Monday, October 30, 2006

Pure Beauty

This animation explores the same idea musically, visually, and mathematically. It is hypnotic as fuck. Be sure to check out all the variations on the right, especially the hand crank version. I wish I could spend a semester studying it. via unfogged.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Virginia Slims ad

Virginia Slims ad
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
Hey look, I'm not blogging torture! In fact, I'm grading homework!

A student submitted this as a part of a "find a logical fallacy in the media" exercise. It just struck me as especially appalling.

Update: Oh yeah, this ad is available at the tobaccodocuments site.

Another victim in the war on terror

Read Majikthise on the case of Adama Bah an 18 year old who faces deportation back to Guinea, where she faces female genital mutilation, on unsubstantiated charges that she is a potential suicide bomber.

Detailed Teach-in Poster

Detailed Teach-in Poster
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Using the military tribunals against journalists

One sign that new government powers go to far is when they are used to attack journalists. Here is an example of that happening in the war on terror.

Sami al-Haj is a cameraman for Al-Jazeera who has been held for five years in Guantanamo without being charged. He was picked up on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan while covering the war there. The Pentagon maintains he carried money for Chechen rebels and has worked for Al Quada, but the evidence for these claims is secret. Mr. al-Haj's lawyer (who cannot attend his hearings) maintains that the US holding him to get information about Al-Jazeera, which they consider to be an enemy organization. (Remember the still-unconfirmed reports that Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera?) While in custody, al-Haj has been subject to beatings, stress positions, and denial of medical care. No one can say whether the charges against al-Haj have any merit, nor will we be able to until he is given a fair, public trail. He has a wife and a son who was one year old when he wsa arrested. The son, Muhammad, is now six. Here is al-Haj's page at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

If I get the chance, I will also try to write up the case of Bilal Hussein. There is one thing I can say about Hussein right away: If an American reporter, embedded with American troops, were captured by insurgent forces, would you want her to be treated the way we are treating Hussein?

Cases like these are what led Reporters without Borders to lower the United States' rating for freedom of the press nine places, to 53rd, on a par with Croatia, Botswana, and Tonga.

Fuck You, John McHugh

A colleague of mine, Bill Olsen, contacted the office of our representative John McHugh, about his vote for the Military Commissions Act (MCA). Bill got a letter which tried to explain the vote, which Bill forwarded to the SOC listserv.

The most remarkable thing about Rep. McHugh's letter is that it does not even mention the most appalling aspect of the MCA, the end of habeas corpus. He also does not talk about the President's unlimited ability to declare anyone an enemy combatant, or the incredible loss of rights American citizens suffer when they are moved to enemy combatant status. Finally, he does not talk the fact that US citizens who are accused of being alien enemy combatants have no way to challenge that finding.

Here is a little of what he does say. After thanking Bill for his concern, giving some history of the MCA he says.
The Court in Hamdan decided that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – an article that many assumed only applied to regular armies–applies to terrorist organizations, like al Qaeda. As a result of this decision, our brave personnel in the military and other national security agencies are faced with an unpredictable legal landscape because the meaning of certain elements of Common Article 3 are vague.
How did article 3 suddenly become vaguer? The military has been able to comply with Common Article 3 conflicts more pitched and bloody than this. What has changed?
Over the course of several months, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings and briefings on standards of military commissions and tribunals, as well as the administration's recommendations. Subsequently, legislative measures were crafted to provide a comprehensive statutory structure for military commissions that will allow for the fair and effective prosecution of captured members of al Qaeda and other unlawful enemy combatants.
Did you notice the presumption of guilt here? The people on trail are assumed to be members of Al Quada, this despite the fact that large numbers of people who have survived the military commissions process have turned out to be completely innocent, picked up on little or no substantial evidence. The presumption of guilt is one of the most powerful rhetorical tools the administration has been using. We are constantly assured that the people in Gitmo are "the worst of the worst," when in fact we have no reason to think this is true, and the whole process eviscerating the courts is set up to keep up from ever learning if this is true. Ok, here's some more McHugh
The suggestion that the Military Commissions Act condones torture or that the legislation implicitly permits, "enhanced torture techniques" is absolutely false and contradicts the very language in the bill. First, it is illegal under U.S. law to torture – this was true before and it will remain true. Moreover, the measure makes torture a war crime that can result in the death penalty. This means that under the War Crimes Act, any U.S. personnel that engages in torture will be subject to prosecution for committing a war crime. Additionally, in the context of military commissions, a statement obtained through torture is not admissible.
Well, there might be some technical sense in which these things are true, but for all practical purposes they are not. The law explicitly says that evidence gained by “coercion” is allowed. ((3(949a)(C))., see Karl Schonberg’s analysis here.) The other important fact is that the administration still gets to decide what counts as torture. And they have already told us that they aren’t going to count anything as torture. The practical upshot is clearly that the Military Commissions Act allows the government to waterboard a confession out of you, and then use that as evidence against you in your trail.

McHugh’s defense of his vote is feeble. Vote the jackass out of office.

the poster for our teach-in

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Thanks to Cathy and the poster committee for the design of this and the button below!

Save our Constitution Button Design

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.
I will soon be distributing buttons like this for our campus civil liberties group, Save our Constitution. Big fun!

The program for next week's teach-in

The Constitution, Human Rights, and the War on Terrorism
A Teach-in Sponsored by Save Our Constitution (SOC)

November 3, 2006 from 12:00 to 4:00 PM
St. Lawrence University
Winston Room, Student Center

Schedule of Events

Welcome Remarks

Noon: Natalia Singer (Department of English)

The Military Commissions Act
12:10: Eve Stoddard (Department of Global Studies)

12:25 - 1:10 -- Panel 1 -- Erosion of the Constitution,
Moderator: Eve Stoddard
Panelists: Steve Horwitz (Department of Economics, Associate Dean of First Year Program), Jon Cardinal (President of the Thelomathesian Society). Discussion to follow.

1:15 - 2:15 -- Panel 2 -- Torture and International Law,
Moderator: Rob Loftis
Panelists: Karl Schonberg (Department of Government), Rob Loftis (Department of Philosophy), Armina Omerika (Department of History). Discussion to follow.

2:20 - 3:15 -- Panel 3 -- Language, Rhetoric, Politics of Fear, Moderator: Gus diZerega
Panelists: John Collins (Department of Global Studies), Gus diZerega (Department of Government), Laura Rediehs (Department of Philosophy). Discussion to follow.

3:20 - 4:00 -- Wrap-up -- What You Can Do, Moderators: Natalia Singer and Jon Cardinal
Remarks from: Sal Cania and Somdeep Sen (Amnesty International), Dennis Morreale (the ACLU initiative), Julia Warn (SLU Republicans), Mihnea Tudoreanu (SLU Democrats), Carol Kissam on voter registration, Oxfam, Armina Omerika (Facebook), other student and community groups.

Save Our Constitution Mission Statement
We are deeply concerned about the assaults on the U.S. Constitution, a document animated by the highest ideals of human freedom. The Constitution has survived a Civil War, two World Wars, and the Cold War. In war and in peace, generations of Americans of all backgrounds have struggled (and in many cases died) to defend it, improve it, and extend its protections to all.

Although September 11, 2001 was a traumatic event, we do not want future historians to say that the events of that day sparked the end of constitutional democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law in this country. In the interest of avoiding such an outcome, we feel a profound call to stand up now and strengthen our defense of democratic principles. To this end we are organizing teach-ins and other events to alert the public to these threats and to facilitate discussion about how to save our Constitution at a time when it is under unprecedented attack.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Waterboarding: It's not just for the Khymer Rouge!

The Vice President stopped hedging a couple days ago and simply admitted that the US practices waterboarding. Cheney was being interviewed on a right wing talk show on WDAY in North Dakota, when he called the acceptability of waterboarding "a no-brainer." The story has been weirdly absent from the big mainstream media, but the transcript of the interview is just right here on the whitehouse website, and an article is here at the a group called the McClatchy Newspapers and in a small piece in the North Country's own Watertown Daily Times. .

Coincidentally, we also have some nice new graphics today showing just what waterboarding is. David Corn has an interview up with Jonah Blank an anthropologist and journalist who has returned from Cambodia with pictures of the waterboarding apparatus used by the Khymer Rouge as a part of one of the great genocides of the 20th century. Here it is.

Here is how it is used

Blank emphasizes in the interview that the Khymer Rouge did not use waterboarding to extract information. They did it to extract confessions for show trials before their victim was ritually killed. Bottom line: "They-- like so many brutal regimes--made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised." Check the whole story out.

The McClatchy papers also have a nice graphic explaining how waterboarding is done.

And one more thing: A taxonomy of torture techniques from Slate.

hat tips to majikthise, and Bart Harloe and Ken Gould on the SOC listserv.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More Resources on Absentee Voting

Check it out, NY residents. If you are planing to vote absentee in your home district, you need to apply for a ballot by Tuesday, October 31st

I'm going to start collecting information on absentee voting on this site, beginning with the states that SLU students come from. I'm just quickly scanning the homepages for the Secretaries of State, so corrections are encouraged.

New York. Instructions, Application Form
Deadline to apply for ballots: Tuesday, October 31st
Postmark deadline for the ballot itself: Monday, November 6th

Vermont, General instructions Application form
Deadline ot request a ballot: the day before the election, from the League of Women Voters has a good list of links, including links to state elections pages.

Information on Absentee Voting

MTV's rock the vote has a list of webpages where you can get information about absentee voting in your state. Unfortuntately, their page doesn't load right, so I am reprinting it here. We will be promoting this information as at SLU as a part of our Save Our Constitution actions.

Alabama (800) 274-VOTE

Alaska (907) 465-4611

Arizona (877) 843-8683

Arkansas (501) 682-3526

California (800) 345-VOTE

Colorado (303) 894-2200

Connecticut (800) 540-3764

Delaware (302) 739-4277

District of
Columbia (202) 727-2525

Florida (850) 245-6200

Georgia (404) 656-2871

Hawaii (808) 453-8683

Idaho (208) 334-2300

Illinois (217) 782-4141

Indiana (317) 232-3939

Iowa (888) 767-8683

Kansas (785) 796-4564

Kentucky (502) 573-7100

Louisiana (225) 342-4970

Maine (207) 642-7736

Maryland (800) 222-VOTE

Massachusetts (800) 462-VOTE

Michigan (517) 373-2540

Minnesota (651) 215-1440

Mississippi (800) 829-6786

Missouri (573) 751-2301

Montana (406) 444-4732

Nebraska (402) 471-3229

Nevada (775) 684-5705

New Hampshire (603) 271-3242

New Jersey (609) 292-3760

New Mexico (800) 477-3632

New York (800) FOR-VOTE

North Carolina (919) 733-7173

North Dakota (800) 352-0867
ext. 8-4146

Ohio (614) 466-2585

Oklahoma (405) 521-2391

Oregon (503) 986-1518

Pennsylvania (717) 787-5280

Rhode Island (401) 222-2345

South Carolina (803) 734-9060

South Dakota (605) 773-3537

Tennessee (615) 741-7956

Texas (800) 252-VOTE

Utah (800) 995-VOTE

Vermont (800) 439-8683

Virginia (804) 786-6551

Washington (360) 586-0400

West Virginia (304) 558-6000

Wisconsin (608) 266-8005

Wyoming (307) 777-7378

Keith Olbermann on the Military Commissions Act

Here. "Your words are lies sir, lies that imperil us all."

Save Our Constitution! Ask Me How!

It looks like our local civil liberties group, Save Our Constitution, is going to be printing up buttons that say "Save our Constitution! Ask me how!" There has also been some discussion of how to respond if someone asks you how to save the Constitution.

The answer is simple, and I urge it on you the internet.

These are the lists of everyone in the House and Senate who voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Don't vote for these bozos.

Govtrack presents the same information in more readable format, including a nifty map, here and here. Govtrack, btw, seems to be a nifty site.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More one the Quaker menace

The Pentagon continues to keep records on Quaker activities on the grounds that the pacifist religious group constitutes a terrorist threat. Previously I have linked to reports that the Pentagon issued a "Threat and Local Observation Notice" (a TALON) on a meeting of Friends in Florida. The ACLU is now reporting similar TALONs have been issued for activities by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Akron, Ohio and Springfield, Mass.

These new TALONs were issued with all of the competence and sensitivity to the value of human intel we have come to expect from the Global War on Anything We Decide to Label Terrorism. First of all, they misreported the second event as being in Springfield, IL, rather than Springfield Mass. Second, the Pentagon spies apparently found out about this event through the incredibly sophisticated method of "Subscribing to the AFSC emailing list." You'd think that if they had the announcement for the event in front of them, they would get the city right.

There's a fun personal connection here, too. Molly has a lot of family who are Quakers living in the Akron area. My in-laws could be a threat to national security, with their damned nonviolence and mayonnaise heavy, Midwestern cooking.

Via John Collins on the SLU listserv.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Exxon Mobil's PR firm creates "homemade" YouTube spoof of An Inconvientent Truth

The DCI Group, a PR firm working for Exxon Mobil, has an excellent record of creating the appearance of grass roots support for their causes on the web. They are the force behind Tech Central Station, a blog that appears to be a news for nerds type website but is actually devoted to spreading unwarranted doubt about global warming and endless positive messages current energy policy.

DCI’s latest? The video "Al Gore's Penguin Army," appears to be a homemade spoof of An Inconvenient Truth posted to YouTube by 29 year old named "Toutsmith," from California. The Wall Street Journal, however, has discovered that the video was actually posted from DCI computers in Washington DC. For those who subscribe the full story is here. For those who don’t here are some highlights.
Nancy Snow, a communications professor at California State University, Fullerton, viewed the penguin video and calls it a lesson in "Propaganda 101." It contains no factual information, but presents a highly negative image of the former vice president, she says. The purpose of such images is to harden the views of those who already view Mr. Gore negatively, Dr. Snow says. …
Traffic to the penguin video, first posted on in May, got a boost from prominently placed sponsored links that appeared on the Google search engine when users typed in "Al Gore" or "Global Warming." The ads, which didn't indicate who had paid for them, were removed shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted DCI Group on Tuesday.
Via Dale Jamieson on the ISEE list.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Bill that Broke the Constitution

Here at SLU we have formed a new group, Save Our Constitution, to fight the recent attack on basic civil rights by the Bush administration. Right now we are drafting up promotional material for a teach-in we will have Nov. 3. This is some copy I have generated that I think captures where the group is heading. I’m putting it up here in draft form for comments.

The Bill that Broke the Constitution

On October 18, 2006, George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law. The bill was described in the media as merely a “controversial” decision about what to do with the detainees in Guantánamo and elsewhere. In fact, it gives the President unprecedented powers and strips ordinary people of the most basic of rights. The right whose death we mourn the most is habeas corpus, a right so basic most people aren’t even aware it has a name, let alone that it can be taken away. Habeas corpus is your right to tell your case to a judge if you have been arrested. Millions of people no longer have this right. They can languish indefinitely in prisons for no reason, dependant entirely on the whim of their captors. And the collapse of basic human rights is not limited to foreigners or people outside America. Under the Military Commissions Act the president and secretary of defense can declare anyone they want, including American citizens, enemy combatants. Once this happens, you have almost no legal protection. Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was declared an enemy combatant, and he was held without charges and tortured for three years. There is nothing preventing this from happening to you.


We can never forget that real people are suffering horribly at the hands of our government, and no good is coming from it. More and more stories are coming out about people who were arrested on faulty information or no information at all, tortured horribly, and then released without any charges being pressed against them. Muhibullo Adulkarim Umarov a native of Tajikistan, was arrested in Pakistan following a bombing in Karachi, sent to Guantánamo No evidence was ever presented linking him to the bombing which was eventually shown to be the work of a Pakistani, Sohail Akhtar. After two years, someone realized that they had no reason to hold Umarov. He was taken to the office of an American official who told him he was going to be freed, asked him not to blame America, gave him a hug, and sent him on his way.

This can happen because there is no public oversight over who gets arrested, why they are held, or what is done to them. Bounty hunters in Pakistan pick up whoever they can just to get paid. Innocent people are turned over to the new secret police because someone wanted to settle a score or do in a rival. Trial by jury was developed long ago to prevent these abuses, but now we are slipping back into barbarism.

The Politics of Fear

How is this possible? Why have we allowed this to happen? The answer is simple, we have been made to fear. The president and his enablers in congress used the tragedy of September 11 to advance an agenda that had nothing to do with the attacks. This manipulation included inventing the “war on terror” a strange conflict against an undefined enemy for an indefinite period of time. Past leaders facing real armies have told us not to fear. This administration is now telling us to fear, to fear everyone and no one, and to take their word for it when they announce that someone is the enemy. We are in an era where big lies are used to destroy basic rights. The time has come to say “stop.”

Complete works of Charles Darwin on line

Here. So far, only half of them are up, but the plans are to put everything up. Woo hoo.

The site seems pretty slow right now, but you have the option of viewing the books as facsimiles or text files, or side by side. Via Lindsay.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Torture Stories

I'm collecting torture stories for a teach-in to be held in a few weeks. Right now I'm taking notes on a few individuals to decide who to focus on. If anyone stopping by can think of other good names or sources, let me know. The main category of person I am interested in are those who have been...

Held for years, tortured, and then released without charges

Muhibullo Adulkarim Umarov: Native of Tajikstan, traveled to Pakistan to earn money for his family. Arrested by Pakistani police after a bombing that was later shown to be the work of a Pakistani, Sohail Akhtar. No charges were pressed by Pakistan, but the Pakistanis were eager to find evidence that the bomber was a foreigner. Transferred to US control at a time when the US was offering a bounty on any terror suspect. Held at Baghram and Gitmo and subjected to psychological torture. His captors said his frequent movements between Pakistan, Tajikstan and Afghanistan (all countries where he has relatives) were suspicious. Captors demanded that he reveal the location of Osama bin Laden. After two years, it is decided he is completely innocent, and he is released. (wikipedia, Mother Jones)

Maher Arar Syrian born Canadian citizen. Detained by US, based on false information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Extraordinarily rendered to Syria where he was tortured into a false confession. Cleared of all charges and released. RCMP apologizes. The only concrete piece of evidence ever offered against him is a lease he signed that was witnessed by a friend of his family's who is now also being held in Syria. No explanation as to why the other man is being held, or signing a lease with him as a witness is damning evidence of anything. (, the Canadian government's commission on Arar)

Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul (the Tipoton three) British citizens who travel to Pakistan for a wedding. They then go to Afghanistan to see the effects of US bombing for themselves. (imdb page for the movie about them. BBC story)

Moazzam Begg, Martin Mubanga, Richard Belmar and Feroz Abbasi. Other british citizens: BBC page here. The BBC page refers to five other Gritons who were held at Gitmo and then released without charges. I'll need to get their names later.

The other important category of person I want to highlight is the

American Citizen who Has Been Tortured.

Jose Padilla: Picked up shortly after 9/11 at O'Hare as a "material witness" to the 9/11 plot. He is declared an enemy combatant, and tortured. After three years, he is finally charged in a civilian court with "conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim people overseas." The move to civilian court seems to be aimed at avoiding supreme court scrutiny of his treatment by military courts. (LizardBreath's last post on him. His motion to dismiss the charges against him, wikipedia.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

My car is visible from space

Check it out. Somewhere along the line, the good folks at Google saw fit to add detailed satelite photographs of our tiny village of Canton New York to their database. Now, you can see our car on google. This is the image I got when I asked for directions to a meeting I have to go to. Amazing.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Some link collections from Gus DiZerega

Gus has a good list of links discussing the recent Lancet study on deaths caused by the war in Iraq. He also has a good list of links on torture, which I reprinted here earlier.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

For Veronica Mars

In the Neil Simon movie, Murder by Death, Lionel Twain invites five detectives--obvious parodies of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marples, Charlie Chan, Nick Charles and Sam Spade--to dinner and stages a murder. Twain, who is played by Truman Capote, explains the motives for his plot this way:
You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents.
I think I just don't like the mystery genre. By design, the plot payoff has to be the last thing you'd expect knowing what you know about the characters. This makes developing rich characterization next to impossible. It is also more damaging to the realism of a show than including space ships or vampires. It just bugs me.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The competition for the NCAEFA

The North Country Academy for the Excruciatingly Fine Arts has some serious competition in Singapore. (which is also where I got the Nietzsche Family Circus link)


Originally uploaded by Yager-Madden.
Photo by Thomas, via his blog.

New Research Statement

I'm getting ready for the job market, updating my CV and research portfolio. Below is a new research statement, reflecting my new publications and plans. So if any of the teeming multitudes who arrives here via a search for "Monkey orgasm" have a job to offer me, check this out and give me a call. The full portfolio and new CV are on the sidebar

Research Statement

My research is in environmental and medical ethics. These interests are not really distinct. Both areas are places where the philosophy of science intersects with practical, and often the same set of epistemic norms and ethical values are at stake in each. Indeed one of my main interests is in tracing issues as they cross from the human world of medical ethics to the nonhuman world of environmental ethics. Right now I have two published papers about genetic engineering, a topic that comes up in both medical and environmental contexts. The first paper, published in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal makes a direct comparison between the environmental and the medical arena, arguing that the difference in levels of caution we exercise regarding genetic engineering in these two areas is unjustified. The second paper, forthcoming in the volume Ethical issues is the Life Sciences, argues that in the case of agricultural genetic engineering, the real motivation is not attitudes toward caution at all, but attitudes toward economic liberty.

My thinking about environmental ethics has led me to publish some in environmental aesthetics. My first work there was an article for Philosophy and the Contemporary World on efforts to place environmental ethics on the foundation of environmental aesthetics. Here too, there is an analogy between the human and nonhuman world, because I argue for the superficiality of the aesthetics of the environment using an analogy to the aesthetics of human beings. This paper led to a book review in Environmental Ethics of models of the appreciation of natural environments, and now an essay which has been conditionally accepted to Environmental Values, which adds a new model to the discussion of nature appreciation, drawn from Buddhist thinking, which I label the Theregāthā model.

My immediate plans are to make the alterations to the paper on the Theragāthā model that have been requested by the publishers before they accept the paper. After that I want to return to the issue of genetic enhancement. I just reviewed a recent book by law professor Maxwell Mehlman which advocated an elaborate, draconian regime to enforce regulation on human genetic enhancement. I plan to expand the review, which appeared in Metapsychology Online, into a full defense of the right to genetic enhancement. My argument would come largely from the right to control of your body and doctor patient confidentiality, with additional support coming from an examination of just how intrusive any attempt to regulate one’s genes would be. I hope to get this piece into a top rank journal like Ethics or The Journal of Philosophy.

In the longer term, I hope to keep my efforts in environmental ethics focused on agricultural ethics and resource management. The debate over the moral status of wild nature, while it has produced much of theoretical interest, has proven to be largely irrelevant to the most important environmental issues. Global climate change, for instance, is clearly the most pressing issue of the day, but all that can be said about it from the standpoint of wild nature is that there can be no more wild nature. I do see more hope for the discussion of moral status in medical ethics, and I actually believe that theoretical work can be illuminating here. The stem cell debate has shown dire need for understanding how conflicting ideas about moral status should affect public policy. Here again, I think it would be nice to look at human issues in the context of the nonhuman. What we need, and what I hope to contribute to developing, is a theory of moral status that uses a unified system of standards to judge humans at all stages of life, animals, plants, ecosystems, nations, and even hypothetical entities like intelligent computers or space aliens.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Schonberg on your newly restricted rights

From the SLU listserv comes this comment by Prof. Karl Schonberg. Karl looks closely at the language of the law and its consequences for the rights of US citizens.
Under this law, civilian U.S. citizens can potentially be tried before military courts. Some of the language in this law refers only to “aliens,” but the definition of “unlawful enemy combatants” does not. Section 3(948a)(1)(A) states that “the term `unlawful enemy combatant' means… a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States…” Section 3(948d)(c) specifies that the President or Secretary of Defense will choose tribunals to determine who is an unlawful enemy combatant, and the findings of these tribunals will be "dispositive for purposes of jurisdiction for trial by military commission." On this issue see also Yale law/political science professor Bruce Ackerman's essay in the L.A. Times. Military commissions can assign sentences up to and including death (3(948d)(d)).

In these military courts not all of the protections guaranteed to U.S. citizens under the Constitution will apply. For example:

Evidence seized without a warrant will be admissible: “Evidence shall not be excluded from trial by military commission on the grounds that the evidence was not seized pursuant to a search warrant or other authorization” (3(949a)(2)(B)).

Evidence gained through coercion will sometimes be admissible: “A statement of the accused that is otherwise admissible shall not be excluded from trial by military commission on grounds of alleged coercion or compulsory self-incrimination…” (3(949a)(C)).

Hearsay evidence will sometimes be admissible: “…hearsay evidence not otherwise admissible under the rules of evidence applicable in trial by general courts-martial may be admitted in a trial by military commission…” (3(949a)(b)(2)(E)(i)).

Military judges are also given wide latitude in deciding, among other things, what evidence defendants will be able to see (3(949d)(f)), and whether there will be public access to trials (3(949d)(2)).

Rules governing defense counsel’s right to bring witnesses and evidence are to be “provided in regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense” (3(949j)(a)). The Secretary of Defense and Attorney General also have the power to determine “pretrial, trial, and post-trial procedures, including elements and modes of proof…” (3(949a)(a)).

Non-U.S. citizens, including legal residents, may be jailed indefinitely without charge: “7(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus [or any other action, 7(e)(2)] led by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States [as an enemy combatant].”

The president will decide when and how the Geneva Conventions apply, if at all: “ …the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions…” (6(a)(3)A).

To say that I find this language troubling would be a vast understatement. I will be at the meeting next week to discuss these issues and our response to them.

Blog upgrade

Well, I upgraded to the new version of blogger right away, even though it is still in beta, because (1) I really really wanted labels and (2) I'm an early adopter.

I've decided not to reinstall Haloscan comments, mostly so that I can use word verification. Also, with the old Blogger comments visible, everyone can now see that the first comment on this blog was from everyone's blog crush, Bitch, Ph.D. If I can find a way to selectively reopen the halo threads for earlier posts I will.

Added: I was going to justify the time I spent today fussing with the new template by signing up for adsense and actually making money from the blog. But adsense is no longer there. Does anyone know what is up, or have any comments/experience with adsense?

Not gonna be a dupe for the RCP

"We get to show and what do we see
Banners and flyers for the RCP.
I found the man who had spoke to me
He said I was a dupe for the RCP" ---MDC

World Can't Wait, a group that is organizing protests against the war on terror today, has links to the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party. My colleague Natalia is organizing a rally today, and at my urging, she has not registered our rally with World Can't Wait.

The RCP are not run of the mill Marxists. They openly embrace some of the most heinous positions imaginable, including the bizarre idea that Mao's Cultural Revolution was the truest expression of a workers utopia. They align themselves with ultra-violent rebel groups in Peru and Nepal. These fuckers are bad news.

Essentially, the RCP is to the left what the Moonies are to the right. First of all, they are really a cult of personality around one Bob Avakian. (The Party apparently prefers the term "culture of appreciation") Second they slip into the left's actions the way the Moonies slip into the right. People form coalitions with them because they are well funded and organized, and appear to share your agenda. But really they don't share one iota of agenda with us. We are marching against the war on terror because we value peace and civil liberties. The Maoists care for neither of these things. A while back the Reverend Moon ordained himself God at a ceremony in Washington DC attended by a couple Republican congressmen. I imagine their reaction was much like the reaction of many people who have worked with the RCP: "Dum de dum, I'm just forming a coalition, this is ordinary politics---holy shit!"

Actually, the thing that troubles me most about the RCP is the way they behave in coalitions. They push groups toward unproductive confrontational actions and are not upfront about their agenda. Dave from MDC's experience, told in the song "I was a Dupe for the RCP," of being lied to about the sponsorship of a concert is par for the course. The weirdest thing about RCP members is the way they talk. They engage in soundbite politics and stay on message really well. The language, though, is not just militant, it is militaristic. It is really frightening. Admittedly, it has been 20 years since I shared a car ride from DC to NYC to attend a Stop the City demonstration with a woman from the RCP. But I still have strong memories of it. At the end of the ride she said "I have enjoyed struggling with you." Struggling? I thought we were talking. "Struggling" turned out to be a big RCP word at the time. I've decided not to turn everything into a struggle.

"If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow."
--Lennon/McCartney (really just Lennon)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"First they came for the douchebags"

Jesus McQueen, at Unfogged, on Ryan Bird's stunt at the Milwaukee airport.
The guy does seem like a douchebag, but, you know, "First they came for the douchebags, and I did not speak out because I was not a douchebag."

Monday, October 02, 2006

A (gentle) defense of an epistemic rule of thumb

Wendy the psycho therapist expressed doubt about an epistemic rule of thumb I suggested. The rule of thumb is: "When unorthodox methods lead to unorthodox conclusions, you should doubt the methods, rather than embracing the conclusion."

This is really a simple corollary to the skeptic’s principle, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” with the elaboration that “extraordinary evidence” doesn’t mean unusual evidence, but evidence that is very hard to dispute.

Wendy worries, “What are you considering "unorthodox" and who/what is making this determination?” Context would help here. The rule came to my mind while I was reading a student paper on the death penalty. The student reported roughly that a doctor so-and-so using “new statistical methods” was able to show that seven lives were saved for every one person executed. My first thought was “Wow, that’s quite a claim, those had better be some good methods.” I suspect, though, that these new methods were simply invented for the purpose of justifying the death penalty and that there is no independent evidence for their reliability. In fact, this smacks so much of pseudo-science that I don’t even want to waste time investigating it.

So what am I counting as unorthodox? I am assuming a roughly scientific context, where there are some agreed upon methods that have yielded agreed upon results, and some other methods and results that are debated. I think most human knowledge can be well characterized this way, although the size of the agreeing communities may vary. My experience has been that good epistemology is actually profoundly conservative. At the epistemological level, I am practically Edmund Burke. We are born into believing communities, and when those believe systems are dysfunctional, we try to repair them with minimal changes, lest we find ourselves lost. Paradigm shifts are painful, and should be postponed, until it is clear that only the most ad hoc changes can keep the old paradigm afloat.

Wendy also said “IMHO experiences exist which cannot be easily or readily quantified, reproduced, expressed and/or explained and validity and reliability, orthodoxy and unorthodoxy are rendered moot.” I am aware of those experiences, too. But if expression is difficult, and reliability moot, what else is there to say?


Gus diZerega's list of torture posts

Below is a list from Gus diZerega of good posts on torture and the death of Habeas Corpus
I list below some of the best of the pieces that have appeared in the blogosphere, especially when you follow up on links (as I did to list the LA Times piece).

If you find my list useful I encourage you to pass it on to others.

Glenn Greenwald, a first amendment attorney, has at least four excellent pieces:

Hullabaloo, a very good essay-oriented blog, has several good ones:

You’re your Place

Who Cares What the Supreme Court Says?

It’s Getting Hot in Here

Rogue Presidency

Trusting Huck


From FireDog Lake, another blog, whose over-seer, Jane Hamsher, is an attorney and former prosecutor.
Late nite FDL: Torture Doesn’t Work

Well Here’s a Question (on Constitution and habeus corpus)

Eschaton (Atrios), one of the best moderate progressive blogs, listed the contents of Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama's speeches against the legislation. I particularly liked Clinton comparing this crowd with George Washington.

Hillary Clinton’s speech on the torture bill (it’s good)

Obama’s speech on the bill


Mark Kleiman, a very sharp scholar at UCLA hosts The Reality- based Community

Lies, secrets and Torture, part 153


I discovered Bruce Ackerman's piece in the LA Times via the blogosphere

The White House Warden,0,619852.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail


From Obsidian Wings:
We Can All Be Enemy Combatants

And some conservatives still remember that their care for the constitution and genuine values amounts to more than pretty packaging. See John Cole, an intelligent conservative Republican at Balloon Juice

Just a Refresher

Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Kip Hawley is an idiot"

Ryan Bird wrote "Kip Hawley is an idiot" on a zip lock bag holding the toiletries he was taking through airport security. Kip Hawley is the head to the Transportation Security Administration. Check out what happened. Also check out the official "Kip Hawley is an idiot" website, and the ruling which apparently says the first amendment does apply in airports. (Lawyers will no doubt say the issue is complicated.)

More on press releases as scientific communication

So I'm having my students track the flow of information from scientific journal articles to newspapers, and already I've found a case of mistakes in transmission. The students were supposed to start with a secondary source (i.e., a newspaper article.) Many brought in this New York Times piece or this Reuters piece, both of which are based on this article by Josefino Comiso, forthcoming in Geophysical Research Letters. As I reported earlier, none of my students made it to this primary source.

Fortunately, the CJR is doing their homework for them. This post at the CJR blog explains how different news outlets interpreted the story. Comiso's basic finding was that the peak extent of winter arctic sea ice has been declining two years in a row. Unfortunately, the AP and the Sf Chronicle took this information and reported that the arctic sea ice is continuing to melt all winter long, which is just silly. The AP story is down, but the Chronicle story is still here. The CJR blames this misreporting on a bad press release, and links to this corrected press release. Is this right? Here is what I take to be the original press release. Note that both the Chronicle story and the press release take the "what does this mean for polar bears" angle. This New Scientist article, which has nearly the same bad lede as the Chronicle article, also goes with the polar bear angle.

CJR congratulates this Post story and this Atlanta Journal Constitution story for getting it right. Next assignment for the students. Compare as many statements of Cosimo's finding as you can and decide where the error in transmission took place.

a black program

a black program
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

The latest from the North Country Academy for the Excruciatingly Fine Arts. Caroline now saunters up to the computer, opens paint, and produces great work like this. She also titles them and can even type most of the name, with a little coaching.