Thursday, February 21, 2008


In 18th century Prague, as legend has it, a Rabbi created a Golem by mixing wax, clay and semen, speaking invocations, drawing a figure and then setting it on fire, so the figure would come to life. Ms. Shelley used this legend to create Frankenstein story. The Golem was inanimate and had no soul. It was a Godless creature that proceeded to wipe out the Rabbi’s enemies, and then, by accident, the town’s innocents and then, very nearly the Rabbi himself.

I continue the tradition of bitter complaint about legal injustice. There is an interesting tension between two different aspects of the Global War On Terror that have been in the news, but not really in the News.

The first component involves Steven Bradbury, the Justice Department official who heads up the Office of Legal Counsel, testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. Exciting stuff, yes? What makes this so unbelievable is that this testimony reveals just what may have pushed former A.G. Ashcroft to threaten to resign. The second looks at the so called justice that six "high-value detainees" will enjoy at the hands of their military commissions this spring.

Both involve a strict reinterpretation of the notion of rule of law. Rules are re-written and re-interpreted so that you can play by your lawyers interpretation of the rule of law, yet express the rule of man. This is the Golem.

The Bradbury testimony represents once of these condescending word games that this administration has become noted for. Except in this case we need to keep in mind that the topic at hand is rationalizing the torture of human beings. Excerpts really do not reveal what a cold hearted shit this person is, so go read the remainder. A sampling:
"Under the mental side, Congress was very careful in the torture statute to have a very precise definition of severe mental pain or suffering. It requires predicate conditions be met and then, moreover, as we said in our opinion in December 2004, reading many cases, court cases, under the Torture Victims Protection Act, it requires an intent to cause prolonged mental harm. Now that's a mental disorder that is extended or continuing over time and if you've got a body of experience with a particular procedure that's been carefully monitored that indicates that you would not expect that there would be prolonged mental harm from a procedure, you can conclude that it's not torture under the precise terms of that statute."
This represents the mechanized dehumanization that has been one of the defining characteristics of the rendition program as described by an essay in The New Yorker named The Black Sites . I had a little discussion about it last September and had a few choice things to say. Does this sound familiar?
"The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. 'It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,' an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. 'At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.'"
More of the same. A rhetoric based attack on humanity.

The second course for the meal is what slides out the other side of the meat grinder. After a sufficiently long stay down in Cuba - where in spite of Michael Moores insistence on 24 hour medical care people seem to be getting really sick and dropping dead - the powers that be need to seek some kind of closure on the whole affair. This is an election year and all.

The show trial will begin this spring and will be run with the same attention to detail and the new rule of law that has been the hallmark of this whole misadventure. Misadventure being a euphemism for kidnapping hundreds of people, denying them basic human rights, then sending what is left of them back to their hostile countries to be treated in whatever way politically volatile people are.

Harpers had a little post on it, where I get the following:
According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo’s military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees in an attempt to foreclose the possibility of acquittal. Colonel Davis’s criticism of the commissions has been escalating since he resigned this past October, telling the Washington Post that he had been pressured by politically appointed senior defense officials to pursue cases deemed “sexy” and of “high-interest” (such as the 9/11 cases now being pursued) in the run-up to the 2008 elections. Davis, once a staunch defender of the commissions process, elaborated on his reasons in a December 10, 2007, Los Angeles Times op-ed. “I concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system,” he wrote. “I felt that the system had become deeply politicized and that I could no longer do my job effectively.”
“I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process,” Davis continued. “At which point, [Haynes’s] eyes got wide and he said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.’”
The entire article is worth reading if only to grasp what the remainder of the world thinks about this whole banal affair. There will be talks about how this is the moral equivalent of the Nuremberg trials. If only that were the case. This will be Nuremberg kabuki - where the rubric of Justice will be presented without the bother of meat on the bone.

There is a systematized illness here which is not clearly under the direct control of any single person. All this time I have been predicating my model on the simple idea that there is actually someone making deliberate decisions about specifics. I wonder now if perhaps we might just have a bunch of greedy little boys who have discovered the power of language. The fact that there has always been tension between the gross incompetence demonstrated by this cabal and the Evil Plans for World Dominance has always struck me as a little off key.

The problem is that this scenario scares me a whole lot more than the directed back room politics ever did.

The Golem was inanimate and had no soul.
It was a Godless creature that proceeded to
wipe out the Rabbi’s enemies, and then, by
accident, the town’s innocents and then,
very nearly the Rabbi himself.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I hope you burn for eternity but I love you and will be praying for you.

I have long sworn to myself that it is a fruitless waste of time to read the long psychotic arguments that, without fail, fall out in the comments from the great vast field of camp followers who stalk postings on evolution. This is far less an issue here where I have a nominal number of readers...

My anger freely flows from reading about the upcoming movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." Why I am angry about this is really beyond me. Should you get angry at mice for stealing your cheese? You might, but it really doesn't do much good. It is just what they do. In the same sort of rational, I ought to expect that people who are selling a movie predicated on the notion that evil (Evil?) Academia is crushing the valiant efforts of a few rag tag fugitive scientists to out the truth about ID (no no! Not the id, rather Intelligent Design).

So here we go again - the same sorry arguments that we see dragged out again and again. No data. No rational framework. No literature. No Science. No there there. The same nasty little blob of argument dipped in freedom of expression sauce and sold by the box full to a hungry America.

Who cares? I do because these pissy little cowards want journalists to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they can watch a pre-screening of the movie which is supposed to be there for reviewing and publicity. They also have to sign the same sort of non-disclosure for a 'press conference' where pre-screened questions are answered by the films makers.

From Dan Whipple at the Colorado Confidential:
Now if Expelled can be said to have a theme, it is that all sorts of ideas should be batted around the ballfield of science and theology, that there should be freedom of expression. I was jazzed. I'd get to ask my questions. It would be American intellectual combat at its most naked. As producer Walt Ruloff put it:

"What we're really asking for is freedom of speech, and allowing science, and students, people in applied or theoretical research to have the freedom to go where they need to go and as the questions."

This makes it ironic, at least, that they expected the Orlando Sentinel to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Another reviewer had similar viewpoints, part of which I snip out here:
He uses "straw man" tactics to attack, mainly The Origin of the Species, as Darwin wrote it in 1859. That's like a music critic reviewing "the latest" by only referring to Edison's wax cylinders. He sets up false theses that "the other side" must hold (classic Limbaugh) and knocks those straw men down. Citing scientific research as recent as 1953, he can't understand why no peer-reviewed scientist thinks his "fairytale" version of the emergence of life is worth his or her time. No, not having a definitive answer about the moment life damning enough for Ben.
This is just chickenshit. I need to get going, but the thing that set me over the edge was this nice (sadly representative) post by a good Mr Larry Fafarman:
Posted by: Larry Fafarman | February 04, 2008 at 01:58 PM

To all you crazy 'Darwinists':

I refer you to the excellent Thomas Fagan post (Feb 2) where he suggests some new and intriguing ideas along with some compelling evidence.
He even references some notable scientists such as Behe, Demski and Wells – which should convince you further.

For even more irrefutable evidence you should check out these additional scientists:
Kirk Cameron – his fascinating ‘crocoduck’ argument
Ray Comfort – the spellbinding ‘designed banana’ lecture

Come on folks – get with it. Time to do your homework!
Check out Mr. Cameron in “Left Behind: World War III” for a swift kick on your atheist butt if you need inspiration.
You ‘evolutionist world view’ people crack me up.
I hope you burn for eternity but I love you and will be praying for you.
Perhaps I just don't get it. Perhaps this is just a joke? Perhaps this is just a new type of irony.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Widening Gyre

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats, The Second Coming

The turn of events and the unrelenting lack of humanity as of late have left me a little off balance.

Where to begin? When you don't know where, return to first principles:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
US Constitution, 4th Amendment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
US Constitution, 8th Amendment

This is on one side of the scale. Words and rules which have been (mostly) successful in keeping the great unwashed more or less out of the thresher. We operate on assumptions. Rules. An implicit understanding of right and wrong. We are drifting away from those things in an accelerating curve.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia provides a little insight on the 8th Amendment.
SCALIA: Seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say that you can’t stick something under the fingernails, smack them in the face. It would be absurd to say that you couldn’t do that. And once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game. How close does the threat have to be and how severe can an infliction of pain be?
The entire quote should be digested within context and in it's entirety. It is a disgusting expression of this whole '24' mentality which seems to have locked up the whole dialog surrounding the US involvement in torturing suspects. This is a Supreme Court justice, and the model that he uses is a fucking television show. Broken.

There is no discussion of legal guilt. There is no discussion of legal rights or process. There is no discussion of real boundaries or applicability. Just a fucking tv show. From some drunk on the bar stool next door I might tolerate such a chickenshit weak minded argument. From this person I demand much much more.

We have set the stage. Enter Jose Padilla. US Citizen. Tortured and held without charges for years. Go read this somewhat long and detailed description of the treatment and trial of this human being ( link ).

Over strong objections from the government, elements of Padilla’s confinement were revealed. Here’s how the Christian Science Monitor described it:

“Padilla’s cell measured nine feet by seven feet. The windows were covered over… He had no pillow. No sheet. No clock. No calendar. No radio. No television. No telephone calls. No visitors. Even Padilla’s lawyers were prevented from seeing him for nearly two years.”

And another (somewhat long) quote:
“What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind. That’s what happened at the brig. His personality was deconstructed and reformed,” Dr. Hargarty told Goodman. “In the darkness or in the light—in the cells, the light would be all dark for a long time or all light for a long time. And for a very long part of his detention he had no mattress at all. And sometimes he would try to sleep on the pallet, if you will, the hard steel pallet, or other times he would be in essentially stress positions where he’s got shackles and a belt and is in an awkward and uncomfortable position for long periods at a time....he would hear the click of the door opening, which is a loud click that sort of echoed, and then a very loud bang over and over and over again for hours at a time, possibly days. He had no way of knowing the time. The light was always artificial. The windows were blackened. He had no calendar or time, as you mentioned earlier. He really didn’t see people, especially in the beginning. He only had contact with his interrogators.”
This represents the systematic destruction of another human beings self. Then he was put on "trial" with any information regarding his treatment of unbiased evaluation of his mental state.
An often overlooked event, which in more equitable proceedings might have led to a mistrial, occurred just prior to the July 4th recess: the Miami jurors filed into the jury box -- first row, second, and third. But in what could only be a clear signal of its lack of impartiality, the first row of jurors that day were dressed all in red, the second row all in white, and the third row all in blue. This overt act, antithetical to a democratic judicial process, should have made any respectable judge livid and any responsible media outlet vocal. But it did neither.

Thus, it was no surprise this jury of red, white and blue -- having been denied the facts about the government’s ever changing charges, Padilla’s torture and illegal imprisonment, along with the denial of his other constitutional rights – such as the right to a swift trial -- took only a day and a half to review and consider three full months of testimony before finding Padilla and the other two defendants guilty on all counts.

I am not sure what more I might add to that.

As this is getting a little long, we frost this tasty little story with parting gift from the DOJ/FBI. Since we need to get the remainder of these trials rolling in order to look like something is being done about those pesky evildoers, plans for a series of show trials have begun.

The problem is, we have been systematically abusing and torturing these individuals. Even if DOJ says 'okey - dokey' about the waterboarding and whatnot, there are still pesky issues surrounding admisability and tainting. This is important since the Death Penalty will be the ultimate goal of these proceedings. I suspect that punishment was taken off the table in Padilla’s case so that fishy evidence could be introduced and a body of case law generated that these cases might push off against. Then again I know shit about law...

Short version:

Prosecutors and top administration officials essentially wanted to cleanse the information so that it could be used in court, a process that federal prosecutors typically follow in U.S. criminal cases with investigative problems or botched interrogations. Officials wanted to go into court without any doubts about the viability of their evidence, and they had serious reservations about the reliability of what the CIA had obtained for intelligence purposes.

“It was the product of a lot of debate at really high levels,” one official familiar with the program said. “A lot of people were involved in concluding that it may not be the saving grace, but it would put us on the best footing we could possibly be in. You can’t erase what happened in the past, but this was the best alternative.” […]

John D. Hutson, a retired Navy rear admiral and former judge advocate general. “Once you torture someone, it is hard to un-torture them. The general public is going to be concerned about the validity of the testimony.” …(read on)

Unlike the previous link, there is no moment of clarity here. No closure. I end with the second half of the Yeats poem and a haunting feeling that what comes slouching along to Bethlehem is not particularly welcome.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Banality, Hubris et al.

I need to take a moment from an otherwise spiffy day and get a few things off my chest. This labor is obviously futile, but none the less it provides the illusion of getting something done without being as difficult as, say, sifting through a long list of citations and making sure that everything is correct.

Mark Thursday Feb 7th as a Very Interesting Day. As the core of much of this has been covered already, I will simply quote someone smarter and more articulate than I:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey is back on the Hill today, testifying to the House Judiciary Committee. Paul Kiel is covering it at TPMmuckraker.

So far, he's dropped two big bombshells. DOJ will not be investigating:

(1) whether the waterboarding, now admitted to by the White House, was a crime; or

(2) whether the Administration's warrantless wiretapping was illegal.

His rationale? Both programs had been signed off on in advance as legal by the Justice Department.

This is really the height of lawyer fetishism which seems to have gripped the current administration. I am using the term here as a nice way of referring to the uncomfortable fact that the political appointees who seem willing to discuss the moral relativism of torture in such a way that Derrida blush are the ones who are making the decisions about what constitutes legality.

As a later update clarifies, it is not just that they can 'ignore' the law by saying that some act or another is ok. There is no legal recourse - criminal or civil - within the United States systems of law once the DOJ says okie-dokie.

The white house needs more lawyers and more opinions in order to normalize the unspeakable, the Banality of Evil. Yet when the smoke clears, Evil still will have been done. They would like to normalize there actions to the degree that it is ok to openly admit such acts without shame. Waterboarding is not torture, not illegal if we say so. Not quite true. Never will be. Jack Balkin notes:
Actually, it violates the law whether or not you call it illegal. Generally speaking, war criminals don’t usually admit that they have engaged in war crimes. They usually say they were justified in acting as they did.
A line has been passed in that all the cards seem to be on the table now. This is a big deal, and we need to force the two democratic (and yes, also our republican) candidates to answer the question of exactly what they are going to do about the executive branch. I, naturally took this idea from here:
This is the only issue in the presidential campaign. It is the only truly existential threat to the country. Everything else -- health care, climate change, campaign finance, the deficit -- mean nothing if we fail on this fundamental issue.
This reminds me of a quote that has already appeared here but which rings more truthfully now that when I first heard it. The authoritarian fascist will come up to you and say exactly what they are going to do long before they do it:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way that the world works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
The first time that I read that all I thought was 'what a pompous asshole.' I am wondering if this is a case of significantly underestimating (for lack of a better term) our opposition.

I am not completely sure what our Reality Based Community can or should do. This is a complex and real problem with ramifications that could last for generations. I go now to make some noodles and play out in the glorious sunshine with PAB. There is much to think about.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I voted

So much has been going on as of late that I have not had time or really the desire to punt out some great steaming blob of angry verbiage. Now there is quite a bit to catch up on.

This will be a bit shorter than usual as there is a homework assignment and a research paper to complete. Complain complain complain. I have been reading about economics which is making my head ache and the lining of my stomach deplete itself. I have been reading about the Attorney General refusing to deny torture as a legitimate tool of our so called democracy. I have been reading details about Jose Padilla - a US citizen tortured, held without charges, and denied access to legal representation until he got railroaded in a mock trial. Real Ministry of Love stuff.

Not all is so bleak. I have enjoyed the second birthday of PAB tremendously. Many good friends to be had. If only I might extract such pleasure from balloons... I continue to look forward to the time I can find with Mrs. Set.Element, since she is busy busy busy and has a world of family crap as well. We trudge on.

More later...