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November 15, 2005

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Powerful and good, Sebastian. Well-written, and well said.

Well done Sebastian

Excellent post.

nicely done.

i don't know how anyone can read this and not conclude that the people in charge of our country are morally vacant.

Fear is not without some purpose, I guess, but as a primal force is certainly susceptible of being a very base emotion. I wonder how much of what we call Evil is really just Fear run amok.

Thanks for the update. Well done.

Good stuff, Sebastian. I'm curious, and I genuinely am curious about this because it bears on people I like and respect: what actions ought a concerned conservative be taking about this now, and planning for the future? There are calls for action by all decent Americans, like the votes Katherine and hilzoy are calling attention to, but beyond that...how do you approach involvement or non-involvement in the Republican Party, voting in primary and general elections, and so on? Since I'm not conservative myself, I hate to tell my friends "oh, of course, do what I unsympathetic to the cause suggest", but I've seen very little discussion of what someone with a good heart and a genuine commitment to decent conservative principles ought to do.

CharleyCarp: Not just fear, I think, but in particular unacknowledged fear. Saying "I'm scared" is not something that comes easily to a lot of people. And very often when it does, people then use it as a sort of Get Out Of Decency Free card. I'm thinking here for instance of James Lileks, who writes charmingly about the routine of family life and then turns into a completely amoral monster whenever he thinks of harm coming to his daughter - the prospect that a stranger might harm her turns into license to do, well, anything at all to anyone who might conceivably or inconceivably ever be that threat. "I'm scared, and while I need to take sensible steps to improve my security, it's not license for me to give up standards", that's really hard sometimes.

Nice comment, Bruce. This is a fantastic post by Seb, but I hope I'm not farting in the church here when I say that it seems like the problem with this administration is that it always wants to take the easy way out.

A bit of psychologizing about Lileks. I think the reason that Lileks goes off like that is that he thinks that it stands as proof of how much he loves his daughter. I presume the fact that Bug is growing up and reaching an age where there are more dangers, and this is happening in parallel with what Lileks perceives is a War of Civilizations, so Bug getting run over by a shopping cart in Target is viewed on the same level as a dirty nuclear bomb. I detect the same urge in myself, both because my daughter is about the same age as Bug, and because the urge to write charming paragraphs about family life is actually the urge to show what a wonderful father I am. FWIW

Dude, nice post. I was actually wondering where you were in the comments to the prior posts, because you've been so vocally anti-torture before. Clearly you were writing this.

Sebastian, a good post, except for:

The current practices are the sole fault of your party. Period. No ifs, no ands, no buts. Your leader, George Bush, has done these, quite deliberately, has lied about them, quite deliberately. The one point of light in the whole mess is that the Republican Senate has acted, to a very limited extent, as if they actually feared a Just God. Unless the Graham Torture Bill goes through, of course. Which, after years of lies and evil from the administration, can not possibly be anything but a deliberate attempt to aid and abet this administration.

but I hope I'm not farting in the church here when I say that it seems like the problem with this administration is that it always wants to take the easy way out.

Oddly enough (in relation to a discussion I was having with one of our newest commenters, the articulate DWPitelli) I was thinking something like that this morning.

The fundamental problem the Bush administration has in interacting with the real world seems to be that their idea of strategy is: Decide on Plan A, which will work if all their assumptions are correct. Then not to bother working out a backup plan in case any or all of their assumptions are incorrect: and to attempt to fix incorrect assumptions - and disasters leading from them - by "fixing" the media spin on the disasters, rather than acting to fix the disasters themselves. All of which might be avoided, if instead of making the assumption that "Plan A will go fine. We don't need a Plan B," they'd just have a Plan B.

Two Oliver Cromwell quotes that seem germane:

(To the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1650) "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

(to the Rump Parliament, April 1653) "You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

Ah, for Toby Ziegler. "Do you want to tempt the wrath of the... whatever, from high atop the thing?"

Well, Sebastian, according to Mickey Kaus this makes you a weak-minded hypocrite. Welcome to the club.

Nice post. Congrats.

Now, will you present and rebut the form letter reply from your party? How about the Ken Mehlman talking points about torture?

Because so much of the substance of your letter has already gotten the back-handed treatment from your own party. You are a voice in the wilderness.

Nice post.

Besides Communist techniques, we're apparently bringing back Roman empire methods, too.

msnbc

Communist torturers were not attempting to get good military intelligence from their victims. They were trying to get propaganda victories by breaking someone and forcing them to say what the torturers wanted to hear.

This was such a nice post that I'm dearly trying not to be cynical - but - on the other hand, I would be surprised if scoring propaganda victories was not one of the Bush administration's chief goals. It's difficult to think of another presidency whose policies have been as influenced by a constant, unending desire to score political points as this one has.

"I was actually wondering where you were in the comments to the prior posts, because you've been so vocally anti-torture before. Clearly you were writing this."

No, I don't really comment here anymore. This post pretty much wrote itself. Sad that this is the topic that can inspire a quick post.

No, I don't really comment here anymore.

A loss for us all.

"I presume the fact that Bug is growing [...] so Bug getting run over by a shopping cart [...] because my daughter is about the same age as Bug...."

Gnat. Not "Bug." Natalie.

"The current practices are the sole fault of your party. Period. No ifs, no ands, no buts."

And, if, but: Ron Wyden.

The five Democrats voting for the bill were Senators Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

I desire very much to live in this land where Democrats are all pure and sweet and good and Republicans are all foul and corrupt and evil. Do you have a map by which I may reach this fabled place?

Sebastian says: "No, I don't really comment here anymore."

I gather you feel that is a reasonable policy for a poster, then.

Obviously every site needs to decide such policies for themselves, as does each blogger.

With great respect, I do have to wonder, at least, though about the value and appropriateness of blogging without willingness to engage in discussion or feedback.

Myself, I have to say that I don't know why I should comment on posts by people uninterested in discourse and exchange. If you don't want to comment, that's absolutely your right, and fine. Can't see why I should, though, in that case, as well. Not that that would bother anyone, of course, and neither if everyone took that attitude would it mean you couldn't continue to, every month or so, issue a writ of opinion.

Doesn't do much for running a discussion site, though. Although I'm doubtless giving insufficient respect to the notion that most folk will just continue arguing amongst themselves, at this point, anyway.

Gary, is this a discussion site? I haven't really seen evidence of that in months.

is this a discussion site? I haven't really seen evidence of that in months.

Well, if you never read the comments threads, no, you wouldn't.

I just hope Sebastian isn't seeking 'discussion' over at RedSwamp.

Just to clarify: I'm not trying to troll Sebastian here.

For someone who thinks that this torture stuff is both evil and stupid, who recognizes that it's coming from the very center of the administration and the Republican Party, who wishes to see it stopped, who doesn't find the Democratic Party acceptable on other issues...what? Quietude? It concedes the field to others, and the argument about instrumental guilt is a long and nasty one that I really, really don't want to open up here. Muster a challenge from inside the party? Is there a plausible chance at breaking Bush's ties within the party and getting a slate of national, state, and local candidates who reaffirm inalienable human rights and temperate government?

My conservative frends seem pretty well sunk in despair at this point for want of anything they can do. It would feel like betraying their principles to endorse even the best, most honest and careful advocate of expanded federal power and government involvement in social life, but the Republican Party doesn't seem open to a real alternative to Bush. So...what does a conservative do? I ask because I would prefer to be able to point them at something with a chance of success.

(For this purpose I do not consider endorsing a third party as effective, nor candidates who really clearly lack a base. The point is not to make one's little protest but to stop torture and incompetence and replace those responsible for both. Hence the emphasis on accomplishment.)

"Well, if you never read the comments threads, no, you wouldn't."

Who said I didn't read the comments? I'm pretty sure I've read every comment on this board in the past three years.

Heh, that's two years. It just feels like three. :)

Bruce writes: "So...what does a conservative do? I ask because I would prefer to be able to point them at something with a chance of success."

Given the state of the College Republicans, who have no qualms about bilking old people out of thousands of dollars through fraudulent fundraising calls, I think you might have trouble finding anyone.

The GOP farm system is not set up to bring out the best in people.

Thank you, Sebastian. You may recall my introduction to ObWi was when I read your original post. I continue to admire your principled position and public statements.

Now, with the benefit of more time to consider, I have to ask the question: what motivates the supporters of this policy within the Bush administration? They are surely aware of all the reasoning establishing the fruitlessness of torture as a means of gathering intelligence. Also, the public revulsion against torture still leads President Bush to exclaim "we do not torture." So, what's going on?

The most charitable explanation I can come up with is sheer arrogance. But, in other threads, the discussion has touched on the value of torture for instilling fear in a population. So who is the target of this fear? I submit that we are.

Sebastian: Who said I didn't read the comments?

I was politely assuming that when you said you saw no signs of ObWing being a discussion site that was because you didn't read the discussions: because had you meant that you don't think much of any of the excellent discussions that have occurred in the last few months, you would have been being exceedingly rude to all the regular commenters here. I chose to assume that you intended no insult, since I was (momentarily) in charity with you for writing such a splendid post.

Sebastian Holsclaw: Gary, is this a discussion site? I haven't really seen evidence of that in months.

I'll not question your decision not to actively participate in comments, but this is pretty insulting to those of us who do bother to contribute, Sebastian. I'm not exactly sure where you are coming from (I have a hunch, but I'll keep it to myself for reasons which should be obvious) and it might be that your behavior doesn't fit the following pattern, but I find more than a bit irksome the trend of conservatives avoiding these discussions of their own accord then coming back, on occasion, to snipe about what an echo-chamber the site has become as a result of their mass exodus. Those who do hang around get my salute, but those who don't, that's their choice, not mine.

If you have a problem with the general quality of discussion here, your absence certainly isn't doing anything to remedy the situation. And that might not be a priority to you, which is your prerogative. Personally, I think the discussions here are generally quite good. I do wish we could get more engagement from conservatives. And I have sought out such engagement other places, only to be ignored completely or banned from discussions for comments of a nature that would never, ever get someone of any political stripe banned from Obsidian Wings. But conservatives aren't wild deer and we liberals aren't hikers with handfuls of granola looking for a memorable encounter. Conservatives are the folks controlling our federal government, and I'm simply not going to accept that the fact that some of them don't find dialogue with a bunch of liberals on neutral ground worth their while speaks to anything but those conservatives' own willingness to participate in debate.

Gromit writes: "Conservatives are the folks controlling our federal government, and I'm simply not going to accept that the fact that some of them don't find dialogue with a bunch of liberals on neutral ground worth their while speaks to anything but those conservatives' own willingness to participate in debate."

I can't imagine it is much fun for honest conservatives to engage liberals, when the Bush administration is looking more and more like what the feverish 'moonbats' predicted early on.

Well, I really don't want to get into speculation as to why conservatives are leaving, except insofar as some of them (and I'm not attributing this claim to Sebastian in particular) insinuate that liberals are somehow driving them away from discourse.

The posts have been excellent. The comments have been even more filled with ranting than usual, married with an echo-chamber mentality which has very little to do with discussion.

This is a comments conversation.

So is this .

"but I find more than a bit irksome the trend of conservatives avoiding these discussions of their own accord then coming back, on occasion, to snipe about what an echo-chamber the site has become as a result of their mass exodus."

Yup, you are right. We should have been smart enough not to come back on occasion. My bad.

I hope Sebastian will answer Bruce's question. Like Bruce, I'm curious, not for trolling purposes, but just to see what might be the way for the Republican party to cleanse itself.
Also I feel something akin to rage at the five Vichy Democrats who have been putting themselves in the pro-torture camp. I find the Oregonian especially distasteful because he can't even plead that he has to pander to large numbers of whack-os at home--Oregon is a moderate state. What is he thinking?
I am working on a letter to the Democratic National Committee--they just sent me a fund-raising letter--and I'm planning to tell them that I will make my donations to individuals rather than the party until they discipline Democrats in Congress better.
Don't suppose it will help, but at least I'm doing something.

"I am working on a letter to the Democratic National Committee--they just sent me a fund-raising letter--and I'm planning to tell them that I will make my donations to individuals rather than the party until they discipline Democrats in Congress better."

At last: Democrats and Republicans united in their approach to their party. Who says George W. Bush is a divider?

(My comments here and here, of course.)

"I desire very much to live in this land where Democrats are all pure and sweet and good and Republicans are all foul and corrupt and evil. Do you have a map by which I may reach this fabled place?"

Let me see, 5/45 = 88%
0/55 = 0%

Not, not all Democrats are pure and sweet and not all, umm, wait a minute. I take refuge in the posting rules.

Tell you what meet you halfway. I will say not all Republicans are foul and corrupt and evil (and mean it sincerely) if you will supply useful comparisons between the parties, using the words pure, sweet, foul, corrupt, evil. Perhaps the proportions as you perceive them?

I don't imagine it is either, Jon H. But when folks on the left side of the aisle have had problems with corruption or bad policy consequences or whatever, the right side folks have always said - rightly - "you've got to clean up that mess". I just don't quite see how decent folks on the right side can now clean up theirs, and I would really like to learn more about the serious prospects, if any.

Let us for God's sake turn this into another Sebastian bashing party. Good grief what a bore.

I would suggest a Gary/Bob flame war but I gotta go. But since I am gone, you can bash me while I am away. Would be as useful and as entertaining a discussion as the usual poster scrums.

Sebastian Holsclaw: Yup, you are right. We should have been smart enough not to come back on occasion. My bad.

I'm going to start calling this phenomenon "Right Flight".

Personally, I think the only thing keeping Lieberman in the Dem party is that, in Connecticut, the GOP has been too badly stained with petty corruption. (Rell is doing okay, but the GOP carries a great deal of baggage.)

Torture, he doesn't mind. Hot tubs for the governor, that's beyond the pale.

SH sez: "The practice of extraordinary rendition began as a classic Clintonian hairsplitting exercise in the mid 1990s to avoid the clear letter of the laws which prohibit America from using torture."

I'd like to pick this apart a little more. Let's start with some things i believe to be true:

1. Al Qaeda is a sworn enemy of the US, and has been since the late 80's / early 90s.

2. Even though AlQ senior staff successfully latched onto the Taliban govt, AlQ's more dangerous manifestation is its ideology.

3. Combatting a multi-national stateless terrorist organization will require some really hard choices to be made.

4. Frex, let's say that a combination of US and foreign intel reveals that a Saudi-led terrorist cell in, say, Germany is about to launch a major terrorist strike. The cell is taken into custody and bomb-making materials are found. But, given the nature of these things, the case against the low-level bombmaker is better than the financier / head of the cell.

5. The choices used to be (a) a civilian trial in Germany or (b) deportation back to Arabia. Are there any other choices? But the civilian option will necessarily adversely impair our ability to collect and understand intel.

6. So in the pre 9/11 world, i find nothing particularly "Clintonian" about deporting the head of the cell back to Arabia, so long as we're pretty damn sure that we have the right guy, even if that results in his torture and execution. It's a hard choice, and so should be made very rarely. (As, apparently, Clinton did.)

7. What other choices are there? Have Germany change its rules of evidence?

8. A war against a terrorist organization must have two components: the incapacitation (through death or capture) of the hard core of sworn enemies and the persuasion of the uncommitted majority that the terrorist ideology is wrong.

9. The existence of these two often inconsistent goals means that the use of force MUST BE calibrated. We must use only that amount of hard power necessary to achieve our core goals and no more.

10. Calibrating the use of force is and should remain a purely executive power.

11. As a democracy, we must be able to trust our executive to calibrate the use of force appropriately.

12. For many (myself included), the Bush administration has shown that it is incapable of calibrating its use of force. It is so enamored of the idea of remaking the Middle East in the model of western democracy that it has lost sight of its original mandate: to win the war against Al Qaeda.

potshots welcome.

Sebastian writes: " This is a comments conversation.

So is this ."

And what do those have in common? They just happen to be about topics that don't brush up on the Bush administration's indefensible abuses.

Props to Sebastian for posting on our torturer in chief in his post, but clearly he'd rather not participate in conversations where other people are criticizing the administration.

Gary Farber, after listing five Democrats who voted for Lindsey Graham's bill:

"I desire very much to live in this land where Democrats are all pure and sweet and good and Republicans are all foul and corrupt and evil. Do you have a map by which I may reach this fabled place?"

Yes, Gary, it's called the real world. Set the proportion of 'aye' votes in the GOP to that of the Democratic Senators, and there'd be about 10 Senators voting for this bill.

Which, IIRC, is far from the number needed to pass it.

Gary, please don't play stupid with me - I'm much, much better at it than you are :)

Jon H.: Props to Sebastian for posting on our torturer in chief in his post, but clearly he'd rather not participate in conversations where other people are criticizing the administration.

I don't think this is fair. Sebastian has engaged plenty on such issues.

"The current practices are the sole fault of your party. Period. No ifs, no ands, no buts."

A single exception falsifies that. End of story. Period. No ifs, no ands, no buts.

I didn't make the rules.

Gromit writes: "I don't think this is fair. Sebastian has engaged plenty on such issues."

I'm sure he has, but he seems to have lost interest.

Gary- I thought a single exception was exactly what proved the rule?

"The current practices are the sole fault of your party. Period. No ifs, no ands, no buts."

Speaking as an avowed partisan Democrat I take issue with this, not only for Gary's reason above. We all have a responsibility, even if we are excluded from power. I offer a famous Sufi story by way of analogy:

"What is Fate?" Nasrudin was asked by a Scholar.

"An endless succession of intertwined events, each influencing the other."

"That is hardly a satisfactory answer. I believe in cause and effect."

"Very well," said the Mulla, "look at that." He pointed to a procession passing in the street.

"That man is being taken to be hanged. Is that because someone gave him a silver piece and enabled him to buy the knife with which he committed the murder; or because someone saw him do it; or because nobody stopped him?"

And what do those have in common?

Among other things, a shocking dearth of Slartibartfast.

I misread that as "the shocking DEATH of Slartibartfast."

Slarti,

But is that a cause or an effect of the fact that they were comments conversations?

I have a hard time telling, DTM. I'm going to have to refer to my Alan Watts, and say that there is no cause and effect; there's just effect...effect...effect.

At least, I think Alan Watts said something like that once.

Ok, maybe I'm the cause.

" I'm going to have to refer to my Alan Watts"

If we are going in that direction, I'll cite (and modify) 1066 and All That's version of Boyle's Law to "Watts' Po[s]ts Never Boyle".

I also noticed that in the congenial conversation thread about abortion, when a woman showed up, the thread died.

(There's one poster with a gender-neutral handle whose gender I don't know, but from the way the person argued, I'm guessing it's a man.)

I very much regret Sebastian's absence from comments. But I also think it's his business what he chooses to do, and why. Speaking solely for myself here: a lot of times when he does show up, people jump on him, and I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone thinks that that would make it more likely that he would return.

(Most people don't jump on him, of course. But reliably someone does.

Also, by 'jump on him' I don't mean 'ask him hard questions about his arguments.' YMMV, but I have never known Sebastian to be the least bit bothered by those.)

I desire very much to live in this land where Democrats are all pure and sweet and good and Republicans are all foul and corrupt and evil.

I don't understand. Why would you want to live in a place where half the people are foul and corrupt and evil?

"Gary- I thought a single exception was exactly what proved the rule?"

I don't know whether to link to the discussion of the aphorism at Yglesias: the expert gave the legal example of "No Parking on Sundays" legally permitting parking on all other days.

Or:

The fascinating discussion of Latin Scholars on the true meaning, derivation, and proper grammar, declension etc of "habeus corpus" that a thread at Digby's got sidetracked into for about 40 comments.

The first. Jewish wisdom? Was it Noah outside whatever city that kvetched the Lord into allowing that if one Republican was good, the Party must be spared? Repeated eleswhere in the Bible, IIRC, in order that it might sink in. The wisdom may be just human, but I like giving credit to as old sources as are available.

Not that I am ever wise.

"The fascinating discussion of Latin Scholars on the true meaning, derivation, and proper grammar, declension etc of 'habeus corpus'".

I thought it was a pickup line in the Roman Forum (yes, I am feeling a bit silly today).

Bob McM:
Abraham.
At Sodom.
Minimum number of Righteous required: 5 (IIRC - excluding Abe's brother & family)
Research failed to produce minimum number.
Sodom & Gomorrah slated for (extreme) urban renewal.

With you on the "wise". ;)


"With you on the "wise". ;)"

Ok, I did some research, and the book I was thinking of was Jonah, who saved Nineveh by having pity on a gourd.

"Why would you want to live in a place where half the people are foul and corrupt and evil?"

Because then I wouldn't have to bother reading up on issues and thinking about them. I could just sign up with the good guys and be done.

I really enjoyed reading this post.
I am an aussie and am very upset over this torture issue. It is getting no media here, and what i see from the US media frightens me even more, on ABC news they stated 51% thought it was ok. How can it be ok. Why did our fathers/gradfathers fight and die in WWII, if we nolonger have standards of the highest moral value. No matter what the enemy does makes it acceptable to torture. I was gobsmaked when reading an email comment on The DISH, stating that terroists are so evil it is not only OK but morally right to torture them.
"A dissent from my opposition to torture:

I understand and sympathise with the dilemmas you posed in your column on war and freedom. However, except for the point about forbidding criticism of Islam or even telling the truth about Islam (which is the point of the bill to protect religion - no one seriously expects any other religion to be so protected), your arguments while pointing to a real problem are illogical and way off base.
Like most people today you judge western society by how well monsters and evil people are treated, especially if they fall into a couple of protected categories. This is false - it is how well ordinary people - especially the vulnerable and the weak - are treated that counts. There is a time for everything, including brute force. Indeed, there is an ancient saying that he who is merciful to the cruel will end by being cruel to the merciful.
You mentioned cruelty to the SS by the British during WWII. The only cruelty was to the world around by permitting such monsters to live. The SS had no human rights - they forfitted them when they perpetrated what they did. Islamofascists are in the same category. Indeed, if you want to understand the sociological origins and nature of Islamofascism look to the rise and background to the German variety.
The behaviour by the Americans you denigrate may well be counterproductive at several levels, and this is reason not to do it. The enemy being fought is undeserving of humane treatment, and the Arabs and Muslims must be made to understand this. Indeed, it is an affront to morality and decency to so treat people with humanity. All war is nasty, and this war is particularly nasty and cannot be made pretty. It is the reluctance of the Americans and the British to use the appropriate level of force that is a cogent reason why Iraq should never have been fought.
It may be complex, but there are times when cruelty is just and mercy is unjust. To figure out when what is appropriate is what makes us human and is our responsibility.

I draw the line at cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people who are defenseless. And I draw the line at conflating the guilty with the innocent. Right now, we are crossing both lines - and severely damaging our cause because of it."
I am sorry if this is incoherant, I am so angry I am brought to tears and I don't know what to do. HOW do I make a difference??????

HOW do I make a difference??????

My suggestion is that you press Howard (or encourage the media to press him) on his support for Bush. Howard seems to me to have been (and continues to be?) one of Bush's "enablers" in this matter. I would think that if Howard were asked if the torture revelations were threatening Australian forces in Iraq, it might force some kind of reevaulation.

I would acknowledge that some may suggest that it is treasonous for me to suggest that an ally withdraw and expose more American troops to danger, so I am do hesitate to suggest this. Yet it seems to me that advocating this represents a last ditch effort to get the admin to change their policies. The alternative would be to tell Debbie to mind her own business, which I would never think of doing.

I think I'm the one who actually suggested you post but not comment if they're driving you nuts, SH, and I'm glad you did.

I always found that while comments were valuable, if you didn't have much time to write, sometimes it was better spent posting.

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