February 28, 2005


I didn't kill your comments. Something freaky is going on here. Sorry if your comment disappeared. :(

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February 25, 2005

Abortion Crossroads

It has long been my contention that while the Supreme Court theoretically allows abortion restrictions for viable fetuses, in practice attempts to make any restrictions in the third trimester are eviscerated by the courts to the point of complete ineffectiveness.  Statistics on late-term abortions are not kept.  Statistics on the reasons for late-term abortions are not kept.  Doctors performing late-term abortions are not required to certify that the abortions are medically necessary.  There are no safeguards to ensure that viable fetuses are not being aborted unless they endanger the mother.  I've been round and round on the topic, but now we have a partial test case.  As reported by the Associated Press:

The Kansas attorney general is demanding abortion clinics turn over the complete medical records of nearly 90 women and girls, saying he needs the material for an investigation into underage sex and illegal late-term abortions.

Two clinics are fighting the request in Kansas Supreme Court, saying the state has no right to such personal information.

But Attorney General Phill Kline, an abortion opponent, insisted Thursday: "I have the duty to investigate and prosecute child rape and other crimes in order to protect Kansas children."

Kline is seeking the records of women and girls who had late-term abortions. Sex involving someone under 16 is illegal in Kansas, and it is illegal in the state for doctors to perform an abortion after 22 weeks unless there is reason to believe it is needed to protect the mother's health.

Kline spoke to reporters after details of the secret investigation, which began in October, surfaced in a legal brief filed by attorneys for two medical clinics. The clinics argued that unless the high court intervenes, women who obtained abortions could find government agents knocking at their door.

The clinics said Kline demanded their complete, unedited medical records for women and girls who sought abortions at least 22 weeks into their pregnancies in 2003. Court papers did not identify the clinics.

The records sought include the patient's name, medical history, details of her sex life, birth control practices and psychological profile.

The clinics, which said nearly 90 women and girls would be affected, are offering to provide records with some key information, including names, edited out.

It is impossible to enforce rules against non-necessary late-term abortions without access to the medical records which would show necessity.  If late term abortions can be outlawed, doing so will include a verification of necessity.  Most of the pro-choice advocates I know assure me that late term abortions are very infrequent and always medically necessary.  In that case, verifying that fact won't tend to actually restrict any abortions.  This is a rubber/road moment.  The pro-choice advocacy groups are going to have to either admit that their rhetoric about late-term abortions was merely smoke, or they are going to need to allow verification regarding medical necessity when aborting viable fetuses--which is to say without exaggeration, children. 

Postscript:  I have two previous major posts on the subject of abortion:  An Open Letter to The Pro-Life Movement and Pro-Choice Debate.  I predict that no matter which side of the debate you are on, at least one of those two posts will piss you off.  And yes, I'm the pro-life advocate who said that "You can want to restrict abortions. You can want to restrict contraceptive use. You can want to severely restrict welfare. But you can only want two out of the three of those things simultaneously unless you are an uncaring bastard."  In any case, please read those two posts before jumping to conclusions about my beliefs on abortion.  I'm sure you'll find the reality plenty annoying, no need to guess. 

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:26 AM | Comments (612) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

Iraqi Irregulars

You've probably already seen this, but in case you haven't  Phil Carter has an interesting post about Iraqi Irregular units.  He is ubeat about the development:

The essence of "foreign internal defense" (FID), which is essentially what the mission to train Iraqi forces is, is to leverage the existence of an existing warrior class and to build it into a fighting force capable of accomplishing common goals. One of the most important things that must be done at the outset is to find those warrior-leaders and warrior-soldiers capable of raising arms against their enemies. FID doesn't work like conscription; you can't take a citizenry and transform them into a fighting force with these kinds of methods, at least not without a lot of time and effort. FID works best when you can co-opt an existing band of brothers -- like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan -- and embrace it with U.S. precision firepower and C4ISR capabilities.

I have mixed feelings.  I'm a pragmatist, so if it really works I'm thrilled.  But I'm somewhat skeptical.  I think it is very important that locals turn against the insurgents both by directly fighting them and by reporting them as they move.  I'm a little worried however that some of these units could eventually form a dangerous anti-government militia or strange long-term force which can provide deniability cover for violent actions 'beyond control' (like Arafat used to use the 'independent' brigades).  It really depends on motivation, and none of us are in a position to know what it is.  If a bunch of people got together to say "our city can't be used by the insurgents anymore so we just have to get rid of them" great.  If these people are more along the lines of "let's get training, weapons and ammunition from the US for as long as we can and get rid of our more direct enemies before we turn on the Americans" it isn't going to be pretty. 

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February 20, 2005


The Larry Summers incident (which if you don't know about it already you probably don't want to--though if you insist they have a good discussion with plenty of links over at CrookedTimber) reminds me of an issue I've always had with sociology.  The super-short version of the incident is that Summers (Harvard president) made some comments about women and mathematics professorships.  He suggested that there were innate issues contributing to the difference in number of women in mathematics and his critics suggest that there are sociological issues.  My response is:  yes.  But the whole thing reminds of a problem.  Let us assume a case where two groups have no innate differences.  If the only difference in outcomes were due purely to personal choice, I don't think sociology has a good method to detect that.  And even worse if there were a situation where the result is mostly personal choice, and mildly social pressure, I suspect that sociology would correctly identify the social pressure and incorrectly identify it as the major reason for the difference. 

Is there a good method to avoid this problem? 

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February 17, 2005

This is Torture, This Cannot Continue

This is why there shouldn't be ghost prisoners that interrogators think they can do anything they want with. 

SAN DIEGO - An Iraqi whose corpse was photographed with grinning U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib died under CIA (news - web sites) interrogation while in a position condemned by human rights groups as torture suspended by his wrists, with his hands cuffed behind his back, according to reports reviewed by The Associated Press

The death of the prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, became known last year when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke. The U.S. military said back then that the death had been ruled a homicide. But the exact circumstances under which the man died were not disclosed at the time.

The prisoner died in a position known as "Palestinian hanging," the documents reviewed by The AP show. It is unclear whether that position was approved by the Bush administration for use in CIA interrogations.

The spy agency, which faces congressional scrutiny over its detention and interrogation of terror suspects at the Baghdad prison and elsewhere, declined to comment for this story, as did the Justice Department (news - web sites).

Al-Jamadi was one of the CIA's "ghost" detainees at Abu Ghraib prisoners being held secretly by the agency.

His death in November 2003 became public with the release of photos of Abu Ghraib guards giving a thumbs-up over his bruised and puffy-faced corpse, which had been packed in ice. One of those guards was Pvt. Charles Graner, who last month received 10 years in a military prison for abusing detainees.

Al-Jamadi died in a prison shower room during about a half-hour of questioning, before interrogators could extract any information, according to the documents, which consist of statements from Army prison guards to investigators with the military and the CIA's Inspector General's office.

One Army guard, Sgt. Jeffery Frost, said the prisoner's arms were stretched behind him in a way he had never before seen. Frost told investigators he was surprised al-Jamadi's arms "didn't pop out of their sockets," according to a summary of his interview.

Frost and other guards had been summoned to reposition al-Jamadi, who an interrogator said was not cooperating. As the guards released the shackles and lowered al-Jamadi, blood gushed from his mouth "as if a faucet had been turned on," according to the interview summary.

The military pathologist who ruled the case a homicide found several broken ribs and concluded al-Jamadi died from pressure to the chest and difficulty breathing.

Dr. Michael Baden, a distinguished civilian pathologist who reviewed the autopsy for a defense attorney in the case, agreed in an interview that the position in which al-Jamadi was suspended could have contributed to his death.

Dr. Vincent Iacopino, director of research for Physicians for Human Rights, called the hyper-extension of the arms behind the back "clear and simple torture." The European Court of Human Rights found Turkey guilty of torture in 1996 in a case of Palestinian hanging a technique Iacopino said is used worldwide but named for its alleged use by Israel in the Palestinian territories.

The Washington Post reported last year that after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the CIA suspended the use of its "enhanced interrogation techniques," including stress positions, because of fears that the agency could be accused of unsanctioned and illegal activity. The newspaper said the White House had approved the tactics.

Navy SEALs apprehended al-Jamadi as a suspect in the Oct. 27, 2003, bombing of Red Cross offices in Baghdad that killed 12 people. His alleged role in the bombing is unclear. According to court documents and testimony, the SEALs punched, kicked and struck al-Jamadi with their rifles before handing him over to the CIA early on Nov. 4. By 7 a.m., al-Jamadi was dead.

Navy prosecutors in San Diego have charged nine SEALs and one sailor with abusing al-Jamadi and others. All but two lieutenants have received nonjudicial punishment; one lieutenant is scheduled for court-martial in March, the other is awaiting a hearing before the Navy's top SEAL.

The statements from five of Abu Ghraib's Army guards were shown to The AP by an attorney for one of the SEALs, who said they offered a more balanced picture of what happened. The lawyer asked not to be identified, saying he feared repercussions for his client.

According to the statements:

Al-Jamadi was brought naked below the waist to the prison with a CIA interrogator and translator. A green plastic bag covered his head, and plastic cuffs tightly bound his wrists. Guards dressed al-Jamadi in an orange jumpsuit, slapped on metal handcuffs and escorted him to the shower room, a common CIA interrogation spot.

There, the interrogator instructed guards to attach shackles from the prisoner's handcuffs to a barred window. That would let al-Jamadi stand without pain, but if he tried to lower himself, his arms would be stretched above and behind him.

The documents do not make clear what happened after guards left. After about a half-hour, the interrogator called for the guards to reposition the prisoner, who was slouching with his arms stretched behind him.

The interrogator told guards that al-Jamadi was "playing possum" faking it and then watched as guards struggled to get him on his feet. But the guards realized it was useless.

"After we found out he was dead, they were nervous," Spc. Dennis E. Stevanus said of the CIA interrogator and translator. "They didn't know what the hell to do."

I have question.  If he was prisoner he was under the control of some specific person.  If ruled a homicide, who is being charged? 

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:08 PM | Comments (585) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Jane Galt on Jordan

Jane Galt struck the perfect note on the Jordan issue:

But then he was fired, and the media, to my mind, went off the deep end with a fifty-pound weight around its neck. A fellow from CJR called bloggers "the drooling morons of the lynch mob". A New York Times pieces made it sound as if Eason Jordan had been terribly victimised by callous thugs with a political axe to grind. Even the Wall Street Journal lamented that it had come down to firing him. The dominant tones were shock, surprise, and rage that bloggers had managed to magnify a slip of the tongue into a firing offense. The blogosphere had clearly Gone Too Far.

Excuse me? Exactly who do we think we are, Miss Thing? If Eason Jordan had been a division head at General Motors, and he had been reported as having said some stupid and indefensible at a private conference, like that women workers were out to sue for sexual harassment in order to enrich themselves, would the New York Times have thought that this was an outrage? Would the Columbia Journalism Review think that editorial columnists calling for the GM VP to explain his remarks were waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of line?

Don't be ridiculous. When prominent people working for high-profile companies make stupid remarks in public, and the public finds out about it, the general result is that they are quickly shown the door by their employers. Why should Eason Jordan's Fortune 100 company be any different?

Oh, because it's journalism? Huh? What Eason Jordan was doing wasn't journalism; it was speaking off the cuff, making extremely serious allegations with none of the evidence that a journalist would require before daring to put forth such accusations. Why should he be any more protected from the results of his idiocy than a Johnson & Johnson executive?

Why, because journalists have been protecting each other from the results of such stupid, off-the-cuff speculation for decades, and suddenly they feel a little naked. This is understandable. AT&T execs can at least spout silliness to each other. Most journalists, on the other hand, are mostly friends with other journalists. To whom should we float our wild conspiracy theories and misanthropic fulminations on people we disagree with, if anything we say to journalists is suddenly on the record?

But on the other hand, Mr Jordan wasn't speaking to other journalists; he was speaking to a large number of strangers, many of whom were almost guaranteed to leave the room and tell sympathetic audiences that yes, it really is true that the US military is deliberately shooting unfriendly journalists; I heard the head of CNN's news division say so. CJR and the Times are curiously uninterested in these violations of the Chatham House Rules.

Perhaps it's not fair that journalists should alone be denied the benefits of protecting each other. Doctors manifestly do it, as do police, firefighters, teachers . . . it's hard to think of a profession, in fact, whose members do not to some extent band together to protect their own against outsiders, even when "we" are wrong. It is, I suppose, a touch unjust that journalists alone should be denied professional courtesy.

On the other hand, it may not be good for us, but it's undoubtedly good for society.

Sorry to quote and run.  But she said it quite well I don't have a lot to add. 

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February 14, 2005

Ruminations at In-N-Out on Valentine's Day

excellent burgers and nothing else.  It isn't that the rest of their food is bad--they literally have no other options.  I've always known that my roommate had trouble making decisions.  He is the one that makes the waiter come back and ask if we need a few more minutes at least twice every time we go out.  But In-N-Out is different.  Their food menu consists of choosing how many patties you want, whether or not you want french fries, and whether or not you want a soda or a milkshake.  So his problem with decisions became very apparent when he had to wait a minute when the clerk asked him what he wanted.  I was already in that hypo-glycemic stage where everything will set you off if you don't get food.  I had to take a deep breath not to say:  "You always get a double-double!"  But realizing it was just that my discretionary man was hungry, I decided not to say anything.

As we were eating, I looked around at the couples dining for Valentine's Day.  In order to take your partner to In-N-Out for Valentine's Day you either have to be extremely secure in your relationship or extremely stupid.  There were examples of each and one example where I think both concepts may have been in play.  The strangest sight--and that which prompted me to write this post--was the late teenage couple I saw in line as I was about to leave.  They were standing next to each other talking on the phone.  At first I speculated that they were brother and sister, but then they started hugging each other tightly and stroking each other's lips.  Not so odd, I bet you think!  But they were pretty much making out with each other while still on their cell phones.  At that point I went outside, my roommates dog pleaded for food with his eyes, and we drove home. 

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Peace Process

This story (Officials: Abbas Fires Top Gaza Security Commanders, After Mortar Attack Threatens Cease-Fire) represents one of the most hopeful things I have seen come out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in quite some time.

Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Hassan Abu Libdeh said Abbas took "punitive measures against officers who did not undertake their responsibilities, which led to the latest developments in Gaza," dismissing several commanders and accepting the resignations of others.

An official speaking on condition of anonymity said Abbas dismissed Brig. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaidie, chief of public security, police chief Saeb al-Ajed and three other senior commanders. Also, several lower-ranking officers lost their jobs, the official said.

Abbas is to go to Gaza on Friday to make it clear to the militants that he will not tolerate violations of the cease-fire, Abu Libdeh said.

One of the key problems in the conflict has always been that Arafat refused to crack down on groups which attacked Israel (chiefly because he was more interested in supporting them).  The fact that Abbas may be willing to crack down on them causes me to be cautiously hopeful--though it is too soon to be cautionsly optimistic. 

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February 13, 2005

The Inner Ring

A recent post (which I'm not linking to since I don't want to talk about that subject here) reminded me of one of the most interesting little pieces I read about 15 years ago.  C.S. Lewis had a 1944 speech (it appears to be something like a commencement speech) in which he clearly identifies a very key human motivation.  He describes peer pressure better than many psychologists:

May I read you a few lines from Tolstoy's War and Peace?

When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. "Alright. Please wait!" he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent, which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood-what he had already guessed-that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and a more real system-the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris, Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.

When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I suppose I must conclude, however unlikely the conclusion seems, that you have a taste for middle-aged moralizing. I shall do my best to gratify it. I shall in fact give you advice about the world in which you are going to live. I do not mean by this that I am going to attempt to talk on what are called current affairs. You probably know quite as much about them as I do. I am not going to tell you- except in a form so general that you will hardly recognize it-what part you ought to play in post-war reconstruction. It is not, in fact, very likely that any of you will be able, in the next ten years, to make any direct contribution to the peace or prosperity of Europe. You will be busy finding jobs, getting married, acquiring facts. I am going to do something more old-fashioned than you perhaps expected. I am going to give advice. I am going to issue warnings. Advice and warnings about things which are so perennial that no one calls them "current affairs."

And of course everyone knows what a middle-aged moralist of my type warns his juniors against. He warns them against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. But one of this trio will be enough to deal with today. The Devil, I shall leave strictly alone. The association between him and me in the public mind has already gone quite as deep as I wish: in some quarters it has already reached the level of confusion, if not of identification. I begin to realize the truth of the old proverb that he who sups with that formidable host needs a long spoon. As for the Flesh, you must be very abnormal young people if you do not know quite as much about it as I do. But on the World I think I have something to say.

In the passage I have just read from Tolstoy, the young second lieutenant Boris Dubretskoi discovers that there exist in the army two different systems or hierarchies. The one is printed in some little red book and anyone can easily read it up. It also remains constant. A general is always superior to a colonel and a colonel to a captain. The other is not printed anywhere. Nor is it even a formally organized secret society with officers and rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally and explicitly admitted by anyone. You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, that you are inside it. There are what correspond to passwords, but they too are spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation, are the marks. But it is not constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always several on the border-line. And if you come back to the same Divisional Headquarters, or Brigade Headquarters, or the same regiment or even the same company, after six weeks' absence, you may find this second hierarchy quite altered. There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called "You and Tony and me." When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself "we." When it has to be suddenly expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself "All the sensible people at this place." From outside, if you have despaired of getting into it, you call it "That gang" or "They" or "So-and-so and his set" or "the Caucus" or "the Inner Ring." If you are a candidate for admission you probably don't call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention it in talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.

Badly as I may have described it, I hope you will all have recognized the thing I am describing. Not, of course, that you have been in the Russian Army or perhaps in any army. But you have met the phenomenon of an Inner Ring. You discovered one in your house at school before the end of the first term. And when you had climbed up to somewhere near it by the end of your second year, perhaps you discovered that within the Ring there was a Ring yet more inner, which in its turn was the fringe of the great school Ring to which the house Rings were only satellites. It is even possible that the School Ring was almost in touch with a Masters' Ring. You were beginning, in fact, to pierce through the skins of the onion. And here, too, at your university-shall I be wrong in assuming that at this very moment, invisible to me, there are several rings-independent systems or concentric rings-present in this room? And I can assure you that in whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college you arrive after going down, you will find the Rings-what Tolstoy calls the second or unwritten systems.

All this is rather obvious. I wonder whether you will say the same of my next step, which is this. I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. This desire, in one of its forms, has indeed had ample justice done to it in literature. I mean, in the form of snobbery. Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hag-ridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that "Society," in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings and snobbery therefore only one form of the longing to be inside. People who believe themselves to be free, and indeed are free, from snobbery, and who read satires on snobbery with tranquil superiority, may be devoured by the desire in another form. It may be the very intensity of their desire to enter some quite different Ring which renders them immune from the allurements of high life. An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communist coterie. Poor man-it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants: it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we-we four or five all huddled beside this stove-are the people who know. Often the desire conceals itself so well that we hardly recognize the pleasures of fruition. Men tell not only their wives but themselves that it is a hardship to stay late at the office or the school on some bit of important extra work which they have been let in for because they and So-and-so and the two others are the only people left in the place who really know how things are run. But it is not quite true. It is a terrible bore, of course, when old Fatty Smithson draws you aside and whispers "Look here, we've got to get you in on this examination somehow" or "Charles and I saw at once that you've got to be on this committee." A terrible bore... ah, but how much more terrible if you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons: but to have them free because you don't matter, that is much worse.

Freud would say, no doubt, that the whole thing is a subterfuge of the sexual impulse. I wonder whether the shoe is not sometimes on the Other foot, I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.

I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only not a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organization should quite coincide with its actual workings. If the wisest and most energetic people invariably held the highest posts, it might coincide; since they often do not, there must be people in high positions who are really deadweights and people in lower positions who are more important than their rank and seniority would lead you to suppose. In that way the second, unwritten system is bound to grow up. It is necessary; and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous. As Byron has said:

Sweet is a legacy, and passing sweet
The unexpected death of some old lady.

The painless death of a pious relative at an advanced age is not an evil. But an earnest desire for her death on the part of her heirs is not reckoned a proper feeling, and the law frowns on even the gentlest attempt to expedite her departure. Let Inner Rings be an unavoidable and even an innocent feature of life, though certainly not a beautiful one: but what of our longing to enter them, our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in?

I have no right to make assumptions about the degree to which any of you may already be compromised. I must not assume that you have ever first neglected, and finally shaken off, friends whom you really loved and who might have lasted you a lifetime, in order to court the friendship of those who appeared to you more important, more esoteric. I must not ask whether you have ever derived actual pleasure from the loneliness and humiliation of the outsiders after you yourself were in: whether you have talked to fellow members of the Ring in the presence of outsiders simply in order that the outsiders might envy; whether the means whereby, in your days of probation, you propitiated the Inner Ring, were always wholly admirable. I will ask only one question-and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.

But I said I was going to give advice, and advice should deal with the future, not the past. I have hinted at the past only to awake you to what I believe to be the real nature of human life. I don't believe that the economic motive and the erotic motive account for everything that goes on in what we moralists call the World. Even if you add Ambition I think the picture is still incomplete. The lust for the esoteric, the longing to be inside, take many forms which are not easily recognizable as Ambition. We hope, no doubt, for tangible profits from every Inner Ring we penetrate: power, money, liberty to break rules, avoidance of routine duties, evasion of discipline. But all these would not satisfy us if we did not get in addition the delicious sense of secret intimacy. It is no doubt a great convenience to know that we need fear no official reprimands from our official senior because he is old Percy, a fellow-member of our ring. But we don't value the intimacy only for the sake of convenience; quite equally we value the convenience as a proof of the intimacy.

My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it-this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment, and advertisement, and if it is one of the permanent mainsprings then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. That will be the natural thing-the life that will come to you of its own accord. Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an "inner ringer." I don't say you'll be a successful one; that's as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in-one way or the other you will be that kind of man. I have already made it fairly clear that I think it better for you not to be that kind of man.

But you may have an open mind on the question. I will therefore suggest two reasons for thinking as I do.

It would be polite and charitable, and in view of your age reasonable too, to suppose that none of you is yet a scoundrel. On the other hand, by the mere law of averages (I am saying nothing against free will) it is almost certain that at least two or three of you before you die will have become something very like scoundrels. There must be in this room the makings of at least that number of unscrupulous, treacherous, ruthless egotists. The choice is still before you: and I hope you will not take my hard words about your possible future characters as a token of disrespect to your present characters. And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still-just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naif, or a prig-the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play: something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which "we"-and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure-something "we always do." And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man's face-that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face-turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

That is my first reason. Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. My second reason is this. The torture allotted to the Danaids in the classical underworld, that of attempting to fill sieves with water, is the symbol not of one vice but of all vices. It is the very mark of a perverse desire that it seeks what is not to be had. The desire to be inside the invisible line illustrates this rule. As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.

This is surely very clear when you come to think of it. If you want to be made free of a certain circle for some wholesome reason-if, say, you want to join a musical society because you really like music-then there is a possibility of satisfaction. You may find yourself playing in a quartet and you may enjoy it. But if all you want is to be in the know, your pleasure will be short-lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic. Once the first novelty is worn off the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humor or learning or wit or any of the things that can be really enjoyed. You merely wanted to be "in." And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow's end will still be ahead of you. The old Ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one.

And you will always find them hard to enter, for a reason you very well know. You yourself once you are in, want to make it hard for the next entrant, just as those who are already in made it hard for you. Naturally. In any wholesome group of people which holds together for a good purpose, the exclusions are in a sense accidental. Three or four people who are together for the sake of some piece of work exclude others because there is work only for so many or because the others can't in fact do it. Your little musical group limits its numbers because the rooms they meet in are only so big. But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There'd be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident: it is the essence.

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

We are told in Scripture that those who ask get. That is true, in senses I can't now explore. But in another sense there is much truth in the schoolboy's principle "them as asks shan't have." To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of Insides," full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no "inside" that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction. It is like the house in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

This speech has done me more good than I can easily outline.  At least once or twice a year I come to a situation where I recognize the direct temptation of the inner ring and resist it.  At other times, on reflection, I realize that I have acted dishonorably because of that motivation.  This is probably one of the bits of reading that has most effected my life. 

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February 11, 2005


This idea is not original, but at the moment I can't find where I saw it. We need to take back the word 'martyr'. When a suicide bomber blows himself and 10 kids up on a bus, the ten kids are the martyrs not the crazy bomber. When an Iraqi voter gets killed for walking out of the polling place--he is a martyr for democracy. (I think that was the case I originally saw). We should avoid martyr status for evil people.

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February 09, 2005


Well here is the post I never wanted to have to write.  I have noted before that I am in the odd position of being a conservative writer with a mostly liberal audience.  I'm usually ok with that, but sometimes I want to direct my writing to a conservative or Republican audience.  There has been a drip, drip, drip that we have mostly ignored.  It does us no credit to continue.  There are many sources for this information, but the New Yorker has an excellent overview.  The Bush administration has engaged in a very troubling pattern of legtimizing torture by dramatically expanding the practice of "extraordinary rendition".  This practice essentially amounts to sending people to other countries to be tortured.  An excellent blog source for information on this practice is available on a section of ObsidianWings.  It has gotten to the point where it is obvious that this is more than a bad agent or two and it has expanded to far beyond just a few of the most hardened and obvious Al Qaeda operatives. 

I wish I could just mention the program and assume that I didn't have to argue against it.  Unfortunately I'm not entirely sure that is true.  So before I get to what Republicans should do to stop it, I'm going to briefly outline why we should act to stop it:

Torture is wrong.  The practice of extraordinary rendition began as a classic Clintonian hairsplitting exercise in the mid 1990s to avoid the clear letter of the laws which prohibit America from using torture.  This is the kind of avoidance of the law and ridiculous semantics that we decried when employed by the Clinton adminstration.  It has gotten no more attractive just because Bush has decided to continue the program. 

We are torturing non-terrorists.  Perhaps some people would be willing to torture Al Qaeda members.  I'm not one of them, but perhaps some are.  The problem with that mindset is that we aren't just torturing Al Qaeda members.  It is becoming completely obvious that some of the people being tortured are innocent.  See especially the ObsidianWings link above.  That is crazy.  There isn't any information we are getting that could possibly justify the torture of innocent people. 

Torture is ineffective.  Torture isn't ineffective at getting information per se. It is ineffective at geting useful information.  That is because the victim either snaps completely, or starts trying to mold his story to fit what the torturer wants to hear.  There is evidence that we have relied on information obtained through torture, only to find that it was very wrong. 

Torture also opens us up to the legitmate criticism that we are acting out the very barbarism that we want to fight.  I think as Republicans we have heard that charge so many times employed against practices where the analogy was completely inappropriate, that we have become inured to the charge when properly employed.  This is a case where the charge has force.   Go watch the Nick Berg Beheading Video and then imagine the blood pouring from his neck being just like the blood oozing from the fingers of an innocent torture victim sent to his fate by the CIA.  That is the barbarism we are fighting, and that is the barbarism we must not become a part of.  I know we have heard the charge that we are acting "just like them" thrown at us over trivial concerns like suggesting that we pay a bit more attention to visa-holders from other countries.  This is NOT THAT CASE.  This is the case of saying we are acting just like them because we are torturing people--acting just like them. 

Therefore extraordinary rendition is a moral sinkhole, which is being employed on people we are not sure are guilty, and which doesn't even get good information.  It cannot be continued.

The Republican Party has spent so many years in the minority that sometimes I think we have not adjusted to the fact that we are in power.  We are in power now.  We control both Houses of Congress and we have our people throughout the administration.  We don't need to wait for the Democrats to raise this issue.  We can't hide behind the worry that exploring our practices is going to get a President elected who is going to retreat from Iraq.  We are the party which leads the most powerful country in the world.  And lead it we must.  President Bush must be shown that the Republican Party is not willing to stand for the perversion of our moral standards.  The Republican-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House can close the loophole which allows for extraordinary rendition and can loudly reaffirm that torture is not something we do.  We are the majority party, and we claim to be a party that cares about the moral health of the nation.  We are damning ourselves if we sit back and let it continue.  This practice is foolish in the proverbial sense of the word--it perverts our moral core and gains us nothing but the illusion of doing something important.  The mid-term elections are two years away.  If we can't make a principled stand now, we never can. 

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February 08, 2005

Koranic Duels Ease Terrorism

Via Paul Cella, I see this fascinating CSM report:

When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."

The prisoners eagerly agreed.

Now, two years later, not only have those prisoners been released, but a relative peace reigns in Yemen. And the same Western experts who doubted this experiment are courting Hitar, eager to hear how his "theological dialogues" with captured Islamic militants have helped pacify this wild and mountainous country, previously seen by the US as a failed state, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Since December 2002, when the first round of the dialogues ended, there have been no terrorist attacks here, even though many people thought that Yemen would become terror's capital," says Hitar, eyes glinting shrewdly from beneath his emerald-green turban. "Three hundred and sixty-four young men have been released after going through the dialogues and none of these have left Yemen to fight anywhere else."

"Yemen's strategy has been unconventional certainly, but it has achieved results that we could never have hoped for," says one European diplomat, who did not want to be named. "Yemen has gone from being a potential enemy to becoming an indispensable ally in the war on terror."

To be sure, the prisoner-release program is not solely responsible for the absence of attacks in Yemen. The government has undertaken a range of measures to combat terrorism from closing down extreme madrassahs, the Islamic schools sometimes accused of breeding hate, to deporting foreign militants.

Now that is a story about moderate Muslims really fighting terrorism! 

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February 07, 2005


I think I just lost a bunch of comments. Drat! Sorry if you were among them.

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Tears of Joy


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February 03, 2005

UN Food for Oil Scandal

The preliminary report on the UN "Food For Oil" scandal is now available (warning this is a huge PDF file).  Since I played bridge tonight (we won) instead of reading the 246 page report, I can't offer my commentary.  I will update this post with links commenting on it as I find them. 

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This post was partially sparked by my co-blogger Hilzoy's post on the often unhelpful-to-conversation category know as "the left".  It is a constant source of frustration that in political discussions (and generally in life) people use drastically overbroad categorizations in highly misleading ways.  While it certainly can be overused, the art of making useful distinctions can be very helpful when talking about any of a number of tough to figure out problems in the world.  One of the key problems can arise when a word can cover two very different instances and be appropriately used when talking about either of them, but which can be highly misleading if you try to talk about both simultaneously.  A classic example is the word 'crime'.  'Crime' is a word that can be used to cover jaywalking and genocide.  In different conversations, it can be completly appropriate to use the term 'crime' for either act.  But it is almost never useful  to use the term 'crime' in a way that encompasses both in one discussion.  If you want to have a useful discussion about how to deter crimes, it isn't going to make much sense to talk about crime a broad enough way to include both jaywalking and genocide even though it can be perfectly appropriate to use the term 'crime' for either in many instances.  In order to have a useful discussion about detterence, you are going to have to talk about certain sub-types of crime.  A great amount of confusion can occur between people if they do not implictly understand how broad the category they are discussing is intended to apply.  This typically happens innocently when a party who is used to speaking to a fairly insular group of like-minded people speaks to a different group which will not automatically understand the context.  This can also happen with a more sinister intent when someone understands the different possible interpretations and uses one while pretending to use the other, or mixing up the interpretations indiscriminately.  This is a serious problem because we can't avoid making generalizations if we want to talk about anything big in the world. But if we aren't attentive to useful distinctions, we aren't going to have a productive discussion. 

Hilzoy's example is "The Left".  Depending on context, 'the left' can refer to hard-core Communists or people more likely to vote Democrat than Republican.  Either reference can be useful and understandable in context.  The problem arises when someone uses it for one meaning while sounding like he is using it for another.  This can be unintentional--if I speak of "The Left" on the Social Security debate and you interpret it more as "The Left" in the anti-communist battles, we aren't going to be talking about the same thing at all.  It can also be intentional, as when someone tries to tar the 'more likely to vote Democrat than Republican' left with something said by the 'stridently anti-capitalist perhaps communist' left.  This can also happen when somone mistakes the part for the whole--as in equating all Republicans with the most extreme members of the Christian Right.  Even among the Christian Right there are differing extremes.  I'm quite confident that most of you who dislike Pat Robertson would get along well with my parents who also dislike Pat Robertson.  But my parents are firmly a part of the Christian Right, and the Republican Party, nonetheless.

A classic example of doing this intentionally can be seen in the abortion wars.  The pro-choice side will claim that a huge portion of people are "pro-choice".  They draw this from statistics which show that a very large percentage of Americans are accepting of abortion in certain limited circumstances which include rape and incest, but convey the impression that Americans support the whole range of abortion policies which are promoted by NARAL or NOW.  The pro-life side does exactly the same thing.  They point out that a huge portion of Americans are willing to ban late-term abortions, and use that as evidence that Americans are largely pro-life.  Both sides ignore the distinction between general support for early-term abortions and general lack-of-support for late-term abortions.  And if we are ever going to have a useful discussion on the topic in this nation, it is a distinction which needs to be attended to. 

Many on the right (and I leave it to the reader to determine if I am using the term usefully) don't distinguish sufficiently between our enemies who are Muslim and Muslims in general.  By failing to make this distinction clearly in their minds, they risk causing greater problems by alienating groups which are not actively hostile. 

Another classic problem is found when we focus so much on the boundary issues that we lose sight of the core.  Jonah Goldberg's example of this is 'free speech'.  In the US we offer speech protections to a large number of graphic sexual depictions not because the majority of people find them deeply useful or productive, but because we believe that it is good to set the boundaries very broadly so as to protect all of the core value--political speech.  But now, we are in the odd position of focusing so much on the boundary issues that we don't pay proper attention to assaults on the core issue when politicians attempt to restrict political speech around the time of elections.  The concept of 'free speech' has drifted so far that it might not even protect the core value that had invested so much worth in the phrase 'free speech'.  In a strange cycle we collapsed the distinctions between near-obscenity and political speech to be sure we were fully protecting political speech.  Then we started focusing so much on the boundary-speech that we are allowing the political speech protections to fail. 

A similar thing has happened with the concept of war crimes.  I have previously discussed this Amnesty International press release which begins:


Iraq: Fear of war crimes by both sides
There are reports giving rise to concerns that war crimes may have been committed by both sides in the recent fighting, Amnesty International said today.


It continues with a long discussion of the US bombing of Saddam's priniciple Ba'athist TV station and then a cursory mention of Iraqi soldiers shelling civilians, endangering civilians by placing key military installations next to civilian structures, and endangering civilians by using them to hide ambushes. 

The term 'war crimes' derives much of its emotional force from being attached to genocide or other direct and targeted assaults on non-combatants.  As such, rules defining war crimes focus on things like using area effect weapons when civilians are nearby, protecting civilians by making it illegal to place military installations in schools or hospitals, uniforms to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, and targeting civilians to induce panic.  So, even if we were to determine that bombing a dictator-run and used-for-propaganda TV station were illegal (which I am not at all conceeding) it is illegal because we are being so hyper-careful about the core issues that we place the boundaries far away from them.  Focusing on violations of the boundary issues when the core value is being more seriously attacked can be gravely harmful to the discussion.  (And on reflection, I have done so from time to time during the torture discussions on this board).  Defining the boundaries is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, but losing sight of the fact that boundary issues are not the same as the core issues can destroy the usefulness of the analysis. 

Political bias can strongly influence how we use and interpret distinctions.  Distinctions that make us uncomfortable can be hidden in a broad term.  Distinctions which offer an easy way out can be drawn narrowly.  When trying to honestly talk with people who disagree with you, you have to be aware of how you are making distinctions and how the distinctions you make are being received by the other party to the discussion.  Human beings can't be perfectly aware of such issues, but trying to think about it from time to time certainly can't hurt. 

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