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It's A List! Of Words!

Posted by Ogged
on 12.09.06

Wordie has a lot of potential. Add words to your list, see who else has listed them, and leave comments. I can imagine it becoming a hub for discussions and questions about interesting words. If enough knowledgeable people join the community, it could be the first search you do on an obscure word, or where you'd post questions you couldn't find answered elsewhere. What it needs: rss feeds for recent comments site wide and for each word.

(I saw this on TechCrunch, which seems to have no idea what to make of it. I think it could be huge and maybe even work as a kind of international social hub; TechCrunch says "It's silly but somehow addicting in the way Flickr is addicting.")


 

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Niche Marketing

Posted by Ogged
on 12.08.06

I didn't know that Jeff Gannon had a blog. I have no interest in reading it, but the advertisements in the left sidebar did catch my eye.

    Hot Tubs
    Saunas
    Bar Stools
    Modern Bar Stools
    Stools

This is me not making any stool jokes.


 

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I suspect I am not

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 12.08.06

Am I the only one who loathed Bloom County?


 

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Friday Notes

Posted by Ogged
on 12.08.06

1. I've long contended to my utterly indifferent friends that it would be so cool if the motion of your body could be translated into action inside a video game, and if, as part of that, there were a platform designed so that you could run and change direction in place. Not only would it be a lot of fun, but it would pretty much solve the problem of childhood obesity. Well, looks like we're almost there.

2. My Alter Ego says,

My plan to grow wings and antlers is slightly behind schedule.

3. I fear the cities of England just became slightly less friendly places. The BBC reports,

A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men.

(A couple of those links from the Times's solid Lede blog.)


 

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Senator Wingman (D-IL)

Posted by Apostropher
on 12.08.06

Whatever else Barack Obama may have working against him (like, you know, being the anti-Christ), you have to give major props to a presidential candidate who will publicly apologize for an unintentional cockblocking.


 

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Thoughts from all over

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 12.08.06

Our dear Lord, lawyering is hard thread contained some good coffee advice, and it reminded me that we need a good tea thread. Is that going to earn me ridicule?

Hilzoy has a good post musing about all the things one should be wary of buying due to moral issues about their production. In this case, chocolate, a lot of which is produced with some nasty child labor practices. This is difficult territory for me because I loathe people who make a show of their virtue with self-righteous lectures about where that came from and of course consistency pressures on this sort of reasoning lead one to be unable to do much of anything, but, on the other hand, kids with machetes.

Note to conservatives: sometimes, conservatives make fun of things like not eating chocolate produced with child labor, as a form of bizarre liberal guilt. Personally, I think that there would be something wrong with me if I didn't care enough about kids to buy Cadbury chocolate instead of Hershey's. However, I think that any conservative with a libertarian bent should embrace this sort of campaign. It is, after all, just an attempt to correct a market failure: we have inadequate information about many of the products we consume, in particular the conditions in which they are produced and the effects of their production on the environment, and posts like this just allow people to decide, voluntarily, to take that information into account.

On another note, via Mary Katherine Ham, this story about mosque construction in Texas:

Craig Baker, a farmer and rancher whose family has worked the land along Baker Road since his great-great grandfather won it in a poker game, says he plans to build a pig racing track next door to the Islamic Association and run races every Friday night.

Angered by the perceived insult and aware of Islamic dietary laws banning pork consumption, Baker responded by announcing he would stage weekly pig races on his Muslim neighbors' holiest day of prayer.
Since then, the conflict has escalated as residents called a town hall meeting to discuss the planned complex and an anti-mosque page featuring a cartoon pig and a running tally of terrorism victims was posted on the Internet. Numerous complaint calls have been made to county officials.

Ham (ahem) says some silly things about this, you will be shocked to learn, but the funny thing here is that, as far as I know, the big Friday theological function at the mosque is Friday afternoon prayers, and it's not like the pig racing results in the muslims eating the swine. Poor Baker. He can't even do a good job of being an asshole.

(I forgot: Ham via TBogg. Surely someone here can make a serious run at the Victor Davis Hanson parody contest.)


 

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Pleased To Meet You, You Probably Already Know My Name

Posted by Ogged
on 12.08.06

I'm sure it's a benign coincidence that someone from the Depa/rtment of Home/land Secur/ity clicked through to this post from this post.


 

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Charming, Or Douchebag?

Posted by Ogged
on 12.08.06

I ask you.


 

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The Parlor

Posted by Ogged
on 12.07.06

A chat room, with real people.


 

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Cheer up, LB

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 12.07.06

You might sound like a cartoon duck, but at least you don't sound like this.


 

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I Sound Like A Cartoon Duck.

Posted by LizardBreath
on 12.07.06

And my fingernails hurt, along with most other parts of my body, including my hair. And the last ten days of research and deep thought have culminated in "Man, I guess we're just screwed." And I loathe the entire human race, including all of you.

On the bright side, my nose is running much less. Just sort of painfully throbbing, but in a non-messy way. And I've figured out how to efficiently get boiling, rather than hot, water out of the pantry for tea. (Fill a mug with hot water from the coffee machine, mike for a minute rather than the four minutes cold water would require, and insert teabag.)

But I still can't go home until I've come up with some clever new approach on this brief that makes us win, and I'm not coming up with a lot short of poisoning the judge and starting fresh. This completely bites.


 

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Lines

Posted by Becks
on 12.07.06

Resolved: If you can find out X about someone in fewer than three Google searches, it doesn't count as internet stalking.

Agree or ...?


 

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Being Good

Posted by Ogged
on 12.06.06

Looking for something totally unrelated (you won't believe me, and I don't care), I came across this picture of Scarlett Johansson.

My first thought was, "Ha, the twists and perils of circumstance! A young woman is using her beauty to support another young woman who is even more beautiful, but much less lucky, than she is."

My second thought was, "You idiot, that's not really some poor African tribeswoman, it's another model."

Then, recalling that I'm also humorless, at least by training, I thought, "So what the hell is going on here? How many steps are we removed from the actual people who are supposed to be the reason for this activity? We have here a small subset of the cultural elite manipulating each other with symbols (including money) in a game organized around status and the construction of personal identity. Unbeautiful victims would be an impolite intrusion by the real."

Then I remembered that casting a jaundiced eye on the motives behind good deeds is a sure sign of depression, and really annoying. So good for Scarlett, the hottie.


 

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Combatting listenership

Posted by Ben
on 12.06.06

Dear fellow posters and commentariat,

Tomorrow, from noon to 2pm PST, I will be doing a radio show on KZSU 90.1 FM Stanford, whose playlist will be linked here. This will be a "very special" show, since, falling as it does in the middle of so-called Album Week, one is licensed to play complete albums. I was initially going to take this opportunity just to play single tracks off of albums consisting only of one track (eg, Orthrelm's OV or Tony Conrad & Faust's Outside the Dream Syndicate Alive (which actually has two tracks, but one is just an encore), or My Days are Darker than Your Nights by Oren Ambarchi and Johan Berling), something that is, technically, legit at any time. However, I am only going to play one such album (but WHAT?); however, with the exception of a piece by Julius Eastman, I can guarantee that everything I do play will be such that you probably won't want to listen to the whole album.

I encourage you to tune in and test your mettle, though.

Sincerely,
A snotty, superior DJ, who in the privacy of his own home just listens to TV on the Radio's "Tonight" over and over.


 

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Recommend

Posted by Ogged
on 12.06.06

Are you reading any blogs other people might not have heard about? I feel like my blog universe is pretty small.


 

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Philosophy: the little bitch of the sciences

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 12.06.06

Undergraduate students of philosophy sometimes express skepticism about the value of implausible possible worlds: we're pretty sure there aren't really evil demons, infallible transplant surgeons, or XYZ-drinking dopplegangers, so what good does it do to talk about them? In my view it's pedagogically valuable to spend some time on this point since understanding what these cases can and can't do is pretty tightly connected with understanding what conceptual analysis is and isn't.

That said, it's important to know when claims about conceptual possibility aren't capable of bearing much weight. Bringing up the vast yawning cosmos of possible worlds when it's not at all relevant is a mark of not getting it. On Padilla's goggles:

Eli Blake: There is no reason at all to make the accused wear a blindfold on the way to the dentist. Like Ken Starr's ordering Susan McDougall to wear shackles and chains for her court appearance, this is a case of overkill that says far more about those who ordered it, than it says about the accused.
Professor Althouse: Perhaps there is a fear that he will communicate in code by blinking.

...

He was on camera. In any case, quite aside from whether people have signals, if he could see, he could try to find people to communicate with. With the goggles on, he doesn't know where he is or if any outsiders are in a position to see him. If he could see, he might at one point spot someone and -- forget the code -- yell out something... which we would all now be talking about.

My only point here -- and mock me all you want, it doesn't change it -- is that it is at least possible that there was some reason to blindfold him that wasn't about just trying to hurt or pressure him. The people who are saying it is impossible that there could be any other reason are the ones hanging on to a fiction. I've met my burden here. You're just holding your fingers in your ears and screaming.

...

[To another commenter:] I don't think you're stupid. I think you're a hardcore ideologue, so committed to your positions that you are willing to be dishonest.

A warm-up point: Eli's comment claims there is no reason, not there could be no reason. Althouse botches the modality when she responds by claiming that a possible reason is sufficient demonstration that there is an actual reason. I don't want to drive all the way to Cambridge to make this point, but roughly, I think something like this is true: facts have the status of reasons only with respect to certain contexts. (There's some discussion of whether the contextual facts are part of the reason or just necessary conditions for its being a reason; I'll ignore this issue because I don't know anything about it.) For example (due to Scanlon, I think): the psychological fact that you have a desire to win at croquet constitutes a reason to play your best in some situations; it's not a reason-- that is, that fact does not count in favor of playing to win-- if you're playing with your child for the purposes of instructing her in the game. (Ogged will disagree, more so if your child has a disability.)

In this case, the fact that it is possible to send messages through blinking does not (partly?) constitute a reason though in other possible worlds it would constitute a reason. A possible, non-actual world where it would: Padilla has interesting current information, terrorist networks are observing him for this kind of communication, and so on. We are not in that world, and obviously so; hence the possibility of communication is not actually a reason. Seriously, the guy's been without human contact for years-- what's he going to type out with his eyelids? "THIS SUX"? Shorter: Eli asked if there is a reason; Althouse answered, well, there could be. That isn't the same thing at all.

This may seem bitchy, but to be honest I think Althouse has it coming. If you're going to get cute with modal sleight of hand, you have to do it right.

The main point, of course, is much simpler: the actual world Jose Padilla is some poor misguided doofus of as-yet-undetermined malevolency who's been held in solitary confinement for the last couple of years. His treatment is an embarrassment to this country. That there's a possible world where it's ok is not relevant. Eli's point, taken both literally and charitably, is that there's no reason to treat him this way; it's not that this claim is some kind of conceptual truth. Citing implausible possibilities does nothing, just as claims about hypothetical ticking time bombs-- claims which are worth talking about in other contexts, and which are relevant to important claims in those contexts-- say next to nothing at all about what our actual policies should be.

Goddamned Scott did this to me. I'm nervous about having botched some of this stuff, since it's not my main thing, but there it is.


 

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Laptop Throwdown!

Posted by Ogged
on 12.06.06

Matt Yglesias, talking trash.

Yglesias and I are talking about Rocky Balboa. I mention I'm looking forward to seeing it. He remarks, with trademark enthusiastic gesticulation, that he doesn't understand why Rocky "doesn't just die." A fair question, if somewhat beside the filmic point. Myself, I wonder how in good conscience RB's reigning heavyweight champ, Mason "The Line" Dixon, could accept a challenge from a senior citizen.

Then Yglesias goes a step further. "I promise you," he promises, "I could take out any 60-year-old there is." As the owl said: oh, really?

Then, there's this.

Matt's a healthy specimen, 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. His reach is an impressive 70 inches.

Ackerman is, of course, using "reach" in the traditional, obsolescing way, to mean "wingspan." That aside, a wingspan of 70 is on the stubby-armed side for a guy 6'1" — average is wingspan=height (73" in this case).

But these are just quibbles. The fact is that Yglesias is on supercrack, and desperately needs to expand his social circle. There's a two-bit sensei in every dojo in every town in these United States who would knock him out in about five seconds. And do you remember those stevedores in Season 2 of the The Wire? Some of those guys are pushing sixty. And they would squash him faster than you can say "post-gay." I could go on and on, about masters swimmers, or competitive rowers, etc etc. There are some very fit, very strong people who are well over sixty. Take it back, Matt. Or else.


 

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Payback

Posted by Becks
on 12.06.06

A trivial NYT article, true, but one I've been thinking about this morning. Am I the only one who would never think to submit a bill to the MTA (or whoever) if I tore an article of clothing on public transit? I would generally chalk that up to "my fault for not paying closer attention" or "bad luck", not "somebody must pay!"

The part I keep wondering about is that all of the people profiled were submitting claims for, like, $140 pairs of pants. I wonder what the significance of that is. Is it sample bias on the part of the article author and really the claims are more socioeconomically distributed? Or do the reimbursements tend to skew towards the wealthy because people only feel the need to submit claims for expensive articles of clothing? Or is it that there is a correlation between the type of person who wears $130 pants to work and a feeling that they are entitled to a reimbursement?


 

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Sweet Swimming Pool

Posted by Ogged
on 12.06.06

I started swimming again on Saturday, and I'd always had that in mind as the event that would complete my recovery, so, woot. And it's true about thoughts of mortality focusing your mind on what's important to you. Earlier this year, before I was diagnosed, I was telling a friend that I think I would have been happier if I'd skipped this life of the mind stuff and wound up on some minor league team, riding an old bus from motel to motel. I took philosophy very seriously when I was doing it, and I was pretty good at it, and, like most of you, I read a lot as a kid and was often "the smart one." And, of course, writing the other blog was a great comfort--I do enjoy writing. But what was striking was that when everything was pared to essentials, I (much like our President) didn't give a shit what anyone else thought about life, death, and community. I wasn't once tempted to pick up a book of philosophy or poetry for comfort. I just wanted to swim.

And that's in keeping with what's become clear to me as I've gotten older and can look back at patterns and habits: the thing you want to do is the thing you have discipline for, and what I've been consistently disciplined about, going back to when I was a kid, was athletics. Even when I was on a team, and when procrastination or lollygagging would have meant not training, I trained. And I'm not just chasing an endorphin high; I'm genuinely fascinated by technique and coordination and efficiency. You all made fun of me when I admitted that I was going through swimming videos frame-by-frame, but man, I was doing that a lot, and I read pretty much every word about swimming that I could find. It's all intriguing and makes sense to me in some intellectually satisfying way.

I've played or worked out with enough professional athletes to know that I'm not in their class, even if I had stuck with something and trained at it exclusively. But I'm not a schlub, and I think maybe I could have wound up doing something as an amateur, or minor leaguer. That would have been just fine. People seem to understand the appeal of being an artisan, of having a craft, and practicing a sport is just like that, or can be.

I suppose I should be bummed that I missed my calling, and figured it out "too late." But it's been very comforting, in the way that putting a name to things can be: that's what I should have been doing, and there are still a million ways to make it part of my life. Good to know.


 

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One of us! One of us!

Posted by Apostropher
on 12.05.06

NCProsecutor mailed me a link to this NYT story, and I thought I'd toss it out for discussion.

Wanting to have children who follow in one's footsteps is an understandable desire. But a coming article in the journal Fertility and Sterility offers a fascinating glimpse into how far some parents may go to ensure that their children stay in their world -- by intentionally choosing malfunctioning genes that produce disabilities like deafness or dwarfism. The article reviews the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., a process in which embryos are created in a test tube and their DNA is analyzed before being transferred to a woman's uterus. In this manner, embryos destined to have, for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington's disease can be excluded, and only healthy embryos implanted.

Yet Susannah A. Baruch and colleagues at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University recently surveyed 190 American P.G.D. clinics, and found that 3 percent reported having intentionally used P.G.D. "to select an embryo for the presence of a disability." In other words, some parents had the painful and expensive fertility procedure for the express purpose of having children with a defective gene. It turns out that some mothers and fathers don't view certain genetic conditions as disabilities but as a way to enter into a rich, shared culture.

My gut reaction is that specific use of the technique is profoundly fucked up, and that its proponents would be outraged if PGD was being used to selectively abort deaf or dwarved fetuses. The technique is being used to avoid some really terrible diseases, but there's a bit of a slippery slope here as well. On the other hand, if these parents don't see their conditions as disabilities but as a culture, well, we give parents wide leeway about raising their children in their own cultures. However, genetically selecting these sorts of traits is different from raising your kid Catholic, if for no other reason than by virtue of its permanence.

Complicating my position is my own unstinting support of elective abortion, cloning, and the like. I'm mostly agnostic on sex selection, even. If I discovered that the kid arriving this summer was going to be severely disabled, I would probably want to have the pregnancy terminated, though it would be Roberta's call in the end. In short, while it still strikes me instinctively as inflicting permanent injury in the service of narcissism (and therefore capital-W wrong), I'm not sure my stance on this issue is internally consistent. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I would make an analogy if Ogged hadn't banished them from the realm.


 

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Is Banned:Is Banned::Is Banned:Is Banned

Posted by Ogged
on 12.05.06

Analogies are hereby banned at Unfogged. Doesn't it seem to you, dear Unfoggetariat, that many threads are sidetracked (and not just at Unfogged) by dumb analogies? We spend half the day unpacking why the dumb analogy is dumb, by which time we're all sick of the original topic and drop it. This is no way to solve the world's problems. Let's try it, for a week say, and see how it goes. I think we'll all get smarter.


 

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Locker Room Talk

Posted by Ogged
on 12.05.06

We're all Stringer Bell now.

The U.S. Commerce Department's security office warns that "a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone." An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can "remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner's knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call."

What's more,

the eavesdropping technique "functioned whether the phone was powered on or off." Some handsets can't be fully powered down without removing the battery

Happy paranoia.


 

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AFT Releases Report On School Infrastructure

Posted by LizardBreath
on 12.05.06

Unsurprisingly, it's not good. When people talk about education, there's a tendency to react with a knee-jerk: "Just throwing money at the problem isn't going to do any good." And you can argue one way or the other about that, but there really shouldn't be any argument about spending money on bringing all schools up to a minimum reasonable physical standard.

The AFT report talks about schools with noise, and odor, and heating/cooling problems -- that sort of thing makes it brutal to teach, because it distracts the kids. When I was teaching in Samoa, the school I was in had very different classrooms: I was a poor teacher generally, but there were classrooms where I had a shot, because they were cool, and quiet, and well-shaded, and classrooms where I had no hope at all of getting anything across, because the kids were simply too uncomfortable and distracted to focus. For anyone trying to teach a class in the classrooms the AFT describes, if their students are learning much of anything, it's a result of superhuman efforts.

There's a lot of talk about how difficult it is to figure out how to solve educational problems; that we simply don't know what to do to bring all students up to a reasonable standard. Getting all schools in the country to acceptable standards of comfort and order may cost money, but it's easy: we know exactly how to do it. And as someone who's tried to teach under bad conditions, I swear it has a significant effect on the educational outcomes.


 

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Evolutionary Psychologists Are Just Trying To Piss Me Off Now

Posted by LizardBreath
on 12.05.06

(NB: Actually, they're anthropologists. I am slandering EP types for no good reason at all. Except that I bet I'm going to hear them quoting this sometime in the future.) Anthropologists Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner have just published a paper in which they theorize that Neanderthals had a gender-neutral division of labor, in which both men and women hunted big game fairly exclusively. They further theorize that that gender-neutral division of labor explains why the Neanderthals died out.

I suppose it's perfectly possible that this is good science, but it reads like someone specifically trying to annoy me.


 

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Oh No You D'in't

Posted by Ogged
on 12.04.06

This is so transcendently weird that I had to check to see if it had really happened, but yes, it's real: teacher calls a black student "nigga," then attempts to defend himself to a black reporter. Seriously, watch it.

Later, things get really weird.


 

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Corrected Vision

Posted by Ogged
on 12.04.06

Do you know what this is?


 

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Bruno

Posted by Ogged
on 12.04.06

Scuttlebutt is that Sacha Baron Cohen is going to make a movie starring his third character, gay Austrian fashion reporter Bruno. Bruno goes to a University of Alabama football game. Bruno interviews a pastor who converts homosexuals to the path of righteousness.


 

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That I Am So! Totally! Awesome!

Posted by Ogged
on 12.04.06

Really great post by baa, in which he tries to identify the beliefs he has which are most likely to be false. What a great exercise in intellectual honesty. That said, I'm not sure I can do it, since in most cases I believe P and ~P with equal conviction. But I'll try to think of things by the time the comments get rolling. I'm very curious what other people have to say.


 

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Running Things

Posted by Ogged
on 12.04.06

Just look at this picture of George Bush at the UN.

How the fuck did we get here?


 

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More Thoughts On Padilla

Posted by LizardBreath
on 12.04.06

Trying to pin down exactly what bothers me so much about our treatment of prisoners, it's that it doesn't make sense to me. There are three legitimate motives for harsh treatment (and by 'harsh', I mean literally anything a prisoner would rather not have happen to them, including confinement) of prisoners: security, interrogation, and punishment. There is room for endless discussion of what tactics are legitimate to serve any of those ends, and we've discussed that a great deal. But a large part of what disturbs me is that which of these ends we are trying to serve with much of this behavior is unclear, and our treatment of prisoners is irrational as a way of serving them.

First, I don't believe that punishment is at all legitimate directed toward people we haven't tried and convicted. Any ill-treatment directed toward untried prisoners in the Global Struggle Against Bad Stuff as punishment for having done bad things is simply wrong in my view. I don't want to live under a government that has the power to punish for crimes it can't or won't prove in court, regardless of the enormity of the crime. So any characteristic of the way we treat untried prisoners that we purport to justify by saying that they deserve the treatment is just flat out wrong.

Second, interrogation. This is where the argument about the guys in Guantanamo being mostly random schmucks caught up in sweeps comes in, and the same for Padilla. Regardless of what we think they did (that is, there are certainly people in Guantanamo who were in Al Qaeda training camps, and who fired weapons at Americans. Some who weren't and didn't, but some who did. And Padilla may have been involved in planning a terrorist attack -- I haven't seen anything convincing that says that the 'dirty bomb' plot was certainly all fantasy) there's a real limit to what it seems likely that they know. Padilla doesn't appear to have been a mastermind plotter, but a low level tool if anything, and the same for most of the Guantanamo prisoners -- while they may have known some useful stuff, for 99 out of 100 of them it was, if anything, things like information about the movements of more important people. Not that this sort of thing is unimportant necessarily, but it stales quickly. Someone who actually knows more about intelligence than I do can try to talk me out of this, but I'd be very very surprised if, regardless of the legitimacy of the tactics we're using, we were finding out anything interesting at all out of Padilla or the Guantanamo prisoners after the first couple of months we were holding them. (And of course, we've all seen the arguments that harsh treatment isn't a particularly effective way of getting information from prisoners, compared to making them comfortable and relaxed enough to speak unguardedly. I'm not an authority here, but I find those persuasive.)

And third, security. This is the goal that I think is most abused in justifying our treatment of these prisoners, because people are thinking about it in a very muddled way. There is some argument (I think in many cases not a good one, but the argument exists) that we can't let these prisoners go (assume for the moment that we're talking about people with some reasonably established connection to the GWOBS), because they'd attack us again. This is the argument that justifies POW camps -- POW's aren't being punished, and haven't done anything wrong, it's just necessary to confine them until the war is over. The thing about this argument is that it justifies only enough harsh treatment to keep prisoners from escaping or hurting people, no more. Blindfolding Padilla to take him out of his cell to the dentist, if it's for security reasons, is the sort of thing you do to Hannibal Lechter, not to a prisoner who has been docile throughout his confinement. It's insanely disproportionate -- Padilla isn't going to jump the guards and bite their faces off if treated normally. Likewise with the Guantanamo policy of shackling prisoners during their meetings with their attorneys: the attorneys don't consider it necessary for their safety, there's clearly no question that they're going to escape (what, they're going to bust out of the compound and swim to Florida), it is completely unnecessary as a security measure. (It is possible that there is some subclass of prisoners who have built up a pattern of attacking guards -- that's a justification for restraining those prisoners, but not for setting a general policy of shackling all prisoners.)

We seem to be systematically ill-treating our prisoners in a way that doesn't make any legitimate sense. If it's punishment, it's simply wrong because they haven't been tried. If it's for interrogation, it seems insanely excessive. If the argument is that "We are certain enough that Padilla had vital information that we are justified in confining him for years and treating him in any manner, no matter how psychically damaging not likely to cause organ failure in the hopes of extracting that information," I really want that argument to be made explicitly. What do they hope to find out from these people? And if we're claiming that the ill-treatment is necessary for security, that is patent nonsense. What was done to Padilla (and is being done to prisoners at Guantanamo) is obviously not necessary to keep them from escaping or hurting other people, and anyone putting forth that justification for blindfolding Padilla on his way to the dentist is either deceiving themselves or a liar.

This senselessness is what drives comparisons to the Gulag. I'm not claiming that our GWOBS prisons are comparable in size, or in overall severity of treatment of the prisoners, to the Gulag at all. But we have created a system in which prisoners are kept under nightmarish conditions (go back to the article about Padilla if you want to argue with 'nightmarish') for reasons that don't add up -- if it's punishment it's illegitimate, but if it's interrogation or security it is freakishly disproportionate, in that we are using means that seem to have no reasonable relationship at all to our legitimate ends. It is hard not to speculate that the real purpose is to terrorize: for our prisons to be an image of the terrible things that the US can do to you if it chooses. I'm not so much horrified by our treatment of prisoners because I'm unaware that worse things happen all over the world every day, but by the fact that I can't come up with a motivation for it that doesn't make us a terrorist state.


 

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Stalkerrific

Posted by Becks
on 12.04.06

Creepiest Modern Love column ever?


 

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"Aside From That, Mrs. Lincoln..."

Posted by LizardBreath
on 12.04.06

Yglesias makes an interesting point about the military's internal estimation about support for this war. We've all seen recruiting ads for the military, pretty much anyplace you'd expect young men to be watching them. And they all play down the whole Iraq thing -- it's all about job training and self reliance, not "Join up to fight the insurgents and bring peace to Iraq!" This isn't so much deceptive, in that one assumes that anyone signing up these days is pretty clear about the potential for getting sent to Iraq, as a recognition that the potential for getting shot at is not a selling point in getting people to sign up.

The thing is, for wars that were actually popular, the recruiting materials did focus on the war itself (click through to Yglesias's post for some WW I and II posters) -- the whole reason to join the army was that there was a war on, and your help was essential. Your country needed you. Judging from how the military is structuring their recruiting materials now now, they don't think that even the kids who might sign up if properly appealed to believe that.


 

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The land of the free.

Posted by Apostropher
on 12.04.06

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial."

Lawyers for "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla claim he is so disoriented from three years of isolation and aggressive interrogations that he is now mentally ill. [...] Padilla's lawyers recently moved to have the entire case dropped because of government conduct that allegedly included subjecting him to sleep deprivation, extreme cold, injecting noxious fumes into his cell and giving him mind-altering drugs. Justice lawyers said there was not a "shred of record evidence" to support claims of "torture," but have declined to address specific interrogation techniques. Defense lawyers then submitted an affidavit from psychiatrist Dr. Angela Hegarty, who asserted Padilla was so "traumatized" by his treatment that he cannot bear to watch tapes of his interrogation, and when "approached by his lawyers, he begs them, 'Please, please, please' not to have to discuss his case." Hegarty says Padilla is suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder and cannot assist in his defense--a claim that could be a basis to put off his trial. Another new affidavit says Padilla suffers from "facial tics" and bodily "contortions," and fears that his lawyers are government agents.

The other piece of news from the article is that Padilla's lawyers allege that his interrogations were videotaped, about which the Justice Department declined to comment.

Update: Ogged notes an NYT article that contains much more detail than the Isikoff piece. Basically, we've held a United States citizen for three and a half years not just in solitary confinement, but nearly in a state of sensory deprivation, until he was driven insane, unable to contribute to his defense. And this may end up delaying his trial even further. Remember when the right wing was all in high huffing dander because Dick Durbin said this?

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their Gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings.

Take a look in the mirror, guys.


 

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Frontier

Posted by Ogged
on 12.03.06

Emerson writes,

I hardly ever drive, but once when I was driving I flipped to a real butthead power rock thing by the Scorpions, and for the first time in my life I liked that shit. By the time I caught myself I was 20 miles over the limit.

John says it with disdain, but this feeling is America, is it not? Ok, it's not the whole thing, but it's right near the heart.


 

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The ethicist

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 12.03.06

Does anyone else find Randy Cohen's column this week a bit surprising? A reader writes in:

I am an Internet technician. While installing software on my company's computer network, I happened on a lot of pornographic pictures in the president's personal directory, including some of young children -- clearly less than 18, possibly early teens. It is probably illegal and is absolutely immoral. Must I call the police? I think so, but I need my job.

That's a very creepy situation. Cohen responds:

It is a crime to possess child pornography, and understandably: the sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible. Yet you have no legal obligation to contact the police, nor should you. The situation is too fraught with uncertainty. These photographs might depict -- legally -- not children but young-looking adults. The images could be digitally altered. Your boss may have acquired free (albeit illegal) images rather than bought them and provided a financial incentive to those who harm children. Someone other than your boss may have downloaded the pictures.
In any case, while protecting your job should not forestall your calling the police, the consequences of doing so should. Even if your boss were acquitted of criminal charges, the accusation itself imperils his job, his reputation and the company. If convicted, he faces years in prison. (Arizona recently sentenced a man to 200 years on similar grounds.) Since you have no reason to believe your boss has had improper contact with children, you should not subject him to such ferocious repercussions for looking at forbidden pictures.

There are all sorts of illegal activity that I wouldn't go out of my way to report, but I'm sure possession of child pornography isn't a clear-cut leave-it-be case. What's more disturbing is that Cohen's so quick to reach for the implausible responses: someone else put it there, they aren't really children, you don't know that he's a sex offender-- as if a computer tech would, or as if it's a prerequisite for calling law enforcement-- and the always-decisive but something bad might happen.

I'm not coming down on either side of the issue yet, but I'm wondering if other people share my feeling about Cohen's answer.


 

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Frogger

Posted by Ogged
on 12.03.06

An enterprising young man with a video camera realizes that there's much drama in crossing a Tehran street.


 

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