Friday, December 28, 2007

...Derangement Syndrome

Ten years ago Andrew Sullivan was my favorite online writer. He was not only one of the first to use an online journal as a way to increase his exposure and readership, he was also easily one of the best pundits on the internet. His opinions were fresh, his writing style was brief and clear, and he was impossible to categorize as being left or right. But after Sullivan developed Bush Derangement Syndrome, I could no longer relate to anything he wrote. His hatred for President Bush seemed to push him toward hating anything and everything associated with our President. It wasn’t enough for Sullivan to criticize the decisions of President Bush, he became unable to opine on matters Bush without demonizing everyone in the Administration and everyone who supported the President. His hatred for President Bush ruined his objectivity and my interest in what he had to say.

Hugh Hewitt has now become just as unreadable as Andrew Sullivan to me. He has developed such a bad case of Huckabee
Derangement Syndrome that he can no longer be considered to have an objective view of politics or much anything else.

As much as I like President Bush and think overall he has been a good President, part of me will be glad when his term in office expires. As much as I love politics, part of me will be glad when the 2008 election is done. I want to be able to read two of my favorite writers again. I sure hope …Derangement Syndrome is not fatal or final.

Appropriate Reaction

Doesn’t it seem like the News and commentary regarding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is out of proportion to the significance of the event?

Ralph Peters has a Contrarian view of former Prime Minister Bhutto’s significance to the democratization of Pakistan.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Appropriate Force


Almost daily, I will observe someone using an inappropriate amount of force. Sometimes, it is one of my daughters as they learn a new activity or skill, but often it is an adult who doesn’t understand the relationship between force and success or has yet to learn the proper amount of force for the job at hand.

A good way to view the proper amount of force is to visualize what happens when hammering a nail. Someone experienced with a hammer and a nail will start with a few taps to get the nail started in the right direction, continue with a few pounds that are forceful enough to drive the nail, but not so hard the nail bends along its shaft, and then finish with a few taps to bring the nail flush with the board so as not to damage the board. Hammering a nail with appropriate force for each step is a skill that can be learned fairly quickly, but it is a skill that must be learned. First time hammerers rarely get the nail hammered correctly. Another mechanical example is the force needed to tighten a bolt. Too loose and the bolt will not stay in place; too tight and either the threads will be striped or the bolt will get stuck.

Inexperienced salespeople often have difficulty selling a product because they struggle to discern the right amount of pressure to apply to a potential buyer. Motivated newbie’s will tend to oversell and end up repelling a potential buyer while timid newbie’s will tend to undersell and miss some good opportunities.

The word “torture” gives the impression of a one size fits all method of extracting information. This is unfortunate because experienced interrogators need a wide range of rewards and punishments as a way to bribe and threaten an enemy combatant in order to extract the greatest possible useful information. The methods used will depend on various factors including the timeline for needing the information because some threats are more urgent than others, the personality of the enemy combatant, and the history of the enemy combatant.

Many forms of government sanctioned punishment have been discontinued due to mistakes, worse case scenarios, and abuse. Interrogating enemy combatants could also result in mistakes, worse case scenarios, and abuse, but all three can be minimized by allowing very experienced interrogators to use the appropriate force necessary to extract useful information.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Interrogation Toolbox


The problem with the words “always” and “never” is that neither word leaves any room for the word “appropriate”. Both words demark extreme and inflexible positions.

My wife and I made the decision to only spank our children as a last resort if a child of ours was being intentionally defiant. I can count on my fingers the number of times I have spanked both of my daughters. As a parent, placing one of my daughters over my knees and swatting them on the butt was the hardest thing I ever had to do because I knew it would bring tears to their eyes and screaming to their lips and I couldn’t be certain they would understand why their punishment needed to reach that level of severity. In order to deliver the spank, I had to resist what I felt like doing and do what I knew was appropriate to do.

I will never know for certain whether we spanked too often or too little, but I do know for certain spanking is a necessary part of parenting when done at the appropriate time and with the appropriate amount of force. It is quite easy to compare the behavior of two 3-year-olds, one who has been spanked and one who has not been spanked, and know which one of the two understands the consequences of defiant behavior. If I had to guess, I would say we probably should have spanked a little more than we did, but I prefer knowing we may have under-spanked than worrying if we may have over-spanked.

Enemy prisoners need to know that the decisions they make regarding cooperation with interrogators have consequences. Some prisoners will willingly cooperate in order to receive benefits not given to other prisoners, while some prisoners will not cooperate regardless of the amount of hardship inflicted upon them. However, the majority of prisoners will cooperate based on consequences, both good and bad. Various levels of rewards and hardships must be included in the toolbox used by interrogators in order to extract the maximum amount of useful information from enemy combatants. Not every prisoner needs to suffer extreme hardship, but every prisoner needs to know extreme hardship is a possibility for lack of cooperation.


Monday, December 17, 2007

To Torture or Not To Torture

I’ve been thinking a lot about torture lately because I haven’t read anything persuasive regarding why torture should or shouldn’t be used as a means of interrogation.

The main argument for using torture as a means of interrogation is because torture can and has been used to gain useful information to save lives and apprehend murderers.

The main arguments against using torture are because the information gained is not trustworthy, the person being tortured may not know the information that is being requested, torturing prisoners makes the torturer just as evil as the enemy, and torturing an enemy’s prisoners will lead to the allies of the torturer being tortured if captured by the enemy.

Some religious writers who believe man is created in the image of God have also added additional arguments against torture because they feel torture has a dehumanizing affect on the torturer and the tortured which is displeasing (sinful) to God.

Taken alone, each of the arguments for and against torture make a lot of sense, but taken alone or even combined, none of the arguments make a compelling case for why torture should or shouldn’t be used because of the counter arguments to each one.

For instance, regarding the argument for torture, how many people need to be tortured for how many times before one life will be saved? Slight torture on one person for one time to save one life doesn’t seem all that bad but severe torture on a hundred people for a hundred times to save one life seems quite excessive.

Regarding the arguments against torture, why does it matter if some of the information is not trustworthy when all of the information extracted can be tested in other ways for accuracy and truthfulness? If the one being tortured is a murderer, how can torturing this person make the torturer just as evil unless the evil of murder is defined down morally? Additionally, if the enemy already has a record of cutting off the heads of live prisoners, how is torturing one of their combatants going to make them any more evil or dangerous to our allies since they are already as dangerous as a group can get?

The more I’ve thought about torture, the more I’ve realized I can’t make any big sweeping declarations regarding the rightness or wrongness of torture. However, I do have a few points to add to the debate which I will get started with in my next piece.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Pundit Political Objectivity

Is it possible to have an unbiased and objective view of events and people in the News?

I remember listening to Rush Limbaugh for the first time on a road trip from Chicago to Fort Smith in 1990. I became very excited as I listened to his radio show because for the fist time in my adult life I heard a radio broadcaster who believed in self reliance, personal responsibility, and capitalism, just like me. The fact that he was also against abortion endeared me to him and his program even more.

However, the more I listened to Rush, the more I realized he sounded just as confident, and just as bombastic, even when I knew he had his facts completely wrong. His demeanor never changed regardless of any view he was expressing. The confidence he projected when he was right sounded bloated when he was wrong.

I try to read and hear the diverse perspectives coming from many different reporters, analysts, and pundits; but like most everyone else, I have my favorites, and my time is limited. George Will is always solid when he is opining about human nature and economics. Hugh Hewitt has been at the top of my list for all things political, mostly because of his defense of religion and religious people in public life and for how gracious he is has treated me on the few occasions we have had contact.

Even though I haven’t written much lately, I have been following politics and the race for the White House. Most of the top tier of Republican candidates have a few attributes I like and a few I don’t. Candidate Huckabee is a good man with way too many government solutions for my taste. I can understand how Governor Huckabee is not the candidate for voters like me who lean libertarian, but I don’t understand all of the attacks against Governor Huckabee coming from conservatives like Will, Hewitt, and others that have crossed the line from criticizing his positions and record to criticizing his character.

The bias of Will and Hewitt seems to have affected their objectivity. If it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.