Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Lincoln Allison on Torture

‘Torture’ would seem to be easier to define than ‘work’. It is the use of severe pain or mental distress for the purposes of punishment or obtaining information.  This is not really precise, but let us suppose that it is; at least, there are cases which would be so widely agreed to be torture that there could be no serious controversy about the use of the word. Giving severe electric shocks to the genitals of men or women for the purpose of extracting confessions from them is clearly torture and it is repulsive behaviour. But this is not to say that there can be an absolute right not to be tortured. Is it wrong, if you have in your capture a known planter of bombs in populous places, to inflict severe pain on him to coerce him to tell you where his bombs are or who his companions are? Very basic instincts and judgements suggest it would be right to torture: not just the idea of utility, but also an instinct of fairness. It would be quite wrong to treat the planter of bombs as if he were to be protected from the kind of pain and mutilation which he inflicts on other people.

(Lincoln Allison, Right Principles: A Conservative Philosophy of Politics [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984], 96)


I’m glad I don’t live in California. See here. For the umpteenth time, I’m responsible for my health.  You’re responsible for yours. Why is that so hard to grasp?

Queen Bees

This is bizarre. I’d be interested in hearing from female readers about whether this sort of discrimination exists, and, if so, why. Peg? Ally?

Still Fresh After All These Years

Don’t Kill the Whale” (1978).


Is the globe warming? See here. Is the polar bear in danger? See here.

Best of the Web Today


The Internet

Here is a New York Times story about so-called net neutrality.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

The only way the war in Iraq will be won is through intensive, well-focused military operations led by United States military forces supported by Iraqi troops.

The proposed United States troop “surge” is essential to quelling the violence and killing off the insurgents and the forces of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The sooner we can get these troops there, the better.

Those in Congress who oppose the increase are doomed to defeat in their attempts to lose this war. This is a war that can be won.

We should be emboldened by the events in Somalia, where the Islamists are on the run and heavy casualties are being taken by Qaeda forces.

Assuming that the American military is unleashed in Iraq, we can have the same victorious results as in Somalia, and destroy the Iraqi incubation grounds for radical Islam.

I completely support the American troop buildup in Iraq and believe that our troops should be given the freedom to win the war.

Bob Jack
North Las Vegas, Nev.
Jan. 9, 2007

Note from KBJ: This is not a joke. This letter actually appeared in The New York Times. It’s a miracle!


Those of you who are baseball fans (in other words, those of you who are psychologically normal) know that only two players—Cal Ripken Jr and Tony Gwynn—were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday. Here is the New York Times story. Ripken received 98.5% of the votes cast, while Gwynn received 97.6%. (What I want to know is, who didn’t vote for them?) I made my picks a month and a half ago. See here. I’m happy with the election of Ripken and Gwynn, but disappointed that Lee Smith, Jack Morris, and Mark McGwire weren’t elected. Smith received 39.8% of the votes cast, Morris 37.1%, and McGwire 23.5%. Pete Rose wasn’t on the ballot. Until he’s in the Hall of Fame, the place will be a joke. McGwire’s statistics are arguably insufficient. He had only 1,626 hits, after all, which is an anemic 101 hits per season. But Rose? Come on. Nobody played the game better, not even Ripken or Gwynn.

Capital Punishment

The following letter appeared in The New York Times the other day:

To the Editor:

Re “Panel Seeks End to Death Penalty for New Jersey” (front page, Jan. 3):

I have always opposed the death penalty because its existence means that innocent people will sometimes be executed, a punishment that is irreversible.

But capital punishment also sends the wrong message—that it is acceptable for the state to kill people, but not for individual citizens to do the same.

It is not an accident that most civilized nations have rejected the death penalty. And I applaud my state for taking the first step toward repealing this barbaric law.

Timothy Bal
Belle Mead, N.J., Jan. 3, 2007

The writer says that capital punishment is irreversible. So is imprisonment. Liberty can no more be returned to a person than life can be. If we lock you up for 30 years, then discover that you’re innocent, we can’t give you 30 years of liberty as compensation. It’s gone forever. So, by the writer’s logic, nobody should be imprisoned. But that’s absurd. Also, notice that those being killed by the state have done something irreversible—to an innocent person.

What is wrong with the “message” that it is acceptable for the state to kill people? The people being killed are murderers. The people killed by murderers are innocent (or it wouldn’t be murder). Where’s the symmetry? The message sent by capital punishment is simple and correct: Murder is wrong. If you take the life of an innocent person, you die. Note, too, that, by the writer’s logic, incarceration sends the message that “it is acceptable for the state to incarcerate people, but not for individual citizens to do the same.” Well, yes, that’s exactly the message it sends.

Why should Americans care what Europeans or other “civilized nations” (note the question-begging epithet) have done with respect to capital punishment? Look: Either these nations have good grounds for abolishing capital punishment or they don’t. If they have good grounds, then it’s those grounds, not the fact that they’ve abolished capital punishment, that should concern us. If they don’t have good grounds, then obviously we should not emulate them. Either way, we should ignore what others have done. By the way, horse meat is a delicacy in parts of Europe. Should we Americans eat horse meat? There is no presumption of innocence in France and other European countries. Should we stop presuming innocence? I could go on, but you get the idea.

As for capital punishment being “barbaric,” I respectfully disagree. It is the mark of civilization to threaten murderers with death (and to carry it out if they defy the law), for it expresses, like nothing else can, the great value we attach to innocent human life.

A Year Ago



United States Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois asked readers of Daily Kos for advice. Here is some of it, collected by the indefatigable John Hawkins.