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Monthly Archives: October 2006

If you are literate and capable of empathy, then I feel it incumbent upon you to read this. Not later, not soon, not when you have the spare time; you need to read it now. If you wish any real appreciation of what the poor go through, in the richest parts of the planet, then you need to read this. If you have the inclination, read the comments that span vast tracks of the bottom of the page, and realise the intensely personal impact this had on so many people.

Some of it is from a vividly american perspective, but I feel that a lot of it could be generalised to a lot of the first world. It doesn’t even begin to deal with poverty in the developing world, which is a whole different and even more troubling problem.

A “whatsit” is perhaps the most endearing gimmick you will stumble across this sleepy Monday. A simple concept designed for a simple end. Put succinctly, a ‘whatsit’ is an item worn which is either anomalous, individual or calling for further information provided by the person garbed in it. Its purpose is to give people who want to talk to you, a reason to talk to you, and to give people a reason to strike up a conversation who otherwise would not, enthralling them by their own curiosity.

Now understanding the gimmick, plenty of instances jump to mind where you have responded to such a design, and it is entirely likely that neither yourself nor the person presenting the object thought that this was an aspect of what they were doing. It’s why people where items that ‘stand out’ why people will don extravagant clothing or the latest cutting edge apparel. It marks you as unique and confident individual, worthy of further inquiry about and the kind of person we all want to know.

It is an excellent way to break the ice or to start a conversation. You are talking to the person about something likely that is unique or individual to themselves, something from which they either derived or depended upon at some point and which forms a part of their character that hopefully they are willing to talk about. It is the foothold that has to be created by contrivance, hollowed from the rock, but that enables the foot to find secure purchase for a higher accent if done correctly.

If you are the wearer of a ‘whatsit’ try to ensure that what you pick has a story, a value, a position embroidered into its fabric, that inquiries about it will not be futile, and result in generic answers discovered from the packaging that the ‘whatsit’ came in, hoping that the uniqueness of the object as opposed to that of its story is where the real charm lies. Stories are the roots of information and interaction, and a starting ramp that launches one into a dead end, will cause many more accidents then a mere brick wall.

Try it out.

I wish to draw you attention to perhaps the most interesting website that I have ever found on my short sojourn accross the world wide web. TEDTalks are a series of highlight speaches given at the semi-famous TED Conference.

TED is an invitation only conference with a very simple premise: gather the 1000 most brilliant minds of the year, the people doing the most signficant and innovative things, and let’s us bring them together so that we can learn and hopefully synthesize some of their experiences for the benefit of all. You have great politicians, academics, economists and designers; people who in every sense of the word meet aptly claim the laurel of visionary. Hundreds of thousands, if not many millions of lives are impacted by what they do on a daily basis, or by what they did, and they have a unique insght into what makes great change possible on our planet.

The real beauty of TED is that all participants are capped at 15-20 minute presentations and all their information has to be presented inside that short space of time, making the lectures immensely watchable and very very interesting. If you’ve got time, the page linked above has many more links, of which almost all would be a worthy investment of time.

If you think that this isn’ you thing, then lend me just 15 minutes of your time (for being no Mark Antony, I do not ask for your ears), and watch perhaps the most interesting, and for my contempories, the most relevant talk that you will ever hear in your life, that will help you understand a lot about the current education system delivered by Sir Ken Robinson. That will convince you to look at the rest.

If you do fell emboldened to look at others, grace the presentations by Ashraf Ghani [Ex-Finance Minister of Afganistan], Dan Gilbert [Professor of Psychology at Harvard], Barry Schwartz [Author of the book The Paradox of Choice] and Malcolm Gladwell [Author of the Tipping Point]. Go be enthralled while being educated.

O Allah, This is the month of Ramadan, in which descended the Holy Quran as guidance to mankind, and a divider [between truth and falsehood]. O Allah, bless us in this month, and give us Your help and accept our prayers, for certainly you have power over all things.

There is no God but Allah, we seek His forgiveness. O Allah, we ask you for Paradise and protection from Hellfire

– English translation of a prayer said by the Dawoodi Bohras during the month of Ramadan

I don’t write about religion, and certainly not mine. Not here at any rate. And not before now. In a month that is dedicated to prayer, fasting, piety and purity it seems an appropriate time to start.

The month of Ramadan is considered to be a unique blessing for Muslims. These 30 days are personalized, talked of as a great and honorable guest, whose presence represents an opportunity for the pious at heart, to sow great rewards in both this life and the hereafter. This personification is addressed, beseached and requested, used as an intermediary and as a representative in the presence of the Divine. This is the orthodox line, the position that’s taken in all the literature. It is a month to be honoured.

Yet I find no one is actually thinking like this Everyone is seeing Ramadan as a burden, waiting for the day of Eid-ul-Fitr. Their calendars are out, even by the very first night, to calculate just how long they will have to wait for, when the 30 days will come to an end and they will be free to enjoy feasting and food again. All the talk centers on where we’ll be in four weeks time, what joy will await us on a Monday similar to this one in a fortnights time, and things in a similar manner repeated ad nauseum.

I find it personally an odd way to welcome a guest. There is the initial ceremony of welcome, great drama pomp and presentation, all designed to show the veneration that this august visitor deserves. Then as soon as perhaps they have settled into a chair, the questioning turns a shade nastier. How long precisely does our guest intend to stay? Will he be staying here all the time? Are they sure? Inconvenience, no off course its no inconvenience. Questions in a similar vein continue.

Now this just seems to be the rankest hypocrisy to me, this constant mouthing of an ideal and the constant back stabbing to undermine it expressed almost within the same breath. Even if it is in your heart, you don’t need to say it aloud, and pervade that thought through the minds of everyone, like the point of the month is the finishing line, and that is where our attention should be drawn. Keep these thoughts to yourself, the finish line is neither here not there, and if it is relevant to your treatment of your guests. You should treat them as well on their first day as you intend to treat them to their last.

To me, I’m more interested in the intermediate markers, the every day prayers to attend, the shiouri to do in the mornings, the small baby steps that make up the whole process, which can be reconciled with the proper respect due our honorable guest.

As my mum points out, this is the nature of people. They’re not going to be any different, and it’s hypocritical but true that they will continue to behave in this way, and will not see anything out of the ordinary in doing so. Human reaction to hypocrisy more often then not, is ‘so what?’. It is so endemnic so pervasive and so normal, that my indignation at hypocrisy is considered abnormal in a manner of speaking. I’m not so accepting; but I think that I shall have to keep my peace. After all the people saying this are the entrenched senior members of my community, and I don’t see any need to make myself a false martyr by challenging them.

If you’ve looked at the links section on my blog, you may have grasped that in addition to an obsession with Football Manager (which sadly is fading away), I have a penchant for reading online comics. Its not confined to just the online ones, and dead tree comics with a offbeat twist, notoriously Calvin & Hobbes are great favorites of mine.

Its not a trait I’ve found that anyone in my limited circle of friends tends to share and it’s a bit surprising with the tremendous amount of really well written and drawn material out there that no seems interested. At the same time I’m more then well aware that people are interested in their own things and that in certain circles, mainly geographically confined to the USA, there are some very big comics online such as Penny Arcade and PvP.

The magic of comics for me lies in their elegant simplicity, they have a very simple gimmick, panels, characters and speech balloons more often then not, but are combined with elegance to then create what are sometimes very perceptive and articulate points of view, showing a depth of analysis and understanding that it takes many hundreds of words to convey in literary form. It’s the art of storytelling compressed to a single potent image or sequence of images, which requires tremendous ability to pick out the one significant factor in what may otherwise be a complicated series of events.

At the same time, as a medium unashamedly proud of its genre as entertainment, they’re usually out to entertain at the same time, strengthening their message by making it more pervasive and persuasive at the same time. People are inclined to dismiss something as light, as not high culture enough because it is entertaining, but it is much more the case I think that entertaining makes the effect, rather then diminishing it. It can make the impact greater then any psuedo intellectual seriousness can ever hope to achieve

What a potent mix is entertainment and information.