Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Recession is a time of great opportunity'

Warren Buffet said, "In times like this we get greedy."

"simply following the rest of the pack, whether it be in stock market investing or investing in the growth of your business, is not smart. The time to be buying is when everyone else is selling. The time to be selling is when everyone else is buying."
Here is the "business model" for tough time:
In a recession, the key for achieving growth and sustained profitability is to focus on your core business. If your core business is not sound you will struggle. Once you’ve taken care of that, you’ll be positioned to exercise some real muscle in the good years.

To do that you need to take a close look at your strengths and weaknesses and then formulate a simple strategy that embraces positioning, product definition and pricing, service protocols, team development and delegation, client selection (and de-selection) and most importantly, very focused attention on how to create value for your clients in a recession and how to capture some of it.
Link to article:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Another Sad Story of Honor Killing

Iraq is in great mess, initiated mostly by U.S. ill conceived invasion in 2003. Hundreds of thousands died from war, unknown numbers are wounded. When one hears constant barrage of tragic episodes unfolding in Iraq year after year, another sad story of honor killing of a 17 year old girl from Basra seemed to be so "insignificant" in the eyes of many. But is it really "insignificant"?

This story is heart wrenching. A mother's cry for help from her two sons while the father was beating the girl after learning of her "affair" with a British soldier, and the shock she received seeing her two sons instead was helping the father extinguishing the life from this poor girl for the purpose of keeping the "honor" of their family is hard to describe.

Here are a few extracts from The Guardian's article:

'I screamed and called out for her two brothers so they could get their father away from her. But when he told them the reason, instead of saving her they helped him end her life,' she said.

She said Ali used his feet to press down hard on his own daughter's throat until she was suffocated. Then he called for a knife and began to cut at her body. All the time he was calling out that his honour was being cleansed.

'I just couldn't stand it. I fainted.' recalled Leila. 'I woke up in a blur later with dozens of neighbours at home and the local police.'

According to Leila, her husband was initially arrested. 'But he was released two hours later because it was an "honour killing". And, unfortunately, that is something to be proud of for any Iraqi man.'

At the police station where the father was held Sergeant Ali Jabbar told The Observer last week: 'Not much can be done when we have an "honour killing" case. You are in a Muslim society and women should live under religious laws.

'The father has very good contacts inside the Basra government and it wasn't hard for him to be released and what he did to be forgotten. Sorry but I cannot say more about the case.'

Rand, considered impure, was given only a simple burial. To show their repugnance at her alleged crime, her family cancelled the traditional mourner ceremony.

Two weeks after the murder, Leila left Ali. She could no longer bear to live under the same roof as her daughter's killer and asked for a divorce. 'I was beaten and had my arm broken by him,' she said. 'No man can accept being left by a woman in Iraq. But I would prefer to be killed than sleep in the same bed with a man who was able to do what he did to his own daughter, who, over the years, had only given him unconditional love.'

Now she works for a women's organisation campaigning against honour killings. 'I just want to try to stop other girls having the same fate as my beloved Rand,' said Leila who is forced to move regularly from friend to friend


What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?

State government is comparatively new phenomenon, arising only fifty five hundred years ago. Before then, local groups, tribes and chiefdoms played major roles organizing groups of people, and vengeance guided wars and competitions.

Jared Diamond's article in The New Yorker, "Vengeance is Ours" provides a parable, comparing between New Guinean Highland tribes' complex rationales in warfares, mostly based on revenge, and modern society's difference and similarities in the stately suppressed emotional feelings of hatred and vengeance.

20th century had witnessed so much devastations, brutality, and killings of millions of people in wars after wars, genocides after genocides, that it is considered the darkest one in terms of bloodshed scale. However, Jared Diamond observes, "this is because they enjoy the advantage of having by far the largest populations of potential victims in human history; the actual percentage of the population that died violently was on the average higher in traditional pre-state societies than it was even in Poland during the Second World War or Cambodia under Pol Pot."

Unlike celebrated emotions like love, anger, grief, and fear, "thirst for vengeance", which is one of the most primitive and deeply rooted emotions human beings posses, but unlike the celebrated emotions, "We grow up being taught that such feelings are primitive, something to be ashamed of and to transcend......My conversations with Daniel made me understand what we have given up by leaving justice to the state. In order to induce us to do so, state societies and their associated religions and moral codes teach us that seeking revenge is bad. But, while acting on vengeful feelings clearly needs to be discouraged, acknowledging them should be not merely permitted but encouraged. To a close relative or friend of someone who has been killed or seriously wronged, and to the victims of harm themselves, those feelings are natural and powerful. Many state governments do attempt to grant the relatives of crime victims some personal satisfaction, by allowing them to be present at the trial of the accused, and, in some cases, to address the judge or jury, or even to watch the execution of their loved one’s murderer."

Jared Diamond's articles, like his previous must read books, "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies", and "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", pierce through media's abundant hyper inflated jargons, and shines light even on the basest emotions we the human beings constantly try to tuck deep inside layers of emotional chaos or thunderstorms. Sometimes, political trickeries do indeed masquerade the real vengeful intentions with the neatly promulgated hyperboles so that even point blank cruelty camouflaged as "good intentions" of bringing freedom to the "backward" ones remains ashamedly unchecked!

Civilization to the "uncivilized"! End of story.

Believe it or not, we do buy into butchered fables and mockeries.

Read Jared Diamond's article from following link:
Vengeance is Ours

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Algorithm to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn

The story of Piotr Wozniak, his devising of computer algorithm and software to facilitate learning and retaining that learning in memories for long time is fascinating, and is written superbly by writer Gary Wolf in Wired Magazine.

Human beings' successes in this world are mostly due to the desire to learning and acquiring new knowledge. Piotr Wozniak's software SuperMemo promises to retain knowledge, "It predicts the future state of a person's memory and schedules information reviews at the optimal time."

Here is how SuperMemo works:

"SuperMemo is a program that keeps track of discrete bits of information you've learned and want to retain. For example, say you're studying Spanish. Your chance of recalling a given word when you need it declines over time according to a predictable pattern. SuperMemo tracks this so-called forgetting curve and reminds you to rehearse your knowledge when your chance of recalling it has dropped to, say, 90 percent. When you first learn a new vocabulary word, your chance of recalling it will drop quickly. But after SuperMemo reminds you of the word, the rate of forgetting levels out. The program tracks this new decline and waits longer to quiz you the next time."

Here is Wozniak's checklist for acquiring knowledge with "supreme" efficiency: "You must clarify your goals, gain knowledge through spaced repetition, preserve health, work steadily, minimize stress, refuse interruption, and never resist sleep when tired."

Read Gary Wolf's article from this link below:

Monday, April 21, 2008

(Dis)honor Killings

Regardless of what any religion's wisdom filled jurisprudence may decree on equality between men and women in many parts of our world, the age old and antiquated "tribal" customs that are antithesis to modernity and tortured humanity, even in this sunlight of human beings' monumental achievement filled 21st century, women are being locked in jail, for their own protections, to keep them being murdered by their own family members, in the brutal macabre of "honor killings".

What honor is there to kill one's own siblings, daughters or other family members? Which religious or secular texts sanction such a cruel practice? NONE. But the customs prevail amongst zealous men, even female members in same family get involved.

A few decades ago, talking about honor killings in some nations were considered in the realm of "taboo", as Lina Nabil, a Jordanian journalist observes, “The subject was a taboo when I started writing about it. At first people were in a state of denial; then they accused me of being un-Jordanian, a whore, an enemy of religion,” she said. “But slowly the truth emerged.”

Slowly the truth emerged, but still, "there has been no real reduction in honor killings. To achieve that, Lina believes, the law courts must start prosecuting as murderers the men who kill their female family members. Currently, under Article 98 of the Jordanian Penal Code, a man can claim “mitigating circumstances”, and receive a light custodial sentence, Lina said. “In every murder I’ve investigated, the woman was held to be responsible for the crimes committed against her, even though she was actually the victim,” said Lina, “What we want is equality before the law. Then we will see change.”

Here the international community, especially global collective organizations, like U.N., and the major political and economical power forces can surely weigh in, along with the regional intelligentsia that includes clerical and secular entities in troubled nations. Unified efforts from near and far can achieve perhaps the contemporary unthinkable semblance and equality in meticulous but trapped jurisprudence.

Read Jack Fairweather's article from following link:
(Dis)honor Killings

See the video below on Honor Killings:

If you cannot view this video, you can find it from the link below:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Unleashing the Bugs of War

"Thank heaven for DARPA" -- Cheney's words are meaningful. "Thank heaven for DARPA" for the Internet age. It has also made warfare more vicious, tilting the balance toward technology savvy warriors and their strategists, but, this shifting of balance seems to be momentary, as like in evolution, competitive edge gets pressure from opposing forces, other methods gets into actions, like asynchronous warfare, etc., as if natural selection is in play that will sometimes in future may or may not weed out the "inferior" or losers, or the battle may continue for unforeseen ages.

In the mean time, in our world and time, new technologies are being born in laboratories, like cyborg type bugs. These bugs are being raised from their caterpillar and pupae stage embedded with mechanical components deep inside tissues, for "reliable" tissue-machine interface. The hope of the "strategists" is to employ these hybrid bugs into warfares, collecting information from opposing forces in innocuous manners, and possibly using them as lethal forces as well, but that scenarios are put in lid for now.

All the "good" intentions had in the past tendency of going awry. Could this hybrid bugs turn against its creators, or could they be adapted by opposing forces, lowering the levels of bar of warfare, in ethical and human cost terms to so much low, that "hybrid" cyborg world of tomorrow may unleash unimaginable violences, perhaps, this may be the first glimpse of futuristic warfare between men and machine?

Read Times article from this link below:
Unleashing the Bugs of War

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oil and Brazil

The Economist's assertion that "the gloomiest pundits" are wrong to predict that the world will soon run out of oil, seemed to be too rosy of a scenario peddled on sure declining of world's oil reserve and supply, that The Economist acknowledges in a few sentence down, saying "the number of mammoth discoveries is declining". The oil price jumped to $114 a barrel, and no sign of rescinding to earlier "comfortable" level in the forecast. Brazil's new discoveries of oil fields in deep ocean may bring a few crucial years for the world, but the time is indeed running out. Are there any other choices left except for cheaper production and supply of alternative energies?

Whipping Boy

We inflict pain and damage on fellow human beings, as if, violence creates "mystical cohesion" amidst us. "Indeed, hurt-induced mystical cohesion accounts in large part for why we humans are addicted to turning on each other with weapons. We find an infinite variety of victims, and their suffering serves a social purpose. African-American men subjected with wild disproportionality to the caged violence of prisons. Muslim "terrorists" in torture camps. Enslaved women. Death row. In case after case, threatened authority locates a victim on whom to unload.Whether the designated object of punishment is guilty (Saddam Hussein, say) or innocent (the American soldiers whose faces we see on the news each night) does not matter. This impulse to salve communal anxiety by inflicting hurt was the defining core", not only in America, but also increasingly so in rest of the world.

Read James Carroll's article on "Whipping Boy": Click here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Future Is Now

The pace of science in the fields of nano and biotechnologies, and computing power being increased in exponential terms, is staggering. For majority of world populace, this rapid change mostly occurring in laboratories and that eventually manifests in day to day activities like the spread of Internet from obscurity to widespread visibility. Most of these "miracles" are like "black box", most of us cannot decipher what all these technological marvels are really about or how do they work, as if "We're zombified by progress".

What's the future holding for us? Even scientists whose brain functions perhaps retain more advanced features than the commoners like us, sometimes, cannot comprehend and envision what the future will turn out to be. "Tomorrow's revolutionary technology may be in plain sight, but everyone's eyes, clouded by conventional thinking, just can't detect it. "Even smart people are really pretty incapable of envisioning a situation that's substantially different from what they're in," says Christine Peterson, vice president of Foresight Nanotech Institute".

Ray Kurzweil, who is considered one of the leading futurists of our time observed in his “The Singularity is Near”, describing a point in time “that will represent culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality. If you wonder what will remain unequivocally human in such a world, it's simply this quality: ours is the species that inherently seeks to extend its physical and mental reach beyond current limitations.”

In Joel Achenbach's Outlook article published in The Washington Post, the writer ponders about a few not so distant possibilities or scenarios that may be only a few breaths away from humanity's collective consciousness. A few interesting questions and issues were raised, like the following:

"How smart and flexible and rambunctious do we want our computers to be? Let's not mess around with that Matrix business.

What'll happen to society if one day people can stop the aging process? Or if only rich people can stop getting old?"

With every triumphant success of science and technologies, there were and there will be unintended "side effects", for example, global warming is partly came about after the revolutionary inventions of steam engine in 1700s "and all the industrial advances that followed."

Ronald M. Green's article in Outlook describes the following advancements in study of genetics and genetic engineering: "The National Institutes of Health has initiated a quest for the "$1,000 genome," a 10-year program to develop machines that could identify all the genetic letters in anyone's genome at low cost (it took more than $3 billion to sequence the first human genome). With this technology, which some believe may be just four or five years away, we could not only scan an individual's -- or embryo's -- genome, we could also rapidly compare thousands of people and pinpoint those DNA sequences or combinations that underlie the variations that contribute to our biological differences. "

There may be a world just waiting to be emerged where powerful knowledge from todays' experiments will be used and built upon, and many health related issues like obesity and dyslexia will be cured before new baby is borne by tweaking "fetal DNA sequences". A movie was made in late 90s named Gattaca that eerily described similar scenario in a future world "where parents choose their children's traits. Human weakness has been eliminated through genetic engineering, and the few parents who opt for a "natural" conception run the risk of producing offspring -- "invalids" or "degenerates" -- who become members of a despised underclass. Gattaca's world is clean and efficient, but its eugenic obsessions have all but extinguished human love and compassion."

That's only one scenario. A different world may emerge too, which is unlike Gattaca, and where new knowledge and tools will better every human being's life, rich or poor, brown or white, despite the artificially created national origin or whatever belief one may or may not have. In that world that is so much like unaccessible Utopia, discriminations will be things of the past, or collaboration will triumph naked aggressions and violence.

Ray Kurzeweil writes in Outlook "Now that we can model, simulate and reprogram biology just like we can a computer, it will be subject to the law of accelerating returns, a doubling of capability in less than a year. These technologies will be more than a thousand times more capable in a decade, more than a million times more capable in two decades." Regarding the disparity between have and have nots, the ever optimistic Ray Kurzeweil has the following observation: "this exponential progression of information technology will affect our prosperity as well. The World Bank has reported, for example, that poverty in Asia has been cut in half over the past decade due to information technologies and that at current rates it will be cut by another 90 percent over the next decade. That phenomenon will spread around the globe.
Clearly, the transformation of our 21st-century world is under way, and information technology, in all its forms, is helping the future look brighter . . . exponentially."

Read Ronald M. Green's must read article from here. Joel Achenbach's article can be read from here. Ray Kurzweil's article can be read from this link.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lincoln and Obama - Two Speeches

They have startling similarities. Read the following extract from The New York Review of Books article:

Two men, two speeches. The men, both lawyers, both from Illinois, were seeking the presidency, despite what seemed their crippling connection with extremists. Each was young by modern standards for a president. Abraham Lincoln had turned fifty-one just five days before delivering his speech. Barack Obama was forty-six when he gave his. Their political experience was mainly provincial, in the Illinois legislature for both of them, and they had received little exposure at the national level—two years in the House of Representatives for Lincoln, four years in the Senate for Obama. Yet each was seeking his party's nomination against a New York senator of longer standing and greater prior reputation—Lincoln against Senator William Seward, Obama against Senator Hillary Clinton. They were both known for having opposed an initially popular war—Lincoln against President Polk's Mexican War, raised on the basis of a fictitious provocation; Obama against President Bush's Iraq War, launched on false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and had made an alliance with Osama bin Laden.

Neither man fit the conventions of a statesman in his era. Lincoln, thin, gangling, and unkempt, was considered a backwoods rube, born in the frontier conditions of Kentucky, estranged from his father, limited to a catch-as-catch-can education. He was better known as a prairie raconteur than as a legal theorist or prose stylist. Obama, of mixed race and foreign upbringing, had barely known his father, and looked suspiciously "different".
Full article can be read from here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Military dictating no good for country, armed forces

Justice Habibur Rahman nailed the point that many others so called "intellectuals" dare to speak against the present military backed government in Bangladesh.
"The present government will have to shoulder the responsibility for the undemocratic situation it has created in the country by altering the democratic system"
Corruption in Bangladesh is a reality. Holding the corrupted politicians, hooligans and "businessmen" who amassed ill-gotten wealth through their shady political connection with former parties in charge of Bangladesh, is a necessity for any future progress in this impoverished nation. The present military backed government might have good intentions in the beginning, but the very fact still remains that power is corrupting itself, and if not checked with democratic means, the anti-corruption drives may become thwarting political opponents for the benefit of creating another emerging political force or parties, like it happened when BNP came to power after Sheikh Mujib's sudden assassination, or when Ershad's Jatiya Party came to power after Ziaur Rahman's untimely demise.

Cautions uttered by Justice Habibur Rahman have urgency that should be heard by power brokers at faraway places who perhaps are managing the puppets like master puppeteers:
"Justice Habibur said he is concerned whether power will be handed over to an elected government after smooth holding of the ninth parliamentary elections at this year's end.

He cautioned that increasing discrimination in the society in the present situation when prices of essentials have gone beyond people's purchasing capability will increase instability and "there is possibility of being attracted to religious terrorism for its solution".

Habibur said the present famine-like situation could become permanent if reforms to and management of agriculture and water resources cannot be developed."
Will anyone heed to these warnings?