Interesting Excerpts from PDC Languages Panel

…the problem is that you know… the pace of innovation is limited by what people can digest, and you cant force things on them too fast, and so you see… some things happen in generations at some level, and it just cannot be otherwise, because you know… you basically need a certain generation of programmers to retire or die off or whatever before you can introduce radically new ideas, because the stage in people’s lives when they really do something completely different passes at some fairly early stage… atleast from my perspective it is a fairly early stage.

…so, keeping it simple, is easier when you don’t have to deal with a committee, because the common assumption is that you know… two heads are better than one, but what you actually get when you have multiple heads is not their union but the intersection, and so its what they can all agree on and kind of negotiate around and it doesn’t work well unless there is somebody in charge …
So you don’t want that, you want to strictly adhere to a very uniform… whether it is functional… all the really beautiful languages basically take something to their logical conclusion… whether it is logic or functions or objects and they dont … mongrelize – hybridize doesn’t have quite the edge that I was looking for – but it is very hard and necessarily to do that in the real world under real time constraints… because in a lot of ways mongrels are very resilient and getting the pure solutions not to be very brittle and to address all the burning immediate needs of people takes time and the time usually does not exist

The interesting thing is that the actor model is a perfect fit with the object capability model, and again, if you take that seriously you find that you can introduce a particular model of concurrency that has much to recommend it with relatively little conceptual overhead, again because you are still… you are reusing these concepts of isolated things that communicate via message passing, bcause… well, the common thread to all these things, to the modularity, to the security, to the concurrency is… there is no global anything, there is no top level thing that is all knowing, that can synchronize everything, and knows about everything, and has a global namespace and so forth, because this is what actually scales… whether you are doing modularity or concurrency or worried about anything else, because you know there isn’t actually something up there in the universe.. the laws of physics work very well because they are distributed, because there is no shared convenient thing that you can appeal to that will sort it all out and if you program that way it tends to unify a lot of things

— By Gilad Bracha

The full session is available here.

Brilliant analogy

This is perhaps the best introduction to a subject I have seen.

A real-world example of asynchrony

“A waiter’s job is to wait on a table until the patrons have finished their meal.
If you want to serve two tables concurrently, you must hire two waiters.”

From The Visual Basic Team Blog.

Mind-body dichotomy

Just happened to hear this old song that talks of “pure love” and it struck me as a perfect expression of the mind body dichotomy.

Hum ne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehakti khushboo
Haath se chhoo ke ise rishton ka ilzaam na do
Sirf ehsaas hai yeh, rooh se mehsoos karo
Pyar ko pyar hi rehne do, koi naam na do

Film: Khamoshi (1969)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyricist: Gulzar
Music Director: Hemant Kumar

Translation:

I have seen the fragrance of those eyes
Dont accuse my looks of any ties by a touch
This is just a feeling, experience it with your soul
Let love remain love, don’t give it a name.

Old Hindi movie songs were brilliant in terms of lyrics, melody and music. Over the last two decades, with a very few exceptions, they have lost all of that. Over the same time, misplaced idealism has been replaced by dogmatic pragmatism (yes, there is such a thing). Cause and effect?

Revealing language?

The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using that same amount to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.
(Emphasis in original)

This is from a mail I received last week from change.org promoting the Blog Action Day. The chosen topic this year is “Water”. This was one of five facts chosen by the change.org to “highlight the severity of the global water problem”.

If I wanted to present that fact as highlighting a problem, I would put it as:

The average person in the developing world has access to only about 10 gallons of water a day – less than a fifteenth of what the average American uses.

What is the problem here? That the developing world does not have adequate access to water or that America does? Does the choice of language reveal something about the world-view of the organizers?

On Peikoff’s condemnation of McCaskey

The good, therefore, is a species of the true; it is a form of recognizing reality. The evil is a species of the false; it is a form of contradicting reality.

The general principle here is: truth implies as its cause a virtuous mental process; falsehood, beyond a certain point, implies a process of vice.

— Leonard Peikoff in his essay Fact and Value

From the available evidence on the issue, it seems to me that Dr. Peikoff’s moral condemnation of Dr. McCaskey (which surprised many) is based on the above. McCaskey, given his credentials, is clearly in possession of the relevant historical facts. If he is wrong – and Peikoff believes he is – it is not surprising that Peikoff regards the falsehood of McCaskey’s ideas as implying a process of vice.

I am way out of my depth in the issue at stake here – a theory of induction and the history of science – and cannot decide who is right and who is wrong.

That aside, the crucial question that this issue raises is: How should the ARI handle disagreement between its members on philosophical issues that do not come under the scope of Objectivism? It would seem that such disagreements should be tolerated given that the mission of the ARI is to promote Objectivism. But, given the nature of objectivism – the fact that objectivism demands (and rightly so) moral judgement of ideas – it is not realistic to expect people to work with those whom they morally condemn. Over time, as Objectivist intellectuals work on issues that Rand did not address, such disagreements are bound to increase. In the long term, this means that there can be no single organization that lays claim to Rand’s ideas. This is not something to regret.

Waiting for Godot

I found a reference to this play in some blog post I was reading, and realizing that I did not know what this famous play was about, decided to read it. The text can be found here. I gave up halfway through the first act. I wonder what perversion of concepts allows anyone to call this art.

According to Wikipedia, there are various interpretations of this “play”. Apparantly, there is a whole body of “intellectuals” in the humanities, who derive their intellectual status from assigning interpretations to what I can only describe as meaningless gibberish.

A change in outlook?

In his latest post, refering to the rebranding of terrorism as man-caused disasters Aristotle The Geek writes

On 9/11/01, some man-caused-disaster-causing-men caused a man-caused disaster

It took me a couple of seconds to parse that, but then I burst out laughing. An year back, I don’t think I would have found it so funny. I would have been more indignant that people in charge of security are busy inventing euphemisms to avoid offending the terrorists.

I am not quite sure what this change means or even whether it is positive or negative. Something to ponder over.

Justice

In comments on a previous post on discrimination against Muslims in Mumbai, Krishnamurthy asks

…suppose you have a “weak” government, which does not run schools, provide health care, etc.

What’s to prevent the “majority”– “those in power” — from denying education and other resources to the “minority”?

The concern is that a section of people who possess “power” – political and/or economic – engage in irrational discriminatory behavior to the detriment of certain other sections of people. The Indian caste system is a case in point. The issue is whether this concern should be addressed by political measures such as laws against discrimination, affirmative action, reservations etc.

It is clear that political measures against irrational discrimination necessarily infringe on the freedom of the individual to act according to his own judgement and therefore are unjust. On the other hand, the discrimination is also clearly unjust. This is seemingly a moral dilemma. This dilemma must be resolved before one can evaluate the practicality of political measures.

The first step in resolving the dilemma is to distinguish the concept of justice from the concept of fairness.

Fairness (in its most plausible form) is the idea that people are entitled to benefits that are in line with their capabilities – commonly referred to as equality of opportunity. Consider the question: Is it fair that some people are born rich and some are born poor? If it is unfair, who is responsible for it? Next consider the question: Is it fair that some people are tall and some are short? If it is unfair, who is responsible for it? It should now be clear that whether one is born rich or poor, tall or short is a metaphysical fact. It is neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong, neither fair nor unfair. It simply is. Metaphysical facts are not subject to normative judgement. A person’s genetic makeup, his family, his attributes are part of his identity. Different people will necessarily have different identities. To hold that this is unfair is absurd. The concept of fairness has no basis in reality.

What about justice? What facts of reality is the concept of justice based on?

What fact of reality gave rise to the concept “justice”? The fact that man must draw conclusions about the things, people and events around him, i.e., must judge and evaluate them.


Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification—that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly,…

                  — Ayn Rand

The concept of justice arises from the individual’s need to judge people. Justice pertains to the mental process by which an individual judges others. A mental process cannot be forced. The injustice in discrimination lies in the fact that the person making judgements includes considerations that are not relevant to the judgement. The only way to correct this injustice is to make him realize the error in his judgement. The appropriate tool for this is arguement and persuasion, not coercion. Judgement cannot be forced. When one attempts to correct the injustice in discrimination by coercive measures, one is severing the concept of justice from the facts that give rise to it. The motivation for making good judgements is to be able to act on them. Forcing a man to act against the judgement of his mind is the worst imaginable way of improving his judgement. One cannot achieve justice by destroying the need for it. Man must be left free to act on his own judgement as long as he allows others to do so.

The potential for injustice is inherent in the fact that man is neither infallible nor omniscient. As such his judgements will not always be right. It is not possible to eliminate injustice. One can try to reduce its consequences when it is in one’s own interest to do so. That is what proper charity should be about. This is the resolution to the dilemma. As long as the injustice in question does not involve coercion, such injustice cannot be criminalized. It should be worked around by charity.

Now that the moral questions are resolved, one can address the practicality of political measures against discrimination. As the history of caste based reservations in India shows, these reservations do not work. 50 years after they were instituted, political parties continue to call for increasing their scope. If there could be a plainer indication that they do not work, I don’t see what it might be. What does work is just plain self-interest and appropriate charity. Those who see the injustice of discrimination stand to benefit. They get to work with a larger pool of deserving people. Those who engage in discrimination lose out. The free market at work. It takes its time – changing people’s ideas always does – but it is the only thing that works.

As with any idea, one of the most effective ways of determining its truth is to examine all of its logical implications. If it can be beneficial to abolish discrimination in education and employment decisions, why stop there? Why not go further and abolish discrimination in friendships? Why not abolish discrimination in marriage? Surely these would have a greater effect? Most people would shudder at this suggestion. Yet this is just one of the implications of the same idea. This absurd suggestion only makes plain what is a little more difficult to see when one is merely looking at economic effects. Economic judgement cannot be forced just as personal judgement cannot be forced. There is no such thing as forced justice.

Macaulay’s speech in the House of Commons in 1833

I came upon this speech delivered by Thomas Macaulay in the House of Commons in 1833 via this post on Sanjeev Sabhlok’s blog. I have only read the extract in Sabhlok’s blog so far. It is interesting enough that I will read the whole thing and more about the history of the British Empire when I find time. Some excerpts follow:

“We come then to the great question. Is it desirable to retain the Company as an organ of government for India?

“In India you cannot have representative institutions. Of all the innumerable speculators who have offered their suggestions on Indian politics, not a single one, as far as I know, however democratical his opinions may be, has ever maintained the possibility of giving, at the present time, such institutions to India. One gentleman, extremely well acquainted with the affairs of our Eastern Empire … was examined on this point. That gentleman … a very bold and uncompromising politician … has written strongly, far too strongly I think, in favour of pure democracy. He has gone so far as to maintain that no nation which has not a representative legislature, chosen by universal suffrage, enjoys security against oppression. But when he was asked before the Committee of last year, whether he thought representative government practicable in India, his answer was, “utterly out of the question.”

 “This, then, is the state in which we are. We have to frame a good government for a country into which, by universal acknowledgment, we cannot introduce those institutions which all our habits, which all the reasonings of European philosophers, which all the history of our own part of the world would lead us to consider as the one great security for good government. We have to engraft on despotism those blessings which are the natural fruits of liberty. In these circumstances, Sir, it behoves us to be cautious, even to the verge of timidity. The light of political science and of history are withdrawn: we are walking in darkness: we do not distinctly see whither we are going. It is the wisdom of a man, so situated, to feel his way, and not to plant his foot till he is well assured that the ground before him is firm.”

Do I call the government of India a perfect government? Very far from it. No nation can be perfectly well governed till it is competent to govern itself. I compare the Indian government with other governments of the same class, with despotisms, with military despotisms, with foreign military despotisms; and I find none that approaches it in excellence. I compare it with the government of the Roman provinces, with the government of the Spanish colonies; and I am proud of my country and my age.

“It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.

“It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history. To have found a great people sunk in the lowest depths of slavery and superstition, to have so ruled them as to have made them desirous and capable of all the privileges of citizens, would indeed be a title to glory all our own.

“The sceptre may pass away from us. But there are triumphs which are followed by no reverse. There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws.

It was only as I read this that I realized that in all the history taught in school, this period of the empire was never covered – atleast as far as I can remember. Hastings and Clive – whom Macaulay condemns as corrupt – were covered in school history but Elphinstone and Munro – whom Macaulay calls spotless – were not. School history as it was taught jumps from Clive and Hastings in the 1770s to Dalhousie and the “First war of Independence” in the 1850s to the 1920s and beyond. And of course it is completely silent on what happened after 1947.

Independence

Ishaan: Aaj tak koi bhi faisla mera apna nahin tha. Kuch faisle mujhe virasat mein mile. Kuch kartavya ke naam pe liye gaye. Aur baki mere mahol ne kar diye. Aaj tak koi bhi faisla sahi ya galat ka farak dekh ke nahin kiya gaya. Mere mahol ne jo mujhe diya main leta gaya, jo mujhse maanga main deta gaya. Suman, tumse milne ke baad mujhe ehsaas hua ki is daayre ke bahar bhi kuch hai.

Suman: Ishaan, tumhare saamne do hi raaste hain. Sachai chupao, ek khuni ko azaad phirne do aur apne dost se wafadaar raho. Ya sach ka saath do. Sachai ko saamne la kar us khuni ko uski saza dilao. Aur insaniyat ke naate jo hamaara farz banta hai, use poora karo. Ishaan, mere liye ye farz, apne kisi bhi niji faisle ya shapath se bahut bada hai.

— From the Hindi movie Thakshak by Govind Nihalani

Translation:

Ishaan: “Not a single decision so far has been mine. Some decisions, I inherited. Some were made in the name of duty. And the rest were made by my circumstances. Not a single decision was made by considering whether it was right or wrong. Whatever my circumstances gave me, I accepted. Whatever they demanded from me, I submitted. Suman, after meeting you, I realized that there is something beyond this.”

Suman: “Ishaan, you have only two roads ahead of you. Hide the truth, let a murderer roam free, and remain loyal to your friend. Or, support the truth. Bring the truth into the open and punish that murderer. And fulfil the duty that is ours through our humanity. Ishaan, for me this duty is much bigger than any personal decision or promise.”

This is one of the very rare moments when – briefly and inconsistently, in a raw, sense of life form – Hindi Cinema comes close to a proper understanding of morality. And then immediately afterwards it returns to the tired old cliches of duty to humanity and sacrifice of personal values.

Interesting observations from my attempt at translation.

“Sach ka saath do” : “Support the truth”. That’s the best I can think of. Not something one says in English.

Is there a word in Hindi/Urdu that means obligation as against duty. “Kartavya” and “farz” both mean duty. Or is the difference not expressible in Hindi?

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