“The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.
NY Times, April 27, 2008

This is the Bush Administration at it’s most astonishingly acute. This is from a letter drafted by the Attorney-General’s office to the intelligence services to enlighten them as to how they may torture.

Or was it drafted by the Arch-Bishop of Seville in 1300 to enlighten the Jesuits as to how much torture could be applied to a heretic? Let’s paraphrase: “the fact that an act is undertaken to prevent the spread of heresy rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse…” Or if Marxist guerrillas in Guatemala in the 1970’s had captured a suspected CIA mole: “the fact that an act is undertaken to prevent the oppression of the proletariat and exploitation of the working classes…”

Are there any government or military or paramilitary entities out there who only torture for the purpose of humiliation or abuse? Stop that right now– you are violating international law! But if you have some purpose, divine or otherwise, in mind, well, we do it, so why shouldn’t you?

We had formerly thought that such people were monsters of depravity, bereft of all that makes us human and civilized. They used to be our enemies. But now, they are merely like us, as long as their first reason is not “humiliation or abuse”. As long as they do not, as they approach their helpless victims with a tong, or electrodes, or a barrel of water, tell them, “and now I will inflict terrible suffering on you for the sole purpose of humiliation and abuse! Once I have humiliated and abused you, I will stop!

Dylan’s Back Pages: Lies that Life is Black and White

There is a video on Youtube, taken from one or another of the many Dylan tributes over the years, in which Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison, all together on stage at the same time, take different verses of Bob Dylan’s 1964 classic “My Back Pages”.

“My Back Pages” is a rarity. There a great songs and there are great summations and there are great insights, but rarely are they combined into a single unified work– if you could call the mad sequence of disjointed images and ideas “unified”.

You have to hear “My Back Pages” in context. When Bob Dylan arrived in New York in 1961, he quickly established himself as the voice of the protest movement– funny name, isn’t it?– and wrote several defining songs of the civil rights era, including “Blowing in the Wind”, “The Times, They Are A’Changin'”, “A Hard Rain”, and so on. The intensity and power of his words moved people. He became a messianic figure, a prophet of change, and figure upon which an entire generation seemed to pin it’s hopes for remaking the world.

Had Dylan been a politician, he might have found this role congenial (see Obama). But as an artist, it alarmed him. First, he didn’t entirely believe in “the cause” of the protest movement– he embraced it’s values, but he was all too aware of how the cause could become corrupted, and how individuals within any movement can become “pawns in the game”. And with the death of John Kennedy, of course, he saw what was really going down.

It’s hard for anybody to admit they were wrong. It is impressive to see anyone embrace the idea that he was completely wrong about anything. But that’s what “My Back Pages” is about: “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.” A line of sarcasm. I was “wiser” when I embraced dubious causes. Now, I am younger, less confident that I get it. Less sure that this path leads to anywhere but disillusionment.

In some ways, “My Back Pages” could be construed as a neo-con’s lament: I used to believe in noble causes, that the world could be made better with grand schemes and revolutionary movements. Now I have come to realize that man’s nature itself is corruptible, and that causes become ideologies, and that evil must be addressed.

Dylan sings, “lies that life is black and white/spoke from my skull, I dreamed”. Pure Dylan– “spoke from my skull” and then, “I dreamed”. He doesn’t even offer you the consolation of thinking you should read his lips, or that he actually spoke the lies. Is this Dylan’s real, and most amazing, contribution: that truth is more important than any cause or dream? Of all the movements and causes that have come and gone, the most persistent outrage in the eyes of the world is to hold truth above all else. That communism failed. That humans really only seek after themselves. That victims can be complicit.

I don’t object that much to the term “protest movement”, though it sounds like it means to reduce visionary political action to “protest”, as if were defined only but what it was against, or by the act of being against anything at all. Why should I object? When you look at the state of American society and culture in the 1950’s, anybody with any kind of independence of spirit and sense of curiosity would be, by definition, in opposition to the prevailing values of that generation.

One of the best lines in any Dylan song: “Fearing not I become my enemy/ in the instant that I preach”.

The Who’s contribution (Pete Townshend): “Meet the new boss/same as the old boss”. (Won’t Get Fooled Again)

The Beatles: “When you talk about destruction/don’t you know that you can count me out” (Revolution)

Creedance Clearwater Revival: “Five-year plans and new deals/wrapped in golden chains”.

10 Years After Undead: “Tax the rich/feed the poor/’til there are no/rich no more” (I’d Love to Change the World)

Updated November 2008, in the cusp of an Obama victory.

What if Obama turns out to be a stooge of the establishment, a man who talks big but ultimately plays by the rules, compromises with mediocre corporate and military apparatchiks, and starts a war so he can look tough for the next election?

What if the Bush Administration– desperate– brokers a deal with Obama to relieve those soldiers and CIA agents who participated in the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo– and, of course, all the administration officials who authorized them to do it? What if Obama signs it, fearing divisions in the government, or the possibility of hard-right Republicans blocking the rest of his agenda?

Obama’s Dobson

What’s the big deal? This story will last as long as the media can milk it, and then on to the next “scandal”. What is Jeremiah Wright if not nothing more than Barack Obama’s James Dobson?

James Dobson loves George Bush and regularly instructs him on who to nominate to the Supreme Court and who to appoint Attorney-General and whether or not God loves torture (he does– because he also likes spanking). Dobson is a crackpot neo-Victorian Puritan who has made himself extremely wealthy by easing parent’s consciences about controlling every aspect of their children’s lives until they get married and, maybe, move out of the home.

Like Wright, he says a lot of stupid things and Bush is as careful as Obama will be about associating himself too closely with the weirdo. Unlike Wright, Dobson is secretive and shrewd and hides from the public, but loves to name-drop in his radio addresses, bragging about calling up Bush and straightening him out regularly about the Lord’s will about this and that. Why is this not a scandal? Because it’s not a hot story. The Wright story won’t be hot in a few months either, because Obama has clearly distanced himself from his former pastor.

As if Dobson isn’t weird enough, we have Reverend John Hagee, who seems to believe that the U.S.’s main reason for existence is to supply Israel with military equipment, and a pulpit for his chubby son to practice on so he can inherit the family racket. John McCain hasn’t been asked to distance himself from this whacky supporter. Why is Obama being savaged for a similar relationship with Wright?

As others have noticed, there is a peculiar kind of coordination going on in the conservative pundits community on this and other stories. The story arrives through a blog or Youtube video or something, and then suddenly all of the conservative commentators, like a pack of jackals, dig into it and spin it the same way. I doubt they actually call each other first– it’s more like they just keep tabs on the spin of the day and join in as appropriate, and this gives the marvelous effect of the story being much bigger and far more significant than it really is. We saw that kind of spin during the Clinton impeachment, when, one after the other, they all suddenly seized on the idea that it was not the sex that was so impeachable, but the fact that he lied about it. Well, if they all say it, it must be true.

If you noticed that, you may also have noticed the coordinated approach to Hillary Clinton lately: she’s great. They love her. They thought she was crass and brassy and nannyish, but now they can see that she really is a very astute, refined woman who might make a great president. They are doing this because, as loyal Republicans, they want to be sure the Democrats put the best candidate forward in November. Right. Of course.

Very interesting. Who would the Republicans really rather have running against McCain this fall? I think conservatives think it’s Hillary, and I’m not sure they’re right. But when Irving Kristol stoops to praise Senator Clinton, you may want to dust off those Willie Horton posters. Is John McCain so lame that he would use his best weapon against Obama now? Why haven’t they gone after Clinton’s murky financial status, or feminist ideology, or flip-flops on Iraq? Because they didn’t think about it yet? Why are they even bothering to attack Obama when the primaries haven’t even ended?


Finally, Karl Rove is famous for a particular stratagem that has worked very well for failed Republican politicians: take your own greatest weakness, and accuse your opponent of having the same defect. That way, when he gets around to pointing out your biggest deficiencies, it will sound like “no, you’re a big fat liar”. The Republican responds: “I said it first!”

So you go after Kerry’s war record. You accuse the Democrats of “partisanship” during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominees. You claim they are trying to cheat the voters in Florida out of their votes. You accuse them of mudslinging.

And so Bush, astoundingly, attacks and blames the Democrats for the recession his administration has steered us into. Wow. That’s smart politics.

This may be the year the voters stop buying it. Maybe not. We can hope.

In the meantime, as I mourn the transmogrification of John McCain into Bush Jr. Jr., and marvel at the delusional persistence of Hillary Clinton, I observe that this is the most ridiculous and ineffective election system in the Western World. The whole thing should start in August of this year and end in November. And even that is too long.

Just How Evil is James Dobson:

(From Wikipedia)

From Wikipedia:

On June 242008, Dobson publicly criticized statements made by U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama in Obama’s 2006 “Call to Renewal”[65] address. Dobson stated that Obama was “distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview.”[66] On October 232008, Dobson published a “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America” that proposed that an Obama presidency would lead to: mandated homosexual teachings across all schools; the banning of firearms in entire states; the end of the Boy Scoutshome schooling, Christian school groups, Christian adoption agencies, and talk radiopornography on prime-time and daytime television; mandatory bonuses for gay soldiers; terrorist attacks across America; the nuclear bombing of Tel Aviv; the conquering of most of Eastern Europe by Russia; the end of health care for Americans over 80; out-of-control gasoline prices; and complete economic disaster in the United States, among other catastrophes.[67] In the days after the 2008 presidential election, Dobson stated on his radio program that he was mourning the Obama election, claiming that Obama supported infanticide, would be responsible for the deaths of millions of unborn children, and was “going to appoint the most liberal justices to the Supreme Court, perhaps, that we’ve ever had.”[68]

Dobson is an intelligent design supporter and has spoken at conferences supporting the subject, and frequently criticizes evolution,[69] contrary to the teachings of his Christian denomination, the Church of the Nazarene.[70] In 2007, Dobson was one of 25 evangelicals who called for the ouster of Rev. Richard Cizik from his position at the National Association of Evangelicals because Cizik had taken a stance urging evangelicals to take global warming seriously.[71]

Blue Jays 2008

The consistent mediocrity of the Toronto Blue Jays is a wonder to behold. We know that Tampa Bay and Baltimore, enjoying a brief surge right now, are going to fall back and end up fifth and sixth. And we know that the Red Sox will dominate the division, and the Yankees are vulnerable. Doesn’t seem to matter: almost every year since their World Series Championship in 1993, the Blue Jays must just enough talent to finish 3rd. Given the annual disappointment with this team, I’m ready to start wishing they would finish last so they could purge themselves of this steady succession of over-rated, underperforming hitters and rebuild.

I had thought this year might be different. They have a lot of young, strong pitching arms, a very good bullpen, and what looked like a reasonably productive offense. But over the last 10 games, the Blue Jays get few men on base and then consistently fail to advance them. Their starting pitching is fine, typically going five or six competitive innings. Then it’s almost as if the failure of the offense to take advantage and produce runs begins to eat away at the pitching staff and their defense collapses.

The two biggest problems were the DH and first base– the two most important positions to the offense, and the only positions in which power numbers obviate the need for any particular defensive skills or speed. Those two positions, occupied by Frank Thomas and Lyle Overbay (until Thomas was released last week), produce virtually nothing for the Blue Jays. If your outfielders and catcher aren’t producing– and, for the Blue Jays, they aren’t– then your DH and your first base should occasionally carry the offense. They didn’t last year, until Frank Thomas got hot– too late– in August (and even then, Overbay continued to struggle), and they’re not doing it this year. Rios showed promise early last year, but his power numbers dropped off significantly, and Wells has been a disappointment since receiving a fat long-term contract. Stairs, who occasionally subs in left field, has probably been their best hitter for the past two years and the good news, I hope, is that he won’t be forced to share as much playing time with Frank Thomas any more. Shannon Stewart won’t help the offense much, but his weak arm in left field is certainly going to hurt the defense.

I’m not a fan of David Eckstein, but it has to be admitted– and this is gruesome– that he has actually been their offensive sparkplug the last week. So how do you know when your offense is in deep trouble? When David Eckstein is your offensive “sparkplug”. Personally, I’d still rather see John McDonald out there every day, and I’ll bet most of the pitching staff would as well. For the record, Eckstein is only batting .245 right now with, of course, no power numbers to speak of. He tends to weasel his way on base, and he steals occasionally, but the steal is over-rated as an offensive tool, just as the double is under-rated.

The Blue Jays get very little power from their catchers, but then, unless you’re the Yankees with Jorge Posada, nobody else does either. Still, it would be helpful if your catcher would drive just a few runs in now and then.

It sounds odd but, given all the observable deficiencies in the Blue Jays offense, I still have trouble seeing why they are so bad lately. Roy Halliday started a game in the Skydome against Texas in which he appeared to be dominant. For five or six innings, he held them off the score sheets. The Blue Jays were facing a mediocre pitcher, Vicente Padilla (WHIP 1.69, batting average against of over .300), but except for the occasional single or walk, couldn’t muster the slightest offense against him. You had Thomas, Wells, Rios, Overbay, Hill, Stewart, all parading through the batter’s box to absolutely no discernable effect. Eckstein got on base a few times– and stayed put.

The Blue Jays, even if they are playing well, are going to have games like this occasionally, in which they simply, inexplicably struggle. Even very good teams will have the odd off night against a weak pitcher. But the Blue Jays do this game in and game out for ten, twelve games in a row. It’s baffling. I resist cheap, abstract generalizations like “they lost their focus” or they don’t have enough “passion”, but if I ever saw a team on the field that no longer cared about results, it was the Blue Jays in the 8th inning on Friday night against Kansas, in which they gave up six runs and the lead after two misplayed balls and a moment of pure indifference (see sidebar). If I had been John Gibbons, I think I might have taken Wells out of the game for an inning, just to send a message. That might have been a mistake– but it would have been very tempting. Do we not have some hungry young players at Triple-AAA who would love a shot at the big leagues and who might actually get angry at themselves for making a stupid mistake, or for failing to drive in an important run?

The truth is that J.P. Ricciardi is probably quite right when he blames himself for the poor offensive production lately. That is, he chooses the players: the players he chose are not doing the job. We love to think a great inspirational club-house speech can rally a team to perform better than they would otherwise, but the truth is that no amount of emotional energy can summon talent where it does not exist. The truth is that the players on the field, Wells, Overbay, Rios, Zaun, Stewart, Hill– may just not be all that good. We hear coy allusions to injuries that some of these players “played through” last year, and the year before, and the year before that, as if these players had some kind of admirable sense of self-sacrifice which allowed the team to benefit from their mediocre performances even while they were injured– enough already. If you can’t play because you’re hurt, say so, and get off the field, and the team can at least face the facts and commit to an alternative plan.

If I were Blue Jays management right now, I might do nothing because Rogers Communications, which owns the team, won’t give me any more money. If there was money, I’d go shopping for a new catcher and first base. Listen– would the Yankees take Vernon Wells and Jeremy Accardo for Jorge Posada?

Low point of the season so far: Friday, April 26. With a 4-2 lead in the 7th inning, A. J. Burnett began to struggle with his control and gave up a single and walk. Scott Downs then came in and elicited a perfect double-play ball which Eckstein booted. Downs failed to get anyone out and the Royals– on a seven game losing skid– scored six runs, high-lighted by the infield defense practically ignoring a playable ground ball between first and second and Wells booting another ball in centre, and Gibbons intentionally walking Pena (.143) to load the bases to get to DeJesus, who is currently hitting .414! (DeJesus, of course, drove in two more runs with a single.) At this point in the game, it honestly looked like the Blue Jays really didn’t care anymore. They fell back to 10-14 on the season, 4.5 games out of first, in last place, after less than a month, while the Yankees are struggling.

Added April 30: The Blue Jays just lost two games in a row to Boston in which their starting pitcher went 8 plus innings without giving up more than a run. Yes, that’s brilliant pitching… and sustained offensive mediocrity. In the 8th inning, the Blue Jays had runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. They got one run out of the deal, to tie the game.


Not This Evidence

After all the news coverage of the wrongful convictions that have been overturned with DNA evidence and the incompetent or malicious police investigators and forensic “experts” responsible, you would think the police might think twice before pulling something like this:

Michigan State Police fiber expert Guy Nutter testified Wednesday fibers found on Dickinson’s body and the pillow covering her face were consistent with those taken from a 100-percent acrylic sweatshirt police discovered at Taylor’s home in Southfield.

Graham noted Nutter’s report said no individual source of the fibers could be determined because his sweatshirt would be indistinguishable from others just like it. She used prosecution photos of Dickinson’s closet to point out a dark blue or black-hooded sweatshirt, which Nutter admitted was not tested for fiber comparisons. From Grand Rapids Press, April 2, 2008

Wow. Here we go. A “fiber expert”! Do you know what that is? Did you think that there was a college somewhere where you could go to study for four years so you could become a “fiber expert”? Or do you think this might just be some science major with a big ego and a microscope? What constitutes a “match”, do you think, of two fibers? Do you think there is some objective criteria involved, or just a lot of verbiage and charts and graphs and power point slides? How many “points” of similarity should there be? How many different chemicals used in the formulation of the material?

It turns out that the fibers– of course– were not tested until after the police had their suspect. There’s no point in testing before you have a suspect, ha ha, since you don’t use fiber evidence to find a suspect. If you did, it would find too many suspects. Think about that.

The only purpose of fiber comparisons is to prove that the suspect you already have– it could be anybody– is guilty. Since there are any number of fibers available at any given crime scene and any number of fibers available in any given suspect’s closet at any given time– this is a snap. Why don’t juries laugh this kind of evidence out of court?

Then we have this:

Michael Arntz, a former EMU police officer, testified for a second time this week about video images he pieced together during a two-week review of footage from campus surveillance cameras.

The images, played repeatedly on a projector screen Wednesday, show a man identified by several people as Taylor leaving Buell Hall shortly after 4 a.m. Dec. 13.

So Michael Arntz, an Eastern Michigan University police officer, took it upon himself to “piece together” some video footage that he and some others claim shows the suspect, Orange Taylor, leaving the residence in which Laura Dickinson’s body was later found. That is worrying. One hopes the defense team– public defenders, of course– is astute enough to demand that the district attorney either provide a single, intact continuous tape, or exclude the evidence altogether.

The defendant, the colorfully named Orange Taylor, has a serious problem. His semen was found on the body. But the door to her room was left locked from the inside, and there was no evidence of foul play. In fact, the police and medical experts have no idea of how she died. They suggest she was suffocated with a pillow. This is the second trial for Orange Taylor — the first jury couldn’t reach a verdict.

Taylor’s attorneys argued that he entered Dickinson’s dorm room the night of Dec. 13, 2006, to steal items and masturbated over her body, not realizing she was dead. His DNA was found on her inner thigh.

From Here.

It’s hard to know what to make of this case. He might be guilty of murder. It’s very hard to explain his DNA on the body if he wasn’t there, and it’s very hard to explain why he was there if he wasn’t committing a crime– he and the victim were not acquainted– and it’s hard to explain why she died if the sex was consensual.  Not all prosecutions involving dubious evidence (the fibres) are of the wrong person.

The fiber evidence should be laughed out of court.

Update:  New York Times article on a forensic scientist who committed suicide shortly after it was revealed that he had not followed correct procedures in at least some cases.