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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Quick Comments

And Also: Took over a year, but I finally obtained a California Quarter (2005) for my state quarter map. Also, took all year, but the Yanks clinched it all, best record (in all of baseball too, though that only goes to bragging rights) coming last (with the AL win in July, this means home field advantage into the World Series) yesterday. Elsewhere, tomorrow's games will mean something, though not too much. Also, Pedro will be out for much longer than six weeks.

As noted here and the links therein, the Mark Foley mess is rather instructive of the hypocritical nature of current congressional "leadership." Though criminal sanction might not be at issue, the delays by House leadership also had unfortunate Catholic hierarchy flavor.

Meanwhile, how can reports of continual corporal punishment in schools not bring to mind the mentality used for other "them" who do not deserve full rights? A rather open-ended class, apparently, though so many seem to argue only the worst of the worst are involved. Not so. Anyway, more wiggle room -- good thing it is being rushed to the desk.

As to pre-9/11 activities, see here, with an additional "thanks for telling us now" thought from me. Can people who were upset all along sneer a bit at such "johnny come lately" proof of our ire?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Entertainment Watch

And Also: For some reason, the new books on the side panel download better using certain browsers.

Oh Rosie, her man he gets too rough
And all she can say, is he's a good man
He don't mean no harm
He was just brought up that way
But our children are watching us
They put their trust in us
They're gonna be like us
It's okay for us to disagree
We can work it out lovingly

-- "I Hope" by the Dixie Chicks

Doing my part for the progressive effort, I purchased "Taking the Long Way" by the Dixie Chicks. As Hank Hill noted on King of the Hill, they are nice on the eyes (though perhaps not exactly phrasing it that way), and are women with an attitude. Darlings of the country music circuit, they got in trouble when Natalie Maines let out to a crowd in Britain that they were ashamed that Bush was President. This was around the time when he was bringing us into a heinous war. This obviously was treasonous and they were suddenly verboten on many radio stations and the like.

A half-hearted, one surely assumes, apology didn't work, so they said the hell with it. "Not ready to make nice" and all, they accepted their new twist of fate and suddenly became heroines of progressives. The signs were there -- they did after all have a popular song concerning killing an abusive husband. And, they have a playful aggressive nature that is pretty fun. The sort of thing that cries "crossover appeal," suggesting those that might be written off as country/western (horrors! just the most popular music in many parts, even if NYC has no station playing such fare, not a one to listen to on regular radio). C&W also was traditionally populist, voicing the aches and pains of the downtrodden ... not just of the romantic variety. So, it really should get some more respect. Music overall needs to be used more -- and many blogs are starting to post those audio clips to help enliven the troops.

As to KOTH, One of my favorite episodes was on again late last night, the one when Luanne tries boxing. [Brittany Murphy girlish voice] "Fixed? [the boxing matches] You mean like puppies?" Lol. The bit where Hank tries to get George Foreman to agree to have his daughter call off the match with Luanne was also amusingly in character -- he agrees until Hank starts insulting his grill as a "novelty" grill, one good for little girls playing barbeque. The show is a mixed bag, but some are just fun (and touching too).

BTW, it is rather striking how the "Linda" character on Becker just flaunts them out there. "Here's the thing ...." Again, the show grows on you, the ensemble cast fitting in good together with more humanity than you might expect. Hey, no classic, but perfectly fine for late night watching.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fiction and reality again

And Also: So Pedro is officially done. Well, he only got nine of the over ninety wins, so it is not the end of the world. And, after yesterday, not surprising. He gave the Mets immediate respectability last year and was a big part of attracting key players this year too. Two years left, but so far, he is worth the money. It's a shame though.

Fictional -- Ugly Betty has potential. As suggested by a few of the things she was already in, America Ferrera is a promising young actress that has the "spunk" thing down (see Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). She is someone we can root for while enjoying the pretty stuff surrounding her -- and, if the series does not make things too watery, the soap opera / clash of cultures can be fun overall. Not much of a taste of the other characters, but there is some bitchy potential. Something to check on again.

Reality -- ugly as well. The Senate passed the thing: 65-34 (Snowe not voting). All Republicans but one (Chafee) voted in favor. Democrats voting in favor included Carper, Johnson, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Menendez, Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, Rockefeller, Salazar and Stabenow. This is the mixture of likely suspects and those (including the likes of Stabenow, who I thought a bit more of ... but then Sherrod Brown voted for it too) running this fall. Actually, so is Snowe, so her "now you see me, now you don't" (someone saw her on the floor) routine is expected. As you can see, Specter (who thought habeas was soooo fundamental) and all the rest of the "reasonable" Republicans voted for it.

As noted, the House vote is comparable. I talk about the whole thing here, but the point about the Democrats hold: grow a f-ing spine! Once you submit to yet ANOTHER election motivated rush off the cliff, do you really think you can really be saved even if you win? This sentiment rings truer than many might like:
Democratic Party that has already ceded the principle that "our security depends on hiding people away and torturing them" will take power. That party will not have the self-confidence or ambition to spend political capital undoing what it allowed this week to be done. That party will be able to provide a nice living for its officials, do a tidy business in fundraising and maybe push marginal tax rates up a point or raise the gas mileage requirements on new cars - in a country whose official policy is that "our security depends on hiding people away and torturing them." It will not be a party that opposes anything worth opposing. It will not be a party that can sustain majority support for an alternate philosophy of governance. In important ways it will hardly even count as a second party. And that’s the pleasant scenario.

The fact some, from Sen. Reid down, voiced some nice thoughts against it and in support of American values is nice and all. But, the Democrats could not even muster forty votes to stage a filibuster. Some now will go back and campaign. They have a shot to win in November.

But, we lost. We need people who have vision. These people think so small. It's sad really.

Principled Perspective

And Also: New books should be on the side panel ... I have discussed each one and found each a good read. To close the loop on Chayes, the rest of the book covered Afghan history (as she said, quite important to understand), the tragic ending of her friend ("Mr. Commander"), and a generally open-ended conclusion -- things are going badly (warlordism etc.) but she continues to love the place and trying to help it (in country) the best she can. And, a check on her latest activities suggests such is the case now. Oh, and she reaffirmed the truism that Iraq hurt our efforts in the country. RIP "Toyko Rose."

My philosophy, at times expressed probably in a somewhat self-righteous fashion, is that life tends to be complex though some basic things are true. Thus, things like First Amendment rights and so forth are fundamental, and I am pretty absolutist in that respect, but I understand the complexity of the situation. So, I have pretty strong opinions on freedom from and of religion, but understand those who cross the line. I do not find such people per se reprobates while also finding some people on my side a bit over the top. This leads me to find things a bit less "slam dunk" than others, though at the end of the day, we might be on the same page more or less. This is probably fairly normal.

Still, especially since I favor places (blogs) that lean to the passionate, it seems at times a somewhat foreign sentiment. So it goes. The "gotcha" nature of all sides, especially the Republicans, reaffirms things. Thus, one might be afraid to say what TPM noted -- the Bush Administration, or if one wants, the professionals there, have did some good things to fight Al Qaeda. The core issue the NIE reaffirms is that Iraq helped a new strand, a sort of hydra (cut one head off ...) issue. This is not really too surprising -- the people aren't 100% incompetent after all, which apparently is a great thing to some people -- and in fact helps our side. After all, the fight generally was done via Kerryian crime fighting techniques. If the one thing they did right is something Dems probably would do better...

I also have reaffirmed the idea that we should know just what cost/benefit ratio is at stake. Thus, when dealing with checks/profiling/no fly lists at airports, I at various times referenced discussions that pointed out that it is not cost-free. This does not necessarily mean each particular thing is ill advised, but it very well mean that some tweaking should be made to help deal with problems, to deal with reasonable public concerns. To assume they are just rants of crazies, which "reasonable" sorts claim with snide epithets, is wrong. Likewise, the fact that bad things are not 100% bad in every way is not a clincher. See here respecting torture. Note also how the "good" things often are padded with fraudulent arguments.

[A special shame goes to "spin" jobs. This is something that in some dream world could be okay, but in actuality is obviously not. Since the electoral timing/rush/sickening acceptance is comparable, we can point to the October 2002 resolution that some people honestly claimed would help prevent a rush to war. It is of the "we don't torture" (the parrot is not dead, it is just pining in the fields) variety. B.S.

I saw a shade of this today when Sen. Warner claimed that an amendment setting a five year limit on presidential military commissions would mean that after that time terrorists could avoid coming to justice. Sure, after five years, the executive's power would not simply come up for renewal/tweaking. Such shameful lying is obviously not surprising, but isn't much less disgusting for its normality.]

One more thing on the 100% deal. Perspective is a good thing. Thus, though sentiments like this are understandable [some shred of understanding is very important, some true respect, which is often lacking], they are defeatist. Also, it is unfair since House Democrats did speak out and generally speaking vote (around 80% or so) the right way. In fact, two who did not (including Sherrod Brown, which is a shame), are running for the Senate! And, the Senate seems to be the true target of that link. I am on the front line of those who demand Democrats to show spine and principles. I wanted censure. I wanted a Torture Czar filibuster. I was upset when a few Dems voted for Ashcroft, using their little firepower to accomplish a pointless defeat of Linda Chavez (as if her replacement was any real improvement). My senators should spend a bit more time on torture than targeting Rummy. And so forth.

There is a Nader flavor here ... a "pox on both your houses" sentiment that does not hold up. It is useful, surely, to see the limitations of the current Democratic Party ... the knee-jerk sentiment when I post some offensive thing on the Slate Fray is to target "conservatives" and so forth, when the problem often is broader. All the same, we live in the real world. Everything is not black/white. Thus, people point out that some good things came out of the War in Iraq. This is supposed to be conclusive. This is akin to be happy about the destruction in New Orleans since it might provide a sort of an urban renewal function. [Surely, no one said that ... well ....] The fact killing someone (not talking execution here) might get rid of a bad person is not per se a justification for homicide.

Same here: on balance, time after time, current events underline how those currently in power acted against our interests. The fact every act they do doesn't do this (Bush supporter!!!!) does not change this. This goes back to the last presidential election -- the fact Kerry seemed like somewhat weak gruel to some people did not justify voting for the other guy. We are not dealing with a vacuum here or the proverbial (h/t Atrios "and a pony" regime where the best possible world is available. We are living in the real world.

Messy, I know, but there is a certain charm to that all the same. Oh shut up, Felix.

Mets are starting to annoy

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No (Transfat) Fries With That

And Also: A lot of outrage is currently being expressed as how "conservatives" are for torture and so forth. Let's stop kidding ourselves. There are many more people who think "war, it is hell" (Sherman) or view "them" (as if this would be done to our own -- well, to this degree/as openly at least) as different (but are horrified if it is suggested they are racist). Republicans do not just win elections because of election fraud and gerrymandering people. They target a dark side of us and it is (to quote ED) "naive" to think otherwise. We need to understand this to adequately promote the other side.

The NY Health Department wants to ban transfats in city restaurants. Not just requiring labeling and such (which is perfectly fine really), but bans ala the whole smoking deal. They are bad for our health, so this is deemed to be a good thing. I am sure why transfats in particular should be targeted. For instance, it has been noted -- and when we used to have weekly family meals there I didn't eat all day to enjoy the fact -- that restaurants often give out huge portions. This is one reason why we are a nation of fatties. I assume it might be useful -- for health reasons -- to require smaller portions. Of course, certain types of foods are inherently unhealthy. One can only make McDonalds so healthy after all -- yes, even without transfats or by providing salads and such.*

I was never a big fan of the smoking ban. My sister (the one who doesn't smoke) hates smoking, or even the sight of an ashtray used to hold keys and such. Others do too ... they find the smell etc. offensive, and surely those who work where smoking occur would agree, especially since they have to breathe the stuff regularly. This approaches a reasonable justification -- an easy case would be airplanes, confined places that generally involve short periods of time (putting aside long flights ... I wonder how international trips, especially those favored by Europeans, handle things). Restaurants, however, open a mixed case. Surely, we are starting to get to "warning Bill Robinson" territory when we are dealing with bars. But, putting aside certain special cases, there are not exceptions. A few places in the country go further -- making a small town smoke-free or maybe even talking about residences.

I'm of the sentiment that a place as big as New York City can have some eateries where smoking is allowed, especially if we are talking separate rooms or even floors. It seems to me a matter of property rights mixed with individual liberties ... some people actually do like to smoke and associate with such individuals. They should not be required to go to cigar bars or something to do so. As to health, certain professions are unhealthy to various extents. For instance, many people who work outside have to inhale loads of car exhaust fumes. Don't get me started about various industries, especially in the current era of less concern for ergonomics and such. (Scalia's son, are you listening?) So be it. The arguments have been made and are credible.

But, this goes too far. It is the sort of thing those against smoking bans raise as a worse case scenario, which some laugh off as unlikely, others deep down find quite reasonable. The government should not micromanage what we eat. This is the sort of private choices that we make, involving matters of health and enjoyment that is really no business of the government. In a law review article he wrote after leaving the Court, Justice Clark dealt with matters of privacy and morality as connected to abortion and such. Expanding upon the "right of privacy" expressed by Griswold v. Connecticut (Clark was the only justice firmly with Douglas ... three others joining the opinion but also taking part in a separate one based on the Ninth Amendment), Clark spoke of broad privacy rights that would include such things as diet. "[T]he freedom to care for one's health and person...." Doe v. Bolton, (Douglas, J. concurring) (he also quotes Clark as did many lower court abortion opinions).**

[I also now recall a favorite quote from Godless Constitution, which reflects how religious freedom fits into a broader enlightenment era principle of liberty. The scientist/philosopher Joseph Priestley spoke about how the state had no business being involved in his religious beliefs, no more than they had a right to interfere with his choices respecting food and medicine. I reckon this included his right to buy fatty foods on his travels. We regulate, most likely overregulate, medicine these days. Food might just be the next step, but it is a pretty distressing one.]

Smoking raises problems of third parties. Since few things do not, I do not necessarily think this is a total trump. But, it does help to justify regulation. Fatty foods are rather different from smoking in this respect. My eating transfats is not unhealthy for other people as well, except to the point that a shortened lifespan might hurt family members and so on. Also, there is an overbreadth problem here -- why exactly should we focus on this one particular issue? If we accept, and we must, that determining one's diet is a very personal thing (it is rather important to culture and so forth as well), limitations need to be reasonable. If mommy state is going to tell us to eat our vegetables, it cannot just target those high in iron or something. No half measures here.

Just tell us what to eat. No, make us eat healthy. You tell us all the time, but who listens, right? Now some might say restaurants are different -- they are public accommodations are allowed to be more intimately regulated. But, supermarkets are comparable in this respect, right? You cannot be kept from Pioneer or Shop and Stop because of race or gender, right? Likewise, as shown in the medicinal marijuana case, we saw how broadly the government can regulate commerce overall, including what one's grows and maybe even simply possesses. After all, those potatoes you are cooking at home with transfats just might be sold elsewhere. If you have too much ala pot, you might have the intent to sell (trading for a casserole might be included here) to others. Clearly, a threat to public health.

I was thinking about the possible lengths of governmental power. While leaning against the doors on the subway (almost as good as a seat -- you can read and everything), I heard the automated message about not doing that. Being a rebel, I did not pay attention. But, let's say the door has sensors and there was a camera in each car. And, just as speeders might receive a ticket, what if I get something in the mail informing me that I was a scofflaw. Shades of Demolition Man (with tickets for saying bad words and such). The Orwellian possibilities are quite possible to imagine. Employee tracking, including at times determining if one smokes at home and so forth, suggests it is not all pie in the sky.

Not quite there yet, Joe. But, I would find tell me what to eat -- putting aside poisons and such obviously -- about equally as offensive. After all, there is some reason why you are not supposed to lean against doors, including safety and keeping clear exit pathways. Sort of a weak third party danger issue. Not quite the case here.


* My normal breakfast of a coffee and a muffin also isn't that healthy. No one said vegetarianism is healthy per se people. It is a nice dodge when explaining why you chose a path that some people find akin to fundamentalism ... well, it is for health reasons, right? No ... no health nut here.

** "Religion, Morality, and Abortion: A Constitutional Appraisal" (1969). The article is generally cited, as was the case here, for its principle that life does not begin at conception, only the potential for life that takes time to develop before having rights the state must respect. Thus, "life" here has a certain meaning. Also, birth need not be the dividing line -- in fact, one source that cited the article noted that it argued for some legislative flexibility on where to draw the line. Justice Douglas himself while the abortion decisions were formulated once noted that he would "favor the first trimester, rather than viability." [The Douglas Letters, edited by Melvin L. Urofsky.]

I have yet to find a full copy of the article, online or on Lexis. The "Abortion Reader" I mentioned also did not excerpt it, which is somewhat unfortunate given its importance at the time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


And Also: Saw only a bit, but Gilmore Girls still seems lame. When should Mets fans start to worry about their end of the season swoon with iffy talk about Pedro? Donate blood -- it's easy and important.

A popular -- though not in my neck of the woods -- Slate frayster recently died of lung cancer. Since I know by now how online connections matter, that they can be pretty close and striking in various cases (a recent wedding show underlined the point ... they met online), it is not surprising that this affected many people on that message board. The same occurred earlier on when another popular frayster died. (I had minimal contact, but I can see why he was well liked.) Ditto when a woman reported that she had a miscarriage.

The particularly striking thing this time was that the person wrote a swan song post in July, saying goodbye to public life and saying it was time to be with his family. In part, he was unsure what to say since current events did not really interest him. It might not be the best idea to connect the two, but I sort of can relate. I had various "fray arcs," let us say, since I started posting in force in early 2002. [I posted a few times in late 2000.] A favorite practice of mine, which I do not do as much any more, was to post articles (known as "cut and paste") with an extended commentary (usually as a prologue). This was something I did years back -- I found opinion pieces a useful way to collect my thoughts on an issue or point of view, especially since it served as a launching pad. I also find judicial opinions (and Findlaw columns) useful for this reason as suggested by my opus.

There were also, of course, always Slate articles and current events to discuss. All the same, there were two major streams of posts: election and war related. Thus, from 2002 to early 2003, I had many posts on my opposition to the lead up to the war. There was a certain anguish after awhile to these posts -- I am at heart a pacifist, though willing to admit force is needed in some cases (I simply didn't see Afghanistan as some slam dunk, especially since I didn't trust the commander-in-chief, but in reality, it was in effect one). So, the horribly wrong nature of the oncoming conflict was particularly troubling, especially since many non-pacifists were similarly troubled. The results of the election posts, especially since I leaned toward Dean (but knew deep down he would not win) and didn't really care for Kerry (especially his fake war dodge) was not much more pleasant.

Different fray locales were involved here. Today's Papers, Kausfiles (many despised the man, but his fray was used for election posts), Ballot Box (politics/war posts), and a few other places at times were my bailiwicks. Once the war came, it all seemed hopeless. The Republicans won in 2002, the Democrats did not seem to have much life (some were scrappy in the House, but they run the place like a plantation), and the overall results were of the "well it might not be quite as bad as it could have been" variety. I did not feel like writing much about the war under these conditions, though important stuff was going on -- there is a difference between bad and worse, even if it seems so hopeless. Politics in 2005 also seemed rather depressing. So, I spent much of my time in the Jurisprudence Fray.

But, things are starting to approach the point of stasis there too. A major concern, for instance, is the treatment of detainees. A recent article noted that we are talking about something like fourteen thousand people here overall though most of the focus in on the hundreds in Gitmo. And, the whole matter is depressing. Years of limbo while lawyers fight over holding on to minimum protections, which are essential since they have secured some modicum of justice for many detainees who were released or given some sort of due process. Meanwhile, however, the administration is playing a game of delay of which many defense attorneys with people on death row would be proud. Thus, what does Rasul and Hamdan really give you? Bare right of review, for now at least, with the actual details very unclear. More litigation! More waiting in detention!

Meanwhile, Bush et. al. continues to underline how horrible our leadership truly is. I won't even link these things to underline the standard nature of it all ... Bush calls a conflict that killed almost three thousand of his fellow Americans has died (not counting many more injured, or ten times as much -- by his own estimate some time ago -- Iraqis dead) but a "comma" (of history). The Senate Majority Leader gives a pathetic performance talking about the President's detainee bill (up there with his crack diagnosis via video of Terri Schiavo). More retired generals go on the record to say that Rummy was incompetent. Another likely Republican candidate for President in '08 is looking like more and more of a racist. A third (McCain) is again seen as a phony. Turns out the SWIFT story had bite (see NYT today). And so forth.

This is all very depressing. I am ready for a change, aren't you?* Now, I find current affairs pretty addictive, have for awhile found it necessary to keep up (at least via steady consumption of certain news sources) to some degree, and find various subjects (including of a legal nature) interesting per se. Finally, I also find compelled to voice my opinion on various matters, and it is amazing how online sources can allow one to do this in a fashion where so many can read it (and, this is almost as amazing, find it worth reading). So, I'm going to continue to do so. Also, I have loads of respect for those who actually are activists, who are continuously on the front lines or serving as rear guard actions in various ways and for many causes. The basic faith, comparable to religious believers, needed for this is clear.

Still, it is understandable -- and not just for those who are dying (obviously a special case ... but for the living, the responses are likely to be a bit less striking) -- you can see why so many might want to say "the hell with this." One hopes this year is different -- "hope" seems appropriate since events in recent years leads one to be guarded with one's expectations.

Some point to the Clinton FOX appearance as a rallying cry. I think John Dickinson was right to argue that the questions were not just sprung on Clinton -- he was expecting and prepared for them. It seems a bit naive of various left leaning sorts to ignore this possibility though both agree it was a very good performance ... if the word fits. Saying he was in some fashion "performing" does not take away from the force of his words. As a politician, after all, you have to do both -- play the game while serving the public at the same time.

We now have some backlash -- talk about how there was no "full-fledged" plans to go after Bin Laden etc. once the USS Cole was attacked in late 2000. If this is the best non-right leaning sorts can do, I'll take it. I am loathe to focus on Clinton ... this is not the 1990s any more, people. But, the attacks from the usual suspects are telling. Are we to believe that Bush was "as bad" as Clinton respecting pre-9/11 activities? Well, the Right hated the guy, right? Is this really a good place to be? Also, Clinton's sex stuff is still brought up (as shown in "breastgate") ... sure, that is as bad as what Bush and company is doing. How pathetic. Clinton was not god, but what exactly could one do at the end of one's term as elections are coming (and disputed)?

And, Republicans are the one's who would be more active, to do what Clinton was hesitant in doing (the latter is true enough though Rs opposed even some of what he did do), right? They are the adults, who could handle running a war and so forth. Imagine if Gore was President (such was said at the time)! Uh huh. The fact the days and years after 9/11 were one continual downer underlines why someone might want to not look at current events. And, what else is out there? Bad television? Lame entertainment news? Is there some exciting scientific developments? I guess, but nothing really immediate comes to mind. Downnnerrrr.

Great win for New Orleans though -- the whole country was on their side, and apparently so were the Falcons. Rather bad from the blocked punt/touchdown arising from their first three and out series. At times, it seemed even the officials were against them ... a few possible signs of life stopped with somewhat questionable calls.


* Sen. Specter, who (for now) is against habeas stripping, recently noted that there is a chance that something can be done about the situation in Iraq and related issues, but the election probably is complicating things. He thinks that something probably can be done once it is over. Yes, if a certain result occurs. His "wait and see" approach reminds one of the 2002 election. And, the 2004 election. Just wait ... things will get better. Still waiting.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Is this "due process," Senator Cornyn? Selective ignorance (oh, I hate this): hypocrisy edition. Sin Tetas no hay Paraiso (potent satire). Pregnancy ad fetish? Sorry, source of last three, I found this amusing (at least clever/not disgusting). And, my answer to this is "no."

Preliminary Book Thoughts

And Also: The latest path to getting benefits from morons was suggested by some mail (not the first) I received today: an official looking deal that implies that I won money, if only a "documentation release fee" is supplied. The basic fee was $15.49, $20.49 for priority ... cash, check, or money order. One gets the idea that doing so will lead to the sort of money I obtained for filling out an AOL survey ($3.50). It also is more than usual -- $5 or so seems normal. The legality, even with a Nevada address, of such a path also appears questionable. A lawyer acquaintance agreed. A bit less offensive than phishing for info via fake emails (a lethal business, really), but still rather distasteful.

But some of us seemed to want the selfsame thing. And some of our leaders seemed to be showing the way, deliberately blurring all the myriad distinctions that gave our world its depth and richness. Suddenly the world was being described in binary terms, and instinctively I knew that was wrong. An us-versus-them reaction may be normal in humans who are attacked, but is it accurate? Is it productive? Is it the reaction that those whom we look for guidance should be bringing out in us? Is this the best we can do?

-- Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After The Taliban

Just starting this book, but the sentiment suggests a fellow traveler. Chayes saw 9/11 as a possibility, a shot across the bow that would push ("shock") us into the 21st century -- so to speak -- and help us deal with serious changes and dangers/demands of our era. Connecting this to my last discussion, she spoke about how (she was in Paris at the time, working for NPR) the French reached out after the attacks, and showed the possibility of unity across cultures. It suggested we could be respected for our moves toward "human dignity," and we have done much over the years doing just that. Many did look to us for inspiration, including (ironically) the leader of Vietnam that we decided was the Satan of Indochina in the 1960s.

[SC also argues that all people have basic needs and desires, the differences in application depending on various forces and historical events specific to the particular community. This is the philosophy of the UN as well as statements and treaties to which we are parties. It also suggests to me why it is immoral to somehow believe that it's ok if Iraqis suffer from terrorism and the like, since hey, better us than them. Of course, it helps it we think somehow Iraq was involved with 9/11, which shockingly high numbers still do believe.*]

But, and this was not too surprising, President Bush was not up to this task -- it was not really how he viewed the world. Some are (rightfully) upset on the path he and others like him took after 9/11, but the fact such people often was rather shocked at it is a bit troubling. It apparently took years, and for all too many they aren't there yet, for people to understand quite what we are dealing with. Thus, many expected fairly benign things from the guy in 2000 ... not too much overall, but he'd have reasonable sorts on his side (including Colin Powell), and he seemed to be fairly bipartisan in Texas, right? Such was the beginning of the problem -- Texas is a pretty conservative place, including among many Democrats, so bipartisanship there is only of limited value per se.

And, his record there -- it did not take much to determine this -- left a lot to be decided. It also hinted what was to come. But, it is truly hard to understand sometimes (it is painful to contemplate) the extent of the problem at hand. Thus, we try to formulate some vision of things that do not quite match reality. We see this in the push to honor "independent" Republican sorts ... various bloggers [Atrios etc.] rightfully sneer at David Broder who make such claims. This turns out to be a fool's errand, though one still thinks it poisons such Republicans too. IOW, such Republicans in various situations would accept various moderate policies if forced to do so.

But, party control matters more. This is a serious character flaw, as well as suggesting their policy views leave a lot to be desired, but I think there is some merit to the idea. Overall, however, it really doesn't matter at the current time. It might be useful if there is party control change (it might even matter if we had a credible President ... McCain, however, showed himself not to fit this description with his suck-up hypocrisy). Likewise, it does not just poison politicians. Thus, people probably know that the current situation is seriously problematic to our general welfare. But, they cannot bring themselves to vote for "x" for some reason, various reasons (some cultural, sectional, or whatnot) can be supplied.

People obviously matter. The link is not always adequately made. For instance, some people I care about have certain views about religious and personal matters that seem to me and others to be totally misguided, and in fact personally harmful in certain respects. Such views cannot and do not work in a vacuum. If people believe various irrational and in fact harmful things, it is likely they will apply the same mind-set to political views. The personal cannot totally be separated from the political. A common subject here is abortion and other sexually connected issues, but the principle holds true throughout. This does not mean -- and in practice it really cannot mean -- that such views cannot be held.

It just means that they matter. Such is the case for religious belief -- all sorts. Now, I personally think as a general matter that people's religious beliefs are clearly entwined with cultural ones and such. Not all, but it is hard to find someone with a religion that noticeably does not seem to go with their cultural milieu. So, only about twenty percent of evangelistic Christians tend to support Democrats -- a noticeable number, but still rather small. This is particularly bluntly seen is certain situations -- see, e.g., the creation of the Anglican Church. Anyway, personal religious belief clearly matters -- it is a clear variable in determining one's politics and so forth. No clear lines -- deep faith doesn't lead to irrationality in other contexts, but it does enough times to matter.

Anyway, Sarah Chayes is a level-headed sort that has a clear head on her shoulder, a sense of perspective (she admits error and so forth), and a good writer as well. Her progressive view of the world only adds to charm, at least for this reader, as she tells a story worthy of a novel (Peace Corps volunteer becomes NPR reporter and then runs a non-profit started by President Karzai's brother, her sex/nationality/philosophy coloring things all the while) that informs us as well.


* SC, for instance, felt it important to report the reactions of the Afghan people to the bombing campaign, reactions at time as much a result of fear (the precision bombing was new to them) as actual harms (some did occur ... such is war). She notes that this horrified some listeners, and even her own editors were not big fans of this subject matter. But, this was news, in part because how we are seen by such groups will have important aftershocks.

Likewise, why did the Taliban come into power in the first place? Hint: the current American backed leader supported them -- largely because the depths the country had sunk to after the Soviets left. Such complexity, however, was considered in bad taste by late 2001. Clearly, Hamid Karzai could never have been a Taliban sympathizer. But, lying to ourselves in this way is not the path to understanding the land. Not when the Taliban is still around and even protected by Pakistan.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Various Tidbits

No surprise, but now we find out that our own intel sources agree that the invasion of Iraq "has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism." Yes, this alone, should mean change of control in November. Maybe, if the candidates are half as good as this guy. And, how about some substantive discussion of why Chavez is so popular, not just "don't dis my homeboy" b.s? Oh, and a nod to a local boy. Not a great NY sports day, but great column.


And Also: Brits do naughty with a twist: they often do it in a low key way, showing how sorts that look ordinary really are rather perverse. This might be why their version of Coupling did better than ours: more repressed characters. Keeping Mum, about an older lady who helps out a family in a tiny British parish in um naughty ways, also succeeds in this fashion. Quite outrageous, but in a low key sort of way. Very amusing. Kristin Scott Thomas also suggests the charm of an actress who is not a sexpot, but quite sexy. She also apparently can do comedy well.

It does not fairly represent these decisions to suggest that they legalize force so brutal and so offensive to human dignity in securing evidence from a suspect as is revealed by this record. Indeed the California Supreme Court has not sanctioned this mode of securing a conviction. It merely exercised its discretion to decline a review of the conviction. All the California judges who have expressed themselves in this case have condemned the conduct in the strongest language.

-- Rochin v. California (1952) (forced stomach pumping)

The Congress hereby finds and declares that, in keeping with the traditional American concept of the inherent dignity of the individual in our democratic society, the older people of our Nation are entitled to, and it is the joint and several duty and responsibility of the governments of the United States, of the several States and their political subdivisions, and of Indian tribes to assist our older people to secure equal opportunity to the full and free enjoyment of the following objective.

-- Statement of Objectives (federal legislation assisting elderly)

Find out what it means to me
Take care, TCB

-- Aretha Franklin


1. bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.
2. nobility or elevation of character; worthiness: dignity of sentiments.
3. elevated rank, office, station, etc.

We first are concerned with fairness as children (NO FAIR!). Dignity might take a bit longer, but it too is a basic concern that comes in various shapes and sizes. "Let the man have some dignity." "I want to die with dignity." "They treated her as if she was worthless; she deserves some basic respect." And, the term pops up legally and constitutionally as well, including when determining due process of law and cruel and unusual punishments. It is a "traditional American concept" that each individual is clearly understood to deserve by birthright.

This is expressed perhaps most clearly in the barrier to titles of nobility. This mostly forgotten constitutional provision, forgotten because the idea basically seems ludricious, denies the government the power to set up a special elite class of individuals with certain unique authority to demand respect and respect. In other words, in this country, there is not to be a special class of dignitaries ... we all are on the same level, no elevated rank or station among the people. Or, rather, none supplied by birth via government fiat. Each person warrants some degree of respect and dignity. No playing favorites -- each shall have equal protection of the laws, including this birthright of dignity.

Obviously, this is not quite the practice in the real world. All too often, the people are not treated with dignity by the government, they are treated with disrespect and dishonor. Favored classes continue among us. And, some basic personal dignity is seen as too much to ask for. Such is the case in the debate over mistreatment and torture of prisoners. A problem that pops up domestically as well. This is unfortunate. After all ...
The Long-Term Solution For Winning The War On Terror Is The Advancement Of Freedom And Human Dignity Through Effective Democracy.

As suggested by the legislation to help the elderly, dignity comes in many more shapes and sizes than not mistreating those in government custody. And, surely enough, it is violated in many other ways as well. I wonder ... does the above quote mean that in the "short-term" dignity can be denied? But, it is an "inherent" and apparently inalienable right, one that (at least, one would think) should not be kept in extended limbo.

Life is so confusing these days.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

We write emails ...

As Election Day approaches, I am troubled by the "agreement" reported to be formulated between Senators McCain, Graham, and Warner on the treatment of detainees. For weeks, we have heard how they were fighting the good fight, promoting American values. A letter from Colin Powell underlined the point.

As discussed by many commentators, especially legal analysts, the agreement is a danger to such values. It removes the right of those detained, many shown to be so wrongly, from bringing claims to court via habeas corpus. This is especially egregious in respect to Geneva Convention protections, including mistreatment and torture. It sets up an (imperfect) right without a remedy, a right left largely to the discretion of President Bush. Other questionable provisions have been pointed out by major newspapers, including the New York Times and Washington Post.

As with Sen. Specter's shameful NSA bill, which repays presidential lawbreaking with immunity, such a bill is unconstitutional, unAmerican, and unconscionable. It must not be passed and Democrats must firmly voice their opposition.

As my representative [senator], I hope you are among those who do so.

-- [Name/location]

Were you Raped? Are you married? A good girl?

And Also: Hilzoy wonders why they want to strip habeas.

In the news recently, we saw how finally the FDA authorized over-the-counter sales of the "morning after pill," which must be taken within 72 hours of sex. Since there was some chance that this worked after conception (though often it could very well act to prevent it), some saw it as some sort of "abortion pill." All the same, "regular" birth control pills can work the same way.

The pill was accepted by a 23-4 vote a year or two before, but it was held up for political/religious reasons. In part by the pressure of the lady senators of NY and WA, this violation of privacy rights and women well being was finally ended, though the final solution left a bit to be desired, including sales limited to pharmacies.

The importance of this over the counter rule was shown by a recent attempt by a woman in Ohio -- who could not take birth control pills regularly because of health reasons -- to get a prescription (the over the counter rule kicking in Jan.). Now, Bush did win Ohio (not by too much, and a few might question even that), but it is not exactly Mississippi. All the same, she was SOL in her attempt during the designated period, particularly since it fell on the weekend.

People didn't supply "abortion pills" (which are actually RU-486, which is used up to the second month). They asked her personal questions such as the one in the subject line. She had to defend herself ("I have three children, I don't want a fourth"). And so forth.

This is the meaning of an anti-choice, anti-woman's rights world. Many pharmacists want to have a right not to supply such drugs, apparently wanting to know why they are prescribed (there are health reasons in some cases). I honestly find this possibly acceptable if there are alternative places to go (I live within walking distance of quite a few pharmacies), but apparently this is a bit naive of me overall.

On the front lines of an anti-choice world. You can care for your body, if we agree with your reasons. This after all is the land of the free. This is NOT just about abortion.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Compromising Our Values

And Also: I have not really looked into the pope's remarks that recently led to so much controversy. Clearly, violence is inappropriate, though we should not generalize from the actions of a small amount of the billion or so Muslims in the world. [Other religions aren't saints either.*] The pope's attempts to underline the importance of reason (consider John 1) and how violence is unreasonable is nice but his choice of an example does seem dumb. Also, this column on the matter seems rather patronizing, including concerning those clueless secularists and how the pope is such a great guy for trying to save Muslims from themselves. An example of actually be liable for your mistakes. Unlike in Bushland.

Slate had two good articles on detainee treatment, one from a civilian perspective, the other military. The overall theme of the latter was that military lawyers appear to be more concerned about keeping in the rules than some civilian sorts in D.C. in part because they know that the military is guided by the sentiment that they are fighting the good fight.

There is something like just war (I'd add a modifier -- "just war" bald, per my recent comments, seems utopian) and such modulated violence allows the military to do their job better. Meanwhile, the former article in part spoke about the "necessity defense," pushing for no change of the rules, but an open forthright method that the actors are willing to defend after the fact. They cite Lincoln ("all laws but one" is meaningless if the law is a sort of "suicide pact"), but do not want to follow that thread of his policy. The value of the necessity defense in part is that it serves as a check. You will do what you have to do, but know there are limits. Thus, there are defenses for breaking the law in ordinary life, but you cannot go willy-nilly as if you acted in secret or anything goes.

[To jump ahead, an important part of the proposed agreement -- if it stands up in practice -- is that the President has to spell out openly what he determines to be breaches of Geneva, other than certain "grave breaches" that are spelled out. No more secret torture memoranda. There already are noises that he will not do so in much detail. IOW, besides spinning the agreement as a great success, they already are trying to make it as narrow as possible. Likewise, also see the articles, apparently most past CIA activities will be free from possible persecution. The coward approach.]

I had a single test for the pending legislation, and that's this: Would the CIA operators tell me whether they could go forward with the program, that is a program to question detainees to be able to get information to protect the American people. I'm pleased to say that this agreement preserves the most single -- most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets."

-- El Diablo

On that subject, see here for a summary (with links to various discussions) of the "agreement" formulated by the top Senate Republicans who refused to go along with the President ... one of which just got in trouble for serving as a military judge while also being in the Senate. This seems to be a blatant violation of Art. I, sec. 6 though admittedly the question of reserve service per se appears not to have been deemed covered. [See, e.g., West Wing ... the presidential candidate who served in the House and the reserves ... as we all know, WW is always accurate.] The difference (rightly so, I'd think) here is that Sen. Graham served as a military judge, a policy role of sorts that truly led him to wear two hats (executive/legislative). Goes to show how it is important to retain some judicial review, huh?

This is why critics throughout reminded us that the "three amigos" (Graham, McCain, Warner) never was really promoting an ideal bill, just one less offensive. The core reason was that it was clear that they accepted a stripping of habeas. The final agreement in fact seems somewhat worse on the point. I honestly do not know how stripping it for those in Gitmo is constitutional -- this surely doesn't seem to be just a "suspension," even if we call 9/11 the "invasion" and assume "public danger" requires it. [The latter might be a political question, though surely not met here, the former rather thin to cover everyone involved.] And, I would say due process adds an additional requirement -- it is an amendment to Art. I, sec. 9 ... it requires some judicial review.

A core part of Hamdan, the issue that one judge below dissent on, was that detainees (note various of the protections kick in when they are tried in a military commission ... they see the evidence against them, etc., but very few will get that far -- most will be in limbo without have the right to see such material) have rights under Geneva that they could defend in court. This was a major coup and fundamental to serve as a check on the administration. The checks not appear to be largely of the self-regulating variety. Where have we heard this before?

Some argue the "grave breaches" are phrased in such a way that the administration can still perform various acts that amount to torture such as exposure and extended standing (perhaps over a day). Likewise, the "lesser" breaches will be determined by you know who. And, there won't even be a judicial check if (as is likely) some overreaching goes on. A major concern of the trio was to retain the Geneva Convention limits in some form -- the fact they were watered down somewhat (this depends on how you interpret the wording, but we know who we are dealing with here) is not really surprising. Another part of the compromise is that testimony obtained before the McCain Amendment is admissible if the judge finds it worthy -- ideally, but who knows, such testimony will be deemed by nature to be untrustworthy. Such has been the accepted practice over the years since at least the 1930s. This too was not too surprising.

Digby and others argue that this whole thing makes the Democrats look like dupes. They relied on conservative Republicans to fight the administration, a compromise is reached, and everyone over there looks nice and reasonable while still being about to fight terror. Meanwhile, the Democrats look like they did not stand up for American values, or anything at all, standing by the wayside (again) on a matter of foreign policy significance (or generally speaking) and not really getting much out of the deal too. Next up, some "compromise" will be formulated on the eavesdropping bill. [Let's not forget about Bolton ... his term is about to be up and the committee vote is tied.] I'm not convinced this compromise is worthless (the Geneva limits, for instance, have some bite ... yeah, it can very well be of a symbolic measure, but it's something for military professionals to be concerned about, for advocates to hang some hope on), but such cynicism is reasonable.

Things are ongoing. See here and here for further developments. [Update: Links added, including the column referenced in the "and also" remarks. Happy Autumn.]


* Islam developed in the midst of conflict, while Christianity developed in other circumstances. The idea of a "just war," however does not necessarily go against Christian doctrine. Likewise, Christianity also became the established church, and was once a major power -- popes in fact have lead armies in the field. Finally, even today, many see our society (and others like it) a de facto Christian state with various needs to battle to defend our Christian values. Generally speaking many uses of violence by Western society has strands of "religious" implications.

Obviously, Judaism also is used to justify violence, a comparable portion of its believers seeing themselves fighting a holy war in part to expand the borders of the faith. Finally, many battles fought by Muslims are not really religious -- the Palestinians are not really holy warriors in many respects and Iraq/Iran grew out of quite secular concerns. And, religious differences often have cultural components -- tribal warfare might be religious in motivation but general cultural concerns often are really the issue. And, Shia/Shiite is a religious and cultural split.

Surely, violence is a problem -- advanced by an unbalanced situation and a lack of true republican institutions in various Muslim lands -- but let's keep things in perspective.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

You Win, You Die

And Also: Shark premieres today -- a winning is the only thing that matters defense attorney (the slimeball!) finds out his client has killed again, is horrified, and eventually becomes a House-like prosecutor. Meanwhile, new DNA evidence leads to the release of an inmate in prison since his teens (early thirties now) for murder. The DA who refused to re-open the case is the Republican candidate for NY Attorney General. Fact/fiction.

[U]sing a combination of chemicals they knew or should have known would cause an excruciating death when they were telling the public it was like putting a dog to sleep, when their own veterinarians would lose their licenses for using the same chemicals on a stray.

-- Brown v. Crawford (8th Cir) (Bye, J., dissenting)

Lethal injection protocols appears to be the latest thing in the capital punishment field, the newest wrinkle in determining a way to delay, delay, delay and ultimately underline how f-up the system truly is. The problem is serious: as discussed in the past, the procedure was set-up in a rather haphazard way with a serious chance of error. The primary "error" of concern here is that the pain agent will not kick in properly, thus leading to a horribly painful death (unnecessary infliction of pain a core concern of the Eighth Amendment) ... and the paralyzing agent might make it impossible for anyone to know what is being felt. The issue is percolating in the lower courts with mixed results.

In the past, the problem of getting a suitable vein and so forth (leading to much cutting/slashing) was raised, but this probably is a worse problem. In fact, the vein issue was raised in the ruling the Supremes handed down earlier this year involving this issue. The case itself was procedural -- was a certain appeal procedure (action) a legitimate path to take, even though it was an additional claim and late in the day. Precedent and federal law is in place to guard against excessive appeals, "excessive" sometimes meaning raising a serious claim at the wrong time. The lower courts rejected the very right to raise the claim here.
Repetitive or piecemeal litigation presumably would raise similar concerns. The federal courts can and should protect States from dilatory or speculative suits, but it is not necessary to reject Nelson to do so.


The SC said that was wrong, citing the vein case where such an appeal was allowed, but made it clear that they knew about the problem of excessive appeals and so forth. It sent a signal that it was okay to summarily drop a claim -- such as if it could have been made earlier (the fact something "possibly" could have been made earlier doesn't mean in various cases that it was made or that later developments made it more logical/possible to raise them -- even if it turns out to be procedurally blocked ... not always "fairly"). The lower courts took the suggestion and refused to hear the merits of the claim -- one that was not trivial. An execution date was set. In such a case, five justices of the Supreme Court need to block it, not the usual four to take a case. Only four -- you can guess which ones -- were willing to do it.

So, Clarence Hill was executed. Some were glad -- he abused the system, using a late minute appeal to delay yet again. And, the Supreme Court implied that they felt this was a bad thing, though they left an opening in their ruling for people to use the appeal procedure when the lower courts determine it is not being abused. This in fact seems like the reason they picked this specific case -- sort of killing two birds with one stone (three you might say), dealing with "abusive" appeals as well as not totally throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It was not about this specific person -- as CJ Taft once noted, you generally already have two bites at the apple (district/appeals) ... the Supreme Court decides important issues of law. As they did here.

Still, one has a right to be left with a bad taste in one's mouth. Some time down the road, this procedure might be declared unconstitutional. Various suits are ongoing on the point. But, because of bad timing or the like, Hill was executed via a procedure the Supreme Court held possibly was illegitimate. The fact he could have made the claim earlier -- when the issue was less developed and less likely to get a full hearing etc. -- does not change this fact. [Other Catch 22 situations also arise.] Yes, the case was not really about the protocol itself, but about a certain procedure used to claim wrongdoing. And, this "you win, you die" result is not exactly rare by now. A win in the Supreme Court in various cases can still be a loss below.

But, still ...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Unreasonable rationality?

And Also: Something for the ladies ... don't let terrorism interrupt you make-up travel regime. Also, checking out a book -- didn't look too promising -- I was reading the jacket panel remarks. It must take a certain skill to write how "utterly original" all these books are and the "breathtaking contemplation" involved in their creation. The writer of this effusive prose surely must be from the same company who writes the blurbs on the straight to video quality DVDs at Blockbuster. Sometimes, I wonder why they don't just go all the way and print it in purple print.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticized Bush's policies for fighting terrorism, particularly his administration's controversial practices of secret detention and transferring prisoners to other countries for interrogation, which the White House refers to as "extraordinary rendition."

Without naming the United States, Annan condemned the way the fight against terrorism was "used as a pretext to abridge or abrogate fundamental human rights, thereby ceding moral ground to the terrorists and helping them find new recruits."

-- LAT Coverage of Bush UN Speech

A few interesting responses* to a separate posting of my "war" musings from last time ... I also see that at the very end, when mentioning how "rational" the administration policy should be judged to be (i.e., not very much) that I might have been better off saying "reasonable." Earlier, I mentioned how few things tend to be totally irrational -- and the Bush policy is not really that, if we determine what the particular goals in a given situation might be. This is open to some debate, but it surely is not "reasonable," as the word is looked upon by the "reality based community."**

[A group that apparently doesn't include the editors of the NY Daily News who -- apparently tongue completely out of cheek -- had a headline "George W Bush: Voice of America" today respecting his UN remarks. A family newspaper shouldn't scare young children like that. The fact it is scary that he is our "voice" underlines how opposition cannot simply be based on their practical failures.

Sure, there is overlap, but we have no right to torture guilty people either. Simply put, there is a basic moral difference and view of how our government should be ran that stands out as well. If that isn't enough, and I guess it doesn't for many people, it surely is part of the case against BushCo.]

Thus, yes, there is some rationale for being strongly for the discretion to torture and (even they can't think the call for "clarity" -- from these people? -- is supposed to be taken seriously) even though it has no chance of getting through Congress ... noises about "compromise" on the point is already out there. It isn't "reasonable" in the sense that the world now sees what our leaders want to do, and very well might continue to do (especially if habeas is stripped from foreign detainees ... dare not call them "enemy" prisoners, since many will not have real hearings), even if Congress does clearly reaffirm that we must not do so. Sort of the worst of possible worlds.

But, it is rational to further his own particular plan, including being able to say he supported some sort of "compromise" [especially as to allowing indefinite detention without any shadow of actual due process ... hey, we aren't talking large numbers here, right? or errors?] that protects executive power (something for Cheney too) while "protecting" us in the process. Did I tell you how much I find the man distasteful?

Seems like every time I go online, his face is on the "AOL News" panel. Skeeves me out, honestly.


* I was particularly honored to have Fritz thank me -- he is well known on the Fray for his erudite remarks. But, generally speaking, there were several good responses. I appreciate it.

** Some have noted the claims of ED having Clintonian bursts of reading, reading something like sixty books so far this year or something. One book on the list apparently is The Stranger, which is believable. It is more of a novella though it is French. I picked up a copy and the back cover mentioned it explores "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd."

Sounds about right. Likewise, "an ordinary man ... unwittingly gets drawn into a senseless murder." Well, some of that is right. The translator's remarks also mentioned its simple narrative and the tough guy notions of the lead. Again ... I can't say what he learnt from it, but hey, I think the big guy actually could have read this one.

Monday, September 18, 2006


At home ... that's why they got swept by the Pirates. All part of the plan!

War: What is It Good For?

And Also: On local PBS stations, there is a nifty educational show entitled Standard Deviants TV, which provides discussions of educational topics (English, languages, history, etc.) with verve. The young performers (seem to be twentysomethings generally) provide the basics, sometimes arguably a bit too detailed, with light comments / jokes tossed in with some creative visuals. It seems to be geared to junior high and high school (and continuing education ... since quite a few adults have only a light feel for many of the topics) audiences. Sort of extended "Schoolhouse Rock" episodes (without the music theme) for the current age.

The only true "purists," I believe, are pacifists, and I'm not sure that anyone who has contributed to Balkinization takes such a position. Everyone else is necessarily implicated in what Harry Blackmun once so memorably called "the machinery of death," and we have to figure out where we draw our lines.

-- Sandy Levinson

I am currently reading War: The Lethal Custom by Gwynne Dyer which supplies a history of war until the presence with many pictures and quotes from the ages. It is depressing in its consistency suggesting a biological origin (if not necessarily a mandate) for our war-like ways. The book also furthers my sentiment that the often thinly dismissive talk of "pacifists" (obviously a minimal force not worth considered as significant to determine public policy) is a bit too ... dismissive. There is a certain insanity in the "accepted" path of war.

How else can we speak of a field in which it is far from surprising for tens of thousands of men (not to speak of civilians, in the long run especially) being killed in one day for little net gain in the long run. As a person who studied the Civil War a bit more than some, that too starts to seem insane rather fast -- especially if one looks at it from the South's p.o.v. after Gettysburg (surely after the 1864 elections), during which a not insignificant number of the million or so death fell ... this after only a fantasy view would assume the South would actually win. Think of the thousands who died in 1865 alone, clearly pointlessly, given there was not a shot in hell (though hell continued to befall many) that the South would win by that point. "Honor" or the like seems like a rather paltry reason to continue -- especially after the horrors of Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor.

By the end, even slavery was seen as doomed in the Confederacy by the most reasonable sorts. But, one might say, war is unreasonable. It seems not to be -- that is, over the long haul, there is assumed to be some reason to submit to the efforts required to inflict war on each other. Irrational emotions surely factor in, but we assume there is some reason involved, except perhaps in various cases when "they" do something. Thus, Saddam Hussein had a reason for invading Kuwait, even if his judgment was questionable. Al Qaeda uses strategy to further their ends -- they don't just kill willy-nilly, even if some claim otherwise. And, so forth. Nonetheless, there is clearly something irrational about war, or at the very least, the cost/benefit rationale is surely debatable.

We deal with smaller numbers these days, but luckily, time has increased our respect for life ... or rather, our unwillingness to accept its destruction. It all seems relative on some level, and is aided by advances in medicine, but even the death toll in Vietnam -- on our side relatively small -- is deemed as unreasonable this time around. We have a couple thousand deaths and perhaps a tenfold more (or more, tossing in psychological ... plenty more probably) injuries of various sorts and it's too much ... this doesn't even factor in the other side, which assumingly matters to some degree. Is this -- which in 2003 simply was not a shocking development [I took part in the online debates] -- really rational?

Are we to patronizingly mention "pacifists" in passing, as if they are the dreamy idealists, when "limited" war (or whatever you wish to call it) leads to this? It is like those who support the invasion in 2003 "if" ... this is the "and a pony" philosophy Atrios and others rightly sneer at. I honestly do not think the human race is ready for pacifism, but the dismissing tone underlines how little is done to seriously address the threat of war. Just consider a passing comment in the book on how conflicts linger -- before they get too far militarily, some ceasefire is proposed by the U.N., making a long term bloody loss of life unlikely. This is messy, but not in the blood and guts way of the past -- not anywhere near as much, at least. But, the U.N. is sneered at ... they are useless sorts. Of course, the U.S. cannot take a bigger role ... we need to Boltonlike take the unilateral approach.

I sneer at that. That deserves the patronizing tone supplied to it -- the general tone that should be given to those who support this administration and its overall policies (this goes far beyond them or even their party, thus former NYC mayor Ed Koch [D] is a co-promoter of a fund raiser for Joey along with our current one [R]) -- we really should not take what they say seriously. They have gone far beyond that though obviously we have to take them seriously to the degree they have power. But, actually assuming they are rational policy-makers ... not so much.
If you were to pick the single greatest hypocrisy of the Bush Presidency, wouldn't it have to be this: that the man who ostentatiously claims Jesus as his favorite philosopher (he of "do unto others as ye would have them do unto you" fame) would say, in all seriousness, "Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. "What does that mean, 'outrages upon human dignity'?"

-- TPM Reader

Blessed be the peacemakers.

Constitution Day Quotes

And Also: I was out, so missed all but the end of the last NY game today. Overall, apparently, no great loss (but lots of losses) except for a great come from behind victory by the Giants. You know, the one they failed to obtain vs. the Colts. Meanwhile, apparently, the Mets decided not to clinch until they are at home. How else to explain being swept by the Pirates? They swept them when they had to in '99 -- to get to the one game playoff for the Wild Card. Except for the Red Sox, back when they were good, who else swept the Mets in a three game series all year? It annoyed me at first, but I see their game.

On September 17, 1787, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. Only one item of business occupied the agenda that day, to sign the Constitution of the United States of America.

-- Constitution Day [shifts to next business day, if it falls on a weekend]

In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.

Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries. ...

As bleak and hidden as the Iraq lockups are, the Afghan situation is even less known. Accounts of abuse and deaths emerged in 2002-2004, but if Abu Ghraib-like photos from Bagram exist, none have leaked out. The U.S. military is believed holding about 500 detainees — most Afghans, but also apparently Arabs, Pakistanis and Central Asians.

-- U.S. war prisons legal vacuum for 14,000

Just look at the things we're debating -- whether the U.S. Government can abduct and indefinitely imprison U.S. citizens without charges; whether we can use torture to interrogate people; whether our Government can eavesdrop on our private conversations without warrants; whether we can create secret prisons and keep people there out of sight and beyond the reach of any law or oversight; and whether the President can simply disregard long-standing constitutional limitations and duly enacted Congressional laws because he has deemed that doing so is necessary to "protect" us.

-- Yoo Are So Lame

And then there's the torture bill. On one side, we have the awful Warner/Graham/McCain bill, which strips habeas rights from anyone we detain outside the US, provides immunity for various war crimes committed since 9/11, and does other bad things. On the other, we have the vastly worse administration bill.

-- Update On Our Existential Struggle Against Ourselves

I have no doubt that McCain and Bush will stand together, all smiles, at a bill signing ceremony some time in the not too distant future. And then the president will issue a signing statement designed to cover his ass and everyone elses ass and John McCain will run for president as the man who saved America's soul.

-- "Compromise" Alert?

Why study the Constitution? Study the Constitution because it is both the foundation and the guardian of our liberties. Study it also with the knowledge that as strong and enduring as our Constitution has been, it is nevertheless a fragile, almost intangible thing that cannot survive without the dedication and constant support of citizens. The statement of Benjamin Franklin, made in 1787, is still true today. This is a Republic, if we can keep it.

-- Sen. Byrd

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Boob Alert

And Also: I caught Judge "I'm smarter than you" Posner testifying in front of Congress along with John "King George" Yoo and a retired British MI-5 (domestic intelligence office which Posner supports). Is this really a good idea? I think judges should stick with judging, not get into policy debates in this fashion. Some Pledge BS. Finally, just to remind, the Senate Republican detainee treatment alternative is not really a good bill either. Oh, win already. You know who.

Democracy Now -- which I switch on now and then though I should watch it more consistently -- had someone on to talk about the recently deceased Ann Richards. Her humor was focused upon, but it was noted that she worked for Sarah Weddington's (yes, of Roe v. Wade fame ... anyone remember her original co-counsel? yes, Linda Coffee) legislative campaign. While fighting for abortion rights, she decided to run for the Texas legislature to protect them. The interview also noted that perhaps the best thing AR did as governor was to help drug addicts in prison, something the guest noted was no longer really being done these days. Molly Ivins can tell you about how Texas Republicans are loathe to spend tax dollars for the general welfare.

Talking about feminists, Ann Althouse put her foot in her mouth again by commenting on the breasts of the twenty-something blogger in this photo. (Clinton met with liberal bloggers of late -- I did not get an invitation). For a short period of time, I actually had her in my blogroll. I temporarily found it a fairly rational light take with a right of center flavor that I try now and again sample. Soon enough, her inanity came out, as recently seen in a NYT editorial bashed here and elsewhere. As usual, LGM has some interesting comments, including in the comments. [Other bloggers sometimes stop by, which is a good sign of good writing.] One comment stood out:
As one of the bloggers in the photo -- first off, we arranged ourselves, and rather quickly and haphazardly; nobody placed us where we stood. We mostly just tried to get the shorter people in front. I might add that those who got in the center were the ones who could move quickly. I might have been in the center were it not for the osteoarthritis.

I sat next to Jessica for two hours during the meeting without noticing Jessica's breasts, although I rarely notice other women's breasts. I have enough trouble managing my own. The fact is that if one has prominent breasts there's not a whole lot one can do to prevent some people from paying a disproportionate amount of attention to them, short of wrapping oneself with duct tape or wearing a burkqua.

Anyone who is endowed with C-cup boobs or better respects this. That Althouse does not might lead us into speculation about Ms. Althouse's physical attributes. Let us be clear: Althouse is not criticizing Jessica because of how Jessica is dressed. The fact is that Jessica is being slammed for wearing a knit top that would be downright demur on a flat-chested woman.

Gravity and time bring us all down eventually -- and I mean that literally -- and wardrobe choices change accordingly. I say let's not hassle young women for wearing form-fitting clothes while they still look good in them! There's nothing wrong with being healthy and attractive and female.

Or, as another blogger noted, it is rather hard for women with larger breasts to totally hide them unless they cut them off [meanwhile, Becker last night involved a male to female transsexual] -- and though she is a brunette and situated somewhat in front of Clinton (yeah, Monica joke alert), she is not chubby. So, it apparently doesn't take much to make snide comments. [I'd add that I always found it distasteful how the criticism of Clinton often was of the "you could have done better" variety ... yeah, such people are who I want to go for moral judgments.]

As a guy, I must admit that I take notice of breasts. So it goes. Snide comments like these underline what women have to deal with on a daily basis. As the women in question noted in the LGM comments -- "I'm losing my mind over this shit..." It also brings to mind how poorly various groups are represented in the national debate these days. I'm sure there can be better ones than the Clintons (the comments and a follow-up post discuss the point), but how about a party and President that consistently defends interests of women, minorities, and so forth? Instead, we join together with "islamofascists" to oppose international moves toward family planning, and watch how a significant minority of Congress support anti-gay amendments to the Constitution. How very depressing.

Anyway, for someone nice on the eyes and brain, check out here. And, there is nothing wrong about that.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Torture Article

And Also: I'm a sometime fan of King of The Hill though the son annoys me. Luanne (Peggy Hill's niece) is a charming character -- shades of trailer trash, but with a tough and intelligent side as well. The episode where she fights George Foreman's daughter and thus gains respect from those who just saw her as eye candy was on recently. Another good one is where she moves out and gains Hank's respect by showing her level-headed side. Brittany Murphy does the voice -- love that too. One should never get too old for cartoons (Tom and Jerry still makes me smile), but the characters here have an adult seriousness that works on a dramatic level alone.

Dahlia Lithwick recently wrote a much cited (blog-wise) article on why the Bush Administration's moves to "clarify" the rules on interrogation and so forth should be looked at warily. She references an article by Jeremy Waldron which is entitled Torture and Positive Law: Jurisprudence for the White House. A draft copy was linked by Balkanization (most likely) sometime late last year, and I found it an excellent read. The core sentiment might be summed up thusly:
Why does the prospect of judicially authorizing torture shock the conscience of a scrupulous lawyer? Is it simply that the unthinkable has become thinkable? Or is it something about the specific effect on law—perhaps a systemic corrupting effect—of this abomination becoming one of the normal items on the menu of practical consideration?

It is simply against "the genius and spirit" of our law. Or, as one Slate frayster noted, we are Americans dammit, we don't do this sort of thing. Well, ought not. Btw as to specificity, perhaps we should also make a list of "cruel and unusual" punishments too. So, the state will know what isn't "cruel." Wink. Simply put, we cannot trust these people. Not that the Senate Republican alternative is ideal ... see here for continual coverage ... but even that is too much for the Bushies.

But, 9/11 changed everything, right? Wrong:
I have heard colleagues say that what the Bush Administration is trying to do in regard to torture should be understood sympathetically in light of these circumstances, and that we should be less reproachful of the Administration's efforts to manipulate the definition of "torture" than we might be in peacetime. I disagree; I do not believe that "everything is different" after September 11.* The various municipal and international law prohibitions on torture are set up precisely to address the circumstances where torture is likely to be most tempting. If the prohibitions do not hold fast in those circumstances, then they are of little use in any circumstance.

I want to add that I find the "everything is different" deal rather offensive. I know that it is considered lame by realistic sorts to rely on the offensive nature of the current bunch as reason to get those other than the choir to listen. But, I do find it offensive that somehow one set of attacks would be akin to a "reboot," starting everything anew. Shoot, even after the end of the world, everything is not supposed to change. You know, God is great(er) still etc. I saw smoke in the sky on 9/11 from mid-town Manhattan, but also saw blue. Like the proverbial rainbow, that gave one hope.

And, honestly, on 9/12, I did not suddenly trust Bush -- the person who I felt stole an election and didn't care for generally -- because basically I had to or something. This is the path of children, not to be snotty about it ... my cynicism (realism) turned out to be fairly on the money. Thus, it sort of annoys me when Al Franken goes on and on how he was sooo upset when Bush failed him afterwards. That there was a window there for him to step up and unite us. True enough as far as it goes, but wishing is not the same thing as a realistic hope. What did one expect from the guy? Did Hoover suddenly have a conversion from his small government philosophy -- honestly held -- when the Depression came?

Everything didn't change. Bush remained Bush. He gave one of his "great" speeches on 9/14 -- I didn't listen to them then either -- wanted more power than Congress wanted to give him, took the honestly no brainer (if in no way uncontroversial) path of invading Afghanistan (though the follow thru left something to be desired), and started on the road to torture, mistreatment, and illiberal (in the classic sense) government that the law review touches upon.

Well worth a read or skim.


* Footnote here referencing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (the organization responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights) reaffirming an absolute ban on torture in 7/02 when adopting guidelines for fighting terrorism. Torture is something that is universally banned by international law, even if we deign to ignore it.

Quite honestly, I can foresee Pinochet-like consequences down the road. Not that Bush likes to travel outside the country anyway. Judge Bybee might want to stay away from them international judicial conferences down the road. Who knows what will come in a decade or two.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


And Also: Hope Ann Richards' family and friends are doing well ... the former Texas governor, unseated by El Decider, has died of cancer.

Repeatedly, we have read how "liberals" [or "dippies" or whatever] oppose the path taken by Bush* and company in respect to any number of things, especially the basic rule of law and simple republican (small 'r') values.

Thus, I was told how "liberals" second guess the President etc. I read that only "Ginsburg" sorts would worry about evidence obtained by torture. Others would surely find a way around it. And, so forth. We know the image of "liberal" put out there. It is not the classic "liberal" ideas that one thinks should guide us all. They are not regular moms who write things like this. Surely not.

Enough! In the book Kingdom Coming, Michelle Goldberg suggests "liberals" should forthrightly demand to be heard. To remind people of the values we believe in as Americans. As an urban secular Jew, one shouldn't be surprised. She is one of "them" after all. But, "liberal" can no longer (if it ever could be) so easily stereotyped.

The first link is written by a conservative leaning law professor. The "rule of law" used to be a conservative value, right? Thus, Goldberg (and John Dean in his new book) points to Goldwater Republicans who are concerned with the current order. When Dover, PA decided to teach "intelligent design," it was a Goldwater Republican on the board who was among the dissenters. Goldwater as some might know supported abortion and gay rights. No wonder Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater gal!

Ongoing now along with the torture matter is Bush/Cheney's attempt to formalize their lawless eavesdropping program. Among those testifying against such a move was Bruce Fein -- a Reagan Administration official. He knows separation of powers is a basic constitutional demand. Darn liberal.

In fact, a telling moment in the panel testimony came after Fein made clear the importance of judicial review of warrants. An executive official took umbrage. He was a career official -- how dare Fein suggest they would break the law! The classic liberal was suspicious of power, knowing the imperfection of man. Only God was all good.

[On that subject ... see here.]

Ambition needed to check ambition. Rule of law and republicanism requires an independent judiciary. But, people in Congress want to ignore the 4th Amendment and at best let Congress oversee things. We all know how good they have been doing that lately. [Only "liberals" read that as sarcasm.] But, only a "liberal" would be upset. It is after all "war time." As John Yoo says, the executive's power rises then. "Compromises" have to be made.

No liberal he. And, that is not a good thing, given how the word is now defined. The fight is not just liberal/conservative, but over basic principles. As Keith Olberman notes "I don't think [on] these issues that [the opponents of the administration are] liberal; I think that [they are] American." But, the twist on the "l" word will continue.

[btw talking of "l" words, "lie" is also verboten these days ... the media cannot admit officials lie. they just have a different version of the truth. Objectivity has gone to the wayside. Sounds like some leftist academic's dream.]


* We also are told that we cannot put it all on Bush, since this personalizes the whole thing. The fact he is the leader of the party and the head of state overall is elided over. The buck stops where?