Political Animal

TORTURE….Here are a few practices

TORTURE….Here are a few practices that were once rather widespread and unremarkable but that are now considered entirely taboo in America and the rest of the developed world:

  • Torture

  • Slavery

  • Forced sterilization

  • Children working 12-hour days running a steam-powered loom

You can add your own favorites to this list, but the point is this: taboos define us a civilization. They are things that we recognize as beyond the pale, things that define us as monsters if we cross the line.

If torture is acceptable because it can sometimes be useful, then why not slavery? Or child labor? Or any of a host of other potentially useful but odious practices? Because this is not who we are. Torturing a terrorist might indeed produce a small amount of useful information, but for every bit of information it produces, it turns a thousand potential followers against us. It’s a Faustian bargain, and it’s a bad one.

We will win the battle against terrorism by drying up the terrorists’ recruiting pool, and we will do that by consistently demonstrating that our vision of humanity is superior to theirs. Torture is not the way to do that. It belongs to days long past, and that’s where it should stay.

UPDATE: And for anyone who thinks a “little bit” of torture might be OK, this post by Jonathan Edelstein demonstrates graphically what a slippery slope it really is.


HOW FAR WILL THE FRENCH GO?….Steven Den Beste continues his long, lonely journey to complete lunacy. Today he’s worried about continuing French opposition to our war and asks:

Do they see the stakes as being high enough so that they might actually threaten to nuke us?

It’s hardly even funny to mock him any more. He really needs to seek professional help.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy blogged about this too and ended up with this exchange in his comments:

Narniaman: I think you’re misrepresenting his case. He’s stating worse case scenarios, they don’t have to be completely plausible. Stranger things have happened.

Kieran: Stranger things have happened than France nuking the United States? Want to give any examples? The famous rain of frogs in Posset-on-the-Wye in 1537, maybe?

We are now officially in through-the-looking-glass-land.

DNA TESTING….John Ashcroft has asked

DNA TESTING….John Ashcroft has asked Congress to budget $1 billion over five years to increase the use of DNA analysis in crime fighting. I’m a big fan of DNA analysis, and this sounds like good news to me since the proposal seems to provide funds for using DNA testing both to catch criminals and to exonerate them:

The plan announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft would also commit federal money for the first time for DNA testing of convicted felons who argue that they are innocent, and it would expand the types of crimes that would be included in a national DNA database.

I don’t know if there’s any fine print here I should be worried about ? this is John Ashcroft we’re talking about here ? but I’ll tentatively say that this sounds like good news. The prime goal of law enforcement shouldn’t be either toughness or leniency, it should be accuracy. This is a good step toward that goal.


BIG FISH IN A SMALL POND….Via Blogging News, Jason Kottke provides a summary of various attempts to rank blogs:

Here are some lists of the top weblogs (as determined by counting inbound links):

Technorati Top 100
Daypop Top Weblogs
Myelin Blogging Ecosystem
TTLB Blogosphere Ecosystem
Most Watched Blogs @ blo.gs**
Blogrolling.com Top Links**

** These two lists are not like the others and the discussion below may not apply. (Or maybe it does.)

You can also add the BlogStreet Most Important 100 Blogs to that list.

Jason notes correctly that each of these lists provides wildly different rankings. As of today, for example, the rank of CalPundit on these lists is (in order) 65, 0, 0, 8, 0, 0, and 50. Jason wonders if we can do better:

So, my hypothesis is that because of the skew introduced by the initial conditions and the small sample sizes, all of these lists (except maybe Technorati) are pretty inaccurate. It’s like the network effect squared or something — the rich seem disproportionally richer because the network is being measured from their perspective (perhaps making this weblogs & power law business more pronounced than it actually is) — but I can’t get my head around it. So here’s my question for you. How do you construct a fairly accurate map of a network (the weblog universe in this case) with a sample size much smaller than the total number of nodes (weblogs)? Is it even possible?

Needless to say, I prefer the methodology that ranks me the highest, but there are really two questions here: (1) what is the best measure of “rank”? and (2) how can this measurement be calculated? The technical question is interesting, but I suspect it’s the first question that’s really the hardest.