Thursday, October 8, 2009

$1B Debacle - Go Figure

The title is a worth a thousand words. How can a country squander $1B in government aid towards health reform. As a long time professional in the grants and contracts industry, I am appalled by this scandal and shocked that it may happen in Canada, a country long-held as a refuge for immigrants and praised for its all-inclusive, universal health programs. When it comes at the heels of Hollywood's glorified praise of the Canadian health system in Michael Moore's Sicko, one almost feels cosigned by the same title. Canada has long-been the front-runner of healthy lifestyles and health and medical administration and perhaps, it got carried away with its leading image. All that government aid did seem justified when one considers the goal - to create holistic, electronic health records for the province of Ontario through a program that boasts a catchy moniker, EHealth. Why not the would-be consumer asks? However, because of untendered contracts, poor regulation, unregulated price control, expensive consultation and a whole host of other problems, a public travesty has now unfolded. Procurement procedures are very tightly controlled in the U.S. and rightfully so - that competitive bidding and other such initiatives don't spiral out of control. In the audits that followed the scandal, it almost seems that the program failed only because of too much government aid that led to the misuse and misallocation of funds by the glamor-mongers of industry who by all accounts, seemed to suck the funding dry. The fly buzzes at the ears and we realize that this is the cause of human error, greed and lack of economic diligence and accountability and perhaps, overinflated professional egoes. While Canada is at the forefront of the health industry, perhaps it might benefit from partnership with American firms, who are more capable of broader regulation, have sound consulting capabilities and considerable training in this field, all in order to give Canada a leg up with its EHealth initiative that now stands out like a black eye and a sore chin in the global community.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Food for Thought . . .

From time to time, I will post articles that I have written in the past for a variety of news media that address important topics in education, spirituality, religion, politics and the like. This article was first published in the Yemen Times in January 2004.

Title: Ancient wisdom for the 21st Century

I sought a soul in the sea, and found a coral there; beneath the foam for me, an ocean was all laid bare” – Rumi.

In these uncertain times, when Muslims are increasingly coming under fire for their religious beliefs, it might be useful to look back at some of the more tolerant teachings of our faith, particularly those espoused by Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi. Although Rumi is too often dismissed as a heretic, by some of his more orthodox critics, his life and works show just how Islam can be a tolerant faith that encompasses the complexities of life with a mantle of unbridled love and compassion. Given our current state of affairs, it is unfortunate that we could not carry on the legacy of men like Rumi, whose teachings could have prevented much of the woes that we suffer from today, both temporally and spiritually.

In “Signs of the Unseen”, Rumi gave us our first introduction to metaphysics, which if understood properly can do wonders for the reaffirmation of faith. Taking examples from the outer world, Rumi eloquently reaches the depths of existence and illustrates just how God can permeate down to the molecular recesses of our creation, giving meaning to the Quranic verse, “Have they not reflect on the kingdoms of the heavens and earth and the things that God hath created.” The following are five examples of how Rumi illustrates the relevance of God in our daily lives, which Muslims today, can astonishingly benefit from even nine centuries after the poet’s death:

1. In order to defend the common Sufi proclamation of “I am God”, which borders on the blasphemous for some Islamic clerics, Rumi defines the statement to be rather a sign of humility, likening it to drowned man who surrenders his individuality to the greater movement of the water. “We are like bowls floating on the water,” he says. “How the bowls go is not determined by the bowls but by the movement of the water.” His other example is that of the lion and the gazelle. As long as the gazelle is fleeing the lion it is distinct in being, like the man who turns his back to God, but as soon as the gazelle is captured, its individuality is obliterated and only the lion’s existence remains. Similarly, when a man succumbs to the power of the Higher Intellect, he too ceases to be an individual but becomes part of the greater being. This concept of complete capitulation may explain why Jesus is purported to be the first Sufi and explains why Catholics have come to consider him as God literally.

2. A second indication of God’s preeminence over man is illustrated by Rumi’s notion of the veil. All manner of trades, according to Rumi, like tailoring, building, harvesting, astronomy, medicine, etc. are found within man and “not under some mud clumps.” Therefore, in order to lift these veils and attain higher knowledge, one must first be attuned to the source of that knowledge. For Rumi, man can never be self-taught because even when Cain killed Abel, a raven had to show Cain how to bury his dead brother.

3. The preceding point is further elaborated by Rumi’s illusion to the shadow. It is Rumi’s understanding that as our shadows resemble us is some shape and form, we are shadows of God and resemble him in some or all of his attributes.

4. Being a proponent of the mystical approach to God, Rumi tells us not to focus on coincidental, which he compares to the scent of musk, which ceases to exist when the actual musk has evaporated. The knowledge of bodies and knowledge of religions are distinct for Rumi, because while one is to only see the “flame and light of a lamp” the other is to burn in that same flame and light of the lamp. “It is like a ray of sun shining into a house. Even though, it is a ray of sunlight it is still attached to the sun. And when the sun sets, its light will cease. One must, therefore, become the sun in order for there to be no fear of separation.”

5. After 9/11, for all those people who could not understand how God could allow such evil, Rumi’s answer is very simple. God wills motivations for evil in man’s soul as a teacher wills ignorance in the student, or the baker wills hunger for the people. But the baker does not wish the people to remain hungry lest he cannot sell his bread. Similarly, God wills evil so that he can teach us the meaning of good. He further illustrates this point by comparing the thief or murderer who is hanged to a model citizen. Both are preachers, in Rumi’s examination, because both preach a message either by being hanged or by living a good life.

For those of us who stand on the precipice of faith and are unable to make that crucial leap forward, Rumi’s wisdom can show us that the kingdom of God on earth is in fact all around us. Rumi’s ability to extract deeper meaning from ordinary experience can give us more enlightened view of the world and our situation at present. Instead of being reactionary as many Muslims are today, Rumi offers us an alternative to the way we normally view our circumstances and process them in our minds so we maintain a more accurate perception of a given situation. So while we are forever plagued by misguided judgments in the political arena, it might be wise to pay Mowlana Rumi back another visit at least for the sake of auld lang syne.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Poverty of Wealth . . .

In my last blog, I talked about boycotting as a means to eradicate economic oppression imposed by the wealthy. In this blog, I would like to briefly address a common social malaise that I have come to call the poverty of wealth. To many of us, this grinds against the anvil of our common understanding of wealth that is defined largely by the formative works of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. To put plainly, the poverty of wealth is an appropriate term to expose the baser nature of human beings to aggrandize and accumulate wealth through questionable means. Wealth for wealth's gain should never be an end in and of itself. Thus, we regulate the means that we attain our wealth through an inherent moral barometer that must always be tethered to our minds and hearts so that greed and ruthless business practices are cut off at the knees. This does not ring more true when we recall the works of great economic thinkers who inspire us to reach with outstretched arms for that great Utopian ideal of social equitability, fairness and accountability in all our business dealings no matter how small. Take a simple example - if a thief steals a valuable Monet from a museum and sells it for twice its price and attains great wealth - the downside can be very costly to the balance of our economic lives - the museum may have to pay heavy fines; insurance companies will dole out large sums for a stolen item; law enforcement will spend time and money to search for the purloined painting; the overall educational and social value of the painting will be diminished; and the thief himself may be apprehended in the process and lose his freedom. Thus, the act of pilfering the artwork will lead to immeasurable economic loss and chip away at the Utopian ideal that admonishes such an action - and advance our hypothesis. Once we realize that our actions are judged on a higher social level, we will always fail to see or understand the wisdom of our teachers who guide us towards rightful economic success - and once our worldly affairs are in order, we will also fall in line with our religious and ascetic duty as citizens to live out our lives in a highly discriminating way in a complex economic universe. Let us not promote the poverty of wealth when we set out to seek our own rightful share of the economic pie but also reflect on what it means to be of sound and magnanimous heart if not only because the alternative pales in comparison.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Benefits of Boycotting . . .

Many of us today have forgotten the benefits of boycotting? Boycotting got a bad rep, so to speak, during the civil unrests in the United States in the 50's, when Martin Luther King, Jr. promoted boycotting practices among African Americans and was later assassinated much like Gandhi who was also a proponent of boycotting and the methods of both are closely linked. Let's look back at boycotting to truly understand its causes and benefits: the concept originated during the Irish Land War in the late 1800's when a wealthy landowner Charles Boycott imposed heavy tarriffs on his properties and in lieu of violent protest, the tenant farmers ceased all business dealings with the disingenuous landlord - giving way to boycotting as a social practice. Thus, began the history of boycotting in the industrialized nations and became an effective way of dealing with unfair economic practices and banning illegitimate production of goods to disadvantaged buyers. We are reminded once again of Kant's categorical imperative that we know well from this blog that dictates: act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. This is obviously ignored by many ruthless barons of the business world that extort and manipulate buyers to their advantage. Plainly put, this is akin to punching someone in the face for wearing a yellow shirt when you know that such an action cannot be turned into a universal law insomuch as it may bring chaos and upheaval to a civilized society - personal feelings aside, of course and instances of war. No amount of rationalization can dictate such an action that promotes the use of violence to undermine human freedom and our collective ability to reach mutual understanding under the pavilion of divine love, grace and mercy. Thus, the agents of this universal truth must be recognized for their ability to uphold such a message (police, firemen, teachers and social workers come to mind) and boycotting can facilitate their work when the balance of our spiritual lives is offset. We ascertain that Kant's categorical imperative is deeply rooted in religion. Boycotts have been very effective throughout history during the liberation movements in South Africa, India and the Arab world. Indeed, capitalism too breeds excessive greed and economic hegemony over the few and can sometimes go unchecked. Thus, boycotting can be very effective in banning products that are harmful to consumers and that ignore or trample their personal rights to be self-sufficient or deter self-determination. As a non-violent approach, boycotting is a truly noble action when one is faced with great economic hardship and oppression. But for an effective boycott to take place, one must truly believe in themselves and resist the temptation to boycott for boycotting's sake - it is arguable that the antisemitic boycotts during Nazi Germany were misguided. But boycotting can certainly undo and correct an oppressive business action to relieve social duress. This is a wonderful right and we must exercise it sparingly and wisely. Much good can be accomplished through boycotting and help communities to move forward and prosper. Let's not let the vague image of boycotting in America prevent us from studying this practice and utilizing it when necessary.

Dress for Success . . .

As educators, we must constantly remind children and those under our tutelage the importance of dressing for success. What is dress for success? It's a concept I first learned about at a literacy organization where I worked as a professional fundraiser - we partnered with an organization by that name to encourage youth to dress appropriately when interviewing for jobs. But this concept extends to our personal and social lives as well. When I see parents walk out in my own community with pajamas and robes to do household chores no matter how small, it is discouraging and lowers the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Since time immemorial, human beings have felt an intrinsic need to cover up their naked forms with appropriate cultural attire - from kimonos to hijabs, veils and turbans, neckties and bowler hats and whatever else that is fashionable, imaginable and appropriate to disguise the shame and embarrasment of the naked flesh - we have adorned ourselves in so many ways to adhere to a common social ethos (women bear the brunt of this burden due to their effeminate sexuality). As modern citizens, we encourage children to dress appropriately when out in the world - to achieve success and realize that wherever you are, a certain dress code applies. I was recently watching a unique program on the Travel Channel that showed men in South Africa presenting an underground fashion show where they dressed in fine European garb and imitated runway models a la New York City's fashion district. This is very commendable indeed considering that it's taking place in South Africa - a country with developing industrial and economic prowess. It is an activity that deserves praise and reflection - that no matter where you are or what culture you are a part of - that it is best to promote that culture through proper dress. When we hear that image is everything, we realize that much of our perceptions of others are contingent on the way people dress - the butcher with an apron, the child with the uniform, the sherriff with the gold star - all has a symbolism and cultural value to the eye of the beholder. Let us encourage dressing for success and limit our own lack of fashion sense when we go out in the world - it is important that we set the right example for others - and show that we understand the importance of gaurding the human form with social grace and historic piety. Because not everyday is a day at the beach . . . you can visit Dress for Success at http://www.dressforsuccess.org/.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rambo - Violence at its Worst

I was recently browsing cable channels and seemed to stop at a Showtime presentation of Rambo, the newest film in the famed series by actor Sylvester Stallone. While I am not a huge fan of Rambo, there was nothing else on and I seemed to be intrigued by the concept of the return of Rambo after all these years. First Blood was a movie I liked very much as a child and enjoyed the rustic, Americana quality of the film that introduced Rambo to the world. I found myself laughing hysterically while watching the current film - not so much that Sly Stallone is too old for such a hardened role but the nonsensical plotline and lack of dialogue or coherency. The movie seemed to me like a psychological window into the mind of Rambo - as the violence ripped across the screen with deafening intensity that greatly defines the legacy of Rambo to many fans. Then with one sudden blow when a combatant viciously stabs another, I realized that the violence was deliberate - in a moment of clarity, I understood that the violence was undue, extreme, repugnant and vile. For the latter half of the movie, the violence seemed to erupt like Vesuvius unleashing terrible clouds of hate and despotism on a grand, Hollywood scale. I was quite taken aback and shocked by the breadth and totality of the violence displayed with such bravado and relentlessness. In one scene, Rambo kills someone with his bare hands - ripping out the man's larynx in a gross and bloodied display. Arrows pierce through the eyes and skulls of enemy combatants. Women are stripped naked and the citizens of Thailand are behaving lesser than animals - prisoners are kept in cages or are beaten or threatened with execution style murder, prostitutes are begging for their lives as drunken soldiers are beating and harrassing them - then, Rambo arrives and saves the day but not with more undue violence as bombs blow up bodies to smithereens and larger bombs level entire villages, destroying and defacing the natural habitat of the Burmese jungle. Rambo's image is tarnished - the representative of America abroad - the cool, collected and highly talented Commando that can rescue POW's singlehandedly but in the face of a ruthless army does not seem to stand a chance - further, belittling the image of the American soldier abroad. But the enemy is no better - there are no subtitles when the Burmese generals speak so they are dehumanized as a people and we accept that they are scoundrels - most are depicted as tyrants, womanizers, bandits and criminals with no cultural conscience or moral standards. The rules of engagement that are common for any war are simply non-existent and the viewer is left wondering why they are even watching such senseless violence. Has Hollywood stooped so low? Has Hollywood become so gluttonous and self-seeking that it cannot draw a line in the sand? Has Hollywood lost all respect for brilliant actors such as Sylvester Stallone who is an icon of American cinema? As a filmmaker myself, I cringed at such a low and abased representation of a Hollywood legend on screen. This film should be banned. It is despicable by all standards. It makes me even more concerned that Sly Stallone himself directed this film . . . I just can't see how it may promote a good, proud or positive feeling among any moviegoer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Divine Knowledge

What is Divine Knowledge? All knowledge is an extension of the divine or our interpretation of the divine. Our belief in God as religio-sapiens and sentient beings compels us in so many ways to define our world and our existence through a divine lens. We must remember that as teachers and educators and be very careful that we be consistent with the goal of our collective journey that justifies the effectuation of our human soul - to study the divine and find means to reach the core of divine knowledge to promote human progress and return. This harkens back to the ancient Egyptians and their efforts to seek out divine knowledge or the Italian Rennaissance or the spiritual rise of the Islamic expansion. When our minds and hearts accept that all is the result of an Unmoved Mover - the a priori tarot - the finger that breathes life into an animate object by moving it with a gentle push is the epitome of God who moves us all through His free will. It's the marionnette that moves at the tug of divine strings but gains spiritual salvation when instilled with free will to worship and serve in the realm of the divine and face the satanic verse. As human beings, we can form communities, nations and world orders but to each his own when divine knowledge dawns upon our marble heads like the eureka moment of the philosophers descending upon those who are preordained to receive that knowledge and to share with others like the light of heaven above. Let us not forget our true purpose in the world - epitomized by the inscription on Kant's gravestone - "two things fill my mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the reflection dwells on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." That for time immemorial has been our goal in this life and whence we forget to reach for those heights best spoken by the father of the categorical imperative - we cease to be human beings unified for the worship of the unified God. I recently republished a book I had written several years ago titled The Shadow of God. While it is a novel of war and the lust for power, it does tell of a time when divine knowledge was the highest order of the day and a society that drank and thrived rightfully from its heavenly chalice. While we rise and fall, succeed or fail in our hope to achieve divine knowledge, we must at least try to stay the course and do what's ultimately right in our efforts to redeem this timeless honor. I encourage you to read The Shadow of God, now available in paperback as a casual study on divine knowledge: http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-God-Kamran-Cahn/dp/1449504051/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253472133&sr=8-3.