17 May 2017

torture and interrogation


Why torture doesn’t work
published May 2017 


As recounted by author and journalist Daniel P. Mannix, during the European witch craze the Duke of Brunswick in Germany invited two Jesuit scholars to oversee the Inquisition’s use of torture to extract information from accused witches. “The Inquisitors are doing their duty. They are arresting only people who have been implicated by the confession of other witches,” the Jesuits re ported. The duke was skeptical.

Suspecting that people will say anything to stop the pain, he invited the Jesuits to join him at the local dungeon to witness a woman being stretched on a rack. “Now, woman, you are a confessed witch,” he began. “I suspect these two men of being warlocks. What do you say? Another turn of the rack, executioners.” The Jesuits couldn’t believe what they heard next. “No, no!” the woman groaned. “You are quite right. I have often seen them at the Sabbat. They can turn themselves into goats, wolves and other animals…. Several witches have had children by them. One woman even had eight children whom these men fathered. The children had heads like toads and legs like spiders.”

Turning to the flabbergasted Jesuits, the duke inquired, “Shall I put you to the torture until you confess?”

One of these Jesuits was Friedrich Spee, who responded to this poignant experiment on the psychology of torture by publishing a book in 1631 entitled Cautio Criminalis, which played a role in bringing about the end of the witch mania and demonstrating why torture as a tool to obtain useful information doesn’t work. This is why, in addition to its inhumane elements, it is banned in all Western nations, including the U.S., whose Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”

What about waterboarding? That’s “enhanced interrogation,” not torture, right? When the late journalist Christopher Hitchens underwent waterboarding for one of his Vanity Fair columns, he was forewarned (in a document he had to sign) that he might “receive serious and permanent (physical, emotional and psychological) injuries and even death, including injuries and death due to the respiratory and neurological systems of the body.” Even though Hitchens was a hawk on terrorism, he nonetheless concluded: “If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

Still, what if there’s a “ticking time bomb” set to detonate in a major city, and we have the terrorist who knows where it is— wouldn’t it be moral to torture him to extract that information? Surely the suffering or death of one to save millions is justified, no? Call this the Jack Bauer theory of torture. In the hit television series 24, Kiefer Sutherland’s character is a badass counterterrorism agent whose “ends justify the means” philosophy makes him a modern-day Tomás de Torquemada. In most such scenarios, Bauer (and we the audience) knows that he has in his clutches the terrorist who has accurate information about where and when the next attack is going to occur and that by applying just the right amount of pain, he will extort the correct intelligence just in time to avert disaster.

It’s a Hollywood fantasy. In reality, the person in captivity may or may not be a terrorist, may or may not have accurate information about a terrorist attack, and may or may not cough up useful intelligence, particularly if his or her motivation is to terminate the torture.

In contrast, a 2014 study in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology entitled “The Who, What, and Why of Human Intelligence Gathering” surveyed 152 interrogators and found that “rapport and relationship-building techniques were employed most often and perceived as the most effective regardless of context and intended outcome, particularly in comparison to confrontational techniques.” Another 2014 study in the same journal— “In interviewing High Value Detainees”—sampled 64 practitioners and detainees and found that “detainees were more likely to disclose meaningful information … and earlier in the interview when rapport-building techniques were used.”

Finally, an exhaustive 2014 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence analyzed millions of internal CIA documents related to the torture of terrorism suspects, concluding that “the CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.” It adds that “multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence.” Terrorists are real. Witches are not. But real or imagined, torture doesn’t work.


Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil, and The Moral Arc. His next book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality & Utopia.

13 March 2017

quick response from Port Coquiitlam about tree removal

City Planning Division
Tel 604.927.5442
planning@portcoquitlam.ca

To Whom It May Concern

re: removal of mature trees at Terry Fox Library/Rec Centre site

The recent clear cut at the Terry Fox Library/Rec Centre site in downtown Port Coquitlam has once again reminded us that Port Coquitlam seems to have little regard for our heritage of mature specimen and habitat trees.

​​In my neighbourhood alone, dozens of mature conifers have been felled in the last few years. These trees provided habitat for numerous bird species, including the large but increasingly rare Pileated Woodpecker. Among the trees removed by the library this week were snags used for years by northern flickers for nesting.

Our mature trees contribute so much to the City. We have an opportunity here to be part of a global movement to protect habitats for a wealth of declining bird species and to enhance the livability of our City at the same time.(link: Green Infrastructure Metro Vancouver)

Please give priority to the protection and preservation of our mature trees and act to strengthen Port Coquitlam's commitment to better safeguarding those trees in future.

regards, Rhamona Vos-Browning
(sent Saturday March 11, 2017)

Good Afternoon,


The City has received a number of calls and emails from residents concerned about the loss of trees in the development of our new community recreation complex and asking questions about options for more trees to be retained.



The challenge of constructing a new and much larger recreation facility while keeping two ice rinks, the library and seniors’ spaces in operation during construction results in limited siting options for our new building.  While we recognize that meeting this challenge has a significant impact on the site’s trees, overall there are substantial benefits related to achieving a cohesive project design, meeting community needs, and retaining recreation and social activity spaces during the construction period. 

Once the building’s siting and access requirements were known, we carefully considered the potential for tree retention. Unfortunately very few of the trees not impacted by the construction are in a condition appropriate for retention.  It is normally possible to retain more trees along the edge of a development site, but we are unable to do this in part because most of these trees were subject to ongoing hydro line clearance pruning and have a poor structure and in part because the size of the complex results in its close proximity to property lines.  While only 7 trees can ultimately be retained, we will be relocating 17 trees (that have a high probability of survival) and replanting them off site.

New trees will be planted and we will be looking to ensure the future landscape plan includes the right trees in the right places.   We will also be phasing the removals, as we wish to leave trees standing as long as possible. 

For further information about the complex, including information about the site’s trees, please check out  www.portcoquitlam.ca\reccomplex.

Regards,
Penny Martin on behalf of Kristen Meersman P.Eng, MBA | City of Port Coquitlam
(Received Monday March 13, 2017)



11 March 2017

religion vs. people

The Dilemma Facing Ex-Muslims in Trump's America

How to challenge Islam while defending its adherents



A Muslim faithful reads the Quran inside a makeshift mosque. Yorgos Karahalis / Reuters 

From:
Mar 6, 2017
 
“Challenging Islam as a doctrine,” Ali Rizvi told me, “is very different from demonizing Muslim people.” Rizvi, a self-identified ex-Muslim, is the author of a new book titled The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason. One of the book’s stated aims is to uphold this elementary distinction: “Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Ideas, books, and beliefs don’t, and aren’t.”
The problem for Rizvi is that the grain of Western political culture is currently against him. Those in the secular West live in an age when ideas are commonly regarded as “deeds” with the potential to wound. So, on the left, self-critique of Islam is often castigated as critique of Muslims. Meanwhile, the newly elected president of the United States and his inner circle have a tendency to conflate the ideas of radical Islam with the beliefs of the entire Muslim population. So, on the right, the very same self-critique of Islam is used to attack Muslims and legitimize draconian policies against them.

full article at: theatlantic.com

8 February 2017

Hans Rosling July 27 1948 - February 7 2017



Steven Pinker calls this presentation by Hans Rosling "Perhaps the best TED talk, ever."Hans Rosling was a Swedish medical doctor, academic, statistician, public speaker and Professor of International Health at the (Royal) Caroline Institute in Stockholm, considered to one of the most prestigious medical universities in the world. Rosling's research focused, in part, on links between economic development, agriculture, poverty and health. Wiki bio here