What, exactly, is torture?

On one extreme of the debate over interrogating terrorists are the Jack Bauers, those who — like the lead character in Fox’s hit series “24”– think you do whatever it takes to get the information you need from someone plotting mass murder. At the other extreme is the anti-war left: It wouldn’t harm a hair on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s head to save Disneyland at Christmas.

A not-so-exclusive list

Two points about that disclosure by the Government Accountability Office that the government’s terrorist watch list has more than 755,000 names and is growing by 200,000 names a year.

First, if there really are that many people out there actively seeking to do us harm at home, we’re in real trouble.

When free speech is too free

The other day a Democratic congressman accused President Bush of being amused by the death of U.S. troops. One right-wing talk-show host suggested women should never have been allowed to vote. Another condemned as phony soldiers Iraq war veterans who are critical of it. Exposure to the vitriol of American politics these days is like too much radiation. It takes a while but the cumulative buildup ultimately gets you.

Don’t worry, be ignorant

The public should be wary when the government doesn’t want the public’s confidence dented by inconvenient information, a case in point having been discovered by the Associated Press.

Says the AP: “Anxious to avoid upsetting air travelers, NASA is withholding results from an unprecedented national survey of pilots that found safety problems like near-collisions and runway interference occur more frequently than the government previously recognized.”

Playing the Plame game

After becoming the most outed spy in American history, Valerie Plame is telling her story.

Or parts of it…the parts the CIA will let her tell.

Plame’s new book is a far cry from the manuscript she wrote for publication. By the time her former employer, the Central Intelligence Agency, was through with it the story had lots of gaps and holes.

Still, what emerges is, for the most part, interesting reading.

Time for a new global narrative

What Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize says to me is that the world is deeply unhappy with America’s “war on terror” and desperately seeks new global narratives. It’s not that the world wishes us to be less active militarily or even to renounce the tactic of toppling bad regimes. The vision of America’s military Leviathan addressing the world’s many ongoing cruelties is hardly the creation of the neocons alone.

No rest for the weary

Looks like the United States won’t be freed anytime soon from the burdensome role its troops have played — largely by default — as Europe and others turn to for emergency military help.

In 2002, now-ex-Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld proposed the establishment of a NATO “rapid-reaction force” that could be quickly deployed to the Balkans or any other regional hot spot to serve as peacekeepers to quell violence before it spreads or respond fast to terrorist attacks.

The end of privacy

It suddenly turns out that U.S. intelligence agencies have been gathering much more information about American citizens than anyone thought or is appropriate and the nation’s largest communications companies have been part and parcel of these activities. Is anyone really surprised?

Serving those who stand and wait

With a certain smug national self-satisfaction, it is called the “classic American success story.” A young lad — or lass, for that matter — of no particular advantage or solvency starts at the very bottom and through pluck, spunk, moxie and other vaguely obscene-sounding virtues works his way to the top of some huge enterprise.

Nowhere is that more true than in Washington, D.C., a capital whose very fuel is plucky young people, a city of limitless opportunity because there is plenty of room at the bottom and, when the electorate rouses itself, a lot of turnover at the top.

Stopping Internet porn

To hear my male peers tell it, when we were young one of them might stumble across — or somehow purloin (sometimes from a father’s stash) — the rare Playboy magazine.

And that would pretty much have to last the entire neighborhood of adolescent boys about a year, until the next one came along. That’s all they got until maybe they saw a pornographic movie in their fraternity basement.

And along the way it was pretty clear they were doing something secret, unusual, out of the norm. Not okay.