Monday, January 31, 2005


Cat and Girl

I've been meaning to mention this for a while. If you don't read it already, you might want to check out Dorothy Gambrell's comic strip Cat and Girl. She's a friend of mine from college. I recommend this as a pretty good starting strip, but seriously, browse around in there. A few of my favorites are here, here, here, here, and here.

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New Carnival of the Capitalists

A new carnival of the capitalists is up and on Ashish's Niti. Of interest, our very own George Bush is a Socialist post is included.

Also, the Carnival of the Godless links to our Carnival of the Carnies. Oddly, Carnival of the Godless links to a Carnival of the Christians...


Sunday, January 30, 2005


Sophistic Logomancy

Not to be confused with Logomancy (a Xena fan site), Sophistic Logomancy, is Andrew Mike's (another VTACO member) new blog. Take a trip on over there and look around.

Once he gets his comments/archives/permalinks working, I link to one of his posts and explain the difference between what is legal and what is moral and give a quicky discussion of Sarbanes-Oxley.

A quicky aside, logomancy is "a school of magic that derives from the power of words and language"- a nice title for a blog.


How do you say "pimped by the state" in German?

If you're collecting unemployment in Germany, you have to take any job which the unemployment office provides to keep your benefits. Sounds reasonable at this point. Two years ago, Germany legalized prostitution. Ok that too sounds reasonable, just like the Netherlands and Nevada.

Well according to the Telegraph the unemployment offices in Germany have started referring unemployed women to local brothels for employment.
Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.
Apparently the same thing holds for phone sex operators... (h/t DailyPundit)

Xrlq thinks the story is a hoax.


RFID Codes in Texas Instrument Keys Cracked.

Check it out. This'll make Bruce Schneier's next e-mail for sure.

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Expect the Unexpected

That's apparently the advertising slogan for this year's Superbowl halftime show. My lovely bride just mused that slogan might not be the best idea in light of last year...


More SciFi

I know I just did a roundup of scifi stuff, but this short film is too good to not link to.
Episode III: A Lost Hope (h/t SFSignal). It even has a watersports scene...

Link to Lost Hope fixed.


SciFi roundup

A quick rundown of some scifi stuff...

Space Balls...The Cartoon is under development.

Khaaaannn!!! leads a poll on Ain't it Cool News on the greatest one word (name) utterances beating out such classics as "Plastics" and "Freeedooom." Of course, I think this site has helped up Khaaaannn!!!!'s popularity.

Episode III Crawl
The crawl for Episode III is on this site.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
An screenplay adaptation of Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has been completed. I assume a movie is on the way in about a year or so. (h/t Rantings of a Space Cadet)

Babylon 5 The Movie
Babylon 5 The Movie (The Memory of Shadows) is in production.

Why Superman is a Virgin
is covered in this Niven essay: Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex (h/t Instapundit)

Hugo Award Balloting
Is online

Military SciFi Channel?
That's what Scottm thinks the SciFi channel should be called in light of its original programming. If the History Channel can figure out what the public really wants and what they already are (Military History Channel), then maybe the SciFi channel can too.


Congrats Iraqis

It appears that the elections went as smoothly as could be elected with 72% turnout across the country. Higher in some parts (like Baghdad), lower in others (like Ramadi).

Anyways, now it's time for the hard part for the Iraqis - the political sausage kubba making as the Iraqis have their Constitutional convention over the next several months. Hopefully, they'll adopt a more US styled Constitution (limits on government, emphasis on individual rights) than a EU styled Constitution (required governmental activities, emphasis on group rights)...

Here's the whole election schedule for the year... (h/t Club for Growth)
Jan 30: Elect 275-seat National Assembly and 19 regional legislatures.

Mid-Feb: Assembly elects President and two vice-presidents, who will then elect a prime minister, who will form the new government.

Oct 15: National referendum on draft constitution (a 2nd election)

Dec 15: National election for permanent government, if constitution is approved.

Dec 31: Permanent government seated.


Million Dollar Baby

So I saw Million Dollar Baby last night; I think it's a little overrated but still really, really good. If you have any interest in seeing this at all, please see it in a theater. The lighting is Stygian, and I can't imagine how hard it would be to make out on a television screen. It's 75% one of the best boxing movies I've ever seen, and 25% an all right, not great, but all right, weeper. But see it for the boxing sequences, which are wonderfully directed, economical, and just good. Hilary Swank can really throw a hell of a punch. And Eastwood doesn't waste any time at all; one of the things I love about his direction is that he has almost no establishing shots; something is always happening on frame.

Other things about this movie: the script must have been irresistable for Swank, Eastwood, and Freeman; they get classic movie star roles. Hilary Swank's role especially is one of those "get this movie made and advance to the Oscars" type things; it combines body-type-changing training with a tragic end, both of which increase your Oscar chances. I also love it when a script can set you up for a payoff without you knowing you're being set up. In this script, it's the line "110," which I won't say more about, except to say that I didn't know that the payoff was coming ahead of time (unlike, say, the meaning of the Gaelic on H. Swank's robe, which you know you'll find out later). That kind of payoff is always satisfying, but when you don't expect it, it's the kind of thing that produces spontaneous applause in audiences, which is what happened during that scene when I saw it. Wow, that's vague, but there's no easy way to talk about that part without ruining it. And no, the "110" part has nothing to do with the "surprise" ending that Rush Limbaugh is falling all over himself to ruin.

Anyway, it's worth seeing. Hilary Swank spoke after the screening; she's giggly, not as impressive to me as Catalina Sandino Moreno (please give her the Oscar, Academy!). But she worked her ass off in this movie, so she gets some respect from me.

Also saw Spiderman 2 again recently; Alfred Molina = best supervillian ever, maybe. Toss up between him and Jack Nicholson's Joker.

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New Criterion Contraption Post

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto. Enjoy!

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Saturday, January 29, 2005


Beer Whiz

Say you get trapped in your car because of an avalanche but have a while bunch of beer with you in the car. You might ask yourself "What would MacGyver do?" But you should ask yourself what would Richard Kral do?

When Richard Kral faced that situation, he decided to drink the beer and urinate (a lot) to melt the snow. No, really. (h/t Jonah)

Snopes doesn't buy this story.


Monkey porn

In this post, I noticed how monkeys and humans share a number of gender related traits. Well here's another shared trait, male monkeys will pay to see suggestive photos of female monkeys. (h/t instapundit)


George Bush is a Socialist

During a speech on the 28th in Davos, Switzerland, Tony Blair pondered the following:
President Bush's inauguration speech last week, marks a consistent evolution of US policy. He spoke of America's mission to bring freedom in place of tyranny to the world. Leave aside for a moment the odd insistence by some commentators that such a plea is evidence of the "neo-conservative" grip on Washington - I thought progressives were all in favour of freedom rather than tyranny. The underlying features of the speech seem to me to be these. America accepts that terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone. The more people live under democracy, with human liberty intact, the less inclined they or their states will be to indulge terrorism or to engage in it. This may be open to debate - though personally I agree with it - but it emphatically puts defeating the causes of terrorism alongside defeating the terrorists.
Somehow when Bush announces an intention to spread freedom and fight tyranny - traditional rallying cries of the Left - Bush is villified for it by the Left - called a Nazi no less.

Well, Bush has surrepitiously gotten to the left of the Left again. This time on Social Security reform.

One of the possible components of Bush's reform plan being kicked around is the creation of private accounts (or privatization if you must). As part of a private accounts plan, workers would retain ownership of a portion of their Social Security taxes, presumably with some investment in the stock market. After a few years, the thinking goes, most workers (presumably you'll be allowed to remain in a traditional social security program if you so choose) will accumulate a nice little nest egg whose value is buoyed by their stocks ushering in Bush's "Ownership Society."

Looking a little closer at this arrangement, (virtually) all US workers would own stock and thus own a piece of the companies that comprise corporate America. Effectively, US workers will own the means of production. Last time I checked, that's the definition of economic socialism. Further if the added capital in the economy serves as a boost to economic growth (as I believe it should - I'm a supply-sider), then the stock owners - the workers - will reap the benefit and a "workers' paradise" will be created.

However, Bush's ownership society workers' paradise won't be enacted through coerced wealth redistribution, massive interference in the market, or a violent uprising of the proletariat. Rather it will be accomplished as the natural outgrowth of free market capitalism. Somewhere Marx is confused but feeling a little vindicated.

So Bush's Social Security reforms will usher in a socialist workers' paradise and this market-loving-supply-side capitalist can't wait to welcome it with open arms.

Power to the people!!!

Via QandO, we learn that as expected, the Left is not on board. The Communist Party is not on board with the workers' paradise. Time for the reeducation camps.


Carnival of the Carnies

I got busy during the week doing some consulting work and didn't have enough time to get enough sleep most nights much less blog. Whenever I don't post for a few days, I get blogstipated and normally have an insane number of posts lined up in my head.

To save myself a little time (I still have a couple deadlines hanging over my head), I'm going to kick off the first ever "Carnival of the Carnies" post as a roundup of good posts/ideas I've read from friends of mine to which I would like to draw added attention. If the polyscifi readers like the Carnival of the Carnies, I'll try to make it a weekly weekend thing.

How do people think?
Over on Criterion Contraption in a essay on Walkabout, Matt notes that Nicholas Roeg doesn't like doesn't like the term flashbacks because Roeg is "trying to literally show what's happening in the character's mind at the moment. As he puts it, 'We don't think in pages of the written word, we think in images.'"

Matt then notes that he doesn't "think in images, and neither does my writing partner; my thought process involves a pretty literal internal monologue; I think in words. But some people do think in images; I have to work at it." Matt then goes on wonder how other people think.
While Matt denigrates his own ponderance by calling it "junior-high," I think it's worthwhile to discuss as I believe different people think in different ways and that people's thought styles can change with time.

My own two bits on how I think:

The way I think is dependent on the activity that I'm performing. For instance when I'm writing a conversational or argumentative piece, I visualize myself (and someone else) having that conversation. When I write a technical piece, I think in words. When I'm doing mathematical things, I think in symbols and rules. When I'm doing mechanical engineering things, I manipulate shapes. When I'm playing a team sport, I have a X's and O's diagram (and some visualization) going on in my head as I play. When I play trivia, I utilize a tree data structure.

While this mental flexibility allows me to do many different things fairly well, it does have a drawback - reprogramming time. If you've ever spoken to me immediately after I've been doing some analysis, playing trivia, or sports, I'm a conversational retard (other than quick random associations which seem to always be there). Likewise if I've been engaged in verbal activities for an extended period (an hour or two), I actually become an excellent speaker; but if I suddenly have to do even some light math (even arithmetic), I'm lost for an hour or so.

As a more detailed example of this, my highschool SAT score was a 1530. However, that was actually over two tests (VT wanted highest verbal and math scores reported separately, so I've followed this convention since highschool). The breakdown for my two tests was actually Test 1: 780 Math, 670 Verbal (should've been a 800 on the Math, I filled in the wrong bubble on a question, something that I took a little ribbing for in HS). Test 2: 710 Math, 750 Verbal. Typically, I'm more mathematically oriented than verbally oriented so I did nothing special for the first test. For the second test, I spent a few days leading up to the test exclusively reading and practicing vocabulary recall. While that got my mind better conditioned for the verbal part of the test, I was a moron (relatively speaking) when it came to the math section.

Anyways, I'm also interested in reading how others think (I suspect that there's differences by profession), so leave a comment here or in Matt's post.

Intelligent Design
On nanothoughts, Rog notes current efforts to get Intelligent Design (ID) into the science classroom and notes that it doesn't sound like science to him. In short, ID is the proposition that there are some things in nature that are so complex that only an intelligent creator can be responsible for their existence. In the comments, JP indirectly gives a good explanation on why ID isn't science and directly states why teaching ID is dangerous.

JP notes that (macro) evolution "doesn't mean the strictest test of science (falsifiability)" In short, ID also isn't science because it can't be falsified so the scientific method (the foundation of all science) doesn't apply. Then JP says that "the real reason that ID isn't science is that it encourages people to just give up. If you can't explain something, just say it was designed and don't consider it further. That's just not an acceptable philosophy for scientific inquiry."
While I would quibble with JP's assertion that any theory that causes people to just give up as not being science [what else is the goal of a Grand Unified Theory or a Theory of Everything than to come up with an answer (of sorts) for everything?], I would note that this feature of ID is dangerous as it closes off avenues of inquiry and could serve to slow the progress of science/technology.

Some additional thoughts on ID:
1. While I believe in a creator, I don't see why ID is necessary for there to be a God nor why a belief in God must preclude a belief in evolution. As I explained to a more religious friend of mine in high school, the Bible repeatedly states that God's time scale is not man's time scale and if God created the universe, then he also created the mechanisms associated with the universe, so why can't evolution be a mechanism used to implement His (Her, Its) plan?

2. While I don't think ID should be taught in a science class, it seems to be appropriate for a philosophy or a religion class.

3. John Derbyshire has expressed similar sentiments in the Corner.

Women in Engineering
Writing from the perspective of a female EE, Robin, aka Spakadi, gives her take on the Summers kerfuffle. To her there are three factors that lead to the difference in representation of men and women in scientific academia: 1) men and women are different in aptitude, 2) men and women have different preferences for work, 3) men and women have different comfort levels for their work environment. In short, men and women are different.
The whole discussion is a good one and I would only add a little in support of Robin's assertion that men have a higher variance in IQ than women (though perhaps both have the same mean) by pointing out that men are proportionally overrepresented in prison and that male babies have a higher rate of very early miscarriage. Plus our brains are just different. Men tend to have more grey matter (raw information processing) and women tend to have more white matter (intrabrain communication). Even on our first day, men and women tend to respond differently to faces and alien looking mobiles.

Of course, none of this is so surprising when you consider that you share more genetic material in common with a chimpanzee of the same gender (99%) than a person of the opposite gender (~98%). In fact your toy preference is probably closer to that of a monkey than of the opposite gender.

Communications and Community
Again on Rantings of a Space Cadet, Robin discusses how communications have revolutionized community permitting greater connectivity and more physical isolation. Robin ends her essay with a discussion of how digital communications may be conditioning the species for space travel.
"As people are conditioned to accept electronic communication as replacement for some (though probably not all) human interaction, it may be easier for them to psychological survive the long trip to other worlds. It will even be possible for people distributed among colonies on several moons, planets, and asteroids to build a community in cyberspace, making real space nearly irrelevant. Chat rooms and IM will be limited to a single world, but everything else opens the universe to everyone."
That's it for the Carnival of the Carnies for this week...


Friday, January 28, 2005


New Criterion Contraption

Jody requested below that I post here when I put something new up at The Criterion Contraption. So! There's something new up, about The Seventh Seal. Also, I found a guy who, instead of selling his very rare copy of the Criterion Collection edition of The Killer (going rate can be upwards of $500 for one still sealed), is making DVD-R copies and selling them for $10 each. So I'll get to see one of the really rare ones soon.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005



Dana Stevens has a great interview with Jeanne Hopkins, from the PBS station that produces "Postcards from Buster." You can find it here. What a waste of moral indignation. Unrelated: Hillary Clinton's most recent speech gets a huge thumbs-up from me. I'm curious what my pro-life friends (e.g., Jody) think of it.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005



So. I'm surprised and very pleased that Catalina Sandino Moreno got a nomination. That really was one of the most incredible performances I've seen all year. To my knowledge, she hasn't accepted any other work; she's been in New York studying since making Maria Full of Grace. I'm sure everyone at CAA will be hustling to change her mind about that today.

Other surprises: no Michael Moore. Given that Farenheit 9/11 grossed more than any other documentary ever, it's pretty clear that this is a deliberate snub on the part of voters. I wonder if he would have gotten the nomination if Kerry had won the election?

The Incredibles should have been a best picture nominee. Paul Giacometti is probably hanging himself as I write this. Both of those are crimes. Crimes!

I think we should have an oscar pool. Which reminds me: were results for the election pool ever posted?

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Saturday, January 22, 2005


How do I know Jeremy?

Jeremy Ramont, off and on contributor to polyscifi, is getting married on February 26th. As part of the wedding preparations, the members of the wedding party were asked to write a short paragraph on how they knew the groom/bride. I thought it might be interesting for the VTACO crowd to see what I prepared so I'm repeating it below.

How do I know Jeremy? Late nights drinking. Food fights with neighboring dorms. Dropping things out windows just to see how they break. Pitiful attempts to pick up girls while pretending to be a French foreign exchange student and drinking the world’s worst tasting beer (warm, naturally). Numerous long trips to play several short matches of intellect against other schools (sometimes driven to a little too fast). Late nights discussing politics, sports, and girls.

In short, 9 years of friendship and counting.


Friday, January 21, 2005


An apple (cider) a day

keeps the doctor away. Especially for women.

According to the study cited in this wapo article, drinking a glass or two of alcohol - any alcohol - helps to prevent a decline in cognitive abilities. Randall Parker speculates that this is a result of increased blood flow.

However, I prefer a friend of mine's explanation. Alcohol kills off the weak brain cells and only the strong survive to breed new stronger brain cells. ;)

Then in a related piece of news from the BBC, giving mice beer appears to stop cancer. Maybe these elephants in India are also trying to prevent cancer.


Ninja Wizards!!!

Just click through, alright?


Tuesday, January 18, 2005


More Tron

Are you excited about the upcoming Tron remake mentioned here? Bet you're not as excited as this guy.

It appears that making a Tron suit cat get you on the Jimmy Kimmel show. A lot. What a twisted web we weave when we practice to dork. But in a good way...


Monday, January 17, 2005


Samuel L. Jackson must die

Anyways, there's a scifi movie with a black actor, so he's gotta die. That and almost all the jedi have to die in Revenge of the Sith so naturally that includes (chikki chikki) Mace Windu.

However, since he is Samuel L. Jackson and he is "the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about" he had to have a cool death(Via CNN)

Director George Lucas assured the actor that his Jedi knight character would go out in a blaze of glory in the forthcoming "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," and the director apparently made good on his promise.

"It's rousing," Jackson told the San Francisco Chronicle in Sunday's editions. "It's a great light-saber battle with 102 moves in three big rooms."

Here at polyscifi, we've gotten our hands on the script so we can report to you that before this scene takes place, Hayden Christensen has the following line:
"And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them."
Sometimes, you just have to have to free associate. I just have to free associate more often than most.


Got Dick?

Phillip Dick that is...

According to Aint it Cool, A Scanner Darkly is in production. While I've never read A Scanner Darkly, I like Dick. [not that way, you dirty dirty reader, ed - Is it wise to call your readers names? Every bit as wise as writing "I like Dick"] And I've read and liked a lot of Dick's works.

The script was written by Charlie Kaufman, who also wrote the scripts for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich (and more importantly, he was a writer for Get A Life) so I have high hopes for the film.

IMDB's plot summary for the movie is the following:
Set in a future world where America has lost the war on drugs, undercover cop Fred (Keanu Reeves) is one of many agents hooked on the popular drug Substance D, which causes its users to develop split personalities. Fred, for instance, is also Bob, a notorious drug dealer. Along with his superior officers, Fred sets up an elaborate scheme to catch Bob and tear down his operation.
While Keanu may or may not be the best vehicle for the story, I do think he plays the part of surprised protagonist well - whoa.... So I'll probably watch it when it comes out.



An even sillier place than Camelot...

Via Rantings of a Space Cadet, I've learned that they (who are they? will Tim Curry for starters) are turning Monty Python's Holy Grail into a broadway musical. Just based on the concept, I think Spamalot should win at least as many awards as The Producers or The Lion King.

Plus Spamelot stars Dr Frank-N-Furter, Niles, and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Or umm, Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, and Hank Azaria...

So if you're in NYC, bring out your dead, and go see the show.


Congrats Robin!

Probably only of interest to the VTACO members, but Robin aka Spakkadi has landed a "real job" after a two year search. She's having to move to Maryland as part of the process, but it's not stopping her from blogging.


Screw the H2

A real Star Wars fan wants one of these for the low low price of $19,999.95. (h/t boingboing)

Of course, you have to look out in case these guys pull you over for a DWJ - driving while Jawa.


Sunday, January 16, 2005


Family Guy Returns

to Fox tonight at 9 PM Eastern.

I hear Peter is waterboarded....

Just kidding...


Saturday, January 15, 2005


Re: Waterboard This!

The torture discussion continues. I generally don't mind us waterboarding. Matt does.

Matt's response is here which I'll summarize as 1) Some confused stuff on waterboarding, 2) "Jody, don't you remember being dunked?" 3) Oxygen deprivation is torture, 4) A quick discussion of my definition of torture, 5) Noting that some people have died in our custoand that's a bad thing, 6) A question, "[because of vagueness of extreme pain] hadn't we better stay away from things that are borderline?" 6) Matt notes that he isn't calling for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques, 7) A listing of things that Matt has problems with.

I'll respond in a different manner, by first listing the points on which we're in agreement (except for point 7 which I'll list and respond to separately), then addressing points where Matt's confused, then the points where I disagree with Matt.

Points of agreement:
3. Oxygen deprivation is torture.
Presuming it's to the point of brain damage, then yes. Otherwise no. See my previous post - "Now if it crosses intentionally into drowning (death or brain damage are pretty long lasting damage), then we've got torture."

(Part of the definition discussion)
If questioning is involved, that doesn't make it any more or less torture
Agreed. My definition is neutral with respect interrogation. However, I've read a few too many posts (not on polyscifi) where interrogation was considered an integral part of torture.

5. People have died and that's a bad thing.
Yes. Yes it is a bad thing. Yesterday, I mentioned my willingness to see those cases prosecuted - "Even if during interrogation. It's an accident. It's not torture. It may or may not be prosecutable (endangering circumstances and such)." In the least those would be endangering circumstances. At the worst, they would be murder. (I could be clearer as to how I think those 30 deaths should be addressed, but there was no link provided, so I can't comment further.) If not completely accidental, I believe the official charge is "homicide involving deaths during interrogation."

6. Matt notes that he isn't calling for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques
I agree. However, many are calling for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques. Like Sullivan as I linked to yesterday, "However, I find the current call from some quarters for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques rather foolish (cough Sullivan cough)"
The explicit line I'm referencing from Sully is
What's my bottom line, she demands? It is, I repeat, to stick to non-coercive techniques, as laid out in Geneva and U.S. law.
Points of confusion perhaps caused by me
2. "Jody, don't you remember being dunked?" (not an exact quote)
Umm, yes. And I referenced this yesterday. - "The prisoner, detainee, kid in the swimming pool (by my definition, waterboarding happened a lot to me growing up)"

I thought my phrasing was interesting enough to be memorable. Alas. Twas not. In any event, dunking doesn't bother me as a coercion tactic as I suffered no long term damage. Though maybe it's the reason I prefer Krispy Kreme to Dunkin Donuts...

The need for malicious intent

While Matt is correct that enjoyment of the act is not key to torture, to me malicious intent is important as I'm using it to address scenarios like J.P.'s "If your hands were then cut off to keep you from dying of gangrene, is that torture?" In J.P.'s scenario, there is intent to cut off the hands, but no intent to do harm. Intent, but not harmful intent. Here, I'm particularly using the definition of malicious as "deliberately harmful."

If malicious draws too strong a connection to an enjoyment of the action, substitute "deliberately harmful" for "malicious intent" and I think we're ok. Note "deliberately harmful" is neutral with respect to the torturer's emotions, so I believe this clarification will satisfy both of us.

Points of confusion perhaps caused by Matt
1. Waterboarding is not telling a prisoner that they might drown. Nor is it simulating drowning. It is tying a prisoner to a board and repeatedly dunking them underwater, either doing it repeatedly for short intervals or holding them underwater for long intervals.

As we seem to be on the same page that drowning is "To kill by submerging and suffocating in water or another liquid" then as long as the prisoner doesn't die (and waterboarding is not supposed to kill the prisoner), then how is "tying a prisoner to a board and repeatedly dunking them underwater, either doing it repeatedly for short intervals or holding them underwater for long intervals" not simulating or telling the prisoner that they might drown?

4) A quick discussion of my definition of torture
"Your definition of torture seems carefully crafted to rule out waterboarding"
Maybe it does carefully rule out waterboarding, but it was actually crafted with the thought of addressing as many situations as possible.

I would also point out (again) that "even in the pasted in article, the author agrees with me that waterboarding is not torture.
"techniques such as waterboarding, threats of live burial, and threats of rendition to nations that do torture. Those forms of highly coercive interrogation, going just up to the line of "torture" without going over"
6. "[because of vagueness of extreme pain] hadn't we better stay away from things that are borderline?"
That is a workable solution. However, I prefer to clarify the border as it has the potential to be a better solution. We're a society of laws and rational discussion. Surely we can handle this issue.

The list of things Matt has problems with
Matt particularly has problems with the items on the following list as he see's them as counterproductive to the fostering of democracies in the Middle East. In general, when the items are counterproductive, I agree. Like for Abu Ghraib (I'll explain why in just a moment). However, combatting the insurgency is also critical to fostering democracies in the Middle East. When the tactics are being carefully controlled so as to produce information useful for combatting the insurgency or to save American lives, then I may have no problem (I'll provide a little elucidation on this point in a little bit).

One of the problems with Abu Ghraib was that those actions were not performed with the intent of saving lives or aiding the fight against the insurgency. Rather they were the result of an unfortunately large number of sickos getting their jollies at the expense of their prisoners. There was no strategic or tactical value gained from their actions, nor was there the potential of gaining enough positive strategic or tactical value to offset the rather glaring negative results.

In general, depending on the circumstances, I'm willing for us to use more or less aggressive tactics. Under Abu Ghraib circumstances (prisoners of little intelligence value), being anything other than perfectly polite to the prisoners seems like a losing proposition to me. Under Dershowitz's ticking time bomb scenario, anything goes as far as I'm concerned. For the stuff in between, I would like to avoid techniques that meet my definition of torture and try to use techniques in proportion to the value that the US would gain.

Formally, if the positive value to the US derived from an action exceeds the negative value, then it's ok by me. If that sounds a little too realpolitik, then so be it. But that's war.

At this point, I'll rank Matt's problems from things I really don't have a problem with (1) to one I would like to reserve for the ticking time bomb scenario (5). Largely the ranking is a function of the probability of causing long lasting damage and P.R. issues.

1. freezing them
If it means just making them a little uncomfortable, then this is 1. If it causes damage, like frostbite or gangrene, then this is 4. Most of the time, jerking around the temperature seems A OK to me.

2. holding someone under water
As I've mentioned a number of times, no I don't have a problem with this as long as we're not doing it for shits and giggles.

3. urinating on them
Hey, some people even like this. (That link is for you, Roger) However, most of the world doesn't swing (or spray) that way. So urinating on prisoners would be a bad P.R. move even if it doesn't cause that much damage.

4. beating them
In general, we better have someone like Osama or Zarqawi or someone who has knowledge of a major attack in the planning. Of course beatings vary. However, at this point, it can very easily cross into torture in my mind. No one needs a red-headed step-child beating. Circus monkey beating, maybe. Everyone likes circus monkeys.

5. applying electric current
The kind of thing that I reserve for the ticking time bomb scenario as I can't conceive of a situation where it's not torture.

Hopefully, this post addressed the large number of things Matt wanted me to respond to.


Waterboard This!

Waterboarding is not telling a prisoner that they might drown. Nor is it simulating drowning. It is tying a prisoner to a board and repeatedly dunking them underwater, either doing it repeatedly for short intervals or holding them underwater for long intervals. Jody, you were a lifeguard for a long time; did you ever get held under for too long when playing around in the pool? You remember that feeling of terror you get when you're out of air and can't get to the surface? Not "are a long way from the surface" or "are trying to stay under longer" but "someone is holding you under the water." I remember that as being really horrifying, and I had no reasonable fear that I would not be allowed to the surface.

If you'd like to see film of waterboarding in action, you can check out Conspiracy Theory, or for a more traditional version, the dunking stool in Quills.

Your definition of torture seems carefully crafted to rule out waterboarding. Let's look at the American Heritage dictionary: the relevant definition of torture is:
  1. Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.
I think oxygen deprivation qualifies. Your definition:

First, sure, questioning doesn't have to be involved for something to be torture. But if questioning is involved, that doesn't make it any more or less torture.

Second, Malicious intent, to me, doesn't matter at all; intent, ok. Malicious, no. You don't have to enjoy torturing people for it to be torture; look at Brazil. Even if it's just your job, it's still torture.

Fourth: The sorts of injuries you die from are physical injuries. At least thirty inmates died as a result of coersive interrogation techniques in Iraq and at Gitmo. I think they must have been physically injured, don't you? Also, with a technique like waterboarding, there isn't any real reliable way to tell when the person has lost enough oxygen in the brain, is there?

Fifth: Since there's not an easy way to tell what is extreme pain for what particular prisoner, hadn't we better stay away from things that are borderline?

You note that "no ACTUAL drowning occurs." Well, drown can mean to drench, but that does occur, so you must mean no drowning in the sense of " To kill by submerging and suffocating in water or another liquid." You're right--most of these prisoners survived. If they hadn't, it would be called execution, not torture. But some didn't; at least thirty prisioners died in U.S. custody after coersive interrogations.

This isn't a call to an end for all coersive interrogation techniques. I don't even have a problem with threatening someone with being killed or drowned. I do have a problem with holding someone under water, beating them, applying electric current, freezing them, urinating on them, &c., &c., &c. That's NOT WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING IF THE GOAL IS TO CREATE LASTING DEMOCRACIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

If the goal's changed, let me know. Maybe waterboarding works for some new goal I wasn't told about.

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Re: Waaaaay down the page

In this post, Matt 1) asks me a direct question on waterboarding, 2) claims that we've never gotten results from coercive interrogations, and 3) provides instances of what he believes are not quite torture. I'll respond to these in order.

1) First the question. Jody, do you consider waterboarding torture?

No, I do not. However, let's make certain everyone understands what waterboarding is and why I do not think it constitutes torture. This requires me to a) define waterboarding, b) provide my definition of torture, c) show how waterboarding does not satisfy my definition of torture.

a) Waterboarding, n, the process of simulating or threatening someone with drowning

That's my definition. But let's see how some in the media on the right (WSJ) and on the left (NYT) define it. Ultimately, my definition satisfies both definitions.

The Wall Street Journal says waterboarding "involves strapping a detainee down, wrapping his face in a wet towel and dripping water on it to produce the sensation of drowning."

The New York Times has a similar definition, "[a process] in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown." (that's actually a Common Dreams reproduction of the original NYT article)

Note that in both cases no ACTUAL drowning occurs. The prisoner, detainee, kid in the swimming pool (by my definition, waterboarding happened a lot to me growing up), is made to think that he might drown, but is not actually drowned.

b) torture - n - a physical act performed with the malicious intent of causing a long lasting injury or extreme (physical) pain

There's several subtleties in this definition that neccessitate further discussion.

First, nothing in the definition says anything about interrogation. When a kid tortures an animal, obviously he's not trying to get information out of the animal. (Mr Rabbit, you better tell me where you hid the carrots, or else!!) So obviously the process of extracting information is not central to the concept of torture.

Second, I am distinctly excluding threats of torture from the definition of torture. From a purely linguistic viewpoint, if threats of torture were themselves torture, why would we make the differentiation in our language? Second, I can't see how the threat of an action is even remotely comparable to the actual action. Anyone who honestly believes that the pen is mightier than the sword has never brought a pen to a sword fight.

Third, malicious intent is important. Accidentally lopping off someone's finger is not torture. Even if during interrogation. It's an accident. It's not torture. It may or may not be prosecutable (endangering circumstances and such).

Fourth, I am placing heavy emphasis on physical injuries. Sorry, psychological injuries just don't cut it with me. Besides messing with someone's mind is critical to an interrogation.

Fifth, extreme is unfortunately a vague word and what constitutes "extreme pain" varies from person to person. Because of that, I think there is a place for discussion as to what is and is not torture.

c) With those definitions in mind, I think it's rather clear why I do not consider waterboarding torture. No actual drowning occurs. Thus no long lasting damage occurs. No real pain is being caused by the simulation or threat of drowning.

Now if it crosses intentionally into drowning (death or brain damage are pretty long lasting damage), then we've got torture. Also, even in the pasted in article, the author agrees with me that waterboarding is not torture.
"techniques such as waterboarding, threats of live burial, and threats of rendition to nations that do torture. Those forms of highly coercive interrogation, going just up to the line of "torture" without going over"
2. Coercive interrogation does produce results
Specifically, I'm responding to the line, "But in the absence of any emperical evidence showing torture or coercive interrogations to produce good intel, I don't see any reason for it."

This myth that coercive interrogations do not produce good intel is quite dangerous because it logically leads to the conclusion that Matt (and Sullivan) have drawn - there's no need for coercive interrogation.

However, this premise is flawed as to believe that coervice interrogation does not or, rather more explicitly, cannot produce good intel is to ignore every day experience. The utility of coercion and the threat of coercion is the foundation of all law. Only the most committed anarchists don't believe in the efficacy of coercion in producing desired behavioral changes.

More to point, coercion and the threat of coercion are used thousands of times a day in eliciting information in the legal system. And I'm not even referring to the good cop-bad cop routine used in police stations across America. I'm referring to testimony in court or before Congress and perjury. Perjury is coercive technique. Either you tell the truth or you go to jail. Sometimes (shock) even to solitary confinement!!!! We're torturing witnesses daily!!!! At least if we apply the ICRC's definition of what's "tantamount to torture."

Ultimately, if you believe that perjury laws are effective tools in eliciting truthful testimony, then why wouldn't you believe that other properly applied coercion techniques would do the same?

But what the heck, I can be even more on point. The discussion started with waterboarding, and I can give results of good intelligence yielded from waterboarding.

Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was captured in Pakistan sometime in Spring 2003 and is widely reported to have been waterboarded. Like in the NYT. That's only the abstract of the article as it's an old piece. However, the money quote for my purposes is still there.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to have helped plan 9/11 terror attacks, was strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.
So KSM was waterboarded.

At the time a number of articles appeared describing the information that we got out of KSM. For instance, the BBC (that notorious right wing rag), headlined an article on KSM with "Al-Qaeda interrogation 'yields results.'" One such piece of info from this interrogation cited in the article led to a raising of security levels in the US...
Intelligence about his activities was partly behind a decision by the US Government to put the country on the second-highest level of alert last month, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.
As a more specific result of coercive interrogation of KSM (and the actual bit of info that caused the alert to be raised), (link)
In the Sept. 11 commission's final report, Mr. Mohammed is said to have told his interrogators that he dispatched Mr. Hindi, under the name Issa al-Britani, to case potential economic targets in New York.

It is not clear whether Mr. Mohammed was talking about the same reconnaissance described in surveillance reports that the authorities found in Pakistan last month. But those surveillance operations are important because they were behind the Bush administration's decision, announced on Aug. 1, to elevate the threat level in the three parts of the United States.
Then from a paper in Pakistan,
According to Khabrain (November 1, 2004) 29-year old Dr Afia Siddiqi in Boston — with her husband then — got involved with Al Qaeda, creating funds for it through smuggling of diamonds. She often went to Liberia in this connection. On her return to Pakistan she told her father that she was going to meet her uncle but disappeared and has been missing for a year and a half. After some days someone came to her mother and asked her to keep her mouth shut. Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Muhammad revealed details about her after his arrest.
While we may not never know beyond a metaphysical doubt what information came from coercive interrogation and what info came from KSM just being a nice talkative guy, I feel safe in assuming that whatever information we got out of him was from the coercive interrogation techniques. But then again, I don't believe in metaphysical certainty. At all. (Irony intended)

Bottom line. Coercive interrogation techniques do yield valuable intelligence. To believe otherwise is to ignore widely available and widely reported empirical evidence and to ignore common sense (perjury laws).

3. Why the instances cited are not torture
The instances cited (waterboarding, threats of burial, and threats of being sent somewhere where they really will be tortured) are not torture because they're just threats. Threats are not torture under my (and I believe most people's) definition of torture.

There's room for debate on the subject. And debate is needed. What is and is not extreme pain. How much of a temperature variation is too much? What techniques are appropriate for which circumstances?

However, I find the current call from some quarters for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques rather foolish (cough Sullivan cough). It denies us avenues for intel and as I mentioned yesterday, if that becomes our official policy on interrogation, then we'll have to stop taking prisoners.


Friday, January 14, 2005


New Zealand Fantasy Series

Jody mentioned below that "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" is in production over at Disney. Incidentally, the press release Jody linked to gives a Christmas 2005 release date; Disney has abandoned this. I think it would be a good Christmas release (all that snow) but I don't know if they'll wait till 2006 or make it summer. Anyway, this movie is not the most promising fantasy series in pre-production right now. For that, you'd have to look at the studio that made "Lord of the Rings"; we're in pre-production on The Golden Compass, the first book in the His Dark Materials series. I've read the books and they're great; also, whereas "TLTW&TW" has seven writers so far, TGC has one, and it's Chris Weitz, who is great. Here's a Criswell Predicts thing, though:
"The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" is a Christian allegory. "The Golden Compass" is not a big fan of organized religion (although it's set in an alternate world, the villian is in cahoots with a church that is clearly Christian, even Catholic (has the heirarchy of bishops & archbishops & cardinals, &c.). Which of the two do you think will draw more protests from fundamentalists? My money's on the one with "Witch" in the title...

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Waaaaay down the page

Well, several posts down now, Jody has a post about what is and is not torture. Jody, do you consider waterboarding torture? I think it meets even the "organ failure or death" standards, and it's still happening at Gitmo. But that's not the point. Using highly coercive interrogation techniques sullies the United States' reputation. Using interrogation techniques tailored specifically for Muslims gives Islamic fundamentalists ammuntion. Both these things might be worth the cost, if our methods produced good intelligence. But in the absence of any emperical evidence showing torture or coercive interrogations to produce good intel, I don't see any reason for it. Here's something from Marty Lederman:

The problem, which I've tried to explain in somewhat soporific detail in posts here, here, here, here, here and here, is that Congress (at the urging of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush) has defined the term "torture" exceedingly narrowly--so narrowly, in fact, that OLC has concluded it does not cover techniques such as waterboarding, threats of live burial, and threats of rendition to nations that do torture. Those forms of highly coercive interrogation, going just up to the line of "torture" without going over, are generally unlawful, not because they are "torture," but because they fall within the category of conduct denominated "cruel, inhuman and degrading ("CID") treatment," i.e., conduct that "shocks the conscience" and hence would violate due process if it occurred within the U.S. Such CID treatment is categorically off limits to the military by virtue of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the President's directive that the military treat all detainees "humanely." Such CID treatment is also categorically prohibited -- even for the CIA -- with respect to detainees protected by the Geneva Conventions; and such CID treatment would (by definition) be unconstitutional -- even for the CIA and even as applied to Al Qaeda detainees -- here in the U.S.But the Administration has concluded the CID treatment is not unlawful when the CIA interrogates Al Qaeda suspects outside U.S. jurisdiction.

But the Administration has concluded the CID treatment is not unlawful when the CIA interrogates Al Qaeda suspects outside U.S. jurisdiction.

They may be legally correct. But that doesn't make them right. And it doesn't make this any less of a shame. This isn't about "political point-scoring." This is about "we fix this right now or we lose the battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims." We can not afford to lose.

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Battlestar Galactica

The new series premiers tonight at 9 (Eastern) on the Scifi Channel. Somehow, Will Collier already has a glowing review up....

Ok the show came on about 6 months ago in Britain and Will's been downloading and watching the shows...


Weekly World News Answers the Important Questions

On how to build a relationship for all those lovelorn guys out there...

Say you're working out and going to a gym and want to pick up a chick. What should you do? One bit of advice: If her biceps are bigger than yours, she guffaws loudly and gives fellow females "good job" spanks, odds are you're barking up the wrong tree.

Say you don't want to go to gym and still want to pick up a chick. Then you'll need to know Why do men with pot-bellies turn women on? Because it shows you care less about superficial issues like hygeine...

Now that you've picked your chick (note I have completely given up on the possibilty of a female readership by this point) and suppose your relationship has progressed to the point where you can stay home for a drink. So which is better? Beer or tea? Obviously beer. Duh.

If you made the right choices (beer) then you might just get married. And then on your wedding day, there's a question I'm sure crosses every man's mind, Was your wife once a man? (In my case, no. But for 14% of marriages...)

Finally suppose you've slipped up and commited adultery with your neighbor and are worried that it will keep you from getting your Heaven ticket punched? Answer: "It's a good idea to be buried with a sexy photograph of your lover," the expert advises. "If you show our Lord a pair of enormous jugs spilling out of a tube top, he might agree with you that the temptation was irresistible."

With these questions answered, you're sure to be able to successfully handle any relationship...


Cool event of the day

We get a little University of Chicago traffic to polyscifi every day, mostly from Wait Til Next Year. However, today I got a little extra traffic today with an email presumably unrelated to Wait Til Next Year as it came from an economics PhD student at UC asking me a game theory question.

When you get a theoretical economics question from a student at arguably the best school for theoretical economics, it just feels good.

On a related note, his question is actually addressed in my dissertation chapter on potential games for which I hope to have a draft finished this weekend. I'll post a link when it's done.


Chronicles of Narnia

They're apparently plans to make all 7 books from the Chronicles of Narnia, and they've started filming the first one.

Hopefully this New Zealand epic fantasy movie will be as good as the last New Zealand epic fantasy movie.


Ali G visits Roanoke

I don't know which is sadder. That I first read this story online and not on the local news or that I actually thought of attending the rodeo...



Tron is being remade. I'm with Harry on this one
Oh sure, let them do their thing, but I'm watching this project with a high degree of ..... 'They better not f**k it up!


Thursday, January 13, 2005


Life imitates Weekly World News

In a previous post ("Thomeone thet uth up tha bomb"), we noted a shocking Weekly World News article which reported Al Qaeda's "development" of a Gay Bomb which would turn anyone within a 30 mile radius into a homosexual.

Apparently there's a gay bomb race. The US military has been working on its own gay bomb (To quote a recently retired columnist, I'm not making this up)

The Pentagon considered developing a host of non-lethal chemical weapons that would disrupt discipline and morale among enemy troops, newly declassified documents reveal.

Most bizarre among the plans was one for the development of an "aphrodisiac" chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Provoking widespread homosexual behaviour among troops would cause a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale, the proposal says.

(h/t Drudge)


Ma-ia-hii Ma-ia-huu Ma-ia-hoo Ma-ia-haa

While my laptop was having problems, I missed a chance to post a link to an important subculture phenomenon.

A fat dude lip synching to Dragonsta Din Tei. Just watch it. You'll be amused.

However, lip synching to that same song can be disturbing as evidenced by this fat German dude. (h/t The Corner)

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Presidential Playoffs

Over on polipundit, they're having a Presidential playoff. Who will win? Will the Founders crush the Moderns? Will Teddy's superior offense overcome Wilson's stifling defense?

You'll only know if you go vote in the playoffs.


Re: Torture

Matt wonders why there's a debate (or a political issue) over torture. I wonder why the word "torture" is being dumbed down.

While everyone agrees that torture is a bad bad thing, the word torture is running a serious risk of becoming so watered down that it has no meaning, sorta like "war crime." Thanks World Court!

Rape, murder, mutilation are all torture.

Pulling out fingernails. Check.

Electrocuting testicles. Check.

However, a lot of other things are being called torture which I think just isn't torture. Gay pyramids are abuse, not torture. Leashing a prisoner is abuse, not torture. Telling someone if they step off a platform that they'lll be electrocuted is abuse, not torture. Abu Ghraib was wrong and people are being rightly prosecuted, but it was not torture, it was prisoner abuse (a lot of that same stuff goes on in US prisons, partially because those same people at Abu Ghraib were prison workers).

Wrapping a Muslim in an Israeli flag is not torture, I don't even think it's abuse. Sleep deprivation is not torture. Forcing someone to stand for hours on end with implied threats is not torture. Shouting and yelling at a prisoner is not torture. Giving prisoners favors for cooperating is not torture. Denigrating a prisoner's religion is not torture. Calling a prisoner names is not torture. Varying the temperatures to extremes is not torture (otherwise my officemate has been torturing me for a year). Attempting to foster a dependency in a prisoner on an interrogator is not torture. A system designed to break the will of a prisoner is not torture. Solitary confinement is not torture.

Yet these things are what the ICRC deems as tantamount to torture.

Yes, there's a debate over torture because many seem intent on dumbing down the definition in a way that is detrimental to the security of the US.

If the term keeps getting dumbed down to where we can't detain prisoners and can't use them to gain information, we'll have to address the problem the only legal way that we have left.

Take no prisoners.
Assuming we don't want to do that, we have to make certain that we're all on the same playbook as to what constitutes torture and what does not. Hence we're having the discussion, much to the amazement of some. Rather than shrieking and political point scoring (which I think Sullivan excels at and is what I feel was going on during the Gonzales hearings), more serious debate is possible and needed. Like what's going on over at red state.



Andrew Sullivan has a smart and interesting rundown of the various reports on torture in the U.S. military here. A money quote:

Did those of us who fought so passionately for a ruthless war against terrorists give an unwitting green light to these abuses? Were we naïve in believing that characterizing complex conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq as a single simple war against ''evil'' might not filter down and lead to decisions that could dehumanize the enemy and lead to abuse? Did our conviction of our own rightness in this struggle make it hard for us to acknowledge when that good cause had become endangered? I fear the answer to each of these questions is yes.

American political polarization also contributed. Most of those who made the most fuss about these incidents - like Mark Danner or Seymour Hersh - were dedicated opponents of the war in the first place, and were eager to use this scandal to promote their agendas. Advocates of the war, especially those allied with the administration, kept relatively quiet, or attempted to belittle what had gone on, or made facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime. But it seems to me that those of us who are most committed to the Iraq intervention should be the most vociferous in highlighting these excrescences. Getting rid of this cancer within the system is essential to winning this war.

I think he'd dead right, and I can't believe this is a political issue and not just an appalling scandal on both sides of the aisle.

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Guess who's laptop just got fixed

Mine that's whose. So I'm back to blogging.

Anyways, while Bill Hobbs and Glenn Reynolds seem to be falling over themselves to praise Dell laptops, let me list the problems that I've had with my Inspiron 600m over the last year.

Motherboard replaced- broken solder joint on power inlet
Motherboard replaced- fried internal power converter
Wireless card replaced- had a cool little burn mark on it
3 AC adapters replaced- 2 burned out, 2 with broken cables (1 had both problems)
2 Palm rests replaced (that's the touchpad)
20 or so screws that fell out
1 battery
2 DVD Drives - only 1 problem (stopped reading the discs), but they shipped the wrong model the first time

I once hear a joke along the lines of, "Dell has award winning support.... and you'll need it."

Well my most recent problem makes me wonder what awards Dell has been winning. This problem took Dell some 4 weeks to fix - a motherboard because of a burned out USB controller. A problem I had kinda guessed from very early on. It should be noted that for one of those weeks I was in Vegas on my "posteymoon" so that week shouldn't count against Dell.

Approximately, here's how the service interactions went for this motherboard servicing. Emails are copy-pasted (names and numbers removed), phone calls are dramatically abbreviated as 1) like I remember word for word conversations beginning a month ago, 2) I doubt anyone cares to read two hour transcribed conversations.

Initial Dell Web Request (11/28 entered on Dell website - they echo back what you write in an insta-email response)
Problem Description:

Touchpad is experiencing problems:
Intermittently control of the pointing device will be lost as it moves randomly around the screen
Intermittently pointing device will cease to respond to touchpad
On occassion when booting pointer will not respond to touchpad

Troubleshooting steps:
Rebooting generally returns control
Virus scan returns no viruses present (definition file from symantec last updated 11/23/04)
Hardware profile for ALPS pointing device says device is working properly

Separate touchpad problem:
About a year ago the left button on the touchpad stopped clicking (think spring is broken). I switched the roles of the left and right buttons and have been working with the problem since then. (this problem doesn't really bother me but it is another touchpad problem)
 Dell Response Web Request (11/28)

Thank you for contacting Dell eSupport and Services (ESS). We appreciate
the opportunity to assist you. I assure you it is our hope that you have
a positive experience with our company.

I understand your concern.I need you to do the following for me:

1. Update the pointing device driver.Please visit the following link to
download the Input device driver for your system and install


2. Disable the pointing stick.

To disable the track stick, perform the following:

Click the Start button, point to Settings, and then click Control Panel.
Double-click the Mouse icon.
Click the Touch tab.
Change the drop down menu to Pointing Stick on PS/2 Port.
Check the Disable this device box.
Click OK

If disabling the trackstick corrected the problem, then the internal keyboard needs to be replaced.

If disabling the pointing stick did not correct the problem, then I would suggest you to run the Dell diagnostics on the pointing device.
Would you please refer to the link below for me to run the diags?


We assure you our best support all the time.

Thank you for choosing Dell.
[Dell Tech]
I did those things, and they didn't work. I had just had my DVD drive replaced and with that experience fresh in my mind, I decided to limp along with the mouse rather than get shipped the wrong keyboard and be completely out of operation for a few days. Plus I only had to reboot
maybe once a day to deal with the problem. Later, it got to 9-10 times a day. So I called Dell to take them up on the offer of a new keyboard.

Call 1: (In mid December, I think the 13th)
Me (after being on hold for 30 or so minutes): Hey, I emailed about this before and we had decided to replace the keyboard if these steps didn't work. Well my touchpad is still acting wacky. Intermittently, it'll move erratically and generate random clicks and key sequences, some of which cause programs to close, turn off my wireless card, or shut off my computer. Wherever the controller is for the touchpad, I think it's starting to flake out.

Dell Tech: Have you tried reinstalling the OS?

Me: Your kidding, right?

Dell Tech: No.

Me: (Grumbles) ok.

Call 2 (next day):
Me: (After being on hold for 30 or so minutes and then spending another 15 minutes or so explaining my problem again) Nope didn't work. I think it's the controller for the touchpad. Weren't we going to replace the keyboard?

Dell Tech: Try running the repair utility on your OS.

Me: Wouldn't reinstalling the OS solve that?

Dell Tech: Go ahead and run it.

Me: (Grumbles) Ok. But I think I'm better off buying a Toshiba.

Next few days: I contemplate buying a Toshiba (which some friends of mine recently did) and do run the repair utility (nothing turns up).
Call 3: (About a week after the first call, Dell calls me - a nice touch, seriously)
Dell Tech: Checking up on the case we had before. I show that we hadn't resolved the problem.

Me: Well, it kinda improved after the utilty for an hour or so, but then it went back. (I've since figured out that the controller was particularly having heat induced problems) I'm probably just going to have to get a new laptop.

Dell Tech: Sorry to hear that. However, if you decide you want to have it fixed, I've left the case open and the case number for this is xxxx. Hopefully, you won't have to spend as much time explaining the problem.

Email 1: (from a Dell manager on 12/21) (emails I can recreate exactly, though I've deleted names and my case number)
Dear James Neel,

This is a follow-up email regarding your recent call to Dell Technical Support. My name is [Dell Manager], and I am the supervisor of [Dell Tech] the tech you spoke with on the phone regarding the case number 85880752. I am writing to make sure if the problem that you have with your system has been completely resolved.

If the case you called in has not yet been resolved, please respond to this email (because we need the case number to be included in your response) and let us know what number to best reach you at.

Our team is available 12:00 - 9:00PM EST. Since we work on a case-to-case basis, we will do our very best to have someone call you back as soon as possible. It is our number one priority to make sure you are completely satisfied.

If your case has been closed, that is great. Dell has very high standards for customer satisfaction, and I am glad we were able to help you. Your satisfaction is ultimately how we are all evaluated at Dell, myself included.

In the next few days, you may receive an email survey from Dell about how the last technician, who resolved your problem, handled your call. Your positive feedback, as well as suggestions on how we can improve our assistance, will be very valuable to us. Your response will be highlyappreciated. =D

Rest assured that we, at Dell, are always striving towards improving our support to achieve excellence in providing the best customer experience.

Thank you for choosing Dell.


[Dell Manager]
Email 2: (from me on 12/21)
Actually the problem has not been resolved (intermittent loss of control of touchpad + always broken left mouse button). I ran the windows repair tool as the technician suggested and the problem persisted (both problems).

I can be reached at xxxxxx.

James Neel
Call 4 (from the Dell manager - nice, on the 22nd)
Dell Manager: Let's go ahead and re
place the palm rest. (I'm leaving out a discussion wherein I convinced Dell that my keyboard really doesn't have a touch stick)

Me: Ok, but I'm heading to Knoxville tomorrow morning and then out to Vegas so we'll have to arrange to have it replaced when I get back in early January.

Dell Manager: Sounds Great. However, I can't have a service call open for more than a week. So we'll have to get back in contact after you get back to Virginia.

Me: Ok. Works by me.
While I was in Vegas, my hotel only had an ethernet connection. It was at this point that I discovered that my ethernet inlet was also intermittently messing up (I have wireless at work, at home and at most conferences, so I had never had the occasion to use the ethernet inlet). Because of this fact, I decided that it wasn't the touchpad/keyboard that needed replacing, it was the motherboard. Also during this time, the number of times I needed to reboot my laptop to control my mouse went to 5 or 6 times an hour.

Call 5 (January 3):
Me (again after 30 minutes of holding): Hey, I've called before, here's my case number... [Dell manager] and I agreed to change out the the palmrest. However, while I was in Vegas, I noticed that my ethernet port was all messed up and a USB controller is now unable to start. I think they're related and I think we should change out the motherboard.

[Long back and forth while I explain to the tech again and again what the problems are and why it would make sense for both problems to be related and why only the motherboard can be the source of the problem]

Dell Tech: Why don't you reinstall the drivers for the wireless device?

Me: Huh? Ok. I'll jump through that hoop. But I should've done that already with the OS reinstall. (I keep him on the phone, and reinstall the drivers). Nope still giving me problems (by this point my intermittenttly failing pointer had become an intermittently working pointer).

Dell Tech: Why don't we reinstall all the drivers?

Me: OK. Sure. (I reinstall all the drivers, a process that takes a not insignificant amount of time, but I keep the tech on the phone).

[During this time, my cell phone which I had called Dell on was out of charge. My home charger was giving me grief so I had to move to my car to continue the conversation.]

Me: Still not working. I really think we should replace the motherboard.

Dell Tech: This could be one of a large number of things causing the problem as it's both the ethernet and the touchpad. We'll go ahead and send out the touchpad and see if it fixes the problem.

Me: Ok.
Call 6 (later on January 3 - Dell calls me again):
Dell Tech: I see where on the 23rd of December we decided to contact you on the 3rd to set up a delivery of a palm rest.

Me: Yup. I just talked to a tech. He's sending out a palm rest.
The next day (another good thing about Dell, they do get the parts there the next day), a tech from Unisys (who has seen my laptop A LOT by now) shows up to install the palm rest. I get to see the palm rest, there's no controller chip. The same problems continue - although the left mouse button is now fixed (wouldn't click see the very first exchange in this series), but I give it a couple days to see if anything is doing better/worse.

Call 7: (Friday 7th)
Me (after holding for 30 minutes or so): Hi I'm case number xxxx, and I just had my palm rest replaced and I'm still having the same problem.

[A long exchange where this tech walks me through the same steps which I tick off and say, "Yup, already done that."]

Dell Tech: Ok, we'll send you a new motherboard and a new palm rest.

Me: I think the palm rest is ok, but sure, whatever.
I then get transferred to Dell dispatch quality assurance to make certain they dispatch the right parts and have the contact info correct. Seems like a nice idea, especially in light of my previous problem with the DVD drive. Q.A. notes that the tech had put down the wrong motherboard and then tells me that by noon on Monday, someone from Unisys will contact me to install the parts.

At this point I'm pretty happy that I'll have a working laptop again before class starts.

Monday. No Call.

Tuesday. No Call. I call Dell that afternoon to find out what's up. Turns out they wrote down the wrong area code (630 instead of 540). As the local Unisys office is out of Roanoke, I would've thought that maybe they could've figured that one out and given the 540 number a call. But no. Anyways, Dell gives Unisys a call. 20 minutes later I get a call from Unisys and then yesterday my motherboard got replaced.

From then until now, I've had no problems with my touchpad (I haven't checked on the ethernet issues, but I don't really care about that one). So 1 month after I told Dell, the controller for the touchpad needed replacing and 10 days after I told Dell that the controller has to be on the motherboard, I got my motherboard replaced.

It's not that the Dell Service Techs are mean or evil. Indeed, every technician I spoke to was quite polite. However, Dell has got to have the most bass-ackwards trouble shooting procedure that I've ever seen. All my previous problems went something like this as well with me starting a call saying, "I think such and such is broken and here's why" with a day or two of me jumping through hoops convincing Dell that I have diagnosed the problem (the 4 weeks is an outlier).

So to Bill Hobbs and Glenn Reynolds, I ask, "Dude.... you're getting a Dell?"


Monday, January 10, 2005


Pridictions for 2005 (h/t Rhino Times)

FInally, we've been promised them for years!

Aug. 23. Finally, after decades of empty promises, scientists introduce a mass-market line of flying cars.
Aug. 24. Flying cars outlawed.



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