Feb 23, 2006

Ugly people are Criminals, more often!?

I stubled upon this very interesting article in the washington post called The Ugly face of Crime.. The shocking news:
Not only are physically unattractive teenagers likely to be stay-at-homes on prom night, they're also more likely to grow up to be criminals, say two economists who tracked the life course of young people from high school through early adulthood.
I don't think we can take this study at face value since "attractive looks" are a result of both genetic makeup AND self-cair (clothes, hair style, clothes, etc.). Another way of reading the result of this study is:

People who have criminal-tendencies are less likely to take care of their looks (being less attractive, care less about what others think).
And, unfortunately, I can see how some people can get into a vicious circle as a result:

People who are born somewhat unattractive can grow hateful-tendencies to the world (because how it reacts to them), and thus care less about their looks and become even less attractive, .... and then turn into criminals.
This is very ugly thing to say... right?

Finally: I want to point out that the criminal-tendencies differences mentioned in the survey are SMALL. This means that there are so many other causes that drive people into crime that are much stronger than looks. And, these are statistical studies. It doesn't mean it'll happen to every person.

My own theory is that beauty is all in our minds (in the eye of the beholder). Thus, I can see any person as very nice is I connect his person with nice-deeds. And vica-versa. In a way, a nice person's look is the definition of beauty.

Feb 21, 2006

Fibonacci Numbers are for Rabbits!!!

In Highschool we studied about Fibonacci Series until it haunted us in our dreams... but I never knew that the origin of these numbers is ..... RABBITS!!
From Fibonacci's Liber Abaci famous book (English Translation, pages 404, 405):
How many pairs of rabbits can be produced in a year from a single pair if each pair produces a new pair every month, each new pair reproduces starting at the age of one month, and rabbits never die?

On a more serious note, The Liber Abaci (Book of Calculations) is considered to be the book that brought Arabic Numberals to the west. But how did this book do it?
- It was NOT the first to introduce Arabic numerals
- It did NOT include any profound mathematical discoveries (e.g. Fibonacci Numbers go back to 500 BC)
- It did NOT baffle the scientists of the time.

The book simply appealed to the merchants and not the academics. The book showed how Arabic numerals were much easier to use for commercial use, like profit-margin calculations and compound interest, than latin number.

This idea of making science "relevant" and useful to the people is very powerful and mostly overlooked. During 12 years of school, knowledge was forced into my mind because the teacher considered it "important" and "noble"... but very few things were actually useful and relevant to a boy living in Jordan. I know now much more about "Pteridophyta Plants of the Dinasour era" (سرخسيات وأبواغ) than the plants of the Jordan valley.

Universities are not better. Universities seem too busy getting through a "curriculum" they overlook the big picture of why students are here to learn. As Wael Attili (Sha3tili) put it:
In graphic design, we prefer candidates with institute diplomas over university graduates. Commercial institutes teach all the skills that are actually needed to do the job. University students usually need another year of training to get going.

We need a new original look at our curriculums to connect them to the real markets around them - to create that feedback cycle between what is studied, researched, and implemented. I've heard that JUST does a better job in that than UJ... I don't know, but I hope so.

Feb 9, 2006

Mosullini from Iraq! and Marco on Yemen

After the previous two Macro Polo posts (on Islam and Magic), I'd like to conclude with these amusing narrations of his book.

Mosullini, the great fascist, is originally from Iraq!

Chapter VI: All those cloths of gold and of silk which we call muslins are of the manufacture of Mosul, and all the great merchants termed Mossulini, who convey to another, are from this province.

So, somehow, Saddam Hussein and Mosullini are relatives... hm....

Baghdad, the great city of learning
Chapter VIII: The mohamotan law is here regularly studied, as are also magic, physics, astronomy, gomancy, and physiognomy. It is the noblest and most extensive city to be found in this part of the world.

It's saddening to see the state of these cities today and the ruins of their many historic sites. Anyways, Marco follows this sentence with a whole chapter on how the Tartars captured Baghdad... aah!

Yemen, where Cattle is fed fish!

In chapter XL of the third book, Marco described the Province of Aden. He goes to (or just narrates about - not sure, since maps never show his route to Africa and Yemen, although he describes them in his book) Hadramout, Mukalla, and then off to Oman. He mentions that the daily food of the people there was almost only fish and rice. Even the animals were fed dried fish ' which he found very weird. He goes on to describe also a kind of bread that Yemenis make out of crushed dried fish.

In 2004, and to my amusement, my Yemeni roommate confirmed that until today fish and rice are the foods of Yemeni people (especially in the south). Not just that, but he even confirms that until today the herds are fed dried fish. The bread made of fish is kind of rare now but can still be found.

Read 9-1-2003
Reviewed 5-27-2004
Edited & Blogged ... today

Marco on Magic and Weird Hospitality!

Marco Polo's book, while filled with descriptions of old nations and amusing stories, strikes the reader with his vivid and many narrations of works of Magic! and here's one from Chapter LXI (last chapter of the first volume):
Now when the Lord desires to drink, these magicians by the power of their magic cause the cups to move from their place without being touched by anybody, and to present themselves to the Emperor! This every one present may witness, and there are ofttimes more than 10,000 persons thus present. 'Tis a truth and no lie! and so will tell you the sages of our own country who understand necromancy, for they also can perform it.[NOTE 11]
The Yule Translation (a nicer translation here) adds a commentary of others who support Marco Polo's narration:
[Note 11] In a letter dated 1st December, 1875, written by Mr. R. B. Shaw, after his last return from Kashgar and Lahore, this distinguished traveller says; "I have heard stories related regarding a Buddhist high priest whose temple is said to be not far to the east of Lanchau, which reminds me of Marco Polo and Kúblái Khan. This high priest is said to have the magic power of attracting cups and plates to him from a distance, so that things fly through the air into his hands."
I find this very different from Ibn Battota's travels, where he never says he witnessed acts of Magic or the supernatural. He only narrates them as stories told to him. The weirdest thing Ibn Battota talked about was seeing the bones of a giant man. The man must have been 2.5-3 meters tall.
Marco Polo on Weird Hospitality!

Marco mentions some of the weirdest habits of some tribes in the middle of Asia (not sure where). The men of some of these tribes (chapter #tbd) supposedly invite any travelers to stay in their houses while they wait outside the city. The travelers are expected to live in the houses as if they were the men of the house ' including performing marital "obligations”!! (I love how old writers had "gentle” words for these matters). The travelers, at the end, were also expected to leave a "present" (well, more like a fee) for the stay. Not even just that, but when the Great Khan ordered these tribes to stop this "obscene habit”, they begged him to return to it since they feared the anger of the gods. He ended up giving up and letting them do whatever they found fit. Pure weirdness!

Feb 8, 2006

The art of taking a car apart!

We found this car in Shoneh. It has been STRIPPED TO THE BONES! what else could happen, you may ask!?
well, not surprisingly... this:

Feb 7, 2006

Crisis of the Arab Book - what is not

Roba, in an interesting post, brought back to my attention this quote of the UN Arab Human Development Report, that I don't really agree with:
Here's something that made me stop and think;
الكتاب العربي.. متى تنتهي أزماته؟

أسباب أزمة الكتاب العربي-17% من إنتاج الكتاب بالعالم العربي وفق تقرير التنمية البشرية ينحصر في الكتب الدينية والتراثية وهي كتب في الغالب لا تحتاج لأي مجهود فكر
"The reasons of the demise of the 'Arab Book'- 17% of the books produced in the Arab world fall under the category of religious or cultural genres that don't require any mental effort from the reader."

The number of books published in Arabic is already very small. The solution is NOT to criticize those who are publishing!! but to convince more people to publish and read. We arabs LOVE to pick up fights with each other and point fingers. Instead of working on those who DO NOT read, we seem to focus on criticizing those who do.

Every civilization has its share of leisure-reading. We Arabs love religious easy-readings. Americans in general love Romantic Novels (similar to Riwayat Abier in Arabic), which are much simpler and naive and empty compared to our leisure-time religious books. Many Americans are hooked on comics (e.g. Superman). And a good portion of middle-states love Bible-related books & hymns.

There's nothing wrong in finding amusement in reading. At least people become fast readers, which helps when reading more serious books. Much better than playing Trix and smoking Arguilah all night long (in my humble opinion).

My suggestion is to really think about the main questions:
1- How come Arabs do not find reading books useful?
2- How come people who read books usually end up with close-to-minimum-salary jobs!?
3- Is it strange that, if books are unuseful, people tend to read them less?
4- If reading books is for amusement, then why not just watch "TV" instead? (watch Najeeb Mahfouz instead of reading him).

I personally blame the Educational system on marginalizing the importance of non-curriculum books (and to an extent Engineering Departments of US colleges). I have my own amateur theory on why Education became so unrelated to everyday life. Inshallah I'll discuss it later. But I think it's rather simplistic and needs much more professional treatment to be of real value.

my 2 cents...

Feb 3, 2006

Marco Polo on Islam

I read Marco Polo's travels a while back, and I'll be presenting my thoughts on it in 3 blog articles. In the first one, I talk about Marco Polo and Islamic World.

Marco Polo visited many countries, from Russia to China to Yemen. His narration of the Muslim cities he passed through was especially interesting, because he gives the Christian European Medieval perspective on Islamic Society. It’s not how “Muslims saw themselves”, but how “Christian Minorities and Europeans saw Muslims”: a look of mostly fear, misunderstanding, and hate. (look for old accurate translations – the new ones are often made ‘politically correct’).

Since Macro stayed with the "Christian minority" of Muslim cities, he had very interesting stories to tell. A summary of one of the funniest (chapter VIII):

In Baghdad, while the Christian minority was repairing a church, they used a big black round stone to hold the main pole. Later on they found out that the stone actually belongs to a Mosque, and Muslims were very mad and wanted the stone back. The Christians couldn’t take it out, since it would demolish the church, and refused to give it up. They all went to the Abbasyd Khalif to solve the quarrel.

The Khalif ruled that the stone must be returned. Muslims cheered up, and chrsitians didn’t know what to do. This is when this poor mystic Christian sage showed up, and said he would do it. In front of the Khalif, this sage, using the power of prayer, was able to lift the church, replace the stone, and then put it back again. Upon witnessing this "miracle”, the Khalif embraced Christianity, but kept it a secret. And to the last day of his life, the Khalif wore a Cross underneath his garment.

This story reminds me of Muslims claiming that King Edward of England in the 14th century was a Muslim in hiding, or that the Native Indians of America were originally Muslims. Even if all these stories are true, they had no impact on the progress of History!

Another very funny passage by Marco was about Eastern Muslims. As is known, Islam spread very quickly in the area between Iraq and India. Marco provides his own "explanation" of this phenomenon:

In (chapter IX), he says that those people, who have always been outlaws (thieves), became Muslim because Islam allowed them to raid Caravans as long as the latter were not Muslim.

In other areas in the book Marco continues to present Islam as a false, bad, and at times evil religion. He never mentions anything positive about Islam or Muslims, which makes me think ... how can somebody who lived amongst a people for so long still have such stereotypical and suspecious image of them? ... maybe the book has been edited by the Catholic church at the time (or was written with the church's censorship in mind) to make it sound so Islamophobic. I don't know, but it's an interesting question.

(Marco Polo presenting his book to the Church)

Feb 2, 2006

Sharabi on "Why are Arabs so unsuccessful?" (book review)

My mother told me about Hisham Sharabi (History Professor at Georgetown University) long time ago, but I didn't get to read some of his books until recently, and I have to say I am extremely impressed.

Sharabi simply tries to answer the question: "Why Arabs behave in a way that lead them to be so unsuccessful in the past few hundred years?"
The answer to a large extent is "We are raised to be dysfunctional". The solution that follows is "to revise the methods of raising our children and revise the values the society forces on them" in order to change our situation in the future.

All this seems a bit "too obvious". But Sharabi's brilliance shows in his attempt to scholarly analyze the Arabic Society in terms of psychological and sociological forces, and come up with clear and detailed recommendations. His diagnosis does NOT apply to ALL people in the society - but it applies to the majority of "normal" people, who go to school and graduate and just go on living and multiplying until they die.

His theory can be roughly summarized in three points: (see Patriarchal Society book)

1- Our society is mostly "patriarchal", in that there's an "oppressor leader" in all social sittings (father in the family, teacher at the school, and government in the country, etc.). Social values teach us to respect this leader and not to disagree with him - largely to be subdued.

2- This continuous oppressing authority causes followers to feel:
  • Inability: one feels he cannot do anything on his own.
  • Reliance: one feels he's in constant need for others' help to do anything.
  • Blame-game: since one feels unable and does not take-initiative, one becomes good at learning how to blame others for all problems.

3- These behaviors cause many of the society-wide problems we see today:
  • Consumerism: our society feels "unable" to make things. We are not an industrial society. We do not "make", but mostly just "consume".
  • Khawaja-syndrome: We "need" foreign expert help. Anything foreign must be great. Anything local must be worthless.
  • Conspiracy Theory: We are a "great nation" but all these people are conspiring against us. It's never our fault. We blame "others" for the misery we live in.
  • Condemtation: "Nashjob Wa Nastanker" - we are very good and quick at showing our dissatisfaction of any "change" in the world that went wrong. We never seem to put ourselves on the "side that attemps the change".

I do not fully agree with Sharabi's books (I think he goes a bit too far at times). But I love two major things about his books:

  1. I really commend him for a very accurate and clear Arabic writing. Most (and I mean 90%) of Arabic texts today are filled with hollow and ambiguous statements that add no meaning at all. Sharabi's book feels like an English textbook for its accuracy and lean style. Every word has a very specific meaning that will not get confused or reused differently throughout the book. It gave me faith again in Arabic as a scientific language.

  2. Sharabi's method of using classical Psychological and Sociological frameworks to analyze Arabic society is eye-opening. Questions like "how would slapping a kid on the face affect his relationships 20 years later?" are discussed in a very scientific way and backed by real social studies. I have a new respect for psychology after reading this book.

Bottom line: Highly recommended. 4.5 out of 5.

Feb 1, 2006

Funny Syrians, but again creative

(You can guess that I've just come back from a trip to Syria :-))

Now, check this out... This elevator has a Lock!! And it's clear that it was manually added later on.

As cheesy as this might seem, but it's very creative. Things are not suppsoed to be in any certain way, but they should be practical.

A video-rental shop opened doors on the second floor of this building. Tenants got mad at the times the elevator broke down, so they decided that the shop's customers shouldn't use it. And to do so, they simply called a locksmith and installed this door-lock on the elevator.

Isn't it creative? ;-)
tell me you've seen this in Amman!

Syrian Creativity - take two

This is another example of what I term "Syrian Creativity".

The restaurant managers took an old Arabic house and rennovated it in a very professional and authentic manner, and turned it into a great restaurant. The whole experience is so complete - from the moment you enter the place, walk around, get the food, see the lights, the decor.. to the time you leave.

Why Damascus?

I can find over 10 makers of Ouds in Damascus, but only 1 in all of Jordan. Why?

Even books - there are many more yellow-page books in Damascus. Books that are cheap and accessible to all economic groups. But in Jordan, books are clean, white, imported, and expensive?

I'm not trying to hint to anything, or say that Syria is better than Jordan. I think we are much more organized and effecient in Jordan. But there's this "thing" that fascinates me about Syria, that I can never put into words. Something mysterious, an "originality" that I rarely see elsewhere.

Possibly, this is what people call "civilization".

What is so great about this pic?

Syrian Barbie Bed"
Originally uploaded by arrabi.
No, I'm not a 9-years old girl – not that there’s anything wrong with it ;-)
But I still think this is a great pic. Why?

Syrian Creativity!

This Barbie bed was designed and built by a Syrian carpenter around 10 years ago. It's part of a full Barbie-room, made locally from wood - a lot like real furniture.

The greatness of this humble piece is the spirit behind it. We've always seen Barbie and its very expensive accessories. We've seen the cheap Chinese frail replicas. But, instead of the consumerism-mentality of importing them and re-selling them in the market, this carpenter had a creative-mentality of building his own and entering the competition.

This carpenter went out of his daily routine of making full-size couches and beds and was thinking out of the box. There are many carpenters in many other cities, but I rarely see them expand beyond the traditional.

Where does this creative-spirit come from? The spirit of “I am ABLE - and I can make it better”?
And how come I don’t see it in other cities? What makes Damascus so different from, let’s say, Kuwait city? or even Amman?