Easier to get forgiveness

E.D. Kain ponders torture:

There are lines a free society simply cannot cross, even in order to protect its security, and if it does choose to cross them well then it ought to do so with the full force of the law at its back, in public. If it has to be done under the cold cloak of secrecy, then perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Why didn’t Vice President Dick Cheney and the rest of the Bush Administration go the route that Kain prefers? Why didn’t they invite a public debate by openly proposing the legalization of torture? (Before they had actually begun to torture.)

The answer is found in the aphorism, “Sometimes it’s easier to get forgiveness than to get permission.”

Americans would never have approved the legalization of torture in the cold light of day. Not even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But once torture was a fait accompli — after the information had come out in a slow trickle over five or six years — that’s different.

It’s surprising what one’s conscience can adjust to.

Establishment media figures think we should just bury the whole sorry episode. Peggy Noonan, for example:  “Some things in life need to be mysterious. […] Sometimes you need to just keep walking.”

Likewise, leading politicians. John McCain is a staunch opponent of torture, but here he is echoing Noonan:  “We’ve got to move on.”

Sweep it under the rug. What’s done is done; what’s past is past. It’s water under the bridge. Even President Obama is fond of saying that America should look forward, not back.

And so Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Jay ByBee and other torture architects stand to be forgiven for a gross violation of America’s historic values:

As I said in China this spring, there is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. […] I explained to President Jiang how the roots of American rule of law go back more than 700 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.

Newt Gingrich in 1997, back when Republicans still opposed torture

Cheney, Bybee, Yoo — and Bush himself — may yet get forgiveness. But they never could have gotten permission:  that’s why they acted “under the cold cloak of secrecy.”

The End of Tolerance?

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son:

One of the fascinating recurring realizations I’ve had throughout my university career is that culturally, we’ve lost an understanding of what it means to be tolerant. The word, one of the most overused ones in our society, is amusingly twisted in the face of true tolerance. And one recent example demonstrates it perfectly: The recent controversy over Miss California in the Miss USA pageant.

Consider the following video:

Without entering into the foray of whether the sentiment about gay marriage is right or wrong, I think this video is interesting because of what it shows about our culture beyond the specific values. It brings up questions like: What does it mean to be tolerant? What role do Truth, faith, and opinions have in politics? Is it possible to be the “perfect Miss USA?


Basketball sucks

I know it’s déclassé to laugh at one’s own jokes, but this —

once you’ve seen fifty baskets, where’s the thrill in watching the second half?

— I’m going to be chuckling over that line all day!

Montreal Canadiens’ century ends with a whimper

The Montreal Canadiens franchise is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Unfortunately, it has been an annus horribilis, to borrow a phrase from the Queen.

The Canadiens are the most successful team in National Hockey League history. In fact, they won their first of twenty-four Stanley Cups before the NHL was founded in 1917. (Yes, the Stanley Cup was awarded before the NHL existed.)

Decade Stanley Cup victories
’10s 1915-16
’20s 1923-24; 1929-30
’30s 1930-31
’40s 1943-44; 1945-46
’50s 1952-53; 1955-56; 1956-57; 1957-58; 1958-59; 1959-60
’60s 1964-65; 1965-66; 1967-68; 1968-69
’70s 1970-71; 1972-73; 1975-76; 1976-77; 1977-78; 1978-79
’80s 1985-86
’90s 1992-93
2000s none

Note that the Canadiens had won at least one Stanley Cup in every decade — until this one. Actually, they still have one more chance in 2009-10. But a Stanley Cup victory is extremely unlikely:  after a disastrous season, the Canadiens are entering a rebuilding year.

For much of the year, the Canadiens were riding high in the standings. At one point, it seemed possible that they might even overtake the Boston Bruins for first place in the Eastern Conference. But then the team went into freefall. They lost so many games that it seemed they might ultimately fail to make the playoffs.

It was alleged, part way through the season, that underperforming Canadiens players were partying too hard, including drug use. It was also alleged that some Russians on the team were associating with organized crime figures. The rumours are unsubstantiated; but the negative press certainly constituted a major distraction to an already-struggling team.

The Canadiens had just begun to win again when their top two defencemen were both injured in the same game. At the end of the year they gained only one point out of a possible eight. They were lucky even to make the playoffs.

(In fact, the Canadiens were tied with Florida at 93 points each. Both teams had the same number of wins, but Montreal made the playoffs because they had beaten Florida in games played between those two teams.)

So the Canadiens barely limped into the playoffs — and were promptly eliminated, in a four-game series sweep, by the Boston Bruins.

It was, indeed, a horrible year. Here are the Canadiens in happier times (1968). Yvan Cournoyer, one of my all-time favourite players, is pictured celebrating a goal against the Chicago Black Hawks.

John McCain calls torture, torture

It was reported this week that CIA interrogators waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times.

At least KSM was more than a mere suspect (unlike many of the other victims of American torture), since he confessed that he was the mastermind of 9/11. But after the first half dozen or so instances, the CIA interrogators were surely just getting their jollies at KSM’s expense.

Here’s John McCain, who suffered torture in Vietnam, reacting to this week’s news:

I applaud Senator McCain for being so plain-spoken where other commentators use weasel words. Waterboarding is torture. Waterboarding someone even once is too often. The torture of detainees has made America less secure, not more secure.

I disagree with Senator McCain when he criticizes President Obama for releasing the torture memos. Our government established a torture regime, and actually tortured individuals who in some cases were innocent — that’s not the sort of issue you just sweep under the rug. It smacks of “my country, right or wrong.”

I don’t even like President Obama’s habit of referring to the practice of torture as “a mistake”. I agree that it didn’t serve America’s best interests. But “mistake” implies that President Bush and Vice President Cheney didn’t mean to torture anyone — Whoops!

On the contrary, this was premeditated:  a careful policy, crafted several years after 9/11, when sufficient time had passed that no one should have been motivated by blind panic.

The Bush Administration must be held accountable. If that means prosecution in a court of law, so be it. But, at the very least, they should be held accountable in the court of public opinion, after their deeds have been exposed to the cold light of day.

Remember:  “the buck stops here“.

Cars: function versus form

Nissan has introduced a new car:  the Nissan Cube.

Nissan Cube

The shape of the Cube may be representative of a recent trend. The first time I was struck by it was with the Honda Element.

In terms of aesthetics, I don’t like cube-shaped cars. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Your mileage may vary, so to speak.

On the other hand, I applaud the Cube as a response to this sort of design, which has dominated the car market for many years:

I won’t identify the make and model pictured above because it’s representative of dozens of similar cars. Note the shallow angle of the windshield. Again, as soon as the height of the car peaks, it slopes quickly downward again.

It’s a sleek design, but the cost is a significant loss of head room. Contrast the Globe and Mail’s description of the Cube:

Getting in is easy. Cube’s unusual height and the near-vertical windshield creates a larger-than-usual opening for climbing behind the wheel. Just step right in, little bending required.

Once there, whether you’re wearing an Afro do or Stetson hat, you’ll applaud the superfluity of headroom. […]

Room in the rear isn’t as extraordinary as in the front, but is very good. A 6-foot-2 colleague lounged in comfort behind me so long as the rear seat was in its most rearward location.

This is a classic example of the conflict between form and function.

In my view, a car is first and foremost a means of transportation. A car is not a fashion accessory.

It would be nice if you could get a little bit of panache as part of the package:  but if manufacturers are going to force me to choose one or the other, I’d choose function over form.

iPhone – fix blank screen problem

I bought an iPhone 3G two weeks ago, and mostly I’m happy with it. I’ll probably write a few posts about my iPhone in the next couple of weeks.

Today, I want to talk about a glitch that I ran into and — more importantly — the solution I devised.

The problem was this:  when I tried to use the phone, the screen would go blank / black.

For example, I often use a cell phone to check when the next bus is coming. You dial the bus company, wait for the electronic voice to answer, and then you enter a four-digit number to identify your bus stop.

Any phone can do that — including the iPhone, theoretically. But I soon ran into a glitch. When the electronic voice answered my call, and I tried to type my four-digit number, the screen would go blank.

When the screen is blank, you can’t enter your bus stop number:  not only because you can’t see what numbers you’re touching, but because the touch screen is completely unresponsive when the screen is blank!

Even worse:  because the touch screen is unresponsive, there’s no way to get the screen to turn back on! The only means of escape is to hold down both the home button and the sleep button in order to crash your iPhone, and then reboot it.

I want my phone to work properly, damn it! Thankfully, I was able to diagnose the problem and devise a solution.

NB. It’s not a software problem. Restoring your iPhone won’t fix it.

The source of the problem is the proximity sensor:

When you lift iPhone to your ear, the proximity sensor immediately turns off the display to save power and prevent inadvertent touches.

“To prevent inadvertent touches” — that’s why the touch screen is unresponsive.

It’s obvious that the glitch has something to do with the proximity sensor. It seems to think that I still have the phone to my ear even when I hold it at arm’s length.

I guessed that the proximity sensor was being thrown off by the transparent, protective cover I had placed over the iPhone’s touch screen.

iPhone protective cover and skin

I have a skin on my phone, similar to the one pictured on the right. Beneath the skin I’ve positioned a transparent cover, pictured on the left. The transparent cover protects the touch screen.

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