My opinion is fact, period: On rhetoric, waterboarding, and torture

Upfront: Malcom Nance’s bio is incredible. Whatever else is the case, he clearly knows what he is talking about. My criticism is not against his knowledge, but rather the way he presents his argument in “Waterboarding is torture… period,” an article posted in the Small Wars Journal. For instance:

Yet, once captive I believe that the better angels of our nature and our nation’s core values would eventually convince any terrorist that they indeed have erred in their murderous ways.

makes no sense as a logical argument. Among other things, it implies either that no unrepentant terrorists have died in US custody or else implies a requirement for infinite life.

Well, that said, of course it is not a logical argument. It’s a rhetorical argument. It’s meant to sound good and feel good and subvert reason with intuition. Even though Nance’s argument is on Small Wars Journal, it thus reads more like a political tract that an objective analysis of a technique.

Nance’s three bulleted points likewise work better as bromides than as lemas:

Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period

No logical argument for this is given — merely it is asserted several times that arguments against it exist.

Second:

Waterboarding is not a simulation.

What follows is a semantic distinction between two virtual phenomenons: the simulated nd the controlled. I’m not sure how such a distinction is relevent, nor does Nance provide any cypher to help those who are not initiated.

Third:

If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives.

This is an empirical question and probably demonstrably false, as the set of survey respondents who who support waterboarding on enemy captives is probably distinct from those that support such a technique on “any future American captives.” But again, in fairness to Nance, reason, logic, and facts do not concern his claim: Only the sound of the words does.

Alternatively, one might interpret Nance to be saying that we should seek a policy of reciprocity with regards to treatment of detainees with al Qaeda. However, he appears to reject this notion:

We must now double our efforts to prepare for its inevitable and uncontrolled use of by our future enemies.

I have no idea why criticisms of torture are so poor. My guess is that those who get the public ear achieve resonance on something other than logical validity of argument, while others have a hard time translating their first hand knowledge into such an argument.

(Many thanks to Eddie of Hidden Unities for passing on this link.)

On the subject of bad service…

So I have my lawyer and PurpleSlog has his gripes.. let’s add Dell / DHL to the list.

My AC adapter died the other day, so I called Dell emphasizing the severity of the situation, noting that I oversaw the purchase of four laptops from them, and encouraging them to get it shipped the next day. Then… nothing.

Well, this morning, I received two emails from Dell, each informing me the replacement part was shipped on the 24th. Checking the DHL tracking number provided, I see that DHL (while not leaving any sort of note on the door) has already tried to deliver twice.

So (a) Dell, for its sloppy customer service, and (b) DHL (I think) for its stealth non-notification of delivery attempts.

Zai Jian, Greencine!

With some sadness, I canceled my greencine account today. Grad school always takes up a lot of time, and the Time Warner DVR is just too fun and convneient… fast forwarding through ads makes television fun again, and time-shifting just blows me away.

I originally got involved with Greencine because their selection was broader than Netflix or Blockbuster. On a related note, film buffs will enjoy Adam’s “List”.

In the quite likely event that I return (service has always been fantastic), a partial list of my current queue is below the fold.


Black Snake Moan (2007)
The Bow (2005)
Truman (1995)
Sanjuro (Criterion Collection) (1962)
Getting Any? (1995)
Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (Disc 2 of 6) (1984)
Animated Soviet Propaganda: American Imperialists (1924)
Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (1997)
Baraka (1993)
My Life as a Dog (Criterion Collection) (1985)
This Divided State (2005)
Point of Order (1964)
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)
Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2003)
Batman Begins (Special Edition) (2005)
Sword of the Beast (Criterion Collection) (1965)
Following (1998)
Pickpocket (Criterion Collection) (1959)
Legong, Dance of the Virgins (1935)
Mean Creek (2003)
Gaza Strip (2002)
In the Year of the Pig (1968)
Purple Butterfly (2003)
The Road Home (2000)
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
King of Chess (1991)
Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)
Incubus (1965)
Undeclared: Complete Series (Disc 1 of 4) (2001)
The Conversation (1974)
Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2004)
Mountain Patrol (2004)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Gojira Deluxe Collector’s Edition (1954)
The Proposition (2005)
The Skeleton Key (2005)
Deadwood: Season 1 (Disc 1 of 6) (2004)
The Ghost of Mae Nak (2005)
Being There (1979)
What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)
Ran (Masterworks Edition) (1985)
Max (2002)
Blood Guts Bullets and Octane (1998)
Mendy (2006)
I Am Sam (2001)
Overlord (Criterion Collection) (1975)
Nine Lives (2004)
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
The Bride with White Hair (1993)
Things to Do (2006)
The President’s Last Bang (2005)
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
Sansho the Bailiff (Criterion Collection) (1954)
Ball of Fire (1941)
The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2004)
Seven Swords (2005)
Days of Glory (2006)
The Seventh Seal (Criterion Collection) (1957)
If…. (Criterion Collection) (1968)
Following Sean (2005)
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)
Down from the Mountain (2001)
Zero Hour! (1957)
Voices of a Distant Star (2002)
The Party (1968)
Fired! (2006)
Why We Fight: The Battle of Russia (1943)
Crazed Fruit (Criterion Collection) (1956)
Dead Man (1995)
Eraserhead (1977)
City of God (2002)
It Happened One Night (1934)
Red River (1948)
Marooned in Iraq (2002)

Rational Agency and Personhood

Reacting privately to my posts on Cognitive Development, Rational Moral Development, and the OODA Loop, an immensely valued critic wrote:

It remains unclear to me why you are skeptical of rational agency despite having no problem with rationality, metacognition, or other related concepts. My sense is that you see intelligence, and thus rationality, as residing mostly in automatic, domain-specific processes, and associate agency with more controlled and general forms of reasoning that you think are more likely to undermine rationality than to enhance it.

Since getting this email last week I’ve been tossing it around in my head. I think I agree.

People know much more than they can say. Our verbal descriptions most closely match our behavior when we are new at a task, and know it only as a series of steps. With practice we no longer think about those steps — we automate them — so that we can perform them mindlessly while thinking about other things

The human ability to think has two main purposes: to allow us to learn new thinks (reorientation) and disrupt the execution of already automated tasks (disorientation). That is, thinking is a tool that should be used when our orientation is insufficient for the actions we have to perform. Normally, we rely on anxiety, or disorientation produced by orientation, to tell us when we need to calculate a new path or go back and reorient ourselves for a later time. Metacognition is similar to anxiety, except that it’s controlled by decision instead of orientation.

So why am I skeptical of rational agency, the idea that being human means having well-thought-out reasons for one’s actions? Because the tool of thought is just that, a tool. Decision is a tool used by persons in situations where they are unable or undesirious of trusting what they already know — it is not the essence of personhood.

OODA Alpha, Part XIII: Conclusion

The Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, or OODA, loop is a model of human cognition. The OODA model is a dual processing theory that has two main circuits: Observe-Orient-Decide which is analogous to Level 1 processing, and Observe-Orient-Decide-Act which is a form of Level 2 processing. Within an educational context, one central insight of the OODA model is that an educator does not have to focus on decision, or conscious processing, to change actions. Two broad methods, reorientation and disorientation, are presented that operate by modifying or disrupting mental cognitive structures.

Three broad educational contexts are described. Instruction, or educating to some specific end, academics, or learner interaction supervised by an educator, and creativity, or the process of an educator preparing a learner to create new and useful products. For instruction and creativity, educators must focus on building the correct orientations within learners so they can learn. For academics, educators should use disorientation where appropriate in order to interrupt the natural behavior of learners to manipulate peer interaction. For creativity, educators should reorient learners so they possess the proper intrinsic motivation to be both well adjusted and successful.


OODA Alpha, a tdaxp series
1. Abstract
2. Dual Processing Systems
3. The OODA Loop
4. Decision
5. Orientation
6. A Theory of Mind
7. Reorientation
8. Disorientation
9. Education
10. Instruction
11. Student Interaction
12. Creativity
13. Conclusion
14. Bibliography

Gravity, Dimensions, and xGW

Curtis’s latest post on 5GW is just brilliant. Take this section, which may be partial summarized by saying “The tug of gravity weakens expotential with the addition of each new dimension through which it may propogate”:

4GW defeats 3GW because of even more mobility: including even the option of moving among civilians or, indeed, among friendly forces. Additionally, 4GW begins to make better use of memetic engineering, or of altering observations to create kinetic responses in individuals thus oriented, kinetic responses possibly quite far from the 3GW force’s field of battle: another degree of dispersal of kinetics. The CoGs may include the morale of the population supporting the 3GW force; the CoGs may include destruction and murder within civilian populations, at any point civilians can be found.

5GW defeats 4GW by refining memetic engineering, mulitplying domains to be shaped, and thus operating outside the scope of the 4GW observational range. Changes which occur within an agricultural sector in a far removed nation-state (or T.A.Z.4 ) may ultimately lead to effects within the 4GW force’s acknowledged field of battle5 ; etc. Indeed, the 4GW force’s concept of the field of battle may be altered.

In each of these cases, the reason the previous generation fails against the newest generation is simply that the previous generational strategies cannot account for the new dimensions of the conflict, or were not formed to address the new dimensions. Rather, the previous generational strategies were formed to address the dimensions of the generation before, with no leap-frogging to x+2: When the goal is to win and the present exigencies are pressing, the need is only to be one-up, and resources will be targeted accordingly.

If there’s ever a book that compiles the best posts on 5GW/Generations of War (which there should be), Curtis’s latest post would need to be in it.

Read “X vs X: Boom and the Generations in Conflict” now.

OODA Alpha, Part XII: Creativity

Science advances. While a literature on creativity exists in the OODA program of research (Boyd, 1976b), it draws on the conception of creativity as a fundamentally different form of thinking (Osinga, 2007). Modern research is converging on the realization that whatever creativity is, it is not the result of processes that are different than other forms of thinking (Kalyuga, Chandler, & Sweller, 1998; Kalyuga, et al., 2003; Kalyuga & Sweller, 2005; van Merrienboer & Sweller, 2005; Weisberg 1986, 1993, 2006;). Therefore, the antiquated sources of the original OODA paradigm (Osinga, 2007, 79) are set aside and modern research on creativity is examined in light of the observation-orientation-decision-action learning cycle.

Creativity is an understudied field within educational psychology (Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004). Creativity is defined as production that is “novel and interesting and valuable” (Simon, 2001) and is essentially an unstructured social process between individuals and already acknowledged experts in a field (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). That is, creativity is not seen merely as divergent thinking , which may well be part of a special potential for creativity, (Torrance, 1968; 1993; Plucker, 1999) or only useful for studying the past (Simonton, 1984) which is certainly part of creativity, but rather the production of the novel, the interesting, the valuable whenever and wherever it occurs as long as it is recognized by an appropriate audience.


Creativity is also studied under the term expertise (Feldon, 2007a). When researchers speak of expertise as something that is either present or not, conclusions are made such as that it requires ten years of purposeful practice (Ericcson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993). Another way of viewing expertise, as something that can exist in greater or lesser quantity, involves a recognition that more creative or expert people work more effortless (Kalyuga & Sweller, 2005) and efficiently (Ericsson & Lehmann, 1996) in a task.

Expertise is largely a matter of superior memorization (Anderson, 1980). Studies of chess grand masters revealed that chess grand masters had better memory for valid chess moves than novices (De Groot, 1965) but similar memory for nonsensical chess positions (Chase & Simon, 1973) it supports the contention that differences in long term memory alone may be the cause of exceptional skill (Sweller, 2004a). van Merrienboer & Sweller (2005) describe this view succinctly when they write that “expertise comes from knowledge stored in [long term memory] schemata, not from an ability to engage in reasoning with many elements that have not been organized in long-term memory. Human working memory simply is not able to process many elements (149-150).

While the contention that learners should develop mostly on their own (Bruner, 1961) has been criticized in recent years (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006), young adults building expertise in the real world have no choice but to engage in this constructivist behavior. Therefore, creative and expertise individuals must be able to compensate for their poor self-constructed learning environment to be able to build up the schemata necessary for high-level performance.

An OODA perspective on creativity would encourage educators to reorient learners so that they develop mastery, acquire expertise and produce creative products, over a long period time on their own. In other words, motivational orientation is the key outcome Educators who wish their students to become creative and expert later in life should internalize the proper attitudes in them in a way that minimizes the role of decided-upon ends.


OODA Alpha, a tdaxp series
1. Abstract
2. Dual Processing Systems
3. The OODA Loop
4. Decision
5. Orientation
6. A Theory of Mind
7. Reorientation
8. Disorientation
9. Education
10. Instruction
11. Student Interaction
12. Creativity
13. Conclusion
14. Bibliography

Viewing victory as defeat

I like A.E. a lot, but I am often puzzled by his analysis. His “Sideshow in the Desert” continues this trend. Take this paragraph, for instance:

Finally, Israel faces a grave threat from within – a threat worsened by its own counter-productive actions. The Israeli-American strategy of marginalizing Hamas and backing the unpopular and corrupt Fatah has led to open Palestinian civil war and humanitarian disaster in Gaza, which has now been cut off from electricity and fuel and declared a “hostile entity” by the Israeli government. Israel has also carried out a strategy of targeted assassinations and limited military incursions within Gaza in the hopes of undermining Hamas and deterring its frequent rocket attacks.

Isreal is a small country surrounded by hostile regimes. The only way such a state can continue to exist is if her neighbors distrust her neighbors more than they distrust her. (The United Arab Republic was so dangerous because it suggested that the Arabs would put aside their mutual animosity to finally destroy Israel.) The break-up of the Palestinian Authority into Fatah and Hamas controlled territory is a wonderful improvement for Israel, because it creates a revolutionary state whose main objective is the overthrow of her other neighbors.

Yet A.E. considers such progress “counter-productive.”

Strange.