Productive Silence?

Imagine if you wanted to avoid a popular subject. Say, a hit television program about a singing contest, or a reality adventure competition in which scantily clad participants vote people off the show? Intentional avoidance requires steering clear of news broadcasts, especially the ones that include “news” features about the television programs afore-mentioned that are broadcast by the parent network.

How about if you wanted nothing to do with the excessive attention being focused on the marriage of two people from some royal family? Or the buzz generated by one individual that has huge numbers of people focused on his opinion that the rapture will occur at a specific time on a specific day?

Actually, if what you are intending to do is diminish the energy of these kinds of viral phenomena, it doesn’t matter what the topic is. All such situations share the common challenge of figuring out how to successfully and completely avoid the subject. It is also difficult to achieve fulfillment over having done so. To do nothing in these instances is not inherently rewarding. Doing nothing makes little difference against the maelstrom of the masses. The crucial truth is, if you want to stay out of the fray, you have no tangible weapon to wield.

If you try to lobby a case for purposefully staying out of the brouhaha whipped up by the media and citizen gossip/analysis, you end up contributing to the subject which you are trying to avoid. Cue the challenge of not thinking of an elephant. The only real way to not play into the latest media attention-getter is to refrain from speaking (or writing) on the subject altogether. Silence.

It drives me nuts. It is very difficult to feel you are accomplishing something worthwhile by doing nothing at all.

Posted in Creative Thinking | 2 Comments

Pakistan-American relations worsen

Relations between Pakistan and the United States sunk even lower today, thanks to a firefight among ostensibly friendly forces.  American helicopters were shot at, and Pakistani soldiers wounded.

More here.

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Baluchistan rising

Baluchistan, circa 1980

Is the US quietly building up a Baluchistani nationalist movement? Maybe – what?

Baluch (also Baloch) peoples can be found across a spread of central Asian nations (see map to right).  They are significant minorities in both Iran and Pakistan.

For US policy, encouraging Baluch nationalism could undermine one opponent (Iran) while maybe setting up a more controllable local authority over oil routes (Afghanistan->Indian Ocean).

(map via Wikipedia)

Posted in energy, Geopolitics | 1 Comment

Look, it’s a superjob!

What’s a good euphemisms for businesses making employees work extra jobs and more hours for no additional compensation? Hm, how about superjobs.  That’s it.  Like supermodels, or Superman.

Stories from the jobless recovery/Great Recession.

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Pakistan and America: bad tidings

What’s next in US-Pakistani relations? Lawrence Wright, author of the excellent The Looming Tower (2006), considers.

Wright usefully sketches out the history of US support for Pakistan, starting after WWII.  The connection was driven for decades by Cold War logic.  Next Pakistan became a central player in the War on Terror.

The article concludes very grimly.  First, aid hasn’t helped Pakistan, but helped produced a dangerous combination of forces.  Second, the US can’t quit Pakistan, not assist in making a bad situation better.

Posted in Geopolitics, history | 1 Comment

“Knowledge Management” vs. “Information Management”

The following was originally written for a local Chamber of Commerce newsletter:

Everyone knows that a library … be it a books-and-mortar library or a database … holds a great deal of information.  But knowledge, however, is rather different.

Knowledge, narrowly speaking, is something a person has locked into his or her head.  It is what a person knows.  It is also, as the word is commonly used, that which can be known (there was an old word for this concept, “knowledges,” that went out of use long ago and its absence has led to much confusion).

Consider a person marooned on a desert island.  He or she comes across an encyclopedia (which holds information) and, being able to read it, thus acquires a vast amount of knowledge that might well be useful to a person stuck in that situation.  (You may recall the book or movie of Swiss Family Robinson here!)

If the encyclopedia is written in Greek, or Russian, or any other language the person does not know then the person has, well, a lifetime supply of toilet paper.  There is a vast difference between information and knowledge.

Libraries with printed books, video or audio recordings, and databases hold information.  It is what you bring to the table, be it the ability to read or the life experience needed to make sense of other media, which converts information to knowledge.

Now, that all said, libraries have developed two ways to help you obtain knowledge from the information the libraries own.  The first is the self-help catalog.  If you know enough about your subject to be able look up the information you need (perhaps by an author’s name, perhaps by the subject) then you can find the information you need arrayed on our shelves (or available in our databases).

The second is the “reference department.”  These are people who have training in the various types of resources (once books, now much more) that the library owns or has access to … and who also have the background knowledge and people skills needed to match your information need with an appropriate source of information.  They also, of course, have each other to help them when your request isn’t something with which they have any familiarity.

This is why I always recommend that business people introduce themselves to the people working at the local public library reference desk.  They’ll need to know something about your needs, your business, if they’re to best help you turn “information” into “knowledge.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bin Laden’s death and a White House or Palace

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Zenpundit ]
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Okay, you may groan and skip quickly to the next post or perhaps read with bemused interest every time I post here about Islamic eschatology — but in either case you might have hoped that the death of bin Laden would have no apocalyptic resonance whatsoever.

Sadly enough, Anjem Choudary — co-founder with Omar Bakri Muhammad of the UK’s Islamist group al-Muhajiroun – has a press release posted on his website today titled May Allah grant Sheikh Usama Martyrdom. It begins:

The announcement this morning of the death of Sheikh Usama Bin laden has been met with joy in the United States and by other enemies of Islam and Muslims. I would like remind everyone that someone much better and much more significant then Sheikh Usama Bin laden passed away in the past, namely the Messenger Muhammad (saw) and that this never stopped the Jihad nor the spread of Islam to the East and West. Indeed the Messenger Muhammad (saw) said that the day of judgement will not come until a group of Muslims conquer the White House.

The hadith in question comes from Sahih Muslim, Book 19, On Government (Kitab Al- Imara) 4483, and reads as follows:

Narrated Jabir ibn Samurah:
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It has been narrated on the authority of Amir ibn Sa’d ibn AbuWaqqas who said: I wrote (a letter) to Jabir ibn Samurah and sent it to him through my servant, Nafi’, asking him to inform me of something he had heard from the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him). He wrote to me (in reply): I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say on Friday, the day on which al- Aslami was stoned to death (for committing adultery): The Islamic religion will continue until the Hour has been established, or you have been ruled by twelve Caliphs, all of them being from the Quraysh. I also heard him say: A small force of the Muslims will capture the white palace, the palace of the Persian Emperor or his descendants. I also heard him say: Before the Day of Judgment there will appear (a number of) imposters. You are to guard against them. I also heard him say: When God grants wealth to any one of you, he should first spend it on himself and his family (and then give it in charity to the poor). I heard him (also) say: I shall be your forerunner at the Cistern (expecting your arrival).

I suppose I should apologize, but “until the Hour has been established” and “Before the Day of Judgment” are both clear “end times” references.

A poster on SunniForum quotes this hadith from Muslim, one of the two hadith collections regarded as most reliable and given the epithet “sahih” (authentic), and follows it with another, citing Al-Tabarani, Al-Mu’jam al-Kabeer 2.198:

Jabir b. Samura said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say on Friday evening, the day on which Ma’ez al-Aslami was stoned to death (for committing adultery): A small force of the Muslims will capture the white house. I said: Kisra? he replied Kisra.

Be it noted that while “white palace” or “white house” would both be appropriate translations of the term used, Kisra clearly refers not to the house of the US President in Washington DC, but to the palace of Khosrau (Chosroes) I of Persia in Ctesiphon (now an impressive ruin in Iraq).

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I expect I found the Anjem Choudary press piece following a lead from Aaron Zelin, and if so I owe him double thanks – because he also pointed me to this quote from a member of the Ansar Forum:

al-Qaeda are the people of the Victorious Sect, which recognizes the last of the banner to the Mahdi

The victorious sect is the one sect of Islam out of very many that holds fast to the Prophet’s teaching, see the hadith collected here. As UCLA historian Jean Rosenfeld noted in a comment on the al-Sahwa blog:

Al-Qaida took the Salafi myth of the Saved Sect and the Victorious Group and applied it to themselves. This is in line with the need for converts to see themselves as heroes carrying out a transcendent purpose.The Saved Sect was turned into an eschatological myth by bin Ladin and his compatriots. It is a group of warriors who sacrifice themselves for the Din, the Land, and the people. The members of the Sect are a vanguard and they are few. Not only are they attacked by their opponents, but fellow Muslims may persecute them. Thus, if the group remains small and is regarded as practicing fitnah and is denounced, that only validates the group’s certitude that it is the Saved Sect. Only this sect — out of “72 sects” (note: this is probably a symbolic number meaning “many”) — will attain paradise at the end time.

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A couple more clear instances of end-times associations in the (Sunni) jihadist current…

Posted in Apocalyptic, Middle East, religious violence, Uncategorized | Leave a comment