Wednesday, November 7, 2007

National Security Experts

Michael Ramirez comments on how Congress might handle a terrorist nuclear threat:


The Day the Music Died

Mark Steyn, who seems to know everything about music, commemorates the twentieth anniversary of Alan Bloom's classic work the Closing of the American Mind with a paen to Bloom's chapter on the music culture in the U.S.

If you liked Bloom's book - I won't believe you if you tell me you've never read it - and/or you're a student of music and/or music history, you'll be delighted by Steyn's essay which he opens with this:

We are all rockers now. National Review publishes its own chart of the Fifty Greatest Conservative Rock Songs, notwithstanding that most of the honorees are horrified to find themselves on such a hit parade. The National Review countdown of the All-Time Hot 100 Conservative Gangsta Rap Tracks can't be far away. Even right-wingers want to get with the beat and no-one wants to look like the wallflower who can't get a chick to dance with him. To argue against rock and roll is now as quaintly irrelevant as arguing for the divine right of kings. It was twen- ty years ago today, sang the Beatles forty years ago today, that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Well, it was twenty years ago today-1987-that Professor Bloom taught us the band had nothing to say.

Read the rest. It's very good.


The Fence Works

One of the claims made by open borders advocates on both sides of the border is that a fence would not keep people from illegally crossing from Mexico into the United States. I always wondered how they knew that and why, if they did know it, they would so strongly oppose the fence since, according to them, it wouldn't stop illegals from pouring across our frontier anyway.

Their assertion always seemed at best counterintuitive and at worst disingenuous. Now we can add to it's list of shortcomings the fact that it appears to be empirically false. Just ask the people on both sides of the border who live near the section of fence that has been erected.

If you watch the video at the link note the statement of the third guy interviewed: People should be free to go where they want. I wonder if he keeps the doors of his home open to anyone who wants to wander in and out.


Defining Torture Down

The matter of torture has raised its ugly visage once again last week, this time in the hearings for President Bush's nomination for the post of Attorney General, Michael Mukasey. Mukasey was asked whether waterboarding was torture, in response to which he wiggled and waggled and never answered the question, an evasion which cast momentary doubt upon his confirmation.

What Mukasey should have said is that the question the Senators asked really can't be properly answered until Congress has legislatively established a meaningful definition of torture. Everyone is "against torture" in the abstract, of course, but few can say with any precision what torture is and under what circumstances, if any, it should ever be permitted.

The United Nations Convention on Torture, which is frequently cited as authoritative and to which we are a signatory, is so vaguely worded as to be not much help. Article 1 says:

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind...

The difficulty is the phrase "severe pain or suffering." What constitutes "severe"? What metric do we use to assess mental pain to determine whether it is severe? What is severe for one person may be easily tolerated by another.

Another problematic construction is the phrase "intimidating or coercing." Anyone who is a prisoner and held under armed guard is going to be ipso facto intimidated and coerced. It would appear that, taken literally, the Conventions rule out holding prisoners.

Article 16 of the document states that in addition to torture all acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1 are also to be forbidden.

But this is no help either. What is inhuman and/or degrading is highly subjective. It is degrading to be yelled at or to be shackled or even detained by another, for heaven's sake. The U.N. Conventions, if taken seriously, make an interrogator who raises his voice to a prisoner subject to being charged with a war crime. This is ludicrous, of course, which is why no one takes the U.N. Conventions seriously. They define torture so broadly that almost anything the military does with detainees could be construed as falling afoul of the guidelines.

As matters stand torture is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. What is needed is for the Congress of the United States to do what President Bush has urged it to do and conduct a debate on these matters and produce more lucid guidelines as to what will be permitted to our interrogators and what will not.

Until then, questions like the one asked of Mukasey will remain pretty much meaningless.