30 April 2013

NBA, fantastic. Also now a social controversy.

1) The NBA and NBA affiliated athletes have been sort of at an unusually high place for things like diversity and tolerance for a while now (for instance, by starting the unwatchable but equally available WNBA, and obviously being a bastion of support for Obama's candidacy and Presidency), so the idea that an NBA player would be the first male athlete to come out as gay while still active, more or less, is not all that surprising. There were numerous signs this would probably be the case, from stories like Kenneth Faried's two moms, Magic Johnson's son, and so on.

2) I understand some, maybe most, of the public kerfuffle surrounding and attacking Chris Broussard's comments on OTL when ESPN (finally) got around to covering the Collins story. I'm not sure I agree with most of it though. I don't think it was hate speech to declare his beliefs, he made no overt political suggestion (regarding his views on gay marriage for example), and he clarified, as he had before, that he didn't think it should disqualify a player from playing in the NBA. I think it is fine to disagree that his interpretation of the Christian faith should apply to other Christians, or to people who are gay and Christian, and so forth. I'm not sure he rises to being a bigot on the basis that he thinks something that some other people do is a sin however. Lots of people presumably believe adultery is a sin under a Christian interpretation. They are not bigots for believing this to be a serious flaw of people who are unfaithful in their marriages. People in other faiths or with different interpretations of Christianity think alcohol or pork or working on Sundays are sins too. Again, these are not bigotry based associations for alcoholics or bacon lovers or football players. It could rise to that level if, according to that belief, one felt they should discriminate against athletes and work to prevent their ability to play in a professional league (as it would if they discriminated against someone who was black or Jewish or Muslim or Christian, or a bacon loving alcoholic for that matter), and to some extent if they believed public policy should share their personal religious beliefs and discriminate against homosexual couples, or people who are unfaithful in marriages or who consume alcohol, or whatever else is classified as mortally wrong by some religious text and its interpreters.

But so far as I can tell, Broussard made no such statement, and mostly repeated something he had already said sometime before. To be honest, if there is anyone to be mad at here, it is ESPN for putting him on to say something that didn't contribute to the conversation significantly. Certainly there may be NBA players of a devout and particular religious interpretation would will be uncomfortable around a homosexual player. I don't think we needed Broussard to tell us that. Collins or Granderson could have said as much just as easily, and he had already said this himself some time ago. In general however, I do not think they needed to deny him a platform, that they should fire him, or that anything he said rises affirmatively to the level of some variety of hate speech. So I don't get the level of ire that was involved in him saying something unpopular. It was unpopular and unpleasant and it was from a strain of Christianity and beliefs associated therein. And that's pretty much all he said.

3) That said, when someone says something unpopular and is publicly castigated for doing so, this is not equal to the levels of repression involved or the difficulty and emotional turmoil and anguish involved in say, someone coming out publicly as gay. There are still significant parts of the country where this is not greeted warmly and matter-of-factly, where there are parents who may disown or shun their own children or (former) friends, where there are churches who will not admit someone for worship, and where there are schools and communities where one may be ostracized, beaten, or even killed, for such an admission as "I am a gay man". There are not, in general, such communities in the United States, or Western educated, industrialised societies as a whole that would do so for an admission like "I am a Christian and this is what I believe". There are places in the world where such an admission may be dangerous in those ways, and pose a particular hardship, but such places generally share an aversion both for Christians and for homosexuals (say, Iran or Egypt) and are matched by places where the STATE, not merely the extralegal use of repression by violently bigoted people as with honor killings in Brazil for example, may kill and detain and punish people for homosexuality in ways that it would not for Christians. Many of these on the strict basis of Christian teachings (say, Uganda).

I already have long tired of the mythological rantings of Christians as a persecuted minority in a nation where they assemble into an overwhelming majority of the public, and by this impose all manner of public policy upon the lot of us (blue laws, various vice laws, various forms of censorship, etc). But this latest incident of such claims of how hard it is to be "a Christian" is flatly ridiculous. There are particular views of some Christians that are commonly ridiculed, or attacked as unfair and unethical, or as unfounded or otherwise unsettled for debate in theological scholarship. I would agree this happens, but I'm not sure it is oppressive to state disagreement with these views or that these views are not held by others, or that there are theological interpretations and scholars that differ widely as to the appropriateness of those views. Likewise, there are particular groups of Christians with very strict or peculiar interpretations (say the WBC as one of the extremes, or the KKK) who are attacked for their expression of these unpopular perspectives. But being called names and being offended by the popular representation of oneself in culture is hardly a new experience when someone has had something unpopular or unpleasant to say, nor a basis for thinking one to be oppressed. These are not true hardships or emblems of persecution for other people to disagree emotionally and strongly with your beliefs, to call them bigoted, prejudiced, or ignorant.

It is a form of coercion, yes. But it is not required that one must be welcome at a NYC or San Francisco cocktail party of moderate and liberal elites in order to be free to spout opinions, facts, or even total nonsense as an American. It is not required that people agree with you for your freedom of conscience and belief to be respected and your speech unimpeded when expressing it. It is not even required that people do not socially discriminate against views they find repugnant for these things to happen. Indeed, for the coercion to have any effect, it must first cause us to reexamine these unpopular notions and beliefs, look for better more convincing or socially acceptable ways to express them, and ultimately chill our speech and expression with self censorship if we cannot do so or do not evolve in our ways. I see no evidence even that this process is mandated upon Christians as it might be for say, racists. No one is forcing a change in Christian theology and dogma upon Christians on this point.

4) Look. Christians. If you want to understand real oppression. Try being an atheist in your society here in America. Very nearly HALF of the population would not want someone like me to marry their daughter. Half of you automatically dismiss me in one of the more meaningful ways a human being can want to be (not that I'd want to marry a religious woman anyway and am quite comfortable around secularists and atheists personally for such things as surround my sex life and intimate attachments, but it's not like I'd automatically dismiss the proposition if someone were to have been otherwise suitable). A third of the population would not want to hire an atheist as a waiter or waitress, over half as a teacher, and two thirds wouldn't want one as a child care worker. Employment discrimination continues as much as possible as a result. Numerous states still have on their law books (if unenforceable and unconstitutional) religious tests preventing atheists from public service positions, and precious few public officials are elected as atheists or secularists. All while large quantities of evangelicals, Catholics, and so on continue to be elected and re-elected. To be sure, one wouldn't expect a first-past-the-post electoral system to elect many non-Christians in a society where almost 80% of the population evinces a Judeo-Christian ethic. To be sure, atheists have advantages over Muslims in that we have few obvious and open associations from which to be base a coercive system of surveillance and police profiling. To be sure atheists have precious advantages over many oppressed minorities in this society, in that their lack of belief need only never be openly expressed while racial intolerance needs only eyes, or a homosexual (or perceived so) need only appear in the company of their same-sex affectionately in any public manner. Nevertheless, this is a community of people that is told, repeatedly, that it is not trusted, unworthy, is openly disliked, and even openly discriminated against. That is not the community of Christianity, or even evangelical Christianity.

Let me know when Christianity reaches that point in America, where half the public won't trust a young Christian man with their daughter or large percentages of people won't trust someone wearing a cross necklace to serve them food in a restaurant or won't hire such a person in the first place. Or even, where we reach a point where that seems like a plausible future for our children or grandchildren to grow up into. There is no evidence such a society is likely, even with a growing number of disaffected young people from organised religions. At worst, a moderately secularist future where traditional religions are tolerated and respected private institutions as in Europe is your future. And not a society where native Christians are hunted down, beaten, cast out of society as might be arguably the case in parts of Egypt. Much less the society atheists observe for themselves today.

So. Until then, I don't want to hear it. Go fuck yourself with your sense of entitlement.

20 April 2013

NBA Playoffs, a distraction useful?

I'll be surprised if it isn't Miami versus Oklahoma City, and surprised if it isn't Miami in 6 (will take a significant injury to LeBron basically).

East is pretty lame except for the NY-Boston first round matchup and the question of how many games Miami loses on the way the to the finals. Boston if healthy could be a spoiler here just because they're a bad matchup for New York (excellent perimeter defence, and a good jump shooting team themselves to negate Chandler). But I'm not sure how healthy Garnett is. Chicago could make things interesting if Rose were to come back, but given the day-to-day injury to Noah already, I'm doubtful they'd let him back in. Even to play against the Heat. And they'd have to get past the Nets. Without Rose, their offence consists entirely of shots from 12-23 feet. Which I would not trust against the Nets' offensive firepower, even though they're weak defensively.

Later rounds, Indiana presents the most likely team to win more than one game against Miami, but I'm skeptical they could get past New York (would beat Boston and Atlanta though). Although I think Melo is better than the stat community tends to look at him, he's also not enough to win more than one game against the Heat, and even him with Tyson isn't either. I don't trust JR Smith in that series.

The West is much more interesting matchup wise. Harden versus Durant/Westbrook in round one. The injury riddled Spurs versus the Kobe-less Lakers (actually a pretty boring series I think, other than to see who gets healthy regarding Parker especially), the injury riddled Nuggets with their home court high octane high altitude games against the upstart Warriors, and then the Clippers-Grizz rematch. Only the Grizz would worry me as upset potential, indeed, I'd probably favor them mostly because I think del Negro is terrible as a coach and dropping Rudy Gay I think actually very much helped that team. I'm somewhat worried about their crunch time potential, but I'm also not persuaded that they can't attack Jordan and Griffin inside enough.

Both of those teams would also be trouble for the Thunder in round two. I don't like the Nuggets matchup with the Spurs, if healthy for either team, but I could see the Nuggets stretching it to 7 game series. A Spurs-Thunder rematch seems likely, but I also don't see anything from the Spurs that suggests their role players are about to play any better than they did last year, while the Thunder have shown their guys will show up enough. A Nuggets-Thunder matchup would be messier for Oklahoma City. Should they lose in round two, I'd trust the Grizzlies more than the Clippers to keep advancing, as they are a bad matchup for the Spurs, and play very slow in the opposite method from Denver.

19 April 2013

A series of general rants and thoughts on the events of an early morning

1) Technology is amazing. People were effectively streaming the Boston area PD scanners on the internet. I'm not sure that's actually a good thing if they're actively pursuing someone who has a modest knowledge of the internet (but then again, all they really would need is a police scanner of their own). It is however, an interesting age. Reddit also managed to identify all kinds of apparel from rather fuzzy FBI photos. I also finally discovered a modest use for twitter this morning.

2) Technology is also horrible. Within the span of a few days, people and media have made all kinds of wild and unfounded accusations toward innocent people. Including a guy who has been missing for about a month. And an uncle who doesn't sound too pleased with his nephews has had his address blasted on CNN (joining a series of disjointed half-assed coverage on these series of events worthy of the total dismissal it receives on social media networks, especially twitter). These accusations were then accompanied by streams of people from all over the country, if not the world, releasing their hate and fear upon them on social media, reporters harassing said people, and so on.

3) I have a rather jaded perspective* of law enforcement I imagine from the popular view. But when people start tweeting that it looks like Call of Duty out there, and it's just SWAT wandering down the streets of Watertown, MA, looking for the fleeing suspect and any accomplices, I'm not all that surprised. The military and federal government have made all kinds of loans and guarantees to put military hardware and gear in the hands of local police forces. They've been militarizing their force for over a decade. APCs and belt-fed machine guns can be had, and have been used, at the high end of this absurdity. Somewhat unfortunate for my concerns on this issue, the actual National Guard was being deployed also this morning after a few hours of police work. This will make it unlikely that the casual onlooker will identify the police as police. And which may be unfortunate for all kinds of reasons (a rather dubious assumption that the "army" is needed to fight terrorism for example is given more force).

4) I suspect this will perhaps weaken the push for immigration reforms. This is despite that both brothers appear to have been here legally, and for a substantial duration. In general, I wasn't likely to find everything that will end up in a final bill proposal to be that agreeable, but the broad strokes of increasing access to foreign college graduates, high skilled immigrant visas, and work-visas were at least modest steps in a positive direction for more open borders, and a more focused enforcement on actual criminals of some variety trying to migrate here. I'm hopeful that crushing the (mostly stupid or ineffective in my view) gun laws will be sufficient demonstration of power for the right that they'll forget to be bigots as well, but I'm not counting on it. They were already whipping up demonstrations against any immigration reforms before this happened. One possible hope is that the confusion of Caucasians (in the quite literal sense) who are also Muslims should put to rest some of the demands for profiling.

*5) I tend to view law enforcement with suspicion. I do not think they're there to protect myself and my legal rights, but rather that I have to do that myself. Around them. I do think most cops are doing a difficult job, and trying to do it reasonably well. I do think we could help them by being reasonably cooperative at times (as in Boston today, with an effectively martial law system in place to catch the fugitive bombers). But there's really no reason to do so if a sufficient number of both themselves and other forces in our justice system seem more interested in body counts of arrests and detentions than in enforcing laws, or in enforcing anything like a just society and rather more interested in making people obey them rather than seeing themselves as servants of our collective demands for justice, order, and peace.

Brutality, error, and violence are oppressive enough. But then there's all the systematic factors like racism, profiling (of Arab/Muslims for example, which these two should start to call into question the wisdom of, as with the weird ricin guy), stop and frisk, and the show of force power surrounding drug laws and various other causes (immigration in some communities for example). I live in a suburban society and the most likely "oppression" I will suffer personally is a speeding ticket from a cop who didn't bother to use his radar and just eyeballed my speed, and possibly an absurd interest in whether or not I was drinking if driving at a later hour or (much less likely) whether any drugs are in my vehicle. My concern isn't for myself. It's for the millions of people who don't have the luxury of being white and middle-class and up.

In fairness to cops, if I think they are assholes (unfairly at times), they're not alone. I think that of most people. The only difference is that I'm pretty sure the cop is well-armed in all cases, and only partly sure of other people.

17 April 2013

Again with the torture. Still getting worse.

Key points:

Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.

The second notable conclusion of the Task Force is that the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture.

"The SERE program was developed to help U.S. troops resist interrogation techniques that had been used to extract false confessions from downed U.S. airmen during the Korean War. Its promoters had no experience in interrogation, the ability to extract truthful and usable information from captives."

"To deal with the regime of laws and treaties designed to prohibit and prevent torture, the lawyers provided novel, if not acrobatic interpretations to allow the mistreatment of prisoners....
Those early memoranda that defined torture narrowly would engender widespread and withering criticism once they became public. The successors of those government lawyers would eventually move to overturn those legal memoranda. "
"Following the September 11 attacks, the immediate responsibility for action fell appropriately on the executive branch, which has direct control of the vast machinery of the government. It encompasses not only the nation’s military might but the president himself as the embodiment of the nation’s leadership and thus the individual best positioned to articulate the nation’s anger, grief and considered response.... 
....Decisions ultimately handed down by the Supreme Court overturned some of the basic premises of the administration in establishing its detention regime. Officials had counted on courts accepting that the U.S. Naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba, was outside the legal jurisdiction of the United States. As such, the officials also reasoned that detainees there would have no access to the right of habeas corpus, that is, the ability to petition courts to investigate and judge the sufficiency of reasons for detention."  (the report goes to some lengths to make note of the pressures involved, but does not suggest this abdicates the duty of elected officials to follow existing laws and norms under some new special circumstance at their convenience, without that they should then amend those laws and norms in an official and accountable capacity, and goes to some length to catalogue the variety of ways they were shown to be incorrect, illegal, or unaccountable). 
"Task Force investigators and members believe it is difficult to overstate the effect of the Abu Ghraib disclosures on the direction of U.S. policies on detainee treatment." - Basically the sunlight here on one particular place of abuse was unpleasant enough to require a change in policy finally, but not enough to start asking how that abuse came to be. 
"If presumed enemy leaders—high-value targets—are killed outright by drones, the troublesome issues of how to conduct detention and interrogation operations are minimized and may even become moot." - This suggests why we now use the drones instead of the expansive indefinite detention regime of the Bush years. Which is to say, we're still avoiding and evading the question of whether the indefinite detention regime itself is justifiable and legal. 

"The following techniques and treatments have both been used by the U.S. against detainees within its control and been deemed torture, abuse or cruel treatment in DOS’s annual Human Rights Reports... 
Stress Positions...temperature manipulation... waterboarding... sleep deprivation... threats of harm to person, family, friends,... sensory overload (light/noise)..., sexual humiliation...., prolonged solitary confinement..., forced nudity..., confinement in small space....forced prolonged standing"
"the ICRC highlights a series of “serious violations of International Humanitarian Law,” some of which are “tantamount to torture.” The primary violations occurred largely in the beginning stages of the internment process, except for those labeled “high value,” who experienced mistreatment throughout their detention. Some of the violations... include 
Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury" (a number of prisoners died worldwide from our actions, not from age, infirmity, or sickness). 
"Absence of notification of arrest of the persons deprived of their liberty to their families causing distress" (an understandable notion for high value targets early on to gain tactical or strategic advantage, but not for their prolonged captivity). 
"Physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to obtain information" (eg, torture). 
"Prolonged solitary confinement in cells devoid of daylight"
"Excessive or disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment"

Other events and notable quotes: 
"At Camp Bucca in Iraq, six sailors were accused of abusing detainees by means that included throwing them into a cell they had filled with pepper spray"
"The techniques included banging pots and pans to scare the detainees, blaring loud music, and severe beatings.“The sounds were meant to disorient, but also to mask the screams.” If the detainees sustained injuries during beatings, the military intelligence officers who had medical training “could stitch up or bandage injuries, avoiding a call to the medics and an entry in the logbooks that the Red Cross could read."
"In the summer of 2003, the interrogators threw a detainee against a concrete wall, punched him in the neck and gut, kicked him in the knees, threw him outside, and dragged him back in by his hair. For the entire two-hour ordeal, the prisoner wouldn't talk; Ben later found out he spoke Farsi and couldn't understand the interrogators’ English and Arabic"
"Engaging in torture damages the torturer. The starting point for torture is the dehumanization of a detainee. Those who dehumanize others corrupt themselves in the process; dehumanization of other is a paradigm shift in how two people relate to each other, and as such it has an impact on both sides of the relationship. Once the detainee’s human status no longer matters in the mind of the torturer, he or she can unleash personal, even national, aggression. The detainee is subjected to suffering and the torturer lets go of reason, one of the marks of humanity, and descends into rage"
"“The country doesn’t really understand the cost. … [O]ne JAG officer came in and said that British military captured a terrorist — not a terrorist suspect, a terrorist — in Basra and released him. They gave him 48 hours head start and only then notified American authorities. They did not have detention facilities [at that time], and they did not trust either the United States or the Iraqi forces not to abuse this individual. So rather than engage in potentially aiding and abetting criminal activity, [the British forces] thought that the least worst option was to release a terrorist back into the field.”"
"I was chained to the floor and the guards were holding my head. … [T]here were many of them, seven or six or more, they were holding me down to the floor so there was no fear of [me] fighting [back] or anything like that. Both eyes were completely open so [one of the guards] put his fingers and … started to push inside my eyes. … I could feel the coldness of his fingers [as] he was pushing hard digging into my eyes and I didn't want to scream because I didn't want to frighten the people in the other cells and then the other thing is I didn't want to give them that satisfaction of me screaming on the floor. I didn't scream, so he was pushing even harder digging inside my eyes. The officer standing was saying “More, more” and this guard was saying “I am, I am,” shouting to the officer. And then, what I know is lots of liquid coming out from both of my eyes, I couldn't see anything for three days, I think. I was thrown back into the cell and food was thrown, because [I was in] an isolation cell, the food was thrown from the bean hole and I was eating food and just sleeping. I couldn't see anything, there was lots of pain in my eyes. And then slowly one of them recovered sight. … [T]here was [no medical care] till after couple of months, a medical doctor came in and all his advice was that he would be willing to take the eye out from my head because he thought it looks really bad"
"He was held in Kandahar for 11 days and subjected to forced nudity, extreme temperatures, and beatings where guards “kicked my injured leg and I was screaming in agony, but they just laughed and danced like it was a joke.
Al-Gazzar elaborated: I was … concerned about my leg, because I had severe pain and the environment was dirty so I was worried that it might get infected. The American doctors were telling me it had to be amputated. I resisted, arguing with them about what the Pakistani surgeons had said, that they could save my leg. I even showed them the X-rays that I had kept. The Americans just laughed and said the Pakistanis didn't know anything about medicine and treatments. In the end one of them admitted that they could save my leg but the operation would cost thousands of dollars and that America was a “poor country.” 
"After transfer to Guantánamo, Al-Gazzar again tried to explain to the doctors at Camp X-Ray that his leg could be saved. I got the same as answer as I’d had in Kandahar: Pakistanis didn't know anything, the leg had to go. As the days passed the pain increased and the colour of my leg started to turn grey — almost black. I asked them to clean the wound, and to change the dressing every day and night but they wouldn't do it. When I asked them in the morning for a new dressing they said they will do it in the afternoon, and in the afternoon they said they will do it in the morning, like that. … The wound was open and big — without any kind of treatment besides basic dressings. They forced us to take showers so the wound got wet many times — the pain became almost unbearable. … [M]ost of the other prisoners advised me correctly that I had no option but to accept the amputation as it had passed the stage of being saved and had become gangrenous and could spread higher up the leg the longer it was left. I finally gave in."

The report also wrestles with the question, left unanswered for all the classification still involved, of just how useful this stuff was for information.  (For the most part, this question is entirely addressed at the CIA's use on a very select grouping, and not the broader abuses conducted by the CIA, what willing allies we had in this, or the military. Only a very small sliver of which has been held accountable in the US). 
"There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable.
There are, nonetheless, strong assertions by some former senior government officials that the use of those techniques did, in fact, yield valuable intelligence that resulted in operational and strategic successes. But those officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security. 
The Task Force appreciates this concern and understands it must be taken into account in attempting to resolve this question. Nonetheless, the Task Force believes those who make this argument still bear the burden of demonstrating its factual basis. History shows that the American people have a right to be skeptical of such claims, and to decline to accept any resolution of this issue based largely on the exhortations of former officials who say, in essence, “Trust us” or “If you knew what we know but cannot tell you.” 
In addition, those who make the argument in favor of the efficacy of coercive interrogations face some inherent credibility issues. One of the most significant is that they generally include those people who authorized and implemented the very practices that they now assert to have been valuable tools in fighting terrorism. As the techniques were and remain highly controversial, it is reasonable to note that those former officials have a substantial reputational stake in their claim being accepted. Were it to be shown that the United States gained little or no benefit from practices that arguably violated domestic and international law, history would render a harsh verdict on those who set us on that course."
On the question as to whether coercive interrogation techniques were valuable in locating Osama bin Laden, the Task Force is inclined to accept the assertions of leading members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that their examination of the largest body of classified documents relating to this shows that there was no noteworthy connection between information gained from such interrogations and the finding of Osama bin Laden.
The Task Force does not take any unequivocal position on the efficacy of torture because of the limits of its knowledge about classified information. But the Task Force believes it is important to recognize that to say torture is ineffective does not require a belief that it never works; a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information.
The argument that torture is ineffective as an interrogation technique also rests on other factors. One is the idea that it also produces false information and it is difficult and time-consuming for interrogators and analysts to distinguish what may be true and usable from that which is false and misleading.
The other element in the argument as to torture’s ineffectiveness is that there may be superior methods of extracting reliable information from subjects, specifically the rapport-building techniques that were favored by some. It cannot be said that torture always produces truthful information, just as it cannot be said that it will never produce untruthful information. The centuries-old history of torture provides example of each, as well as many instances where torture victims submit to death rather than confess to anything, and there are such instances in the American experience since 2001.
The Task Force has found no clear evidence in the public record that torture produced more useful intelligence than conventional methods of interrogation, or that it saved lives. Conventional, lawful interrogation methods have been used successfully by the United States throughout its history and the Task Force has seen no evidence that continued reliance on them would have jeopardized national security thereafter."
There was not unequivocal support for modifying the indefinite detention regime centered on Guantanamo, a separate matter studied in this report, though a majority of the study's (bipartisan) commission were in favor of severe steps to change it. Several findings were also issued regarding the conduct and lack of transparency of the OLC, as well as the conduct (non-ethical) of the medical professionals who participated in the monitoring, if not carrying out, of torturous methods. 
This is probably the most disheartening statement: "No CIA personnel have been convicted or even charged for numerous instances of torture in CIA custody — including cases where interrogators exceeded what was authorized by the Office of Legal Counsel, and cases where detainees were tortured to death. Many acts of unauthorized torture by military forces have also been inadequately investigated or prosecuted."

As a side note, this even has implications, unsettlingly, for Libya: 

"This is what occurred when the perception of Libya’s ruler, Muammar el-Gaddafi, shifted in the West; he went from being regarded as a dangerous and unstable despot to someone who was to be courted as a valuable ally in the war against terrorism and an example of a leader renouncing dangerous weapons. Then, when he tried to crush a rebellion, the view of him shifted again as he was regarded once more as a dangerous tyrant whose overthrow we were proud to have aided. 
During the course of these changes, several leaders of the principal nationalist Libyan movement were abused in U.S. custody — and in some cases, their wives were as well. One of the detainees was even subjected to waterboarding by U.S. forces. Then, in an effort to reward el-Gaddafi during the time he was in favor with the West, they were secretly handed over to his regime, where they faced further abuse. One of the detainees, Sada Hadium Abdulsalam al-Drake, estimated that about a dozen members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), were handed over to Libya by the Americans and British authorities during the period the West was trying to improve relations with el-Gaddafi. .....
Within a few years, those same Libyan nationalists who suffered under allied detention and rendition to el-Gaddafi became figures of some importance to the United States. They were even regarded as heroic democratic examples in the West as they toppled el-Gaddafi. There is a deep and unsettling irony in this as the United States would soon become instrumental in the NATO effort to help Libyans overthrow el-Gaddafi, and that meant depending on those same individuals who had been rendered and abused (some by U.S. forces)... "
....the leaders of the revolt that overthrew el-Gaddafi expressed surprisingly little bitterness or even anger toward America. (Their attitude toward Britain is a different story.)" ... 
"...Al-Shoroeiya was not one of the three people the CIA has acknowledged waterboarding." "
“It wasn’t the idea of killing me,” he said through a translator. “You know the person doesn’t want to kill you. But the torture is harder than death.”
"Belhadj told the Task Force interviewer that he bore no continuing anger toward the United States, but noted that it has been especially difficult for him to reach that view because of how his wife was treated. “What happened to my wife is beyond belief,” he said through a translator. She was not part of his political life, he said, and “what my wife went through doubled my pain.”
"she was 4½ months pregnant. She said they were taken to a secret prison near the Bangkok airport where they were separated. “They took me to a cell and they chained my left wrist to the wall and both my ankles to the floor,” she told the Guardian. She was given water but no food over the next five days. 
At the end of that period, she was forced to lie on a stretcher and was wrapped tightly from head to toe with tape. When they got to her head, she said, she made the mistake of keeping one eye open and it was taped in that position. It remained that way for the duration of a long flight to Libya, later determined to have lasted about 17 hours. “It was agony,” she said"

Bits and pieces of the weeks past, and future.

1) Watching the Final Four, I was rather disappointed with the talent level. Michigan had maybe 3 first rounders (Burke, Robinson, McGeary), Louisville had maybe 2 (Dieng, although he's old, and Smith, as a second rounder), and that's it. That was at least a quality final until about the last 3 minutes (and Burke's 3rd foul was bullshit, that was a clean block). I would say the officiating was really weird.

2) Mike D'Antoni is still a terrible coach. Took him months to figure out his roster had two excellent post players and use them together, and still didn't trust that option to give Kobe any rest, so he was run aground with enormous minutes use for his age and experience (several games down the stretch at 47-48). Or alternatively, he had no power to make Kobe rest. Which is absurd, because clearly every other coach in the league rests even their best players extensively (Rivers and Popovich and Carlisle are among the best at this).

3) 42 was a decent sports movie, which is to say it's not a great film. I think it relies too much on the "we who are enlightened now find this behavior repugnant" problem of how Americans think about (our) history, rather than as placing the context. That said, at least they included the repugnant behavior as something being overcome and confronted. I was also pleased to see Robinson's actual dynamic play being pushed to the front as part of the "legend".

4) I don't have anything new to offer as commentary or consolation for the Boston marathon bombing. I will say that I have been (very) impressed by the reaction of Boston in the face of a horrific event, and marginally impressed (tentatively) with the rest of the country not panicking and overreacting, as it is wont to do. With a few exceptions. 

5) We tortured. Semi-officially this time. (That calls for its own post).

A note on this: I write about torture occasionally for a variety of reasons. But foremost is that while I am a "realist" in foreign policy, much of that basis is pragmatic approaches to the reality of chaotic international relationships. One way realists may approach this chaotic environment is to establish and practice and try to enforce reliable norms upon the international stage, like "not torturing prisoners" (among others like "don't spread weapons of mass destruction to other states"). Not torturing prisoners has a number of practical benefits in international relationships, among which that other states which adhere to it will more readily cooperate in any necessary warfare operations with the other states which do not, and that states which rely more easily upon diplomatic methods rather than open warfare where their subjects are not subjected to abuse and detention without appropriate legal protections. Since the variety of non-torturing states is largely American allies in our hegemonic operations, it's immensely practical not to violate the norms which we agreed to and have often attempted to impose. It's also immensely practical not to start fighting wars with everyone out there who might have harboured or hosted enemies of the international order or even mere American interests (such as terrorists or accused terrorists), as wars are rather costly of blood and treasure for all sides and should be reserved for essential purposes and interests (such as self-defence or perhaps punishing very poor international actors, such as those who invade or terrorize their neighbours).

This is true even before considering the moral basis of permissive regimes of aggressive or cruelty in interrogation (including torture), or in evaluating the efficacy of those regimes vis a vis standard interrogation techniques, the ability of American courts to prosecute or adjudicate claims of guilt or association with terrorist organisations and plans upon verifiable evidence and proper legal treatment, and so on.

02 April 2013

Cultural notes, and the collapse of the bracket

1) Indiana losing (and Louisville sticking around) really put my bracket into a funk. Having said that, I noticed the biggest trend in the tournament was that good coaching trumped average to mediocre coaches (at least, tournament coaches). Tom Crean is/was a pretty mediocre to average NCAA tournament coach, aside from the final year of Wade at Marquette. Picking Indiana was predicated on the high value of Oladiapo (one of the highest rated NCAA players in the past few years, both on offence and defence), and Zeller, one of the highest rated post scorers, but had to overlook Crean's middling record. Going up against Boeheim and Syracuse, they faced a tough defensive team and a better NCAA coach. It was, probably, the only challenge they would have faced in that entire region (the next best two teams, Miami and Marquette, were not so daunting but do have decent to good coaches). I'm rather annoyed they failed, but not ultimately that surprised.

I would say I did well to identify Kansas as weaker (and picked Michigan over them), and Duke over Michigan St. Florida did surprisingly poorly against Michigan. Almost no one saw Wichita State coming, so focusing on the Arizona-OSU matchup as the final four entry seemed logical. In any case, I still have a couple of brackets on ESPN in the 90-95 range (mostly because I did fairly well at the Elite Eight level on them, with 5 correct), but if/as Louisville continues to advance, staying there may be at issue. That's better than the 2011 mayhem year (the UConn vs Butler year), where I did the worst I've ever done in a pool, but it's not what I'm used to pulling down (98-99 percentile from picking the champ and 3+ final four teams).

2) The return of Game of Thrones reminds me why there are some shows I really like, and compares easily to a couple of semi-popular or well-critically acclaimed shows that I don't. My favourite television show has been the Wire. That show focused on the dynamics of policing drug gangs in a major city (Baltimore), the evolution of those gangs and the rules that they played by, and so on, along with a lot of other subplots. But here's the show's two secrets.
a) Basically anybody important who was a "street" character was not safe. Either from police or from each other. Many important or well-developed characters died, often to the displeasure of fans. To some extent even the police characters were not safe either, being less prominent or self-destructive.
b) Basically anybody who we meet is a human being. They are developed. We see they have motivations. Those motivations clash and merge with the others. Each character develops a separate following, complete with rival fan bases for Stringer Bell versus Omar or Avon Barksdale, or Bunk versus Lester or McNulty.

The secret of the show is that it's about dealing with the changing world of everyday life, and how that can dynamically conflict with what we might want to happen, that sometimes it means happy endings, and sometimes even the ending may seem happy but is in fact, bitter or hollow. And other times, it just ends up as a horrible footnote. It has other attributes (it's really well written, there's a fair amount of sex and violence, etc), but at its base, it's a character driven show with the same procedural plots repeated endlessly, and those plots are not necessarily glamorous and successful but we see how the players will play their roles and if those roles will turn out to be useful or hazardous this time around.

This is more or less why Game of Thrones succeeds for me (besides having read the books). No character is safe. Nobody of any significance is just an empty shell for other characters to interact with (and the one character who is, Sansa Stark, is made so by events well beyond her scope to control and influence). This is also more or less why Homeland failed to hold my attention after some promising writing and characters its first season, and why Walking Dead is so inconsistent and gives off an odd vibe that makes it hard to follow.

Homeland essentially is only a story about two people, Carrie and Brody, two lovers beset by the "mere" fact that one of them is a terrorist or at least appears to be, and the other is supposed to be chasing him or controlling him as an agent. Every episode contorts itself to protect these two from death, every episode contorts itself to project drama instead by upping the ridiculous quality of events surrounding them beyond plausibility. Every character besides these two is rarely exposed as a person with their own motivations, but instead as motivations that intersect in some crucial way with the main characters. Only a handful of regularly appearing cast members seem like actual people (Saul, Brody's daughter, and occasionally Brody's wife). That makes for rather transparently boring plots and decreases the plausibility under which the universe of the show must exist in. We as consumers of fiction can buy a superhero story like Batman as long as it retains a level of plausibility. We can't do this with terrorism and the CIA when it abandons all sense of proportionality and likelihood even within its own mandates, much less from the reality of terrorism that we actually face within the CIA or as Americans (and how it is dealt with). For a show that deals with the complex (and important) social problems of dealing with surveillance state powers and drone strikes and the roots of international terrorism, it does so rather clumsily too often. I've decided to give up on this show already.

Walking Dead should be a more acceptable show as well. A zombie apocalypse would inherently lead to the stories of bands of crafty and resilient survivors, seeking out supply and shelter, and occasionally cooperating or fighting with other bands. Sometimes this show does this very well, by focusing on a few key characters and giving them something human (this is why Daryl is so popular, why Merle isn't/wasn't, and why a few episodes focused on Carl or Michonne or even Andrea have been very solid). Most of the time it just dishes out zombie brain matter and doesn't seem to have a clear idea what to do with some of the characters. They feel like added extras to be shoved into the approaching horde or shot by rival survivor bands, rather than people who we might become attached and conflicted over should they become overwhelmed and consumed, and their motivations are not well explored or hinted at, as people are shunted into somewhat arbitrary roles, or given additional staying power because the writers want something out of them later, but don't seem to know what it will be (as in the case of Andrea's demise this season). The arcs don't feel connected, don't feel like they are going anywhere, and they don't develop the people in these stories such that they're any different from the shambling wrecks they must kill or evade. Probably the reason the best zombie films to me have been Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland is that the people have retained humor and wits to distinguish themselves from the reanimated dead. Walking Dead does well when it focuses on this (our humanity) alongside the necessary carnage and danger and does poorly when it does not. I've seen some more promising elements in character and development, but they're tied in with some strange narrative choices that aren't very promising for the future of the show.