22 June 2008

Psychological Warfare III: Blacklisting the Torturers

The American Psychological Association seems to be all a-twitter about what some psychologists may or may not be doing for the US Military and Intelligence communities. In some quarters they are trying to run psychologists who work for our country out of the APA. Make sure that if they ever go into private practice they don't get any referrals. No invited talks. No academic appointments. Back when Joe McCarthy was a Senator, they called it blacklisting.

At issue is whether psychologists are helping the DoD and the CIA torture people detained as "illegal combatants" (as defined by the Geneva Convention). Let me point out a few things:

If you are going to torture someone, you do not waste months on sensory deprivation and disorientation. If you are going to torture someone, you do things like what the North Vietnamese did to John McCain. You will notice that he doesn't spend time combing his hair, because his arms won't reach that high.

If you are going to torture someone, you do not need the services of a psychologist. You only spend time and money on psychology if you are NOT going to torture someone, but you need to reduce their resistance to interrogation because you are reasonably sure they know something that could prevent the untimely deaths of your colleagues.

I guess I find it harder than some APA members to choose between making a select few illegal combatants unhappy on the one hand, and tallying the otherwise preventable deaths of our troops and operatives on the other.

I must note that al-Qaeda has its own form of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training, which includes accusing their detainers of torture and inhumane treatment regardless of whether such treatment actually occurred, and regardless of the inhumane treatment that al-Qaeda and sympathizers use on their detainees, such as Daniel Pearl. (Or is cutting someone's throat and posting the video on the internet OK as long as non-Western people do it? Talk about the "bigotry of low expectations.")

I also note that those detained as illegal combatants or terrorists routinely swear to kill their interrogators and the interrogators' families should the detained ever be released. They could be aided by the terrorist cells operating in many Western countries, including the United States. It may feel brave to discuss one's objections to some fellow psychologists' possible activities, but by naming names, one may be fingering them for assassination.

Given the real risks of vilification by their colleagues and death at the hands of released detainees (or those acting for them) it seems to me that the real courage is that of those psychologists and sociologists who help, rather than hinder, our counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts.

19 June 2008

Religious Calendar Script

If you would like to have a JavaScript application to show the current day, date, holiday, prayer times, and prayer orientation (e.g., direction and distance to Mecca or Jerusalem) for the Hebrew, Christian (Western, Eastern, or Coptic), Islamic, or Bahai faiths, you can save a copy of the one I wrote for dogchurch.org. Just click here, and use the "Save As" capability of your browser to save a copy to your local desktop. You can use and modify the file under the GNU Public License. If you use the script or a modified form of it, you must acknowledge The Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua or dogchurch.org.

No documentation is provided (other than the code itself - and you must know JavaScript to read it), and you use the file at your own risk. We do not assume any responsibility or liability for the correctness of the calculations. In fact, since the Hebrew and Islamic calendars are observational, not calculated, the above referenced script is only an approximation (but based on very good algorithms from Calendrical Calculations by Reingold and Dershowitz, as well as astronomical code from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Rather than ask the user for his or her location, the script uses GeoIP services from MaxMind.com to estimate the latitude and longitude of the user, based on the user's IP address.

At the end of the script are two functions Salutation and Liturgical Salutation that you can call from your HTML to display the calendar information on your page. Examples of the script in action are

VCBC's Former Home Page
VCBC - Christianity
VCBC - Baha'i
VCBC - Islam
VCBC - Judaism

Contact us with errata, suggestions, or questions.

18 June 2008

Thoughts for the Nation

I'm back. Just spent the past few weeks refactoring the JavaScript that computes Christian, Hebrew, Islamic and Baha'i calendars for dogchurch.org. The code is now 15% shorter and does more, including computing and displaying holidays, prayer times, and prayer direction for these major religions.

But to the business at hand. Friend Kay G. has sent a link to this 9-minute video from Joe American, on America's pathetic lack of an energy policy.

It's not the only policy we lack. For all its belligerence, the Bush Administration has yet to articulate a policy regarding nuclear weapons. Considering that America is one of the two largest holders of nuclear weapons on the planet, this is a serious omission.

What do we get instead? Mars.

I'm not buying it. Until we can get people and cargo from the ground to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and back for US $20 per pound, there is nothing up there that will ever be commercially viable. Which means that only governments will dabble in space, without any major impact on the survivability of the human species. Heck, the airlines are charging about $20 per pound, and are struggling to make a profit, because even when the destination is on earth (where we know its worth going) people can scarcely afford that much.

So, I would redirect NASA to research and fund efforts to achieve LEO affordability, and table wider manned space exploration until they succeed. The major national effort I would launch is toward US energy independence in the near term (say 10 years) and petroleum independence in the longer term (say 20 years). What Joe American says is pointing in the right direction, even though the situation in Iraq is more complicated than I think he realizes.

I also have another few radical proposals:

(1) Make peace on the Korean peninsula. It is shameful that the Truce of 1953 has yet to turn into an actual Peace - after 55 years! The major parties to the peace would need to be North and South Korea, of course, with the US and China as mostly silent partners to the negotiations. The goal would be to achieve unhindered movement of people between North and South. Perhaps the Demilitarized Zone could be converted to the world's largest wildlife refuge and made into a major money-making tourist attraction to help fund development of the North. Then, what do you think would happen to North Korea's nuclear weapons program? I doubt it would long survive in actual peacetime.

(2) Try a new solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of two states, how about two states, one capital? Both parties want Jerusalem as a capital for religious reasons, so why not share it? Not only the same city, but the same capitol building complex. That way, if one party gets blown up, so does the other. Kind of like the patient who grabs the dentist by the groin and says, "Now, we aren't going to hurt each other, are we?"

(3) To start on the problem of health care insurance, create an assigned risk pool, state by state, just like we do for auto insurance. Don't let any company write policies in any state unless they contribute their fair share to that state's assigned risk pool. Everyone gets some coverage, and we still have capitalism. What a concept. Better yet, we all need to force Congress to use the same kinds of health insurance and the same kinds of health providers the rest of us get.

(4) Make the federal government delegate power, money, and responsibility back to the state and local governments. Nobody reads all of the federal budget or the funding bills, or most of the new laws enacted, because there are too many of them and they are too long. This is because the federal government has taken on more than it can manage. It has done so by arrogating powers that used to belong to state and local governments, or even to private citizens. The feds have bitten off more than they can chew. They are drowning in, choking on, too much stuff to do. Any business would delegate authority downward so that it could do its job more efficiently. Let's see some delegation. If the government wants to apply the business model to what it funds, let it apply it to itself first and foremost.

Yeah. I know it's a risk. Since there are so many laws and regulations on the books, it is now impossible to live without accidentally falling afoul of one or more of them. All it takes is for some government bureaucrat to capriciously enforce a few of them to get any chosen target. In other words, the principal guarantor of your liberty (if you are an American) is that the government is just too choked up to get to you. But it's our government. According to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we own it. Making it delegate back powers is a necessary part of making it work for us rather than just for itself.

Well, that's enough ranting for tonight.