The Eclectic Quill

April 28, 2009

“24” Is Fiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 3:30 pm

Were someone to say to me ten years ago that there would be a time when our nation was debating whether someone should torture I would have chalked them off as a nut job conspiracy theorist. Of course that was two years before the nut job conspirators started running the show. Once again the argument is surfacing over whether or not we should torture, what constitutes torture and whether torture works. Whenever I even hear the question brought up it’s all I can do to calm myself enough to not fly into a cathartic rage and lecture whatever poor soul brought up the subject, be it in my presence, or a numbskull on the TV that is not hearing a thing I yell at him with my DVR paused. So imagine my chagrin one day a few weeks ago while we were watching “24” and my wife asked, “What about “24?” Uncharacteristically, I kept my composure and reminded her, “24” is fiction.

Apparently some other people, namely those in the Republican Party and in the Republican media, also need the reminder. When you’re watching a TV show where the script says that the bad guy is the one getting tortured then it’s easy enough to say, “Yeah, you go get him.” In the scripted world Jack Bauer “knows” when the person is lying and when the person is telling the truth. In the scripted world, when the innocent are tortured it all comes out fine in the end. In the scripted world Jack knows best and we just need to trust Jack. Of course that’s all fiction.

The problem is that we aren’t talking about something scripted here. When the torturer knows the victim “knows” something he might be wrong. This can have a compilation of problems, such as wasting valuable time trying to get information of out someone who has none, getting false confessions pointing to other people who give their own false confessions and so on. Republican spinners will point to the “foiled” terrorist attack on the Library Tower in LA. This has two dubious qualities, 1) there’s a great deal of question as to whether the attack was actually anywhere close to operational, and 2) the attack was foiled without the use of the so called, “enhanced interrogation” techniques, as it was foiled before they were ever authorized. So once again, essentially what is being resorted to is more fiction.

Here are a few facts you should know about torture:

  • Confessions derived under torture are more often untrue than true.
  • False confessions are a much bigger problem than getting confessions.
  • Interrogators are less likely than an average person to be able to discern a lie from truth.
  • People cannot be “trained” to withstand torture.

The inherent problem with all the “24” fiction is that they guy who is getting tortured did it. Apart from the moral problems of torturing anyone, much less someone who didn’t do anything and has no information to give, is the reality that they can eventually “break.” What happens when you “break” someone who doesn’t know anything? You get lies, lies that validate the interrogators preconceptions, and the end result is that nothing is learned and everything is validated. It’s not hard to see how torture can actually encumber investigations.

I was watching an interview with John McCain and he’s talking about how he met this high up terrorist guy who was being held in a prison in Iraq, and the terrorist leader was telling McCain about how Abu Gharib was a big boon to the terrorist recruiting. This prison that he is being held at holds 20,000 Iraqi prisoners, all of whom I presume from the context are suspected terrorists. Now here’s the thing of it, the number was just tossed out lightly, and I had to rewind it to make sure I heard it right, but yep 20,000 Iraqi prisoners. I have serious problems, especially after it came out that as much of 90 percent of the prisoners being held at Abu Ghraib weren’t only not even guilty of anything, but weren’t even accused of anything, that all 20,000 of those prisoners are terrorists.

And herein lies the inherent flaw in all the pro-torture, neocon, logic. There entire case rests on a presumption of guilt. In the script we can know because well, it’s a script. In the real world that’s just not true. How many of those 20,000 prisoners are giving us what we want to hear so they can go home and be with their wives and children? How much bad information are we torturing out of people?

Sure, the neocons will just want to spin things a different way. They’ll say I’m more worried about protecting the terrorists than the innocent people the terrorists want to kill and so on and so forth. The problem is, that’s not the problem. I want

to stop terrorism as much, and dare I say more than they do. I say I want to more, because I, unlike them, am willing to resort to what works. It’s time to stop letting the blowhards railroad the conversation and get to the heart of the matter. It’s not about the morality of torture—that’s just something you either accept or don’t—it’s about the effectiveness of torture. If you want to stop terrorists, don’t torture!!!!

Now having said that I want to point to something else briefly. There’s this whole thing between Keith Olbmeran and Sean Hannity. Hannity said waterboarding isn’t torture. He was asked whether he’d be willing to be waterboarded, and he said, yes he would, for charity. Olbmeran called him on it and said he would give 1,000 for charity for every minute that bonehead was waterboarded, essentially calling his bluff. Whether he would actually allow himself to be waterboarded or not is another story, because it misses the essential point behind waterboarding. It’s about fear. Over 108 prisoners have died in these “camps” due to these kinds of interrogations. Waterboarding isn’t a matter of what happens over a couple of seconds while water gets poured down your throat. That’s awful enough. It’s having people come kicking down your door at 3:00 AM, dragging you by your hair to black sedan, driving you with a hood on your head to some mysterious place, flying you to another country on a cargo plane, and detaining you without even telling you why. Then they barely feed you, strip you naked, keep you from sleeping for days at a time. While you’re there you see perhaps one or two, or maybe three people leave their cell and never come back. You only see the body bag. Then, they take you into a room surrounded by people with guns and they yell at you and scream and try to get you to confess. Then they tell you if you don’t tell them what they want to hear they’re going to kill you. And as they grab you by the scruff of your next and hold your head underwater (or pour water down your throat) as your breath leaks away the image of that body bag is in your head. The image of your terrified wife and children is in your head. And the thought occurs to you, just tell them your neighbor is a terrorist and it’ll all stop. You reject the idea. They pull your head back up and then the moment you have a chance to breathe, the moment you have a chance to hope that you’re not going to die right there that put your head back under water. This goes on for several minutes and each time it’s easier to accept that, while you have nothing against your neighbor, you just don’t want to die, and so you “confess” that you’ve conspired with him. Days later your neighbor is woken up at 3:00 in the morning.

So here’s the thing Hannity is not getting. It’s not the feeling of drowning that makes it torture, it’s the threat of dying. When you are in control, that’s not a real threat. When you have a safe-word it’s not a real threat. If you don’t have that feeling of pee in your pants, raw, horrible fear that you are going to die NOW, it’s not the same thing. That fear is what makes it torture and that fear is what makes it so ineffective. It’s not the lie of the terrorist that you have to worry about, it’s the lie of the falsely accused. There’s no way that Hannity can experience that, and no way I can suggest that he should. I do find it recklessly irresponsible for him to suggest that it isn’t torture, or to reduce it to merely the violent act of feigning drowning someone, which is in and of itself an awful, evil act. It’s not the physical trauma, but the psychological trauma that makes it torture, and there’s no way Hannity can experience that without actually being tortured.




April 27, 2009

Great Fantasy Performances and Other Cool Stuff

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 2:50 pm

A couple of times a year I buy a month membership at Playing with their Player Index is a great way to pass the time. Essentially this is how it goes. I wonder, “Gee what about this” and I look it up and find out. It’s a great way to pass the time. Today’s entry is a record of my statistical wanderings from today.

First up I asked myself the question, what are the great fantasy performances of all time, which led to, what would be the all time great fantasy team. I managed to put together a team that could compile a total of 2546 SNP in Ultimate Fantasy Baseball.



In the course of doing that I came across some intriguing things. For instance two of the greatest pitching performances of all time came in the same game, but neither starter got the win. In fact no one did; the game ended in a 0-0 tie. Chris Short and Rob Gardner dueled through 15 innings of shutout ball. They surrendered a total of 14 hits and 5 walks, while combining for 25 strikeouts. Both the Mets and the Phillies called in relievers to finish the game but it ended after 18 without a winner.

From great pitching performances my mind wandered to worst and Wang’s less than amazing start. I wondered, what’s the longest streak of surrendering 7 or more earned runs in consecutive starts. Here’s the list. Wang’s generosity is equaled 17 times since 1954, but never surpassed. He also has far and away the highest ERA over the stretch at a whopping 34.5! In this light it’s reasonable to argue that Wang’s three game stretch is the worst in the history of the game.

Once I got turned on to the streak finder I thought I’d check and see the most consecutive games a team went without being shutout. That distinction goes to the 1978-79 Milwaukee Brewers who went 212 games without being shutout. However another intriguing detail here is 2000 Cincinnati Reds, who were the only team since at least 1954 to go a natural season without being shut out. Of course from there though the mind turns to who has gone the longest without scoring a run. Since 1954. Probably the worst of the streaks was the bats, or lack thereof, of the Washington Senators whose scoreless streak actually extended to 38 innings. The game prior to their streak they only scored one run to boot. Not surprisingly the team was pretty horrible, losing 100 games. They had a team OPS that year of .645 and only scored 578 runs on the season. Things have changed though, that team is now the Texas Rangers, a team known for its offensive prowess.

But that did lead me down yet another winding road. I wondered who had the most pathetic offense in the history of baseball. This got me thinking down the road of teams and history and the like. There are two teams in the history of baseball who have more than 10,000 wins, the Giants, with 10,264 and the Cubs, with 10,091. However both the Dodgers, who need 27 more wins, and the Cardinals, who need 58 wins, should pass the milestone this year. The World Champion Phillies are the only team to have lost 10,000 games. The Yankees though, are the winningest team, with a .567 franchise winning percentage. The Tampa Bay Rays are the worst at .417. Arizona and Tampa are the only two teams without 1000 wins. There are 8 teams who have never won a World Series, the team with the most games without a World Series win, in fact without even a Pennant is the Texas Rangers, formerly known as the Washington Senators.

And then I decided it was time to wrap it up, but I do have a month still, so if you want me to look something up, ask and you shall receive.




April 26, 2009

I Thought Defense Won Championships

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 11:22 am

For years teams like the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks would put up huge numbers on offense in the regular season, and with it fantastic records and #1 seeds. The talk of course always settled around one thing, defense wins championships, and inevitably all that talk was vindicated as whichever team in question made an early exit from the playoffs.

Enter the 2008-2009 season and the Los Angeles Lakers,who boast the West’s best record and the leagues 3rd highest scoring offense and who are also the prohibitive favorites by 4/5 odds whereas Cleveland, who boasts the NBA’s best record, home court advantage, and more importantly, the leagues best defense, are getting 5/4 odds. More telling is the (and this is admittedly subjective) virtual early coronation of the Lakers as the next NBA champions by the media at large, particularly the folks at ESPN and TNT.

Now some would point to the two games that the Lakers won but there’s a lot of reason for incredulity with allowing that to carry too much weight. For starters, in the first game the Lakers were at full strength while the Cavs were missing West and Ilguaskas. Secondly, and really more importantly, rarely does what happened in two regular season games, spaced a month apart, really give much indication of what is going to happen in a seven game series. In fact, I believe hearing that quite a bit from the same crowd last year.

But more disconcerting to me is the nearly whole scale departure from the conversation of defense. Normally that conversation is the most dominant of all post season conversations, but this year it seems to be a dirty word. It’s almost like you have to go and look it up to find out that Cleveland is the #1 defense in the country.

Now allow me to say, I’m not a Cavaliers fan, I’m a Bulls fan, in spite of what my recent posts on the whole Lebron vs. Kobe debate might lead some to believe. Neither is my contention here with the Lakers, who I think will come out of the West and I’d venture to say it’s going to be a coin toss who wins it all. It won’t come down to Kobe or Lebron though (as the media will make it out to be) rather, it will come down to Odom or Ilgauskas or West or Williams or Gasol, and how they play. Anyway, I digress.

My emphasis here is the change in conversation and why. The national sports television media is all about television markets. Today I turn on ESPN and according to them the story of the NFL draft was the Jets trading up to get Sanchez, the one year starter at USC. So why was that the big story of the NFL draft, and not say, Crabtree, arguably the guy who will stand out ten years from now as the top player in that draft falling all the way to number 10? The reason is simple; this story involved the two biggest television markets in the country.

So now lets get back to the NBA and the Lakers and the Cavs and the story of defense. Why isn’t defense winning championships this year? Because people in LA don’t want to hear the folks on TNT or ESPN talk about how their favorite team is going to lose because their defense doesn’t compare with Cleveland’s. The league average this year for PPG surrendered was 100, the Lakers are 13th in the league in scoring defense with 99.3 points while the Cavs are first with 91.4. L.A. is better in opponent field goal percentage, surrendering a 6th best average of .447. However, Cleveland is surrendering a sterling .431. In 3 point percentage the Lakers get even better giving up a 3rd best .345, but again Cleveland is even better with .333. Cleveland’s opponents grabbed 878 offensive rebounds while the Lakers opponents grabbed 959. Cleveland surrendered 2310 defensive rebounds and the Lakers, 2440. The Lakers only advantage is in creating turnovers and getting steals. They have created the leagues 3rd best 1350 turnovers, and 6th best 728 steals, compared to Cleveland’s moderate 16th best as they have stolen the ball 728 times compared to the Cavs 592. This advantage though is offset by Cleveland’s moderate 18th best in opponents’ turnovers with 1137 and 28th best in steals with 519. This is somewhat offset though, but not completely by the fact that Cleveland has committed the fourth fewest turnovers.

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly though, Cleveland’s held their opponents to 1568 assists, good for 4th best in the league, while the Lakers opponents fared much better, collecting 1854 dimes, placing the Lakers at 26th in the league. This bodes well for Cleveland in two ways. First it’s troubling for the Lakers that Cleveland is so prevailing in this regard because it screams a great matchup with the triangle offense, which emphasizes passing to create scoring. Cleveland’s ability to cut passing lanes could mean a series of Kobe shooting and having huge games, in a losing cause. Secondly, the Lakers lack of ability to cut passing lanes could spell well for Lebron having some huge games and collecting nightly triple doubles.

Now there’s a lot of different things that could be broken down here, and some will doubtless favor the Lakers, and my point here isn’t really to conjecture how the series will go but as to how it very well could go and especially, to ponder why the media isn’t doing it. The only conclusion I can come to is that they don’t want to, and they don’t want to because they don’t want to anger the Lakers media market.

As the finals approach and Kobe and Lebron lead their teams down to this inevitable path perhaps there will be a bit more discussion of how the series would break down and maybe even someone will start to talk about the weaknesses of the Lakers defense and the strength of the Cavaliers defense. My guess though is that they’re also going to be stirring up the hype for James to go to New York and out of Cleveland. The NBA has an agenda and its stirring the pot through its spokesmen, and that agenda is to keep the finals in big markets. It’s the most plausible explanation for why we aren’t hearing about how defense wins championships this year.

April 11, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 8:22 am

Kevin Heisinger was a truly nice man; one of the nicest I’ve ever known. He was they type of guy that would take you to lunch with his last ten dollars and go hungry himself if you let him. He was always putting others before himself, and he was actually a happier person that way.

Kevin was one of the kids I used to spend time with in my job as a minister. We used to have lunch together, or occasionally go to a Christian conference together. Kevin exemplified the Christian life, loving the Lord, and living without hypocrisy. He was a happy man, always ready to laugh but never to condemn. I nick-named him “Alto” because he was “high singer” and he loved it. He was so nice he could even enjoy a bad joke!

Kevin wasn’t just kind, he was exceptionally bright as well. He was valedictorian at his St. Louis High School. Being Kevin he didn’t want to use his talents to make a lot of money and have an outstanding career, he wanted to help people, especially the most challenged people, those afflicted with mental conditions. That’s why he majored in Psychological Services at Northwestern University. Wanting to specialize in the homeless with psychological conditions he went up to Ann Arbor one weekend to visit the University of Michigan campus where he was planning to go to graduate school for a Masters in Social Services. He took a Greyhound bus.

On Sep 5, 2006 Kevin was on his way home when the bus stopped at a rest area. Kevin went to use the restroom. There, a man named Brian Williams, a diagnosed schizophrenic who was literally “off his meds” was told by the voices in his head to “stop him.” Williams was a huge man and when he started to beat Kevin those around were paralyzed, failing to do anything. No one even called out for the police. After several minutes a nine year old boy, who came in and saw what was happening ran to get the police. Within 19 seconds of being notified the police were then and Williams fled. He was apprehended two blocks away. It was too late for Kevin though. He died in a pool of his own blood in a rest area in the middle of nowhere Michigan.

Since then they’ve passed a law in Michigan called “Kevin’s Law” which allows the court in certain cases to compel a person to come to court and take there medications in front of a judge. The tragedy and irony of Kevin’s death are heart-wrenching, even as he died at the hands of the kind of person he wanted to help, his death served to help them. The day I received the news though there was no Kevin’s law, there was only grief.

I kept “living” the moment. In my imagination I became Kevin, fighting off my attacker; I became the witnesses, running immediately to get the police, or calling out for them; I became an advocate for Kevin, yelling to the bystanders to do something. Yet no matter how many times I tried to change the history by living it in my head, it never went away. Over time I just grew to accept the tragedy of Kevin’s death.

Adenhart’s similarly tragic death reminded me of Kevin. Forget about the baseball, about his career and all of that. He was a young person, on the threshold of life, about to enjoy its promise, when he was suddenly, tragically and violently taken from his friends and family. My hearts and prayers don’t go out to the “entire Angels Organization” they go out to his friends, his teammates, his companions. Such tragedies remind us that these aren’t “heroes;” that this isn’t just “business.” Our favorite players, our looked to prospects, even our scapegoats are people. Sometimes it takes tragedy to remind us of that. Seeing the mourners on the mound, holding up Adenhart’s jersey yesterday poignantly hit me how young these kids are. And here they are on a national TV stage, trying to make sense of that which makes none, and deal with their most human grief.

Over time the players will get back to the daily grind of baseball, gradually the pain will heal into a scar. Occasionally they will reminisce and ponder what could of been. Adenhart will always be a part of their lives in some small way. I just hope that we, as fans, don’t lose sight of the lesson to be learned here, that these are people, real people, struggling in a world we don’t understand. It just takes something so tragic, so ordinarily tragic as death, for us to be able to identify with them.

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