Realm Of Randomness

February 19, 2008

Why we end up caring

Filed under: America,India,Opinion,Politics — Randomizer @ 2:27 am


(Indian Parliament, src: Wikipedia Commons)

A long time ago back in high school, when I was probably in my 9th or 10th grade, we had an essay writing competition on ’50 years of Indian independence’, which I took part in. Having been abroad for a lot of my childhood, I did not harbor as much patriotism for my country back then as most of my friends, and was often very critical of India, often annoyingly so. Anyway, I remember writing in that essay that the Indian government really meant nothing to me, and that I felt no patriotism towards a country that was corrupt and sustained societies filled with stone-age customs like the caste system and dowry. 50 years since gaining independence, I argued, we have nothing much to be proud of.

To say the least, my essay was controversial :-P and I really thought that I would be summoned by the vice principal… in fact, my English teacher even told me that this very summoning was going to happen pretty soon. Word went out far and wide and I was asked about it by a friend in church that Sunday (who wasn’t even studying in my school anymore, but heard of it through his sister’s friend!). There were thinly veiled comments at me all through that week during English class, and I was quite nervous about the whole thing, quite frankly.

Luckily for me, nothing much happened and the incident was slowly forgotten by everyone… whew!

The reason I remembered this a few days ago was because one of my good friends from school who recently saw this site was shocked that I was following politics so closely… You see, I have always been quite apathetic towards politics, and to me, it was always a dirty ‘word’ , and a dirty ‘world’ as well. I blame Indian politicians for this, for the crores worth of scandals they were involved in at the time made me hate the system so much that I was just left with nothing more than apathy for my country.

It is true that American politics is relatively ‘cleaner’ than Indian politics, but in concept, both are much the same. It is still ‘politics as usual’. If Indians have bribes, the Americans have lobbies. If Indians are bogged down by caste politics, the Americans are bogged down by race politics. So what has really changed, and why have I stopped ‘not giving a damn’ about politics any more? Some might say it’s all a part of growing up, but that is actually a very broad answer… there is something a lot more specific than that. Well, the answer is simple:

It lies in another dirty word, called Taxes.

When we were back in school, it was ‘them’ against ‘us’. But now that we are earning, it is ‘them with our money‘ against ‘us’. Reading the Fountainhead has all the more increased my awareness of what is really going on, and seeing things from an individualistic point of view, I am forced to ask myself – what do I gain by giving a portion of my wealth to society through taxes? I will get back to this at the very end.

Universal health care is a system where the government helps reduce the costs of health care… those of you in the United States will know how exorbitantly priced a visit to a doctor is, or the cost of a simple X-ray or test. The following is a diagram of countries attempting Universal Health Care. Please enlarge this and spend at least 2 minutes looking at the countries and the description on the bottom-left corner of the image before you continue:


(src: Wikipedia commons)

If the above diagram is to be believed, and I hope it is, for the editors would have surely been careful on such an important topic, then there are two very interesting observations to be made:

  • The US is the only developed country with no universal health care in place
  • Iraq and Afghanistan have universal health care paid for by the US war budget

So what does this mean to every person currently employed in the United States, myself included? It simply means that I will:

  • Pay for the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Pay for the injuries of the Iraqi and Afghani civilians
  • but I will be left fending for myself if I get hurt here in the USA !



And that, my friends, is why I follow politics… to be aware of how my money is being spent – not my country’s money, not my government’s money, not my parents’ money – but mine. To know who is out there to rip me off, and who is out there with policies that benefit me and the people I care about. It really can’t get any more selfish than that – to hope that the money you worked so hard to earn benefits you in the best way possible. After all, we expect ‘value for money’ in every product we buy and every service we pay for – There is no reason that we should expect any less from our government.

[ Please read the amazing collection of ‘Where your taxes go‘ articles by Amit Verma from the India Uncut blog to see how else your money is being spent, if you are in India. This one was particularly alarming ]


February 8, 2008

Right answer, wrong argument

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



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.

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 18, 2007

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

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


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.

December 10, 2007

The Fountainhead

Filed under: Book,Opinion,Philosophy,Review — Randomizer @ 2:49 am

[Disclaimer: The following is a discussion on Ayn Rand’s book, the Fountainhead. For those who haven’t read it, and intend to, please come back once you have! ]


So, finally, after years and years of being on my I-must-read-this-book-at-some-point-in-life list, I completed it, though admittedly over a period of 2 months of sporadic reading. While some of the pages at the half-point were a serious drag, I managed to get through them and was glad that I didn’t give up on it mid way. I totally enjoyed the second half of the book.

Critiquing this book, of course, is no easy task – for simply put, it was a literary masterpiece. Ayn Rand is a genius with words. Writing 700 pages worth of words, where every other sentence needed at least a moment or two to completely comprehend what was being spoken about, was surely an amazing feat, and I was completely bowled over by her writing – it was like watching an artist at work.

Some quotes I loved from the book

Gail Wynand, driving in his car and thinking to himself about how people his age (mid 50’s) are desperately searching for meaning in their life, but he is fully aware of what that is to him:

I am Gail Wynand, the man who has committed every crime except the foremost one: that of ascribing futility to the wonderful fact of existence and seeking justification beyond myself. This is my pride: that now, thinking of the end, I do not cry like all men of my age: but what was the use and the meaning? I was the use and meaning, I , Gail Wynand. That I lived and that I acted.

Gail Wynand again, in conversation with Dominique on their yacht, contemplating how ‘humbled’ they should feel looking at the vast, endless ocean around them..

Dominique: You’ve never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean.

Gail: Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I ? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man’s magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space.

Finally, nearing the conclusion of the book, a memorable line

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

More memorable quotes from the fountainhead are available here and here.

My critique

Okay. So I expected The Fountainhead to be this book that would change me completely…. but to me, this book was more like poetry. I just kept going ‘wow’ at all her flowery prose, and the philosophy and content of her writing didn’t have as much of an impact as it probably would have had if I’d read this at 17 . Some things in the book I really didn’t like:

  • Roark had no competition: Roark was sold to the reader for free, like a mother spoon-feeding her baby. He was given great firm looks, and he was the best architect by far. Who was Howard’s competition? Was it Peter Keating – who right from page one is described as a good-for-nothing poser of an architect? Was it Elsworth Toohey, who is pure evil, throughout? Gail Wynand came close, but he is intimidated by even the sight of Roark, right from the first time they meet! Ayn Rand did *not* convince me that Howard Roark achieved success because of his individualism, and NOT his obvious expertise over everyone else in the realm of architecture. Had there been another character who was equally as good an architect , but who was not as individualistic, it would have given the reader at least the choice of deciding his/her preference. In this book, Peter Keating was not competition enough to convince me that individualism triumphed.
  • Roark did not seem real: For the first half of the book, Roark was described as someone whose mere sight made people around him feel humbled… like he was the embodiment of human existence – a life form in its purest state – like a walking, spiritual soul. Rand’s physical description of Roark – orange hair and so on – did not fit the meta-physical aura in which he is described throughout the book, and I found it extremely hard to visualize him when reading the book.
  • Dominique Francon was an alien, much like Roark. So in the first half of the book, she sacrifices herself to the ‘lowest man for the lowest possible motive’ by marrying Peter Keating … I cannot imagine any woman doing this – this simply wasn’t a woman. Nor can I imagine such a woman going on to marry Gail Wynand, either… when she is totally in love with Roark, right from day one. She becomes a lot more ‘human’ only towards the end. I totally disliked this character in the first half of the book, as I simply couldn’t imagine a real-life version of her.
  • Individualism for the cream of the crop: Howard Roark could afford sitting on his high horse throughout the book because of one simple fact – he was the best architect in New York, and his creations were described to be so magnificent that people wanted to destroy it just because such an amazing thing did not deserve to be seen by mere mortal men. Well, to this, all I say is – if you are the best anyway, you can afford to have this ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. Anything short of the best – and you will have an ending much, much different from that of Roark. There is no mention anywhere in the book, of the fate of the layman who is individualistic.
  • Not a word on compassion: So Altruism takes a beating in this book, and this is frankly one of the concepts that the author has definitely made me question. Unfortunately, the face of altruism in this book, is the Evil Elsworth Toohey, who is merely trying to feed altruism to the masses so he can ‘rule the world’ when everyone buys his socialistic agenda. But what of the compassion of man for his fellow man? Charity is what takes care of the world’s orphans, the old, and the crippled. This unnecessary attack on charity was a turnoff from an otherwise splendid book.

Overall, it was a fantastic read, and at an age like 1943, when these concepts were not mainstream, it was an amazing feat to have thought these thoughts and written them with such skill. The Fountainhead is definitely a tribute to the spirit of man, and it is a book I shall read again at some point in the future.

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