Sunday, May 31, 2009

GitMythology debunked

In Commentary Magazine, Arthur Herman writes:

Obama’s order “closing” Gitmo actually left it open for a year, ostensibly until new arrangements could be made for the 240 or so inmates still detained there—though Obama admitted privately it might have to stay open longer than that. Later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, far from being “the Bermuda Triangle of human rights” that Human Rights Watch’s Wendy Patten had dubbed it, Gitmo was in full compliance with the humane-treatment provisions of the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, the military commissions, which Human Rights Watch and others groups had denounced as a travesty of justice, were only being suspended for 120 days, pending a review—and, indeed, following that review, will be reinstated almost exactly as they were before.
• the twelve separate inquiries into the abuses alleged by critics and former detainees at Gitmo that found no evidence of those abuses taking place;
• the revelation during the release earlier this year of the so-called “torture memos” that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques had been applied to exactly three suspects in the course of eight years and had never been standard operating practice at Gitmo;
• the evaluation by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point that 73 percent of Gitmo detainees were “a demonstrated threat” to Americans;
• and, finally, the fact that the detention facility was created in the wake of a declaration by Congress in September 2001 that “all necessary and appropriate force” should be used “against those nations, organizations, or persons” [emphasis added] responsible for the attacks of September 11;

So why the opposition?

At least some of the blame goes to:

...the aggressive and unending efforts of a cadre of lawyers, activists, left-leaning Democrats in Congress, and civil libertarians against the facility, its purpose, its goal, and its existence. These efforts began even before it was opened, in November 2001, and continue to this day. The anti-Gitmo forces worked tirelessly to shape the public perception that Gitmo was the red-hot center of an aggressive policy approach that led the leftist financier George Soros to declare: “The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush.”

Some of the myths discussed are:

Most of the detainees aren't terrorists at all.

In point of fact, the military captured more than 70,000 men and put every one through a rigorous screening process. Ten thousand were released immediately. By the time the military had completed its work, only 800 remained in custody. These were the ones they had deemed hard-core trained terrorists who could not be released without running the risk they would rejoin the battle. The question was what to do with them.

And about the Yoo "torture memos":

Yoo was tasked with providing a set of ground rules for detention, interrogation, and trial of the detainees. The Department of Defense had wanted to treat these as three separate issues. However, Yoo and the OLC lawyers believed they had to be handled as parts of a single policy—especially since at the same time they were also setting guidelines on how the CIA would be allowed to question suspects that fell into its hands.

Those rules and memos were assembled over the course of many months bridging 2001 and 2002, in the immediate shadow of 9/11 with the possibility of a second massive attack looming on the horizon. Later, the press would brand them “torture memos,” and the Obama administration’s decision to release the full texts of those memos in April 2009 fed the frenzy. However, they could just as well be branded “anti-torture memos.” Yoo and his colleagues used them to define the boundaries at which interrogation of unwilling and uncooperative prisoners would cross over into the category of torture. Once those boundaries were breached, any action would be illegal under United States law and international treaties, including the 1994 United Nations Convention Against Torture. They looked to practices by Israeli as well as British intelligence services that had undergone legal scrutiny in their own countries, and they also considered historical norms about torture since the Middle Ages.

The OLC understood as well as any of its later critics that torture—the cruel and needless infliction of pain in order to dominate and control others or to exact confessions or information—was barbarism. It was precisely in order to prevent such barbarism that the memos were drawn up in the first place. It was also why then, and later, army and CIA interrogators tried to avoid even drawing close to those boundaries without explicit authorization.

Read the whole thing.

Torture in Vietnam

Scott Johnson at Powerline Blog cites a column by Col. Leo Thorsness. Thorsness was shot down in Vietnam in 1967, tortured for 18 days after his capture, and then intermittently until he was released in 1973. An excerpt:
When I wrote Surviving Hell in 2008, initially I did not include discussions of torture, knowing that others had earlier described it. My editors encouraged me to add it; if our younger population reads only current books, they may perceive that the treatment at Abu Grab and Gitmo was real torture. I added my experience being tortured so that readers will know that there is abuse and humiliation, and there is torture.

If someone surveyed the surviving Vietnam POWs, we would likely not agree on one definition of torture. In fact, we wouldn't agree if waterboarding is torture. For example, John McCain, Bud Day and I were recently together. Bud is one of the toughest and most tortured Vietnam POWs. John thinks waterboarding is torture; Bud and I believe it is harsh treatment, but not torture. Other POWs would have varying opinions. I don't claim to be right; we just disagree. But as someone who has been severely tortured over an extended time, my first hand view on torture is this:

Torture, when used by an expert, can produce useful, truthful information. I base that on my experience. I believe that during torture, there is a narrow "window of truth" as pain (often multiple kinds) is increased. Beyond that point, if torture increases, the person breaks, or dies if he continues to resist.


Our world is not completely good or evil. To proclaim we will never use any form of enhanced interrogations causes our friends to think we are naïve and eases our enemies' recruitment of radical terrorists to plot attacks on innocent kids, men and women - or any infidel. If I were to catch a "mad bomber" running away from an explosive I would not hesitate a second to use "enhanced interrogation," including waterboarding, if it would save lives of innocent people.

Torturing the language

Laer at Cheat-Seeking Missiles observes that the word "torture" has been redefined out of much of its shock value.

I’m old school. I still think torture involves breaking bones, stretching joints, electrocuting testicles, raping or murdering one’s spouse or children before your eyes, creating long-term craziness and, possibly, exposing one to lengthy recordings of Nancy Pelosi.

But I’m no dummy. I realize that the left has succeeded once again in seizing a perfectly good word and transforming it for their purposes. Remember tolerance? Gay? Torture has joined the club.

Now torture is widely accepted by liberal westerners to mean anything that causes discomfort - being growled at by dogs, having bugs in your cell, being exposed to heat or cold, or being waterboarded.

Another example is "rape". It used to be an appalling crime, but the feminist movement has redefined it as "any sex the woman the next day regrets having had." "Fascist" or "Nazi" means "anyone who dares to disagree with a Liberal". When words are redefined in this way, they lose their meaning.

Now, when someone calls something "torture", we don't know if we're being told about real torture (hot coals, bamboo slivers under nails, etc) or mere "not nice" treatment (food not piping hot when served, Koran not handled with kid gloves, the air conditioning not set at 72°F, etc).

Quote of the Day

(Hat tip: Concurring Opinions)

“No one really understands the true nature of fawning servility until he sees an academic who has glimpsed the prospect of money or personal publicity.”

“The surprising thing about academics is not that they have their price, but how low that price is.”

Yes, Minister on Professors.

What works for interrogators?

From the McClatchy newsletter:

The heated debate in recent weeks about harsh interrogation treatments at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere highlights what some scientists have been warning the U.S. for years: that almost no research exists to tell interrogators the best way to get information out of suspected terrorists.


Now, as details emerge about coercive techniques and as the war on terror continues with no end in sight, some in Congress think the U.S. needs a more systematic way of going about interrogations.

Some researchers and veteran interrogators have urged the creation of a Center of Excellence for Interrogation, a place to capture the best science, to share research among the nation's intelligence services and to train military interrogators on a career path.

"If we can be more effective by being skilled than by being brutal, then we're fools not to be more skilled," Coulam said.

There are some people who don't want this kind of research being done, though, because we might find out torture sometimes works.

The plans for interrogation research make some observers queasy, including anti-torture advocates who worry that research might open the door to coercion.


Still, the quest for more research could raise important ethical questions for Price and others. If science says harsh coercion tactics work, for example, should the U.S. take part? What if lives were at stake? How many lives?

"This is Ethics 101," Price said.

"There are some things that we don't do to other human beings in a country with our values," he said. "There are certain moral standards you live by."

But the problem remains, as I've written elsewhere, that we're assuming the answers rather than knowing them. As John Hutson, a retired rear admiral and former Judge Advocate in the Navy notes:

"People might concede that torture does work. At least, it works on occasion. The real question is: Do other techniques work better?"

I can see arguing that noncoercive techniques work better than coercive ones. I've seen to many accounts of torture working to buy the argument that it doesn't work. But I can buy, "Yes, torture works, but these techniques work better." Just show me the data.

But apparently, there isn't any.

Just after becoming president, Obama ordered that the Army Field Manual — largely unchanged since World War II — would be used as the guide to interrogations. It includes techniques with monikers such as "Pride and Ego," "Mutt and Jeff," and "We Know All."

The decision was meant to quell coercive techniques. Scientists, however, said even the Army's methods require study.

"Virtually none of them — or their underlying assumptions — are based on scientific research," Randy Borum, a forensic psychologist at the University of South Florida, wrote in the Intelligence Science Board's report.

James Carafano, a senior fellow in homeland security and defense at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agreed that research might help. However, he said that it might come too late to be useful in the U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said it would be wrong to presume that noncoercive techniques would work better than coercion.

In this week's column, Dennis Prager compares assumptions about torture to assumptions about cancer treatment.

...It is as if the President, or anyone else, announced that brutal methods of combating cancer like chemotherapy and radiation were “not the most effective means” of combating cancer – and then refused to say what non-brutal means were more effective.

Indeed. And what's more, there are a variety of treatments available for cancer, because some cancers respond better to one treatment than to another. I suspect some people will respond to noncoercive methods of interrogation better than others, but some people will keep their secrets unless subjected to severe duress.

If it turns out some secrets can only be obtained through torture, then we have to decide whether those secrets are worth the price. And conversely, if we're determined never to torture, we have to be willing to pay that price as well.

In the absence of data, moral preening is a lot easier. We can assert truths without having to prove them. But if we do actual research, moral preening gets to be a lot more difficult.

Another fake soldier?

This Ain't Hell hopes one Carl Webb will provide some documentation.

See, the Army totally F’d you my man. I mean, more than when they enlisted you through our fascist poverty draft, and the stop loss. Would you believe those silly sonsabitches have documentation that doesn’t match your stories? I mean, I was shocked as well. It’s like I tell everyone all the time, if you can’t trust Carl Webb, who in this world can you trust, eh?


How ’bout you just send us one shred of paper that proves the record you claim. You know, something from say, oh, I don’t know, the month before 9/11/01 through now. I know you have it. I mean, you loathe everything about the military, but shit, you’ve been living off the legacy of it since you enlisted on December 16 of 1982, so you must have a love me folder.
Carl Webb Says: May 30th, 2009 at 12:47 am edit Exactly what have I claimed that you need me to verify?
NGB 22 showing service in this millennia. Also, an MOS that shows Nurse. Or, any form, document, scrap of paper, hieroglyphics or other confirmation from someone NOT YOU, that shows you were ever a deserter. IVAW should have it on record since they verify all memberships, and none of your info shows you are.

Abortion and torture

Just spotted over at Clayton Cramer's blog:

Dave Kopel over at Volokh Conspiracy has a fascinating item about the U.N. Convention Against Torture and abortion--but not the connection that you might be thinking. It turns out that Nicaragua (under the Sandinistas, no less), prohibited abortion "even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother was at stake." (And you thought that only right-wing Americans would even consider something that extreme.) And now the crowd at the U.N. charged with the Convention Against Torture is asserting that such a law violates the convention--because forcing a woman to give birth qualifies as torture.

One particularly vocal "professional interrogator" with the Army has defined "torture" as "any physical or mental coercion – any." Under this definition, forcing anyone to do anything is "torture".

Some of the comments to the Volokh Conspiracy post are interesting:

I agree that international law barring torture is inapplicable in this case, but at the same time, I would argue that while reasonable people can differ on non-therapeutic abortion, preventing a woman from having an abortion when carrying the child to term puts her at risk of serious injury or death is a violation of fundamental human rights, namely the right to self defense. A woman is surely entitled to decide that her life is privileged over that of her unborn child, even if one believes that a fetus is a person.
Setting a broken leg is an extremely painful process. Should that also be prohibited as torture? Obviously not.

On the other hand, breaking someone's leg and then setting it without anesthetic, with the proper intent, is torture. Then again, so is breaking legs of prisoners for more or less any reason, with a small number of medical exceptions.

I suppose you could propose an analogous situation (if you intentionally inflicted a pregnancy on a woman and then denied her an abortion in order to make her go through painful childbirth), but I don't know that denying her the abortion when the government wasn't responsible for the impregnation is equivalent to torture, any more than it would be for a doctor to inflict distress setting a leg that some criminal had broken.
I don't know that denying her the abortion when the government wasn't responsible for the impregnation is equivalent to torture
is actually
I don't know that denying her the setting of her leg when the government wasn't responsible for the accident that broke the leg is equivalent to torture
...I'm fascinated to hear that according to ruuffles aborting a fetus is now akin to denying someone medical treatment to an unnatural injury.
I'm sympathetic to the people involved. I don't have anything against abortion and it would be nice if it was legal and thus not denied to people who wanted to have one. The "I should not be forced to go through painful/dangerous childbirth" argument is compelling.

At the same time, there is a moral case against abortion, even if I do not subscribe to it; it is a topic upon which individuals (and societies) can have differing opinions.

Thus, equivocating "lack of access to legal abortion" torture is, at best, a poor debating tactic; the situations are clearly not the same, and using the terms for one situation to describe the other is outright malicious. Why not compare getting a speeding ticket to the Holocaust? Because when you do, you're implying that they are the same thing, or different manifestations of the same thing, but your discussion of speeding tickets is not enhanced by comparing the cop who pulled you over to Hitler.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Marriage -- a comment at Chaos Manor

From Jerry Pournelle's mail column:


"explain to me how denying the rights and privileges attendant to heterosexual relationships called 'marriages' can be denied to one who is not a heterosexual but wishes to establish a long term legal relationship with another adult person ."

I love the scare quotes around "marriages." They're so cute. Also, I love the default assumption that it is all about rent-seeking from the government goody-bag.

But marriage is not about establishing long term legal relationships. The essential nature of marriage is set out by Plato in The Laws, Book IV.
The Athenian. What will be our first law? Will not the the order of nature, begin by making regulations for states about births?
Cleinias. He will.
Ath. In all states the birth of children goes back to the connection of marriage?
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And, according to the true order, the laws relating to marriage should be those which are first determined in every state?
Cle. Quite so.
If we also examine the Code of Khammurapi, we find no general principles (for that was not the Mesopotamian's forte) but ad hoc, positive laws confined to two matters: provision for the children of the union and how the resulting legal obligations of the man and woman are to be jointly handled.

IOW, marriage has to do with the birth of children. It was not All About Me, i.e., about the obligated couple and their "commitment." Marriage is no more ordered toward the validation of "commitment" than it is ordered toward filing joint income tax returns. The "commitment" (and the joint filing) are requirements annexed to the primary purpose, the provision for the raising of children. (=Not= simply their procreation.)

This is true even if the couple appears to be infertile. This potential is essential to the nature of male-female coupling even if it is not actualized. Just as humans are rational animals in essence, even if the rationality is not actual (as in a baby or a comatose person), so too is procreation "in potency" for heterosexual couples, even if not "in act." Even today, "infertile" couples often do conceive in the long run. And in any case, from Khammurapi on, infertility has been grounds for divorce. No kids; no marriage.

Therefore, the Prince has a "compelling State interest" in regulating and controlling heterosexual acts that he does not have in other sorts of acts. That's why heterosexual unions were hedged about with various prudential restrictions, bars, permissions, and regulations, most of which are probably not eagerly sought after by activists (and have been safely discarded, in any event). The ancient Greeks celebrated homosexuality in many ways, but they did not celebrate in a "marriage."

The ironic thing is that this movement comes about even while heterosexuals are abandoning marriage in droves, via easy divorce, co-habitation, etc., coupled with all sorts of ways to prevent or cull children. As civil marriage has become more and more purposeless, it has also become more and more tempting to cavort among the ruins.

Mars – er – China needs women

After years of a "one child" policy, leading Chinese couples to abort female children (sometimes very late term), they're starting to really feel the lack of women.

People have taken to kidnapping girls to ensure their sons will have brides available.

WHEN Li Xiang Xiang, aged 2½, went out of her family's home on April 1 to the shop around the corner, as she did every day, her mother expected to see her back in minutes with a big smile and a bag of sweets.

Instead, Xiang Xiang - whose rhyming name means “thoughtful” - vanished and her heartbroken mother and father joined the ranks of Chinese parents who fear they have lost their little girls to child kidnappers.

Small boys have long been abducted for sale in China, but in recent years the country’s strict birth control policy, which has led to abortions of girls in families intent on having a boy, has left the countryside short of female babies.

According to a recent report in the British Medical Journal, 124 boys are born for every 100 girls in the country as a whole, and in one province the figure has risen to 192.

Obama should resign

According to Ted Rall:
We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through.

From health care to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied. So timid and so owned is he that he trembles in fear of offending, of all things, the government of Turkey. Obama has officially reneged on his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. When a president doesn’t have the nerve to annoy the Turks, why does he bother to show up for work in the morning?

Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now — before he drags us further into the abyss.

I refer here to Obama’s plan for “preventive detentions.” If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in “prolonged detention.” Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama’s shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, and also kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about-terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK.
Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed George W. Bush, I won’t follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power.

“Prolonged detention,” reported The New York Times, would be inflicted upon “terrorism suspects who cannot be tried.”

“Cannot be tried.” Interesting choice of words.

Any “terrorism suspect” (can you be a suspect if you haven’t been charged with a crime?) can be tried. Anyone can be tried for anything. At this writing, a Somali child is sitting in a prison in New York, charged with piracy in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S. has no jurisdiction. Anyone can be tried.

What they mean, of course, is that the hundreds of men and boys languishing at Guantánamo and the thousands of “detainees” the Obama administration anticipates kidnapping in the future cannot be convicted. As in the old Soviet Union, putting enemies of the state on trial isn’t enough. The game has to be fixed. Conviction has to be a foregone conclusion.

Why is it, exactly, that some prisoners “cannot be tried”?

The Old Grey Lady explains why Obama wants this “entirely new chapter in American law” in a boring little sentence buried a couple of paragraphs past the jump and a couple of hundred words down page A16: “Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.”

In democracies with functioning legal systems, it is assumed that people against whom there is a “lack of evidence” are innocent. They walk free. In countries where the rule of law prevails, in places blessedly free of fearful leaders whose only concern is staying in power, “tainted evidence” is no evidence at all. If you can’t prove that a defendant committed a crime — an actual crime, not a thoughtcrime — in a fair trial, you release him and apologize to the judge and jury for wasting their time.

It is amazing and incredible, after eight years of Bush’s lawless behavior, to have to still have to explain these things. For that reason alone, Obama should resign.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I'm listed on Amazon

Wow! My book has been selected for listing on Amazon!

Well, I suspect that's become the default option for all books published through Lulu, but it's kind of nice to see it become an option.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cartoon site

Some biting humor at this site.

Talking to Liberals

Bookworm writes of techniques used to convert liberals.
1.  Understand what a liberal perceives as insulting -- and then avoid it.
We're all agreed that people are going to shut down if you start a conversation by calling them blithering idiots.  In any event, you're too nice a person to call your family, friends and colleagues names.....
2.  Show that you are sympathetic to the liberal's goals.
The best way to start a conversation with a liberal is by speaking liberal language.  Show that you think that the person's ultimate goal is admirable or that you recognize the person's concerns.
A perfect conversation starter might be "Gosh, universal healthcare would really be great."  The beauty of this statement is that, in a perfect Star Trek-style world, free of money and greed, it's true that free, comprehensive healthcare, preferably with Dr. Beverly Crusher's magical little tricorder device, would be great.  It would also be really great if all men looked like Dave Beckham or all women like looked like Angelina Jolie.  It'll never happen, but it sure would be great. ....
3.  Provide the liberal with facts from non-threatening sources.
In many conversations over the years, I've discovered that my liberal friends don't have many politically relevant facts at their finger tips.  Liberals know, for example, that "prisoners were waterboarded at Gitmo."  The details behind this ultimate fact tend to elude them.  Most don't realize that only three high level Al Qaeda operatives were ever waterboarded.  Nor do they know that the waterboarding took place in the immediate wake of 9/11, when we had almost no information about Al Qaeda's networks and feared an imminent, and even greater, second attack....
4.  Don't lecture; instead, seek enlightenment.
When conversing with a liberal, I channel my inner dumb blond.  I don't use a barrage of facts, nor do I lecture.  Instead, I assert politely that I've learned the fact and then I ask the liberal to explain to me what the fact means.  I do this even if I know perfectly well what the fact means.  (And yes, women can do this more easily than men.)

A good example of this approach in action is universal health care.  After you've said, "Gosh, universal healthcare would be really great," you should then follow-up with several "please enlighten me, Oh Great One" questions.
Thus, you might say, "England has managed care doesn't it?  It's so funny, but I just read in the New York Times that there's a dentist shortage in England, so people are pulling out their own teeth.  Are you sure that won't happen here?"  This will either lead to bluster, an insult to British oral hygiene, or a good conversation about how important competition is to entice the best and the brightest into a profession and to keep innovation alive.....
5.  Strike when the iron is hot.
To have a successful conversation with a liberal, you need to find an opening that triggers a thought cascade in that particular liberal.  Even though liberals are beginning to have buyer's remorse, human nature means they're just as likely to be in denial and defensive as they are to be regretful and receptive.  Still there are conversational opportunities, and you must seize them.
I recently visited a die-hard Democrat who had just received her copy of Time Magazine, which had a picture of Michelle Obama on the cover.  Now, my friend happens to be very beauty conscious so, in a completely non-hostile way, I scanned the cover and said, "I don't know.  She's a nice looking lady, but I don't get why all the news stories keep describing her as beautiful." ....
6.  Don't undo the good you've done.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Today's puzzle:
Click to Mix and Solve

Behe immune to data

From The Panda's Thumb:
Apparently, Michael Behe just doesn't know when to pack it in. In reply to Travis's essay in Science, "On the Origin of The Immune System" (see previous PT posts: 1, 2), Behe has posted a letter he sent to Science. Instead of just sucking it up and admitting that his statements in Darwin's Black Box
... were wrong, or at the very least became wrong in the time between 1996 and 2005, Behe is still expressing proud, Kierkagaardian-esque defiance. In this (rejected) letter to the editor of Science, Behe reiterates his proud stand that the work of an entire field, the life's achievements of hundreds of immunologists, complete with surprising experimental support for a surprising hypothesis (the transposon hypothesis), still has "no answers" to the question of how it evolved, and that Darwinian explanations are "doom[ed]."

Well, actually, he doesn't quite say that, because somewhere along the line Behe retreated from his bold rhetoric, without ever admitting that he made an error (this is, I think, the key to understanding Behe: he will never, ever, admit a significant error). What Behe does now, as in his letter, is nitpick on subsidiary points, and conclude that because scientists don't agree on everything, he is still justified in ignoring everything they have all come to agree on.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fox news

At the Clue Batting Cage...
A conversation:
So I'm sitting around with family, and one conservative member mentions something he saw on Fox News.

A progressive member starts in with the passive-aggressive giggle of dismissal, and then the condescending "you mean you watch Fox News?"

And the conservative member says "Yup. Fair and balanced."

More giggles. "Oh, gosh! Do you know how many lies they tell?"

Now normally when this progressive member disparages Fox News (this is certainly not the first time) I keep my mouth shut in the name of family harmony. Which I think, unfortunately, only re-enforces the idea in such people's minds that their assertion is correct.

But I decided I needed to chime in this time. The giggles are one thing. The condescension I usually gloss over. But the "lies" thing. I wasn't going to let that drop.

"No. I don't know. Tell me a lie Fox News has told."

Giggles. "Well I don't watch it."

"So you don't watch it, but you know they tell lies? How do you know they tell lies?"

"Well I read somewhere..."

"You read somewhere? How do you know that wasn't a lie?"

"Well I don't. They all do it, that's what I'm saying."

"Then why single out Fox?"

"Well I read somewhere that they were the worst."

"And you believe what you read?"

"Well let's not get into anything political. Why can't people just talk about things anymore?"

Why not indeed. Who brought it up? Who got nasty about it?

Fortunately, I suppose, the phone rang. It was for the progressive.

So I'm sitting here thinking ... "Fox News lies, but you don't have any examples and you don't watch it. They all lie, but you know Fox is 'the worst' because you read something one of the other liars wrote?"

The problem is, they're used to people either politely keeping quiet, backing down, or patting them on the head for echoing what they've been instructed to believe and many others have accepted ... typically the people they hang out with.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Repealing an International Law?

It looks like an article of international law is in the process of being repealed -- because it just won't fly.

Reports out today indicate that Spain is reconsidering its universal jurisdiction statute and may repeal or restrict it. A universal jurisdiction statute gives courts jurisdiction over international crimes that do not meet ordinary jurisdictional requirements—that is, do not take place on the state's territory, or involve the state's nationals as perpetrators or victims.


The last point is worth pondering. These statutes have been around for quite some time. They are on the books of dozens of countries, which have duly adopted them in order to comply with international treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture, which obliges states to prosecute violations that occur anywhere in the world. Amnesty International has made much of these statutes, claiming on the basis of state practice that domestic prosecution of international crimes ion the basis of universal jurisdiction is an established principle of international law. But as AI itself concedes, prosecutions and convictions are as rare as hen's teeth. States legislate but do not act. Restrictions in the statutes, plus in some cases political control over prosecution (which is otherwise unacceptable in inquisitorial systems), do the job. Where they do act, as Spain is learning, they run into trouble.

So a body can declare what international law says, but practical concerns may still veto the law.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Steyn on Pelosi

In the Orange County Register:

Uh-oh. Nancy Pelosi's performance at her press conference re: waterboarding has raised, according to The Washington Post, "troubling new questions about the Speaker's credibility." The dreaded T-word: "troubling."

I doubt it will "trouble" the media for long, or at least not to the extent of bringing the Pelosi Speakership to a sudden end – and needless to say I'm all in favor of Nancy remaining the face of Congressional Democrats until November 2010. But her inconsistent statements do suggest a useful way of looking at America's tortured "torture" debate:


Question: What does Nancy Pelosi think of waterboarding?

No, I mean really. Away from the cameras, away from the Capitol, in the deepest recesses of her (if she'll forgive my naïveté) soul. Sitting on a mountaintop, contemplating the distant horizon, chewing thoughtfully on a cranberry-almond granola bar, what does she truly believe about waterboarding?

Does she support it? Well, according to the CIA, she did way back when, over six years ago.

Does she oppose it? According to Speaker Pelosi, yes. In her varying accounts, she's (a) accused the CIA of consciously "misleading the Congress of the United States" as to what they were doing; (b) admitted to having been briefed that waterboarding was in the playbook but that "we were not – I repeat – were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used"; (c) belatedly conceded that she'd known back in February 2003 that waterboarding was being used but had been apprised of the fact by "a member of my staff". As she said on Thursday, instead of doing anything about it, she decided to focus on getting more Democrats elected to the House.

It's worth noting that, by most if not all of her multiple accounts, Nancy Pelosi is as guilty of torture as anybody else. That's not an airy rhetorical flourish but a statement of law. As National Review's Andy McCarthy points out, under Section 2340A(c) of the relevant statute, a person who conspires to torture is subject to the same penalties as the actual torturer. Once Speaker Pelosi was informed that waterboarding was part of the plan and that it was actually being used, she was in on the conspiracy, and as up to her neck in it as whoever it was who was actually sticking it to poor old Abu Zubaydah and the other blameless lads.

That is, if you believe waterboarding is "torture."

I don't believe it's torture. Nor does Dick Cheney. But Nancy Pelosi does. Or so she has said, latterly.

Well, let's have a Truth Commission and sort this all out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Greece, Weddings, and Demography

At Big Lizards:
Reflecting on a Big Fat Greek wedding (which sounds like it was a blast!!!), Dafydd wound up discussing demographics:

One point that struck me is hinted above: The groom, Manos, is 38 years old, and he's just getting married now. The marriage and children culture of Greece, in fact all of Europe, has changed so radically, it's virtually unrecognizable. The wedding feast comprised two types of guest: the very young, from childhood until early twenties; and the old, sixty and more. I don't recall seeing a single "middle-aged" person in his thirties or forties (Manos himself was off with his new bride).

I believe this points out the tragedy of Europe: It is dying. More precisely, it's committing suicide by demography. Mere replacement fertility rate is about 2.1 live births per female, but Greece has 1.36, just over half; thus, each new generation is about half the preceding... a cultural death-spiral if ever we saw one. If they don't reverse this trend very quickly and begin breeding at least as fast as the Moslem immigrants in that country, Greece, cradle of Western civilization, will become a Moslem nation in 20-30 years.

I hate the America Alone imagery of the Mark Steyn book, but it's tough to argue with the facts. My only caveat is that I believe the West will awaken before the terminal phase, while Steyn believes the last throes are already upon them.

I added a comment, which I'll copy here:

I hate the America Alone imagery of the Mark Steyn book, but it's tough to argue with the facts. My only caveat is that I believe the West will awaken before the terminal phase, while Steyn believes the last throes are already upon them.

If I follow what he's written, Steyn believes there's considerable uncertainty over where the terminal phase lies. One problem lies in the fact that the fertility rate can only be dialed upward a certain amount from a given point.

Greece's fertility rate is 1.36. Zero growth, as you mention, is 2.1. In an analogy to nuclear reactors, Greece, and indeed most of Western Europe, is "sub-critical" — the output is decreasing with each successive generation.

Dividing the Greek fertility rate by 2.1, I figure at this rate, each generation that passes represents a 65% decrease in population. In two generations, that's 41.9%, and 27% in three.

Another analogy between reactor physics and population is that the same differential equation (Y' = kY) governs both. Changes in population are proportional to the population size. Dropping the fertility rate to 1.36 for two generations drops the population size to 41.9% of its starting value.

In order to return it to its current level in two generations, the population needs to increase by — not 41.9%, but 139%. You can do this if the each generation is 1.55 times the previous one. This corresponds to a fertility rate of 3.25. (Multiply 1.55 by 2.1 to account for the ZPG fertility rate.)

How are you going to convince the average woman of childbearing age to forego careers and start having 3¼ children on average? And that word "childbearing" is critical. Not all women are available for producing children, once a society realizes it needs to increase population. After menopause, childbearing is out of the question. Much before that point, the odds of conceiving and carrying a child to term have dropped significantly. The number of women who are able to have an additional 1.89 children to make up the deficit is fairly small. Maybe the cut-off is as high as age 30. And, to make matters worse, the lower the age cut-off is, the higher the fertility rate for eligible women has to creep. (How much kY can the government supply?)

Steyn also points out that Western Europe may not have the luxury of time to catch up. If they're competing with Muslims (fertility rates generally above 3 and 4 in most countries), the "terminal phase" is likely to occur when Muslims comprise some fraction of any given country's population, and this fraction need not be a majority. A fraction as low as 20% can be enough if it's sufficiently shrill. He calls it a matter of "last one standing" at the end of the race.

Stupid Security Strikes again

From Peter Hitchens' column:

The mad dictatorship of the 'security' industry reached new depths of lunacy when a Japan-bound traveller was stopped at Heathrow for carrying a paperback thriller with a picture of a gun on the cover.

When Carolyn Burgess placed her Robert B. Parker novel, A Triple Shot Of Spenser, on the security tray she had it snatched away because it 'might upset passengers' on the plane. It had the image of a handgun on the front.

Eventually, after three officials had consulted each other on this serious matter, Mrs Burgess, a 58-year-old bank worker, was told she could take the book on the plane – provided she kept it in her bag and didn't read it.

A spokesman for BAA attempted to explain this loopy behaviour by saying: 'In certain circumstances, a passenger carrying an item which features an image or slogan that could be perceived as aggressive may be asked to cover it up or remove it. Security officers are advised to use common sense when making these requests.'

At least the book wasn't blown up in a controlled explosion.

Size matters

One of the canards of of the liberal elite is that IQ isn't real.  One of the best statements of this is Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" which asserts that general intelligence doesn't correlate with anything at all, and is just an artifact of the testing process.

From Science Daily:

A collaborative study led by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), McGill University has demonstrated a positive link between cognitive ability and cortical thickness in the brains of healthy 6 to 18 year olds. The correlation is evident in regions that integrate information from different parts of the brain.

Previous studies have shown that intelligence and cognitive ability are correlated with regional brain structure and function. The association between regional cortical thickness and intelligence has been little studied and most previous studies of normal children had a relatively small sample. So with improvements in MRI-based quantification of cortical thickness and a much larger sample, researchers aimed to examine this relationship and to further characterize and identify brain areas where cortical thickness was associated with cognitive performance.

Cortical thickness may in part reflect the amount of complex connections between nerve cells. In other words, thicker cortices are likely to have more complex connections with consequences on cognitive ability. A positive link between cortical thickness and cognitive ability was detected in many areas of the frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes. The regions with the greatest relationship were the 'multi-modal association' areas, where information converges from various regions of the brain for processing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Defending Marriage

"Doctor Zero" at posts a defense of marriage:

Bite Mark Evidence

Radley Balko has an article at Reason Magazine looking at bite mark evidence.  After his client was acquitted of murder, his defense attorney, Christopher Plourd, decided to administer an impromptu "proficiency exam" to a noted forensic dentist.
Plourd selected West because, even though the dentist was still active in the Mississippi and Louisiana courts, he had been suspended from the American Board of Forensic Odontology since the mid-1990s, and therefore might not be aware of the somewhat notorious Krone case. Plourd was right.

In October 2001, working for Plourd, a private investigator named James Rix sent West the decade-old photographs of the bite marks on Ancona's breast. Rix told West that the photos were from the three-year-old unsolved murder of a college student in Idaho. Rix then sent West a dental mold of his own teeth, but told him that they came from the chief suspect in the case. He also sent a check for $750, West's retainer fee.

Two months later, West sent Rix a letter and accompanying 20-minute video. In the video, West meticulously explains the methodology he uses to match bite marks to dental molds. Using the photo of Ancona's bitten breast and Rix's own dental mold, West then reaches the conclusion Plourd and Rix suspected he would: That the mold and the photos were a definite match.


Following the methodology that he has used in more than 100 other cases over the years, West confidently matches a dental mold and a photo of bite marks that have absolutely nothing to do with one another, decorating the fiction with the language of science. Though West is dead wrong, he sounds convincing, and it isn't difficult to imagine how he might prove persuasive to judges and juries.

In February, the National Academy of Sciences published a highly critical report about how forensic evidence is used and abused in the courtroom. The study was especially critical of bite-mark testimony, noting that it has contributed to a number of wrongful convictions over the years. The report concludes that there's simply "no evidence of an existing scientific basis for identifying an individual to the exclusion of all others" using bite-mark analysis. Yet bite-mark testimony is still common, and there are still plenty of people in prison as a direct result.

It would be nice to see more "proficiency tests" like Plourd's with West, only not just from defense attorneys. More importantly, the criminal justice system needs to act swiftly when "experts" like West are shown to conduct bogus examinations.

I've worked for the City of Los Angeles for a couple of decades now.  I've seen what our labs go through in order to meet regulatory requirements.  They receive test samples from the regulators, and have to come up with the right answer.  They are also subject to being given unmarked samples, not identified as coming from a regulator so they don't get automatic special treatment, and the analytical result had better match the known results of the samples.
A forensic analyst needs to be able to perform to that same standard before his or her work is accepted in a court of law.

Charen on Marriage

Young women, especially poorly educated ones, have gotten the idea that marriage is all about them -- about their romantic hopes. In fact, while marriage often does deliver on the promise of happiness for adults, it is only secondarily about adult happiness. It is primarily about safety and security for children. The old stigma against illegitimacy was harsh and led to its own kind of suffering. But it prevented narcissistic young people from impairing the lives of their children on a grand scale.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sowell on Same Sex Marriage

I thought I'd go through the archives and see what Thomas Sowell had to say on the subject.  Here's one piece:

Marriage has existed for centuries and, until recent times, it has always meant a union between a man and a woman. Over those centuries, a vast array of laws has grown up, all based on circumstances that arise in unions between a man and a woman.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that law has not been based on logic but on experience. To apply a mountain of laws based specifically on experience with relations between a man and a woman to a different relationship where sex differences are not involved would be like applying the rules of baseball to football.

The argument that current marriage laws "discriminate" against homosexuals confuses discrimination against people with making distinctions among different kinds of behavior.

All laws distinguish among different kinds of behavior. What other purpose does law have?


Despite heavy television advertising in California for "gay marriage," showing blacks being set upon by police dogs during civil right marches, and implying that homosexuals face the same discrimination today, the analogy is completely false.

Blacks had to sit in the back of the bus because they were black. They were doing exactly what white people were doing-- riding a bus. That is what made it racial discrimination.

Marriage is not a right but a set of legal obligations imposed because the government has a vested interest in unions that, among other things, have the potential to produce children, which is to say, the future population of the nation.

Gays were on their strongest ground when they said that what they did was nobody else's business. Now they are asserting a right to other people's approval, which is wholly different.

None of us has a right to other people's approval.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Dead on its feet, but still necessary

Peter Hitchens wrote Sunday in The Daily Mail :
Our justified disgust at child abuse is being used to defraud us. One after another the little faces gaze out at us from beyond the grave – Maria Colwell, Victoria Climbie, Baby Peter – and each time our raw emotions are manipulated by the very liberal revolutionaries who are largely to blame for the hell of combined neglect and abuse in which so many modern children live.
Again and again, we draw the wrong conclusions and commemorate these deaths by handing more power to the liberal state, which in two generations has destroyed marriage, the best protection against abuse.
magine that more social workers, or better-trained social workers, will somehow stop this happening again. You might as well fight the Atlantic with a bath sponge. We pass laws that give the State ever-increasing powers to interfere in the home, and treat responsible parents as suspects.
After a recent horrible court case, we are also under pressure to slacken the rules of fairness and justice, so as to make it easier to convict abusers, even though this will also make it easier to convict the innocent.
We would do much more good if we admitted that we had been mistaken when we first weakened and then swept aside the institution of marriage, now dead on its feet in Britain. Research in Canada and Britain shows that non-married households, where there is a series of boyfriends who are not the natural fathers of the children, are startlingly more likely to be the scenes of abuse than are stable married homes.
The Canadian figures show that  a child is 50 to 100 times safer with natural parents than with a step-parent in the home. The British research found married homes were 33 times safer than those with serial boyfriends. 
Stable marriage safeguards children. This is not to say that there is no abuse in married families. Nor is it to say that all stepfathers are wicked abusers. It is simply to state a glaring statistical fact which all modern politicians prefer to ignore.
Yes, child-abusers of all kinds should be punished with grim severity, once they have been convicted in proper, fair trials. 
But all those who have connived at the dismantling of marriage, and continue to connive at it, should recognise their own grave guilt in sacrificing the welfare and happiness of children to the selfishness of 'liberated' adults who ought, above all, to be shielding the young from harm.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Torture, terror, correlation, and causation

This piece at true/slant looks at a correlation between terror attacks and human rights abuses.

...Now, the paper’s conclusions deal not just with torture, but with a broader category of “physical integrity rights” which “protect individuals from the extrajudicial murder, disappearance, torture, or political imprisonment by the authorities.” What it finds is that more respect for physical integrity rights, represented on the x-axis below, leads to less terrorism, represented on the y-axis...

Graph at link above.

So, what about torture specifically?
Torture has a negative and statistically significant relationship to terrorism in all three models. In other words, countries that engage in more torture (and thus have a lower score on the torture variable) consistenly experience more, not less, of both domestic and transnational terrorism. This mirrors the more general finding reported in the paper that respect for human rights is associated with less terror as well.
Now, correlation doesn’t prove causation. While Walsh and Piazza put forward a theory of causation (that violating physical integrity rights spurs terrorism, as mentioned above), it’s not conclusively proven by the paper.

More study is needed.

And, of course, there’s the question of whether the causation might be the other way around. As in: Do countries that experience more terror tend to adopt torture? Walsh answers this possibility in this comment on his blog:
This is an important point. I think it’s unlikely to be the case, but it’s not a open and shut case. The best way to address this with statistical data would be to use a two stage least squares or instrumental variable model. We’ve tried this but had difficulty coming up with an appropriate instrument. In the paper that’s referenced in the initial post we used a second best strategy of lagging terrorism by a few years. Our main findings held up, which suggests that the abuse is driving the terror and not the other way around. But this is a question that’s begging for a more definitive answer.
At the very least, this has to give supporters of torture (or “enhanced interrogation”) some pause. The proof that overly harsh tactics are counterproductive in a struggle like our is far from trivial. This is important work adding to that debate.

One of the things that's going to muddy the waters is that a lot of what we classify as terrorist attacks also violate the personal integrity of their victims. As terrorists ramp up their attacks, is it so unreasonable to expect people to want to violate their personal integrity?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Do interrogators torture?

The following was posted at Jerry Pournelle's day book. (He hates the word "blog", even though he admits he was blogging before almost everyone else.)

Dear Jerry,

Though there have been a trio of letters on the efficacy of torture, would you bear with me and possibly post this? I believe I have something of an insight here.

My qualifications:

I was trained in Interrogation at the United States Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

I served as an interrogatior for two and a half years, as well as teaching classes in the Law of War as it applied to POW's, and training line units in POW handling techniques.

Two points on torture as an interrogation technique, and one story:

The "utilitarian" arguments against torture, that it does not work and leads to inaccurate information are, to use a Good Old Untilitarian statement "nonsense on stilts"

False leads? Bad information? The very meat upon which any Intelligence system thrives is Information. Period. The more Information, the Better. Bad information, false leads, that is part of the Equation of Intelligence. That;s WHY we have Analysts! Intell Analysts exist to winnow Good from Bad Information. They are very good at it. Not to mention, that even "Bad" information often is valuable. It can show us what the Enemy is NOT aware of, is NOT doing, and that is often VERY valuable knowledge indeed.


The only good argument against torture is moral and ethical.

It's just wrong. It destroys the souls of all involved.


Now the story:

During the twelve week Interrogator Basic Course, we were incessantly drilled with techniques for tricking, cajoling, persuading and intimidating POWs into giving up vital information. All of that, and we were also constantly warned against "losing our cool" not to give in to the all too human urge to just smack the living daylights out of some smart ass detainee.

We began with twenty-four students. Sixteen graduated. Of the third that "washed out", most did so after the instructors deemed them temperamentally unfit for the job. That is to say, they lost their cool to easily when confronted with non-responsive subjects during mock interrogations.

It was never far from our thoughts, that violence was "verboten" as a questioning technique.

Came Graduation Day for the Interrogation Course.

No one in the classroom for the ceremony except the remaining sixteen students, the instructors, AND:

The head of the school, a Chief Warrant Officer. A thirty-plus year veteran, with "hash marks" the full length of his Class A sleeve, an interrogator had conducted thousands of real interrogations, going back to the Korean War, perhaps even the tail end of World War Two. That was the second time we had heard him speak, the other occasion having been his opening day address to the class, where he basically told us we had been handpicked out of a million man Army to be one of about a thousand specialists in a vital field, So Good Luck!

As he reached the podium, two of the instructor NCO's closed and locked the doors of the classroom, and stood before them.

The CWO looked around the room a moment, I have rarely seen a more serious face.

"For the last twelve weeks, you have been taught every technique the ingenuity of man has been able to devise to gain information from someone without inflicting physical pain. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they work very well. They do not always work. You will someday be forced to use pain. You will, I hope, hate yourself for having done so. But you will do what is needful."

"If anyone of you ever repeats what I have told you, I will deny it."

"Welcome to the club."

It was very quiet as we received our diplomas.

One of the arguments against torture is that a tortured prisoner will say whatever is needed to get the torture to stop, including lies and outright fantasies.

It seems to me, though, intelligence officers are supposed to have tools for sifting through information to weed out the bad and isolate the good. After all, I'm sure prisoners will attempt to pass off false and misleading information under legal interrogation. Informants are in no way guaranteed to be telling the truth, assuming they know it. (A known mole might be fed false intelligence rather than being arrested and telling his handlers they need to recruit someone else.)

Witnesses can misinterpret what they've seen. Ambiguous information can be misinterpreted.

Intelligence officers are supposed to know about these issues, and be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. If they can't do this in the case of a tortured prisoner, why should I believe they can do this anywhere else?

Rifkin and Casey on the interrogation memos

From the Wall Street Journal :
The four memos on CIA interrogation released by the White House last week reveal a cautious and conservative Justice Department advising a CIA that cared deeply about staying within the law. Far from "green lighting" torture -- or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees -- the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation.
Interrogations were to be "continuously monitored" and "the interrogation team will stop the use of particular techniques or the interrogation altogether if the detainee's medical or psychological conditions indicates that the detainee might suffer significant physical or mental harm."
An Aug. 1, 2002, memo describes the practice of "walling" -- recently revealed in a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which suggested that detainees wore a "collar" used to "forcefully bang the head and body against the wall" before and during interrogation. In fact, detainees were placed with their backs to a "flexible false wall," designed to avoid inflicting painful injury. Their shoulder blades -- not head -- were the point of contact, and the "collar" was used not to give additional force to a blow, but further to protect the neck.

I wonder what else the Red Cross got wrong.

The actual intelligence benefits of the CIA program are also detailed in these memos. The CIA believed, evidently with good reason, that the enhanced interrogation program had indeed produced actionable intelligence about al Qaeda's plans. First among the resulting successes was the prevention of a "second wave" of al Qaeda attacks, to be carried out by an "east Asian" affiliate, which would have involved the crashing of another airplane into a building in Los Angeles.
The interrogation techniques described in these memos are indisputably harsh, but they fall well short of "torture." They were developed and deployed at a time of supreme peril, as a means of preventing future attacks on innocent civilians both in the U.S. and abroad.
The dedicated public servants at the CIA and Justice Department -- who even the Obama administration has concluded should not be prosecuted -- clearly cared intensely about staying within the law as well as protecting the American homeland. These memos suggest that they achieved both goals in a manner fully consistent with American values.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Carrie Prejean and the Joe The Plumber effect

Gay Patriot observes that the rabid supporters of same-sex marriage who have done their best to trash Carrie Prejean have only secured her fame.

Now, we’ve got the some web-site snooping around in her parents’ divorce record to uncover the origins of her homophobia. While I’ve read more than I care to about this controversy, I have yet to find one statement she has made showing a fear (”phobia”) of homosexuals or showing any animosity whatsoever against gay people. All I’ve heard her is express the viewpoint of a majority of Americans, including the Democratic President of the United States about the meaning of marriage.
So, now this website’s staff has rooted around in her parents’ divorce records, learned of some strange accusations lobbed between the parties to ask whether “Carrie believe gays broke up her parents’ marriage.” They’ve truly become obsessed with this woman.

Yet, the more they investigate her, the more they malign her, the stronger will grow her support among social conservatives. She will become their poster child to showcase the left’s intolerance of people favoring the traditional definition of marriage.

Should Miss Prejean lose her title over her “nudie” pictures (as appears possible), she won’t lose her fame. Few will know the name of her replacement as Miss California. Indeed, few will know the name of the woman who bested her for the Miss USA crown. But, they will know who Carrie Prejean is.

The uproar of her adversaries has secured her fame.

Remember Joe the Plumber?

He was in his own front yard, playing with his daughter, when Obama's campaign retinue passed by. Obama came to him and asked him if he had any questions for the Bringer of Hope and Change. Obama's camp didn't like Joe's question, and neither did any of Obama's supporters. Within the week, we knew all about Joe's back taxes, his income, his outgo, and his use of an assumed name. Crowds of people were eager to tell us everything except the answer to his question. That was fit only for the quickest possible burial.

Like Joe the Plumber, Carrie Prejean did not seek this controversy. A spoiled brat of a judge asked her a radioactive political question, against what is at least an unwritten policy of the Pageant. She answered. Now, the screaming left is doing its best to make the issue Carrie Prejean, and not the question asked, or the person asking it.

How do you pick experts?

One writer's answer here.

In response to the question:

"Can I ask how you made the judgment on which scientists to believe? I am interested in climate science and just started reading RealClimate, thanks in part to your post. To be honest, I respect your literary work and was surprised to hear you, as a science fiction author, naysay what I thought was serious and substantial scientific study.

L Neil Smith writes:

...lacking other data, I looked at the character of those pushing the idea of Global Warming. They included leftist politicos I knew to be opportunistic liars in other contexts—particularly gun ownership—along with movie stars and other brain-dead celebrities that flock to any cause that attacks private industrial capitalism and individual liberty. Some may criticize me for ad hominem thinking, but when you don't have reliable scientific information (which I didn't back then), what else can you rely on but your understanding of the personalities involved?

There was also my experience with previous predictions of disaster (some which I listed in the blog entry "The Badguys" that we're discussing ), and of conspiracy theories that seemed to me to have a similar structure. The whole "Paul is dead" thing comes to mind. I know a lot about this because I spent a lot of time in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy "movement".


I suppose my perception of precisely who stood to benefit from the spreading fear about Global Warming comes into it. Anyone who hates technology, of course, or the present economic system. Also, hordes who will get rich from all of the asinine proposals to reduce Global Warming—anyone who makes solar panels or water heating systems or nasty little cars that go short distances very slowly, carrying almost nothing.

Most persuasive, I suppose, was an anthropological understanding I have (that being my principle field of interest and study in college) of what constitutes a religion. The planet gets transmogrified into a goddess in the minds of the faithful, and all of the entities upon it, the birds and bees and flowers and trees (to quote an old song)—all of the entities, that is, except humans—become sacred objects. Exhaling carbon dioxide becomes Original Sin. Better that a thousand human babies should die than one single snail darter or a furbish lousewort.

Saturated greenhouse gases

blog post here.

At least it's out of copyright

Researchers are digitizing ancient documents before they crumble away.
In a 21st-century version of the age of discovery, teams of computer scientists, conservationists and scholars are fanning out across the globe in a race to digitize crumbling literary treasures.

In the process, they're uncovering unexpected troves of new finds, including never-before-seen versions of the Christian Gospels, fragments of Greek poetry and commentaries on Aristotle. Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable -- blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians.

A Benedictine monk from Minnesota is scouring libraries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia for rare, ancient Christian manuscripts that are threatened by wars and black-market looters; so far, more than 16,500 of his finds have been digitized. This summer, a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky plans to test 3-D X-ray scanning on two papyrus scrolls from Pompeii that were charred by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Scholars have never before been able to read or even open the scrolls, which now sit in the French National Institute in Paris.

By taking high-resolution digital images in 14 different light wavelengths, ranging from infrared to ultraviolet, Oxford scholars are reading bits of papyrus that were discovered in 1898 in an ancient garbage dump in central Egypt. So far, researchers have digitized about 80% of the collection of 500,000 fragments, dating from the 2nd century B.C. to the 8th century A.D. The texts include fragments of unknown works by famous authors of antiquity, lost gospels and early Islamic manuscripts.

Among their latest findings: An alternate version of the Greek play Medea, later immortalized in a version by Euripides, on a darkened piece of papyrus, dated to the 2nd century A.D. In the newly discovered version -- written by Greek playwright Neophron -- Medea doesn't kill her children, says Dirk Obbink, director of Oxford's Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project.


Also in the article is a list of neat links to archives of these documents:

Clicking On The Past

In the era of instant information, libraries, museums and universities are racing to scan rare manuscripts and artifacts in their collections and make them available online. Here are some of the most significant artifacts now on view on the Web:

The British Library

The library began a massive digitization project in 2005 with Microsoft, and plans to scan 25 million book pages.

Key Works:

Mozart's composition books dating from 1784 to 1791, when he composed some of his most famous works, including five operas, several piano sonatas and his last three major symphonies.


Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. A collection of loose papers and notes, these 28 pages outline da Vinci's fascination with mechanics, bird flight and studies on reflections and curved mirrors. The Italian script is written in da Vinci's typical left-to-right "mirror writing."

Jane Austen's "History of England," hand-written by Austen in 1791 when she was 15. The work is an engaging parody of British history textbooks -- Austen calls herself a "partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian."
The Library of Congress, 'American Memory'

This archive of American manuscripts, recordings, maps, films and images was launched in the mid-1990s and now contains about 15 million items.

Key Works:

The contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night he was assassinated: includes watch fob, pocket knife, handkerchief and confederate five-dollar bill.

Four Walt Whitman notebooks, with writings from 1842 to 1937, including poetry, prose, proofs and correspondence.


Former slaves' narratives: audio files recorded in nine Southern states between 1932 and 1975, with 23 interviewees. Some are being made publicly available for the first time and include transcripts.

The World Digital Library

Last month, Unesco launched this new online archive of significant artifacts and manuscripts from 30 collections around the world.

Key Works:

Oracle Bone, about 1200 B.C., from the National Library of China. The flat piece of bone, inscribed with Chinese characters, was used for divination.

Albert Einstein's application for citizenship, dated 1936, from the National Archives and Records Administration.

Christopher Columbus's diary from 1493, in which the explorer describes the lands he discovered, from the Center for the Study of the History of Mexico Carso.
Recent Breakthroughs

Digitization projects are also bringing previously unknown manuscripts to light -- and to the Web, where scholars and curious Internet surfers alike can look at high-resolution digital images of new discoveries from the ancient world.

The Archimedes Palimpsest

Researchers at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore uncovered a 10th-century copy of two treatises by the Greek mathematician Archimedes, concealed underneath the text of a 13th-century prayerbook.

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri

This represents one of the largest collections of ancient papyri, some 500,000 pieces excavated around 1900 in Egypt. One sample fragment on view online contains elegiac verses by seventh-century B.C. poet Archilochus.

Codex Sinaiticus

Portions of the 4th-century manuscript, thought to be the oldest complete Bible in the world, are now scattered in several collections around the world, but the complete text is being reassembled, in digital form, on the Web.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

the legal ramifications of ssm


Not a slippery slope?

The claim is, legalizing same-sex marriage will not open the door to polygamous marriages.
This is how the story opens: "Less than 18 months ago, Sasha Lessin and Janet Kira Lessin gathered before their friends near their home in Maui, and proclaimed their love for one another. Nothing unusual about that—Sasha, 68, and Janet, 55—were legally married in 2000. Rather, this public commitment ceremony was designed to also bind them to Shivaya, their new 60-something 'husband.' Says Sasha: 'I want to walk down the street hand in hand in hand in hand and live together openly and proclaim our relationship. But also to have all those survivor and visitation rights and tax breaks and everything like that.'"
Later in the story: "[T] he Maui-based World Polyamory Association, is pushing for the next frontier of less-traditional codified relationships. This community has even come up with a name for what the rest of the world generally would call a committed threesome: the 'triad.'

Monday, May 04, 2009

Why Demonize?

Gay Patriot asks why the supporters of same-sex marriage feel the need to demonize their opponents.

Last fall, I received a good deal of e-mail from both sides of the Prop 8 campaign. In nearly every missive I received from the "Yes" said, the proponents of the measure were at pains to assure me they did not want to take away the state's domestic partnership program. The language was straight forward. They did not attack. They merely, as did Carrie Prejean, defended the notion of marriage as an institution defined by gender difference.

By contrast, the e-mail from the "No" side was overwhelmingly hostile, attacking supporters of the proposition as mean-spirited. To be sure, not all the e-mails were hostile. Lesbian friends who had gotten married just talked about their relationships.

It struck me how in the Prejean-Hilton exchange and the ensuing hullabaloo, we saw a replaying of that very campaign.

Why must so many gay marriage advocates label their adversaries as haters? Don't they even realize the irony that they are using hateful rhetoric to accuse others of hate?

What is behind this need to demonize?

Heather MacDonald on SSM

Over at Secular Right:

One overpowering cause of black social failure is the breakdown of marriage in the black community. Nationally, the black illegitimacy rate is 71%; in some inner city areas, it is closer to 90%. When boys grow up without any expectation that they will have to marry the mother of their children, they fail to learn the most basic lesson of personal responsibility. A community without the marriage norm is teetering on the edge of civilizational collapse, if it has not already fallen into the abyss. Fatherless black boys, who themselves experience no pressure to become marriageable mates as they grow up, end up joining gangs, dropping out of school, and embracing a "street" lifestyle in the absence of any male authority in the home.

If the black illegitimacy rate were not nearly three times the rate of whites', I would have few qualms about gay marriage. Or if someone can guarantee that widespread gay marriage would not further erode the expectation among blacks that marriage is the proper context for raising children, I would also not worry. But no one can make that guarantee.

Why might it further depress the black marriage rate? There is a logical reason and a visceral reason. First, it sends the signal that marriage is simply about numbers: it is an institution that binds two (for the moment) people who are in love. It erases completely the significance that marriage is THE context in which the children of biological parents should be raised. And there are undoubtedly many other subtle meanings and effects of gay marriage that we cannot even imagine at the moment—which institutional shift is something that conservatives should be most attuned to.

As for the visceral reason: It is no secret that resistance to homosexuality is highest among the black population (though probably other ethnic minorities are close contenders). I fear that it will be harder than usual to persuade black men of the obligation to marry the mother of their children if the inevitable media saturation coverage associates marriage with homosexuals. Is the availability of homosexual marriage a valid reason to shun the institution? No, but that doesn't make the reaction any less likely.

What are the chances that gay marriage would further doom marriage among blacks? I don't know. Again, if someone can persuade me that the chances are zero, then I would be much more sanguine. But anything more than zero, I am reluctant to risk.

I suspect at this point, any risk above zero is too much.  The whole idea behind "tolerance" is that whatever is being tolerated is a negative.  We never have to speak of tolerating positive things -- the more, the better.

Misunderstanding the Memos

President Barack Obama has reinvigorated the critics of George W. Bush's antiterror policies by opening the door to prosecuting or sanctioning those who crafted interrogation policy in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. These critics -- including the president -- are laboring under numerous misconceptions. Many of them have no experience with or understanding of military or CIA interrogation, the purpose of which is to gain actionable intelligence to safeguard our country. The recently released memos by lawyers in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel were written to assist interrogators in that critical mission. The memos cannot be fairly evaluated without that mission in mind.

Military and CIA interrogators are trained to use creative means of deception, and to play on detainee emotions and fears. This can be a nasty business. People unfamiliar with it, therefore, might even view a perfectly legitimate interrogation of a prisoner of war that is in full compliance with the Geneva Conventions as abhorrent by its very nature.

But military interrogation is not akin to a friendly chat across a conference table -- nor is it designed to gather evidence in a criminal trial, as an FBI interview might be. There is a fundamental distinction between law enforcement and military interrogations that we ignore at our peril.

In the face of claims by critics that torture doesn't work:

Fortunately, aggressive interrogation techniques like those outlined in the memos to the CIA are effective. As the memos explain, high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11, and Abu Zubaydah, one of Osama bin Laden's key lieutenants, provided no actionable intelligence when facing traditional U.S. methods. It is doubtful that any high-level al Qaeda operative would ever provide useful intelligence in response to traditional methods.

Yet KSM and Zubaydah provided critical information after being waterboarded -- information that, among other things, helped to prevent a "Second Wave" attack in Los Angeles, according to the memos. Similarly, the 2005 report by Vice Adm. Albert Church on Defense Department interrogation policies, the "Church Report" -- of which I served as the executive editor -- documented the success of aggressive techniques against high-value detainees like Mohamed al Kahtani, 9/11's "20th hijacker."

The aggressive techniques in the CIA memos are also undeniably safe, having been adopted from Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training used with our own troops.

And then as a final rhetorical flourish, critics will demand to know, "How would you like to be subjected to these techniques?"

I have personally been waterboarded, put into stress positions, sleep deprived, slapped in the face. While none of this was enjoyable, I am none the worse for wear.


How soon they forget

It seems Nancy Pelosi has been drinking milk of amnesia.
Nancy Pelosi is "pushing back" against charges that she was aware of -- and acquiesced in -- the CIA's harsh interrogations of terrorist detainees nearly from the moment the practice began, reports the Politico Web site. Maybe she's suffering from amnesia.

Maybe, for instance, the speaker doesn't remember that in September 2002, as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, she was one of four members of Congress who were briefed by the CIA about the interrogation methods the agency was using on leading detainees. "For more than an hour," the Washington Post reported in 2007, "the bipartisan group . . . 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," the story continued, "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."


Or maybe the speaker missed what former CIA Director (and Bill Clinton appointee) George Tenet writes in his memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," about the CIA interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

"I believe none of these successes [in foiling terrorist plots] would have happened if we had had to treat KSM like a white-collar criminal -- read him his Miranda rights and get him a lawyer who surely would have insisted his client simply shut up. In his initial interrogation by CIA officers, KSM was defiant. 'I'll talk to you guys,' he said, 'after I get to New York and see my lawyer.' Apparently he thought he would be immediately shipped to the United States and indicted in the Southern District of New York. Had that happened, I am confident that we would have obtained none of the information he had in his head about imminent threats to the American people."

Mr. Tenet continues: "From our interrogation of KSM and other senior al Qaeda members . . . we learned many things -- not just tactical information leading to the next capture. For example, more than 20 plots had been put in motion by al Qaeda against U.S. infrastructure targets, including communications nodes, nuclear power plants, dams, bridges and tunnels."

She has to know, if they have a Truth Commission, she'll be near the front of the line to be called in to testify under oath, on C-SPAN.