07 May 2010

Two More Workdays Until Monday

  • Professor Bainbridge proves that there's at least one true conservative out there who understands that torture isn't a good policy for dealing with terrorists.

    I am unaware of any experienced, highly competent frontline interrogator who thinks torture is a viable policy option — for any detainee, let alone American citizens arrested on US soil. Instead, advocates of torture are almost uniformly end-users of sanitized information — if even that. I can ignore the moral side of the argument (which only reinforces my conclusion), because torture doesn't get people to tell the truth: It gets people to say what they believe will stop the pain. (Disturbing side issue: Think, for a moment, about the terminally ill in pain who request assistance in ending the pain.) Sometimes that includes giving up the information that the interrogator seems to want… but it has little, if any, reliability attached to it. Indeed, the more valuable the information a torture victim likely has, the more likely that torture victim is to know how to make the result of torture (the talking) meaningless by lying, or by submitting to compartmentalization of information (highly restricted "need to know")… or to be a tool for misinformation by sleazeballs who care more for ideology than for the people under their leadership.

    I won't deny that torture can be a useful operant conditioning tool to influence the future behavior of an individual; even that, though, takes considerable time and skill, and has a far-from-certain result. (Remember, I'm ignoring the moral issue for the moment; not all "useful tools" should ever get used.) Instead, though, we've got centuries of proof that torture doesn't work to get accurate information — witch trials and other forms of Inquisition are only the tip of a very large, jagged iceberg. Now, what was that aphorism about the definition of "insanity" being "doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result"?

  • Professor Buchanan seriously understates the problems with being an expensive American. It's a short, pithy blawg entry.
  • Plundering cultural objects from conquered and other foreign territories: it's tradition (so it must be ok, right?), or just another cause for controversy and historical revisionism? Now throw in the problem that many of the purported current custodians of some dead cultures were actually sworn enemies of the producers of those cultural artifacts, or even conquerors and interlopers themselves (to name three: Greece/Macedonia, Tehran/southern Persia, tribal North Africa/Carthage).

    And, of course, it gets even worse when considering cultural appropriation of intellectual property. Consider the layers of conflict in "Wimoweh," from tribal chant to conquering tribal chant to colonial appropriation and resettlement to Western folk adaptation to Disney film... to postcolonial injunction by a government led (primarily) by descendants of the traditional enemies of the originating tribe(s). Consider the layers of misrepresentation around "Spartan," from dippy high-school (and college — it's a Big Ten team, I can make fun of them if I want!) mascots to 300; or, for that matter, the evolution of Trojans from sheltering Paris to college mascot to bits of latex. The less said about fashion (e.g., the "African" fashion and "tribal dress" adopted by some of the quasinativist-whateverthehelltheyare movements and epitomized by Kwanzaa "decorations"), the better.

  • Low stakes leading to vicious fights is no surprise, particularly among literati and intellectuals.

    In this instance, though, the book reviewer himself blew it and demonstrated that he doesn't know what he's talking about on a rather critical point (as did the author of the book in question). Dammit, there's reason that it's improper to refer to Ramadan's totalitarian-Islamic philosophical/cultural constructs as fascist: Fascism is by definition a nationalist, nonsectarian political philosophy… and Ramadan's drivel is anything but either nationalist or nonsectarian! Then, too, Ramadan explicitly relies upon using formal, parallel religious and political power structures to ensure compliance with his philosophical imperatives, and fascism does not accept that there is any legitimate source of power but the state. This feeds back into the preceding item, too, because much of the criticism depends upon drawing boundaries, and claiming not just that standing on a piece of land lying, say, 15.8km due west of the center of Maastricht is not only in Belgium now, but always has been in Belgium (which is itself an interesting agglomeration of Flemish, Walloon, etc. — especially in the area west of Maastricht); nobody with any thoughts of "Burgundy" need apply.

    On the other hand, the reviewer correctly characterizes fascism as "the f-word" in modern political discourse, particularly among those who don't know what it is. Anyone who remembers the US's misadventures in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s might recall another f-word: Falangista (or, academicized, phalangist/falangist). The entire argument closely resembles "the Jewish state" and "the Christian west" and "greater Islam," by pretending that the generic label necessarily encompasses all of the philosophies of the subsets. Yeah, I can see Mr Ramadan getting along with Messrs Tamerlane and Saladin really well; can't you?

  • It's really too bad that this item is only satire from The Onion. I guess I'll have to satisfy my evil proclivities by quoting the opening of Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 16–17 (1971) (footnote omitted):

    Appellant Paul Robert Cohen was convicted in the Los Angeles Municipal Court of violating that part of California Penal Code § 415 which prohibits "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person … by … offensive conduct…." He was given 30 days' imprisonment. The facts upon which his conviction rests are detailed in the opinion of the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, as follows:

    "On April 26, 1968, the defendant was observed in the Los Angeles County Courthouse in the corridor outside of division 20 of the municipal court wearing a jacket bearing the words 'Fuck the Draft' which were plainly visible. There were women and children present in the corridor. The defendant was arrested. The defendant testified that he wore the jacket knowing that the words were on the jacket as a means of informing the public of the depth of his feelings against the Vietnam War and the draft."

    "The defendant did not engage in, nor threaten to engage in, nor did anyone as the result of his conduct in fact commit or threaten to commit any act of violence. The defendant did not make any loud or unusual noise, nor was there any evidence that he uttered any sound prior to his arrest."

  • Kristine Katherine Rusch closes out her musings on online networking for freelance writers with a sort-of bang:

    That's how we all dream online networking should work. We make our presence known and we get a positive response, one that will help our business in good ways. Often, however, we have no idea whether or not the networking helped at all.

    As writer Patrick Alan writes, "That’s the thing about networking. Sometimes you use it, but have no idea if it does anything. It's like pressing the sidewalk button. You press it, but then wait. And you don’t know if it’s still on the same cycle and would have turned to 'walk' anyway or if pushing the button sped anything up."

    It's only a sort-of bang, to me, because it doesn't grasp at an aspect of networking and the internet that is of interest to me. In an only slight twist on an old internet meme, it is this:

    On the internet, nobody knows you're anything; even more than print publishing, there is no "monopolizing local pub" on the internet.

    The key point is that people do make enemies, both in person and on the 'net. On the 'net, though, even the most poisonous and dishonest of personalities can find an accessible community in which they are accepted — at least for a while — without having to move. It's not even anonymity/pseudonymity that matters (although some 'netizens do maintain such, even if only for a while or only for professional reasons); it's the lack of a there there. Having grown up on a poisonously antiintellectual island of lower-middle-class hate surrounded by unreachable opportunities, I can appreciate that. For every school atrocity caused by disaffected kids who met up only over the 'net, there are probably at least a dozen atrocities averted by the ability of disaffected kids to have some safe social interaction via the 'net. And it's not just the kids who are stuck living with their parents, either; sometimes parental mobility is equally inhibited by the kids, or by the availability of healthcare, or by a hated day job that nonetheless pays the bills, or by disability.

    And that doesn't even begin to touch on the relationship between online networking and online research, especially for those writers who don't have access to local public libraries as excellent as the one I have. Research is about more than finding data; it's about putting that data in some kind of context, and there's no better way to find elusive context answers than via online networking. Perhaps if we'd had the equivalent of online networking, Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been spared… but that's for another time.