Friday, February 26, 2016

On Pain

Pain is your body's way of telling you something's wrong.

There are other ways to do this. I, for one, am enamored with a sort of "damage report" pop up like I imagine Robocop or a TIE Fighter gets. It would have an outline of my body, with the effected portion in yellow or red, and say something like "thigh at 84%". That would also get me the information I need, but in a much cooler way.

Of course, pain does have some unique uses. It's relatively immediate feedback, for one -- you know right away to jerk your hand away from that hot stove (though my understanding is that the reflexive jerk actually occurs before the pain sensation is processed -- the latter is more of a punishment mechanism for your stupidity). CIP is a dangerous condition precisely because those who have it often don't even notice they've been damaged until it is too late. So as much as I hate to admit it, I concede that pain probably has a role to play in my body's damage alert system.

But still, sometimes it just seems ridiculous. Like, if I'm being burned at stake -- I already know something is wrong. I don't need pain receptors firing full tilt. It's sort of like a car alarm you can't turn off -- it's like, I get it! Shut up already! Other times, you feel pain for ailments that you have no ability to affect the relief of. Like (anybody who knows me knows what's coming) a kidney stone. Kidney stones suck.* But there's nothing I can do to ease the process. I just want to tell my body to handle it and stop complaining. A kidney stone would be a great candidate for getting a damage report I could peruse at my leisure.

Anyway, the point isn't to completely knock the current system. I get why it makes sense given the constraints of our meat sacks. But I am telling future designers of our transhumanist future that there's a lot of improvements to be had. So, you know, if you could get on that, that'd be cool.

* Fortunately, I haven't had another one since last year.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rasmieh Odeh Case Remanded By the Sixth Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ordered the district court to reconsider an evidentiary ruling against Rasmieh Odeh, who was convicted of lying to immigration officials in her naturalization documents (failing to disclose a terrorism conviction in Israel) and sentenced to 18 months in prison (followed by deportation back to Jordan).

While the majority rejected most of Ms. Odeh's contentions, it concluded that the district court erred in "categorically" excluding evidence of her alleged PTSD which -- Odeh argued -- caused her not to know her statements were false because she would have mentally suppressed all memory of her time in Israel (Ms. Odeh alleges that she was tortured by Israeli authorities in the process of extracting her confession). The Court did not rule that this evidence necessarily had to be admitted, only that the district court made a mistake in holding that evidence of this sort had to be excluded categorically (that is to say, the Court left open the possibility that the evidence should have been excluded for case-specific reasons).

The terrorism conviction regarded Ms. Odeh's role in bombing a supermarket, an attack which killed two civilians. I have obviously zero sympathy for her actions (there is no serious dispute that Ms. Odeh was involved in the bombing, the only question is regarding the extent); I likewise think that torture -- including of terrorism suspects -- is categorically wrong. Ms. Odeh's conviction, however, is not based on the Israeli conviction itself but on her failure to disclose it in response to a direct question by immigration authorities: "Have you EVER been charged with committing any crime or offense?” (a failure which, on its face, has nothing to do with either the bombing itself or her allegations of torture during interrogation). And while I am quite dubious of her claim that PTSD caused her to simply "forget" the conviction and ensuing prison term every occurred, the opinion by Judge John M. Rogers (a George W. Bush appointee) is reasonable enough in suggesting that such evidence could at least theoretically negate an element of the offense and therefore required more fine-grained analysis by the district court.

The other two judges on the panel were Karen Nelson Moore (Clinton appointee) and Alice Batchelder (George H.W. Bush); the presiding district court judge was Gershwin Drain (Obama). For all you "law is politics" fans, note that not only was this opinion written by a Republican reversing a Democratic appointee, it was in fact Judge Batchelder (the elder Bush appointee well-known for her staunch conservatism) that authored the most "pro-Odeh" opinion of all. She would have vacated the conviction entirely on the basis that admitting the details of Odeh's particular offense (the terrorist bombing) was unduly prejudicial. Since the conviction was simply about whether Odeh lied on her documents or not, there was nothing probative (but much inflammatory) in the jury knowing specifically that the conviction she had failed to disclose was for murdering two civilians in a terrorist bombing.

The case has been remanded back to the district court, which was left to reconsider its evidentiary ruling on alternative grounds and -- if it ultimately sides with Ms. Odeh -- whether a new trial is necessary.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Back in Black Roundup: 2/24/16

I've returned from a very pleasant vacation in Las Vegas. If my gambling record is any omen about how my thirties will proceed, I'm in good shape -- I actually finished up on the trip. The New Jersey Devils, by contrast, will never win another hockey game. Other highlights of the trip include eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant, watching Cirque du Soleil Zarkana before it closed, and reading "The Communist Manifesto" at the Bellagio Hotel (a decision which seemed insulting to both Marx and the Bellagio).

* * *

A Rabbi wins a parliamentary seat ... in Uganda. Putting aside the important symbolism for Uganda's tiny Jewish community, the Rabbi in question has stood out for being openly favorable towards gay rights.

A bizarre story out of Canada got an even stranger (but happier) ending. The Jewish National Fund of Canada pulled its sponsorship of the Jewish Federation of Vancouver's Israeli Independence Day celebration, citing the participation of Israeli singer Noa. JNF-Canada (wrongly) alleged that Noa was a supporter of the BDS movement. JF-Vancouver refused to budge, and guess who stepped in to replace the JNF as sponsor: the Israeli embassy! I hope the folks at JNF-Canada are duly humiliated, and have learned a valuable lesson about listening to right-wing trolls.

Protesters disrupted planned speeches by Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid at several Chicago-area universities. The protesters objected to Eid's opposition to BDS and his focus on both Israeli and Palestinian rights violations, and questioned his legitimacy as a Palestinian voice. Remember, though, BDS targets institutions, not individuals.

On the one hand, I find the argument that "I'm not voting for either Clinton or Sanders because neither one of them makes feel fuzzy about myself" to be ludicrously self-indulgent. On the other hand, if someone really is far "left" enough such that neither Sanders nor Clinton is more meaningfully attractive than Trump or Cruz, I can't really object to not voting for them. Merging those two arguments together, though, I think people who style themselves so far left that there's no meaningful difference between Sanders or Clinton versus Trump or Cruz are ludicrously self-indulgent.

I'm always interested in legal interpretations which (properly, in my view) cast blanked boycotts against Israel (or any other country, for that matter) as a form of national origin discrimination.

Intersectional discourse has its failings when it comes to Jews (stayed tuned for more exciting information on this!), but James Kirchick really needs to stop writing on a topic he knows nothing about.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who Will Be Trump's VP?

As much as many hate to admit it, at this point Donald Trump has to be seen as the significant favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. Which raises a question I hadn't thought of before -- who would be his VP choice?

It's a tough question. Obviously, the Republican primary has been one of the nastiest in recent memory -- I think we can rule out a Trump/Bush or Trump/Cruz ticket, for example. And Trump is notably disconnected from the establishment, which gives him little leverage with high-profile elected Republicans on the outside of the nomination race. His only gubernatorial-level endorser is Sarah Palin, and even Trump can't be dumb enough to repeat that disaster (can he?).

Basically, I see three possibilities:

1) One of the seven dwarves. There were so many Republican candidates for President, but a large swath of them never really emerged from obscurity and so didn't really catch the brunt of a Donald Trump temper tantrum (or at least, it happened long enough ago that we'll all have forgotten about it by now). So even though it can't be any of the "front-runners" -- Bush, Rubio, Cruz, Walker, etc. -- a Pataki or a Jindal would be reputable enough without being saddled by a week of footage of Trump calling them "losers" (maybe just an hour or so).

2) Another businessman sort -- a Lee Iacocca type. Trump obviously doesn't care for Republican politicians, and it's not like he's going to run away from his lack of political experience. So why not double-down? Are two rich white Wall Street Captains of Industry really any less electable than one?

3) Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. He's literally one of two (former) federal-elected officials to have endorsed Trump, and the other, former Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, isn't even a Republican anymore. Brown actually seems like he would make a strong pick -- he cut a moderate enough profile to briefly hold a Massachusetts Senate seat -- but it could further inflame the "he's not a true conservative" contingent of the GOP (though surely at some point that branch has to engage in some self-reflection about what "true conservative" is, right?). If I had to venture a prediction, he'd be it.

But those are just off-the-cuff thoughts. Who are your predictions?