2011/05/29

Pirates of the Caribbean part IV

Saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Nothing profound to say about it. If you liked the first three installments (I did), then you'll like this.
So, ya thought that because you figured how to deal with vampires, zombies and werewolves that you were safe, huh? Heh, well now, we've got a new supernatural menace to worry about...mermaids!
Someone asked me whether the spell they cast upon unlucky sailors was a spell that affected both genders equally. I had to say I wasn't sure as the only female crew member (Penelope Cruz) was out of range when the mermaids attacked. Not sure that it was their singing that entranced the few sailors who were affected (that would have made them Sirens) though they did indeed sing. But the sailor who got a good look into the eyes of one of the mermaids was hopelessly smitten and spoke lovingly of her long afterwards. So whether they cast a spell that would leave gay men and straight women unaffected or whether they entranced straight men in a way that just seemed like love to the smitten men is a very good question.

2011/05/24

A right-winger looks at US policy in the Mideast

Frank Gaffney, writing in the Washington Times, made a statement that caught my eye after it was reprinted in Media Matters.

If Mr. Obama persists in the latter, his already checkered record as commander in chief (sic) may make him... [emphasis added]

This statement puzzled me as I wasn't aware of Obama failing in his duties as Commander-in-Chief in any significant way. Turns out that Gaffney was complaining about things like the scheduled US withdrawal of troops from Iraq. This was a withdrawal that President G.W. Bush agreed to after both the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and presidential candidate Barack Obama agreed that US troops simply had to leave. The other presidential candidate, John McCain, grumbled a bit, but agreed with the other three that the US simply had to leave Iraq. Gaffney comes up with arguments as to why Obama should turn around and break the agreement made back in 2008, such as: Iraqis may have changed their minds and might want US troops to remain, the neighboring country of Iran essentially ends up as the victor of the Iraq War and “the immense investment we have made in lives and treasure” will have been wasted.

Problem is, all of these drawbacks were obvious in 2008 when the agreement to pull out was made. The only possible exception is that Gaffney suggests that Iraqis may have changed their minds on US troops leaving Iraq, but that seems highly unlikely and Gaffney doesn't provide any kind of proof by linking to anything that might constitute evidence. Remember, Muntadhar al-Zeidi “gained cult status” by hurling his shoes at G.W. Bush, a sign of great disrespect in Arab culture. If it was a popular idea for US troops to remain there, why would al-Zeidi's shoe-tossing have been such a big deal?

So Gaffney is calling Obama weak on national defense because he is refusing to break an agreement that was agreed to by the four principal players in the situation several years ago.

Gaffney celebrates

the valor of our troops and others trying to build a 21st-century nation (Afghanistan) out of a backward sixth-century tribal/Islamist entity

which sounds really wonderful, but what's the likelihood of success when the US has less than one percent of its population that's actively engaged in that project? There is absolutely nothing in our popular culture about this struggle. There is no modern-day equivalent of the Rudyard Kipling novel Kim, that was written in 1900 about the Great Game in Afghanistan and was widely popular in Britain. What popular movies, TV series, magazines or even websites are concerned with the wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan? It's not that no one is aware of the fighting over there, but when the information on those two wars are presented only to a small and select audience and when soldiers who are taking part in it are on their third or fourth or even fifth or sixth tours of duty, which even in 2008, were getting pretty exhausting, I just don't see that Americans in general are engaged.


Looking at the polls, it's far from clear that Americans citizens even approve of our troops being over there to start with. PollingReport.com quotes the AP-GfK Poll of May 5-9 of 2011 to say that 59% of the public opposes the war in Afghanistan, 80% approve of the official plan to leave there and 57% think the pace of the withdrawal is about right. 
 
With the Republican Party making all sorts of noise about the US overspending and insisting that Congress can't even deliver on disaster relief unless Democrats agree to still further cuts in the budget, I just can't see US citizens agreeing that the project of building Afghanistan into a modern nation is something that they feel any real or serious commitment to.

Sorry, but the question is not “How ignominious will be our defeat,” but “who cares?”

“Then there is Mr. Obama’s first 'elective war,'” i.e., Libya. I generally agree with Gaffney's lack of enthusiasm and have lots of reservations on that war myself, but one item I don't have the slightest concern over is that

Mr. Obama has tried to limit the costs and offload responsibility for this fiasco onto the French, British and other NATO allies.

That's precisely as it should be. If we're going to be involved over there to begin with, why on Earth would it be a problem for the US to have allies in the effort? The US has far more buy-in and approval from not only NATO countries, but from neighboring Arab and Muslim countries than G.W. Bush did not have before the invasion of Iraq.

For some odd reason, Gaffney identifies the following as a problem:

In his speech last week to what he calls “the Muslim world,” the president made it U.S. policy to support whoever manages to get elected in the various nations of North Africa and the Middle East currently undergoing political upheavals.

Uh, more idealistic Americans might refer to that as “supporting democracy,” which, as far as I'm aware, is something that Americans generally endorse. If the US is going to ignore existing political groups, then the only option for carrying out various political projects is to implement them via military occupation. As I pointed out above with Afghanistan, that's really not an option at all. If the US doesn't work with local groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, then the US is free to pack up its things and go home. Regardless of how many problems US policymakers might have with the Muslim Brotherhood, the option of working without them or around them simply doesn't exist.

Gaffney appears to believe that the US is an energetic and ascendant empire that has unlimited resources that it can commit to the various projects it has going on in the Mideast. Sorry, but that's what G.W. Bush believed as well and his invasion of Iraq rapidly turned into a quagmire.

No, I don't agree that President Obama has a “checkered record as commander-in-chief (sic),” I think President Obama has played a so-so poker hand about as well as it can be played given the realities on the ground over there and with US public opinion.

2011/05/23

Confessions of a Shopaholic


Ahhh! (Sigh of contentment) Gotta love the Internet! Early Sunday morning, I checked up on Saturday's TV schedule and was very disappointed to see that I had missed “Confessions of a Shopaholic,”a show that I had intended to catch when it first came out. Not to worry, I looked up where I could download the Torrent file from, did so, burned it to a CD and have watched a little over a half-hour of it (I often watch movies a bit at a time). Can one download more recent films, films that haven't made it to the rental shops yet? Yeah, but that feels more like cheating. If I'm going to download a film, I prefer to get one that's at least a year old. 

Isla Fisher had been very attractive in “The Wedding Crashers,” so I was interested in seeing her in this, but I have to admit that when her character, Rebecca Bloomwood, battles another woman in the department store over a pair of boots, I just can't identify with the character even a little bit. That particular sort of obsessive behavior is completely unknown to me. 

Very interesting to see that the movie borrows heavily from “Pretty Woman,” Bloomwood is much more an “endearing mess” than Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) was. We've learned since Pretty Woman came out that the initial script called for Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) to be both emotionally brutal and brutally honest. The idea was that he'd get Ward's company for a while and would fully compensate her for her time, but would then just coldly dump her. Test audiences didn't like that, so the movie ends with Lewis arriving in his limousine as though he were riding on a horse and waving his umbrella as though it were a sword, y'know, doing the whole “knight in shining armor” routine. 

I think the test audiences took a bum rap, though. They were characterized as being romantics, as desiring a happy ending over a cold reality. There's a lot of truth to that, but I don't think that was quite the entire problem. I think the Edward character was so emotionally cold that no one could identify with him. No one could find any common human bond with someone who could spend time with someone as charming as Ward was without wanting to stay with her. 

In charm and beauty, Bloomwood and Ward are pretty close to being equals. My own personal preference is that I'd enjoy dealing with them both as co-workers, but neither one really appeals to me romantically. 

I think Shopaholic does a good job with our romantic interest/villain Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). Brandon is seen as a corporate supervisor interacting with other corporate supervisors and he openly announces his e-e-eville plan to utilize Bloomwoods' talents in order to benefit the corporation he works for. Bloomwood is as innocent and unknowing as Ward was, but our villain is a much more believably human type, someone who's chasing corporate profits at the expense of his humanity, but who ju-u-ust might fall under Bloomwood's charms before his evil plan can come to fruition. In this, the stakes have been clearly marked out and there hasn't been any romantic and/or sexual type of contact prior to our knowing that Brandon is up to no good. So as Bloomwood and Brandon dance around each other and take turns instructing each other in their own particular specialties, we can enjoy the ride and learn a bit about the obsession of shopping.

2011/05/16

Yoo's story

The fellow who provided the legal justification for torture, John Yoo, makes the claim that:
Sunday's success also vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden's door. According to current and former administration officials, CIA interrogators gathered the initial information that ultimately led to bin Laden's death.
Unfortunately for Yoo, this claim was directly addressed by Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, who denies it:
Mukasey, whose assessment was quickly embraced by the right, claimed waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced the first grain of intelligence that got the OBL ball rolling — the name of bin Laden’s favorite courier. McCain described Mukasey’s remarks as “false.”
And Panetta’s correspondence bolster’s McCain’s judgment. Indeed, the CIA director makes clear that “no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.”
I did find the following statement from Yoo amusing:
President George W. Bush, not his successor, constructed the interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this . . . actionable intelligence. For this, congressional Democrats and media pundits pilloried him for allegedly exceeding his presidential powers and violating the Bill of Rights.
It wasn't just an allegation. The intelligence architecture that failed to get bin Laden also exceeded G.W. Bush's powers as President and violated the Bill of Rights. Even if Yoo were correct and the information obtained via torture was decisive in getting bin Laden, those two statements would remain true.
Yoo asks a hypothetical question:
Imagine what would have happened if the Obama administration had been running things immediately following 9/11.
Okay. Osama bin Laden would not only still have been found and eliminated, but the US would not have followed several false leads.
Further, the narrative the AP tells now makes it even more clear how ineffective the CIA program was. The AP’s sources specify that KSM did not admit he knew al-Kuwaiti while being waterboarded. But that sort of dodges the whole issue: in response to his torture, according to KSM, he made up false locations for OBL. At the same time he was shielding information that could lead to OBL–and he continued to shield it under “standard” interrogation (again, it’s a pity FBI’s KSM expert never got to interrogate him). And then al-Libi, when he was in the CIA’s interrogation program, managed to shield that same information even after the CIA recognized it was important.
The CIA program failed to do one of the most important things it set out to do, break through detainees’ efforts to hide OBL.
The blogger Marcy Wheeler goes through the evidence and concludes that waterboarding produced more false leads than it did actual intel.
Yoo points out, correctly, that Obama has gone back on several promises that he made at the beginning of his term, but “demands of the real world” had nothing to do with Obama's retreats. The problem there is that Obama is fundamentally a Blue Dog Democrat who doesn't share progressive priorities and is not prepared to fight for them.
Don't know about whether bin Laden could have been taken alive or not. My concern would have been not so much that he would have shot at those who wished to detain him, but that he might have had a button he could have pressed that would have destroyed all of his computer data. Difficult to say which is more valuable, bin Laden alive or his computer data.
---------

Addendum: Rick Santorum says his knowledge of the case is superior to that of the CIA Director:
"I mean, you break somebody, and after they're broken, they become cooperative. And that's when we got this information. And one thing led to another, and led to another, and that's how we ended up with bin Laden," said Santorum.
Erm, slight problem with that. People are not horses and getting them to give up knowledge is not like getting them to carry you around on their backs. When the guy throws up his hands and says "All right! *sob* All right, I'll tell you" that does NOT mean that he'll then give you accurate information. Our real-life experience with Abu Zubaydah was that he did the whole "I give up" speech, after which he told his interrogators false things that he knew full well were not true. Problem is, US agents had to go out into the field in order to check these stories out and they then came back a few days later to report that "Yup, we were given another made-up story!!!!"
Update: Ooh! THAT's gonna leave a mark!
Ron Paul may be the wackiest candidate in the GOP field. But for pure, blind stupidity nobody beats Santorum. In my 20 years in the Senate, I never met a dumber member, which he reminded me of today.

2011/05/15

Ronald Reagan's legacy as seen by Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee puts out an, uh, interesting set of short videos that purportedly, allegedly, theoretically, tell us important facts about American history that everyone should know. Huckabee includes a segment that praises President Ronald Reagan for getting Americans fired up and enthused and believing in America again. I believe that assertion is essentially true (Witness the popularity of Bruce Springsteen's “Born in the USA,” even though the song was actually more critical than it was celebratory, it was enthusiastically played and sung as an uncomplicated and jingoistic celebration).
Of course, a truly enlightening film (And yes, I realize that the film's extremely short length makes any detailed historical examination impossible) would have covered the fact that Reagan's two terms left behind an America with an extremely poor reputation for its observation of international law, that Reagan attempted to get the extremist Judge Robert Bork onto the Supreme Court, Reagan's officials were hardly examples of uprightness and propriety:
Surely Tumulty, who was born in 1955, is old enough to remember the 20-odd top Reagan administration officials convicted of felonies in the Iran/Contra, HUD and other assorted scandals. As with Zakaria’s fond remembrance of Reagan’s benevolent foreign policy, Time [Magazine] is recalling a Reagan administration that never existed.
Reagan tromped all over the rule of law in the Iran-Contra scandal. FAIR describes Reagan's Central American policies:
Reagan's fervent support for right-wing governments in Central America was one of the defining foreign policies of his administration, and the fact that death squads associated with those governments murdered tens of thousands of civilians surely must be included in any reckoning of Reagan's successes and failures.
Reagan's stewardship of the economy was hardly any better. As the economist Paul Krugman points out:
The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.
[snip]
Eventually productivity did take off — but even the Bush administration’s own Council of Economic Advisers dates the beginning of that takeoff to 1995.
The independence of the press corps took a severe hit. From a piece where the Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch comments on Reagan's funeral in his book “Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy,”
“I was worried about that.” Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne said at week’s end on CNN. “I mean, I think what you’ve had is a sort of 30-year campaign on the conservative side to say the media is liberal, and now I think you’re having another reaction from liberals who are saying, wait a minute, when we look at a week like this, a week of praise for Ronald Reagan, it is very hard to say we have a liberal media anymore.”
Hard indeed. Even the right-wing Fox News Channel presents more liberal Democrats in a normal week than a viewer saw on any of the cable channels in the second week of June 2004, in which viewers were treated to a non-stop cavalcade of right-wing stars such as Peggy Noonan and Pat Buchanan, each with his or her own adoring memories of the patron saint of their conservative movement, each reinforcing the headline, picture, story that Reagan had won the Cold War and restored America’s faith.
In the beginning of the Reagan campaign against the independence of the press corps, the reporter Mark Danner covers the massacre in El Mozote, El Salvador, in December 1981 and the ensuing reactions by the press corps. The Reagan Administration came down on them for their accurate, but inconvenient reporting:
Yet as an institution, their paper has closed ranks behind a reporter out on a limb, waging a little campaign to bolster his position by impugning his critics.
[snip]
Oddly missing from these paragraphs, and from the rest of that very long editorial, was any acknowledgment that the two reporters had actually seen corpses — in Guillermoprieto’s case, at least, dozens of corpses — and that Meiselas had taken photographs of those corpses. Instead, the editorial said that the two journalists “repeat interviews in which they were told that hundreds of civilians were killed in the village of Mozote,” and then said immediately afterward that Enders “later cast doubt on the reports” — as if Enders, or his representatives, had actually made it to the village, as if the kind of evidence he was purveying were no different from what were, after all, two eyewitness accounts, if not of the events themselves, then of their aftermath.
Did Reagan win the Cold War? No. The Soviet Union was very clearly suffering enormously from a poorly-organized economy. It's important to keep in mind, while reading the following accounts, that the reason the American North and South went to war in 1861 was because the agrarian economy of the South was economically incompatible with the industrial economy of the North (Slavery, was of course, the ultimate cause of the war because without slavery, the South could not have maintained an agrarian economy). Likewise, the centralized, communist economy of the Soviet Union, simply couldn't survive alongside the capitalist economy of the West.
From Russia: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress
During several distinct periods, Soviet leaders attempted to reform the economy to make the Soviet system more efficient. In 1957, for example, Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64) tried to decentralize state control by eliminating many national ministries and placing responsibility for implementing plans under the control of newly created regional economic councils. These reforms produced their own inefficiencies. In 1965 Soviet prime minister Aleksey Kosygin (in office 1964-80) introduced a package of reforms that reestablished central government control but reformed prices and established new bonuses and production norms to stimulate economic productivity. Under reforms in the 1970s, Soviet leaders attempted to streamline the decision-making process by combining enterprises into associations, which received some localized decision-making authority.
Because none of these reforms challenged the fundamental notion of state control, the root cause of the inefficiencies remained. Resistance to reform was strong because central planning was heavily embedded in the Soviet economic structure. Its various elements--planned output, state ownership of property, administrative pricing, artificially established wage levels, and currency inconvertibility--were interrelated. Fundamental reforms required changing the whole system rather than one or two elements. Central planning also was heavily entrenched in the Soviet political structure. A huge bureaucracy was in place from the national to the local level in both the party and the government, and officials within that system enjoyed the many privileges of the Soviet elite class. Such vested interests yielded formidable resistance to major changes in the Soviet economic system; the Russian system, in which many of the same figures have prospered, suffers from the same handicap.
From Ronald Reagan's 30-Year Time Bombs by Robert Parry
However, a strong case can be made that the Cold War was won well before Reagan arrived in the White House. Indeed, in the 1970s, it was a common perception in the U.S. intelligence community that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was winding down, largely because the Soviet economic model had lost the technological race with the West.
That was the view of many Kremlinologists in the CIA’s analytical division. Also, I was told by a senior CIA’s operations official that some of the CIA’s best spies inside the Soviet hierarchy supported the view that the Soviet Union was headed toward collapse, not surging toward world supremacy, as Reagan and his foreign policy team insisted in the early 1980s.
The problem with the history produced by the Reagan Administration is that America has never really recovered from much of the evil that Reagan and his people did. The press corps never fully recovered from the discipline that the Reagan Administration imposed on it. The left blogosphere has certainly helped to restore some independence to the general field of reporting, but as Rachel Maddow observed, the Sunday talk shows, right after the “biggest story in American politics right now (The killing of Osama bin Laden),” featured a line-up of... Bush Administration officials! The Sunday talk shows, which apparently represent what all the serious people are talking about, featured what the last administration thought of what the new administration (Which had been in office for over 28 months) had accomplished.

Smallville

So, Smallville comes to an end after a solid decade on the air. I must admit that when the very attractive Kristin Kreuk, who played Superboy's Smallville girlfriend Lana Lang, was replaced by the dull-as-dishwater Erica Durance, who played Superman's Metropolis girlfriend Lois Lane, I lost a lot of interest in the series. The further loss of Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor, pretty much sealed the deal, but I caught the last show anyway. In it, Clark finally learns to fly (Yup, he spent the whole of the last ten years ground-bound) and finally adopts the familiar red & blue outfit that everyone knows him by. I was distressed to hear Lois' initial reason for not getting together with him “Every minute that I spend with you is another minute you could be saving someone.” Well...yeah, but no one can be a hero 24/7. I mean, people have to have some downtime, some time to just be regular people. Fortunately, that hesitation doesn't last and the two of them make it to the altar.

I'm pleased to say I never purchased a single issue of the all-time best-selling Superman story arc, the 1992 Death of Superman. Ever since the death (1893) and resurrection (1903) of Sherlock Holmes, death for a character in popular serialized fiction has been more of a temporary inconvenience than any sort of true ending-point. There are a few examples of true, lasting deaths. The Ancient One was a mentor of Dr. Strange and he “became one with the Universe” in 1973. Ferro Lad of the Legion of Superheroes perished in 1967. We've seen the Legion's memorial room a few times and his statue is usually featured in it, along with a few other deceased Legion members. A more recent passing concerned the whole Jack Kirby “Fourth World” set of “four interlocked adventure series” that was integrated into the DC Comics universe in the early 1970s, but even though it played a role in the Smallville finale, it came to a definite conclusion in the comics in 2007.
But there have been a series of “not really” deaths in comics. There's the well-known example of Professor X of the X-Men perishing in 1968, “only to turn up alive and well” in 1970. Probably the most famous death and resurrection in comics has been that of the Doom Patrol. In 1968, all of the characters perished in a very noble and honorable manner. Just one of the characters, Cliff Steele, was revived in 1977. Niles Caulder and Larry Trainor followed in 1989 and Rita Farr was re-introduced, completing the re-assembling of the team, in 2004.
The 2011 death of Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four seems pretty permanent, but a review asked: “will he remain dead for long?”
So, yes, it's nice to read about characters who can do amazing things and who look better and are smarter than we all are and to see that, hey, even they've got to deal with all sorts of problems. But I think that by killing Superman, DC Comics just pushed the whole “suspension of disbelief” thing too far. It's hardly unusual to see characters in comics dying, but the idea that DC Comics would kill off their primary identifying character and, more to the point, that they would allow his to remain dead, was simply beyond any reasonable belief. It was never credible. Sure enough, it wasn't long before Superman was resurrected. I've mostly read Superman stories when he's been acting as a team member of either the Legion of Super-Heroes or the Justice League.

2011/05/09

Still more on the torture debate

A columnist for the New York Daily News, Andrea Tantaros, claimed that liberals are selectively displaying outrage. While she says it was morally wrong to shoot Osama bin Laden, that particular case of moral outrage doesn't stir liberals to protest. On the other hand, according to Tantaros, torturing terrorist suspects is morally equivalent to shooting an unarmed bin Laden, but it's only torture that's the subject of moral outrage! Actually, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had a pretty good statement on the bin Laden shooting:

AG: Well, I think what happened over the weekend is very separate apart from the discussions that we had in 2002 over the Geneva convention, you asked me whether I thought it was legal to kill him, again, I wasn’t there I don’t know all the facts, but based on what I’ve been told, and based upon the reporting it seems to me that it was in fact a lawful kill. Osama Bin Laden was an enemy of the state, he was a military target and consequently it was legitimate to kill him during our conflict with Al Qaeda. If someone is raising a question that in fact he may have attempted to surrender then of course international laws would prohibit the United States from killing someone once they’ve indicated that they’re going to surrender. But the fact that he may have been armed, he may have been unarmed, if in fact he resists capture or makes any kind of threatening move you have to remember you have the military in a very dangerous situation, decisions have to be made in a split second and based on what I understand I think that there’s no question this was a lawful killing.

Personally*, had I been the person who broke into bin Laden's room and saw that he wasn't immediately surrendering, my concern would not have been that he was reaching for some sort of weapon, but that he'd activate some sort of suicide device that would kill everyone in the room. But the essential problem that both Gonzales and I have with her conflating the two situations is that it's an apples and oranges comparison. In the bin Laden shooting, we're talking about a battlefield-type situation where a split-second decision was called for. The US Navy SEAL simply didn't have the luxury of the time needed to determine for certain whether bin Laden posed a threat or not.

Gonzales is, of course, completely wrong about the legality of torture. Agents of the United States strapped (at least) three people down to a table and poured water onto their faces in such a way as to produce a sensation of drowning. It doesn't matter in the slightest whether there were “safeguards” Very clearly, the purpose of causing physical distress to those three people was to force them to tell our agents things that they otherwise wouldn't have said. If one looks at how human right/anti-torture laws are written, it's clear that they're not written in such a detailed way that clever lawyers can play word games with them. The United Nations Convention Against Torture does not establish any “levels” or “intensity” of pain or degradation in order for an act to qualify as torture.

In the Convention, the reason for which the pain is being inflicted is immensely important, which brings up another item that the Fox News moderator in the show brought up. She asked about US personnel who undergo training on how to resist torture if they're captured and rhetorically asked whether this should or should not inspire moral outrage. This is, again, an apples and oranges comparison. I once underwent a medical procedure that was immensely, enormously, blindingly painful. I didn't suffer any sort of trauma, not did I experience any PTSD-type syndromes. Why? Because I recognized that the doctor's intention was purely to assist me, to determine something about my medical condition.

If someone is a trainee and is undergoing a painful situation, he or she is likely to be surrounded by friends and buddies, or at the very least, to recognize that the intentions of the people surrounding them are purely friendly. When one is in a situation where one has been captured by known enemies that assuredly want you dead, the situation is entirely different and not at all comparable. Does it make the slightest bit of difference whether one has been trained or not in how to resist torture? My strong suspicion is that any sort of training would be completely irrelevant. One either has good reason to resist or one doesn't. As I pointed out, KSM managed to resist successfully and there don't appear to have been any methods or procedures that he used. Seems to me that he simply said to himself “The identity of bin Laden's courier is far too valuable for me to give to the Americans. I simply can't live with myself if I give that up.” So, he didn't.

*I'm of course presuming in this case that frequent IMC contributor Stephen Lendman is not correct and that bin Laden was still alive when US personnel raided the compound in Abbottabad. A writer from Chelsea Green agrees with this. Lendman may very well be correct, but we simply haven't seen enough evidence to say for certain.

2011/05/08

Projecting much?

Dana Milbank is often a Villager in good standing, but occasionally makes really good points.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum attempted to explain why he criticized “radical feminism” for working women and why he said Islam was “stuck in the 7th century.”
Erm, uh, okay. So lemme get this straight. Santorum considers it bad to be stuck in the 7th Century if you're a Muslim, but wants women in America to go back to the 1950s, where they were stay-at-home moms and homemakers. Ri-i-ight!

Just for the record, one of the reasons that women have gone into the workforce since the early 1970s has been that the salaries of people who were making $50,000 a year or less have remained essentially flat for the past several decades. Inflation hasn't been out of control since the early 1980s, but although inflation has been mild since then, there has been some. As a result, Americans of modest income have had their standards of living squeezed for quite some time. This is not the post-World War II period (Late 1940s to the early 1970s), where salaries steadily rose for people making modest incomes.

Yes, part of the reason for women entering the workforce has been feminism, but a large part has been a squeeze on wages and living standards, which means that for an ordinary family to maintain its living standards, the stay-at-home mom/homemaker had to go out and get a job.

2011/05/07

Thor

Just saw "Thor"! Kewl stuff! It got just two stars from the Inquirer today, but remember, it's an origin story, so it did a data-dump of lots and lots of introductory information while trying to be an exciting story and to set up future stories, all at the same time. For good stories in the comic series, MTV Geek chooses a lot of good ones. Personally, I don't think I really started following or enjoying Thor until Walt Simonson began writing and drawing him in 1983, though I was interested to see that they folded Richard Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung" into the series in 1980. I guess I've mostly seen Thor as a member of the Avengers (And no, the spy duo John Steed and Emma Peel had nothing to do with the comics-book Avengers) and yes, there's an Avengers movie in the works. I liked some of the Avengers stories that Thor was in during the late 1970s, the Count Nefaria battle being an especially classic one.

2011/05/06

Returning to the torture debate


American intelligence operations located Osama by following his trusted couriers, whose names were given up by al-Qaida members during harsh interrogations at CIA black sites under President Bush.
Yes, the same interrogations endlessly denounced by the entire Democratic Party (save Joe Lieberman), the mainstream media, and an especially indignant Jane Mayer in The New Yorker.
Ann Coulter 5May2011

According to “Matthew Alexander, a former senior military interrogator who conducted or supervised over 1,300 interrogations in Iraq, leading to the capture of numerous al-Qaeda leaders”:

One of the things that people aren’t talking about is the fact that one of the people that was confronted with this information that bin Laden had a courier is Sheikh al-Libi, who was held in a CIA secret prison and was tortured and who gave his CIA interrogators the name of the courier as being Maulawi Jan. And the CIA chased down that information and found out that person didn’t exist, that al-Libi had lied. And nobody is talking about the fact that al-Libi caused us to waste resources and time by chasing a false lead because he was tortured.
The other thing that’s being left out of this conversation is the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed certainly knew the real name of the courier, whose nom de guerre or nickname was Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to have known his real name or at least how to find him, a location that we might look, but he never gave up that information. And so, what we’re seeing is that waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques, just like professional interrogators have been saying for years, always result in either limited information, false information or no information.

In other words, as the Roman jurist Ulpian (1,800 years ago) noted, when tortured, the strong will resist and the weak will say anything to end the pain. We can see both resistance methods being used in the example above. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed simply refused to say anything that would have assisted American interrogators and Sheikh al-Libi lied, telling his interrogators what the obviously wanted to hear, and thereby causing them to waste resources searching for people who didn't exist. No, Ann Coulter is wrong. The name of the courier was indeed critical to finding bin Laden, but that name was not discovered via torture, i.e., through “harsh interrogation methods.”

All of which suggests that that great piece of intelligence al-Libi gave us–that OBL’s couriers would only check in every two months which meant he was just a figurehead–led directly to the CIA’s decision to stop focusing on bin Laden.
And if that’s the case, then al-Libi’s torture didn’t lead us to OBL; rather, it led us to stop searching in concerted manner for OBL.


Marcy “Emptywheel” Wheeler 4May2011

The CIA closed down its' bin Laden unit in 2005, meaning the US Government was not searching for bin Laden in any coordinated or concerted fashion for at least three years, until President Obama got the search for bin Laden up and running again.

Sorry Ms. Coulter, but Jane Mayer was absolutely, 100% correct. Torture did nothing to help locate bin Laden.

2011/05/03

"Chuck" and "Bandslam"

Chuck (Zachary Levy) had a pretty interesting episode lately (Number 421) and they reproduce an interesting scene from it here. Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) tries to reproduce Chuck's look when he “flashes” (He retrieves data that was inputted into his brain via advanced technological means). We get a bit more into the Sarah character than usual because we get to meet her dad and see some of her early life. She's certainly come a long way since she was just a CIA agent who really didn't seem to have any sort of private life. Sarah and Chuck make an interesting pair because there are definitely areas where she's more capable and competent than he is, but he's plenty competent in enough areas so that his ego is never in danger.

I described a movie to both my sister and my niece. “This fellow, who's in high school, meets up with a blond babe and a modest brunette. And of course, guess who it is that wins our hero's heart?” Very curiously, both of them guessed the blond babe. I'm like “What? No, no, no, the modest brunette is the more virtuous one, therefore she's the one who prevails over the prettier blond gal.” Lots of good songs, I especially liked the one where the band really comes together and finds its rhythm under the blond gal. Plenty of minor problems with the script, lots of items where you have to use the ol' “suspension of disbelief” thing, but a very, very good, rocking out version of the 1970s Bread song “Everything I own” (Bread was actually a soft-rock group) where our true heroine gets the entire audience rocking along to her performance.

2011/05/02

Response to letter in DelCo Times

I submitted this comment to the DelCo Times in response to a letter there, but several hours later, it still hasn't been posted. Here it is anyway:


I was out of town when my letter was published on April 18th, but feel that I am obliged to respond to the latest from Margaret Kane. First off, someone asked me what a “progressive” was as opposed to a “liberal.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is a liberal while Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is a progressive. Ideologically, they're very similar, but Schakowsky and Durbin were both members of the “Cat Food Commission” (Officially, the “Deficit Commission,” or “Bowles-Simpson”) but Schakowsky quit in disgust, denounced the group and produced her own (much better) deficit-reduction plan as the other members clearly just wanted to punish all non-millionaires for not being millionaires. Durbin voted for the Commission's recommendations, pathetically mewling that he had to maintain credibility with the hard-core Republicans in the group. Today, Durbin is further disgracing himself by remaining with the “Gang of Six,” even though the Republicans in the group have said “No way, no how, ain't gonna happen” to any sort of tax increase.
So essentially, liberals are wimpier versions of progressives.
As a progressive, I absolutely and unequivocally denounce JimmyG's comment that he desires the death of Sarah Palin. Back during the Bush-Cheney years, we progressives made it a point that “I oppose the death penalty so much, I wouldn't even apply to Bush or Cheney.” Even with all of the evil those guys performed, we still didn't want to call for their deaths. We wanted people to oppose the Bush-Cheney policies and not Bush and Cheney as people.
As to Kane's essential point, that “both sides do it” and that progressives and right-wingers are equally bad in calling for violence against their opponents, this is what we call a “false equivalence.” The examples have some elements in common, but they're simply not the same. The reporter/blogger David Neiwert has documented a rising tide of right-wing violence that simply has no equivalence on the left.
And yes, Sarah Palin was contributing to increasingly violent language in politics with her “target” map and richly deserved to be denounced for it. Was she the one and only example? Not at all, but she was an especially high-profile target for critics as her map was especially irresponsible in normalizing talk of violence in politics.