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    Scalia Re-invents Reality TV

    Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?
    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
    contrarium (con-TRARE-ium), the one-two punch.
    After reading two recent books on American torture, Dahlia Lithwick concludes that “the Bush administration erected an entire torture policy” around Jack Bauer, the patriotic sadist in Fox Television’s 24. Bushie and military sources in The Dark Side by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and The Torture Team by British journalist Phillippe Sands—refer to more often Jack Bauer than to the Constitution.
       Our favorite quote comes from Antonin Scalia, who uses a deftly absurd contrarium—one of  those figures of thought that summarize a whole argument in one neat little package. X is true. Therefore, how could you be for Y? Jack Bauer saved L.A. So why would you convict him?
       The problem in this case is that X is not true. Bauer does not exist. Which makes him rather shaky proof for undermining the Constitution.
       Who’s going to break the news to the Justice?
       Snappy Answer: Superman saved more lives, without flesh-eating chemicals. Is Jack Bauer is better than Superman?

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    Reader Comments (4)

    Yay! More posts! Keep 'em coming!

    I read Lithwick's estimation earlier today in Slate. While Scalia's just way out in left field with that zinger, Lithwick does a pretty good job with the demonizing rhetoric herself. For instance, "Bauer 'gave people lots of ideas.'" Why isn't Bauer a part of that quotation? As far as we know, Bauer gave the whole nation lots of ideas...

    But her setup suggests that 18 of these new torture techniques may have come from Bauer's inspiration. That's a little far fetched, in my opinion.

    Then, at the end of another paragraph: In an almost Nixonian twist, the new interrogation doctrine seems to have become: "If Jack Bauer does it, it can't be illegal."

    The quotation is attributed to no one (its her own), but the code words are "Nixonian," "interrogation doctrine," "become," and then the ridiculous quotation. I can almost see that line being captioned...

    Lithwick works too hard to puff up a theory. Torture is about revenge--hurting people that (perhaps) hurt you. It's also about engendering fear. I don't think anyone in the know expects torture to produce actual information, but that's not a bad way to sell it to people who don't know better than their TV sets and Jack Bauer.
    July 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDan
    Dan - what theory does Lithwick "work too hard to puff up" ?

    Who is she demonizing?

    Gee, I'm sort of lost...
    July 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHoward
    Here's the link to Lithwick's article: http://www.slate.com/id/2195864/

    I should have posted that originally. The theory she's puffing up is that those in charge of recommending torture were using Jack Bauer as an example; that those people live in a fantasy world where they think Jack Bauer is real. Scalia's remarks aside, Lithwick indicts John Yoo, Phillipe Sands, and "high ranking lawyers in the Bush administration."

    I don't like them anymore than the next pacifist, I just think Lithwick's article has a few sneaky rhetorical devices within. Scalia's contrarium is idiotic, but her article is dishonest. I was trying to point out where and how.

    That make more sense?
    July 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDan
    Well, the general argument put forth by people like Dick Cheney is that we should be able to use interrogation techniques that are effective and that the degree of severity of those techniques may be escalated (and justified) because of the value of the information that may be obtained.

    That's being about as neutral as I can be on the topic.

    Doesn't that reflect with the same belief system embodied by the fictional TV character, Jack Bauer ?

    Wasn't Scalia endorsing that basic concept ?

    John Yoo seems to have said not quite that, but instead that this was an area where the President could choose to violate treaties and agreements - if he choose to.

    Phillipe Sands actually disagrees with the statement above - he believes that the US (and Britain) should abide by international agreements with regard to the treatment of prisoners (or suspects).


    Yes, bringing Nixon into the discussion seems a bit of a rhetorical stretch, but otherwise I didn't see any signs of dishonesty on her part.

    It's sort of like you are taking her to task for believing that some people mean what they actually say.

    She did point out that in the TV series Jack Bauer was operating without authority. I guess she found it ironic that the law upholders were trying to find legal justification in the actions of a law breaker.
    July 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHoward

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