Monthly Archives: April 2012

When Even Sen. Feinstein is Ready to Call You Out for Pro-Torture Falsehood

Joint statement from: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chairman, Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee, April 27, 2012:

It begins:

We are deeply troubled by the claims of the CIA’s former Deputy Director of Operations Jose Rodriguez regarding the effectiveness of the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will soon complete a comprehensive review of the CIA’s former Detention and Interrogation Program. Committee staff has reviewed more than 6 million pages of records and the Committee’s final report, which we expect to exceed 5000 pages, will provide a detailed, factual description of how interrogation techniques were used, the conditions under which detainees were held, and the intelligence that was – or wasn’t – gained from the program.

Statements made by Mr. Rodriguez and other former senior government officials about the role of the CIA interrogation program in locating Usama bin Laden (UBL) are inconsistent with CIA records.

And there’s lots more…

This is an excellent and forceful reaction to ex-CIA chief Jose Rodriguez’s recent book and 60 Minutes appearance in which he defended waterboarding “to protect Americans” and claimed that “torture works.”

In addition to his fantasy-based defense of torture, Rodriguez defended his destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogations involving waterboarding, despite a law requiring the tapes’ recording and a judge’s order not to destroy the tapes.  In his book, Hard Decisions, Rodriguez justifies the tapes’ destruction because of their “bad visuals” — worse than Abu Ghraib. Those illegal actions did not lead to prosecution, see No Criminal Charges Sought Over C.I.A. Tapes, as Rodriguez claimed advice of CIA counsel. Not entirely unreasonably, the Justice Department wants US officials to feel they can rely on their government lawyers’ advice; less reasonably it was unwilling to make an exception for indubitable torture or war crimes. Not that the lawyers were prosecuted either.

Sen. Feinstein has not exactly been a progressive champion on most issues, but she seems energized over this issue — not that there should be anything partisan or progressive about condemning torture or lying, but there we are — and deserves credit for it.

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Two More Arguments for the Socratic Method

(1) Joi Ito chuckles over a week of a student’s electrodermal activity, a “measure of assessing alterations in sympathetic arousal associated with emotion, cognition, and attention”, noting that it “nearly flatlined during classes”.

(2) Lior Strahilevitz:

[T]he disparities between men and women speaking up in class remain substantial. The Speak Up Report somewhat sheepishly mentions an obvious solution, which seems to have substantial majority support from the Yale students surveyed: Cold-calling via the Socratic method, especially what the Report calls “warm-hearted cold calling.” A great virtue of cold-calling is that everybody speaks. While the report details various sensible steps that can encourage more women to speak up in class, it seems nothing will work better than having the majority of the class time be devoted to Socratic discussion rather than lecture followed by Q & A from volunteers.

Actually, in my experience with cold-calling, women often turn out to dominate the list of top performers…

Posted in Law School | Leave a comment

The Incredible Sinking Economist

In The Economist fails the Turing Test again, the estimable Henry Farrell pokes at the Economist’s gormless and unpersuasive attack on François Hollande. Here’s part of Henry’s takedown:

I’ve no idea what Hollande is going to be like (except that he’s certainly going to be disappointing). But I do know that this is one of the most exquisitely refined examples of globollocks that I’ve ever seen. It’s as beautifully resistant to the intellect as an Andropov era Pravda editorial. A few more years of this and the Economist won’t have to have any human editing at all. Even today, I imagine that someone with middling coding skills could patch together a passable Economist-editorial generator with a few days work. Mix in names of countries and people scraped from the political stories sections of Google News, with frequent exhortations for “Reform,” “toughminded reform,” “market-led reform,” “painful reform,” “change,” “serious change,” “rupture,” and 12-15 sentences worth of automagically generated word-salad content, and you’d be there.

It’s gotten harder and harder to resubscribe to the Economist. I started having doubts back in 2004, they got worse in 2006. I thought maybe it had improved a bit in the past year, but this right-wing-relfex hatchet job on Hollande (in support of the economic and social barbarian Nicolas Sarkozy) may finally get me to drop the thing, even if they pass the Albania test. And I’ve been a subscriber continuously since the late 70s or early 80s, and was a regular reader even farther back than that.

But frankly, I don’t even read it regularly any more except for the special sections, the science coverage, and the book reviews.

PS. Don’t mistake me for a fan of Hollande. I’ve seen his puppet on Les Guignols de L’Info too often to ever be that.

Posted in Readings, The Media | 1 Comment

GOP Loses Even the Centrist Press

“Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

… It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

    — Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Mann & Ornstein are bigtime DC establishment centrists. Could this be a Cronkite Moment?

(Or, if there never was an actual ‘Cronkite Moment’, will this be a “Mann & Ornstein Moment” instead?)

Probably not, but one can wish.

Posted in Politics: Tinfoil | 8 Comments

EFF Announces Coders’ Rights List

EFF has a new mailing list devoted to “the latest news on computer security law, upcoming events with EFF lawyers, discounts on infosec conferences like BlackHat, SOURCE, HOPE, and open source software events.” Sign me up.

There’s a wacky promo which I think someone had too much fun making:

Disclosure: I am on the EFF Advisory Board.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Cryptography, Internet | Leave a comment

I’ve Only Been to One

The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World. Some of these are amazing.

By the way, someone at the conference this weekend asked me if the photo at the top of the blog is my library. I wish.

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

Surprise! University Of Florida Announces Plan To Save Computer Science Department

A few days ago, UF announced it planned to kill its Computer Science department. Given the essential role of computers today, I took that to be a sort of Washington Monument Ploy — an attempt to show the legislature and the governor how bad the cuts to the state university system are biting — and I didn’t even bother blogging about it. Sure enough, University Of Florida Announces Plan To Save Computer Science Department.

What a surprise.

I do have to say, though, that the Florida legislature’s slash and burn approach to state education, while a disaster from almost every rational point of view (investment in human capital, civics, state prestige, to name only a few), likely will benefit the University of Miami. We are a private institution, and we’ll benefit as first new hires gravitate here, then as students do (when the tuition gap shrinks), and finally as existing faculty become increasingly easy to lure away to places where they do not count the pencils.

In the eyes of those who hate an effective public sector that’s probably a feature, not a bug, but I don’t think it is any cause for celebration.

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