From the monthly archives:

April 2005

Outsourcing torture to Uzbekistan

by Henry on April 30, 2005

The New York Times, which has been doing sterling investigative work, reports that the US has sent “dozens” of detainees to Uzbekistan under the extraordinary rendition program. This at a time when the US State Department has issued a report noting the prevalence of torture in Uzbekistan and pointing to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture’s conclusion ” that torture or similar ill-treatment was systematic.” As I believe is quite well known, Uzbeki specialties include the “boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers” as well as the boiling of prisoners to death. And the US response?

A senior C.I.A. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would not discuss whether the United States had sent prisoners to Uzbekistan or anywhere else. But he said: “The United States does not engage in or condone torture. It does not send people anywhere to be tortured. And it does not knowingly receive information derived from torture.” (my italics)

Or in other words, don’t ask, don’t tell. It is nothing less than appalling that this has happened, is continuing to happen, and is an official (if unacknowledged) US policy. Indeed, it’s not only appalling; it’s criminal. No other conclusion is possible than that the United States of America is deliberately and consciously shipping people to third party regimes so that information can be tortured from them. This is general knowledge. Yet it isn’t being acted on. Those who have introduced this policy and overseen it shouldn’t just be forced to resign. They should be prosecuted as war criminals.

May Day again

by John Quiggin on April 30, 2005

Another year, another May Day, reminding me that I still haven’t got round to my long-planned series of posts on labour issues in Australia, especially the replacement of permanent jobs by various mixtures of casual and contract appointments. We have a public holiday tomorrow, and I don’t suppose I’d be breaching the spirit of it if I did some work on this topic then.

In the short term, though, the most important historical fact about May 1 is that it’s the anniversary of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on Iraq in 2003. When I wrote about this anniversary last year, I observed

the anniversary of Bush declaration of victory looks as good a time as any to date what seems increasingly certain to be a defeat [at least for the policies that have been pursued for the last year] … The Administration seems to be inching towards the position I’ve been advocating for some time – dumping the policies of Bremer and Chalabi (though not, unfortunately Bremer and Chalabi themselves), and handing over real military power to Iraqis. If the interim (still inchoate) government has substantial real power, manages to hold early elections and can get enough support to permit a rapid US withdrawal, the outcome might not be too bad. But there’s very little time left, and this scenario assumes exceptionally skilful management of the situation from now on.

How do things look a year later? Bremer is gone, thankfully, and I doubt that there’s anyone left who would suggest that the Coalition Provisional Administration he ran was anything better than a set of incompetent bunglers who achieved less than nothing[1]. Chalabi, by contrast, seems to be the eternal survivor. The Americans dumped him after all, but he promptly switched sides and has popped up as some sort of Deputy Prime Minister in the new Iraqi government and looks set to get the lucrative oil ministry he’s been after for so long.
[click to continue…]

Time for a Tiger

by Kieran Healy on April 29, 2005

While the sun was setting this evening, I drove up to the “Catalina foothills.”:http://www.boulder.swri.edu/~durda/snow.html Tucson’s sunsets are the kind that are “so rich and colorful”:http://www.hereintucson.com/wallpaper.htm that you think photographs of them have been photoshopped. Just beautiful. Anyway, on the way back I stopped at the local “swanky mall”:http://www.tucsonattractions.com/encantada.htm (I think the proper marketing-speak is “upscale”), which is home to an Apple Store. I bought “Tiger”:http://www.apple.com/macosx/overview/. The shop was packed. They were handing out scratch-cards and I ended up winning an “iPod shuffle”:http://www.apple.com/ipodshuffle/, which was a nice surprise as I never win anything. Then I came home and while “Spotlight”:http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/spotlight/ was indexing my computer with metadata goodness, I put the kid to bed and made the first stage of a recipe for “croissants”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croissant. (They take three days to make!) Then I finished a paper I was supposed to draft and now I’m having a beer. I imagine people like “John and Belle”:http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/ go through life in this well-adapted manner all the time, but personally I’m still trying to figure out what was in my lunch this afternoon that caused all this to happen. Naturally I’m now warily waiting for the house to catch fire or the cat to explode or something, because things clearly need to balance out.

Fake New Yorker cartoons

by Ted on April 29, 2005

Fake New Yorker cartoon


Many more here
. Much swearing and inappropriate humor.

Bainbridge on Social Security

by Henry on April 29, 2005

Stephen Bainbridge articulates my suspicions as to what’s going on with the President’s proposal for means-tests on Social Security – that focusing the program more directly on the poor would weaken its political support (and thus make it easier to get rid of it in the long run).

Risk and politics

by Henry on April 29, 2005

Matt Yglesias talks about the difficulty that liberals and the left have in saying what they’re for and what their opponents are against, in a pithy one-sentence format.

the problem was that people didn’t even seem to understand the right kind of thing to be doing. What makes the conservative pitch work is that while it’s general enough to be broadly appealing, it’s specific enough that liberals will have to reject it. The submissions we got tended to either operate at an overly-broad level (“we’re for good things happening and against bad ones”) or else to just be policy laundry-lists.

It’s important to recognize that for these purposes you need an idea that conservatives would reject as a self-description. If you say, “we’re for the middle class, not just the wealthy” conservatives will say, “no, we’re for the middle class.” You may think (correctly) that this is an inaccurate description of the consequences of conservatism, but it’s not how conservatives see things. Liberals, on the other hand, really aren’t for low taxes. And part of the genius is that we wouldn’t say that we’re exactly for high taxes either.

I don’t have an answer for him; I’m not that good at snappy one liners. But I do have a strong feeling that the answer lies somewhere in the left and right’s attitudes towards risk. Modern conservatives tend to fetishize risk as being a good thing in itself – see John H’s extended interrogation of David Frum’s claims that the risk of hardship and privation are character-building. There’s something similar going on in the insistence of many conservatives that the welfare state destroys character, and that Social Security, universal health care, bankruptcy protection and so on are bad things in themselves. This points towards the same conclusion as the libertarian argument that markets are good, but for different reasons – it’s less concerned with increasing individuals’ ability to make choices, than ensuring that they’re exposed to the brisk winds of chance and market forces. The left wants to provide a safety net in case you fall from the tightrope, but for people like Frum, the risk that you’ll break your neck is a _good thing_. It concentrates your mind wonderfully on staying up there, and makes you bulk up your moral fibre. There are some varieties of American conservatism for which this isn’t true (there’s a subdued strain of Catholic corporate responsibility, for example, here and there), but they aren’t politically dominant. Now the statement that the left’s motive is to mitigate risk isn’t a one-liner; at most it’s a loose animating philosophy. But whatever one-liners we come up with should reflect that philosophy, or something like it – it’s what really divides the left (as broadly conceived) from the currently dominant version of American conservatism.

Friday’s for Fun

by Eszter Hargittai on April 29, 2005

Just because I have a busy workday ahead doesn’t mean others aren’t ready for procrastination. Let the fun begin.

  • Guess-the-Google – Care to beat my high score of 387?:) (That’s thanks to my being at home sick last weekend and the game repeating many of the pictures.)
  • The original Ooops I Did It Again by Louis Armstrong:) – You will want to have the volume turned on to enjoy this
  • Sixfoo 660 – Where social networking sites network (this is probably most amusing to those who have already tried Yahoo 360, here is an example)

Donations

by Chris Bertram on April 29, 2005

Like other Timberites I pledged my Amazon Associates earnings to Tsunami relief. However in the intervening period the “Disasters Emergency Committee”:http://www.dec.org.uk/ have decided that Darfur is more of a priority and the button that previously went to Tsunami relief redirects to a page inviting you to donate to that cause. Unlike John H., my earnings were small, but I’ve sent £40 to the DEC today and will do the same with all future earnings.

Pastry blues

by Eszter Hargittai on April 28, 2005

Kieran’s recent analysis of Timberites’ blogging habits showed that one of my main contributions around here is in the area of trivia. (In a more generous or delusional moment one may call it the “other” or “interesting tidbits” category, but I digress.) So to live up to my role around here, I thought I would post an entry about the unfortunate downturn in the life of what used to be the wonderful Starbucks espresso brownie bar.

I don’t drink coffee so Starbucks holds limited appeal to me. I am also not fooled by most of their pastries, which tend to look good, but usually do not measure up in taste. There is one exception, however: their espresso brownie bar. It is great! Unfortunately, in the past few months they have added a nearly tasteless fudge on top. The bar in general seems to have gotten smaller and this may be a way to distract from that and put less quality chocolate in the product. Suffice it to say that it is a really bad innovation (if you can even call it that). They have pretty much ruined an extremely good pastry. Yes, I can get dramatic when it comes to chocolate. I do not like people messing with a good chocolate product.

It turns out that you can still get the fudgeless type in other markets, however. During my recent travels I noticed them at various airports. Maybe introducing the new version in some markets is their way of experimenting to see if the change holds up. If you would like to join my campaign [1] to help save a perfectly good pastry then please send the company a note by filling out this form on their Web site. Espresso brownie enthusiasts will thank you.

1. I will keep you posted regarding tax-deductible donations to the cause as the movement progresses.

Closing The Scientific Hack Gap

by Henry on April 28, 2005

Lorelei Kelly at Democracy Arsenal writes:

Two cliches that the conservative movement lives by: “Nature abhors a vacuum” AND “Half of winning is just showing up”. So conservative leaders proceed to destroy public infrastructure–thereby creating a vacuum–and then outsource its replacement to their friends and allies. A great example of this occurred with the “reforms” implemented by the Contract with America–the de facto elimination of much of the cooperative informal infrastructure like staffed caucuses–that helped Members stay educated and also built alliances between Democrats and Republicans on issues of interest (like arms control or the environment). Congressional staff from the old days refer to 1995 as “the lobotomy of Congress”. Gingrich had no need for these informal venues … he consolidated formal power of recognition to himself and simply outsourced substantive policy needs to the Heritage Foundation. The left had nothing similar to Heritage in 1995. Now we’ve got Center for American Progress, but also years of catching up to do.

While Kelly is bang on in her diagnosis, I don’t think that think tanks like the Center for American Progress provide a very good solution, useful though they may be in other senses. Much of the dumbing down of political debate in the last decade was indeed an intended consequence of the Gingrich revolution. Congressional institutions which provided impartial information were axed, and replaced by spin from handpicked “experts” and right wing think-tanks. The prime example was the closing of the Office of Technology Assessment (which had peeved Gingrich by exploding some of the bogus science underpinning the Star Wars initiative). Still, creating “our own” think-tanks isn’t a solution to the underlying problem (although it may be a necessary political strategy). It would be far preferable to try to recreate some of the previously existing infrastructure, as Congressman Rush Holt has proposed (it wasn’t very expensive in the first place). This would make it far more difficult for bullshit artists like Senator James Inhofe to get away with murder on the floor of Congress. Doubtless, this would sometimes prove inconvenient for the left, whenever the existing research or scientific consensus presented awkward or uncomfortable facts for left-wing policy positions. But it would improve the quality of political debate in areas such as stem cell research, global warming and missile defence, where right wing politicians continually and persistently make claims that are bizarrely at odds with the existing body of scientific research.

Facts Curious and True

by Henry on April 28, 2005

!http://images.amazon.com/images/P/6305074305.01._PE_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg!

If you do an Amazon search for “Glenn Reynolds,” the movie Troll II appears in the first page of results, beating out Reynolds’ book with Merges on space law and policy (the latter is actually quite a useful volume, and the reason I was doing the search in the first place).

Live Blogging, God help us

by Daniel on April 28, 2005

We’re having a live, almost Presidential-style “debate” in the UK on the program “Question Time”, ahead of our almost Presidential-style election. If you fancy “live blogging” it, like the Americans did, the place to go is perfect.co.uk. I won’t be myself; I will be sulking because an impromptu meeting at work plus childcare duties has caused me to miss out on a drink with the creme de la menthe of the UK blog community. Or maybe I will; much depends on how much of a fuss I think there is going to be over the Attorney General’s advice furore. Never has the phrase “the coverup is always worse than the crime” seemed so apposite; if they’d just published this straight off it would have convinced those who supported the war, and not convinced those who didn’t, for no net loss. Publishing it now after having fibbed so much about its contents, looks pretty bad.

Republican Alabama lawmaker Gerald Allen says homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle. As CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, under his bill, public school libraries could no longer buy new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters.

“I don’t look at it as censorship,” says State Representative Gerald Allen. “I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children.”

Books by any gay author would have to go: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple” has lesbian characters.

Allen originally wanted to ban even some Shakespeare. After criticism, he narrowed his bill to exempt the classics, although he still can’t define what a classic is. Also exempted now Alabama’s public and college libraries…

“It’s not healthy for America, it doesn’t fit what we stand for,” says Allen. “And they will do whatever it takes to reach their goal.

Hi, I’m the bloody corpse of satire. Rep. Gerald Allen, you have defeated me in mortal combat.

What’s going on

by Ted on April 28, 2005

I’ve got some long quotes about the decision of the Army inspector general to clear all but one of the top officers involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal of all charges under the fold.

[click to continue…]

Google Print

by Chris Bertram on April 28, 2005

Fully searchable “Google Print is now out”:http://print.google.com/print?q=foo and there’s lots of valuable stuff. A fantastic resource!