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In the Name of God بسم الله
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About this blog

Ideas about modern issues from an Islamic perspective.

Entries in this blog

Haji 2003

Hanification

The signs on the Paris metro are now also in Chinese, as are some train announcements. Since the French have a mixed reputation for speaking English I guess it means they have to try a bit harder when it comes to wooing the Chinese.

And there are plenty of them.

But this is the honeymoon period. This is when the Chinese are awe-struck by French style and glamour. It's hard to imagine that Imperial Russia was similarly besotted by France

At the moment France exports its culture (which it has always been happy to do) and in returned is handsomely financially rewarded. It's a great deal.

But the French experience in Africa shows that what may be a good deal in the short-term may have longer term consequences. In the African context it has been immigration into France, that's not very welcome. After all if you tout yourself as the font of civilisation it's not a surprise when the people you tried so hard to convince, agree and then decide to pay a visit.

Or in the case of the ancient Romans it was the looting of Greek treasures that they admired (and the Greeks had not even promoted their culture to the Romans) And the British did it to both Roman and Greek treasures.

In the Chinese context it may not necessarily be immigration into France and it won't be the looting of treasures, but perhaps at some point a Chinese billionaire may decide to buy French brands and admiring young Chinese may decide to work in these organisations and bring their own Han Chinese cultural interpretations to the story.

I'm not sure the French will be too happy. Like many other cultures theirs is one embedded in ethnicity.

The template is already there. Singapore has its own homegrown luxury brands, that seem English, but they're not. Singapore is small, but there are hundreds of millions of Han Chinese.

double-espresso-truffles.jpg

Haji 2003

Hell

The entrance to perdition

Opens the heart to the previously imperceptible

Recognition

Of damnable action

 

The ephemeral expert's turntable

Rhythms with hedonistic resonance

Amid blissful ignorance 

Of the posthumous consequence

 

The buried sinner hears the veiled reality

Curated in the depths of memory

Revealing the horrors 

Of temptation's tortures

 

The awakening conscience

Is eternity's retribution

Burning a soul's deafened

Sense of guilt and shame

Brought back to life by excruciating pain

 

The seemingly heavenly choral

Sounds of the celestial ensemble 

Are just an aural residue of a spiritual debt

Paid in burning firmament

 

 

Haji 2003

Maryam's school is super laid back. This year Abbas started in Year 7 (equivalent to Middle school in the US?, @Hameedeh help), at the age of 11.

They get a school planner and I found these pages. I've been told the school has a great atmosphere and the kids really love it, and perhaps the written bureaucracy is just to scare them, but whoever put it together is on a real power trip. I think.

Kids are supposed to set SMART targets for themselves and then self-assess. I work with managers in reasonably responsible positions who don't know how to set SMART targets!

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And these are a FEW of the criteria for discipline, there are three pages of this.

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They record when a kid goes to a toilet in a lesson:

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Haji 2003

Next year, inshallah, Maryam takes her GCSE exams in the United Kingdom, those are taken at 16 years of age.

Just a heads up for anyone else with kids/relatives of that age. I have been looking at the websites of the exam boards for her different subjects. Googling the name of the board, the subject and the year of the exam will usually get you to the right page.

There are a lot of free resources they offer, e.g. subject specifications and examiner commentaries. The latter are very useful to get an idea where students typically make mistakes, for example and to understand what examiners are looking for.

Kids/parents who are at better schools with more clued up teachers may likely not need to do all this themselves. But although Maryam's school is pretty good, there's no harm in using those specification books for example to keep an eye on progress.

Haji 2003

I have previously remarked upon how, in some fields of human endeavour where the scientific approach is held to be the ideal, in reality human scientific and technological discoveries has often been the results of luck and even mistakes.

There is a corollary in the field of the social sciences which also emphasise the value of the scientific approach to generate knowledge. In this domain the anomalies are various frameworks and models that are widely taught and even used, but which have no basis in rigorous scientific research.

The famous work by Abraham Maslow on motivation and his resulting 'hierarchy of needs' is very widely studied and used. He posits that human motivation at the fundamental level is driven by physiological needs, and once these are satisfied (he did qualify this in later works) people try and address safety needs and then, social needs and self-esteem and finally self-actualisation. 

But Maslow did not come up with this through any research that would hold up to scientific scrutiny.

Yet is is productively used by professionals in a variety of industries, managers, MBA students and others in universities. For example people use it to understand why consumers buy certain products.

The same issue applies to Bloom's taxonomy in the field of learning and also Elmo's buying funnel in the area of marketing. The three laws of robotics have their basis in science fiction and in the area of web searching there is no scientific basis for the information-navigational-transactional categories that are used.

The implication from this is that while ideas and knowledge may ideally be the result of the scientific approach I.e. hypothesising and then testing, there are many instances where this is not the case. In the area of the social sciences and management the value of some types of knowledge seems to rest on their 'face validity', do they make sense to the individuals who are presented with them and can those individuals make better sense of their external environment as a result of using these tools and if they can, that is good enough.

The same principle could surely apply to various aspects of religion. There may be no scientific proof underpinning various religious ideas, but if they have face validity, if they help the individual make sense of their external environment and manage it, surely that is good enough?

Haji 2003

Tai Kwun

I had an afternoon off earlier in the year and spent an enjoyable few hours at the restored Police Station in Central, Hong Kong. It's now been transformed into a heritage museum and art gallery.

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It has to be said that the art of museum curatorship as a form of communication and dare I say propaganda is one that many people do not appreciate. One form that this takes is making the mundane interesting and engaging:

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Another aspect of making things more engaging is the introduction of peoples' lived experiences:

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You're all likely to have heard about the protests in Hong Kong. I can't help but consider how the British legacy in Hong Kong has also been responsible for the sowing of corruption. On the land occupied by the police station is also an art gallery and the exhibition had this warning:

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Basically female artists emancipating females by getting them to take their clothes off. No I did not take a picture of that. But the following deals with another pet hate of mine:

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And just in case you did not get it, the artist has thoughtfully written about the meaning of the piece. I hate these explanations, if the art does not communicate its message, then its rubbish and having an explanatory essay just makes that more obvious.

IMG_1133.thumb.jpg.f9c8297efd7f7bbed58cf2d1aea98321.jpg

 

 

 

Haji 2003

The Trump administration gave up on JCPOA, partly because it did not like 'Iran's regional influence'. This is at the heart of the current dispute.

Apart from Persoids who believe that giving up on Lebanon, Syria and Iraq will somehow make Iran safer, everyone else knows that Iran reining in its regional influence will win it a matter of months of respite before its enemies seek to push home the advantage for regime change.

At the same time Israel is seeking to build up its own sphere of influence amongst the Gulf Arab states. And Iranian actions are getting in the way. Currently a war seems to be the only way to settle this, but there is another option.

Why don't Israel and Iran come to a grand bargain to split up the Middle East?

The Israelis can have North Africa (they've controlled Egypt since Sadat anyway). They can have the Saudi peninsula except for Hijaz and Yemen (MbS is their [Edited Out] as it is). So they can also have control over Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain. This is a basic recognition of current reality rather than Muslims giving up something.

Iran keeps its influence over Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

I don't know what to do about Kuwait. It should be part of Iraq anyway.

So in both instances the facts on the ground are recognised, but the effect of the bargain would be to draw a line in the sand and have an agreement that Iran would not seek to influence countries in the Israeli sphere and vice versa.

Obviously the chances of the above happening are 0%, but sometimes it takes someone naive to point out that the Emperor wears no clothes. In the current situation the corollary is that somehow the Arab states are independent and somehow the current antagonisms are between them and the Iranians. There's also the fiction that somehow the Americans and the British have some sort of role.

But this is an Iranian and Israeli issue. Everyone else is an observer.

Haji 2003

As I mentioned previously Maryam asked to take the 5D and the lenses with her on the school trip. It's professional equipment, albeit everyone in Hong Kong seems to have better. Here's some of what she came back with. Oh and all the equipment came back too.

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Haji 2003

The case against artificial ingredients is well worn in terms of the possible damage to health. The health benefits of foods that are as natural as possible with limited human interference I.e. processing seems compelling.

For a couple of decades and perhaps for a couple more going forwards organic foods have given people something to believe in. Organic represents good, wholesome and natural and the opposite - foods that have chemicals added to aid their growth and which have been through a range of processes in order to give them longer-shelf lives represent what is bad. Whatever limitations organic foods may have are, for some people, more than compensated by their health and environmental benefits.

Consuming organic is virtuous and whatever sacrifices need to be made in order to do this are similar to those theists are willing to make for their beliefs. Of course the believer in organic may claim scientific evidence to back their behaviour.

The question is whether the 'organic faith' is likely to be a permanent state of affairs. I think not. Because natural food production processes are not scalable for an ever increasing global population.

In contrast, the ability of humans to interfere productively in food production has been established over millennia and we've been getting better at it. Our interventions raise all sorts of scientific, environmental, moral and economic issues and as a result I don't think God would lead us to a developmental dead-end. So I think the current preference for organic and natural food that is devoid of processing is likely to be a short-term fad, albeit a well-meaning one. 

We now have better knowledge of how not to process and the costs and risks of different processing methods, and overtime I think we will become better at processing and as the following story highlights the need to develop artificial ie. man-made processes for making foods is likely to increase and so is our ability to do so. Along the way we may well find ways of processing that do still cause health and other disbenefits, but it'll be up to us to find novel solutions. Relying on historical processes won't be an answer.

Quote

A Finnish company that makes food from electricity, water and air has said it plans to have 50m meals’ worth of its product sold in supermarkets within two years.

It is produced through a process similar to brewing beer. Living microbes are put in liquid and fed with carbon dioxide and hydrogen bubbles, which have been released from water through the application of electricity. The microbes create protein, which is then dried to make the powder.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/29/plan-to-sell-50m-meals-electricity-water-air-solar-foods

Haji 2003

I've always thought that since British Mandate the Palestinians have been in a no win position. If they accepted the offers the Israelis gave them there would have been an incentive for the Israelis to take more land (if the Pals don't time yielding some they might not mind yielding more) and if the Pals had resisted that would also have given the Israelis a pre-text to take more land (for defensive purposes).

In short whatever the Pals decided did not matter, the Israelis were in too dominant a position.

Turning now to a totally different situation, the following piece in the FT neatly summarises how I feel about the situation between the U.S. government and Huawei.

In a previous FT story about the same subject I posted a comment that this situation is similar to the British attempts to stop Indian technological development by banning the Indians from making their own steam engines, at the start of the 20th century. The British may have delayed Indian development by some decades, but that's all they were able to do. Whether the British took no action to stop Indian technological development or whether they proactively tried to hinder it, ultimately they would lose. 

There are now far too many Indians with every increasing levels of capability to stop the juggernaut.

Quote

These actions by the Trump administration have not only pushed us closer to a world split between a “Chinese-based” and “US-based” internet; they may also have dented the ability of America’s tech champions, especially Google, to maintain their dominance. This brash nationalistic trade policy may end up backfiring badly. The game is on.

https://www.ft.com/content/8fc63610-88fe-11e9-b861-54ee436f9768

In summary I think the U.S. government feels a threat to its economic/technological dominance. And the sanctions are its attempt to fight back. But whether the U.S. decides to fight or not, I think in the longer term that dominance will have to be compromised. Huawei and the Chinese are now too far along the technological path of development and they are far further ahead than the India of the early 20th century. 

The U.S. is now in a similar technological position that the Palestinians have been in terms of geography. Whatever option the US chooses, it will ultimately 'lose'. Loss in this context is not necessarily ceding technological leadership to the Chinese, but it may well involve acknowledging their superiority in certain areas.

sic transit gloria

Haji 2003

The photo-journalist Cartier-Bresson coined this phrase, with a book of the same name, whose English title was 'the decisive moment'. Capturing such moments can be fun and rewarding.

I've been trying to encourage Maryam to see photographic picture taking as being an opportunistic exercise where good shots can be unexpected, unplanned and based purely on the recognition that there might be something there.

We were in Regents Park yesterday and she was taking pictures of Abbas cycling on the Broadwalk. I noticed this group and told her to switch her attention. She came up with this. There were, better compositions but they were out of focus etc. Still, as I told her the trick is to practice these situations enough so that when a money shot does happen you know exactly what to do.

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Haji 2003

Simon says

 

This is the new law

This is the right law

That was the old law

It was the wrong law

 

Follow the new law

It is the right law

Ignore the old law

That was the wrong law

 

The new law is the modern law

The modern law is the best law

The old law was a bad law

Don’t follow the old law

 

We believed the old law

We upheld the old law

But now we have a new law

You should follow the new law

 

Our country established the new law

We follow the new law

We modernised

You must modernise

 

Your country must establish the new law

The new law is the right law

If you follow the old law

You will follow the wrong law

 

The wrong law

Is a bad law

Bad countries follow wrong laws

Good countries follow new laws

 

You must follow the new law

It is the best law

There can never be a better law

Than the new law

 

In the past we have superseded old laws

In the past we have brought new laws

This time it is different

This is the best law

 

Our country has made the new law

Our country makes good laws

Our country is a good country

Bad countries follow old laws

 

Good countries sanction bad countries

Good countries bomb bad countries

Bad countries must follow good countries to be good countries

Bad countries must follow good countries not to be bombed to goodness

Haji 2003

Geert Hofstede is famous for his cultural dimensions theory. The idea is that culture affects the values to which members of a society subscribe. Originally the model had four dimensions within which values could be analysed:

Quote

The four core dimensions are:

  1. power distance,
  2. individualism versus collectivism,
  3. masculinity versus femininity and
  4. uncertainty avoidance. 

Partly in response to the criticisms mentioned above,

  1. a fifth dimension focused on long and short term time orientation based initially on a survey developed with Chinese employees was later added. 

And then it becomes more interesting:

Quote

In 2010 a sixth dimension was added to the model, Indulgence versus Restraint.  This was based on Bulgarian sociologist Minkov’s label and also drew on the extensive World Values Survey.

https://www.communicaid.com/cross-cultural-training/blog/indulgence-vs-restraint-6th-dimension/

So what are indulgence / restraint?

Quote

Indulgence is defined as a tendency to allow relatively free gratification of some desire and feelings (leisure, casual sex, spending, and consumption). Restraint stands for the tendency to curb the gratification of desires and feelings by strict social norms and prohibitions.

Maleki, A. and de Jong, M. (2014) ‘A Proposal for Clustering the Dimensions of National Culture’, Cross-Cultural Research. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, 48(2), pp. 107–143. doi: 10.1177/1069397113510268.

 

 

Quote

 

Indulgence versus Restraint

The sixth and new dimension, added in our 2010 book, uses Minkov’s label Indulgence versus Restraint. It was also based on recent World Values Survey items and is more or less complementary to Long-versus Short-Term Orientation; in fact it is weakly negatively correlated with it. It focuses on aspects not covered by the other five dimensions, butknown from literature on “happiness research”. Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms. Scores on this dimension are also available for 93 countries and regions. Table 6 lists a selection of differences between societies that validation research showed to be associated with this dimension.

Indulgence tends to prevail in South and North America, in Western Europe and in parts of Sub-Sahara Africa. Restraint prevails in Eastern Europe, in Asia and in the Muslim world. Mediterranean Europe takes a middle position on this dimension.

 

https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=orpc

 

Hofstede sees the following differences between the two groups of cultures.

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As a Muslim you can immediately seen the significance of this dimension. To my mind it's pretty central to all aspects of Muslim life. The the table above seems to present indulgence in fairly positive terms whereas restraint is presented in fairly negative terms.

For societies that focus on restraint it is not a matter of eschewing the positive aspects of pleasure, it is the recognition that there is usually a cost associated with it. The cost may be material e.g. getting into debt in order to buy happiness. The cost can also be social with the happiness of some people being bought at the expense of others e.g. in terms of socio-economic inequality.

The following map shows how the two dimensions are spread around the world:

Picture2-880x1024.png

The following publication is available online at the URL I have shown:

viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=orp

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.

 

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