Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


Moral relativism and torture

I read an interesting opinion piece in the newspaper this week about torture. It was written by Grumpy Old Man Charles Krauthammer (and yes, that's his official title, hence the capital letters), who I often (almost always) disagree with, but who's still interesting to read.

Krauthammer begins by explaining that he wrote a column about the two exceptions to the no-torture rule. The first is the ticking-time-bomb scenario, the second is a less extreme variant, "in which a high-value terrorist refuses to divulge crucial information that could save innocent lives." He then writes that the column elicited spirited protestations. One response that he calls "stupid" came from a writer who claimed the "ticking-time-bomb scenario only exists in two places: On TV and in the dark fantasies of power-crazed and morally deficient authoritarians." Krauthammer, of course, has a real-life example to counter this, and follows up with:
One therefore has to think about what kind of transgressive interrogation might be permissible in the less pristine circumstance of the high-value terrorist who knows about less imminent attacks.

Of course, that's the crux of it. Krauthammer goes on to point out the "contemptible" hypocrisy of Nancy Pelosi. His critics, he says, reply that "her behavior does not change the truth about torture." "But it does," Krauthammer claims:
Our jurisprudence has the "reasonable man" standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable man would do under urgent circumstances.

On the morality of waterboarding and other "torture," Pelosi and senior and expert members of Congress represented colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable-person verdict.

And what did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to [then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter] Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the existing circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.

Krauthammer points out that the "circle of approval" was wider than even Congress. Even liberals believed torture was warranted in the aftermath of September 11th. He writes:
The reason Pelosi raised no objection to waterboarding at that time, the reason the American people (who by 2004 knew what was going on) strongly re-elected [52% of the vote is "strongly"? Krauthammer is engaging in some revisionist history, methinks] the man who ordered these interrogations, is not because she and the rest of the American people suffered from a years-long moral psychosis from which they have just now awoken.

It is because at that time they were aware of the existing conditions - our blindness to al-Qaida's plans, the urgency of the threat, the magnitude of the suffering that might be caused by a second 9/11, the likelihood that interrogation would extract intelligence that President Barack Obama's own director of national intelligence now tells us was indeed "high-value information" - and concluded that on balance it was a reasonable response to a terrible threat.

They were right.

Krauthammer concludes:
[Y]ou can believe that their personalities and moral compasses have remained steady throughout the years, but changes in circumstances (threat, knowledge, imminence) alter the moral calculus attached to any interrogation technique.

On the one hand, Krauthammer raises some interesting points. The idea of torture, in whatever form, is repellent to civilized human beings (or ought to be) until it becomes the only way to save someone you love. There's also the question of what constitutes torture. According to some reports, three people were waterboarded, and very few were psychologically traumatized by the various methods we used. I have no idea about the absolute numbers, but it doesn't really matter. The question remains: What is moral, and is torture ever okay?

Krauthammer obviously thinks it's okay sometimes, and he claims that the American people think so too, because they re-elected the man who sanctioned it. Well, I would argue that most people in 2004 still didn't know what we were doing, and if people like Nancy Pelosi knew and didn't object, I blame her as well for not making more of a big deal about it. We heard rumors, of course, but when the president of the United States stands in front of the press and says emphatically that we do not torture, we tend to believe him. So Krauthammer's argument there is dumb, but the question of whether or not torture might be okay in some circumstances is a difficult one. We would like to say that it's never okay, but what if my daughter is kidnapped and she's going to be raped or killed soon and the only way to find her is by torturing a suspect? That's the moral conundrum Krauthammer brings up, and it's a tough one. Of course I would say, "Torture away!" Then it comes back to - how could I ever teach her to have moral principles if I betray my own? But I'm sure she would say that I couldn't teach her anything if she was dead. That's why we don't like to be put in those situations.

I have argued this point with Mia's PT, who's quite a bit more conservative than I am. He accuses Barack Obama of wanting to be "nice," meaning speaking to regimes like Iran rather than pre-emptively striking them, and he disagrees with this. He's also a Christian, and this is where the moral question becomes sticky. I have no idea if Charles Krauthammer claims to be a Christian, but considering something like 90% of Americans consider themselves to be, I'll go out on a limb and say Krauthammer does as well. Even if he's not, plenty of "good Christians" are on board with torture. I've written about how hard it is to be a "real Christian" - as in strictly following the words of Jesus as represented in the Bible - because it's practically impossible in today's world, but it would seem to me that a Christian wouldn't condone torture no matter what the circumstances, even to save a loved one. After all, if you're a true Christian, this world means nothing - you're focused on the next one. I'm not about to accuse Mia's PT of being a bad Christian, because he's a wonderful therapist and a very nice man, but unfortunately, I don't feel like I'm a close enough friend to him to ask him how he reconciles these two somewhat opposing viewpoints. I can't imagine someone being a Christian and condoning anyone who tortures. But maybe I'm just being naïve.

If we continue in this vein, I like how some self-professed Christians have come out in favor of torture "in extreme circumstances," meaning morality is relative to the situation. Yet these same people (usually) consider something like gay marriage the death knell of all civilization and claim that there's no gray area when it comes to homosexual unions or, say, abortion. Moral absolutism rules there, it seems, but when it comes to defending the fatherland (yes, I'm using that word very deliberately), nothing is too horrible. This is why I try to avoid using moral absolutist terms, because it will always come back to bite you in the ass. And yes, that includes torture.

I'm certainly against the concept of torture, but again, how would I feel if it was necessary to rescue someone I loved? The biggest problem I have with the Bush Administration using torture is that they always took the moral high ground and claimed that we didn't do it and that the United States remains a shining beacon of how things ought to be done. It's bullshit, but it's fancy-sounding bullshit, and Americans love to believe that we're better than everyone else. I honestly think that "torture" might have been more effective if Bush and his cronies had come out and said they were doing it. If Bush had come out and told the terrorists that they had forfeited any rights to be treated as humans and therefore we were going to do anything to extract information, not only would the American people have been on board (especially right after 11 September) and therefore these days we wouldn't have all this moral hand-wringing, but maybe potential terrorists might have thought twice about attacking us. Even if that didn't happen, at least we the people would have known where we stood. Another columnist I read today claims that we're already complicit, as we could have figured things out in 2004. Well, that's one of the reasons I didn't vote for Bush in 2004 - I was repulsed by what he was doing, and that included locking people up for no reason other than they looked funny. Had Bush been more forthright, he might have had to deal with a brief shitstorm, but according to him, he never cared what people thought of him, so why would he have cared then?

The fact that we tortured people, even if it was just three people, depresses me. Not because we did it, but because this is what the world has come to. However, it always makes me laugh a bit bitterly when the same people who refuse to compromise to allow two men or two women to get married twist themselves into knots to justify torture. The irony, I would imagine, is lost on them.

Labels: , , , , , ,


It's hard to be a Luddite these days

Today is a rather important day in the history of the universe, and my lovely wife bought me an iPod Nano with the funky adapter that allows you to listen to it in your car. Yes, I've never had an iPod before today, nor have I ever been interested in one. I bought one for Krys a few years ago, and she really digs it. One of the reasons I never wanted one is because I prefer listening to albums the way they were recorded, in the order the artist wanted. Of course, the convenience of the iPod means when I fly to Pennsylvania in June I won't have to take a bunch of CDs with me, I can just take my iPod. So there's that. But now I have to figure out how to use the furshlugginer thing.

I felt the same way about my digital camera. I never saw the need for one. Of course, now I love it, but I still think of it as cheating, because you should live with the photographs you take, man! I got over that, however, and I'm much more jazzed about the iPod, even though I still consider it cheating to listen to random songs instead of where they're supposed to be on the album. The good thing about it is finding songs on iTunes that you like but are on albums you wouldn't necessarily like. That's going to be coolio.

I still resist getting a Blackberry or any other portable Internet/phone device, mainly because I can't imagine ever being comfortable with a screen or keys that small. I'm old, man! That's probably why I will never Twitter. Twitter seems like the kind of thing people do when they're out walking around with their portable Internet, and I will never have that. I can barely tolerate my cell phone! When I'm on the computer, I'm sitting in my chair at home, and there's almost nothing to Twitter about (of course, most people have nothing to Twitter about, but at least they're out in the world interacting with others when they have their banal thoughts). That's another reason why I don't like webcomics, which seems to be the trend in comic-bookery: I like to read in bed, and I'm not lugging my laptop in there just to read something on the screen (that and I'm cantankerous and covetous of actual printed material). So I will resist getting a portable Internet device with all my might.

Now I have to start putting songs on my iPod. That should be groovy!

(And yes, this is a roundabout way of saying that today's my birthday. But you already knew that, right? Isn't it marked on your calendars in bright red pen????)

Labels: , , , ,


Yeah, okay, I'm a slacker

Yes, it's been over a week. And what do I do? Link to two odd news stories!

Pentagon reports no longer quote Bible.

The Pentagon said Monday it no longer includes a Bible quote on the cover page of daily intelligence briefings it sends to the White House as was practice during the Bush administration.


The Bible quotes apparently aimed to support Bush at a time when soldiers' deaths in Iraq were on the rise, according to the June issue of GQ magazine. But they offended at least one Muslim analyst at the Pentagon and worried other employees that the passages were inappropriate.

On Thursday, April 10, 2003, for example, the report quoted the book of Psalms - "Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him ... To deliver their soul from death" - and featured pictures of the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down and celebrating crowds in Baghdad.

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand," read the cover quote two weeks earlier, on March 31, above a picture of a U. S. tank driving through the desert, according to the magazine, which obtained copies of the documents.

Sheesh. Good to know we have separation of Church and State. Especially when we're talking about a supposedly Christian president sending people to kill and die.

Here's something a bit more fun:

Man calls 911 over 28-year-old son's messy bedroom.

An Ohio man who argued with his grown son over a messy bedroom said he overreacted when he called 911. Andrew Mizsak called authorities Thursday after his 28-year-old son - who's a school board member in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford - threw a plate of food across the kitchen table and made a fist at him when told to clean his room.

The son, also named Andrew, lives in a room in his parents' basement.

The father declined to press charges and told police he doesn't want to ruin his son's political career.

The son, who also works as a political consultant, said he's lucky to be living in the house rent free. He also promises to keep his room clean.

So ... many ... jokes ... to ... mention ...

Maybe the father should tell his TWENTY-EIGHT-YEAR-OLD SON to move the fuck out!!!!!

Maybe the son's political career will be ruined when his future opponents bring up that he was living in his parents' basement when he was twenty-eight years old! That might work.

Better content soon, I promise!

Labels: , , , ,


Want cheap gasoline? Move to Arizona!

Yes, for the briefest of moments (AAA of Arizona expects it to change soon), Arizona has the cheapest petrol (on average) in the country. On Thursday, the average price of gas was $1.93, while nationwide, it was at $2.14. Arizona's gas prices had only increased a penny over the past 30 days, while the country, on average, had increased a dime.

Of course, it's summer (here especially, as we've already had several days in a row over 100), so that means more driving and higher prices (how does that work?), so experts are sure the prices will go up. But still - we can't educate our children, but we can sell you some cheap gas!

Labels: ,


What I've been reading

The Alps: A Cultural History by Andrew Beattie. 2006, Oxford University Press, 246 pages.

As a European history enthusiast, you might expect I'd be fascinated by the mountain range that separates the northern, Germanic section of the continent from the southern, Mediterranean section, and you'd be right. The Alps are a crucial component in the history of Europe, from Hannibal crossing them with elephants to Henry IV doing penance in the snow to conquerors descending from the north to plunder Italy. My family also vacationed several times in the Alps, and it's where I learned to ski. The very readable if not terribly deep book is a nice guide to the range.

Beattie divides the book into four sections. The geological section, which comes first, is the shortest, which is fine. Once the origins of the Alps are dealt with, the geological jargon would probably overwhelm the narrative, so Beattie simply skims the surface of how the mountains were formed. The historical section, which is second, is obviously longer, as Beattie zips through pre-historical and Roman times to get to the Middle Ages and the modern day, where he gets a bit more detailed. The history of the mountains is fairly confused, unfortunately, so he can't devote too much time to it. After Charlemagne, the political structure broke down, mainly because successive conquerors found it difficult to cross the mountains. Therefore, the lowlands were subjugated while higher up, people lived on without worrying about who was in charge. The biggest development in the Alpine region was perhaps the Protestant revolution, led by Huldrych Zwingli in Zürich and Jean Calvin in Geneva. Even this didn't touch the highlands, which remained Catholic (well, a patina of Catholicism over older, pagan beliefs). The religious strife helped fracture the political structure even more, so even though Switzerland existed by this time (Beattie goes over the William Tell myth quite well), it was made up of competing cantons, and while the Holy Roman Empire technically ruled much of the Alps, small city-states led by Prince-Bishops and Margraves and Dukes really controlled the area.

The most interesting section of the book is when Beattie examines the Alps in the imagination, beginning with Ludwig II and his fanciful creation, Neuschwanstein. The fairy-tale castle is the most obnoxious expression of the Alpine mindset from the 18th century onward, which began to see the mountains as an enchanted place, but not one to be feared (as had been the case for centuries before), but one to be embraced. Everyone who writes about Newschwanstein seems to think it's tacky. I've been there, and although I was only 6-7 years old (I can't quite remember), I still thought it was an impressive achievement. I can understand why people think it's tacky, but it's still a sight. Beattie springboards from Ludwig's madness to how the Alps have been perceived throughout the ages, from a place where dragons lurked and the weather was alive and malevolent to something to be sought for solace and quietude. He brings in the familiar people who helped popularize the Alps as a destination - the Romantic poets Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley most notably - and ends up with the Nazis, who believed that the mountains promoted a true Aryan lifestyle. Finally, in the final section he looks at the Alps as a tourist destination. This is not the most compelling section of the book, but Beattie does a decent job with it. He ties it in with the previous section, in that it took a perception shift by the populace to convince people to tour the mountains. As someone who has visited the Alps several times, it's far more fun to actually visit than to read about visiting. But maybe that goes without saying.

As I mentioned above, it's not a terribly deep book, but Beattie has a nice engaging style and he keeps things moving along. He has a good eye for anecdotes and debunking myths, which is always appreciated, especially as this is a "cultural" history and not a hard core historical survey. The biggest disappointment in the book is a lack of maps. Beattie writes about many, many places that are not necessarily famous (I suppose everyone should know where Geneva, Zürich, Bern, and maybe Innsbruck are, but maybe not), so I had to read the book with my atlas next to me, and even then, some places were too small for it. I love maps, of course, so maybe I feel the need for more of them than would be necessary, but even a large general one at the beginning would have been appreciated. Oh well.

The Alps is a quick way to get a crash course on a place everyone should visit at least once. The United States has the Rockies, but even those mountains aren't quite as impressive as the Alps, mainly because of the layers of history that go along with the scenery in the European range. So you can read this book, then book your next vacation, and learn to ski at St. Moritz! It's all coming together!

Labels: , , ,


The Internet is awesome

I was reading a weekly news magazine I receive, and in the back they always have a two-page story about something interesting that doesn't necessarily qualify as "hard news." Recently they ran an excerpt of a story from The New York Times Magazine about the web site What's so special about this web site, which is one of many dating sites? It's specifically for sugar daddies (or mommies) and the young women (or men) who want to hook up with them. The article mentioned that several men go on it specifically to find mistresses, as many are married. The writer of the piece interviewed some of the young ladies, many of whom use the site to pay their way through college. Go browse the site. It's a tad bit creepy, but that's why we love the Internet!

Is this a great world or what? Who knew that a rich dude would have so much trouble finding a sweet young thing?

Labels: , ,