Wednesday Round Up #10

The Big Melt

As Serreze makes clear, the Arctic climate system is now entering uncharted territory, with the computer models no longer providing a reliable guide to the future. Will we see an ice-free North Pole in 2018? Or an ice-free Arctic just twelve years from now, in the summer of 2030? Since the US North Pole Environmental Observatory was shut down in 2015, it has been much harder to answer such questions. And the public seems apathetic. On the phone with Serreze, the veteran journalist Seth Borenstein lamented, “How many times can a journalist report on what is happening in the Arctic before it becomes so repetitive that people lose interest?”

The great Dutch writer and historian Geert Mak once told me that in 1933 the Dutch newspapers were full of stories of the threat of Nazism, yet by 1938 those same papers were all but silent on the subject. Sometimes, it seems, threats to our future become so great that we opt to ignore them. Yet if we fail to act with the utmost urgency to slow climate change, we will invite catastrophe on all humanity.

Why Are Plants Green?

Gabor and his team developed a model for the light-harvesting systems of plants and applied it to the solar spectrum measured below a canopy of leaves. Their work made it clear why what works for nanotube solar cells doesn’t work for plants: It might be highly efficient to specialize in collecting just the peak energy in green light, but that would be detrimental for plants because, when the sunlight flickered, the noise from the input signal would fluctuate too wildly for the complex to regulate the energy flow.

Instead, for a safe, steady energy output, the pigments of the photosystem had to be very finely tuned in a certain way. The pigments needed to absorb light at similar wavelengths to reduce the internal noise. But they also needed to absorb light at different rates to buffer against the external noise caused by swings in light intensity. The best light for the pigments to absorb, then, was in the steepest parts of the intensity curve for the solar spectrum — the red and blue parts of the spectrum.

How Cops Can Secretly Track Your Phone

Stingrays have been used on the ground and in the air by law enforcement for years but are highly controversial because they don’t just collect data from targeted phones; they collect data from any phone in the vicinity of a device. That data can be used to identify people — protesters, for example — and track their movements during and after demonstrations, as well as to identify others who associate with them. They also can inject spying software onto specific phones or direct the browser of a phone to a website where malware can be loaded onto it, though it’s not clear if any U.S. law enforcement agencies have used them for this purpose.

Bild, Merkel and the Culture Wars: The Inside Story of Germany’s Biggest Tabloid

There are a few non-populist positions Reichelt takes that have the appearance of principle. “He has staked out anti-Putin, pro-Nato, pro-Israel positions well beyond the standard German line,” says Niggemeier. But the majority of the paper’s content is an ever-shifting attempt to harness popular discontent rather than indoctrinate readers in any specific programme. Reichelt himself has, for instance, repeatedly come to Merkel’s defence on her decision not to close the border to Syrian refugees in 2015, describing it as an ethical “no-brainer”, but the paper goes to great lengths to associate migrants with crime, and to demand deportations.

On the environment, one day Bild might be lamenting Merkel’s call to shutter coal factories by 2038 (“The coal deadline is going to cost us!” ran a headline about the prospective job losses.) But another day you might read that “Our government officials are destroying the environment!” atop an article detailing the 200,000 yearly flights German officials take between ministries in Berlin and Bonn. Like Merkel herself, Reichelt is an arch-opportunist, congenitally averse to letting crises go to waste.

‘A failure of our system’: inside a damning take on the Great Recession

“Everybody knows the system’s rigged, everybody knows the system’s corrupt, but it’s the difference between common knowledge and specific knowledge,” said Lovell. It’s one thing to know the banks were too big to fail, that Wall Street was driven by greed, that the housing market collapse was avoidable. It’s another thing to see, over and over again, examples of false signatures on fraudulent loans drummed up to meet sales quotas, to hear testimonies of bonus policies predicated on ignoring clear red flags. To hear, time and again, how a bank perched on an air bubble of junk securities made someone hundreds of millions. To rewatch the sheen of respectability perpetuated in the Super Bowl commercials of the sub-prime pioneer AmeriQuest, which went belly up in 2007.

Lovell’s series is heavy on the detail, if low on hope for the greed-incentivized financial world’s capacity to change. “What we’ve created is a system that is an incubator and factory of deception,” said Lovell, in which it follows that you’d get a president “who’s made his entire career on deception”.

We train police to be warriors — and then send them out to be social workers

For decades, the warrior cop has been the popular image of police in America, reinforced by TV shows, movies, media, police recruitment videos, police leaders, and public officials.

This image is largely misleading. Police do fight crime, to be sure — but they are mainly called upon to be social workers, conflict mediators, traffic directors, mental health counselors, detailed report writers, neighborhood patrollers, and low-level law enforcers, sometimes all in the span of a single shift. In fact, the overwhelming majority of officers spend only a small fraction of their time responding to violent crime.

However, the institution of policing in America does not reflect that reality. We prepare police officers for a job we imagine them to have rather than the role they actually perform. Police are hired disproportionately from the military, trained in military-style academies that focus largely on the deployment of force and law, and equipped with lethal weapons at all times, and they operate within a culture that takes pride in warriorship, combat, and violence.

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