Thursday, March 30

Pedalling in Place

I spent last night, after Jeopardy! and half of Olbermann, assembling the new Schwinn recumbent exercise bicycle purchased to help my Poor Wife's deteriorating deteriorating disc problem. The Schwinn came highly recommended, and after she checked out the various offerings at local sporting goods emporiums and decided not to pay half again as much for a step-through model, we ordered one online Sunday from The Stationary Bike Superstore (motto: "you get a link when I get some promotional materials") and it arrived Wednesday morning. Good job all around, but no mention of the shipping company (rhymes with Red Rex) whose minions left the box on the deck with the "This End Up" arrow pointing to the spot on the deck where they'd left it.

Like the Schwinns of my youth the thing weighed as much as a VW Beetle. Like most things that have happened to me since, someone else made the decision as to where the thing would go, a wrong decision to my way of thinking and one which caused me to spend the first forty-five minutes disassembling a bed and lugging the pieces to the basement. Got a little nook in your basement waiting to accept a mattress and box springs? Me neither.

But wonders of wonders, as it turned out the assembly procedure was the best I've been subjected to in a quarter century of Some Assembly Required. The connectors were vacuum-packed on two cards, sorted by which step they were needed for! And the instructions were clear and in English. There were a couple minor glitches, but I managed to put the thing together without having to disassemble anything I'd done two steps previous.

This was in the guest room, which now serves as Larry's overnight pen, probably until he's too old to jump onto anything and everything, so I was watching the teevee in there, the one which the aforementioned bundle of feline domestic intranquility disconnected from the cable last week, according to my wife, who was watching the thing at the time. Hooking it back up requires spelunking gear, because it sits on one of those cheap Home Entertainment centers which was Larry-proofed when we got him, to stave off the day when he started sticking hairpins into wall outlets and/or starting small fires. This is how I came to watch last night's ripped-from-the-headlines Law & Order, Original Recipe* and its examination of The Tricky Torture Conundrum We All Now Face.

The Set Up (da dum!): Two guys pull a bank job by getting the cooperation of the branch manager by kidnapping his small daughter. The bag man is discovered, pulls a gun and is shot dead. Dennis Farina learns where the accomplice is hiding and puts a gun to the guy's head demanding to know where the child is. "You won't shoot," he sneers.

So Farina drags the guy to the bathroom, and improvises a waterboard using the toilet. Fortunately for him, and our story, although we're in some ritzy real estate the toilet's an old-fashioned job, not a low-ride Water Savr™ model. (It's a remarkable feat, by the way, repeatedly dunking a man's head in a toilet with one hand while you hold a gun in the other. Try it for yourself sometime.)

Accomplice is defended by the recurring guest star Fast-Talkin', Crazy Like a Fox, Jewish Lawyer Guy. But his schtick is pretty much restricted to the arraignment scene, after which we spend a lot of time while he and Jack ("I Was a Radical in My Youth and Still Retain an Poignant Ember or Two When Required for Plot Advancement") McCoy agonize over what a conundrum this tricky torture thing is now that we all face it.

It's left to Jack's new Eye Candy Assistant to get squeamish. It's always the women who get squeamish, except Angie Harmon (wisely, as no one could imagine a drop of the milk of human kindness crossing those lactose-intolerant lips). Mercifully, the homilies from Fred Dumbo Thompson were kept to a minimum. (I know it's not original, but Fred Dumbo Thompson, NYC DA? What was his campaign slogan, "I'm One of Y'All"?)

Of course at one point, maybe two or three, we had to hammer out the "What if a terrorist was the only one who knew the location of a bomb set to kill millions in thirty minutes?" routine, just in case someone playing along at home had Missed the Significance.

The Denouement
(da-dum!) We're stuck for a Way Out (the judge had the same relationship to the Bill of Rights that James Dobson has to Will and Grace) when it looks like the defendant may go free (even Crazy Jewish Lawyer Guy has admitted his client deserves ten years in Attica!), until Eye Candy, ADA, posits a way around the exclusion of evidence. Everybody's satisfied, except Eye Candy, who says something pithy just before fade out. But I missed it.

The Epilogue, as they used to say on Barnaby Jones: McCoy and Crazy Jewish Lawyer Guy on the courthouse steps, talking about just what a conundrum this tricky torture thing is. We just don't have any answers!

But then of course we do, cunningly concealed in your vocation. The Law. And no, I'm not saying (stereotypical liberal loon voice**), "That's illegal! You can't do that!" I'm saying that we enshrine the distinction between something done in the heat of the moment (roughing up a suspect we know has the key to a little girl's life) vs. premeditation (the systematic brutalization of vast numbers of people on the grounds we don't like their looks). Show me the situation where someone had to extract information an hour before a bomb went off. Show me one where they even imagined they might be dealing with someone with that sort of information. Do that, and I'll hold the fucking toilet seat up. But torture for the sake of torture, or roughly 100% of the cases we know about, that's no Conundrum at all.

*s.z.'s joke, I think.

** Please, will somebody put an end to David Cross, liberal talk-radio schmuck, on The Colbert Report? Not only has the bit brought new meaning to the term pro forma, but it gets less funny every time out.


Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Did you have any left-over parts to the bike?

L&O has become crap. I miss Ben Stone. At least I have Det. Goren.

Anonymous said...

Yes, please lose David Cross on Colbert.

Torture for fun or because you're the type of person who's only job prospects put you in prison voluntarily as a guard, obviously no. Torture to gain information at the last instant and save the city? Let's not be like the administration and confuse tv/movies with reality. True believers are willing die, and to stop the pain, all you need to do is send the good guys on a scavenger hunt: oh, did I say 6th Ave? I meant 6th St. The FBI won't be calling ahead to the gritty policeman in the neighborhood. If the cops and firemen can't call each other, certainly the Feebs can't call them either. The whole 'Jack Bauer 24' meme is just another simple answer and, like most simple answers, it doesn't work, except to make us feel good in the dark night.
Hope your wife starts feeling better.

Anonymous said...

I agree with jaye. At least we have Goren.

And the world's best Some Assembly Required is Playmobil. Even Lego cannot compare.

As for torture, I've probably personally committed acts worse than holding someone's head in a toilet to save a kid.
The difference between this and the torture debate seems to be a matter of three elements: premeditation, as bruce says, the fact that our current crop of people advocating for torture want to cut it free of any potential consequences, and who's doing it.
The government should not torture. Full stop. It is, in fact, the government's job to *protect* people against torture. It's supposed to be a check on the sorts of things that individual citizens get up to--especially the Supreme Court. When they abandon this duty, there's nothing to prevent *anyone* from falling prey to their hysterical fellow citizens.
And it's a point that's been made elsewhere and more eloquently, but if you believe that you're saving someone by committing an illegal act, then you need to be willing to explain that in court. If that's what happened, they're likely to regard your actions somewhat sympathetically. But I don't think we should just *take your word* that you had to wire the guy up and shoot voltage through him to stop him from blowing up a building.
Show us your evidence, tell us your thoughts, and be willing to take the consequences.

Anyone who beats anyone else up has the responsibility to explain why they shouldn't be punished.

All three of these elements contribute to torture as public policy, making it a potentially widespread and careless practice.
I don't think we can afford to have that attitude, as a nation.

Anonymous said...

I was going to say something about torture but after your post and the above comment I'd feel like Pinky among the Brains.

You've catalogued the other defects, but to me the worst thing about L&O last night was the full-bore pastrami refluxion that occurred upon hearing the name "Dershowitz" in this context.

Speaking of a Set-Up, with at least 60 episodes a day playing in my cable market, I would love to have been anyone on the residual end of the L&O empire. Trust fund children 150 years hence will one day wonder what this "Mike Post" ancestor did that would make their lives so rich.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

How is your wife? Give her my regards and I hope she finds some relief with exercise. It really can help.

D. Sidhe, you can torture because you are not a government actor, (are you?) and your targets do indeed have a way to seek damages for the assault/battery that you may have inflicted. I think that statute of limitations has probably run for your "youthful acts." You are in the clear.

And you are right. It is so wrong for our government to torture. I thought that was settled and I don't buy that it is a new world since 9/11 because we are supposed to be the same ol' USA about fairness and decency.

Torture is wrong also because of what it does to us, not just our victims.

I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

Even as an extremely forgiving viewer I thought that was a lame-ass episode of Law & Order.

I really would've liked to have seen them use the episode as a way to look at the way torture is portrayed in the media.

That they took the stupid cliche of the good cop who had to break the rules to save lives as the springboard for the discussion is lame as hell. Those scenarios make up maybe 1% of all torture cases, and that may be a very liberal estimate.

I thought it would've been much more interesting to have Farrina beat the shit out of somebody who turned out to be innocent of the crime.

You know, a storyline that would actually have potential to shed some light on what's actually happening in the world, rather then just being some of the same crap we've seen a million times.

Anonymous said...

That would have been highly instructive, christopher, yes. I would actually be watching L&O still if they were doing stories about justice, and not just about judgment.

In my own defense, I wrote the earlier comment while still drugged up from an ER visit to do something about the migraine, which had gotten out of control even for me. This is not, however, an excuse, and really not even much of an explanation.

Nonetheless, I take responsibility for all my "youthful indiscretions"--I've done a lot of bad stuff, and still do on a daily basis, I know. As jaye notes, the victims of my bullying and/or tendency to get into fights were entirely free to seek redress, either legally or by waiting for me in a dark alley somewhere. I consider either of these actions more than appropriate, and the last one actually happened a couple times, more or less.

I don't, I admit, regret all of these incidents, but neither do I feel that they were ethically benign.

The fact is that the law needs to be there as a deterrent to and a punishment for people like me and the drunk down the block and Lyndie England acting out.
The law is generally quite willing to take mitigating circumstances into account, but while we all have our own code of ethics, that can range from "I don't even own a flyswatter" to "abortion is wrong, but bombing Iraqis is cool". The object of the legal system, I think, is to find some sensible common ground about what's acceptable behavior and what's not.

Once you throw the law out and let Don Rumsfeld decide, it's too late to say "But only in jail cells in sandy places, and only on brown people, and only on people with terrorist rubber stamped across the back of their hands..."
The only logical thing to do is to say this cannot be policy, and the exceptions can be handled on a per-case basis.

That all being so, I can't begin to explain (though I'm sure you all have a keen awareness of it yourselves) how surreal it is that we're even having this discussion as a nation.
It's like being told the majority of the people in line at the DMV with you think child molestation should be okay in certain circumstances.
No, it fucking well shouldn't, and when the hell did it become acceptable to even say something like that?

Seriously. When people say "Well, under these [clearly hypothetical] circumstances, torture should be okay," my brain just cuts in the phrase "child molestation" or "raping paraplegic grandmothers" or "burning a sack of newborn kittens".
I know people do all these things--but that doesn't make them legitimate activities. It merely makes the people involved bad people.

And while we are all, probably, bad people at times to one degree or another, most of us, I think, recognise that for what it is, and try not to do it again. Being human has its pitfalls. Some people, however, are digging holes to the center of the earth and gleefully throwing themselves in.

But it's that surreality, I think, that leads to these thrashing and helpless attempts on my part to apply some sort of logical process here. I'm astounded that these things need to be explained to guys like Rush Limbaugh, and assume that it's just that we haven't explained it well enough. Of course people would be opposed if they understood...
Some sort of democratic party impulse on my part, I think.

It's all very depressing. The Rapture's already happened, gang. We just didn't notice because everybody was Left Behind.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jaye. The trick now is to get her to use the thing (and a stretching program) long enough to see the benefits. For my wife this entails nagging. I am the Anti-Nagger.

Christopher is right, and the thing I can't understand is, why take the easy way out unless you're actually preaching? Which is what they were doing, probably without a conscious intent, or one they'd own up to. Saying "Oh, me, torture is such a moral dilemma" is taking one side of the issue. Just like spouting that hypothetical bomb just thirty minutes from going off is. It assumes torture would work. It couldn't be any more difficult to write a script that addresses the issue, as opposed to one that addressed the hyperreality surrounding it.

Torture's illegal, period. What's justifiable in the heat of the moment may also be mistaken; the onus has to be on the person who choses to act anyway. That's not what we've done in Iraq, it's not what we did in Vietnam, it's not what we've done in Central and South America for two centuries. I despair of comfortable Americans every really admitting it to themselves, and I wonder how far we have to sink--Abu Gharib wasn't enough--before we learn any lessons.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Migraines are horrible. Have you tried the wonder drugs? Relpax (no, not that Kevin Spacy movie) is good. I did the Imitrex thing for a while but it suddenly stopped working.

Good health to all this weekend.

Anonymous said...

The resolution was that the tainted evidence acheived through torture was allowed into evidence because the police could have walked downstairs and gotten the location of the boat the little girl was on by asking the guy's wife. Apparently unintentional, it has long been my opinion that there are easier and more reliable ways to get evidence. The obliviousness of the show's writers to this irony stunned me. At least it was never mentioned. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.