Archive for April, 2009
26 Apr 2009

New Worst Appointment

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He’s a real mother, alright

Get ready, America, for a return to the 1970s era of federally-mandated nationwide 55 mph speed limits, emission-strangled automobile engines, and speedometers topping out at 85.

Barack Obama has appointed America’s Safety-Nazi-in-Chief Charles A. Hurley, current head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to preside over the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Well, you’re living in the Nanny State now, boys and girls. Hurley is a long time advocate of drastically more extensive federal supervision of your naughty driving.

He is on the record as supporting a .04% Blood Alcohol Content limit, meaning you are guilty of DUI if you sip one glass of Chardonnay at dinner, and he favors vastly expanded pullover alcohol checks to enforce it, along with breathalyzer-ignition interlocks.

Expect to see the federally mandatory 55 mph speed limit again, expanded liability opportunities for trial lawyers, and a nationwide regime of stoplight and speed check cameras everywhere.

Repeat after me: “I love Big Brother!”


Hat tip to Walter Olson.

25 Apr 2009

Begala is Wrong

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Paul Begala, at Huffington Post, thinks he’s very clever in quoting the not-clever-at-all John McCain who is also completely wrong.

In a CNN debate with Ari Fleischer, I said the United States executed Japanese war criminals for waterboarding. My point was that it is disingenuous for Bush Republicans to argue that waterboarding is not torture and thus illegal. It’s kind of awkward to argue that waterboarding is not a crime when you hanged someone for doing it to our troops. My precise words were: “Our country executed Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs. We executed them for the same crime we are now committing ourselves.” …

I was referencing the statement of a different member of the Senate: John McCain. On November 29, 2007, Sen. McCain, while campaigning in St. Petersburg, Florida, said, “Following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding.”

Sen. McCain was right and the National Review Online is wrong. Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times’ truth-testing project (which this week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), scrutinized Sen. McCain’s statement and found it to be true. Here’s the money quote from Politifact:

    “McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as ‘water cure,’ ‘water torture’ and ‘waterboarding,’ according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning.” Politifact went on to report, “A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps.”

Actually, murders, massacres, and death marches head the International Military Tribunal for the Far East’s list of war crimes, and the use of water simply happens to the first item addressed in a subsequent heading titled “Torture and Other Inhumane Treatment.” Since burning, flogging, strappado, and pulling out finger and toe nails are mentioned after the “water cure,” it is far from obvious that the authors of the Tribunal’s list of war crimes were intending to rank it as more inhumane than the others.

Politifact’s anonymous authorities (drawn from presumably the staffs of the St. Petersburg Times and the Congressional Quarterly which created Politifact as a joint venture) are betraying their own liberal journalist prejudices and manipulating the available data to suit their own preferences.

They, and Paul Begala and John McCain, are most particularly and obviously in error in equating the Japanese “water cure” torture with US water-boarding.

In the “water cure,” according to the Tribunal’s war crimes description, [t]he victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach until he lost consciousness. Pressure was then applied, sometimes by jumping upon his abdomen to force the water out. The usual practice was to revive the victim and successively repeat the process.

The Tribunal does not mention it, but historically the “water cure” torture technique was often performed with sufficient brutality that internal organs would be ruptured with fatal results, or merely performed excessively to the point where the victim’s body’s electrolyte balance was fatally compromised, producing death by “water intoxication.”

In the “water-cure,” the victim’s mouth is forced open, and enormous quantities of water are poured down his throat. If he fails to swallow any of the rapidly-poured water, it goes into his lungs and he really does experience drowning.

In the US-government-authorized water-boarding of three mass murderers, a cloth or cellophane barrier was placed over the criminal’s face and water poured on it for intervals of 10 to 40 seconds. Water was specifically prevented from entering the subject’s respiratory system.

Elaborate and carefully calculated protocols had been laid down, in precisely the opposite manner of the Japanese case, 1) confining the use of such comparatively harsh interrogation techniques to a tiny number of extremely guilty terrorists likely to possess extremely vital information on major threats to the lives of many thousands of innocent American civilians, and 2) assuring that no real lasting physical or mental harm was ever actually inflicted on the three major terrorist prisoners.

Those are extremely significant differences, Mr. Begala.

Beyond that, Begala, Politifact, and even Senator McCain overlook another very important consideration: the laws and customs of war.

We punished the defeated Japanese after WWII, and US troops commonly punished Japanese encountered in the field by offering no quarter, for Japanese disregard of the civilized European world’s military customs of avoiding the practice of perfidy (i.e. not falsely surrendering and then opening fire, not wearing the wrong uniform, and so on) and according prisoners of war honorable status and treating them humanely.

We do not owe Al Qaeda terrorists prisoner of war status. We do not, in fact, owe them, by the conventional laws and customs of war, anything beyond summary execution following drumhead courts martial at the pleasure of the officer in immediate authority. United States military forces, in fact, would by traditional standards not only possess every right to extract forcibly by any measures necessary any and all information necessary to preserve innocent life, they would have a grave obligation to do so.

It is the Al Qaeda terrorists who, like the Japanese in WWII, reject the civilized world’s customs of limiting behavior in war. And, as we punished the Japanese during and after WWII for failing to adopt our customs, we ought to be punishing Al Qaeda terrorists the same way for the same reasons. That is how the laws and customs of war are enforced.

Terrorist prisoners, in their capacity as hostis humani generis, by the conventional laws and customs of war for thousands of years, are entitled to nothing whatsoever in the form of rights, judicial proceeding, or sympathy. They deserve absolutely nothing other than execution by some harsh method particularly expressive of contumely like hanging.

25 Apr 2009

Spartan Versus Ninja

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6:39 video

Hat tip to Right Wing News.

25 Apr 2009

A Real Oldie, In Fact the Oldest Oldie

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Tablet containing “Akkadian terms written in a Hurrianized manner and enscribed in Ugaritic Cuneiform script” thought to represent a hymn to Nikkal, Moon goddess and patroness of fruit and orchards

Ancient Music specialist Michael Levy performs Dr. Richard Dumbrill’s interpretation of the 3400 year old hymn on a replica lyre.

5:42 video

Hat tip to Roger de Hauteville, who “Got Phoenecian Pneumonia and the Ugaritic Flu.”

25 Apr 2009

Tuscarora, Nevada Loves Rock & Roll

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Mormon cricket, Anabrus simplex

Fortunately for residents of the remote Nevada village, Mormon crickets don’t, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The residents of this tiny town, anticipating an imminent attack, will be ready with a perimeter defense. They’ll position their best weapons at regular intervals, faced out toward the desert to repel the assault.

Then they’ll turn up the volume.

Rock music blaring from boomboxes has proved one of the best defenses against an annual invasion of Mormon crickets. The huge flightless insects are a fearsome sight as they advance across the desert in armies of millions that march over, under or into anything in their way.

But the crickets don’t much fancy Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, the townspeople figured out three years ago. So next month, Tuscarorans are preparing once again to get out their extension cords, array their stereos in a quarter-circle and tune them to rock station KHIX, full blast, from dawn to dusk. …

[Mormon] crickets are a serious matter. The critters hatch in April in the barren soil of northern Nevada, western Utah and other parts of the Great Basin, quickly growing into blood-red, ravenous insects more than 2 inches long.

Then they march. In columns that in peak years can be two miles long and a mile across, swarms move across the badlands in search of food. Starting in about May, they march through August or so, before stopping to lay eggs for next year and die.

In between, they make an awful mess. They destroy crops and lots of the other leafy vegetation. They crawl all over houses, and some get inside. “You’ll wake up and there’ll be one sitting on your forehead, looking at you,” says Ms. Moore.

They swarm on roads, where cars turn them into slicks that can cause accidents. So many dead ones piled up on a highway last year that Elko County, Nev., called in snowplows to scrape them off.

Squashed and dying crickets give off a sickening smell. “For us, it’s mostly the yuck factor,” says Ron Arthaud, a painter here.

Many springs, the infestation is negligible. But every few years, far bigger swarms hatch. From 2003 to 2006, armies of crickets went forth. They smothered the county seat, Elko, causing pandemonium as residents fled indoors. Realtor Jim Winer couldn’t, because he had to show homes. “I carried a little broom in my car,” he says, “and when I got out, I would sweep a path through the bugs to the house.”

Every half-century or so, plaguelike numbers hatch. The critters got their name in the 19th century after a throng of them ravaged the crops of a Mormon settlement. But “I don’t think they care about Mormons or Baptists,” says Lynn Forsberg, who runs Elko County’s public-works program. “I don’t think they care about anything.”

Including one another. Mormon crickets are programmed to march. Any cricket that falls by the wayside is eaten by others, ensuring that at least some cross the hot, barren stretches well-fed.

Following an unseasonably warm winter, some in Elko County fear a big crop this year.

Migrating crickets can be a road hazard

24 Apr 2009


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[adopted from the French torture (12th century Dictionnaire général de la langue français Hatzfeld & Darmesteter, 1890-1900), adaptation of Latin tortura twisting, wreathing, torment, torture; from torquēre, tort- to twist, to torment]

1. The infliction of excruciating pain, as practised by cruel tyrants, savages, brigands, etc. from a delight in watching the agony of a victim, in hatred or revenge, or as a means of extortion; specifically judicial torture, inflicted by a judicial or quasi-judicial authority, for the purpose of forcing an accused or suspected person to confess, or an unwilling witness to to give evidence or information; a form of this (often in plural). To put to (the) torture, to inflict torture upon, to torture. …

historical examples of usage omitted

2. Severe or excruciating pain or suffering of mind or body; anguish, agony, torment; the infliction of such. …

figurative meanings omitted

— Oxford English Dictionary, 1971, p. 3357.


The left has loudly and persistently accused the Bush Administration of violating International Law, the US Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and conventional standards of human decency by torturing detainees.

These accusations have been advanced by a large variety of allied voices at every level of print and electronic publication employing the same inflammatory characterizations, the same reliance on preassumed conclusions, and the same intimidating tone of exaggerated emotionalism.

The left’s punditocracy naturally avoids ever questioning whether modest forms of coercion, such as waterboarding, slaps to the face or abdomen, sleep deprivation, and deliberately-caused temperature discomfort, etc., carefully and deliberately calculated to stop short of inflicting any enduring harm to the subject, actually do rise to the level of meeting the normal (non-figurative) definition of torture.

A slap to the face may be painful, humiliating, and unpleasant, but it is really “excruciating” or “severe?” Most of us (of the older generation, at least) actually have been slapped in the face in childhood by other children and even by adults. My elementary school principal did not like an angry letter to the editor about her school policies I had composed in the 8th grade and slapped me across the face. I can’t say that I ever thought of myself as a torture victim or an appropriate case for an investigation by some International Committee on Human Rights.

When I read over the list of coercive measures sanctioned by the Bush Administration for use in extracting information from only three of the most important participants in a conspiracy which brought about the violent deaths of more than 3000 innocent American civilians and which was actively in the process attempting further such attacks on an even greater scale, most of them remind me of the ordinary cruelties inflicted on small children commonly by schoolyard bullies.

Waterboarding amounts to the victim being briefly deprived of breath by facial immersion in an attempt to use fear of drowning to compel cooperation. Is there really anyone in America who didn’t have his or her head held underwater at least once by a larger bully or childhood playmate?

Abu Zubaydah was placed by CIA interrogators into close propinquity with a caterpillar. I’m afraid that when I search my own conscience I can recall dropping a caterpillar down the back of at least one female classmate back in the third grade myself.

The controversial coercive interrogation methods were employed by the Bush Administration against, we must remember, only three spectacularly guilty murderers whose hands were dripping with innocent blood, and were clearly not excruciating. They were capable of, and intended to, induce discomfort, probably even anguish, but not agony.

Severe is a relative term, I suppose. But, in the context of forcible interrogation, surely a severe form of coercion would be a practice capable of producing permanent injury or death.

What traditionally defined real torture, more specifically than the OED’s definition, was the permanence of the result. Someone would not be refered to as “tortured,” who had been beaten up or simply slapped around. A person referred to as having been tortured would have to have suffered, at the very least, lasting serious injury.

Torture has always conceptually involved pieces of one’s anatomy being cut or burned, fingernails pulled out, bones broken, and joints dislocated. Having your head dunked or your face slapped or being confronted by a caterpillar may be unpleasant, but only in the context of figurative speech is it torture.

A common perspective on the subject is that real torture has to include an ultimate threat of ending with death. The audience finds credible this viewpoint as illustrated in the 1941 John Huston film version of The Maltese Falcon.

Sam Spade finding himself unarmed in the presence of Caspar Guttman and his criminal allies successfully defies threats of torture because his adversaries can’t afford to kill him.

Joel Cairo: You seem to forget that you are not in a position to insist upon anything.

Caspar Cuttman: Now, come, gentlemen. Let’s keep our discussion on a friendly basis.

There certainly is something in what Mr. Cairo said…

Sam Spade: If you kill me, how are you gonna get the bird? If I know you can’t afford to kill me, how’ll you scare me into giving it to you?

Caspar Guttman: Sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

Sam Spade: Yes, that’s…That’s true. But none of them are any good unless the threat of death is behind them.

You see what I mean?

If you start something, I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.

Caspar Guttman: That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgement on both sides. Because, as you know, in the heat of action, men are likely to forget where their best interests lie, and let their emotions carry them away.

Look at the first definition again. The coercive tactics employed by the Bush Administration did not produce “excruciating pain.” The US Administration was not a cruel tyranny (whatever the infantile left may chose to think). Our intelligence officers were not savages or brigands, though the three interrogation subjects certainly were. The discomforts inflicted on the three interrogation subjects were not done out of hatred or revenge, but to protect innocent lives. The only small portion of the Oxford Dictionary’s definition which fits is the purpose of causing unwilling witnesses to provide information. But that is only a descriptive portion of the definition, and the vital and key “excruciating pain” element of the definition is completely missing.

QED: The coercive tactics employed by the Bush Administration against three Al Qaeda detainees were not torture, not by the best dictionary definition of the word, and not by our conventional “ordinary language” understanding of the meaning of the word.

24 Apr 2009

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Subjected to 183 Drops of Water in March 2003

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Would you waterboard this worthy oriental gentleman?

Marcy Wheeler, who posts as “emptywheel” over at leftwing FireDogLake, last Saturday topped the Internet headlines blogging about a detail she read in the May 30, 2005 Brabury Memo: Poor little Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003.

All over Europe and America the hearts of the bien pensant community stirred with outrage at the thought of just how pruney and wrinkled poor KSM must have been after so much immersion back during that dreadful March.

Well, it turns out that Marcy Wheeler’s agita was derived from a basic misunderstanding.

Inside anonymous sources leaked (as it were) an explanation of the basis of that 180-plus figure to NR’s Cliff May:

According to two sources, both of them very well-informed and reliable (but preferring to remain anonymous), the 180-plus times refers not to sessions of waterboarding, but to “pours” — that is, to instances of water being poured on the subject.

Under a strict set of rules, every pour of water had to be counted — and the number of pours was limited.

Also: Waterboarding interrogation sessions were permitted on no more than five days within any 30-day period.

No more than two sessions were permitted in any 24-hour period.

A session could last no longer than two hours.

There could be at most six pours of water lasting ten seconds or longer — and never longer than 40 seconds — during any individual session.

Water could be poured on a subject for a combined total of no more than 12 minutes during any 24 hour period.

You do the math.

It’s as if censorious Marcy Wheeler had accused my old drinking buddy Pat of having downed 183 beers the previous evening, and Pat assured her that he’d been dieting and confined himself to only 183 sips.

23 Apr 2009

New Guinea Tribesmen Sue New Yorker

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Wouldn’t a poison dart from a blow gun be more to the point? Shouldn’t they be asking to be allowed to shrink Jared Diamond’s head?

New York Post:

Two New Guinea tribesmen described by The New Yorker magazine as vengeful, bloodthirsty killers are settling their score with the venerable publication the nonviolent, American way: with a lawsuit. …

In an April 21, 2008, article on blood feuds by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond… a hired thug shot Isum Mandingo… in the back with an arrow, leaving him paralyzed and in a wheelchair. …

When media watchdog group sent a team of fact-checkers to New Guinea to check the article’s veracity, they found Mandingo, who disputed reports of his paralysis by walking on his own two feet.

“No matter what The New Yorker says and what Diamond says, the fact is that he is not paralyzed and is not confined to a wheelchair,” said Rhonda Shearer, the site’s founder.

“It seems The New Yorker was so naive as to think that this article would not reach these supposedly primitive people in New Guinea.” …

Mandingo told the researchers he had no involvement in any blood feuds. In fact, he’s a peace officer in his village. Neither Diamond nor the magazine reached out to him for confirmation, he said.

The entire article is “untrue,” Mandingo told the group.

23 Apr 2009

Criminalizing Policy Differences

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The Wall Street Journal correctly observes that Obama has moved the United States one long step in a very dangerous direction by pandering to his radical base with hints of possible prosecutions of Bush Administration attorneys simply for writing legal opinions.

Mark down the date. Tuesday, April 21, 2009, is the moment that any chance of a new era of bipartisan respect in Washington ended. By inviting the prosecution of Bush officials for their antiterror legal advice, President Obama has injected a poison into our politics that he and the country will live to regret.

Policy disputes, often bitter, are the stuff of democratic politics. Elections settle those battles, at least for a time, and Mr. Obama’s victory in November has given him the right to change policies on interrogations, Guantanamo, or anything on which he can muster enough support. But at least until now, the U.S. political system has avoided the spectacle of a new Administration prosecuting its predecessor for policy disagreements. This is what happens in Argentina, Malaysia or Peru, countries where the law is treated merely as an extension of political power.

Our political system relies on the voluntary surrender of power to a newly elected government. If new administrations are going to prove dissatisfied with the power to set current and ongoing policy, and are going to make a practice of criminalizing and punishing the decisions of their predecessors, voluntary surrender of power is, to say the least, significantly disincentivized.

Sooner or later, as in Ancient Rome, a leader, like Julius Caesar, facing proscription by his political adversaries will cross the Rubicon to defend himself and his supporters, and the political system will be permanently changed.

23 Apr 2009

“Like a Car Bomb in the Driveway”

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David Ignatius predicts that US counter-terrorism operations will be focused on the avoidance of domestic political jeopardy rather than serious results for a long time to come. The CIA is going into into self defense mode again, as once again democrats politicize Intelligence and threats of investigations and prosecutions are in the air.

At the Central Intelligence Agency, it’s known as “slow rolling.” That’s what agency officers sometimes do on politically sensitive assignments. They go through the motions; they pass cables back and forth; they take other jobs out of the danger zone; they cover their backsides.

Sad to say, it’s slow roll time at Langley after the release of interrogation memos that, in the words of one veteran officer, “hit the agency like a car bomb in the driveway.” President Obama promised CIA officers that they won’t be prosecuted for carrying out lawful orders, but the people on the firing line don’t believe him. They think the memos have opened a new season of investigation and retribution.

The lesson for younger officers is obvious: Keep your head down. Duck the assignments that carry political risk. Stay away from a counterterrorism program that has become a career hazard.

22 Apr 2009

CIA: Waterboarding KSM Saved LA

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Still there


After KSM was captured by the United States, he was not initially cooperative with CIA interrogators. …

After he was subjected to the “waterboard” technique, KSM became cooperative, providing intelligence that led to the capture of key al Qaeda allies and, eventually, the closing down of an East Asian terrorist cell that had been tasked with carrying out the 9/11-style attack on Los Angeles.

22 Apr 2009

An Ultra-Left Appointment for Defense

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Rosa Brooks, talking head

Not only has the Obama administration ruled out forceful interrogations of captured terrorists, his latest highly controversial appointment to the Department of Defense of all places is likely a strong signal that radical policy changes will not be stopping there.


A liberal newspaper columnist and former counsel to billionaire George Soros’ Open Societies Institute has been tapped for a key Defense Department position despite what Washington insiders have termed her “extremist,” Bush-bashing views.

Rosa Brooks will serve as principal adviser to Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy. … In that substantial insider position, Brooks, who once famously penned that the Bush administration’s “big legal lies paved the way for some of the most shameful episodes in our history,” will have constant contact with DOD policy chief Flournoy, who reports directly to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and eyeballs every major defense department decision.

Gates, a holdover from the Bush era, hasn’t exactly embraced the controversial Brooks. One anonymous staffer characterized Brooks as an “extremist,” noting that her coming onboard was Flournoy’s doing, not his leader’s, according to a report in

“Gates did not hire her,” the official emphasized.

In 2007, Brooks wrote: “Thanks to U.S. policies, al-Qaida has become the vast global threat the administration imagined it to be in 2001.”

That sort of attitude, along with Brooks’ apparent lack of military or policy experience, has many pundits scratching their heads over the hiring.

“It is hard to think of a more inappropriate political appointment at a time when America needs a hard-headed approach to winning a global war instead of defeatist, far-left rhetoric,” wrote the U.K.’s Telegraph.

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