Obama Graded On Overturning Bush’s National Security Measures

Russ Feingold has graded Barack Obama on overturning George Bush’s national security measures. Obama generally received good grades, with one notable exception. The Hill reports:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) on Tuesday released a report card-style review of the Obama administration’s progress in overturning President Bush’s controversial national security measures, giving President Obama high marks for most actions except for a “troubling” use of secrecy.

Feingold, a member of the Intelligence Committee and chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, gave the highest marks for Obama’s renunciation of Bush-era practices such as harsh interrogation techniques and resistance to Freedom of Information Act requests. Those practices all received “A” grades.

“The difference between this administration and the Bush administration is night and day,” Feingold said in a morning conference call with reporters.

However, Feingold was harsh in his judgment of Obama’s “repeated assertion” of state secrets — a legal defense the administration has invoked three times in court to resist the release of information. That practice earned the lowest grade in Feingold’s report, a “D.”

Feingold said the administration is using the assertion in an “over-broad” manner, and called for the president to support legislation that would allow judges to review state secrets in a secure, closed process.

Conservatives Take Colbert Seriously


Stephen Colbert plays a character on The Colbert Report in which he satarizes conservatives such as Bill O’Reilly. While most liberals realize this, a study at Ohio State University found that many conservatives take him seriously and think he is only pretending to to be joking. From the abstract:

This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert’s political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism. Finally, a post hoc analysis revealed that perceptions of Colbert’s political opinions fully mediated the relationship between political ideology and individual-level opinion.

If John McCain Had Won The Election

What would things be like if John McCain had won the 2008 election? Walter Shapiro takes a look back at the imaginary first 100 days of the McCain presidency:

Asked about his testy relations with Congress during his lone prime-time press conference (which scored near-record low ratings) in late February, McCain retrieved one of his musty jokes from mothballs as he cracked, “To quote Chairman Mao, `It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.'” The beleaguered McCain congressional relations team printed up T-shirts, which they still periodically display on trips to Capitol Hill, with the inscription, “Is it totally black yet?” It is ironic that McCain, the first president elected directly from the Senate in 48 years and a legislator known for his willingness to work with Democrats in the quest for compromise, is well on his way to becoming the most veto-prone president since Harry Truman, casting 13 during his first 14 weeks in office.

Even if McCain had won the White House with a clear majority –– instead of becoming the second successive Republican president to take office after losing the popular vote –– he probably would have been hard-pressed to find common ground with congressional Democrats on the economy. The ideological fault lines have been deep, from the size of the economic stimulus package (McCain’s original $420 billion proposal prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to brand him “President McCheap”) to the administration’s laissez-faire attitude toward a looming General Motors bankruptcy and the almost certain dismemberment of Chrysler (the Detroit Free Press headlined, “McCain to City: Drop Dead”).

There’s a lot more, including what became of Sarah Palin and Meghan McCain:

Sarah Palin was, in theory, supposed to be McCain’s emissary to the Republican right. Instead, the Tina Fey lookalike spent most of her time negotiating with the tabloids, as the breakup of Bristol Palin’s engagement to Levi Johnston made OctoMom seem publicity-shy. In contrast, Meghan McCain has played against type, avoiding any unplanned appearances in the gossip columns, limiting herself to tweeting about visiting Girl Scout troops at the White House and announcing plans to write a book (all the proceeds will go to charity) about how young voters naturally gravitate toward grandfatherly presidents.

Warning: Do Not Buy From Buy.com

Ever wonder how online sites like Buy.com are able to sell merchandise for a few dollars less than other sites? It looks like Buy.com has a simple formula to make money. From complaints I’ve seen about this company it appears they make money by failing to give refunds for returned products and sometimes charging for products which are never shipped. After my experience with them I find all these on line complaints credible. I returned a defective item to them. (I have two other units of the same item so there is no doubt that the one was not functioning.) Their web sites states their policy is to refund the full purchase price for defective items along with shipping both ways. They have not honored this policy.

It is not unexpected for companies to make mistakes from time to time, but the real problem with Buy.com is that they do nothing to correct their mistakes. They have not responded to any of my emails (other than with automated responses that they will be getting back to me). They don’t even list a telephone number. (Incidentally, I received a charge back from my credit card company for the disputed money, but now I notice on my statement that Buy.com reentered the charge.  I’ll be contacting my credit card again.)

In contrast, last month I had some questions regarding a purchase received through one of those small independent sellers that sells through Amazon. Amazon’s site had a link to send a message to the seller. The seller quickly responded and the problem was solved.

At least the internet does give some small satisfaction out of the hope that posting things like this on line will wind up costing crooked companies like Buy.com more than they ripped me off for. Last year I had another post on a crooked online dealer. I mentioned at the time that I wound up canceling an order and ordering an item from Newegg, knowing that they were reputable, even if charging a few dollars more. I intended to do a follow up but in the heat of the election year never got around to it. The camera received worked fine but while on vacation I found that one of the SD cards I also ordered was defective. I emailed Newegg’s customer service while on vacation, mentioning I found this while traveling. They said that since I was traveling I didn’t even need to return the defective item and they quickly shipped out a replacement. It certainly is worthwhile (and in the long run more economical) to deal with more reputable companies on line as opposed to going with the ones which charge slightly less by taking shortcuts.

Update: I found yet another site with lots of negative reviews of Buy.com. This one is convenient as multiple reviews can be found from a single page.

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SciFi Weekend: Transferring Memory in Caprica and Dollhouse


Two shows this week, Caprica and Dollhouse, centered around the transfer of memory, with each show handling the idea in an entirely different matter. Although the prequel to Battlestar Galactica will not begin until next year, the pilot for the series was released on DVD this week. The DVD is also an unrated version including nudity which will not be present when the show is aired on television. (This review contains major spoilers for those planning to watch the DVD.)

The nudity is used to show both the decadence of Caprica before the Cylon wars along with their scientific abilities in virtual reality. In many ways the Caprica of the prequel is more advanced than what was seen on Battlestar Galactica, with Galactica purposely using a ship with limited technology to prevent control by the Cylons (along with preventing overuse of holodeck type stories as on Star Trek: The Next Generation). The show involves two families, the Graystones and the Adams (later Adama), with Zoe Graystone being a rebellious teen with extraordinary programing abilities. Brilliant, rebellious teens such as Zoe create virtual reality clubs where everything goes, including virtual sex and violence.

An unexpected development in Battlestar Galactica was to find that the Cylons believed in monotheism while the humans were polytheistic. This division began on Caprica as Zoe and some of her friends were part of a minority which believed in monotheism. Zoe, along with family members of Joseph Adams, were killed when a friend of Zoe’s caused an explosion as an act of protest.


After the explosion, Zoe’s friend Lacy Rand (who stayed behind at the last moment avoiding the suicide bombing) returned to the Graystone home and was able to enter Zoe’s virtual club. A virtual version of Zoe remained who expressed independent thought, leaving a version of Zoe behind. Zoe’s father, Daniel Graystone, found out and saw how this could be combined with work underway on robotics. Daniel Graystone transferred Zoe’s programming into an early Cylon model. At first it appeared that the experiment was a failure, destroying all traces of the virtual Zoe. At the end the Cylon awoke and called on Lacy for help with Zoe’s voice.  Seeing how the Cylons began in this manner explains both the monotheism of the Cylons along with their rebelliousness which ultimately led to the destruction of the humans.

Alessandra Toreson, who plays Zoe Graystone, and producer Jane Espenson have revealed that we will continue to see Zoe in at least three forms:

“There’s a lot of flashbacks” to young Zoe’s life before she was blown up by her religious fanatic boyfriend, but Espenson says that a young woman’s unwise entanglement with a killer is almost familiar ground for her: “Buffy’s boyfriend was a vampire—several vampires, even.” Indeed.

In addition to “live” Zoe, we’ll be seeing at least two other Zoes. According to Alessandra, “Zoe A is in the club, and Zoe R is robot Zoe, centurion Zoe. There’s a lot of Zoe to come, a lot of different hair colors, a lot of different outfits. Robot Zoe is amazing actually. They’re having me take miming classes—we’re going to get the robot to do exactly what I can do. They really want me to feel as if I am a Cylon and that I’m living this.”

This prequel to Battlestar Galactica provides important background to the development of the Cylons. Jane Espenson has also discussed how we will learn more in the upcoming made for television movie, The Plan:

Q: The introduction to Battlestar Galactica always said the Cylons had a plan, but some people felt we never got a clear vision of it. Now you’ve got this movie coming out called The Plan. Is the idea here to finally answer this lingering question?

A: That is very much at the center of the movie, yes. We wanted to explain things that you might not have even realized needed an explanation — tiny little mysteries that we could address. That was my greatest joy in making the movie — trying to find satisfying little connections. I want The Plan to feel like a gift to the really observant fans.


The transfer to Zoe Graystone’s memories begins an epic story which leads to the destruction of the colonies and the eventual colonization of our Earth. Similar technology is used in a far more trivial manner on Dollhouse.  (I previously discussed some of the problems with the premise here).  Memories are transferred so that rich clients can either have the perfect sex partner or a temporary employee with the skills they desire, such as a hostage negotiator in one episode.

A far more significant potential use of this technology was raised in this week’s episode, Haunted, but this was not fully explored other than for a brief protest from Boyd.  Margaret, a friend of Adelle, had her memories stored a month before she was murdered. After her death her memories were restored n Echo’s body, allowing Margaret to temporarily return to life. Margaret both settled matters with her family and uncovered her own murderer.

This technology could offer eternal life, which could demand a far greater price than the other services they offer (even if Boyd was disturbed by the prospect of doing this). The  contract in which the dolls allow their bodies to be used for five years could be a minor problem, assuming that they really do return the memories after five years (considering that the dolls would be in no position to enforce the contract). If they did honor the five year contracts they could provide a different body every five years, providing eternal youth along with immortality.

This storyline was matched with an amusing b-story in which Topher showed a more trivial use of such advanced technology as he created the perfect nerd friend to spend a day with, presumably as he had no good friends of his own. Ballard is also coming closer to finding the Dollhouse and it appears he will do so next week. Now that the series is more fully developing the mythology, and has gotten away from Fox’s idea of Echo’s adventure of the week, the show will hopefully be renewed to explore this story further.

Ronald Reagan on Torture

“By giving its advice and consent to ratification of this Convention, the Senate of the United States will demonstrate unequivocally our desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture.”

Ronald Reagan on the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Hanging People for Waterboarding

On Thursday, November 29th, 2007 in a campaign event in St. Petersburg John McCain commented on torture:

… following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding.

If the United States is in another conflict … and we have allowed that kind of torture to be inflicted upon people we hold captive, then there is nothing to prevent that enemy from also torturing American prisoners

PolitiFact.com verified that McCain was right on this:

McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as “water cure,” “water torture” and “waterboarding,” according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning.

R. John Pritchard, a historian and lawyer who is a top scholar on the trials, said the Japanese felt the ends justified the means. “The rapid and effective collection of intelligence then, as now, was seen as vital to a successful struggle, and in addition, those who were engaged in torture often felt that whatever pain and anguish was suffered by the victims of torture was nothing less than the just deserts of the victims or people close to them,” he said.

In a recent journal essay, Judge Evan Wallach, a member of the U.S. Court of International Trade and an adjunct professor in the law of war, writes that the testimony from American soldiers about this form of torture was gruesome and convincing. A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps.

It is hard for conservatives to claim that waterboarding is not torture and not a crime when the United States executed others for doing this. I don’t think we should hang  Bush and Cheney. Life in prison for their war crimes would be sufficient.

CIA Found Torture Not Effective

The argument over torture is primarily one over morality, but beyond the fact arguments that it is immoral and illegal, the use of torture also harms the United States far more than it helps us.  Recently declassified documents reveal that the CIA’s inspector general found no proof in 2004 that torture helped prevent  any “specific imminent attacks,” contradicting recent claims from war criminal Dick Cheney.McClatchy reports:

The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.

That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off terrorist attacks…

“It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program,” Steven G. Bradbury, then the Justice Department’s principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 30, 2005, memo to CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, one of four released last week by the Obama administration.

“As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. And because the CIA has used enhanced techniques sparingly, ‘there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness’,” Bradbury wrote, quoting the IG report…

Helgerson also concluded that waterboarding was riskier than officials claimed and reported that the CIA’s Office of Medical Services thought that the risk to the health of some prisoners outweighed any potential intelligence benefit, according to the memos.

The IG’s report is among several indications that the Bush administration’s use of abusive interrogation methods was less productive than some former administration officials have claimed.

Even some of those in the military who developed the techniques warned that the information they produced was “less reliable” than that gained by traditional psychological measures, and that using them would produce an “intolerable public and political backlash when discovered,” according to a Senate Armed Services Committee report released on Tuesday.

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock


The reference in the earlier post to the clothes worn on Big Bang Theory led me to the linked site where I wound up finding an online store which sells a shirt which summarizes the rules to Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock. As seen in the above video, this is a superior way to making decisions (such as which science fiction show to watch) than Rock, Paper, Scissors. It appears a version of the game was first posted here.

For those who didn’t catch the rules:

  • Rock crushes lizard.
  • Scissors decapitate lizard.
  • Lizard eats paper.
  • Lizard poisons Spock.
  • Paper disproves Spock.
  • Spock vaporizes rock.
  • Spock bends scissors.

And for those who are interested in the shirt as a handy reference:


A Seriously Broken Moral Compass

Rod Dreher equates the holocaust and abortion. While not surprising from the right, Dreher is sometimes seen as one of the more rational religious conservatives.