Thursday, September 28, 2006

Torture, Power Tools, And Machining

The faint of heart may want to skip this one--there's a picture of my finger, and an unpleasant quote from a history book about Japanese torture.

This is a weird posting--a mixture of political commentary and machining. I heard a news report about the increasing number of bodies that are being found around Baghdad that were not just kidnapped and murdered--they were tortured to death with power tools. For those who think that listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers is torture, or having a pretty woman touch you is torture, consider what torture really means. It means someone uses an electric drill. (And yes, I will concede that waterboarding is, to my mind, on the other side of the line that separates torture from aggressive interrogation techniques.)

This is a subject of concern to me because of a mishap a couple of weeks back with a power tool. The Sherline vertical mill and lathe that I have are very, very cute. Their motors are also so weak that as long as you don't do something really stupid, the chances of injuring yourself with either tool aren't enormous. I think I've managed to get one cut that bled from using these tools.

However, the floor drill press that I bought recently is another matter. It has enough power (one horsepower) that the same level of caution that works for the Sherline is insufficient for this bad boy. I was using an end mill in the drill press to produce a nicely finished edge on a piece of aluminum. The end mill had not come to a complete stop when I tried to knock some shavings off the edge of the aluminum. Ouch! It has been about two weeks now, and my finger has still not completely healed.

Torture as a method of extracting information has a long and not very reliable history; people will say almost anything to stop torture. Even aggressive interrogation techniques need to be focused on obtaining operational intelligence--not something that will be used in a court of law. If operational intelligence can be verified (hopefully, by preventing a terrorist action), it can be justified because of the lives saved. If the use of these techniques doesn't produce any lifesaving information, it serves no legitimate purpose.

The Stalinist show trials demonstrated the uselessness of torture as a technique for obtaining material for use in a criminal court. Defendants confessed to crimes that they could not possibly have done. At least partly, the Soviet government's goal on this was not just to extract confessions to justify executing Stalin's political opponents, but also to remind everyone in the country that:

1. We can make you say anything--you won't be strong enough to fight it.

2. We don't care that what defendants are confessing to is ridiculous. It doesn't matter to us that the confessions are completely unbelievable, because we aren't particularly concerned with what anyone thinks of us.

I can imagine a few truly horrifying circumstances where the use of torture might be rationally justifiable, and nearly all of them read like scenarios that might be used in an episode of 24: the ticking nuclear weapon, hidden in a big city, and you have someone that you know beyond any reasonable doubt, was involved in placing it.

These situations are few and far between, and as I have pointed out in the past, these are so rare that we should not institutionalize such practices. If one of these doomsday scenarios comes about, I'm sure that the security forces will use whatever techniques they deem appropriate to get the information that they need--and they will throw themselves on the mercy of the President for a pardon. If the scenario is truly that extreme, and the evidence establishing that the suspected terrorist has this information is truly convincing, I have no question that such a pardon would be granted. The prospect of it not happening, and the consequent punishment that came from it, should act as a restraint on any decent law enforcement officer. (The others, I'm afraid, aren't likely to be restrained by anything.)

But torture isn't just for extracting information. Much of the torture being done in Iraq right now by these death squads involves people who could not possibly have any useful information. Unfortunately, there are people who just like to inflict suffering. David Bergamini's Japan's Imperial Conspiracy pp. 679-80, describes tortures performed simply as part of training others in interrogation techniques:
A young Manchurian accused of being a Communist was then brought into the interrogation chamber which served as classroom and beaten up with fists. He was burned with cigarettes on cheeks, lips, and eyelids. A mixture of water and red pepper was poured down his nostrils to give him a taste of burning to death and drowning at the same time. He was hung up and whipped. Attendants burned pits into his privates with their cigarettes. A Japanese doctor of evident education and contempt for the proceedings entered the room bowing and smiling and resuscitated the victim with an injection. The young leftist's fingernails were torn out, then his toenails. Strips of flesh were cut from his body with a knife. His teeth were knocked out. Finally Instructor Kato, "using his favorite tool, the cigarette, methodically burned out his eyes."

"Then, thank God," wrote Oleg, "he died."
That injury above was a fraction of second glancing blow from a 3/8" diameter end mill--and boy did it hurt! I have learned, to paraphrase the instructions at Disneyland, "Keep your hands in your pockets until the ride has come to a complete stop."

The prospect of someone intentionally using a power tool to inflict pain fills me with rage. If the cut and run crowd of the Democratic Party gets their way, we will be granting control of Iraq to people who consider this not just a necessary evil to obtain information, but people who do this for fun. That is not acceptable.

Monday, September 25, 2006

High Rates of AIDS Among Catholic Priests?

Professor Rasmusen points to several interesting articles that suggest that the high rates of AIDS among Catholic priests--almost eleven times the rate of the general population--are because Catholic priests are disproportionately homosexual. Depending on which survey or expert you believe, somewhere between 25% and 45% of priests are homosexual or bisexual in orientation--and the very high rates of AIDS among priests are because large numbers of them are not celibate.

I'm sure that the problem of pedophilia (and heavily focused on boys, not girls) in the priesthood is just a coincidence.

UPDATE: One of my readers takes issue with this, pointing out that the DSM-IV definition of pedophilia is sex with prepubescent children, and most of the priestly molestation was of boys who had reached puberty:
-- An overwhelming majority of the victims, 81 percent, were males. The most vulnerable were boys aged 11 to 14, representing more than 40 percent of the victims. This goes against the trend in the general U.S. society where the main problem is men abusing girls.
-- A majority of the victims were post-pubescent adolescents with a small percentage of the priests accused of abusing children who had not reached puberty.
-- Most of the accused committed a variety of sex acts involving serious sexual offenses.

The law (as distinguished from the mental health profession) uses a less precise definition on this:
The focus of pedophilia is sexual activity with a child. Many courts interpret this reference to age to mean children under the age of 18. Most mental health professionals, however, confine the definition of pedophilia to sexual activity with prepubescent children, who are generally age 13 or younger. The term ephebophilia, derived from the Greek word for "youth," is sometimes used to describe sexual interest in young people in the first stages of puberty.
I have received more than a few emails from homosexuals condemning pedophilia--but drawing this same distinction about ephebophilia, and who refuse to see the pursuit of young teenagers as a problem. You can't wait for a child to reach 17 or 18 (depending on the state)?

My reader seems to think that calling these abusers pedophiles somehow distances them from homosexuality. No, I'm afraid it doesn't. Not every pedophile is a homosexual, and most homosexuals aren't pedophiles, but there is a sizeable overlap--hence NAMBLA's presence in gay pride parades without apparent opposition into the early 1990s.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dark Star As Epistemology Teaching Aid

My wife and I are leading a Bible study right now concerning evolution, creation, Intelligent Design, and related issues. We are trying to give everyone enough of a grounding in these subjects to understand how evolutionary theory ended up in the driver's seat; the limitations of scientific theory; that there are a variety of different Christian perspectives (theistic evolutionists, such as Francis Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute), Old Earth Creationists (such as astrophysicist turned evangelist Dr. Hugh Ross), Young Earth Creationists, and biologists and biochemists who are Intelligent Design advocates.

We are also trying to get everyone to understand that when scientists reject supernatural explanations, it doesn't mean that they are denying the existence of God--they are arguing that you can't construct scientific theories (which are, after all, suppose to enable prediction of events) with an "M" for "miracle" in a formula.

The discussion will get more excited in the next few weeks, as we discuss the problems of translating yom, the Hebrew word that is usually rendered as "day" in translations of Genesis--but actually has quite a range of meanings, not just "twenty four hours."

Anyway, this evening, to get everyone thinking about epistemology--the study of how we know what we know--I showed the climatic sequence from Dark Star. If you've never seen this film--which was John Carpenter's directorial debut--you should. It was originally a 65 minute student film, and when you look at the special effects, it does show. But it is still screamingly funny--especially the sequence at the end, where one of the humans attempts to reason with a "smart bomb," raising doubts about how much we can trust our senses to arrive at truth. (Oh, and of course, it has the best country & western outer space song ever written. Okay, the only country & western outer space song ever written.)

Oh, and the smart bomb's eventual reaction leads me to Romans chapter 1:21-23:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Death Worshippers

A recurring difference between Islam and the West is that Islam worships death. If you think that I am painting with too broad a brush, consider this recent question of textbooks:
As if things weren't crazy enough already in the Middle East, here's the officially sanctioned message in sixth-grade Palestinian textbooks for 11- and 12-year-old kids: "The noble soul has two goals: death and the desire for it."

The goal isn't to build magnificent skyscrapers or write brilliant novels or to work on cures for the world's most lethal diseases. The noble goal for the noble soul is as simple as strapping on a dynamite belt and blowing oneself into a million pieces in an Israeli pizza shop.

The "death-and-the-desire-for-it" line is from a poem by Abd al-Rahim Mahmoud. Along with other writings that glorify child martyrs, the quote is included in "Our Beautiful Language," a standard text for sixth-graders after the Palestinian Liberation Organization took control over education in the Palestinian territories.

As officially stated, the underlying ethos of the Palestinian curriculum is "built on the principle of breeding the individual on the basis of serving society as a whole." Translated, that means breeding kids who believe suicide and murder are noble, who believe it's noble to create a society where the individual reaches his highest stage of development by extinguishing his own individualism, his own existence.

It's Jonestown, writ large, a cult of suicide for the collective, for Palestine. Israel isn't on the maps in the Palestinian textbooks.

Abdullah Qura'an, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, carried a 13-pound bomb in his school bag into a checkpoint near Hablus. He didn't die, because a cell phone rigged to set off the bomb didn't work. The unwitting youngster was told he was carrying car parts.

Shortly thereafter, a 16-year-old suicide bomber, Amar al-Far, outfitted for self-destruction by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, killed three people in an open-air food market in Tel Aviv.

Said the boy's mother: "Why did they choose my son? He was just a child. It's immoral to send someone so young. They should have sent an adult who understands the meaning of his deeds."

The boy's father told of his last encounter with his son: "I was asleep when Amar woke me up. He kissed me and asked for two shekels, 45 cents. He left the house and I went back to sleep."

A recent article in Rolling Stone, "The Unending Torture of Omar Khadr," tells the story of a 15-year-old captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan after he killed an American Special Forces soldier with a grenade.

"Born into a fundamentalist Muslim family in Toronto," Omar Khadr "had been prepared for jihad since he was a small boy," reports Jeff Tietz. "His parents, who were Egyptian and Palestinian, had raised him to believe that religious martyrdom was the highest achievement he could aspire to. In the Khadr family, suicide bombers were spoken of with great respect."
Unfortunately, it isn't just the willingness to die that makes this so dangerous; it is the willingness to kill innocents as part of this death worship cult that threatens the rest of the world.

What is just astonishing to me is how the left, and many liberals, just don't get it. They see George Bush as a greater danger than this crowd that wants women banned from learning to read; that doesn't just refuse to let homosexuals get married--it refuses to allow them to live; that makes the most traditional and conservative Christian denominations look like the ACLU with respect to the establishment clause.

Sam Harris is a flaming liberal and opponent of all religious beliefs. This recent column in the Los Angeles Times makes a pretty good case that liberals are attempting to commit civilizational suicide:
TWO YEARS AGO I published a book highly critical of religion, "The End of Faith." In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students — from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.

This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.

This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism.

Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years — especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.


At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;" 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.

I don't know how many more engineers and architects need to blow themselves up, fly planes into buildings or saw the heads off of journalists before this fantasy will dissipate. The truth is that there is every reason to believe that a terrifying number of the world's Muslims now view all political and moral questions in terms of their affiliation with Islam. This leads them to rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how sociopathic their behavior. This benighted religious solidarity may be the greatest problem facing civilization and yet it is regularly misconstrued, ignored or obfuscated by liberals.

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration's use of the phrase "Islamic fascism" are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise — Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists — but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

We are entering an age of unchecked nuclear proliferation and, it seems likely, nuclear terrorism. There is, therefore, no future in which aspiring martyrs will make good neighbors for us. Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.
There's a lot in this column with which I disagree. He refers to "members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies." While I've met more than a few people over the years whose "end times" beliefs were used to justify all sorts of bizarre and ridiculous positions, this enthusiasm seems to have subsided--at least among Christians that I know. (Some of this was because Hal Lindsey's many books on "end times" turned out to be considerably less prophetic than he thought.)

It is a rather strange situation where leftists and many liberals, who should have the most to worry about from the increasing dominance of a fiercely homophobic, male chauvinist, anti-freedom of expression, and religiously intolerant worldview, are clearly more afraid of George Bush and Dick Cheney than they are of our common enemy.