instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, December 19, 2014

Full spectrum

The diagram in my previous post is incomplete, emphasizing the self-serving nature of some of the justification of the CIA's enhanced interrogation program.

Here's a diagram that shows all eight possibilities given the three questions "Is waterboarding torture?", "Is torture evil?", and "Is waterboarding evil?" (You're right, the purple region is logically incoherent; if you get a yes to the first two questions, nothing good will come from asking the third.)

Special pleading in defense of the CIA program lies inside the yellow region. "Sure, torture is evil, but waterboarding isn't torture, so/and waterboarding isn't evil."

A good number of people spend a good amount of time arguing that waterboarding isn't torture (the gray, red, orange, and yellow regions). Since my earlier question hasn't garnered much of a response, let me rephrase it:
If you insist the term "torture" be so narrowly defined that it excludes waterboarding, then what term do you use for the more general category of evil behavior that encompasses both torture and waterboarding?
This question will be question-begging for those in the gray, red, and yellow regions. I intend it to be. The purpose of the question is to come up with a way of talking to the people in the orange region, who from my perspective are playing semantic games that serve principally as material support of grave evil. Addressing the moral or intellectual failings of those outside the orange region requires a different tack.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

What clouds the vision

Waterboarding was easily recognized as torture when it was committed by those savage Spaniards, and by those savage Filipinos, and by those savage Japanese, and by those savage Germans, and by those savage French, and by those savage Vietnamese, and by those savage Cambodians, and by those savage South Africans. It was even easily recognized as torture when it was committed by savage Americans acting contrary to orders.

Somehow, it's only people who feel they personally benefit from it, and who don't think of themselves as favoring torture, who can't see that waterboarding is torture.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tout comprendre

I say, if you don't understand something, ask about it.

So, to those who still deny that waterboarding is torture, or who say that it's hard to say whether waterboarding is torture, let me ask:

What the hell is wrong with you?


Monday, December 15, 2014

'Tis the season


A quick word

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent this year was Mark 13:33-37. When I heard it proclaimed at Mass, what stood out for me was this:

It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work....
"Each with his own work." Each servant is in charge of something, each is given a task. There are no extraneous servants, no generic servants. They each have a specific role and a specific purpose. And indeed, what sort of a household would the man be running if there were servants who didn't have any particular work to do?

As servants of Christ each with our own work, we have both responsibility and dignity. "Servant" -- which in the parables, I've heard, is a polite way of saying "slave" -- and "dignity" aren't words that often go together, but if you have a job to do on God's authority, then you may claim what you need to do the job on the same authority, and no one but God may take it from you.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

A tough act to follow

The afternoon agenda for today's RCIA retreat:
  1. A religious brother
  2. Our parish priest
  3. Eucharistic adoration
  4. Me
Note to self: Never follow Jesus.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the other hand

For the most part, people assert stupid or foolish things because they're stupid or foolish, not in order to be stupid or foolish. The proper response, then, is to address the stupidity or foolishness that gave rise to the assertion. Merely addressing the stupidity or foolishness of the assertion itself won't help the asserter.


These are thy gods, O Israel, that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.

Here are the 20 findings and conclusions of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program:
  1. The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.
  2. The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.
  3. The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.
  4. The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.
  5. The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.
  6. The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
  7. The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.
  8. The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.
  9. The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General.
  10. The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
  11. The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.
  12. The CIA's management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003.
  13. Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.
  14. CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.
  15. The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA's claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate. 
  16. The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.
  17. The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.
  18. The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
  19. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.
  20. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States' standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.
If these findings and conclusions were, mutatis mutandis,  about a Department of the Interior program to dig water wells on public lands, conservatives would be howling about government misconduct and incompetence.

Visceral hatred, though, clouds the mind and warps the will. Faced with anything that might so much as moderate their delectation of anguish inflicted on others, some self-styled conservatives become supine devotees of the impeccability of the state, carrying water for whoever provides them their delectation with the faithfulness and devotion of Boxer from Animal Farm.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Immaculate misconceptions

The following statements are not true:
  • The Immaculate Conception is the conception of Jesus.
  • If Mary were conceived without sin, then she wouldn't need Jesus as her Savior.
  • Romans 3:23 -- "For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God." -- contradicts the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
  • The Immaculate Conception makes Mary less human than the rest of us.