Photo of the day

From a Telegraph gallery of rough weather in the UK.  Who knew there was good surfing in Northern Ireland:

Professional surfer Alastair Mennie braves the wild weather conditions as he catches a wave in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland

Professional surfer Alastair Mennie braves the wild weather conditions as he catches a wave in Ballycastle, Northern IrelandPicture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images


It’s only torture when another country does it

Great NPR report from Shankar Vedantam summarizing the social science research on torture.  Short version: people are quite accepting of torture (or re-labeling not torture) when there own nation is doing it, but far less so when it is a different nation:

NYLA BRANSCOMBE: We found people change the standard, the criteria, for deciding the severity of harm-doing that’s been done when it’s their own group’s identity that’s at stake.

INSKEEP: This is something you can document in the record. The Bush administration years ago argued for calling it enhanced interrogation. Maybe it wasn’t quite torture. It was something a little off to the side of torture.

VEDANTAM: That’s exactly right. We’ve had these semantic wrestling matches for several years now – is this technique torture, or is it a stress position? You know, when it no longer becomes possible to deny that torture has happened, people then move to the next strategy, and that’s to minimize the harm that’s done. So we say, how can keeping somewhat awake for three or four days be torture? It’s just sleep deprivation, and they can sleep it off and then they’ll be fine afterwards.

The interesting thing here, Steve, is that we do this selectively, we employ these strategies only when it’s our group that’s responsible. Branscombe told me there’s another strategy. In some ways, I think of this as a third stage of how we deal with these accusations. Once we accept that torture was carried out and that it harmed people, we then say the harm was in some ways justified. So we move the ethical goalpost.

In one study, Branscombe and colleagues in Britain asked American and British volunteers to judge torture carried out by Americans and by British. The British volunteers justified the harm that was done when the harm was carried out by British operatives. The American volunteers excuse the harm that was done when it was carried out by American operatives.

Not surprising, but pretty sad.  Of course, this also means there’s a very simply mental trick for deciding whether something is torture– how would I feel about the action if Saudia Arabia, Iran, etc., were performing it.  If it’s torture then, it’s torture when Americans do it.  This does not seem to be a particularly difficult trick for American liberals.  Alas, it is for conservatives.  And that’s a real problem, because as long as torture is a partisan issue– as it is now– we are lacking the genuine bipartisan consensus we need to return it to the taboo status it deserves.

As long as I’m on torture, I love this bit from a FB friend in response to Rush Limbaugh justifying torture due to 9/11:

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you perpetuate violent conflict and drag us down into the mud. Because “My pain justifies any pain I want to inflict on you” is not the response of the civilized man, but the cry of the wounded child. We have plenty of examples of societies run on gut feelings of revenge. I don’t want to live in any of them.


Jesus, Matthew 25, and economies of scale

So, I was in church a couple of weeks ago and heard one of my favorite parables.  A little time on-line, and I discovered it is, interestingly, referred to as the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  Here’s the whole thing:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36 I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers[a] , you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [emphasis mine]

And here’s the thing.  If you really want to help the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, stranger (i.e., foreigner or person of a different ethnic group) there’s really only so much you can do on your own.  I could be the most wonderful person in helping people, but there’s only so much I can do.  The best way to actually help the sick, hungry, etc., is through economies of scale.  And since private corporations are not about to do this and non-profits are very limited, that means, yes, the government.  Having my tax dollars go to Medicaid, Food Stamps, foreign aid, homeless shelters ends up doing far more benefit that if I tried to do all these things on my own.  For one, I’m limited in what I can do as one person.  Secondly, money goes way further with economies of scale.  That’s why I would unabashedly argue that what Jesus would do is support to the fullest Medicaid, food stamps, foreign aid, and humane prisons.  If you truly want to see less of the hungry, sick, etc., this is simply the best way to do it in modern society.  If, on the other hand, you want to ensure that those who don’t work hard enough, look differently from you, or whatever don’t benefit from any of your surely well-deserved money and fortune, you know who to support politically.

When the police are the broken windows

Really, really loved this post from Conor Friedersdorf that turns broken windows theory of policing on its head and makes so much sense:

One of the most influential policing concepts of our era, the broken-windows theory, holds that disorder and crime are “usually inextricably linked in a kind of developmental sequence.” At the community level, ignoring disorder leads to more of it, just as a building with a broken window soon has other windows broken. That insight has been widely embraced by law enforcement in the United States. But as Ken White observed in a recent post, we’ve yet to apply it to police agencies. “If tolerating broken windows leads to more broken windows and escalating crime,” he asks, “what impact does tolerating police misconduct have?” He points to recent examples in order to argue that the consequences are dire:

[J]ust as neighborhood thugs could once break windows with impunity, police can generally kill with impunity. They can shoot unarmed men and lie about it. They can roll up and execute a child with a toy as casually as one might in Grand Theft Auto. They can bumble around opening doors with their gun hand and kill bystanders, like a character in a dark farce, with little fear of serious consequences. They can choke you to death for getting a little mouthy about selling loose cigarettes. They can shoot you because they aren’t clear on who the bad guy is, and they can shoot you because they’re terrible shots, and they can shoot you because they saw something that might be a weapon in your hand—something that can be … any fucking thing at all, including nothing.

We’re not pursuing the breakers of windows. If anything, we are permitting the system … to entrench their protected right to act that way.We give them … third and fourth chances. We pretend they have supernatural powers of crime detection even when science shows that’sbullshit.We fight desperately to support their word even when they are proven liars. We sneer that “criminals have too many rights,” then give the armed representatives of our government stunning levels of procedural protections when they abuse or even kill us...

When James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling sketched their broken windows theory for The Atlantic in the March 1982 issue, they included the following passage:

A determined skeptic might acknowledge that a skilled foot-patrol officer can maintain order but still insist that this sort of “order” has little to do with the real sources of community fear–that is, with violent crime. To a degree, that is true.

But … outside observers should not assume that they know how much of the anxiety now endemic in many big-city neighborhoods stems from a fear of “real” crime and how much from a sense that the street is disorderly, a source of distasteful, worrisome encounters. The people of Newark, to judge from their behavior and their remarks to interviewers, apparently assign a high value to public order, and feel relieved and reassured when the police help them maintain that order.

Similarly, outside observers today should not assume that they know how much of the anxiety now endemic in many big-city neighborhoods stems from a fear of civilian crime and how much from a sense that cops are disorderly—a source of distasteful, worrisome encounters. [all emphases mine] Many people in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York City, and elsewhere would feel relieved and reassured if bad cops were stopped at the first sign of misbehavior rather than kept around for their example to spread.

Yes!  Great insight.  The whole point of broken windows is that small disorder breeds ever large disorder.  What we have now is “small” disorder by the police that seems to never be punished and therefore breeds ever larger “disorder” from the police until it seems they can abuse and even kill those in the populations they are supposed to protect with impunity.  This simply has to change.



%d bloggers like this: