Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Again, why the Internet is Good.

Sometimes when I get to feeling like too many people are agreeing with me, I mosey on over the National Review's website. I try to keep up the habit of reading contrary opinions on matters, just like everyone says you should, and somewhere I got the idea that the National Review was the zenith of enlightened conservative intellectualism. But if this is the case, conservative ambitions to power will be stuck in the black hole of Calcutta a lot longer than anyone is predicting (snap!).

Take for example Andrew McCarthy's 'expose' on the torture memos called The Real Interrogation Scandal.

A two-page ramble to confuse whether or not it's okay for the U.S. Government to "shock the conscience" in it's dealings with foreigners, Mr. McCarthy manages to confuse not only the meaning of the word law, but also this tragic misquote. From his article:

In fact, back then, when it was expedient to be tough on terror, Holder was telling anyone who would listen that these al-Qaeda savages who murdered Americans absolutely did not deserve Geneva Convention protections.

To carp now about the rule of law is shameful. The rule of law hasn’t changed. But they have.

He links to a NRO Corner Blog post, which in turn quotes this WSJ page which finally quotes (without link) Eric Holder on CNN on January 28th, 2002 as saying:

One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.

It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohamed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.

Now, the WSJ post is simply a quote, with the attribution "Eric Holder (Barack Obama's choice for Attorney General), on the question of whether unlawful combatants captured in the war on terror are entitled to prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention. From an interview on CNN, January 2002."

Even though the full transcript also exists online, they have chosen not to link to it. As this is an archival page, it makes a little bit of sense, as you don't want broken lings on archival pages. The real problem is that each layer of linking assigns slightly less context and slightly more subtext. The WSJ purports to present Holder's response to a question, even though they did not his whole (and arguably meaning-changing) response. The NRO Corner Blog post is simply titled "Holder On Geneva Conventions" and introduces the quote with "Eric Holder on CNN, January 2002:" using brevity not only to imply that this is the full extent of what he has said, but linking to the WSJ page rather than the full CNN transcript to reinforce the finality and certainty of his opinion at the time. Finally, we come to the "Real Scandal" article, which merely links to the NRO Corner Blog post as it frames the quote in an entirely different meaning, using this tertiary-source material as proof that Eric Holder did not believe suspected-terrorist detainees "absolutely did not deserve Geneva Convention protections."

Of course, that's not at all what Eric Holder said. The complete response from that question follows:

. . . Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.

And yet, I understand what Secretary Powell is concerned about, and that is we're going to be fighting this war with people who are special forces, not people who are generally in uniform. And if unfortunately they somehow become detained, we would want them to be treated in an appropriate way consistent with the Geneva Convention.

So it seems the NRO has shielded itself under several layers of both literal and metaphorical meta-content (nerrrr!). No wonder their thinking is so limited and insular--they are trapped under a blanket several links deep. How long did it take to find the original transcript? Try googling "eric holder geneva cnn 2002 interview."

All of which brings me back to my original point. The Internet is Good. Newspapers are suffering, which is bad. We need newspapers. But the solution is not necessarily roped-off pay-per-content. Eric Holder's response is important. He's the Attorney General. Newspapers can manipulate it. If google's webcrawlers can't get to your content (are you hearing me, scientific community? how about you, authors of books published by large publishing houses?) how will people know it exists? Of course, I mean my generation of people who know how to use the internet. Not Andrew McCarthy's generation who apparently only know how to read other things in the National Review.

Remember Kids, the Embedded Link is a tool, not a toy. Use it responsibly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hey Mcconnell, Deficit Spending Much?

Despite Mitch Mcconnell's terribly convincing ranting about Obama's unsustainable growth of the national debt, it seems he's been up to a little deficit spending himself. According to reports, the honorable Senator from Kentucky still owes $2 million from his 2008 campaign. Something about charity begins at home... oh wait, maybe he could ask Obama.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We've got a black president, so it's cool to go after Thomas...

no commentary, just sayin'

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A slightly less modest proposal...

Frankly, I thought the question of overpopulation and all it's Malthus-obsessed prophets of doom had been satisfied by Mr. Swift's classic treatise on the matter, but it seems many in the U.S. are still concerned with the matter. More importantly, they (like so many) are reveling in blaming the immigrants (at least according to this slick new campaign).

But perhaps (say it ain't so!) their ire is misplaced. There's a right-quick way to tamp down population growth (which, were one to do so, it would only serve to exacerbate the growing fiscal crisis that is medicare, medicaid, and social security) and raise more tax revenue for the shit-storm it would create (see last parenthetical note):

Stop subsidizing children.

Why should families get paid $3500 to have a kid? Once the cost of child ownership goes up, people will be less inclined to have them (or so the strictures of neo-liberal economics would insist), and production will decline. It's just like corn and gasoline.

In any case, illegal immigrants come into the country at prime working age, unsubsidized, often pay into social benefits without ever receiving them, and in many ways prop up the country without taking very much besides a chance for a better life from it. Plus they constitute an essential part of our national ethos (unless we choose to abandon it before they can get here).

Happy Tax Day, Everyone!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Transgenerational means...

"We do not want the old to be sharper than we. It is bad enough that they were there first and got the best things." (from Burr)

Oh, Gore Vidal, how you would love us to believe that you were young once, too...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

If anyone tells you a Carbon Tax is more efficient...

Sorry I've been so blog-irregular recently, but I swear I'm putting together a great piece on Dandong. Instead, I've read a few rants recently about how a greenhouse gas Cap-and-Trade scheme is the height of democrat-interfere-in-the-market-edness, and how a carbon tax would provide a much simpler solution. I disagree with this idea ferociously, but won't go into it now. Rather, take a gander at this paper by an MIT lab I'd love to work for:

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Qu DanDong

In a few hours I'm leaving to Dandong for a few days. I should be pretty incommunicado, but if no one hears from me by Thursday the next I could very well be locked in a North Korean detention center eating congee and kimchee.

Just kidding, they would never give me their kimchee.

Lobotomy or Appendectomy?

As you may know, at least a part of why I've undertaken this trip to China rose out of an interest in discovering how an economically and culturally dynamic society can coexist with a politically repressive government. I've had many suspicions, but I still hadn't gotten down to the nuts and bolts of it with a real Chinese student until meeting a guy named Jack yesterday.

The first thing to know is that the government is very popular. More popular than Obama. That's not skewed polling, and it's not propaganda, the communist party is extremely popular.

And they have an excellent reason to be. Every person in China has seen the material conditions around them vastly improve in their lifetime. Jack was ready to jump into this discussion, as I didn't even ask when he explained, "Most westerners think that china is not democratic, because we have this one-party system, but what most don't realize is that we want the communist party." This from 21-year-old Business Administration student.

Indeed, China has grown into every other aspect of a (until-recently) fast-developing economy. Local media is huge, the night-life is almost indistinguishable from many other places I've been, with the exception that I can afford cabs (even if the environment can't). Saturday morning, young folks stroll through the park to watch the old folks dance. People go about their daily lives, working, shopping, eating.

In the west we are afraid of fear. We have been ever since FDR declared fear our mortal enemy. And life in fear--the Stalin years or the Mao years or the Hussein years or the Nazi years--these are our demons. But people do not live in fear here. How is this possible? It is still common (if you look in the right places) to read of excessive repression of free speech in China. Indeed, there are still many awful instances of brutal, violent, and frightening human rights abuses. But the vast majority is in an entire generation of politically-anesthetized Chinese.

There are plenty of instances of politically-active Chinese citizens, and there are plenty more citizens with some opinion or another, but 'the situation on-the-ground'--as a presidential candidate might say--is a people that have learned to live and enjoy life and otherwise ignore politics all together. And frankly, it's not half bad...

The problem may come when an otherwise politically infantile opposition gains power. But hell, that's years down the road.

This is a topic I hope to continue to develop in the future, so let me know your thoughts in the comments.