Thursday, May 21, 2009

Torture(d) Logic

Via TPM, supporters of relocating suspected terrorists/enemy combatants/Bad Guys™ counter the inane charge that bringing detainees from Guantanamo to the continental US by pointing to where many would likely be located: the Supermax prison in Florence, CO.  

Certainly, the thought of detainees somehow escaping Supermax and posing a threat to the outside world is more outlandish than the plot of The Rock.  Nor is the Guantanamo facility's continued existence and usage making the United States any safer.  But let's be clear: the conditions at Supermax and similar maximum security, solitary confinement-centered facilities may very well have the same effects on the detainees as any of the torture techniques used at Guantanamo or elsewhere.  As this recent, soul-crushing essay in the New Yorker demonstrated, and as the Washington Post article above cited, solitary confinement often leads to severe mental illness.  It is, essentially, a form of torture.

Which leads to an unasked question: is it okay for the United States to torture, post-conviction? At most, a blanket statement opposing torture would oppose torture no matter the context: detainees from abroad or convicts from home.  But context matters, and given the heightened bar for cruel practices in an American prison, a terrorist sentenced to life in Supermax, while heavily punitive, is probably not considered torture by most.  But what about before their trial? What about indefinite detention, an option that President Obama has left open for some detainees? 

Torture is a malleable term that we define, something that the use of the euphemism "enhanced interrogation techniques" reminds me of each time I hear it.   It seems clear-cut that we shouldn't place Saran-wrap over a prisoner's face, then pour water over them, nor should we strip them naked in a cold room for extended periods of time.  That's torture.  Locking people in 10' x 12' cells with no light, 1 hour of movement a day, and no human interaction for the rest of their lives, letting them develop several mental illness? Sounds like Hell to me, but torture? Not now, it's not, at least not for some criminals, but it goes to show just how contested seemingly simple concepts can be.  

Back Online

It's been so long since last I've blogged...

After a busy month and a half of studying, finals, and moving, I've dusted off the old Blogger platform and get back into the habit.   This summer, I'm looking to produce some longer posts, rather than just quick links and pithy comments (for that, follow my Twitter feed).  Hopefully I'll be producing enough interesting material to be worth your while.  

Monday, March 30, 2009

Where is LBJ?

Given Sen. Schumer's gift for gab and outsized persona, I had pegged him as someone who could be an LBJ-like leader in the Senate, getting wary colleagues to come along through a combination of threats, compliments, back-scratching, and profanity.  For various, that hasn't happened, and as such, articles such as this one accurately detailing the uncanny ability Senate Democrats have shown in derailing presidents from their own party appear.  You might think that Democratic Senators would hitch their fortunes to the most popular politician in the country at this point--particularly when he's a Democrat, too!--but The New Republic piece gives some of the backstory explaining the curious case of Senatorial egos/motives.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Missing the Point

According to ESPN, NFL owners passed four new safety proposals at their annual meeting, including banning the wedge formation on kick-offs, which I hadn't understood to be dangerous before.  However, at the same meetings, NFL owners are considering expanding the regular season to 17 or 18, which, as this Washington Post post points out, would be a major culprit in league-wide injuries.  It's understandable to some extent, given ownership's focus on profitability, that they wouldn't see the connection between expanded seasons and expanded injuries (and their focus, to be fair, is on limiting violent injuries to defense-less players).  But it's also emblematic of a group of people who see players as commodities: widgets in an incredibly violent industry that can be replaced, so long as ratings are up.  

Snapping on Ed Henry

It's probably not going to be a good night for your news agency when the President thumps your correspondent's follow-up question.  But such is the life of CNN and Ed Henry tonight, whose attempt at gotcha regarding AIG received the response of the evening (video to follow): "I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."  

Bonus points for using "to talk" and "to speak" in the same sentence.  It's the kind of grammatical formulation that will be helpful for those learning English from the President's speeches.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ron Silver, Ctd.

An appreciation from TIME's Joe Klein, a friend of Silver.

Ron Silver, RIP

Ron Silver, award-winning actor and frequent guest star on The West Wing, died yesterday at the age of 62.  Unmentioned in the obituary is how his West Wing character, Bruno Gemelli, had a mirror, left-to-right political shift to Silver's real life realignment. 

Prayers for him and his family.

Too Many Volunteers

Having been both an underutilized volunteer and a harried coordinator when more people than expected show up, I can relate, on some level, to both sides of the equation in this article on the influx of volunteers in the aftermath of the recession/the President's call for volunteers.  Particularly given the funding cuts at many non-profit agencies, it's understandable that many of the directors are struggling to best use the volunteers.  But as a volunteer coordinator, the attitude should be finding ways to say "Yes," rather than ways to say, off-the-record, "No."  After all, it might be a hard time to run a non-profit, but it's a harder time to rely on a non-profit's support.