Quote of the Day

The article is a few days old, but actor Alan Cumming offers an insight:

Cumming, an endearingly puckish type, is really rather proud of his foreskin. “During interviews in America, I have made a point of talking about it,” he says. “I think it’s insane that an entire nation is ignorant about a part of their body they have lost. When I take my pants off in America, people gasp, which is kind of nice, until I realise that they’re actually staring at my penis as if it’s some kind of National Geographic photo come to life. Nobody has a foreskin there. They’re, like, ‘Wow! What do you do with that? How does it work?’ ”

Worse, the ignorance is perpetuated intentionally.

Legislate for every possibility and the law becomes meaningless.

Alan Dershowitz discusses what he believes could be a flaw for the Democrats in demanding accountability on torture in today’s Wall Street Journal. He is wrong, because he has two flawed assumptions:

There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works–it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

This is fair enough, but it assumes that we’ve only tortured, or would only seek to torture, those who are guilty of some atrocity. What is the potential for collateral damage, to use a poor euphemism for torturing an innocent person? How many of the suspects we have in captivity are guilty? Will we ever find out, since the Bush administration shows no interest in bringing any of them to trial? I’m not interested in abandoning centuries of legal and ethical principles that every individual is innocent until proven guilty. Especially when that justification is expressed with a “do you want us all to die?” extreme, as Mr. Dershowitz provides:

The members of the judiciary committee who voted against Judge Mukasey, because of his unwillingness to support an absolute prohibition on waterboarding and all other forms of torture, should be asked the direct question: Would you authorize the use of waterboarding, or other non-lethal forms of torture, if you believed that it was the only possible way of saving the lives of hundreds of Americans in a situation of the kind faced by Israeli authorities on the eve of Yom Kippur? Would you want your president to authorize extraordinary means of interrogation in such a situation? If so, what means? If not, would you be prepared to accept responsibility for the preventable deaths of hundreds of Americans?

The proper question is whether or not the members of the judiciary committee, on a jury during a trial, would convict the president for authorizing torture in this unlikely scenario. People who oppose torture are not demanding punishment for every imaginable instance in which torture might be used. But demanding that every imaginable instance of torture be held to some minimum standard of accountability – with justice imposed where necessary – is the sane position.

The president should torture a suspect in the ridiculous, unlikely reality that he’s facing a suspect who he “knows” has the information he needs if time is essential and the suspect won’t talk. But if he is wrong, no amount of protest that he only intended to protect America will suffice. President Bush has justified every abuse of the last six years with this notion that any and all measures are good for us if we stay safe. No. Anyone who can’t understand that forfeits the opportunity to discuss saving a country he does not believe in.

I’m a bad citizen or my politicians are bad leaders. Guess which is true.

Yesterday was election day, obviously, although even if I wasn’t politically aware, the half-a-dozen campaign fliers I received in each day’s mail for the last month were a signal. I didn’t vote yesterday. The easy answer would be that there were no national offices at stake and local politics don’t interest me. But that’s not why I didn’t vote.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an improved understanding of governing based on principles of liberty. I don’t want to imply that I’m perfect at voting on those criteria. I’m not, as 2004 demonstrates. Yes, that was a “lesser of two evils” vote, which was a shift from earlier elections when I had an incomplete view¹ of our two major parties. In last year’s election I still held to the “lesser of two evils” theory, but only because I had to vote against George Allen and Tom Davis.

This year I looked over the ballot for the first time on Monday. I’d had little interest because the screaming message on almost every one of those campaign fliers I received was some indignation about illegal immigrants. There is nothing like an unhealthy dose of xenophobia to get me unenthusiastic about a particular campaign. After researching the candidates and their stances on the issues, I couldn’t vote for any of them, for any office. When they best a candidate can offer is a demand that the federal government increase education funding and stop micromanaging education, he won’t earn even a protest vote against the other guy.

So, I didn’t vote yesterday². Typing my name in every race would’ve been tedious and unproductive.

¹ I viewed Democrats with optimism and Republicans with pessimism, as a default. As I learned economics, I quickly figured out that Democrats are idiots. This coincided with the Republican shift into complete lunacy, which I’m not happy about but helped me break my illusions about political parties rather easily.

Basically, I’ve always been a libertarian. I just didn’t know that there was such a thing as libertarian and thought Democrats best exemplified what I care about. For a long time.

² There were no ballot measures to consider. I would’ve voted if there had been any measure, no matter how apparently inconsequential.

Science is cool. Don’t reject it in favor of fear.

Via Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty, this interesting story:

A physicist and his biologist son destroyed a common virus using a superfast pulsing laser, without harming healthy cells. The discovery could lead to new treatments for viruses like HIV that have no cure.

“We have demonstrated a technique of using a laser to excite vibrations on the shield of a virus and damage it, so that it’s no longer functional,” said Kong-Thon Tsen, a professor of physics at Arizona State University. “We’re testing it on HIV and hepatitis right now.”

Knowledge is awesome.

Now, an obvious question. If it’s possible that this will work and cure HIV – still a long shot given the apparent early stage of this research – how is it reasonable for parents to circumcise a son today to reduce his risk of becoming infected with HIV after he becomes sexually active?

Many parents seem determined that we can’t presume there will be a cure/vaccine before their son becomes sexually active. The more rational position is that we can’t presume there will not be a cure/vaccine in the decade-and-a-half before he becomes sexually active. Science involves a never-ending process of learning more. Anyone who doubts it needs only to observe the drastic improvement in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in the last two decades.

Circumcision is not a now-or-never surgery at birth. If the boy is left intact, the overwhelming likelihood is still that he will not become HIV-positive. And that’s before a reminder that researchers only looked at circumcision’s possibility to reduce the risk of HIV in adult males undergoing voluntary circumcision. The effect on males from forced circumcision as an infant remains unstudied, although anecdotal evidence in the United States suggests that condoms would be a much wiser strategy. It’s more effective to teach him to protect himself than to surgically remove parts of his genitals.

We must break the law to defend the law.

In its editorial today, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board demonstrates its abandonment of liberty in favor of authoritarianism and reverence for acting tough. It’s not necessary to go beyond the opening to know that the editors have lost all intellectual credibility:

Democrats welcomed Michael Mukasey as a “consensus choice” for Attorney General only weeks ago, but incredibly his confirmation is now an open question. The judge’s supposed offense is that he has refused to declare “illegal” a single interrogation technique that the CIA has used on rare occasions against mass murderers.

Why the mock scare quotes on illegal? If it’s just one interrogation technique, presumably among many, why worry if it gets singled out and prohibited? Assuming that waterboarding amounts to torture, does it matter how many times it’s been used, or how awful the alleged mass murders committed by the tortured?

But the editors can’t help themselves:

… [All of the Democratic Presidential candidates would] disqualify a man of impeccable judicial temperament and credentials merely because he’s willing to give U.S. interrogators the benefit of the legal doubt before he has top-secret clearance.

Since when do government officials get the benefit of the doubt before prisoners? Last I checked, the government must prove guilt. Until it does, the accused is presumed innocent. It’s quite the anti-conservative stance to trust government first and only.

But it’s possible to give some credibility to the stated position. Judge Mukasey hasn’t reviewed the documents. That means he can’t and shouldn’t rule on whether or not specific U.S. interrogators have engaged in torture. That would be for later inquiry. However, it is possible to state whether or not waterboarding as an interrogation technique constitutes torture, absent any details or facts from alleged instances of its use.

Could there be a clearer demonstration of why voters don’t trust Democrats with national security? In the war against al Qaeda, interrogation and electronic surveillance are our most effective weapons. Yet Democrats have for years waged a guerrilla war against both of these tools, trying to impose procedural and legal limits that can only reduce their effectiveness. Judge Mukasey is merely collateral damage in this larger effort.

The editors are no doubt aware that the question is not the validity of using interrogation and electronic surveillance to uncover threats to the United States. The misdirection is telling about their character, but I’m more concerned with why they would be so opposed to procedural and legal limits. Effectiveness over costs? If that’s your position, be honest and agitate for a police state. You’ll argue what you want without falsely smearing opponents.

There are a few more informative points in the editorial:

Most important, [Mukasey’s] discretion serves the American people by helping to keep our enemies in some doubt about what they will face if they are captured.

Right, because if we say we don’t torture, then they won’t waste time preparing for torture. They’ll spend more time planning ways to kill every American. That’s time they now spend figuring out ways to avoid folding after being tortured interrogated. See, being forthright that we’re moral and humane would mean we lose.

What’s really at stake here is whether U.S. officials are going to have the basic tools required to extract information from America’s enemies.

U.S. officials have always had sophisticated (i.e. not basic) interrogation tools required to extract information. Those sophisticated tools were developed using our intelligence and reliance on the credibility of the information extracted. But the might-is-right crowd have dismissed intelligence in favor of brute force. When you’re too stupid to understand that sophisticated psychological techniques are more effective, you begin to think that torture is good and should be considered a basic tool.

But about that information:

Yet those interrogations have generated “thousands of intelligence reports.”

Thousands of intelligence reports… hmmm. How many of those proved accurate and how many proved to be a say-anything-please-make-the-torture-stop fiction that wasted U.S. resources in pursuit of a dead-end?

As for waterboarding, it is mostly a political sideshow. The CIA’s view seems to be that some version of waterboarding is effective in breaking especially tough cases quickly. Press reports say it has been used only against a few high-value al Qaeda operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zubaydah.

The CIA does not dictate what is and is not a legal interrogation method in the United States, alleged effectiveness notwithstanding. But that doesn’t matter, right? We only use it on deserving individuals. See, those who have been convicted of crimes in a court of law deserve it. Moral relativism, anyone?

It is possible to be serious on the threat facing our nation from enemies without getting hysterical and dismissing the reason our country exists as a quaint relic of the past.

Action, not intent, indicates what you believe.

This comment follows a discussion on the ongoing case in Oregon in which a father wants to circumcise his 12-year-old son in conjunction with his own conversion to Judaism (previous entry here):

That’s CRAZY! I think I’ll get any son of mine circumcised at birth, but mostly because uncircumcised [sic] penises look funny. A baby just think [sic] to himself goo goo goo ga ga- OW!FUCKSHITOW! goo goo ga, where I think the 12 year old might hate his dad forever for an incredibly painful experience.

…but on the other hand, as long as you don’t beat your children with an electric cord, they’re pretty much your property as far as the law is concerned.

Sadly, this isn’t too far out of the common thought process people offer when imagining that infant circumcision is less problematic than waiting because they can’t grasp the reality that it would probably never be necessary.

The commenter thinks a normal, intact penis looks “funny”. This is a permitted excuse in the United States for removing a healthy, normal part of a boy’s genitals. This moves beyond irrational, into immoral. Changing normal to common does not qualify as medical need.

At least the commenter realizes that circumcision hurts the child. But why isn’t that enough to lead to the only correct decision? The infant will not remember the surgery, but that’s hardly a justification. Any number of unnecessary interventions could be performed if that low criteria commands any respect. Also note the assumption that the 12-year-old could object, but his objection doesn’t warrant an injunction against the surgery.

Finally, why is it acceptable for the law to treat children as parental property? Individuals have inherent rights not to be harmed, which is why we do not permit abuse with an electrical cord. Proxy consent is reasonable, but anything short of medical need does not protect the child’s rights. Being inherent, there is no minimum age at which those basic rights vest to the child, if we’re being ethical.

Unfortunately, we are not being ethical. We allow parents to circumcise male minors for any and every reason, including the shallow, subjective belief that the normal, intact penis looks funny. The law – incorrectly – permits parents to treat their children as property. That does not mean that parents should choose that option.

Ignoring the Constitution is not patriotic.

I’m seeing a little bump in attention for Sen. Christopher Dodd’s run for the presidency, thanks to his comments at the latest Democratic get-together on decriminalizing medical marijuana. Interesting, I thought. I haven’t paid attention to the candidates so far because they’re all objectionable. But I really haven’t paid attention to Sen. Dodd. I figured today would be a perfect time to maybe find a dark horse who could make me hold my nose and cast my vote his way. Or not.

While perusing Sen. Dodd’s campaign site, I found every stance he has to be the same ridiculous trust in government through a drastic lack of understanding about economics and results. But I only want to focus on his plan for national service A New American Patriotism:

Chris Dodd believes that with leadership that inspires a new sense of American community, we can face the challenges of the 21st Century with the boldness and optimism that have always been the hallmark of our nation. That is why he is calling for a new American Community Initiative – a comprehensive national service plan that will draw upon the very best of our character to call Americans to service.

“Call Americans to service” is an interesting euphemism for mandatory volunteerism. He offers many prongs to his plan, but a few are worth exploring. For example:

Mandate community service as a requirement for high school graduation.

Every teen’s time will be better spent serving his community in some approved manner, as opposed to allowing the teen’s judgment of how her time should be best spent. Presumably the college of her choice would realize that the extra-curricular activity representing her interests is a poor substitute for the mandatory community service she must now undertake to improve herself the more important community.

Double the size of the Peace Corps and create a Rapid Response Reserve Corps made up of all national service alumni, as well as retired military and National Guard personnel, to respond to disasters and emergencies in America, whenever and wherever they occur.

Engage in national service and you, too, could be recalled to duty whenever and wherever disasters and emergencies occur. Your country needs you more than your personal life needs you.

Dramatically increase the number of AmeriCorps members to 1,000,000 and raise the education award to reflect the skyrocketing cost of tuition.

This is a good idea. I’m sure that increasing the demand for college tuition by having taxpayers subsidize the cost will have no effect on the price of tuition in a market where supply doesn’t change.

Create a new Senior Heroes Program that will provide older Americans with a $1,000 education award to further their own education or that of a deserving child.

This is my favorite, since I can think of no better way to spend $1,000 of taxpayer money than educating senior citizens. We care about seniors. Who cares that spending $1,000 educating 20-year-olds will, inevitably, return more to the community in the long-term than spending $1,000 educating 70-year-olds?

But about that furthering education as a public good: it’s not a public good. If it generates a return of more than $1,000, it will occur without government intervention. If it generates a return of less than $1,000, it doesn’t deserve government intervention. But it’s for the seniors! This warrants a little more detail from Sen. Dodd’s platform:

We can pass on no greater gift to future generations than the lessons of the past. Yet, too often, we fail to draw upon the experience, knowledge and ideas of our greatest generation. A Senior Heroes Program will provide such an opportunity by encouraging retired Americans already living longer, healthier lives to volunteer in our nation’s schools. In exchange for giving 1,000 hours of their time in our nation’s public schools, seniors will earn a $1,000 education award to further their own education or that of a designated child. Under the Dodd plan, Senior Heroes will be eligible to receive this award tax–free.

Interesting new twist, designating the $1,000 to a child. Fine, whatever. It’s for the children! I get it. You want to help your grandkids, right? Serve!

But seriously, 6 months of work for $1,000? Democrats demand that economics be damned in favor of a mandatory minimum wage. Wouldn’t $1 per hour violate such a policy stance in a most abysmal way? I don’t think Sen. Dodd can claim that it’s not a wage. If the volunteer work is so compelling that people aren’t volunteering without the financial incentive, it’s hard to view the $1,000 as a bonus. Why does Sen. Dodd hate seniors?

I will not be voting for Sen. Dodd, on the non-chance that he wins the Democratic nomination. And, yes, the mere proposal of national service A New American Patriotism was enough for me to decide.