Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steps to enlightenment

1. Experience joy, beauty, love, happiness
2. Imagine a world full of it
3. Do what has to be done while using as much of your time simplifying things
4. Be cognizant of the fact that the world as you experience it is becoming closer to the world as you imagined
5. Repeat cycle until death!

The beauty of self-negation

Self-negation is the act of exercising your will power to do what you don’t want to do such that you benefit from this act [of self negation]. The more one practices self-negation the better you get at controlling your will and making it do what you want it to, when you want it to.

For obvious reasons this can have tremendous benefits. Just imagine a situation where your superior wants you to sit late or gives you a task that is very difficult and you have enough control over yourself to not get flustered! In fact imagine turning your world into the world you always imagined as a child… by taking the difficult steps, through self-negation…one can only marvel at the beauty of creating the world you want!

We get the chance to practice self-negation many times in the day, each chance another ‘opportunity’ to get better at controlling ourselves.

Every time we sit down to eat for example we can eat good food in the quantity that the body requires and after that leave some space in our stomach. The food that would have filled the remaining space would not nearly be as enjoyable as the little ‘hunger’ that is left.

Similarly to communicate with a woman [a person could be born a woman or a man with probably a 50% probability. There is every possibility that you the reader of this post could have been born of the opposite gender!] i.e. with a person with the ‘soul of a woman’ [kind, gentle and warm] is much more beautiful than wanting her body!

The practice of namaz, the discipline of performing it each time it is due is also an act of self-negation!

Not over sleeping, in fact using your time to do something more interesting is also a very beautiful act of self negation!

Each of the examples in themselves when practiced will reveal the beauty in them.

All of them taken collectively I think would allow one to create their own future!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My theory on why God created man

My theory is that God created us so that we “pursue happiness”. This I have gathered based on the eco-system that God has created and my understanding of the rules behind this eco-system, which I call “reality”.

It is almost as if heaven and its different levels that have been mentioned in the Muslim faith are parallel to different levels of “happiness”. This can be understood as “a higher form of happiness is experienced in a higher form of heaven” [form and level have been interchangeably used].

If happiness is to be pursued I think it is best pursued in God’s eco-system in a most selfish way.

The reason I say it is best pursued in a selfish manner is that one’s own happiness depends on one’s environment and one’s influence on this environment. We are not independent of this environment at all and so to be happy we would have to be happy in this environment.[Selfishness when all encompassing of reality is not bad at all!] If we harm others in our environment it is not likely that many among them will come forth to save us in times of trouble.

This reciprocal relationship between us helping others and others in turn helping us exists in many other forms. Another such relationship is us learning some skill and that skill helping us out when we need it to. Another relationship is that between us and our ability to “negate ourselves” [self-control], the better we get at this the more control we would have over ourselves when we really need it!

The harder we work at all these relationships the better off we will i.e. the happier we will be in the long run.

I have mentioned in my earlier post that even inactivity on our part will result on some impact on our lives and through our lives the lives of others and through a multiplier effect it will have a great impact on the future of this world, yet this impact may very much result in unhappiness if we are not careful about our actions.

Here is an excerpt from an earlier post On Strategic Management and its implications:

A company can thus respond at one of four levels:
1) Create change: trailblazers, such as Microsoft
2) Those that anticipate change and react before time: Many MNCs
3) Those that react to the environment
4) Those that fail to respond in time

This shows us very well how being pro-active and reactive is not the same thing!

Someone has beautifully said:
“In an African jungle each day there is a chase between lions and gazelles. The fastest lion has to catch the slowest gazelle to be fed.

Just like in the jungle it wouldn't matter if one is the gazelle or the lion but when the sun rises you better start running!”

And so the more selfish you are in your pursuit of happiness, in fact the more passionate you are the higher the level of heaven you will reach!

The pursuit of happiness then is the reason God created man as I understand it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Violence against women in Pakistan

Tehreek e Niswan is a movement for women that started its journey 30 years ago in the hands of a few talented and committed individuals. Individuals who are committed to the ideal of a society where women are respected and given the dignity they deserve. This group searched for literary work that was being written in the country on current issues and had it rewritten in the form of plays.

The plays were performed not only for the educated in society but also in the streets to audiences who could but only afford to seat themselves in a tent on barren ground. The plays were performed on Karo Kare and on violence against women in its various other forms.

I saw a play recently that helped me understand the predicament of so many women from the lower socio economic group [SEC] and I narrate it below.

A young woman who was nearing 30, her two sisters, one older and the other younger married, she herself with a steady job of PKR 8,500/- had remained un-married because she was not very good looking. Her father and mother uneducated, careless, replete with a supply of sarcastic pedagogic advice had left it up to her to find her marriage partner and so it was that she went about asking about boys from their neighbors in neighborhoods sometimes as far out as different cities.

She had a steady job and now the only thing on her mind was to get married but her search led to one bad review [of the boys] after another.

On one of her inter-city trips she met a young man on the train who spoke in good English and impressed her with his stories of the US. Having found nothing wrong with him she gave him the address of her house to come and meet her there so that they would get to know each other better.

As a few days past she kept remunerating about this young man. Incidentally, we are shown at this point, another aspect of this young woman’s life: a colleague of hers of apparently lewd intentions invites her for dinner and as we see for the umpteenth time she declares her abhorrence of his attempts and intentions. This colleague has a dialogue with the narrator of the play [as part of the play] where he is asked why he is so incessant in asking her out when she is not interested to which he replies ‘one day she will accept, it’s just a matter of time!”.

Finally the young man of whom the heroin of our play is busy fantasizing comes to her house and greets her with a bouquet of flowers, sweet-talks with her and invites her over to his hotel room at Hotel Millan room 303. Hesitant of meeting him there yet of the opinion that this might finally be her opportunity to get married she decides to meet him.

Two days later she goes and finds herself at the reception of Hotel Millan where she finds that her suitor has already left for Lahore but has left behind an address.

She decides that she has come so far into this that she must go to meet him in Lahore where she will meet him during the days and stay the night with her very close friend Laila. And so she gets to Lahore takes a taxi and finds his house.

Of course he is very ‘delighted’ to see her and immediately makes arrangements to make her feel comfortable. Happy once again she soon finds herself discovering Lahore with him as he takes her to see different places. As night time arrives they reach his house and we see they are discussing where she is going to spend the night. The discussion soon turns into an argument and worse. He rapes her, after he is finished he spits on her face gets up wears his clothes and leaves.

She stays there lying for some time, slowly gathers herself gets up finds a taxi goes to the train station and goes back home.

On getting back home she is welcomed by her father’s usual sarcastic comment to which she once again realizes she doesn’t have an answer; in fact she finds she doesn’t even have the capacity to answer.

The next day it would appear, life goes on as usual, the same routine, another day at the office and another encounter with the colleague who thinks she will accept his offer.

And so goes the story of so many women in Pakistan, especially from the lower SEC!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Top words in my vocabulary

1. Reality
2. Happiness
3. Maturity
4. Reason
5. Intuition
6. Logic
7. Control [as in what controls me]
8. Investment [as in what I have invested in, that therefore controls me]
9. Self-Negation
10. Relaxing
11. Knowledge
12. Eco-system [as in the universe, everything in it and their relationship with each other. Everything working together like a system!]
13. Imagination
14. Love
15. Beauty
16. Clarity
17. Vision [vision, mission]

Why a PhD is not as exotic as I thought

The primary reason why I thought that a PhD is exotic is because of the idea of stretching yourself mentally and emotionally and doing work [research] that is a contribution at the vanguard of human thought and thus a massive contribution to human civilization.

Let’s take each of these one by one.

Point 1: Stretching you mentally
A PhD if approached by an immature person will be a huge challenge for him because instead of achieving the goal of developing a conceptual understanding of the subject one might get lost into an ever more complex spiral of unstructured abstract thinking that does not progress towards a goal. If however a person is mature and approaches the subject with the goal of developing a structure through conceptual understanding he will probably finish his PhD and not stretch himself all that much.

Another aspect of stretching oneself mentally has to do with the idea of doing one’s best in the PhD. This is not always required because many PhDs are awarded to students who achieve a pre-defined level of quality in their work. This means that one does not have to do their personal BEST, they simply have to meet a certain threshold that will most likely be easier to achieve. The same person can continue to do research for the rest of his career and continue to make contributions.

Point 2: Stretching you emotionally
A person stretches himself emotionally [in relation to his work] when his work requires him to do something he doesn’t like. A PhD student is usually doing something he enjoys. A person doing a job in a bank or even a kid going to school when he doesn’t want to might be stretching himself emotionally far more than a PhD student who enjoys what he does.

Point 3: The research work is a massive contribution to the human civilization
At the end of the day a PhD is like any other 9 to 5 job. In its nature it might be interesting but everybody doesn’t like the idea of doing research. While a PhD contributes to human civilization through the contribution of knowledge in some specific field, people in other fields contribute to human civilization in ways that are many times equally fundamental. Some enjoy being entrepreneurs, some enjoy being politicians, and others enjoy trying to become saints.

What Bill Gates achieved or Nelson Mandela have achieved are probably as significant as many PhDs, any one taken individually.

People who want to can stretch themselves mentally, emotionally to do work that they like whether it be a bank, an NGO, school, a business or many other useful fields and make equally signifiant contributions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What caused the recent US Financial Crisis

“What exactly happened” is a scope I don’t have answers for. But I do have a certain understanding I have gathered from the internet.

It started with the FED deciding to tighten the monetary policy. This resulted in low real interest rates. Returns from financial securities are tied to interest rates set by the FED such that the basic return [on their money] anybody can make is from a short-term government bond, which impacts the return customers are going to get when they put their money in the bank, which impacts the money people want if they decide to raise the stakes and put their money in some place riskier with the promise of higher returns such as buying from the stock market.

In fact there are a number of different types of securities available such as the various kinds of stocks and bonds. All these securities make an inverted pyramid that make up all the financial instruments available for people to trade in.

So back to our story… when the FED reduced the interest rates all the financial securities were affected such that all of them were now providing low returns.

At this time people were becoming interested in buying houses in the US.

With an increasing trend in real estate purchases “mortgages” came in high demand.

Financial engineers developed a number of securities [that were part of the financial pyramid] that were based on these mortgages [with mortgages being the fundamental instrument at the bottom of the pyramid on which all these securities were based]. Since fundamentally people were buying houses, mortgages and all mortgage-based-instruments were a strong investment option for customers.

At a certain point in time a lot of real estate had been purchased in the US and there were signs that new customers would not come forward to buy real estate.

If I understand correctly Freddie Mac and Fannie May the two companies who owned most of the mortgages sold in the US were asked by the US Senate for a plan. At this point the two companies decided to enter the sub-prime market [prime is a credit rating threshold for a debtor below which he is denied a loan and above which he qualifies to get a loan. A sub-prime applicant is one who falls below this credit threshold] taking the percentage share of the sub-prime debtors in the mortgage market from below 5 % to about 20%.

When the sub-prime market came to its exhaustion point like the main market before it there were signs of trouble.

Investors decided to sell their share of mortgage-based-securities but nobody was willing to buy. The banks that had a major investment in these mortgage-based-securities were asked to mark-to-market these investments [mark to market means to mark the value of the security on their books at the market price] by [I think] the State Bank.

When this happened, the reserves of banks took a huge fall over-night and as a result they could not meet their reserve requirements [reserve requirement is the amount of money that banks are told to ALWAYS have with them as per government requirement]. This impacted the financial industry badly. All other investors who had invested in mortgage based securities also had their investments brought down to near zero.

This is how I read, things unfolded themselves!

Reasons for [a non-religious person] to not get into Prostitution in Pakistan

1. You could be black-mailed.
2. Once you get into contact with pimps other then black mailing you if they see you as a weak person they could extort money from you because you are weak and they are strong and they have no moral obligation to not extort money from you.
3. If the police catch you they can extort you by filing a case of rape against you.
4. No medical check-ups in the prostitutes: This is not a regulated industry so the prostitutes are exposed to all sorts of diseases some of which such as Herpes Zoster are communicable through skin.
5. It’s addictive: If one gets involved in prostitution it’s hard to get out especially when there are no other sexual outlets.
6. I don’t know the psychological impact it will have on a person but that is an important area to look into.

In Amsterdam prostitution is legalized which means this:
1. If somebody harasses you, you can go to the police and take help
2. Prostitutes go through regular checkups and have a medical record that you can demand to see.
3. Pimps can probably be sued if a customer gets infected.

In Singapore:
Brothels are part of the malls. It is almost like you go to Park Towers and there is a brothel there!

Added on 26 March 2009
See the following post for other reasons to not get into prostitution The beauty of self-negation

About liking one's job

If you change the rules on what controls you;
You change the rules on what you can control

A very recent discovery I have made however late is that:
Things that you do to earn a living and things that you enjoy don’t HAVE to be the same thing.
If one manages to decouple the two you will make your life a “lot more flexible”

As somebody put it one should not have love in all the wrong places! If you don’t love something you do, you can continue doing it to earn a living and strive in your other time towards your hobbies. If you are passionate about your hobbies you will grow inevitably and you will be able to do your job better than others!

What is a categorical imperative [something that has to be done] is to “keep moving”/”evolving”/”growing”/”discovering reality”/”negating yourself”.

There is a very nice movie by the name of “Stranger than fiction” in which in a point in the movie the main character decides to not do anything the whole day in an attempt to cheat on destiny. So he spends the whole day on the couch not doing anything [he uses a bottle to take a leak]. As the day progresses a heavy vehicle that is used for demolishing buildings, tears apart the wall in front of him [because they had received the wrong address, they were supposed to demolish another building!]. It almost seems that he could never have complete control over himself even if he wanted to i.e. he could not decide what he wanted to do.

If one falls down and injures himself the series of events that will follow are somewhat beyond the capacity of the individual injured. He will do what he is programmed to do. He will “keep moving” and go to the doctor if he has to and do what the doctor says. This is almost as if he doesn’t have control over what he will do!

A paragraph from my article titled About Islam follows:

Everything in this world is related to everything else...Example 2: “Story of how the parents of President Nixon met”. A man fell over a banana peel that was thrown by somebody else and went to the laundry where he met a woman. They fell in love, got married and their son became the president of the United States of America. If that banana peel had not been thrown there the course of the world might have been a little different. This very well could be the story of everybody on this planet!

I think that every individual will leave an impact on this world even if they don’t do anything. Just the act of not doing anything will have an impact!

I therefore think that if I continue to evolve while “earning a living in the best thing I can do” I will inevitably have a great impact on this world.

If you change the rules on what controls you;
You change the rules on what you can control

I do not want to have a great impact on this world!

Another perspective on violence in the Pakistani electronic media

The perspective by many outside the media is that a lot of violence is shown on television; that seeing this has a negative psychological impact on its viewers and incites more violence in society. They therefore think that journalists are acting irresponsibly and should instead save the country now that they have become so powerful; they should in fact save the country by educating the masses.

I attended a debate on this topic where I gathered a perspective that is at 180 degrees to the argument above and that defends why violence in the media is sometimes justified.

I will mention this point wise below:
1. Perspective: Seeing violence has a negative psychological impact on its viewers and incites more violence

Another perspective
Case 1: A study was conducted that found that the amount of violence shown on television in Japan and the US is about the same but its impact on the youth is very different. In the US violence is done by the good guys to save the day – in a sense violence is glorified – while in Japanese television violence is perpetrated by the bad guys and is always commented upon as something negative. The latter perspective while acknowledging violence notes that it is a bad thing. This makes one think violence is bad.

Case 2: At the time of the “Small Eid” after Hajj there is a ritual sacrifice of animals performed by Muslims around the world in which animals are slaughtered. It is encouraged that the act of “cutting the jugular vein” of the animal be performed by the owner and not by a hired butcher. Children are almost always witnesses to this act whenever they are present. Those who are not Muslims will find this act barbaric and even traumatic but those who have been raised as Muslims rarely if ever think of it as traumatic! Many feel that the act of sacrificing an animal to God is very noble because it requires that one spend their hard earned money buying the animal and distributing its meat to the poor many of whom don’t have an opportunity to eat meat throughout the year. This sacrifice doesn’t incite one to be violent in fact for many it becomes a very mundane act.

Case 3: “Zanjeer ka matam among the shias”. Shiite Muslims who perform this kind of matam view it positively in a way that is perhaps hard for non-shiite Muslims to relate to.

Conclusion: If violence is shown on the media in a way that doesn’t glorify murder but sympathizes with the victims of the attack the impact and therefore the results will be different.

2. Perspective: The media in Pakistan has become very powerful
Another perspective: The media is one institution of the society. On its own it can hardly bring about change. If the schools, hospitals, governments, lawyers, etc are not performing their function there is not much that the media can do. In fact in a society of uneducated people with a very weak intellectual framework and high intolerance the media is in fact quite powerless.

3. Perspective: The media should educate the masses about violence.
Another perspective: It is in the nature of the media to “communicate” and not to “educate”. Even this act of communicating is always disturbing because it wakens you up to a reality you didn’t know existed but it is the responsibility of the media to perform this act of “communication”.

Finally another fact that I discovered from the debate was that there is a lot of violence in Pakistan such as domestic violence, to assassination attempts, suicide bombings, violence and rape on the streets, violence involving forcing children to come on the streets and ask for money, etc.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Getting closer to a vision statement

I have been trying to find the vision of people around me and this is what I realized people are doing:

1. Family owned conglomerates in Pakistan: To contribute to the third world, in particular their home country by creating jobs for people. In fact not only creating jobs but in many cases rewarding competence thus making a number of people in Pakistan self-sufficient. In the process even if they make “average profits” [i.e. they do as well as anybody else would have done] they still create something of value to the people of Pakistan in the form of goods and services. ISPs in Pakistan are creating an internet infrastructure on which many businesses rely. Mc Donald in Pakistan creates a recreational opportunity for people. LUMS is creating a challenging environment for students and in such an environment exposing them to a plethora of ideas such that the world view one can develop is not that ordinarily viewed by people in third world countries but one where reaching the vanguard of human knowledge becomes reachable.

2. Person A: In the advertising industry wants to bring advertising in Pakistan at par with advertising done internationally

3. Person B: Wants to create the ideal company through empowering its employees

Having hit upon these ideas I realized that things such as Banking and Business Analysis, a job in Dubai [for the sake of a job in Dubai], journalism, research into partition of the subcontinent [something that inspires many and I can see how: An act of severe irresponsibility on the part of certain parties, led to murder, plunder, rape, hate between India and Pakistan, and many other catastrophes. People researching this area I assume want to learn from history and understand what really happened in an attempt to heal the nation.], working in NGOs, education [creating schools such as The Citizen’s Foundation where the children of the poor are liberated in a fashion that is similar to how people at LUMS are liberated], practicing medicine and curing the ill, financial engineering [complex mathematical work that goes into creating innovative financial instruments. “Mortgages” were once created by I suppose these guys and a blessing it has been for millions. Of course unfortunately the Mortgage-based-securities that were created took down the financial sector of the US recently. In any case the power of financial engineering can be seen just from these two examples] don’t inspire me.

What inspires me is to discover reality and how better to do this then to be at the vanguard of human knowledge. I see this happening in many fields some mentioned above, but as a child the area that has inspired me the most is “genetics”. I have a certain experience in computer science and so I want to discover reality through getting into “computational biology”.

Genetics I think is the future of medical science. In fact the future to not only curing many diseases such as Cancer, AIDS, epilepsy and various neurological illnesses, future of transplantation [developing a liver from the cells of the person and thus eliminating chances of rejection by the body], in a similar way bone-marrow transplants, unlocking higher IQs and perhaps better EQs in people, creating resistance to many biological weapons, unlocking the power of the 80% of the brain that is “not used” by humans.

I suppose if work in this area is being done on this planet I can go join the fun!

I think I am getting closer to a vision!