Sunday, September 30, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Jena Six

A comment piece in the Kansas City Star

...the reality is Thursday's protests are just another sign that we remain deeply locked in denial about the path we need to travel today for true American liberation, equality and power in the new millennium.

The fact that we waited to love Mychal Bell until after he'd thrown away a Division I football scholarship and nine months of his life is just as heinous as the grossly excessive attempted-murder charges that originally landed him in jail.

Reed Walters, the Jena district attorney, is being accused of racism because he didn't show Bell compassion when the teenager was brought before the court for the third time on assault charges in a two-year span.

Where was our compassion long before Bell got into this kind of trouble?

That's the question that needed to be asked in Jena and across the country on Thursday. But it wasn't asked because everyone has been lied to about what really transpired in the small southern town.

There was no "schoolyard fight" as a result of nooses being hung on a whites-only tree.

Justin Barker, the white victim, was cold-cocked from behind, knocked unconscious and stomped by six black athletes. Barker, luckily, sustained no life-threatening injuries and was released from the hospital three hours after the attack.

A black U.S. attorney, Don Washington, investigated the "Jena Six" case and concluded that the attack on Barker had absolutely nothing to do with the noose-hanging incident three months before. The nooses and two off-campus incidents were tied to Barker's assault by people wanting to gain sympathy for the "Jena Six" in reaction to Walters' extreme charges of attempted murder.

Much has been written about Bell's trial, the six-person all-white jury that convicted him of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and the clueless public defender who called no witnesses and offered no defense. It is rarely mentioned that no black people responded to the jury summonses and that Bell's public defender was black.

It's almost never mentioned that Bell's absentee father returned from Dallas and re-entered his son's life only after Bell faced attempted-murder charges. At a bond hearing in August, Bell's father and a parade of local ministers promised a judge that they would supervise Bell if he was released from prison.

Where were the promises and supervision before any of this?

It's rarely mentioned that Bell was already on probation for assault when he was accused of participating in Barker's attack. And it's never mentioned that white people in the "racist" town of Jena provided Bell support and protected his football career long before Jesse, Al, Bell's father and all the others took a sincere interest in Mychal Bell.

You won't hear about any of that because it doesn't fit the picture we want to paint of Jena, this case, America and ourselves.

We don't practice preventive medicine. Mychal Bell needed us long before he was cuffed and jailed. Here is another undeniable, statistical fact: The best way for a black (or white) father to ensure that his son doesn't fall victim to a racist prosecutor is by participating in his son's life on a daily basis.

That fact needed to be shared Thursday in Jena. The constant preaching of that message would short-circuit more potential "Jena Six" cases than attributing random acts of six-on-one violence to three-month-old nooses.

And I am in no way excusing the nooses. The responsible kids should've been expelled. A few years after I'd graduated, a similar incident happened at my high school involving our best football player, a future NFL tight end. He was expelled.

The Jena school board foolishly overruled its principal and suspended the kids for three days.

But the kids responsible for Barker's beating deserve to be punished. The prosecutor needed to be challenged on his excessive charges. And we as black folks need to question ourselves about why too many of us can only get energized to help our young people once they're in harm's way.

I've been the spokesman for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City for six years. Getting black men to volunteer to mentor for just two hours a week to the more than 100 black boys on a waiting list is a yearly crisis. It's a nationwide crisis for the organization. In Kansas City, we're lucky if we get 20 black Big Brothers a year.

You don't want to see any more "Jena Six" cases? Love Mychal Bell before he violently breaks the law.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Young Earth Creationism at Coral Ridge


I read this on another list and am re-posting here with permission.

I found the letter typical of a good YEC flogging, but the reply is perhaps the most interesting IMO.


Dr. D. James Kennedy,
Coral Ridge Ministries
PO Box 40
Ft Lauderdale FL 33302
E-mail: letters@coralridge. org
April 16, 2005

Dear Dr. Kennedy,

In general I applaud your ministry by standing up for Christian values in a post-modern society which is progressively becoming more degenerate. The obvious evils I can immediately think of are abortion, homosexuality and pornography, amongst many others. You project a most laudable image of authority in your various programs, such as "Truths that Transform".

Like you I am a Christian, and like you I have various academic qualifications, though not as many nor as impressive as yours. Your qualifications appear to be mostly in the arts and divinity, whereasmine are in the sciences. I do not know what your Ph.D. is in, but presumably it is in divinity or a related subject. Mine is in astrophysics.

As a professional scientist, I feel that I am qualified to speak with some authority in the branch of astrophysics and related subjects I work in, and less authority on other fields of science. Not being a scholar in ancient Hebrew, Greek, biblical hermeneutics, or ancient Middle Eastern studies, I am not qualified to speak on these at all except at an amateur level, and although I have my own interpretations of the Scriptures, that may agree or disagree with other individuals, I cannot speak with any authority, and depend on and respect those who are qualified and have taken the trouble to undertake the necessary studies. Of course this does not mean that even when talking on a subject I am familiar with I am infallible, and like anyone I make mistakes.

Having said all that, it rather puzzles me how you can speak with any authority on science, such as, astronomy and geology, unless you have studied these subjects. I note that this is an unfortunate characteristic of several church leaders who think that because they are an authority on the Bible and are devout Christians, they are automatically an authority on some branch of science without studying it. I am referring to your two broadcasts in the "Truths that Transform" archives on your website for May 24 and 25, 2004, where you talk about the young earth. I can tell from a number of major errors in your broadcasts that you have moved far outside your area of knowledge in your apologetics.

Young earth creationism, namely a belief that the universe is less than about 10,000 years old, together with other dogma, in particular a global Noah's flood about 1600 years after the creation, is in my mind a disease that has infected a large fraction of the evangelical community in the USA since World War II, and does not necessarily have much to do with the bogy word "evolution". In fact many evangelical scholars in the late 19th century and early 20th century, such as Charles Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield, accepted that the earth was probably very old, even if they had problems with evolution. The whole issue of a young earth creationism was revived by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb Jr. with their book "The Genesis Flood" in 1961, which was based on the writings of the Seventh Day Adventist George McCready Price before World War II.

It is true that evolution as we understand it requires long periods of time, but some astronomical processes also require long periods of time (and others short periods of time), quite independently of any assumptions about evolution. Astronomical timescales are determined from the empirical evidence, not on any assumptions about evolution. So called "evolutionists" do not need long periods of time, long periods of time are just determined by looking at the evidence. Not working in the field of evolutionary biology, I am not qualified to speak on it, and only want to deal with astronomy and geology. Also a broad discussion on the philosophy of science is beyond the scope of my comments here, as well as a lecture on astronomy.

Unlike some of the leaders in the creationist community, who I have every reason to believe are knowingly bearing false witness in some cases, as I can tell by what they say, I have every reason to believe that you are just misguided, and have bought into this whole business of young earth creationism simply because you have not thought through the whole issue properly, and acquainted yourself with the science. It appears that you have been persuaded by some of the leaders in the creationist community, and are propagating these errors to other Christians.

The impression you give in your two broadcasts is that there is a world wide conspiracy in astronomy and geology to cover up the evidence that the earth is no more than about 10,000 years old, and that somehow geologists with their dating methods are evil and deliberately manipulate dates because they do not want to be accountable to God. You stated several times that over 99% of all geochronology gives relatively young ages for the earth. Indeed many rocks can be young, but many can be old; however, the age of the earth, the moon, the other planets, the sun, and the Solar System as a whole, have been dated to be 4.5 billion years old. These are based on many independent assumptions, and if different and independent assumptions generally agree, there is every reason to accept this figure. There is no argument that the Solar System is about 4.5 billion years old, rather than about 10,000 years old, nor that the universe as a whole is about 14 billion years old. The empirical evidence is just too strong, and anybody who denies this is in effect denying that there is such a thing as objective truth.

One matter that really puzzles me is that several times you say that evolution is impossible even in trillions of years, yet you make an issue out of a mere 4.5 billion years. All of the specific errors concern the second half of your broadcast on May 25, 2004 as follows: (1) Meteorites: You stated that they are made up mostly of nickel, and stated that this element is rare on the earth, and none are found, except obviously for freshly fallen meteorites. This is completely wrong, as far as I know no meteorites containing mostly nickel are known. Nickel is found alloyed with iron in iron meteorites, is always significantly less abundant than iron, and iron meteorites make up about 5% of meteorite falls. Moreover, when exposed to water and oxygen, the iron and nickel will weather with time, and be difficult to distinguish from terrestrial rocks.

You also stated that no micrometeorites have been found in sediments, but for the same reason as stated above, reactive elements like iron and nickel will readily react with water and oxygen over time, and be difficult to identify as having come from meteorites. Of course the elements themselves in a combined state can be identified, and in the case of the rare element iridium, can be identified as being of extraterrestrial origin.

Finally, you stated that you had performed some boring in the ocean and found nothing. Fine, OK, but could you say where and when you did this boring, what equipment you used, and your results.

2) Cosmic dust: You stated that the Voyager space probe(s) found three huge rings of dust between Mars and Jupiter, but the Poynting-Robertson effect, which you described with a bit of detail, would cause this dust to fall into the Sun in a relatively short period of time. That is certainly correct, but what you did not say is this dust can be shed by comets and produced by collisions. For the former we can see this process happening today. A particularly good example was Comet Hale/Bopp in 1997 where you could look up in the sky and see a large dust tail. For the latter, all the asteroids we have looked at are pock marked with many craters, so obviously impacts have happened, and dust will be thrown out into orbit around the Sun in such collisions.

3) Jupiter's moon Io: You stated that scientists were surprised to discover from Voyage that Jupiter's moon Io was bubbling over with volcanic activity. That is correct. However, you also stated that if the Solar System were billions of years old, it should have long ago cooled down and all activity should have stopped, thus violating all physical laws. Even if the source of heating was unknown, this does not argue for a young Solar System given that our own moon has cooled down, as well as the other moons of Jupiter. In fact Io is in a tidal tug-of-war between Jupiter and the next moon out, Europa, and heating caused by the tides match the heat dissipated by volcanic action.

4) Red Sirius: You stated that the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, was reported to be red by the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks, that is correct. You also said that it is a white dwarf, that is technically not correct. Sirius is a binary star consisting of a bright white star known since antiquity, and a very faint white dwarf, which was only found in the 1800s. Exactly why the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks claimed it was red is not very clear, the most plausible theory is related to its helical rising at the time the Nile flooded, and when low down in the sky will appear red, as do the sun and moon. Being so bright the effect of atmospheric absorption will be more noticeable than any other star. Another theory is that the ancient writings have been mistranslated or misinterpreted.

You implied that our knowledge of stellar evolution is so bad that the white dwarf companion of Sirius was a red giant less than 2000 years ago. If that had been the case, the red giant would have been nearly as bright as the moon, there would have been a spectacular display of the ejected gas when the white dwarf threw off its outer layers, which would still be visible today. None of this has been observed, and the white dwarf, though hot by our standards, is much too cool to have been produced only about 2000 years ago, unless you assume that all the laws of physics are wrong, but then concerning Io above, you used the laws of physics as part of your apologetics.

Why the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks claimed Sirius was red is a bit of a mystery that may never be fully resolved. A very unlikely astrophysical explanation is that a cloud of dust passed between Sirius and us, causing Sirius to be reddened, and has since cleared away. The ancient Chinese recorded Sirius to be white, and they are considered to have made reliable records that can be backed up in the case of planets, comets and supernova explosions, which can be checked independently.

5) Comets and the Oort cloud: This is one of the favorite arguments used in creationist apologetics, and unfortunately you are no exception. You stated that the Oort Cloud is merely a belief in the spirit of Hebrews 11:1, which you quoted, namely that scientists need it to explain where comets come from in order to explain why we see them if the Solar System is billions of years old, instead of a few thousand. Even though the Oort Cloud has not been seen directly (yet), scientists do not believe in the way of Hebrews 11:1 that it exists, but it is inferred from the orbits of long period comets, which have orbital periods from 200 years (which is an arbitrary figure), up to about a million years. Those comets with orbital periods of about a million years spend most of their time out at great distances from the sun at what is assumed to be the Oort Cloud. As a very small proportion of the comets have been discovered, it is likely that there is a very large number of bodies out at the Oort Cloud.

You stated that we "know" in two million years all the comets, long and short period, would have disintegrated if the Solar System were that old. In fact as many comets can survive several passages of the sun, but some cannot, comets with orbital periods of about a million years would still be around, and this makes no assumptions about comets on orbits that do not take them into the inner Solar System, but are later perturbed by passing stars.

Another problem with your apologetics for the non-existence of the Oort Cloud is that it may be directly observed at some point in the future as our instruments improve. If this happens, some Christians will get egg on their faces who use this argument. This has already happened twice in the last few years. For many years creationists maintained that the Kuiper Belt, which is a region of icy asteroids at about and beyond the distance of Pluto, did not exist, because it had not been seen. Well, in the early 1990s objects were found it in, and a figure approaching 1000 objects are now known. In fact Pluto itself is probably a large member of this group. The same happened with planets orbiting other stars. Before any were discovered, creationists maintained on some strange theological grounds that they did not exist, but the first was discovered in 1995, and over 130 are now known. In both cases, for a number of years after the discoveries creationists lived in denial claiming that Kuiper Belt objects and planets orbiting other stars did not exist, just as some member of the Roman Catholic Church denied that Galileo had seen moons in orbit around Jupiter. In the end, with the weight of evidence so strong, creationists quietly back-peddled, but probably not before damage was done to the image of Christianity.

Incidentally, in 2003 an asteroid called Sedna taking over 10,000 years to orbit the sun, was discovered. It is in an orbit between the Kuiper Belt and the presumed Oort Cloud.

6) Salt in the ocean: This is another classic creationist apologetic, where a false uniformitarian assumption is made about the accumulation of salt, sodium chloride, in the oceans. In fact there are processes that remove as well as add salt into the oceans, which have to be taken into account. Some compounds of aluminum stay in the oceans for a very short time, so by you making the same assumption for them, you can state that the oceans are only about 100 years old. In fact because different substances have different accumulation and removal times, based on these alone you can "date" the oceans to any age you like between 100 years and billions of years, just pick a figure.

7) Helium in the atmosphere: You started by mentioning hydrogen in the atmosphere, which presumably was a slip of the tongue, because you then went on to talk about helium, which is the product of most forms of radioactive decay in the earth. You stated that if the earth were 4.5 billion years old there would be massive amounts of helium in the atmosphere which cannot escape, so by there being only a very small amount of helium present implies that the earth is young. As any first year chemistry student would tell you, helium is a very light and chemically inert gas, and is used in balloons. Being light and inert it will readily escape from the earth, so your statement that it cannot escape is patently false.

Hydrogen is even lighter than helium, but of course nearly all of it on and above the earth's surface is combined with oxygen to form water.

8) Radiometric dating: You stated that rocks were dated from a Hawaiian volcano that erupted in 1800, and huge variations in ages were found using the potassium-argon method. Potassium-40 has a half life of just over a billion years, and cannot be used for rocks younger than about 100,000 years old simply because not enough potassium-40 has decayed to give meaningful results. It is a bit like using the counter in your car to measure the length of your garage, it is a far too coarse a measuring tool for the purpose. Also, it is well known that if rocks embedded in lava have not been completely melted, their "clocks" may have not properly have been reset.

9) Skull 1470: I am not familiar with this and the anthropologist Richard Leaky, but again you stated that dating methods are completely unreliable. In particular you stated that the dating methods used to determine the age of the earth are so unreliable as to be useless, implying again that the earth is young.

Unfortunately, your witness for Christ can be seriously undermined by your incorrect science, and thus your apologetics on other matters such as abortion can loose credibility in the eyes of those who have some scientific knowledge. What happens to a student who is a devout Christian, and has bought into young earth creationism, then goes to college and studies geology or astronomy, what happens to his faith? What if his professor is a Christian? No wonder many Christian parents complain that their children drift away from Christianity when they attend college. Young earth creationism is just as false as flat-earthism or geocentricism, and claiming that it is true, undermines the whole meaning of truth, particularly in a post-modern society where truth is considered as relative. This is the legacy of young earth creationism: The non-Christian is handed what appears to be a valid reason to reject the good news of Jesus Christ. And when the fallacies of young earth creationism are finally discovered, disillusioned Christians may relinquish their faith*. Another legacy is that Christianity is perceived as residing in the ghetto of anti-knowledge and anti-science, thus undermining its influence in society.

With the brains God has given us, and such a fabulous universe to study, I think that young earth creationism sells God very short. As Christians we should celebrate that we can study God's creation using modern science, far more than the ancient Hebrews could have imagined, rather than skulk in the darkness of deliberate ignorance with the fear that science will undermine our faith.

The real irony of young earth creationism is that its proponents, more than many other Christians, keep claiming that they have the truth, yet when confronted with the irrefutable evidence that the universe is ancient, such as seeing light from distant stars, are unable to bring up any plausible arguments or evidence, and often resort to arguing for some form of a deceptive creation with the appearance of age. This not only contradicts objective truth, it of course also contradicts Romans 1:20.

This is a free country, not Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan under the Taliban, and you and I are free to express our views. However, my advice is to distance yourself from creationism and stick to the branches of apologetics you are familiar with and have studied. Your association with the young earth creationist movement is most unhealthy. By making the age of the earth an issue, all you are doing is ghettoizing Christianity, and making it ineffective. Moreover, because of a number of serious and well known scientific errors in these and other broadcasts (the shrinking sun is another example), skeptics who hear your broadcasts can use your erroneous arguments against Christians.

I have no official ministry, and I am not associated with the progressive creationist Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, with whom I agree with on many matters, but also disagree with on others. I await any response you or your colleagues at Coral Ridge Ministries may wish to send me.

Yours in Christ and sincerely,

Christopher M. Sharp

Department of Astronomy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721.
E-mail: csharp@as.arizona. edu / cmsharp01@aol . com
Web: http://csharp. com

NB. Please note that my views here are my private views, and have nothing to do with the University of Arizona, or any of its departments.

(*) From pdf

On July 11, 2005, I received the following e-mail from a member of Coral Ridge Ministries. The name of the person replying, his/her e-mail address, and his/her role in the organization are not disclosed to protect privacy. Likewise the part of the ministry the employee works for is not disclosed. The letter is otherwise an exact copy, including typing errors.

Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005 20:14:49 -0400
From: "XXXX"
To: csharp@as.arizona. edu
Subject: Open letter April 16, 2005

Dear Mr. Christopher M. Sharp,

Concerning the letter that you wrote (, dated April 16, 2005. It is my opinion that you are correct on each and every point raised. As you know not every believer concurs with the 6,000 to 10,000 year old "young earth" theory. We here at CRM have interesting internal discussions on these topics; unfortunately free speech is a questionable one.

These "Internal discussions" relate to such topics as the speed of light, the size of the Milky way and the distance to Andromeda and the math just does not support the 10,000 years old creation scenarios. To support the young earth theory as "truth" the young creationist community has formulate a "work-around" which is that God was (self) forced to create within the entire light spectrum the events that we see ( i.e. starts that go supernovae, etc). All of these events were embedded into this contiguous light stream that we see today. This results in the universe to be young and yet look old.

I do not concur that an eternal God had to create this contiguous stream of light with all of the images imbedded in it so that we humans would come to the conclusion that the universe is very young and made to look very old, I just don't concur.

The earth being 4.5 billion years old comparing it to a 13+ billion year old universe, the earth is young on this scale.


An Employee

During office hours I believe that the earth is 6004 year old, on nights and weekend (including all Christian holidays) the earth is 4.5 billions years old, give or take 10,000 years.

NB. Please note that my views here are my private views, and have nothing to do with Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc. XXXX Operation is a part of CRM's XXXX. In addition to our mission statement, we are a ministry within a democracy and not necessarily here to practice it, unfortunately free speech is a questionable one.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How's the enemy doing in Iraq?

(Hat tip: PrariePundit)

The facts on the ground are that the two chief enemies of the new Iraq - the groups wearing the al Qaeda label and the Iran-backed Shiite militias - are not doing well. Indeed, one might say that both have already lost their bids for power and, the continued killings notwithstanding, are in the process of marginalization. The only way they could make a comeback is if Congress decides to legislate a victory for them.

Al Qaeda's strategy had two parts. One was based on the assumption that, by killing enough Americans, it would enable the party of defeat in the United States to force President Bush to surrender. That failed when Bush decided to increase, rather than reduce, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The other part assumed that, by fomenting a sectarian war, al Qaeda would force Shiites, Iraq's majority, to run away - allowing Salafi Sunnis to seize power in Baghdad. That also failed: Not only did the Shiites not run away,but also many who had fled under Saddam Hussein decided to return to Iraq.


Here are some other facts on how the enemy is doing right now:

  • The main Arab Sunni armed groups (including the 1920 Brigade and the Islamic Army of Iraq) have switched sides, agreeing to work with the Iraqi government against foreign terrorists.
  • The Sunni Arab tribal sheiks in once-unruly Anbar province have decided to come off the fence and take up arms against al Qaeda, even if this means collaborating with the Americans.
  • On the Shiite side, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to lay down arms for six months. He made that decision after dozens of his commanders, former members of Saddam's Republican Guards, had switched to the government side.
  • Sadr also saw the writing on the wall after his gunmen tried to seize power in Karbala, Najaf, Wassit, Misan, Dhiqar and Qaddisiyah - and failed.
  • ....

As in any war, what counts in this war is the protagonists' states of mind. No war is won with a defeatist discourse.

The "surge" was a political signal that the United States did not intend to abandon its allies. That signal persuaded fence-sitters in Iraq - and, beyond it, in the broader Arab world - to take sides. Most chose the side of new Iraq against its internal and external foes.

America and its Iraqi allies can't be defeated in Iraq. But defeat could be manufactured in Washington, where part of the U.S. elite seeks it in order to win in the domestic political war.

Each time an American politician speaks of defeat, he encourages the terrorists, discourages allies, signals to fence sitters to look elsewhere - and thus prolongs the war.

Iraq as flypaper, again

Argument #1: "we're fighting them over there so they don't attack us over here." Yes, and the Tooth Fairy is real. This argument takes the prize for being both misleading and stupid, suggesting that Iraq's civil war and regional instability are offset by that invisible fence in Anbar province that magically corrals the world's terrorists and keeps them right where we want them.

It is not Argument #1that is "being both misleading and stupid" here. And uncharitable. Argument #1 is much stronger than Zeigart suggests. Because the US is fighting in Iraq, this has caused Al Qaeda to put a high priority on victory in Iraq, and therefore Al Qaeda has chosen to spend their limited resources in Iraq rather than in the US. This is a perfectly sensible argument and it might very well be true.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The secular case for Marriage

Why should the State recognize marriage at all, never mind any particular type?

This was a letter sent a radio talk show host after a broadcast where he claimed not to recognize any reason for the state to recognize marriage. That is odd because the secular case for marriage is actually its most compelling reason for existing as an institution at all.

More here

Iraq -- the Al-Qaeda Motel

The Left thinks Iraq is a killing field for Americans. Actually, it is a killing field for our enemies, at a very great but vitally important sacrifice. That reflects a grand strategy, tailored to the peculiar nature of the global terror threat.

You don't shoot poisonous fire-ants with a BB gun; you just set an ant trap. Ant colonies are highly "distributed" biological societies, much like the world-wide web. They can't be killed with a BB or a pressure hose; even pouring flaming gasoline on an ant hill won't work

Instead, you destroy ant colonies by attracting hungry ants to a chemical bait, and then kill them all in one small place. Ant traps work.

That's the Bush strategy in Iraq. Al Qaeda isn't centralized, with big cities or steel industries like Nazi Germany. So you can't destroy the enemy by hunting them one by one. Rather, you bait a trap – provoke them to come to you, and make sure they don't get out alive.

Iraq is a trap for Al Qaeda. Our mere presence in the heart of the Osama's Caliphate-To-Be draws them like ants to sugar.

Kaplan on Petraeus

The idea that General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are front men for the administration is ludicrous. Until he took the job as overall ground commander in Iraq, Petraeus was a favorite of liberal journalists: the Princeton man who enjoyed the company of the media and intellectuals, so much so that he was vaguely distrusted by other general officers who envied the good ink he received. As for Crocker, he is a hard-core Arabist, a professional species that I once wrote a book about: He is the least likely creature on earth to buy into neoconservative ideas about the Middle East. Neither of these men are identified with the decision to go to war. If I had to bet, I’d say that Crocker especially would have been against it, like his other Arabist colleagues. Thus, these men have no personal stake in proving the president right. They and their staffs are much more likely to provide a balanced analysis of the reality in Iraq than senators and congressmen looking over their shoulders at opinion polls and future elections. As Petraeus said, “I wrote this testimony myself,” meaning, the White House had nothing to do with it. Watching them brief Congress Monday, I came away convinced that they made a better impression on the public than anyone else in the room.

a series of dictators, culminating in Saddam Hussein, built a state out of a multiconfessional and multiethnic hodgepodge. Because that hodgepodge was so unwieldy—a Frankenstein monster of a polity—the force required to control it was, by necessity, tyrannical in the extreme. With that extreme tyranny now dismantled, rebuilding the Iraqi state must begin from scratch. It may be no accident that the progress we have seen is at the bottom, since that might be the only place where such progress can even begin to take hold.

Bottom line: I suspect we will be stuck in Iraq with tens of thousands of troops for years to come. The results we obtain may be meager, but they’ll still be better than if we suddenly withdrew.

Read it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Six years ago...

An interview with Laurie Mylroie, author of "Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America".

As for how likely it is that bin Ladin would co-operate with Iraq, it is very likely. In fact, bin Ladin basically serves as a front organization for others: Iraq, Sudan, the Taliban. He doesn't have the organizational skills on his own to carry out major attacks.

It's true that bin Ladin criticized Iraq 10 years ago, when it invaded Kuwait, on the grounds that Kuwait was a Muslim country that hadn't done anything to Iraq. But it is 10 years later and the perception is that the US is unjustly targeting Iraq.

Finally, I do share your concern that our "war" with bin Ladin might interfere with going after Iraq. We may become too distracted by him, bogged down, etc.

(And I thought Iraq was a distraction from Osama.)

Needless to say, Mylroie is considered "controversial".

Monday, September 10, 2007

Open letter to an Interrogater

I've been having an argument with an interrogator who turns out to be really lousy at making his case. In general, I agree with him about torture. Where he loses me is his insistence that torture never works.

I finally just wrote an open letter to him.

Hi there!

This is the Evil One, with an open letter for (or at least about) you.

Since you’ve declared me evil, and declared that I “support torture”, I really don’t expect this letter prompt you to attempt a civilized discussion, or to make any impact on you at all. I believe that you, with your declaration, have set about to define yourself as holding the moral high ground, and absolve yourself from mounting a reasoned defense of your case. I don’t blame you – thinking is hard work, and it takes practice.

This letter is really for the spectators. I intend to lay out my case for the dark side and let readers judge for themselves. On the off chance that you care to reply, I’m leaving comments open.

For my part, I don’t think you’re evil, merely foolish. I believe you when you say you hate torture, but I believe the arguments you have been making hurt your case and make it more likely that people will be tortured in the future. As good as your motives are, you lack wisdom.

First, let it be noted that for the most part, I agree with what you write. I merely believe that you carry your argument to extremes, and this, as I’ve mentioned, hurts the very cause you are fighting to promote.

I have two major objections to the arguments you raise against torture: silly definitions and your “utilitarian argument”.

1) Silly definitions

First, you define torture in a manner that is silly, useless, and which actually demeans real victims of torture. In your comment here, you define torture as “Any physical or mental coercion. Any.”

By my reading, this definition includes a huge number of acts which I don’t consider torture. A parent who puts his child on a “time-out” is coercing that child to observe the “time-out”, otherwise the child would not observe it. A police officer who pulls over a motorist for a traffic infraction is coercing that motorist – he doesn’t pull over because of his love of stopping and chatting with random police officers. An interrogator questioning a detainee is forcing that detainee to stay in the room with him, or at least at the detention facility. I doubt that, if given a free, un-coerced choice, that detainee would remain at the detention center.

Indeed, I can’t imagine any society that can function without some form of coercion to enforce whatever laws it deems necessary. Indeed, I don’t see how anyone can interrogate a person unless he can coerce that person to hang around long enough to be interrogated. So when you offer a definition of “torture” that forces me to choose between any sort of working civil order and a Hobbesian anarchy, I guess I have to stand on the side of “torture”.

You have introduced, at least by implication, another definition of “torture”. On several occasions, you have, in effect, challenged people with: “how would you like it?"

If you are willing to have it done to yourself, or your loved ones, if they are suspected/accused, then, just maybe, you have a morally defensible (though disgusting) position.


The implied definition is, “torture” is anything you would rather not experience.

Unfortunately, while everything we both agree is torture is covered by that definition, so are any number of things we disagree over. Furthermore, so are any number of things I’m sure neither one of us would call torture. For example, in the army, you were trained to kill people. In battle, trained soldiers go into the field with the full expectation they will kill other soldiers, and with the full awareness that they may themselves be killed.

In my opinion, your definition of “torture” clouds the issue. When the same word applies equally to the tearing off of fingernails, the gouging out of eyes, and placing a child on a “time-out”, the word loses most of its meaning and all of its moral and emotional impact. When “torture” means anything as innocuous and routine as being pulled over by a traffic officer, a reasonable person may conclude “torture” isn’t that bad.

Your definition of “torture” also insults everyone who has been subject to real torture. By lumping the treatment Senator McCain received at the Hanoi Hilton together with routine treatment of prisoners here in the States, you cheapen McCain’s experience.

Now, it’s entirely possible that I’ve completely misinterpreted your definition of “torture”, and you do not intend to include every form of coercion. However, when I’ve given my take on your definition in the past, you have declined to either clarify or withdraw it.

I assume you stand by it, and what I infer from it. If you don’t, comments are open.

I don’t have a cut-and-dried definition of “torture”.

I note the United States Code defines “torture” in the following way:

Section 2340. Definitions

As used in this chapter -

  1. "torture" means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
  2. "severe mental pain or suffering" means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from
    1. the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    2. the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    3. the threat of imminent death; or
    4. the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality;

Now this definition suffers from a problem you were trying to avoid with your definition: What do we mean by “severe”? While we’re at it, how long is “prolonged”, how soon is “imminent”, and how profoundly is “profoundly”? Any reasonable definition, used by reasonable people in the real world is ultimately going to be a process of line-drawing. You have chosen to draw your line such that “severe” means “any”, “prolonged” is “any”, “profoundly” is “any”, and “imminently” is “at any time in the foreseeable future”. I don’t think this is a useful definition.

Now, in the real world, there are a variety of techniques that have been approved for use by interrogators, including the notorious “water-boarding”. So far, red-hot pincers, bamboo slivers under nails, and bastinado are not on the “approved” list. They’re on the “yes, it’s torture” side of the line, while the “attention slap”, extreme temperatures, prolonged standing, and water-boarding are on the “no it’s not” side.

My take on the issue: I’m not sure where I draw the line between “torture” and “not torture”. Indeed, any line I draw would probably be a fuzzy one, with some things being “mostly torture” and others “only a little bit torture”. Indeed, since people differ in their sensitivity and reaction to various things, I’d probably wind up having to draw a different line for every person on the planet.

Ultimately, I believe reasonable people can disagree over where to draw the line. You apparently don’t.

2) Your “Utilitarian Argument”

You have repeatedly advanced a “utilitarian argument” against torture. [Add links] You repeatedly assert that “torture doesn’t work”. This argument fails on two counts. Firstly, utilitarian arguments are very dangerous. They’re only as good as your data.

The book “Freakonomics” made the case that liberalized abortion laws were responsible for the drop in crime rates in recent years. The children aborted are the ones that would have been more likely to grow up poor and in single-parent homes. These are the very groups that are more likely to commit crimes.

Now, John Lott writes in his book, “Freedomnomics”, argues that abortion has actually caused an increase in crime.

What is the utilitarian argument with respect to abortion? I don’t know. The final results aren’t in yet. They may never be.

The point remains, if you base your argument on a moral point on utilitarian grounds, then your morality is only as solid as your data, and you may find your utilitarian argument urges the adoption of a policy you detest, and having raised the utilitarian argument in the first place, you have no grounds to object.

Secondly, your utilitarian argument is wrong – torture does work, especially if we allow your silly definition to stand.

Interrogation can’t possibly work unless the person being interrogated is required (that is, “coerced”) to remain where the interrogator can question him. As you define “torture”, interrogation is impossible without torture.

You have taken me to task for “arguing in bad faith” because “it’s impossible to prove a negative”. Fine, I take you at your word. Your “utilitarian argument” is not provable.

Furthermore, it’s very easy to disprove. All I have to do is cite one case to show that “torture” does, at least sometimes work. And since you define “torture” in such a way that even the methods of interrogation you approve of are impossible without it, we now have absolute proof that “torture” does, in fact, work.

However, let’s now bring in reasonable people with real-world definitions of “torture”, where there is a line drawn between “torture” and “rough treatment”. (And possibly, a line between “rough treatment” and “not being nice”.) We still have cases where you concede that rough treatment, even that which crosses the line into torture, does work. It obtains information which is true.

Why? Because as I keep saying, using torture as a means of collecting information doesn't work. As a system, it fails. Someone might tell the truth, but the amount of non-truth which enters the system buries it.

There are those who pretend that's not the case. That somehow we can sift the truth from the lies; without having any troubles. That somehow the dedicated bad person, who is willing to plant bombs, bury people alive, whatever fantasy of justification the torture mongers want to trot out, will somehow break when his body is beaten, his flesh is torn, his mind is assaulted with terrors, the electrodes are supplied with current, the water rises past his nose and mouth, his bones broken, his sleep deprived, his environment changed, etc., etc., etc., ad naseam.


Sooner or later my honest report (assuming I break) will be lost in all the crap (all the more so if there is more than one person being tortured, the interrogators will start to manufacture corroboration; and when the story changes, so too will the false corroboration change to match it, because the answers are expected, and the source will be guided to them).


It obtains information which is true, “but”, you say, this information is contaminated. Under torture, you point out, a person will say anything he thinks his interrogators want to hear, in order to stop the torture. How, you ask, do we differentiate between accurate information and inaccurate?

In other words, we have three issues to consider: The effect of incentives on human behavior, the signal to noise ratio of any information obtained, and the use to which any information obtained is to be put.

First, the use. You are right in saying the use of torture would contaminate all information obtained from a subject, if the information were being used to build a legal case. The thing to remember is that the war on Jihadists is not a law enforcement action. It is a war. During war, soldiers are called on to deal with the enemy in ways police officers would never be allowed to deal with criminals. No soldier, for example, reads a captured enemy his or her Miranda rights, for example.

Information obtained through sufficiently rough treatment should, and probably would, be excluded from any criminal proceeding. However, if, somehow, rough treatment caused someone to divulge the location of a “ticking time-bomb”, this information would be used to find and disarm the bomb, or at least evacuate the area. No one would use it to arrest the bomb. (More to the point, this information would probably not be allowed in court as evidence the subject of the interrogation was involved in a conspiracy to plant and set off that bomb.)

Second: Torture is designed to create an incentive. In order to prevent or avoid torture, the subject will, in theory, change his behavior. If the change in behavior means giving up useful information, then that’s what the interrogators want. However, a problem arises when the subject doesn’t have useful information, or has a strong desire to withhold it and/or give up false information. In the face of a strong counter-incentive, we have to realize that the information we get may be false. Indeed, I recently posted a blurb about false information that had been obtained, not from torture, but in order to obtain a reward. From this, we may conclude that non-torture doesn’t work.

A point you continually gloss over is that every subject of any method of interrogation must be presumed to have a strong incentive to withhold information and to mislead interrogators. When I say you gloss over it, you argue as if information obtained from what you call torture is never checked for accuracy or consistency with information obtained from other sources. In so doing, you imply that you have access to techniques which yield zero false information. In other words, you imply your preferred techniques yield 100% signal and 0% noise.

If this is, in fact, your claim, then I don’t believe you. In fact, I have such strong doubts that any technique exists which will yield 100% signal and 0% noise that I believe anyone claiming one does is either incredibly stupid or lying.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you admit to non-zero false information rates in all known techniques of interrogation.

Therefore, using the same line of argument you use to show “torture doesn’t work”, I could “prove” that your favorite techniques don’t work. All I would have to do is highlight every piece of false information you uncover, ignore the true information, and disregard any steps you take to differentiate between the two.

Presto! Interrogation doesn’t work, and we can reassign all interrogators to the motor pool.

Now, if you were willing to discuss this topic in a reasoned fashion, we could discuss such topics as which methods of interrogation are better. Reasonable people could try to uncover which methods have what signal to noise ratios. Adults in a reasoned discussion could address questions like the following:

  • Do your preferred methods have a materially higher ratio than the methods you despise?
  • Do your preferred methods yield information as quickly as the methods you despise? (Sometimes information may be needed in a hurry – e.g., the “ticking time-bomb” scenario.)
  • Do different methods of interrogation yield different sets of accurate information? (People willing to divulge certain secrets under one technique might, in theory, only divulge others under a different method.)
  • What moral price are we willing to pay for any given type of information?

And that last one is the question that you really should be asking. Your silly definition of “torture”, and you “utilitarian argument” are nothing more than ways to try to avoid dealing with the fact that sometimes we do have to choose between two bad scenarios. There isn’t always a perfectly good solution, and adults have to come to grips with that fact.

A free market solution... opium growing in Afghanistan.

A more realistic, short-term proposal would be to buy the opium from the farmers. If we pay the farmers as much as the Taliban are paying for opium, it is not available for the Taliban to resell at a profit. We aren't going to get all of it, of course, but if we could even knock down the Taliban's share of the market to 30%, that would be a substantial reduction in Taliban revenue, as well as ending a source of hostility from Afghan opium farmers towards the Afghani government and NATO. The Taliban would also likely have to raise the price that they pay for opium, reducing their profit margin on resale.

In other words, we'd start a bidding war.

If we enter such a bidding war, we'll probably win – we have the resources for it.

Another possibility is that we might encourage other Afghan farmers to enter the opium business. Another possible problem is that we're not likely to care about the quality of the opium we buy. We'd just go ahead and pay the going rate, even for crap opium.

As a result, we might have opium farmers growing as much opium as they possibly can, selling the best of their crop to the Taliban for premium prices, and selling us the stuff no one else would touch, knowing we'll buy it regardless.

We'd have to give a lot more thought to implementing such a program. Right now, the only thing I can say about it is that it's better than what we're doing right now.

Hmmm... Maybe a two-tier program. We'll buy your opium, but we pay more for this or that other crop. (At the rate things are going, we'll need all the corn growers we can get to feed the demand for ethanol...)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Padilla and his accusers

Beldar has some thoughts on the Jose Padilla case.

Jose Padilla and the Unfinished Business of Justice, by New York attorney Scott Horton in the online Harper's Magazine, is far from the worst analysis I've read on the Padilla verdict.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Pentagon's New Map

Dean Barnett at the Townhall blog:

THE PENTAGON'S NEW MAP made two assertions that described the world as it is and how America should handle our current and future challenges Here's how I described them a few years ago in the review that Tom so adored:

Barnett's theory essentially has two components which I will over-simplify only a little in the next two paragraphs. The first is that the world is divided into two parts, the Core which has all the economically functioning places and the Gap which has all the economic, cultural and political basket cases. The Core includes all the places where you might vacation or buy a good from; the Gap is comprised of the places you wouldn't visit unless you were a contestant on Fear Factor. Barnett argues that in this era of increased global connectivity and more widely available weapons of mass destruction, an unstable and disconnected country/government anywhere poses a threat to the United States and our interests. Witness the way internal Afghanistan politics had a profound effect on our soil. The only way to mitigate this threat is to, over time, integrate these Gap countries into the Core.

But how do you this when those Gap countries are often run by people like Saddam Hussein who don't want to play well with others in the global sandbox? That's going to involve military action and that's where the second part of Barnett's theory comes in. Barnett suggests that the military should be broken up into two distinct pieces. One he calls the Leviathan which will basically kick the ass of the Saddam types; the other will be called the System Administrator which will build the country back up after the asses have been kicked.

For what it's worth, I still think Barnett's theory is brilliant stuff. Its only problem is that it doesn't grapple with the reality that Islamic nations are a lot more intractable regarding entering the Core than we would hope. When I originally wrote that review, I praised the fact that Tom's book was "suffused with a can-do American optimism that has been the mark of this country since its birth." I still like that about the book, but four years into Iraq and six years after 9/11, is there any doubt that we should be a little less "optimistic" and "can-do" where the Islamic world is concerned? At the very least, we should not temper our optimism with measures of skepticism and caution?

SO WHAT'S MY BEEF? In recent blog posts, Tom Barnett has refused to grapple with the threat modern Islam poses and instead blames all of our problems on Bush administration blunders. What's more, he constantly operates under the assumption that our malefactors, like those in Iran, aren't "true believers" but instead are playing some cynical geo-political game. Tom Barnett doesn't worry about an Iranian nuke. He sees it as likely contributing to a Westphalian state of regional stability. He's not concerned that Iran may have a completely different set of values from our own.

If the Iranian government was merely crafty and not truly unhinged, it would jibe with "The Pentagon's New Map" over-arching theory that Gap populations everywhere hunger to enter the Core. But it's not true. Jihad is a bottom up phenomenon. The only thing more appalling than dealing with the House of Saud is contemplating dealing with a government that a democratic Saudi Arabia would produce.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Interesting blog

The Fallacy Files blog...

An index to logical fallacies.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Better to kill them

The Pentagon says no to non-lethal ray-gun in struggle for Iraqi hearts


US MILITARY commanders in Iraq have repeatedly requested the deployment of a new non-lethal weapon to avoid civilian casualties - only to have their requests turned down by a Pentagon fearful that it might be seen as a torture device.

Essentially a ray-gun that neither kills nor maims, it uses energy beams instead of bullets and lets soldiers break up angry crowds without firing a shot.

Mounted on a Humvee or a flatbed truck, the Active Denial System gives people hit by the invisible beam the sense that their skin is on fire. They move out of the way quickly and without injury.

The main reason the tool has been missing in action is public perception. With memories of the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison scandal still fresh, the Pentagon is reluctant to give troops a space-age device that could be seen as a torture machine.