Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on Torture

Waterboarding, circa 1556

There are some subjects my idealistic self hopes people won't continue to politicize. Abortion is one and torture is most certainly another.

I'm less interested in what one person in any administration has to say about torture than what experts say, who refer to rational, carefully considered evidence. Empirical data.

Let's not fall then for the fallacy of anecdotal evidence. The possibility that torture "worked" on one person (and let's remember that 24 is fiction - and fiction created by a man who was an open fan of the Bush administration) wouldn't justify its use on prisoners willy nilly anyway - especially when those prisoners were often gathered on a so called "field of battle" without any evidence that they were actually participating in acts of terrorism. Sadly, some of the people have even been proven completely innocent later, though they have received permanent physical and psychological damage from their mistreatment.

Conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan has been carefully cataloguing the ethical and efficacy problems with torture for many months now. I recommend searching for "torture" on his blog and delving into the reams of thoughtful evidence he's compiled.

Let's also recognize that the mere fact that something might (upon rare occasions, possibly) prove effective, does not automatically justify its use. The ends does not justify the means. Otherwise, we might quickly return to all manner of barbarism.

It's surprising to be put in the position in the 21st century of arguing against the use of torture. What has 9/11 done to us?

Washington Post - "The Torture Myth"
Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq: Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information."

PBS - "Debating Torture"
Sen. John McCain: "First, subjecting prisoners to abuse leads to bad intelligence because under torture a detainee will tell his interrogator anything to make the pain stop."

"Science and Engineering Ethics," 2004 - Springer
A utilitarian argument against torture interrogation of terrorists

Salon - "Mixed Messages on Torture"
The U.S. Army declares torture useless
Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army deputy chief of staff on "tough" interrogation techniques: "No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices," Kimmons said. "I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the past five years, hard years, tells us that. ... Any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility." Kimmons conceded that bad P.R. about abuse could work against the United States in the war on terror. "It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. We can't afford to go there."

MSNBC - "Military agency warned against 'torture'"

Red Cross Report - "ICRC Report on the Treatment of 14 'High Value Detainees' in CIA Custody" [PDF]

U.S. Department of Justice - "Torture Memos" [PDF]

Finally, Amnesty International enables you to write your senators and state representatives asking them to investigate and prosecute those who responsible for encouraging a climate of torture on behalf of the United States.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crowdsourcing Content


I have a new post about crowdsourcing content over at Razorfish's Scatter/Gather blog. One of life's little mysteries is why folks would want to contribute content of one sort or another for free in the first place. I briefly describe some incentives and also discuss framing your inquiries and networking for providers.

Speaking of crowdsourcing, Iain McDonald, the founder of Amnesia | Razorfish, laid down the gauntlet today at the Razorfish Client Summit, asking attendees to see how many results they could create for a freshly minted word, specifically "razorfunfish" on Google within a single day. A prize would also be given to the person who created the entry, which rose to the top of the heap.

Well, moments later, I noted that results were already appearing. It'll be interesting to see who comes up with the most effective means of "owning" the term. I'm seeing some pretty creative efforts already. Someone even bought the URL. Also, coincidental to the subject of my article above, someone created an entry on Wikipedia. We'll see how long it lasts.

Also: Google results for razorfunfish

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kieren Hebden & Steve Reid - NYC

Kieren Hebden & Steve Reid - NYC

NYC (CD) – Domino

Kieran Hebden loses the Four Tet moniker again for this instrumental album with jazz drummer extraordinaire Steve Reid, their fourth expedition together. As its title intimates, it's an homage to New York with most of the songs paying particular attention to specific NYC locales. Those tunes comprise a flyby visit to the city with two tunes, the slow descent of "Arrival" and the ambient exit of "Departure," bracketing the trip. NYC attempts to capture the city's fizz and sizzle with limited instrumentation, relying very heavily on Reid's drumming and Hebden's ever-inspired knob fiddling. And since it was crafted within two days in a New York studio, the collaboration also bears a loose, improvisational sound. With its rumbling bass and skittering drums, "Lyman Place" begins like a number from a gritty David Holmes soundtrack, while eventually transmogrifying into something akin to a jet taking off. Then the clamor of “1st & 1st” approximates the hurly burly of that East Village intersection, which Seinfeld’s Kramer described as “the nexus of the universe.” Later, "Between B & C" commences with a sample of melodic guitar, bearing a hint of Alphabet City’s Latin influence, and also proves the disk’s most accessible track. NYC rounds out with “Departure,” a comparatively minimalist track, featuring accelerating Reich-like tintinnabulation. Like all of these tracks, it’ll provide challenging, yet rewarding grist for your ear. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 30 (Spring 2009)

The Matthew Herbert Big Band - There's Me & There's You

The latest and unfortunately last issue of Skyscraper has hit the stands. A sign of the times, the mag will cease to occupy physical space and will be going entirely online in the coming months. Two of my reviews from the issue follow.

There’s Me and There’s You (CD) – !K7

Those familiar with Matthew Herbert won’t be surprised that his new effort, There’s Me and There’s You, proves a sometimes challenging, always swinging compendium of glitchy show tunes. This second release from his incarnation as The Matthew Herbert Big Band is also a highly political album. We’re told its “dominant theme is power and its abuses in the 21st century,” and its cover even features a petition for music to be “a political force of note and not just the soundtrack to over-consumption.” It’s complex and cheerily excoriating in a way that only Herbert could arrange. “The Story,” for example, begins with a rude shock of sound, a snap like lightning, then settles into heavy beats and then finger snaps before London’s Eska Mtungwazi kicks in with her powerful vocals. It’s a delight divining the mélange of sounds Herbert serves up. He swipes the sounds of matches being lit, nails being driven into a coffin, and, er, 70 condoms getting dragged across the floor of the British Museum, among others. Most provocatively, he knit “Nonsounds” together with recordings from Palestine, including cicadas, roosters, and the sound of protesters being shot against the wall separating Palestine from Israel. The see-sawing here between expertly-crafted big band sound and more abrasive electronica may prove too challenging for some, but for those accustomed to Herbert’s manic method of musical chemistry, he doesn’t fail to satisfy and provoke. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 30 (Spring 2009)