Archive for February 15th, 2010

Guantanamo homicides; government cover-up

| February 15, 2010 | 4 Replies
Guantanamo homicides; government cover-up

I am feeling as though I’m in shock after reading “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides,'” an article by Scott Horton that appears in the March 2010 edition of Harper’s Magazine (available online only to subscribers). The official story offered by the United States government is that these three prisoners, who occupied non-adjacent cells, simultaneously committed suicide on June 9, 2006.

According to the NCI as documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s 8-foot high steel mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat area we are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his wash basin, slipped his head through the news, tightened it, and left from the wash basin to hang until he asphyxiated.

Horton’s incredible article names names and provides details with regard to all of the following:

* The United States appears to have murdered at least three of the prisoners at Guantánamo. None of these three men had been charged with any crime. Two of these men were set to be released. There is no credible evidence that any of them were terrorists. Evidence strongly suggests that they were beaten and then further tortured through waterboarding on the night they were killed.
* The United States has worked furiously to cover up these murders, spewing countless lies in the process.
* The United States maintained a special torture building (“a black site”) far from the main prison camp at Guantánamo, and those who worked at Guantánamo were told to not ask any questions about it. It was called “Camp No,” and those who have come forward at considerable risk have reported hearing screaming from that building.
* After the three prisoners were apparently murdered, those in charge of Guantánamo viciously attacked the dead men, arguing to the press that “They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own.”
* In the process of “investigating the suicides,” the U.S. government seized all written communications possessed by the other Guantánamo prisoners, including communications clearly constituting attorney-client privilege.
* When presented with the facts presented in Horton’s article, the Bush administration and the Obama administration’s both refused to conduct any meaningful investigation. Both administrations actively suppressed the truth.
* The Obama administration would simply rather not have to deal with the criminal actions of the Bush administration.

I’m sure that many Americans are disgusted, as I am, that the United States has engaged in this sort of behavior. I’m also sure that millions of Americans would be outraged that Horton would dare to accuse the United States of anything improper; these sorts of people (I’ve met some of them and I’ve heard many on television) don’t care whether the Guantanamo prisoners were really terrorists and don’t care whether they were tortured. It’s disturbing on many levels. It all makes you wonder what has become of us.

The following is from a related article from yesterday’s NYT, where it is reported that the Obama Administration is upset that a British Court released U.S. information indicating that U.S. treatment of prisoners “violated legal prohibitions against torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners.” You’d think that Mr. Obama would abide by his campaign promise to be an open book, but he’s doing the opposite:

A spokesman for President Obama expressed “deep disappointment” in the court’s decision, which might have been shocking except that Mr. Obama has refused to support any real investigation of Mr. Bush’s lawless detention policies. His lawyers have tried to shut down court cases filed by victims of those policies, with the same extravagant claims of state secrets and executive power that Mr. Bush made.

In another a related matter, Dick Cheney reminded the world yesterday that he has long been a big fan of A) waterboarding and B) telling his lawyers what to tell him.

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The real cost of college

| February 15, 2010 | 3 Replies
The real cost of college

Bob Samuels puts the numbers on the table. Here’s what a student (and his or her parents) are really paying for when they fork over huge chunks of tuition to a prestigious college.

[T]he reasons why the numbers never add up in higher education is that universities and colleges use a false and misleading method to determine the cost of undergraduate instruction. Many institutions calculate this important figure by taking the total cost for all undergraduate and graduate instruction, research, and administration, and dividing that cost by the total number of students. Schwartz argues that this common method for determining cost is misguided because it assumes that all students will be taught by professors and that there is no difference between the cost of undergraduate and graduate education. In other words, when a university or state calculates how much it has to spend to educate each additional student, it includes in the costs, the full salary of a professor, but everyone knows that at research institutions, professors only spend a small percentage of their time teaching undergraduate students. According to Schwartz, parents are really paying for the cost of undergraduate instruction plus graduate instruction plus research plus administration. To be precise, undergraduates are subsidizing the cost of research and graduate education, and no one admits this fact.

I think that he leaves out another big factor in his informative post. Many people pay big money for prestigious colleges because they want their children to attend school alongside other people who can pay big bucks to go to a prestigious college. Why is that important? Why isn’t their only one goal to become smarter, which many people do by self-study? In Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior (2010), Geoffrey Miller explains that universities are often in the business of “educational credentialism.”

Harvard and Yale sell nicely printed sheets of paper called degrees that cost about $160,000…. alumni of such schools . . . work very hard to maintain the social norm that, in casual conversation, it is acceptable to mention where one went to college, but not to mention one’s SAT or IQ scores. If I say on a second date that “the sugar maples in Harvard Yard are so beautiful every fall term,” I am basically saying “My SAT scores were sufficiently high (roughly 720 out of 800) that I could get admitted, so my IQ is above 135, and I had sufficient consciousness, emotional stability, and intellectual openness to pass my classes. Plus, I can recognize a tree.” The information content is the same, but while the former sounds poetic, the latter sounds boorish.

Miller also has a lot to say about conspicuous consumption in his book, and it should be another factor for why so many colleges can get away with charging immense amounts for education without justifying those amounts. It doesn’t hurt the universities financial condition that the ability to pay exorbitant tuition is a plus for many parents. It is boorish to announce one’s high salary at a social function, but it is quite acceptable to drop the following in conversation: “Tuition is coming due for my two kids; one is at Harvard and the other is at Yale.” Mission accomplished, because you just announced to the world that your kids both have the minimal intellectual and social requirements for entry at those institutions (and they got those genes from you!) and that you have the financial wherewithal to pay for all of that tuition.

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The Onion: New law bans loveless marriages

| February 15, 2010 | Reply
The Onion:  New law bans loveless marriages

Controversial new law bans marriages except between people who actually love each other:


New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don’t Love Each Other

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The Internet doesn’t think

| February 15, 2010 | 5 Replies
The Internet doesn’t think

Edge.org has published the results to its annual question. This year’s inquiry: How Has The Internet Changed The Way You Think?.

There are dozens of thoughtful answers that could occupy you for an entire day. The answer offered by cognitive scientist Joshua Greene caught my attention. Here’s an excerpt:

Have you ever read a great book from before the mid 1990s and thought to yourself, “My Goodness! These ideas are so primitive! So… pre-Internet!” Me neither. The Internet hasn’t changed the way we think anymore than the microwave oven has changed the way we digest food. The Internet has provided us with unprecedented access to information, but it hasn’t changed what we do with it once it’s made it into our heads. This is because the Internet doesn’t (yet) know how to think. We still have to do it for ourselves, and we do it the old-fashioned way.

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