Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Welcome to the Second Season of Pseudo-Random Thoughts

It's been a month since my last post, which is the longest I've gone without blogging since I began. Thanks to all the commenters; if it weren't for you, I might have waited even longer before resuming. My only excuse is that the net connection here is terrible, and blogging's no fun without decent internet access.

After leaving Champaign-Urbana, I spent a couple of days in Santa Barbara with Lakshmi - or perhaps I should say without Lakshmi. ;-) You haven't lived until you've eaten one of her super-sandwiches. Lachu, if you're reading this, what's the name of that cheese? It doesn't taste the same without it. I can't find any of the garlic sourdough bread either. The UCSB campus is incredibly beautiful (photos here) and I had a wonderful time, largely due to my charming hostess.
I flew out from LA to Brunei, where my parents have been working for the last year, and have been here ever since, except for a few days holidaying in Malaysia. In another 10 days or so, I'll be flying to India for a cousin's wedding. So that's my summer; more information on each part of the vacation in subsequent posts.

The Geomblog has had some very good posts in the last month, one of which pointed me towards Michael Nielsen's introduction to exander graphs. I've been meaning to read about them for a long time, but kept putting it off until now. Ditch, if you haven't already, check them out.

The reading assignment of the day, though, is definitely Fred Hiatt's superb piece in the Washington Post. I've been waiting a long time to read this; I wish more people understood it. I'm excerpting parts of it, but you have to read the whole thing:
"Two of the country's largest newspapers, for example, have devoted more than 80 editorials, combined, since March of 2004 to Abu Ghraib and detainee issues, often repeating the same erroneous assertions and recycling the same stories," [Rumsfeld] said. "By comparison, precious little has been written by those editorial boards about the beheading of innocent civilians by terrorists, the thousands of bodies found in mass graves in Iraq, the allegations of rape of women and girls by U.N. workers in the Congo."

The Post has criticized the administration for failing to give detainees hearings as called for under the Geneva Conventions; for writing memos that toyed with the definition of torture and undermined long-standing Army restraint in questioning prisoners; for prosecuting low-ranking soldiers while giving the brass a pass; for allowing the CIA to hold prisoners beyond the reach of the International Red Cross or any other monitor; and for refusing to empanel a truly independent commission to examine accountability for prison abuse up the chain of command, up to and including the White House... [Rumsfeld] would point out that none of these offenses, even if accepted as true, is as heinous as filling a mass grave.

But just invoking such a comparison, even implicitly, amounts to a loss for the United States. If we have to defend ourselves by pointing out that we are morally superior to terrorists, it's a loss.

The United States and this administration in particular continually assert the moral right to behave differently than [sic] other nations. We will not be bound by the International Criminal Court. We insist that other nations give up their nuclear weapons while we keep our own. We wage war without U.N. Security Council approval. We publish annual report cards on everyone else's human rights records.

[A]ny nation asserting such a high calling will be judged by an equally high standard. Are we better than the beheaders, the mass killers, the U.N. peacekeepers raping young girls in the Congo? That's not close to the right question.

Do we behave as well as we claim, as we should, as we expect of others? That's the beginning of the right conversation -- and why it's fair to write more editorials about exceedingly mild Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay than about the unspeakable mass graves of Hilla.


lakshmi said...

you sick nit!! the sandwich rave doesn't make up for it at all!!!!! the cheese is muenster, btw. humph. (horror tales of my hospitality are *everywhere*. woe is me. dammit, *why* must everyone come on a weekday?!)

Nitish said...

But spreading the horror tales is so much fun! :-) Especially when you get all defensive. Seriously, though, we all loved it.

Sanketh said...

glad to see you back bud. everyone is taking a break. nitish of the nair variant has given up and misra is enjoying his trip back home. this leaves me with the bulk of the job and I have research to do. :)

on the editorial, I agree to an extent. none of the crimes they've mentioned need to be condoned. the fact that the editors are concentrating on the US mistakes is simply the extension of that old adage: "those who live in glass houses ..."

the thing is the debate is so prolonged and twisted in political doublespeak that I've started losing interest. they keep talking in circles. it doesn't look like it is getting anywhere.

btw,did you read that piece on Gitmo in TIME?

Man! that is some explosive stuff.

Then again I won't make much noise about it because again we in india live in a bigger glass house. :)

Deepak said...

yaay. expander graphs. i learned about them from irit dinur's paper on the pcp theorem.

good to see your back. Hope you had a good time in brunei. I have loads of news I'm just dying to tell. will find time to mail sometime.



Nitish said...

You can't talk about pet peeves, Ditch. Good to see your back? Tsk, tsk.

Deepak said...

Being the rotten little pedant that you are has clearly addled your mind to such a degree that you are unable to distinguish between slips of the tongue/pen/keyboard and a genuine misuse of language.