traffic lights.

On a main artery into the city, truck drivers can see on smartphones when the next light will change. And in a nearby suburb, new LED streetlights brighten only as vehicles approach, dimming once they pass.

Aimed at saving money, cutting the use of fossil fuels and easing mobility, the installations are part of a growing wireless network of streetlamps and sensors that officials hope will help this city of roughly 1.2 million meet its ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Eventually, the network will serve other functions, like alerting the sanitation department to empty the trash cans and informing bikers of the quietest or fastest route to their destinations.  NY Times

The city is also testing systems to prioritize buses or bikes over cars at intersections during certain hours, and has already installed one that flashes a warning to truck drivers in a right-turn lane when cyclists are present. ….

Good stuff and other cities are seeing the light, Los Angeles, for example

…has almost completed the switch to outdoor LED lighting and is using sensors embedded in the pavement to detect traffic congestion and synchronize signals.


Flipping Out

Super interesting: the North and South poles could flip one of these days… Article doesn’t speculate about what that means for the topology of the whole gravitational envelope or, for instance, the effect on bird migration [birds somehow interpret gravity to find their way over long distances,] much less how weather systems and therefore climate change might react.

Earth’s magnetic field has the potential to reverse within less than a century, and scientists say there is evidence the poles are now moving toward such a flip.

[sediment] layers reveal the last magnetic reversal occurred approximately 786,000 years ago, long before humans walked the planet.

The flip happened after more than 6,000 years of instability, including two intervals of low magnetic field strength that lasted about 2,000 years each.

Such a quiet period in modern times could expose Earth’s surface to harmful levels of solar radiation, possibly increasing the rates of cancer and disrupting electrical power grids, scientists caution.

EarthWeek


Altruism, Yes!

Interesting study at University College London picked up by Amina Kahn of the Los Angeles Times.

The experiment set up a scenario in which “deciders” were paid increasing amounts to increasingly shock either themselves, or a randomly assigned “receiver.

The researchers found that people were “hyperaltruistic” — that is, the deciders were less likely to harm the receivers for a little more cash than they were to harm themselves. While they were willing to take a few more shocks themselves to earn a higher payoff, they were less likely to raise the number of shocks for those extra bucks if it was the receiver getting zapped instead.

LAT

Matches my own experience decades ago when I put up with months of college hazing myself but got ulcers when I saw it happening to others.

Now if we could just get the feeling shared by trigger-pullers, knife wielders around the world.

Or, in the interim, learn what it is that enhances altruism and what diminishes it.


Slow Going in November

Yes, I know.  I’ve been very inattentive here.  i may be capitulating to focusing on fewer things — as when you have to take your eyes away from the window in a speeding train because the slap-slap-slap of passing poles, fences, cows and trees jellies up your brain.

 

Don’t know what I’ll do about posting here… cease all together or bear down on two or three themes…  more later


Ecosystem Services

James Surowiecki of the New Yorker, brings to our attention the concept of wealthy countries paying for ‘ecosystem services’ as one tool in the vast array needed to mitigate climate change and associated environmental destruction.  As in many things, Norway is showing by example.

It was notable when Norway announced a deal with Liberia: Norway will give Liberia up to a hundred and fifty million dollars in aid, in exchange for which Liberia will work to stop the rapid destruction of its trees.

Liberia has much of what remains of West Africa’s rain forest, but logging is rampant. The initiative is not an act of charity but a trade: Liberia gets income, which it needs; Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change. A similar deal that Norway struck with Brazil years ago helped slow deforestation there. Economists call arrangements of this kind “payments for ecosystem services,” and they follow a rationale known as the Coase theorem. In 1960, the economist Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could, under certain conditions, produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. Trying to force Liberia to stop chopping down trees (by using, say, sanctions) would be high-handed and probably ineffective. Paying Liberia to do so makes both sides better off.

… For the West, which is historically responsible for most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today, paying developing countries to make the transition away from carbon is not only the right thing to do but also squarely in our self-interest. Greenhouse gases emitted in Africa harm us as much as those emitted here. “If Africa just burns the coal and oil that it has at home in order to industrialize, it’ll do trillions of dollars of damage…

Good, thoughtful stuff


Vietnam War Reimagined

The long, ugly war Americans waged in Vietnam, leaving millions dead, a landscape and society in tatters, now has its soft-focus image up for public display.

…the Pentagon — run by a Vietnam veteran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — is planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million by the end of this fiscal year, is intended to honor veterans and, its website says, “provide the American public with historically accurate materials” suitable for use in schools.

But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the NY Times, explains how the website has been bowdlerized, trumping actual history with burnished memories and unpleasantness gone unmentioned. For example:

Mr. Hayden said he was particularly incensed at timeline entries like one that describes the Pentagon Papers as “a leaked collection of government memos written by government officials that tell the story of U.S. policy, even while it’s being formed” — without noting the Nixon administration’s effort to prevent their publication, or that Mr. Ellsberg and another leaker, Anthony Russo, were tried as traitors. And while the website does mention some protests, the references are often brief and clinical.

On Nov. 15, 1969 — when 250,000 antiwar protesters jammed Washington in what was then the largest mass march in the nation’s capital — the timeline entry simply states, “Protesters stage a massive protest in Washington D.C.”

As Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace says:

 “One of the biggest concerns for us,” he said, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world — as a propaganda tool.”


Slashing Spending Increases Deficits

Economists Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong and even Larry Summers have long argued that cutting government spending during a recession is bad policy — and have pointed to the failure of such policies in Europe as proof.  Now new evidence supports them.

The fundamental economic question of the last five years has been a simple one: how much does stimulus work? The answer, according to a new paper by Daniel Riera-Crichton, Carlos Vegh, and Guillermo Vuletin, is much more than we previously thought. And that means austerity has also hurt more than we thought — so much so that it might even be self-defeating.

That’s right: cutting spending in a slump might actually make debt problems worse.

…This leaves us in an upside-down world where smaller deficits might actually make our debt problems worse. When interest rates are zero, spending cuts can cripple the economy so much that GDP falls more than the government saves. And that means the debt-to-GDP ratio might increase even though government spending is decreasing — like it has in Greece. That’s why the IMF thinks infrastructure spending would almost pay for itself right now,

WonkBlog: Washington Post

So let’s get it on!  The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. a D+ for its infrastructure effort.


Missing Heat Hiding in the Southern Oceans

Those who have done the science know that CO2 drives rising temperatures on earth. They’ve been puzzled, though, about why the predicted rises in the atmosphere have been greater than measurements show.  Those who don’t do, and don’t believe in science, have crowed that the un-met predictions show that a con-job is being run.

Sadly, no.  New findings of water temperature in the remote southern seas show the heat is hiding there.

Research published Sunday concluded that the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought. Gathering reliable ocean data in the Southern Hemisphere has historically been a challenge, given its remoteness and its relative paucity of commercial shipping, which helps gather ocean data…

Ω

“We continue to be stunned at how rapidly the ocean is warming,” said Sarah Gille, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor. Gille was not involved with this paper, nor was she involved with a similar one published Sunday that examined the role of ocean warming in rising sea levels. She described both of them as “tremendously interesting” studies.

“Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we’d still have an ocean that is warmer than the ocean of 1950, and that heat commits us to a warmer climate,” Gille said. “Extra heat means extra sea level rise, since warmer water is less dense, so a warmer ocean expands.”

Ocean warming is exacerbating flooding caused by the melting of glaciers and other ice. Seas have risen 8 inches since the industrial revolution, and they continue to rise at a hastening pace, worsening floods and boosting storm surges near shorelines around the world. Another 2 to 7 feet of sea level rise is forecast this century, jeoparizing the homes and neighborhoods of the 5 million Americans who live less than 4 feet above high tide, as well as those of the hundreds of millions living along coastlines in other countries.

Climate Central

The report Nature Climate Change, here


m4s0n501

Rising Waters Sagging Cities

Walking in barefeet through three inches of water on a bayfront drive may seem like a lark to the young — once or twice in a childhood.  When that water comes in a dozen times, when cars can’t get through, when basements flood, when foundations begin to shift in muddy jelly, it’s no longer fun.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report today based on tidal gauges in 52 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that not only show a marked increase in coastal flooding since the 1970s but project much more.

From the Executive Summary:

To analyze how often flooding now occurs at locations along the East and Gulf Coasts—and the frequency and extent of flooding that communities along these coasts can expect, on average, 15 and 30 years from now—we relied on 52 tidegauges from Portland, ME, to Freeport, TX. We limited our analysis to locations where flooding thresholds, defined at the gauges, correlate well with coastal flood advisories issued by the National Weather Service.

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Our analysis shows that many East Coast communities now see dozens of tidal floods each year. Some of these communities have seen a fourfold increase in the annual number of days with tidal flooding since 1970.

Using a mid-range scenario for future sea level rise, we find that, by 2030, more than half of the 52 communities we analyzed on the East and Gulf Coasts can expect to average more than two dozen tidal floods per year. The rise in the frequency of tidal flooding by 2030 represents an extremely steep increase for some, and two-thirds could see a tripling or more in the number of high-tide floods each year.

Executive Summary

Al Jazeera has a good report

Or, as the Washington Post, eye on local concerns, has it:

Daily flooding caused by high tides will occur in the District and Annapolis within three decades as sea levels continue to rise due to global warming, a new study says