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Saturday, May 30, 2009

From Scotusblog via Hilzoy

In Pappas v. Giuliani, 290 F.3d 143 (2002), [judge Sotomayor] dissented from the majority's holding that the NYPD could fire a white employee for distributing racist materials.

OK so the reverse racist Latina wasn't quite so intollerant of white racism as the majority of the appeals court or Rudolf Giuliani. Of course it is well known that Giuliani hated the NYPD and was always trying to get them.

Why is it that the person to actually look at Sotomayor's opinions is not a print journalist but rather blogger Tom Goldstein ?
Jeffrey Rosen Liberal Hero

I am wearing my tin hat. I am actually not totally sure that this post is a joke.
Rosen did a huge damage to the conservative movement by writing that Sotomayor is not too bright based on anonymous sources not in a position to know and a colleague who said she was smart (he cut that part of the statement, which is publicly available, out). Any sensibile (non paranoid) observer must conclude that he is a disgrace to journalism and should stick to teaching (proposed course "the case I made against Sotomayor, don't let this happen to you when you are in court"). However, given the way DC works, that hasn't hurt his career hobby of playing journalist. He got a lot of attention and that's what counts.

But conservatives couldn't resist the "even the liberal TNR" bait. So they argued that Sotomayor is, among other things, not too bright. The overwhelming evidence that she is very very smart makes any sane observers (and this paranoid) think that they believe that no Latina is smart, that they are racists or sexists or both.

If it hadn't been for Rosen, they would have started with the La Raza and "wise* latina" stuff. Still unconvincing but not loathsome. I'm sure they disagree with Sotomayor on exactly how judges should deal with "their personal gender ethnicity and politics". Those smarter than Inhofe can manage not to suggest that anglo men do not have a personal gender or ethnicity. For all I know, Inhofe may have virtually nothing in the way of genitalia (would explain a lot no ?) but he has a gender. The enthusiastic racists and sexists would have done their stuff. But the hacks would have avoided comments about intellect which can be due only to racism or Rosen.

Think of Obama playing 11 dimensional chess and telling Rosen "I'll make you a village star if you plant the idea that Sottomayor is dumb in the minds of racists and sexists who sure won't check." Didn't happen, but it would have been a brilliant trick if it had.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Reincarnation Rejuvination of the Young Michael Kinsley reminds me of why I was such a fan

A Hypothesis
Will Wilkinson on the Sotomayor debate:

And I really don’t get why many Republicans have taken this opportunity to reinforce the already widespread impression that they are morally odious morons.

I see two options here. One option is that a large number of people who are not odious morons have, in the past, behaved in ways that garnered them a reputation as odious morons and have, unaccountably, decided to persist in that behavior. This is a non-partisan blog, so I won’t attempt to sketch the other possibility.

But Yglesias also has actual opinions of his own on actual policy and doesn't reflexively hide them.
Long Long Ago,

I was talking to this conservative friend of mine who shared my great admiration for Michael Kinsley. OK so we agreed that he was very smart and witty and all that.

Then I said "Yeah but y'know he is often so busy pointing out the idiocies and inconsistencies of whoever he is mocking to get around to saying what he, Michael Kinsley, thinks about the issue."

Case in point. Kinsley writes on Sonia Sotomayor and convinces me that conservatives are incoherant realityphobic and illogical oh and I also was convinced that 2+2=4 after I finished reading his column.

He notes that they denounce judicial activism while calling for judicial activism. That the phrase has lost its original meaning to them. I infer that he supports the confirmation of Sotomayor. I suspect he considers himself one of the "Democrats ... [who] can enjoy supporting her for her impressive intellectual qualifications." I infer this partly because having agreed with his fellow Democrats he has to make up with a slap in the face "They don't even need to mention the obvious: that these qualifications aren't the main reason President Obama picked her."

Huh ? wha ? Look no problem if he had written "aren't the only reason" but what does "main" even mean in this context ? Many other possible appointees weren't chosen. For example, most don't have law degrees, not officially required to serve on the court, but come on. Others have y chromasomes. Others are conservatives. Others aren't as outstanding as Sotomayor. Which is the main reason ? I'd say the one that reduced the pool of remaining candidates by the largest factor. That was not gender.

Kinsley does not say if he supports or opposes reverse discrimination. I suspect that he is generally unsympathetic, because he argues that there is a special case for it in the case of supreme court justices "Yes, of course, ethnicity in politics is different from ethnic job quotas, and a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is a special kind of job. Nowhere is a bit of diversity more obviously desirable. Nowhere is the case stronger for taking race, ethnicity and gender into account. And conservatives apparently agree."

OK but does he ? It is clear from the short list that Obama first decided to appoint a woman and later decided exactly which woman. Does Kinsley agree with Obama's decision ? Hard to say. He's too busy pointing out the fact that conservatives are illogical. It's clear that he doesn't like "quotas." He knows that in the Bakke decision the Supreme Court specifically distinguished quotas from other allowed forms of affirmative action (no longer controlling precedent later courts have stomped all over affirmative action). The point is that opposing quotas doesn't mean you oppose reverse decrimination which doesn't mean you oppose all affirmative action. Where does Kinsley stand ? I'd like to know. I'd also like to know if he knows. My view quotas no, reverse discrimination yes (but not for the rest of time) other forms of affirmative action yes -- see that wasn't so hard.

Or what about the other issue -- abortion. He is pro choice. OK. But "Although I am pro-choice, Roe makes me unhappy because it was poorly reasoned, not because it "went further" than other decisions of the Warren era." OK so poor reasoning. But does he agree with the conclusion ? Does he think the constitution implies a right to abort non viable embryos and fetuses ? Does he think the constitution should imply such a right ? Let's say just this once we have a new procedure for amending the constitution -- Michael Kinsley choses one of two amendments

1) nothing in this constitution shall be construed as implying a right to abort.

(that is this amendment repeals Roe Vs Wade)


2) No restrictions can be placed on first trimester abortions and restrictions on later abortions of non viable fetuses must be medical regulations protecting the health of the pregnant woman.

(IIRC the conclusion of Roe vs Wade with no poor reasoning -- no reasoning at all -- amendments don't have to reason they are the constitution).

Which would he chose ? He sure hasn't said. One can claim to be pro-choice and support 1 saying that abortion should be legal and this should only be done by legislatures. One can consider Roe Vs Wade to be a totally mistaken decision which should not have been made and support 2. One can easily dodge the question.

Back when I was a fan (in the 80s). I thought that it was sad but true that the best apostle of liberalism was someone who mocked conservatives. It just wasn't the best time to try to make an affirmative case for liberalism or to argue about what it is and should be.

Times change, but some people are just to stubborn to have opinions.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Zombie Straw Men

I was somewhat embarrassed at my dweeby link begging when I pointed out that I was the first to report Helene Coopers false accusation that Barack Obama debates straw men (and that my report shows that she is a repeat offender). Now I think I have not done enough to drive a stake through the heart of the straw man meme (although having no silver bullet I don't know what I can do).

When denouncing Dick Cheney (in a very good column by the way, do click the link) Ruth Markus casually asserts "Now Obama has erected his squadron of straw men". Now, since she is writing about Cheney, she presents no evidence for this claim made in passing. This is how misinformation becomes deadly.

It has become accepted as a known fact that Obama argues with straw men. This is casually mentioned without supporting evidence as a an aspect of consensus reality. The fact that it is a part of Villager consensus reality but not of plain old reality won't help Obama anymore. Al Gore invented the internet, but mere bloggers can't teach top journalists what the metaphor "straw man" always used to mean until it was needed to save them from the trouble of figuring out what bothered them about Obama's speaking style.
Faced with an ethical dilemma I say do whatever it takes to get the Fafbloggers blogging.

Obviously glofish were not exiting enough anymore, so Erika Sasaki et al created glow Marmosets. Clearly it is not a coincidence that the news that not all glowanimals are fish is brought to us by Daily Kos diarist fishoutofwater.

Is it ethical ? Will it work ? Or will it be necessary to create a glowing medium lobster ? Personally I don't think I can stomach glowing giblets.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Straw Man Straw Man Twice

Helene Cooper Falsely Accuses Barack Obama of Debating Straw Men

Read all about it at this blog April 7 2009

or all over the blogosphere in late May 2009.

You probably didn't read it here first, but you could have.

Or read all the posts and find that Cooper is a repeat offender who must really not know that debating numerous real but un-named opponents is not called debating a straw man

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blogosphere like up totally stomps MSM or Tradmed or whatever

I read the following sentence in the New York Times, the Grey Lady herself

"The fact sheet on the meeting, one has to say, was classic Obama in its message of post-partisanship and, um, hope."

It's like, uhm you know, the kids these days, have taken over, uhm, writing out "um" in the new York Times like it was one of Matthew Yglesias's blogs or something.

OK it was Paul Krugman, but he still had to get it past the New York Times copy editors. It's not like he just had to deal with Washington Post Opinion page fact checkers or something.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Can I Top This ?

"As a friend succinctly puts it, “When that big asteroid finally heads toward Earth, who’s the person you’d most want to be in charge?” I suspect Cheney would score at or near the top."

no I can't [best effort -- “When that big asteroid finally heads toward Earth, who’s the person you’d most want to be under it" I suspect Cheney would score at or near the point of impact."

But Brad sure can top it.

Here at Sadly, No! Research Laboratories, we recently detonated a hydrogen bomb near a massive pocket of electromagnetic energy, thus creating a parallel timeline where Dick Cheney actually did win the 2008 presidential election and where he did deal with an asteroid assault during the first year of his presidency! Read on, if you dare, to see how this counterfactual history played itself out
Kleiman's willingness to prominently post the languange policing of Kleiman is a testament to his true ecumenicalism.

That is a testimony of his open mindedness.

OK but what about my willingness to put up with irritatingly aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins. Kleiman doesn't share this willingness. I used to call my attitude ecumenical but now, I guess, I have to call it inter-faithless.

(he gasps with horror at the thought that prof. Kleiman might follow this link back and the fact that the last word in the first draft of this post was inter-faithlessness).
Preventive Detention

Many people on the web point to the key and very alarming passage in Obama's speach on what to do with prisoners now in Guantanamo. It seems he decided to abandon Habeus Corpus.

Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people. And I have to be honest here—this is the toughest single issue that we will face. We’re going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who’ve received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

I am alarmed. The paragraph is pretty clear, even people who can't be prosecuted will be locked up indefinitely (the next paragraph ends "We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified").

Oddly in 2 of 3 examples of situations in which we need incarceration without prosecution, Obama considered the case of criminals. Those who have sworn allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and those who have received extensive explosives training in al Qaeda camps have conspired to commit acts of terrorism. If those facts are demonstrable, those people can be tried and convicted in civilian courts. José Padilla was convicted basically because his fingerprints were on a Mujahedin information form.

There is one way to make sense of those examples. Obama is saying that there are people who have done something and therefore must be locked up but who can't be prosecuted, because there isn't enough evidence that they did the deed. That is, he is claiming that he knows things even though he doesn't have proof and asking us to trust him with the power to lock people up based on his esoteric knowledge even though he knows he can't convince a jury. This is shocking.

Fortunately there is a third example. The Taliban are still at war. The rules of war, which are totally difference from the law of peace, allows them to be held as prisoners of war for the duration. Furthermore, as far as I know, prisoners of war have never been allowed a trial in which they claim they should not be prisoners of war.

in compenstation, POW status is honorable. I see no way of arguing that someone can be held without trial and yet not a POW for the purposes of the Geneva convention. One or the other.

I think the fiction that it is not unpleasant to be a POW is needed to support the vital principle that to hold someone as a POW is not to punish him or her so that proof of combatent status and a trial are not required. However, I think it is clear that the Geneva convention forbids holding POWs in super max prisons. Now this fiction (which was acceptable to the founders and Abraham Lincoln, who took prisoners of war) may lead to releasing a suspected member of al Qaeda for lack of evidence while we hold a Taliban officer. Someone who is in fact guilty of a crime (but we don't know this fact for sure) gets off while someone who just served the regime effectively in power in his country at the time is locked up. This sounds unjust, but is one of the akward results which must occur if one tries to hold to the rule of law and doesn't rule out war altogether.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What are Newspapers For ?

Looks like they are in trouble. I'm worried, but I'm more worried about how relatively unworried I am. In a recent Op-Ed Frank Rich repeated the best argument for newspapers -- they are needed for investigative journalism.

While it may be unfortunate that a key tool of investigative journalism -- the anonymous source -- is usually used for the opposite of it's original purpose -- I'd agree that anonymous interviews with whistle blowers are very valuable. Do we need newspapers to get that information ?

Last I checked the consensus among journalists, it seemed to be agreed that Seymour Martin Hersh is the worlds number one top investigative journalist. He writes for The New Yorker not a newspaper.

I'd say Marcy Wheeler is giving him a good run for his money. OK actually she is actually after your money. Please donate here.

I'd say the key point is that whistle blowers want to blow whistles. I'd guess that if they can't contact a newspaper journalist, but can contact a blogger, then the whistle will be blown all the same.

Once upon a time it was very useful to have extremely well known institutions which publish news and protect anonymity. That way you knew where to go to get the news out. Now we have google. It is possible to find out how to blow a whistle even if one didn't happen to meet Bob Woodward at the White House. One find out which bloggers have not yet burned a source. You can contact them by e-mail from your account and negotiate anonymity.

The only problems are that TV doesn't usually pick up on blogs and that politicians tend to snear at them. These are not problems with the new medium, but with deference to the old media.

There are many reporters in the USA who I trust as a reader and would trust if I had a whistle to blow. More of them write for blogs than for newspapers.

Now professional print journalists do a lot of work developing sources who are not whistle blowers -- not people who really really want to get information out but would get in trouble with their superiors if they publicly stated it. I think this is extremely damaging to the national discussion. I don't think any useful social function is performed by being the one through whom the administration leaks. They will get their talking points out one way or another. Institutions which reward people who get the leaks create incentives to pay for the leaks with unjustified anonymity and favorable slant. That is a pure social loss in exchange for nothing.

I am writing this post, because I just decided that I think a similar logic applies to legitimate whistle blowers. If, as I guess but can't know, they want to get the story out, they can. If newspapers get out of the investigative reporting business, they will still be able to get the story out.
"1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds "

Is was the headline to an article on recidivism by prisoners released from Guantanamo by Elisabetth Bumiller in the New York Times.

update: Did I get results ?* The Headline is now "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees." So the strong and unsupported claim that former Guantanamo inmates have rejoined the fight has been watered down to a "Terror Link."

Also, seperately and in addition, as explained here, the word "Returned" was deleted, since it implies the assumption that the people locked up in Guantanamo were terrorists before they were locked up. Without any evidence on the matter, upon reconsideration, the Times decided not to dismiss the hypothesis that imprisonment caused people who had never had anything to do with terrorism may have been driven to "link" with terrorism by their imprisonment.

Now they didn't use my suggested headlines, which were long and clumsy. Maybe if they had read the comment they would have gotten one they could use.

* This is an attempt at humor.

update II: NYT still strugling. Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet says the new headline and lede were no big deal and argues that "The story was about the estimate of the number of people who ended up, by DOD's account, as being engaged in terrorism or militant activity after leaving Gitmo." On a topic different from that of my post, Josh Marshall argues back that "phrasing speaks to important assumptions." Marshall does not, however, note, the total dishonesty of the phrasing "terrorism or militant activity." That phrasing is an attempt to mislead.

I'd say the reasonable non deceptive phrasing would be "militant activity." Terrorism is always and by definition militant activity, therefore the set of acts which are "terrorism or militant activity" is identical to the set which are "militant activity." The words "terrorism or" are redundant, do not change the denotation. When un-needed words are added, there must be a rhetorical reason. In this case, the totally un-necessary observation that terrorism was counted among the militant activities along with who knows what all else, might trick the careless reader into thinking that the 14% had committed some act of terrorism. Even the careful reader might assume that the proportion between terrorism and other acts of militancy in the sample was not totally lopsided. In fact, the article lists only 3 terrorist acts, all of which were publicly known before the report was leaked. One other case is counted but not described. The remaining 70 cases of people who returned to were linked to terror were not described as actually committing acts of terror in the report.

The DOD is attempting to argue that everyone who associates with terrorists is a terrorist. Baquet is attempting to assist this effort by suggesting that 3 out of 74cases should be specifically mentioned when explaining the importance of the number 74.

end updates and back to my original post.

In the article 1 in 178 reported actually, you know, fighting.

Bumiller first presents the all anonymous discussion of whether the DOD is supressing information embarrassing to Obama. Then the patient reader gets to read some numbers.

From Paragraph 7:
"The report, a copy of which was made available to The New York Times, says the Pentagon believes that 74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have returned to terrorism,..."

Paragraph 14:
"Among the 74 former prisoners that the report says are again engaged in terrorism, 29 have been identified by name by the Pentagon, including 16 named for the first time in the report. The Pentagon has said that the remaining 45 could not be named because of national security and intelligence-gathering concerns."

Paragraph 16:"The Pentagon has so far provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people who are identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided."

Good lord. What we have here is a 14% rate of, at least, "associating with." I would have thought that "returning to the fight" implied actual, you know, fighting. Can two people released from Guantanamo be counted as having returned to the fight if they associate with each other ? Nothing in the article is inconsistent with this usage. I personally have no doubt that the DOD would put them on the list. One possible explanation of why it hasn't been released is that it is obviously bogwash. A change in administration would cause a change in procedures for listing who has "returned to the fight" if the old administration were to have lied systematically about everything.

The article closes

In addition to Mr. Shihri and Mr. Rasoul, at least three others among the 29 named have engaged in verifiable terrorist activity or have threatened terrorist acts.

Abu Hareth Muhammad al-Awfi, a Saudi national who was released from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia in November 2007, and who is named on the most recent list of 16, appeared with Mr. Al-Shihri in a video released by Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch in January and reported by news organizations at the time. [snip]

Another on the list of 29 whose case has been widely reported is Abdullah Salih al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who was in Guantánamo from 2002 to 2005 and who subsequently carried out a suicide bomb attack in Mosul, Iraq, in 2008. The attack killed several Iraqi soldiers.

OK so there are 5 cases of terrorism or threatened terrorism. All have already been reported publicly. Of these, one isn't mentioned at all in the article (lack of space I guess why 5 whole names sure can't all be fit to print). One is guilty of appearing in a video. That leaves 3 (1 in 178) who have actually fought. All three cases were publicly known yesterday. The additional information in the report consists of vague claims which might amount to nothing at all even if the supporting claims of fact, which are not included in the report, are accurate.

DEpending on the 5th alleged actual case of actually returning to the fight, another headline could have been

"Top Secret Controversial Allegedly Supressed Report on Guantanamo recidivism reveals no links between former Guanatanamo prisoners and actual acts of Terrorism which are not already publicly known."

OK a bit long for a headline. How about

"Report describes no terrorism attacks by released prisoners which were not already known."

Those who read the article through to the end will, I think, get that impression. People who just read the headline and the first few paragraphs won't.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Beyond Ballance

I read on "House speaker's accusation is either a calculated move or a reckless act. Or both." How can an act be both calculated and reckless ?

I consider the words to be antonyms. We are beyond "opinions on shape of earth differ" and getting close to "Earth, flat, spherical or both."

I think I will call the triumph of evenhandedness over logic Balllance.
You should Read Ali Soufan's Testomony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in Full

It did not get the attention it should have received because Obama caved on the photographs the same day not to mention Lindsey Grahams Jack Nicholson impersonation and the ever fascinating question of what Pelosi knew and when she knew it (see posts below for examples of barking up the wrong tree).

Unless and until Soufan's specific claims are refuted one can only conclude that the Bush administration insisted on torturing prisoners in the face of evidence amounting to proof that their choice to torture interfered with efforts to learn about al Qaeda and, therefore, exposed the US to an increased risk of further terrorist attacks. In particular, Soufan claims that CIA headquarters made it clear that they had noticed that effective and ineffective interrogation techniques were being used on Abu Zubaida and decided that ineffective (and illegal) techniques were preferable to giving the credit to the FBI.

Soufan's prepared statement (which you have a moral duty to read in full) includes

Statement of Ali Soufan


From my experience – and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence– I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the "enhanced interrogation techniques," a position shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.

These techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda. (This is aside from the important additional considerations that they are un-American and harmful to our reputation and cause.)
In my capacity as a FBI Agent, [skip]
I personally interrogated many terrorists we have in our custody and elsewhere, and gained confessions, identified terror operatives, their funding, details of potential plots, and information on how al Qaeda operates, along with other actionable intelligence.


There are many examples of successful interrogations of terrorists [skip]
I interrogated Abu Jandal. Through our interrogation, which was done completely by the book (including advising him of his rights), we obtained a treasure trove of highly significant actionable intelligence. For example, Abu Jandal gave us extensive information on Osama Bin Laden's terror network, structure, leadership, membership, security details, facilities, family, communication methods, travels, training, ammunitions, and weaponry, including a breakdown of what machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers, and anti-tank missiles they used. He also provided explicit details of the 9/11 plot operatives, and identified many terrorists who we later successfully apprehended.


Before I joined the Bureau, ... , traditional investigative strategies along with intelligence derived from human sources successfully thwarted the 1993 New York City Landmark Bomb Plot ... That remains to this day the largest thwarted attack on our homeland.


Immediately after Abu Zubaydah was captured, a fellow FBI agent and I were flown to meet him at an undisclosed location. We were both very familiar with Abu Zubaydah and have successfully interrogated al-Qaeda terrorists. We started interrogating him, supported by CIA officials who were stationed at the location, and within the first hour of the interrogation, using the Informed Interrogation Approach, we gained important actionable intelligence.

The information was so important that, as I later learned from open sources, it went to CIA Director George Tennet who was so impressed that he initially ordered us to be congratulated. That was apparently quickly withdrawn as soon as Mr. Tennet was told that it was FBI agents, who were responsible. He then immediately ordered a CIA CTC interrogation team to leave DC and head to the location to take over from us. [skip]

We ... elicited information regarding the role of KSM as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and lots of other information that remains classified. (It is important to remember that before this we had no idea of KSM's role in 9/11 or his importance in the al Qaeda leadership structure.) All this happened before the CTC team arrived.

A few days after we started questioning Abu Zubaydah, the CTC interrogation team finally arrived from DC with a contractor who was instructing them on how they should conduct the interrogations, and we were removed. Immediately, on the instructions of the contractor, harsh techniques were introduced, starting with nudity. (The harsher techniques mentioned in the memos were not introduced or even discussed at this point.)

The new techniques did not produce results as Abu Zubaydah shut down and stopped talking. At that time nudity and low-level sleep deprivation (between 24 and 48 hours) was being used. After a few days of getting no information, and after repeated inquiries from DC asking why all of sudden no information was being transmitted (when before there had been a steady stream), we again were given control of the interrogation.

We then returned to using the Informed Interrogation Approach. Within a few hours, Abu Zubaydah again started talking and gave us important actionable intelligence.

This included the details of Jose Padilla, the so-called "dirty bomber." [skip]

After a few days, the contractor attempted to once again try his untested theory and he started to re-implementing the harsh techniques. He moved this time further along the force continuum, introducing loud noise and then temperature manipulation.

Throughout this time, my fellow FBI agent and I, along with a top CIA interrogator who was working with us, protested, but we were overruled. I should also note that another colleague, an operational psychologist for the CIA, had left the location because he objected to what was being done.

Again, however, the technique wasn't working and Abu Zubaydah wasn't revealing any information, so we were once again brought back in to interrogate him. We found it harder to reengage him this time, because of how the techniques had affected him, but eventually, we succeeded, and he re-engaged again.

Once again the contractor insisted on stepping up the notches of his experiment, and this time he requested the authorization to place Abu Zubaydah in a confinement box, as the next stage in the force continuum. While everything I saw to this point were nowhere near the severity later listed in the memos, the evolution of the contractor's theory, along with what I had seen till then, struck me as "borderline torture."

As the Department of Justice IG report released last year states, I protested to my superiors in the FBI and refused to be a part of what was happening. The Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, a man I deeply respect, agreed passing the message that "we don't do that," and I was pulled out.
Now I'm going to criticize Glenn Greenwald

Arguing against Obama's decision to refuse to release photographs of torture Greenwald makes a claim based on the assumption that sentiment is scientific

(6) If these photographs don't shed any new light on what our Government did -- if all they do is replicate what we already know from the Abu Ghraib photographs -- then how can it possibly be the case that they will do any damage? To argue that they will harm how we are perceived is, necessarily, to acknowledge that they reveal new information that is not already widely known.

So only information affects perceptions.

I agree with Greenwald that the photographs should be published, but I am shocked by his psychology denying assertion about human perceptions. I was trying to formulate my objection to his argument as I read the rest of his post, but, of course, he refuted himself much more eloquently and convincingly than I possibly could.

Indeed, it's pretty hard to believe that the people who are arguing that "no good will come" from release of these photos either (a) lived through the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos and/or (b) are living through the "torture debate" we are now having.

Photographs convey the reality of things in a way that mere words cannot. They prevent people who want to deny what was done the ability to do so. They force citizens to face what their country did and what they are now justifying and advocating. They impede the ability of political leaders to use euphemisms to obscure the truth. They show in graphic detail what the effects are of sanctioning torture policies.

Exactly. And it is identically hard to believe that Glenn Greenwald who wrote the first quote lived through the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos or has even a passing acquantance with the Glenn Greenwald who wrote the second quote.
Hoekstra on his own Petard

Peter Hoekstra (R-idiocy) demolishes the one semi convincing argument against a torture investigation. The argument is that that which was done to suspected members of al Qaeda is the same as SERE training and, therefore, not torture. To argue this, one must assert that, say, water boarding is one and only one thing and is either always torture or never torture. Hoekstra argues that this is not true

in an intereview on Fox News

Q: And waterboarding is or is not torture?

HOEKSTRA: There is a wide range of waterboarding. I’m telling you, that I know waterboarding was used, Shep. I’m not mincing words. I’m saying that I believe the techniques used in 2002, in 2003, which included waterboarding in a specific format that I’m aware of how they used it, that I believe that was consistent with U.S. law.

I actually agree with Heokstra that waterboarding with one drop of water for one second is not torture. Unlike Hoekstra, however, I have read the relevant passage from the Bradbury memo. If he had done his homework, he would have known that the waterboarding of al Qaeda prisoners was very different from SERE semi water boarding. Much more water was used and significant amounts entered the victims mouths and nasal cavities.

When in a tough spot, Hoekstra decided to make convenient facts up. So he declared that, while water boarding is sometimes torture, the water boarding of al Qaeda prisoners was not. He forgot that the relevant facts are now in the public record.

His defense won't have any effect except to destroy the one argument which might have saved the torturers.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mark Kleiman has a very good post on empathy and judges. Just read it.
Extraordinarily (for the first time ever ?) I am very displeased with Kevin Drum

Kevin "always click the link" Drum wrote

update: Welcome Mothers Jones (or whatever you are now that you aren't political animals). I am stunned that Kevin Drum linked to this post. The man has a great deal of intellectual integrity. My hat is off.

Nancy Pelosi fights back against news reports that she was briefed on the torture of CIA prisoners in 2002:


"Game on! Two questions, though. Game on! Two questions, though. First, why did it take you a week to remember this? Second, what about reports that one of your aides, Michael Sheehy, was briefed about waterboarding in early 2003 and passed the news along to you? Any comment on that?"

Drum links to a post in "The Note" (shocking already) which contains a link to actual video of the press conference from ABC which shows an interview with Pelosi.

Pelosi's prepared comments are available at emptywheel

"Five months later, in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me that the Republican chairman and new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions.

Following that briefing, a letter raising concerns was sent to CIA General Counsel Scott Muller by the new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, the appropriate person to register a protest. " -- Nancy Pelosi

See here

" Second, what about reports that one of your aides, Michael Sheehy, was briefed about waterboarding in early 2003 and passed the news along to you? Any comment on that?" -- Kevin Drum

I have two Questions of my own

1) Did you listen to Pelosi's statement and/or read a transcript ?
2) Should you have checked what she said before accusing her of an omission ?

I think you should update with a correction and an apology. It is simply not acceptable to claim that someone did not "comment on" a fact in response to a statement which comments on that fact.

Oh and about your first question -- for all I know, Pelosi is accusing her briefer of a crime (lying to congress). I for one would be willing to take a week to find out if a verbal briefing of two congresspeople counts or if it has to be testimony (it is definitely a crime even if the liar was not sworn in). I'd like to be very sure of the facts (Goss basically confirmed Pelosi's recent claim when attacking her saying he was surprised that someone claimed it was not clear that the techniques "were to be used." I would certainly have confronted him on that, before going public. Some people feel the need to carefully check the law and hte facts before making accusations.

As Drum often types, always click the link. Also listen for a few minutes if necessary.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

John Cole has a problem with Benadryl. I have a problem with reality.

Does benadryl have a known side effect of giving people bizarre dreams?

Last night, I was a detective who was tracking a mass murderer whose method of killing was to strangle his victims, freeze their bodies, and then use an industrial meat slicer while they were frozen, cut them into little pieces, and then dispose of the carcasses one small package at a time by walking around the neighborhood and feeding the neighborhood dogs. The only reason I, the detective, found out, was because all the dogs in town suddenly started biting their owners as they had developed a taste for human flesh, and I found what looked like an uneaten thick ham steak in one back yard but turned out to be a cross section of a human thigh.

I'm not taking any benadryl, because I can't help thinking of a genuinely bizarre and terrifying twist on Cole's dream.

I fear I would go on to dream that John Yoo would write an op-ed in the Philadelfia Enquirer in which he said I should be fired for dereliction of duty, since I failed to torture the dogs to cause "learned helplessness," which would cause them to bark over actionable intelligence on the murderer.

In my nightmare, an apparently sane person named Daniel Drezner thinks it is possible that social scientists will learn that torture works without noting that experiments which wouldn't result in prison can only be conducted on animals. Then a US employed psychologist decided that the lessons learned torturing dogs gave him the secrets to the human mind making him the only person who knew how to get actionable intelligence out of Abu Zubaida.

I'll be impressed with Cole's weird dreams when they get as twisted as reality.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Duncan Black Gets His Unders in a Bunch

Monthly Bet

Monthly jobs report comes out tomorrow. Consensus forecast is -600K. As usual I'll go with the under bet, predicting even more lost jobs.

-Atrios 15:30


Unders Win

-539K jobs. Unemployment jumps to 8.9%.

-Atrios 10:01

Small comfort that the decline in employment was less than expected.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

What is Mathematics ?

Update: Welcome Econmistsviewers ? I am amazed you are here. This is, I think, a once in a lifetime opportunity to type a joke about Hendrik Hertzberg and the Georgia State Legislature. Huh ?

Hilzoy writes

the Georgia State Senate has adopted a resolution allowing the state to nullify any federal laws it thinks are unconstitutional. Hendrik Hertzberg actually read the resolution, and wrote a post that made me want to read it as well: he described it as "a Kompletely Krazy Kocktail of militia-minded moonshine and wacko white lightning ... [and that the] resolution is written in "a mock eighteenth-century style, ornate and pompous", I thought it was an unnervingly good imitation of eighteenth-century prose.


"That to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party:..."


I googled a distinctive phrase, and lo! it turns out that the Georgia resolution is a lightly modified version of Thomas Jefferson's Resolutions Related To The Alien And Sedition Acts.

Odd. I always thought that the tern "co-state" had more to do with Hamiltonian than with Jeffersonian constitutional exegesis.

Oh and Mr Hertzberg, I love you, but you have to learn to use the google.

Mark Kleiman comments

the "formalist" view of mathematics, as summed up by Bertrand Russell: "Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true." That remains the dominant view among philosphers of mathematics, but the disconnect between the frailty of the wand and its evident power lends some support to the alternative view of Lakoff and Núñez that mathematics starts from basic human experience.

I must confess that my own views remain primitively Platonic; that is, I belive that it was the case that a group consisting of two pairs of trees contained four trees, even before there were humans around to notice that fact.

I think that Kleiman (like Plato) confuses mathematics and physics. I have no doubt that there are laws of physics and that they existed before humans did. For example, I'm sure that two trees plus two trees made four trees back when our ancestors were climbing in those trees.

However, the claim that two plust two must always equal four in general and not just for trees can be false. Consider a taught string. Wiggling it at one point with a given force will make a wave. Wiggling it somewhere else will create a wave. Wiggling it both places may create 0 waves. It also may create a wave with power 4 times that of each of the single waves. With waves 1+1 makes somewhere from 0 to 4.

The claim that massive objects must be like trees and not like waves on a bowed string must be a claim in phyisics and not in mathematics, because it is false. Arithmetic is just the same now as it was in 1900, however, now it is clear that Kleiman's statement about trees is a falsifiable hypothesis which happens to be true and not a necessary truth.

The title of Kleiman's post is "Yet Bridges Stand," but not all bridges stand. For example, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was blown down by the wind.

How odd, a gust of wind is very light and the bridge was very heavy and strong. One could hardly notice the effect of even a very powerful gust of wind. However, when it comes to bridges, one plus one doesn't always equal two, it can be more than 2 if the wind is in harmony with the bridge.

update: Bruce Webb has video of destructive harmony.

I agree with Russell on this one. Mathematics concerns axiom systems. Mathematical terms are defined in use. The Euclidean term "line" can be approximately illustrated by something drawn with a pencil and a straight edge. It can also be equally validly illustrated by quite different sets which would be called curves in plain English. Neither illustration is more correct than the other. The meaning of the term is abstract, there is nothing except for the axioms and that means not enough for us to imagine it. For mathematics to be valid, it is not at all necessary for any entity which can fit in our universe to correspond to the axioms.

The hypotheses that sets of axioms can be intrepreted so that they correspond to physical laws are often very fruitful. However, they belong to physics not mathematics.

No doubt Lakoff and Núñez are right that, in history, many axioms began as hypotheses. I don't doubt that Russell agrees. This does not mean that they remained hypotheses, or that mathematicians consider, or should consider, their work vulnerable to evidence. Critically not all axiom systems began as hypotheses. The key example, of course, is Lobachevskian geometry (Euclid's axioms except that given a line A and a point B there is more than one line through B parallel to A). This began as an effort to prove by contradiction that no such axiom system was possible.

What is the basis in human experience for p-adic analysis ?
My Father in the Washington Post

Thomas Waldmann planned to work for the government for a couple of years after graduating from medical school. Things didn't go as planned. He has been at the National Institutes of Health for 52 years.

During that time, Waldmann, chief of the metabolism branch at the National Cancer Institute, has worked on research that directly saved lives. The things he can do at NIH "would have been much more difficult outside," he said. "To see a patient get well with something you developed is a heady thing."

He is credited with helping make significant advances in treatment of multiple sclerosis, various types of cancer and AIDS.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Will Hiatt Sea Ice part MMMCMDCCCLXXXIV

update: While my post debates a month old column, it turns out that Will has made an absolutely false claim on a matter of fact accounting
May 3rd. As noted by Steve Benen
George Will was unimpressed.

"I assume the president is talking about the Prius. It's affordable because Toyota sells it at a loss, and it can afford to sell it at a loss because it is selling twice as many gas-guzzling pickup trucks of the sort our president detests. So as an auto executive, he's off to a rocky start."

Actually, the only thing "rocky" here is the quality of Will's analysis.

In reality, Toyota used to sell hybrids at a loss -- in 1997. The industry and consumer trends have changed considerably over the last 12 years, and Toyota started making a profit on each Prius sold way back in 2001.

Indeed, reader R.H. directed me to this item, which noted, "[T]he Nikkei newspaper in Japan estimated just last week that both Honda and Toyota make over $3,000 of profit on each hybrid sold."


OK back to sea Ice.
Can't let it go. Here I object to something written by Eugene Robinson and quoted here.

ROBINSON: What George Will did was cherry-pick a sentence in a report, you know, be very persnickety in the way he parsed his sentences, and end up making it sound as if the report had said the exact opposite of what it actually said. He was persnickety enough that his editors, who also happen to be my editors, felt he didn’t quite cross the line. I thought he did.

Will was *not* "persnickety enough" in two ways. The sentence to which he pointed when his claim was challenged did not correspond to his claim (even ignoring all context) for two reasons.

He said global sea ice coverage was the same, the sentence said similar or slighly below (or something like that). OK so the context is that further two numbers implying it was lower by 500,000 sq km appeared in the document. If the defence of Will is that what he wrote was technically true, although highly misleading, then it can't also be that 500,000 is about equal to zero. One has not made a false claim on a matter of fact if one either picks an unrepresentative data point or replaces "similar" with "the same." However, a claim which is misleading and technically false is just an error and should have been corrected.

The second reason is that Will made his claim in the present tense, but it didn't accurately describe the most recently published data. In this case it doesn't depend on what the definition of "is" is. The word can be interpreted in various ways, but no matter how it is interpreted, Will's claim was false.

If can be interpreted narrowly so that it refers to the most recent observation. In that case Will's claim was false (as immediately noted by his cited source). Or it can be interpreted broadly as referring to an interval of time which is certainly recent, but not the most recent available. In that case his statement is false. Will's claim was true of a brief interval of time which had ended when he made the claim. When the document which he cited was written, that interval was the most recent available, so the claim in the present tense was true. As the document went on to argue, the particular (they were quoting a global warming skeptic denier) was unrepresentative. It was true for a brief interval of time.

To get really geeky, the interval was during the Northern Winter. The facts are that the area covered by sea ice in the Northern hemisphere has decreased and the area covered by sea ice in the Southern hemisphere has increased. In the Northern winter, the area of *sea* covered by ice is partly limited by Canada, Norway and Russia (the expanding ice runs out of sea to cover as there is land instead). This doesn't happen in the Southern hemisphere. This means that the reduction in global sea ice coverage is lower in the Northern winter than in the Northern summer. Picking an observation from the Northern winter is, therefore, a trick. Will fell for the trick. He assumed that "is" was meant broadly, when for the claim to be true, it had to be interpreted narrowly, and, by the time he wrote his column, as referring narrowly to an interval in the past not including the most recent past.

The problem isn't just that Will picked cheries -- it is that he tried to pick cheries but was clumsy and picked leaves instead. His assertions were both misleading and technically false. The Washington Post should have printed a correction.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Matthew Yglesias vs Richard Posner

“At no stage need irrationality be posited to explain what happened,” -- Posner

Yglesias comments

I’ll just note as a starting point that the whole idea that one might “posit” irrationality is a powerful glimpse at the tight grasp neoclassical economics has over the public discourse. Many economic models work by positing rationality in a world that appears to be full of irrational behavior. But the models now have such a hold on our thinking, that people who suggest that sometimes things are exactly as they seem—full of irrationality—are positing something.

Beyond that, though, it’s important to make the point that for the market to exhibit irrational behavior doesn’t require individuals to be hugely loopy or anything.

Amen I comment. And more at length I go on.

I think Posner is totally full of it. He claims, in effect, that he can write a model in which everyone is rational and which fits the data. Notably this has not been done. Rather with absolute freedom to make whatever absurd assumptions are required it is possible to reconcile any set of 3 stylized facts with rationality. The models are plainly inconsistent with reality (no one denies this).

I would like to ask the judge a simple question. How could it ever be necessary to posit irrationality if it isn't already necessary ? I have not heard an answer to this question yet.
Posner, in particular, presents a few half baked arguments. Does he have a model of bank shareholders in which they rationally reward managers for short term accounting profits ? I think not. I don't believe that there is such a model.

I actually think you have a very key insight based on your command of the technical term "loopy." The point is that there is a long gap between behavior which is rational in the sense the term is used by economists and behavior which is "hugely loopy." It is not hugely loopy to believe in corporate balance sheets and profit and loss statements. It is not fully rational either. The problem is that when arguing that there is not need to posit irrationality, Posner argues that there is no need to posit huge loopiness. However, when Posner attempted to determine the implications of rationality he always used to assume the world was in Nash equilibrium.

He also assumed that there was no room for financial innovation (a requirement for the standard result that the market outcome is Pareto efficient is that financial markets are complete).