Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yuppie Food Puritans

LGM is tired of 'em.

As am I.

I've long harbored this kind of cynical suspicion that yuppiesque aesthetic food preferences have some kind of influence on the nutritional recommendations the rest of us end up getting. (E.g.: red meat--sooo gauche...)

Oh, hey, and if this doesn't just about make you yak laughing're a far, far less easily irritated person than I am:

Allegedly there's some diet popular with "intellectuals", which (again I want to stress that I am not making this up) is supposed to "reprogram" your brain:
As for the reprogramming, the diet’s devotees say it recalibrates your tastebuds by introducing healthy food that tastes good. Instead of Pop-Tarts and mozzarella sticks, Instinct Dieters say they now crave baked apples with figs, Tuscan beans with olive oil and rosemary, and Tanzanian chicken kabobs.
See, now I am just going to have to slap these people. Do me a favor. Give me the goddamn Pop Tarts, and shove the Tuscan beans with olive oil and rosemary. Seriously you people. Do you ever listen to yourselves?

I mean, you see what's going on here? It wasn't enough to say "beans." Ya' know, o.k. Beans are probably better for you than Pop Tarts. (Though I've eaten about ten thousand Pop Tarts in my life, and I'm probably in better shape that than those wimpy pasty Tuscan bean-eaters. (In fact, I'm about to go eat some chocolate fudge pop tarts RTF now. Whaddaya think about that you yuppie apple figgers?))

But no. See, it was important to make reference to Tuscan beans with rosemary. I mean really. One doesn't want the hoi polloi thinking that one is eating just, ya know, beans... This is all about the contrast between low-class food and high class food. Jeez I'd love to see these folks stranded on a desert island with nothing but Busch beer and Slim Jims; they might resort to cannibalism first. Man, suppose a study came out that said that hot dogs and Yoo-Hoo cured cancer. Whaddaya think they'd do?

I've always been suspicious about the fact that it's red wine that is allegedly good for you. I'm half expecting to start reading things that say "well, not just any red wine..." Probably just wine that gets at least 92 points from the Wine Spectator...

Alright then. That's way more than enough of that.
Next Thing You Know, We'll Be Scrambling Through The Rubble
Hiding From H-Ks

The first casualty in the coming robot wars?

If we're lucky, maybe the robots and the swine flu zombies will take each other out....
Rice the Nixonian?
Not Likely

There's some unfair gotcha-ing now aimed at Condoleezza Rice. Apparently at some high school, she had the following exchange with a student (my transcript from video
Student: [I read that you authorized waterboarding] “Is waterboarding torture?”

Rice: “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations under the convention against torture. So that’s…and, by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed [?] the authorization of the administration to the agency…that they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department’s [clearance? (Unintelligible)]”

Student: “Is waterboarding torture?”

Rice: “I just said the United States was told…we were told: nothing that violates our obligations under the convention against torture. And so—by definition—if it was authorized by the president, it did not violated our obligations under the convention against torture.”

The accusation floating around is that she is expressing the Nixonian view that if the president does it, it's not illegal.

It's not clear what she means--she's speaking off the cuff, and she seems to be a little annoyed, flustered, defensive. But she doesn't seem to be expressing the Nixonian thought. Rather, my guess is that she's saying something like:

The president told us that we would not violate our obligations under the convention against torture. I told the [Central Intelligence?] agency that they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department’s clearance [?]. The president told us not to do anything that violates our obligations under the convention against torture. And so the president only authorized actions that did not violate those obligations.

That is:

The president only authorized actions that did not violate the convention on torture. Therefore "by definition" he didn't authorize anything that did violate the convention.

If I say to you "I authorize you to do only things that do not break the law," then one could say that (so far as this particular act of authorization goes, at any rate) necessarily I have authorized only legal actions.

Now, it goes without saying that Rice could be lying, or that there could be some other type of trickery hidden in her fractured sentences. But it seems uncharitable to say the least to interpr
et her claims here as Nixonian.
Grapple With The What Now?

Oh, man, you just can't buy the kind of entertainment the wingnuts* provide for free on basically a daily basis.

Behold, one Matt Kibbe, arguing that conservatives should pity "the left" (uh...we have a left in this country? I guess he means us wishy-washy liberal types...) because the Unstoppable Teabag Juggernaut has made us panic!!!!111 who with the what now? I dunno about you, but I didn't really notice those things...and also I'd forgotten what I noticed. I guess in part because I was busy noticing how the Dems just got a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate... Not that that can compare to the UTJ, of course...

Yeah...pity the liberals, man.

You wingnuts have 'em right where you want 'em...

*Note: I've got way more sympathies with certain conservative positions than most folks who might read this, so I should make clear: I take 'wingnut' to mean loony, far-right conservative, not any old conservative. IMHO, the conservates get several things right that liberals get wrong. Just to be clear.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Are Running Shoes a Scam?

Apparently: maybe.

Try trail running barefoot--see where that gets ya...
Press Conference

How 'bout that Obama, eh?

Compare these press conferences to the excruciating spectacles of Bush's conferences, which one pretty much couldn't watch without thinking we're doomed. And, of course, there was the embarrassment...

What a dang relief to listen to Obama. Smart, honest, knowledgeable, right sentiments, genuinely likable...inspires confidence.

What a relief!!!!
"Torture...Corrodes the Character of a Country"

Swine Flu Preparation

Statisticasaurus rex pragmatically directs our attention to these sites:

Remember: good citizens don't just expect the government to take care of them. Be prepared to take care of at least yourself and your family so that the government can focus on helping others if necessary. There's obviously no reason to panic, but there's plenty of reason to prepare.

And, of course, it's not too early to start worrying about the possibility of zombies...
Please Shut Up (Formerly: STFU*)
Rename Swine Flu Edition

Turns out that the name 'Swine flu' is insensitive to Jewish and Muslim sensibilities, so the name should be changed to 'Mexican flu.' [Via Sullivan]

Oh for chrissake. This is what PC wrought. People sit around spending untold person-hours ferreting out obscure linguistic peccadilloes that might "offend" someone somewhere and attempting to politically correct them.

Please, for the love of God, stop it.

Nobody with half a brain is going to be "offended" by this. You want to know who's denigrating Jews and Muslims here? The people who think they'll be offended if they catch swine flu...and the people who think we can change this by calling it something else.

If people spent any energy at all thinking about the actual content of what they say 3/4 of this stuff would never be uttered.

Now hear this:

So far as we know, this flu comes from pigs. That's a fact. Changing the name will not change that. (Q: How many legs does a horse have if we call its tail a leg? A: Four. Calling it one doesn't make it one.)

If someone has a religious/supernatural/superstitious reasons for not eating pigs, that does not mean they have a prohibition against catching the flu from pigs.


Look, everybody's seen pigs, ergo photons that have bounced off of pigs have entered your bodies through your corneas!!! If you want to adopt a more expansive version of the anti-pig position, you're already screwed.

No sensible God is going to hold it against anybody if, through no fault of their own, they catch a disease that once passed through pigs. For one thing, there's little doubt that some of the carbon you've consumed has been piggy carbon in the past. So, again, on the more expansive notion, and if you're subject to the commands of one of the more vindictive and irrational gods, you're already screwed.

Jebus this kind of thing makes me crazy.

* Now 87.4% more polite!
Bad Writing and Bad Thinking

Judith Butler--one of "cultural studies"'s many dim luminaries--won Philosophy and Literature's lamentably defunct Bad Writing Contest back in '98 with the following sentence:
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
Ye gods. This is actually about par for that I'm wondering how this sentence beat out all its (un)worthy competitors...

The thing about P&L's contest, though, was that it was never really about bad writing--not entirely, anyway. It was about bad thinking, and about bullshitting as scholarly method.

And that's the real problem with cultural studies and its kindred '-ism's. That cluster of academic dross is defined more by its method than by its subject matter--and its method is something like free associative, self-absorbed quasi-literary interpretation. Sure, the writing is bad--but bad writing can sometimes reveal interesting thoughts. The problem here is that, if you take the time to dig down through the bullshit, all you find is more bullshit. The scientist observes, formulates a hypothesis, then bounces that hypothesis off of the facts to see whether it accurately represents a real tendency in the world. The literary critic formulates an interpretation, and then shows that he can spin all the rest of the data in a way that is consistent with his interpretation. As a friend of mine was recently pointing out to me, this is a test of the interpreter's cleverness, not any actual test of the hypothesis.

There's just no there there...or damned little of it, anyway.

Few positions of this kind catch on if there's absolutely nothing to them at all, and this crap isn't entirely devoid of ideas. Push them on it, and these folks can sometimes produce intelligible sentences about their topics, some proper subset of which actually have a shot at being true. But (a) the truth-to-bullshit ratio is way too low to make this vein intellectually profitable to mine, and (b) serious thinkers try to make their thoughts easier to understand, not more difficult.

To understand what's going on here, it is crucial to understand the following: folks in this sector do not value clarity of expression. Their goal is not to state their ideas clearly. Rather, their goal is to produce writing that has a certain ring to it--it must sound difficult and obscure...but that's not enough. Read enough of it and you realize that, not only are they all trying hard to sound deep and smart, but they are all trying hard to sound like each other in more subtle ways, too. Go read a mess of it and test my claim; I'll be happy to admit it if I'm wrong.

What you get in this sad, intellectually bankrupt sector of the humanities is a bunch of way-less-than-first-rate intellects all gripped by a tangle of way-less-than-first-rate problems and addressing them with way-less-than-first-rate theories. The result is an intellectual swamp that, among other things, sucks in poor, unwary undergraduates and fills their heads with ideas that are worse than nothing at all--theories and conclusions and methods of inquiry that actually make them dumber, less capable of clear thought. Some of them then go on to grad school and eventually wander out of the swamp, zombie like, uttering nonsense with confidence so complete that it borders on contempt. They wander on out into teaching positions from which they infect another generation of undergraduates with the nonsense virus.

The actual intellectual core of all this, such as it is, is thin and implausible gruel indeed. Perhaps the most favored move is to launch ad hominems at any opponent who questions your general theoretical orientation--anyone who disagrees with your theory must be a racist, or a sexist, or a homophobe, or and "ablist" or some other terrible thing. Surround this with some vague, hand-wavy references to other inscrutable second- or third-rate intellects (Adorno, Foucault, whoever), pluralize every noun and verb (there is, e.g., no knowledge, but there are "knowledges", apparently), make sure your sentences are so rambling and godawful that by the end the reader has lost track of the beginning, and you're ready to bullshit your way to tenure! Congratulations--you are a sophist.

This sort of thing survives in part because people who encounter it casually are inclined to think something like "hey, it sounds pretty hard; for all I know, there are interesting ideas there." Few take the time to dig in far enough to recognize its extremely low truth-to-BS ratio. Furthermore, since leftist politics are at the core of it all, and since the right loathes it, many liberals mistakenly conclude that they ought to defend it, not realizing that the politics buried in it are illiberal indeed.

It's not clear whether this crap will eventually be crushed under the weight of its own ponderous prose, or whether, instead, it's reached a kind of critical mass that will allow it to be self-sustaining. I worry that it's the latter. Critical theory, cultural studies, postmodernism and the rest of this mess provide a fast and easy way to sound profound. Get a feel for the lingo, say the right kinds of things, and you can suddenly be treated as an intellectual. You needn't actually learn anything difficult; just get the cant down pat. It's not about clearly formulating ideas or carefully analyzing arguments--it's about using the right words and free association. Just make sure your claims are lefty enough and that you never, ever suggest that anything is real rather than "socially constructed," and you can be treated like one of the big boys without doing any of that dreary book learnin'.

Well, there it is. I've got no punchy ending.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Corporal Punishment

Interesting stuff here.

My background suspicion about this kind of stuff is that one should just expect a wimpy lefty bias. And here that of course means, roughly:
ZOMFG only a monster would spank a child!!!!

I don't have kids, so what do I know? But thinking back to my ownself as a kid, I think I can say with at least a bit of authority: man, every now and then I really did just need a whuppin'. And my strong suspicion is that I'm a better person for having gotten some. (Er, though I could have used rather fewer of them IMHO...)

On these kinds of issues, I'm pretty conservative. I fear that we're running a massive social experiment on kids, and that this experiment is (a) based on little more than a kind of liberal/yuppie aesthetic and (b) potentially disastrous. But, again, what do I know?
Scary NYC Flyover Takeback

I just saw another tape of the 747 flyover. Well, there were people running around scared...and the fact that people were scared is a pretty good (though not perfect) indicator that it was scary... Looks like you probably couldn't tell that it was one of the Air Force One planes, either. And I'm told that planes don't fly that low there anymore.

So I guess it does all add up to a fairly prominent f*ck-up, contra my initial guess.

Though I still don't see any way to blame this on Obama.
WorldNutDaily 2002: GOP to Dominate for a Generation

Posted without comment on Specter defection day, Rasmussen at WND in 2002:

The mid-term elections of 2002 reflect a sea change in American electoral politics in which the Republican Party will dominate for a generation, says a prominent pollster.

Republicans' precedent-setting victories Nov. 5 were "much more than President Bush getting out the vote in close Senate races," says an analytical introduction to "The GOP Generation" on the website of its author, pollster Scott Rassmussen.

"Building upon proprietary survey data … [the report] explains underlying issues, trends and other factors moving the nation to a lasting Republican majority," said the analysis.

A couple of factors – national security and the war on terror – no doubt favored Bush and Republicans generally during the midterm elections. But Rasmussen told WorldNetDaily that other "institutional" changes were taking place that could lead the Grand Old Party into majority status for years to come…


Nevertheless, while admitting that "nothing is automatic," Rasmussen said the data show that "if Bush does well in the next two years, it's very difficult to envision a scenario where Democrats win back control of the House or Senate anytime soon."

"What I see is that because of the performance of the president in the past couple of years, the Republicans are now truly a majority party, and it's a lot deeper than I or other analysts first thought," said Rasmussen.

There are also nationwide trends that support a widening GOP base. Besides controlling the U.S. House and Senate, Republicans also now control most governorships and state legislatures as well.

"That hasn't happened all up and down the line since Hoover was in office," said the pollster [er…rather presciently, as it turns out…]

Arlen Specter Switches Parties

Holy cow!
Obama Takes More Heat for Flyover than Bush Took for Planes Actually Vaporizing WTC
Obama and Bush Now Equal

Jeez. The wingnuts are getting extra-special crazy about this one.

Apparently Obama deserves more blame for this flyover staged by some other guy somewhere in the executive branch than Dubya deserves for, ya know, two planes full of people vaporizing the WTC. See, it would just be crazy to think that Dubya should be blamed in any way for the failure to prevent an actual terrorist attack. But this...this...THIS!!! This outrage cannot stand!

So, you see, at worst Obama and Bush are now equal. Bush steals an election, neglects terrorism, caught on vacation during 9/11, fails to get OBL, lies to get us into irrational and unrelated war, diverts resourcs from Afghanistan to wage said war, neglects NoLA, tortures prisoners, crashes economy...Obama fails to know about slightly scary photo-op.

See? Even-steven.
Air Force One Flyover, this is one of those things I just don't get.

I don't have any inclination to defend Obama if he does something stupid...but the outrage about this flyover business I just do not get. I mean, sure, most of it seems to be either a knee-jerk reaction of or manufactured by the wingnut anti-Obama brigade, and that's annoying. But how is it that Obama was supposed to know about this exactly?

And, uh, were people on the ground seeing what we were seeing on tape? Because if they were, then they thought that "the terrorists" had taken over Air Force One. And if they weren't, then at least they were seeing that there was an F-16 flying next to the plane. Not trailing it, not shooting it down before it gets to NYC, but basically flying in formation with it.

I know it's easy to be calm when you're sitting at home watching the tape, but this just didn't look scary to me. Air Force One flying in a big, lazy pattern with an F-16 alongside... I dunno, man. Maybe you just had to be there.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ticking-Time-Bomb Scenarios

Contrary to what some liberals have been saying, we do have to consider ticking-time-bomb (TTB) cases.

The reason to consider such cases is because they show us that the common-sense judgment (and that's where our moral reasoning needs to begin) is that torture is (prima facie, at least) in principle permissible (and, perhaps, obligatory). There's a significant difference between:

(a) Torture is in principle impermissible
(b) Torture is in principle permissible, but impermissible in the actual cases under consideration.

(b) is true, (a) is false. If the very terrorist who planted the nuclear bomb in Manhattan is sitting in front of you telling you that, though he won't tell you where it is, and though it will go off within the hour, he's so averse to harsh language that if you merely yell at him a bit he's sure to cough up the info, then you'd be a psycho to refuse to do so.

O.k., now, everybody clear on this? Torture: prima facie in principle permissible.

So: quit denying this.

First, if you deny it, then you are probably wrong.

Second--and in the unfortunate event that the first point doesn't matter to you--by denying it, you give the Bushies an opening to obfuscate the issues on the table. We're not talking about science fiction-y TTB cases. The cases we're talking about aren't even close to those. The cases we're talking about are very, very dissimilar indeed.

Blame Obama for Everything
Instahack/Flyover Edition

These people are, well, kinda crazy. And Instahack is happy to heh over everything that can in any way be spun against Obama.

Apparently the military was responsible for this flyover. The idea that liberals would have blamed Bush is fairly stupid. Somehow, Instahack and the Wingnut brigade seem to think that there was some need to stretch for things to blame Bush for.

Would that they were right.
The NRO Discovers The Rule of Law

Wow, it's weird how the NRO has suddenly become interested in the rule of law.

Me, I have no interest in defending Dems, and lots of interest in getting to the bottom of the majority of these cases...though, as usual, the NRO is stretching a bit where Dems are concerned.

Too bad they're not half as interested in torture as they are in unused airports...
Mark C. Taylor: How To Destroy Academia
Episode 1

Academia has its problems. Yes it does.

This, however, is approximately the worst set of recommendations for change I've ever seen. In fact, I would bet large amounts of money that this set of recommendations, if followed, would come pretty darned close to destroying the university. Even if you think changes need to be made, you should not think that these changes need to be made.

Now, I'm an experimentalist about such things--I'm disinclined to rule too much out too quickly and without giving it a try. But some of Professor Taylor's suggestions are almost certain to be disastrous.

In this installment, let's look at Taylor's worst suggestion, his suggestion 2:
Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.
Now, it's not clear that academic disciplines divide inquirers up in optimal ways. And it's clear that the divisions are in some ways artificial. And it's clear that cross-disciplinary collaboration can sometimes be beneficial.

But this suggestion, if implemented, might very well relegate the American university system to second-rate status almost immediately.

First: this model of flexible, topic-specific departments is popular largely in the weaker parts of the humanities and social sciences. Women's studies, cultural studies, every-geographical-region-you-can-think-of studies...these are the parts of the university where you find some of the weakest scholarship, easiest courses, and most absurd theories. To restructure the most rigorous, reputable and successful parts of the university (e.g. the sciences) on the model of the least rigorous, reputable and successful parts is not exactly a smart move. Believe me, the very last thing we want is for the physics department to look more like the "communications" department...

At my own institution, the more frivolous bits are in constant flux, combining, dividing and recombining into new centers, programs and special curricula...always looking for the magic bullet...something that will bring something like success without requiring genuinely hard intellectual work. New is good; change is good. Much energy is given over to meetings and administrative busy-work that could better be spent on scholarship. Though, given the nature of the scholarship in the relevant areas, I suppose that might not actually be true...

(Let me also note that Taylor's suggestion makes me hypothesize that there is an intellectual/political agenda behind it. He is in religious studies, a discipline infected by the virulent viruses of recent intellectual fads (postmodernism, poststructuralism, cultural studies, etc., etc.). "Antiessentialism" is the orthodoxy in many such places. Although there's a great deal of confusion about what such folk mean by 'antiessentialism'--they only sort of mean what philosophers mean by it--the short version is: nothing (e.g. the study of history or biology included) is what it is because of its real properties. More fashionable is the view that we make things what they are by how we represent or categorize them. My guess is that this (indefensible yet fashionable) theory might be behind Professor Taylor's suggestion.)

Currently, people are already doing much collaborative work outside their disciplines, and universities are encouraging and facilitating such collaboration (it used to be called "interdisciplinary" work, but now the buzzword is "multidisciplinary"). Consequently, there is no very good reason to destroy the disciplines to achieve such collaboration. To destroy them that is, in favor of an ever-mutating stew of temporary quasi-disciplines...which, if I read Taylor's suggestion right, would differ from university to university, thus making collaboration by people in different institutions more difficult.

And let's be clear on this: Taylor's suggestion simply would not work. We're on the trailing edge of a restructuring of colleges in my university. It was a fairly simple one that merely moved departments around. It has taken years and uncounted professor-hours of work. There is simply no way to radically restructure the entire university every few years with no determinate disciplinary divisions to guide us. On Taylor's suggestion, every individual professor could theoretically be recombined with others in an infinite number of different ways. Whatever else could be said for any of Taylor's other suggestions, make no mistake about it: this is a blueprint for disaster. It cannot work, and should not even be tried. The meetings alone would take untold thousands of person-hours over the course of years--and this in every university in the country. Anyone who has worked in academia should be able to see that this is simply not an even vaguely sensible suggestion.

My worry, however, is that this suggestion will be taken seriously. More and more, the university is run by an administrative class--non-scholars who got degrees in academic administration. (Yes, sadly, there are such degrees.) Conventional wisdom at my institution is that we entered our current state of perpetual flux when these people showed up on the scene--professional administrators build their CVs by changing things, not by keeping them the same. I have wasted great huge chunks of my life in endless inane meetings that almost never leave the institution in a better place than it was before. My worry is that, somewhere out there, these administrators are salivating at Taylor's idea, which would require more administrators and more meetings, and give over more time to bureaucratic busywork and less to teaching and scholarship.

Needless to say, I could be wrong (and I often am). But this is one of the worst ideas I've heard in a long, long time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Feral Rednecks Strike Again

My grandparents' farm has been abandoned now for almost 20 years. My parents found some renters for a little while, but that was only for the first year or two. About five years ago some of the local feral redneck youths (or so we hypothesize) burned down the dairy barn. Now they've burned down the granary. Some of the neighbors down the road try to keep an eye on the place, but it's too far away to watch all the time.

Man, I really liked that granary. Liked the dairy barn, too. Lots of childhood memories there.

Good thing none of us caught the perpetrators. Good thing for everybody concerned, I reckon.
The "Bush Kept Us Safe" Myth
9/11 Doesn't Count

I was working on a post on this surreal nonsense by Noemie Emery (at the always-amusing Weakly Standard)...but one thing you learn quickly blogging these days...the pros almost always beat you to it. (They don't have to grade papers, for one thing...) (Incidentally, I first ran across this Emery nonsense a couple of days ago when I saw Instapundit link to it with his typical passive approval of almost everything GOPish.)

So here's my quick version:

Bush did not "keep us safe." 9/11 was--mostly--not his fault. But there's a world of difference between it was his fault and he kept us safe. Bush kept America safe only if Roosevelt kept Pearl Harbor safe. Just because something isn't your fault, that doesn't mean you get credit for it.

Do we get to say that Clinton was a chaste and loyal husband? After all, after that one thing he was. So by parity of reasoning...

Imagine that Gore had been president on 9/11. Imagine the response from the fever swamps if liberals said that he'd "kept us safe."

Bush gratuitously started the Iraq war, the consequences of which have been more devastating (even just considering the effects on America in blood and treasure) than any plausible terrorist attack could have been.

Even if we inexplicably give him a pass on 9/11, there's no solid evidence that his administration actually stopped any major terrorist attacks.

Even if it did, there's no evidence that he did anything extraordinary--anything any minimally competent president would have done. So, even if we remained safe, we have no evidence that this is attributable to Bush's actions--no evidence that he (pause) kept us safe.

Remember, not having enormous terrorist attacks on our soil is the norm. Having two such attacks in eight years is highly unlikely. The salient fact is that we had one, not that we didn't have two.

We should rate presidents in this regard, first, by the actual steps they take to combat terrorism. On this measure, Bush ranks very low. He didn't even have a meeting of principals on terrorism until he had been in office something like seven months. He made terrorism a low priority, ignored pleas from the Clinton administration to take it more seriously, and demoted Richard Clarke, a prominent voice in favor of strong action against al Qaeda.

The second way to measure presidential effectiveness here is by the rate and severity of terrorist attacks on their watch. Here Bush ranks lowest of all presidents.

It takes blinders the size of Rush Limbaugh's ass to think that there is even the slightest hint of plausibility to the claim that Bush kept us safe.
Will The Circle Be Unbroken?

So, we had eight years of ceaseless, irrational, vicious attacks on Clinton by the right. Then eight years of mindless defense of everything Bush did, no matter how patently absurd. Now we again have ceaseless, irrational, vicious attacks on Obama...starting--as with Clinton--before he even took office.

Query: will you be able to find it in your heart to give the next Republican president a fair shake?

(I mean, supposing it's not some complete moron...Sarah Palin or somesuch.)

Thing about this BS that's poured out of the right...basically since they lost in ' that it seems likely to drive a cycle. I'm so fed up with the irrational, tribal, divisive antics of the right that it takes a supreme effort of will to even listen to them anymore. I want to be non-partisan...and don't get me wrong: I've got only a modicum of love for the Dems...but the GOP is not making it what you'd call easy.

I'm so fed up with their crap that, to be honest, these days I feel myself click into the mode of disagreement before they even open their mouths. I already half-disagree with them before they've even said anything.

Needless to say, this is a dangerous situation to be in, epistemically speaking. Gotta figure out how to shake it...
Tortured Evidence For War
Frank Rich Edition

Frank Rich on the allegations that we tortured prisoners in order to get evidence of an al Qaeda-Iraq link.

Now, we know that, until now, the Bush dead-enders have defended almost every action of Bush's, no matter how indefensible. (Except, of course, for a handful of actions deemed insufficiently conservative...) They have even defended torture and, indeed, have apparently become enthusiastic advocates of the practice. But their defense has largely turned on the premise that Bush and Cheney were trying to prevent further attacks. The question now is: will they defend torture that sought evidence of al Qaeda-Iraq links?

They could argue that this, too, was in the service of preventing attacks...but that seems to stretch the limits of credulity even by wingnut standards.

And what about the allegations that torture was used not to discover evidence of al Qaeda-Iraq links, but to fabricate them? Everyone who was paying attention in 2002 knows that the administration's arguments were war were tortured. Were prisoners also tortured in order to manufacture "evidence?" Would the dead-enders still defend that? That would be conclusive evidence of their irrationality...but my guess is that even the dead-enders would have to abandon ship at that point. Such conclusive evidence of irrationality rarely shows up, but is rarely needed. Our friends across the aisle have slipped into all-out defense mode. They'll say almost anything to defend their favored president, facts and reason be damned. Presumably there's some point beyond which even they won't go. Unfortunately, their limits seem to lie rather far beyond those of reason.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Keeping Your Balance (and Losing It)
Swine Flu Edition

Perhaps I mention this a bit too much, but I've got this theory which goes like this: one reason to minimize avoidable screw-ups is that screw-ups are inevitable. Your future is peppered with them, no matter what you do. You can, however, minimize their number. And one reason to do this is that your future is peppered with misfortunes of various degrees of severity--that is, unfortunate events over which you have little or no control. Even if each individual (non-death) misfortune were avoidable, there would be no (actual) way to avoid the fact that there will be some misfortunes in your future.

Now, if you screw up when you needn't have, one of the many things you risk is that you might then encounter an unavoidable misfortune when you are vulnerable--that is, trying to recover from something that you should have never let happen in the first place. And, of course, after most screw-ups or misfortunes, there are more worse future trajectories for your life and fewer better ones.

That is, inter alia: when you screw up avoidably, you then generally make yourself more vulnerable by making future screw-ups more costly and future misfortunes more difficult to avoid and recover from. Though the image/analogy isn't perfect, I sometimes think in these terms: work hard to keep your balance when you can, because, once lost, the situation can degenerate quickly...and balance is hader to regain than it is to maintain.

This isn't intended to be a Bush-bashing post, but it's true and efficient here to just note: the Bush years involved many avoidable screw-ups (and some at least difficult-to-avoid misfortunes) that left us very much more vulnerable than we were on, say, 1/1/2000. Suppose that 9/11 was unavoidable; still, the entirely optional and patently irrational Iraq war made things far, far worse by 1/1/2009 than they were on 9/12/2001. (This is an especially angrifying case, since this extraordinarily disastrous screw-up came after the relevant misfortune and in response to it.) But, despite the astonishingly bad decision to start an optional, unrelated war instead of focusing on Afghanistan and al Qaeda, we survived. Though we did so with our military ground down, our tresury depleted, our political capital spent, and our moral authority largely destroyed.

Then came the financial meltdown and recession--part screw-up, part misfortune.

And now we are more vulnerable still.

Notice how much more vulnerable we are now to some major, unavoidable misfortune--like, say, a Swine flu epidemic [see also here]--than we would have been had we not initiated the Iraq debacle. An interesting, though perhaps alarmist, question: how many more major screw-ups and misfortunes can we manage given our current weakened, off-balance state? Could we manage a flu epidemic (or pandemic)? Another major terrorist attack? A major earthquake involving the New Madrid fault?

On the bright side, we now have competent leadership. For eight years we've had an executive branch that made every crisis worse. Even were Obama only minimally competent, that would represent a major improvement. Fortunately, he seems, thus far, to be more than minimally competent--though there are limits to what anyone can do with the current situation.

I don't think the United Sates is on the brink of collapse. That would be absurd. But I don' t care for our current, relatively vulnerable, relatively off-balance condition...and I am particularly unhappy that the damage was largely self-inflicted.
X. baimoensis

I know you've been bugged by that pesky 40 million year gap in the tyrannosaur fossil record. Well, this should de-bug you.

Who You Gonna Believe, Me Or Your Lyin' Eyes?
Mac Thornberry Edition

At Sullivan's digs.

Proof that talk is cheap.

And here I don't just mean inexpensive and easy-to-come-by, but, rather: flimsy. One thing about words is: the logical connections among them are weaker than our wills. Someone dedicated to ignoring certain logical connections in order to force words and ideas into whichever shapes are required in order to point toward a favored, pre-ordained conclusion can do so with great frequency--though not always. If you're talking instead of reading, and if you talk fast enough, then the distortions can sometimes pass for plausible, especially if the hearer is devoted to the same conclusion, hence willing to suspend disbelief on roughly the same points. (If this had a name, it should probably be: the Limbaugh Effect).

I continue to think that the questions here are somewhat more complicated than some folks I trust and admire think they are...but on some issues I'm slow like that. One thing that is clear, however: the Bushists have not abandoned their disdain for reason.

(But let me say for the thousandth time: though there are obviously good things about shows like Matthews's, there's something bad about them, too. They're largely gladitorial, and this makes it even more difficult for people to admit their errors, and to admit when their opponents/tormentors have important points. One effect of such shows is--or so it would seem--to polarize and ossify. Emotional engagement is not always a bad thing, but this sort of thing seems to engage our emotions in a bad way. Or perhaps I should just speak for myself here.

Peirce points out that cheating in your reasoning in this way has the secondary effect of devaluing reason by helping to convince people that it is a mere tool of the salesman, that it has no independent power to lead us to truth, but merely serves to help us "rationalize" positions we hold on non-rational grounds. Straight-out liars are less reprehensible than sophists because of this.)

Two of Thornberry's sophisms deserve particular attention. First, his suggestion that the morale of the CIA would be harmed by an investigation of "higher-ups," and the coordinate suggestion that considerations about the CIA's morale are weighty enough to count significantly against an investigation. Matthews busts him on this point, but Thornberry tries to weasle out in the manner of a true sophist. Thornberry did, indeed, suggest that considerations of CIA morale were weighty enough to count against the moral issues in play; Matthews simplifies by saying that he has presuposed that issues about morale are more weighty than morale issues. Thornberry notes that technically he did not say that...but this is a mere debating point. What he said did not entail that morale issues are more weighty than moral issues in something like a 1-to-1 comparison (WTF ever that would mean); but he did indicate that the morale issues were weighty enough to count as significant reasons against investigation. About that, he is full of shit. Matthews was right, Thornberry was wrong. He threw out a bullshit point, got busted on it, then weasled away from it. It's too bad that we don't view this as being as despicable as it actually is.

Second, you have to love Thornberry's regurgitation of GOP talking points about the "perpetual campaign" against Bush. Here we have a party that genuinely did conduct a laughably mendacious eight-year campaign against Clinton--a president who, for all his defects, left us a peaceful and prosperous nation--and three months into Obama's tenure, they're basically complaining about the fact that everyone knows that this mess is Bush's fault. They can't even honestly complain that Obama is doing it...rather, it's simply a fact that everyone knows. Once again, the GOP's beef is, in fact, with reality.

It's far from clear at this point that Bush or Cheney or anyone else should be thrown in jail. But what is absolutely clear is that there must be an independent, objective, non-partisan investigation into this matter. Lackies like Thornberry will continue to throw up verbal smokescreens. Their sophistry powers are strong, but the facts are on the other side. And in this case, the facts might just win out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Knowledge: Acquired or Discovered
Not "Produced" or "Created"

Gah. This is a fairly minor point, but the PoMos and their ilk made it fashionable to talk about "knowledge production," and that locution unfortunately caught on. It's common also to hear people talk about the "creation" of knowledge.

One might say the following without outright absurdity: if we don't know that p at time 1, but I discover that p is true at time 2, then there is, perhaps, some sense in which I have produced or created knowledge of p by discovering its truth. But this is obviously a bit odd, a bit awkward, and a bit misleading. What I've done is
acquire knowledge by discovering truth.

PoMos and related folk--if they allow themselves to speak of knowledge at all--like to pretend that we either make it up or come close to doing so. That's why they prefer to write of knowledge "production" and "creation." But if it's actual knowledge, then we didn't make it up. Grammatically, though, it's a little odd to say that we discover knowledge. We discover truth, and truth is necessary for knowledge...but we normally don't say we discovered the knowledge. Perhaps this is because knowledge--whatever else it is--is apparently something like (de-Gettierized) justified true belief. We discover truths (and of course do not create them), but it's more than a little odd to say that we discover belief, which is also a component of knowledge. Of course we normally don't create it, either; the more normal locution is: we acquire it.

So, best to stick with the philosophically neutral and grammatically unobjectionable 'acquire'. To give in to the trendier "produce" or "create" in this context is to unintentionally suggest acceptance of the PoMo fantasy that we create the truth.
Torture Methods Intended to Fabricate Disinformation, Not Discover Facts

At the intersection of Torturegate and the lies that brought us the Iraq war.

[Via Metafilter]
Banana Republic(ans)
A Wee Quiz

Country C takes a step toward becoming a banana republic by:

(a) Investigating alleged war crimes by its president(e)
(b) Refusing to investigate alleged war crimes by its president(e)

(And incidentally, just because, well, hell no ain't fergittin':

Country C takes a step toward becoming a banana republic by:

(a) Counting the votes in its presidential elections
(b) Not counting the votes in its presidential elections)
Double Standard Watch:
Forgiveness and "Looking Forward, Not Back" on (a) Consensual Sex, (b) Torture

I've squawked about the general point many times, but it's become fashionable now because of Torturegate, so I'll say it again: the conservative double standard becomes clearest when questions about investigating Bush are on the table. Torturegate is just the latest installment.

In the case of Clinton, it was crucial that we enforce the letter of the law, no matter the relative triviality of the case, no matter that (as a lawyer friend of mine informed me) everybody lies about sex under oath, and nobody is ever prosecuted. I was no big defender of Clinton in that matter. I thought the guy showed himself to be a cad at best, a scumbag at worst. But to be honest, I never thought that it was--in the abstract--crazy to impeach him for lying. What I thought was crazy was: falsely accusing him of everything from murder to drug-running, repeatedly fabricating scandals, finally entrapping him into lying about a private sexual matter, and then dragging the president and the country through the muck instead of just moving on after he'd humiliated himself.

But no. According to our friends across the aisle, it was crucial that justice be served. This was a country of laws and not men. People are responsible for their actions, and justice demands that we hold them accountable. To do anything less would be to succumb to...insert your favorite jumble of philosophical terms you don't understand here...relativism...nihilism...situation!...hedonism!....God knows what...

Funny how that's all changed now that Bush and Cheney and war crimes are on the table. Now it's time to move on, time to look forward, not back (as even Obama has said). Questions of justice and responsibility and desert are suddently draconian, passe, vindictive. Only someone driven by partisanship could even suggest that the country needs to know what it did.

This is the most unmitigated of bullshit.

There may, of course, be reasons not to investigate or prosecute. That's not my topic here. But what's clear is that "we should look forward, not back" is not a sound reason--and remains unsound even should Obama say it, or even believe it.

In the case of a minor infraction such as Clinton's, it would have made sense to say "let's just move on." But the GOP established the threshold by saying nyet in that case. If that relatively trivial transgression was one that demanded investigation and prosecution, then certainly Torturegate--a transgression of, perhaps, world-historical importance, demands investigation. One probably ought to say "let's move on" in Blowjobgate, but not in Torturegate. However, stretching credulity a bit, one might say "let's move on" in neither. Stretching it very far, one might say "let's move on" in both.

The one thing it's absolutely clear that we absolutely cannot do is: demand scrupulous investigation and trial in Blowjobgate but not Torturegate.

We might forgive traffic tickets but not murders. We might forgive neither. If we're not too bright, we might forgive both. But it's simply not possible to rationally forgive murders but not traffic tickets.

It's tedious and deplorable how often political discussion degenerates into tu quoque and other charges of inconsistency. But since it's so often unclear which standards are appropriate, and since judgments of importance and relevance so often vary across individuals and parties, comparing the judgments of a single individual earlier and later, or of a single party on Monday and again on Tuesday, can give us a clear touchstone. It can tell us when someone is bullshitting, setting standards and accepting arguments not on their merits, but in order to protect a favored conclusion or person.

And that, of course, is what Bush's defenders are doing now. Their double standard in this case absolutely cannot be defended. Their judgments are driven by politics and not by reason, and that is as clear as it could be. This "party of personal responsibility" that insisted on getting its pound of flesh from Clinton, and that seems to want every casual pot smoker in the country doing hard time, is suddenly the party of forgiveness. Lex Talionis is a thing of the past; they have suddenly become Swedish criminologists, or particularly sappy social workers. The intellectual dishonesty and moral corruption here is sickening. They have so subordinated justice to politics that the tangled masses of words they spew on their nightly assault on the talk shows barely even make any sense.

But this is par for the course. They live and breathe double standards. To pick just one example, imagine that a President Gore had ignored "bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." and gone on vacation; would Republicans have argued that it was time to rally 'round the president? Would they think that "hey, we were only attacked the one time!" was an argument that proved Gore's success at fighting terrorism? Would they ignore the fact that OBL was allowed to escape?

Gore, of course, would have been impeached, if not shot.

The actions that make a Republican president a hero would have made a Democratic one a villain.

The ability to be minimally objective is a necessary condition for rationality, and the ability to be consistent is a minimal condition for objectivity. Bush's GOP defenders have shown themselves incapable of being even vaguely consistent about these issues. The drawing of the salient conclusion is left as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saletan Independently Generates the SERE:BDSM::Torture:Rape Analogy

Great minds...think alike.

My analogy was with a rape fantasy enjoyed by only one participant...but we're on the same page. (My analogy's actually better, as both participants in BDSM scenes experience pleasure from the activity.)

Independent development of a point is some weak evidence of its truth.

[h/t S. rex]
Utterly Insane, 100% Off The Scale, Completely-Out-Of-Touch-With-Reality Double Standard Watch

Behold, Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
"Which group — Cheney/Mukasey/Hayden or the Obama administration has more credibility now?"
[via Sullivan]

Now, if the Obama administration is, in fact, concealing evidence that torture was effective in eliciting information, then that is bad. But the effectiveness of torture is not really the issue here. My initial response: anyone who thinks that it's in any way plausible to suggest that this single incident can even register against the record of unremitting mendacity of the Bush administration is some kind of lunatic who has lost touch with reality.

This is in no way an attempt to defend the alleged actions of the Obama administration.
Torture Used To Help Fabricate Iraq-al Qaeda Link?

Perhaps this is the right place to make it clear that I've been tormented by my inability to obtain the kind of clarity about the torture memos that most liberals I admire have. I currently consider it a defect in myself that I am not outraged at the thought of slamming, say, KSM against a wall. This is not to say that I have any inclination to defend waterboarding, nor torture in general. I'm just trying to explain, quickly and briefly, that it often takes a considerable amount of time and effort for me to figure things out, and that's not going to happen until this semester is over. I am, of course, outraged and sickened by the knowledge that innocent or marginally guilty people have been tortured. I'm even outraged and sickened by the thought of the worst of the worst being waterboarded--not to mention 183 times in one month. But I'm just too detached, overworked, sick of politics and sleep-deprived right now to figure out exactly how I should think about all this. I'm probably not as outraged about CaterpillarGate as I ought to be. I go back and forth...

That's all by way of saying: I don't think I'm rushing to judgment about these memos in general.

But this...THIS...THIS is the fucking outrage of all outrages. This is like the intersection of multiple lines of evil in the Bush administration. I'm just about speechless right now, and had probably better STFU before I write something I'll regret later. I literally feel like I'm about to throw up.

If this is true, then we tortured people in order to generate disinformation in order to provide fodder for cooked intelligence in order to start a completely irrational war...which, incidentally, would deflect attention and resources away from the effort to find and destroy the actual perpetrators of 9/11--an event, may I remind you, in which almost 3,000 innocent people died mostly horrific deaths.


Is it just me? Am I an outlier once again, or is this outrage so outrageous as to be almost off the scale even by the depraved standards of the Bush-Cheney era?

[H/T Matthew C.]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bybee Memo: The SERE Is O.K., Therefore Torture Is O.K. Argument

One argument in the Bybee memo goes roughly like this:

(1) An insignificant percentage of those who have undergone SERE training have experienced lasting harm

(2) Only methods that inflict lasting harm are torturous
(3) The methods used in SERE training are not torturous

(4) Our interrogation methods were all used in SERE training
(5) None of our interrogation methods were torturous

This argument struck me as implausible as soon as I read it. I heard someone on NPR today arguing that the inference is flawed because the SERE circumstances and the interrogation circumstances are dissimilar...and that the relevant dissimilarity has to do with control and lack thereof. Specifically, he argued as follows: those undergoing SERE training know that they're in control of the situation--they can stop it when they want to, and they know they won't really be harmed; but this is not true of those who are being interrogated/tortured.

My guess is that this doesn't get things quite right.

My guess, rather, is that the most important asymmetry has to do with the intentions of the agents and the character of the actions. Consider the following inference:

(1) Mary went along with her boyfriend's rape fantasy (though she herself found it unpleasant), and did not suffer lasting harm
(2) Actual rape victims do not suffer lasting harm

I take it that argument (II) is obviously absurd.

Seems to me like the most salient difference is that between:

(a) Actions which are genuinely intended to harm and dehumanize


(b) Actions which are intended to simulate harmful and dehumanizing actions.

The reason the actual cases and the simulated cases are relevantly dissimilar isn't exactly because the people in the latter are in control and those in the former aren't. Rather, it's because there's a relevant difference between (i) actually being harmed and dehumanized and (ii) willingly subjecting oneself to actions that simulate harmful and dehumanizing actions.

If this is right, then, though control (or lack thereof) is one element mixed up in this, it's not the most important one.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Would You Have "Walled" A Terrorism Suspect?
A Wee Quiz

So say it's fairly soon after 9/11--we'll leave that vague. Conventional wisdom is that "it's just a matter of time" before another such attack occurs. Somehow you end up a part of the team interrogating a suspect who you've been assured is an important al Qaeda operative. You're assured by reliable sources that he knows more than he's telling. And you're informed that government lawyers have concluded that it's permissible--and non-torturous--to shove him into a wall...a specially-designed wall that's guaranteed not to seriously harm him.

The question, of course is: do you shove the guy?

What I'm sort of wondering is: how many people can give a negative answer with something like certainty.
Caterpillargate: The Reckoning
I Was Wrong, Episode MCXLVIII

I think I was wrong about the status of Enhanced Caterpillar Techniques. Turns out the interrogators apparently were allowed to suggest or say that the insect could sting, so long as they made it clear that this phantom sting wouldn't lead to death or severe pain or suffering.

Let me make a few guesses here:

1. Caterpillars were used as examples in the memo, but I'd be willing to be a fair amount that that's not the bug they really intended to use. I'd be willing to be that they intended to use a much more sinister-looking bug, like, say, this kind.

2. I'm also willing to bet that they weren't going to use just one. (Note: both of those are speculative.)

The image of someone sitting across the table from a single caterpillar is, admittedly, pretty funny. The image of someone stuck into a small box filled with apparently stinging insects is something else entirely.

But no matter how you slice it, this is torture.

I was also mislead by the fact that the Bybee memo suggests that they're not really sure that Zubaydah is afraid of that makes the strategy seem rather less awful...but the intentions are just as bad in either case.

I was initially mislead by the absurdity of the caterpillar image. That was a mistake.

(I should note here that I advocate torture in "ticking time-bomb" situations (that is, situations in which we know that we have the perpetrator, know that disaster is looming, and have run out of other options). But the thing to realize about those situations is: they don't really happen. If one ever should, I'll go to the mat to defend the torturers, and, in fact, I'd do the deed myself. It should go without saying that we were not in a ticking time-bomb situation after 9/11, and certainly not in the case of Zubaydah. We do have to ask, however, whether any of those involved in the torture reasonably believed that we were when they issued the relevant orders.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kathleen Parker Edition

I'm way sympathetic with Kathleen Parker on this point. This diversity business is way past annoying, and in some cases it's actually getting a little alarming.

It must be bad enough for students who have to put up with a stead drumbeat of "diversity" propaganda in college...but if you teach, you're looking at 35 or 40 years of it, not just four.

And, heck, I'm mostly a liberal, and I'm constitutionally inclined to like having lots of different kinds of people around. And I teach at a ridiculously homogeneous school that could really, really use a little more heterogeneity. But gah, even I am just sick of the empty-headed, saccharine "diversity" mantras. Seriously. It's gotten to the point at which I can barely even think about it dispassionately anymore--just hearing the word is enough to raise my blood pressure.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Regarding the 8/2 memo: I am going to go out on a limb and note that threatening someone with a caterpillar probably doesn't rise to the level of torture.

So, hey, Addington & co. got something right..
US Code 2340 on "Severe Mental Pain or Suffering"
Is Suffering by Defninition Something Prolonged?

I just got through the OLC's August 2nd memo on "interrogations." Now, I'm not a lawyer, and no matter how much you know about the analysis of reasoning, you can't have complete trust in your judgments in a domain you're unfamiliar with. There's no doubt lots of background knowledge that's relevant here, and a lot of reasonable assumptions and conventions in the law that non-lawyers don't know about. So what I say here is likely to be wrong at least in some detail.

There's a lot to be said about the 8/2 memo. Perhaps interestingly, my reaction for the first couple of pages was one of relief--it didn't sound as bad as I'd feared it would. Unfortunately, that reaction didn't last. But this is not the sort of thing one should say much about after just one read.

One thing I want to point out here is actually by way of, well, a kind of defense of OLC I suppose. Much of what's gone wrong here is that U.S. Code 2340(2) seems to be rather a disaster. Here is 2340 in its entirety:
(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) “United States” means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States.
I can't see how any sensible person would accept section (2) as a definition of "severe mental pain or suffering." First, there are clearly ways to inflict severe mental pain and ways to inflict severe mental suffering that are not listed in (2)--that is, ways to do so other than threats of severe physical pain or suffering or death, threats of this to others, or the administering of drugs. (2) apparently entails that, for example, sexual assaults up to and including rape do not count as torture so long as the assualt itself does not cause severe physical pain or suffering.

Furthermore, (2) apparently entails that all severe mental pain and all severe mental suffering is (by defnition) prolonged. So (to use an example off the top of my head) this means that I do not necessarily inflict severe mental pain or suffering on you if I tell you that your entire family has just been tortured to death if I'm sure to say "just kidding!" within a few hours or days. ((D) entails that I can't
threaten to torture your family to death, but that's a different matter.)

I hope there's something somewhere else that rules these things out, but these seem to be the implications.

So we begin with what seems to be a disastrously defective statute. Even an intellectually honest OLC might conceivably go wrong trying to apply this thing.

But this OLC was not intellectually honest, and this becomes clear fairly early on. To just pick out one of their most astonishing bits of sophistry, here they seem to be asserting that all physical suffering is (roughly, by definition, or as a matter of the very concept) prolonged. So there is no such thing as suffereing for a relatively brief period of time (say a few hours or days). This is utter bullshit, of course. To take a salient example, sleep deprivation for up to 72 hours--a "technique" they explicitly approve--apparently would not induce suffering in a person. Perhaps there is some vague suggestion in ordinary usage that suffering must be very prolonged, but there is no more than a suggestion--it does not clearly seem to be part of the concept of suffering. (If this were a clear and explicit part of the meaning, presumably we'd have no use for the term 'long-suffering', which would be redundant.) At any rate, this astonishing view seems to mean that (consistent with other proscriptions against e.g. severe physical pain) you can do pretty much whatever you want to someone so long as you don't do it for very long.

I don't want to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions about all this without carefully studying all the memos, but I have to say, even one read of the first memo has me feeling more than a little sick.