Friday, February 22, 2008

How the right wing argues...

So, during the debate last night, Obama said the following:
"You know, I've heard from an Army captain who was the head of a rifle platoon -- supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon," he said. "Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq. And as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief."

And it's been fact checked. They didn't have enough ammunition, nor did they get the vehicles they were supposed to have. They did, in fact, use weapons captured from the Taliban from time to time.

The Corner on National Review, and Ace of Spades as well as think that they didn't use captured weapons often enough for Obama to say that they used captured weapons.

Well, re-read the quote from Obama! He said that they actually captured Taliban weapons (for use, obviously), because that was easier than getting supplied properly. He didn't say they *only* used Taliban weapons, or that they *mostly* used Taliban weapons.

Ah, but mere factual correctness isn't good enough! No, because... because...

...well, because, you know, if he said something true and reasonable, they would look like angry idiots for attacking him.

Hm. Something about ducks comes to mind, something about looking, walking, and quacking... well, it can't be all that important.

Now that political silly season is full upon us, this is a useful thing to remember. The folks who are interested in telling the truth, who criticized Obama originally, well, they'd all admit it; Obama was right. What he said was true, and any exaggeration was only in the minds of his critics.

But folks who care more about the fight than the truth, well... you can see what they'll do.

(Edited for punctuation)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Feeling a distinct lack of pride for parts of my country

Okay, wingnuts. Here's the money quote.

Michelle Obama said: "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country".

Now, we could spend some time parsing this, and ask how "really proud" one is supposed to be of one's country on a day to day basis.

But you know what? I ain't playing that game.

Because the poisonous assholes who are trying to take her to task know better. They know she was not saying she was never proud of her country before. They know they're spreading a lie, they know that they're trying to whip up hatred of her based upon bullshit.

They know that if she was asked about this, she'd explain that she feels a new sort of pride, or a new level of pride, because she feels people are hungry for change. They know that, and don't go thinking they're so stupid they don't. They know.

So parsing the sentence doesn't matter, because the people attacking it have no honor, no decency, and no real caring for what she said, or what she meant. They just want to spread hate.

How do you deal with people who are willing to stoop to such depths?

Friday, February 15, 2008

I'm a little shocked...

Go read Glenn Greenwald.

The Democrats finally - *finally* - decided to stand up to the empty rhetoric and fearmongering of the Bushies.

Democratic Representatives, I'm hesitant to salute you. I want to. I want to gush about how wonderful this is and how it's the sign of things to come.

But with the pathetic collapse of your colleagues in the Senate, I'm afraid to. I'm afraid I'll feel hope. I'm afraid I'll start to think we'll finally see some accountability. And then I'm afraid you'll decide that you have to play it safe again, and not make waves, and not take a stand, because, you know, isn't taking a stand against evil and lawbreaking by Republicans partisanship, and isn't America sick of partisanship?

America is sick of partisanship, but America is not, and never will be, sick of principled people taking a stand for principled reasons.

Now it's time for you to take that stand. Now it's time to show you won't be bullied any more. Collapse on this, give up on this point, and your actions will seem petulant, a tit-for-tat when the Republicans acted so childishly, staging their walkout. But take a stand, and refuse telecom immunity, and refuse to budge on the damnfoolishness the Senate has included in its bill, and you'll be showing principle.

Show it long enough, and people will finally start to believe its true.

I wish I could believe it today, but I can't. I won't. The Democrats have disappointed this country - not me, not their fellow Democrats, not liberal folks, but this entire country - too often in the recent past. This is a hopeful sign; please, do your part to make it blossom into full blown hope.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A new, old argument

There is a medical term, "brain dead", that is often confusing to people. Brain death is when the brain no longer sends signals required to keep a person alive. If you don't keep such a person on a ventilator, they will die, because they won't breathe.

It's been quite a long time that we've accepted that as the point of essential death; the brain will no longer keep the person alive. We might keep the person alive at a cellular level, keeping a respirator going, trying to keep the heart going, to carry out the person's wishes to donate organs (or let a family member say goodbye), but we've accepted that the brain dead person is no longer with us. If we found a way to keep a decapitated person's oxygenated blood flowing (from the neck down) with the assistance of a heart-lung machine, we'd accept that the person was more than just brain dead... they are, to quote The Princess Bride, "all dead"... we're just keeping the meat fresh.

Here, we find that there are people who presumably would wish to contest this claim. A lack of a brain is not sufficient for them to decide that there is no further personhood.

The link leads to a part of an ongoing discussion (this particular discussion was started by a book) about a really silly argument that's been gaining in popularity for a while, the idea that personhood and humanity are inextricably linked. If a cell or group of cells has human DNA, they are human (from a scientific perspective) and therefore people. Unite a sperm cell and an egg cell in a dish, and you have a person, with rights to demand certain behaviors from us.

It probably seems like a cunning ploy. Any moral judgment must be based upon some first principle. While we can expect almost any society to accept certain first principles (murder, assault and rape, theft, etc.) are wrong, there are other principles that we recognize are so subjective that we can't expect them to be the basis for law. For example, the Catholic church feels that birth control is wrong, but that's a clearly so incredibly subjective that it is not a sound basis for lawmaking.

The idea that we can't destroy a fertilized egg (or use it to harvest stem cells, etc.) based upon a soul is also clearly so subjective that we can't use it as a sound basis for lawmaking. So, what do these folks do? They figure if they change the argument slightly, they can eliminate that pesky first principle problem!

Alas, all they do is push the first principle elsewhere. They are now saying that their first principle is "a fertilized egg is a person, because we've said a lot of scientific-sounding stuff (NB: sound scientific reasoning is a proper subset of "scientific-sounding stuff") and don't we all agree that it's wrong to kill persons?"

But we don't agree that a fertilized egg is a person. A fertilized egg is missing almost all of the qualities we expect in a person. It doesn't look like a person (except under magnification, it doesn't look like much of anything at all); it doesn't have a brain; it doesn't have a heart, blood, lungs, or any other organs.

I'm sure some folks would criticize me because I haven't read the book that started this discussion, but extraordinary claims (like "this book might counter my claims") require extraordinary evidence.

Look: the authors of the book feel that a fertilized egg should have rights. They write a lot of stuff that feels extremely satisfying to them, and feel that it's conclusively proved their point. But it's clear that no one can get around the main point: a fertilized egg has no hallmarks of personhood. However many words you use, no matter how emotionally or rationally engaging you try to be, you'll never get past that simple fact. If you don't have a brain, if the brain simply does not exist, you don't have a person... whether it's "not yet" (in the case of a fertilized egg) or "any more" (in the case of our hypothetical decapitation victim).

I will admit, I sympathize with some anti-abortion folks, because I don't like the thought of abortion. But in the end, the woman is the one who must carry the burden and risks of pregnancy. In the end, she must decide whether that burden and those risks are ones she is willing to accept. In the early stages of pregnancy, certainly up to twelve weeks, it must be her choice.

While one can argue more strongly against stem cell research (the burden is a lost opportunity, not the burden of carrying a baby to term), I don't think any argument can carry the day (legally speaking) because of the same issue: there is no brain; there is no person. There are just human cells being grown in a lab.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Any Christians still supporting Bush?

You know, I was thinking about this today, and I suddenly thought how scary it must be to support Bush if you're a Christian.

Jesus talks about judgment, and he says that those who didn't feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc., aren't going to heaven. What you failed to do to ordinary people, you failed to do to Jesus himself, he said.

It must be awful to wonder if the time's going to come when Jesus asks "and when I was being tortured, did you stand up for me?"

I mean, sure, the evangelicals can go all "but I tried to pressure people to say 'merry Christmas' instead of 'happy holidays', and I harassed gay people who are, you know, sinners, and all, and, and, and..." and I guess that must work for some of them, but somehow, I think Jesus is going to be more than a little pissed off by those who turned away from the least of their brothers.

And for those who actually cheered it on? Whoo, boy, but I'd be awfully nervous about meeting my maker under those circumstances. I mean sure, there's all that "believe and your sins are forgiven" but how much can you believe if you're not just turning away from your brothers, but actively approving of their torture?

Mukasey and torture - part II

I'm sure some of you have heard that our Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, has refused to investigate possible lawbreaking by members of the CIA who tortured prisoners. He claims to feel it would be unjust to prosecute people who acted in accordance with a legal opinion that declared that it was legal.

How should we, the American people, feel about this?

I'll tell you: we should feel pissed off that he's peddling this kind of bullshit.

Mukasey is working from an idea that, if a person reasonably believes that an action is legal, based upon opinions rendered by the appropriate government agencies, then that person should not then be prosecuted. Which sounds reasonable, doesn't it? I mean, if you're a cop and you're told that you should strip search a prisoner, and you check and you're told by the legal folks that, yes, it's okay, it'd be terrible for you to then be accused of mistreating the prisoner for performing a strip search. And in that case, it would be... we all know that a prisoner might need to be strip searched, so we aren't surprised if a particular police officer was asked to do it.

So why should we be pissed off? Well, let me digress a bit.

Sometimes, a rape apologist will insist that it can only be rape if a woman has forcefully made her wishes known. Such a person might ask "if she doesn't say no, or fight back, how can a guy know that she doesn't consent?"

And if you read that, you might even be like I was a good number of years ago, and nod your head and say "yeah, how can a guy know if she doesn't say anything?" But if you think about it, and place it in the context of reality, you'll realize what a stupid statement it is.

I mean, *duh*! He's right there! He can look at her facial expression, her body language, her reactions to his touch! He can ask how she's doing, and if she doesn't answer (verbally or non-), make sure he knows what's going on. It's not like it's that difficult to tell the difference between a woman who's revved up and raring to go and one who is horrified by what's happening.

So, when you think about it, it's stone stupid to think that "if she doesn't specifically say 'no' or fight back, it can't be rape". If a person can't tell the difference between "I'm perfectly willing to let you have sex with me" and "oh my god I'm being raped!" without the words actually being spoken, there's something seriously wrong!

Okay, back to the subject of torture. Here's the thing. Bush and his administration have said, over and over, "we do not torture," and if you look at their track record, the way they played this game was that they defined torture almost out of existence. They used clever words and parsing of the law to declare that certain "interrogation techniques" would not be torture.

So, you see, we're in a different situation here than in the hypothetical strip search I referenced above. The interrogators know that they must not engage in torture, but have been told, by the OLC, that certain activities are not torture.

The interrogators were *not* told to torture, and assured that torture was okay. They were told that certain actions were not torture.

But they were right there, seeing the effects of their actions. They saw what they did, and the effects it had, and they knew it was torture.

This pretense that they couldn't figure out that it was torture is idiotic. I can, just barely, forgive a person who, upon reading a dry description of torture, decides that maybe it's not that bad - I now think of this as the "dry description fallacy - but we're talking about people who saw it happen right before them.

It's true, you should be (and almost always are) immune from prosecution when the appropriate government agencies say that your activities are lawful... but this only applies if a reasonable person would accept that opinion!

For example, if a soldier is told that a target is identified as hostile, and the soldier takes action appropriate to the situation, and kills civilians, well, it's reasonable for a soldier to attack a hostile target appropriately. But if a soldier is told to target civilians, no reassurance can be sufficient; the order is clearly illegal no matter what opinions have been rendered. Every reasonable soldier (and most unreasonable ones) know that such an order is patently illegal, and thus, must refuse it.

The same holds true for interrogators engaging in behavior they know to be torture. Mukasey is misapplying the law.

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