Jonathan Mahler has written a sympathetic profile of Auburn philosophy chair and professor Kelly Jolley.
Jonathan Mahler has written a sympathetic profile of Auburn philosophy chair and professor Kelly Jolley.
Antony Flew (Philosophy, Reading) has just published There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. In a review in the New York Times (Dec. 23), Anthony Gottlieb writes:
I doubt thoughtful believers will welcome this volume. Far from strengthening the case for the existence of God, it rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew.
For the pages of the Times, it's an unusually pungent review, although far short of the upper reaches of the Honderich/McGinn Scale.
From the Philos-L list comes news of the death of Susan Hurley. Prof. Alexander Bird writes:
I am very sorry to inform you of the death last night of Professor Susan Hurley. Susan had been suffering from cancer for some time and faced her illness with remarkable dignity. She continued to work until very recently, hosting an international conference at Bristol only five weeks ago. Colleagues here in Bristol and throughout the world will know what an inspiration she was to work with and that although her contribution to several and diverse fields of philosophy was already invaluable, she had much more to offer yet.
In the current The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz (English, Yale), revisits Plato's Symposium, in light of recent depictions of humanities professors on the screen. (Thanks to Ruchira Paul for the pointer)
A group of philosophy grad students in China is unhappy about Santa, and has posted an online petition to protest the Western/North Polar axis of cultural imperialism. The petition is titled "Out of Cultural Collective Unconsciousness, Strengthen Chinese Cultural Dominance."
A "philosopher's stone" is supposed to work near-miracles, like transmuting base metals into gold, or imparting immortality. Not inconceivable, maybe not even impossible in our world. An Irish company called Steorn is making an even bigger claim for a gizmo it calls Orbo:
Orbo produces free, clean and constant energy - that is our claim. By free we mean that the energy produced is done so without recourse to external source. By clean we mean that during operation the technology produces no emissions. By constant we mean that with the exception of mechanical failure the technology will continue to operate indefinitely.
The sum of these claims for our Orbo technology is a violation of the principle of conservation of energy, perhaps the most fundamental of scientific principles. The principle of the conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created or destroyed, it can only change form.
Wow. Can we see? Yes! Steorn is now demo-ing Orbo in London at the Kinetica Museum, complete with webcams. But, for the moment, Steorn confesses:
We are experiencing some technical difficulties with the demo unit in London. Our initial assessment indicates that this is probably due to the intense heat from the camera lighting.
Hm. Yeah, it's probably only that intense light. Update: Duncan Watson points out an article that appeared in the Guardian last year detailing the problems that Steorn has had in patenting the Orbo. Duncan writes, "Of particular interest to me was the following:
The UK Patent Office notes that you cannot get a patent on 'articles or processes alleged to operate in a manner clearly contrary to well-established physical laws' as they are 'regarded as not having industrial application'."
He adds: "It seems somewhat redundant to prohibit people from patenting something which is physically impossible, and one would assume that something which did break the laws of physics could well have quite significant industrial application."
Antioch College is to close in July 2008 due to money woes and dwindling enrollments. Antioch, founded in 1852 by Horace Mann, graduated Stephen Jay Gould, Clifford Geertz, Coretta Scott King, and Rod Serling. The Trustees hope to reopen in 2012.
Now it can be told:
the Canadian Mint's issuing of a quarter with red poppy highlights honouring th[e] country's war dead in 2004 ... created an uproar in the corridors of U.S. Intelligence. Officials down south had never seen anything like it and became suspicious when an agent found one in a rental car. Documents released under the Access to Information Act show concerned contractors described the coin as being "filled with something man-made that looked like nano-technology."
"It did not appear to be electronic (analog) in nature or have a power source," wrote one of those who examined the mysterious 'device'. "Under high power microscope, it appeared to be complex consisting of several layers of clear, but different material, with a wire like mesh suspended on top."
led to a sensational warning from the Defense Security Service, an agency of the Defense Department, that mysterious coins with radio frequency transmitters were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.
A British student, Dean Robinson, has been barred from E-Bay for the following infraction:
Your listing breached eBay's No Item policy and has been removed ... You may not list intangible items or items whose existence cannot be verified, such as ghosts, souls or spirits.
Robinson's listing offered unspecified services in return for financial support to enable him to attend Cambridge. He condemned the ban as "completely pedantic," but
Ebay denied it was a spoilsport, claiming Robinson's offer was too vague. Vanessa Canzini, a spokeswoman, said: 'In the listing he talks about "sponsorship" and "employ" which would have hit our keywords for spamming. He also uses words like "negotiable" and "rates", so you wonder what is this guy offering? I suggest he looks at the email we've sent him. His listing is all over the place. He needs to be clearer what the buyer could expect.'
She pointed to the example of Nicael Holt, an Australian student who earlier this year auctioned his life on eBay, offering his name, phone number, worldly possessions and circle of friends to the highest bidder. Bidding was permitted because eBay deemed the listing to be sufficiently detailed and tangible. It closed at $A7,500 (£3,114).
Details courtesy the Guardian, here.
Descartes suggested that mind and physical reality connect in the pineal gland. A new study suggests that mind and deontological moral reality connect in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Philosophy has long been stigmatized as a dry matter of logic-chopping and wheezy speculation. A branding makeover was long overdue. Where better to start than on the surface? ("Save the appearances," and all that.) Ergo, philosophy now has its own line of skin-care products:
Adored by celebrities, dermatologists and, most importantly, their customers, Philosophy inspires you to live a better life by being better to yourself. Through effective skincare formulas, fresh scents, gorgeous colors, and inspirational packaging, the brand brings beauty to the body and the mind. Cristina Carlino, the brains behind Philosophy, also founded the medical skincare company Biomedic, and uses their cutting-edge research to create Philosophy's effective formulations. With a unique head-to-toe product range that encourages you to feel good and live joyously, Philosophy is the perfect blend of science and fun.
As slogans go, that's not too bad: "Philosophy: the perfect blend of science and fun."
The Bookseller.com is sponsoring The Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year. The shortlist includes Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence, by David Benatar (Philosophy, Cape Town). (Harm to the book itself is in suspense, as it is out of stock until April 17, according to OUP, the publisher.) Others on the shortlist include: Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan; How Green Were the Nazis?; the front-running The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, and Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium.
Browsers are invited to vote--scroll down The Bookseller.com homepage for a ballot.
Baudrillard...attracted widespread notoriety for predicting that the first Gulf war, of 1991, would not take place. During the war, he said it was not really taking place. After its conclusion, he announced, imperturbably, that it had not taken place. This prompted some to characterise him as yet another continental philosopher who revelled in a disreputable contempt for truth and reality.
Yet Baudrillard was pointing out that the war was conducted as a media spectacle. Rehearsed as a wargame or simulation, it was then enacted for the viewing public as a simulation: as a news event, with its paraphernalia of embedded journalists and missile's-eye-view video cameras, it was a videogame. The real violence was thoroughly overwritten by electronic narrative: by simulation.
Gallic hyperbole? Weigh this reminder (from Thomas Friedman):
In an interview last Jan. 16, Jim Lehrer asked President Bush why, if the war on terrorism was so overwhelmingly important, he had never asked more Americans “to sacrifice something.” Mr. Bush gave the most unbelievable answer: “Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”
Patricia and Paul Churchland (Philosophy, UC-San Diego) are profiled in this week's The New Yorker (Feb. 12). One tidbit:
"Paul, don't speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren't for my endogenous opiates I'd have driven my car into a tree...Pour me a Chardonnay...." Paul and Pat have noticed that it is not just they who talk this way....
Not a linkable story, unfortunately, but Jonathan Rosen's appreciation of Alfred Russel Wallace--Darwin avant la lettre--is, here. (As Robert Bork said of a seat on the US Supreme Court, this week's New Yorker is "an intellectual feast!")
Some of us think that all value is in some sense subjective. Many others of us think that personal autonomy is an objective value (if any are) and that what we choose to do with ourselves is, morally speaking, up to us. Many of us also think that in some sense our bodies are ours to do with as we wish, so long as what we do with them doesn't harm or directly offend others. What then to make of people like Susan Smith, the pseudonymous author of "I won't be happy until I lose my legs" (The Guardian, 1/27)?
I was six when I first became aware of my desire to lose my legs. I don't remember what started it - there was no specific trigger. Most people want to change something about themselves, and the image I have of myself has always been one without legs.
To the general public, people like me are sick and strange, and that's where it ends. I think it is a question of fearing the unknown. I have something called body identity integrity disorder (BIID), where sufferers want to remove one or more healthy limbs. Few people who haven't experienced it themselves can understand what I am going through. It is not a sexual thing, it is certainly not a fetish, and it is nothing to do with appearances. I simply cannot relate to myself with two legs: it isn't the "me" I want to be. I have long known that if I want to get on with my life I need to remove both legs. I have been trapped in the wrong body all this time and over the years I came to hate my physical self.
Not an easy case to know what to think about, nor to think about at all. But saying, "Well, Susan, if that's what you really want...," doesn't seem to be quite the right way to leave it.
[Upate: Carl Elliott (Philosophy and Bioethics, Minnesota) has written on BIID, also known as apotemnophilia, in "A New Way to Be Mad," Atlantic Monthly (Dec. 2000).]
[Further update: A must-read on BIID is Tim Bayne and Neil Levy's “Amputees By Choice: Body Integrity Identity Disorder and the Ethics of Amputation”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 75–86 (2005) available here (thanks to Iain Brassington for the pointer). Also, my colleague Eric Rovie is currently revising a paper on BIID: I am hoping to link a draft shortly.]
America's hysteria level has been raised to Level Red, as reported by the AP:
BOSTON (1/31) -- Several illuminated electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots in Boston threw a scare into the city Wednesday in what turned out to be a publicity campaign for a late-night cable cartoon. Most if not all of the devices depict a character giving the finger.
Peter Berdovsky, 29, of Arlington, was arrested on one felony charge of placing a hoax device and one charge of disorderly conduct, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said later Wednesday. He had been hired to place the devices, she said.
Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless. Turner Broadcasting, a division of Time Warner Inc. and parent of Cartoon Network, later said the devices were part of a promotion for the TV show ''Aqua Teen Hunger Force,'' a surreal series about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball....
''We're not going to let this go without looking at the further roots of how this happened to cause the panic in this city,'' Coakley said at a news conference. Those conducting the campaign should have known the devices could cause panic because they were placed in sensitive areas, she said....
''The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger,'' Turner said in a statement....It [also] said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston; New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Atlanta; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; San Francisco; and Philadelphia. There were no reports from police Wednesday of residents in the other nine cities spotting similar devices.
Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke praised Boston authorities for sharing their knowledge quickly with Washington officials and the public. ''Hoaxes are a tremendous burden on local law enforcement and counter-terrorism resources and there's absolutely no place for them in a post-9/11 world,'' Knocke said.
''Aqua Teen Hunger Force'' is a cartoon [that] includes two trouble-making, 1980s-graphic-like [sic] characters called ''mooninites,'' named Ignignokt and Err -- who were pictured on the suspicious devices. They are known for making the obscene hand gesture depicted on the devices.
[Update: The Boston Globe (2/1) reports that "Berdovsky, who described himself as 'a little kind of freaked out,' faces up to five years in prison on charges of placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic and disorderly conduct." In another story, the Globe informs us that:
The ads were the latest incarnation of viral marketing, an advertising technique that is exploding in popularity as a way to reach younger consumers inured to the effects of traditional commercials. Like viruses, the ads are intended to spread on their own, creating word-of-mouth buzz by cropping up in unexpected places outdoors and on the Internet.
The company behind the ads for "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" was New York-based Interference Inc., whose chief executive officer, Sam Travis Ewen, was recently named one of Brandweek Magazine's Guerrilla Marketers of the Year. Ewen, who is in his 30s, has also put people on subways to brag about financial advisers and sent models into bars to sit with packs of cigarettes, waiting for someone to ask for a smoke.
Alas, in our everything's-changed, post-9/11 world, it's getting harder and harder to tell the guerrilla marketers from the real guerrillas. Ewen's avowed "true dream" -- "to throw a party on the Brooklyn Bridge and DJ it until the police kick him off" -- may have to wait.]
A group of leading constitutional and legal scholars has endorsed a letter to leaders of Congress, (drafted by my colleague Neil Kinkopf) reminding them of their extensive powers over the conduct of the Iraq war. The diverse group includes Bruce Ackerman (Yale), Ronald Dworkin (NYU and UCL), Richard Epstein (Chicago), and--in spirit at least--James Madison, who long ago wrote:
the constitution supposes what the History of all Gov[ernments] demonstrates, that the Ex[ecutive] is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legisl[ative branch].
Meanwhile, Sir Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK, eloquently dismisses the notion that there is a "war on terror" in progress, according to the Guardian (Jan. 24):
[Sir Ken] acknowledged that the country faced a different and more dangerous threat than in the days of IRA terrorism and that it had "all the disturbing elements of a death cult psychology".
But he said: "It is critical that we understand that this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious, risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values. I think it important to understand that this is one of its primary purposes."
Sir Ken pointed to the rhetoric around the "war on terror" - which has been adopted by Tony Blair and ministers after being coined by George Bush - to illustrate the risks.
He said: "London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'.
"The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement."
It is worth emphasizing that the Bush-Blair posture breaches two lines: the line between fighting war and fighting crime, and the line between executive and legislative power to decide whom and how to fight, and over what.
Harry Frankfurt (Philosophy, Princeton) plugs his new book, On Truth, on Comedy Central's The Daily Show--after the ad. (Thanks to my colleague Andrew I. Cohen for the pointer.)
The barbaric lynching of the barbarous Saddam Hussein achieved what almost everyone had assumed to be impossible: to make the former tyrant look like a martyr. And the timing? By one measure, poor: the US handed Saddam over to his enemies--including elements of the Mahdi army--on the eve of the Islamic period of atonement. But by another, not bad: the handover successfully obscured media coverage of the 3000th (official) US troop fatality. This handful of dust in the eye was of no small importance, given the absence of any public adjustment of policy in the aftermath of the Iraq Study Group report, the parting advice of Rumsfeld to "downsize the mission," and the midterm congressional elections' repudiation of the standing policy of "stay the course" (which not even Bush cared to defend).
So now what? Acting President Cheney and al-Maliki have evidently agreed upon terms for a final, triumphant "surge" of US forces coinciding with a handover to the Shi'ite majority and abandonment of the Sunni minority to its fate. The Telegraph (Jan. 6) reports:
Mr Bush spent nearly two hours speaking to Mr Maliki on Thursday [Jan. 4]. Officials said he was seeking to persuade the Iraqi premier to accept an increase in American troops and emphasised that they would be used primarily to battle Sunni insurgents [italics added].
Added persuaders: another $1,000,000,000 for "job creation," and the banishment of US ambassador Khalizad--a Sunni of Afghan extraction--to a post at the dubiously relevant United Nations.
[Addendum: The New York Times (Jan. 6) recounts the farcical events leading up to Saddam's extraordinary rendition, which was ordered over the objections of the US ground command by Condolezza Rice and Stephen Hadley for the declared reason that "we're not going to be their legal nannies."]
The notorious Milgram results have been duplicated, sort of. In the original experiments, the roles of "teacher" and "learner" were both filled by humans. In the new study, led by Mel Slater, of the Catalan Polytechnic University in Barcelona and University College London, the learner role was filled by a virtual character. Despite the teachers' knowledge that the learner was virtual, not real, they exhibited the same patterns of what could be called "distressed obedience" as in Milgram's trials in the 1960s.
The acknowledged US troop fatalities in Iraq ratchet toward the mediagenic number of 3000, and the White House seems determined to time the announcement of its "new way forward" so as to divert public attention from that sad milestone. But what will that "way" be? Sidney Blumenthal writes for the Guardian(Dec. 21):
Bush's touted but unexplained "new way forward" ... may be the first order of battle, complete with details of units, maps and timetables, ever posted on the website of a thinktank. "I will not be rushed," said Bush. But apparently he has already accepted the latest neoconservative programme, artfully titled with catchphrases appealing to his desperation - "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq" - and available for reading on the site of the American Enterprise Institute.
Repudiated in the midterm elections, Bush has elevated himself above politics, and repeatedly says, "I am the commander in chief." With the crash of Rove's game plan for using his presidency as an instrument to leverage a permanent Republican majority, Bush is abandoning the role of political leader. He can't disengage militarily from Iraq because that would abolish his identity as a military leader, his default identity and now his only one.
Unlike the political leader, the commander in chief doesn't require persuasion; he rules through orders, deference and the obedience of those beneath him. By discarding the ISG [Iraq Study Group] report, Bush has rejected doubt, introspection, ambivalence and responsibility. By embracing the AEI manifesto, he asserts the warrior virtues of will, perseverance and resolve. The contest in Iraq is a struggle between will and doubt. Every day his defiance proves his superiority over lesser mortals. Even the joint chiefs have betrayed the martial virtues that he presumes to embody. He views those lacking his will with rising disdain. The more he stands up against those who tell him to change, the more virtuous he becomes. His ability to realise those qualities surpasses anyone else's and passes the character test.
The mere suggestion of doubt is fatally compromising. Any admission of doubt means complete loss, impotence and disgrace. Bush cannot entertain doubt and still function. He cannot keep two ideas in his head at the same time. [Former Secretary of State Colin] Powell misunderstood when he said that the current war strategy lacks a clear mission. The war is Bush's mission.
No matter the setback it's always temporary, and the campaign can always be started from scratch in an endless series of new beginnings and offensives - "the new way forward" - just as in his earlier life no failure was irredeemable through his father's intervention. Now he has rejected his father's intervention in preference for the clean slate of a new scenario that depends only on his willpower.
"We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush told the Washington Post on Tuesday, a direct rebuke of Powell's formulation, saying he was citing General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs, and adding, "We're going to win." Winning means not ending the war while he is president. Losing would mean coming to the end of the rope while he was still in office. In his mind, so long as the war goes on and he maintains his will he can win. Then only his successor can be a loser.
Bush's idea of himself as personifying martial virtues, however, is based on a vision that would be unrecognisable to all modern theorists of warfare. According to Carl von Clausewitz, war is the most uncertain of human enterprises, difficult to understand, hardest to control and demanding the highest degree of adaptability. It was Clausewitz who first applied the metaphor of "fog" to war. In his classic work, On War, he warned, "We only wish to represent things as they are, and to expose the error of believing that a mere bravo without intellect can make himself distinguished in war."
Meanwhile, back in Iraq, "clarity" of a kind may be discernible through the fog. The LA Times, in a report on the Iraq refugee crisis, notes that "The violence has been escalating for so long that it's difficult for refugees, most of whom are Sunni Arab Muslims, to pinpoint the exact horror that sent them rushing across borders" (emphasis mine).
That's right: the refugees are mostly minority Sunnis, fleeing the Shi'ite-dominated army and police and Shi'ite militias. So, if there really is a civil war in Iraq, the Shi'ites seem pretty close winning. Or, rather, it's all over but the mopping-up (don't let's call it "ethnic cleansing"). That might explain Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki's repeated insistence that his government does not need or want a "surge" of additional foreign troops, and is in fact ready to "stand up" to take charge of Baghdad as early as March.
But if the Shi'ites have won, why can't Bush simply say they're the "right faction for the job" and declare "victory"? That would be consistent with Acting President Cheney's reportedly favored tactical/rhetorical adjustment, and with his mentor Donald Rumsfeld's parting advice to "go minimalist" in formulating the US mission. But even Bush may know better than to try floating the "Mission Accomplished" line a second time. His bravo-ry faces its ultimate test in putting Cheney and al-Maliki in their respective places [Dec. 24: the skeptical field command is easy to get into line]. "We'll succeed, unless we quit." Or finish. As Blumenthal points out, war itself now is the mission.
The UN estimates that 3,000 people are leaving Iraq every day, including a substantial number of the country’s professional and skilled classes. Most insist they do not want to return to Iraq. Among these refugees are 120,000 Christians, most of whom say they want to resettle in the US.
The sheer scale of the refugee crisis has called into question the US policy which accommodates only 500 refugees from Iraq next year. As a historical comparison, the US took in 823,000 refugees as ‘boat people’ in the wake of the Vietnam War. Currently, even the Iraqi refugees who have officially requested resettlement in the US have been caught in a tug-of-war between the US State Department and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who has not yet determined their status.
As the Battle of Baghdad gains momentum against the backdrop of civil war in Iraq, so will the refugee crisis continue to escalate. In the coming months, this will no doubt raise additional issues concerning US responsibilities associated with the war in Iraq.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush reassures People magazine: "I must tell you, I'm sleeping a lot better than people would assume." Sleep, like stuff, happens.
The Bush administration persists in snubbing Syria for failing to control the 1,000,000 or so Iraqi refugees it has absorbed since the 2003 US-led invasion. Syria gets negative points for opening its borders to those who can flee the humanitarian disaster the neoCons have made and shrilly insist on aggravating (realism and popular demand to the contrary, be damned).
What of our friends in Iraq? What are we doing for those whose lives are in danger because their status as "locally engaged staff" ("LED") has been exposed? The LA Times reports:
there are also no formal policies or mechanisms to help Iraqis such as Y [an LED whose life depended upon remaining anonymous]. Though the USAID might have wanted to do more, the best it could offer Y was a short-term stay within its Green Zone compound, a non-solution that would likely exacerbate his situation.
The U.S. Embassy might have granted him a visa, had it ever opened a visa processing center. But probably not. Though Congress passed legislation last year to grant special visas to those who serve as translators for the military, there are no provisions made for Iraqis who have worked with distinction on the civilian side.
So, with little more than a "good luck" from us, Y and his wife packed what they could carry, hugged their loved ones goodbye and fled the country.
No "graceful exit" for these two, nor for the
more than 1.6 million people [who] have fled Iraq since the invasion...recent estimates show their numbers increasing by about 100,000 each month. More than 1.5 million Iraqis have been displaced by violence within their country, a number growing at the staggering rate of 50,000 per month.
President Bush and Congress bear a moral responsibility to those Iraqis whose lives are imperiled because of their willingness to help us. We need to move swiftly to expand the special immigrant status beyond the military translators to permit these Iraqis asylum in our country. The U.S. Embassy should be equipped to issue such visas to Iraqis who already have obtained security clearances to work for our government.
But, of course, were the US to accept even a trickle of the cataract of refugees its aggressive folly has generated; that might be viewed as an admission of something other than victory. You know, an admission of the other thing.
The New York Times (Dec. 7) finally takes note of the refugee crisis the occupation of Iraq has created:
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in a report released last month that more than 1.6 million Iraqis have left since March 2003, nearly 7 percent of the population. Jordanian security officials say more than 750,000 are in and around Amman, a city of 2.5 million. Syrian officials estimate that up to one million have gone to the suburbs of Damascus, a city of three million. An additional 150,000 have landed in Cairo. Every month, 100,000 more join them in Syria and Jordan, the report said.
In a report released this week, Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group, put the total at close to two million and called their flight “the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.” Its president, Kenneth Bacon, said, “The United States and its allies sparked the current chaos in Iraq, but they are doing little to ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the current exodus.”
One thing the US isn't ready to do is to acknowledge the crisis, or to talk to Syria, which Bush (in a joint press conference with Blair) admonished in the following terms: "Stop allowing
money and arms to cross your border into Iraq. Don’t provide safe haven
for terrorist groups." In other words: don't let Iraqis come in, and don't let them go back?
The journal Nature has just published the results of a study finding that phytoplankton populations in the ocean are starved by warmer surface temperatures. This means that there are fewer of them to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Leading, in turn, to more warming.
Seymour Hersh opens "The Next Act," for The New Yorker (Nov. 20) with this anecdote:
A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting “shorteners” on the wire—that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put “shorteners” on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.
Asked about the story, Cheney's office says it is short of having any record of it.
A joke now circulating goes:
Q: What's the difference between Iraq and Vietnam?
A: Bush had a plan for getting out of Vietnam.
Not only a plan for getting out, but for victory! Bush is now visiting Ho Chi Minh City, and has declared the "ideology of freedom" victorious, thirty years on. Victory in Iraq, too, seems now assured since, as the Vietnam experience shows, "We'll succeed, unless we quit." Heck, we might even succeed anyway! Good Thanksgiving news for the troops and their families.
Did the midterms vindicate liberal Democrats, or the paleoCons? In his election post-mortem, paleoCon icon George Will likens the neoCon Republicans' Iraq debacle to the Clinton Democrats' universal healthcare initiative. Roughly, just as popular realism has rightly rejected nation-building over there, it will--again--rightly reject universal healthcare as a federally mandated right over here. Both initiatives were cases of "irrational exuberance," and both may (normatively) and will (politically) be rejected, and on similar grounds.
The analogy fails. Universal "semi-socialized"--or even fully socialized--healthcare has not proved ruinous to the industrialized democracies that have embraced it. Nor has it proved politically ruinous to the parties that have initiated and maintained it.
True, those democracies have not allowed pharmaceutical lobbies and medical associations to dictate policy. But--post-Abramoff--is an "irrational protuberance" of special interests going always to be the salient feature of America's political physiognomy? Powerful deciders can cut Gordian knots--why not unsightly warts? Maybe the legacy-obsessed Bush XLIII would let universal healthcare go with a mere signing statement, if the Democrats insist on it (as they know they ought). But with a burgeoning national debt and deficit, the lobbies and the Cons--neo- and paleo- alike--can be counted on to raise the hue and cry against taxing and spending--especially spending to meet legitimate public needs. But straightening out the 2003 prescription drug law, which prevents our government from negotiating lower drug prices, won't cost the taxpayers a dime. The dilemma for XLIII (and his heirs-aspirant) could be: try to beat the Democrats over the head with the 1994 debacle, or preempt the healthcare issue by doing the right thing? Presumably, Nixon's ghost is happy to have signed the Clean Air Act (no slouch of a legacy, that).
Of course, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and so forth were--from the paleoCon perspective--"confidently comprehensive, continent-wide attempts to reform complex social systems"--attempts that are just too hubristically naive for serious discussion. (You know, like social security, child-labor laws and the minimum wage.) But hubristic naivete has been XLIII's stock-in-trade, and he hasn't vetoed anything Congress has sent him, yet. [Ed.-- well, only one thing: Mike Bishop reminds me that the stem cell bill was vetoed in September. But would negotiating prices with drug companies cross a similar moral boundary, in XLIII's view?]
A Fox News reporter who's had himself waterboarded says it's "a pretty efficient way to get someone to talk and still have them alive and healthy within minutes." Healthy on the outside, that is. Psychologists say to watch out for long-term damage, evidenced by, e.g., screaming at showers. Media Matters has the story, with video.
[Update, 11/8: Keith DeRose points out some serious flaws in the Media Matters' story:
First, in the first paragraph, there's this:
Harrigan stated that his report on waterboarding was meant to show viewers "what exactly it is," whether it is "torture," and if "the U.S. [should] use it."
He did say he wanted to show exactly what waterboarding is, but the rest of the characterization is exactly wrong. Harrigan explicitly says that he's setting aside questions about whether it's torture and whether we should use it (this on the video on the media matters page). (Incidentally, in a talk with someone else at Fox News, when asked whether waterboarding was torture, he responded positively in a very strong way: "I can't see how you could call it anything else. I mean, it's torturous.")
[Gee, a dunk in the water can get even Fox News to sing like a canary.--ed.]
Then there's this:
Harrigan alternated between claiming that the waterboarding was "really scary" and not "that bad" while being subjected to the different "phase[s]."
Well, maybe, but it makes Harrigan sound undecided -- "alternated between." He didn't go back and forth. He said "phase 1" was not that bad, but stage 3 was really scary. So, at least I'd say this is a bit slanted.
Finally, I don't think the page is right in setting up this opposition:
Reflecting on his experience, Harrigan remarked, "[Y]ou really learn you can crack pretty quickly. ... I mean, they took me to the brink, where I was ready to submit, tell them anything within minutes, and then, just minutes later, I was standing by the side of that pool feeling fine." Harrigan concluded that "as far as torture goes, at least in this controlled experiment, to me, this seemed like a pretty efficient mechanism to get someone to talk and then still have them alive and healthy within minutes." However, psychologists, such as Dr. Allen S. Keller, director of the Bellevue Hospital Center/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture reportedly disagreed: According to The New Yorker magazine, Keller asserted that "such forms of near-asphyxiation," like waterboarding, could indeed lead to long-term psychological damage:
Harrigan is careful to say "at least in this controlled experiment." Maybe he should have done more to emphasize that important point, but he did at least make it. In particular, one important control was this: Harrigan could just squeeze the hands of his torturers, and they'd immediately stop, and you see that he only lasted a couple of seconds in phase 3, and he knew they weren't going to hurt him. That that could leave him alive and healthy within minutes is perfectly consistent with waterboarding under other, less-friendly conditions leaving long-term problems. Here, some of the blame may be Harrigan's, because, despite his "at least..." clarification, he may have left a misleading impression. But, in any case, there is also a problem with the media matters site, in assuming there's a real difference between what Harrigan said and what their psychologists say.]
The Washington Post (Nov. 4) reports:
The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the "alternative interrogation methods" that their captors used to get them to talk.
The government says in new court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets and that their release -- even to the detainees' own attorneys -- "could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage." Terrorists could use the information to train in counter-interrogation techniques....
If the American people can be trained not to gag at arguments like this, who knows? Maybe the evildoers can train themselves not to gag while taking a "dunk in the water."
John Kerry has managed to underperform George Bush, XLIII, academically, aeronautically, and electorally. So, it's no surprise that, whatever jokes history tells on XLIII, Kerry's won't be among them. Cheney's on Kerry--"First he was for the joke, then he was against it"--was better than Cheney meant it to be. But, as the saying goes, who laughs last, laughs best. The Democrats are odds-on favorites to recapture the US House of Representatives on Tuesday. Who'll be laughing then?
It won't be you and me.
The polls indicate that the populace is ready to put in some Democrats because Democrats are assumed to be able to extricate the US from Iraq.
With a brilliant head-fake two weeks ago, XLIII disavowed his former rallying-cry, "Stay the course!" The credulous (including this blogger) assumed that James Baker III, consigliere to La Cosa Bushtra, had shouldered Karl Rove aside and dictated political policy for the impending midterm elections. But since then XLIII has made it as clear as only he can that he, as Commander-in-Chief of the "unitary executive," intends to make no changes in Iraq or Middle East policy between now and when he leaves office on January 20, 2009 (yes, when--not if, yet...). From the yellow carpet on the Oval Office floor to the original Rumsfeld on the wall, everything stays--redecorating is for the faint-of-heart.
Sidney Blumenthal, for OpenDemocracy, explains that Baker is on the verge of being chumped, like Colin Powell and Condi Rice. But won't a Democratic House give Baker the whip-hand? Karen Tumulty and Mike White write for Time (Oct. 29):
If lame-duck Presidents are to achieve anything, they often have to look for ways to go around Congress, especially when it is in the hands of the other party....White House press secretary Tony Snow [quotes Bush:] "He told all of us, 'Put on your track shoes. We're going to run to the finish,'" Snow said. "He's going to be aggressive on a lot of fronts. He's been calling all his Cabinet secretaries and telling them, 'You tell me administratively everything you can do between now and the end of the presidency. I want to see your to-do list and how you expect to do it.' We're going to try to be as ambitious and bold as we can possibly be."
In other words, expect the signing statements, agency regulations, and executive orders to fly like cherry blossoms in two May breezes. Tumulty and White:
[W]hen it comes to deploying its Executive power, which is dear to Bush's understanding of the presidency, the President's team has been planning for what one strategist describes as "a cataclysmic fight to the death" over the balance between Congress and the White House if confronted with congressional subpoenas it deems inappropriate. The strategist says the Bush team is "going to assert that power, and they're going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court on every issue, every time, no compromise, no discussion, no negotiation."
And why not, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito safely confirmed? Tumulty and White continue:
some clarity on Iraq may come after the elections, when Bush receives a much anticipated report from the Iraq Study Group, the commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker (Jimmy, as the President calls the longtime family consigliere) and Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 commission. Administration officials say they expect the report no sooner than December, and they hope it includes recommendations they can embrace rather than a menu of options that would put the ball back in their court [ed.--emphasis added].
Baker has said he wants the panel of Republicans and Democrats to come to a consensus--which has some Administration officials skeptical about how much clarity will emerge. "I welcome all these efforts," Bush said at his news conference. "My Administration will carefully consider any proposal that will help us achieve victory." That gives Bush a lot of leeway for a real course correction without saying--perhaps even knowing--what is to come from the Baker-Hamilton group. A senior Administration official says, "The only things we've ruled out are getting out immediately, phased withdrawal without any reference to events on the ground and partitioning the country into three parts. Those are all nonstarters." That's a very narrow [sic] range of exceptions; even the Democrats, by and large, aren't advocating those approaches [ed.--Oh?].
If, as Blumenthal has concluded, "now, it's Baker's move," then indeed the ball (a/k/a unwelcome punchbowl garnish) remains outside of XVIII's court. Pelosi's House Democrats will field it at their peril. Finally, Tumulty and White relate the following:
[Film] producer Alexandra Pelosi--who, as it happens, is the daughter of the woman who has the most to gain in these elections [sic]--tells of being invited to Bush's private compartment on his campaign plane when she was having a low moment.
[Ed.--AIDE: Mr. President, I have a Mr. Baker on the line, and Representative Pelosi's daughter is out here in the corridor having a low moment. POTUS: Tell Jimmy I'll get back to him.]
"They can say what they want about me," she remembered him saying, "but at least I know who I am, and I know who my friends are."
The rest of us know who we are, too. And that we are not his friends.
Dick Cheney has long crusaded to restore the executive branch to its pre-Watergate glory. He has overshot the mark so dramatically that it seemed that he might never be called to account (he is, after all, only the Vice-President), especially with henchmen like Scooter Libby ever-ready to take whatever heat that might threaten the endless winter of his steely resolve. But the Vice President now finds himself in need of others to deny his having said and meant what he quite plainly said and meant about waterboarding. (Don't count on hearing him say, "Your Vice-President is not a waterboarder"; his last word on the matter will likely remain: "I didn't say anything, he did.") Keith DeRose offers a parable:
A town in the Old West had had some troubles with cattle rustlers. Some of the townfolk wanted suspected rustlers to be hung or somehow executed – anything to keep them safe from the rustlers. And it was widely known that Sheriff Gus’s men had hung one particularly notorious rustler, Dastardly Dan. But some of the townfolk didn’t like the idea of executing rustlers....
Understandably, those who wanted rustlers to be executed if it could help make the town safer from rustling often avoided straightforward terms for what they thought should be done to rustlers. So, for instance, one way of killing prisoners that had been used was by pushing them off of a very high cliff outside of town, so that they would die on the rocks below. But some who thought it was fine to kill rustlers by pushing them off the cliff liked to talk about it in such euphemistic terms as this: “Well, if we have to make a few rustlers take a little fall to keep the town safe, we should do that.” And, though some would say straightforward things like, “Hang rustlers, if it will help keep us safe,” others preferred to say things like: “If we have to make a few rustlers swing on a rope to keep the town safe, we should do that.”
Which brings us to the interview. A reporter from the town paper was allowed to interview the Deputy Sheriff, and this is how it went:
REPORTER: Deputy Dick, I've heard from a lot of readers -- that's what we do for a living, talk to good folks in the town every day -- and a lot of them have told me, “Please, let the Deputy Sheriff know that if takes making a few rustler swing from a rope, we’re all for it, if it makes the town safer from rustlers.” And this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?
DEPUTY DICK: I do agree. And I think the rustler threat, for example, with respect to our ability to execute really bad rustlers like Dastardly Dan, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the town. We need to be able to continue that.
REPORTER: Would you agree a swing from a rope is a no-brainer if it can save the town from rustling?
DEPUTY DICK: It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Deputy Sheriff "for execution." We don't execute. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our promises to the town council and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust punishment program without execution, and we need to be able to do that.
Well, of course, this only heightened the suspicion that Deputy Dick, at least, endorsed hanging prisoners, and was only saying things like “We don’t execute” because he meant to not be counting hanging as a form of execution. When word got out about what Deputy Dick had said in his interview, some of Sheriff Gus’s men tried to claim that Deputy Dick hadn’t been talking about hanging at all. But that was very hard to accept. For one thing, they wouldn’t come out and say whether it was the Sheriff’s office now accepted that hanging is a form of execution. But mostly, they had to contend with the words that were exchanged between the reporter and Deputy Dick.
Of course, there are ways of making someone swing on a rope that wouldn’t kill them. In fact, many ways wouldn’t even harm them, and could even be rather pleasant. But there had been a lot of discussion around town about the possibility of hanging rustlers, and in these debates many used “make them swing on a rope” as a euphemism for hanging them. And nobody was talking about any other ways of making rustlers swing on a rope. So it was quite clear that the readers who told the reporter to tell the Deputy to make some rustlers swing on a rope if it would help meant to be using “swing on a rope” as a euphemism for hanging them to death. After all, what “debate” could the reporter be referring to, other than the debate over hanging rustlers, since no other ways of making them swing on a rope had been debated? So when Deputy Dick responded positively to this suggestion, it was hard to believe he wasn’t talking about hanging rustlers. And as if to remove any remaining reasonable doubt about the matter, Deputy Dick himself brought up Dastardly Dan in his response. And Deputy Dick surely knew both that Dastardly Dan had been hung, and that also that it was widely known that Dan had been hung. It was in the town’s papers, after all. And he clearly seemed to be approving of what had been done to Dastardly Dan.
So it was hard to understand how it could be that Deputy Dick wasn’t talking about hanging rustlers. And, as I said, this only strengthened the suspicion that Deputy Dick, and perhaps others in the Sheriff’s office, meant to use “execute” in a very strange way that excluded hanging as a form of “execution.”
And given that the very suspicion that had been strengthened by the interview was that the Sheriff’s office meant to use “execute” in a strange way that excluded many ways of putting prisoners to death, Sheriff Gus’s own response to the incident was particularly unhelpful. Asked about Deputy Dick’s comments, Sheriff Gus simply said, "This town doesn't execute. We're not going to execute."
Meanwhile, the question of the hour in Washington, "What Was Cheney Thinking?" acknowledges that when it gets icy even the mighty can slip.
In 1966, Bruce Brown released a movie titled The Endless Summer, which told the story of two guys scanning the globe to find the perfect spot to surfboard. We don't know whether Dick Cheney has seen it, but forty years later, he's been scanning the globe to find the perfect spot to waterboard. Bruce Brown has no regrets. Nor Cheney:
Q [WDAY-Radio, Oct. 24]: I've had people call and say, please, let the Vice President know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives....[T]his debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do agree. And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool....
Q: Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President 'for torture.' We don't torture....
But, as Walter Pincus of The Washington Post reported earlier this month, the US long ago acknowledged waterboarding to be just that: torture. The US has also long known that torture by waterboarding yields information of dubious value:
A CIA interrogation training manual declassified 12 years ago, "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation -- July 1963," outlined a procedure similar to waterboarding....The KUBARK manual was the product of more than a decade of research and testing, refining lessons learned from the Korean War, where U.S. airmen were subjected to a new type of "touchless torture" until they confessed to a bogus plan to use biological weapons against the North Koreans.
What's a little dunk in the water? No brainer! (If you surf.) Yes brainer! (If you waterboard.)
[Update, Oct. 27.] White House spokesman Tony Snow was asked today about Cheney's admission that he had approved waterboarding:
"'You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will,'' Snow said. ''You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on.''
We don't torture, and we don't slip up.
[PS. In the spirit of experimental moral philosophy, Keith DeRose, over at Generous Orthodoxy, reports on "An Hour--Plus a Few Minutes--of 'Little Ease'" (comments open)]
Feeling heat from Republican incumbents facing retirement from Congress in three weeks, the Bush administration has decided to present the nominal government in Baghdad with a "timetable"--of sorts. "Stand up by this date or maybe we'll stand down." All of the relevant dates, naturally, will not be finalized until after the second Tuesday in November but before the next Congress convenes in January. With all the cynicism of Nixon's "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War, James Baker III gives the loyalists a last-minute talking point and in the same gesture hands the proverbially unwelcome punchbowl ornament to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker-apparent of the House of Representatives. Robert Dreyfuss cautioned last month that
as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work.... "Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008....
If--and it's a very big if--Baker can forge a consensus plan on what to do about Iraq among the bigwigs on his commission, many of them leading foreign-policy figures in the Democratic Party, then the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee--whoever he (or she) is--will have a hard time dismissing the plan. And if the GOP nominee also embraces the plan, then the Iraq war would largely be off the table as a defining issue of the 2008 race--a potentially huge advantage for Republicans....
Baker said that to do something before the November 2006 elections would inevitably politicize the report, something that Baker desperately wants to avoid [sic].
Michael Thieren writes, for openDemocracy:
Two scientifically audited numbers today constitute the best available and most cited evidence quantifying Iraqi civilian deaths directly associated with the war in that country which began in March 2003. Each is generated by a credible and independent source...one gives a running total of 48,783 (as of 18 October 2006), the other gives 654,965 for the period March 2003 to July 2006.
What to think? Therien observes:
These numbers differ in absolute terms largely because they are generated through two very different approaches, with their respective flaws. Methodologically, a passive compilation of fatal events sporadically communicated by the press has very little in common with a data-gathering method that is equivalent to the one used for public-opinion polls.
The larger tally is a snapshot estimate of casualties in the whole Iraqi population. It arrived as a flash in the dark, electrifying everyone. Immediately after its publication, 654,965 triggered both the dismissal chorus of the men in charge in Washington, London and Baghdad and the encouraging verdict of leading statistical experts (one of whom told ABC News: "I'll vouch for it 95%, which is as good as it gets in survey research").
By contrast, the 48,783 appears steadily but silently, making its no less tragic case more visibly each time it passes a rounded benchmark. The unfortunate element of the smaller tally is that its figures quickly pale when suddenly confronted with a figure thirteen times bigger.
The story these two numbers convey does not lie and should not be understood to lie in their respective size. Regardless of their absolute divergence and methodological approximations, each figure, when properly analysed and broken down, reveals the inhumane and intolerable story of approximately 27 million people trapped in escalating violence and revenge killings.
To get an idea of the significance of the lower figure, imagine the number of American civilians who would be dead now were they dying at the same rate. (A: 500,000 over three years.) The genocide going on in the Sudan spurred the same kind of arid dispute about the significance of numbers. For the New York Times (May 11, 2005), Marc Lacey wrote:
Is the death toll between 60,000 and 160,000, as Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said during a recent trip to the region? Or is it closer to the roughly 400,000 dead reported last week by the Coalition for International Justice, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization that was hired by the United States Agency for International Development to try to determine whether the killing amounts to genocide?
That was what Colin Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state, called the Darfur killings last year. But Zoellick avoided the issue this month and has recently accused advocacy groups of overstating the number of dead to force Washington to adopt much tougher policies against the Sudanese.
"Civil war" is a politer term than "genocide" but both can refer to the same reality--Kosovo, and Rwanda, for example. While the occupying superpower in Iraq denies the reality of civil war, it forestalls the question: Is the occupation aggravating the genocide it has proven powerless to stop? A superpower that doesn't "do body counts" cannot endlessly deny those who do.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has broken with tabu and begun analogizing Iraq to Vietnam. Eric Posner (Law, Chicago) suggests other analogies: Lebanon, Somalia.
E.M. Forster created a stir when, in Two Cheers for Democracy, he wrote, "if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." Forster's country was Great Britain, and the "Cambridge spies"--Burgess, MacLean, and Philby--were at the time much on the British mind. It was easy to draw the inference that--given the relative attractiveness of friendship and Stalinism--it was misguided friendship that drew the traitors together. The human, albeit fallen, thing to do was to cover for your chums, through thick and thin.
But Forster's point was subtler. Here's what he wrote:
I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader.… It would not have shocked Dante, though. Dante places Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country, Rome. Probably one will not be asked to make such an agonizing choice. Still, there lies at the back of every creed something terrible and hard for which the worshipper may one day be required to suffer, and there is even a terror and a hardness in this creed of personal relationships, urbane and mild though it sounds.
The New York Times has run an interesting Op-Ed, "Pirates of the Mediterannean" (Sept. 30). Nothing to do with Johnny Depp. It draws the parallel that I've been ransacking Gibbon to find, between the post-events-of-9/11 West and the Decline of the Roman Empire. Historical novelist Robert Harris writes:
In the autumn of 68 B.C. the world’s only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome’s port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped....
in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.
Consider the parallels....
and off we go. "Alia iacta est," so to speak.
The compromise legislation...authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.
This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.
And how do the Geneva Conventions fare under this legislation? The Wall Street Journal exults:
it's a fair bet that waterboarding--or simulated drowning, the most controversial of the CIA's reported interrogation techniques--will not be allowed under the new White House rules [Says who? --ed.]. But sleep deprivation and temperature variations, to name two other methods, will likely pass muster. This is not about "torture" or even "abuse," as some Administration critics dishonestly charge, but about being able to make life uncomfortable for al Qaeda prisoners who have been trained to resist milder forms of interrogation.
A "fair bet"? Does anyone know? --asks Dahlia Lithwick, at Slate:
So, what did we agree to? Is hypothermia in or out? What about sexual degradation or forcing prisoners to bark like dogs? Stress positions? I'd wager that any tie goes to the White House. One hardly needs a law degree to understand that in a controversy over detainee treatment between the executive and legislative branches, the trump will go to the guy who's holding the unnamed detainees in secret prisons.
But maybe the worst of it all is that this legislation will assure that no one will know. Lithwick writes:
Congress doesn't want to know what it's bargaining away this week. In the Boston Globe this weekend, Rick Klein revealed that only "10 percent of the members of Congress have been told which interrogation techniques have been used in the past, and none of them know which ones would be permissible under proposed changes to the War Crimes Act." More troubling still, this congressional ignorance seems to be by choice. Klein quotes Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican, as saying, "I don't know what the CIA has been doing, nor should I know." Evidently, "widely distributing such information could result in leaks."
We've reached a defining moment in our democracy when our elected officials are celebrating their own blind ignorance as a means of keeping the rest of us blindly ignorant as well....
For the five years since 9/11, we have been in the dark in this country. This president has held detainees in secret prisons and had them secretly tortured using secret legal justifications. Those held in secret at Guantanamo Bay include innocent men, as do those who have been secretly shipped off to foreign countries and brutally tortured there. That was a shame on this president.
But passage of the new detainee legislation will be a different sort of watershed. Now we are affirmatively asking to be left in the dark. Instead of torture we were unaware of, we are sanctioning torture we'll never hear about. Instead of detainees we didn't care about, we are authorizing detentions we'll never know about. Instead of being misled by the president, we will be blind and powerless by our own choice. And that is a shame on us all.
And we thought Iraq was in for a regime change.
Global warming is known to the State of California to be bad for us. But how bad can it be? Evidence has accumulated that global warming--rather than asteroid impacts--was responsible for some of the planet's prehistoric mass extinctions. The hypothesized mechanism involves an enormous outgassing of hydrogen sulphide from the oceans. Details here.