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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Memes blown my way ...

by another Windmill. Write 15 things about 15 separate people, but don't name them. They can be things you were too shy to tell people, things you wish you could tell them, or things you hate about them. Anything. NOTE: Before attempting this, do read JadedPrimaDonna's piece.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Don't help Amy Bruce!

Not a day passes without millions of email boxes being spammed by something similar to this.

Hi, my name is Amy Bruce. I am 7 years old, and I have severe lung cancer ... I also have a large tumor in my brain, from repeated beatings. Doctors say I will die soon if this isn't fixed, and my family can't pay the bills. The Make A Wish Foundation, has agreed to donate 7 cents for every time this message is sent on. For those of you who send this along, I thank you so much, but for those who don't send it, what goes around comes around. Have a Heart, please send this. Please, if you are a kind person, send this on. PLEASE HIT FORWARD BUTTON NOT REPLY BUTTON. YOUR'S FAITHFULLY, AMY BRUCE (PLEASE HELP ME LIVE LIKE YOU DO)
Who can avoid reaching out to a kid? So, the impulsive response to this tearjerker, for many, is to hit the Forward button and dump this on to hundreds of their friends. Fight that impulse! (By the way, pictures of cute, African-American children work even better on guilt-ridden WASPs.)

Like ALL chain letters - and the overwhelming majority of virus warnings you get, or the requests to boycott various brands (Tommy Hilfiger is one such target, wrongly accused of racist remarks on a TV show) - this is pure unadulterated bullshit!

When you get something like this in future, just trash it! But if you feel worried or have a nagging sensation of guilt that says "it may be genuine", just copy & paste the first few words of the message into Google. In this case, for example, copy and paste
hi, my name is Amy Bruce I am 7 years old, and I have severe lung cancer
(try it NOW, if you are near a computer). You'll be led to a list of relevant sites, any of which will take you to a page with this kind of info:
Amy Bruce Charity Hoax Summary: Email claims that 7-year-old Amy Bruce is dying of lung cancer and a brain tumour and that the Make A Wish Foundation will donate money when the email is forwarded. 
Status: False 
Examples: [In this section several examples of the variants of the hoax are displayed - ZAK] 
Commentary: This absurd chain letter began circulating back in 1999 and is still being passed around. The information presented in the email is a total fabrication. There is no 7-year-old Amy Bruce who is dying of both lung cancer and a brain tumour. Furthermore, the Make A Wish Foundation is not donating money every time the email is forwarded. The Make A Wish Foundation would not support such an email campaign, even if it were true. 
The concept of individual emails being "tracked" as they journey through cyberspace is a common theme among hoax emails. The only way to "track" an email would be to embed some sort of hidden code in the email and it would have to be continually forwarded in HTML format in order to contain the code. The logistics of tracking an email that could ultimately be forwarded thousands of times are clearly problematical at best. In any case, tracking an email in the way described would raise all sorts of privacy issues and it is highly unlikely that any ethical organization would knowingly participate in such a practice.
Hoaxes like these also cause a lot of trouble for the charitable organizations they mention. Make A Wish Foundation had to devote valuable resources to answering queries about their supposed involvement and to set up a web page just to deal with this. I'd suggest reading it for other useful information, too.

So, I reiterate, please delete all such mail without forwarding ... saving precious bandwidth and everyone's time! But if you have time on your hands, or fingers just itching for that Forwarding Fix, or if you feel kinda empty without having done your Forward-of-the-Day, I suggest you send them a link to this blogpost, instead!

(Regardless of whetever you decide to do, please do take my name off your SpamList. Thanks.)

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

A gift idea!

"It goes to the heart of who we are and where we came from. Our human ancestors were still interbreeding with their chimp cousins long after first splitting from the chimpanzee lineage, a genetic study suggests."

The whole story, featured in the May 17th edition of The New Scientist, is one of many that this amazing magazine offers each week. No time to read? Here's a sample podcast from The New Scientist. Put it onto your iPod! I have yet to come across a single issue that hasn't held me glued ... and, lest you think it's for oldies or science-buffs and geeks, my copies are constantly in demand by absolute non-science types who are less than half my age!!!

Of course, you have to be Bright, Aware, and Inquisitive. So, be warned: You may be at a disadvantage if you've been through formal education which has taken the sheen off all these qualities you were born with. (To be fair, I've known even some of those to enjoy the magazine.)

So, why am I plugging the magazine? Well, it's part of my life-long passion to unzip minds. And I really think some parents should consider a year-long subscription as a gift for their kids on graduating. (They just lose those frigging expensive pens you buy them, anyway!)

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Reclaim the Airwaves!

Sadia Qasim Shah's report from Peshawar in the Dawn informs us of "Illegal FM radio stations, mostly run by clerics, fuelling extremist views about women’s rights and reinforcing conservative social values and extremism in many districts in the Frontier province."

What should the government's response be? Banning never worked well: If you silence someone, it does not mean you have converted her/him into your viewpoint. And even that is - at best - a debatable outcome, in terms of right/wrong, good/bad. The recent Blogger Ban, as stupid an act as imaginable, went away (by mistake, I am told) and is now back. Apart from a minor inconvenience for a few, it resulted in:
1. Criticism of our lack of freedoms, worldwide. Countering the image that had just begun to be accepted that, under President Musharraf, this aspect was getting better.
2. Selective action against only those who choose to blog via one particular platform. There are countless others available, legally. And publishing your views on the web takes numerous other shapes.
3. Several workarounds - all being used today.
4. Restricted access to the majority of blogs that wrote against the Cartoon Publications (as opposed to the odd few that provided links to them).
5. Reduction in the amount of Pakistani viewpoints that were available on the Internet. These not only helped us join global voices but also celebrated the diversity that is Pakistan.

My suggestion is to legalize them all. Let there be a battle of ideas. Let people choose what to listen to. Lower the cost of licenses. Let Women's Organizations and the moderately enlightened set up their FM Channels. Let Health and Education NGOs use them to spread better living conditions. Allocate bands and frequencies. Volume usage will bring down the price of the 'illegal' FM Broadcast Sets from their current 10K price. Encourage their 'beautification' and 'reliability' and let the makers export them to neighboring countries.

All this will reap far greater rewards to Pakistan than the money PEMRA makes. (A friend informs me, in a related email, "... PEMRA only allows the licences of FM stations to be 'bought' in an auction, with one of the recent ones going for as high as Rs. 30 million - incidentally in Peshawar!")

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Having been wounded by KESC ...

... is this supposed to rub Salt[ek] into my wounds?

[Sabeen: This one was for you and Tog and Jakob!]

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Just a thought...

'Aziz calls for rain prayer' reports the Press.

Right! And if that doesn't work, maybe he can lead the whole Cabinet, in his Armani suit, into a Rain Dance! Other Native Americans tell me it is effective. Honest.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

An educational evening

THE CIBES SEMINAR on What They Don't Teach You At Business Schools

Hats off to the young people who organized the event very professionally! All the top names in the industry and academia were there. A Mixed Blessing, actually, but it at least underscores the credibility that this series of seminars has achieved over the years. The format, too, is wonderful. I was glad to have been invited to speak, but would have enjoyed it equally well as a member of the audience.

The opening presentation by Mr Said Ghani was scholarly and academic, with his usual strong focus on morality, ethics and other human issues. His opinion has always been to ensure that matters are placed wihin our cultural context and draw upon our own resources and heritage, religious and otherwise, though not to the exclusion of all else. There were oppositions to this view, later, by those who felt that Globalization was 'inevitable', somehow implying that we should - as always - be content to be the Road and never aspire to be Road Rollers.

I found all but one of the other presenters and speakers to be wonderful - in the ways I had expected them to be: Staid, Conventional, Risk-Averse. The exception had absolutely nothing to say that was worth hearing. He seemed to be in love with himself - a state that guarantees very few rivals.

The opposition of a couple of co-speakers to some things I said, particularly regarding the role of Competition, I was prepared for and welcomed: Try knocking any accepted idea and you'll get an even bigger and stronger opposition. In any case, my purpose, as stated in the presentation, was to stir up debate on this issue. Mr Danishmand's response, in terms of the attitude he displayed later, was strictly in keeping with his personality (which I was to discover as the evening unfolded). So, at least his qaul and fayl are the same! Sadly, neither is worthy of my respect.

Later, on my way home, I had messaged one of the kids from COMMECS, saying that I wish I had not been huddled off with the 'elite' for tea after the seminar, but had been allowed to interact with the students (who were all shushed off to another room). After all, it was because of them that I had agreed to participate. This is his response via sms:

that would have been enlightening for the students. hehe. Mr Danishmand was too defensive abt things. you were highly relevant and awesome in communicating the harsh reality in a witty mode.
The italicized part is what I am gladdest and most concerned about: Talk about ANY aspect of education, from high school to university to professional institutes, and you hear students complaining of the irrelevance of many aspects of the curricula, the syllabi, the teaching methodology, the half-baked internship programs, the lab and field work.

Surely, it is fair to expect business schools to best understand what needs to be done - at least in their domain - in a situation where there are so many dissatisfied customers. I wonder how many have a CRM Department...

One young person put forth 2 extremely relevant questions at Q&A time. He was unnecessarily, and rudely, 'put down' by an amazing waste of hydrocarbons who actually grabbed and held on to the mike and went on to answer all of the questions asked. The quality of his replies prompted this:

Thaa bü∂haapay kee sama'at ka qüsoor,
Ham jo süntay thay voh daanishmand hae;
Kal sünaa jab paas say to yeh khülaa:
Üss ki to bilkül hee daanish band hae!

I strongly believe that every educational institution of higher learning must have at least one dissenting voice on campus, within its faculty, or the institution will never grow into a great one. Nor will its students learn, by observation, that a diversity of opinions will always exist, that what needs to be learnt is to co-exist.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

For Nuz

The cake at Espresso at midnite said 'Happy Anevercery'.
The single piece that you & I shared
with Jehan Ara and Sabeen (with a bit sent to Mimi)
was a far cry from the amount we two would devour
without any qualms until just a short while ago.
Oh, well! What the hell! Diabetes & Cholestrol
may have taken their toll But it's been one great life!
I'd live it exactly this way again.
(But I wouldn't buy that Adnan Sami Khan record this time around!)
Thank you, Nuzhat, for braving 36 years with me.
 I am glad that we have both remained as crazy
as we were when this pic was taken.

  Much love! Z


Friday, May 05, 2006

What the Nat-Geo Survey really means ...

Through the usual forwarded emails, the NatGeo website, or the magazine itself, many became aware recently of the knowledge level of young people in the USA. These were some of the things that the NatGeo piece highlighted (If you are more than casually interested, the site also has a link to the full downloadable report):
  • 63% of young Americans can't find Iraq on a map.
  • 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia.
  • 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim.
All this could have, once, been explained away (though not excused) by saying that the people in the USA have a very local view of things. As Tom Lehrer had pointed out many years ago (Kazaa or Limewire him! Brilliant!!!), if WWII had started during the Baseball season, most Americans would have missed hearing about it. But things have steadily gotten worse, judging by this icing on the cake:
  • 50% of young Americans can't find New York on a map.
  • 33% couldn't pinpoint Louisiana on a map.
  • 48% were unable to locate Mississippi.
Hmmmm. As I was saying to OA, who brought this report to my attention, since the USAF gets its Pilots from the same population, is there any chance they'd confuse these places with Iraq and bomb them by mistake?

To be fair to today's younger generation, this is not much different from the 1950s when a college-level survey quoted a Grad who had written: The Bible of the Mohammedans is called Kodak. Not only did he not know the name of the Muslim Book, or understand the subtlety of the fact that there are no Mohammedans, he was surprisingly unaware of the existence of Kodak ... a name in the 50's that hardly had a competitor of note.

Sound startling? Why? It's perfectly understandable. Under a system of Education (No, I am not being funny; That's what it is called.) that not just promotes rote learning, but makes it essential through Examinations and Grading based on memory-centred tests, this is just what you'll get. (Two USA classroom test questions suggested among lesson plans in a teachers' guide: When did USA gain independence? Who was the 17th President? In Pakistan, we don't fare much better: I have seen 'When was Iqbal born?' and 'Where was the Quaid born?' in textbooks and in tests. The second is a trick question, of course, since the correct answer is dependent upon the political party in power. And many of you, I am sure, can't recall where the Battle of Panipat was fought.)

When you get as old as I am, you enter the age rightfully known as anecdotage. Everything reminds you of a story or an event. So, here goes: Many years ago, when Shahnaz Wazir Ali was the Education Minister and the Chief Guest at a pioneering Education Technology Exhibition, I recall a 14-year-old student from that amazing institution, Karachi High School, before being whisked away by an embarrassed and angry organizer, addressing her with words to this effect (the quote is as accurate as I can recall - since the child's words continue to ring in my ears, including her emphases): "As one of the few educated Education Ministers we have had, maybe you can answer my question and even do something about it. I was taught and tested on when Babar was born. I asked my father. He had been taught and tested on this, too. I asked my grandfather. He, too, had gone through this. I then asked both whether ever in their combined age of 100-odd years they had found this information to be of any use. Or if anyone outside of school had ever asked them this. Or needed to know. "No!", they said. So, Madam, can we please take this out of our course and put in something useful instead?"

This is a problem with no easy answers. Which is exactly what makes it something that no one dares touch in this world of easy-answer seekers. The training for this attitude, too, starts at school, with that 10-page "Guide to World History: All the Facts You Need!" ... and its grown-up equivalent: World History for Dummies! Local Publishers refuse to handle my proposed Urdu Translation of the book unless I change the title from "Aalami Taareekh Baraaé Chootiaas!" - They say no one will buy it --- and, to my reasonable protests, give me this answer: "'Dummies' to Angrayzee mayñ hae, na. Üss say 'class' hee badal jaata hae!" Sam, please note! OK.

Back to the Examination thing. Let's face it. this is NOT something that can be tackled by one or two political parties in one or two terms (or, in our case, the Ruling Party, however long it prolongs its Term of Office). The practical aspects are overwheming and complex. Think of the chain and all the links that need changing. Man, if Education were a human being, we'd have been talking mercy-killing now! Are there possible solutions? Or are we doomed to live in this seemingly infinite loop? Think about it. Blog about it. (Please do send me links to your posts). I'll be posting my views, here, every now and then - so if it's of interest to you, do drop in again.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

And he's not even a Syed!

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

But I thought our National Bird was the Ostrich ...

The ad in Sinday Times struck me as particularly interesting. Not just because of its acceptance that, despite a ban on Alcohol sales, people are drinking in sufficient numbers for a large enough percentage among them to become alcoholics and keep a project such as Willing Ways going.

Neither was it because the advertising clinic has been acknowledging and treating the problem for 25 years in this Land of the Pure.

It was the use of the male pronoun in describing the prospective patient - which assumes, rightly, that the bulk of them are men - that caught my eye.

The clinic is, after all, situated in Nazimabad, where women are unlikely to drink. Not true of DHA according to the Doctor-on-Duty at the NICVD, where I had taken my wife for a check up after a chest pain last week. He asked her where she lived and, on hearing our address, said, "Oh. Most of the women from there smoke and drink, which causes heart problems." (Talk of sweeping statements! I think they should transfer him from Emergencies to Janatorial Services.)

So, Willing Ways, how about a female alcoholism centre in this area?

The opening line of the body reads: Drinking per se is not a defect of character. Alcoholism is." Now that's really interesting to know.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Inter-Faith Dia[bo]logue

A cousin of mine has written to me today that she and her husband are working hard with people of different faiths to establish an Inter-Faith Dialogue Forum. They want me to "publicize this through eMail and other communication tools at [my] disposal".

I have, sadly, turned down their request and sent them the following:

I am in a quandary. A Dialogue, the dictionary tells me, is 'a discussion intended to produce an agreement'. An agreement can only take place if both parties are prepared, at the outset, to accept that either of them could be wrong - totally, or in parts - and the other party possibly right. However, if either party believes that it is absolutely right, with NO possibility of error, since it is divinely guided (and in the case of a forum of this nature every one of them, obviously, holds such a belief) there seems hardly any point in starting such a dialogue.
Of course, if 'agreeing to disagree' is the goal, it needs no discussion; just a commitment. And it is a concept that even the Qur'an expounds: To you your way of life, to me mine! 

Incidentally, this Ayat is addressed to the Kafiroon, a category into which many Muslims seem to place even those other Muslims who do not subscribe to their narrow definition of Islam. And although the Qur'an does not say that this Ayat excludes Apostates who, I guess, would have become Kafirs - having abandoned The Faith - the Ulema are agreed that the pleasure in killing them far exceeds that of strictly following the Qur'anic injunctions.

Understandable, for, after all, what is one to do for entertainment in the kind of society they wish to create?

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