Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Pop star gyration a terrorist threat?

Apparently so. There’s been an uproar amongst mullahs and government officials in Afghanistan, who found a televised concert by the tightly clad Shakira too provocative, despite her breasts being pixellated.  Gyration may be a humorous word, but when commited by pop stars it joins US foreign policy and Zionism as the “causes” of terrorism, with a pro-government newspaper actually stating that it will provoke suicide bombers. Okay then.

Have we met?

A new study has shed light on how new memories are formed. Comparing the short term effect of the drug Midazolam (an anxiolytic and retrograde amnesic which is my bread and butter at work) and saline on memory of studied items, it found that when recollection was relied on, Midazolam impaired memory, whilst when familiarity was relied on, it did not.

I’d tell you more about it but can’t remember the details. But these findings don’t as yet point to any manner of improving memory, apart from vaguely suggesting not being on these sorts of drugs just to calm you down, as a rule of thumb.

In all seriousness, these findings don’t as yet point to any manner of improving memory, apart from vaguely suggesting not being on these sorts of drugs just to calm you down, as a rule of thumb. De ja vu. Speaking of which, scientists have now triggered de ja vu in the lab. Apart from having a lot of time on their hands, their study has shed further light on the processes of memory and the distinct workings of recollection vs. familiarity. It also casts doubt on beliefs in reincarnation, a theory which some support by their experiences of de ja vu.

Triple Filter Test

One day an acquaintance met Socrates and said, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”

“Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before telling me anything I`d like you to pass a little test. It`s called the Triple Filter Test.

“Triple filter?”

“That`s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you`re going to say. That`s why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don`t really know if it`s true or not. Now let`s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you`re not certain it`s true. You may still pass the test though, because there`s one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

Ironically, I have not looked up the source of this story and do not know if it is authentic. It is no doubt, however, true.

Faithless and stateless in Egypt

The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt to disallow members of the Baha’i Faith to be certified as Baha’is on official documentation will be seen as a giant leap backwards in Egypt’s civil liberties history. Human rights groups as well as members of the Baha’i Faith see it as a gross human rights violation which bears major implications for daily life in Egypt.

The law discriminates against Baha’is, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists alike. You can’t get a drivers license, a job, a university placing or even be anywhere without your ID Card. If you are spotted without one, you can face 5 years in jail. You must specify a religion on your card - but only one of the three recognised: Muslim, Christian or Jew. No other religious affiliation is officially admissible. Without state ID stating one of these religions as one’s affiliation, organising something as fundamental as a family member’s funeral becomes a monumental task.

The conservative approach has disappointed the hopeful expectations of both secularists and religious minorities. In the months leading up to last Saturday’s ruling, the law was increasingly interpreted by the courts to suit the more conservative elements.

Rendered faithless and stateless

The Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling intensifies the fight for Baha’i Egyptian citizenship rights, writes Gamal Nkrumah of the Egyptian publication, Al-Ahram.

Catch my attitude: Emotional contagion

Anxiously Concerned,  an insightful Baha’i-inspired blog, discusses a New York Times  essay by Daniel Goleman (author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships) on the link between positive relationships and health. Goleman describes the discovery of mirror neurons in the brain that cause us to adopt the emotional state of those around us:

Research on the link between relationships and physical health has established that people with rich personal networks — who are married, have close family and friends, are active in social and religious groups — recover more quickly from disease and live longer. But now the emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of how people’s brains entrain as they interact, adds a missing piece to that data.

The most significant finding was the discovery of “mirror neurons,” a widely dispersed class of brain cells that operate like neural WiFi. Mirror neurons track the emotional flow, movement and even intentions of the person we are with, and replicate this sensed state in our own brain by stirring in our brain the same areas active in the other person.

Mirror neurons offer a neural mechanism that explains emotional contagion, the tendency of one person to catch the feelings of another, particularly if strongly expressed. This brain-to-brain link may also account for feelings of rapport, which research finds depend in part on extremely rapid synchronization of people’s posture, vocal pacing and movements as they interact. In short, these brain cells seem to allow the interpersonal orchestration of shifts in physiology.

Commentary from Anxiously Concerned:

The article goes on to assert that emotional closeness allows the biology of one person to affect the biology of another to a greater extent. In essense, the greater the level of intimacy between two people, the greater the emotionally uplifting effect their presence can have on each other. This leads to the finding cited in the article that “the emotional status of our main relationships has a significant impact on our overall pattern of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity.”

The concepts of neural mirrors and emotional contagion shed scientific insight on the notion expressed in the following passage from the Bahá’í Writings, articulated simply and elegantly by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

“I want you to be happy . . . to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you.”

In another passage, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá alludes to the implications of the principle of contagion for education:

“Education must be considered as most important, for as diseases in the world of bodies are extremely contagious, so, in the same way, qualities of spirit and heart are extremely contagious. Education has a universal influence, and the differences caused by it are very great.”

The parallels between these long standing teachings of the Bahá’í Faith and the cutting-edge discoveries of science continually amaze. The last quotation from Abdu’l-Bahá seems to point to an even deeper implication of the concept of contagion–that beyond affecting our health or mood in a particular circumstance, the contagious influence of those around has a profound effect on our spiritual and moral development, particularly in the case of long-standing relationships. It certainly is something to ponder!

Public opinion, meet wisdom.

Public Opinion is a creature of habit. A long-limbed, colossally influential organism exercising daily reach in all life. She lives, breathes, digests what’s offered before her and as she grows, she grows on you. In the lazy humdrum of the passing days, she is reposed on the couch of heedlessness because apathy is a stupefying disease and her immunity is low. Then at certain magical moments, when the conditions are just right, she unfolds her blinding, blossomed form that embodies the very core of what is perspicacious, potent and wakeful in the world. It is during these moments that she incites revolution - of ideas and thoughts - and lifts us up. And pushes us forward.

She is the oppressor at one morrow and the defender of the oppressed at another. And wherever she rests in this spectrum at any given point, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

In democracy she is the known voice of the people. This is where she, it’s supposed, is the self-evident truth. But even when clamped beneath the claw of tyranny, she is, in the quiet pain, coursing timidly below the surface, betwixt its calloused claws, simmering and gathering herself, waiting for the day to rear her beauteous head. For when she finally speaks, her voice is heard.

Public opinion is the ultimate settler. It holds within its grasp the political, civil and ideological stance of society. As Mark Twain remarked, “Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God…” Or is it?

It’s certain that the voice of the people matters a tremendous deal, and it prevails. Problem is, as a marker it is often flawed, hailing a misconception, prejudice or an uninformed conclusion as undeniable truth. And there’s the rub. At such time, this god of Twain is a hollow idol. Rather than an organic philosophy in flux and progress, it is stubborn and impermeable to wise counsel or the potent spark latent in the clash of a different idea. Herein stem all the tragedies of humanity.

She is reposed…

Public opinion’s stronghold on policy, in most current modes of governance and industry, is moulded by the politics of profit, blame and whatever sways votes. It is true that public opinion results in policy, sure, but partisan politics can guilefully and craftily twist public opinion to suit any policy it purports. So the question remains, is public opinion the voice of the people or the voice the people are given?

After all, even in the lands of freedom and justice for all, public opinion is too often conceived, fed and polled by money for money, or power for power. So I must ask: With what form of mallet can we crack this chicken and egg dilemma?

The child-like, open and non-cynical pursuit of truth is, perhaps, life’s weighty task. According to Albert Einstein, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” Following the habits of others, the ideas and beliefs of others, and acting as others, is the easy work of the ungracefully aged, inertia-driven and inspiration-devoid. Is this limitation of the mind not self-inflicted oppression? “There is no greater oppression than to seek after the truth and not be able to find it,” writes Baha’u'llah.

This conundrum where truth and wisdom play chess with public opinion is where our collective conscience comes to life. Here Socrates’ words in the Crito apply sharply, where he advises his friend to follow the opinion of the wise rather than the public one:

But why should you, blessed Crito,
care about what the many think?
For the most reasonable, who are more worth considering,
will think these things were done as they actually were.

…If only, Crito, the many were able
to accomplish the greatest evil,
so that they would also be able to do the greatest good,
and that would be beautiful;
but now they do neither one;
for they are able to make one neither wise nor unwise,
but they do whatever happens by chance.

So when a sheep to public opinion, human activity is a game of chance? And so we wait for the next tipping point, opinion’s next shift over a precipice of chance, neither good nor bad, and into freefall, unfettered and released into new ideas, and, we hope, good habits? And then will we look back and laugh at our old ways, wondering what took us so long? Why all the suffering? You bet we will, because if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s change. But when is a tipping point? As every 5 year old passenger astutely poses in that salient universal question, “Are we there yet?” The answer is no. But ask long enough and it’s bound to be yes. Then, of course, after a short respite, we repeat that question on the way to another destination.

I was reading a statement from a man content under oppression that sums our situation well - whether you refer to his original context (political) or more aptly, a cultural, spiritual or ideological one: “We may be forfeiting our freedoms, as you say, but… why would we risk everything to take on the regime? We have to wait until society itself is disillusioned, and the masses open their eyes.”

Waiting for the masses… This is the general pre-occupation of an apathetic lot, this humanity, you and I. I guess we just hope that some people, somewhere, don’t wait. These sort exist you know, and as their juvenile passengers repeat that perennial and annoying question, they drive.

Find them, and ask their opinion.

It’s smart to be lazy

After a week of examinations on the sleepy subject of sedation, I have risen from slumber today with sleep on my mind. Sleep, our trustee respite from another day’s toil and trouble, is terribly underrated. As we witness a “wellness revolution” of vitamins, organic food and chiropractic, I wonder why sleep’s importance has escaped our cultural radar.

It’s trendy to be attentive when it comes to eating and exercise. We scan nutritional labels and numbers (which only dieticians really understand) with the hawk-eyes of a true consumer, munch on green things to boost our morale and excuse our otherwise bad habits, and pop endless “natural” pills (none of which grow on trees, incidentally) in the hope of looking or feeling younger. We pay half our weekly income to attend a communal space where we lift heavy things with body parts not built for lifting and gyrate curiously to hyperactive rhythms, because it’s more chic than running around the block or doing push-ups.

Meanwhile, we look at those who sleep more than us with criticism, branding them as lazy. I know that amongst my closest friends, the nappers always get paid out on. As I yawn I can’t help but wonder, is this fair?

After all, my napping friends are generally nice people. Is it something to do with their rested, clear minds and energised spirits? Or are lazy people nicer people by virtue of their chromosomes? When we’re hypoglycaemic, we’re grumpy. It should make sense, then, that when we’re hyposleepic, we’re grumpy. I know I am.

According to all the research, good sleep gives you a productivity edge. Apparently our natural circadian rhythms dip in desparation for an afternoon siesta. Where do you think flamenco dancers get their energy?

There is also evidence that our less upright, robust-browed ancestors were big on the afternoon power nap, and today’s hunter gatherers uphold this fine tradition.

Some of the most productive and influential people on the planet do it, from state leaders to CEOs. But of course, their henchman and employees and taxpayers aren’t supposed to. The employee can get a coffee to increase his productivity, though research shows that it’s not beneficial. But he can’t nap.

If it makes the big wigs more productive and functional, wouldn’t we all benefit? Wouldn’t be it be a better world if we all power-napped?

The modern world killed off the nap
A tribute to the soft pleasures of dozing, backed up by hard science

…This year, researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, reported that they took test subjects who had had only five hours of sleep the night before and let them have naps of varying durations.

They found that even a 10-minute nap made the subjects feel less sleepy and more vigorous, and led to improved cognitive performance.

It’s official then. It’s smart to be lazy.

Lost in transition

Dear esteemed reader,

I say reader in singular form because for all I know there is just one of you. Firstly let me state my categorical appreciation for your loyalty in perusing these pages - these opinions, snippets of news, these poor substitutes for wit and insight and the odd attempt at what had previously been known as writing.

Secondly, let it hereby be known that this blog, formerly hosted at a location which shall remain undisclosed, is now hosted here. In the rigours of transition, my postings have arrived dishevelled, starved of their former adornment and in a somewhat skeletal form. Nevertheless I am thankful for their arrival alive. I regret, however, to inform you that your fair comments did not survive this frightfully stormy sojourn, though I am sure they are now in a better place. May the ripples cast by your thoughts and comments last eternally, and may you and others continue to grace my postings with more from whence the others so thoughfully traversed.

I take this opportunity to also refer you to two blogs, which alter egos of mine may (or may not) frequent as supposed authors, and which deserve a status undoubtedly more premium than this questionable excuse for a blog: The Neocrats, an international force comprised of the out-famous Mogogo, Saleem, Mandel Cola, Lincoln and Sarmad, whose piercing wit no earthly force shall endure, and The Ponderous Folk, an unlikely aggregation very soon to be engaged in a high enterprise (but you must watch their space for now).

Friends, Nomans, I also request the borrowing of your patience, for this blog shall experience a patch of rest during a period of cessation of bombardments on my behalf. This is not due to lack of want, but my pre-occupation with a week of postgraduate exam preparations in a very sleepy subject (sedation, to be precise).

Till we should collide again,

A. Moving Form

Be young, retire or bust

Wherever you fit into the growth and decay spectrum of life, tradition has it that you are only as young as you feel.

If that rings true, then send a shout out to your Kenyan brothers and sisters. In Kenya, a recent proposal in government is to change the legal definition of youth to anyone aged from 15 to 50. This is a two-decade jump from the current ceiling of 30 years. If passed by parliament, that would put youths within five years of Kenya’s official retirement age of 55. Hmm…

The cup of immortal life, the chalice of immortal youth, the receptacle housing skin-with-that-just-face-lifted-zing; whatever the promise of youth is, it seems that for one reason or another, we all seek it. We all want to be forever young. In this case that reason is the aged’s attempt to access government treasury through youth funds.

Nonetheless this leaves us with some food for thought: In an age generally confounded for identity, what’s the draw-card of the already identity-challenged youthdom? Why does one seek it so desperately? When is one ready and fit to ascend its throne and finally, when does one retire from it? Can it be a gracious stepping down or is one necessarily dragged kicking and screaming away from its allure when one’s optometry prescription overtakes one’s shoesize? One one ders.

At the end of the day, the exact age and role definition of youth is cultural and circumstantial. In some cultures you’re leading the ox and cart down the harvest in your nappies whilst in others you’re 45 and still doubling your head mass with hair product and having commitment issues. But it does seem that in our West, we are far too obscessed with looking and acting young to actually live life as though we are.

Fresh fears for Baha’is of Iran

The Baha’i Faith is not recognised in Iran, where the government classifies Baha’is as “unprotected infidels”. As such the Baha’is of that country have faced human rights abuses, torture, imprisonment, denial of education, execution and the like for many years - even though they have no political motive and the foundation of their belief is the oneness of humanity.

I was born in Iran and following the Islamic Revolution there in the late 70s, there was an intensified wave of persecution against the Baha’is. In the midst of attempts to locate my father and arrest him on charge of being a Baha’i, our family fled the country.

It’s lucky that I’m making this post today from the comfort of my Sydney apartment - it could have been so different, on several occasions. Like the day that the Revolutionary Guards stormed our home in Mashad. Since my father who was the primary target was absent, my mother, younger siblings and I were to be the consolation catch. As the man of the family that day, being six years old, I stood like a statue in front of mum to protect her, towering to her waist. Apparently the AK-47 clad “brothers” were sympathetic on this occasion and after some deliberation and reasoning from my mother, left us at home. Then there was the day they stormed my grandfather’s house, trashed the place, interrogated him and shoved him about before incarcerating him. Now and then, if we were lucky, us grandkids got to see him for a few minutes. After being thrust violenty into his visiting booth, he’d pull funny faces for us and pretend they were playing games back there. They did play games, including being paraded as animals in their minutes away from the confines of a toilet space packed with about nine Baha’is. One could lie down at a time in there, so they’d take turns. They were mostly members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tehran, ordinary folk who unasked, were elected to care for their community. Almost all of them were soon executed.

My wife Jen and I are elected members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Willoughby (this year anyway), and we got it pretty good in comparison. In fact Jen will be meeting our MP, the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson next week to alarm him to new developments in Iran, which threaten to put that country’s Baha’is in great and iminent danger. We hope that with the support of the international community, the Baha’is of Iran do not become subject to the horrendous potentialities of blind prejudice and hatred, and that their day of emancipation draws closer. I’ve posted an article with links on these recent developments below:

March 20: Following new information brought to light at the United Nations, there is renewed fear for the welfare of the Bahá’ís of Iran.

A statement from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief cited “a confidential letter sent on 29 October 2005 by the Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces in Iran to a number of governmental agencies” which calls for secret and comprehensive monitoring of Bahá’ís and their activities.

This follows several months of intensified rhetoric against the Bahá’ís in the Iranian media. The press has published slander aiming to discredit the Bahá’ís and denigrate their community, history and Holy Figures. Baseless allegations aimed at discrediting the Bahá’ís have included charges of espionage, Zionism, conspiracy of Western Colonialism and rabid immorality. Despite being Iran’s largest religious minority, the Bahá’ís are not recognised except as “unprotected infidels.”

In response to the United Nations statement, Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Bahá’ís at the United Nations, expressed the concern of the Baha’i International Community.

“We well know what hateful propaganda can lead to; recent history offers too many examples of its horrific consequences. We make an urgent appeal to all nations and peoples on behalf of our Iranian coreligionists that they not allow a peace-loving, law-abiding people to face the extremes to which blind hate can lead,” said Ms. Dugal. “The ghastly deeds that grew out of similar circumstances in the past should not now be allowed to happen. Not again.”

Other Links for information:

Information about the Hojjatieh Society, a specifically anti-Bahá’í organized by a charismatic Shiite Muslim cleric.

The Bahá’í Question: Cultural cleansing in Iran (official Bahá’í website)


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