Realm Of Randomness

February 8, 2008

Right answer, wrong argument

Filed under: Controversial,Current events,Opinion,Religion — Randomizer @ 1:51 am

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(source)

By now, I’m sure most of you have caught up on the latest ‘sensational news headline’ from the UK, that of the Arch Bishop saying that Sharia law in Britain is unavoidable. For those who are not familiar with it, here’s the gist of it: He claimed in a BBC interview that Sharia law, or Islamic law, is inevitable in the UK. He went on to say that it will help muslims feel more at home, and help them integrate better. Obviously, if you know some of the unpopular aspects of this law, you will know why the entire nation is now up in arms, and I seriously wonder how many days this bishop has left as bishop.

Having lived in Saudi Arabia for four years, I have seen this law in place first hand, though it never really affected me much, as I was too young then. But yes, I have seen the power of the religious priests, the enforcers of this law, and have very often heard of very strict punishment for crimes that in modern day, would not even be defined crimes – like a woman being in the presence of a man who is not her husband or relative.

Should Sharia law be applicable in the UK for muslims if they want it? Read this article that appeared in the times online, a UK paper’s website, and it is important because that is the premise for this post. The same writer had earlier written this article when talking about why mosques should not use loudspeakers to call for prayer in Britain.

The writer for the most part has the right idea, and the answer I would go with – No, there shouldn’t be Sharia law in place. But the argument that he uses is something like this, ( which I have summed up from both his articles ):

Our history is and has been that of a Christian nation, and our laws have been influenced by Christianity. There are other places in the world where Islam is the rule of the land, where you can your way. But this place is Christian, so respect the majority and live by our rules.

While the above does make sense, his argument is far from ideal, and does not accomplish much, save for pandering to public sentiment. The reason I believe that Sharia law should not be put in place is NOT because the UK is/has been a Christian nation, but because religion should have no place in government at all. The minute you say that followers of religion A will be guided by so-and-so laws, and religion B by others, you are setting yourself up for very blurry legislation. These religious laws, whether derived from the Bible or the Quran, were written 2000 or more years ago under drastically different circumstances, and should have no place in modern day society, least of all, the government. Now that is the argument that should be used, not ‘We derived our rules from the bible, and we form 90% of this nation, so tough luck, but you need to suck it up, wiseguys!’.

One only has to look at the dozens of new religions popping up in the US and around the world every year to see where this could be going. Followers of organizations like Scientology that parade as religions, which we discussed before cannot be given one set of rules because their founder Ron Hubbard wrote a book with some set of rules that he thought apt at the time. How can we be governed by laws that are written by these people, merely because they have a huge following?

I do know that the UK is not explicitly a secular country, and hence these arguments like the writer I linked to, can fly where he comes from. It only brings me to admire the creators of the Indian and American constitutions a whole lot more, who explicitly call for separation of church and state. Though both these countries are far from ideal in their implementation, and politics is very badly skewed towards religions, at least we have our goals right.

To sum up this post, no, no religion should ever guide the law of the land, whether Christian, or Sharia, or Hindu. And no, nothing good can ever come out of a ” don’t-like it? then-get-out ” attitude either. The muslims are there to stay, so impress upon them the need for one rule for everyone, if you ever want to make any progress with the communal tensions.

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January 14, 2008

Who are you politically ?

Filed under: Current events,Politics — Randomizer @ 2:33 am

A year ago, I’d taken a ‘political affiliation’ quiz and found out that I was more ‘Centrist’ than left-leaning or right-leaning. This came as a surprise as I’d always thought I was left-leaning – I guess I assumed that since I hated the policies of the Bush administration, and Bush was a Republican, I should therefore be pro-Democrat.

I have lately been addicted to the American election, a sad irony since I do not have the right to vote in this country – and do not have the slightest interest in Indian politics, where I *do* have the right to vote :( . Anyway, I have watched all the debates so far – have closely followed the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, and have found a clear favorite…. and guess what, he’s Republican.

Ron Paul, so far an underdog in the Republican camp – and as out of place there as an ipod in the jurassic era, is a man very clear about his policies, and broad-minded enough to step away from the politics of fear and do the one thing that is badly needed for this country – to save the economy that’s likely heading into recession this year. Watch this youtube video here, where the host (from conservative Fox News) mocks him by asking him at a debate ‘Let’s talk about electability … do you (looking at Ron Paul) have any, sir?’. As the audience laughs away at this man, he comes away with a brilliant response …

(Do watch the whole video)

What I realized after watching tons of these debates is that we tend to ‘stereotype’ politicians based on the party they come from. Most of the time, our assumptions of their policies are dead on – but then, you have Ron Paul, and your definition of a Republican just goes up in smoke.

Ron Paul openly blames his country for terrorism, saying that ‘we attack their countries first, and it is our flawed foreign policy that is generating this hatred’ – a position that others refuse to admit. He is anti-war, pro-life and pro-civil liberties. He strongly puts forward his belief that America should go back to having a foreign policy of ‘non-intervention’. He is mocked by his opponents on the stage at every debate, but he has a fan following now that is reaching cult-like status. He has a tremendous internet presence, constantly bagging the ‘Most Viewed Video’ on YouTube, whenever a debate is over, and he has a record for the most campaign contributions on a single day from internet donors. People are listening to him, and they are liking what they hear.

But he will not get anywhere close to winning the Republican nomination, and there goes probably the most eligible candidate from the race.

He is described as a Libertarian – i.e. one who promotes individual freedom and small governments. The reason I liked him the most became clear to me today when I took the political affiliation quiz – Please go ahead and take the quiz too. I realized I was Libertarian too, and the analysis of my quiz showed the following result:

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Libertarianism taken to the extreme (as shown by the diagram above) is the support for Anarchy, and I am actually quite surprised to see myself that close to it… or maybe the diagram is misleading. I hope you take the quiz and find out more about yourself and your position. Whether you are involved in this election or not does not matter – knowing where you are on the political scale is according to me, as important a definition of who you are as the nation you come from.

Do let me know !

January 9, 2008

Of monkeys and cricket

Filed under: Controversial,Current events,Opinion — Randomizer @ 3:20 am

While Indians are fuming at what’s happening in Australia, here’s a real funny article in the Australian news, loaded with sarcasm and humor, about what sledges are acceptable against the Aussies :) . At international controversies like these, I absolutely cannot resist visiting the web-sites of the countries involved to see what the local ‘feel’ is about the issue. At most times, you end up surprised, and I encourage all of you to do the same.

I expected that the Aussies would be rallying behind their team, but it seems like a good number of journalists, editorials and surveys show that they want Ricky Ponting out, as he’s an embarrassment to the national side, and have perverted the good spirit of the game. I find such articles reassuring, and it is a great way to avoid painting the whole nation with a broad brush as ‘arrogant’ or ‘supremacist’ or whatever.

As pointed out sarcastically by the article I linked to, this double standard about insults on the field is ridiculous. Who is to decide which insult is worse than the other ? Do they have a scorecard weighing each type of insult against each other ?

About the juicy question of whether the word was uttered or not – I will have to go with the Affirmative ….. now before questioning my patriotism, hear me out ! :)

(1) After being continually sledged by the Aussies, I think it is easy to get a response like ‘monkey’ from an Indian player under pressure and under a barrage of insults. If anything, it’s a mellow response – since most often, ‘monkey’ has no racial connotations in Indian speech, and is equivalent to saying ‘you donkey’ …

(2) Frankly, I really don’t think Symonds and the others would just make something like that up. True, the Aussies are bad sportsmen, but going that far as to lying to a tribunal about a word that was never uttered ? That’s too much, even for as unsportsmanlike a team as the Aussies. One may argue that this is equivalent to a false appeal to an umpire, but count the number of false appeals in a game vs. the official complaints made to a match referee, and you’ll see the odds stacked against Harbhajan.

(3) Tendulkar’s evidence, or lack of it – Logically speaking, Tendulkar *not* hearing Harbhajan say it is not AS compelling a form of evidence as witnesses who *have* heard it. It could simply mean Sachin was out of ear-shot – that is very probable, isn’t it?

I must re-iterate here, that even if he did say it, I do believe the suspension was harsh, and that this was probably the most hypocritical calling out of a player by a team in cricketing history! All things said, I do believe the ‘monkey’ word was uttered – in what way he meant it, or what the Aussies did before that to bring him to say it, are according to me, the only things in question.

I will of course, be glad if I’m wrong about this – and ‘Bhajji‘ turns out to be 100% innocent.

December 27, 2007

And Bhutto’s gone…

Filed under: Current events,Politics — Randomizer @ 2:29 pm

I can hardly believe it, but a face and a name we have grown up hearing on the news is now officially no more. Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated.

It’s always tragic for a leader to go out like this, losing not by electoral defeat, or by a fallacy in one’s own policy, but by a person/organization that hated her so much they were ready to die along with her in a suicide attack. Though I know very less of her past, and the supposed skeletons in her closet, she has always been at the forefront of Pakistani politics – and I admire this woman who went against all odds to end up leading a conservative muslim nation. More recently, she was the last glimmer of hope against the blatantly dictatorial General Musharraf.

What will become of Pakistan in the next few months? Musharraf will stay in power, obviously – if he lives to see that day, that is. I don’t see Nawaz Sharif instantly winning Bhutto’s ex-supporters too soon, and with the state entirely in his control, Musharraf will sweep whatever is left of this excuse of an election. Some way or the other, Musharraf is going to stay.

With Bhutto gone, so goes a hope for a meaningful democracy and a hope for change. She might have been a flawed politician, but the last few months of her brave resistance to dictatorship will martyr her through history. A long discussion on this is on Sepia Mutiny, here.

R.I.P. Benazir Bhutto.

December 18, 2007

The arrival of a rival – it’s Google again (yawn)

Filed under: Current events,Opinion — Randomizer @ 3:38 am

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In what’s becoming old news real fast these days, Google steps up as a competitor yet again – this time to the collaborative encyclopedia that’s been around for about a decade now – Wikipedia. Google recently announced its latest project, the information sharing tool called ‘Knol’, where rather than anonymous posting/editing, authors with their actual names will be contributing to the information on the site, and get paid a share of the ad-revenue as well.

Why this is a good thing

  • Without a doubt, this is a recipe for great content – good peer reviews, knowledgeable authors, and consistency in the flow of the article, as opposed to Wikipedia’s articles that are updated so many times by so many people that it often reads more like a series of unrelated facts than an organized article with a central theme.
  • Wikipedia can never be quoted anywhere, just because of the nature of its content – but I’m pretty sure that if leaders in the field start contributing, Google’s ‘knols’ (pages of information) can be quoted with a considerable amount of confidence.

…for Google

  • Like most blogs have mentioned, this makes great business sense for the company as well, as the free Wikipedia consistently owns some of the top spots in search listings for any major topic. Getting their own ads to sell by competing with the Wikipedia entries for the top spots is an excellent idea.
  • As this article also cleverly points out, the smaller players who want to get noticed on the internet will find it pretty hard getting up there – and will be forced to ‘buy’ their way to the top, which is again profitable to Google..

Why I’m not terribly excited 

While all is fair in business, and I do believe that this is better for the world’s information in the long run, I do cringe at the thought of having a search term I enter returning me a page full of Google’s information at some point in say 2 or 3 years. I do of course believe that they will not tamper with their search results, but it still isn’t a very comforting thought – that the internet which was once all about anyone getting fame, any blog article coming up on the top, being replaced by answers from repositories.

Some more reasons …

  • Wikipedia was what the world built, together. Anyone, anywhere – it was information sharing with no personal recognition, in it’s purest form. Knowledge was contributed for the sole purpose of contributing to knowledge. Knol will however be, knowledge for fame, knowledge for recognition, or knowledge for money – sort of like a perversion of the innocent concept of knowledge sharing.
  • Many technical questions arise – how will the page rank for these Knols be calculated ? Will people go to Wikipedia, flood it with links to their Knols, so that they end up with a higher page rank and eventually, more money ?
  • Won’t people rush to make the first Knols – on the Transformers, on Sex, and Britney Spears?
  • What about plagiarism – who will stop research papers from being copied? Google and the author can easily earn money off plagiarized articles – while the real authors are faced with going against the machine on their own.
  • Who decides who is an ‘authorized editor’ on a subject, anyway?
  • Google seemed like an ‘independent judge’ on the world’s content… much like a match referee in a soccer game of billions of players. But what happens when the match referee’s own brothers are out there on the field, playing, and fighting it out with the others? Doesn’t the impartiality of the referee come into question – will the spectators buy it when the match referee awards his brothers free kicks? Even if those players are awesome anyway?

These questions make me a little wary of the Google move. When they competed with the big guys and won, they had the world behind them. This time though, I’d think people will side with Wikipedia, because this time, Google is ‘the man’.

I’ll end by letting you have a glimpse at the future – Google already has the world’s blogs, the world’s videos, the world’s mail, and of course, the biggest thing, the world’s search engine – once they have the search results too, they will own the internet in every sense of the word … and that, is exactly what the success of this project will accomplish.

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