Archive | January, 2009

Tortured Logic

Guest Blog by Jennifer McKitrick

[cross-posted at JenMc’s Blog]

1. Water boarding is torture.
2. The Bush administration authorized water boarding.
3. Authorizing torture is a punishable offense.
Therefore… ?

What’s the rationale for denying the claim that someone from the Bush administration is liable to criminal prosecution?

  • We should look forward, not backward (Obama).

Let's go waterboarding!I tried telling that to the judge when I was in traffic court: “That speeding I did – that’s in the past. The important thing is that I will obey the speed limit in the future.” It didn’t fly.

  • We shouldn’t criminalize policy disagreements (Holder).

But what if it’s someone’s policy to break the law? It’s not their disagreeing with you that’s criminal – it’s the crime that they committed.

  • The Bush administration didn’t know that what they were doing was illegal.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. I told the judge in traffic court that I didn’t know that going 60 mph on that particular stretch of road was illegal, but that didn’t work either.

  • The Bush administration acted in accord with legal counsel that said that what they were doing was legal.

Oh! The lawyers said it was OK! Why didn’t you say so? So, if I hire a lawyer to tell me that speeding is legal, I can drive as fast as I want?! Yippee!

It seems to me that the laws that protect people from being tortured should be at least as strong as the laws that protect people from my driving too fast.

And it seems to me, if something is against the law now, and the reasons it is against the law were in play at time t, then that thing was against the law at time t.

So, are there any reasons that make water boarding against the law now that weren’t in play in the last several years?

A different administrative “policy”?

What was that I heard, once upon a time, about a separation of legislative and executive branches…? If Obama’s policies can deem water boarding to be against the law when it was previously not a punishable offense, then it would seem that they would be justified in not having those policies if that were their prerogative.

Lucky for us, they’re nice guys.
Let’s hope so, since they seem to basically agree with the Bush administration about the executive being above the law.

It reminds me of when my co-worker opined that our boss was a very judgmental person. When I told her that he didn’t seem that way to me, she said “Well, it’s not obvious, since most of his judgments are positive.”

Obama Does Stand-Up

Earlier tonight I saw a replay of an interview with Obama from two years ago. Obama was explaining the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. The Republicans, he said, were adherents of an absolutist laissez-faire ideology and thought government should have no role in the economy. The Democrats, on the other hand, agreed with FDR that we all have obligations to one another in society.

Obama’s excellent comedy stylings inspired me to post the following:

DEMOCRATIC IDEOLOGY - I'm not clubbing this poor guy! I'm really clubbing some rich guy somewhere else! REPUBLICAN IDEOLOGY - I'm not clubbing this poor guy! I never club anybody! I don't even own a club!

Minus Six

Patrick McGoohan in THE PRISONERI was saddened to read of the death of Patrick McGoohan. I discovered him in high school during the late 80s, when PBS was replaying the two groundbreaking series which he both starred in and helped to create – the surreal, libertarian-ish science-fiction drama The Prisoner (which might be summarised as “an Ayn Rand hero in a half-Orwell, half-Kafka universe,” and whose famous line “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered” is an evident echo of Proudhon’s “To Be Governed” passage) and its quasi-prequel, the clever, realistic, often bleak spy drama alternately known as Danger Man and Secret Agent (with different opening musical themes for the British and American markets), which gave the world the line “My name is Drake – John Drake” a good two years before Sean Connery was saying anything similar. (In Danger Man, McGoohan’s character was originally introduced as an American working for NATO, and later retconned into being an English – or, according to some episodes, Irish – agent of Britain’s intelligence service. Given McGoohan’s indeterminate accent – his own upbringing was partly English, partly Irish, and partly American – it didn’t make much difference; he always sounded slightly wrong but not too wrong.)

Patrick McGoohan in DANGER MANIn both series, which make compulsive viewing, McGoohan is the epitome of cool – though not quite in the suave James Bond manner, as a rough-edged sense of not quite fitting into the world is frequently visible through the usually unflappable exterior. Even McGoohan’s not-quite-either-British-or-American accent contributes to his character’s presentation as an alienated individualist. (I own all three boxed DVD sets – one for the often-forgotten first Danger Man series (1960-62), which now bills itself as the “first season”; one for the second Danger Man series (1964-1968), which misleadingly bills itself as “complete” despite not including this “first season”; and one for The Prisoner (1967-1968). Lucky I bought them when did, since a glance at Amazon tells me that items 1 and 3 have since skyrocketed in price, while item 2 appears to be out of print.)

While Danger Man obviously drew inspiration from the Bond books (and certainly resembles them more than it does the movies), McGoohan disapproved of Ian Fleming’s womanising assassin, and reportedly turned down a chance to play Bond for that reason; in any case, he had written into his Danger Man contract that his character would have no romances and would rely on his intellect rather than on fists or gun, using violence only as a last resort. (If you were to conclude from this that Danger Man must be boring, you would be mistaken.)

In 1985, as my birthday present, I saw McGoohan live on stage in Boston, in Pack of Lies with Rosemary Harris and Dana Ivey. McGoohan played a secret agent once again, although this time a slightly menacing one (“At the risk of sounding rather unfriendly, it’s my duty to draw your attention to the Official Secrets Act”) as opposed to the often-rebellious agent of Danger Man and the totally-rebellious agent of The Prisoner; I’ve since learned that Pack of Lies (which also played on Broadway) was his only venture into American live theatre, so I’m glad I had a chance to see him.

Aristotle, Codevilla, Putnam

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Stuff of mine that’s newly online:

Aristotle’s Conception of Freedom [Review of Metaphysics 49.4, June 1996]

Aristotle’s Egalitarian Utopia: The Polis kat’ eukhēn [M. H. Hansen, ed, The Imaginary Polis: Acts of the Copenhagen Polis Centre 7, 2005]

A Florentine in Baghdad: Codevilla on the War on Terror [Reason Papers 28, Spring 2006]

Review of Hilary Putnam’s Collapse of the Fact-Value Dichotomy [Reason Papers 28, Spring 2006]

Aristotle, Codevilla, Putnam

Evil Reigns at DC

Comics readers – have you been a tad puzzled over how to keep the continuity straight in DC’s latest, ongoing universe-wide crisis – with, for example, Batman fighting crime as usual in one comic, M.I.A. in another comic, and M.I.A. for an entirely different reason in yet another comic?

Final Crisis - The Day Evil WonYou’ll get no reassurance from these comments by Grant Morrison about the continuity problems between Final Crisis and the series leading into it:

Why didn’t Superman recount his experiences from DOTNG [= Death of the New Gods]? Because those experiences hadn’t been thought up or written when I completed Final Crisis #1. If there was only me involved, Orion would have been the first dead New God we saw in a DC comic, starting off the chain of events that we see in Final Crisis.

As it is, the best I can do is suggest that the somewhat contradictory depictions of Orion and Darkseid’s last-last-last battle that we witnessed in Countdown and DOTNG recently were apocryphal attempts to describe an indescribable cosmic event.

Fake AnarkyTo reiterate, hopefully for the last time, when we started work on Final Crisis, J.G. and I had no idea what was going to happen in Countdown or Death Of The New Gods because neither of those books existed at that point. The Countdown writers were later asked to ‘seed’ material from Final Crisis and in some cases, probably due to the pressure of filling the pages of a weekly book, that seeding amounted to entire plotlines veering off in directions I had never envisaged, anticipated or planned for in Final Crisis.

So, I wonder what DC pays its editorial staff? It’s clearly either way too little or way too much.

In related news, there’s some frustrating intel on Anarky; it counts as a spoiler so I’ll bury it in the comments section.

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