In the red, red sea

17 12 2014

We now know what we suspected and it’s all right.

Our government tortured and a good chunk of Americans are good with that.

Long pause as I contemplate this. And another.

One more.

Okay, then.

Jamelle Bouie is right that this should surprise no one:

It’s not just that Americans want a system that metes out punishment, it’s that—despite our Eighth Amendment—we are accepting of the cruelest punishment. And while it’s not legal, it exists and it’s pervasive. In theory, our prisons are holding cells for the worst offenders and centers for rehabilitation for the others. Inmates can work, learn, and prepare themselves for a more productive life in society. In reality, they are hellscapes of rape, abuse, and violence from gangs and guards.

[. . .]

If this is how we treat domestic prisoners—who, despite their crimes, are still citizens—then it’s no shock we torture noncitizen detainees, and it’s no surprise Americans largely support the abuse.

And thus, connecting punitive lash with punitive lash:

We aren’t living in “Dick Cheney’s America” as much as Dick Cheney is just living in America and thinking like an American. Here, we already believe our criminals deserve the brutality of our prisons. From there, it’s easy to think that our detainees deserve the depravity of our dungeons. That’s where he stands, and we stand with him.

So no one will be prosecuted, at least in domestic courts, and this may, even will probably, happen again.

And a good chunk of Americans are good with that.

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Defenses down

16 12 2014

From pages 51-54 (77-80, pdf) of the Torture Report, a model for “enhanced interrogation”:

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FireShot Screen Capture #009 - 'sscistudy1_pdf' - www_intelligence_senate_gov_study2014_sscistudy1Yes, the CIA created a “mind virus” to convince a Najjar that his “situation would continue to get worse” unless he “cooperated”.

(“Cooperated”: Such a sinister meaning attached to such a benign term.)

They thought through the use of torture they “had a reasonable chance at breaking” him.

Breaking: a much more appropriate term.

And which they accomplished. They broke a man. Through isolation and sleep deprivation and hooding and exposure and hanging they broke a man.

And this ” ‘became the model’ for handling other CIA detainees at DETENTION SITE COBALT.”

A model for how to break a human being.





There is no blood around, see no sign of pain

16 12 2014

If you’re going to make an argument in favor of torture—and no, I will not be making an argument in favor of torture, even hypothetically—it seems the worst one is the one most often used: the ticking time bomb scenario.

What if you knew there was a nuclear bomb about to go off in New York City: wouldn’t you torture the suspect(s) in order to prevent the conflagration?

No. No no no no no no no.

Admittedly, I would neither torture nor approve of the torture of anyone under any circumstances—it’s one of the very few issues on which I’m an absolutist—but torture would seem to be least effective under these conditions.

Consider: the bomb is about (hours, days) to go off. If you are someone who is willing to die in order to kill hundreds of thousands of people, wouldn’t you be willing to outlast hours or days of torture? Or to lie repeatedly in order to forestall any efforts at finding and defusing the bomb?

The kind of person who’s willing and able to pull off the worst kind of terrorism is likely also the kind of person who’s willing and able to withstand hours and days of torture in order to make sure that bomb goes off.

I’ve spoken of my love for the mediocre movie The Peacemaker, but (and?) one of the things that makes no sense was Dušan Gavrić’s suicide. Here’s a man who went through all kinds of trouble in order to detonate a nuke in New York, and a couple of minutes before it detonates, he shoots himself.

Why not just talk until time expires? Mission accomplished.

Okay, so that’s a movie, but it seems like the assumptions beneath the ticking-time-bomb scenario are even less realistic than Nicole Kidman as a nuclear expert: that the bad guy who knows what the good guys need in order to stop the bad guy’s plans won’t just bullshit until time expires.

Give this to the psychopathic former vice president: at least he doesn’t bother with this particular bullshit scenario to justify the breaking of human beings.





Let the rain fall on your skin

11 12 2014

The USA Patriot Act issued by the US Senate on October 26, 2001, already allowed the attorney general to “take into custody” any alien suspected of activities that endangered “the national security of the United States,” but within seven days the alien had to be either released or charged with the violation of immigration laws or some other criminal offense. What is new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnameable and unclassifiable being. Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status of POWs as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of persons charged with a crime according to American laws. Neither prisoners nor persons accused, but simply “detainees,” they are the object of pure de facto rule of a detention that is indefinite not only in the temporal sense but in its very nature as well, since it is entirely removed from the law and from judicial oversight. The only thing to which it could possibly be compared is the legal situation of the Jews in the Nazi Lager [camps], who, along with their citizenship, had lost every legal identity, but at least retained their identity as Jews.

Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception

The torture-cheerleaders are clear to state that the Bush Administration’s legal counsel cleared the techniques of torture—mainly by stating that these techs were not-torture—so it could be argued that the “detainees” were in fact covered by law, as “detainees”.

The torture regime of a decade ago was indeed a legal regime: by using the law to remove the protections of the law from those assigned “detainee” status, it covered those who would torture.

Hannah Arendt noted there is no particular dignity in the naked human being (although “naked” in this sense meant shorn of one’s membership in a state), which leaves that shorn human vulnerable to imprisonment, displacement, death.

The point, then, is the same: lacking status as a citizen, a prisoner, a person—as someone recognized by us—allows us to do anything to that non-person.

And so we did.





Another one bites the dust

15 03 2014

I am an extremely lazy television viewer.

Not in the sense of not moving from the t.v. my external monitor, but in that I’d rather watch old shows over and over again than deal with the uncertainty of new shows. I watch to unwind, not get wound up.

There’s nothing wrong with such inertial sensibilities, at least as regards t.v. (and, it must be said, movies), but it does tend toward staleness. Thus, the only way to expand the comfortable old choices is to watch some new stuff.

Eureka worked out; Fringe did not. I’ve liked most of Waking the Dead, at least what’s available on Netflix, but it does seem like it headed toward MI-5 kill-everyone melodramatic cynicism. (Wallender is all right, tho’ a bit predictably dreary; don’t know that I’ll be revisiting that one, tho’ I may watch new episodes.)  And I’ve got some ‘new’ shows in my queue— Battlestar Galatica, Orange is the New Black, Top of the Lake, and a coupla’ other Brit-drams—which I’ll get to. Eventually.

Oh, and Leverage? Big enthusiastic fist-bumps for Leverage! Yes, formulaic and cartoonish, plot-wise, but since the show doesn’t take itself too seriously and the characters are witty and human and weird, well, big enthusiastic fist-bumps for Leverage!

So, anyway, another new show I was watching was Agents of SHIELD. I thought Thor was dumb, haven’t been interested in Iron Man/Captain America/The Hulk, zipped through an awful lot of the Avengers, and I have never been nor am I now a Marvel or DC Comic geek. (I only know about that distinction because of what I’ve read on TNC’s blog.) Still, sci-fi, strange tech: I could be up for it.

And so I watched. Some episodes I liked, some I didn’t, but I wasn’t so bothered as to stop watching. It was kind of mediocre, but I wasn’t so invested in the Marvel world that any plot problems really bothered me. It was slow in bringing everything together, but what the hell.

Well now I’m at to-hell-with-it. No, it wasn’t the poisonously oblique plot lines or the rushed intensity of the characters relationships to one another.

It was the beatings. The torture.

I’m not generally bothered by onscreen violence, and there isn’t overly-much in AoS—the expected battles of good-vs-bad guys—nor its it terribly graphic. That’s fine.

What’s not fine is the good guys beating the shit out of people they have in custody and having that be okay.

A few episodes ago Good-Guy Ward got the information he needed from a perp by threatening to have him sucked out of the plane.

This was not a problem for any of the other Good Guys.

In a more recent episode, another suspect was beaten (the Good Gal beating him was only stopped because she was needed elsewhere), then threatened with having his tongue pulled out and sundry other torments by yet more Good Guys.

Again, not a problem for the Good Guys. Which pretty much makes them not-Good Guys.

(I keep hitting the wrong key and typing “Good Goys”. Which, I guess, most of them are. Goys, I mean. Definitely not Good.)

This wouldn’t be a problem for me if this were all somehow to demonstrate the shadiness of the Good Guys and the moral peril involved in trying to be Good while sometimes doing not-Good. But that’s not how it’s set up: we’re supposed to cheer how bad-ass our Good Guys are.

Fuck that.

The Clairvoyant is bad because she (and, c’mon, she’s gotta be a she) engages in the crudest form of ends-justifying-the-means consequentialism. SHIELD has put the earth in danger and thus can’t be relied upon; someone else is gonna do what’s gotta be done to protect the joint.

Which makes her different how, exactly, from the Good Guys? Why shouldn’t I take her side?

Screw ’em all; I’m done.

So now I have space for another show. Maybe Friday Night Lights? Or how about Breaking Bad? At least we know (almost) everyone on that show is bad, right?





Grab my rack of bones

4 05 2013

Yeah, yeah, another bitchfest about Bones.

I got nicked up over at TNC’s joint last week for writing that I’d hoped this was the last season, but, dangnabbit, that’s my ‘pinion and I’m stickin’ to it!

Consider last week’s episode (spoiler alerts blah blah): Brennan stuck a man in the neck with a syringe he thought was full of a mutated RNA-virus/botulism mix in order to, ah, motivate him to reveal the whereabouts of an antidote which could save Arastoo, who had pricked himself. . . really, does it matter?

Small thing first: It’s gotten to the point in Bones that if they bring a body into the lab full of terrifying microbes you know someone’s gonna get it. It didn’t used to be this way—utterly predictable—but there you go.

BIG THING: Brennan fucking stuck a man in the neck with a syringe of what he thought was full of killer germs! And nobody said anything!

Oh, wait, there were a few gasps in the room, and afterward Mr. CDC Man told Booth how lucky he was to have Brennan and Booth agreed and as they were walking out Brennan said You know I didn’t really inject him with a killer bug and Booth said I know and Brennan said But I would have and Booth said I know and he smiled and they decided to go out to and drink champagne!

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee………………………….WHAT?!

She fucking assaulted a man and inflicted psychological torture on him and. . . that’s cool? Not arrested? Not fired? Not even the slightest bit chagrined because, hey, they saved Arastoo and got the bad guy so it was all good?

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. NO.

They used to give a shit about crossing lines on Bones. Yeah, I know, t.v. show, fiction, procedural, what did I expect, but Booth, at least, used to hold the line against shit like this because he knew that the lines mattered. (Brennan was always a more mixed case: on the one hand she cared about torture and genocide and on the other she did wanted to do what wanted to do and that was that.) But even if our plucky lil’ Jeffersonian gang was happy for the result—yay! Arastoo lives!—you’d think there’d be at least some blowback.

Nope.

Maybe there will be in later episodes, although I doubt it; in the meantime: champagne!





Reason will not save us. Or maybe it will.

13 03 2011

Like wiping an eraser across the land: The New York Times allows you to see before and after satellite photos of the devastation in Japan.

Stunning.

~~~

The planet does not care about us. Nature does not care about us.

Any care in this world begins and ends with us.

~~~

Errol Morris does not understand Thomas Kuhn.

Part of this non-understanding is due to Kuhn; part of this non-understanding is due to Morris.

(I am not the only one who thinks so.)

~~~

Judith Warner confuses the consequences of inquiry with inquiry.

Michael Bérubé is not confused, but did he really not understand the implications of epistemological nihilism?

I am not a genius—repeat, I am not a genius—yet even I, as a 2nd or 3rd-year grad student was able to suss out the political dangers of such nihilism.

I wrote a paper for a course on the philosophy of knowledge in which I (budding-but-not-yet-full-epist-nihilist) noted that the slipperiness of fact was a constant problem which must constantly be confronted. That “fact” and “evidence” and “reason” could be used as weapons meant that one must be ready to contest the deployment of such weapons.

This was a problem for me, for awhile: If everything is up for grabs, how can one move?

I solved this particular problem by moving.

Yes, there’s more, much more, involved than this, but this isn’t the place for an explication of my solution. I brought this up simply to signal my recognition that, yes, this is a problem.

I’ll try to dig out the particular paper, but I believe I used an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which Captain Picard is tortured by a Cardassian; his torturer, in an attempt to break him, wants him to say that there are five lights when there are only four. Upon his release, he turns to his torturer and emphasizes that there are, in fact, only four lights.

Later, however, he admits to Counselor Troi that he did see five lights.

Given that people can be coerced into not seeing what is in front of them—that truth as an intersubjective activity means that it is vulnerable to domination—means that truth is subject to political debate.

Upshot:  those of us invested in particular forms of and inquiries into truth must defend against assaults on those forms and inquiries.

I got this, as a smart-enough grad student, and I’d bet that I wasn’t the only one.

But Bérubé and Warner are shocked—shocked!—that  “it turns out that the critique of scientific “objectivity” and the insistence on the inevitable “partiality” of knowledge can serve the purposes of climate-change deniers and young-Earth creationists quite nicely.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Okay, so that wasn’t very nice. Bérubé  is a lit professor and was busy mining his own particular veins of concern; that’s one of the benefits of scholarship, after all: to forsake the surface and plunge below. Conversely, it was really not such a stretch for me, as a budding political theorist, to have recognized the political implications of anti-foundationalism.

Anyway, Bérubé is now aware that excavations below can lead to instability up top:  “[P]erhaps humanists [read: humanities professors]  are beginning to realize that there is a project even more vital than that of the relentless critique of everything existing, a project to which they can contribute as much as any scientist–the project of making the world a more humane and livable place.”

Just so.

There is more to this story, of course, not least of which is a defense of such excavations given the possibilities of instability; the short version is that the cracks were always there.

The long answer awaits.

~~~

What makes NPR liberal? What makes any media outlet liberal or conservative?

On the Media didn’t quite ask this, but in a segment with Ira Glass (who insists NPR is not liberal), they introduced the possibility that they will ask this question, as well as, perhaps, whether it matters.

Still would have liked to have heard them discuss O’Keefe’s edits of the vid.

~~~

I am old. I like to go fast.

That I put the “I am old” statement first tells you that I blame my age for my hesitations regarding speed.

Whatever.

I took my road bike out yesterday—first time in years—for a coupla’ spins around Prospect Park. Oh, every time I get on this bike I marvel at how quick it is. Unlike my road bike, this baby just sssshoooms when I crank the pedals.

That light narrow frame, those smooth skinny tires, the aerodynamism of the hunched-over posture. . . ack! That light narrow frame means it’s less stable! Those smooth skinny tires are apt to skip across the road! In my hunch I can’t see as well!

Ack!

No, I didn’t wipe out. (I will: I wipe out at least once every biking season, usually because I panic and can’t untangle my shoes from the clips fast enough. I try to have this happen away from traffic.) But the marvel at the speed competed with the concern that things are more likely to go wrong at speed.

Prudence is a fine thing, but so, too, is the exhilaration which follows recklessness.

Anyway, I’d rather not be afraid, and think that the more I ride the road bike, the less anxious I’ll be.

All the shit I have yet to learn and still, all the shit I have to re-learn.

Criminy.