Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ask a Stupid Question

Whoever said there are no stupid questions needs to familiarize themselves with

In "A blueprint for the closure of Guantanamo Bay" Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes tackle a tricky conundrum: how best to close Gitmo such that it may as well remain open? According to Goldsmith and Wittes there are some truly vexing problems facing Obama if he wants to close Gitmo, chief among them how he can continue to perpetrate human rights abuses and weild pre-Magna Carta powers. For them the closing of Gitmo is only acceptable if it's a purely cosmetic change.

In order to help the readers of Slate understand how best to maintain the status quo under the thinnest veneer of change they've prepared a list of moronic questions that entirely (and purposely) miss the point of closing Gitmo. I've selected a couple of the silliest ones for our reading pleasure.

Stupid question #1:

Under what theory can detainees who are not tried remain incarcerated?
Detainees convicted of crimes will be incarcerated for the term of their sentence. But detainees not yet charged or who can't be charged must be held in some form of extra-criminal detention.

"Under what theory can detainees who are not tried remain incarcerated?" Oy. (Insert sound of hand slapping forehead) This question can be reformulated as "Bill of Rights -- huh what's that?"

"But detainees not yet charged or who can't be charged must be held in some form of extra-criminal detention."

Because, you know, they're totally guilty. So guilty that we can't possibly try them for lack of evidence. The authors don't even entertain the notion that people who can't be charged with crimes should be released -- that would make closing Gitmo something other than a meaningless symbolic gesture.

Stupid question #2:

What about acquittals and short sentences?

How about "sucks" or "them's the breaks" or "yeah, what about them?" In a working justice system acquittals happen. But that is apparently unacceptable. Because, you know, these people are all totally guilty.

Any of the trial systems above might result in short sentences for or the acquittal of a dangerous terrorist.
This conundrum gives the government an overwhelming incentive to use trials only when it is certain to win convictions and long sentences, and to place the rest in whatever detention system it creates. Should the government loosen the rules for trial to make convictions easier, or should it rely more heavily on noncriminal detention? Hard call.

Should the government railroad detainees through a kangaroo court or not even bother with trials at all? Hard call. Goldsmith and Wittes are pondering how best we can create a Justice system that maintains only the thinnest veneer of justice. The entire piece is devoted to keeping Gitmo open in spirit.

When Christopher Hitchens tackled the question "How Did I get Iraq Wrong" he answered with "I didn't." Similarly the answer Goldsmith and Wittes want to give to "What's the best way to close Guantanamo?" is "leave it open." But unlike Hitchens, who revels in iconoclasm, Goldsmith and Wittes are compelled to pay lip-service to shifting political winds.

At least the Hitchens approach is less weaselly.

Read more!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Those Damn Bloggers

Welcome to Season 2 of Common Nonsense.

The traditional media has long held that the job of the news is not just to inform people of facts but to help them understand them in the broader context by constructing a coherent narrative out of events -- as if reality was a tightly plotted television show. Shoehorning the chaos of existence into story lines means that ill-fitting facts are massaged and ignored. Major news outlets assured us that McCain was "honorable" even as his campaign engaged in gutter politics because that was what the imagined script called for.

When the traditional media reports on bloggers the narrative is always that bloggers are bad. Rude, uncouth, inaccurate, not beholden to the awesome standards of journalism that brought us Wen Ho Lee. They are the upstart youth threatening their respected elders. As the traditional media shifts resources away from investigative reporting and more towards online efforts that narrative has become increasingly disjointed. The message is that bloggers suck and are not to be trusted -- and oh, by the way, check out our awesome new blogs!

Case in point: A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence. The piece is about an invented expert who has widely appeared in the news. The lynch pin of the story is this:

Mr. Gorlin and Mr. Mirvish say the blame lies not with them but with shoddiness in the traditional news media and especially the blogosphere.

This fake expert was quoted by MSNBC, The New Republic and the LA Times. But the real problem is that he was also quoted on some blogs. Which blogs?

Mother Jones. The LA Times. The New Republic.

That's "the blogosphere."

The central conceit of the piece is that while the traditional media was fooled the "blogosphere" was fooled worse -- yet all the example blogs are from corporate media outlets. The piece masquerades as a comparison between corporate outlets and independent venues, but it's really a comparison between two different pages on the same corporate website. Not a single non-corporate blog is named and the distinction drawn between news and blogs under the same LA Times logo is truly a distinction without a difference.

And oh, by the way, it was William K. Wolfrum who spent considerable time and effort exposing the invented political expert. The same William K. Wolfrum who blogs at Shakesville, a decidedly non-corporate blog, which is not mentioned by name and is the only blog in the piece that can honestly be called part of "the blogosphere."

Read more!