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Much has been said about the movie Zero Dark Thirty, in the world at large as well as by this blog. My reaction to it, which I posted, has attracted an amount of attention through comments and emails that, though modest, is sizable for this blog. Most have been complimentary, but the most interesting one was not.I follow Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Dish at The Daily Beast – which is the last remaining partition of the former Newsweek empire – on a regular basis, and a few days ago I came across a conversation he was having with his readers about the movie and its use of torture. The conversation was prompted by what Sullivan saw as a softball interview Jon Stewart had with the film’s star Jessica Chastain, and his opinion that Stewart should have taken the opportunity to press her about the films depiction of and –  to him – apparent condoning of torture.I emailed Sullivan my take on the movie (verbatim):

I wrote my opinion/review about this movie for my blog (found here) that I think and hope is relevant to your’s and your readers’ comments on the subject. I’ve gotten some positive feedback on it, so if you have a chance please give it a read.

I should also mention that this is the first time I’ve written but I’m a huge fan of the blog and keep up with it daily.

To his immense credit, Sullivan – or at least someone who works at the blog – read my post and responded to me by email (also verbatim):

thank you. i just want to point out, though, is that the torture as depicted is illegal and the perpetrators war criminals under the geneva conventions. to hail war criminals as heroes as you do strikes me as unwise. if iranian revolutionary guards were torturing american suspects in a similar movie, would you have the same attituide? my concern is the notion that when america tortures, it isn’t torture. when others do, it is. but torture is torture. it’s against the law – something the movie never mentions or even indicates. it has never before been approved by a US president.

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A fascinating idea from Glen Weyl, an economist and professor at the University of Chicago, as reported by Andrew Sullivan at The Dish and Freakonomics author Steven Levitt on his blog:

Glen Weyl proposed a voting mechanism where every voter can vote as many times as he or she likes but is required pay each time. The trick is “the amount you have to pay is a function of the square of the number of votes you cast.” Steven D. Levitt summarizes:

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say the first vote costs you $1.  Then to vote a second time would cost $4.  The third vote would be $9, the fourth $16, and so on.  A person who cast four votes would have to pay a total of $30 (1+4+9+16=30).  Twenty votes would cost $2,870.  One hundred votes would cost you more than $300,000.  Five hundred votes would cost more than $40 million. So eventually, no matter how much you like a candidate, you choose to vote a finite number of times.

Levitt defends the idea against charges that the system favors the rich:

In our existing system of campaign contributions, there can be little doubt that the rich already have far more influence than the poor.  Presumably in our current system if a rich person spent $40 million to try to influence an election, that rich person would surely hope to change the way more than 500 people vote, whereas in this system that is all the votes you get to cast for $40 million.  So restricting campaign spending, in conjunction with this voting scheme, might be more democratic than our current system.

Levitt acknowledges that “it is much cheaper to buy the first votes of a lot of uninterested citizens than it is to pay the price for my 100th vote,” and is unlikely to be implemented any time soon. That’s putting it mildly.

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6:30pm

An update to yesterday’s post “How President Obama has been seriously harshing my mellow.” If you haven’t read that one yet, go read it. It’s a good one.

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Apparently, various commentariat entities have been making the same point I made yesterday at the end of my post: which was to point out a gift-wrapped opportunity the GOP could use to appeal to younger voters by supporting the newfound right to get their smoke on in Colorado and Washington. You may notice, these first articles were produced by certain entities that are, uh, shall we say, not on my Christmas card list. But the enemy of my enemy is said to be my friend, and sometimes fighting the good fight for the right of Coloradans and Washingtonians to bake it out in their driveway makes for strange bedfellows.

Isn’t this a rather sweet political opportunity for the GOP? They’re desperate for ways to earn some goodwill with young voters and minorities. Opposing prosecutions for weed is an easy way to do it, and thanks to Washington and Colorado voters, they wouldn’t have to do it on the merits if they so chose. They could do it purely on federalism grounds — i.e. while opinions on marijuana may differ, it’s disgraceful that Congress would trump the considered judgment of a sovereign state on what its citizens should and shouldn’t be allowed to ingest. I doubt you’d lose many anti-marijuana seniors with a principled argument like that and it would change the framework of this debate enough that it might allow for a bolder decriminalization debate later.

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deceptionre-1343938088-39Before Bond, there was a Brit named Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley, however, had a few things going for him that Bond didn’t. Paramount amongst these factors was the fact that he was, well, real. In her new book, D For Deception, Tina Rosenberg discribes the fascinating true story of novelist Dennis Wheatley, who during  World War II was called upon by the British government to undertake a mission – should he choose to accept it – that was probably not unlike missions undertaken by his characters, and fulfilled what to my mind seems like the absolute coolest opportunity – for the most unlikely person – in history (this is roughly akin to a stoner friend of mine who was offered a surprisingly well-paying job trimming pot plants at a legal dispensary in California – we had to scrape him off the ceiling).

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