28 February 2010

more theological harangues against torture

Jewish version

This is pretty long so I'll just go for the "Money quote" sections:

"The rodef defense would also apply to a true ticking bomb case – whose rarity, even non-existence, will be addressed below. The rodef principle might release an interrogator from liability if he were to resort to torture spontaneously in a moment in which he had probable cause to believe the prisoner before him was a perpetrator with knowledge that could save lives in immediate danger.

The rodef defense would seemingly not permit authorizing physically coercive techniques in advance or applying them across the board in a deliberate and routine way to detainees held over extended periods of time. It would not permit "torture" or "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" to be anyone's training or job description in the military. It would not allow interrogators to get up in the morning anticipating a day of physical coercion for the sake of extracting as much information as possible from those in their custody, even if many of these detainees had once but were not currently posing a threat to American lives. Nor would it allow torture to be used as a punishment, reprisal, or intimidation tactic."

"In 1999, the Israeli General Security Services (G.S.S.) faced similar charges in a case brought before the Israeli Supreme Court, and categorically declared that physically coercive techniques are not authorized by Israeli law."

If the Israelis, who face daily far more potentials for terrorist attacks and indeed even acts of imminent terrorism which may threaten innocent lives, will categorically declare that torture or torture like techniques (if you're unwilling to declare what we did as actual torture) are wrong, unauthorized, and by implication, unnecessary, then why the hell did we think we needed it?

"The Israeli Supreme Court acknowledged that physical coercion was being used outside of "ticking bomb" conditions, and ruled that neither the government nor the security services could establish directives authorizing the use of physical coercion in advance, but only as an "ad hoc…improvisation" responding to an urgent moment at hand. They also ruled that the G.S.S. could not develop physical means of interrogation before the fact, but individual interrogators could resort to force in response to concrete situations of necessity, post factum.....

The defense might mitigate the penalty incurred by the investigator, but would not excuse the torture itself. The G.S.S. investigator, according to the Court's ruling, must conform to the same constrictions imposed on a police interrogator or ordinary citizen who would resort to the criminal law "necessity" defense when confronted with a situation of impending, serious harm."

- In other words, the public and criminal justice system would have to adjudicate to see if the use of violence on the part of the interrogator was warranted by the outcome of their efforts. But in most cases, it was not. Even in the presence of a supposed systematic method of determining which cases it should be used and which it could not be.

"Many of torture's success stories appear more tenuous upon further probing. While governments who employ torture tend to emphasize the large numbers of lives it has saved, few are ready with concrete particular examples, and many of these examples are themselves officially contested in terms of what was revealed during the actual interrogation. Most of the information extracted from Abdul Hakim Murad, for example, seems to have been obtained by tapping into files on his laptop, captured in his Manila apartment, rather than through his violent interrogation, which included inserting burning cigarettes into his ears." - In other words, we should not 1) rely on only the official government stories and sources that supposedly justify the torture being deployed and 2) it is highly improbable in most cases that only torture will produce the information we require in order to act to avert a potential crisis and tragedy.

"Extreme measures, like torture, preventive detention, and arbitrary arrest, typically win the battle but lose the larger war" - I should note that I keep requiring things to fit some sort of larger strategic sensibility rather than mere tactical success. Maybe it would help if more people in charge of our foreign policy measures thought along the same lines once in a while. This is why the shutdown of Guantanamo was so important and why the continued coercive and civil liberties abusing policy of "preventive detentions", even if the now infamous prison was shut down, was so upsetting. Such actions would need to serve some strategic purpose and not merely reduce the likelihood of violence from one individual actor and his immediate supporters.

"Finally, there is the argument that torture, even if it could in fact save our bodies, would in the meantime corrode our souls, as citizens of liberal democracies and as conscientious human beings.....Terrorism tends to menace democratic states most by weakening their own constitutional and ethical commitments." - Hmm. There's that curious idea that our ideals are powerful weapons that should not be abandoned at the first sign of danger and threat. If they really do "hate us for our freedom" as some would content themselves with as an explanation for terrorist acts, then why abandon that freedom as our identity? Why seek to comply with their demands by surrendering liberty for the illusion of security?

"As of 2003, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that between seventy to ninety percent of those held in Abu Ghraib were there "by mistake;" more recent official inquiries have dropped the estimate to two-thirds." - If the official (ie, governmental) tallies are at 2/3s, that does kind of throw some cold water on the claims that we're imprisoning only the worst of the worst, all of whom pose some imminent danger to American civilians. Even the government doesn't think so. "A tragic slippery slope seems invariably to slide from the "ticking bomb" justification to taxi drivers and gas station attendants, in the wrong place at the wrong time." - Ahh yes. But we all know how dangerous those cab drivers named Achmed are to the American way of life. Right?

It gets worse when the OLC memos attempting to justify torture are examined. They weren't even accurate on the legal points (a point which was noted at the time of their release by dozens of lawyerly bloggers), somehow citing international legal precedents in the European Court and Israel as justifications when both were, in fact, clearly not.

It's not that hard to rely upon religious theology to craft a set of ethical boundaries (even if it does sometimes result in some strange rules to an outside observer of those ethics). But the real problem, I guess, seems to be that people are too often highly selective about which of those boundaries they feel apply to themselves and when, and too often ignore that the specialized circumstances that somehow might, but not with certainty, create a justification, are so rare and so inconsistent that crafting official rules upon them makes no legal or moral sense. We see this constantly when some random weird criminal act takes place, only it's so vague on its particulars that the person will get away with it. The aftershock is that politicians and advocates for hardline authoritarian visions of rules will seek to impose strict and sweeping laws which affect dozens of other circumstances which are (almost always) unrelated to the criminal and negligent moral actors of the rare and imprecise case. It makes little sense to set up the architecture to criminalize miscarriages in the wake of a faulty abortion that may have resulted in infanticide, just as it makes little sense to decriminalize torture ("enhanced interrogation") in the wake of a handful of cases where it is supposed that this torture somehow procured vital national security information faster and more reliably than other methods.

Also, it's hard to argue with an essay that terminates with a Karamazov reference.

an astonishing conclusion

I suppose there's a confirmation bias at work somewhere in here for me.

But it seems to me that the only people who should do work in ethics as a field are people who are anti-social beings studying the behaviors of other human beings. Social creatures will rely too often on the established customs or traditions as being legitimate guideposts for ethical behavior, regardless of whether they are or not. Anti-social creatures will be prone to examine those behaviors for flaws and find their unpersuasive reasoning (ie, why is it that I don't comply with this behavior in my own life, or why do others not comply).

Naturally, I am myself highly anti-social. So it's possible that ethics for anti-social people rather than "ethics for dummies", as I call traditionalism in ethics, is an endeavour of self-justification rather than an illumination of the proper role of social rules and conformity to basic principles of justice (whatever those are). Still, it's hard to take "because I/he/she/God said so" as a convincing argument for most anybody to follow along with as the rule of morals and laws. I'd like to think that the anti-social ethicist is at least able to escape that chain of reasoning once in a while when the social reasoner is captured by it.

26 February 2010

things I wonder

Why do people freak out when a wild animal kills or maims a trainer?

And if so, why do they not similarly freak out when some moron owns a tiger and that wild beast turns on him one day and kills him? Why is that seen as a different case?

Richard Nixon should not be your role model

So why is Obama's economic policy increasingly resembling Nixon? First price controls

And now wage controls?

Of the two, the idea of boosting wages is by the most damaging. Regulating insurance price increases is merely bad for people trying to purchase or use that insurance (ie, it will make that insurance less useful, just as government mandated types of insurance has made it more expensive). This is certainly counterproductive and damaging to the health care economics situation, which is unpleasant already itself. But insurance costs are but one factor among many which contribute to the problem there.

It does not potentially harm employment levels at at time where we have already high unemployment. Wages, or more precisely, labour costs, are basically one of the most significant contributors to employment levels, at least in the short run. Technology and its associated productivity increases therein could potentially reduce employment in particular industries, such as we have seen in manufacturing. The idea of boosting wages goes back to the Hoover administration, and was comfortably adopted and expanded by FDR. It was, among many other policies at the time, one of the most harmful and idiotic ideas we've ever had. Having a job which paid "too little" money was not the problem that the Depression posed us, just as it is not the problem now. The problem is the many people who could not get those jobs because of a structural problem of too little aggregate demand pushing a downward signal on wages while wages remain sticky and thus too high. Raising the marginal cost of jobs will make it HARDER to get them, at a time when many people are already out of work. I therefore second the idea that Summers and Romer should resign in protest over this.

This is before even considering the long-term implications over whether the government should use (inflated) wage policies to encourage middle class growth. We should not, France is an excellent example of how this works out. Poorly.

24 February 2010

Things that I come by

Check that out

This was awesome.

I like the vegan comments complaining that she designs "humane slaughterhouses" and the one person who gave a negative review for among other things, the implication that she couldn't "handle" the funeral, ie, the person who obviously has never met any autistic/autistic-like people (quite obviously since it is referred to as a "handicap").

23 February 2010

externality and free rider

There's a good deal of discussion in public policy that centers around provisions for a variety of "public goods". Some of these indeed are public goods, in the economic sense of the term. For examples
1) Common defence
2) Education
3) Public roads and transportation
4) General health
5) Assistance for disaster or unanticipated events (acts of war or terror, victims of crimes, natural disasters, catastrophic illness or injury principably)

We may add to these things that are considered important enough for social or cultural reasons that add costs to others when they are incorrectly funded, such as the re-alignment of large numbers of specialists to new specializations when the economy changes and their special talents and educations become less economically viable, or the provision of funds for retirement, health care, and education. These latter become important because when they are not provided, they deprive others of heuristic benefits and even productive and measurable incentives and gains.

Most of these are things that have long been known and thought to be in the public good by administrations stretching back to the Northwest Ordinance or the Massachusetts charter of government in the US (in particular education). They have continued, in various forms, to be approved of as necessary operations of the state by all but the most strident anarchists or libertarians. What I think needs to be questioned is the distinctions between properly allocating funds to pay for externalities and to cover the free rider problem, often by mandating them through taxes or forced savings, and the supposed need for governments to administer these funds once mandated into existence. For example, it is probably necessary for governments to price education at some minimal level such that its citizens will provision for it appropriately and not diminish or harm the chances of success and aplomb for their children. It is not necessary that governments run schools, or if they do, that they should do so within mandates that excludes competition. Similarly, it is probably necessary that some minimal accommodation be made for public health by individuals. It is not necessary that governments should determine how this minimal accommodation be dispensed or spent.

I bring this up because I'm still working through the cap-trade and carbon tax problem. Basically I think it will be acknowledged by most economists that pollution is a negative and undesirable externality. It is possible that if people were made aware of the costs of their energy consumption or food consumption or the amount of waste or pollution produced to make goods for their enjoyment that they would demand to price in these costs to be paid by the producers, and thus be able to have the cost of pollutants paid for. This does not however appear to be a pressing concern outside of maintaining visibly clean water or air. I accept that carbon should be regarded as a pollutant, or at least as undesirable, when unnecessarily produced as a byproduct of human activity. If we must have energy, it would be suitable to produce it in ways that are renewable or have fewer negative costs involved. So it makes sense to me to price in those costs in addition to the tremendous benefit of having cheap energy. As with health care however, it seems that there is a sense of entitlement to this. We seem to assume we should be entitled to have cheap gasoline and coal-fired power plants that are so cheap and so far away just as we assume that our employers should provide first dollar health care coverage for us. This makes it incredibly hard to state openly and plainly the political point of any reforms. For health care the idea of a good reform (from my perspective) is that consumers will pay more and share the cost of their health care. That is the essential point. Likewise, with energy and fuel costs, they will have to pay more. Again, that is the point. The idea is to decrease wasteful or irrational consumption choices by consumers while still maintaining their ability to consume the necessary productions of energy or health care. Instead we are promised that it will not cost us more. I think it may be entirely reasonable to set up a net zero price model for energy, to raise the tax on energy production where it contains pollutants, and simultaneously lower the taxes on income or payrolls such that the tax will become a more voluntary means of generating revenues and will, in effect, pay for itself when it reduces the market's consumption of wasteful or harmful goods (rather than the more expensive route of trying to regulate and police the market and to mandate what goods may or may not be produced, such as through CAFE standards). But without the ability to make these views plain to people, with their resistance to them and the resistance to the idea that they ultimately may be the ones making some choice about their participation in particular markets, the natural result of administrators of public policy is to make the choices for them and to tax in other ways in order to pay for those choices, strictly limiting the ability of the public to price its own relevant interests and values by diverting more money toward problems. Often rather than diverting more money toward solutions or benefits (the broken window fallacy). The costs of our choices do not diminish or magically go away when we make them through public institutions and pay for them with taxes anymore than they do when we refuse to allow those public institutions to make these choices (as we have done thus far in the health care debate). We still must face them.

22 February 2010

Top 20

1) Kansas
2) Duke
3) Syracuse

4) West Virginia
5) Purdue

6) BYU
7) Texas
8) Kentucky
9) Kansas State
10) Ohio State
11) Wisconsin

12) Villanova
13) Missouri
14) Maryland

15) Georgetown
16) Baylor
17) Xavier

18) Clemson
19) California
20) Marquette

Michigan State, Florida State, and Tennessee are right after this.

Teams I'm leery of that I have up there: Texas, Maryland, Missouri, Xavier. All have few wins and losing records against quality opponents (top 50). Wisconsin sucks on the road. So does Cal. Not sure what to make of OSU either. The Turner injury didn't seem to hurt them ranking wise, but they've got a couple losses and bad games that aren't as indicative of how well they're capable of playing on the road or against quality teams (4-3 against top 25 is pretty good, especially since Kentucky has yet to play any games against the top 25).

history is trickier than the present

I have some quibbles with the Hiroshima analogy. Mostly because I think there's a modest utilitarian argument to be made that the nukes saved some lives in the end calculation and reduced the overall suffering in the process. And the net effect of them was to be so terrifying, so horrible in power, that it more or less ended the major (in particular European) world powers fighting each other in massive destructive conflicts as they had for centuries prior as the cause of much world suffering. It didn't end war, and really, what will? But the types of wars it ended make the devastation in Iraq from the "shock and awe campaign" of wanton destruction we engaged in look like a picnic.

I don't think it's the best case to be made. It's possible there were other ways to end the war just as swiftly. My actual "numerical" or utilitarian concern isn't necessarily even massive American casualties from the enormous two phased invasion that we had planned for the main islands of Japan and the sustained bombing and naval campaigns alongside them, but for Japanese civilians from starvation and continued firebombing, as well as any eventual invasion deaths they would suffer in needless combat, all of which would vastly exceed our own pain and tolls, to the possibility of millions of deaths, not "mere" hundreds of thousands. We were blockading Japan with unrestricted submarine warfare. Rather successfully at that. So much so that we were unable to press the German navy for using the same tactics as a war crime because the Japanese lawyers would argue at their own war crimes tribunal, quite reasonably, that Chester Nimitz should be brought up on the same charge. I also don't think the fact that the Japanese leadership and generalship was brought up as heinous war criminals, many of them executed or imprisoned for their crimes, makes any difference in this calculation, other than to suggest that it would have been difficult to secure the surrender of their nation prior to compounding suffering and defeats. That we were fighting "evil men" with the powers of a large and powerful nation and its resources behind them doesn't make our own evil tactic or strategy any better.

The same is true now. Al Qaeda and its leaders may indeed be "evil men" in the same vein, criminals of a different order, but it is no better of us to resort to barbarous tactics and strategy to defeat them. To compare it to torture, I think I can see the moral equivalency involved in claiming "anything goes in war" and that these two should be equally regarded as falling under that umbrella. I'm not so sure I would say that "anything goes" in order to defend the atomic bomb. It's by far one of the weaker arguments in its favor and it doesn't excuse other things we were doing, also deemed out of military necessities at the time, that may have been just as bad if not worse (blockades, firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo for example). If it might "save lives" or more broadly reduce suffering of all involved, then I'm prepared to defend something as the least bad option of a bad situation (and a global shooting war is, quite simply, one of the worst "bad situations" you could imagine).

I don't think torture can save lives, certainly not enough lives and suffering to merit the excuses. As with the atomic bomb, there are other alternatives that might have worked or might have been more useful. Unlike the bomb, we have long experience with counter-factuals that supply us with the idea that these alternatives DO work, DID work, and WILL work in the form of other methods of interrogation that have provided us with intelligence and verifiable results across the entire scope of human history giving us far less uncertainty and far less moral quibbling to say that something is still clearly a violation of humanity to undertake. That's even before acknowledging that torturing prisoners in the immediate tactic sense to prevent some major attack from happening say, does not do much to prevent the next one. The atomic bomb at least ended the war. It's possible to say with a counter-factual that we could have done it with a lesser price, but I am not sure that the facts prior to Hiroshima and the invasion of Manchuria bear that out. Perhaps that assessment is incorrect. I do think lots of historians disagree with me. I'm not really sure that I am convinced of it myself (as I said, it is a modest calculation rather than a strong one). I am convinced that there isn't significant evidence to suggest that we need to abuse captured and helpless enemies of the state. Either to elicit strategically important information from them or to satisfy some bloodlust vendetta against them.

I didn't need another 280 pages to tell me that Yoo and Bybee (and others) made this possible simply because they didn't care about the law or the justice system that they were supposed to uphold out of legal and political expediency to justify something that they were told and assured we needed to do. The view of the President's national security power as unchecked and dictatorial, even to the point of threatening a man's family with bodily harms or the inflicting of actual pain and suffering upon that same man, is not something we should want Presidents to actually possess. There is no price and no "worst bad situation" for which that becomes justified as official state policy. If some CIA agent goes rogue and beats the living hell out of a terrorist someday, and somehow saves New York from blowing up, then we can have this discussion about whether or not to charge that agent (I still think we should. Though it's possible we wouldn't be able to bring ourselves, as a society, to convict this person of a crime). But if someone tells him its okay and, indeed necessary, ahead of time, someone in charge, that person should be tried and convicted of a crime. Cruelty should not be made into official state policy. To do that invites the image of a boot crushing a man's face for an eternity. To use a weapon of mass destruction, a bomb of immense power, upon a city while engaged in a war, is indeed a hateful and cruel act. As is the act of engaging in the war itself. It might still be regarded, in some small measure, as a necessary one. For that, we have the misfortune of not possessing good counter-factual evidence with which to argue against ourselves for an eternity. I can suggest, as with the history of torture, that we now at least may have the opportunity to have learned from that event, drawing out from it as an error if we wish to do so, and accepting that we must work diligently and dedicate ourselves to the eradication and prevention of massive wars between the nations while we possess the weapons capable of annihilating one another. Of the arguments against torture, this is the strongest one against using the atomic bomb in August 1945: that it must never again happen and be permitted in our names. We have learned from a considerable body of history of what use is torture to the state and its people, and that history is less than favorable to the view that it "saves lives" or is "necessary" to gather intelligence.

All this does is add to that considerable ledger. At some point, I imagine people will be able to read more of it. The stuff that's already been released (the original torture memos which this investigation was looking at), should chill one's blood with the amount of unchecked authority it allows for by the President and his agents in the pursuit of "national security", and in the specific and grotesque manner that each approval is "tested" against whatever legal or ideological principle was applied and ultimately found acceptable.

As to the revised version, it sounds like it boils down to "you had to be there" as the excuse. I think, in so far as the rogue agent using torture in the field on a captured prisoner, this is correct. We can still reasonably disagree that their judgment was correct and could argue that merit or demerit of that case and its particulars in a court room or a Congressional hearing or some like forum. But those rogue agents weren't the ones targeted for investigation by the OPR. "Their" lawyers were. The people who are supposed to provide dispassionate advice on whether their actions could be interpreted as a violation of the law or not. I don't think we can reasonably approve of state empowered actors removed from the emotion and tension of that terrible situation being face to face with a man who wants to kill American citizens and knows (with a certainty which we never have possessed) how or where they might do it next, that we can construct an appropriate legal architecture to protect the men in the room from "doing whatever they feel they need to do" that would protect the men who are abused in that room from being abused with malice and impunity rather than with the understanding that it would have to be justified at some later date and held to account. It would seem more appropriate to let the American public decide this after the fact in accordance with the established laws of our country and those international treaties which we have ratified on the subject of torture and let our ideals govern over our passions and values.

Yoo's argument, rather than the OPR's justification of it, appears instead to be something like "we don't know what 'is' is". Which was laughable when Clinton tried it (over something far more humorous than the dark and twisted world of John Yoo). We perfectly well knew what was and wasn't torture in the legal sense because we had tried or attempted to try people in a court of law for doing many of the things we did. We even tried some of the Americans who did them at Abu Ghraib. You don't need to be Eric Blair to describe and figure out these things.

21 February 2010

things you notice when you flick around the boob tube

"Wanker" has to be bleeped out on cable? Really? "Bollocks" usually isn't.

CPAC who?

Ron Paul won the straw poll. At last, our long national nightmare of unprincipled hypocritical conservatives is over?

Except Sarah Palin managed to get up in front of a collection of tea partiers and rail and ramble about the importance of the military establishment and the police state mentality. And almost every speaker at CPAC was a hypocrite, either directly supporting, voting for, or indirectly supporting through their contact with Wall Street, the very things they say were useless and wasteful programs carrying us toward socialism (this includes people like Glenn Beck, Palin, etc). Maybe these conservatives had discovered their religion of fiscal restraint by the time the auto bailouts took place. But it's kind of too late by then to fight for their honor and expect us to take it seriously. I myself have rather ambivalent views that would be difficult to explain to the average person and probably take me outside the Paul-ite consensus. I'd have preferred to use monetary policy to provide stimulus to the economy in the short run simply because the banking system required it in order to continue to function, and the banking paralysis was a key player in the aggregate demand drops we suffered both in 1931 and in 2008. A direct loan to specific banks however did not make sense and regardless of what Obama, Paulson, or anybody else in government says now or at the time, did not need to be done. Walking people through the economics behind the Great Depression is not exactly fun and will result in many a glazed look in the eyes of the listener. So it's much easier to look annoyed when the government "wastes" hundreds of billions of dollars, and I can accept that this is the public reaction. What's not funny about all that is that the same government that wasted that money is composed in part by the people who are now telling us how dumb that was who helped spend it. That shit is just aggravating.

The fault lines once you get outside of the fiscal messaging of restraint and budgetary control continue to mount. I don't take it seriously that Paul and his various acolytes were briefly accepted into the fold because the economics have taken the forefront for the time being. I am myself am now more of a Gary Johnson fan, I like my obscure cranks who are at least principled politically (makes them easier to judge at least without as much of the hypocrisies). Still, you need look no further than their own messages once you escape the budget to find out that nobody in the GOP/conservative wing of the country takes Paul's libertarianism/Constitutionalism seriously. Police powers: More, screw those inconvenient old mutterings in the 4th and 8th amendments. Have you seen those evil terrorists and criminals who hate us all? They don't care about our stupid laws and neither should we! Gays: Burn in hell and we need a federal amendment to protect the majority straight people! DADT: keep it. Flag burning: we need an amendment! Censorship: get Miley Cyrus off the air (we're not satisfied to rally against gangsta rap like idiots, we're now policing the Disney channel's content)! Schools: Must "teach the controversy"! (this is one point I get really annoyed with Paul and have thus moved onto the Johnson train. The Civil War/federalism debate and gold standard stuff doesn't get me hot either) War: Bomb Iran! America's global might and empire must remain supreme! Israel: can do no wrong! We should wear their colours proudly too! Immigrants: go back where you came from and speak American! These are basic policy positions of the various wings that make up the GOP establishment. Most of them are so radical to any sensible form of libertarian as to be considered insane.

And that division is even before you get to the point where most of that establishment presided over and indeed fueled a massive growth in government spending, even for their supposedly reviled social welfare purposes. Or the hypocrisy of claiming to be a party based on "limited government" while having and demanding ever more legal and enforceable power over the individual on the matters of social taste and culture. I'll give the Democrats some credit. They may not have been able to pass their agenda as successfully while in power so far, but at least most of the time they're honest about what they want to spend more of the taxpayer's money on when they're not in power (education, health care, etc). You ought to know what you're getting if you're measuring the policies on the merits of cost/benefits and so on (naturally in many cases I am opposed). Though I think we can agree the frustration and failure over the diminishing power and lack of accountability over "national security" policies has been a considerable and spectacular problem of that same messaging.

I can sympathize the common libertarian's feeling of being out in the political wilderness. It would be nice, for us anyway, if a major political movement took our views more seriously and actually tried to implement some of them in order to restrict the powers of the state in many crucial ways. But the reality is that neither political party is likely to be the vehicle in which to defeat a government too often beholden to powerful (often corporate) interests. The same party and movement that will embrace such views will fail to execute them once in office because it has major sponsors to keep happy rather than principles to uphold. Thus the appropriate place for the libertarian is generally to watch the lions try to kill each other and find it amusing when political parties spout off about different rhetorical things as though there was some great principle being violated all while they themselves did the same thing not long ago.

Watchdog. Gadfly. Annoying policy crank. "You want jobs?" Don't look at the government, they actually cannot do anything significant about it in the short run. That sort of thing. That's us. There's a reason that sort of view is unpopular. Maybe it's a little too cynical. Maybe it's a little too honest or principled to work in politics. You're supposed to promise the moon and deliver a fossilized piece of horse dung in politics and that's not something "we" do. If that's the case, so be it. Accept and embrace the role as the outsider and quit pretending that somehow all these unreasonable people who want government big enough to control our social lives or to provide for social welfare for all (not merely the poor and downtrodden), have somehow repented of these views and conceded their folly on the road to some libertarian Damascus. Reading Ayn Rand won't make these people convert into a libertarian overnight (and in my view, won't even make people into very good libertarians, it certainly doesn't appear to make people into very good people). So we should not get too excited when Paul wins a straw poll (with no real opposition anyway, I mean seriously, Romney? Palin?) or when Ayn Rand and Hayek book sales go up through the roof. Wait for the results to see if there's any real payoff from such things. Hayek and Rand have been around a long, long time in political terms. History has shown there won't be much of a victory parade worth mentioning.

19 February 2010

quick hitting #2

Torture and just war theory

That, despite the theological haranguing and relative length for a blog posting, needs to be read and distributed widely amongst the predominately Christian supporters of torture techniques. It is easy for me to arrive a moral conclusion that torture is wrong, and easier still to arrive at a conclusion that it serves no greater strategic or tactical advantages to deploy it. Only temporal feelings of revenge and malice are left sated, and no great goals are achieved or security defended by inflicting pain and suffering upon the captured enemy. It is even strictly advised against CENTURIES ago by my nome de plume ("Treat captives well, and care for them."), indicating that it's not the progress of time that has made man a better creature or better governor over his nature.

Another substantive criticism, one which is not often raised when major political messages are made, is to imagine the tactics or methods being used by our enemies and to consider how we would feel, what we would find them to be, under those altered circumstances. That critique isn't strictly limited to torture advocacy, I think for example it applies to people complaining about the Citizens United decision as well, but it seems strange that "American exceptionalism" is taken to mean that we are somehow ennobled as to not be corrupted by the same tactics and methods that, if left to our enemies, are to be denigrated and punished. It seemed to me that one of the greater and lasting points of America's unique experiment, at the time, was to recognize that men were fallible and to place as little power as was deemed necessary into men of power so that they could not be twisted with aspirations to abuse that power as though they were immune to its influence, which is the precise opposite of this new claim. In any case, since it seems pretty clear from most polling data I've seen that our staunchest supporters of this are Christians (or claim to be), it likewise seems essential that the arguments of theology that they rely upon to justify such unjustifiable actions are debated and smashed down by other Christians.

They're not likely to listen to me, at least not in my experience.

And they're not likely at all to care about the substance of their arguments; that these tactics of torture and violence produce some sort of positive result justifying their actions, a position which can be demonstrated to be false, but for which evidence to that effect will be ignored. Mostly because torture serves deeper and darker impulses than efficacy and strategic provisions of security in the first place, and those more reasoned arguments are only raised to provide a shield against acknowledging openly these dark impulses as existing, thus maintaining a precious illusion of immunity from them. (ie, when we do it, it's "enhanced interrogation" but when the Japanese, the Khmer Rouge, the Gestapo, or the Inquisition did it, it was evil and hateful torture)

Update: I'm not sure what's going on with the link at Sullivan's blog. It's still in my feed reader, but it seems to be inaccessible at the actual website.

For the time being I'll just post the text below.

To have lived in an America where its former vice-president can boast of supporting the torture of human beings is tragic and terrifying enough. For me and many others, this is not America. As a former president said of the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib,

“This is not America. America is a country of justice and law and freedom and treating people with respect.”

But it is more than disturbing, especially as we begin Lent, to watch a Catholic cable channel, EWTN, present a self-described Catholic, Marc Thiessen, defending torture on Catholic grounds as compatible with the Magisterium of the Church. Now I am not one to criticize Catholics who in good conscience dissent from the Magisterium on some topics, because I do so myself. I certainly do not deny that I am in conflict with the Magisterium on the question of homosexuality. This is not true of Marc Thiessen, as he is interviewed in an extremely supportive fashion by Raymond Arroyo, a Catholic media figure prominent enough to have been given the only English language interview with Pope Benedict XVI.

As the interview happens, Catholics keep calling in to protest, as Arroyo notices. He never challenges the absurdity that waterboarding isn't torture. He never brings up the Church's own horrifying past with respect to the use of torture, including the stress positions defended by Thiessen today. But the Catechism is very clear about this:

Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

Notice that torture for a Catholic includes "moral violence," in which a human being's body is not even touched - the kind of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, or crippling total isolation deployed by the US government for months at a time. Subjecting someone to weeks of sleep deprivation as was done to al-Qhatani, or freezing human beings to states of near-deadly hypothermia, let alone threatening to crush the testicles of a prisoner's child, as John Yoo said was within the president's legal and constitutional authority in the war on terror, is obviously at the very least moral violence. The idea any of it is somehow defensible as a Catholic position is so offensive, so absurd, so outrageous it beggars belief.

Moreover, the US Catholic Bishops have also made their position quite clear. From Dr. Stephen Colecchi, Director, Office of International Justice and Peace, Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

"Torture is about the rights of victims, but it is also about who we are as a people. In a statement on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, issued in preparation for our recent national elections [2008], the bishops reminded Catholics that torture is 'intrinsically evil' and 'can never be justified.' There are some things we must never do. We must never take the lives of innocent people. We must never torture other human beings."

This is not a hedged statement. It is a categorical statement that what Thiessen is defending is, from a Catholic point of view, intrinsically evil and something that cannot be done under any circumstances. Pope John Paul II's Enclyclical, Veritatis Splendor, contains the following passage:

"... 'there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object'. ... 'whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity' ... 'all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator.'"

The notion of the integrity of the human person, of human dignity, is integral to the Catholic faith. We are all made in the image of God, imago Dei. The central and divine figure in our faith, Jesus of Nazareth, was brutally tortured. He was also robbed of dignity, forced to wear a mocking crown of thorns, sent to carry a crippling cross through the streets of Jerusalem, mocked while in agony, his body exposed naked and twisted in the stress position known as crucifixion - which was often done without nails by Romans so that the death was slow and agonizing in the way stress positions are designed to be. Ask John McCain. That the Catholic church in the Inquisition deployed these techniques reveals the madness and evil that can infect even those institutions purportedly created to oppose all such things.

Human dignity is reflected in the Geneva Conventions which bars outrages on human dignity against prisoners in captivity. Here is an iconic photograph of an individual robbed of all human dignity:

This technique was not invented by Lynndie England. It was also used at Gitmo and directly authorized by the man Thiessen worked for. Forced nudity is another way in which the human being is robbed of dignity:

This photograph is particularly striking since it so closely mimics in its form the way in which the Romans exposed Jesus on the cross. Forced nudity of this kind was also directly authorized by Thiessen's bosses. The argument that these techniques were somehow invented by low-level soldiers on the night-shift and had nothing whatsoever to do with the waiving of Geneva or the specific techniques authorized by the last president is simply, flatly, demonstrably untrue. We have the memos and the documents and the Red Cross Report and we have the unanimous conclusion of the Senate Armed Services Committee Report:

"The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military dogs to intimidate them only appeared in Iraq after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officers conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in IUS military custody."

What was done to human beings under the CIA program that Thiessen's boss, Cheney, has repeatedly and proudly insisted he supported and authorized and that Thiessen is now promoting in his new book, was far worse. Waterboarding, which Thiessen describes as the worst of the tortures, was not, in fact, the worst. Sleep deprivation - another medieval torture technique - can be far more grueling. Alex Massie has a recent post on the subject which I urge you to read. It contains this description from a torture victim subjected to sleep deprivation under the apartheiid regime:

"It is the equivalent of bear-baiting, and we banned that centuries ago. I was kept without sleep for a week in all. I can remember the details of the experience, although it took place 35 years ago. After two nights without sleep, the hallucinations start, and after three nights, people are having dreams while fairly awake, which is a form of psychosis. By the week's end, people lose their orientation in place and time - the people you're speaking to become people from your past; a window might become a view of the sea seen in your younger days. To deprive someone of sleep is to tamper with their equilibrium and their sanity."

It lasts for what seems like for ever. In one case under the direction of Thiessen's boss, Dick Cheney, a prisoner was subjected to 960 hours of it, with a few short breaks. Here is what Marc Thiessen's boss, Dick Cheney, supported, from the Bradbury memo:

“The primary method of sleep deprivation involves the use of shackling to keep the detainee awake,” wrote Bybee’s eventual replacement, Steven Bradbury, on March 10, 2005. “In this method, the detainee is standing and is handcuffed, and the handcuffs are attached by a length of chain to the ceiling.” The detainee’s feet are shackled to a bolt in the floor, giving him a “two-to-three-foot diameter of movement.” His hands “may be raised above the level of his head, but only for a period of up to two hours.” His weight is “borne by his legs and feet during sleep deprivation,” ensuring that he had to keep awake, for if he “los[t] his balance” from exhaustion he would feel “the restraining tension of the shackles.”

[...]According to the memo, the “maximum allowable duration for sleep deprivation” is “180 hours,” or seven and a half days, “after which the detainee must be permitted to sleep without interruption for at least eight hours.”

A footnote to the memo indicated that there was an associated technique of keeping a detainee awake through “horizontal sleep deprivation.” In that technique, “the detainee’s hands are manacled together and the arms placed in an outstretched position — either extended beyond the head or extended to either side of the body — and anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the arms cannot be bent or used for either balance or comfort.” Interrogators would place similar restraints on the detainee’s legs. “The position is sufficiently uncomfortable to detainees to deprive them of unbroken sleep, while allowing their lower limbs to recover from the effects of standing sleep deprivation,” Bradbury wrote.

This is not just torture; it is sadism and cruelty that any Catholic of any kind must find abhorrent. It is so close to crucifixion it chills the soul and shocks the conscience. Here is an FBI description of the treatment of a human being at Guantanamo Bay - an FBI eye-witness description - of what was done to a human being made in the image of God, under the direct authority of Thiessen's boss:

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more.'' The agent also described military police manipulating the temperatures in detainees' cells. One was kept in air conditioning so frigid ``the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold.'' ''When I asked the MPs what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment,'' the agent wrote. On another occasion, the same agent saw an ''almost unconscious'' prisoner in a room where the temperature was ''probably well over 100 degrees'' -- and a pile of his hair on the floor. The detainee ``had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night.''

Again this was at Gitmo, and cannot even be attached to defenseless scapegoats as at Abu Ghraib, because that prison was monitored directly by the government of the United States in a program the former vice-president "strongly supported" and which Thiessen is now defending on a Catholic cable channel.

On the show, Thiessen argues that this kind of treatment of human beings is compatible with Catholic just war theory, because the hundreds of prisoners subjected to these techniques - many of whom were innocent and none of whom had been given fair trials with due process to make even a preliminary assessment of whether they were terrorists at all - knew of impending plots and therefore were still technically fighting the US and metaphorically on the battlefield.

First off, remember that just war theory defends warfare as a last resort act of defense. The Vatican opposed the Iraq war on those grounds. Even on the battlefield, just war theory requires that the force used be minimal to the goal of self-defense and proportional to the force being fought. The idea that a combatant, already taken out of combat, shackled in a cell, defenseless and weaponless, represents a version of a battlefield threat proportional to the use of torture is so outside any understanding of Catholic teaching it really does quite simply shock the conscience.

Secondly, every prisoner captured in war of any kind may have information related to pending attacks. Many may have been briefed about future operations. Leading commanders captured may know a huge amount about what may be coming. In the Cold War, nuclear annihilation of the entire country was at stake. But Geneva explicitly bars such acts of torture under any circumstances, and explicitly makes the case that no impending threat can justify its use, or anything that can remotely be seen as similar to its use. The language is broad and sweeping for a reason. It is not broad and sweeping so that governments can argue that the need to use "severe mental or physical pain or suffering" to extract information legitimately allows them to explore how far they can go. It is broad and sweeping in order to tell such officials that they cannot and should not go anywhere near it under any circumstances.

And before we get the argument that these prisoners are somehow not eligible for such treatment because they are terror suspects not uniformed soldiers, let me repeat yet again the simple fact that the baseline protections against torture and abuse and outrages on human dignity are not just reserved for formal prisoners of war in uniform.

The baseline provisions of Article 3 apply to any prisoner of any kind, including irregulars out of uniform, including terrorists fighting guerrilla wars. In the past the US has actually prosecuted the use of almost identical enhanced interrogation techniques" against irregulars out of uniform as serious war criminals. One defense of such techniques by the deployers of "enhanced interrogations" were that

(c) That the acts of torture in no case resulted in death. Most of the injuries inflicted were slight and did not result in permanent disablement.

The United States executed those responsible for these techniques in 1948, and yet all these decades later, we have a vice-president and his speech writer going on television to brag about them.

More to Thiessen's point that torturing is a legitimate form of self-defense in just war theory, let me again reiterate the US Catholic Bishops' spokesman's statement on the matter:

Torture is 'intrinsically evil' and 'can never be justified.' There are some things we must never do. We must never take the lives of innocent people. We must never torture other human beings.

Then we have the astonishing argument from Thiessen that the torture-victims in the Cheney program he supported were grateful for being tortured, because when they were forced beyond what they could endure - which, of course, is Thiessen's unwitting admission that what he was doing was definitionally torture - they were grateful. They were grateful because their duty to Allah had been fulfilled and they were then free to spill their guts. They had done their religious duty and had been brought to a spiritual epiphany that allowed them to tell us so much.

There is much to say about this but let me on Ash Wednesday simply remember the Catholic church's own shameful history of torture. It was done, according to the Inquisitors, as a way to free the souls of the tortured, to bring them to a religious epiphany in which they abandoned heresy and saved themselves from eternal damnation. It is hard for modern people to understand this, but as a student in college of the years in which my own homeland used torture to procure religious conversion, it is important to remember that the torturers sincerely believed that what they were doing was in the best interests of the tortured. In fact, it was a sacred duty to torture rather than allow the victims to die and live in hell for eternity, a fate even worse than the agonies of stress positions or even burning at the stake. Why? Because the torture they would endure in hell would be eternal, while the torture on earth would not last that long.

This is not an exact parallel to the way in which Thiessen defends torture. But the meme that it somehow relieved the victims, that it liberated them, that it helped them to embrace giving information without conflict with their religious faith is horribly, frighteningly close to this ancient evil. For a Catholic to use this argument on a Catholic television program and to invoke the Magisterium of the Church in its defense is simply breath-taking in its moral obtuseness.

Today is a day for repentance. It is not a day for me to condemn anyone else, given my own failings and sins. And I want to repent today for those many occasions when my anger at what has happened, and my own profound guilt in unwittingly supporting those who made this happen, has gotten the best of me. On a blog, anger can run fast and deep and I will pray today for forgiveness for intemperance. My essays - written over time and in a different rubric - take care not to do this, as evidenced here and here. People do evil most of the time because they think they are doing good. In fact, the greatest evils have been committed in the name of good.

But what has happened in this country, what we have allowed ourselves to do to others, innocent and guilty, is something for which I believe repentance is necessary. As Christians and as Catholics, we are required to follow Our Lord's impossible example and not just love our friends, but to love our enemies. This does not mean pacifism; and I have a long, long record of supporting what I believe were just wars. I mean understanding that war is always evil even when it is necessary, but that some things, like torture, abuse and dehumanizing of others under our total control, are never justified.

And once done, once perpetrated, they damage the souls of the torturers as profoundly as they destroy their victims.

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

quick hitting

Looks like the Dubai hit squad was connected to Israel in some way, even if it ends up being a "plausible denialability" way like the post-Munich team that went out to take out the Black September organisation in the wake of 1972. It isn't surprising to me that nation-states can and will use their monopoly of force to kill potential threats to their national security. What is surprising is the number of advocates and nation-states that skip over lesser steps which are probably more effective in the strategic sense, such as legally capturing, detaining, and possibly executing such people through rule of law, in the rush to some tactical success of having killed the latest criminal de jour. Thinking tactically, with the idea of eliminating the threats, doesn't focus on the more important question of how to actually eliminate the threat and instead replaces "threat" with body counts as though this would serve as a deterrence.

18 February 2010

Be afraid


Except I haven't seen this referred to as anything other than some sort of disgruntled American citizen. Weird how when its a crazy American guy who goes off and blows something up or kamikazes into an office building, it's a disgruntled or disaffected person, but those crazy Muslims are obviously the only ones who are terrorists.

Indeed, Kweli noticed as did I that in the wake of actual bombings and shootings, we are quick to point the blame at those crazy Muslims before we find out it was "one of us". In this case, it's doubtful that people consider this anything more than an accident when they first heard about it. At least until they heard what the target was and who was involved. As it happens, there's a long ranting manifesto online somewhere, and as usually befits such activity, it's pretty clear there's a rational mind at work even if it is divorced from some realistic understandings of the world around it. There were clear motivations, such as the absurd police state that would, he suspects probably accurately, only get worse in the wake of an act like this, that we should be made aware of, just as there are clear motivations in the case of Hezbollah or Iran or the Taliban. It's not always possible to satisfy all of these concerns. Some of them, such as his annoyance and choice of target in vengeance against the IRS, wouldn't go away tomorrow under any reasonable worldview. But it is necessary to be aware of what causes some acts of aggressive violence, and to be clear that sometimes these aggressive acts are acts by insane or deranged lunatics and sometimes that they are calm and rational responses to an insane series of events. The line between them is not always very clear in reporting. In this case I lean more toward the former for now. Though there are some remarkably clear expressions, the decision to use violence to express his frustration with the IRS, of all places certainly one people are frustrated with on a daily or yearly basis but not generally to the point of assault, is a much better definition of insanity than the one he gave.

PS: I'm now trying to follow the Dubai Hamas assassination story. It's sort of harder than this because at least in the Austin case, the information is broadly available and dissembled to the public, even if the actual conclusion of "whodunit" doesn't phrase out explicitly as "terrorist" in the reporting. Anything dealing with Palestine seems to only be reported through significant partisan filtering and facts are frequently dismissed entirely. It's less easy to figure out what the hell is going on.

15 February 2010

in case one wonders

Yes, the dreadful quantities of snow here means in part I've shifted some attention toward basketball. Other than the continuing insurance causes mortality gains debate, I'm not sure there's much happening worthy of commentary. I'm also amused that the counter-intuitive examination of just how many lives might be "saved" by health insurance is being depicted as a "right-wing" claim. Right-wingers, of the sort commonly assumed in the normal right-left political scene, have no interest whatsoever in this statistical figure. They're still busy claiming there are rations and death panels in the health care bills or that it was happening "too fast".

So yeah, there's that, and that the Winter Olympics are boring (for me). The All-Star game was kind of a downer with the several lame and pointless fouls at the end of a close game. Usually the 4th quarter is the part of the pickup game routine that is crisp and well-run while the first and second maintain a lot of crazy passes and dunks. This time it felt sloppy in the 4th and was pretty crisp (with a couple exceptions) for the first 36 minutes. The dunk contest was totally forgettable. Start putting HORSE in prime time and get rid of it. There were several better dunks in the game the next day than anything I saw over the weekend. The fact that Nate Robinson won the year Iguodala did this (look where his head is as he does the dunk) should basically say all there is to say about how dumb this event has gotten.

If Obama ends up moving the KSM trial back toward a military tribunal, I will rant and rave about how stupid that is. Politically for Democrats and strategically in the "global war on terror". I don't have much hope that they'll keep the trial in New York. Concrete jungles where dreams are made of don't have much to do with paying for people's paranoia to the tune of 8 or 9 figures worth of "security". Personally I thought 70 million (the original estimate) was too high for the provision of security. The only reason to object to the cost of the trial is that it will probably be a capital case. There's no reason to provide additional security over and above what New York already has designated to it because of its political connections and symbolic importance (as the site of a couple major terrorist incidents in its past). None. Zero. Please show me the evidence that the trials of terrorists or terrorist plotters around the globe in such strange places as Spain, Australia, India, or Indonesia required millions of dollars of additional security. There isn't any. All this is is smoke for people who already didn't want to have the trials in the first place.

The continuing saga of Mirandizing the underwear bomber is also not really worth commenting on because the arguments being made by the various Cheney-ite Republicans are not factually correct in the slightest. The guy is talking, was talking, and wouldn't be talking any "better" if he were sitting in a black site being tortured than he has been with a lawyer around in a federal jail. Making any other argument is hysterical, somewhat funny for me, but not worth talking about because it is pure and basic cynical politics. Same deal with "we need military tribunals". It bears no relation to the reality of the previous 8 years where we didn't need military tribunals to convict these people, to detain them without constitutional protections, and where some captured terrorist bombers were mirandized and treated as common thugs processed by our ordinary justice system. Politics is fun to observe for its hypocrisies and insanities, but it's not really worth treating the arguments it generates as serious or worth discussion and discourse.

Top 20 again

Last rankings

1) Kansas
2) Duke
3) Syracuse (that loss at home dropped them back behind Duke again. For reasons I still cannot quite figure out)

4) West Virginia
4) Wisconsin
6) Texas
7) Kansas St
8) Purdue
9) BYU
10) Kentucky
11) Villanova
12) Ohio State

13) Georgetown
14) Maryland
15) Missouri
16) Baylor
17) California

18) Marquette
19) Michigan State
20) Xavier

Clemson and Vanderbilt are right outside that list

Current list of teams in my top at-larges not in the Bracketology field
Minnesota (41)
Mississippi (40)
Mississippi St (42)
Arizona State (36)
Washington (35)
None of those has a convincing case for inclusion yet, Miss. St looks like the best case (despite being the lowest ranked on my list) because they have a better record against quality teams. Unfortunately for them, they also haven't played many because the SEC sucks this year. Lunardi presently has both Charlotte and Rhode Island in, for reasons I'm not sure make any sense. Supposedly the A10 is great so winning it would be also great, I say it's good but it's still behind the Pac-10 as a whole, and the Pac-10 is really down this year.

Most dangerous non-BCS conference teams:
Obviously BYU and New Mexico. Xavier is highly ranked by my system, but hasn't played much or won much. They're commonly many at-large teams "best win". After that there's Old Dominion, Butler, and Utah State (which Lunardi has as a 13th seed..and I have as a 7, by far the most underrated team by my count). Northern Iowa, Temple, and Gonzaga look to be overrated to varying degrees. All have some bad losses, though at least Temple and Gonzaga have some good wins. Cornell is also pretty badly overrated (in the tournament sure, top 25...no..this is crazy talk). Richmond is getting a little too much pub also. I don't see them as a 7 seed.

14 February 2010

trade bait

Don't expect, barring a trade, that the Lakers are going to repeat now. Dallas now has a lineup that looks like this
C Haywood +4.5
PF Dirk +14
SF Marion +5.5
SG Butler +4.2
PG Kidd +2.3
G Terry +1.6
G Beaubois +1.9
C Dampier +2.9
Basically big enough up front now (plus Butler is bigger and better than Josh Howard) and with some quick guards off the bench to chew up Fisher/Brown/etc. Question will be chemistry, but between Marion, Haywood, and Butler they upgraded their D considerably, and Butler's a better 2nd option scorer than Marion or Howard was.
Lakers look like this
C Bynum +3.3
PF Gasol +8.5
SF Artest +4.0
SG Kobe +15.7
PG Fisher -2.9
F Odom +2.6
G Farmar -2.0
G Brown -5.4
Bench is weak other than Odom, and Fisher/Brown/Farmar is probably the best possible matchup for Kidd to play against as it doesn't expose him the way Chris Paul or Deron Williams or Nash would.
This would be my current idea of the West come playoff time.
1) LA
2) Dallas
3) Denver (needs to get healthy to hold off Utah)
4) Utah
5) Spurs (getting healthy, but old too)
6) Oklahoma (too young, but scary)
7) Houston (depends on what they get for McGrady, could move up. Probably won't)
8) Portland (too many injuries, may not be able to hold off Memphis or Nash and his team of scrubs)
Seems like Phoenix is deciding to throw in the towel for financial reasons, and New Orleans probably will fade the longer Paul is out. Not sure what to make of Memphis, other than that they're not very deep and don't defend as well as these other teams.
East looks pretty irrelevant other than the top 4, in this order
1) Cavs
2) Orlando
3) Atlanta
4) Boston

Charlotte might be sort of wacky/scary depending on the matchup. Nobody else out East is scary at all (those Toronto fans who think they're threatening Boston at all for that division, probably need to shut it, you have the worst defensive team in the league, they still have the best. End of story).

I'm less convinced that the Stoudemire deal to Cleveland will help them out as much as it would appear. Mostly because Amare does not even try to play defense. But he is better, at least at this point, than JJ Hickson. He's not as good, certainly defensively, as Varejao (who is probably one of the top 5 interior defenders in the league). Assuming he'll get Hickson and Ilgauskas's minutes, with Bad Andy getting some of those as well, that's a good move, but not a slam dunk move that will put them over LA or Dallas. Probably should be able to handle Denver and everybody else in the East. The key for the Cavs will be whether Delonte West can stay on the court I think, rather than Anthony Parker and to a lesser extent, Mo Williams. West is a far superior defender at the point they need one the most, outside, than either of those two. Other than LeBron and Varejao, they've got a collection of average role players. That makes for a pretty good team (considering LeBron's a beast). But I'm not convinced after last year's playoff implosion that it gets them past whoever comes out of the West (they can probably beat Denver, if that's any consolation).

12 February 2010

winter olympics are on

For a relative sports fanatic... this is one of those things I don't care all that much about. I watch some hockey. Olympic-rules and competition for hockey is on par with the World Cup for soccer, easily the best you're going to get to see on television. I don't care that much about figure skating. Basically the gymnastics event on ice. Otherwise it's a lot of European sports that Americans/Canadians do but no other continent really bothers with. Skiing isn't very global I guess.

I don't mind watching some snowboarding and skiing, but 2 weeks of it with transparent attempts to gin up nationalistic sentiments in an era of hegemonic foreign affairs (lacking that "do you believe in miracles" element of 1980 against the "evil Soviets"), that's pushing it.

that tired, old, people are dying! trick

Perhaps it would help if we understood what we are buying with health insurance: health care. Not "death prevention". Health does not equal mortality improvements directly. If you have a mortal illness or injury, or one that if left untreated may become such, yes it does. But much of health care deals with improvements in health itself. If you ask a doctor, their primary mission is to improve the quality of life by doing things like alleviating suffering. The expansion of our life expectancy is, like GDP or unemployment, one important way to measure the success of that care that they provide. But it becomes absurd to suggest that out of the millions of people who go, even temporarily, without health insurance, that some thousands of them die as a result of that lack. There are some thousands of people WITH health insurance who die every year because of inadequate or inappropriate quality of care (from things as simple as washing your fucking hands). There are some thousands of Americans every year who die of treatable ailments who don't seek care soon enough or who have lifestyles which aggravate or help bring on ailments as well. Again, many of these people have access to health insurance. The problem that underlies all of this is twofold

Firstly, the mythology that doctors and health care providers generally are magicians capable of saving and extending our lives. There isn't, so far as I know, good evidence to suggest that this is the case. Doctors have done a great deal to help propel this mythology, mostly so that their services rendered may be regarded as expensive, but primarily what they do is not help us life longer.

Because, secondly, what they primarily do is help us life better or at least healthier. The ideal product they provide is something abstract like Quality Adjusted Life Years. That may mean, for example if you have cancer or some other potentially fatal illness or health condition, that they will try to give you years of additional life expectancy as a good patient/client outcome. That's good, and that's what people want when they go into a doctor when they get cancer (or think they have cancer). But that's not what they are selling. Even within modern medicine, a lot of it is things intended to help the quality of life, almost in a heuristic way. Pain management, notions of proper diet and exercise, mending non-fatal wounds and broken bones or ligaments, cleaning our teeth, adjusting prescriptions on glasses, helping clear our arteries or lower our blood pressure. Many of these things don't actually help us live any longer per se, but they most certainly are good outcomes when they succeed (and in many cases, they rely a great deal on patient collaboration more so than doctor skill). To my mind the appropriate idea when purchasing health care, even through the device of insurance paying for it, isn't to ask about how much longer I might live as a result of this procedure or drug, but how well I will live during that time. The medical community as whole I think has bought into the first question too much itself and has often failed to focus on what it is actually capable of delivering and promising in any statistically measurable way: better overall health outcomes for its patients/clients. One such outcome is that people can live longer. I don't object to that. But it's sort of silly to pretend that it's really the most important one.

So the ideal argument to be made about extending health insurance (what I refer to as health financing) to the sick (pre-existing conditions), the elderly, and to the poor more broadly than we have at present most commonly will have very little to do with helping them live longer or preventing needless death. Most commonly the problem is that most of these 20-40 somethings that go un-insured are not very likely to die in the first place from a health problem in any given year, and the 65+ crowd has coverage already through the government. The problem is that the 20-65 crowd that goes uninsured does not consume health care that might be beneficial for their health, the QALY adjustment goes down. They don't treat preventable illnesses because of the expense for example. Some of them, I think we might intuit, die as a result, or at least, might die sooner than they could otherwise. Some of them, based on the overall quality of health care or its inability to treat some illnesses with a consistent standard, might even die sooner. On balance it might make sense to claim that some amount of people die per year because they lack adequate insurance to pay for their health care, merely because mortal diseases are not very easy to treat in the absence of insurance. I can accept that with some logical analysis, but it's not the ultimate goal of health care providers to keep more people "alive" in the first place. We should be aware of what they are actually selling us.

Most of the reason for all these people putting off preventable treatments is less the device of insurance being unavailable itself and more what I refer to as a problem of health care financing. It's because we rely on a fee-for-service model too often rather than as a single function payment. That's not something that will be "fixed" by expanding health insurance either (ie, by increasing the amount of distance between client and provider in the transaction). In other words, to me the appropriate question is not how can we get more people covered with insurance, but rather, how can we get more health care transactions out into the open and still keep sick people with access to improve their health (and possibly live longer). Why aren't we asking what we are really paying for or why aren't we somehow equally angry that some thousands of people die needlessly IN the medical care of professionals (and not merely because they lack access to that care). Maybe because we don't see and pay for the bill?

I am not unsympathetic to the suffering of poverty, such the illnesses caused by poor diet or difficult and unhealthy living conditions (such as pollutants or drug/tobacco consumption rates), and despite my usual hostility toward the elderly and the infirmities of age, I think it is only natural that most people will wish to see their aging parents or grandparents attended to for as long as we can reasonably do so. But since those groups of people already have paid for health care at taxpayer expense, I'm not that worried (at least directly). What should be at question is how the rest of us will attend to our health care needs and what will we be getting in exchange for our money (and how will we pay). As with any question, one thing that needs to be asked is always what is unknown or unseen in the variables involved, in this case, things like the relative health habits and incentives of people with and without health insurance as examples. We cannot account for everything, so it can be assumed that people who don't have health insurance and the access it provides might have less healthy lives (and therefore be at some risk of premature deaths). There doesn't appear to be substantive evidence to back that intuition up though. So it's not the best argument to be used if you want to sell me on health care reform. Far more interesting would be an idea of how much each QALY costs us with or without insurance or through different methods of payment (and different kinds of insurance). If we can buy more "health" for less, wouldn't that be an ideal outcome which people might be interested in hearing about?

Unfortunately, our summer debate on health care managed to effectively kill off that discussion. By screaming about "death panels" and irate fears that our grandmothers would be killed off to have their organs harvested or some such nonsense, those people effectively stopped any sensible inquiry as to what health care dollars actually purchase and why. They may have succeeded, for now, in helping kill a bill putatively reforming health insurance as an industry (and not much else about the health care system), but I'm very worried that they managed to help kill off something more important: the way we talk about and approach health care itself in this country. It looks more like the ideas we have about death and mortality because of health care has become ever more entrenched instead because the response to it was to talk about people dying already under the current system. You don't have to sell me on the current system being broken and ineffectual. I'm not the average Joe, but I am the guy who you are going to have to sell on whether or not your proposed system would work better somehow, enough so to make it worth whatever price it will cost or tax it will enact. And using rather mythological beliefs about life and death being the pre-eminent concerns of health care is not the way to do it. Move on to something with more established statistics and economics behind it if you please.

11 February 2010

An everyday greeting

When you look through a mirror
Everything looks backwards
When you look through the water
Everything looks askew
When you look through the window
Everything looks clear

A life spent in the looking glass
Bound to be a little warped?
A question, sincerely asking
can only be answered by
the things left unsaid
and a repeated trite politely nodded

09 February 2010

I'm tired of this person

But apparently not enough of the rest of you are.

I'm amused by the latest scandals produced by Palin's inane antics. Complain about the wise teleprompter that governs the nation, but write my talking points down on my hand. Yes. That will go over well to win some of my critics and fence-sitters to my side. Complain about a noted profane liberal in the White House using a sometime cryptic term that refers, in its direct terminology, to the mentally disabled such as her new child, but in the common lexicon of frustration and comedy, to people who you disagree with who are acting mentally disabled, and who used it privately to refer to political allies (ie, other "liberals"), but glaze over a noted profane conservative doing the same thing in his accusations of liberals. Again, this will go over well to win over a populace that claims to want something like post-partisanship again and again as evidenced by the convincing elections of people who promise it.

Nevertheless, I would prefer it if she would have just faded away and become a money making machine on the private market, perhaps occasionally making an offhanded and not fact-checked remark about death panels rather than sticking herself back into the political machinations directly by speaking for the behest of a group of self-styled and carefully groomed populists attempting to steer a herd of populist rage into delivering political victories for their chosen brand of politics (all the while tacitly supporting most of the things that populist rage was so adamantly against). I don't particularly care if she does these things, because people will pay for the supposed privilege of her performances, which are, supposedly driven by some evidence of charisma and populist charms that are lost on me. No. The problem is that the media insists on covering these things as though they are significant and will matter, in the same way that they insist on covering American Idol or Paris Hilton, despite repeated evidence that the end result of such things is that nothing significant happens. I think we've created one, maybe two new pop/country music stars after all these seasons of work and millions of fan hours of dedication to the idea of doing so. Likewise, all but the most partisan polls on Palin suggest that she is, at best, an irrelevant and unqualified candidate for political office on the national stage and continues to do nothing to affirm that she will ever work to change this assertion. Even some of her most confident supporters evince a gaping weakness where her grasp on issues and ability to convince detractors of the rightness of cause is concerned (something that the mantle of Reagan's ghost is long going to cast a shadow over the conservative political spectrum). But she is adored by millions and hated by millions, so she becomes "relevant" and a story of some sort. So we must talk about her.

I would like to be able to stop. Because of all the people out there talking about politics, she has the least new information and new proposals out there to start new discussions and discourse on how to resolve things. She is something like Bush squared, with a little bit more of stardom created in a way that Bush never had to earn (being part of a dynastic family tree). But at least Bush had the good political sense to try to select capable advisers to keep his glaring weaknesses down to a flicker during campaigns and hence win elections against modestly capable foes (in my opinion the most "capable" foe Bush ever ran against was in 2000 against McCain v2000 rather than McCain v2008-10). Palin does not do this. It will not end well, politically at least, if she persists in living in a bubble. But it might at least make the non-stop coverage occasionally amusing.

Look, the NBA went on its quest to find the next Michael Jordan too in the same way that conservatives seem desperate to find another Reagan. It did not go over well for years and the sport publicly marketed athletes like Kobe Bryant and, finally, LeBron James, all while the most popular player most years (ala Michael) was a surly, hyper competitive little guy with a game straight out of Rucker Park who played in Philly who still managed to get voted on to an All-Star game in his fading days despite not having had any tangible successes on the basketball court to justify his selection as a popular and somehow great player for several years running. Politically speaking, Palin is not even in Allen Iverson territory. Iverson's most ardent detractors mostly focus on his inefficient game, but most of his detractors (other than some stathead number-crunchers) are still willing to submit his resume as one worthy of some recognition of greatness. Reagan is in that category where many of his political enemies speak with grudging respect because of his accomplishments. He's one of several Presidents who probably could have continued to serve past the two term tradition because of his popularity and variety of successes in getting things done and this basically meant we got a weak but modest one term out of his Vice President as a result. Palin is still more like Erick Dampier territory than the AI of the GOP. The type of politician who gets a lot of hype and attention the way 7 footers in basketball drafts and free agency always get overpaid or drafted too early and then turn out to be flops without a record of accomplishment or even clearly defined ambitions and missions to draw upon when people other than her most desperate fans wish to support her. Unlike Dampier, we still have to talk about her until she fails.

things that go uh..what?

So Ron Paul has three challengers in his primary with some sort of farther right, Tea Party type endorsement. Yes... Ron Paul. The guy who is sort of like the lightning rod of grassroots fiscal restraint rebellions against government largess and waste (and antiquated ideas about the central banking system, which forms the core of my major concerns about him but the basis for a lot of his national level support). The apparent basis of these challenges are his opposition to things like the Iraq and Afghan wars and the lack of support for spending of federal relief dollars in the wake of Hurricane Rita (which effected his district I guess).

As I imagined, the Tea Party "movement" such as it is, will disintegrate, fracture, and lose its importance the moment it strays off of fiscal and budgetary matters like the stimulus or bank bailouts and the general ire and concern over the deficit, and into things like foreign policy and the usual concerns of local citizens for more federal importance for their own people in competition with those of those awful people in the next state.

Also amusing: people getting up in arms over someone pointing out the obvious similarities between Christianist extremism in American politics and policies and the jihadist extremism of groups like al Qaeda. Sorry. That's not obviously ridiculous or extremist to point that out. At least to me. That actually seemed like the most obvious development over the past 8 years in politics. A relatively famous movie documenting such things, Jesus Camp, which was favorably looked upon by the people involved, openly states that their object is to radicalize and mobilize the American youth in the precise manner and purpose that Islamic fundamentalists are perceived to be engaged in. If you don't want to watch people worshiping George Bush because of abortion, then fine, just observe the various policies of subjugation that we have influenced or compelled upon other foreign nations (such as the Ugandan death penalty clauses and penalties for homosexuals or the Iraqi Constitution's strict controls over abortion rights) in addition to actual policies that could be written into law as executive order that would have some difficulty passing Congressional and public scrutiny (the Mexico City resolution that was immediately overturned by Obama and Clinton). It does not make sense to state that all religious fundamentalists, both Islamic and Christian, seek to politicize their agendas, radicalize their children, and fundamentally alter the society around them to suit their own goals. Some people are quite reasonable and seek accommodations with others or simply wish to live, or try to, within a stricter interpretation of their messages of faith. But to say that the violence advocated against Islamic radicals by Christian radicals (largely, with some Judeo-Christian crossover) is not equated by the rhetoric of their opposites, or the absurd focus by both groups for cynical political advantages over the Palestinian and Israeli troubles is not some mirror-image effect, and that the strict, integral reading of their faith as a meaningful set of rules and laws that should apply to all peoples is not, for all intents and purposes, an identical proposition reached by both groups, is far more ridiculous a proposition than to state the opposite (that these things are likely true).

08 February 2010

Glaring strategic errors

Simple math problem for neoconservatives
If there are 100 terrorists in an area and we kill 99 of them, how many terrorists are there still alive? (As a hint: the answer is not 1).

If our essential strategy is "yours", that we should go out and fight and kill these hostile peoples in their homes and villages and on the hills and valleys of far flung and otherwise meaningless nation-states with minimal or dubious strategic and security value, then you still need to obey some basic tenets of military strategy in order to communicate that this "tough" approach will deliver military victories rather than indefinite occupations and casualty lists.

The first rule is to have a plan to destroy the enemy. Under a nominal conflict with a nation state a battle that kills, captures, or routs almost all of the enemy's troops committed to the fight is a pretty damned good outcome. This is because a nation-state's ability to conduct wars depends on its ability to equip troops with an expectation that they will prevail in battles and thus be given a pretty good idea that they might survive. But we're not fighting nation-states. We, publicly, have long been given this impression by calling things "the Iraq War" or the "Afghanistan War". Even changing the grammar slightly with "the war in Afghanistan" doesn't really give us a fundamental idea of the opponent and how we might be using military tactics to neutralize their fighting abilities and forces because it doesn't identify who we are fighting. Worse, this nebulous approach then gives ample room to declare virtually anyone who opposes our forces as "agents of terrorism" or the "Taliban" and so on. The over-simplification that so broadly encapsulates our foe is probably as maddening to commanders in the field as it was for the troops sent off to conquer the Old West from the "savage red man". I suppose it's too hard to explain to American citizens the dozens of tribal relationships and sources of internal division or corruption within a complex country like Afghanistan. That's fine. But we could start by more clearly defining publicly who we actually want to be at war with within Afghanistan. It's not "the Taliban", because that's a really broad cross section of the political and tribal forces involved some of which is actively hostile to international terrorist aims. It's not "drug-runners" or "narco-terrorism", because some of that is the people we back and support in their government. And so on.

I had originally used the problem as a lack of focus on the third strategic aim of a war: to suppress the enemy's will to make war and resist whatever aims the war was putatively concerning itself with. While that still exists as a questionable front in our strategic planning (at least so long as we insist on installing or propping up peculiarly unhelpful regimes), it's not clear that we had ever established a military capacity to fulfill the first element of strategic success in military conflicts. That is: to defeat the enemy in the field of battle. It sounds like we've learned and gotten a lot better at it. Because that notion of killing them all and that somehow being defined as a conflict victory has started to go away. That works when you are fighting an enemy equipped with planes and tanks and heavy weapons organised into set pieces and trained at great expense. It does not work at all when you are fighting an enemy lightly equipped, possibly armed only with improved explosives or rifles, and sent out under a plethora of reasons to fight, even to resist, a hostile army. There might be some strategic advantages left to wring out of Afghanistan that we did not have in a place like Vietnam or even Somalia. But I'm highly skeptical that these advantages remain in good standing, and moreover, they are likely countered by any institutional support for a government which is perceived, at turns, as corrupt, inept, or illegitimate.

Couple of things that people ought to calm down about happening

Ending DADT: net effect will be...pretty much nothing will happen. Certainly our soldiers won't go out and start getting body art and drunk. What happened everywhere else in Europe/Israel? Nothing.

Iran: Hyperventilating aside about them and the DRPK's nuclear programs, I'm a lot less worried about Iran than the North Koreans being belligerent and actively using such a weapon. I have a little more faith in rational actors at the nation-state level. The purpose of these leaders is to extract rents for favored bases of support in the economy. That won't happen if they bomb someone with a nuke. MAD doesn't apply and there's no way you'd restrain a country with nuclear arms that showed after the death of a few thousands of its citizens that it was willing to support invasions of two sovereign nations from using them. Money (and life) talks a lot louder than faith in some jihadist ideology for the people in charge.

Most likely outcome may be something stupid like quasi-unilateral sanctions that will be toothless because Russia, most of Europe, and China won't go along with them and will succeed in doing nothing at all over the nuclear energy or any weaponization programs. People pushing that this sort of diplomacy is effective are either 1) being willfully stupid in the examination of any history to the contrary that sanctions have almost never worked (maybe apartheid in South Africa is your one ace in the hole card for this strategy) or 2) willfully aware that it will fail to accomplish anything and that will open the door for more substantial actions, like bombing or invasion. The public in Iran is broadly supportive of a nuclear energy program and not significantly opposed to possessing nuclear weapons in theory and because sanctions have the effect of rallying further support against the hostile, belligerent, and unreasonable Americans who have succeeded in harming the average Iranian and further entrenching the gangster-ized profits of established authorities so there's not much chance that these things wouldn't continue unabated if the Clintonian-neoconservative unholy alliance of "sanctions" gets its way.

Back to Texas

Books that ought to be burned

Not really burned, but nobody should be taking seriously. Textbooks are written by experts in the fields, ideally anyway. That does mean you can take into account potential biases. I myself have a good deal of suspicion of some populist/popular historians (Howard Zinn for example). But it doesn't mean you should get to write in your own instead and insist on them for everyone.

If you want your kids to learn that a bunch of warm hearted people dressed in sheets decided to stop lynching people who merely wanted to vote and that's what the civil rights movement consists of, and not a decades, if not centuries long struggle for relative equality in the eyes of the law involving many acts of terrorism and repression, bravery and sacrifices of people of all races (and a still unceasing struggle for relative tolerance within the eyes of human beings on the basis of meaningless criteria like skin colouration), I guess you are entitled to teach them that. You don't get to teach everybody else that because it is false.

Same thing on evolution. If you want your children to learn the "holes" in Darwin's theory, you are entitled to teach them that. If you've studied microbiology and evolutionary mutation well enough you might even be able to contribute something meaningful to that broader discussion on issues like punctuated equilibrium or the mechanical functions precisely that alter and act upon genes. But even the Supreme Court has basically said that the Creationist model of life has no place in a public school text because of that inconvenient establishment clause that the Constitution has in it. If you insist it must be taught, give me a philosophy class. The Bible is metaphysics and ethics. Not biology.

I can live with stuff like "this was a republic, not a democracy" because my reading of much of the Federalist papers reflects a fear that democracy resembles a mob too often and there seems to be a good deal of historical scholarship reflecting the desire of a ruling elite to maintain a position of power in a new order that would better legitimize such a status. But this is because I don't see how that helps "Republicans" over "Democrats". The Democratic party started out as the Democratic-Republicans, which is probably a more accurate reflection still of what we had/have, and a pretty good indication of why there's so little meaningful difference between the actual policies pursued by Democrats and Republicans while in office as compared to the supposed great rift in their rhetorical positions. It's not like if you are some white Southern conservative you should sit around trashing Thomas Jefferson on the basis that, horrors, he was a Democrat. I can live with people trying to claim McCarthy was pursuing some actual Communists as though they were traitors or dangers to American society (though they really should question the wisdom of his methods)

I can't live with stuff like that being pushed by a dentist however. Or preacher. And not somebody who has academic credentials in the discourse and study of history as a profession rather than a hobby. Nobody would take me seriously either as a historical scholar despite the dozens of history texts sitting on my shelves and dozens more in e-texts of some sort stored on my computer. I recognize the difference between myself and Schlesinger or even compared to the original documents of our history in Madison, Jefferson, Wilson, Paine, and Hamilton's own words on which many historians have based their claims and lives of professional and dedicated study. Bias is a filter. You can start to recognize it, look for facts that oppose it or are ignored to make conclusions but you can't make up your own reality and fact set instead in order to reject their conclusions. That won't fly in a social world with other people in it.

What really offends me though isn't the pushing of a particular worldview. It's that it is accompanied by an attitude like this "This critical-thinking stuff is gobbledygook". Yes obviously thinking and analytical thinking is useless. In a world when you are told everything you need to know and aren't supposed to deviate from it and find out that there are facts left out or ignored. It essentially argues that the entire basis of disagreement of such people isn't based in thinking at all. Which... makes one wonder what it was based on instead.