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Is England overcompensating for its own racist history?

2011 has not been a great year for football and its inglorious relationship with racism. Despite the Kick it Out campaign and the vast numbers of footballers of non-white European heritage playing the game, racism continues to raise its ugly head. We have seen this year the Suarez issue, the Terry’s abuse of Anton Ferdinand, Eboué being pelted with missiles, Zenit St. Petersburg fans waving a banana at Roberto Carlos, and Sepp Blatter’s rather unfortunate comments, which paint the game in a less-than-flattering light.

Suarez was hit with a an 8-match ban and a GBP40k fine by the English FA for calling Evra a “negrito” repeatedly during a match. Whether or not any malice was intended I will not touch upon, I’ll point you to Linguistrix for that. The punishment is exemplary not for the player (who earns GBP70k a week and will continue to get paid for the duration of the ban), but for the Liverpool, who will lose their most prolific striker for almost two months. The FA is clearly sending out a message to clubs playing under its banner: cut out racism or face the consequences.

John Terry, on the other hand, once again showed what an odious man he is by calling Ferdinand a “black c**t”. There’s no denying here that malice was intended which was based upon the player’s racial heritage. It didn’t surprise me that England captain had far more people defending him than Suarez… the British media can be notoriously fickle. It did come as a surprise and a breath of fresh air, then, when the Crown Prosecution Service announced its intention to press criminal charges.

Ex-Arsenal and current Galatasaray player Emmanuel Eboué was pelted with assorted objects by Besiktas fans in a match last month. The conclusion that many people in England (judging from the reactions on various blogs and comments sections) drew upon hearing this is that the abuse must’ve been  racially motivated. For a league with a patchy history with the racism issue that certainly seemed the case at first glance. However, it wasn’t so, and Eboué was simply facing the consequences for being the colourful (pun fully intended) person he is. In fact, Besiktas fans even showed solidarity with Samuel Eto’o in 2006 after he was treated to monkey chants by Zaragoza fans. This is not to say that Besiktas shouldn’t be punished for failing to control their fans, but credit must be given where it’s due.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is notoriously susceptible to foot-in-mouth disease, committed yet another faux pas when he said that racism on the pitch must be forgiven with a handshake. Deplorable though his comments may be, it is interesting to note that much of the outrage at his comments came from England.

England seems to be at the forefront of the fight against racism at the moment. Few other Football Associations are showing any signs of contributing towards the fight. Zenit (whose fans have been involved in several racism incidents) were fined the grand sum of approx. GBP 6,000 for the Carlos incident. Zaragoza were fined 9,000 euros for Eto’o.

Why then, does the English establishment feel the need to set an example?

Racism finds its roots in post-Industrial Revolution imperialism. White Europeans conquered practically the whole world and subjugated the natives who were almost always of a different colour. It thus created the general impression that whites must be superior to blacks. Britain was at the forefront of the Imperialist juggernaut. I may be completely wrong about the origins of racism, but examples of racist cruelty towards natives of British colonies abounds.

Is England now trying to compensate for its past? In my opinion, the answer’s a bit more complicated than that. There is no denying that racism is a blot that must be eradicated. England’s attitude is one that must be followed by the world, irrespective of colour, so that we are rid of racism once and for all. The US did it in the 19th century, when half the country realised its horrible mistakes and fought the then bloodiest war in human history to rid itself of the stigma of slavery. The Netherlands, in the post-Apartheid era, has among the highest proportion of coloured inhabitants in Europe, and no history of colour-racism in football (plenty of anti-semitism though). Europe, ashamed of the treatment meted out to Jews by Nazi Germany, gave them back their promised land bang in the middle of Arab territory, to hell with the political fallout. What England is doing now is on the same lines.

There’s nothing like guilt to right a person’s wrongs. This is the premise on which modern prison systems were intended to work – to isolate the prisoner and make him ponder over the consequences of his actions, before putting him back into the world. When he comes out, he should not just live like a good citizen, but actively fight the crime that he was incarcerated for. Maybe other criminals will listen when one of their own preaches against it. It is when this ideal is forgotten that justice and prison systems begin to fail.

England is now going through this phase of self-realisation. If England hadn’t been so hated in the world of football, maybe more countries would sit up and take notice of the shift in attitude. Perhaps one or two will, and we may see this attitude cascade through the rest of football. We may be on the cusp of a global shift in mentality. Full credit to England for its stance, and if the Kick it Out campaign finally does succeed, 2011 will certainly be seen as a turning point in the war against racism.

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Posted by on December 25, 2011 in Football, Philosophy, Racism

 

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God does not play dice. What about weighted dice?

Let me start off by asserting that I am an agnostic. I don’t believe in the existence of a god, but purely because there is (yet) no evidence of the same. All the same, I do not subscribe to the anarchist theory that the universe is pure chaos and that its very existence is an accident born of completely random occurrences. It does seem from the orderly behaviour of planets or galaxies, or even the orderly and precise arrangement of cells in the body that successfully repeats itself with almost every birth, that there may be something pulling the strings. There are several so-called ‘constants’ in the universe – the Gravitational constant and the Hubble constant for starters – the reason for whose existence is still a matter of conjecture. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

This past semester at IITB, I worked on a class project based on the Particle Swarm Optimisation algorithm, which is a stochastic optimisation technique that originated from the theory of Swarm Intelligence (SI). For those unfamiliar with SI, I’ll point you to this excellent article by National Geographic. The basic premise of this theory is that the Collective is brainier than the Individual, perhaps by several orders of magnitude. A swarm of individuals, be it of ants, birds, or even humans, is capable of feats that are well beyond the ken of any single entity of the species. Perhaps the best part about SI simulations is that given a starting point, the swarm organises itself by coordinating with other members of the swarm using a fixed set of rules, and little or no external control is required.

Stochastic methods, on the other hand, are optimisation techniques that make use of random variables to slowly find a global optimum of a given objective function in the search space. The randomness helps ensure that no possibility is left unexplored, and that the optimum achieved is indeed a global optimum. Another benefit is that one need not know how the objective function behaves, just its value at the point under consideration. The randomness, however, is controlled by parameters that help ensure that the optimum is achieved in the least possible time.

I was attempting to simulate a flock of birds in two dimensions using a modified PSO algorithm. This involved plotting the positions of the birds on a 2-D grid at different points of time. As I watched the flock move, its behaviour changing subtly or drastically with small changes in the algorithm or the parameters that governed the randomness of movement, I couldn’t help but wonder – am I playing god?

It’s hard to imagine god working in the traditional sense that he (wlog) looks upon and controls the fate of each and every individual he creates. The argument that most atheists, including myself, use is that god would have to be a supercomputer of Deep Thought proportions and mind-boggling complexity in order to achieve such a level of control.

But what if god were controlling the universe using SI principles? What if, all that god had to do was to provide a starting point to the creation of the Universe by creating a bunch of fundamental particles, and lay down a set of rules for these particles, and the universe organised itself according to how he imagined it? What if, all of his work was done before the Big Bang, and with a dramatic push of the red button and a proclamation of “Let there be light!”, the universe moulded itself to his will?

Obviously even this explanation is not as simplistic as it seems. Fundamental particles would have to interact to form atoms, atoms to form molecules, to organic or inorganic molecular structures. The inorganic molecular structures would interact to form planets, and starts, and then galaxies and the universe. The organic molecular structures would form, well, us (along with trillions of other living creatures). The myriad of social and physical interactions between members of our species would shape the fate of the collective human race, which could, in the future, interact with other sapient creatures to perhaps change the direction of our Universe. Such a “Fractal Intelligence” has been discussed here (sadly with a lot of spiritual mumbo-jumbo). They theorise that there is no god, but rather infinite such levels of swarms.

A different set of rules governs the behaviour of the swarm at each of these levels, or perhaps the same set of basic rules with some dominating over others at different levels. Kinda reminds me of this Abstruse Goose comic. Perhaps we are nothing but a stochastic simulation, moving seemingly at random but still inching towards the objective function god had in mind. Or perhaps there is no objective function, and our purpose will end with the theorised Death of the Universe. Perhaps the only questions we need to ask, and which, indeed, most physicists are asking today, are: “How did we begin?” and “What moves us?”. Maybe once these questions are answered, we can start looking for god.

P.S.: I may be ambivalent towards the existence of god, but am staunchly anti-religious. I do not believe in worshiping such an entity, and that is why I don’t capitalise ‘god’.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Philosophy, Science

 

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Blog Wars Ep. 1: A New Beginning

This is one bandwagon packed tighter than a contortionist’s display case at showtime. One that contains all manner of  creatures, human, otherwise, humans that are an insult to the word creature and creatures that are more human than some. One that is overpopulated by beings dead and so decayed that even maggots don’t find them interesting anymore. Like husks of long-devoured flies trapped in a spider web in that little corner under your desk, you know, the one you don’t ever see, and thus the one you won’t ever bother cleaning. Only this is one hyperactive little spider that spins silk faster than Rumpelstiltskin spins his counterfeit gold, and continues to ensnare adventurous little pests who, whether or not mindful of the fragility of the web and/or WordPress/Blogspot’s Terms of Use, continue to fly to their doom and subsequent obscurity. And yet there are those few interesting beings on this bandwagon, people who can be mildly amusing or even rip-roaring hilarious, or who make (or at least try to make) webcomics that don’t deal with maths or computing, or who share some genuinely interesting, informative stuff, or who actually give a rat’s crap about things that you also give a rat’s crap about, or those who actually make you ponder, and maybe even influence your actions. And this isn’t just one bandwagon, it’s a whole caravan of performers. Yes, the blogworld is one crowded, noisy, and not a little scary, place.

Why jump onto it, you ask? That’s an interesting question, and one that I have been pondering since the notion flickered in my near-comatose mind four hours ago. Well, I’m a narcissistic little biatch who loves the sight of his own words on a screen or a piece of paper. I can also be highly irritating on public social networking thingies like Facebook or Buzz or on Google Groups (yep, I can see some of you smirking in agreement), so figured it’s a good idea to restrict part of that nature to a blog that you can easily choose to ignore or perhaps even subscribe to. Life treating you too good? Boss/professor not getting on your nerves enough? Follow bigcheesix.wordpress.com ! Your extremely irregular dose of irritation on one good-looking electronic page! (note: punching bag/stress balls not included.)

Enough teenage rebelly angsty bullshit, and on to the more serious reasons now. It has now been two years since I’ve entered college. I have participated in a good number of literary activities in these two years, and yet I rarely, if ever, worked on the most important literary skill of all – writing. Starting this blog might be a constructive step towards remedying that, although I still haven’t entirely figured out what my posts will be about. Hopefully, people will read them and pass comments, thus feeding my narcissism, and even if they don’t, it certainly won’t be effort I’d consider wasted. And I’m definitely not doing this to win any blog comp, so you can shove this in a place it doesn’t belong.

That’s all for my first post. More to come when I feel somewhat less lazy than Garfield after lasagna. And certainly far fewer ‘I’s from the next post. Feel free to leave comments, especially what you think about the layout and formatting and stuff. In case you were wondering where the title of this blog comes from, have a look at the video below (although the recorded version’s a lot better than the video, do check it out). Perhaps more on that later.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2010 in Uncategorized