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June 21, 2009


I continue to have my hands full with actual work. But I've been quietly excited about what's going on in Iran, even though:

1. Mousavi is obviously as big a fuckhead as Ahmadinejad or (for instance) Hillary Clinton. But this appears to be a situation where the leader is largely irrelevant and is mostly following his followers. Moreover, the psychology of leaders can change in such situations. I can even imagine a set of circumstances in which George W. Bush would have found himself a populist leader and genuinely meant it.

2. I'm amused by all the attention this is getting from some of the best U.S. liberal bluggers, such as Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings. Even when they're at their best, American liberals essentially follow in lockstep the agenda of the governing classes. Would they care anywhere near as much if Iran weren't an Official Enemy? Obviously not. Thus even when "opposing" William Kristol, they're ratifying the right's power by giving them the ability to decide what gets talked about.

3. I'm 100% certain some of what's going on in Iran is covertly funded by the U.S. government. But who cares? Some fraction of the civil rights movement was probably funded by Moscow. It's really, really hard to get popular movements off the ground—so hard that even with some foreign funding with nefarious motives, it generally only happens when they're legitimate.

So despite these factors, I find this pretty great, and a possible harbinger of a better future for All Mankind. Hopefully normal people outside of Iran can explore ways to fill in the "???" part of this diagram.

ALSO: I loved this from Gary Sick last week:

The Iranian opposition, which includes some very powerful individuals and institutions, has an agonizing decision to make. If they are intimidated and silenced by the show of force (as they have been in the past), they will lose all credibility in the future with even their most devoted followers. But if they choose to confront their ruthless colleagues forcefully, not only is it likely to be messy but it could risk running out of control and potentially bring down the entire existing power structure, of which they are participants and beneficiaries.

Huh. Sounds like a certain 2000 U.S. election I've heard about.

AND: Jonathan "Name Thief" Versen has his own thoughts on this matter.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 21, 2009 10:43 PM

Point 1: Don't really agree, but feel that a popular uprising that is able to resist the Iranian state would constrain him as well, were he to come to power, as I think Bush would be and in fact was to a certain extent constrained by popular protest (This is partly why Obama has been worse than Bush in a number of areas).

Point 2: A-fucking-men

Point 3: I hope this has gotten out of control of all factions of power involved, including Ahmedinejad/Khamenei, Mousavi/Rafsanjanhi, and the National Endowment for Democracy/Central Intelligence Agency, so once again, a-fucking-men.

Posted by: Rojo at June 21, 2009 11:41 PM

I don't disagree with your first two points, but I strongly disagree with the third one. Maybe you're just busy, as you say. Here's why I disagree with that third point:

First, as for the history, Moscow certainly did NOT fund much of the civil rights movement, so please don't repeat that canard. For decades, it was used to set the civil rights movement, and ultimately it was proved to have no substance. The USSR didn't have money for that sort of thing. it was just a useful lie to justify keeping a racist system going. A good clue to knowing whether to say something is whether J.Edgar Hoover ever said it. If he did, just don't say it.

Second, don't be so sure it's so hard to get "popular movements" off the ground elsewhere just because it is here. Following on the heels of the Brits, the U.S. has some experience at this in the Middle East. Once you get a little time, i'd recommend you read Robert Dreyfuss's The Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. I think Dreyfuss may convince you to at least qualify your view on your third point.

The history of the United States with Iran since the mid 1970s isn't what it appears to be on the surface. A lot0 of shenanigans by the U.S. took place in the middle east in the 70s as we stepped in to replace the british empire, got rid of nasser and undercut arab nationalist and socialist movements, consolidated our control of the saudis, helped phase out the shah (possibly helped a whole lot), sicked saddam on iran, and ultimately struck a deal with khomeini to make sure we got rid of that wimp carter. i don't think we can really know what's going on now, because so much isn't known to us. that's a big problem. It's partly why "liberals" you mention follow the agenda set by the Right; it's hard to know what other course to steer, because you end up steering pretty blind.

If your third point is really just that all these people in iran are taking to the streets because they have legitimate reasons, i don't doubt that they do. And I certainly don't think we should piss on their efforts. I hope they make something good come of this. But that certainly in my opinion does NOT mean taht we should think it's ok for our government to be screwing around in Iran, especially with covert ops and support of separatist or independence gropus. We need to cut that out, partly because there's blowback, partly because of the corrupting influence of our power and our medding there, and partly because this habit of ours screws up our government domestically too. Perhaps most of all, we need to cut out this screwing around in central asia because in the long term it is really dangerous. If history teaches anything, it's that aggressive meddling abroad generates resistance that becomes at least as aggressive, and sooner or later all hell breaks loose. Thanks to technology, "all hell" gets uglier all the time.

So give the iranians all the moral support in the world, and hope they get a good government that works for peace and benefits their people, but please don't support our covert operations in iran. That is NOT support for the iranian people, even if there is a momentary coincidence of objectives.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 22, 2009 12:05 AM

You make a good point. How many people know that 30 Peruvians died getting their president to step down or that Mexico's last election was likely rigged?

Posted by: LT at June 22, 2009 12:34 AM

Not to speak for Jon, Not Exactly, but I think you misunderstand his 3rd point entirely. First of all, it is undeniable that American communists played a significant role in the civil rights movement. It is also undeniable that Moscow had some ability to steer the American communists, although not as much as is usually portrayed. Jon's point, if I read it right, is that the civil rights movement was larger than the narrow concerns of Moscow and were better than not having the civil rights movement.

So, to apply to the Iranian situation, the protests in the streets today probably have been influenced to some extent by nefarious Washington motivations, but that extent is negligible in terms of the larger import of the protests (except, I would add, if Washington connections can be used to discredit the protests, which is why we should have stayed out in the first place, but I digress), and therefore should not be the key consideration in evaluating the protests.

Posted by: Rojo at June 22, 2009 12:40 AM

In Iran anyway, protesting seems to be more effective than not. At the very least they have their government worried otherwise we would not see as much of a “crackdown.” Fewer dead protestors. As Noam Chomsky pointed out that in the case of the Vietnam War Americans protested only after the war had been going for some time while in the case of Iraq Americans protested before the invasion of Iraq took place. I think that is a sign of hope for humanity.

Posted by: Rob Payne at June 22, 2009 02:03 AM

Where is Valerie Plame when WE need her most?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 22, 2009 02:06 AM


ok, I think i understand. If we suppose Stalin supported the US civil rights movement, that doesn't mean the civil rights movement was bad. That sort of point is fine--i agree with that. Your statement of the historical facts is good enough for these purposes, though it remains my firm view that moscow didn't have much of anything to do with the us civil rights movement.
i see that it just doesn't really matter for purposes of the point being made.

so if jon's third point was just that the protests aren't per se bad because our special ops guys have contributed to them, i guess agree with that. but i don't want our special ops guys messing around there even if it does lead to desirable protests, which is always the lesson the Right draws from these shenanigans.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 22, 2009 02:44 AM

Wow, what a great post. I particularly enjoyed Number two. She is sooo good at what she does, but once you get underneath the facade you can't miss the lack of sincerity, spontaneity, etc., it all seems so calculated. She re-enforces my lack of confidence in our academic institutions, the idea that she is a "professor" of ethics, no less.

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 22, 2009 07:37 AM

As a matter of fact, I take some issue with #2.

I'm not a political scientist, so forgive the gaps in my terminology. But I believe this is a phenomenon comparable to the post-9/11 environment in the sense that the governing classes' ability to set the agenda has been severely compromised. Unlike the "crises" preceding Vietnam or Iraq, which the government essentially fabricated (and therefore was able to define the significance, and the imperative action, in a way that best suited their ulterior agendas), this is one of those rare cases where the fundamental interest in the event has been established from the bottom up.

As evidence of this: first, I haven't forgotten our major networks' revolting failure to cover this story in the first days of the protests. Much like Iranian state TV played movies all though the weekend, our Big Three kept their viewers mesmerized by EPIC SHOWDOWN LETTERMAN VERSUS PALIN 2009 GET YOUR T-SHIRT NOW!!! My local news channel did not even mention Iran that first night. Much like any Bush-era clusterfuck, I can only entertain two possibilities to explain this: the networks really were more grossly incompetent than we let ourselves imagine, or this was a story that the "governing classes," left or right, didn't want being talked about. One of the lasting memories of this week is going to be how the plebiscites of Twitter really threw CNN on the defensive. Watching Rick Sanchez rave about his social networking prowess is the closest I've ever seen them emulating Fox's self-satirizing "fair and balanced" mantra.

Second, I'm struck by the parties' overall alignment. The only thing they're squabbling about is whether President Obama should be more belligerent, but when it comes to the righteousness of the protesters and the overall significance this has for the Middle East, the whole country is on the same page. Again, the last analogous event I can think of, when the government's only realistic choice was to satisfy a monolithic public demand, was the invasion of Afghanistan.

I don't give the GOP credit for the public investment in this. For the elites who've embraced it to the extent that it validates their worldviews, sure. But again, they have demonstrated at several turns that they are not the ones holding the reins. This is a pathos movement driven by individuals who, before last week, couldn't place Iran on a map. There may be a common sense that Iran was our "enemy," but their failure to take any high-profile action against us during their tenure in the Axis of Evil has caused people's faith in that dogma to be comparatively weak, and the powerful stream of pictures, videos, first-person reporting and participatory activism - as visceral and familiar as anything out of Katrina - has been more than enough to supplant the manufactured narrative. In short, the people have decided that the Iranians are now our allies, and there's not much the "governing classes" can do about it.

Posted by: Kaelri at June 22, 2009 11:25 AM

From Gary Sick: "But if they choose to confront their ruthless colleagues forcefully, not only is it likely to be messy but it could risk running out of control and potentially bring down the entire existing power structure.."

Doubtful. Even if the opposition party emerges on top, another crackdown by them is most likely.
There are historical antecedence: Napoleon supplanting the French Revolution...George Washington quoted as more of less saying, "Independence is grand, but this Whiskey Rebellion shit has got to stop."

Posted by: Paul Avery at June 22, 2009 12:29 PM

"She is sooo good at what she does, but once you get underneath the facade you can't miss the lack of sincerity, spontaneity, etc., it all seems so calculated. "

That's very unfair to hilzoy, IMO. I disagree with her a lot of times and think, like Jon, that she has the flaws of the best libs, but insincere? No.

And I may disagree a bit with point 2, though I might be misunderstanding it. Iranian events deserve all the attention they're getting, though it's obviously true that the press is portraying this the way they are because the thugs in power happen to be anti-American. If they were in our government's pocket, then the spin would be very different.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 22, 2009 12:30 PM

"If they were in our government's pocket, then the spin would be very different."

I'm going to refrain from the temptation to get snarky with myself. This was obvious, and Jon already pointed to the 2000 election as an example. When an election is stolen here the responsible liberals couldn't get over it fast enough.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 22, 2009 12:33 PM

i get a different feel for the situation in iran from asia times than from things like huffpo and blogs.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 22, 2009 12:40 PM

"Would they care anywhere near as much if Iran weren't an Official Enemy? Obviously not."

And you know this how, exactly?

Posted by: hilzoy at June 22, 2009 12:49 PM

Who in Hell cares what "hilzoy" or any other idiot lib-wool or pwog-weasl bot thinks or writes?

Big big irony here. Talking about the lib-wools letting "the right" define things for them, then you go referencing "hilzoy," a clueless eedjit whose scrawlings are best left ignored.

Academics... joke. Higher education in America... joke. The idea that lib-wools and/or pwog-weasels have the remotest clue what happens anywhere outside their self-satisfied ego-assuading cocoons of enlightened professionalism... joke.

So I guess the upside here is the bleak black comedy.

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 22, 2009 01:17 PM

IF the Iranians actually have a revolution that means a chance at regime change=WE GET THE OIL. WE side with one side or the other, or start OUR own faction, and immediately move in to DEFEND the oilfields. Who knows, Poppy Bush may end up with the Iran oil leases to compliment his ownership of the Kuwait oil leases. SURE the rich get richer, but as long as its OUR rich folks, its ALL good. KEEP PAYING, KEEP PLAYING.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 22, 2009 01:39 PM

As for the contention that liberal bloggers "follow in lockstep the agenda of the governing classes," it's been my impression that the attention paid to these protests is a classic case of coopting the message. While, I don't have enough of a history reading the liberal blogs to guess at the bloggers' true feelings on Iran, I assume that Palestine is one of the most important issues to these people. Isn't the real hope behind these bloggers that, should these protests succeed in taking any amount of power from Ahmadenijad, Israel's government loses an excuse to not engage in discussions on Palestine? Not to mention the possible uses to which the US could put their own Great Satan?

Everytime I read one of these vivid, sympathetic posts that assumes the ability of this movement to transform Iran into Sweden, I chuckle and say "keep fighting the Good Fight," because I assume the blogger's main hope is that these events take something away from the Israeli right. Maybe I'm new to this whole armchair psychology thing.

Posted by: Michael Wilson at June 22, 2009 02:46 PM

Hilzoy, thanks for stopping by. What I wrote was perhaps unclear and overly blunt, but still (I believe) correct. I'll explain what I'm talking about in a separate post soon.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 22, 2009 03:46 PM

#3 -- shitbird American taxpayers should care.

Posted by: tim at June 22, 2009 04:05 PM

i much prefer paul craig robert's take, as seen at today. given the other crap the US is undoubtedly doing to destabilize iran, it's not irrelevant that the US may be fomenting unrest in iran. jack bratich's article is also worth considering, esp. on this whole chirpy twatter thing.

Posted by: anonymous at June 22, 2009 04:11 PM

Bluntness is fine; it's mindreading I have a problem with. For the record, I got interested in Iran in 1978.

Posted by: hilzoy at June 22, 2009 04:39 PM

i certainly the articles at counterpunch by roberts and bratich are worth keeping in mind. it seems pretty clear to me that the twittergreen revolution was orchestrated, though that doesn't mean there isn't anything real to it, of course.

if i read the articles at asia times right, khameini seems to be in no real jeopardy here. I think the article by M K Bhadrakumar is particularly illuminating. According to him, having ahmadinejad as president actually helps the neocons and israelis, because he's an enemy who keeps on giving, what with those horns and all. that certainly makes sense. Why would the israelis and neocons want ahmadinejad out? Iran's policies probably wouldn't change, per bhadrakumar, and then the israelis and neocons would face an opponent much more sympathetic to the West.

But if khameini and ahmadinejad have never really been in jeopardy of losing out here, then maybe regime change in iran hasn't really ever been the goal. The goal might simply have been to further ostracize iran politically and prevent any rapprochement with the U.S. by giving ahmadinejad even bigger horns. There will certainly be a clamor from the Right to treat Iran even more like a rogue state now. And if obama continues efforts at rapprochement, all this twittergreen revolution may put him on the wrong side of change in the public eye and potentially make him look weak.

i'm still very unsure who is driving this train or where it's supposed to stop, if that has been decided. but i think there are ample reasons for skepticism.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 22, 2009 06:46 PM

And you know this how, exactly?

Because you didn't spill all that many pixels on the stolen election in Mexico, for a start.

Posted by: stras at June 22, 2009 07:03 PM

maybe hilzoy has not gotten interested in Mexico yet

Posted by: Susan at June 22, 2009 09:12 PM

What about the weak responce to Zimbawe? And OF COURSE the limpwrist responces to the America 2000-2004 elections. Maybe there's NOTHING of interest there?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 22, 2009 09:33 PM

Here's where I got a good feel for the good professor's ethics in a post about "whistleblowers" that got into torture.

I questioned the "curtsy" she clearly gave to the so called "ticking time bomb" scenario and oh boy, did I get crucified by her and her dogs. It was one of the first comments I had made in a blog and was just learning how. What an introduction. I think we all "know" about accountability and the courts when it comes to torture...there is none and there is no excuse for torture including ticking time bomb scenarios.

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 22, 2009 10:14 PM

MAY I point out that those Iranians look like they've decended from white folks and therefore do NOT deserve living in the stoneage.
ALSO Hilzoy hates CAPITAL letters.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 22, 2009 10:34 PM

knowdoubt--I read your link and don't think you got crucified. Anyone reading your comments here would think that the Obsidian Wings was a hotbed of pro-torture hypocrites. It's absurd. Whatever one feels about mainstream liberal politics (and my feeling is sometimes closest to nausea), ObiWi has been one of the best blogs anywhere on the torture issue--for a long time one of the researchers for one of the best torture books used to post there semi-pseudonymously and hilzoy herself is no slouch on this issue. That's why people came to her defense when you accused her of opening the door for torture. It's a habit of hilzoy to look at extreme cases (such as the ticking time bomb example) and point out why they have little or no application in the real world.

As I said earlier, there's been a number of occasions where I've disagreed with hilzoy or the other mainstream liberals there and in fact there are several lefties (I mean people well to the left of the liberals) who disagree with her on this issue or that and you don't get "crucified" for doing it. Hell, we lefties sometimes come out on top , at least in terms of the number of people willing to argue on a particular issue.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 22, 2009 10:50 PM

Perhaps the Iranians could try impeachment intstead if rioting. They could call the Ayatolla and mention it. (I'm thinking THEY would ACTUALLY have the balls to call)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 22, 2009 11:03 PM

Donald: I don't know hilzoy's position but the benefit of looking at the ticking bomb scenario is independent of its (im)plausibility. It is a necessary task - everything else is quite trivial.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 01:32 AM

Well Donald I didn't accuse her she accused herself here is what she said,

"OCSteve: the thing is, I agree with you in general, as I said in the post. I also think that going to the media with classified information is one of those things where you absolutely put your career in the hands of the authorities (also what I think about torture in ticking time bomb cases: if you think it's justified, be prepared to explain why in court.)"

If this isn't suggesting that it might be justified in the socalled "ticking time bomb scenario" I don't know what is? I didn't accuse her I asked her to say it isn't so. She didn't. She has done a lot of good spin for B.O. too when all he has done is hide it or ship it out, NO ACCOUNTABILITY, we couldn't have that could we? Our good professors like John Woo they're still housed in their Ivory Towers wntil the're needed once again to justify the unjustifiable. Crucified might have been a bit much, how bout just not made to feel welcome?

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 23, 2009 06:38 AM

video: Iran Election Questions: Noam Chomsky's Speculation

Posted by: Tom at June 23, 2009 07:28 AM

knowdoubt: again I don't know hilzoy's position but, on the basis of what you quoted, you're not being fair. She said "if you think it's justified, be prepared..." Then you write "If this isn't suggesting that it might be justified... I don't know what is."

In fact, it is not suggesting anything of the sort.

Suppose I write "If some people think it's OK to persecute minorities, they'd better be ready for a long prison sentence" am I justifying racism?
No. I am only making a statement about people who do.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 11:00 AM

Anyone who imagines that the U.S. "wouldn't do that," should read Stephen Kinzer's book, "Overthrow." You'll be disabused of that notion pretty quickly.

As for accountability, how about Michael Connell?

"The most recent assassination by plane may turn out to be that of Michael Connell, the Bush IT guru who may have helped the GOP rig Bush's 'elections' of 2000 and 2004. He was a man who knew too much. That's always been sufficient to get you murdered.

Michael Connell, the Bush IT expert who has been directly implicated in the rigging of George Bush's 2000 and 2004 elections, was killed last night when his single engine plane crashed three miles short of the Akron airport. Velvet Revolution ("VR"), a non-profit that has been investigating Mr. Connell's activities for the past two years, can now reveal that a person close to Mr. Connell has recently been discussing with a VR investigator how to tell all about his work for George Bush. Mr. Connell told a close associate that he was afraid that the George Bush and Dick Cheney would "throw [him] under the bus."

A tipster close to the McCain campaign disclosed to VR in July that Mr. Connell's life was in jeopardy and that Karl Rove had threatened him and his wife, Heather. VR's attorney, Cliff Arnebeck, notified the United States Attorney General , Ohio law enforcement and the federal court about these threats and insisted that Mr. Connell be placed in protective custody. VR also told a close associate of Mr. Connell's not to fly his plane because of another tip that the plane could be sabotaged. Mr. Connell, a very experienced pilot, has had to abandon at least two flights in the past two months because of suspicious problems with his plane. On December 18, 2008, Mr. Connell flew to a small airport outside of Washington DC to meet some people. It was on his return flight the next day that he crashed.

On October 31, Mr. Connell appeared before a federal judge in Ohio after being subpoenaed in a federal lawsuit investigating the rigging of the 2004 election under the direction of Karl Rove. The judge ordered Mr. Connell to testify under oath at a deposition on November 3rd, the day before the presidential election. Velvet Revolution received confidential information that the White House was extremely concerned about Mr. Connell talking about his illegal work for the White House and two Bush/Cheney 04 attorneys were dispatched to represent him.

--Bush Insider Who Planned To Tell All Killed In Plane Crash: Non-Profit Demands Full Federal Investigation

Connell was a 'source' for lots of 'dirt' involving the names George W. Bush, Karl Rove, perhaps the leadership of the GOP. Motive enough to 'off' him. I think that's precisely what they did. By 'they' I mean those GOP elites, 'world leaders', politicos that he was prepared to finger. That's the way the mob works. The GOP is a mob.

One of my sources died in a plane crash last night.

I don't usually reveal sources, but I think this is incredibly important! Michael Connell died in a plane crash last night. He was a key witness in the Ohio election fraud case that I have been reporting on. More importantly, however, he had information that he was ready to share.

You see, Mike Connell set-up the alternate email and communications system for the White House. He was responsible for creating the system that hosted the infamous accounts that Karl Rove and others used. When asked by Congress to provide these emails, the White House said that they were destroyed. But in reality, what Connell is alleged to have done is move these files to other servers after having allegedly scrubbed the files from all "known" Karl Rove accounts.

In addition, I have reason to believe that the alternate accounts were used to communicate with US Attorneys involved in political prosecutions, like that of Don Siegelman. This is what I have been working on to prove for over a year. In fact, it was through following the Siegelman-Rove trail that I found evidence leading to Connell. That is how I became aware of him. Mike was getting ready to talk. He was frightened."

(C&P from 'Existential Cowboy')

And now back to your regularly-scheduled programming.

Posted by: Naby at June 23, 2009 11:21 AM

Below I've copied hilzoy's response to knowdoubt's question about the ticking time bomb argument. I have to say it seems entirely reasonable to me. ---

"My basic response to people who propose a ticking time bomb rationale for torture, complete with wildly extreme scenarios (e.g., the person you've caught is the only person who knows the location of a bomb that will blow up the entire world!!!) is: supposing, for the sake of argument, that such an extreme situation ever actually happened, it could not show that we should ever make torture legal. In such a situation, someone might decide that the future of the planet was worth putting their own future in the hands of the courts, just as, if saving the planet for some reason required robbing a bank, someone might decide that it was justifiable to violate the law then as well. But (a) even granting every assumption the people who invoke these scenarios want to make, the remote possibility of some one-off event is not a justification for policy, and (b) I want the legal sanctions in place, since in that case I can be sure that the people in question will have thought long and hard about whether what they're proposing to do is really necessary.

It's essential to the ticking time bomb scenario that there's a very short time window, and thus that even if e.g. building trust is a better interrogation technique in general, it won't have time to work in this case. Is there any reason to think that, given (say) half an hour to get results, torture would be more likely than nothing to get results? I have no idea. Is there any scenario, however far-fetched, in which I might think that getting those results justified actions that would be, under virtually any other circumstances, abhorrent? I'd have to think about that one: if we get to include, say, the actual destruction of the planet as the alternative to torture, the case does not seem to me clear.

But what is absolutely clear to me is, as I said, that (a) this is no grounds for making policy, and (b) I want anyone who is so much as tempted to make that call to have to think very long and very hard about the likelihood of spending the rest of his or her life in prison.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 23, 2009 11:37 AM

For the record, I got interested in Iran in 1978.

gosh, hilzoy! how did you Kappa Kappa Gamma girls get around to discussing Iran? was it the rugs, the beautiful persian rugs?

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 23, 2009 12:18 PM

Thanks, Donald, for attaching her opinion. I agree it's reasonable. At the risk of nitpicking (but I guess when it comes to torture, words are very important and should be chosen very carefully), I would not use the word "justified" as she does.

Is there any scenario, however far-fetched, in which I might think that getting those results justified actions that would be, under virtually any other circumstances, abhorrent?

Getting results cannot justify (ie, show to be just) torture. I have to assume that's a slip/typo and not what she truly believes.
The proper phrasing would be: The possibility of getting results prevents the justification of never torturing. You can never justify torture, but neither can you always justify NOT torturing. It's a subtle but important difference. I will soon post more about it. (The comments section has been much too tame lately...)

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 12:36 PM

Professor: You wrote 'Donald: I don't know hilzoy's position but the benefit of looking at the ticking bomb scenario is independent of its (im)plausibility. It is a necessary task - everything else is quite trivial.'

That sounds more like mathematics than politics or advocacy to me. If you neglect all those other 'quite trivial' points, you'll lose your arugment. The 'ticking time bomb' argument is a cover, nothing more. The utility of the argument is that it reducious the issue of torture to a dispute about utility and efficacy. It gets people thinking like this: "Those people who are torturing suspected terrorists are doing what they think is right. Maybe they're wrong, i think they are, but they're fighting on the right side." And then people start to think about what worries them most, which usually involves the safety of their family and friends, and you run into the underpinnings of Cheney's one percent doctrine. Most people would obviously prefer that one suspected terrorist suffer horribly than that a city be destroyed. Hell, who wouldn't sacarifice one person to save a city if that's the only choice? So that's pretty much it--you're done. Game, set, match.

That being said, losing the argument isn't inevitable. Frame the argument properly, and you'll win it. If that's not intuitive, check out George Laskoff's writing. Or all kinds of famous trial lawyers or politicians. Even that schmuck Dershowitz is framing the argument to win it. No one, not even a genius, can win an argument against someone else's contrived hypothetical, so don't get drawn into that. Instead, frame the argument around all those 'quite trivial' points that are the foundation for the Enlightenment. :)

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 12:39 PM

Not exactly--

I agree that in practice, the ticking time bomb argument serves as a justification for the vicious brutality of our government against people (many or most of them innocent of anything remotely resembling terrorism). It's an argument put forward by people who either don't know any better or who are deliberately bullshitting. Even in the former case, I've largely lost patience with people who use it, because at this stage anyone who uses it as justification for US policy has chosen to get their information from sources that are totally worthless.

I'm only talking about it here because hilzoy is being accused of softness on torture. Hilzoy has her flaws, IMO, but being soft on torture isn't one of them.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 23, 2009 01:01 PM

Please. Lakoff is a fraud. "Framing" is bullshit. "Framing" is just the ancient art of rhetoric, given a new name by Lakoff, for the purpose of Lakoff advancing his name in academia.

Nothing like taking credit for a concept that is thousands of years old, by renaming it and promoting yourself as the author of a "new" concept that is milennia old.

Anyone who plays the game of "framing" is engaged in partisan pissing. Rhetoric is about advancing your position honestly, by using facts and logical exposition. "Framing" is about spin.

So if you prefer spin, follow Lakoff, and continue the Eternal Super Bowl of Donkey vs Elephant.

And if you prefer to pursue solutions, follow facts and use logical exposition to make your points.

Nobody needs George Lakoff. We'd all be better off if he'd never written a damned thing.

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 23, 2009 01:02 PM

NE: I'll explain later why I believe the TBS is all there is to it in the matter of torture, but a quick word about your point.

Let's not confuse moral philosophy and advocacy. If I want to advocate against torture I will NOT bring up the TBS. But to understand the moral issue one must. Some will say advocacy does not require understanding the issue (the proper framing is enough. That's the Lakoff disease: the worst thing that's happened to the American left). We have philosophers for understanding and advocates for advocacy. Michael Kinsley will tell you that as long as these 2 groups won't talk to each we'll be fine. Yeah, right, the establishment will be fine. Because advocacy that's not grounded in a firm understanding of what it is we are advocating for is doomed to fail. Proof: see last 40 years of American politics and the Friedmanization/Lakoffization of ideology.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 01:16 PM

Actually Dershowitz's argument is trivial to refute. In the pro-torture camp it's arguably the dumbest one.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 01:26 PM

Juan Seis Olla:

I think Lakoff is pretty good, but then i have never seen him claim to have invented argument, logic, or the ancient art of rhetoric. I suppose he may have been engaged in advancing his name in academia, but i've never heard anything to suggest any craven opportunism or lack of ethics. not that i understand how it would bear on what he writes, given that he does't to my knowledge do the kind of work larry sabato does, for example.

I am a little confused why you're saying anyone who uses framing as an argumentative technique is "engaged in partisan pissing." i don't follow that, or even understand it. But i'm glad you're for facts and logical exposition. good for you.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 01:26 PM

NE, if you are someone who requires everything to be stated as an overt "This is my agenda: _____" then of course, you can find Lakoff to be innocent of what I've mentioned.

Ironically, that would be very anti-Lakoff of you, to miss the subtle shadings that constitute "framing" -- or more properly called, as I said above, spin.

Several years ago someone recommended "Moral Politics" to me -- and in that book, Lakoff discusses "framing" as if he coined the notion and as if it is new within his academic tenure. The very fact that he calls it something other than what it is -- spin -- reveals his intentions. Presumably he's smart enough to know shadings and colorations, I mean isn't that why he is tenured as a professor -- his intellectual abilities, or the allegation thereof?

His entire book "Moral Politics" is about avoiding facts and using counter-spin to "win" policy debates. It's petulant, childish nonsense that has no appeal to anyone except partisan Donkeys who wish to "win" their ridiculous partisan contests with their evil enemies, the Elephants.

I am not a tenured professor, not even an adjunct faculty member, and I could reduce Lakoff's nonsense to one page. That he used a whole book to offer it for public consumption tells me he has an agenda other than observing reality and improving our situation in America. It tells me he's interested in self-promotion, and in elevating himself as a profound thinker.

At the very least he could give credit where due -- to rhetoricians who preceded him for thousands of years, and to spin-artists like Jim Carville, Karl Rove, and Joseph Goebbels.

I'm sure these sorts of discussions (the Lakoff kind) are really interesting to "academicians" and others who are afraid to put their thoughts into action, and are more comfortable pontificating from the security of a tenured position. I find it all a bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

And I credit Billy Shakes for that terminal statement.

If you don't see the "partisan pissing," NE, that's because you're a partisan urinator yourself, as I've witnessed time and again here at ATR.

but I guess a fellow has to choose his battles, and fight where his skills lay.

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 23, 2009 01:44 PM

Donald Johnson:

i didn't think you were defending the ticking time bomb argument. i also haven't read hilzoy on torture and so certainly don't think she's soft on it. i don't think professor chazelle is soft on torture either. i assume you're all on the right side of the issue, and i didn't mean to suggest otherwise in any way.

like you, i am sick of the ticking time bomb argument. i believe dershowitz certainly is too smart for that argument to reflect well on him, as are most people, and i think it's generally a very disingenuous argument (much like the argument that used to be made that the civil rights movement was being run out of Moscow when the fbi knew it wasn't so). As i said, i also think it's not good to respond to the argument on its own terms. it's fairly easy to devise no-win hypotheticals, and you can certainly devise one where an innocent person will be tortured, or where the information elecited from a tortured person will lead to a huge mistake and even the very event you want to avoid, or where somebody does something terrible in retaliation for being tortured or someone else being tortured. etc. Literature is full of these plots, and that's a general problem with this "one percent solution" nonsense--there are multiple consequences to everything, including unforeseeable consequences, so if you kill every potential terrorist on the spot, summarily without trial, and torture all the rest, you may stop some things that those specific people might have been planning to do, but you will certainly cause a whole bunch of other things, perhaps even worse things. And on top of that, the policy makes those who follow it behave like the Third Reich, which really isn't good.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 01:59 PM

JSO: Lakoff and Goebbels? I haven't read "Moral Politics," but it must be quite something to put him in league with Goebbels.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 02:04 PM

ObiWi has been one of the best blogs anywhere on the torture issue

At least until Obama decided he was going to maintain the extraordinary rendition regime, and Hilzoy decided that kidnapping people and sending them off to foreign dungeons was awesome.

Posted by: stras at June 23, 2009 02:13 PM

Tick tock, tick tock
Who can beat the time bomb's clock
We'll arrest a thousand innocent men
Then let the torture fun begin
Beat the first few 'til they confess
Then waterboard all the rest
To see which one wins the test
By coming up with a real timebomb
Now should no such bomb really exist
Shoot a few 'til one insists
He knows in the future where one might be
Therein lies the public's safety.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 23, 2009 03:57 PM

NE, it reeks of the same sorts of spin-aiming-at-mind-control that Goebbels was a master of using. Of course that stuff didn't originate with Joseph Goebbels, and Karl Rove won't be the last to use it, and the interim use by Jim Carville and Lee Atwater and Mary Matalin and many others wasn't exactly unprecedented either.

I'd wonder why anyone cites to someone like Lakoff when what Lakoff says is a sales pitch for useless spin-artistry. I wonder -- are people really aiming to change things, or are they just looking to win an argument with a hated GOP follower? If it's the latter, Lakoff is a prize to be treasured, as is Jim Carville. If the shooter is on the GOP side then there's always Lee Atwater, Mary Matalin, Karl Rove, Joseph Goebbels.

But I don't really care about "beating" a "Rethug" in an argument that is little more than noise aplenty. It's too damned easy to win arguments against any partisan fool. All I have to do is stick to facts, and make the partisan come back to facts, and every time --every time!-- I will take the upper hand. Why? Because partisan spats aren't about resolving actual problems, they are about managing perception. And despite what some fools say, perception is NOT everything.

I believe that people who want to change things need to drop the partisan puking. But I also recognize that the partisan pissing is attractive because people want to feel some immediate sense of victory and/or accomplishment, and winning (or in one's mind, winning) an argument feels like some measure of accomplishment. Our "news" media and their various pundits do not help on this score. Most bloggers don't help either. The partisan perspective is what is stopping us from mounting any real drives toward change.

So as long as people cite to a purveyor of partisan pap like George Lakoff, we're not going to succeed anywhere except in tiny "victories" arising out of useless policy arguments.

So yeah, Lakoff ranks and rates with Joseph Goebbels, because ultimately the two of them are about winning minds through manipulation, and not about improving things for humanity.

If you need evidence of how the partisan puking is distracting, all you have to do is look at the arrogant arguments about what is going on in Iran, and the even more arrogant assumptions that the USA is entitled to intervene to fix things so that "our" candidate "wins". Note that Americans have quickly divided over who is "our" candidate too. Is it Ahmadinejad? Is is Mousaivi? Come on, pick your man! You're not a real mover and shaker in the blogosphere until you have chosen a side and defended that side until your e-death!

It bores me to tears, and it frustrates me as well. But I guess it makes some people feel better about themselves, makes them feel informed and makes them feel cosmopolitan... "Hey, I have an opinion on Iran TOO!"


Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 23, 2009 04:53 PM

"At least until Obama decided he was going to maintain the extraordinary rendition regime, and Hilzoy decided that kidnapping people and sending them off to foreign dungeons was awesome."

I wouldn't go that far, but she has been one of the people willing to give Obama the benefit of a doubt--she may have come around on this (or maybe not--I haven't read her every word), but if she doesn't eventually adopt the Glenn Greenwald position on this, (Glenn was pretty good today), then I'll agree.

Not exactly--I didn't think you were attacking me. I was just clarifying my own pov.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 23, 2009 05:31 PM

Not Exactly,
Lakoff gets a bad rap from our hardcore rationalist pals because he allows that sometimes people make decisions without consciously analyzing a situation for its logical inconsistencies. It's an offensive proposition to enlightened supermen but pretty commonly accepted by psychologists and those who use psychology to communicate persuasively, like advertisers of political, commercial and economic persuasions. Psychologists call it being a cognitive miser. Lakoff's reputation is also complicated by his place in the linguistics field. If you've read "Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind", especially the chapter on the Darwinists you'll know what that means.

I don't know if Lakoff actually said that all it takes to win an argument is proper framing but it is a very common perception of his message. In fact I'm pretty sure the books I read (Moral Politics wasn't one of them) said some arguments would never get won because of fundamental differences in people's beliefs and preferences. What I got from those books I read was that it's important to understand how you're being understood to prevent your audience from arbitrarily shutting out your message. Bernard's point about understanding your issue is important, but even if you're right you have to be heard to have a chance of changing someone's mind, or at least getting them to admit you have a valid reason for disagreeing. Being heard is primarily where Lakoff suggests progressives need to improve. Beyond that it's up to them to understand the issues and bring the honest facts and logic to the debate.

Like you, I think Lakoff is pretty good, or at least he has some ideas that are useful. His openly stated preferences for progressive moral ideas sure has earned him a few vociferous enemies.

Posted by: lurking gnome at June 23, 2009 06:10 PM

Bernard and Donald, What she said was "be prepared to explain in court" not your comparison which is different. She clearly has left open the "ticking time bomb scenario" as a valid concern. This is what I took exception to. Hilzoy has read my comments and she doesn't deny them, prefering to let her apologists do it for her. She clearly suggests that there might be an excuse like "saving the planet" Here is another quote:

"It's essential to the ticking time bomb scenario that there's a very short time window, and thus that even if e.g. building trust is a better interrogation technique in general, it won't have time to work in this case. Is there any reason to think that, given (say) half an hour to get results, torture would be more likely than nothing to get results? I have no idea. Is there any scenario, however far-fetched, in which I might think that getting those results justified actions that would be, under virtually any other circumstances, abhorrent? I'd have to think about that one: if we get to include, say, the actual destruction of the planet as the alternative to torture, the case does not seem to me clear."

She has no idea? She voices clearly that if the "destruction of the planet" then the case against torture IS NOT CLEAR." Thats what I object to because it is just that thinking that gives the Cheney's and Rumsfelds the excuse to do torture and they are even no trying to convince the public that "they saved the planet" by torture. That is pure bull shit and that is why I have little respect for the good professor. She should own up to her own statements and either defend or deny she does neither. I'm not saying she is soft on torture, but I am saying if you leave the door cracked the Cheneys, Bush's, and Rumsfelds will do it. For Gods sake they have done it and that is just the excuse they are using and there is no accountability or excuse for the torture. "ticking time bombs" is total complete bull shit and to suggest anything else is complete Bull Shit. She's a big girl and she ought to own up either she believes "ticking time Bomb" crap or she doesn't and she should set the record straight. The record is there and at one time she suggested that it "might" be and that is all it takes for it to happen. You don't have to be a proponent of torture to let it happen, all you have to do is leave the door "cracked".

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 23, 2009 06:17 PM

P.S. The fallacy is the idea that torture can work or even might work in a "ticking time bomb" scenario. As long as people believe that torture "might" work then it WILL BE justified by many people. It is virtually a no brainer that if you can "save the planet" or save your kid by torturing then who wouldn't and then explain in court or where ever. It doesn't work, that is what is important after that there is no argument or excuse or explanation. All this be prepared to explain stuff just gives credence to the fallacy that it can or might work.

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 23, 2009 06:28 PM

"NE: I'll explain later why I believe the TBS is all there is to it in the matter of torture, but a quick word about your point. . . . Let's not confuse moral philosophy and advocacy. . . . Some will say advocacy does not require understanding the issue (the proper framing is enough. That's the Lakoff disease: the worst thing that's happened to the American left). . . . We have philosophers for understanding and advocates for advocacy. . . . advocacy that's not grounded in a firm understanding of what it is we are advocating for is doomed to fail. . . . Proof: see last 40 years of American politics and the Friedmanization/Lakoffization of ideology."

Professor, now THAT is provocative. Let me sink into that after asking a question prompted by your next comment.

Here's your next comment: "Actually Dershowitz's argument is trivial to refute. In the pro-torture camp it's arguably the dumbest one."

OK, i have to confess to confusion. I thought Dershowitz's trivial argument IS the TBS argument. Is there a better one that I've missed? And what are the other, better arguments in the pro-torture camp--collective guilt? The necessity of striking fear into the enemy? Meeting brutality with greater brutality? I seriously don't know what are considered the good arguments, not from an advocacy point of view but from the point of view of reason and logic. I'm not being flip or argumentative. Take that profession of ignorance at face value and as genuine.

Now for the really provocative stuff you wrote.

First, i'll wait to see what you write about why "the TBS is all there is to it in the matter of torture" because that position surprises me. I have viewed the TBS as ONLY about advocacy, not about serious philosophy. So i look forward to seeing what you write. I have not even realized there is a real moral question to debate; I seriously thought the issue was resolved by the Enlightenment. But I confess that i'm no philospher.

I don't agree that the left has failed because of the "Lakoff disease." The "left" has failed for a multiplicity of reasons, subordinate to one big one, but not that. I'm actually a little confused by your reference to the "Friedmanization/Lakoffization" of ideology. I assume you're suggesting that Lakoff bastardizes ideas, which i do think Friedman did (i can't stand friedman--an absurdly ideological and overrated quasi-intellectual). Maybe, i don't mean to suggest i'm a lakoff expert or make a defense of him. i just think he's right about the importance of framing arguments--that's about it--whether he thought of that or just has popularized it.

I am big on understanding. I'm enough of a historical materialist to think the left hasn't failed mostly because of a lack of philosophical understanding. I do think the American left has lacked guiding ideology, and that its pragmatism and willingness to compromise ultimately facilitated the rollback of the New Deal, which was the heyday of the US left. But the same thing has happened in Europe and Japan, though more slowly. (You well be ahead of me on the international aspects, but that's my sense; it derives partly from something by Perry Anderson I read.) I think the left has grown weaker for material reasons, not lack of understanding.

At bottom, i have to think economic changes are at the root of this trend in the world, not the left's failure to have a coherent understanding of the world or its embrace of advocacy in lieu of real analysis. Both advocacy and understanding are necessary to effect change. Personally, I find the understanding difficult to come by, but if anyone wants a start, i strongly recommend Robert Brenner's book The Economics of Global Turbulence. The book is an economic history, and in my opinion a very challenging one. Brenner says up front that he owes an "enormous debt" to Perry Anderson, and i think it shows some. I just don't think you or anyone else will get far with a program to revitalize the left anywhere without coming to grips with how the international economy functions in the present day. In my opinion, that is step one. Whatever real understanding you develop is going to have to encompass that.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 06:53 PM

Lurking Gnome: That all sounds pretty smart to me. I think you are more up on lakeoff than I am, though i didn't mean to say (if i did) that lakeoff says ANY argument can be one by being framed properly. I think it's certainly true that some arguments are unwinnable however you frame them. i just meant to say that many more are unwinnable if you let the other side frame them.

Professor C and I have sort of also ended up drawing a distinction between advocacy or utilitarian thinking (lakoff) and true understanding or philosophy. Having read what you wrote, i'm actually not even sure lakoff and the other psychologists and linquists and psycholinguists and neuropsycholinquists would say that distinction is so clear. i really don't know enough to know. as much as i find that stuff important and interesting, i'm not an expert.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 07:34 PM


On Dersh. Yeah, he peddles the TBS but that's not his argument (he stole it). His argument is, Torture will happen anyway, so we might as well regulate it. I'll go over that in a forthcoming post so let me take a pass.

My beef with Lakoff is that values are no longer what matters but words and images are. The comparison with Goebbels is overblown, but in both cases, lie and manipulation are the tools of choice.

When I hear people say, "let's work to win!" I ask "win what?" Win power? Or win in the arena of values? And I know the answer, it's to win power. Because people have no beliefs. And the worst is that they think they do. If you ask people on the left "What does it mean to be on the left," you'll get 100 different answers, 99 of which are utterly meaningless. Tomasky wrote a well-meaning essay about the meaning of being "
progressive." It got a huge following among democrats. It's sweet and utterly meaningless.

There is a word to describe all of that. It's 'bullshit."

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 07:57 PM

lurking gnome, that's mighty artificial -- perhaps even LYING -- of you to suggest that I have a "problem" with Lakoff that involves my "not seeing reality" when my thoughts are based on Moral Politics, a book he wrote without crediting anyone else, which supposedly means it's his work, and you have NOT read that book.

I guess that's why you generally "lurk" and are a "gnome," because you're not real, and you're always hiding.

If you have the ability to respond to my take on Lakoff by addressing my specific points, I welcome your dwarven illogic... or is it gnomic irrationality?... whenever you have the notion.

Otherwise, I find your comments childish, pointless, and strangely arrogant.

Much like Lakoff's work.

So it's no wonder you find him "useful," a view that doubtless reflects your breadth of education and knowledge. May I suggest an avenue of recourse?

Kindly go to whatever institution granted your degree, and ask for your money back. They failed when it came to your education.

How do I know this? I read your snarky sideswipe that showed a cowardly refusal to address me directly.

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at June 23, 2009 08:14 PM

I would second NE's suggestion that all of us here are on the "right side" of torture. We all agree it's the highest affront on human dignity that has no place in a civilized world. So let's take this for granted.

knowdoubt: With all due respect you're making a standard error in ethics, which is to adapt your moral stand in order to assure a win.

You write:

but I am saying if you leave the door cracked the Cheneys, Bush's, and Rumsfelds will do it.

So you don't address TBS on its own merits, you say "if I address it, Cheney wins." It's a utilitarian dismissal. Either TBS must be addressed or not. But the reason cannot be Cheney. So now it's Cheney who determines your moral stand on torture. That's unacceptable. Because suppose everyone was like you, opposed to torture, hence no Cheney, Bush..., then what about TBS? Will you now tell us (since your excuse not to tell us is now gone)?

Then you write

As long as people believe that torture "might" work then it WILL BE justified by many people.

Again, you don't seem to care whether torture works or not. You want them to believe not necessarily what is true but what will prevent others from justifying torture. You're not interesting in the truth but in achieving your goal. The problem with that utilitarian attitude is that it makes it impossible to call torture an absolute wrong.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 08:33 PM

Also, it's simply wrong to say "torture does not work." It's factually wrong. And it's a moral trap.
Even if torture didn't work, it's the worst possible argument against torture.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 08:39 PM

Going back to a different point, i just heard netanyahu on NRP talking about how what has happened in iran shows how bad and dangerous the iranian regime is. that was certainly predictable.

in reflecting more on this, i have been thinking a little more about whether the horned one (ahmadinejad) might actually have some positive qualities from the point of view of the iranian rural poor and working class. if the articles on asia times are right, that is the case. And why would that be surprising? The policies that favor business and urban professionals often do nothing for the poor, and those policies often get put into place as a result of corruption. So it really shouldn't be surprising that ahmadinejad, despite his megalomania and belligerence and fundamentalism, actually may be better than rafsanjani and mousavi in the eyes of many if not most Iranians. I'd bet you won't be hearing that on TV in the US for a while.

I also keep remembering that mousavi has some intel connections in the West, and presumably also in Israel, from back in the 80s when he was prime minister (before iran got rid of that position). apparently he was in the thick of the arms deals. i certainly don't know the extent of those connections, particularly in the present day, and I have no idea what's up now in that regard (somebody has been intercepting my "top secret classified" bulletins) but i have to say that if the goal of this twittergreen revolution has been to limit obama's options with regard to iran, that does seem to me to have happened.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 08:41 PM

IF it takes torture to "save" YOUR ass then, maybe, YOUR ass ain't worth saving.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 23, 2009 08:45 PM

Mike: Usually it's not the torturer's ass that's on the line.

NE: Is there any poll suggesting that Mousavi would have beaten Ahmadinejad fair and square in a runoff?

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 09:37 PM

Professor: "His argument is, torture will happen anyway, so we might as well regulate it." Now that you mention it, i think i do remember Dershowitz writing that somewhere. That really is amazingly stupid coming from the youngest tenured professor ever at harvard law. When he says something that stupid, it's obvious that he's just playing games. Not that such game-playing is uncommon in the law. Erasmus of Rotterdam was right on the money when he told Sir Thomas More that law is not a real science. Opportunistic stupidity is probably even a legal doctrine.

i suppose lakoff is engaged in the study of manipulation, and i guess that is dangerous, and I really don't want to start making myself sound like more of a lakoff expert than i am, but i think he's addressing the way the human brain works, disappointing or not, and how to make arguments that will be successful with people. If there's a one percent chance that will prevent an american city from being blown up, i think we should listen to him. (that was a bad joke).

more seriously, i agree with you that real understanding and real argument and real intellectual knowledge matter and should be a goal, especially of intellectuals and strategists, but i think you won't reach many voters or ordinary people with that. that's necessary too. The Frankfurt School had a much deeper understanding of what was happening in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s than any Nazi ever did, and they weren't on the winning side of anything. Hitler and Goebbels and the Nazis were intellectual light-weights in all the real ways, especially in comparison to horkheimer and adorno and the rest of those geniuses, but the nazis understood propaganda and power pretty well.
i hope it isn't the case that nobody can do anything that works without being like goebbels (not what you said i know). if it does, we're in even bigger trouble than i thought.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 10:38 PM

Jewbonics weighs in:

Posted by: Jenny at June 23, 2009 10:48 PM

"NE: Is there any poll suggesting that Mousavi would have beaten Ahmadinejad fair and square in a runoff?"

Not that I know of. As usual Informed Comment is informative, and Juan Cole continues to accept widespread fraud in the election, but i don't see that he comes out and says Mousavi would have won in a run-off. I haven't read anyone yet say the outcome of the election is clear, though there seems to be lots of agreement about fraud. Juan Cole's post today includes this:

"By stealing the election for Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has effectively made a coup on behalf of the clerical sphere in alliance with lay hard liners, which threatens to virtually abolish the sphere of popular sovereignty. That is what Mousavi and Karroubi and their followers are objecting to so vehemently. From the outside, Iran was often depicted as a totalitarian state. But from the inside it seemed to have wriggle room. The reformers are saying that the regime has just moved toward really being a totalitarian state and is now removing any space for dissent."

What I find interesting about that is that i think it is entirely predictable that hard-liners "remove space for dissent" when they perceive themselves as challenged from foreign sources. That is how hardliners typically respond. (It is certainly how our own hardliners have usually responded.)

And so what are our hardliners doing, having undoubtedly helped precipitate this "removal of space for dissent" in Iran by threatening attacks and using covert ops? They're pushing even harder by calling Obama weak, comparing him to Jimmy Carter, and using their noise machine for an orchestrated campaign to push Obama to talk tough and take acts that further isolate Iran under Ahmadinejad. http://www.atimes.

If M K Bhadrakumar's article in asia times is right and the israelis/neocons would actually have disliked a mousavi victory, which makes sense to me if there is a broad iranian nationalist sentiment in favor of their nuclear energy program, that may have been the whole point. it's easy as pie:

1. pressure from the outside (and in this case inside too) to precipitate a crackdown;
2. use the crackdown to justify more foreign pressure;
3. repeat until you get to the point of hostilities.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 11:11 PM

"Jewbonics weighs in: Posted by Jenny at June 23, 2009 10:48 PM"

I REALLY like that post. I've never read that blog, but i liked that post so much i read several others, and not even just on iran. Very good. I had to chuckle at the quip "But since our readers are principally and unfortunately ourselves, it means . . ." Too bad, because i think it's a lot more thoughtful than most of the crap on Huffpo, especially the endless twitter quotes.

i have to plead guilty to not really knowing that much about iran, just like all the other "experts" crawling out from under every rock that Jewbonics was referring to.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 11:33 PM

Also, it's simply wrong to say "torture does not work." It's factually wrong. Posted by Bernard Chazelle at June 23, 2009 08:39 PM . . ."

That's definitely right. Torture certainly can work, and extremely effectively. The CIA actually used to say it didn't work because they thought that had the ring of plausible deniability. You know, even if they weren't above that morally (which they certainly weren't), they said they wouldn't do it because it just doesn't work. That was bullshit; they were just lying, which was and i assume is pretty routine. Torture works GREAT for some purposes. Sure the tortured person can lie, but just try lying consistently when you're in agony and disoriented for even just a few hours, let alone a few days, let alone even longer. The torture is going to work sooner or later, and i've certainly read some accounts where it worked well pretty fast. People will have to find the dignity of the human spirit elsewhere, because the ability to withstand torture isn't where it resides.

This raises an interesting question to me. When someone is waterboarded 80 times, or 160 times, and tortured in that and other ways over months and months and even years, extracting information was not the goal. The goal might, ironically, have been making the extraction of information extremely difficult if not impossible, because psychosis and other serious mental illness could make it hard to find the truth about what the victim had experienced before all that abuse was heaped upon him. Or the goal might have been something else, perhaps creating war hysteria or just plain old hatred. Or maybe a brutal, fearful cultural climate. Or something else that escapes me right now.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 23, 2009 11:59 PM

Bernard Chazelle: If its done in YOUR NAME ITS YOURS, no matter whom has been hired to do the actual dirty work.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 24, 2009 01:04 AM

NE, you may want to look at this:

Posted by: Jenny at June 24, 2009 01:56 AM

I have seen no scientific evidence that torture works, i.e., garners accurate information in a more timely manner than "other" smarter legal methods. All the experienced interrogators from WWII on that I have read suggest that it doesn't work. Now I'm sure you Mr. Bernard can find someone who gets "off" on it so to speak. I'm sure you're much more conversant with the tortured and more esoteric nuances of ethics than I am.

I'm sure you could explain to me why the courts we should rely on so heavily in this matter find it necessary to execute an apparently innocent man here in Georgia named Troy Davis. It seems 7 of the 9 witnesses upon whose testimony he was convicted have renounced their testimony. All this ethical legal stuff is way over my head, but I'm sure that there are good reasons to execute a "most likly" innocent man and that it has to do with really important concepts like "habeus corpus," "due process" and "no man above the law" or making us feel safe which is really important too. You, Mr. Johson and Hilzoy understand these things and rely on the courts to arbitrate these subtle distinction about tbs and the justifications for or against doing torture. It's sooo way over my head, don't even bother to try to explain it to me, I wouldn't understand it anyway. I just have to accept that smarter people than I am are handling this and keeping us safe when it works and when the exigencies of time etc., demand it. The law will take care of the rest, I'm sure.

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 24, 2009 07:01 AM

Mike Meyer: Oh yeah, well what about identity theft?

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 24, 2009 09:21 AM


Your position isn't without support. Alfred McCoy, premier academic expert on torture, has made your point in much the same way. See A Question of Torture, 2006, at 196-197. (The subheading of those pages is "Can Torture Work Against Terror?) (By the way, that's a great book.)

MCCoy refers to the Roman Jurist Ulpian's statement 2,000 years ago that when tortured, the strong will resist and the weak will say anything. He then goes on to point out that all the torture we have done at Guantanamo hasn't resulted in much of use (which is unquestionably true, but personally I don't think the torture there or at abu ghraid was really intended for that purpose).

McCoy goes on to talk about Vietnam and especially Algeria (which is what I think Professor Chazelle has in mind) to recognize that mass torture can indeed produce results in the form of useful intelligence. Specifically, he notes that in 1957 the French army destroyed the urban underground in Algiers with mass torture, and the CIA's Phoenix Program in Vietnam had some results too with similar widespread torture. McCoy's conclusion was: "Major success from liited, surgical torture is a fable, a fiction. But mass torture of thousands of suspects can produce some useful intelligence."

I have to confess in rereading some of McCoy's later pages, he is less convinced of the efficacy of torture in individiaul cases than I remembered, especially forced confessions, and he attests from personal interviews that SOME strong, committed people can resist torture quite effectively. Because he refers to people he interviewed in the Phillipines about that very subject, I have to modify what I said in an earlier comment, because I haven't interviewed anyone about that. Either George Orwell or my subconscious apparently sneaked into my head an unsubstantiated view that almost all people are very unlikely to successfully resist torture.

McCoy's view seems to be that torture is unreliable in finding out what a person did, but it can be very successful if used in a systematic and widespread way(and of course painful and cruel). I continue to remember reading more than a few instances where victimes gave up lists of collaborators while being tortured, but my recollection apparently may not be that reliable. Then again, is a 35% success rate good? 50%? 75%? I guess it depends on your point of view and if you mind torturing innocent people all that much.

McCoy also notes that torture has a devestating effect on weaker people, including others he met. So when an innocent person get tortured, it can ruin his whole life. Above all, McCoy is an unqualified opponent of torture under all circumstances.

You also bring up a good point about putting trust in the courts. I wasn't familiar with the case of Troy Davis, but i have looked it up. I see it even made Time Magazine, and it appears indeed that there was grossly insufficient evidence to convict.,8599,1643384,00.html

I wish that were rare, but i can't tell you to put your faith in the courts. Sadly, for most people--that is people who aren't wealthy--we haven't come as far as we should have from what Charles Dickens wrote in Bleak House:

"The court ... so exhausts the finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honorable man among its practitioners who would not give -- who does not often give -- the warning: 'Suffer any wrong that can be done to you, rather than come here!'"

So no, don't put your faith in the courts. Don't put your faith in experts. I don't know who you should put your faith in, beyond yourself and those people who earn it.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 24, 2009 10:12 AM

Not Exactly: Nobody steals YOUR identy as an AMERICAN. When those GITMO or BAGRAM detainees say WHO tortured them, they say, "THE AMERICANS tortured us".

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 24, 2009 10:15 AM

Mike Meyer: What if I'm Not Exactly an American?

This also makes me wonder, does the phrase "you American dog!" suggest that dogs count as Americans, or only that Americans count as dogs?

Not that i'm a dog typing this, of course. . .

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 24, 2009 10:24 AM

Not Exactly: Since dogs are used in torture that maybe a valid point. Otherwise I must say "Paaleeezee!!!"

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 24, 2009 10:38 AM

"Torture doesn't work" is the worst possible argument against torture. Please never ever use it!

1. It's false.

2. Even if true, it's unprovable and falsifiable.

3. It implies that if torture could be made to work then it would be OK. Therefore it wipes out any moral strength from your anti-torture position.

No wonder the pro-torture crowd is winning.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 24, 2009 11:12 AM

Jenny: That link was informative too. I followed it through two links to this article by Muhammad Sahimi. (I'm so expert that i don't even know who that is.)

As i read sahimi's piece, he seemed to be saying the hard-liners have in fact been engaged in a sort of "coup," toward which they have been moving for the past few years because of their perception of an "internal threat" to the islamic revolution. This is in line with what i was suggesting yesterday--that pressure from outside may have helped push the hard-liners inside the government to crack down on their opposition, which they view as in league with the foreign forces that they consider a threat. The hard-liners must really be more convinced than ever of that now.

Salami concludes his article:

"Thus, this is a pivotal moment in Iran’s contemporary history, and indeed the Middle East’s. If the [right-wing] second-generation revolutionaries succeed, Iran will enter a period of extreme political repression, which will make it easier for the War Party and the Israel lobby to try to convince the public that Iran’s nuclear program must be handled through military attacks."

"If, on the other hand, the protests succeed in turning back the rigged elections, the reformists and democratic groups will have a golden opportunity to move Iran much faster toward a democratic political system, which will be crucial to the stability of the Middle East."

As I read that, that looks like a win/win situation for western intel. Either they would take a step or a few steps toward getting the attack on Iran they want, assuming the iranian hard-liners prevail (as i assume they could predict without any trouble) or they weaken the hard-liners, their real enemies, enough to create more of an opening for them to poke their nose into Iranian internal affairs.

so i'm not sure i agree with the suggestion in the link you cited that the cia or elements thereof or other US or Brit or Israeli or Saudi intel (they're like roaches at this point) wouldn't want to encourage a hard-line iranian crackdown for their own reasons. it makes sense to me that they would want that.

what's of course discouraging is that all those people took to the streets of Teheran for legitimate reasons and real change is needed. the posts you cited make that pretty clear. that's been going forever too. "The Revolution Betrayed" has a million postscripts.

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 24, 2009 11:21 AM

hi Jon S., and thanks for the mention.

Bernard, you write:

"it's simply wrong to say "torture does not work." It's factually wrong. And it's a moral trap.
Even if torture didn't work, it's the worst possible argument against torture."

I have difficulty with your argument because I think the central question is persuasion, and I am convinced there are substantial portions of the populace who can be persuaded re torture being wrong but will mistrust the person making the argument if all he says is torture is wrong, because what they'll hear is

"you're so stupid and savage, blah blah blah..." and they'll just become more resistant.

(although I note that I agree with Not E. and Nell L. about the underlying reasons that torture is chosen.).

This may not be the "bottom line" in this counter-argument, but I don't agree that the process arguments and the moral arguments are mutually exclusive.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at June 24, 2009 12:33 PM

""Torture doesn't work" is the worst possible argument against torture. Please never ever use it! . . . No wonder the pro-torture crowd is winning. Posted by Bernard Chazelle at June 24, 2009 11:12 AM "

--I think that's a little harsh, Professor. The pro-torture crowd is just "winning" because they have some power, and because savagery seems to have more lives than Freddie in the Halloween movies (maybe i got that wrong, i didn't actually see the movies). Alas, I think all that won't change if people stop disputing that torture works. It'll take a little more than that.

still, i applaud your sentiment!

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 24, 2009 01:05 PM

I wonder why Cheny and company are spending so much time on the tee vee trying to convince us that torture worked? Could it be that if they succeed in that argument that their problems would be over? If torture works they will never be held accountable because they will say, as they already have, that the required info is classified.

When I said it doesn't work, we were talking about the "ticking time bomb scenario." I don't know why someone in the halls of academia would suggest that the efficacy of torture couldn't be scientifically proven or disproven. There is no doubt that the military has done research on the best methods of interrogation and torture didn't turn out to be the best.

I think we understand that our torturing produced a large quantity of false information. Our enemies are willing to blow themselves up in order to kill us so they are highly motivated for whatever reason, so it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that if one had only minutes to get the required information that it would not be obtained in a usable manner in time. Is it so incomprehensible that they "might" send you on a wild goose chase.

Torture DOESN'T WORK and it is absolutely THE BEST argument AGAINST using it. THAT IS WHAT MAKES IT SO INEXCUSABLE AND STUPID TO HAVE DONE, IT IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE AND HELPS OUR ENEMIES. It helps give everyone a reason to kill us who didn't already have one. Everybody knows it is illegal, immoral, unethical and on and on and on, but it was and is still being done and all the participants and enablers have received a "get out of jail free" card, because they are making a credible argument (to some people, apparently academics included that it worked, not because it is illegal or immoral, etc.,

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 24, 2009 03:01 PM

Actually, NE, the killer in the Halloween movies was...Michael Myers.

And we all know that "Mike Meyer" is a regular commenter here. Coincidence? I highly doubt it!

Maybe it's time for Mr. Meyer/Myers to come clean about just how many innocents in some small Midwestern town he has butchered over the past few decades while presuming to lecture us about our responsibility for atrocities committed by our government!

Posted by: Upside Down Flag at June 24, 2009 03:30 PM

Upside Down Flag: That Freddie's a mess, ain't he?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 24, 2009 04:18 PM

knowdoubt says:

Torture DOESN'T WORK and it is absolutely THE BEST argument AGAINST using it.

Hmm. Let's try this variant:

Slavery DOESN'T WORK and it is absolutely THE BEST argument AGAINST using it.

I rest my case.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 24, 2009 04:26 PM

Upside Down Flag: I have this horrible feeling that now i'm going to wake up screaming in the middle of the night and speeddial nancy pelosi's office!

Posted by: Not Exactly at June 24, 2009 07:21 PM

Not Exactly: DC business hours only! Call often and spread it around. (Welcome to my nightmare)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 24, 2009 08:05 PM

Torture does work.

The point of torture is the same as the point of rape.

Rape works.

The point of both is to dominate another person. It is mere sadism.

The pro-torture view isn't logically incorrect. It is moral depravity, hid by a lie.

Whenever you hear the word "torture" you should replace it with the word "rape." Since many torture advocates actually get a psychosexual thrill from the notion, the concept is usually literally valid.

Thus, torture works because, being functionally identical to rape (rape is just a form of torture, in fact and deed), it is a tool of terror. It is used to create fear and gain sadistic pleasure. It is used to put another group of people down. The Other is so worthless, and you are so powerful, that you can inflict pain on "it" for pleasure -- and be praised for it. That last part is the reason why rightwingers are staunch advocates; they have a deep need to get social approval for vile indulgences.

So Bernard's formulation above -- "Slavery doesn't work" -- is about right. I would suggest the formulatiton "Why don't we just rape him until he talks?" Suddenly, the point of torture is a little obvious, hm?

Posted by: No One of Consequence at June 25, 2009 12:15 AM

My guess is "rapeing them until they talk" IS the plan. The "other stuff" is just foreplay.

Posted by: Mkie Meyer at June 25, 2009 12:31 AM

Professor sir, I guess it depends on your definition of "work," but if it includes getting timely, accurate information and helping us succeed against terrorism, then it doesn't work. You may "rest your case" on that footing.

Posted by: knowdoubt at June 25, 2009 08:07 AM