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The Torture Administration

[ 0 ] October 4, 2007 |

It’s been widely linked, but this is a must-read story:

The debate over how terrorism suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees.

[...]

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.’s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner’s cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.

But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.

Hilzoy sums up:

These techniques are not just morally abhorrent; they are flatly illegal. One might think that since the President is required by the Constitution to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”, this might be a bit of a problem. Not for the Bush administration. First, John Yoo wrote his famous “torture memo”, in which he argued that interrogation techniques were illegal only if they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or death. When that memo became public, the administration disowned it. But they also issued another secret opinion reaffirming the legality of the various combinations of techniques described above, and then wrote another secret memo saying that none of the CIA’s interrogation techniques constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.

The techniques in question are repugnant. But in many ways, the administration’s disregard for the law is worse. When your policies violate treaties you have signed and laws that are on the books, you are not supposed to come up with some clever way of explaining that appearances to the contrary, what you’re doing is not illegal at all. You’re supposed to stop doing it. When Congress decides to pass a law banning “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, you are supposed to stop engaging in such treatment, not to redefine “cruel, inhuman and degrading” so that it doesn’t apply to anything you want to do.

Right. The article does an excellent job of detailing how this was made possible by turning the Office of Legal Counsel over to utter hacks willing to make arguments as farcical as they needed to be.

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Because If Women’s Bodies Aren’t Perfect, We Don’t Want ‘Em

[ 0 ] October 4, 2007 |

Today in the NY Times Thursday Styles section, that bastion of feminism, there’s an article called “Is the ‘Mom Job’ Really Necessary?” I could not fathom what this article might be about…part time jobs for women with kids maybe?

But no. The first three paragraphs make it very clear that the mom job is something else entirely:

Dr. David A. Stoker, a plastic surgeon in Marina Del Rey, Calif., has a surgical cure for the ravages of motherhood. He, like many plastic surgeons nationwide, calls it a “mommy makeover.”

Aimed at mothers, it usually involves a trifecta: a breast lift with or without breast implants, a tummy tuck and some liposuction. The procedures are intended to hoist slackened skin as well as reduce stretch marks and pregnancy fat.

“The severe physical trauma of pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding can have profound negative effects that cause women to lose their hourglass figures,” he said. His practice, Marina Plastic Surgery Associates, maintains a Web site, amommymakeover.com, which describes the surgeries required to overhaul a postpregnancy body.

Ah. I see. We’re going to celebrate motherhood (see: every single tabloid out there), but not mother’s bodies. Saggy breasts? Can’t have that — even if they’re a bit saggy because they fed a baby for a year. No matter, once breastfeeding is over, breasts must go back to being objects of sexual desire, and so, “perfect.”

What’s next? The “dad job” that includes hair transplants, lipo of the gut, and but implants? I think it’ll be a cold day in hell before we see that one…

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The Blackmun Files

[ 0 ] October 4, 2007 |

This online database of papers from the Blackmun files looks like an immensely valuable resources for scholars and watchers of the Court.

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Doing the Bartman

[ 1 ] October 4, 2007 |

If I had have enough reason to hope that the Cubs lose, it’s the fact that many Cubs fans seem to still hold a grudge against against Steve Bartman, whose role in the defeat of the Cubs was trivial at best. First of all, it’s far from clear that Alou catches the ball in the first place. More importantly, the Cubs still had a 3-0 lead with one out and one on. I don’t think that Bartman caused Gonzalez to muff a routine grounder or Prior to spit out the bit or Kyle Farnsworth to be Kyle Farnsworth. Enough already. The Cubs lost because they lost; Bartman had nothing significant to do with it.

Bill Simmons’s entertaining roundup of modes of losing (“Is there another fan experience quite like overtime hockey, when every slap shot, breakaway and centering pass might spell doom, and losing feels 10 times worse than winning feels good (if that makes sense)?,” exactly right) brings up another example that’s always annoyed me: Cardinals fans whining about Denkinger’s blown call in the ’85 World Series. Again, they still had a lead with one on after the call; moreover, the winning runs scored with only one out. I can’t see what Denkinger had to do with, say, the crucial Porter passed ball, or the Cards getting the crap beat out of them in Game 7 (same thing for Bartman, of course.) The Cardinals lost because they deserved to lose.

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Rotten Island

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

rotten islandFour years ago today, New Yorker cartoonist William Steig — one of the greatest American illustrators and children’s book authors — passed away at the age of 95.

Most famous today as the creator of Shrek, Steig published dozens of children’s books during his lifetime, including Amos and Boris, (1971), Brave Irene (1986), and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969). His first Caldecott Award winner, Sylvester was banned from numerous school districts throughout the American South for depicting police officers as uniformed pigs. Inveterately sentimental about childhood, Steig was equally capable of astonishing misanthropic expositions, as the first two pages of the magnificent Rotten Island (1969) suggest:

There once was a very unbeautiful, very rocky, rotten island. It had acres of sharp gravel and volcanoes that belched fire and smoke, spewed hot lava, and spat poison arrows and double-headed toads.

The spiny, thorny, twisted plants that grew there had never a flower of any kind.

There was an earthquake an hour, black tornadoes, lightning sprees with racking thunder, sqalls, cyclones, and dust storms.

The vile creatures who inhabit Rotten Island descend over the course of the story into a Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes, provoked by the mysterious, infuriating appearance of a single flower whose beauty drives the creatures to lunacy. It all ends quite well, though I suppose that depends on whether one empathizes with the creatures or not.

I didn’t actually discover Rotten Island until college; after reading it, I was amazed my parents hadn’t dropped it into the regular rotation bin when I was a kid. Audrey hasn’t been quite as absorbed in the book as I had hoped; I’m pleased to report, however, that she’s a great fan of Drummer Hoff, and her favorite Sesame Street character (at the moment) is Oscar the Grouch. Best I can tell, she’s already well prepared for the rest of the century.

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He Said He Would, and He Did.

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

Well you can say one thing about President Bush: he’s a politicker til the end. Today, as he promised, he vetoed S-CHIP, the State Child Health Insurance Program. S-CHIP is a popular venture that would extend health insurance to millions of kids whose families make too much money to qualify for medicaid, but not enough to be able to afford private insurance.

The Democrats (predictably) had angry responses at the ready:

“Today we learned that the same president who is willing to throw away a half trillion dollars in Iraq is unwilling to spend a small fraction of that amount to bring health care to American children,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Mr. Kennedy’s fellow Democrat from Massachusetts and Mr. Bush’s 2004 opponent, Senator John Kerry, said, “Today with a single stroke of his veto pen, President Bush single-handedly jeopardized health care for millions of poor children.”

Seems like there’s something of a pattern emerging in Bush’s vetoes: his first veto was of a stem cell bill, and this (his fourth) is of a health insurance plan for kids. Seems to me that though Bush talks a big game on supporting a culture of life, his vetoes speak otherwise: they portend sickness and suffering for millions more Americans. He talks the talk, but in this (and so many other areas) he just doesn’t walk the walk.

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Another Defeat for the Grain Alcohol and Rainwater Lobby

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

The fools who live in my town banded together to reject a ballot measure yesterday that would have returned fluoride to the city’s water supply. I wrote about this a few months back, when I was more puzzled than pissed that water fluoridation had generated so much controversy.

In the intervening few months, I’ve been utterly stunned by the raft of bogus arguments lofted against what proved to be one of the most effective and inexpensive public health measures of the last century. In the days leading up to the election, the editorial pages of the local newspaper turned into a rolling open mic might for scientific illiterates, conspiracy theorists, gibbering naturopaths, and people who wanted to blame fluoride for every medical affliction — actual and imagined — from which they suffered. Anti-fluoride activists flew in Hardy Limeback — who appears to be the Richard Lindzen of the anti-fluoride movement — to insist that his entire profession is mistaken in its support for water fluoridation at levels of .7 to 1.2 ppm (levels far below levels actually proven to be toxic).

Reminding us once again of the value of a free press, Juneau Empire editorial board weighed in at the last moment by punting (sub. req.):

The hottest item on Juneau’s Oct. 2 city ballot – whether to return fluoride to the city’s water supply – has triggered an avalanche of conflicting information pounding down on the voters of Juneau.

With the debate on Proposition 2 as technical and complex as it is, people tend to turn to whomever they deem to be authorities, in this case, traditional mainstream medical experts or their counterparts in the holistic, naturopathic medical world. Few have pored over the technical information on fluoride themselves.

“Few” would, of course, also include the Juneau Empire itself, whose coverage of the issue relied on the familiar “scientists say this, but uninformed nutjobs say that, it’s all so confusing” style of reporting that would already be familiar to anyone who follows the “debates” about climate change, evolution, and UFO abduction. Christ forbid reporters — or editorial boards — actually do their jobs by sorting through conflicting claims to discern the valid ones. In the end, the Empire weaseled its way out of the issue by advising voters to reject fluoride because — and I’m not making this up — there were “too many questions abound” regarding its safety, and that “until science can show the true effects of fluoride, it’s better for the city to play it safe.”

In other words, demonstrably uncorroborated “questions” provide sufficient reason to derail public policy until “science” at last applies unscientific standards and proves those questions to be uncorroborated!

In case you didn’t follow that, here’s a visual demonstration of the logic:

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Guaranteed 100% Accurate Playoff Predictions!

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

Ah, what an interesting year this figures to be. Dammit, why can’t the Mets let me know if I won the playoff ticket lottery? I’m rarin’ to go!

Wait, what?

PHILLIES v. ROCKIES In some ways the most interesting first round matchup. Both teams are fun to watch. The Phillies have a tremendous offense hooked around 3 legitimate MVP candidates and a terrific young starter. The Rockies have a solid offense and a good pitching staff with an outstanding bullpen. The latter, I think, will be decisive in a series played in good and great hitter’s parks. Colorado’s run differential shows them as 4 games better than Philly, and that seems about right. Philly has the home field, but the evidence says pick pitching over offense in the playoffs. Another problem for the Phils: when it comes to Charlie Manuel in the postseason, I’m thinking “Don Zimmer, 1989.” ROCKIES IN FOUR.

DIAMONDBACKS v. CUBS. Your classic symbol of national league mediocrity. Although any team with Webb in its rotation can win a short series, the Diamondbacks are a fluke, a .500 team that somehow lucked into the playoffs. Their bullpen — which is their main strength — outside of Velverde has a lot of ERAs that aren’t backed up by peripherals or past performance. Besides, the Cubs have to carry their fans for a round before choking. Plus, while the Cubs don’t have a great offense its power-heavy oreintation is a good one for the playoffs (cf. their South Side neighbors in 2005.) CUBS IN FOUR.

INDIANS v. YANKEES. Another good matchup. The Yankees have an obvious edge in offense — only Sizeomore and Hafner would start for the Yankees. Basically, the Indians need two great starts from Sabathia and for Carmona to be as good as his 2007 ERA, and I don’t quite see it. And while to find a time when the Yankees lost to a team with a closer whose sole credential for the job is having both Randy Myers makeup and Jeff Reardon pancake foudation you have to go all the way back to 2006, having Borowski at the back end in a short series certainly doesn’t help. Plus, I think the relevant precedent for A-Rod’s playoff performance will be Bonds v. Overmatched Major League Pitching (2002). GREATEST MANIFESTATION OF EVIL ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH IN FOUR.

RED SOX v. ANGELS. Granted, I underrate the Angels every year. Granted, Lackey is the most underrated pitcher in baseball and I’m not surprised that Escobar had a big year. Still, the Angels are more than ten games worse that the Red Sox in run differential despite Ramirez, Ortiz and Drew all having off years that I don’t think mean much in terms of predicting post-season performance; basically, the Red Sox do everything better and have home field. Plus, Guerrero is hurting and I don’t think the Angels’ put-the-ball-in-play approach can work against the Sox defense the way it used to work against the Yankees. SOX IN THREE.

…As several people have noted, the claim about Ortiz is an egregious blunder; particularly before I made the comment I should have actually looked at the data. I stand by Posada over Martinez, although the latter is certainly very good. (I’ll grant that the difference between the two offensively is not as great as it appears in the 2007 stats, but Martinez having a better year throwing than Posada is also anomalous.)

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Oblivious Self-Parody Alert, Part II

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

First the “presidential sock analyst” complains that Toobin’s book on the Supreme Court is too fluffy and unrigorous. Now she wants to “bang [her] head against the wall” because every chair-moistener in the media devotes valuable periods of near-sentience to interpreting the meaning of Hillary Clinton’s laughter.

The onion-rings-and-cleavage jokes pretty much write themselves at this point. I’ll merely note that within eight hours, Althouse — not content to let her apostles hog all the stupid — finally takes a huff from the paper bag and unleashes a potential classic:

I think it was her strategy to make us talk about that instead of substantive problems she has. It’s a distraction. She’s deliberately laughing in a way designed to derail us from going in a direction that would hurt her. (So was the cleavage.)

I suppose there’s something commendable about conceding you’re an unthinking tool. But it seems that Althouse’s narcissism has reached such a degree that she now confuses presidential campaign strategy with her own defensive, post facto gibberish (e.g., “I was trying to draw you into my vortex! I love the traffic!)

(image via)

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Executions on Hold In Texas

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

Obviously, this is only going to last as long as it takes the Supreme Court to give the green light again, or for the state to find a new lethal injection formula that might lessen the chance of being tortured to death, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has taken the obvious step. The cases are interesting, in that the problems with lethal injection to my mind raise clearer cruel and unusual issues than other recent death penalty decisions, especially since the almost universal adoption of lethal injection when it was considered more humane makes clear that popular support of the death penalty rests in some measure on accidental torture not being involved. But there’s no way this Court will hand down a decision that makes it significantly harder to execute people; at best, there will be some tinkering around the edges.

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Sleazeballs of the Day

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

James Dolan and Isiah Thomas.

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Making Sense of High Court Confusion

[ 0 ] October 2, 2007 |

Today, in day 2 of the term, the Supreme Court heard two cases involving the US Sentencing guidelines. Both cases involve decisions by lower courts to sentence drug offenders to something less than the guidelines minimum (downward departure). There’s a whole lotta confusion about the US sentencing guidelines, much of it created by the Supreme Court in its recent jurisprudence on the issue. Ever the pithy one, Dahlia Lithwick sums it up pretty well:

So just to catch you non-Booker people up on what you’ve missed in the last few years: There used to be a lack of uniformity in sentencing. Congress created sentencing guidelines. The court decided the guidelines were merely advisory. Appeals courts said sometimes advisory guidelines are still mandatory. District courts got confused. And now the high court asks the parties to make immutable rules out of standards, and flexible standards out of rules. Kimbrough and Gall think a good rule is that the guidelines should go away. The Justice Department thinks a good rule is that the judges should go away. And the court? It may finally have to pick a side.

Why should you (non-SCOTUS followers) care, you ask? Well both cases today (and many of the cases that arise under the Guidelines) involve drug sentencing. And these cases are a potential giant leap toward chipping away at the crack-cocaine disparity. And in a case where “Scalia seems to be channeling Brennan” no less. A phrase I never thought I’d see.

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