The Other End of Sunset

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Changing the world, one electron at a time.

We learn much about justice from accounts of injustice
--Alan Dershowitz

I don't have anything to say about my favorite, normal topic today, sorry. And, so as is my common wont when I don't have a good topic, I'll rely on a set of random quotes, largely with insufficient context. Welcome to my brain, again.

I am interested in advertising. Especially broadcast advertising. So I tend to notice ads. And think about them. Which is, to be honest, a fairly stupid habit. But, since you have decided to subject yourself to my prose, you get to see such cobwebs in my brain. So, question one for the audience -- does anybody really think that Boeing 737 planes are big and spacious? I mean, really. And who believes that paying for random stuff at, e.g., a coffee shop, with your credit card is faster than paying with cash? Hmm, anyone? Bueller? Clearly, I'm not the target market for today's advertising. But I guess I am, since I ride lots of planes and pay for lots of stuff. But these ads don't compel me.

And, a quick shout out to forsie. All the recovering addicts I have ever known have had somebody who was unequivocally in his/her corner. You are that person to your family. Good for you. It's easy to second guess, but hard to know the right thing to do in the moment. Well, it's hard for me at least. So, keep the faith.

Your last post showed me several things. Among them - you have no personal boundaries...

I do, actually. Have boundaries, that is. For example, I don't tell other people's stories. Unless they are dead. The people, not the stories, in case there was anaphoric confusion there. Basically, I feel ok telling corpse prose. Both because dead men tell no tales, and everyone should get to tell their story. But really, I do it because "corpse" and "prose" are almost anagrams.

And, oddly enough, prozac is an almost homonymic anagram of "corpse".

I'm sure there is a deep meaning in those facts. The discovery, and subsequent proof, is left to the reader.

The fight against censorship never stays won. It must begin again every day, because censorship is, and has always been, the human norm.
--Alan Dershowitz

One of the coolest things about my life is what I get to do everyday. I am near the center of one of the most interesting information changes in the past century. Yeah, I know, the Internet has been described in overly Messianic terms many, many times.

But the idea that people can tell their own stories, in a lightweight way, is pretty amazing, don't you think? The mere possibility terrifies governments all over the world, causing some of them to resort to Luddite tactics -- blocking access, trying to filter information flow, and the like. The Luddites destroyed looms to protest the changes that were coming to the textile industry as a result of the industrial revolution. Today's semi-Luddites try to block search traffic, or maybe social networking sites; the smell of oppression looms over their actions. The inherent stupidity of destroying the future is apparently woven into our fabric, deeply.

Regardless, I'm generally supportive of anything that terrifies authoritarian governments.

I wonder what terrifies the Bush junta?

I watched Bill Clinton on one of the Sunday morning shows today. A year ago, on a similar show, he was asked to describe the policy implications of the following hypothetical: you have captured the #3 Al Qaeda person, and we know there is a big bomb in a US city, scheduled to go off in a few hours. What do you do? In the interview from a year ago, Bill argued that US government policy should allow us to torture the information out of the operative, and then, after the fact, review the case with the Intelligence court or a federal court. The key point being a balance between getting information, now, and being transparent, after.

At the Presidential debate last week, Tim Russert asked Hillary Clinton the same hypothetical, giving her the policy answer, but didn't tell her it was suggested by Bill. She answered, quite passionately, that the proposed policy was terrible. Her argument was that we should stand, always and everywhere, for what is right and that torture is wrong. Then, Russert told Hillary who had proposed the policy -- her husband. Her answer was great -- "Well, Bill's not standing here."

Gotta love that, right there -- she is definitely her own woman.

Anyway, back to today. Bill was asked (by Russert) how he felt about the exchange. And Bill said that he had been wrong a year ago. He talked about how any such policy -- giving an exception for torture "sometimes" -- was a slippery slope, and soon you'd get people "driving trucks" through it. In fact, he said you'd get Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo. But equally important, he pointed out that if you hit someone, they will tell you what you want to hear, not necessarily the truth.

Regardless of my position on torture, I love the answer. Why? Because it's pragmatic and not hobbled by a foolish consistency. He had rethought his position, and was ok changing his mind. I always loved that about Bill.

You may wonder, what is my position on torture? You might guess that I'm against it on moral grounds. But I think you'd be wrong. I don't think it's likely to be effective -- figuring out what is real and what is smoke and mirrors in a coerced statement is hard-- but I don't have a moral problem with torture.

I guess I think that if you are willing to face up to the death and destruction that is the definition of war, you should step all the way up. Innocent people will get hurt. Some "guilty" people will get hurt. And bad things will happen.

I object to lies -- such as those we appear to be telling today. If you are going to hurt people to get information, then you should say so. And recognize the side-effects. But why would you lie about it? The bad guys know you are torturing them. And they may react accordingly -- by torturing your folks and recruiting more terrorists. And your own populace discovers the lie, over time -- even if you outsource the actual rubber hoses to a friendly country -- and as they discover it, they decide you are dishonest. And, in America's case, perceived honesty is on the top of the list of required attributes.

So, if you are going to do it, you might as well NOT lose your populace, you might as well talk about what everybody already knows.

Now, let's continue talking about the efficacy of torture. Well, I've already talked about the "they will tell what you want to hear" problem, which means you can't necessarily trust what you are told. But there is also a possibility that your folks will get tortured as payback for your actions. Thus, goes this argument, we shouldn't torture because we should protect our folks. This is a variant of the nuclear deterrence argument. Both sides of a conflict do NOT do something so that the other doesn't. Deterrence -- and it's kissing cousin Mutually Assured Destruction -- worked like a charm in the cold war.

I don't really buy this argument in the torture context. Why? Because it worked in the nuclear case only because the destruction was mutual, and assured. Nobody would survive a violation of the delicate balance of terror. And everyone knew that the bombs would fall on military installations and cities, alike. Lots of people -- and lots of civilians -- would die in Einstein's conflagration.

But that's only useful when both sides know how to destroy the other. Which is not a safe assumption when the "bad guys" aren't a nation, but are rather a group of people who don't have cities. Who do you bomb? There's no real deterrent against a group that can't suffer catastrophic damage from violating the rules.

So, in this context, what stops an opponent group from torturing your folks anyway? They have nothing to lose, so why should they not go ahead and torture your soldiers? Or anyone else they can grab?

Nothing, unfortunately. Our moral stance didn't protect the folks -- military and civilian -- that have been captured in the Middle East.

So, I don't buy the "don't torture them, so they won't torture us". They are torturing us anyway, and there's no reason to believe that there is deterrent value in our NOT doing so.

So, why should we not torture?

Well, it does feel like something the bad guys do, not the guys in the white hats, so maybe we shouldn't just for that reason. This seems like Hillary's argument. I guess I don't know what I think. But I think war is an ugly business, and we should not pretend that we can kill people and be clean and neat. It's not honest. It is not fair to the soldiers and others who are trying to stay alive -- we should give them as much freedom to decide and keep alive as we can, yes? Sometimes, staying alive may yield "ugly" things.

Not ugly as in My Lai, no. But ugly as in torture? Maybe. I don't know.

But I know I want to go take a shower.

And, yes, I am about to get back to information and its power in a second.

Not so long ago, I would not have been able to tell this tale. Granted, I wouldn't have been boring the two of you who have made it this far, but still. I would have been silenced. Maybe not by some active event -- maybe I wouldn't have been kept down by some governmental force, or a church or whatever. But I wouldn't have had the means to tell my story. History is written by the winners. Particularly those that can afford to spend a large part of their time telling stories. Which means, in general, those that can find a way to make a living doing it, or those who don't need to make a living. Thus, even more than the winners, generally, history is told only by the RICH winners.

Although this is not a particularly scintillating post, I'm glad I get to write it. I get to write it because the Internet, and the associated trends -- search, blogging, better access -- have made it pretty easy for anybody to tell a story.

I'm jazzed to be a part, albeit a minor one, in such an awesome social phenomenon. I've gotten to tell Jeanne's story, and some about my grief at losing her. I've gotten to talk about my best friend. I've gotten to share some of my joy with SL, and some of the things I still get wrong with her.

This is an epic shift, akin to that of the invention of cheap paper, and moving type, and machine tools. We sit in the middle of the democratization of information. It doesn't matter what you want to know, you can find it. Be it stories of death and love and life, or political diatribes, or hating on some particular computer, or exercising or fantasy football or... well, whatever. You can find it. And more importantly, you can write it.

Just like me. You can test your boundaries and try to scare yourself.

Please, go thou and do likewise. Tell your stories. Be part of the global conversation. Maybe, just maybe, your story will tip the balance and make the world slightly better, or slightly safer, who knows. And maybe your story will prevent a police officer from hurting someone, or a government from shooting into a crowd of monks. Who knows, maybe you will help a drug addict get clean, or a lost soul find meaning, or just make someone giggle.

What great goals.

You told me you loved me often enough.

And, maybe most of all, tell your friends, family, and loved ones that you love them. You never know how long you have to do so.

Good night, OtherEnders. I shall see you all again soon. Unless the Secret Police show up at my door and take me away. In which case, please don't fight over my computers, they are probably all going with me into the holding cell anyway...