Today’s predictable ramble

I’ve been trying for weeks to develop an answer to the “free speech” dilemma. And everything I come up with is, essentially, a re-hash of a short piece I wrote three months ago. It’s here or somewhere down the page if you’re interested.

Now with presentation of the award which recently brought the question into view — as if it had ever disappeared — I can add a codicil to my earlier post. The PEN committee and its defenders argued that those who opposed the award were unfamiliar with the French style of satire, and therefore were not competent to criticize it.

To accept that argument, one has to ignore what seems to me a far more important aspect of satire than its country of origin. Those most affected by and most liable to be distressed by satire — which is to say, its victims — are the primary aspect, and it their reaction which ought first to be considered.

So again, murder is not acceptable as response to satire. But to defend, to explain, satire’s impact without regard to its targets is simply to avoid an obvious truth.

Yes, I did read the news today

A New York City cop is in critical condition after being shot while on patrol. A couple of questions come to mind.

  • Considering recent news, was he overly cautious in trying to investigate a man who appeared to be carrying a gun?
  • The man, who had a previous conviction for violence, was carrying a gun. Should that be possible in a rational society?

I hope you will see those as rhetorical questions.

Two men fired shots at a cartoon festival. A security guard was injured; the two men were killed by police. Why, you may ask, were they shooting up a cartoon festival. Here’s part of the story from the Washington Post:

Security was extremely tight for the event: a contest hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative, which promised to award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad. The group’s president, Pamela Geller, told the AP she had planned the contest to make a stand for free speech following violence over Muhammad drawings.

All this happened in Texas. You remember Texas. That’s where governor Greg Abbott announced

he was ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor a Navy SEAL/Green Beret joint training exercise, which was taking place in Texas and several other states….It seems there is concern among some folks that this so-called training maneuver is just a cover story. What’s really going on? President Obama is about to use Special Forces to put Texas under martial law.

And not a moment too soon.

And the alternative would be…

I’m talking about “rush to judgement,” a phrase we’ve heard a lot of lately, and one we’ll hear again in days to come. That’s what the accused — or their supporters — complain of when the legal justice system responds quickly to a real — or a perceived — breach of justice.

Rush to judgement. You have made a determination before all the relevant data have been presented and evaluated. And argued over and fiddled with and analyzed.

The immediate instance, of course, comes from Baltimore. A man died while in police custody. He died — and no one seems credibly to challenge this point — of injuries he sustained while in police custody, injuries for which he received no meaningful medical treatment while in police custody. Now a prosecutor has brought charges, from assault to murder, against the six police officers involved.

And the cry goes up, “Rush to Judgement!” You have accused these six men of major felonies before…

Before what?

Let that go unanswered for a moment. Ask instead, what is the alternative? What has been the alternative over the years?

A few times, it has been a deliberated move toward judgement. More often, however, it has been delay, obfuscation, evasion, and misdirection. A trudge to judgement which says, in effect, it didn’t happen but if it did it was accidental and no blame attaches to it.

Now, go back and answer the previous question.

How “free” is “free speech?”

I’ve been following the “free speech” debates, and can come to only one defensible conclusion. One conclusion, that is to say, which neither denies the free speech idea nor validates grotesque images and words published under its banner.

It is based on what I believe to be the one universal belief — a dictum found in some form in nearly every organized culture — which supersedes free speech. It goes by many names, but is best known in the Western world as “the golden rule.”

If you find it difficult — even impossible — to accept a vicious and grotesque representation of those things you hold dear and sacred and true, you ought not to create, spread, or tolerate such representations of anyone else’s dearly held truth.

Or, to paraphrase the original, “speak of others as you would have them speak of you.”

If “golden rule” is not comfortable for you, sounds too religious or too old fashioned, replace it with “the social contract.” Very nearly the same thing.

The arcane logic of the CIA

Perhaps, reading the catalogue of alibis and rationalizations out there which explain our government’s use of torture, you reach a point at which you say, “Okay, I understand. I don’t like, I don’t condone, but I understand. From their warped mindset, their infantile point of view, some brutalities were necessary.”

I hope you don’t reach that point, but if you do, hey, that’s simply a point where you and I won’t meet. Let it pass.

But surely you reach a point at which you say, “Holy shit, these guys are not only vain, misguided, brutal, insensitive, and opportunistic, they are also pretty fucking stupid to think anyone would fall for that line of reasoning.”

If you have not yet reached the point, please let me to lead you to it. An article today, several places, this version from the LA Times.

a Pakistani man named Janat Gul… was captured in June 2004, based in part on statements by a CIA informant… who… identified Gul as a facilitator for Al Qaeda who had knowledge of plans to conduct attacks in the U.S. in the weeks leading up to the 2004 elections….

After several weeks of being hit, pushed into walls and doused with water, Gul had not divulged any information about a plot.

The interrogations continued through September, despite cables from the personnel at the detention site saying Gul seemed to have little information to impart. In October, the CIA began to reassess the information from its informant who then “admitted to having fabricated the information.

In December… they described Gul as “a very simple man” who was not linked to senior Al Qaeda officials.

In April 2005, with Gul still in CIA custody, Justice Department officials asked the CIA what justification they had for his interrogation. The agency responded that Gul’s information had enabled them to determine that the informant was unreliable.

In simplest terms, the CIA argued that torturing Gul was legitimate and necessary because, although he was “a simple man, not linked to Al Qaeda,” his information — that is, his inability to provide any information — proved that the other informant was a liar.

If you want to stay awake into the wee hours tonight, consider what might happen if one of your neighbors reported that you were a Russian spy, or a Korean terrorist. That night a couple guys grab you and take you to a secret base in Tanzania. Once there, they kick the shit out of you for a few months. You don’t tell the anything useful, because you don’t know anything useful. Finally they decide you aren’t a spy or a terrorist at all, just “a simple man.”

However, torturing you was okay, because it proved that your neighbor was a fucking liar.

Sleep well.

About that “torture” discussion…

I resisted an obvious — I hope it’s obvious — temptation to comment on the recent torture report, not because I wasn’t sure what to say, but because I was pretty sure what to say.

Playing into this is the bullshit that went into justifying our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. And before that, our collective self-delusions following 9/11. I wrote at tedious length about each, and to no apparent end, other than to alienate a few acquaintances. 1

Fortunately for me (now I don’t have to write it) and fortunately for you (you don’t have to read my prose), David Simon has written what I would call, in this circumstance, a perfectly balanced, calm, and rational analysis of the matter.

If you’re not familiar with Simon’s prose, and his beliefs, consider his opening line.

Here’s the sad fucking truth:

The man is a national treasure. Go read him.

  1. I can’t politely say “bad rubbish,” but “good riddance” may not be far off the mark.  ↩