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Ideas about modern issues from an Islamic perspective.

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Haji 2003

In a previous blog post I identified threads that I considered problematic, since they had the (un)intended effect of causing friction with the Shiachat community.

I think that friction emanates from people on both sides of the debate taking an emotional approach to the issues. While I cannot legislate for those people who deliberately want to diminish the faith, those people who want to take a pro-Islamic constructive approach could consider the following suggestions.

  1. In order to address such posts you do not need to question elements of the story, if you do it just draws attention away from the OP to you (which is a possible intended purpose of such posts). So take the narrative at face value.
  2. You are welcome to make factual observations and no moderator can take down your post if you do this. If the OP's thread makes reference to unIslamic behaviour, you can point this out (but stay factual, remember a possible goal of such threads is to present Islam as unsympathetic). You are also welcome to make observations of errors in the OPs understanding of Islamic concepts and those of their oppressors. Your task here is to move criticisms away from Islamic teachings and institutions and onto individuals and their misunderstandings
  3. If there are practical and legal solutions to the problem point these out. Often the OP will have ignored these in order to elicit an emotional response and it is worth focusing on these practical solutions. You can thereby present yourself as being helpful and constructive, while at the same time undermining the OPs (possible) agenda .
Haji 2003

W.I.M. wimmin

W.I.M stands for 'woe is me".

We get new threads on Shiachat started by new posters who typically relate some domestic issue where a woman has been badly treated by either the father or the husband and occasionally some other male.

The story, since these posts are typically reasonably long, has a fair amount of detail and explanation and has clearly been written by someone with a reasonably good command of the English language. We are not talking about someone who has secretly grabbed access to the village computer in some remote part of a developing country.

Not unreasonably the post elicits uncritical sympathy from most Shiachatters. After all, if you saw Bambi's mother wounded in the forest would you not do all you could to support her and criticise the hunter in the process? 

Given the patriarchal nature of Muslim societies, the collateral damage is, of course, the implicit criticism of such societies, their institutions, cultural norms and so on. So for example, if someone has been taken advantage of through the use of mutah, then invariably there will be concerns directed at the practice and the people who engage in it.

And to my mind, that is the objective of these threads. 

The following are the reasons why I usually have grave reservations about their authenticity:

  1. The person writing them is articulate and educated. They know how to construct a narrative that works. This is not an easy skill to acquire. Their spelling and sentence construction are always good. This matters because such education does not exist in a vacuum. Anyone who is educated to this level has a knowledge of their environment and you'd expect the support systems where they could get help (if that is what they wanted).
  2. The poster typically writes about a situation where they were taken advantage of, sometimes as a result of their lack of knowledge e.g. the terms of mutah. Now that situation would be entirely reasonable if the person was writing about a situation pre-internet. However, if they are writing about any event within the last 5-10 years the question which arises is that any google search of various Islamic issues throws up results that include Shiachat discussions. We are therefore being led to believe that the first time this person heard of Shiachat is when the situation imploded and not beforehand.
  3. Allied to this point the question why someone would turn to anonymous, generally unqualified strangers for help when it would make more sense to approach organisations and institutions they were familiar with and which would both offer an independent and trustworthy point of view. If someone can find shiachat on google they can find such resources.
  4. There are often references to the poster's fragile state of mind, which in my opinion is simply there to head off any uncritical assessment. In developed countries the first person anyone would go to in a fragile state of mind would be there local G.P. (doctor) and they would refer the person to appropriate sources of help.
  5. Such stories are always about 'relationships'. The topic is sexy and everyone has an unqualified opinion. We don't get similar posts about any other aspect of human activity. We don't get anonymous new posters writing in detail about the challenges they face in terms of choosing between medicine or engineering, for example. 

The question then is what motivates such posters?

In my opinion, it is to attack Islamic and Shia institutions and practices, it is to sow discord amongst board members and certainly it is to provide ammunition for those board members who have an anti-Islamic agenda and who can use these stories as the basis for attacking people with a more orthodox mindset.

You may well ask what would qualify such threads as being genuine. 

I'd expect a genuine poster to leave out the 'gory' details. After all, that is for the benefit of feeding the bun fight that is supposed to follow. I would expect a genuine person to explain in very general terms the situation that they are facing and then to ask posters if they are familiar with any sources of support in a particular country or region (this assume that they can't find such resources themselves). At a push, I would say that a new poster could say that they wanted to speak to someone qualified and whether board members or moderators could point them in the right direction.

Haji 2003

The recent financial problems of the British HMV music record shops and the reasons for their specific problems reminded me of some broader issues.

HMV's problems have arisen as they have failed to cope with a world that is moving from CDs and DVDs to streaming and Spotify. People are moving from tangible products to intangible downloads. You can't see and touch and experience in the latter in the same way, but they offer convenience, lower costs, greater portability and in a more pollution sensitive world all-around greater sustainability.

In sum in this instance and many others, we can see human capabilities improving to the extent that we have greater command over the intangible and virtual than previous generations did. It was a feature of our lack of knowledge and development that meant a reliance on the physical, the material and the tangible.

As our faculties have improved so we have gained the understanding that just because something cannot be seen, does not mean that it is not there. Just because I cannot see the movie being transmitted from my wifi router box to the PC does not mean that the transmission has not taken place.

In fact with software and virtual reality we're able to interact, have real experiences and engage in actions both halal and haram with entities that do not physically exist at all.

 

Haji 2003

God Hypothesis IV

 

Quote

In addition to the government agencies that have long dominated space exploration, the growing private sector, which already makes billions of dollars a year operating communications and Earth observation satellites, is beginning to eye those “celestial bodies” as a future source of profits.

 

https://www.ft.com/content/d67ffecc-02dc-11e9-9d01-cd4d49afbbe3

This is overdue in my opinion.

The idealistic, almost naive notion that human exploration of space will be driven by purely scientific motivations cannot last. If as theists we believe that God has created the heavens for us to explore and done so in a manner that makes this possible on a stage by stage basis. The proximity of extra-terrestrial bodies has been fortuitously placed so that we can reach each one with the technology and resources at our disposal and as the latter develop so we are able to proceed to the next body (as I've previously argued).

So also His creation will acknowledge human frailties and the fact that we have only ever progressed when there have been a variety of motivations driving us. Inquisitiveness,  the search for information and other noble motivations have only ever gotten us so far. At some point along the line of all human endeavour, selfish economic reasons have been important and space exploration will be no different. At the moment that selfish motivation manifests itself in the moon being a possible source for Helium-3, which could be a fuel source. That hope may or may not turn out to bear fruit. Another selfish motivation is the fact that for some nations space exploration could be the source of military advantage.

But that does not matter. Human history is replete with examples of our being motivated by one ambition only to have it turn out to be a mistake, but the endeavour being rewarded by the discovery of something else. Columbus thought he had reached the East, by sailing west, but all his mistake achieved was the discovery of the Americas.

As a result, I think the theist can predict that there will be very significant first-order economic benefits from space exploration (rather than just the mainly second-order spin-offs that we have gained from so far).

There will be minerals that we can exploit, which will likely help address new and existing challenges but by the same measure, there will be a variety of new ethical and moral issues that will emerge and will need to be addressed. And not least, a component of the latter will be an appropriate legal framework.

And the fact that theists can benefit from the base and selfish motivations of others, perhaps indeed their immoral actions is not in itself a problem. IMHO. Nobody forced the territory grabbers to behave in that way.

 

Haji 2003

The typical debate between Americans and Europeans runs along the following lines.

Europeans criticise the easy availability of guns in America and Americans criticise Europeans for not enabling citizens to protect themselves.

Europeans are talking from the perspective of living in societies where guns are not easily available and there is relatively little gun crime. There is a risk that if guns were more easily available, homicide levels would reach (the much higher) levels seen in the U.S. and then there's always that statistic about how many American suicides occur due to the availability of guns and also as a result of accidents and domestic violence.

In contrast, the American mindset is conditioned, I believe from the fact that guns are already available and that the bad people already have them. If there were any form of control, it's less likely that the bad people would give them up. Removing guns from good people would simply remove any barrier or cost bad people may perceive to using guns.

As with any freedom, good people believe that they won't be the ones to have accidents with guns at home and nor will they let the proximity of guns influence them if/when they are feeling depressed - even if the statistics are pointing in the other direction. Humans have a predilection to believe that if they have choices they will make good ones.

Europeans also have to live with the idea that they can't enforce justice, no matter how unjust that may seem at the individual level, because you give up that right for the wider social good.

If I moved from Europe to Texas, one of the first things I would do is to buy a gun and get lessons in how to use it. There is something primevally good about the, 'stand your ground' law that the state protects you should you wish to protect your property. But what may be just at the level of the individual shoot-out, makes society less secure.

In summary, I think the gun control issue is one which shows how difficult it is to revert back to collective behaviour that is good for everyone, once you have adopted laws that pander to selfish motives. In addition gun control is also an example where national laws can encourage good people to behave badly.

Haji 2003

Turns out the person who came up with that one and a number of others was not always telling the truth:

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/9/19/17879102/brian-wansink-cornell-food-brand-lab-retractions-jama
 

And the reason for his misdemeanour:

Quote

To be more competitive for grants, scientists have to publish their research in respected scientific journals. For their work to be accepted by these journals, they need positive (i.e., statistically significant) results.

That puts pressure on labs like Wansink’s to do what’s known as p-hacking. The “p” stands for p-values, a measure of statistical significance. Typically, researchers hope their results yield a p-value of less than .05 — the cutoff beyond which they can call their results significant.

 

 

And then there is the wider issue about how researchers are motivated and rewarded:

Quote

 

In 2016, Vox sent out a survey to more than 200 scientists asking, “If you could change one thing about how science works today, what would it be and why?” One of the clear themes in the responses: The institutions of science need to get better at rewarding failure instead of prizing publication above all else.

One young scientist told us, “I feel torn between asking questions that I know will lead to statistical significance and asking questions that matter.”

 

 

Haji 2003

This post follows on from the previous one which dealt with the global issue of developing countries losing their trained manpower to richer countries. There is an interesting news piece that I have just come across which shows how one developing country turned the problem to its advantage.

Quote

 

Leasing medical professionals is Cuba’s main export, bringing in more hard currency than tourism: last year professional services by doctors and nurse brought in $11bn , compared to $3bn in tourism.

Currently, Cuba keeps around 75% of the doctors’ £2,400 allowance, though housing and food is paid by local authorities.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/nov/23/brazil-fears-it-cant-fill-abrupt-vacancies-after-cuban-doctors-withdraw

Obviously the Cuban economic system has a variety of other deficiencies but I think this is a fair deal, the doctors are educated and trained in Cuba's free education system. Instead of having to leave the country for a better life elsewhere the doctors remain Cuban and earn better salaries than they would have done at home. As the article also points out this scheme allows Cuba to project 'soft-power'.

After all, if your country is seen by a number of others as having provided the doctors that your own can't train, there must be something to be said for the donor country's education policies.

Certainly, it avoids the situation facing other developing countries which are effectively subsidising the economic development of richer countries - who in turn brag about the superiority of their systems.

 

Haji 2003

Black Friday

919845632_Screenshot2018-11-25at06_52_12.png.1c723e01a7ef43271c922f95721bed4a.png

https://www.nbcnews.com/video/video-shows-black-friday-shoppers-fighting-at-local-walmart-1379023427507?v=raila&

Black Friday reminds me of an interesting concept from behavioural economics - the distinction between acquisition utility and transaction utility. The former refers to the benefits we'd derive from the good itself and the latter refers to our perception of 'having gotten a good deal'. You know those goods collecting dust at home, because you hardly ever used them? Well they can represent purchases where the acquisition utility may have been poor, but we bought them anyway because they seemed cheap.

Stores know that this is how our minds work and that is the reason why they have all those 40 inch, no brand television sets piled high, at 'massive discounts'. The televisions themselves are poor quality, anyone who reads Consumer Reports (U.S.), Which? magazine in the UK or any number of online reviews would know as much.

What is attractive about these products is their 'transaction utility', you think you have had one over the store, when in fact the store has exploited you.

Another way perhaps of looking at this is that where greed/the nafs wins over reason, you lose.

Haji 2003

With the latest round of sanctions and the clear intention of some in the American administration not to engineer regime change, but to focus on regime collapse, so that Iran ends up like Libya I thought about how Iran could respond.

My inspiration came from the iftari services in our mosques during Ramadan. I don't know Iran well enough to say whether or not something like this is already being done (perhaps @Ashvazdanghe  does?). But the serving of meals in mosques for the poor is likely to benefiit from economies of scale, it is likely to engender social cohesion, provide the government with the chance to communicate with the momineen and perhaps even act as an incentive for more people to visit mosques.

The shrine of Imam Raza (a.s.) is an inspiring example of how social architecture can provide a sense of (free) wonder, inspiration and relaxation for so many people, again at negligible marginal cost. Perhaps the Iranian government should consider more such developments around the country.

And once the people are there, the mosques can become the nexus for the provision of various activities and services that leverage the knowledge and skills of people who may otherwise consider themselves to be unemployed. These non-market exchanges would be outside the vagaries of the local currency but would rather be based on building the human capital of the individuals and the social capital of their communities. People who come for the free meals can volunteer their time to provide counselling, teaching, training and other services. You can achieve a great deal with very limited resources - my visits to the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival earlier this year showed how amazing productions can be created with next to no resources.

The enemy's logic is that deprivation from material resources will elicit public anger - but to some extent the lack of such materiality can be bypassed. Obviously the lack of goods such as medicine can't be addressed using the above approaches.

At a time of constrained resources the IRI needs to prove itself to provide for the needs of the many in a manner that is efficient and effective and thereby use the opportunity provided by sanctions to win more support.

Haji 2003

Incumbent vs. newcomers

In this post what I will argue is that the more material something is the more ephemeral it is.

The more we invest in ideas, activities and resources that are closely bound with the mundane aspects of everyday existence the more we will have to accept that our endeavours will be short-lived. This is not to say that they will be less valuable - but they will be inherently bounded by time.

In contrast, those aspects of our daily activities that are related to ethics and morality transcend the activities to which they are related. In practical terms the processes I use to serve a customer offline (in a shop) are fairly specific to that material context. How I lay out the goods in the store is specific to running a shop. Knowledge of the physical aspects of our existence is therefore, the most constrained in terms of its application in different time periods and different places.

At a higher level of abstraction, my recognition that the way my customers process information can be important to store design and layout is an important piece of knowledge that is applicable beyond the confines of a physical store and could be applicable (to some extent) in my online sales operations.

But the ethics of my transaction for example in terms of the fairness of the exchange has broader implications than the above two examples. Issues to do with how I take advantage of the limited information the customer has, their lower level of bargaining power, whether the benefits of the purchase are obvious in the short-term but outweighed by longer-term disbenefits are issues that are just as significant offline as they are online.

Morality and ethics thus transcend both the physical and process aspects of everyday existence.

The British company Ocado is about to join the list of the country's 100 most valuable companies after a string of deals signed with international grocers keen to use its online food ordering and delivery systems. Making way for Ocado in that list of 100 is likely to be Marks & Spencer which has been on the list since it was first started and has recently been falling out of favour with consumers.

Intuition would say that large successful firms should persist in their position at the top of the commercial ladder. They have the money and know-how to beat firms who are smaller and not currently as successful as they are. If a smaller firm has a great idea surely the incumbent could simply copy it. Why didn't Walmart simply copy what Amazon was doing when Amazon was much smaller than it is now?

The problem that the incumbent faces is that they have too much invested in the material aspects of what they are doing now. They have property, machines and people all tied up in the existing way they have of doing things. Change is expensive. It can mean the organisation giving up what it has now in order to venture out into something risky and new.

So repeatedly we find that being an incumbent ultimately becomes a disadvantage. The knowledge about the marketplace that a firm has painstakingly acquired becomes a liability rather than an asset.

This is particularly the case in a dynamic world. The world no longer works the way in which the firm thought it did. In no small measure that change is brought about by newcomers, who at the start of their lifecycle, appeared to be entering a world dominated by others who knew the rules of the game and what it needed to succeed. Changing the rules of the game takes time and resources, but clearly, it has been done over and over again.

How we buy things and what we look for when we buy were all lessons that Amazon learnt from scratch. Walmart thought they knew, but their knowledge had been constrained by their observations of customers' behaviour in shopping isles. When it came to shopping isle layout designs perhaps no one knew better than they did how to execute. But when someone is online there is only a very very limited extent to which those lessons are of use.

Incumbent firms that had mastered the rules of retail were at a loss when newcomers created the rules for online retail and the latter become the reality of shopping for more and more consumers. Abstracting from the above context is the issue of knowledge and its limitations. For whichever field of human endeavour we look at the same issue applies. Experts in any given field seem encumbered by their incumbency and unable to make the advances in emerging areas of science and technology.

Haji 2003

Wombats

Quote

"There is a long history of people looking to the natural world for innovations in human society," Carver said. "This [how a wombat produces cube shaped faeces] potentially reveals another mechanism of producing cubed-shaped objects and in that sense it could contribute to thinking about manufacturing these sorts of objects in different ways."

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/11/19/australia/wombat-cube-poo-intl/index.html

This is a topic I have considered before, and I think it has a lot of mileage.

As a theist, a possible line of belief is that these creatures were put here to provide inspiration for innovation and to that extent, the diversity of evolution has a clear and divine purpose.

There are also epistemological implications as well. The need for such inspiration suggests that humans may have limited capacity to identify these innovations independently or that even if this could happen, it may take too long. The clues in the natural world speed up the learning process. Not only that but if the lessons from nature provide lessons for e.g. manufacturing processes is that evidence that a Creator anticipated humans to be at this level of development at this point in time?

Other implications are that all of this gives us the impetus to look at nature in a more systematic manner and indeed for us to have a materialistic incentive to preserve the natural environment for the benefits that it can provide.

 

Haji 2003

Pyramids, aliens & God

There is a populist theory that the pyramids must have had an alien inspiration. This is because of the range of innovations that they represent and knowledge across multiple disciplines and their orientation towards certain constellations.

My problem with this theory is the bent pyramid at Dahshur. It's bent, because they got the maths wrong. Weird that aliens who managed to get to this planet but then got their measurements for a stone structure wrong. Seems pretty clear to me that the pyramids we see represent the refinement and development of Egyptian technology, rather than discrete alien intervention.

In contrast, this planet is stuffed full of interesting resources in quantities just right for exploitation at the time that they'd be needed and human development would have reached a stage to take advantage. That's a far more likely candidate as evidence of extra-terrestrial involvement in the seeding of this planet with the correct quantities of resources at the time of its creation. Given the nature and extent of such material, it's likely to have been something more advanced than aliens doing the seeding.

I was reminded of this by the current horseshoe crab shortage affecting north America. It seems as if they have been over-exploited because their blood contains a substance used to test medical products for the presence of bacteria.

Haji 2003

and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I think it most likely does, but I think the issue misses the point about the significance of that tree to our existence.

There are lots of things happening in the universe that we cannot observe when they happen, but they are important for our understanding of natural history when we reach a point in our own development when we can observe their effects.

So millions of years ago there were trees that were falling that we could not hear or observe, but we see their effects today when we dig and drill for hydrocarbons and we can reconstruct their ecosystem in such a manner that it provides us with a scientific understanding of why we are where we are today together with clues as to where we may be heading.

At the level of the individual plant, then, we may never have been able to hear or see what happened to it. But the important aspect of its life, what it left behind has been useful for us.

In the case of frozen mammoths, the evolution life and death of an entire species may have been of value to us in the form of the handful of specimens that have been observed. Had the millions of other mammoths not lived (whose sounds we'd obviously never hear) we would not have been able to acquire those specimens that serendipitously died in a manner that preserved them and learn more about them.

The same point applies to the stars and the universe. Many of them have existed for billions of years, it seems, for the exclusive benefit of us being able to see them at this point in time, when their light could reach us.

 

Haji 2003
Quote

 

Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”.

“Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/oct/14/stephen-hawking-predicted-new-race-of-superhumans-essays-reveal

For atheists, the future is problematic because all sorts of really terrible things can happen. There can be a nuclear winter, takeover by aliens or asteroid strike. For Muslims, in contrast, there are some specific conditions attached to the end of humanity, which would rule out many of the above.

Similarly, when Hawking has concerns about the development of 'improved humans' who can leave everyone else behind, the question is whether we may end up with a sort of world envisaged by H.G. Wells novel the Time Machine, with the human race splitting off into two.

For a Muslim that would seem to be an unlikely future, if it meant that Islamic values, which would consider all humans to be equal, would be wiped out. AFAIK, Islamic eschatology requires there to be Muslims at the end of time.

I think recent history could be an indicator to a more likely future. In the recent past there were some countries that seemed to have an unassailable lead over others in terms of technological and economic development.

What did not happen was that they were able to cut themselves off from the less developed world. Indeed, it seems as if they required inward migration or increasing imports from developing countries to help with their growth. And that migration has meant that there has been some rebalancing of economic power e.g. the growth of India and China.

So, in all likelihood, if particularly groups do gain a short-term advantage through gene editing it will likely become a liability at some future point in time. In its assessment of the lifecycles of nations, the Qu'ran predicts as much.

 

Haji 2003

Colonialism

This is from a review of the book, 'The British in India' by David Gilmour:

Quote

Within 20 years of the end of the Raj almost all major indices of human development – lifespan, sanitation, literacy and child mortality, access to clean water and education – had all immeasurably improved; indeed average lifespans had increased by as much as a decade. This is vital context for Gilmour’s chronicle of colonial British lives, and however remarkable his achievement within the limits he sets himself, you still end up wishing, in the words of EM Forster, perhaps the best of all British novelists on India, that he would “only connect”.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/27/the-british-in-india-by-david-gilmour-review

The review mentions Shashi Tharoor, who has also written in the Guardian, some interesting comments of his below:

Quote

Large-scale conflicts between Hindus and Muslims (religiously defined), only began under colonial rule; many other kinds of social strife were labelled as religious due to the colonists’ orientalist assumption that religion was the fundamental division in Indian society.

The Tharoor article provides some interesting details that challenge the colonial perspective about imperial motivation and impact:

Quote

The railway workshops in Jamalpur in Bengal and Ajmer in Rajputana were established in 1862 to maintain the trains, but their Indian mechanics became so adept that in 1878 they started designing and building their own locomotives. Their success increasingly alarmed the British, since the Indian locomotives were just as good, and a great deal cheaper, than the British-made ones. In 1912, therefore, the British passed an act of parliament explicitly making it impossible for Indian workshops to design and manufacture locomotives.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/08/india-britain-empire-railways-myths-gifts

 

 

Haji 2003

Estia

In 1991 I was browsing through a magazine for graphic designers when I saw an ad for an office furniture company, the shelving systems looked quite practical. Their showroom was in central London so I paid a visit.

I am totally not a DIY person. What works best for me is furniture that needs no more than an allen key, one of these things (in case your knowledge of DIY is worse than mine):

shopping?q=tbn:ANd9GcRKwLc4BPsyjwrltXCow  

 

What I really liked about Estia was that the shelf legs had curved legs, so they could stand without being fixed to the wall. And because they were more minimalist than usual shelves (that have backs) they could be dismantled, stored and moved around to different locations. The design also means that it can stand behind a desk.

I still have the system I bought in 1991 and over the years have added to it. Here's what it looks like. A bit utilitarian, admittedly. Usually, it just has 2 legs, but you can have 3 and more if you want a run of shelves across a wall. Since that time the shop has closed down and they only have an internet presence. Shame.

IMG_0012.thumb.jpg.c32bca194253487a0b3c366aac5aee91.jpg

Haji 2003

There's a series of six programmes about this school currently running on the BBCs iplayer, I think it may have been broadcast in the States on the National Geographic channel.

The school has a population that seems to be 96% African American. Now I don't know if it is bad production or editing or journalism but the series is presenting what seems to be a very lop-sided view of the school, one which leaves many questions unanswered and which seems to reinforce any racial stereotypes people may have had.

What it also does, in my view, is show how the school system is failing these people. But again you can't conclusively say this, given how narrow the focus of the series seems to be.

The focus is around success in sports (for the boys) in order to get into college on a scholarship. Obviously, there are only so many scholarships available, so it seems to be a strategy that will likely mean 'failure' for a large proportion of those who do try. There's been hardly any coverage at all of all the other ways the school must be preparing kids for adulthood especially those whose talent and ambitions aren't leading them towards college are there any classes on more vocational subjects, that may lead to apprenticeships with local firms?

So the teachers who get prime coverage are the (generally very overweight, obese to be honest), sports coaches. There's not been any video in the 3 episodes that I have seen so far of any of the more academic subject teachers and what they teach and how they do so.

The emphasis on sport, in my opinion, is atrocious for these children's long-term futures. Unlike any form of academic education or vocational training, sport is a skill whose value to an individual, in terms of their ability to make a living decreases as they age. And this focus seems to be a by-product of American universities' peculiar fascination with sports success.

Discipline seems to be an obvious problem and the new headteacher is making attempts at controlling it - expulsions seem to be fairly readily used. The school seems to be having to cope with a social environment beyond its control. This is the first time that I have seen a vending machine behind a steel cage.

 

Haji 2003

Summary

The factors which allow countries to produce lots of brains may be the very factors that mean such brains will find better opportunities in countries that are better able to pay brains.

Whether the countries producing the brains are able to benefit from their education-positive actions depends on whether the brains who leave for better opportunities consider their success to be a function of their childhood country or their own hard work.

Countries that produce brains need to work hard in order to ensure that people recognise the source of their success.

Brain drainees

Brain drainees are countries that lose qualified people to other countries. Brain drainees typically need to create the brains in the first place and typically there are some conditions that need to be met in order to do this. In order to develop an educated population you need pupils who have enough to eat and drink, feel secure and who are not compelled to work as child labourers. Ideally, they should not have so much wealth that they have too much access to distractions that will keep them away from their studies. 

You need parents who are willing to provide the time and attention needed for children to learn i.e. people who don't feel compelled to work excessive hours in their employment activities either because such work is badly paid or because it is so well paid but competitive that they have to work those hours to keep up with their peers. You need a social system that keeps parents with children rather than in bars.

You need teachers who are qualified, i.e. those who know their subjects well enough that they want to impart knowledge rather than rote learning. And you need education leaders who see their leadership positions as ones that serve society rather than their own pockets.

Countries can create brains for export without the above conditions, but the above represent an ideal, a sort of goldilocks zone. Societies that are neither too dysfunctional or too successful.

Being in the goldilocks zone also means that parents, teachers and children see the value of utilitarian, functional subjects such as maths and engineering. In contrast in more developed societies there may be a tendency to study more values-expressive subjects such as the arts and social sciences.

Brain drainers

These are societies that systematically draw brains from other countries. Typically these societies are rich. People with brains do not move to poor countries unless they are on a World Bank or an NGO contract.

The wealth of these societies means that the children within them have access to distractions, X-boxes do not play themselves, this means that they don't create as many brains as they could. There are other factors at play as well. Parents may find it more economically beneficial to spend time at work rather than with kids and they may also find it more productive to have less kids to begin with. Both factors reduce brains. 

In such societies, there are good teachers, (obviously). But supply may be limited, this is because people who are well-qualified have a lot of other employment opportunities that are typically better paid than education. Teachers could be paid more, but typically these societies find it more effective to reduce tax rates in order to encourage commerce and enterprise and/or spend their budgets on the military which in turn create non-education job opportunities.

The lack of parental support at home, the availability of distractions and other social forces that challenge traditional teacher/pupil relationships can also mean that teaching becomes more demanding and challenging.

Because these societies are rich, however, it remains relatively easy to recruit qualified people in a range of different activities from other countries that are effective at producing them.

Assessments of cause and effect

It may well be that the very factors that allow countries to produce brains are the ones which reduce the opportunities for those brains to exploit the skills that they have developed in their home countries.

Crucial to this issue is the perception of the brains themselves. If they attribute their success to their own labours and that of the brain drainee country that allowed them in, then there will be a net loss to the brain drainee country, it may be less likely to see any future returns to its investment.

If however, the brains feel that they either owe a debt to the drainee country and/or that the drainee country offers opportunities in the long-term they may make a contribution to it.

Haji 2003

A voice from 1920

I came across an interesting newspaper article published on February 27, 1920, in the Manchester Guardian newspaper (the forerunner of the modern Guardian newspaper), it's titled, "Some essential features of the Zionist Programme".

The author is listed as "from our Special Correspondent" and the location of the writing is given as Jerusalem.

The 'voice' of the piece appears to be an entirely Zionist one, as you may guess from the quotations that follow.

The article starts as follows:

Quote

"Neither at the Peace Conference nor since have the Zionists asked for a Jewish State in Palestine, that the government of the country should be handed over to the Jews"

That's interesting. As I've remarked previously on Shiachat, the Zionist ambitions seem to have changed over time.

Quote

A Jewish Palestine will be the solidest pillar of British influence in the Near East and a stout bulwark to the Imperial sea road of the Suez Canal. As it grows it will be equal to its own self-defence and in time of trial will render substantial help to the mandatory.

Well Britain is no longer the power it once was, and these promises are nowadays being made to the Americans.

Quote

A Jewish Palestine will be the chief gate for the economic penetration of most of Asia. The Palestinian Jews will know the languages and the ways of the East. There are notable commercial settlements of Jews in Bagdad, in Persia, in India, in the Straits, in Hong Kong and Shanghai. For all these the Jewish Palestine will be the base and all this tremendous machinery of commercial expansion will be at the service of the industry and the commerce of the mandatory power of Great Britain.

 

Hmm. This might have been labelled as being anti-semitic if the source had been non-Jewish.

Quote

 

The salaries offered to police and many civil servants and railway workers are too low for a Jew to live upon and the pay offered to roadmakers - almost the only "public work" now being executed - is impossible for Jews. Against such dangers Jews have every right to be safeguarded.

 

 

I am not entirely sure what is being proposed here to the British rulers of Palestine, perhaps it may be a two level pay structure, higher pay for Jews vs. Arabs?

Interestingly the Zionist promoters of these ideas seem quite happy to use the term Palestine and nowhere is Israel mentioned.

 

Haji 2003

Summer is once again upon us and it's the season when some people believe that they should publicly celebrate their sexuality.

Should all parts of our identities be visible in the public domain, however? And could it be that it is the very publicity which itself is the cause of the problem and that what they see as a solution is actually part of the problem?

And the real solution would be the practices adopted by various traditional societies over the centuries.

My understanding of traditional Islamic society is one where there is gender separation on many public occasions which helps facilitate intra-gender relationships. And like other traditional societies, it was acknowledged that people can have emotional bonds with others of the same sex. Men can hold hands in public without any awkward questions.

And the irony is that while heterosexuality is the dominant norm, there is, in fact, little public 'celebration' or demonstration of it. So people who adhere to other sexualities can hardly complain.

Indeed while a male-female couple would find it difficult to 'live' together, because of the rules surrounding proximal living, the same problems would not ensue for two men or two women living together.

Sexuality is simply not a matter for public discourse. 

If privacy is given primacy, then issues around discrimination become less emphatic. No one is allowed to ask and no one is under pressure to tell.

This modus vivendi breaks apart when sexuality becomes part of the public discourse. The problem, however, lies with the heterosexuals.

We started it. 

It was heterosexuals who decided that sexuality was a clever way of selling things, it was us who declared that clothing could be used to express sexuality in the public sphere and so on.

The homosexuals and others simply played catch-up in the ensuing decades.

 

Haji 2003

Uncertainty and risk are all around us. In bygone days we did not even know what the probability of a meteor strike was (it was an uncertain event), but now its been reduced to just a risky event when we can say that individually we are less likely to be hit by a meteor than the chances of any one of us winning the lottery.

Progress then could be seen as a movement from uncertainty to risk to risk avoidance such as when we start destroying threats to Earth from space, as in the movie Deep Impact.

We could have lived in a world with finite sources of uncertainty and risk. So that over time as we conquered each one our existence would become a safer and more predictable one. However, it is curious as our capabilities to manage risks improves, so also we face increases in the threats of such events occurring.

To some extent, the increase in our capabilities and the increasing risks of threats to our existence can be considered to be related to each other. Some advances in science and technology would not have been possible without increasing our carbon footprint. And the latter has unleashed risks to our existence that previously did not seem to exist. Secondly, some of the tools and devices that we have created themselves are now vulnerable to which older generations of technology were not susceptible. Satellites are one means by which we manage the risks presented by the environment, but the satellites themselves are susceptible to solar storms.

The upshot is this. The very earliest farmers had to pray in order for the rain to nourish their crops. Today's farmers may no longer need to pray, because the advances in irrigation have made the supply of water more secure and predictable. But the need to pray remains since there are nowadays other events they lie beyond the control and comprehension of the farmer.

Human predisposition to conceit may lead us to think that as yet another source of risks is addressed we are better able to shape our destiny, but the above points suggest that the system does not behave that way.

Haji 2003

Just went to the cinema to see this with Maryam:

A-Quiet-Place-.-500x760.jpg

We went last week, but the time we went it was on a small screen and she wanted a bigger one, so we came back without seeing it. Tonight it was on one of the cinema's bigger screens.

It's a 15 rated film in the UK, so technically she's not allowed. But I felt breaking the rules was ok. There's no unIslamic content and the dramatisation is pretty amazing. Yes, there are 'Alien' type creatures involved. But this really is an innovative treatment of the genre.

Family weren't too keen on me taking her, but I am sure she'll remember the experience for many years to come.

And, yes, the audience was very quiet.

Haji 2003

Life

The vegetarian industry holds that killing animals is bad. No doubt killing an animal means that it suffers a premature death. However nowadays, at least, it is because of the human need for meat that millions of animals have a life that they otherwise would not have had - because there would not have been an economic reason for them to be bred.

The issue then, is one of premature death vs. not having a life at all.

If people believe that animals are sentient and have some level of intelligence and should not be slaughtered as a result - surely those very arguments can be used to against denying those animals life as a vegetarian lifestyle would. 

So the solution to the ethical/sustainability issues around meat eating is not to ban the practice altogether, rather it is to do with proper animal husbandry and a level of animal protein consumption that is lower than at present.

Haji 2003

The problem with money and markets is that they strip exchanges between people of all social and cultural content. In market-based exchanges, you can buy/sell with complete strangers.

This has its benefits and particularly for social/cultural/ethnic/ religious minorities within a society the market provides an almost anonymous means of interacting with the majority.

In fact, the story can even become worse for the majority because the denser social links/networks between members of a minority may mean that they can exploit higher levels of trust between each other and thereby compete more effectively in the market-place.

Over time, of course, this economic disadvantage may lead to significant differences between the wealth of the majority and minority communities.

Historically there are lots of examples of this all around the world. The end is never a happy one - with the majority usually seeking to address the prpblem via physical force.

The challenge for societies is for them to offer minorities certain rights but at the same time put in place restrictions on the extent of their participation in the economic life of a society so that they cannot dominate the majority.

In an Islamic society where distinctions between groups are not based on race, but rather of belief, this means that there has to be what seems like discrimination against non-Muslims, but which, is in fact, a sensible means of avoiding longer-term conflct between the majority and minority.

Haji 2003

Animal intelligence

Every day there is news of some new aspect of animal intelligence that has been discovered. Whether it is elephants, orcas or lobsters we are finding out about how these creatures manifest different aspects of what we consider intelligence to be.

Of course, the irony is that whatever intelligence we observe was always there, what has changed is the development of tests on our part in order to measure it. Some of these tests are very simple and elegant, but what they highlight is the evolution in man's ability to identify phenomena and then develop measures to assess it.

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