Friday, August 29, 2008


Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Friday, August 29, 2008 -- 10:44 AM ET

McCain Chooses Palin as Running Mate

Senator John McCain has selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to
be his running mate, according to Republican sources.


Just remember where you heard it first.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I feel strongly both ways

Christopher Hitchens, clearly having decided that first-hand experience is not overrated, had himself subjected to water boarding in order to better assess whether it amounts to torture, and if it is the sort of thing in which the US should be dabbling.
You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.
After the experience, Mr. Hitchens comes down on both sides of the torture issue:
a man who has been waterboarded may well emerge from the experience a bit shaky, but he is in a mood to surrender the relevant information and is unmarked and undamaged and indeed ready for another bout in quite a short time. When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.
However, he lands rather more firmly on the anti-side:
Against it, however, I call as my main witness Mr. Malcolm Nance.

I passed one of the most dramatic evenings of my life listening to his cold but enraged denunciation of the adoption of waterboarding by the United States. The argument goes like this:

1. Waterboarding is a deliberate torture technique and has been prosecuted as such by our judicial arm when perpetrated by others.

2. If we allow it and justify it, we cannot complain if it is employed in the future by other regimes on captive U.S. citizens. It is a method of putting American prisoners in harm’s way.

3. It may be a means of extracting information, but it is also a means of extracting junk information.

4. It opens a door that cannot be closed. Once you have posed the notorious “ticking bomb” question, and once you assume that you are in the right, what will you not do? Waterboarding not getting results fast enough? The terrorist’s clock still ticking? Well, then, bring on the thumbscrews and the pincers and the electrodes and the rack.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Nance seem to have reached their destination without a starting point. Having failed to define torture, they reached their there from nowhere.

Presuming a captive possesses valuable information, there is a range of means by which to extract it, from merely asking the question, through soft cushions and comfy chairs, to thumb screws and the rack. That continuum starts with the innocuous, traverses the various provinces of unpleasant, and ends in the obviously repellent.

Clearly, we need some means to discern where the merely unpleasant ends and torture begins. Otherwise, any interrogation technique more arduous than a stay at a four-star hotel in Palm Springs steps beyond the pale.

Salim Hamdam was the driver for Osama bin Laden. Recently he was convicted of providing material support for terrorism. While at Guantanomo, according to human rights groups, he was subjected to harsh treatment:
... sleep deprivation, harassment and inappropriate touching by a female guard.
Oh, the humanity.

Suspecting inappropriate touching by a female guard and the rack are not morally equivalent, I offer this definition:
Any treatment to which a prisoner is subjected that leaves any after effects discernible by a thorough physical examination immediately after the event constitutes torture
Having been, in a previous life, subjected to stress positions, sleep deprivation, harassment and extremely close confinement -- and, no, I am not talking about modern air travel here -- I can conclusively say they are very unpleasant.

But torturous? No.

By my definition, waterboarding is in that province of unpleasantness infinitesimally close to torture.

Does that mean I think the US should "routinely" resort to waterboarding? No.

While I do not find much of Mr. Nance's counterargument very persuasive, particularly the oft repeated line of extracting junk information, so far Islamism does not pose an existential threat; preventing an outrage or rolling up a cell, though obviously to be wished for, needs to be held against the costs of doing so.

The hyperventilation of human-rights groups, or the flutterings of Andrew Sullivan, are often nearly beyond parody. However, those litanies of the merely unpleasant gain traction when the deeply unpleasant is also lurking out there.

So, while, in theory, I find the "ticking bomb" argument a compelling reason to waterboard, in practical fact no bomb this side of a nuke ticks loudly enough to offset the costs of standing too closely to the methods of the Inquisition.

Where the Hell is Duck?

Well, not in Hell, not yet.

I promise to write this weekend. The presidential race is finally getting underway. Stuff could get interesting again. The post-move is wrapping up, will start decorating the apartment this weekend.

I will be taking on a new enterprise, web development. I linked up with a struggling entrepreneur (on a date, no less) in need of a web developer, and I offered my services for free (for a limited time) in exchange for references to future clients. I'll provide more details as the project progresses.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Beating the deadline

Shocking, I know, but the UN apparently overcooked the AIDS threat.

Which made me decide to deal with the 2015 deadline today.
Finally we have a high-level admission that there is no threat of a global Aids pandemic among heterosexuals anthropogenic global warming. After 25 years of official scaremongering about western societies being ravaged by the disease ravaging the planet – with salacious, tombstone-illustrated catastrophe laced government propaganda warning people to wear a condom or "die of ignorance" hairshirt or be scorched to death – the head of the World Health Organisation's HIV/Aids department IPCC says there is no need for heterosexuals anyone to fret.
There, done.

By the way, adding to the list of occupationally infelicitous names, this announcement is courtesy of Kevin de Cock, who has headed the global battle against Aids.

New York is not an American city? Who knew?

In addition to the nothing is getting more expensive, and US house prices will never fall, OJ can add this to his list of biffs:
... no American city would let them land [the A380].
I know Alaska is somewhat off the trodden path, but I'm still surprised we didn't hear that New York had left the country.

An Emirates A380 superjumbo touched down at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport on [August first], marking the first commercial arrival of the giant, double-decker passenger plane on US soil.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Midsummer Distraction update

Skipper's one man show has been extended for another week or so. I'm moved into my new digs and will be hosting a visit by my brother this Thursday through Sunday. Hopefully normality will return next week, though I can't promise.

For your viewing and listening pleasure I give you 70's Indian Disco supergroup Boney M singing "Daddy Cool":

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Clouds and Linings

The property market in California has descended from nose bleed levels, returning to something like sane valuations. Consequently, Section 8 vouchers plus a little are sufficient to get poor African Americans out of ghettos into middle class neighborhoods.
ANTIOCH, Calif. — From the tough streets of Oakland, where so many of Alice Payne’s relatives and friends had been shot to death, the newspaper advertisement for a federally assisted rental property in this Northern California suburb was like a bridge across the River Jordan.

Ms. Payne, a 42-year-old African-American mother of five, moved to Antioch in 2006. With the local real estate market slowing and a housing voucher covering two-thirds of the rent, she found she could afford a large, new home, with a pool, for $2,200 a month.
Other than school vouchers, this may be the only dissonant note in the chorus of despair surrounding poor blacks.

Odd, but the housing crisis may be what it takes to start dismantling ghettos. [In other news, an NPR piece I heard the last half of a few weeks ago was discussing the pros and cons of significantly increased gentrification of downtown areas. Another dissonant note?]

It is always wise to keep in mind, though, that there is no such thing as a silver lining without a cloud.
Law enforcement experts and housing researchers argue that rising crime rates follow Section 8 recipients to their new homes, while other experts discount any direct link. But there is little doubt that cultural shock waves have followed the migration. Social and racial tensions between newcomers and their neighbors have increased, forcing suburban communities like Antioch to re-evaluate their civic identities along with their methods of dealing with the new residents.
Adjusting the text for NYT cant, clearly these new arrivals from the ghetto have brought some of its pathologies with them.

Hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. However, it will be a small price to pay if the consequence is to pull poor blacks into mainstream society.

Hypocrisy alert: I must admit I find that price much easier to pay, knowing I will never see the bill.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Shocking Tales

This interesting story on lightning leads off with:
In the summer of 2002, I was camped at the mouth of the French River, lying on my Therm-a-Rest waiting out a thunderstorm, when my tent was struck by lightning. It was over before I knew what had happened, before adrenalin had any role to play, before fear took over. My tent poles took the charge and I was spared, completely. The narrow escape got me asking around. How often does this happen? It turns out everybody has a lightning story.
Okay. Here are mine.

When I was seven, I was walking along the side of the apartment building in which I lived, where the roof eave shielded me from the rain. Suddenly, I noticed a bright white-yellow ball, apparently the size of a large beach ball, about 100 yards away tracing an erratic path, while leaving a trail on my retina, towards a utility pole. When it got to within about 15 feet of the transformer mounted at the top of the pole, it exploded into a bright flash and a gut shaking boom. In fact, it looked exactly like this.

On a night much later in life that was very dark, but not at all stormy, I was flying an F-111, descending to enter a low level route in northern Germany. My right seater was a newbie, and this was his first night terrain following radar flight in theater. In solid cloud, passing through about 3000 feet above the ground, I started hearing a screech on the radio, followed in just about the amount of time it takes to read this phrase by a blinding flash and a gut clenching boom.

Reflexively, I keyed the interphone and said "We're okay".

I couldn't see a thing. For those of you who aren't familiar with spatial disorientation, it would not have taken a lot of seconds without being able to see the artificial horizon before things would start getting very ugly very quickly. I leaned as far forward as the shoulder harness would allow, to the point where my oxygen mask was nearly touching the instrument panel. At that range (and at an age where I could focus that closely), I could just make out the attitude indicator.

I advanced the throttles to full (cold) power and set the pitch attitude at 10 degrees. Since I couldn't see the airspeed indicator, I had to pick a combination of pitch and power that wouldn't add to our problems.

Except, as my vision cleared, it had. The airspeed was rolling off. Keeping in mind that the F-111 is, so far as I know, the only airplane that will spin before it stalls, this was not a good thing. We were down on power, low on altitude, and running out of airspeed.

Slamming both throttles into afterburner solved the immediate problem. When my vision further cleared, I saw the right motor languishing at idle -- the thunderclap had compressor stalled the thing. Retarding the throttle to idle for a few seconds cleared the stall, and back to England we went.

The WSO was very quiet on the way back.

Considering the circumstances, it was imperative, in nearly the way that drawing breath is imperative, to debrief the flight at the O'Club bar.

When our first round hit the table, my WSO said, "I was reaching for the ejection handle when you said 'We are okay'. I thought the airplane had exploded. If you hadn't said anything, we would have done a silk letdown."

Same life, somewhat later. First night of Desert Storm. We were skirting a squall line of spectacularly active thunderstorms running along southern Turkey, just north of the Syrian border. As if those visuals, and the overall circumstances weren't already enough, what looked for all the world like a particularly bright yellow-green tennis ball formed on the pitot tube (pointy thing sticking out of the airplane's nose), then crept ever so slowly along the radome and up my side of the windscreen until it reached a point adjacent to the gunsight, whereupon it looked just as if the gunsight hoovered it right out of reality.

At that precise moment, another tennis ball formed on the pitot tube and began its leisurely journey. Then another, and another ...

For about five minutes.

If I was stroke prone, that would have done it for sure.

Okay, those are my stories. What are yours?

[Later in the article, the author claims lightning hits farmers more often than any other group. Nonsense, pilots are. I have been hit four times, and I don't know of any pilot with any significant amount of experience who hasn't been hit at least once]