Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, August 13th, 2007.


They Are Us

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Bush Administration, torture

KGB “interrogation” techniques were used to “break” Jose Padilla. Warren Richey writes for the Christian Science Monitor:

According to defense motions on file in the case, Padilla’s cell measured nine feet by seven feet. The windows were covered over. There was a toilet and sink. The steel bunk was missing its mattress.

He had no pillow. No sheet. No clock. No calendar. No radio. No television. No telephone calls. No visitors. Even Padilla’s lawyer was prevented from seeing him for nearly two years.

For significant periods of time the Muslim convert was denied any reading material, including the Koran. The mirror on the wall was confiscated. Meals were slid through a slot in the door. The light in his cell was always on.

He lived like this for three years and seven months.

Those who haven’t experienced solitary confinement can imagine that life locked in a small space would be inconvenient and boring. But according to a broad range of experts who have studied the issue, isolation can be psychologically devastating. Extreme isolation, in concert with other coercive techniques, can literally drive a person insane, these experts say. And that makes it a potential instrument of torture, they add.

Then, later, we find (emphasis added):

So-called coercive interrogation methods – including isolation – have been specially authorized for certain units in the military and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The technique is not new. The Soviets used isolation and sensory deprivation to identify and discredit political dissidents. US prisoners of war confessed to nonexistent war crimes in the Korean War after similar treatment.

Be sure to see the last page, “How a Cold War program inspired terror war interrogations.”

It appears the Padilla detention exceeded even the fuzzy field manual guidelines. Also, members of the American Psychological Association want the APA to issue a ban on detention and interrogation work by its members.

Oh, and what did their three years and seven months of being “tough” on Padilla get us? Curt Anderson writes for the Associated Press:

But there is little other hard evidence linking Padilla, a Muslim convert, to al-Qaida or to the alleged North American terror support cell prosecutors say was operated by Hassoun, Jayyousi and others. Thousands of hours of FBI wiretap intercepts from 1993 to 2001 include numerous conversations of Hassoun and Jayyousi, but Padilla’s voice is heard on only seven.

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The War on Science

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blogging, conservatism, Middle East, Religion, science

In Salon, Steve Paulson interviews Turkish-American physicist Taner Edis, who explains why science in Muslim countries is stuck in the past. For example, “A team of Muslim scholars and scientists has spent more than a year drawing up an Islamic code of conduct for space travel.” And this is remarkable considering that, centuries ago, the Middle East was light years ahead of Europe in science.

What’s so striking about the Muslim predicament is that the Islamic world was once the unrivaled center of science and philosophy. During Europe’s Dark Ages, Baghdad, Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities were the key repositories of ancient Greek and Roman science. Muslim scholars themselves made breakthroughs in medicine, optics and mathematics. So what happened? Did strict Islamic orthodoxy crush the spirit of scientific inquiry? Why did Christian Europe, for so long a backwater of science, later launch the scientific revolution?

Note also that Copernicus used the mathematical work of Iranian astronomers to construct his theory of the solar system.

What happened, in brief, was the European “scientific revolution.” Beginning in the 16th century, Europeans went through a shift in consciousness about how to understand and study the natural world. As a result, religion and science were separated into two entirely separate spheres of knowledge. Plus, as Edis says, this separation, with its promise of infinite new inventions and technologies, became complete just in time to plug into emerging capitalism. But in Muslim countries the critical separation of science from religion never occurred. Thus, scientific inquiry in the Middle East never matured into true science as it did in Europe.

And now, there’s Islamic creationism.

In many Muslim countries, you don’t have much creationism, but only because evolution does not appear in their textbooks in the first place. In countries that have had some exposure to conventional science education, such as Turkey, then you also have more of a public creationist reaction. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen creationism appearing in Turkey’s official science textbooks that are taught in high schools. Turkey has also witnessed a very strong popular movement for creationism that has spread to the whole Islamic world.

But before we feel pity for Middle Eastern scientists, let us consider what we’re dealing with here in the U.S. Namely, wingnuts. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Ace of Spades. Never mind that the Ace’s, um, interpretation of the article bears no resemblance whatsoever to what the article says. Wingnuts generally have reading comprehension skills roughly equivalent to that of spinach. Just take a look at this conclusion —

Hey, Christian conservatives? You want to win your creationism cases? Start bringing in Muslim creationists. And watch your liberal opponents suddenly finding it much more plausible that God — or, rather, Allah — created the earth, the animals, and humans directly.

Somewhere in there is a clue to why one cannot have a sensible conversation with an American right winger.

To his credit, the Ace is not a creationist himself. However, he dismisses global climate change as a “cult.” I’d say we’d best not point fingers at the Muslim world for being hostile to science. And we shouldn’t be too proud about logic or literacy, either.

See also:
Sadly, No.

Update:
Why some say we liberals should support righties in their fight to save the liberal values of the Enlightenment. No, serously.

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Karl Quits

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Bush Administration, Karl Rove

(Updates below)

This deserves a banner headline —

Karl Quits

Even better, a dancing banana —

He’s going to be spending more time with his family, children. Paul Gigot says so at WSJ

“There’s always something that can keep you here, and as much as I’d like to be here, I’ve got to do this for the sake of my family,” Mr. Rove says. His son attends college in San Antonio, and he and his wife, Darby, plan to spend much of their time at their home in nearby Ingram, in the Texas Hill Country.

Well, certainly, a son attending college in San Antonio is a crisis that can’t be ignored. But could there be other reasons for this departure? Gigot speculates —

Mr. Rove doesn’t say, though others do, that this timing also allows him to leave on his own terms. He has survived a probe by a remorseless special counsel, and lately a subpoena barrage from Democrats for whom he is the great white whale. He shows notable forbearance in declining to comment on prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who dragged him through five grand jury appearances. He won’t even disclose his legal bills, except to quip that “every one has been paid” and that “it was worth every penny.”

What about those who say he’s leaving to avoid Congressional scrutiny? “I know they’ll say that,” he says, “But I’m not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob.” He also knows he’ll continue to be a target, even from afar, since belief in his influence over every Administration decision has become, well, faith-based.

“I’m a myth. There’s the Mark of Rove,” he says, with a bemused air. “I read about some of the things I’m supposed to have done, and I have to try not to laugh.” He says the real target is Mr. Bush, whom many Democrats have never accepted as a legitimate president and “never will.”

Is this guy a pathetic whiner, or what?

There’s also the possibility that Rove is leaving the White House so that he can sign on to another presidential campaign, as psericks speculates here at MyDD. And that would be grand with me. I think most of the electorate is heartily sick of his scorched earth style of campaigning. I very much doubt Karl has much in the way of a future career, however, except perhaps as a Fox News analyst.

Seriously, it’s seemed to me for some time that Rove was in over his head. I wrote in November 2005

What about Karl Rove, who has been trying to build a permanent Republican majority? Although Rove is supposed to be some kind of all-seeing evil genius, I wonder sometimes if he isn’t more of an idiot savant. He’s brilliant at doing one thing–building political power through sheer nastiness. He may not be wise enough to see the seeds of destruction he has planted.

Ron Suskind saw this back in 2003 (emphasis added) —

… people in Washington, especially Rove’s friends, are utterly petrified to talk about him.

They heard that I was writing about Karl Rove, seeking to contextualize his role as a senior adviser in the Bush White House, and they began calling, some anonymously, some not, saying that they wanted to help and leaving phone numbers. The calls from members of the White House staff were solemn, serious. Their concern was not only about politics, they said, not simply about Karl pulling the president further to the right. It went deeper; it was about this administration’s ability to focus on the substance of governing—issues like the economy and social security and education and health care—as opposed to its clear political acumen, its ability to win and enhance power. And so it seemed that each time I made an inquiry about Karl Rove, I received in return a top-to-bottom critique of the White House’s basic functions, so profound is Rove’s influence.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, that’s Rove’s biggest blind spot — his failure to understand the substance of governing. Rove built his reputation as a political genius because of his ability as a campaign manager to knock off Democratic incumbents in southern states by means of dirty and dishonest campaigning. But seems to me Rove’s “genius” was less smarts than it was ruthlessness. Rove knows neither boundaries nor scruples. He won campaigns because he was willing to ignore moral and ethical lines and fight dirtier than other (non-sociopathic) campaign managers could imagine.

(Ruthlessness can get you a long way. Most top-office corporate executives I’ve ever had to work with were not all that bright; they were just very, very self-assured and relentlessly aggressive about getting what they want. But that’s another rant.)

So his boy gets to be President, and Rove is given a free hand to run domestic policy initiatives. And he runs them like he ran his political campaigns, because that’s all he knows how to do. And after nearly seven years in the White House, the Bush Administration is floundering, and its most remarkable characteristic is that the Bushies never did get the “substance of governing” thing.

Put another way: If blustering, smearing and intimidation were governing, the Bush Administration would have been a roaring success.

But why now? And how will this impact the rest of Bush’s term in office?

I’m speculating that the investigations into the U.S. Attorney scandal are getting too close for Rove’s comfort (see Marcy Wheeler on this). Or maybe he had a falling out with the Boy King, who might be starting to notice that, um, his administration has hit some bumps. More may come to light in the next few days to clarify this.

As for the rest of Bush’s term — well, it’ll be interesting. It’s obvious that Bush is a weak and unaccomplished man who has been more or less playing the role of President while Cheney and Rove actually ran the nation (into the ground). Will someone else step into Rove’s place (where’s Karen Hughes, btw?) so the Creature has free time for bicycle rides and naps? Or will Bush start trying to do his job (and that should be jolly)? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll have to revise the All-Purpose White House Press Gaggle handout.

Updates: See also The Talking Dog and Obsidian Wings.

And here’s an old David Broder column from September 2006 in which the Lord High Poohbah says the media has been too mean to poor Karl.

Update2: Here’s another clue to the Rove Mystique, from John Dickerson in Slate:

Bush loyalists looking to pinpoint Rove’s role in the difference between the Texas and Washington years note that in Texas, Rove was merely a consultant to Gov. Bush. In Washington, he was physically in the White House, with his hands directly on the levers of policy-making.

That’s something I’ve wondered. So a college dropout was put in charge of U.S. domestic policy after zero experience within government. And he failed, big time.

I’d also like to point out that a great many circumstances came together to make the Rove Phenomenon possible. For example, he capitalized on the right-wing media infrastructure that was already in place long before he got to Washington. Had there been a real Washington press corps such as existed, say, 40 years ago, Rove would have had much less room to maneuver. And he served under a weak, disinterested commander in chief who was all too happy to delegate the details to Karl. He also was dealing with Republicans in Congress who were so well trained to be cogs in the VRWC machine that they didn’t stand up to him, even after they must have realized he was dragging the GOP off a cliff.

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