"Verschärfte Vernehmung"

Andrew Sullivan points out the way that the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” was viewed half a century ago – before Cheney, Rumsfeld and “24” turned torture into a spectator sport. Money quote:

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture – “enhanced interrogation techniques” – is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

However, I don’t believe in the death penalty. Life imprisonment will do just fine, thank you. And for those of you who are minded to scream about Godwin’s Law, check out Marty’s thoughts on the subject.

More DotMatrix

Back in February I mentioned a cool Mac application called DotMatrix by B-L-A-C-K-O-P, ((They also have this neat free screensaver, BlackenedPixels, which turns the screen black and then tries to power down the displays. I have a PB15″ with a Samsung SyncMaster 940MW on the DVI port. BlackenedPixels was able to power down the internal display, but not the Samsung. Still saves a lot of heat and power.)) which allows you to mix images from your iSight camera (or any other source) with a bewildering array of effects: distortions, colors, cut-outs, masks, half-tones, and so forth. If the sheer number of possibilities is too daunting, don’t worry: the program includes hundreds of templates, many contributed by enthusiastic users. I’ve just upgraded to version 1.006, and I’m having way too much fun for a Monday evening. Here are a couple of quick tests that illustrate the ability to mix a sequence of shots into a single image:
Stereo image
Film strip
And here’s a touch of wanderlust….
Dreaming of flying home to England
OK, I’ve got to work on that one just a bit, but that’s what makes it fun.

Falwell's legacy of stupidity and bigotry

Poland to probe if Teletubbies are gay:

Poland’s conservative government took its drive to curb what it sees as homosexual propaganda to the small screen on Monday, taking aim at Tinky Winky and the other Teletubbies. Ewa Sowinska, government-appointed children rights watchdog, told a local magazine published on Monday she was concerned the popular BBC children’s show promoted homosexuality. She said she would ask psychologists to advise if this was the case.

Apparently others in the Polish government are worried about her…

… making public comments “that may turn her department into a laughing stock.”

May? Too late, I’m afraid.

The longest running soap opera in the philosophy of religion

Regular readers of my blog will remember that a couple of years ago we were discussing the supposed “conversion” of the English philosopher Antony Flew. Here’s how I summarized it a year ago:

The Anthony Flew brouhaha
Of all the subjects I’ve blogged on, the one that has generated the most discussion is the sad case of the English philosopher, Antony Flew. The short version: eminent atheist philosopher (Antony Flew) gets taken in by a charlatan (Gerald Schroeder) peddling an “irreducible complexity” argument about DNA; eminent philosopher concludes that this may be evidence for a designer; triumphalist creationist huckster (Roy Abraham Varghese) persuades Flew to go public at a conference; creationists crow about the “conversion of the most famous atheist”; Flew talks to some real scientists, and makes a half-hearted retraction, apologizing that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
This first piece attracted 53 comments; later entries included More on Antony Flew, Carrier on Flew, and Antony Flew: at last, the book. The discussion ran on from December 2004 until May 2005, and I was still getting email months after that.

When this whole, messy business subsided in early 2005, I didn’t expect to hear any more about it. After all, as Flew wrote to Richard Carrier, “I am just too old at the age of nearly 82 to initiate and conduct a major and super radical controversy about the conceivability of the putative concept of God as a spirit.” And it seemed unlikely that Flew would want to revisit a topic over which, in his own words, “I now realize that I have made a fool of myself”, and “I have been mistaught” by a charlatan who “appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said.” One would expect that Flew would prefer to draw a discreet curtain over a painful and embarrassing episode.
Well, it seems that one would be wrong. You can now pre-order There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, ((I have to confess that I first read the subtitle as How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Lost His Mind. My bad…)) authored by Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese. It’s scheduled to be published in November, 2007. So far it’s attracted little attention, apart from one rather triumphalist blog entry.
It will be interesting to see what Flew has to say for himself at this point. Back in 2005 he was emphatic that he was tentatively embracing a form of deism, and he vehemently rejected any traditional Christian conception of God:

Q But there’s also, Professor Flew, a great yearning to have someone of your previously held scepticism on board for a Christian God, a participating God, a God of goodness, and so on. Now can you tell me what your reaction is to that?
A Well I don’t think I have offered the slightest reason for believing in a good God. You know, if that’s what they want – a good God in any ordinary sense of the word ‘good’ – it seems to me it is inconsistent with what they believe this good God is going to do. I mean to torture anyone eternally is a violation of the most fundamental principles of merely human justice.
Q So this is the tortures of Hell, which you would reject entirely?
A Well this appalling nightmare, you know. If it was proved that I was wrong in this book ‘The Logic of Mortality’ I would myself get worried because it seems to me entirely possible that the universe around us was created by an evil figure who would do this sort of thing.
Q So you reject the Christian concept of God?
A I follow what has become the universally accepted definition by Richard Swinburne of the entire English-speaking philosophical world which includes a very large part of the philosophical world.
Q So you don’t believe in life after death?
A Certainly not, no….
Q What view do you take of what is happening in America – where presumably you’re being hailed now as … one of them?
A Well, too bad (laughs). I’m not ‘one of them’.

It’s hard to imagine a huckster like Varghese being associated with a book that rejects Christianity. We’ll just have to wait and see. Of course, none of this has any effect on anything except Flew’s reputation: most atheists that I know have little respect for arguments from authority.

Great Monaco GP; shame about the post-race nonsense

Without any real competition from Ferrari, today’s Monaco Grand Prix was a chance for McLaren to put on a splendid show, and they did. Alonso drove beautifully, and Hamilton continued the unprecedented string of performances that are causing people like Jackie Stewart to tip him for true greatness. They lapped all their rivals up to Massa in third place (and Massa himself lapped his team-mate Raikkonen), but they never eased off. It was fascinating to watch the difference in their styles: Alonso was absolutely consistent, lap after lap, while Hamilton was always seeking to push just a little harder, relying on his extraordinary car control to recover when he stepped over the limits.
Having said all that, this was Monaco. Passing is almost impossible. Alonso took the pole, led from the start, and only a mistake would have allowed Hamilton to come in first. But that didn’t stop people from moaning that McLaren had prevented Hamilton from getting the win. From the BBC:

“I’m sure everybody feels – and a lot of people will feel it in England – that there is favouritism or some penalisation that is given to either Lewis or Fernando,” Dennis said.
“We are scrupulously fair at all times in how we run this Grand Prix team.
“This circuit has to be addressed in a team way, and that is why we have won 14 races here.

Exactly. I’m confident that Hamilton is going to win a GP this season, and he has a good shot at the championship. Let’s not get melodramatic.
Speaking of melodramatic, WTF is happening to Ferrari? Paging Ross Brawn. And these super-soft tyres look like a really bad idea.
UPDATE: Oh dear, here come the FIA bureaucrats.

Just when you think it couldn't get any worse….

From TPM:

As if the dynamic of the conflict wasn’t complex enough, U.S. troops are now interceding in a gunfight between Iraqi Interior Ministry forces and employees of U.S. private security firm.

Words like “incompetence” and “quagmire” seem pathetically inadequate.

The state of philosophy

Mark Vernon has posted an excellent piece on the state of philosophy today. I won’t try to summarize it, because he covers a lot of ground, and I couldn’t do him justice. Moreover the picture is, at times, downright paradoxical. For example, Martha Nussbaum believes that philosophers are doing good, relevant, accessible work, but it isn’t being communicated:

The problem she believes is not philosophy’s: it is the media. ‘Entities such as the New York Times Book Review and other major newspapers are becoming less and less interested in the work of philosophers,’ she says, noting too that the reverse is true in continental Europe and countries like India.

Well, OK. But on the other hand…

… popular philosophy is a growth area in publishing. It is hard to supply precise figures, since many books with philosophical content fall into other categories, but in the UK at least the overall trend for the past 5 years is up. ‘There is something of a backlash against celebrity non-fiction at the moment,’ explains Giles Elliot, charts and media editor at The Bookseller. ‘The book industry is very interested in intellectual non-fiction.’

And I think I’d agree: the amount of space in the biggest bookstores that is devoted to philosophy seems to have grown significantly over the last 20 years.
Anyway, it’s an excellent article which I highly recommend, as well as his interviews with Dan Dennett and others. And like so many thought-provoking pieces, I found it via the RSS feed from Butterflies and Wheels.