Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Tag: USA

American Exceptionalism

A bit of 1940s truth-telling, as my meditation for this 4th of July, from Ernie Pyle after the US Armys humiliating loss to Rommels army in Tunisia:

Personally, I feel that some such setback as that — tragic though it was for many Americans, for whom it would always be too late — was not entirely a bad thing. It was all right to have a good opinion of ourselves, but we Americans were so smug with our cockiness. We somehow felt that just because we were Americans we could whip our weight in wildcats. And we had got it into our heads that production alone would win the war.

Ernie Pyle Death PhotoHe goes on:

As for our soldiers themselves, you need not have felt any shame or concern about their ability. I saw them in battle and afterward and there was nothing wrong with the American soldier. His fighting spirit was good. His morale was okay. The deeper he got into a fight the more of a fighting man he became.

Ernie Pyle was an American journalist, who later died of sniper fire in Japan and is one of the few civilians killed during the war to win the Purple Heart.
[via Armchair Travel]

Four Conditions for the End of Torture

For the discussion on torture in this, or any other democratic country, to ever be satisfactorily complete, the following conditions must be satisfied.

  1. We must be absolutely certain what we mean when we use the word “torture”.
  2. Once defined, we agree that we do not torture.
  3. The decision to reject torture does not depend upon the effectiveness of torture.
  4. We are prepared for the worst possible outcome of not using torture.

Any discussion that does not deal with each of these issues to their logical conclusion is incomplete and will only force us to repeat the past. We find ourselves playing word games, debating how flexible our morals are and at what point we would give them up. Rule #3 and #4 are especially difficult, but our constitution is strongest only if we stick with it in the worst of times.

With Us or Against Us

You’re either with us or against us [via Schneier]:

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday. […]

Both Hutchins and Sheridan said the activists’ names were entered into the state police database as terrorists partly because the software offered limited options for classifying entries.

Bruce Schneier, who is generally the most sound source on these matters, says that “the database needs more nuance”. I say, the database doesn’t need to classify nonviolent activists at all! Included in these lists were people who belonged to groups opposing the Iraq war and groups opposing the death penalty. Reminds me of a question they have on the USCIS form you fill out to apply for naturalization [pdf] here in the United States:

Have you ever been a member of or associated with any organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society or similar group in the United States or in any other place?

Errr.. hasn’t everyone?

Our Senate can Tweet

Y2K testedEarlier this summer, I participated in the Sunlight Foundation ran the “Let our Congress Tweet” campaign (here is my possibly meaningless contribution). Members of congress were prohibited from embedding a YouTube video or Flickr album (or Tweet). Well, that has partly changed. As of last week, Senators have the discretion to use whatever third-party Web site they want, as long as it follows the Senate’s Internet Services Usage Rules and Policies.

I, for one, would like to welcome the U.S. Senate in to the 21st century. The House, on the other hand, is partying like it’s 1999.

A Motto for the United States

Three weeks ago, the Freakonomics blog called for a “6 word motto for the U.S.” There were many suggestions, ranging from the mocking the right (“Hubris: it’s not just for Greeks!” and “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”) to mocking the left (“What would liberals hate without it?”), but finally blogger/writer Stephen Dubner narrowed them down to these five, which the readers were asked to vote on:

1. The Most Gentle Empire So Far
2. You Should See the Other Guy
3. Caution! Experiment in Progress Since 1776
4. Just Like Canada, With Better Bacon
5. Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay

And now, I’m happy to report, the winner is: “Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay”.