Tom Pittman's WebLog

(or something like that)

2003 November 3 -- Re: Judging

Last Saturday we hosted the ACM Student Programming Contest here. As one of the team coaches, I was also a judge. Jesus said, "Judge not that ye be not judged." Maybe he didn't mean this kind of judging -- or maybe he did.

Actually we had very little to do except keep each other honest. Whoever did the judging software put a lot of work into making it easy to use, almost as easy as an optimal GUI (graphical User Interface) could have been. However, it was command-line oriented, so there were a few otherwise unnecessary gotchas. Command lines are like that. Yes, that is a judgmental remark. It's also true.

Anyway, because the software was so complete, we (judges) mostly had nothing to do but sit around and talk. One of the submitted problem solutions created an empty output file, and the judge responsible for running that problem wondered if there was a problem with the judging software, so he spent some time fiddling with the submitted code and with the tools. I looked at what was happening and concluded immediately that the judging program was correct and the submitted program was in error. I said so, but he wanted to fiddle with it anyway. Me, I'm inclined to trust my tools to do their job; if you have to fight your tools all the time, you shouldn't be using them. Write tools that work properly. This particular guy was used to working command lines; maybe he's also used to being forced to work with buggy tools. A few years ago (I wish I'd kept the quote) somebody remarked that "Everybody knows unix programs crash all the time." It's still true. I'm used to 15 years of working on a Mac, where the software did not crash all the time. It just worked. Those days are gone.

When lunch came, one of the judges announced that he could not eat. It seems that Ramadan had just started earlier in the week and he was observant. He knew exactly when sunset occurs locally, so he could begin eating again. He had also gotten up early before daybreak, so to be able to eat before it became forbidden. Some of the Muslim distinctives became part of the conversation to follow. We had ordered pizza for super, and yes, he could eat pizza -- but not pepperoni (which is made from pork). Some of his Muslim students, fresh from the Middle East, did not know about pepperoni and had to be told that it's not dried tomato.

Ramadan apparently has a whole bunch of little rules to deal with the inevitable hard cases: if you are on a trip or certifiably sick, you can go ahead and eat, but you have to make it up later, day for day. But if you don't have a good excuse, then you have to make it up for 60 days. That reminded me of the approved Muslim punishment for stealing. In order to not appear too judgmental (after all, I had to work with these guys for the rest of the afternoon), I tried an oblique comment with no explicit mention of amputation or even theft, "The USA follows English Common Law in the essentially Christian notion of having the punishment fit the crime, so we don't have such draconian penalties." I guess he gets a lot of criticism about that, because he understood the implications immediately and began justifying the Muslim law, which he said "does not apply to people who steal bread because they are hungry, but if they take something they don't need..."

I'm willing to give the Muslim lawyers the benefit of the doubt (see my essay on Islam vs Us: Seeing it Differently), but here we have a fundamental difference between the Christian and Muslim ethics: both the Christian God and the Muslim Allah are held by their adherents to be merciful, but the Christian God does not take away a man's means of living in punishment for an infraction, not even a serious one. The Bible teaches that thief must pay back (possibly as much as five-fold [Ex.22:1]) anything he stole, while the Muslim thief has his ability to pay it back taken away from him. Perhaps that is just, but it is not merciful. The Biblical God would not even allow lenders to take away their borrower's means of income nor garment to sleep in [Dt.24:13]. My God is more merciful than Allah.

Maybe I'm being judgmental, but I was a "judge" that day.