Fake News Or Ground Truth? Alice And The Queen of Hearts

If an analysis of computing texts were to be done, I am willing to bet that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ would rank at the top (or near the top)  of the list of most highly quoted books by computer scientists  (think Chapter beginnings  or fancy quotations below titles etc, or any place where us computer guys want to show that we too are sophisticated and have read a bit of literature). As a result of the debate over “Fake News” and related issues, this obsession with “Alice in Wonderland” seems ominously prophetic. This is because many computer scientists (the entire field to some degree) now find themselves to be in the roles of both the bewildered Alice, and the dangerous Queen of Hearts, in the wonderland that is sociopolitical life. This is unfortunate because human affairs in general and our-right-to-diverse-news in particular, are matters too sensitive to be left either to the clueless Alice who understands very little about this wonderland, or to the ruthless Queen of Hearts, who would want to rule it with an iron-fist. So without further ado, first:

Alice the Clueless Computer Scientist

Continue reading Fake News Or Ground Truth? Alice And The Queen of Hearts

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Viva Castro, the Michelangelo of revolutionaries!

The towering personality of the 20th century has passed away. His achievements and those of Cuba under him are monumental. Forget the fact that he led the charge against the brutal imperial power in the hemisphere. Forget how he and the country survived the ruthless embargo imposed by their monstrous neighbor and not only built an enviable medical and educational system, but also exported the same to other countries including at grave times of natural calamities. Be it Pakistan or Haiti, Cuban doctors would often be the first to arrive and the last ones to leave. This last fact is seldom reported in the Western media of course.  Continue reading Viva Castro, the Michelangelo of revolutionaries!

Father Berrigan: For the Children and the Bread

Father Dan Berrigan died yesterday (April 30, 2016). He was one of the leading lights of the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s. Father Berrigan continued his activism till the last days of his life, in recent years protesting against the latest imperialist ventures including the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

During his long struggle, he was imprisoned several times. He rose to international prominence when he, together with fellow activists, burnt the draft files of 378 people who would have been forced to join the army and kill innocent Vietnamese. For this and other acts of resistance, he was also featured on the cover of the Time Magazine in 1971.

Along-with Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, Berrigan was also an early critic of Israel. All the way back in 1973, when there were only a handful of prominent western critics of Israel, Father Berrigan said, “[It was a tragedy that] in place of Jewish prophetic vision, Israel should launch an Orwellian nightmare of double talk, racism, fifth-rate sociological jargon, aimed at proving its racial superiority to the people it has crushed’.

Finally, it is important to note that Father Berrigan, a believer in God,  took part in efforts aimed at saving the lives of millions of people, and making the world a better place, together with his non-religious friends such as Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Both parties were humble enough to put aside inconsequential personal differences to fight for a bigger cause. If only some new-atheists could learn from this, rather than self-indulgently preening their so-called ‘higher intelligence and knowledge’.

Lastly, I want to share one of my all time favorite poems by Father Berrigan. In my view, this poem is right up there with the very best of left, protest poetry, in the same league as the best poems by Pablo Neruda, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi.

Some

Some stood up once
and sat down.
Some walked a mile
and walked away.
Some stood up twice
then sat down.
I’ve had it, they said

Some walked two miles
then walked away.
It’s too much, they cried

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools
They were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked
They walked the earth
They walked the waters
They walked the air.

Why do you stand
they were asked, and
Why do you walk?

Because of the children, they said, and
Because of the heart, and
Because of the bread.
Because
The cause
Is the heart’s beat
And the children born
And the risen bread.

In his last years, with the imperialist machine killing millions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and going crazy in its blind power circus, father Berrigan confessed to having as little hope from the system as at any point in his long life. One can only imagine what he must have felt recently on seeing demagogues like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on the one hand, and war-loving hawk like Hilary Clinton on the other, squabbling for the chance to shape our future according to their ugly visions.

However, the fact is that despite all the ugliness and apparent hopelessness, Father Berrigan was among those “some” who walked the road to the very end, and he did it for the children, the heart and the bread. May his spirit inspire some others.

 

Patrice Lumumba-Never to forgive, never to forget

The Jewish culture has this very powerful saying, which many Jews especially repeat on a day called the holocaust memorial day: Never to forgive, never to forget. On face value, this statement might seem a bit extreme, especially the “never to forgive” part. Continue reading Patrice Lumumba-Never to forgive, never to forget

Paris Attacks: Collective Moral Blindness Spells Collective Doom

What happened in Paris was heart-wrenching and tragic. My first reaction was intense anger at the monstrous perpetrators. Soon after, it was accompanied by an equally intense anger and sense of frustration at the western reactions that had already started coming in. As a Pakistani who has been living in Europe for some time, there was also bitter trepidation in anticipation of much worse reactions that would inevitably come in (as they did), surpassing the hypocritical reactions to the gruesome Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Continue reading Paris Attacks: Collective Moral Blindness Spells Collective Doom

Rational Fools

Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, coined the term “Rational Fools” nearly 35 years ago. In his famous paper, Sen criticized the first principle of economics: “Every agent is actuated by only self-interest”. On top of this axiom of rational self-interest lie rational action and rational expectations, leading all the way up to the efficiency of the markets. As mentioned in my earlier post on Galileo, this is basically how science is done: models are devised using abstractions and idealizations. However, if the model turns out to be totally meaningless in explaining the world, then those who stick with such a model are indeed fools, rational fools.

Here is a song that I wrote and animated on such ‘Rational Fools’:

Abdus Salam and Galileo: The separation of science from religion (and philosophy)

Dr Abdus Salam, the late Pakistani particle physicist is the only Muslim physicist till date to have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Dr Salam was rare among modern day scientists in that he was a devout Muslim. While most modern scientists are not concerned with religious matters, Dr Salam found his inspiration for science in religion. Continue reading Abdus Salam and Galileo: The separation of science from religion (and philosophy)