Monday, December 31, 2007

Waterboarding -- A follow-up

Few subjects I have written about in this column in 2007 provoked such an outpouring of response as the one last week about the waterboarding of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah.

In a nutshell, I argued that torture in all its forms should be banned, but that in some instances, as with the waterboarding of Zubaydah, it is defensible. The trial and punishment of those who break the law is always subject to the discretion of prosecutors, juries and judges. In rare cases, such as Zubaydah's, in which a coercive method is employed to prevent a greater wrong, the interrogators involved should not be prosecuted.

Many readers found this outrageous. I received the usual cascade of comment from the Sandbox School of Argument, the name-callers and those whose idea of persuasion is to state their own opinion loudly - lots of capital letters, bold type and underlinings. Several responders belong to the Ostrich School; they won't be reading this because they have forsworn reading anything I ever again write, presumably on the assumption that if you ignore opinions you don't like, they go away.

There is no question that something important is lost when we as a nation accede to tactics considered reprehensible. One correspondent asked: "What is the harm done to the citizens of the country whose agents have a policy that allows torture?" This correspondent argued that we ought to accept impending tragedy in the name of honoring a high-minded policy.

In my column, I raised the example of the German police chief who threatened a captured kidnapper with torture because he refused to reveal where he had buried alive his 12-year-old victim. The kidnapper promptly gave the location. The German police chief lost his job for making the threat.

It may well have been more noble on some level for him not to have made the threat, but I prefer a less rigid concept of morality. I would not have fired the police chief, or prosecuted him. I agree completely with his actions, even though torture is repulsive. The boy's life matters more than my rectitude or peace of mind.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In Defense of Waterboarding

When captured in Pakistan in 2002, Zubaydah was one of the world's most notorious terrorists. The 31-year-old Saudi had compiled in his young life 37 different aliases and was under a sentence of death in Jordan for a failed plot to blow up two hotels jammed with American and Israeli tourists. The evidence was not hearsay: Zubaydah was overheard on the phone planning the attacks, which were then thwarted. He was a key planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, was thought to be field commander of the attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors on the USS Cole, and was involved in planning a score of other terror attacks, successful and unsuccessful. He was considered to be a primary recruiter and manager of al-Qaeda training camps.

He was, in short, a highly successful, fully engaged, career mass murderer. Think back to those pictures of workers crouched in windows high up in the burning World Trade Center towers, choosing whether to jump to their death or be burned alive. This was in part Abu Zubaydah's handiwork.

At the time of his capture in 2002, just six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was strong reason to believe Zubaydah knew virtually the entire organizational structure and agenda of al-Qaeda around the world. He was supervising ongoing plots to kill hundreds if not thousands of people. He was, for obvious reasons, disinclined to share this knowledge. Subjected briefly to waterboarding - less than a minute, according to published reports - he became cooperative and provided information that, according to the government, resulted in preventing planned attacks and capturing other key al-Qaeda leaders.

Waterboarding is a process by which a detainee is strapped down and forced to ingest and inhale water until he experiences the terror of drowning. It is not torture in the traditional sense of inflicting pain; it inflicts fear, intense, visceral fear, without doing physical harm. It is a method calculated to straddle the definitions of coercion and torture, and as such merely proves that both methods inhabit the same slippery continuum. There is a difference between gouging out a man's eyes and keeping him awake, and waterboarding falls somewhere in between.

In the unlikely event that Zubaydah knew nothing of value and that every bit of information he pulged was false, it was still reasonable to assume in 2002 that this was not the case. If his interrogators were able to stop one terror attack by waterboarding him, even if they violated international agreements and our national conscience, it was justified. All nations have laws against killing, but all recognize self-defense as a legitimate excuse. I think the waterboarding in this case is directly analogous, except that Zubaydah himself, although he richly deserves it, was neither killed nor permanently harmed.

I can understand why someone at the CIA ordered the videotapes destroyed. It was both to protect those who did it (more from their own government, I suspect, than from terrorist reprisals) and to prevent the images from ever becoming public. We have seen the disastrous, self-defeating consequences of such pictures, which untethered from context assume a damaging life of their own. Whoever made the call now runs the risk of being prosecuted for obstruction of justice, a risk I am sure was evaluated before making the choice.

What does work? Opponents of torture argue that it never works, that it always produces false information. If that were so, then this would be a simple issue, and the whole logic of incentive/disincentive is false, which defies common sense. In one of the cases I have cited previously, a German police captain was able to crack the defiance of a kidnapper who had buried a child alive simply by threatening torture (the police chief was fired, a price any moral inpidual would gladly pay). The chief acted on the only moral justification for starting down this road, which is to prevent something worse from happening. If published reports can be believed, this is precisely what happened with Zubaydah.

People can be coerced into revealing important, truthful information. The German kidnapper did, Zubaydah did, and prisoners have throughout recorded time. What works varies for every inpidual, but in most cases, what works is fear, fear of imprisonment, fear of discomfort, fear of pain, fear of bad things happening to you, fear of bad things happening to those close to you. Some years ago in Israel, in the course of investigating this subject exhaustively, I interviewed Michael Koubi, a master interrogator who has questioned literally thousands of prisoners in a long career with Shin Bet. He said that the prisoner who resisted noncoercive methods was rare, but in those hard cases, fear usually produced results. Fear works better than pain.

It is an ugly business, and it is rightly banned. The interrogators who waterboarded Zubaydah were breaking the law. They knew they were risking their careers and freedom. But if the result of the act itself was a healthy terrorist with a bad memory vs. a terror attack that might kill hundreds or even thousands of people, it is a good outcome. The decision to punish those responsible for producing it is an executive one. Prosecutors and judges are permitted to weigh the circumstances and consider intent.

Which is why I say that waterboarding Zubaydah may have been illegal, but it wasn't wrong.

Here is a link to a Washington Times piece describing how waterboarding saved American lives.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Copyrighting the Pyramids

The Egyptian government wants to obtain copyright protection for Egyptian antiquities, including the Pyramids.

The premise is that the Egyptians invented these antiquities, and in the future, anyone making copies of them will have to pay royalties.

Wer hat's erfunden? Die Ägypter! Die Regierung in Kairo will sich per Gesetz das Urheberrecht auf ihre antiken Altertümer sichern. Wer die Pyramiden oder andere berühmte Monumente des Landes nachbauen will, soll künftig dafür zahlen.

A question about global warming

Arnold Kling has a question.

I am not a skeptic about the rise in average temperatures. Nor am I skeptical that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing. However, I remain skeptical about the connection between the two.

My question is this:

what are the most persuasive reasons for believing that the rise in temperature is due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide?

Why focus on black IQ?

John Ray looks at the question of black vs. white IQ, having been prodded by a post on the Rockwell site.

why do I, as a libertarian conservative, continue to expound the science of the matter? There are two reasons: Because we do not live in a libertarian world and because it is my own scientific discipline that is involved and I feel a committment to publicize the truth of the matter.

The second reason I will not expand on as it is simply a personal committment that I feel. The first reason is the important one: Vast errors in public policy are made because of the general refusal to accept the truth of the matter. Race is a most vexed topic in all countries where there is a substantial African minority and the problem is made much worse by the utter failure of many attempts to deal with it. The clearest example is in education.

Because the lesser ability of blacks is not accepted in education circles, every failure of blacks to do well at educational tasks is always attributed to "the system" or "racism". A perfectly normal and natural occurrence is treated as an emergency which must be remedied by hook or by crook. And because the real nature of the problem is not admitted, all the "solutions" that are tried are based on wrong theories so not only fail but normally make the problem worse -- generating much anger and feelings of victimization among blacks at the same time.

For the record, what I would advocate as regards black educational failure is simply for the authorities to be race blind. Let children be judged not by the colour of their skin but by their inpidual characteristics. Kids who are not doing well should get extra tuition whether they are black, white or brindle and after that let the chips fall where they may. That would be the least destructive policy.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Bill Keezer, over at Bill's Comments, takes up the subject of intentionality. What does it mean for something to do something "intentionally".

In a discussion between Maverick Philosopher> Bill and Waka Waka Waka Malcolm, the example of ant trails came up. Ants leave chemical markers which other ants can follow to find food (and find their way back to the nest).

Another item discussed was piles of rock left as trail markers.

About intentionality, Bill says (among other things):

When we apply the term intention to the object it carries with it the implied, “who’s intent or for what purpose?” Inextricably tied to our use of the word intention is the idea of purpose or end. In the sense of there being an “end” to the pheromone trail, it is leading other ants back to the food source. But if it arose by chance, that some behaviors were more successful than other behaviors in survival of an ant colony, thus propagating them, can they be called purposeful? Especially in light of the changes in behavior being due to changes in the physical structure of the ant brain, not in some choice made by the ants.

A quick trip to shows that the verb "intend" implies purpose and meaning. Indeed, a child who argues an act was not intentional invariably says, "I didn't mean to". Moreover, the word "intend" traces back to the Latin for "turn one's attention toward". This implies that intention without conscious awareness is not possible.

It looks like Bill would agree:

To ascribe intentionality and in turn consciousness to any lesser animal or to plants or bacteria, much less to the inanimate forces of nature, is to render the term meaningless.

Does conscious awareness guarantee intention? Maybe not. There are such things as "unintended consequences". Either conscious awareness of doing something does not guarantee intention, or the phrase "unintended consequences" has no meaning.

So what is "meaning"? I'd say it's the act of forming a correlation between a real-world object or situation and an unrelated abstract entity. For example, in language, there is nothing particularly "two-like" about the word "two". Based on the physical properties of the sound, the word could just as easily be "too", "to", or "aardvark". In some ways, the fact that one refers to an abstraction in number theory and the other to a particular species of mammal is a historical accident. All the words listed above – indeed, all the words in this post – have meaning because they have been assigned a correspondence with real or abstract entities.

In the case of the ant trail, the act of laying the trail is essentially an inevitable consequence of how the ant is put together. It has no choice about laying down particular chemicals in particular situations. Other ants have no choice about following the trail – that's how they're put together. We have a simple cause-and-effect system. Effect A causes effect B, which causes effect C, and so on.

A biologist examining ants can dissect the ants involved and analyze the chemicals in the trail, and work out the effects of every part of the system. He can also attempt to put these effects in a hierarchy, from the most immediate (following a trail means other ants from the colony will find anything the trail-blazing ant found) to the most long-range (mechanisms that increase the efficiency with which an ant colony exploits food increases their ability to pass on their genes to future generations). The biologist assigns a model of cause and effect to the events he studies in the physical world.

But are these causes and effects intentional?

Not on the part of the ants. Ants do what they do.

Despite Richard Dawkins' title, The Selfish Gene, genes certainly don't intend to do what they do. They're a lot like lines of code in a computer. The line of code doesn't "intend" to make the computer do anything; it enters the computer and the computer automatically does what it says, whether it makes sense or not.

What the genes "mean" in terms of how well they survive, is determined by how well the effects they specify function in a particular environment. If some accidental change makes one organism's genes function better than the competition, it will have an advantage, even though it didn't "mean to".

In this case, the cause-effect chain is actually a circle. Genes cause the organism to interact in particular ways with the environment, and the environment causes certain genes to succeed or fail, depending on the results of this interaction.

Meaning that we impose on a situation may also have nothing to do with the actual intentionality of the situation.

For example: suppose two people are hiking across a meadow, and one wants to know where the other's house is. ("Are we there yet?")

"You see that cloud that looks a bit like a weasel?"

"A weasel? I see a salamander."

"'Methinks it is like a weasel.' Anyway, my house is right below the front paw of the weasel."

"OK, I see it. Maybe another hour?"

The cloud does not "intend" to help indicate the location of anyone's house, any more than it "intends" to look like a weasel. It just happens to do so, for at least one person at that moment. The shape of the cloud, and its utility as a reference marker, are imposed on it by a being capable of assigning meaning to a meaningless situation.

Bill's emphasis on choice in his post:

...I am going to take a short-cut here and offer as demonstrated that most of the mammals can be said to exhibit intentional behavior. Even if we ascribe most of their behavior to innate neural structure, evidence can still be argued for forms of choice, desire, communication, etc....
Since a rat can be trained to change its behavior, and negotiate a maze, yet based on the preceding paragraph cannot be said to exhibit choice in the correct sense, trainability is exhibited by intentional creatures, but trainability does not guarantee intentional behavior or the capability for it.

In the cloud example, one person chooses a cloud, and indeed, a part of a cloud, to use as a reference mark to direct another toward his home. He could have chosen a different marker – a tree, a large rock, a mountain, or even a compass reading. He simply chose what was (presumably) most convenient. There was no inevitability in his choice, so he had a free choice.

Was his choice intentional? Probably. It serves the function of indicating where his house is, and is the one of a large number of possible choices of marker that would not have done so. Occam's razor leads us to say it's probably not a coincidence. It was more likely made with an awareness of cause and effect. In this case, the cause of being directed toward a particular location would have the effect of letting someone know where his friend's house is.

So to me, "intention" has to be a matter of creating an abstract representation of the world, even if it's "only" a model of cause and effect, and then making a free choice to produce an effect using that model. Unless both of these are present in an action, the act is not intentional.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Smoking in the restaurants

A German restaurateur has come up with a novel solution to a new ban on smoking in restaurants: He has made three holes in the wall of his restaurant so that customers can smoke "outside."

Michael Windisch, proprietor of the "Maltermeister Turm" restaurant in Goslar in the state of Lower Saxony, was frustrated by the state's ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, which was introduced on Aug. 1. His solution was to get out the saw.
With the "smoking point," customers can put their heads through the large hole in the middle and one hand through each of the two smaller side-holes. The patrons can then legally enjoy a cigarette without having to leave the comfort of the inn.

Neat stuff online

Blackstone's commentary on the laws of England was cited on Clayton Cramer's blog. Apparently the book is online. (Well, it *is* out of copyright.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Climate models

New study increases concerns about climate model reliability

ROCHESTER, NY (Dec. 11, 2007) – A new study comparing the composite output of 22 leading global climate models with actual climate data finds that the models do an unsatisfactory job of mimicking climate change in key portions of the atmosphere.

This research, published on-line Wednesday in the Royal Meteorological Society's International Journal of Climatology*, raises new concerns about the reliability of models used to forecast global warming.

"The usual discussion is whether the climate model forecasts of Earth's climate 100 years or so into the future are realistic," said the lead author, Dr. David H. Douglass from the University of Rochester. "Here we have something more fundamental: Can the models accurately explain the climate from the recent past? "It seems that the answer is no."

Scientists from Rochester, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and the University of Virginia compared the climate change "forecasts" from the 22 most widely-cited global circulation models with tropical temperature data collected by surface, satellite and balloon sensors. The models predicted that the lower atmosphere should warm significantly more than it actually did.

"Models are very consistent in forecasting a significant difference between climate trends at the surface and in the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere between the surface and the stratosphere," said Dr. John Christy, director of UAH's Earth System Science Center. "The models forecast that the troposphere should be warming more than the surface and that this trend should be especially pronounced in the tropics.

"When we look at actual climate data, however, we do not see accelerated warming in the tropical troposphere. Instead, the lower and middle atmosphere are warming the same or less than the surface. For those layers of the atmosphere, the warming trend we see in the tropics is typically less than half of what the models forecast."

The 22 climate models used in this study are the same models used by the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), which recently shared a Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

The atmospheric temperature data were from two versions of data collected by sensors aboard NOAA satellites since late 1979, plus several sets of temperature data gathered twice a day at dozens of points in the tropics by thermometers carried into the atmosphere by helium balloons. The surface data were from three datasets.

After years of rigorous analysis and testing, the high degree of agreement between the various atmospheric data sets gives an equally high level of confidence in the basic accuracy of the climate data.

"The last 25 years constitute a period of more complete and accurate observations, and more realistic modeling efforts," said Dr. Fred Singer from the University of Virginia. "Nonetheless, the models are seen to disagree with the observations. We suggest, therefore, that projections of future climate based on these models should be viewed with much caution."

The findings of this study contrast strongly with those of a recent study** that used 19 of the same climate models and similar climate datasets. That study concluded that any difference between model forecasts and atmospheric climate data is probably due to errors in the data.

"The question was, what would the models 'forecast' for upper air climate change over the past 25 years and how would that forecast compare to reality?" said Christy. "To answer that we needed climate model results that matched the actual surface temperature changes during that same time. If the models got the surface trend right but the tropospheric trend wrong, then we could pinpoint a potential problem in the models.

"As it turned out, the average of all of the climate models forecasts came out almost like the actual surface trend in the tropics. That meant we could do a very robust test of their reproduction of the lower atmosphere.

"Instead of averaging the model forecasts to get a result whose surface trends match reality, the earlier study looked at the widely scattered range of results from all of the model runs combined. Many of the models had surface trends that were quite different from the actual trend," Christy said. "Nonetheless, that study concluded that since both the surface and upper atmosphere trends were somewhere in that broad range of model results, any disagreement between the climate data and the models was probably due to faulty data.

"We think our experiment is more robust and provides more meaningful results."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Time waits for every man

A Spanish scientist suggests that the universe's end will come not with a bang but standstill - that time is literally running out and will, one day, stop altogether.

Professor Jose Senovilla, of the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, has put forward the theory as a rival to the idea of "dark energy" - the strange antigravitational force that is posited to explain a cosmic phenomenon that has baffled scientists.

It was noticed ten years ago that distant stars - the ones on the very fringes of the universe - seemed to be moving faster than those nearer to the centre, suggesting that they were accelerating as they shot through space. Dark energy was suggested as a possible means of powering that acceleration.


He takes the basis for his idea from the superstring theory, which suggests that dimensions of time and space can move around and change places. His suggestion is that our solitary time dimension is slowly becoming a new space dimension.

In some number of billions of years, time would cease to be time altogether - and everything will stop.

"Then everything will be frozen, like a snapshot of one instant, forever," Prof Senovilla told New Scientist magazine.

"Our planet will be long gone by then."

While the theory is outlandish, it is not without support. Prof Gary Gibbons, a cosmologist at Cambridge University, believes the idea has merit. "We believe that time emerged during the Big Bang, and if time can emerge, it can also disappear - that's just the reverse effect," he said.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Interrogation vs Torture

Patterico comments here on a Keith Olberman interview on the subject of torture. He was debating writing up a comment, but then Stuart Taylor beat him to it.

Here's one quote of interest, and it pokes another hole in the assertion that harsh methods only yield bad information.

In a 2004 book titled The Interrogators, for example, co-author Chris Mackey, who conducted Army interrogations in Afghanistan, condemned torture but detailed how "the harsher the methods we used -- though they never contravened the [Geneva] Conventions, let alone crossed over into torture -- the better the information we got and the sooner we got it."

The Interrogators

When everyone's a felon...

...then what will felonies mean?

An elementary student in Marion County was arrested Thursday after school officials found her cutting food during lunch with a knife that she brought from home, police said. The 10-year-old girl, a student at Sunrise Elementary School in Ocala, was charged possession of a weapon on school property, which is a felony. According to authorities, school employees spotted the girl cutting her food while she was eating lunch and took the steak knife from her.

The girl told sheriff's deputies that she had brought the knife to school on more than one occasion in the past. Students told officials that the girl did not threaten anyone with the knife. The girl was arrested and transported to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

IQ and media filters

John Derbyshire notes the New Yorker had to publish a retraction on a piece by Malcolm Gladwell.

He made a nasty error in a New Yorker piece. Here's his correction. Another will be in the magazine. I often enjoy reading Gladwell, though I've got some criticisms of his work, but the error (he basically said Charles Murray wants to round up dumb people. He doesn't) is totally in line with the way liberals and the left treated Murray. I discuss this quite a bit in my book.

It should tell you something that the most famously fact-checked magazine in the English language saw Gladwell's charge against Murray and never thought to double check it. It just made so much sense.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Moore's Law and terrorism

The thoughtful private Intelligence company Stratfor just released a piece suggesting what it thinks are the limits to jihadi terrorists being able to conduct their terrorist planning and training online: The Role and Limitations of the "Dark Web" In jihadist Training. Stratfor acknowledges that the Internet has been an enabler for terrorism but it doubts that the required tradecraft of terrorist operations can be taught online. Where Stratfor makes an error in this article is in not taking account of the enhanced capabilities of 3-D virtual worlds to assist the next generation of jihadi terrorists. The educational abilities of virtual worlds have been well-documented and as Stratfor points out bomb-making is best learnt from an expert. With the abilities available within virtual worlds there is no reason why this knowledge cannot be passed from teacher to pupil within a persistent 3-D environment. The real-time communication systems incorporating VoIP and the ability to produce sophisticated, "working" 3-D models makes training in the engineering of terrorist technique a current reality.

Moore's law makes any kind of virtual training environment we consider pie-in-the-sky now almost inevitable in a few years -- decades at most.

One of the problems we'll be addressing in the future is that advancing technology puts more and more power in the hands of the individual, and for less and less money. This trend isn't going to stop any time soon.

Who's against waterboarding again?

Jonah Goldberg looks at who rose to speak against waterboarding when it counted.

[[Earlier this week, we learned that congressional leadership, Republicans and Democrats alike, had been informed in 2002 that the CIA had harshly interrogated high-value al-Qaida operatives, using, among other methods, waterboarding. One of the Democrats in the room: Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker of the House.


There "was no objecting, no hand-wringing," an official who was there told the Washington Post. "The attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.'" Not only did Pelosi not offer a peep of protest, the Washington Post reports that at least two lawmakers (out of only a few present) pressed the administration about whether the methods were "tough enough" to get the job done.

Either Pelosi asked the question herself, or she sat quietly while one of her colleagues inquired whether the screws were being turned tightly enough.

From this, Jonah draws some conclusions about the character of these congress-critters:

Time magazine's liberal columnist Joe Klein writes: "There was fear that we would be attacked again by terrorists, and on a regular basis. Few were thinking clearly about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it." So, what's the big deal?

Well, it's a big deal for a lot of reasons. But the one that left-wingers should take to heart is that you can't rely on your leaders and champions when the buildings collapse, the bombs explode or the planes fall from the sky.

If it's OK for liberal Democrats to condone what they consider to be torture when they're scared and angry, then the lesson is that the only way you can count on Democrats not to be scared and angry is to prevent future 9/11s.


And if you're the sort of person who thinks George W. Bush and his evil henchmen have stolen our civil liberties and our souls, you need to at least consider the likelihood that in the wake of another 9/11 a President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama wouldn't do things very differently. Or, if that's too gloomy for you, comfort yourself in the fact they'd be powerless to do things very differently. In the wake of another 9/11, the voters and Congress would roll right over them.

In other words, if the likes of these folks are in charge after another major attack, we may find ourselves longing for the type of President who waited half an hour to finish reading to a class of second-graders.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

When Waterboarding Works

Byron York offers his thoughts.

About a year ago, I had dinner with a man who played a key role in the U.S. war on terror.

The talk turned to allegations of torture. He said that our policy should be that we do not torture. And we should adhere to that policy.

Unless, that is, a truly special situation comes up and we decide that we have to violate that policy in an extremely narrow set of circumstances./p>

Then, we explain what we did -- by that, I think he meant the executive branch would be open with members of Congress -- and move on.

What he couldn't understand was the determination, on the part of some lawmakers, to pass a law that would deal with any and all situations in the future. It's just not possible.

CIA interrogators tried a variety of techniques of escalating severity on Zubaydah. Each one had to be specifically authorized in advance at the highest levels of the CIA.

Still, Zubaydah resisted. Finally the interrogation worked its way up to waterboarding.

"Was it used on Zubaydah?" Ross asked Kiriakou.

"It was."

"And was it successful?"

"It was."


"So in your view the waterboarding broke him?" Ross asked.

"I think it did, yes."

"And did it make a difference?"

"It did. The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

"No doubt about that? That's not some hype?"

"No doubt."

I've been having an argument with someone who describes himself as a professional interrogator with the Army. My major disagreement with him his his "utilitarian argument" -- "Torture Doesn't Work", he says. Not "hardly ever", not "is less effective than other methods", not even "extracts too high a price". "Doesn't work".

Well, if we take this premise as given, we can do the following logical analysis:
IF a procedure is torture, THEN it won't work.
Waterbording works.
THEREFORE (denial of the consequent) Waterboarding is not torture.

I'm glad that's settled.

Rape and HDS

That's Halliburton Derangement Syndrome.

It's gotten to the point where I take any allegations made against certain targets with a truckload of salt. Too many people have expended too much of their credibility in throwing hysterical fits that turn out later to have little, if any, support.

Michelle Malkin has a link to comments at regarding the rape allegations.

In February 2006, Jamie Leigh Jones filed an arbitration complaint, complaining that, for her administrative assistant job with KBR in Iraq, she was placed in an all-male dorm for living arrangements, and a co-worker sexually assaulted her. (KBR says the co-worker claimed the sex was consensual, though Jones claims physical injuries, such as burst breast implants and torn pectoral muscles, that are plainly not consistent with consensual sex. The EEOC's Letter of Determination credited the allegation of sexual assault.)

Fifteen months later, after extensive discovery in the arbitration, Jones, who lives in Houston, and whose lawyer is based in Houston, and who worked for KBR in Houston, sued KBR and a bunch of other entities (including Halliburton, for whom she never worked, and the United States), in federal court in Beaumont, Texas. The claims were suddenly of much more outrageous conduct: the original allegation of a single he-said/she-said sexual assault was now an allegation of gang rape by several unknown John Doe rapists who worked as firemen (though she did make a claim of multiple rape to the EEOC, though it is unclear when that claim was made); she claims that after she reported the rape, "Halliburton locked her in a container" (the EEOC found that KBR provided immediate medical treatment and safety and shipped her home immediately) and she threw in an allegation that a "sexual favor" she provided a supervisor in Houston was the result of improper "influence." (But she no longer makes the implausible claim that she was living in an all-male dorm in Iraq.)

People with legitimate claims usually don't have lawyers trying so desperately to forum-shop that they file amateurish briefs like this, and Jones loses a ton of credibility with me over that. At a minimum, Jones's story has changed over time, and has gotten considerably more lurid. The original allegations are bad enough, and, if true, actionable. If the implant rupture and other physical injuries are true, I'm inclined to believe that she was raped, perhaps even gang raped. (Machismo environments like fraternity houses and athletes' dorms are responsible for a disproportionate number of gang rapes, which is why the Duke Lacrosse allegations had so much weight in the early going.) I'm inclined to believe that there was a hostile work environment, and that it was possible that KBR was not doing enough to correct that problem. I'm not currently inclined to believe that the criminal action was the employer's fault, unless the employee in question had shown signs of criminal behavior while working for KBR. And it is entirely consistent with what I know about government if Jones's allegation that the government botched the criminal investigation is true.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blackfive on the CIA Tapes

There are two good reasons to destroy the tapes. Hayden put the first one front and center, our interrogators are shown on them. Keeping their identities secret is very important, and something Valerie Plame could have paid more heed to. Once the interrogations were completed and transcribed, there is no use to them other than the ghoulish watching of human suffering.

Which brings us to reason number two. They were almost certainly horrifying and awful and their viewing by many Americans would cause a reaction. It would likely move public opinion toward more restrictions on what methods may be employed. We have already put too many and the unpleasantness of the coercive techniques would be offensive to some who would otherwise approve of using all techniques short of torture.

I believe there are quite a few things being discussed in open forums, that belong back on the dark side. It is right and proper that our government does unpleasant, unsavory and sometimes awful things in defense of our freedom. This should happen out of sight of all, but we are a little too paranoid as a country for that. So those with agendas constantly leak classified information and weaken our abilities.

Given that the mere existence of these tapes created bad possibilities they did the prudent thing and destroyed them. They broke no laws and were not even required to have made the tapes, they were done as an internal safeguard. They were also reviewed to see if any breaches of interrogation policy occurred by the Inspector General, none were shown.

At that point they served no purpose other than as torture pron, and that is an ugly thought. Not that that would have stopped any number on the left from putting it out there.

Why would the CIA destroy interview tapes?

The former intelligence official who described the decision to destroy the tapes said Mr. Rodriguez's primary concern was the safety of C.I.A. agents whose faces could be identified in the tapes. The tapes were destroyed amid growing Congressional and legal scrutiny into the C.I.A's detention and interrogation program.


Rodriguez's concerns have been validated by the reaction of the Democrats to the knowledge the tapes were destroyed. It is clear that many Democrats would like to turn them into abu Ghraid photo ops to be passed to media hostile to the administration. Making the agents pawns in their political games would be just part of their bad faith arguments against the administration now that the fear of another horrific attack has passed. Now they will want to attack the lawyers too. I look for Democrats to make further attacks on an already weak intelligence agency and use this as an excuse to gut clandestine operations again.

A Lancet Doubter

How did I come to participate in this dispute? I have no background in survey research and no expertise in Iraq. But I do make a habit of reading blogs written by smart people with different views from my own. Indeed, there is no better way to test your beliefs than to confront the best proponents of alternate theories. To that end, I read Tim Lambert's blog Deltoid. Lambert has defended the Lancet surveys extensively and, for the most part, his defense is correct. Indeed, the Lancet authors have benefited from the mistakes of many of their critics.

Yet just because many of the Lancet critics have been wrong does not mean that the articles themselves are correct. My first reaction to L1 was that its confidence interval for excess deaths, 8,000 to 194,000, was suspiciously close to zero. Every good statistician is skeptical of a result which just barely rejects what researchers call the "null hypothesis," in this case that mortality in Iraq was unchanged after the invasion. A small change in the model assumptions could easily make the effect go away. Since it was obvious that the Lancet authors had political motivations/ambitions (Roberts ran for Congress in 2006), I thought that they were probably guilty of cherry-picking their model, at least to some extent. They would not be the first researchers to do so.

Yet these suspicions were, for me, overwhelmed by my disgust with the behavior of the authors and their supporters. Although they provided some summary data for L1, they refused to pulge the household-level data and computer code that would help outside researchers (like me) to replicate their results. This is not the way that scientist ought to act.

In August, I made a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Statistical Association which argued that the results of the first Lancet survey were internally inconsistent. The technical details are opaque at best but the implication is that the authors purposely presented their data (by including outlier data from Falluja in some parts of the analysis and excluding it elsewhere) to mislead. Specifically, the 8,000 to 194,000 confidence interval is claimed to be "conservative" because it excludes the carnage in Falluja. I show that including Falluja would have widened the confidence interval enough to include zero, thereby not allowing the authors to reject the null hypothesis of no increase in mortality.

In English, my claim is that the authors specifically refused to provide the confidence interval for excess deaths using all their data because they knew that doing so would provide too much ammunition to their critics. Even today, they stubbornly decline to tell me or anyone else what the confidence intervals would be with Falluja included.

That paper was discussed at Deltoid and then picked up from there by Michelle Malkin. Suddenly, I was part of the Right Wing Noise Machine, even invited as a guest on my local talk radio station. Alas, I misinterpreted the orders from my Rovian overlords and spent most of the time defending the Lancet authors from the innumerate complaints that the host was making. He choose not to keep me on the air long enough to get to the point of my actual critique.

Fortunately, other scientists are working on the topic. Colin Kahl writes that the Lancet estimates are "dubious." Fritz Scheuren, past president of the American Statistical Association, claims that the response rates from L2 are "not credible." Stephen Fienberg, one of the most respected statisticians in the country, insisted that Les Roberts' refusal to share data with Michael Spagat and his co-authors was:

"just the wrong response. I, as an editor, would not publish a study for which the data was not shared."

If scientists like Kahl, Scheuren, Fienberg, Spagat and others think that your results are flawed and your behavior suspect, then you likely have a problem.

Abolish the CIA?

Christopher Hitchens suggests it may be time to do away with the CIA -- tear down and start over.

It seems flabbergastingly improbable that President George W. Bush learned of the National Intelligence Estimate concerning Iranian nuclear ambitions only a few days before the rest of us did, but the haplessness of his demeanor suggested that he might, in fact, have been telling the truth. After all, had the administration known for any appreciable length of time that the mullahs had hit the pause button on their program in late 2003, it would have been in a position to make a claim that is quite probably true, namely, that our overthrow of Saddam Hussein had impressed the Iranians in much the same way as it impressed the Libyans and made them at least reconsider their willingness to continue flouting the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Given that the examination of the immense Libyan stockpile also disclosed the fingerprints that led back to the exposure of the A.Q. Khan nuke-mart in Pakistan, the removal of Saddam from the chessboard has had more effect in curbing the outlaw WMD business than it is normally given credit for.)


The briefing that I was given by the British Embassy in Tehran in 2005, showing the howlingly glaring discrepancy between what Iran claims and what Iran does, is not in the least challenged by the most recent conclusions. To say that Iran has "stopped" rather than paused its program is to offer an opinion, not to present a finding. (For more on this, see the excellent article by Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin in the Dec. 6 New York Times, and also Jonathan Schell's Dec. 9 piece on the Guardian's Web site.) The mullahs are steadily amassing the uranium and plutonium ingredients of a weapon and will indeed soon be able to pause, along with other countries, like Japan, at the point where only a brief interlude and a swift spurt of effort would put them in full possession of the bomb.

Why, then, have our intelligence agencies helped to give the lying Iranian theocracy the appearance of a clean bill, while simultaneously and publicly (and with barely concealed relish) embarrassing the president and crippling his policy? It is not just a hypothetical strike on Iran that is rendered near-impossible by this estimate, but also the likelihood of any concerted diplomatic or economic pressure, as well. The policy of getting the United Nations to adopt sanctions on the regime, which was about to garner the crucial votes, can now be regarded as clinically dead. A fine day's work by those who claim to guard us while we sleep.

One explanation is that, like Mark Twain's cat, which having sat on a hot stove would never afterward sit on a cold one, the CIA has adopted a policy of caution to make up for its "slam-dunk" embarrassment over Iraq. This is a superficially plausible hypothesis, which ignores the fact that for most of the duration of the Iraq debate, the CIA was all but openly hostile to any argument for regime-change in Baghdad. This hostility extended all the way from a frenzied attempt to discredit Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, to the Plame/Wilson imbroglio, and the agency's "referral" of Robert Novak's disclosure to the Department of Justice. Interagency hostility in Washington, D.C., between the CIA and the Department of Defense has never been so damaging to any administration, let alone to any administration in time of war, as it has been to this one.

And now we have further confirmation of the astonishing culture of lawlessness and insubordination that continues to prevail at the highest levels in Langley. At a time when Congress and the courts are conducting important hearings on the critical question of extreme interrogation, and at a time when accusations of outright torture are helping to besmirch and discredit the United States all around the world, a senior official of the CIA takes the unilateral decision to destroy the crucial evidence. This deserves to be described as what it is: mutiny and treason. Despite a string of exposures going back all the way to the Church Commission, the CIA cannot rid itself of the impression that it has the right to subvert the democratic process both abroad and at home. Its criminality and arrogance could perhaps have been partially excused if it had ever got anything right, but, from predicting the indefinite survival of the Soviet Union to denying that Saddam Hussein was going to invade Kuwait, our spymasters have a Clouseau-like record, one that they have earned yet again with their exculpation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was after the grotesque estimate of continued Soviet health and prosperity that the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the CIA should be abolished. It is high time for his proposal to be revived. The system is worse than useless--it's a positive menace. We need to shut the whole thing down and start again.

C. Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinson's Law, devoted a chapter to the tendency organizations have to grow to an unwieldy size, indeed, to the point of uselessness. Maybe the CIA has reached that point. (Maybe it reached it half a century ago.)

If, as Hitchens says, the CIA is currently worse than useless, then let it be disbanded. For a new agnecy, recruit people from the CIA who are worth keeping, and recruit people who have shown a good track record in analysis.

If the CIA is to be kept around, though, a thorough house cleaning is in order. Start with the people responsible for destroying those tapes and fire them, and everyone above them in the chain of command, up to the director of the agency.

Evolution happens

You may have read pieces here and there that proclaim human evolution has ground to a halt. One reason given is that we're preventing many causes of death that used to select out the less fit among us.

John Derbyshire has a contrary view, and cites this as evidence.

Another sensational genetics paper from the Henry Harpending/Greg Cochran team. (They did that paper on the evolution of Ashkenazi intelligence three years ago.)

Among their claims, which are based on some careful data-mining of the HapMap:

Human beings are evolving rapidly.

"We aren’t the same [i.e. biologically] as people even 1,000 or 2,000 years ago."

Our evolution may be accelerating.

Human races have evolved away from each other, getting more different, and this is still going on: "We are getting less alike, not merging into a single, mixed humanity."

Over the past 5,000 years, new genetic variants have been emerging at a rate 100 times faster than in any other period of human evolution.

If you ever wondered how those wild, bloodthirsty Vikings turned into the hygienic, pacifistic Swedes of today, there's your answer: biology. A great many longstanding conundrums about human nature are turning out to have that same answer.

Given reproduction and variation, you have evolution. And evolution is always going to happen faster than you expect it to.

It's true for nanotech, and it's true for Humans. The only way to keep humans from evolving is to kill them.

High confidence -- in half the story

Ed Morrissey notes an article in the Wall Street Journal -- it seems the NIE is half right. We can be extremely confident that the nuclear program was stopped in 2003. But we don't know if it stayed stopped.

Maybe the CIA attorney did give permission to destroy the tapes.

[[The story of the CIA's tape destruction took another twist today. Earlier, Mark Mazzetti had written that the destruction of the tapes angered the CIA's legal counsel, John Rizzo. Today, Mazzetti and Scott Shane report that the CIA's attorneys gave permission to destroy the tapes of interrogations that included waterboarding:

Lawyers within the clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency gave written approval in advance to the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two lieutenants from Al Qaeda, according to a former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the episode.

Still more on IQ

Psychologist Richard Nisbett has an article in the NYT under the rather silly heading "All Brains Are the Same Color". It is the usual misleading account of the evidence about black IQ. I am a bit tired of demolishing these pieces of nonsense so I reproduce below a fisking of the article by Bob Williams. There is much more that could be said but Bob does a pretty good job nonetheless:

NY Times


Monday, December 10, 2007

Is waterboarding necessary?

Ed Morrissey points to an ABC interview with one of the men responsible for waterboarding terrorists.

In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.

"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline."

"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."


Says Ed:

Bottom line: if we outlaw the procedure, it should not be with the understanding that someone can order its use and that Congress will forgive it later, depending on the circumstances. If those who propose that as a solution believe that certain circumstances warrant its use, then they should write laws that allow it -- and keep men like Kiriakou from having to determine whether to follow what amounts to an illegal order. If this Congress outlaws waterboarding, they will have the responsibility for the potential intel loss that it creates, and the damage that loss eventually does.

Powerline on those destroyed CIA tapes

Power Line has a two-parter on the subject.

As a general matter, destroying tapes of CIA interrogations seems like a good idea. For one thing, it's not in our national security interests for videos showing how we obtain information from top terrorists, and what information we obtained, to be disseminated. In addition, the CIA has a valid interest in keeping the identity of its interrogators secret. Given the extent to which classified, highly sensitive information has been leaked, by 2005 the CIA had good reason to fear that these tapes would, in fact, be disseminated.

On the other hand, the CIA's legitimate policy preferences (and, of course, mine) cannot outweigh any legal obligation it might have had to preserve and/or produce the tapes. The question, then, is whether such an obligation existed. I'm not aware of any statutory obligation, so the issue turns on whether a court, or some other body with similar authority, had ordered that the tapes be preserved or produced. A second and related issue is whether the CIA falsely and knowingly failed to disclose the existence and/or destruction of the tapes under circumstances in which it was obliged to make such disclosure.

I can't tell from the accounts I've read so far what the answers to these questions are. The CIA does say it informed key members of congressional oversight committees about its decision to destroy the tapes, and Democrat Jane Harman, then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, confirms that the CIA told her.

Jose Rodriguez, Jr. is the CIA official who is said to have ordered the destruction of the video tapes that memorialized the interrogation of two leading al Qaeda terrorists. At the time, Rodriguez was the CIA's Director of Clandestine Operations.

That title reminds us that much of what the CIA does is supposed to be clandestine. In essence, the CIA was conceived as an organization that would do secret things to obtain information, and then analyze that information. It was always understood that some of the secret things would be unsavory. It was never understood that the CIA would keep recordings of these actions just in case a court, a congressional committee, or a newspaper might want to take a look. The idea was to win the Cold War, not to create an album.

The image of the Cold War CIA is captured, albeit overdramatically, in the old Mission Impossible show, when the clandestine operative is informed that, if he or any member of his team is caught or captured, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of their actions. Five seconds later, the tape self-destructs. Jose Rodriguez may be wondering where that manufacturer of self-destructing tape was when he needed him.


Projection is so rife among Leftists that seeing what they say about conservatives is a handy guide to what it true about them. And nowhere is that more evident than in the various discussions about IQ. Quite plainly, what Leftists say about the subject is guided by their "all men are equal" ideology rather than by the facts. Their stance has everything to do with ideological bias and has only an incidental concern with the facts.

So what do they do when non-Leftists confront them with the facts? They accuse their opponents of ideological bias! -- as we saw in Metcalf's recent attack on Saletan. Saletan himself could not readily be accused of much but someone he quoted (Rushton) has some association with people who believe that racial differences are widespread (which makes them "racists" in Leftist parlance) so that was enough to throw all Saletan's pesky facts onto the trashheap. Logicians call such reasoning an ad hominem fallacy. A popular description of it is "playing the man and not the ball".

IQ: Here we go again

[There has been a] small rush of articles that have been sparked by James Watson's perfectly factual observations about black IQ. The New Yorker's contribution appears under the heading "None of the above" and is by Malcolm Gladwell, a historian who takes an interest in the social sciences. Gladwell is of course among the "saints" who think IQ is all nonsense.

All Gladwell does, basically, is rehash the usual points made by Flynn -- so any critique of Flynn (e.g. here) should be an adequate reply to Gladwell. I will however mention a few points here. Another point Gladwell raises is that the black/white gap rises from a small gap in infancy to a much larger gap in later life. Gladwell thinks that shows an effect of black culture but the real explanation is again rather blunt so I will simply refer readers to an extended comment I made on that matter recently.

But Gladwell's basic blindness is to fail to distinguish between phenotypic IQ (scores on IQ tests) and genotypic IQ (that part of IQ test scores which is genetically determined). Nobody has ever denied that IQ test scores are influenced by environmental factors -- about a third of IQ is usually found to be environmentally determined -- so the rise in the IQ scores of most populations over the 20th century (as described by Flynn) was to be expected from all the many advantages that modernization brings -- better nutrition, greater stimulation via TV, more time in the educational system, better perinatal medical care etc. But if genetics set a limit, the improvement to IQ scores that flow from an improved environment should peak as the environment reaches the optimum for IQ development. And precisely that has now happened in several affluent countries.

So Flynn's findings don't let you escape those pesky genes! It is in fact rather amusing to hear an attack on genetic influences in this day and age. We now hear almost daily (in the medical and psychological literature) of new findings about genetic influences on human behaviour -- so much so that it would be amazing if there was NOT a large genetic influence on IQ.

Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.]]

The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.

Yet long before "waterboarding" entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge.

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Flaws In the Iran Report

John Bolton has some words about the NIE:

Rarely has a document from the supposedly hidden world of intelligence had such an impact as the National Intelligence Estimate released this week. Rarely has an administration been so unprepared for such an event. And rarely have vehement critics of the "intelligence community" on issues such as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction reversed themselves so quickly.

All this shows that we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.

Consider these flaws in the NIE's "key judgments," which were made public even though approximately 140 pages of analysis, and reams of underlying intelligence, remain classified.

First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."

The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of "intelligence."

That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.

Well, the President of Iran did declare it a major victory.

Shootings in gun-free zones

Clayton Cramer links to a piece by John Lott which mentions one fact about this week's Omaha shootings (and February's in Utah) which seems to have eluded the mainstream media reporters.

But despite the massive news coverage, none of the media coverage, at least by 10 a.m. Thursday, mentioned this central fact: Yet another attack occurred in a gun-free zone.

Surely, with all the reporters who appear at these crime scenes and seemingly interview virtually everyone there, why didn't one simply mention the signs that ban guns from the premises?

Nebraska allows people to carry permitted concealed handguns, but it allows property owners, such as the Westroads Mall, to post signs banning permit holders from legally carrying guns on their property.

The same was true for the attack at the Trolley Square Mall in Utah in February (a copy of the sign at the mall can be seen here). But again the media coverage ignored this fact. Possibly the ban there was even more noteworthy because the off-duty police officer who stopped the attack fortunately violated the ban by taking his gun in with him when he went shopping.

One would think there was some sort of agenda at work, and facts that fail to support that agenda are filtered out.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Does anyone take the NIE at face value?

Conservative have good reason to be suspicious of the liberals in the intelligence community who have been desperately trying to avoid responsibility for their Iraq estimates. Rowan Scarborough recently published a book called Sabotage, America's Enemies Within the CIA which suggest that the CIA has become a rogue agency. I am not sure that is the case here. As I point out in my earlier post, the 2005 estimate which suggested the program was still active was based on finding a notebook computer containing plans for an Iranian bomb. I still think the real situation with Iran is that they are biding their time and waiting for us to retreat before going forward with their plans. The Democrats appear to be playing into their strategy.

Islam and Teddy bears

We will know that sanity will return when people respond with this question, "Are you people nuts?" Why do we have to act like these people have a serious grievance? This "insult to Islam" tantrum is in fact an insult to our intelligence and an embarrassment to Islam.

Going wrong with confidence

Robert Heinlein once defined logic as "a way of going wrong with confidence." Today's Wall Street Journal looks at a a conclusion one reaches upon comparing the latest NIE with past ones -- a conclusion that seems, well, logical.

As recently as 2005, the consensus estimate of our spooks was that "Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons" and do so "despite its international obligations and international pressure." This was a "high confidence" judgment. The new NIE says Iran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003 "in response to increasing international scrutiny." This too is a "high confidence" conclusion. One of the two conclusions is wrong, and casts considerable doubt on the entire process by which these "estimates"--the consensus of 16 intelligence bureaucracies--are conducted and accorded gospel status.

Should we trust the latest NIE?

Mark Falcoff is a former professional staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, as he mentions below, senior consultant to the 1983 National Bipartisan Commission on Central America chaired by Henry Kissinger. Among other affiliations, he has been a long-time resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

He offers some comments on this NIE, and on NIEs in general.

The first is that most Americans don't understand that the CIA is pided into two different pisions--estimates and operations. Most Americans, and I suppose most foreigners, imagine that the CIA spends all its time on operations. Actually the vast majority of resources are put into estimates. Mover, the two sides of the house, as they call it, have nothing whatever to do with each other. They are kept completely apart.

The other misconception is that the same kinds of people work on both sides of the house. Wrong again. The operations guys conform pretty much to the stereotype of Hollywood films--ex-military or professional spooks. The estimates guys are mostly academic types who couldn't find a job teaching at a university when they got their Ph.D. Politically and culturally they are absolutely indistinguishable from the career people at the State Department. You can imagine what that means in the present context of Bush-hatred.

My other comment is this. NIE's are not necessary accurate. Sometimes they are wildly inaccurate. I invite anyone to go to "Foreign Relations of the United States: Cuba, 1958-1960" and read what was said about Fidel Castro before he took power. Another example: a week before Somoza collapsed in Nicaragua, the NIE of the day claimed he was bound to remain in power indefinitely. I haven't looked at the NIE for Iran the week before the Shah departed, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it said something similar.

Let me add a further note. In 1986 I was working for the Kissinger Commission on Central America and as such I was allowed to see the NIEs on all the relevant countries in the circum-Caribbean. I vividly recall the one on Mexico. Among other things it claimed that the foreign minister of that country was an embittered leftist married to a Soviet citizen. As it happens, I knew the son of the couple (he has since become foreign minister of Mexico in his own right) and I knew for a fact that his mother was not a Soviet citizen. Far from it. She was a nice Jewish lady who lived in New York and grew up in Brooklyn. It is, I suppose, possible that she was brought to the US in the 1920s from the Soviet Union--at age 3. But there is a crucial difference between that and what was in the NIE. The implications for our foreign policy were very different. At the time I wondered, Who checks this things out? I still wonder.

Oh, holy phones!

Italians Offer Saints for Download

Devout Italians will no longer have to carry around worn and tattered images of their favorite saints. A new service is launching on Wednesday that offers downloads of the holy images to mobile phones. The Catholic Church has reacted with horror.

The mobile saints service was the brainchild of Barbara Labate, whose mother always made sure to give her a "santino" when she was traveling. She rejects the church's criticism. "We are simply offering a service to the faithful," she told Reuters. "We are doing this with the maximum respect, dignity and professionalism for believers."

I wonder if there are matching ring tones available.

The ongoing IQ debate

Vitriolic and anti-conservative cultural commentator Stephen Metcalf has apparently put a bit of work into his recent article in Slate in which he attempts to rebut Saletan's article on IQ research. Metcalf actually appears to have read stuff on the subject! Predictably for a Leftist, though, most of what he says is ad hominem -- attempted character assassination of those with whom he disagrees. Vdare has however highlighted the shallowness of Metcalf's claims in that department rather well so I will just focus on a few of the substantive points that Metcalf raises.
...My interest in this debate springs from the fact that I am a psychometrician (specialist in the measurement of psychological variables) by trade. See here. <>
I think it is about time that I pointed out the obvious about the "seed" analogy to black/white IQ differences. Metcalf puts it as follows:
[[Imagine two wheat fields. Now imagine two genetically identical sets of seeds. (The analogy was first made famous by the Harvard evolutionary biologist and geneticist Richard Lewontin.) Now imagine each field is planted with these two identical seed stocks. Field No. 1 is given the best possible inputs: sunshine intensity, rain, soil nitrates, etc. Field No. 2 is given much less of all of the above. Within each field, inputs are kept uniform. Inevitably, the first field grows a healthier supply of grain than the second. But here is the rub: Within each field, the variation in outcomes is entirely hereditary. Between the two fields, the variation in outcomes in entirely environmental.]]
The argument simply assumes what it has to prove. It assumes that the two lots of seeds (genetic inheritance) are identical to start with. So the argument comes back immediately to the problem of sorting out whether black and white IQ is genetically different. And it is precisely that question which has been the subject of decades of research. Environmental differences do have SOME effect on IQ so it is perfectly possible that the UNDERLYING differences between blacks and whites are nil. But there is NOTHING that has ever been found which suggests that -- only a lot of wishful thinking.

Myths about Mumia Abu Jamal

Captain Ed looks at the transcript of a 20/20 segment discussing myths that have arisen about the case. These myths include:

Myth #1: The 44-Caliber Bullet -- Jamal's supporters say the bullet that killed Officer Faulkner was .44-caliber, not a .38, like the gun found at the scene.

Myth #2: The Fabricated Confession

Myth #3: The One-Armed Man Gambit -- The defense claims that several witnesses saw a man shoot Faulkner and then run away.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Five questions about the NIE

  • First, what intelligence is this assessment based upon?
  • Second, what has changed since 2005?
  • Third, how did the IC draw its line between a "civilian" nuclear program and a military one?
  • Fourth, how does the IC know that Iran has stopped its clandestine activities with respect to developing nuclear weapons?
  • Fifth, how does the IC know what motivated Iran’s alleged change in behavior?

Teddy Bear named Mohammed

Tune: Teddy Bear's Picnic

If you go out to Sudan today

You're in for a big surprise

Do not go out to Sudan today

It really is most unwise

The least excuse the Imams can use

Will serve to put your head in a noose,

You've gone and you've named your teddy bear Mohammed.

Religion of Peace? -- A review

Fjordman has reviewed Robert Spencer's book Religion of Peace? at Gates of Vienna.

Climate debate at BBC News

Ten points, for and against.


In which the Environment Correspondent seeks input from climate skeptics.

The knights who say NIE

While I do agree that the NIE was somewhat less grounded than previous estimates, I don't agree with what is becoming a popular conservative talking point: Iran dropped their program in 2003 because OIF showed the world that America meant business. I think that it's far more likely that the Iranians--if they really did drop their program--had a North Korea (rather than Libya) style epiphany, realizing that the technological hurdle in constructing a bomb, shrinking it, and mating it to an effective delivery system was just too complicated of an endeavor. Had Iran truly been scared into submission by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I doubt we would have heard four years of blustering about "Iran's right to nuclear research and development" and boasting about "thousands of operational centrifuges."

Bryan Preston at Hot Air says,

My take is that we're in a state of dangerous uncertainty all around: We can't trust the IAEA, we don't trust the Iranians (both with good reason), but there's just enough doubt in the NIE to keep the B2s grounded and the Iranians on the loose because the Bush administration cannot base an attack or even another round of sanctions on this estimate, not after the intel failures in Iraq.

And what does President Bush have to say? Michelle Malkin live-blogged his press conference:

10:10am Eastern. David Gregory accuses Bush of knowing about the NIE months ago. DG: "Can't you be accused of hyping this threat?"

GWB: "I hate to contradict an august reporter such as yourself, but I was made aware of this NIE last week--Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Finally, Joe Lieberman's take:

Monday, December 03, 2007

A health care revolution in Africa...

...Mc Health!

...8,300 miles to the east, ... a quiet revolution is taking place - a revolution that is shoring up education, providing better health care, thriving through free trade, and, yes, even saving the family farm. It's a revolution spreading through the poorest communities in Africa, fueled by a force often brushed aside by promise-happy candidates: free markets.

Reasserting privacy

Facebook's last straw seems to have been blabbing about users' online purchases.

Annapolis and Lebanon

It seems that in the end, Bashar al-Asad and his family will pay no price for their murderous campaign against a U.S. ally. That is to say, insofar as the White House's post-9/11 freedom agenda was meant to counter violence and extremism, it is Osama bin Laden's vision of the Middle East that has won the day in Lebanon--not freedom, sovereignty and independence, but terror and death.

Googling libraries

Google plans to digitize libraries. Why is this plan drawing fire?

The failure of feminism

Tammy Bruce looks at the feminist response to mistreatment of women in the Middle East.

British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons, an unimposing woman of 54, was found guilty of "inciting religious hatred" and sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation by a court in Sudan's Khartoum after allowing her 7-year-old students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."

In the meantime, Islamist fundamentalists have called for her execution, and her safety is in constant jeopardy. Demonstrations have increased, with crowds carrying machetes, shouting in part: "Execute her! Kill her, kill her by firing squad."

She is under such threat, Sudanese authorities have moved her to a secret location to ensure her safety.

...when asked by FOX News for a comment about the situation, a National Organization for Women spokeswoman said they were "not putting out a statement or taking a position."

Their vile silence isn't limited to the Gibbons situation. In Saudi Arabia, a gang-rape victim has been sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison. Why? Because when she was raped, she was violating Sharia law by being out with a man who was not a relative. Her sentence was actually increased when she dared to appeal her sentence.

What has NOW's and the Feminist Majority's response been to this obscene outrage? The same silence offered to Gillian Gibbons. Nothing, because God forbid we should be reminded that there is a disturbed enemy out there worth fighting, and God forbid that for one moment we should suggest that the United States might not be heinous imperialist the left casts us to be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Mindless imitation

Jason Van Steenwyck has some comments about how businesses fail:

Here's a passage from a terrific book called The Warren Buffett Way, by Robert Hagstrom:

"The final justification for the institutional imperative is mindless imitation. If companies A, B, and C are behaving in a similar manner, then, reasons the CEO of company D, it must be all right for our company to behave the same way. It is not venality or stupidity, Buffett claims, that positions these companies to fail. Rather it is the institutional dynamics of the imperative that make it difficult to resist doomed behavior. Speaking before a group of Notre Dame students, Buffett displayed a list of thirty-seven failed investment banking firms. All of these firms, he explained, failed even though the volume of the New York Stock Exchange multiplied fifteenfold. These firms were headed by hard-working individuals with very high IQ's , all of whom had an intense desire to succeed. Buffett paused; his eyes scanned the room. " You think about that, " he said sternly. " How could they get a result like that? I'll tell you how, " he said, "mindless imitation of their peers."

Emphasis added for emphasis.

I might add that military officers, and those responsible for promoting them, should likewise take note.

We need a broad spectrum of military thought and leadership styles. We were not well served while kinetic thinkers ruled the officer corps while counterinsurgent theorists like Nagl and Petraeus were the exceptions and dissidents.

It's likely too easy to go overboard with Petraeusism, too. Petraeus seems like the right man in the right spot for this war.

But we have other wars to fight. And we need a diversity of opinion and approaches as well. Kineticism has not been discredited. We may well need to get uberkinetic on someone's ass very soon.

And what's beyond counterinsurgency? What's the post-Petraeus approach? Do we need to look at retirees from the Clinton era OOTW people? Is that the next phase in Iraq? Do we then gather our kinetics and our counter-I's? Do you pair kinetic commanders with counter-I deputy commanders? Can you synthesize them?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Censored science?

What, exactly, was "censored" from the testimony presented by Julie Goldberg, director of the CDC?

It appears, if press accounts are correct, that what the Bush administration cut from the director's testimony was more speculative than settled science.

The Derb on IQ

Part III of three parts
Q: O.K., O.K., but back to the point that got Watson in trouble. You race realist types like to say: “Well, it’s nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. It’s just DIFFERENCE — and abstract group-statistical difference at that.” Isn’t that a bit disingenuous, though? I mean, look at black Africa. They’re really NOT doing well, are they? If, as Watson claimed, it’s because they just have too few smart people to keep a modern society going — well, how is that not calling sub-Saharan Africans an inferior race, a failed race? How is it NOT?

A: That’s the big one. That, in my opinion, is what all the fuss is about. Again, I’m looking at it a bit “cold,” not quite seeing why there’s a fuss. Why should Clarence Thomas (say) feel any the worse about himself because black Africa’s a mess? Does he, in fact? (My guess: no.)
And here is where you bump up against the fact that what makes human nature so hard to discuss coolly is human nature itself.
Ain't it just?

The Left and Stem Cells

scientists may now be able to have the embryonic stem cells we've been told they need for research--without creating and destroying embryos to get them. If so, the argument is over.

Or, maybe, the argument is just beginning, for this news turns on its head everything in what the nation's newspapers have delivered to us as a story of blinkered pro-lifers vs. courageous scientists.

The people who turn out actually to have believed in the power of science are the pro-lifers--the ones who said that a moral roadblock is not, in point of fact, an outrageous hindrance, for scientists will always find another, less-objectionable way to achieve their goals. President Bush's refusal of federal funding for new embryonic stem cell lines didn't halt major stem-cell advances, any more than the prohibition against life-threatening research on human subjects, such as the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, stopped the advance of medical treatments. For those who attacked the pro-lifers in the name of science, however, things look a little different. As Maureen L. Condic explained to First Things readers this year in her careful survey, "What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells," the promises of medical breakthroughs were massively overblown by the media. But there were reasons for all the hype. I have long suspected that science, in the context of the editorial page of the New York Times, was simply a stalking-horse for something else. In fact, for two something-elses: a chance to discredit America's religious believers, and an opportunity to put yet another hedge around the legalization of abortion. After all, if our very health depends on the death of embryos, and we live in a culture that routinely destroys early human life in the laboratory, no grounds could exist for objecting to abortion.

Questions about Torture

And most of these seem to be questions the reflexive knee-jerk opponents of "torture" don't want people asking.

First, there are conceptual questions. What is torture? How does torture differ from such things as torment, punishment, harsh treatment, cruelty, vengeance, sadism, and violence? Can torture be accidental? Must it involve physical (as opposed to mental) pain? Can deprivation or confinement constitute torture? Conceptual questions such as these are about the concepts, ideas, categories, and distinctions we use. Answering them is the province of philosophy.

Second, there are factual questions. Given a conception of torture, how widespread is it? Is there less of it now than there used to be, and if so, why? Who practices it, and why? What forms does it take? Is waterboarding torture? How much pain or suffering does a particular form of torture typically inflict? How much pain or suffering does a particular instance of torture actually inflict? Is torture effective as a means of gathering information? If so, how effective? Factual questions such as these are about how things are. Answering them requires investigation, consultation (with relevant experts), and observation. Philosophers, as such, have no expertise in this area. This doesn't mean philosophers can't make factual claims, for they can and do; it means their philosophical training doesn't make their factual claims more likely to be true. In other words, philosophers have no comparative advantage in ascertaining how things are.

Third, there are evaluative questions. Given a conception of torture, is torture permissible? If so, in what circumstances? Is torture ever obligatory? If so, why? Should the law permit torture? If so, how should it be regulated to prevent (or minimize the likelihood of) abuse? Perhaps torture should be illegal even if it is, in rare cases, morally permissible. Law and morality are different institutions, after all, with different purposes, standards, and limitations. A thing can be morally permissible but legally impermissible, just as a thing can be legally permissible but morally impermissible.

Myths about rape

The British government is preparing to distribute information packets to demolish "myths" about rape, and get more convictions for rape out of juries.

For the more I look at this issue, the more myths I seem to find. The biggest is being propagated by politicians themselves. They repeat, ad infinitum, that the conviction rate for rape is scandalously low, at 5.7 per cent. They conclude from this that juries cannot be trusted. But 5.7 per cent is only the proportion of convictions secured out of the total allegations made, not the proportion of convictions secured out of the cases tried. The attrition rate in rape cases is high: only about 12 per cent of cases reach court. So in the courtroom, the true conviction rate is about 44 per cent, slightly higher than that for murder.

Rape is a shocking crime. But you would expect it to be at least as hard to prosecute as murder. More than four out of five allegations are now made against a partner, friend or acquaintance. About half of those involve drink and/or drugs. Jurors think long and hard about decisions if there is no witness, only circumstantial evidence and where a guilty verdict means a minimum of seven years in jail. Gang rape by strangers carries the same minimum sentence as rape by a drunken partner. There is no equivalent to manslaughter, because victim groups feel that a lesser charge would downgrade the seriousness of the crime. Yet some lawyers feel that some juries are not convicting because they feel that the right crime is not being tried.

In March the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of a 25-year-old computer software engineer, Benjamin Bree, for raping a 19-year-old student after a night of drinking with friends. The judges ruled that the student was still capable of consenting to sex, even after consuming substantial amounts of alcohol. They also ruled that a drunken person can lose the capacity to consent, and that would amount to rape. That seems to me to be an intelligent calibration. Ministers are still considering whether to insist that no agreement can be taken as consent if it is given when intoxicated. But that would make a drunken man accountable for his deeds, but not a drunken woman.

It is an outrage that some men are getting away with rape. But I also worry that the language in which the issue is now being discussed implies that the only right result is a conviction. That would be a travesty of justice. It is no good trying to bust myths about rape if you are also going to propagate the myth that everyone is guilty as charged.

Bush Derangement Syndrome

Clayton Cramer looks at parallels between BDS and the Salem Witch Trials.

A person I know who spends a lot of time teaching college students suggested an interesting explanation for this recently which just happens to collide with a book that I am currently reading: Mary Beth Norton's In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. I'm not done reading it, but she has a new twist on what provoked the Salem Witch Trials.

Many of those who were participants, either as "victims" of the witches, or the witches themselves, were refugees from the Maine frontier, driven back into Massachusetts by a series of ferocious Indian wars. Norton argues that unlike other witchcraft trials of the period, where judges were a lot less willing to accept "spectral evidence," and a lot more willing to give accused witches the benefit of the doubt, many of the participants were dealing with traumatic consequences of the loss of community, and of enormous fear of attack. That the Indians were regarded as Satan worshippers throughout this period made it very easy to see the loss of the Maine frontier as having Satanic overtones.


For those Maine frontier refugees, the enemy "out there" was far more ferocious, far more dangerous, than anyone within their own society. Especially among those who started the Salem hysteria (a bunch of teenaged and younger girls), the enemy that they really feared, and with good reason, was not an enemy that they could do anything about. They were powerless, and they were not warriors. They could do something about people closer at hand, and who were not going to kill and mutilate them--people like Rev. George Burroughs.

I think we are seeing something similar today: liberals have always regarded our military as a necessary evil, and the left hasn't even admitted "necessary." The only tools to fight the Islamofascist enemy are those that the left end of America has never identified with in any way. Like those terrified girls, it is easier for the left to redirect its fear onto a target that is closer, and less dangerous--and most importantly, that they can do something about. George Bush doesn't require an unrelenting battle to unseat--just an election.

In other words, attacking conservatives is easier and safer than attacking the real enemies. It's kind of like the fellow who goes looking for his lost keys near the street lamp instead of down the alley where he lost them "because the light's better here".

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reforming terrorists?

Over 1,500 Extremists Freed After Repenting

Arab News

RIYADH, 26 November 2007

Saudi authorities have released more than 1,500 reformed extremists, who were detained on charges of embracing and spreading takfeer (the ideology that brands other Muslims who disagree with them as infidels).

The extremists, under the guidance of the Ministry of Interior, had undergone lengthy counseling, according to Muhammad Al-Nujaimi, a member of the Counseling Committee and professor of comparative jurisprudence at the King Fahd Security College.

Al-Nujaimi told Al-Watan newspaper that the Counseling Committee, which is the brainchild of Prince Muhammad ibn Naif, assistant minister of interior for security affairs, was established in 2004 with the approval of Interior Minister Prince Naif. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance jointly supervise activities of the committee comprising 100 members. Members include religious scholars, preachers, specialists in religious doctrine and law, psychologists and social workers.

The committee is tasked with the duty of reforming youths in an intellectual and rational manner on the basis of Shariah. "The committee has met around 5,000 times to offer counseling to 3,200 people, who were accused of embracing the takfeer ideology. The committee has successfully completed reforming 1,500 people," Al-Nujaimi said.

The suspects were largely confused about the meaning of jihad, which led to their believing in committing blind violence. They also viewed that the present Muslim rulers, scholars and public were infidels, and therefore demanded the establishment of a single Islamic state, said Al-Nujaimi.

"After several graded sessions with the committee, and having been convinced of their misguided vision, they renounced their erroneous ideologies, including the concept of driving out all infidels from the Arabian Peninsula," he said.

The committee first evaluates the personality and the ideological crisis suffered by the suspect, and then decides on how to clean his mind of the mistaken impressions, said Al-Nujaimi.

The committee in the later stages of counseling holds several sessions on the concept of obedience to a ruler, loyalty, conditions for baiat (declaration of allegiance to a ruler) and the mistaken concept of murder and violence without guilt.

And there are some comments on the process here