Malek's Moorish Tales

Meanderings about life and technology

Thoughts on the election of Trump president of the United States

I normally would not comment on recent events, because I don't like to post emotional responses. I normally would wait for the events to sink in, then I would only comment if I have rational thoughts to share.
However, I feel compelled to express some views about the cataclysmic election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. To be sure, I will not try in this post to analyse the causes and consequences, as any such analysis would be clouded by my very strong emotions at the moment. I will therefore limit my comments to a number of thoughts that would illustrate my state of mind without pretending that they have been fully thought through.

Is there a global rise in xenophobic sentiments ?

I am not sure there is, per se, a rise in xenophobia. However, there most certainly is a rise in "patriotic" and "Identity" based sentiments. Most of the people around the world, including the West and the Muslim world, have been made to feel attacked in their culture. The reaction to such perceived attack is always defensive, and take the form defiant actions and opinions, even from those that normally would be extremely critical of the what is being attacked.
So, is the western culture or the dominant culture in the Muslim world really being attacked ? It is extremely difficult to answer the question, as the perception has been building up and escalating for well over a decade. The only thing that is clear is that it is perceived from both sides as a blatant attack.
Looking around me, I see a large number of open minded, well educated people which would normally have very nuanced views about most subjects, becoming much more defensive and single minded, adopting along the way views they would normally have found repulsive. People that would normally be very critical of the patriarchal male dominated traditions and behaviors progressively adopting the defense of those same views and behaviors. People that would normally champion civil rights especially religious rights, the rights of Women and racial minorities, tolerance of difference in sexual orientation, and the values of human decency becoming more attached to preserving outdated traditions and rejecting differences.
SO, what is causing such radicalisation of views and opinions ? trying to isolate causes from effects is becoming a chicken and egg dilemma. When people are on the defensive, the worst thing to do is to challenge the basis of their views, as they perceive it as a challenge to their "Identity", and they react by defending those views even more, resulting in even more radicalisation. I believe the same goes for both sides, taking them further apart by the day. Without breaking the process and looking for unifying shared values instead of attacking the differences, it would only get worse.

Back to Trump and his divisive platform
Instead of attacking the basis of the platform that got Trump elected, I prefer to discuss some of the proposed policies from an angle that stresses the practicality and effects rather than the philosophy underlying it.

 

Banning Muslims from entering the US

The initial proposal of banning Muslims from entering the US is quite ridiculous, regardless of its morality. How would anyone determine if someone else is a Muslim? Or even, what is a Muslim? I have yet to find two people that believe the exact same thing. Even if one was to look only as subset of beliefs that seem to be shared by many Muslims, when one digs a little farther into how they interpret those beliefs, it is extremely difficult to find two persons that have similar, let alone identical interpretations. Even if it were possible to define what a Muslim is, how would one go about identifying one. Beliefs are not, at least with the current state of neuro-science, probable. There is no process or machine that would explore what someone’s beliefs are. Questioning people would not do the job, as their responses will always adapt to their objectives, and those that such a probe tries to find are the ones that would adapt their responses the most, as they have more clarity on what they want to hide.
Trump himself has back paddled, and is now speaking of “extreme vetting”. I do not see how this changes anything. Vetting people based on their views and beliefs is the issue. The targeted people are the ones that have the best ability to hide information and to slip through the cracks of the vetting process.

 

Extreme Vetting

Also, extreme vetting supposes that risks would be detected through incoherence or contradictions in one’s story. But people do not live their lives without contradictions, nor do they hold beliefs and views that are fully coherent. Detecting incoherencies or contradictions only amounts to detecting whether the person is human. If contradictions are considered a risk, then only those that have a made-up personality and story would succeed through the vetting process. The effect is to only accept those the process is supposed to reject.
Also, one of the most basic ways one can decide if an opinion or belief is good or bad is to think of how he would feel if it was applied to himself. Let us for a second imagine that my country would apply “extreme vetting” to decide on whether Donald Trump should be allowed to enter Morocco. I believe of that was to occur, it would not take a few seconds before rejecting him, as what he said about getting away with assaulting women immediately raises a flag about protecting Moroccan women’s rights. Did he actually commit any such act, or would he ever commit any such act? we cannot know, and the main thing about vetting is that it doesn’t have to be fair. It is supposed to remove risks rather than be fair.

 

Building a Wall

One other hallmark of the policies proposed by Donald Trump is "Building a Wall between the US and Mexico". The intent being to stop Mexicans to enter the US illegally.
There are very few countries whose people are as welcomed everywhere around the world as the US citizens. Most countries do not impose Visas or any other vetting process on them. I have seen, in so many countries, Americans that came in as visitors and decided to stay for some period of time. Many of them worked illegally during those stays. While those countries do not view the illegal American immigrants as a danger to their economies, there are nonetheless American immigrants that commit crimes, and there are radicalized people among them that may commit acts of terror. Yet, the US would defend any of its citizens caught in illegal activity in those countries. How is that any different from Mexicans illegally entering the US? Is the US a bully that would do whatever it wants around the world, and everyone else just has to bow down?
It is much more reasonable to deal with immigration problems through basic human decency and fairness. To curb immigration that affects one's economy, the best course of action is to work towards a world where people benefit from the same rights, and where the value of work becomes much more uniform. If Mexicans could earn good living while staying close their family and friends, very few would migrate to the United States. Only those that have skills that are more abundant in Mexico than in the United Stated would still migrate, and they would benefit both economies.

 

Isolationist tendencies and the direction of history

The rhetoric about nationalism goes against history, and is trying to resist a change that is absolutely inevitable in the social media era. People are connecting with each others regardless of national borders. Most Millennials do not see people from other countries as strange or distant. They see friends that share the same human values. Trying to prevent people from crossing borders to preserve one's culture is completely misguided, as it would only take a generation to loose any significance of the borders in the first place. The only pragmatic course of action is to adopt globalisation and work towards easing any disruptions along to way to achieving a global citizenship. Free Trade and free movement is bound to become reality. It is the responsibility of leadership to help their people gain the required competencies to compete in a global market, taking advantage from their assets and ecosystems, and allowing the slow opening up to play out and progressively align earnings and value of work to a global standard.

 

 

A stupid argument about laws of conservation and origins of the universe

I have been always interested in many philosophical arguments, including almost everything that has to do with existential questions, especially many theological arguments. Most common theological arguments I have seen are very old and very weak, and keep being rehashed to try and come up with harder to refute formulations. One argument I have only started seeing in the last few years seems to pick up some steam lately. It goes like this:


 1. The law of conservation of energy states that "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed". Energy can be transformed into matter and vice versa, or changed into another form of energy.
 2. The Big Bang Theory states that the universe did not exist before the Big Bang.
 3. The Universe currently has energy (in the form of matter and various forms of energy).
 4. Therefore the universe came to existence through some supernatural process.
 5. They then conclude that the universe is created by an agent (or in some cases just that the universe if more consistent with one that is created by an agent than with one that isn't). 

 

It seems this argument is responding to the growingly vocal scientists that push the idea that the universe may have come into existence from nothing. As long as the said scientists are only talking about a possibility and not claiming that the universe actually spontaneously sprung into existence from nothing (if they did, they would have to produce real empirical evidence), I do not see what anyone can object in the current state of knowledge. In the above argument, however, I see a large number of flaws and hidden unwarranted assumptions.

 Conservation of energy and the Uncertainty Principle
The first serious issue with the argument is that the law of conservation of energy only applies to measured energy quantities. The Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle shows that energy is not always conserved, but if we measure the energy of a system at any two moments, then the law of conservation of energy applies between the two measures. During the time between the measures, the energy can fluctuate by any quantity as long as it only does so during intervals that are inversely proportional to the fluctuation. Stated differently, the energy can increase by large amounts, as long as it does so for an interval of time small enough. To get any measure of any precision, the measure itself must span an interval of time. It so happens that the interval of time where the energy of a system can have a variation of some value is smaller than the interval of time required to measure that energy with a precision smaller than the value of the variation, thus any such variation is not measurable. However, that variation can have other effects that may and have been detected.
There is empirical evidence that in a vacuum (empty space), particles do actually pop in and out of existence all the time (there appearance as well as their disappearance are both violations of the law of conservation of energy).
Now, if the fluctuation created for a short period of time some positive energy, and another fluctuation created an equal amount of negative energy with the short time, the total energy would be zero, and the initial fluctuation could be caused to not cancel out. Although speculative, this scenario is not in violation of physical laws. Something could be created from nothing, as long as all conserved quantities including energy are still equal to zero.

 

 Conservation of energy and isolated systems
When we say that "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed", all we are saying is that any increase in the energy of a system has to come from the exterior of the system, and that any decrease has to be transferred to the exterior of the system.
If the system is isolated (has no interaction with the exterior of the system), then we can state that the total energy remains constant.
So, do we know that the universe is isolated? It depends on the definition of the Universe.
If what we mean by the universe is "all of space-time and all its contents", then the answer is that "in the current state of knowledge, it is isolated". The lack of knowledge about the conditions at the beginning of time (i.e. in the infinitesimally small fractions of a second following the Big Bang) does not allow us to actually fully answer the question, as there could have been interactions with something external in the time between the Big Bang and one millionth of a millionth of a second afterward.
Since the argument is dealing exactly with what happened at the moment of the Big Bang, one can postulate nothing about the universe being isolated. It may be counter-intuitive, as our intuition cannot guide us when time is not there, nor in dealing with the nothing of something external to space and time. However, there is no fundamental law, nor is it probable that reality has to be intuitive. Actually, we do know of aspects of reality that are counter-intuitive, especially the whole set of Quantum phenomena.
Even if the law of conservation of energy is applicable, we do not know if it would mean that there could be no increase in the energy of the Universe, as long as we do not have evidence that we are only considering conditions in which the universe is an isolated system.
What would be external to the Universe? Well, the current state of knowledge does not provide any answer, but many speculative ideas can be proposed. One of the prevalent hypotheses about the early universe is "Cosmic Inflation", which is supported by many observations, even though more empirical evidence is still needed for it to reach the full status of a scientific theory. If there was a Cosmic Inflation, then it is highly probable that our universe is not the only one, and Universes would be springing into existence all the time. This idea about a "Multiverse" composed of many universes could also result from other hypotheses if they are true. Though very speculative at the moment, this idea is one way there could be "something" outside of the universe.
Many have tried to use recursion to say that if there is something external to the universe, one could just take whatever the whole including the universe and whatever is outside of it, and apply the same "conservation of energy" argument. The problem is that we have no knowledge if such a whole would have a beginning at all.

 

 Does the Big Bang Theory say "The universe did not exist before the Big Bang"?
Actually, the Big Bang theory states that space-time started at the Big Bang. It is not just semantics to say that it does not state "the universe did not exist before the Big Bang", as there is no such thing as "Before the Big Bang", since time did not exist.
Trying to discuss what caused the "Big Bang" may simply make no sense, as causality (at least the common meaning of the term) requires time.

Note:
I have heard some people argue that time may not have an actual starting point, and the beginning of time could be asymptotic when we get close to the Big Bang. I have all kind of issues with this idea, including:
• To speak of an asymptote, we need at least two dimensions. The idea speaks of time having an asymptotic behavior in time. This requires time to have at least two dimensions, one of which would be asymptotic relative to the other. Unless this can be formulated clearly (including what these time dimensions are), the idea is just nonsense.
• For this idea to have any explanatory power about the early time after the Big Bang, there should be some refinement of the Big Bang theory, which is neither called for by any empirical evidence, nor proposed in any well formulated hypothesis. The Big Bang theory is based on the expansion of the universe, and if there is no change in physical law during the whole existence of time, then the universe would have been a single point at a certain moment in time. If the time dimension in this formulation is the one that is asymptotic relative to whatever other dimension, then the time dimension would not have a starting point and there would be no need for a Big Bang. If on the other hand, the time dimension in the formulation of the big bang theory is the one relative to which some other dimension is asymptotic, the asymptotic nature of this hypothetical dimension has no relevance to the argument.

 

 The Universe currently has energy

This statement is actually a bad formulation. Energy is a quantity that can be positive, negative or zero. It is not a property that can either be present or absent.
A correct formulation of what is intended, as far as I can tell, is "The Universe currently has a non-zero energy". How do we know that?
It is not sufficient to say that since there is matter, and there are measurable energy quantities in the universe, the total energy would somehow necessarily be non-negative… one would still need to be able to either measure all components of the total energy and show that they add up to a non-zero quantity, or have a way to measure the total energy and show that it is not zero. I have seen different arguments, but most of the attempts I have seen center around determining the energy density at large enough scales so that it is homogeneous throughout the universe, and then integrating the energy density (taking into consideration that the measured curvature of space is very close to that of a flat universe). Many of these attempts result in a total energy of the universe being zero or undefined (as in the case if the universe is infinite).
Although I do not master the physics involved, it is quite clear to me that there is no agreement that the total energy in the universe would be non-zero.
The premise that the Universe has non-zero energy is not substantiated at all. That alone renders the argument completely moot.

 

 "The universe came to existence through a supernatural process"

Such a statement is simply not scientific. If a scientist encounters evidence that cannot be explained by our understanding of reality (or of nature), he would not hypothesize that some supernatural process is involved. He would instead try to refine our understanding of nature (refining laws of physics that pose a problem).
Although this is a bias, as the scientist would not be open to any supernatural explanation of anything, the argument is trying to use science to prove a point, and therefore must abide by the methods of science. If the methods of science are not accepted, then there can be no substantiation to any of the premises. If they are accepted, then even if the first three premises were true, it would just show a limitation in current theories including the involved laws of physics, and definitely not any involvement of anything supernatural.

 

 From "Supernatural Process" To "Created by an Agent"
I simply do not see how one can make such an inference. Going from a process to an agent requires going into what the process is (or at least what it is likely to be).

 

 Summary of the main hidden assumptions

Assumption 1: The Universe is an isolated system
Even if the universe was shown to have a non-zero total energy, and it came to existence at the Big Bang, if the universe is not an isolated system, all one can say it that there must be a decrease in the energy that resides outside of the universe at the moment of the Big Bang.

Assumption 2: The total energy of the universe is currently non-zero
Even if the Universe was an isolated system, came to existence at the Big Bang, and the law of conservation of energy was applicable at the moment of the Big Bang, if the total energy of the universe was currently zero, then the universe could just have come out from nothing without violating the law of conservation of energy (Many other aspects would still need to be explained, but at least the law of conservation of energy would not be the issue at all).

Assumption 3: Both Causality and the law of conservation of energy holds outside of time
As far as we know, the law of conservation of energy requires the existence of time. It describes what is a possible change in the state of a system, and what is not. We do not know how change can be defined without the existence of time. If change could be defined outside of time, we don't know how the law of conservation of energy would be formulated, and whether it would hold.

Assumption 4: Anything that violates the law of conservation of energy is supernatural
Even if the first three assumptions were true, it would only show that the law of conservation of energy is not applicable to the moment of the Big Bang. That would be a limitation of the law, and would push scientists to refine the law, or to discover another theory that would be applicable. It would not show that the Big Bang cannot be explained by natural processes and phenomena.

Assumption 5: Anything "caused" by a supernatural process is created by an agent
Even if one was to somehow accept that the "universe came into existence by some supernatural process", there is no way to go from there to "the universe is created by an agent".

 

My Verdict:

Assumptions 1 through 3 are not substantiated by any evidence, assumption 4 is not only unsubstantiated, it is at least false in the case of virtual-particles, and assumption 5 is pretty much devoid of meaning. The argument is as weak as a simple assertion of a conclusion without any argument.

 

Are we in Paris ? I thought this **** was only posible in the worst third world cities...

Today, I am having a very bad day/night as a father...

Yeaterday afternoon, my wife and son (a little less than 4 years old) who were paying me a visit in Paris (yes, I am spending too much time in paris for few month), were going back home. Only, yesterday, and for all day, it was snowing (actually very light snow, culminating at some 50 mm of stacked snow). Not only the airline (well, I know, the worst airline on the face of the planet : Air France) was saying that the flight will be on time, they had previsions for other flights that were'nt so optimistic, but kept saying that one was on target.

They were supposed to leave at 18h50. air france kept changing the supposed expected leave time for 3 hours (they were saying the fuel trucks were unable to reach the plane ! ) and then just cancelled the flight.

The worst is that by the time they finally cancelled the flight, all traffic in Paris and its suburbs were totally stopped (by no more than 5 cm -- less than 2 ─▒nches-- of snow).

I was totally unable to get to them or for them to get back to the city. Worst of all, air france aid they were unable to get them to a hotel, and that they had to spend the night in the airport (basically it meant my wife had to fight for a chair for my son to sleep on...).

I have no comment really, as it has gone well beyond any comment except this :"Are we really in Paris ? It sound more like we are in some god forsaken small village in some extremely poor 3rd world country...

 

 

regular meaningless expressions revisited ....

right now, I am working on a project in France. Although being in France is not the most thrilling experience I can think of... by far! I still have the chance to be working with some very smart people, and the conversations we`re having are of certain interest.

One conversation I had with Minh was quite illuminating...

One coworker came around and asked "ça va ?" ("How are you ?"), and I automatically responded "ça va!" ( "I`m doing fine! thank you"). It might have been the way I said it, or maybe he was really making the point I am trying to make here. Anyhow, Minh just went "huh? Does anyone ever respomd to that question any differently ?". We had a good lough as I went about the fact that it actually does happen that somebody actually responds to the question and says something like "Well, I am not doing so good. this and that are wrong yada yada yada..."

Thinking about it a little more, since the only way I had ever thought about it was in very general terms, and that we are here talking about work relationships, it came to me that the very generic exchange can actually play a role. It doesn`t touch close because in my situation in the current project things are going at least as good as I wanted them to. Actually probably much better than I could have hoped for. Still, I am quite convinced that, even though responding any different from the way I did would have been a shocking experience for the guy, he actually was (at least possibly was) trying to get a feel of how things were going in the project....

So was my answer the right way to respond? Assuming he was curious about how the project was going, I probably should have answered that things were doing great. Possibly even stating that it was much better than expected.

Another possible assumption would be that the guy is worried about my role in the said project being a single point of failure for the near term of the project, and was worrying about my capacity to carry on, and thus about my health and morale, and my answer should have been reassuring that I am in good health and that the distance from my family is not an issue at the moment.

So, when asked how you are doing, I recommend actually answering the question, even if you cause some lough, as it might be meaningful to the person asking the question..... 

Microsoft is missing the opportunity here ...

In Morocco, and up to now, Windows 8 devices and PCs have not yet hit the market. The shopping season will pass without them...