World Champions

I had always imagined what it would be like to win the world cup. After all, I had been supporting teams that had won football world cups earlier. So, I thought I knew. And then yesterday happened.

Watching the match with a few friends on a giant screen, I was being critical of every thing --- the choice of Sreesanth ahead of Ashwin, the field setting, giving Tendulkar and Kohli the ball for more than they were required to bowl. When Yuvraj was adamant about Dhoni going for a review on an LBW appeal, the difficulty of handling players like him was discussed. Consensus was reached that although the aggression in the youngsters had brought in some toughness in the team, although it had the potential of testing the opposition mentally, if not intimidate them, it had surely taken some toll on Dhoni, who seems to be graying at a rate comparable to that of Obama. The humility and diligence of Tendulkar, and the composure and simplicity of Dhoni acknowledged, we continued with the match. After seeing the way Jayawardena banished the ball to all parts of the boundary, the protective mindset, which had been responsible for all the criticism, was kicking in big time. "275 is a bit too much", I thought. "It is OK even if they loose, but they should score close to 250", I said. "They should give the Sri Lankans a run for their money."

When we started to bat, it was now the turn of the batsmen to be criticized. In came Sehwag and Tendulkar, for whom I have antipodal feelings. "The statistics people keep track of in ranking cricketers is incomplete", I declared. "If we were to consider the standard deviation of the scores of batsmen, a measure of inconsistency, Sehwag would be among those who have the largest standard deviation to mean ratio" I argued, leaving no doubt as to what I expected to see of Sehwag. And sure enough, not only did he get out, but he wasted a review with no thought, no hesitation, no consultation of the genius on the other side, no consideration of the importance of the occasion. "This guy thinks his wicket is more worthy than anything else. Perhaps someone needs to make him understand that each team gets only two reviews, and that you don't need to ask for a review simply because you have spoken in favour of the system earlier."

A few fluent boundaries from Tendulkar's bat lit the hopes of an unforgettable innings, immediately bringing back the memories of Sharjah 1998. "A big innings while chasing has not been a strength of Tendulkar, but that in no way brings down what he has been for the Indian team" I tried to justify. A combination of good bowling from Malinga and the tension in the air for India led to Tendulkar's downfall, and I was left disappointed. "Big players play on big occasions, right?" was the rhetorical question posed to me and all I could do was sit silent.

The aggression and the attitude of the youngsters in the team coupled with the amount of money brought into the game by IPL etc. makes me think that these guys are arrogant, they speak more and do less (of what they are supposed to do). And now there were two of them on the field --- Gambhir, whom I choose to call Gauti because he is called so by the rest of the team and because I think he is anything but गंभीर, and Kohli, who I hear is a typical Delhi youngster. "These guys have to play together until over #40" I say, almost thinking aloud, and like the commentators in the stadium, adding no information to what people already know. The way they built their partnership was surely nothing exceptional, just the sensible singles and twos and occasional boundaries, but they did silence the critiques, including me. When Kohli left, after a brilliant catch by Dilshan, I didn't care what sort of a personal life he had, for he seemed capable of doing his job and had done it fairly well then.

Then came the surprise. You are the captain of the Indian team, people have stoned your home in the past following a bad performance, you have not scored a fifty in the tournament so far, you have in Malinga and Murali two very good bowlers bowling at you, you have close to thirty overs to play, and you decide to walk to the field and take on the challenge. That was a big decision. And again, the two batsmen focus on getting singles and twos and build a good partnership quickly. Dhoni's presence in the middle was comforting in a way, for I knew that if I wanted someone to exude coolness and confidence during a tense situation, it had to be Dhoni. When Gauti threw his wicket away, I didn't care if his name was a misnomer, for he too seemed to have done his job. The partnership between Gauti and Dhoni was, in my opinion, the turning point of the match. They took what was close to a 40% chance to a 70% chance, with roughly 10 overs remaining, 6 wickets to spare and a little over a-run-a-ball required.

The hope that India would make it had always been there. But slowly and steadily, the confidence for letting go of the protective mindset and expressing the hope was building. Also building up was a whole plethora of superstitions amongst people in the room. "Shut the door before the over starts" shouted one friend. "I went out and Kohli got out" recollected another guy. One friend thought that the presence of me and another guy could prove to be ominous, since the rest of the guys had watched the matches against Australia and Pakistan in the exact same place and India had won. People wanted the commentators to stop jinxing the match by predicting various scenarios. Being surprised that Sangakkara was not sledging, when I proceeded to show people the video of him doing so I was asked to, essentially, "sit down and shut up". Such was the tension, such were the emotions.

And then Yuvraj, who had done his bit more often than not through the tournament and seemed in good touch, was only required to bat sensibly, and along with Dhoni, he did exactly that. When Dhoni hit what will be the biggest six of his life, there was joy. For once, the pleasure felt was that of a child in its smile (a la Neil Young). We cheered, we clapped. We saw the team in a frenzy, carrying the captain, coach and Tendulkar around the ground. Parading for the crowd. I was ecstatic, I couldn't speak. All I could do was stare at the screen. All the noise around me didn't seem to exist anymore.

And looking at everyone in the team dedicate the win to Tendulkar and the nation was a joy that is inexpressible. If anyone there deserved to be in a world cup winning team, it was Tendulkar. And the moment was perfect. Tendulkar, recently, has been the embodiment of perfection. He has been the closest anyone can get to perfection. Over the past few years, some of his innings have been so good that at times I have questioned whether I deserved to watch them --- a weird question, I know. But such has been his cricket of late. Watching him paraded around, in a state of bliss he was experiencing for the first time in his life, and all this happening at his home, in Mumbai. It was perfect.

And then it hit me. How much better it would have been if I were at home, in India. The crackers, the dancing, the processions. Savouring the moment with family and friends. For the first time, I missed home a lot. I missed my wingmates and friends from IIT. I missed India. I knew that had I shed some tears of joy and jumped and danced around being in the company of my close friends, that would be perfect. And that remained the one thing that disappointed me through the day.

Perhaps, this was patriotism kicking in. The feeling of belonging to a place, to a society, to a culture. The feeling of missing it when not present there. The feeling of longing to get back...

What yesterday was no other day can be!
Kudos to the Indian team!

Money matters

I think we accept without questioning a lot of things. And some of these things are mostly worthless spending time on and therefore the acquiescence is justified. Now, just for the heck of it, I ask one such question.

First, the background. I have been travelling a bit recently and this has given me the opportunity to observe a few different currencies. They are nice mostly. The diversity is actually what makes it intriguing. For some people---the numismatists among us---it is intriguing enough to start a hobby. I have also indulged in some such acts : the American quarters, for example. There are quarters that have names of states (and other US territories I have come to learn) inscribed on them, and I have all of the 50 states except Michigan (If you have my evasive MI quarter, I can offer you a profit of 100% on it). The colours of the notes are actually nice, which is why I feel that the dollar is the dullest I have seen thus far. Colours, sizes, faces, watermarks, Braille symbols aside, what intrigued me was probably what is most to do with the currencies---the numbers. No, not the note numbers. The denominations.

Observation All currencies I have seen, have a subset of the following set as the denominations {0.01, 0.02, 0.05, 0.10, 0.20, 0.50, 1.00, 2.00, 5.00, 10.00, 20.00, 50.00, 100.00, 200.00, 500.00, 1000.00, ...}. You see a pattern here, that {1, 2, 5} play a key role and are repeated in all values---in ones, tens, hundreds etc.

Question There must be a reason for this pattern. If so, what? If not, why?

I now try to answer this question. I should at this point mention that I have done no research into this question. I have not attempted to look it up anywhere, not even a Google search. So, whatever follows, is what I think is most reasonable.

In trying to answer the question, I make a few assumptions and definitions that help me subsequently.

Assumption Everyone works in the decimal system. It seems to me that this assumption is logical. Even if it is disputed, the final answer here will have a counterpart that can be obtained with a similar analysis.

Definition Values are synonymous to decimal places. E.g. Units, Tens, Hundreds, Thousands etc.

Definition Practical values are those that would be useful. E.g. {Hundredths, Tenths, Ones, Tens, Hundreds, Thousands} are the practical values for many currencies. Some (like the South Korean dollar) might choose other practical values. This depends on the exchange rate / buying power of the currency.

Definition A denomination is called consistent if it repeats at every value. Thus, a currency denomination {0.01, 0.02, 0.05, 0.10, 0.20, 0.50, 1.00, 2.00, 5.00, 10.00, 20.00, 50.00, 100.00, 200.00, 500.00} is consistent, because the same denominations of {1, 2, 5} repeat at each value. We can denote a consistent denomination by simply specifying the denomination at ones value, and we call this set the basis of the denomination. For the above example, the basis is {1, 2, 5}.

Some currencies have slightly different denominations (like the 25 paise coins in India), but these exceptions are not consistent (i.e. they are not repeated in all values. e.g. you might find 25 paise coins, but not 2.50 rupee coins / notes, or 25 rupee notes). I will disregard such inconsistent denominations.

Assumption The choice of the denominations should be made keeping the convenience of the people using them in mind. Convenience will be qualified and quantified next.

Definition A consistent denomination is convenient if it allows for the paying of all practical numbers. That is to say that {2} is an inconvenient choice for the basis of a consistent denomination because you cannot make a payment of, e.g. 0.03 using this denomination.

The convenient denomination choice problem can be broken down to a similar, but simpler problem.

Lemma A consistent denomination is convenient if it allows every number from 1 through 9 to be payable through its basis.
Proof This is a straightforward claim, which I will explain through an example. Since we are using the decimal system, every practical number will consist of digits 0 through 9. All these numbers can therefore be split into different values, i.e. $245.86 can be split as $200 + $40 + $5 + $0.8 + $0.06. If all numbers from 1 through 9 are payable using the basis, any number at any other value will be payable through the basis at that value. Since $4 is payable using the basis, $40 will be payable using the corresponding denominations of Tens value etc.

The choice of a convenient, consistent denomination is thus reduced to the choice of a basis set that allows paying of all number from 1 to 9. We have thus far only qualified convenience. I now quantify it. For the purpose of illustration, we will assume, unless otherwise stated, that the basis is {1, 2, 5} since it is the most common basis. Strings of the basis are concatenations of the elements of the basis, e.g. 12 is a string. A string is a payment of a number if the sum of the symbols in the string is equal to that number, e.g. 12 is a payment of 3. I will assume that all permutations of the symbols in a string give the same string, so that the strings 12 and 21 are the same. The length of a payment is the number of symbols in it, e.g. the length of 12 is 2. For each number n from 1 to 9, let C(n) be the set of all payments of n. Here is an example of C(n) with the above basis.

C(1) = {1}
C(2) = {11, 2}
C(3) = {111, 12}
C(4) = {1111, 112, 22}
C(5) = {11111, 1112, 122, 5}
C(6) = {111111, 11112, 1122, 222, 15}
C(7) = {1111111, 111112, 11122, 1222, 115, 25}
C(8) = {11111111, 1111112, 111122, 11222, 2222, 1115, 125}
C(9) = {111111111, 11111112, 1111122, 111222, 12222, 11115, 1125, 225}

Let l(n) be the least length of the length of all payments in C(n). The following lists l(n) for the continuing example.

l(1) = 1
l(2) = 1
l(3) = 2
l(4) = 2
l(5) = 1
l(6) = 2
l(7) = 2
l(8) = 3
l(9) = 3

Let l(B) be the average of l(n) from 1 through 9 for the basis B. From the above, l({1, 2, 5}) = 17 / 9. In order for the comparison of l(B) between different bases B to be fair, we must consider different bases with the same cardinality. Let |B| = k. k = 3 for our example. Let l*(k) be the minimum of l(B) over all bases B of cardinality k, and let B*(k) be a basis (not necessarily unique) achieving this minimum.

Definition B*(k) is an optimally convenient consistent denomination of cardinality k.

Here's the rationale for this definition. With any basis B, l(n) denotes the least number of currency notes (or coins) necessary to make a payment of n. l(B) therefore is the average number of notes necessary to make a payment with the denomination being B, assuming that each number from 1 to 9 is equally likely (a reasonable assumption, I believe. Perhaps the tenths and the hundredths places might not satisfy this assumption, but let us disregard this). A denomination basis that minimizes this number is optimal in the sense of requiring the least number of notes for any transaction on an average, and therein lies the convenience of the chosen denomination.

Given this, it is natural to ask if {1, 2, 5}, the basis for the universal consistent denomination, is an optimally convenient consistent denomination. The problem of finding optimally convenient consistent denominations seems tough in general---it involves the "hard" problem of optimizing a set that will give the least average length of partitions of numbers based on that set. But for the case of the decimal number system, which we assume in our scenario, we can easily deduce a few results.

Claim B*(1) = {1} and l*(1) = 5.

In fact, {1} is the only convenient consistent denomination of cardinality 1. And in this case l(n) = n, and hence the claim is true. We note that 1 has to belong to every convenient consistent denomination.

Claim B*(9) = {1, 2, ..., 9} and l*(9) = 1.

Straightforward claim. Every number has a note so that l(n) = 1 for all n.

Claim l*(k) is non-increasing in k.
Proof Let m be a number from 1 to 9 not contained in B*(k). Let B' be the union of B*(k) and {m}. Then l*(k + 1) is not larger than l(B'), by definition. Further, l(B') is not larger than l*(k) because l*(k) can be achieved with B' by never using m.

Claim l*(k) lies between 1 and 5 for k between 1 and 9.
Proof This follows as a corollary to the above three claims. l*(k) is strictly larger than 1 for k smaller than 9 because there is at least one number n for which there is no note in the basis, i.e. for which l(n) is strictly larger than 1. l*(k) is strictly smaller than 5 for k larger than 1 because there exists at least one number n other than 1 for which there is a note in the basis, i.e. for which l(n) = 1.

Let us come back to the main question. Is {1, 2, 5} optimally convenient? Let us check some other bases of cardinality 3. Perhaps powers of 2 are good? We have l({1, 2, 4}) = 17 / 9, the same as that of {1, 2, 5}! So we know there is no sacredness to the universally accepted denomination. Odd numbers might be better? l({1, 3, 5}) = 17 / 9, again. But no better. Consider the peculiar basis {1, 3, 4}. Here are the details:

The optimal payments are 1, 11, 3, 4, 14, 33, 34, 44, 144 and hence, l({1, 3, 4}) = 16 / 9, better than the others! From a few other bases I checked quickly, nothing seemed to do better. I believe {1, 3, 4} is optimal, and uniquely so. At least one conclusion is clear.

Claim {1, 3, 4} is more convenient than {1, 2, 5}.

So then, at least in terms of convenience of the users defined as is done here, {1, 2, 5} is not optimal. Is the choice of {1, 2, 5} then a misguided one, forced upon us by history than anything else? Or is there another way to look at this?

Coming back to the notion of convenience introduced here, is the choice of k = 3 a good choice? How would one otherwise choose k, and in turn, fix a basis for an optimal convenient consistent denomination?


This is a compilation of the flaws/inconsistencies I found in Inception. Also included are some apparent inconsistencies and my explanations resolving them. They are listed randomly, and are titled with geeky names inspired by the names of the episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

For those who haven't yet seen what is arguably one of the best movies ever made (#3 on IMDb at the time of writing this post, #2 after TDK on my list of Nolan movies), this would be the place to stop reading.

The suicide anachronism Cobb and Mal, after having spent 50 years in limbo, kill themselves by sleeping on a railway track. If indeed they had been there for 50 years (and as portrayed in one of the closing scenes), they must have been old when they died. The scene however shows them still being young.

The imbalanced parentheses Mismatch of the order of dreams. I would think that the order in which the dream layers are shown must be a LIFO stack, i.e. when person B is dreaming a dream inside person A's dream, B would have to wake up from the inner dream before A wakes up from the outer one. This is not the case, at least (not necessarily the only case), for Ariadne dreaming within Eames's dream. One possible explanation is that all people wake up at the same time, but each is shown sequentially in the film. Another is that when the person dreaming the outer dream wakes up, those within the inner dream are trapped in limbo, and since they do eventually die there, they wake up from the outer dream also. But the question remains that if they are indeed waking up from limbo, they should get back to reality and not still be in any other dream level. But, this is not the case and hence the inconsistency.

The dreamer ambiguity The dreamer of the third level dream---the one where they are in the snow capped mountains---is not clear. I believe there are two dialogue sequences where it is claimed that the dreamers are different. When Ariadne asks "Whose dream are we getting into?", Cobb replies saying it is Fischer's dream, and Arthur adds that he will be helping them break into his own dream. This is just before they enter the third level dream. However, in the third level dream, Cobb says "Eames, this is your dream..."

The weightlessness paradox The premise is that if the dreamer is experiencing a state of weightlessness, so does everyone in his dream. This is true because when Arthur is dreaming the second level dream sitting in the freely falling van in the first level dream of Yusuf, everyone in Arthur's dream in the hotel is weightless. If that is the concept, then everyone involved in the third level dream, including Eames and Fischer who are the two possible dreamers, are experiencing weightlessness. Why does this not carry forward to the dream in the snow capped mountains?

The Browning disappearance In the second level dream, when Cobb, Arthur and Ariadne are with Fischer in the room, Fischer's projection of Browning (It is surely Fischer's projection because Eames is shown entering the room later) is shown to be entering the room and being caught by the team, showing him to be the one conducting the kidnap in dream level one to annul the will that would dissolve the Fischer-Marrow empire. Then, both Browning and Fischer will be plugged to the dream sharing machine along with the others, but somehow everyone except Browning appear in the third dream level, i.e. Browning is conspicuously missing.

The Cobb deficiency Another concept is that of the architect. There are dialogues which hint that the architect is someone who builds the worlds in the dreams at different levels and "explains" them to the people who will be sharing that dream. There is another dialogue where Cobb tells Ariadne, who is the architect, not to explain him the specifics of the plan for the world in the dreams. I found these to be contradictory. But this might be explained as Cobb not wanting to know the specifics himself because of his condition. He would still want others to know the plans well. This is justified by a scene where Yusuf is shown working with Ariadne on the plans, and another where Eames is said to have added a "shortcut" through a maze in the dream level three. Also, Cobb constantly asking Ariadne to explain things to Saito and Fischer also corroborates this explanation.

The Saito time-dilation The fact that only Saito was old in the dream when Cobb came to convince him to kill himself to honour the agreement between them can be explained. Conceptually, the age of a person in a certain dream level depends on the time spent in that dream by that person. When Saito dies, he goes into some unknown, but deep, dream level. Now when Cobb is searching all the dream levels to get to Saito, it can be said that he spends not too much time in each level. So, in the first scene of the film, Cobb can be assumed to have just arrived into Saito's dream whereas Saito himself has been there for decades. But there is a dialogue where Cobb, while asking Ariadne to kill herself and get back and explaining why he will stay back, says "Saito must be here somewhere." If that dialogue is taken literally to conclude that Saito was trapped in the same level dream, the age difference is difficult to explain. By "somewhere here", I think Cobb meant "in some dream deeper than here."

The limbo explanation Cobb also gets stuck in limbo because he does die in a dream---not in level three, but in level two, when everyone comes out of the van--- Cobb stays behind, drowns and dies.

The bullet repulsion What is perhaps the most unrealistic part of the film is the fact that the entire team suffers only one bullet shot after being barraged by bullets almost everywhere---in reality, with a lot of bullets that seem to be dodging Cobb in Mombasa; dream level one, with infinite bullets shot at the van; two, with bullets shot at Arthur; three, with the bullets from a whole army of militants not finding their targets. But I am willing to consider this Nolan's V-effect and disregard it.

Kudos to Gandhe for coming close to the main concept of the film!

"Brennt Paris?"

Was watching the movie "Is Paris Burning?" today. After having read the book, the film was, obviously, a let down. But there was this series of dialogues that caught my attention.

Von Choltitz was the Nazi Governor of Paris who disobeyed Hitler's orders to destroy the city, for which he was called "The Savior of Paris" and was revered by the French. It is well known that if not for him, Paris, as we know it, would not exist and would be ruined just like another Warsaw.

A ceasefire has been brokered between the Germans (under Choltitz) and the French resistance by the Consul of Sweden. This ceasefire was, again, done without Hitler's knowledge. In this scene, Choltitz is talking to members of the French resistance about their breach of the terms of the ceasefire.

Choltitz (On the French Officials entering his room where the Consul of Sweden is also present) : I suppose you know the Swedish Consul, Herr Nordling. Thanks to his efforts, we arranged a truce which, up to now, has cost the lives of 200 German soldiers.

French Official : As a representative of General De Gaulle's provisional government, I protest against our arrest in the midst of the cease-fire. We are just contacting our people to make sure they respected it.

C : In your car, my guards discovered a proclamation that was designed to provoke the city of Paris to revolt. I don't see how you maintain you're respecting the cease-fire and then make vicious attacks on our men right in front of our faces!

F : I'm a member of the French Government in Exile and I won't permit you to question my word of honor! The circular in the car was a proclamation that had been revoked.

C : In that case, why did your men shoot at our soldiers?

F : You command an army of regulars. When you give an order, your men obey it. The Resistance is an alliance of many movements, and I don't control them all.

C : The Communists, for example?

F : Our ranks include both Communists and anti-Communists. Now we're all battling against a common enemy.

C : You can make among yourselves all the politics that you want! Only you must not shoot at my soldiers!

F : If you would like to finish these incidents, stop sending out your patrols.

Now, few would find anything wrong with what the French Official said, including the statement highlighted in bold. Let us look at the context - the Germans have forcefully, through war, occupied France; the French resistance, as claimed by the official, is a bunch of teams of people agitated by the oppressive occupation, craving for liberation, for seeing themselves controlling their capital, for seeing their flag atop their public buildings.

Now consider a present day analogy. The Israelis have forcefully occupied non-Israeli lands; the Palestinian resistance, along with the democratically elected Hamas, is a bunch of teams of people agitated by the unjust occupation, illegal encroachment, craving for independence and statehood, for seeing themselves controlling their land, for seeing their flag and nation recognized by the Israelis.

If the French Official could justify sporadic breaches of ceasefire on the pretext of lack of control, why are the Palestinians deprived of that justification? It is suggested (and accepted even) that it was Israel, with reference to Operation Cast Lead, that broke the ceasefire and not Hamas. But even if you discard that, if you support the Israeli assault on Gaza, would you not have to support the Nazi occupation and endorse the planned destruction of Paris? Or if you supported the French resistance against the illegal German occupation, would you not have to support the Palestinian resistance against the illegal Israeli occupation?


If we accept the constraints of a civilized world, we enter the realm of laws. For laws to be useful, they must be enforced. Who then is to be entrusted with law enforcement? A subset of all people need to be. This subset is the government. How is the government constituted? In different ways. In social animals other than man, it is primarily the most powerful few within a community, e.g. alpha-males in most species of monkeys and apes. In man, it probably started out in a similar way. But today, there are numerous ways in which governments are constituted. Perhaps the most civilized among them is democracy.

Governments are then necessary to uphold the liberties of the people it governs to guarantee assurances of civility. In civics, this would go by the term rights of the people. In turn, the people themselves are accountable, the corresponding term in civics being duties. Both these go hand-in-hand, and there cannot be one of these protected in the absence of the other. The government, in the interest of protecting equality of men, must be blind to differences in sex, religion, caste, etc. in protecting the rights of its people. In turn, the people, in the interest of maintaining civility, are expected to perform their duties as and when required.

Governments are essentially in place to manage affairs concerning its people. Things are efficient when they are hierarchical. Subdivision allows each individual entity to focus on one particular topic, and a co-ordinated working of these entities ultimately results in the whole system achieving its diverse goals. The hierarchy allows for subdivision of the responsibilities of the system--think of division of responsibilities between parents in a family, between departments in a company, between teams within a department in a company, or more abstractly as division of functions between different structures of a website (database handling, content handling, markup handling etc.), or as division of a proof of a theorem into lemmas, or selection by nature of specialized organ systems in organisms--hierarchies are efficient.

Governments are organized, usually called separation of powers--in India's case (thanks to the Britons), into the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. I will not go into this here. By hierarchies of governments, I mean the division of responsibilities between government bodies at different levels--within a locality, in a city, district, state, country, internationally. Note that this particular hierarchical structure is neither how governments first came into being, nor necessarily how they are today, but what makes most sense to me. In other words, in my opinion, the existence of an international government is essential for civilization.

Since the government is an artificial construct created by us to sustain civilization, it is only reasonable to expect people to be able to actively participate in it, which is why democracy is the most sensible form of governance. Further, since the government is itself artificial, the boundaries on which its subdivisions are defined are themselves artificial. That is to say that geographical entities like cities, states and countries are mere tools in assisting governance--nothing more, nothing less. Of course there are differences between people from different states in terms of language, culture, traditions, religious beliefs etc. But so is the case between people, e.g. from the circuit design and the signal processing departments of Qualcomm in terms of expertise, interests etc. There is also an allegiance to one's city/state/country of origin. Just as there is an allegiance of a person to his team, to his department within his company. Constructs like countries, therefore, exist to efficiently maintain civilization and it is important to always remember that these constructs do not supersede the universal goals of civilization. Humanity--the protection of universal human rights--should never be superseded by nationality, or communalism, or regionalism, etc. Boundaries are the means to an end. The end being civilization. The means shouldn't themselves become ends, and should never displace the actual end. Note that while it might be true that historically, the rise of nation states was never hypothesized as expressed here, the global notion here is absolutely essential in the globalized world of today. It forms the centerpiece of civilization, as we understand it.

As accepted earlier, people from different places are different. And these differences are not necessarily hindrances to a global civilization. A representative international democracy will debate various issues and arrive at a consensus on a few fundamental rights that are to be upheld globally. So also will they decide on the few basic duties and responsibilities of each country. Apart from these basic requirements, all further laws of a country will be determined only by the people of that country. And a similar methodology will apply at each hierarchical level of the democracy. International laws cannot be meddled with by lower hierarchies. This need not be the case for national or state laws.

Patriotism would, even in this setting, be important. However, the concept would be different in a fundamental way. It would not be synonymous with believing in Saare jahaan se accha. Neither would it have glorified (and stupid) notions of blind allegiance to the country irrespective of what it does. But, it would be a simple acknowledgment of the fact that the society one lives in determines, to a great extent, the quality of one's life. That the standard of living depends on the prosperity of the society, on the alleviation of social evils (poverty, casteism, linguistic fundamentalism, communalism, racism etc.), on the prevalence of peace in the society. And realising the importance of one's volunteerism in establishing and helping enforce laws where necessary, and one's duties in the actual functioning of the state.


Man is an animal. Man should therefore have begun life like an animal. Wild animals, as we all know, are "wild". They lead "wild" lives. Wild lives are random, unpredictable -- a buffalo in a forest is unsure of seeing itself through the day, a young lion is unsure of not being eaten by an adult, a snow leopard is unsure of its efforts bearing fruit, a whale is unsure of whether its migration will be trouble-free...

Man, to a much larger extent than other animals, is also intelligent. To him, the aforementioned randomness in life is unsettling, unacceptable even. He is social. He is civil. Therefore, through his intelligence, he has been able to artificially impose rules that attempt to remove the uncertainties in everyday-life. These rules, like any others, are restrictive--they curb some of his freedom. But this is a meagre price to be paid for the assurances offered in return--can you imagine everyone being free enough to do what they want, so much so that you are constantly required to guard yourself from predators? Or a world with no conception of crime? Can you accept not being compensated for your hard work? Are you willing to risk walking through enemy territory to reach somewhere? Overwhelming "No"'s, I am sure. So, I underscore the fact that we accept these rules, neither because our predecessors have imposed them on us nor because we don't find an alternative, but because we tacitly understand that they are necessary. Necessary for civility, for peace. These restrictions, ironically enough, are essential for our freedom to do other things, to do things that interest us, to allow us to find goals other than the basic biological goals, all the while being assured that everyone will follow the rules. These inhibitions liberate us to find meaning and purpose in our lives, where neither exists. It is this system--where people found a way to live beyond the wild existence, while paying but a small price in terms of rules--that I call civilization.

The Americans often boast of being "leaders of the free world". Of America being the place where "equality of all men" was first upheld as an ideal. But, in my opinion, we all upheld this as an ideal a long time ago, perhaps the first time was when, in the course of evolution, the first social beings arose. For, accepting the restrictions referred to in the previous paragraph requires an inherent okaying of equality of men. Or else, if I believed I were better than the rest, why would I accept limitations to my freedom? So those social animals--those chimps*, if you will--are the real leaders of the free world. This is against the theory of the selfish gene, articulated best by Richard Dawkins. But I think that it was with this egalitarian concept that intelligence started to trump genes. Civilization then, was an unintended consequence of evolution. But as influencing factors, civilization superseding evolution is what makes man man.

But, what constitutes the set of restrictions that can be called civilization and what not? Where do we draw the line? What about liberty--after all, it appears before equality in the motto of the French revolution? Well, the necessity of restrictions is to avoid confrontation, to enable amiable relationships. It was accepted with the understanding that certain wants of people might conflict with those of others, in which case, each party claiming the want has an equal footing. Therefore, wherever possible, these wants must be shared equally. In other words, each person gets what he wants only to an extent to which any other person with the same want gets what he wants, i.e. wants of people are to be met so as to not deny wants of others. Obviously, this rule is very simplistic and one can concoct complex situations wherein the above rule might fail to solve the problem. Nevertheless, this serves as a good starting point. Simply put, as long as you don't hurt anyone you are free to pursue your wants. So, I suppose that when one is confronted with a question of whether a certain thing is the right thing to do, one can safely substitute that with the question of whether doing so would hurt anyone, or equivalently, whether civilization is possible if everyone else also does the same. To the extent allowed by these questions, we are all free.

* To give a name, I don't literally mean chimpanzees. It could be prokaryotic organelles, for all I care.
** What is written down here is my present thought. I would expect myself to revise this if and when I found the need to do so. I will try to do so with explanations for the changes.


The idea of presenting logical arguments against superstition might sound absurd. And it is. But to hell with that.

My claim is that superstitious people are racists. Here's the argument.

Actually, before the argument itself, let me give a broad, vague definition of the word "racism". Here, I am using the word to mean a belief that a subset of people are superior to the rest in some sense. Lots of further definitions might be necessary to make precise what I mean, but I am in no mood to go into semantic pedantry.

If you believe in a superstition, you must also consider yourself and a set of people who are similarly superstitious superior to "distant people". By "similarly superstitious", I mean others who have the same superstitious belief. And by "distant people", I mean people from the world around who do not share your culture, belief-system.

Now, I think that there are superstitions that are experiential. These are also results of the (often irrational) human tendency to search for causation of events experienced. You're watching a cricket match where the team you are supporting is winning - you change your seat and they end up losing - there is a tendency to associate the two independent events, which is superstition. I will disregard these "causative superstitions".

But then there are other superstitions that are engrained into minds of people by the culture or belief-system of the people around them -- waking up on the right (usually, the right) side of the bed, "touch wood" etc would fall into this category, which for convenience, I shall call "cultural superstition". Very few (almost none) cultural superstitions are universal. But, there is always a presumed reasoning behind these things. Whether the reason is itself known or not, the existence of the reasoning is accepted -- "People were not crazy to make up things with no reason" would probably be a reply to questioning these. There is also a predisposed greatness of the people who've actually figured these out. So, in this sense, there is pride of this knowledge.

You have cultural superstitions -- you know not everyone in the world believe in it -- so, either you believe that not believing will nullify its effect, in which case, you can nullify the effect on yourself by not believing, and you are rid of cultural superstitions -- or, you believe the distant people are stupid to have not figured it out yet, to be suffering as a consequence of it and to not have correlated cause with effect; and your race is superior for it has done these things -- you are a racist.

As an aside, I think the ultimate, most annoying argument against someone arguing against superstitions is to claim that he/she is superstitious about arguing for superstition.