Wednesday Aug 06, 2008

Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba's Peace Declaration

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba included the following observation in his 2008 Peace Declaration:

This truth received strong support from a report compiled last November by the city of Hiroshima. Scientists and other nuclear-related experts exploring the damage from a postulated nuclear attack found once again that the only way to protect citizens from such an attack is the total abolition of nuclear weapons. This is precisely why the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Court of Justice advisory opinion state clearly that all nations are obligated to engage in good-faith negotiations leading to complete nuclear disarmament.

Sunday Jun 15, 2008

Opinions and Social Pressure

Solomon E. Asch's "Opinions and Social Pressure" (Scientific American, Vol 193, No. 5, 1955) was probably one of the best papers I read during an organizational behavior class I took at Haas School of Business during my studies there. (Barry M. Staw has published the paper in his Psychological Dimensions of Organizational Behavior. The 2nd edition had the paper, and I'm sure Professor Staw has kept it for his 3rd edition. )

A BBC radio program gives very good summary of the paper and Asch's other research on social pressure and conformity.

The following video (posted on Youtube) presents a summary sense of one of Asch's conformity experiments:


Saturday Apr 12, 2008

The Real News

In modern times, distribution has become the bottleneck or the "filter" for ideas.

Those sources that have access or control of distribution shape the ideas that arrive before our eyes and ears. 

Internet, at least as it stands today, affords distribution to other sources. However, this medium of distribution might not last long as we know it and, as the volume of content grows, searching for what matters becomes like searching for a needle in a giant haystack.


Example: I don't even remember how I ran into The Real News Network (Beta) reports, including the report embedded here, and some others, including one on Iraq.

Tuesday Oct 23, 2007

Occupational Hazards

Another Washington Post report ("US Raid of Baghdad Sadr City Kills 49"), published only yesterday, should make it plainly clear why vast majorities of Iraqis want US occupation of their country to end. (For 2-year-old Ali Hamed's picture, in the aftermath, see here.)

From the Iraqi perspective, besides the inhumanity of even a single occurrence of it, the killing is hardly an isolated accident. In fact, the regularity of such "incidental" killings are so predictable that it seems to have been judged by most US media to be no longer "news worthy," and we hear of it not, in the regular course of our life, in this land.

[If you wonder why I'm writing this, see here.]

Wednesday Aug 08, 2007

Sometimes, pictures ...

Sometimes, pictures can tell or cover-up whole stories—more than any news report or any press conference can.

In the English-speaking world, John Berger, more than any art critique I know, has shown how pictures and looking can disclose a great deal about events, people and places. (See his Ways of Seeing and class of the same name by Professor Lori Landay at UC Berkeley.)

When I write this entry, i.e. during lunch hour on August 8, 2007, two of the three pictures above are less than 24 hours old.

What do these pictures tell you?
 

Sunday May 13, 2007

For the Anonymous Among You

Every once in a while I do get an anonymous commentator who leaves me a comment I cannot track or parse or understand because I cannot determine anything about its authorship or authority.

In one recent comment, one such "anonymous" graces the comments section of one of my entries with the following pleasantries:

Why is this kind of twisted-logic America-bashing on Sun's blog site? Does Sun Microsystems employ lots of people like you?

Totally confused about the authorship, its authority and its intent, I wrote the following response:

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous -

Thanks for catching my typo. It should have read "extension" not "extention" ... Yes, thanks for catching it, and it shows you had the patience to read the whole thing, and thanks for that, too!

Please note what I've said loud and clear on the top left corner of my weblog, in boldface: The opinions expressed here are purely my own, and neither Sun nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.

So, postulating otherwise would not only be quite silly but unreasonable.

Let me address one other point in your comment, as immediately as I can.

If I did not love the community I live in, I wouldn't even bother writing this particular entry. There are far better things to do in life. So, I have no idea what you mean by "America-bashing." Perhaps, you should explain.

As far as the rest of your comment, you don't seem to have the simple courage to say what you're saying with your own real identity, whatever that might be. Hiding behind "anonymous" only makes what you say hollow and impossible to deal with because I have no idea what kind of authority you are and what moves you to say what you're saying.

So, I'm lost [as to] what to say.

Perhaps you're trying to perfect the art of anonymous intimidation.

At least I have the courage not to hide behind "anonymous" when I say what I think.

To say that the U.S. has exercised imperial power in the world should be quite a non-controversial matter.

To say that empires tend to over-extend themselves beyond their means also carries a great deal of scholarship and authority behind it.

If you believe it [to be] otherwise, please present your facts!

And again, in closing, I refer you to the top left corner of this blog:

The opinions expressed here are purely my own, and neither Sun nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.

If you think that anyone who has a job with some company should not say anything [related] to current topics and politics, I refer you to Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture. For a relevant extract, I refer you to: "A Taboo Against Political Discourse."

As an aside, I think you might also want to consult any of the books by Zbigniew Brzezinski, where he examines the challenges to the empire from a strategic perspective. Searching for recent Zbignew Brzezinski interviews on YouTube might also produce interesting results. [I've also written about one of Brzezinski's recent comments here.]

Yours truly,
M.M.

P.S. I hope next time you write, you'll drop the "anonymous" so I may better be introduced to you and your ideas!

I do wish anonymous commentators find the courage and feel the need to say who they are, and to commit themselves to what it is they write. The least they can do is to use a consistent pen name or a consistent set of pen names and write enough tractable material (with each pen name) so that we know and can construct their position on topics of interest.

That sort of commitment is certainly missing in much of the web. See one of my earlier comments on a related topic at "Existential Phenomenology of The Internet."

There, I leave it, for now.

Friday Mar 30, 2007

The Fear Machine

((بزرگترین گناه ترس است.  (حضرت علی (ع

Thus, writes the national security advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.

...The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

...That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable. A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to 1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival.

...The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately, even some college student organizations have become involved in such propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.

...A case in point is the reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion.

There is more. Read the full text in the online edition of The Washington Post.

[Note: I have puzzled about the changes in Zbigniew Brzezinski's views for some time. He was seen as the hawk in Carter's administration. Among other things, he has been credited by some for inciting Saddam against Iran. Perhaps, his realism has helped him recognize the subtleties of the current conditions much faster than other strategists.]

Saturday Mar 17, 2007

Axiomatization of Transactions -- A Fable for Relational Algebra

David Hilbert had a program for axiomatizing science, in particular, and all the rest of thought, in general:

David Hilbert, Axiomatisches Denken, Math. Ann., 78 (1918) pp. 405– 415. English translation in: William Ewald (ed.), From Kant to Hilbert: A Source Book in Mathematics, Oxford 1996

Hilbert's program of axiomatization faced challenges even in mathematics, as Jan Brouwer unfolded his approach to doing mathematics

What were axioms? Axioms were simply a set of consistent statements written in a language composed of symbols representing variables, constants and relationships. "Models" were then constructed to give meaning to the symbols in a manner consistent with the Axioms. In this sense, "natural numbers" composed a model for some arithmetic axioms, say the Peano Arithmetic Axioms. However, models were rarely "minimal" to the axioms unless constructed from the axioms in particular ways, all of which produced isomorphic models of a certain kind. Not all models of the same axioms were equivalent or isomorphic. So, a theory of models had to be developed to explore the relationship among models.

In the world of business and economics, and in the social milieu of transactions, digitization of these transactions, i.e. the tendency towards demarcating sharp boundaries for transactions, led to the axiomatization of "rules" governing these transactions while at the same time managerial hierarchies built continuity into vertical integrations of such transactions within large organizations.

As the number of transactions vertically integrated within an organization increased in proportion to the volume of business activities, the managerial hierarchy faced  growing coordination challenges. However, axiomatization of many "business processes" (read "out-of-market transactions") had already begun to work its magic to make the managerial hierarchies independent of particular men or women. What was needed was a mechanics to propagate the axioms through individual transactions.

The mechanics was relational algebra and the machine that operated according to its principles was the relational database. The rest is history -- of modern business enterprises' use of IT technologies.

Friday Feb 23, 2007

How Overregulation Breeds Corruption

Overregulation can breed corruption because it can categorize vast groups of otherwise normal people as criminal.

Here is how professor of law Lawrence Lessig has argued this case in his Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity:

Overregulation stifles creativity. It smothers innovation. It gives dinosaurs a veto over the future. It wastes the extraordinary opportunity for a democratic creativity that digital technology enables.

In addition to these important harms, there is one more that was important to our forebears,but seems forgotten today. Overregulation corrupts citizens and weakens the rule of law.

... We regulate automobiles to the point where the vast majority of Americans violate the law every day. We run such a complex tax system that a majority of cash businesses regularly cheat. We pride ourselves on our “free society,” but an endless array of ordinary behavior is regulated within our society. And as a result, a huge proportion of Americans regularly violate at least some law.

This state of affairs is not without consequence. It is a particularly salient issue for teachers like me, whose job it is to teach law students about the importance of “ethics.” As my colleague Charlie Nesson told a class at Stanford, each year law schools admit thousands of students who have illegally downloaded music, illegally consumed alcohol and sometimes drugs, illegally worked without paying taxes, illegally driven cars. These are kids for whom behaving illegally is increasingly the norm. And then we, as law professors, are supposed to teach them how to behave ethically—how to say no to bribes, or keep client funds separate, or honor a demand to disclose a document that will mean that your case is over. Generations of Americans—more significantly in some parts of America than in others, but still, everywhere in America today—can’t live their lives both normally and legally, since “normally” entails a certain degree of illegality.

The response to this general illegality is either to enforce the law more severely or to change the law. We, as a society,have to learn how to make that choice more rationally. Whether a law makes sense depends, in part, at least, upon whether the costs of the law, both intended and collateral, outweigh the benefits. If the costs, intended and collateral, do outweigh the benefits, then the law ought to be changed.

Alternatively, if the costs of the existing system are much greater than the costs of an alternative, then we have a good reason to consider the alternative.

... The rule of law depends upon people obeying the law. The more often, and more repeatedly, we as citizens experience violating the law, the less we respect the law. Obviously, in most cases, the important issue is the law, not respect for the law. I don’t care whether the rapist respects the law or not; I want to catch and incarcerate the rapist. But I do care whether my students respect the law. And I do care if the rules of law sow increasing disrespect because of the extreme of regulation they impose. Twenty million Americans have come of age since the Internet introduced this different idea of “sharing.” We need to be able to call these twenty million Americans “citizens,” not “felons.”

Wednesday Feb 14, 2007

Children, Rich and Poor

 

UNICEF has released a report on the condition of children's lives in rich countries. (The Child Poverty in Perspective report can be found here.) The report, which ranks the U.S. and the U.K. at the very bottom of a list of 21 industrialized nations, starts with the following note:

The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.

You can also view the UNICEF's The State of the World's Children 2007.

This includes a little report and video on Zahra Yaghobinezhad's activities in Iran's Persian Gulf port city of Bandar-e Langeh. There are also other stories on activists from the U.S., Romania, Ethiopia, Brazil, Chad, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

 

Friday Jan 26, 2007

Payvand

Payvand, a Silicon Valley Persian community web site, has published a summary of "Answering the Charges Against Iran: Dispelling the Demonising Myths" report by U.K.'s Campaign Iran. You will need to scroll down through Payvand's introduction to see the list of charges and the summary debunks.

Another article on a roughly similar topic has been written by Edward Herman and David Peterson for Z Magazine. The latter article contains some misunderstandings regarding the social make-up of Iran although it does expose some of the other demonizing myths propagated by the mainstream mass media. In their article, Herman and Peterson have included a scholarly exposé, complete with references, of the realities hiding behind the rhetoric against Iran including those of the Democratic party leaders.

Less tersely, you can partake of a youthful skier's visit to Iran on YouTube. (It was the first video listed under Iran on YouTube.) You need to be patient through the introduction but I think recreational skier Jasin Nazim has done a much better job of reporting than many other professional journalists who have visited the country. I certainly learned quite a lot from the video. It motivates me to ski the same mountains!

 

Monday Jan 08, 2007

Library as Service

My library is different from yours because we like different books. We have accumulated whatever book we like as a person, whether one or thousands of volumes.

A community library serves a similar function. They usually have book committees and patrons who order books and preserve them for others to read. 

So is it with independent bookstores. They have to be selective. They do not have the square footage of large bookstore chains which amass large number of books, including the recently published. There is very little filtering. The goal in the large bookstore is to sell, to provide objects of consumption. The goal is not to collect.

The library, on the other hand, has traditionally collected. That has been its primary objective, not the provision of service or objects of consumption.

A good library is a place where you find things you would not expect to find in a local chain bookstore.  Once the library reduces its activity to a lending service for what is current, it is no longer a library in the traditional sense. However, can any community library be more than just a lending service? Community libraries in the U.S. rarely have enough space to collect and preserve books for the long term. In the digital age and in an age where text is produced at a dizzying rate, how can any library serve its traditional function without an adequate infusion of resources and funds?

Within the five miles of my home there are a few community libraries. Other than their children's section, they can hardly afford the space to create and preserve a significant collection for the older population. However, without such preparation, the community members -- whether child or older -- can rearely experience the full breadth of the function a library serves.

A recent story in The Washington Post reminds us of the problems of the community library and where this wonderful insitution may be heading ("Hello Grisham--So Long Hemingway," WP, January 2, 2007, page A01).

Green Colonialism

Guy Dinmore, the Washington reporter for Financial Times, has today (January 8, 2007) written one of his best pieces of journalism about the largest embassy in the World being finished in Baghdad.

[Read More]

Friday Jan 05, 2007

Somalia vs. U.S.A.

One of my daughters read these statistics for me this Christmas holiday while we were at Lake Tahoe

US has the largest number of cars per person: 1/2.

Somalia has the smallest number of cars per person: 1/1000 (Or was it 1/10,000 ? I'll have to check when the book returns form my daughter's school desk!)

Source: Guinness World Records 2007.

Notes:

Guinness World Records web site can be found here.

A recent article offering an alternative view on the situation in Somalia can be found here.

Thursday Jan 04, 2007

The Barbarians, Beautiful Basra and Natural Law

The beautiful city of Basra has a sad history involving, among other less glorious moments, multiple British occupations over the last 100 years or so.

So, in that context, I wonder why some news reports from Basra take so long to get to me and why it has become taboo to report and aggressively investigate this video on the BBC. Why have such crimes related to occupation been overlooked or forgiven simply because they may have occured some months prior to the start or conclusion of investigations, and what sort of people actually manned the video cameras which capture them? (You have to watch the whole video to understand the meaning of these questions. Wikipedia does have a short mention of the incident in its entry on Basra and also here. Or perhaps, we need to turn to the Swedish media for an investigation.)

Note that we purportedly live in the 21st century and not "1984" when talk of human rights comes from the same institutions and corners where the greatest violations seem to be tolerated and propagated.

Occupation and aggression begets resistance, ultimately by all means. No matter in which part of globe and what part of history you look, people will resist occupation when occupiers overstay and stretch their welcome to its natural limit. To borrow a phrase from the author of Leviathan (a certain Mr. Thomas Hobbs), the premise that overstay leads to resistance is surely a "natural law," if there ever was a "natural law." If this "natural law" applies to guests in the West, how much more true should one expect it to be in the guest-welcoming East with occupation even when occupiers are originally invited and welcomed--and truer yet when uninvited and unwelcome?

Basra's distinguished history includes other sad moments such as the Battle of Camel some 1400 years ago. However, despite war and occupation, like for all ancient  and honorable cities, there has been millenium when Basra has lived in peace and prosperity -- exactly what she deserves and wants again if left to her own account.

Sunday Nov 12, 2006

Koppel on Social Change

People in their 30s and 40s may still remember Ted Koppel from "the hostage crisis." He made a career out of reporting it. Now, for the Discovery Channel, he has filed a new video documentary on Iran, speaking to a number of individuals and opinion makers. While still rooted in the common biases of the Western and American discourse on Iran, it provides a platform for a potentially better understanding of the immense transformations that have followed the Islamic Revolution of 1979 by virtue of interviews conducted with a relatively broad range of Iranians. (Most of those interviewed, either appear to know little about those biases or, out of sheer politeness, let Koppel get away with them. A good training in journalism would make it clear to anyone that every question can come loaded with assumptions. However, one needs a good sense and training as a politician to respond or to unload and disclose the assumptions.)

Sunday Nov 05, 2006

From Yorkville to San Francisco

There is a big difference between bloggers and blogging and professional journalism. For an example, see this video production by two British journalists (from The Guardian) on the mid-term U.S. elections which shows how professional journalists with a bit of resources and a bit of freedom of action can easily outdo any media-caster (of any variety of media) in very good style even if not in the full range of content.

Sunday Oct 29, 2006

You're Not Alone Even When You Are

When we act within a community and participate in its practices, this participation is not just about collaboration but also involves political and competitive elements. Such participation, while shaping the practices of the community, will go beyond them to create meaning in all kinds of contexts. As Etienne Wenger notes in his Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, "participation is not something we turn on and off" depending on the time of the day or the place where we happen to be. Community participation makes us who we are.

From this perspective, our engagement with the world is social, even when it does not clearly involve interaction with others. Being in a hotel room by yourself preparing a set of slides for a presentation next morning may not seem like a particularly social event, yet its meaning is fundamentally social. Not only is the audience there with you as you attempt to make your points understandable to them, but your colleagues are there too, looking over your shoulder, as it were, representing for you your sense of accountability to the professional standards of your community. A child doing homework, a doctor making a decision, a traveler reading a book--all these activities implicitly involve other people who may not be present. The meanings of what we do are always social. By "social" I do not refer just to family dinners, company picnics, school dances, and church socials. Even drastic isolation--as in solitary confinement, monastic seclusion, or writing--is given meaning through social participation. The concept of participation is meant to capture this profoundly social character of our experience of life.

For more on work by Wenger and Jean Lave, see here.

Saturday Oct 28, 2006

Nature of Innovation

Check out Eric von Hippel's books on innovation. They are available on line and worth a read. In his Democratizing Innovation, I just finished chapter 7 ("Innovation Communities") which contians a very lucid discussion of open source software innovation communities as well as physical products innovation communities such as the ones set up by Saul Griffith for people interested in user initiatied design and manufacture of kitesurfing equipment. (See also this Wired article on Squid Labs.)

Friday Oct 20, 2006

Celebrations to Come

This calendar year (2006), Halloween (originally a Celtic festival of the dead), Day-of-the-Dead (Día de los Muertos), Diwali (celebrating the return of Ram) and Eid-ul-Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan) occur in very close proximity of each other.


In our area, the Mission District in San Francisco puts up quite a show for Día de los Muertos. As a much younger man, I was very fascinated by this Native American celebration, perhaps because it occurs in the present-day U.S., a place were one is rarely reminded of the fact that everyone will one day die. (See Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death and this BusinessWeek review of her book.) I have attended the Mission District event multiple times and would recommend it. It may also be worth visiting some traditional memorial exhibitions put up in the Native American and Aztec traditions for the recently dead. (I reported on one of these for our local school paper many years ago and found it very enlightening.)

A friend from our India Engineer Center tells me that Diwali and Eid-ul-Fitr holidays in India are coming back to back this year. Diwali occurs around this time of the year. Its exact day of occurence depends on the phases of the moon, coming when the moon goes "dark" just prior to the new moon. For a Diwali calendar, you may consult here. This calendar gives Diwali dates for 2007, 2008, and all the way to 2019. For good causes to give to in India, see here. If you know of local celebrations feel free to leave a comment.

Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It occurs when the new moon is seen. Ramadan calendar depends on location because it is based on sighting of the moon. (Local time tables need to be consulted for Ramadan. In our area, two good sources can be found here and here.) It may surprise some people but the sighting of a new moon has dependencies on our location on earth and other factors, including atmospheric ones. Do not expect Eid-ul-Fitr to remain in its place on the Solar calendar. Ramadan is a lunar month based on a 12-month lunar year. The 12-month lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the 12-"month" solar year.

All these festivals remind us that there's always a dying and a rebirth, and that in the spiral, nothing stays the same except for its own being.
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