Monday, September 25, 2006

OH, PATSY. This weekend's discovery: Absolutely Fabulous season five is the best since the very first season. Go! rent!
COSTUMED VIGILANTES: OK. I fully admit that I have not been plugged-in enough this past week to have a robust opinion on the McCain/Bush interrogation compromise. But it's troubling that no one else seems really to know what happened either. And this,
The Administration has been suggesting that it would somehow be inappropriate for the legislation, or the Senators, to say specifically which techniques the law would prohibit, i.e., that the law must remain so opaque that the Congress and the public don't have any idea what it does and does not prohibit. ...Senators McCain, et al., do not need to, and they probably should not, publicly reveal the extent to which, or circumstances under which, the CIA makes use of lawful techniques. But of course the Congress can and should specify which techniques are unlawful, if for no other reason than that it would be irresponsible for legislators to vote on a bill without having a clue what it does and does not prohibit.

from Marty Lederman, reminded me forcefully of the most powerful arguments for judicial restraint. What on earth is the point of voting if you have no idea what you're voting for? What's the point of laws if you can't have any idea what the laws mean?
But I'll never blogwatch your heart...

So... in my absence, apparently everything has gotten crazier than usual. Can't say I'm surprised. Here are a few photographs from the latest lipstick vogue.

The Agitator, awesomely, may get a man freed from Death Row. Wow.

Balkinization: What does Sen. McCain think the "torture compromise" does? And this is the most important post I've found thus far on the issue.

Jane Galt: Why a time machine stuck at 1973 would clarify our understanding of economics. More here!
NIGHTSHIFT: So, because I am awesome, I had a nightmare in which I was romantically rejected by

(wait for it)

the Virgin Mary.

Our Lady.

I hate you all!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I've been meaning for awhile now to do a series of short posts about--to pick an arbitrary number--21 writers or works that are very personal to me; the idea would be to try and encapsulate why, for each, using somewhere between 10 and 450 words. It having finally dawned on me that there's never going to be a time when doing this is actually convenient, I've decided to just do it in dribs and drabs (and in no particular order).

In the first episode, we get In Search of Lost Time; Story of O; and Portrait of a Lady. (Ratty's such a girl....)

Friday, September 15, 2006

A SMALL THOUGHT. It seems we're now in the part of the argument where people want to draw distinctions between "real torture" and, you know, just a little smacky-face. So it might be useful to link again to this excellent Washington Post op-ed from a Soviet dissident, on "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" as (not) opposed to torture:
...As someone who has been on the receiving end of the "treatment" under discussion, let me tell you that trying to make a distinction between torture and CID techniques is ridiculous. Long gone are the days when a torturer needed the nasty-looking tools displayed in the Tower of London. A simple prison bed is deadly if you remove the mattress and force a prisoner to sleep on the iron frame night after night after night. Or how about the "Chekist's handshake" so widely practiced under Stalin -- a firm squeeze of the victim's palm with a simple pencil inserted between his fingers? Very convenient, very simple. And how would you define leaving 2,000 inmates of a labor camp without dental service for months on end? Is it CID not to treat an excruciatingly painful toothache, or is it torture?

Now it appears that sleep deprivation is "only" CID and used on Guantanamo Bay captives. Well, congratulations, comrades! It was exactly this method that the NKVD used to produce those spectacular confessions in Stalin's "show trials" of the 1930s. The henchmen called it "conveyer," when a prisoner was interrogated nonstop for a week or 10 days without a wink of sleep. At the end, the victim would sign any confession without even understanding what he had signed.

And my small thought is this: Two of the most searing photographs from Abu Ghraib were an American woman with a naked Iraqi man on a leash, and a hooded, shrouded man on a box. According to the makers of fine distinctions, neither of these two photographs depict real torture--just degradation, threats, and "stress positions" (as well as sleep deprivation). It's easy to use euphemisms and concealing terminology. But when you see the thing, it's repellent....

Anyway, Balkinization is your source for information about the competing interrogation bills. See recently here.
There was whiskey on Blogwatch and tears on our cheeks...

Disputations: Christ's scars as "a source of recognition." And more. So profound and powerful. Very helpful in something I'm writing.

Mark Shea:
...I became Catholic because I came to see that the Faith was beautiful and fulfilling, the desire of my heart. The notion "I better do this or the Great and Terrible Oz will damn me to Hell" was about as far from my mind as the thought that I had better marry Janet or unspeakable things would happen to me. In one sense only, that was true: if I didn't marry Janet, I wouldn't marry Janet, which would be a horrible loss. Likewise, if I refused to be Catholic, I wouldn't get to be Catholic, which would likewise have been a terrible loss. But the notion that either God or Janet were standing over me with an ax, threatening "Love me or ELSE!" is foreign to what a love relationship is.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

...President Bush pointedly cited the capture and interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah in his speech last Wednesday announcing the transfer of Mr. Zubaydah and 13 others to the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And he used it to call for ratification of the tough techniques employed in the questioning.

But rather than the smooth process depicted by Mr. Bush, interviews with nearly a dozen current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials briefed on the process show, the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah was fraught with sharp disputes, debates about the legality and utility of harsh interrogation methods, and a rupture between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the C.I.A. that has yet to heal.

more (via)

And many links and info re sending care packages to our soldiers.
We care a lot about Blogwatchers, yeah they're more than meets the eye...

The Agitator: "The TV show Cops has actually sent cameras on several raids that ended up targeting the wrong address. At the request of police, each time they've decided not to air the footage."

Hit & Run: US longevity stats:
...A new study out from the online journal of the Public Library of Science has some unexpected findings on longevity. Race remains relevant (blacks and Indians are the shortest-lived), but income is less important than conventional wisdom holds. And three biggest predictors of longevity?: Location, location, location. ...

Other interesting tidbits:

* American Indians who don't live on or near reservations in the West have life expectancies similar to that of white people.

* Lack of health insurance wasn't a powerful factor, it explained only a small portion of differences observed

* Longevity gaps have been about the same for the last 20 years, despite increased focus on race-related health problems and numerous government programs designed to better insure minorities.


Plus bonus link: Catholic Vietnamese rebuilding New Orleans.

Stuart Buck: Quotes from Mark Gerson's book on teaching in a Jersey City Catholic school:
Because they worked hard and wanted and expected to work hard as adults, my students took an almost instinctive interest in money and economics. One of the parts of the Constitution that captivated them was the interstate commerce clause, because it allowed the government to limit the number of hours they could work. I did not expect to spend much time on this, but the students were fascinated by the idea that the federal government could regulate working conditions in a Jersey City restaurant on the basis of the fact that the tablecloth was made in New York. I was surprised that this point generated significant ire among my students. Carmen reacted first: "No one should tell me how much I should work except my mother. How does Bill Clinton know how much money we need or how many hours I can work and do well in school?"

Walt added, "She be right, yo. And if I ain't workin', you think I'm studyin'? No. I am out with my boys."


And She-Devil author finds God: "The soul is the essential part of us, the inner recognisable core which stays the same while the body which ties us down changes." Plus lots more, on women vs. men, adultery vs. divorce, visions, vodka, and vicars.... (via Thunderstruck)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Blogwatchers are there,
The smell of blog is everywhere...

Hit & Run: Are Gypsies still being targeted for sterilization? The post recalls a lot of the points I made here--even without a policy of racist sterilization, there are a lot of reasons to think the dominant groups will get there anyway.

The Rat: ?!?!? (or, philosophie dans le boardroom.)

And from the Telegraph:
The notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad is at the centre of fresh abuse allegations just a week after it was handed over to Iraqi authorities, with claims that inmates are being tortured by their new captors. ...

An independent witness who went into Abu Ghraib this week told The Sunday Telegraph that screams were coming from the cell blocks housing the terrorist suspects. Prisoners released from the jail this week spoke of routine torture of terrorism suspects and on Wednesday, 27 prisoners were hanged in the first mass execution since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Conditions in the rest of the jail were grim, with an overwhelming stench of excrement, prisoners crammed into cells for all but 20 minutes a day, food rations cut to just rice and water and no air conditioning.

Some of the small number of prisoners who remained in the jail after the Americans left said they had pleaded to go with their departing captors, rather than be left in the hands of Iraqi guards.

(more; via The Corner; and I'd really like to think that James S. Robbins isn't implying that as long as Americans aren't the worst possible option, anything we do wrong should be glossed over.)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

JUST CONDUCT IN WAR: A bunch of links.

"Mixed messages on torture":
...Meanwhile, across the Potomac, an Army general unveiled a new Army interrogations manual designed to fit squarely within the protections of the Geneva Conventions. That new manual specifically bars hooding, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, mock executions and many of the other "tough" techniques allegedly practiced in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and the black sites.

The new manual was presented by Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence in a press conference that aired live Wednesday morning on the limited-circulation Pentagon Channel. During the press conference, Kimmons expressed a view about the effectiveness of "tough" interrogation techniques utterly different from the president's.

"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices," Kimmons said. "I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the past five years, hard years, tells us that." He argued that "any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility." And Kimmons conceded that bad P.R. about abuse could work against the United States in the war on terror. "It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used," Kimmons said. "We can't afford to go there."

more--not the most important point (the most important points are that torture is wrong and that degrading others is degrading to our interrogators), but worth saying.

Jack Balkin comments on a draft bill on military commissions.

Marty Lederman on the administration's proposals. And here. And here.

My old series of posts on torture.
ANTI-CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM ROUNDUP. There's a lot to like about John McCain, but McCain-Feingold was stupid and wrong.
MORE ON "PATH TO 9/11": 1. It's a docudrama, not a documentary, which I didn't know and which seems seriously lame, especially due to point #2:

2. Apparently there is quite a bit of important falsehood in the portrayal of some Clinton-administration figures, inc. Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger. Ick.

3. I still think the Dem senators' letter had troubling overtones of "make the movie nicer to the Clinton administration or we'll cause difficulties with your broadcast license"; but criticism certainly seems warranted, and this sounds like a very dumb move on ABC's part. I apologize for previous overreaction/going off half-cocked.

Friday, September 08, 2006


[EDITED to remove an analogy that was interesting to me, but probably unhelpful in the wider conversation. Also, I need to sleep now, but when I wake up I'll put in some more links, I think.]

OK, Noli Irritare Leones comments on previous posts here. But this post is actually about Anactoria's replies to my comments here. And please do read her post before going on with this one, okay?

I think things are getting a bit tangled here. Anactoria and I agree, in many ways, about which issues are connected--but we disagree, I think, about how they're connected. So let me try to card the wool here. (I suspect this might be more of a riff on her post than a reply to it.)

I thank God that my sins are not like those of this publican!: Anactoria is coming from a tradition in which rejecting the community's understanding of Christian faith meant that you were shunned, completely cut off from everyone who'd loved you and raised you. I can't express how awful that sounds. I am so sorry that anyone goes through that--in fact, it's a part of why I write about my whole deal on this blog, that I hope it will make that horrible breaking of families at least a little less likely. I don't understand how shunning is Christian and... and I think I should rein myself in, here, because I start wanting to talk about how awful this approach is, and that gets perilously close to a self-righteous focus on Other People's Faults.

So instead I will just say that I am incredibly lucky that the orthodox Catholics I met were totally awesome, admirable, welcoming people, willing to listen to me babble on about heterosexism or whatever other random thing I wanted to talk about. They were up-front with me about what I'd have to give up, but equally up-front about what they had struggled with in their own lives.

Well I've been a drag racer on LSD...: That said: There are a lot of possible methods I don't think you get to use in order to figure out what is right, what is wrong, what is a dealbreaker when you try to make sense of the world, etc. And my strong impression is that Anactoria is using methods that I just don't think work, for distinguishing possible belief systems from impossible ones.

"I wouldn't shun someone who believes his identity is based in doing X" doesn't mean X is actually okay to do. [this is where the analogy was--and keep in mind that Anactoria says I'm still misreading her in this section....]

In order to figure out if something is okay to do, you can't just ask whether people who seem like good upstanding citizens (according to some culture or subculture's definition of "good"!) want to do it. I mean... I know a lot of good upstanding citizens who wouldn't bat an eye if somebody shoved bamboo sticks up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's fingernails. Doesn't make it right to do. Culture can't be the final word on moral truth; nor can individual inclination be the final word. This actually strikes me as one of the stronger arguments that if there is a distinction between right and wrong, it requires a Creator God.

Strange things seem to occur, somewhere behind the nursery door: And now we get to the question of original sin.

Look--I find that language really illuminating. I think Augustine's influence on our understanding of the inclination to sin is right-on and awesome. It explains cultural myths of a Golden Age (Orwell yay!); it is dark in the right places (Pat Barker yay!) and bright wherever it can be. I've written here and here (bonus Queen reference!) about life as exile from Adam's happiness.

But a good friend pointed out that the language of "original sin" might be getting in the way here. And that might well be true. I know I had a really hard time taking Christianity seriously until I a) met awesome Christians and b) read St Anselm's Cur Deus Homo (How God Became Man) and thought, "Hey wait now--is that what Christians mean when they say 'sin'? Because that actually makes sense!" ...Plus, I remember how an Eastern Orthodox friend had to explain to freshmen, every single year, "Christians don't think you need to feel guilty for original sin!"

So okay. I like the language of original sin, because it implies a homeland and an exile. But if it doesn't work for you, okay. All I am really talking about in the previous post is an undertow: a terrible riptide pulling us toward sin.

I don't think we stand in front of a crossroads and calmly choose good or evil. I think it's more bewildering than that, less rational. We choose wrongdoing when it won't benefit us; we choose it even when we know it will hurt us. We choose it when we really don't know why--and when no explanation really explains why.

And I think we do this because something very big has gone wrong. One of the most compelling things, to me, about the Christian story, is that it responds to my sense that something terrible has happened. Something equally great and terrible has to respond to the shock and sorrow and outrage with which it's appropriate to meet what we see in the world every day. The torture and death of God seems... lurid enough for a lurid world.
NICE BROADCASTING LICENSE YOU'VE GOT HERE. SHAME IF ANYTHING WAS TO HAPPEN TO IT. Democratic Party leaders yell at ABC over "Path to 9/11," including some stuff that sounded to me like a veiled threat.

[edited--man I am sloppy!--to tone down the melodrama. But also to add this: I haven't seen the documentary. And of course people should vigorously counter anything they think is a distortion. But one odd thing is that the various right-wing sites I frequent have been saying for a while, basically, "This is a really powerful documentary. Clinton comes in for a lot of criticism, but so do Clinton-impeaching Republicans, and the Bush administration in general and Sec'y Rice in particular." I wonder what people-in-general will think when it is broadcast.]
YEAH, BUT IF I DON'T SOUND MY BARBARIC YAWP, WHO WILL?: Ended up re-reading some old articles, and found things I'd still promote. Including but not limited to my piece on prison reform; and "Christianity from the Outside," a really compelling symposium in which people pose the hard questions, and my best friend is brilliant as usual. (Um. I feel like people won't read it if I say that. Christopher Hitchens is in it too--? But also many, many Jews? Yeah? Look--lots of people liked it! I am not crazy!)
WHY on earth do we rush to apply dehumanizing terms like "vegetable" to actual living humans?

[title changed and other link deleted--it was this, but I had actually forgotten what was in the article, and it turned out not to have some stuff that I had thought was in there. Sorry...]
SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD UNITE: Wow, every single aspect of this story sounds awful.

1. I've expressed before (oh, at length!) my problems with the "ex-gay movement." (And I do think "ex-gay" as a political cause is different from "ex-gay" as a personal narrative. I agree with the people who suggested that if you're looking for people who used to consider themselves 100% super extra gay, and now do not, the "ex-gay movement" is the last place you should look.) So... I'm really, really not on board with this TV show. Actually I would love to come on as a guest, and wreak polite havoc.

2. But--I'm kind of inarticulately horrified at the way that professed "ex-gay" people are having their own honesty and vulnerability used against them. OMG, Alan Chambers says he stole stuff! I wonder if Jesus had anything to say to repentant thieves! ...No, probably not. Jesus came to save the good people--not the sinners. YA RLY.

Actually, this article reminds me of nothing so much as the constant stream of "gay people are evil drug-using alcoholic miserable losers!" commentary from anti-gay lit. Every single thing you ever do wrong in your life is used against not only you, but an entire class of people who may have nothing to do with your own personal mess. If any gay guy admits that ten years ago he tricked or snorted coke, all gay people are promiscuous cokeheads; if any ex-gay guy admits that years ago he stole stuff or prostituted himself, all ex-gays are promiscuous thieves. Which is so compassionate. And so in line with Jesus' actions. ...Oh, and if you succumb to the pressure placed on you to be "one of the good ones," and lie about or conceal the stuff you do wrong, expect triple the fury if you are ever exposed. But if you talk about where you lost your way, expect blame not only for what you did, but for being a self-aggrandizing Oprah-culture professional victim.

Yeah... riled, a little. This got under my skin.

Use each man after his desert, and who shall 'scape whipping?
ROCK ME, MACHIAVELLI: Last night I dreamt that I was trying to explain "The Three Waves of Modernity." With a chalkboard and everything.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

EASE THE MARKET FOR ORGAN DONORS: From the Rocky Mountain News
...A 1984 federal law prohibits organ donors from receiving any "valuable consideration" for their life-saving generosity. A live donor can be compensated for medical expenses (which are usually paid by the recipient's health insurance), travel and lost wages, but nothing more. And if you choose to donate organs at death, your survivors get nothing.

The medical establishment has long considered it anathema to allow donors or their survivors to "profit" from their beneficence. The worry is that poor people will sell their organs out of financial desperation and thus in some cases compromise their health. But there are ways to minimize the risk that such a fully open market might pose.

For example, Washington could alleviate the shortage by considering pilot programs. One idea is federal income tax relief along the lines of laws operating in eight states, including Utah. Those states offer up to $10,000 in income-tax deductions to repay donors' travel expenses and lost wages.

Another possibility: "futures" contracts, in which recipients would pay up front some of the funeral expenses of those who elect to donate organs at death.

And the medical establishment should drop its objections to organizations like This site lets organ recipients find willing live donors and make transplantation arrangements privately.

We're certainly not comfortable endorsing a full-fledged market in organs, a regime that would allow donors to auction kidneys on eBay. But the current system is not compassionate; it amounts to a death sentence for thousands of Americans each year.

more (via Virginia Postrel)
FOOT-WASHING SPARKS ATONEMENT DEBATE: "The thorny issue of white atonement for apartheid has been thrown under the South African spotlight after a white former hardline minister washed the feet of a black preacher his forces once tried to kill." (more) Via Colby Cosh.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


(um, more Fun With Sin soon, but maybe not tonight.)