catch-up on Darfur

No, Plamegate, the Michael Jackson trial, and other domestic fun and games were not being given so much attention because things in Darfur got better. Instead, it was just too depressing to keep going on about it, so the MSM wanted something else to talk about. Here is a piece encapsulating the situation in Darfur and its antecedents. Catch up and become alarmed. Something needed to be done a while ago. What is happening now?


and then there were two

This morning I saw two of the three characters that often haunt the North Side. Allison wasn’t around yet, but the Conversationalist was having a conversation with himself about the Berkeley Daily Planet, or maybe it was a conversation with the Berkeley Daily Planet. It’s kind of hard to tell with him. The nice thing is that the one side of his conversations are way more interesting than any overheard cellphone call.

Outside Soda Hall, however, I saw three cops arresting Angry Man — he was handcuffed and being pushed towards one of the three cop cars that the UC Police decided were necessary for apprehending him. The campus police here take their role as The Man quite seriously here, so I wasn’t entirely surprised, but even to me it seemed a bit excessive. Angry Man was pretty passive the whole time, although he wasn’t willing to walk to the car and had to be dragged. The whole thing was a little surreal to me, considering my lack of sleep. I wonder how long it will be before he comes back.

there went my productivity for the day

The Planarity Flash Game, where you have to drag around the vertices of increasingly larger and larger graphs to prove that they are planar. (via Eszter over at Crooked Timber)

It of course got me thinking about the fastest algorithm to planarize a graph that you know is planar. You’d have to define all the quantities you have pre-computed (the smart thing seems to be to find a vertex with minimal degree and work up from there), but it could be an interesting problem. It’s probably been solved already or exists as an exercise in CLR.

stopping imperialism, stopping attacks

Via Kevin Drum, an excerpt from an interview with Robert Pape of UChicago that is perhaps apropos to my earlier post. Pape’s claims are that

  1. “… overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”
  2. “In virtually every instance where an occupation has produced a suicide-terrorist campaign, there has been a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied community.”
  3. “Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop — and often on a dime.”

The overall argument is that once the physical fact of empire dissolves, support for suicide attacks dissapates. And indeed, the most effective rhetoric by Al-Qaeda and others is focussed on this issue. I’m somewhat dubious that the effect of cultural imperialism can be so easily swept under the rug. On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to live and let live if you don’t have foreign soldiers down the street from you.

It’s almost too easy

(via Atrios. According to the Boston Globe, Rick Santorum (R-PA) wrote about the Catholic child-abuse scandal:

When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political, and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

An aide later clarified:

”It’s an open secret that you have Harvard University and MIT that tend to tilt to the left in terms of academic biases,” said Robert Traynham, the Santorum aide. ”I think that’s what the senator was speaking to.”

Well, naturally! Putting aside the misuse of “open secret,” the presence of a high density of leftist particle physicists in a space the size of Cambridge results in moral corruption and paedophilia. We should name this principle after its location and discoverer — the Boston-Santorum effect.

I leave it to the more physics-savvy to come up with the mathematical formulation.

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the imperialism/oppression dialectic

I’ve decided that I have a problem with the imperialism/oppression dialectic that is a prominent feature of the discourse in “radical progressive” discussions, post-colonial studies and other areas. The problem I have is not with its use as an analytical tool, but rather as a shield (less charitably, crutch) to assign blame or a “good guy”/”bad guy” role to actors in contemporary events. The crux of the argument as I understand it as as follows: actor A (the imperialist) coerces via economic/military/other means a collection of people B (the oppressed). A backlash falls upon A as a result of these actions. Because A has more agency than B due to its greater power, the supposition is that the empire has brought this backlash upon itself.

The primary problem with this is that it supposes a parallel history in which A never oppressed B and they lived happily ever after. That is, the status quo is A’s fault and thus A is permanently in the wrong. The secondary problem is that too little attention is paid to the nature of the backlash, who is the agent of this backlash, and what relationship they hold towards B.

Let us take the recent bombings in London as an example. One interpretation of those acts is that the government of the UK was reaping what it sowed by its support of the imperialist agenda as set forth by the US. Or taking a longer view, by its imperialist history. This is not to say that the people in those buses and trains were reaping what they sowed, but as an action played out by institutional agents (the United Kingom/Al-Qaeda), the UK was “asking for it.”

I find this sort of analysis dehumanizing, illogical, and misguided. What are the people in London supposed to do? They should “blame their government,” or so I am told. The UK is a democratically elected government whose actions represent the will of its citizenry. Al-Qaeda is a non-state actor whose actions represent the will of a small minority in most every state that they have a presence. The statement is then that should they choose, a group with little popular support may kill hundreds, even thousands of citizens of a democracy in an effort to influence the political actions of that democracy. This action is the “chickens coming home to roost.”

I have at least two problems with this — the first is that it is absurd to hold a private club with a penchant for blowing things up and killing citizens of countries to weaker humanitarian standards than those countries themselves. As long as you decry the abuses of your own country, you should not give a rhetorical shield to those who are perhaps reacting to those abuses. Unless you are willing to provide a calculus for measuring what constitutes equal retribution. To be trite, should it be an eye for an eye?

The second problem is that those bombs are not the same chickens! The goal of Al-Qaeda is not to correct the ills of imperialism by the West or end the imperialist program, but in fact is to impose a Muslim theocracy on all nations. Just because their letter claiming responsibility cites the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan as the reason for targeting London doesn’t somehow make them the officially sanctioned actors for those oppressed peoples.

In the end, my fundamental problem with this description is that it somehow makes it OK to bomb trains or buses, and I don’t think it’s ever ok to do that. And most of those who call these recent events “chickens coming home to roost” would agree with that statement. But I find that characterization too reductionist for this event, and reductionist in a rhetorically dubious way.