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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

Whether Covid-19 is a naturally occurring virus or whether as some claim (unconvincingly, so far) it is a bioweapon, in my opinion its spread is the result of free will [15]. If it is naturally occurring, then it was human actions that led to its migration from animals to humans. We know that some viruses can do this and we have had previous experience with ones (e.g. SARS) that have created far less havoc [1]. By the same measure this one could be seen to be a dry run for worse epidemics to come, that too is eminently predictable [2,17].

Warnings

A theist could argue that the 2003 SARS outbreak was a warning. SARS showed us that the consumption of certain animals and/or their close proximity to humans can be dangerous. The death toll was relatively low but the message was clear. The fact that people still pursued lifestyles that could lead to such transmission is an expression of their free will. They are exercising their right to pursue cultural practices (eating haram wild animals) while ignoring science [3]. Similarly this is not the last virus that we will face, no doubt there will be another one along at some point which will be deadlier and more difficult to contain. If the lessons from this one are not learnt then the number of dead with the next one will be even higher. That is not the result of God being unjust, it is the result of various human injustices, the socio-economic dimension of the current outbreak has been observed I.e. the poor are much more likely to die than people who are better off [4], but such observations are rare because that would challenge the existing order.

Taking informed personal control

But just as people can blame people in other nations and cultures for their own demise, so we are now facing the tests for our own understanding of risk and willingness to change established behaviours. Two weeks prior to my writing this the Western press was full of stories about how religious Iranians were responsible for helping spread the virus [5]. Those gloating articles [6] have now been replaced by those which are lamenting the behaviour of people in the West and the slow behaviour of western governments.

How the virus transmits, what counts as risky behaviour and what does not is all information that is available and has been for some time now. Some people may choose not to observe nature, they may choose to ignore science and they may choose to live lives as they have always done but they cannot escape reality. And that goes for people who are visiting shrines when they should not as much as those who go to restaurants or evangelical churches [19].

Inequality and viral transmission

There are those who are unable to comply with the scientific advice because of the constraints of their employment, those who get paid by the hour and nothing if they don't work are in a very invidious position. If they carry on working who is to blame? In that situation I think the rest of us carry some responsibility for having elected political leaders who have created economic systems that allow such practices to exist. But luckily and perhaps something that may offer us some redemption in some countries at least even the most economically liberal people are recognising the need to be more communitarian with for example, people who are renting being able to stay in their apartments even if they do not pay their rent [7]. Singapore stands out as a country with an exemplary record in containing Covid-19, but their Achilles heel? The relatively poor care they take of Indian migrant workers and it's been the accommodation such people are offered that has been a more recent cause for concern [16]. The solution has been to 'improve' housing conditions and people recognise that having dozens of workers sharing the same toilets or men living 12 to a room is ideal for viral transmission, the inequality will need to be addressed in order to reduce the transmission of the disease and thereby protect those who are better off.

Incidentally the Singapore example is also worth remembering for all those occasions where people woe the fact that their country is not more like Singapore (I know Pakistanis like doing this). Singapore is one of those countries that enjoys a very favourable international press, and if you are a tourist it is indeed paradise. But it stays that way because of a large underbelly of South Indian manual workers and Malaysians commuting from Johor. There are also other countries (a number ex-British colonies), with similar labour models and all will have problems when you have a disease that spreads more easily where people are being treated unequally.

The Singaporean situation stands in contrast to the Indian state of Kerala whose Covid-19 figures are exemplary, why? Because socialist governments have clamped down on inequality [20]. They may not have the best medical facilities in the world, but good socio-economics have helped them to cope better than richer and better equipped countries. There is a similar story in Vietnam, a country that has learnt not to put economic gain at the very top of the national agenda was able to take strong pre-emptive action and has suffered only a few hundred deaths, despite having a long border with China [21], almost counter-intuitively such emphasis on health may allow such regions to resume economic activity more quickly than those places which were to put it bluntly 'greedy'.

There is another way to look at this. The information was always out there, regardless of claims with hindsight that the Chinese hid the scale of the situation. Some countries (poor ones) acted on it and some (amongst the richest) did not. Possible reasons for the difference? Wealth itself blinkered the vision of decision-makers. A rich country simply has too much to lose if it locks down, despite the fact that it can afford to do so if it wanted to. It's analogous in my opinion to the reason why often it is small companies that innovate and larger ones don't. The latter have too much invested in the status quo.

Economic solutions for medical problems

Those of us who believe in a forgiving and generous God understand that viruses and other diseases are part of the ecosystem in which we live. How we deal with them is, to a large degree, up to us. And to that end it is interesting to note how various commentators are recognising that economic systems that are built on the adoration of the individualistic entrepreneur can be ill-fitted to dealing with such situations, which invariably require self-sacrifice for the social good and where problems are exacerbated when people act selfishly. There are now Twitter campaigns singling out pharmacies that have over-charged for medicines. There are loud complaints about billionaires whose businesses are being baled out with taxpayers' money [8]. Societies that have maintained at least some ability to self-reflect will recognise that although this is a virus the solutions are not going to be wholly medical, they will have to have an economic and social dimension and the latter will involve following precepts embodied in religious texts. Comparisons have been drawn with WWII about how such calamities make societies more social [9].

Whatever the defences people make of the United States healthcare system the fact remains that in order to deal with this virus at least, the system cannot cope with existing payment practices [10]. While the uninsured can go untreated for various other illnesses, they can't be left to their own devices when the result of non-treatment will be an even worse epidemic. Viruses reinforce religious precepts of charity, seeking knowledge and looking after others.

Beliefs, behaviours and survival

Viruses are not kind to those people who believe in blind faith [11] or who feel they can carry on partying [12]. Viruses are not kind to those people who believe in quack cures [13]. Viruses don't care about economic, political, social or religious ideology. Viruses present us with a reality and it is up to us whether we accept it, accommodate it into our worldview and live or challenge it and die. Those people protesting at the Michigan capital about 'liberty' may be making a political point [22], but the virus does not care about liberty and it is certainly not intimidated by the fact that they are carrying AR15 rifles.

This virus, at least from what we know has a clear basis for prevention - social distance, and better still self-isolation [14]. Respecting its transmission is in my opinion respecting nature and the laws of God. The ability to perceive the reality of the situation is essential and something whose importance we've previously discussed [18]. Given the Islamic imperative on preserving life both one's own and that of others - following these rules becomes a must. To that extent we are empowered and God has given us hope and His mercy. This is no apocalypse waiting to happen, it always could be averted, there have been enough warnings over the past several months to encourage those who are willing to listen and prepare.

Hope for people

As a result of the outbreak science is attempting to catch-up and there will likely be a solution. There always is. Again theists and Muslims in particular have their beliefs to give hope in this specific regard. Hope manifests itself at two levels, there is what society can do as it manages and comes out of lockdown and there is what we can do as individuals. At a societal level questions are beginning to be asked about whether lifestyles that we had taken for granted are necessary, do people have to travel long distances to work, when teleworking is possible? Now that people are no longer taking flights were they essential in the first place or should some airlines be allowed to go bust? Of course this is going to cause tremendous upheaval, unemployment and social costs but for those of us who believe in man made climate change, this is a heaven sent opportunity to make the radical changes that would otherwise have been economically unthinkable and perhaps avoid much larger social and economic devastation if we had continued with the same business models as before.

Hope for the individual

In the meantime we are locked down to varying degrees depending on where we are in the world. Some of us may be locked down, but saving time commuting as we work from home others may have no other choice but to stay at home and wait it out.

The lockdown as I see it is an opportunity. Our daily lives can be an impediment to religious study with more material concerns taking precedence. Lockdown can be seen as a heaven sent opportunity to refocus, while at the same time having the impetus of seeing at first hand the proximity of death.

This is the time when we can

  • Re-open the books that may have not be read for some time.
  • Remember the prayers for which people may ordinarily feel they do not have the time
  • Revisit al-Islam.org and access the resources they have available
  • Sign-up to online Islamic courses

For all the occasions where people are led astray by having haram easy to access, its misperceived benefits available in abundance, death seemingly improbable, unlikely and far away and the ability to choose the right path made more difficult by these impediments - the virus and its social and behavioural implications is a reset that loads the dice in the favour of those who are inclined towards the right path. Death is nearer, it is entirely possible and we have the time and the resources to prepare for it. Over the course of human existence, this is a luxury that few people have had.

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sars/

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/emerging-viruses

[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/zoonosis#list-of-diseases

[4] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/09/media/emily-maitlis-bbc-coronavirus-scli-intl-gbr/index.html

[5] https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-Iran-became-a-new-epicenter-of-the-coronavirus-outbreak

[6] https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/24/how-Iran-botched-coronavirus-pandemic-response/

[7] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-support-available-for-landlords-and-renters-reflecting-the-current-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/31/bailouts-coronavirus-state-aid

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/11/coronavirus-who-will-be-winners-and-losers-in-new-world-order

[10] https://www.ft.com/content/00017d02-5f39-11ea-b0ab-339c2307bcd4

[11] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-51706021

[12] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/cheltenham-festival-defends-decision-coronavirus-a4406906.html

[13] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/Iran-coronavirus-methanol-drink-cure-deaths-fake-a9429956.html

[14] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30190-0/fulltext

[15] https://www.al-Islam.org/God-and-his-attributes-Sayyid-mujtaba-musavi-lari/lesson-19-free-will

[16] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/3-pronged-strategy-in-place-to-stop-virus-spread-in-dorms

[17] https://www.ft.com/content/6e9b4fe7-b26e-45b9-acbd-2b24d182e914

[18] https://www.shiachat.com/forum/topic/235033293-quran-social-science-natural-science/

[19] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/bible-belt-us-coronavirus-pandemic-pastors-church-a9481226.html

[20] https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/04/13/999313/kerala-fight-covid-19-india-coronavirus/

[21] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-52628283

[22] https://www.npr.org/2020/05/14/855918852/heavily-armed-protesters-gather-again-at-michigans-capitol-denouncing-home-order?t=1589550976807

Haji 2003

and even if we are not perhaps we should try to be and if we can't are there other ways of understanding the world around us in order to make informed decisions that are necessary for survival?

A hoax?

I was inspired to think about this. by yet another post on ShiaChat asking about the numbers of deaths caused by Covid-19 compared to the numbers dying annually from other causes e.g. malaria or car accidents. The motivation behind the observation was that maybe the fuss around Covid-19 was a hoax perpetrated by those who want to benefit themselves at our expense.

Driving people to science ...

A 'positive' outcome from this crisis is that people are trying to engage with the science and statistics behind the virus, even though they may not be doing so perfectly. But at least it demonstrates a desire to understand the world rather than spend time in idle frivolity. And perhaps as a result of better understanding acquired by such means we may be better able to cope with the next, more virulent virus. At the same time there are clearly attempts by some to mislead to further their own agenda.

Epistemology for the masses

But I also believe that God allows for information and knowledge to take a number of different forms and if we cannot understand one, there is always something else that may take us in the right direction.

A measure that's easy to understand

There are many different measures of how deadly or not the virus is and based on that information what the imperative should be on us to take any action. Some of these are very technical and difficult for the layperson to understand. Indeed we read a number of arguments questioning the threat that CV19 poses and these include the following: 

  • CV19 being no more deadly than flu 
  • more people die in road traffic accidents
  • questions about the integrity of the mortality data because it may not be able to distinguish between whether someone died of CV19 or with it so on. 

They may sound plausible to the unwary and suggest that perhaps no lifestyle changes are necessary.

However I think that it is instructive that we have quantitative information about deadliness that is very easy indeed to understand, and it can not be easily manipulated or changed for propaganda purposes. It is the data on excess deaths.

In all developed countries and many developing ones we know how many people die each year. We just look at the number for this year and you can see the impact of CV19. Of course if there is more than one pandemic happening then it's not so good, but at the moment we only have one.

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A better way to measure the damage caused by such a medical crisis is to look at “excess mortality”: the gap between the total number of people who died from any cause, and the historical average for the same place and time of year. 

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/04/16/tracking-covid-19-excess-deaths-across-countries?gclsrc=aw.ds&gclid=CjwKCAjwtqj2BRBYEiwAqfzur2tUrpRWyXzItjBIDYv-RFBwlzlIBVnQk1155kR7aHJPymSI5DGvcRoCKvkQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

I think the importance of this measure for theists is an important one. Ultimately God creates everything. A just God who created CV19, would also offer us reliable and valid tools to measure its impact.

Screenshot 2020-05-19 at 16.08.09.png

https://www.ft.com/content/f6a11fcd-0445-4643-9d3c-24d5fc0611da

Salvation for those who can't add up

In addition to quantitative data that is easy to understand, we also have the benefit of qualitative data.

The video coverage and audio/text narratives provided by doctors and nurses in many different countries about their daily experiences should be evidence enough to show that this is not some existing cause of death like malaria. Clearly health professionals in many different countries are overwhelmed in a manner that the common flu does not cause. 

Did China lie? But does it matter?

A common refrain from President Trump in late April 2020 has been that the Americans were caught off-guard because the Chinese lied about the nature and extent of the virus. In some ways each of us has been in the same position as the American government. To what extent has the information that has been provided to us been accurate and a reflection of the real situation?

I don't think it matters.

Because it has been easy enough to observe, almost in real time, what the impact has been on peoples' behaviour. People can lie about their opinions and their analysis of reality but they tend to behave in a manner that reflects their true understanding of a situation.

There were enough videos coming out of China about the hospitals being built, the roads being disinfected, the guards at the ground level of apartment blocks restricting who could enter or leave, to tell anyone regardless of cognitive ability that this was a serious virus. This was not flu.

So we did not need to rely on what the Chinese said, all we needed to do was observe what they did.

So you did not need to know the R value of the virus, you did not need to know the difference between different types of mortality rates and so on. All you needed to know were the extreme measures those on the front line were taking because they were terrified and act appropriately.

Conclusion

CV19 forces us to drop misconceptions, ideologies, beliefs and every other artifice that we have created.

It forces us to try and understand nature with the cognitive and analytical skills that we have.

It provides evidence for those who Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) has given the greatest quantitive skills for measuring and understanding what is going on and which will likely be essential for policy making at a global and national level, but at the same time there is enough quantitative evidence that is easy to understand and even qualitative data that no individual need feel unqualified in terms of making the decisions that will help preserve their lives.

 

Haji 2003

A niece living in India wrote a personal statement for British universities, in support of her application and wanted my feedback.

Here it is:

 

Salaam. It’s very well written. It has very good references to extra curricular activities.

The only thing it may be missing are references to academic achievements, such as essay competitions / prizes etc. but if you don’t have anything to say there - there’s not much you can do. 

Structure-wise it starts in a very abstract way and it may be an idea to begin with something more concrete.

People who read these may be used to bull$hit and you want to avoid starting off with the wrong impression.

Let me know if there is anything else.

 

She did not come back to me with a response, perhaps because of one of the words that I used. But as you guys may remember I used the same for my son when warning his primary school teacher about how to handle him.

Anyway one of the leading British universities responded that they did not understand her personal statement.

Not surprised.

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.

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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.

IMG_4192.thumb.jpg.ce2691fc9eda033180373373a004d6c6.jpg

Haji 2003

Simon says ...

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.

243927795_Screenshot2019-08-20at19_12_34.thumb.png.33fec64d5b51dedc32b7deda0b573b55.png

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.

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