Rolling out the Red Carpet

I welcome you to my blog and hope that you will like the tour. Please leave your footmarks with comments and feedback. This will through and through enhance my knowledge and profundity of thought. Enjoy! Asif J. Mir

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Future of Poetry

The future of poetry is immense? One is not so sure in these days, since it has felt the fatal irritant of Modernism. Too much is demanded by the critic, attempted by the poet. For just as long as poetry means accommodation between the inner thought and the objective pattern to which the poet has committed himself, it will be impossible to conduct that thought as freely as though there were no other end in view; and on the basis of thought alone, between poetry and prose as two rival exhibitions of free cerebration, the palm must invariably go to prose. And if the critics will insist on drawing the comparison, they will have to seek profit for their souls from the real excitement of prose, while they reduce poetry to the role of a harmless inducer of sleep; and the poets will have to content themselves with an office that is useful but, as measured by their expectations, ignominious.

Poetry, form of literature, spoken or written, that emphasizes rhythm, other intricate patterns of sound and imagery, and the many possible ways that words can suggest meaning. Poetry in its simplest definition is organized in units called lines as well as in sentences, and often in stanzas, which are the paragraphs of poetry. The way a line of poetry is structured can be considered a kind of garment that shapes and clothes the thought within it. The oldest and most longstanding genres for classifying poetry are epic, a long narrative poem centered around a national hero, and lyric, a short poem expressing intense emotion.

Poets throughout the ages have defined their art, devised rules for its creation, and written manifestos announcing their radical changes, only to have another poet alter their definition, if not declare just the opposite.

One characteristic that makes poetry different from ordinary language is that it uses many kinds of repetition. One kind, called poetic meter, is essentially the repetition of a regular pattern of beats. In poems organized by lines of syllabic meters—in which each syllable has a beat—the number of beats and the number of syllables are both repeated. Accentual poetry refers to poems organized by the recurrence of a set number of accents or stronger beats per line. In poetry written in accentual-syllabic meters, both the number of beats and number of syllables recur in a set pattern. The most commonly used accentual-syllabic meter in English language poetry is iambic pentameter, in which unaccented and accented syllables alternate in lines of ten syllables. Other kinds of repetition in poetry include rhyme, the recurrence of sound clusters; assonance, the echoing of vowels; and consonance, the echoing of consonants.

The ghazal, a popular form of poetry dominating South Asia, has its origins in 12th-century Persia. It evolved from a longer, more complicated verse-form, the qasida. The qasida, which came to Persia from Arabia, was a poem of praise for performance at public festivals and functions. Similar to the movement from hokku to haiku in Japanese literature, the opening portion of the qasida, a kind of introductory love note, eventually achieved an independent form as the ghazal. Unlike the public-oriented qasida, the ghazal is for intimate communications. The word translates from the Arabic as “talking to women,” and not surprisingly the common subject matters are love, longing, and unrequited passion.

Ghazals are written in couplets (two-line stanzas) bound by a recurrent sound pattern that is part rhyme and part refrain. While there is no prescribed length for ghazals, they tend to be brief, rarely exceeding ten stanzas. The opening couplet introduces a rhyme that is repeated in the second line of the following stanzas, aa ba ca da ea, through to the end of the poem. Following the rhyme comes a brief refrain of one to three words. In the poem's final line, the poet “signs” the poem by including his name. Unlike most Western couplets, the couplets of the ghazal do not follow the same line of thought. Each couplet is a self-contained moment, and could almost stand as a short poem in itself. Some critics assert that this aspect of the form, declaring that the ghazal resembled the unstrung beads of a necklace. In fact, this disconnected quality, because it allows gaps and jumps in thought and experience.

Ghazal was spread to India along with Islamic influences in the 13th century. One of the first Indian practitioners was Amir Khosrow, who wrote in both Persian and Urdu. Mirza Ghalib was one of the most outstanding practitioners whose ghazals reflected the upheavals and uncertainty of a culture threatened by encroaching colonialism. In the 20th century, Faiz Ahmed Faiz added a new strain of longing in poems written during a long imprisonment as a political dissident.

The poets of the present and the future must re-define, through their work, the true function of poetry. For, though it has become partly, and will become wholly, intellectualized; in spite of innumerable experiments in subject, rhythm and form, straining of meter, novelties in cadence, in spite of fluency, technique, originality, it still must be said that modern poetry is devoid of any real function or aim.

In the future, when poetry has become natural and keen, life will become greater than literature, and days than verses. In its final majestic simplicity, memorable poetry will be passed from man to man, like the song of primitive peoples, and there will be rhapsodists to speak it without declamation or mannerism. Sentimentalism will be understood no more, realism will not be tolerated; and poetry, springing from the roots of life, will flower into natural and perfect language, bright with dreams and tense with meaning. Meter will serve substance; form will be one with expression, metaphor with thought; poetry will be the call of spirit to spirit, the very throb of the heart of Nature, as expressed in her ultimate manifestation — man.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Slumdog Paupers

With a single child, I keep on Chinese style family. Even though he is up and over eleven, I consider boys in all age clusters as my own sons. Not just that, as a concerned citizen, and what I have demonstrated in my writing work, I pin great hopes on the younger generation that will steer Pakistan out of the turmoil. Although in the post 9/11 era, religious fanatics have made human life worth nothing, I weep tears of bereavement on every death that any blast causes.

Many a time my son, Muaaz, feels lonely perhaps owing to being single. To counter this, every weekend either we drop him at his friend’s place or his friend spends the whole day with him at our place.

Only two weeks ago, after the dinner we (my wife and I) left Muaaz at his friend’s place and both of us decided to have after-dinner walk. We had hardly crossed over a busy road junction, that we heard a sound of a big bag flung by a high-geared Hi-ace van. Initially we thought that it was a vegetable bag but soon heard loud cries of a child. I leapt into the hustling traffic and picked the poor soul up. It was about a ten year old boy shrieking with pain. I laid him down on the side walk to have a random assessment of his injuries and found capacious scratches on his body and obviously their pain was unbearable. Being a sensitive person and an emotional father myself, I started crying too. We made a brief investigation about the boy and the van driver that threw him amid heavy traffic and opted for his one year older brother. To my dismay, the van driver was a child abuser and the boy was being sexually abused. Full of rage we decided to visit the parents of the boy and go at it tooth and nail. Carrying the boy in my arms and following his directions, I started walking towards his home. The boy seemed thin but was heavy. After some half a kilometer, we eventually reached boy’s home.

We entered through the door straight into a small open space of the house. The boy went into his 2 ft x 4 ft room—perhaps an abandoned bathroom turned bedroom. We later discovered that the boy and his elder brother (around 11 years of age) lived in that room. An old lady looked at us queerly. “Where are the parents of this boy?” I asked. Without waiting for the reply, I shouted with my dander up and vociferated, “Why the hell they raised this child and junked him in streets?” “Where are they?” Scared of my shouting, perhaps, the boy stopped crying, but his tears continued rolling down his skinny face.

The old lady was visibly upset. She assumed that the boy must have done some deviltry and we were hence visiting their place with some complaint. Trembling with mixed feelings of rage and fear, looking up the sky she said, “Liberate me of this miserable life, O God!” “These two boys have made this world hell for me. I am his luckless granny – has he once again done any mischief?”

I repeated, “Where are his stony-hearted parents?” Rubbing her eyes welled up with tears, she said, “His father succumbed to cancer and died a premature death at thirty, and—and his mother abandoned these two kids and married another man.”

The old woman later led us to the room that had a low quality and tottered sofa, a clock with wrong side out, a crumbling cot and, and damaged split A/C. This room depicted the underprivileged class of the slumdog paupers.

The old woman called her married daughters from the rooms on the right, left and top so that they might also listen what the new complaint I had brought about those slumdogs. Possibly most fashionable in their social class one girl spoke broken English. When I told them about the accident and the serious injuries that the little boy had succumbed, instead of demonstrating any concern they started scolding him. They did not even allow me to take him for the first aid. While the old woman was talking to us unceasing streams of tears were flowing over our cheeks.

The old woman, backed up by her daughters, asked us to help her grandsons admitted at some hostel or asylum.

During our stay at that wretched home, like any suffering dog the ill-fated boy kept on licking his wounds and imbibing his blood.

While I investigated about the probable asylum, I could not find any that could satisfy me to admit sons. Little or much all asylums have some sort of corruption. As social responsibility and for safeguarding and promoting welfare I am only ensuring child protection. This implies activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering, or are at risk of suffering, and significant harm. I hope to succeed in this epic cause.

This incident pushed us into depression and insomnia for a few days thinking that when these two boys would have born, their parents must have been very happy. The father of the boys must have dreamt high about their future. With the death of the father all such dreams smoked off. The mother found a new man to give birth to other children of darkness . . . . .

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The False Bottom

Today, Iraq is a nation on fire, a conflagration of America's making that threatens to consume everything the nation stands for. How did USA get there? How do they get out? Can they get out? A drama is taking place in total silence in Iraq. Poor Iraqis—the innocent, armless citizens are being killed like gnats. Today noncombatants are being killed. Tomorrow's going to be worse, and the day after that's going to be even worse.

The threat allegedly posed by Saddam's WMD was the prime reason cited for going to war. But not a single item of banned weaponry had been found. In more than 700 inspections prior to the US-led invasion, UN investigators found no evidence of these alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Since USA went to war to eradicate WMD, sanity asks, did they confine their attacks to alleged weapons factories or storehouses in Iraq? Or were the attacks motivated by a desire to ensure regime change, rather than destroy Iraq's alleged WMD capability? The American government agreed to the bombing of a whole range of targets, which had nothing to do with alleged weapons facilities. USA has to explain how these were linked to the weapons program. It needs to be asked why cluster bombs and bunker-busters were dropped on Iraq, killing many thousand civilians. The US government needs to be accused of complicity in a “criminal enterprise.”

So far President Bush has failed to explain why no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, despite the fact that was the primary justification for invading that he pounded into the heads of the American people in the months leading up to the attack.

Actually, there was a tremendous pressure on the CIA to come up with information to support policies that had already been adopted. No information about WMD could be unearthed. Credible evidence was never presented linking Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks. This forced CIA to fabricate lies. Much of it was based on propaganda. Much of it was telling the Defense Department what they wanted to hear and willing to twist information in order to serve that interest.

The fact of the matter is that the USA was never interested in disarming Iraq. By 1995 there were no more weapons in Iraq, there were no more documents in Iraq, there was no more production capability in Iraq because the USA was monitoring the totality of Iraq's industrial infrastructure with the most technologically advanced, the most intrusive arms control regime in the history of arms control. And furthermore, the CIA knew this, the British intelligence knew this, Israeli intelligence knew this, German intelligence, the whole world knew this.

Indubitably, people who don’t understand war populate Bush Administration. They've never been in the military, they've never served in combat, and they don't know what it means to have a son die or to have a friend die or have a brother die or have a comrade die. They are a bunch of amateurs largely except for the engineers, and even they didn't have a professional means to interface with the Iraqis. What lessons have the Americans learned?

If all orders of Iraq’s interim government are taken together, the jigsaw puzzle will be solved. An overall legal framework for overriding foreign exploitation of Iraq’s domestic market has been set. It covers almost all facets of the economy, including Iraq’s trading regime, the mandate of the Central Bank, and regulations governing trade union activities. Collectively, they lay down the foundations for the real US objective in Iraq, apart from keeping control of the oil supply, namely the imposition of a neo-liberal capitalist economy controlled and run by US transnational corporations.

In the name of agricultural reconstruction, for example, Iraqi farmers have been deprived of their inherent right, exercised for the past 10,000 years in the fertile Mesopotamian arc, to save and replant seeds. It enables the penetration of Iraqi agriculture by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical and other corporate giants that control the global seed trade. Food sovereignty for the Iraqi people has therefore already been made near impossible by the new regulations.

Their impact is largely concentrated in the near-monopolization by US corporations of the economic contracts awarded by the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority. Overwhelmingly they have been allocated to six big US companies, notably Bechtel and Halliburton. Vice President Dick Cheney headed the later for five years before becoming Bush's running mate in 2000. Lawrence Eagleburger, former US secretary of state under President George H. W. Bush (senior), sits on the company's board.

The Bush administration has no plans to bring the troops home from this misguided war, which has taken a fearful toll in lives and injuries while at the same time weakening the military, damaging the international reputation of the United States, serving as a world-class recruiting tool for terrorist groups and blowing a hole the size of Baghdad in Washington's budget.

Sadly, dreams of colonialism have turned into a nightmare. Americans are dug into Iraq, and the bases have been built for a long stay. The war may be going badly, but the primary consideration that there is still a tremendous amount of oil at stake, the second-largest reserves on the planet. And fantasies aside, the global competition for the planet's finite oil reserves intensifies by the hour.

There's a horrific problem that faces not only the people of Iraq but the US and the entire world. And the fuel that feeds that fire is the presence of American and British troops. This is widely acknowledged by the very generals that are in charge of the military action in Iraq. So the best way to put out the fire is to separate the fuel from the flame. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Saturday, April 4, 2009

We and Independence of Pakistan

Mr. President, Pakistanis, and Friends:
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at this forum. Honestly, I am flattered to address a wonderful audience hailing from a cultured Pakistani community. I am here to talk on the subject relevant to Independence Day of Pakistan. Kindly take my frank comments and objective analysis as coming from a concerned Pakistani and not as official statement or government policy.

Mr. President, Brothers and Sisters, I have the reason to believe that the Movement for Freedom of Pakistan was kindled by Haider Sultan of Mysore (you may recognize him as father of Tipu Sultan). Allama Muhammad Iqbal provided a new impetus to this Movement and a thought through vision was thus set. This vision was no different from what was ordained in Qur’an al-Karim (Surah 109 – Al-Kafirun).

The spirit that culminated the movement for freedom sought a separate homeland for Muslims where its citizens would have freedom to live a way of life according to Islam—i.e., freedom to work, freedom to organize; and freedom of analogous choices. Under the vibrant leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, this freedom was eventually accomplished exactly 57 years before on Aug 14, 1947. This was no small achievement. This freedom was not given; it was taken and at a considerably high price. The ticket to freedom was purchased with the blood of our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. The Hindu and Sikh carnage of our Muslim youth turned out to be a dark part of freedom movement. We witnessed train loads of dead bodies arriving at Lahore Railway Station as an authorization for the price we paid for freedom. We cannot and must not forget this price.

I am proud to be a member of the nation that paid high price. Just the same, I feel guilty for failing to remember what was sacrificed; what was conceded. Consciously or unconsciously, nevertheless, we forgot the sky-scraping price paid for freedom; we forgot for we didn’t bother to recognize the role and responsibilities this freedom brought along. We failed to remember that the freedom had to be refreshed by the manure of our blood to keep its flame alive. We successfully but wrongly exercised our right to freedom for freedom from responsibility. We started pillaging our own country. Instead of giving our blood to sustain freedom, we came out to eat the vitals of nationhood. The educated elite left the country to benefit Europe and America and thus the selfish leadership was let out for robbing its own land.

The word 'freedom' means for me not a point of departure but a genuine point of arrival. The point of departure is defined by the word 'order.' Freedom cannot exist without the concept of order. We lost the order, stability, and harmony and thus transformed into a crowd of individuals engaged in a race for loot and serving personal interests.

Freedom is not choosing, Mr. President, Brothers and Sisters, that is merely the move that we make when all is already lost. Freedom is knowing and understanding and respecting things quite other than ourselves. By attempting to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we gave away our power to selfishness, narcissism, and smugness. In this way, we escaped from freedom. And most tyrannically we started believing that the vision enshrined by the Pakistan Movement was accomplished and our mission completed.

We were supposed to integrate the vision of Pakistan into our life, making it hard to put off or drop our highest priorities. Such focusing could provide us a framework for all parts of our life. Unfortunately, it could not happen and consequently today we fall short of spirits analogous to an independent nation.

The most important role of vision in our national life was that it could give focus to human energy. To enable everyone concerned with Pakistan to see more clearly what’s ahead of him or her. For this purpose, our leadership could convey a vision. Implicitly and explicitly, this is not done.

Imagine watching a slide show when the projector is out of focus. How would you feel if you have to watch blurred, vague, and indistinct images for an entire presentation? Today we face a similar situation in Pakistan. We are unaware of our future. People are expressing frustration, impatience, confusion, anger, and even nausea. Undoubtedly, the leaders with the fingers on focus button had the responsibility to focus the projector. They have utterly failed in their responsibilities. Thus without any direction and without a roadmap, Pakistan continues to lurch around, getting off course and ending up in places it never wanted to go to. Had Pakistan maintained a vision, its distractions would have been minimal and our national life would have been spent in a meaningful way. Thus it would have regained control over our life and no longer felt like wasting time.

Even after 57 years we have failed to learn to make our motivating vision important. This would have helped us in carrying out the goals with passion and energy; giving a focused meaning to a solid foundation to work from.

Mr. President and honorable Friends: Brain drain from Pakistan caused dangerous holes in political, bureaucratic and corporate leadership. They were nevertheless filled by selfish, corrupt and false leadership. Thus this corrupt lot steered Pakistan to the destination which we all witness today with confusion and loss of nerve.

Those Pakistanis who can afford, send their children to Europe and America for higher studies. It is unfortunate that such Pakistanis after completing their studies do not return to Pakistan. Since one in three Pakistani professionals will like to live outside Pakistan, Pakistani universities are actually training one third of their graduates for export to the developed nations. We are thus operating one third of Pakistani universities to satisfy the manpower needs of Great Britain and the United States. Stated differently, the Pakistani education budget is nothing but a supplement to the American or British education budgets. In essence, Pakistan is giving developmental assistance to the wealthier western nations, which makes the rich nations richer and the poor Pakistan poorer.

It is the best and brightest that can emigrate, leaving behind the weak and less imaginative. We cannot achieve long-term economic growth by exporting our human resource. In the new world order, people with knowledge drive economic growth. We talk a lot of poverty alleviation in Pakistan. But who is going to alleviate the poverty? Or the uncreative bureaucracy that created poverty? Hypothetically, the most talented should lead the people, create wealth and eradicate poverty and corruption. You are highly educated lot. Your country, your roots needed you. You should have gone back to Pakistan and played a role in the reconstruction of Pakistan. You should have applied what you have learned, practiced or observed here. Alas! It could not happen and Pakistan could not benefit from your rare skill and exceptional expertise.

In theory, overseas Pakistanis are morally obliged to return back home. In truth, it is unrealistic thinking that that a Pakistani professional will resign from his $60,000 a year job to accept a $3,000 a year job in Pakistan. A more meaningful question will be to ask: What measures can be taken to entice Pakistanis leaving abroad to return home and what can be done to discourage those professionals in Pakistan to remain in Pakistan?

The brain-drain seriously affects the quality and delivery of public and private services there are two obvious solutions (a) make it worthwhile for highly-trained professionals to stay and (b) replace them with competent locals at a rate as fast or faster than their departure brain train.

Another solution is to devise strategies of brain gain. These can take the development of a brain gain network. Pakistan is not effectively encouraging the use of its diaspora in contributing to development at home (for example, 80 per cent of recent foreign investment in the People's Republic of China came from overseas Chinese). The brain gain network can help in the promotion of joint research and teaching posts, the use of medical specialists in periodic return visits, short-term training assignments and even systematic professional and research collaboration on electronic networks. These could be effective ways of harnessing the skills of some of the distinguished scientists, medics, artists and educators with Pakistani origins living abroad.

With good employers, attractive working conditions, improved telecommunications and the entrepreneurial climate in India today, young professionals are moving back and strengthening the economic sector. Then IT professionals in India are quite often paid in foreign currency at international rates to prevent brain drain and hence exports of Indian software industry is now in the range of $10 billion.

Pardon me on going off track.

After the death of Quaid-e-Azam, we have allowed corruption to creep into our society as a way of life. Thus, we have become desensitized to corruption and our moral judgment is impaired. Even worse, at each step along the way, we eliminated Islamic injunctions from our lives and culture.

I feel highly embarrassed to pronounce that even after 57 years of independence we could not eradicate corruption. It is today deeply embedded in the political culture and poverty of Pakistan. Regulatory bodies are particularly vulnerable to corruption as they have the power to make key decisions on profit-making activities. Corrupt regulatory bodies are thus dangerously impeding economic development.

Prevalence of corruption in various political regimes has been the main cause of their downfall.

New attitudes, better financial systems, prosecution of the guilty, better management of affairs and real accountability to the people … this should be the agenda for change. In taking it forward, the leading role must obviously be taken by the people and Government. But tackling corruption effectively requires a real focus, coordinated action and shared responsibility. Everyone’s energies must be thrown behind this anti-corruption strategy. It is the key to a better future for the people of Pakistan.

Mr. President and Friends: Allow me to take your attention for a peep into ancient history. As in the experience of all other civilizations it can be with us if we do not recognize the principles for survival. If we failed to learn from history and recognize the future trends, we will eventually go back into darkness from whence we came, and we the people who got freedom 57 years before will perish from the earth.

If you retrace your thoughts back to where there were those old civilizations, some five or six thousand years ago, the Egyptians, you will find that they were very intelligent, highly advanced but through corruption, selfishness, prejudice and moral degradation they went into the debris of ancient history. We, in this advanced civilization, are representing similar predilections, can also follow the same destiny and go back into the dark age from whence we came.

Egyptian civilization has been forgotten. It went down, not only mentally, scientifically, intellectually, but also physically, to let us see and know that those who go down mentally and do not alter their ways also go down physically.

After the Independence, we lost our vision and subsequently transformed into one of the corrupt nations worldwide, all the nasty crimes once akin to the West now dominate our national life, and last but not the least each individual of Pakistan seems to be on the looting binge. Instead of contributing our role in nation building, we started pillaging our own land. When we are nurturing the same traits that caused extinction of Egyptian Civilization, my mind agitates to ask why then our destiny would be any different?

The societies that sustain physically, mentally, and otherwise are those which undergo a series of divergences in development, much like the branching of a tree. The dynamic people are those who are responsive to issues, essentially open, fast paced, balanced, and tend to survive and prosper on a fairly reliable basis. Problems come to them, but they usually manage to work them out.

The struggling society of Pakistan, contrarily, outdoes the people in narrow areas of endeavor from time to time, and becomes generally more retarded in overall development as time goes by.

Outwardly, we are a developing society. But like a muscular athlete with a terminal cancer, a disease is eating away at us from the inside. A great nation cannot be destroyed from the outside until it falls first from the inside.

No matter how well we might arm ourselves against enemies outside our borders, the greatest enemy is none else but us, who place destructive devices inside our destructive minds, causing us to morally implode, like an imploding building.

Ever since independence in 1947, we have experienced a complete abandonment of our sense of good and evil. The true crisis of our time has nothing to do with monetary troubles, unemployment, or terrorism. The true crisis has to do with the fact that we have lost our way.

If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. But if you place the frog in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, the relaxed frog will just swim around, growing accustomed to the increasing warmth until it eventually boils to death. This is what is happening to us and our cultural decay. It is a gradual process that slowly dulls our senses until what was once seen as unacceptable somehow becomes acceptable.

What will remain of civilization and history if the accumulated influence of Islam, both direct and indirect, is eradicated from literature, art, practical dealings, moral standards, and creativeness in the different activities of mind and spirit?

Consequently, a flood of immorality, corruption and violence has entered into our national life, and we have unfortunately been recognized as a culture of death from the womb to the streets. Many of our young people have no concept of the true spirit of Islam; and many are tragically engaged in dying or killing innocents. A sense of hopelessness prevails, a feeling of fear surrounds.

We have forgotten our true nature, divinity, because 'scientifically' it cannot be proved! We are ignorant of true purpose of life. Values like solidarity, natural love, forbearance, compassion, generosity, and altruism do not find any place independent of an 'individual'.

The culture shows signs of degeneration into lawlessness, disease, and want on one hand, and affluence and sense gratification of wanton degree on the other. With this decline in cultural values, ethical values are also eroded. Not one particular field is afflicted with this 'virus of corruption'; all departments of human interaction show the same trend. It is difficult to find an isolated island of purity in the sea of corruption all around.

Ethics is the reflection of cultural health of the society. In course of evolution of human societies, man creates progressive cultural and moral ethos. But then a stage comes when cultural growth slows down for want of fresh ideas. Consequently ethics also remains a mere shadow of its own previous glory. Now it is in search of fresh inputs to spring to new life again. Therefore, when matter is worshiped as supreme and privileges are sought after, ethical decline is not a surprise. The remedy lies in adding spiritual dimension to existing culture and in course evolving a new moral and ethical code for coming generations. Time is still not gone. We can learn lessons from Egyptian civilization or else face extinction. Choice is only ours.

Thank you for listening.
God bless you all.
God bless Pakistan
Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Doom and Gloom

In 1971, population biologist Paul Ehrlich estimated that if human numbers kept increasing at the high rates of the time, by around 2900 the planet would be teeming with sixty million billion people (that’s 60,000,000,000,000,000). But the rate of population rise actually peaked in the 1960s and demographers expect a leveling-off of human numbers this century.

No kidding. If the current growth rate continued, in 130 years Pakistan’s population will be equal to the population of world today.

The population of Pakistan in mid-2004 was 159.2 million, births per 1000 are 34 and deaths per 1000 are 10. Pakistan’s rate of natural increase in population growth is 2.4 percent, and projected population in the year 2025 and 2050 would be 228.8 and 295.0 million, respectively. The projected population change in 2004-2050 would be 85 percent.

In 1950 Pakistan had a population of about 40 million people. Since then it has grown many times. But the real population explosion in Pakistan will only come over the next few decades, because the country not only has a very young population, but also still an extremely high fertility - much higher. These large numbers of children and young adults will soon come into reproductive age and will produce a large number of offsprings.

The latest facts and figures state that future population prospects are shaped in large part by the age profile of its citizens. More than half of Pakistan's population is below the age of fifteen; nearly a third is below the age of nine. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world with an inverse sex ratio: official sources claim there are 111 men for every 100 women. The discrepancy is particularly obvious among people over fifty: men account for 7.1 percent of the country's total population and women for less than 5 percent. This figure reflects the secondary status of females in Pakistani society, especially their lack of access to quality medical care.

In population Pakistan ranks sixth in the world and its land area stands at thirty-second position among nations. Thus Pakistan has about 2 percent of the world's population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world's land. In the year 2050, Pakistan would continue to gracefully stand elevated among top 5 population giants. Pakistan cannot be pulled out of the poverty trap with 3 million additional births every year.

Pakistan is poised to more than double its size by 2050 even as supplies of water, forests, and food crops are already showing signs of strain and other species are being squeezed into smaller and smaller ranges.

A huge consumption gap exists between industrialized and developing countries and Pakistan. The world's richest countries, with 20 per cent of global population, account for 86 per cent of total private consumption, whereas the poorest 20 per cent of the world's people account for just 1.3 per cent.

A newborn in the USA or Europe will put greater pressure on the Earth’s carrying capacity than a whole family of newborns in Pakistan. Numbers and the Earth’s ability to provide are increasingly framed by the realities of gender relations. It is now generally agreed that while enabling larger numbers of women and men to use modern methods of family planning is essential, it is not sufficient. By expanding the choices and capacities of women, a central thread can be formed in the population story. Consumption—what we need and what we want—is, too.

Pakistan's people are not evenly distributed throughout the country. There is an average of 146 persons per square kilometer, but the density varies dramatically, ranging from scarcely populated arid areas, especially in Balochistan, to some of the highest urban densities in the world, such as Karachi and Lahore.

Municipal governments in Pakistan are least able to muster the human and financial resources to contend with these problems, especially when the poorest, non-taxable segment of the urban population continues to grow rapidly.

The risks of instability among youth may increase when skilled members of elite classes are marginalized by a lack of opportunity. It isn’t difficult to find contemporary parallels. The collapse of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was partly due to the mobilization of large numbers of discontented young men who were unable to put their technical education to use due to party restrictions on entering the elite.

The greatest challenge before government hence is the need to tackle the underlying factors contributing to discontent among young people, including poverty and the lack of economic opportunity. It can address part of the risk associated with youth unemployment by investing in job creation and training, boosting access to credit, and promoting entrepreneurship.

Eventually, however, the only way to achieve the necessary long-term changes in age structure will be through declines in fertility. Government can facilitate fertility decline by supporting policies and programs that provide access to reproductive health services and by promoting policies that increase girls’ educational attainment and boost women’s opportunities for employment outside the home.

The stewardship of the planet and the well-being of its people are a collective responsibility. Everywhere we face critical decisions. Some are about how to protect and promote fundamental values such as the right to health and human dignity. Others reflect trade-offs between available options, or the desire to broaden the range of choice. We need to think carefully but urgently about what the choices are, and to take every action that will broaden choices and extend the time in which to understand their implications. We need a decision today not just to bring down the birth rate but also to attain a balance between resources and population. For a secure future this goal must be pursued vigorously through sound population management. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Day After

Millions of voices, moaning in pain
raking the rubble, shouting in vain

On Oct 8, catastrophic event hit with no warning. In an instant, homes, communities and sense of well-being destroyed into rubble. With earthquake so many people dead, displaced from their home area and everything that was familiar to them has been frittered away. For those victims that stayed behind—witnessing death, homes destroyed and the grief of friends and family—the affects are overwhelming.

As the nation opened its doors and hearts to the victims, it is face to face with a flood of emotions. How we deal with the emotional flood may affect how well the victims recover from this natural disaster. There’s a need to go out into the effected areas to offer comfort to victims, who want and need to talk about their feelings and experiences. The job is not easy— offering emotional support to those who have lost family members, stock farm, homes and all their personal belongings. Through programs, evacuees need to be offered psychological first aid.

Provincial and local emergency management personnel generally conduct hazard analyses to determine which disasters are likely to occur in particular jurisdictions. But such activities take place where people are reagrded as human beings. Pakistan where apart from hollow verbosity, people are reagrded nothing more than sumpter horses, emergency management planning is alien.

While the quake has created demand that exceeded the normal capacity of the government, it has changed the number and structure of responding organizations which have resulted in the creation of new organizations, new tasks and engaged participants who are not ordinarily disaster responders. It has also compounded the difficulty of understanding who does what in disaster response due to the incapacity of the government.

The private sector has proved to be very efficient in providing relief to the quake-affected areas. Most TNCs are failing to respond to established corporate social responsibility programs. Only a few have contributed significant resources in terms of donations for affected areas. Both TNCs and smaller enterprises need to be closely involved in disaster relief as this is in their own long-term interest.

Regional economic integration should also be advanced through consolidation, expanding and deepening existing regional trading arrangements. The establishment of regional special economic zones for disaster-affected areas needs to be considered which would grant duty-free imports of capital equipment and raw materials for production within the zone.

In the wake of the tragedy many number of public-spirited institutions, voluntary organizations and citizens' groups have sprung into action to collect money and relief items. There is an obvious need for measures to guard against the misuse and abuse of the bestowal and to plug systemic loopholes and enforce stringent supervision.

Misuse of aid money by the relief organizations themselves or by employees within the structures of the organizations is quite common in Pakistan. An army general, in charge of an operation during Soviet aggression in Afghanistan died in an air crash, offers a classic example of misappropriation of aid money. His family turned billionaire overnight without any accountability. No one in Pakistan raised questions. The nation now hopes that this time plundering of the money meant for mustahqeens (earthquake victims) does not create more billionaires. We expect that there would be a mechanism to ensure that the amounts, which the government will spend in time and for the purpose for which they are intended.

To avoid misuse of funds, the government should have a minimum role. Private sector should be involved. A transparent criterion needs to be adopted. Representatives from Chambers of Commerce & Industry should watch over the observance of the criteria. Information on each and every allocation made from the fund(s) should be periodically laid before the legislature and intimated to the public through the media. The receipts, disbursements, the nature and extent of utilization should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and his report should be scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee and discussed in the legislatures. Contributions received in the context of earthquake should be put in a Fund specially constituted for that matter and administered as a distinct entity, instead of being mixed up with President’s general Relief Fund.

The operation has utterly failed in attending to the emergency measures of rescuing trapped survivors, treating the injured, and providing care and shelter for the needy. The government is focusing its attention on the long-term task of reconstruction and rehabilitation before even first reaching to the seriously injured. The prime minister has abruptly announced the $5 billion amount required for reconstruction. The criterion for his assessment at this stage is opaque. The rule: ‘first things first’ is being ignored.

Before planning there’s a need to first identify those who truly clamor for assistance and then provide them accordingly. A method for effective utilization of aggregate resources needs to be devised. Priority should be given to the employment of quake-area human resources in meeting the needs of reconstruction. Disaster victims also need to be encouraged to rely on their own efforts and strengths, and to join forces in rebuilding their home communities. Emphasis should be laid on assisting the psychological recovery of the survivors in disaster areas.

The media should play a role in providing adequate information to the public to inform them about recovery efforts, sources for relief assistance and how to cope during the recovery time.

The need has arisen to develop and enforce seismic safety codes for all new construction. An integrated approach should be used to design new facilities that consider all elements of the construction including structural and nonstructural elements, support systems, site improvements that contribute to seismic performance.

This disaster has demonstrated just one clean-cut feature of fraternal feeling that has made us realize how connected we are to the community. This social bond has enabled victims an opportunity to be supported but can lead to pain after social support is withdrawn. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Consumer Class

Our world is one of contrasts. While 1.7 billion people earn enough to be classified as members of the consumer class (users of items including televisions, telephones, and the Internet, along with the culture and ideals these products transmit), as many as 2.8 billion people including Pakistanis struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion lack reasonable access to safe drinking water. Yet providing adequate food, clean water, and basic education for the poorest could all be achieved for less than people spend annually on makeup, ice cream, and beverages.

Private consumption expenditures—the amount spent on goods and services at the household level—topped $20 trillion in 2000, up from $4.8 trillion in 1960. Some of this four-fold increase occurred because of population growth, but much of it was due to advancing prosperity in many parts of the globe. Production efficiencies of the 20th century have driven much of the consumption boom. Modern industrial workers now produce in a week what took their 18th century counterparts four years. In the semiconductor industry, production efficiencies helped drive the cost per megabit of computing power from roughly $20,000 in 1970 to about 2 cents in 2001. Global spending on advertising reached $446 billion in 2002, an almost nine-fold increase over 1950.

According to a survey on Consumer Spending and Population, by Region, in 2000 it is found that 5.2% of world population in United States and Canada has 31.5% share of world consumption expenditures. Out of 6.4% of world population in Western Europe has 28.7%, 32.9% in East Asia and Pacific has 21.4%, 8.5% in Latin America and the Caribbean has 8.5%, 7.9% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has 3.3%, 22.4% in South Asia has 2.0%, 0.4% in Australia and New Zealand has1.5%, 4.1% in Middle East and North Africa has1.4%, and 10.9% Sub-Saharan Africa has1.2% share of world consumption expenditure.

The health status of women and children in Pakistan is awful—eight babies are born every minute, one mother dies every 20 minutes and about 15 of them suffer from morbidity every 20 minutes, about 50 percent women are suffering from malnutrition and anemia. Less than 20 percent of them are receiving help during delivery and about 25 percent of children are being born under weight. The vision of reproductive health in Pakistan is less costly than the amount spent on smoking.

Smoking contributes to around 5 million deaths worldwide each year. In 1999, tobacco-related medical expenditures and productivity losses cost the United States more than $150 billion—almost 1.5 times the revenue of the five largest multinational tobacco companies that year.

Time pressures are often linked to the need to work long hours to support consumption habits—and to upgrade, store, or otherwise maintain possessions.

In 2002, 1.12 billion households—about three quarters of the world's people—owned at least one television set—Pakistan had 4 million TV sets with only 2,823,800 registered. Some 41 million passengers vehicles rolled of the world's assembly lines in 2002, five times as many as in 1950. The global passenger car fleet now exceeds 531 million, growing by about 11 million vehicles annually. Consumers across the globe now spend an estimated $35 billion a year on bottled water and consumes 33 million liters (35 million quarts) a year in Pakistan.

In 1999, some 2.8 billion people—two in every five humans on the planet—lived on less than $2 a day (Pakistan falls within this category with Per Capita Income as $492). In 2000, one in five people (2 in 5 people in Pakistan) in the developing world—did not have reasonable access to safe drinking water. 2.4 billion people worldwide—two out of every five (and in Pakistan, 3.5 in every 5)—live without basic sanitation. Providing adequate food, clean water, and basic education for the world's poorest could all be achieved for less than people spend annually on makeup, ice cream, and pet beverages.

When the annual expenditure on luxury items in the world are compared with funding needed to meet selected basic needs we see that Annual Expenditure on products like makeup, perfumes, ice cream and beverages.

Consumer goods and services are often sold on the premise that they make life easier and more fulfilling. But too often, beneath the surface of these claims, lay hidden costs. Automobiles are often advertised as bringing freedom to their owners, yet in reality, the average adult urbanite now spends 50 minutes a day behind the wheel. As consumers upgrade, store, or maintain possessions, they are also likely to experience time pressures linked to the need to work long hours to support consumption habits.

If a person is very poor, there is no doubt that greater income can improve his or her life. But once the basics are secured, well being does not necessarily correlate with wealth. Most governments make ongoing growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) a leading priority, under the assumption that wealth secured is well-being delivered. Yet undue emphasis on generating wealth, particularly by encouraging heavy consumption, may be yielding disappointing returns. Overall quality of life is suffering in some of the world's richest countries as people experience greater stress and time pressures and less satisfying social relationships, and as the natural environment shows more and more signs of distress.

By redefining prosperity to emphasize a higher quality of life—rather than the mere accumulation of goods—individuals, communities, and governments can focus on delivering what people most desire. Indeed, a new understanding of the good life can be built not around wealth, but around well being: having basic needs met, along with freedom, health, security, and satisfying social roles. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Change Agents

Scientist, by intention or not, is the most important catalytic change agent of our time. We all recognize that much of the present is the future that was created by scientific researchers of decades past. We can safely forecast that scientists will change our future.

No scientist alone can propose the whole science agenda for the 21st Century. It is however clear that many scientists can agree on some overarching goals that serve the future and that give us pause for reflection as they expand the frontiers of knowledge and uniquely see their own opportunity for discovery.

What scientists achieve is the understanding about the way nature really works. They use powerful methods of defining and solving problems. They use the method of multiple working hypotheses to ferret out the truth about how nature is and the way it operates. Scientists have the exhilarating opportunity and experience of being able to routinely walk each day where no footprints have ever existed before. They extend that paradigm to additional utility to not only enlarge our understanding and build our knowledge but to provide amenity in the form of new technology.

From Galileo to the cellular user in Gujranwala, scientists make social change occur abruptly, often inadvertently. As new knowledge is discovered, and foundational research impacts others around us, they create and alter the future and how everyone around us perceives it. Their research regularly leads to changes unimagined by our institutions struggling to adjust to them.

The highest priority of all science and social, economic and political institutions on this planet is to develop and establish a morally acceptable, politically stable and economically feasible decrease in the world human population of 1 billion persons during the 21st Century and to continue that decrease by another 1 billion during each of the succeeding 2 centuries. This is a daunting challenge, but one from which we cannot turn aside. All our institutions are driven by growth. Opposition to this population decrease will develop from the world capitalist systems whose only mantra is growth. The immense power wielded by that economic mantra and its leaders may draw the battle lines for the soul of the 21st Century.

Sustainable aquatic and land based agricultural production systems, sustainable energy production systems, sustainable industrial and post industrial production systems, sustainable habitation systems and others are areas of major needs for research that ultimately establishes a sustainable world.

The 21st Century will require our population to think for a living. Thinking skills have become the most important skills for the workplace. The employers and nations of the future will rise and fall in their competitive effectiveness based on their skill as learning organizations and the rate limiting factors for their future success will be the rate of learning of the populations engaged in productive work.

Our education systems must be understood as whole systems and changed even revolutionized to accept and optimize what we learn about learning in the first five years of life, our teaching adapted to the neurobiology of learning, our curriculum redesigned around creative problem solving as its core curriculum, ensuring lifelong learning becomes a societal norm, our cyber schools and virtual universities designed around how we learn and for no other primary convenience.

Healthier lives is the third overarching goal that seems to be a consensus among leaders of all the scientific disciplines as important for the 21st Century to make great strides. Since infectious diseases are once again worldwide scourge, we must provide worldwide treatment and preventive medicine successfully.

Ideas not yet thought of, will become multibillion-dollar enterprises in the 21st Century. This requires us to foster entrepreneurial education to ensure there is a sufficient population of business adventurers to make certain the public sees ongoing benefits flowing from it that they can understand, and new jobs are a benefit that is readily understood.

National and world security has been the most important drivers of the old social contract with science. We have still the need to defend the free from the rogues who have the power to take away freedom. As we see that military superiority is no longer the driver for the scientific future, scientists should reassess their need to be involved in its destructive exterminations.

Scientists can do so much more for the future of the world and its people and environment with all the challenges. Their role should be to support the very strong leadership and creative problem solving needed by the military and political institutions and durable new institutions that would lead to highly certain world stability. The rise of the concept of the nation-state requires it to defend its borders and culture. Evolving thinking into newer concepts that enhance cooperation more than pathologic competition may become worthwhile at some point in 21st Century.

Scientists can do everything to provide for a world of well-fed, healthier and fewer people, to provide that populations are economically secure and stable, to provide for our great-grandchildren an environment with as durable a future as our great-grandparents received when they were born, and to ensure the lifelong learning that provides all the self-actualization and inner peace we can want.

The role of scientists should be to lead the political system, not follow it, and do this via a long range vision that they develop, conceive and believe, so that it becomes compelling to the public and future resource allocators.

Scientists’ own future depends on effective development of appreciation for science by the political decision making institutions and science illiterate general population. They should not leave it to others to do what needs to be done. It is their future. It is their obligation. Their role has never been of watching the future happen. They are the change agents of future and they can make it happen. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

War Against Terrorism

Terrorism is beyond reason. While terror can have no reasoned justification, evil always seeks to be plausible. It seeks to clothe itself in the mantle of righteous indignation and presents itself as an evil parody of an apocalyptic 'divine' vengeance. It purports to act on behalf of some oppressed group, to seek redress for some injustice. It appropriates the language for heaven for the works of hell.

If history is a precursor to the future, we will suffer more terrorist attacks in the months and years ahead. The apparent goal of the terrorists is to achieve larger effect in the future. The terrorist target: unwarned, unprotected persons and facilities. When the fanatic sees himself as an actor in a staged performance, death becomes an act of make believe and a theatrical gesture.

9/11 appears to be a major turning point into the future—the end of the brief post-Cold War era, and the beginning of a new Age of Terrorism, perhaps a World War III, albeit a different kind of war than that which we have known. The horrible attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and whatever follows as a result, will change many lives, many organizations, many industries, and many nations. It has changed everything, for everyone.

There are three goals to terrorism. Goal one: to demonstrate that government cannot protect you. Put differently, it is to make people fearful, if not most fearful, of those things which they found in the past to be both safe and ordinary: going to work, going out for recreation, shopping. Goal two: to take terrorist actions, which evoke an extreme response, and the more extreme of that response, the better. Goal three: to use the extreme response as a mechanism for recruitment.

There must be a target, ideally one with tremendous symbolic significance to underscore goal one above. In the case of international terrorism, something highly symbolic like the Twin Towers is important because it will be a national symbol and it will be well understood globally. A small action in an isolated community or in a community that does not receive national press and has no eye-catching appeal to an international audience has little attraction for terrorists. An urban, rather than rural, setting for the terrorist act is likely to be more attractive in meeting the goal.

Because of progress in materials engineering and miniaturization of electronics, explosives and the like, weapons are becoming cheaper, lighter, more rugged, more accurate, easier to use, and more powerful. Meanwhile new communication technologies — from satellite phones to the Internet — allow terrorists and criminal syndicates to marshal their resources and coordinate their actions around the planet. As these trends continue, it's easier for smaller and smaller numbers of people to hurt larger and larger numbers. Despite all the utopian hype, the new gadgets entering our lives are distinctly double-edged swords: We've unleashed technological forces that we don't remotely understand and almost certainly can't control.

Terrorism is unconventional warfare. There are no fronts, no armies, and no battlefields. The solutions therefore should not come from militaries, which are largely designed for fighting other armed forces. The solutions should come from new approaches that address the whole person, not just the political and economic components. This is about individual people, their values and aspirations – and cultures, some of which have not changed much over centuries. Different people and groups require different approaches – one size will not fit all. The new solutions seem complex, sophisticated and necessarily not look like the past. But if we are going to safely make it through this extraordinary, historical transition, we must not do the old things – we must invent new ones.

Why can’t we learn from South Africa, which invoked their truth and reconciliation project so the previously warring factions could get on with living together in harmony through forgiveness and honoring their shared humanity?

The war against terrorism can only be truly won when we also declare war on the roots, which cause such acts of barbarity: injustice, freedom, and discrimination. Terrorism does not arise in a vacuum but has it roots in historical, political, social and cultural dysfunctions so deep, so cruel, so systemic that they create and sustain discontent until it spills over into a desperation that sees no recourse other than wanton destruction against those perceived as responsible for the plight of the terrorists. Unless there is an equally dedicated attack on the causes of terrorism, there will never be victory in the war against terrorism.

Addressing the causes of terrorism is the most difficult issue. At one end it starts with the need for us to be confident in our definition of terrorism — one persons terrorist is another person's freedom fighter; at the other end, it needs to attempt to address all the injustices that exist around the world that lead people to undertake hateful and destructive acts and this includes the even more problematic need to address perceptions of these injustices as well. The atrocities being committed on Kashmiris or Palistinians are causing suicidal bombings. The perpetrators are heroes for their nation but terrorists to the oppressors. At its core the atrocities are proliferating terrorism.

We are faced with dilemmas that, together, form a distinct and clear danger to individual liberty and to most systems of government. This alone should be motivation enough to act to stop terrorists in their tracks whenever and wherever we can. We must somehow focus on and achieve an acceptable system of protection, prevention, preclusion and reaction to the scourge of terrorism…without losing the ideals and precepts by which we navigate the difficult pathway into our future. This cannot be done by committee or by independent activity by many agencies and organizations acting parochially. Instead, some form of centralized and evenly applied approach must be devised and undertaken by appropriate leaders. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cutting out a Sustainable Economy

The choice of who allocates resources is crucial. We see spectacular examples of government mismanagement. The market should be left free to allocate resources. Markets alone can assemble and convey essential information about security and value. Prices and profits will work to maximize production and minimize resource use.

Market mechanisms are sufficient to protect forests, for instance. Growing scarcity will drive up the price of wood, reduce consumption, as well as prompt landowners to plant more trees in anticipation of higher prices.

Traditional economics asks how to produce what for whom. Sustainable economics examines these same questions, but includes future generations in the ‘for whom.’ It asks how irreplaceable resources—water, air, soil, and fish and wildlife—can be adequately conserved. It also recognizes that economic mechanisms that do not efficiently and equitably satisfy human needs are not likely to be sustainable.

Sustainable economics analyze issues complicated by politics, ideology, and nationalism. It tries to ascertain what works to make resource use more efficient. How do people behave in relation to their, natural resources? How does a country’s economic system alter its prospects for survival? Measuring national performance in food security, energy efficiency, environmental pollution and equity can form the beginnings of an answer.

The issue is not socialism versus capitalism; it is the efficacy with which economic systems achieve their intended ends. Ideally nations could be graded for degree of market orientation and assessed for changes in resource use. But no one has invented a grading system for economic philosophy or environmental sustainability. It is instructive, nonetheless, to categorize nations as centrally planned or not and to assess their resource-use efficiency. A centrally planned economy is one that through price controls, state ownership, or allocation of capital effectively, managers more than half of a nation’s industrial and agricultural production.

From the end of World War 11 until a few years ago, centralized state planning has served as a model for almost half the world. Newly independent developing countries faced with the choice between centralized control and market orientation usually chose the former. That their foreign ruler had been capitalists turned them against market systems, while the tradition of colonialism eased the transition to tight central control. In the postwar era, many military states and even most market-orientated nations also expanded the role of government in the day-to-day management of their economies.

The world today is at a turning point in economic management. The abrupt Chinese shift to market mechanisms is the most dramatic example, not only because of the vast number of people affected, but because of the reform’s spectacular early successes. Many African nations, plagued with agricultural decline, have begun to extend market incentives for agriculture. Latin Americans, burdened with debt, have moved to sell off state-owned companies. Meanwhile the Soviet Union, its confidence in uninterrupted growth shaken, is debating the need for economic reform. Ironically, although Western governments have also begun to sell off state-owned concerns, they increasingly subsidize private agriculture, restrict trade, and permit concentration of economic power in industrial conglomerates.

The efficiency with which nations produce food and consume energy provides a useful indicator of their progress toward sustainability. Countries of all political stripes seek to avoid excessive dependence on food imports. Air and water pollution and land degradation are closely associated with agricultural production and energy-use efficiency. Thus, if market pricing and competition provide greater efficiency, both economists and environmentalists have a stake in the changing role of the market in the world’s economies.

Some environmentalists reject both markets and bureaucratic planning as incapable of dealing with the crisis of sustainability. Putting a sober twist on an old joke: ‘In capitalism, man exploits man; in socialism, it’s the other way around,’ they say both exploit nature. But important differences exist between systems, as shown by comparing their efficiency in agricultural production.

Agricultural production can critically affect the consumption and disruption of resources—water, wood, and air. Soil erosion and deforestation can result from low agricultural productivity if new, marginal lands are pressed into production to make up for lost potential. Overuse of chemicals can cause water pollution. Efficiency is consequently an essential ingredient of agricultural sustainability. Economists define efficiency, roughly, as maximizing output while minimizing input. When farmers produce a given value of grain with a least-cost combination of land, labor, fertilizer, and machinery, production is efficient. When grain production increases faster than consumption of the inputs, productivity and the outlook for sustained production improve. When productivity declines, a society is headed for trouble. Inflation, the need for costly imports, even famine can result.

Land and labor productivity, two partial but important measures of performance, reveal several advantages of market orientation. Crop production per hectare is generally higher in market-orientated countries. Of course, factors others than the economic system affect these ratings, such as rainfall levels, inherent soil fertility, and farm price policies that may either encourage or discourage farm efficiency. Japan’s population pressure, for example, has pushed it to increase land productivity, but this explains only about a third of the more efficient record it has than the Soviet Union. The remainder is attributable to policies that, among other things, keep prices high, encourage larger numbers of people to farm, and keep farm size low. Similar policies have placed market oriented Hungary even higher in land productivity.

Ranking nations by agricultural labor productivity shows a dramatic advantage for market economies. European countries enjoy labor productivity rates often double of countries like Poland, Cuba and Lithuania.

Labor productivity naturally tends to be higher when farmers earn high incomes, which in turn indicates higher levels of development, a central goal of economic policy. Strictly regulated prices reduce profitability for farmers, and deprive them of capital to invest in machinery and fertilizers to raise productivity.

Land productivity says little about the ‘total factor’ productivity of an agricultural system, which also takes into account inputs of labor, fertilizer, and machinery or animals. Efficiency can be distorted and productivity diminished by poorly crafted policies. For example, high price subsidies and protective trade barriers account for part of the relatively high land productivity in Japan. Consumers bear the cost of these distortions, paying almost three times the import price of food commodities.

Total factor productivity is relatively easy to determine in a perfectly competitive economy. Ideally, price signals instruct farmers on how much to spend on production, and they maximize their earnings by choosing the least-cost combination of labor, land, machinery, and fertilizer. According to microeconomic theory, they produce at the level at which the cost of their last, or marginal, unit of production—their most expensive ton of grain—just equals the price they receive. They maximize profits in this case, making efficiency and productivity almost synonymous. In non-market economies, on the other hand, prices of resources usually do not reflect their scarcity, and so resources must be allocated by plan, a fact that directly affects productivity.

In Europe resource efficiency in agricultural sector is frequently undermined by heavy farm production subsidies, both with trade barriers and direct budgetary expenditures. The United States is by no means unique among market-oriented countries in failing to adjust agricultural policies properly.

Common Market countries’ agricultural policies drive prices one fourth above world market levels on most products. Such subsidies hurt not only domestic consumers but also exporters of developing countries who could produce more efficiently and sell cheaper. The policies have the aim of preserving and sustaining the farm sector and its way of life. Cut the goal could be equally well served without the damage caused by price distortions if governments substituted direct income transfers for agricultural price supports.

Western nations, nonetheless, have long satisfied basic and fiber needs, and government policies have played a major role in this success. When policies such as minimum price supports are introduced in order to ensure food security and stabilize markets—this is, when supports are set below international market levels—they can be useful. When supports exceed world market levels, however, they interfere with trade, stimulate environmentally disruptive over production, waste taxpayers’ and consumers’ money. These distortions, like their more pervasive counterparts in planned economies, have political motivations that may well be worthy. But their impact on environmental and economic sustainability cannot be ignored. Ultimately, they become counterproductive.Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Preparing Students for 21st Century

How can we best prepare students to succeed in the 21st century? This is a question that should be of paramount importance to Pakistan’s educators, employers, parents and the public. Alas, this is nobody’s priority.

The accelerating technological change, rapidly accommodating knowledge, increasing global competition and rising force capabilities around the world, make 21st century skills essential. There is a forceful need for a calling on schools to change dramatically.

Today’s education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn. Schools are not even struggling to keep pace with the astonishing rate of change in students’ lives outside of school. Neglecting the fact that students will spend their adult lives in a multitasking, multifaceted, technology-driven, diverse, vibrant world, they are not equipping them to do so. They are seldom committing to ensuring that all students have equal access to this new technological world, regardless of their economic background.

We know more today than ever about how students learn. Our researchers and educators are not making the grades on mapping the remarkable territory of the human mind. They lack scientific insights that can inform educators about the cognitive processes of learning, effective teaching strategies for engaging students in learning and motivating students to achieve. We must incorporate understanding into classroom teaching and learning on a broad scale for preparing our future.

Educators in other countries have focused on improving student achievement—the perennial top priority of their public concern. They have established rigorous academic standards, assessments and accountability measures—a concerted effort that has involved educators, employers and community members. Schools in the West are responding with strategies to improve teaching and learning. They are now closing a gap between knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century. They are thus encouraging development of curriculum and assessments that reflect 21st century realities.

Literacy in the 21st century means more than basic reading, writing and computing skills. It means knowing how to use knowledge and skills in the context of modern life.

The nation needs a compelling vision for education capable of inspiring leaders, teachers, parents and students alike. Clearly we must work together to help schools fully address the educational needs of the 21st century.

A broad-based public-private partnership needs to be forged contributing to improving education in several distinct ways. It should synthesize research, insights and best practices about 21st century knowledge and skills into a powerful vision and sharing this information broadly. It should also define a framework and create a common language for understanding and promoting 21st century skills. The education leaders should be provided with tools, examples and a strategy for action, not rhetoric. It should also build consensus in the public and private sectors about the nature and need for 21st century skills.

We need to increase emphasis on the additional knowledge and skills students need for the 21st century. This is an opportune time to align standards, assessments and accountability measures with 21st century skills.

We can build momentum with following flight of stairs: 1) Embrace a powerful vision of public education that includes 21st century skills. 2) Align leadership, management and resources with educational goals. 3) Use this tool to assess where schools are now. 4) Develop priorities for 21st century skills. 5) Make sure students have equitable access to a 21st century education. 6) Begin developing assessments to measure student progress in 21st century skills. 7) Collaborate with outside partners. 8) Plan collectively and strategically for the future.

There are also some key elements for fostering 21st century learning. Emphasize must be laid on core subjects. Knowledge and skills for the 21st century must be built on core subjects that are mathematics, science, languages, civics, government, economics, arts, history and geography. The focus on core subjects must expand beyond basic competency to the understanding of core academic content at much higher levels.

As much as students need knowledge in core subjects, they also need to know how to keep learning continually throughout their lives. Learning skills comprise three broad categories of skills: information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, and interpersonal and self-directional skills. The challenge should be to incorporate learning skills into classrooms deliberately, strategically and broadly.

21st century tools must be used for developing learning skills. In a digital world, students need to learn to use the tools that are essential to everyday life and workplace productivity. Skilled 21st century citizens should be proficient in information and communication technologies literacy.

Teaching and learning must be in a 21st century context. Students need to learn academic content through real world examples, applications and experiences both inside and outside of school. In the networked environment of the 21st century, student learning also can expand beyond the four classroom walls. Schools must reach out to their communities, employers, community-members and of course parents to reduce the boundaries that divide schools from the real world.

21st century content should be taught and learnt. There are three significant, emerging content areas that are critical to success in communities and workplaces: global awareness; financial, economic and business literacy, and civic literacy. Much of this content is not captured in existing curricula or taught consistently with any depth in schools today. An effective way to incorporate this content is to infuse knowledge and skills from these areas into the curriculum.

The use of 21st century assessments that measure 21st century skills must be practiced. Schools need high-quality standardized tests that measure students’ performance of the elements of a 21st century education.

Economic, technological, informational, demographic and political forces transform the way people work and live. These changes together with the rate of change will continue to accelerate. For survival and to thrive in 21st century, our schools must adapt changing conditions. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Slave Drivers and Street Vendors

While driving through Empress Road a petrifying scene attracted my attention that compelled me to pull up and watch over. It was really shocking. In a ding-dong fight the City officials were veritably frittering away the victuals and seizing the pushcarts of the luckless vendors. Under the supervision of a petty official behaving like a dummy god of the City government, the economic and physical assault of the vendors, destroyed their dignity and conviction only for being unlicensed.

The view reminded me of such instances as hackneyed during apartheid or colonial regimes. It clinched an argument that the same Pakistan that is earnestly engaged in war against terrorism, at street level follows Machiavelli.

City officials regularly quell vendors to mental and physical pressures. At times this has led to riotous situations, loss of property, and monetary damage. A major problem is that master plans prepared for our cities do not collocate space to vendors. The planners blindly imitate the western concept of marketing, ignoring our traditions and the needs of the unemployed youth, particularly in the wake of rising crime and terrorism. No wonder, weekly markets struggle to survive; natural markets are ignored. The policy statements of the local, provincial and federal development authorities talk of making provision for trading and commercial activities, which unfortunately is interpreted as doing so for rich traders and big businesses.

We have taken no notice of the ignorance of City workers, their misuse of authority and inadequacy. Consequently, their treachery, lust, covetousness, and every kind of inhumanity and cruelty, continue unabated.

Street vendors are those millions who come to cities as economic refugees hoping to provide basic necessities for their families. They provide a wide array of commodities to the urban populace at reasonable prices. They can be divided into two major categories—(a) mobile vendors who own pushcarts or simply move around with their goods in hand and (b) stallholders who set up khokhas in public places on a more or less regular basis.

The variety seen in the goods and, yes, the services provided by these innovative professionals is staggering. It is difficult not to associate these people with the culture and traditions of the city.

The type of goods they sell makes an interesting study – from daily needs like vegetable, fruits, fish, meat and snacks to occasional needs like ready-to-eat food, toys, and used garments. It would be hard to find an urbanite that doesn’t purchase something from these vendors. The middle and lower class consumer specifically prefers to purchase from them, though even well heeled citizens purchase many commodities given reasonable prices.

Vending has been a profession since time immemorial, with street vendors an integral part of our urban history and culture. Shopping and marketing, in a traditional sense, has primarily been informal. Social interaction is integral to our markets in contrast to the mechanized and sterile concept of shopping favored by modern market and super market structures.

Street vendors exhibit remarkable entrepreneurial skills. Purchasing of commodities is no easy task with constant market fluctuations. Merchandise has to be in sync with both consumer tastes and paying capacity. As most vendors deal in perishables, the goods have to be sold at the right time.

The municipal corporation laws, based on 19th century British rule, are outdated and detrimental to the peaceful conduct of business by vendors. Instead of regulating vendors, city governments treat them as a nuisance; their policies and actions are aimed more at removing and harassing them rather than at regulation. The rich traders have encroached sidewalks, footpaths and even roads, which the same authorities ignore. Why? The law only seems for the poor who are unable to grease the palms of the incompetent functionaries.

Every government in Pakistan comes with tall claims for poverty alleviation but unemployment continues to exist. Street or sidewalk vending provides self-employment and small business ownership opportunities to the downtrodden. Entrepreneurship is an exciting opportunity for the poor to realize their full potential while becoming financially self-supporting. Our planners remain oblivious to the role of vendors who are victimized, harassed, marginalized and deprived.

The city has today become an engine of growth, the main job provider. Just the same, they remain ill prepared to address the problems of poverty. Planning and governance continues to be the preserve of the politician-mafia-bureaucrat nexus. Poorly tailored policies if at all exist are badly implemented. Instead of creating an enabling environment, government policies are wrecking the livelihoods of these people, depressing their incomes and thwarting their entrepreneurial potential.

There is unabated official and social hostility towards the informal sector of street vending, even though the formal sector has ceased to grow, having reached saturation point. As the cost of creating jobs in this sector is very low, it needs to be integrated into the context of the overall macro-economy. However, we must first remove the obstacles in its functioning.

There is no institutionalization of a process to enable vendors to sell their commodities peacefully. A holistic approach targeting all the stakeholders demands changes in anti-vendor laws, a pro-vendor policy, creation of institutions to enable participation of vendors in urban governance, changing the mindset of the planners, the police and the society at large, and building the capacity of the vendors.

Pakistan’s social system must cater to the needs of its members to enable them to survive; it must have effective means of allocating and distributing resources. The government should thus formulate a policy by (a) giving vendors legal status and issuing licenses at nominal yearly fee, (b) setting up of mobile teams for spot licensing (c) promoting and developing the natural market system, (d) making street vendors a special component of the plans for urban development by treating them as an integral part of the urban distribution system, (e) setting up appropriate, participative, non-formal mechanisms with representation from street vendors, NGOs, local authorities, the police and others. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

21st Century Schools

Although a lens to view the future is clouded, and must be filtered through the past and present, the ability to stand back and think about the impact of technologies on student learning will under-gird research in technology for the education of children, youth, and adults in the 21st century. We must view the coming changes, and they will be massive, from the perspective that technology provides access to learning but does not control it; that technologies are not the content of education rather, they provide a cornucopia of tools for learning.

The technologies we know now will change and merge, at an increasingly rapid pace. In 1965 Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, predicted the exponential growth of technology. Moore's law postulates that the processing power and speed of any electronic calculating device will double every 18 months. At the same time, the price for that technology will decline approximately 35% a year relative to the power. If this continues to be true, researchers will have an abundance of exciting new tools to use as they study the curriculum and children of the future. Those tools will not only be more powerful than we have now, they will cost less, making them affordable for research, for schools, and for business.

Educational research will undergo massive paradigm shifts we can only imagine. Because we live in a revolutionary time of astonishing advances in technologies, a world of constant and unrelenting change, new paradigms appear before the implications of their predecessors are digested. We know that schools must make changes to accommodate the technology revolution. West is already making changes in curriculum, teaching, and learning.

Living in a world of constant change is not easy, and predicting the nature of the coming changes brought about by the accelerating pace of technology advances, the accompanying information explosion, and the future's research agenda in education is a little like going backpacking in a primitive wilderness area. We must explore technology applications with children and youth and attempt to keep abreast of the rapid advances and potential uses in education and anticipate increasingly interesting possibilities.

The critical gear we carry on the research trail into the future is our mindset, one of exploration, of investigation, of accepting new ways of doing new things.

The literature on change describes levels of initiation and acceptance of innovations. Educators are divided into at least four groups, quite similar to what one experiences on the trail: the forerunners, the trailblazers, who innovate; those who come along and build on what others do; the middle ground who try what the first two groups find out; and those who lag behind. As we negotiate the wilderness trails ahead, accepting and adjusting to paradigm shifts in teaching and learning will become the survival tools for schools of the future.

The focus of the future's research agenda must remain on children and youth, the learners and the teachers, and how to find strategies to harness the power of the technologies in this endeavor. Education must come to grips with the technology revolution quickly, design and use new learning experiences, and teach more process skills than ever before. A mindset that encompasses creativity and subsequent innovation will be required if we are to explore and harness the potential offered by technologies. Futurists and educational reformers argue that new schools are needed for a new age, that the social power of technology will force us to redefine education, a task that will require a different mindset than educators have today.

There are those who espouse standards-based testing, founded on the knowledge of the past, and there are those whose position is firm in the process-based curriculum for the future. This differential is the critical point in the redefinition of education. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, children and youth must develop process skills in problem solving and critical thinking, communication, technical reading and writing, applied technical reasoning, information literacy, using technology as a tool, new personal skills, new mindset skills, and new curricula.

Crucial questions revolve around new strategies related to making changes, to applying what we already know about change, and to bringing research findings to practice quickly. How will we instill a mindset in educators so they will incorporate the potential of present and new technologies into the curriculum quickly? What are the most effective ways of bringing about changes that reflect the new curriculum?

Technology is not another turf, another subject, and another class. It represents a pervasive set of changing tools for learning and teaching. Given the power and potential of new technologies, if we continue to do the "same old thing," and use the "same old" paradigms, then the outcomes, no matter their age, will be less than favorable, much less than possible, and much less than we dream.

Technology is a tidal wave flooding the whole world, not a passing fad. It will not disappear in the next few years.

Computers and their accompanying applications, as well as other technologies, are the basics for children. Schools are not just "getting children ready" for technology use at some later date. In the West children can and are using technology now and they are connecting. It is preparing children for the future.

Old ideas die hard; however, we must not forget the lessons history teaches, or we--and each generation following us--will be relegated to repeating the work and mistakes of the distant or recent past. Educators must move away from entrenched positions. We must not only do things differently, we must do new things and do them quickly, or schools are likely to succumb to businesses that see education as a profitable enterprise. One of the most critical needs at present is that of finding new ways to connect learners and teachers with the results, implications, and procedures of educational research. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Religions and Sustainability

Spiritual traditions—from large, centralized religions to local tribal spiritual authorities—in the future will devote energy to what some see as the defining challenge of our age: the need to build just and environmentally healthy societies. The major faiths will issue declarations, advocating for new national policies, and designing educational activities in support of a sustainable world—sometimes in partnership with secular environmental organizations, sometimes on their own. Responding to the global crisis, smaller traditions will revive ancient rituals and practices in the service of sustainability. A powerful new political alignment will thus emerge that greatly strengthens the effort to build a sustainable world.

A source of power for religions is the sheer number of followers they claim. It seems that some 80–90 percent of people on the planet belong to one of the world’s 10,000 or so religions, with 150 or so of these faith traditions having at least a million followers each. Adherents of the three largest—Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism—account for about two thirds of the global population today. Another 20 percent of the world subscribes to the remaining religions, and about 15 percent of people are nonreligious.

Influence stemming from having a large number of followers is further enhanced by the geographic concentration of many religions, which increases their ability to make mass appeals and to coordinate action. In 120 countries, for example, Christians form the majority of the population. Muslims are the majority in 45 countries, and Buddhists are in 9. When most people in a society have similar worldviews, leaders can make mass appeals using a single, values-laden language.

Religion is an orientation to the cosmos and to our role in it. It offers people a sense of ultimate meaning and the possibility for personal transformation and celebration of life. To this end it uses a range of resources, including worldviews, symbols, rituals, ethical norms, traditions, and (sometimes) institutional structures. Religion also offers a means of experiencing a sustaining creative force, whether as a creator deity, an awe-inspiring presence in nature, or simply the source of all life. Many of these characteristics give religion substantial influence over the environment.

At the same time, the environmental community has often alienated potential allies with what is perceived as scientific aloofness, even self-righteousness. Its “left-brain” approach to its work is partly to blame for its inability to connect with greater numbers of people, to inspire profound commitment on a large scale. Given the central place of culture in national development—and the central place of religion in most cultures—a sustainable world cannot effectively be built without full engagement of the human spirit.

Religious institutions and leaders can bring at least five strong assets to the effort to build a sustainable world: the capacity to shape cosmologies (worldviews), moral authority, a large base of adherents, significant material resources, and community-building capacity.

And most produce strong community ties by generating social resources such as trust and cooperation, which can be a powerful boost to community development. Many political movements would welcome any of these five assets. To be endowed with most or all of them, as many religions are, is to hold considerable political power.

In the three western monotheistic traditions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—morality has traditionally been human-focused. Thus the natural world can be seen as a set of resources for human use.

Yet scholars in each of these traditions find substantial grounds for building a strong environmental ethics. The Islamic concept teaches that the natural world is not owned by humans but is given to them in trust—a trust that implies certain responsibilities to preserve the balance of creation. The Christian focus on sacrament and incarnation are seen as lenses through which the entire natural world can be viewed as sacred. The Judaic concept of a covenant or legal agreement between God and humanity, for example, can be extended to all of creation. And the
Hinduism and Buddhism contain teachings concerning the natural world those are arguably in conflict. The illusory nature of the material world and the desirability of escaping suffering by turning to a timeless world of spirit, in the case of Hinduism, or by seeking release in nirvana, in the case of some meditative schools of Buddhism. This otherworldly orientation minimizes the importance of environmental degradation. On the other hand, both religions place great emphasis on correct conduct and on fulfillment of duty, which often includes obligations to environmental preservation.

Thus Hindus regard rivers as sacred, and in the concept of lila, the creative play of the gods, Hindu theology engages the world as a creative manifestation of the divine. Meanwhile, Buddhist environmentalists often stress the importance of trees in the life of the Buddha, and “socially engaged” Buddhism active in environmental protection, especially of forests.

The East Asian traditions of Confucianism and Taoism seamlessly link the divine, human, and natural worlds. The divine is not seen as transcendent; instead, Earth’s fecundity is seen as continuously unfolding through nature’s movements across the seasons and through human workings in the cycles of agriculture.

This organic worldview is centered round the concept of ch’i, the dynamic, material force that infuses the natural and human worlds, unifying matter and spirit. Confucianists and Taoists seek to live in harmony with nature and with other human beings, while paying attention to the movements of the Tao, the Way. Despite the affinity of these traditions with an environmental ethic, however, deforestation, pollution, and other forms of environmental degradation have become widespread in contemporary East Asia due to many factors, including rapid industrialization and the decline of traditional values in the last 50 years.

Our civilization’s challenge is to reintegrate our societal heart and head, to reestablish spirituality as a partner in dialogue with science. While acknowledging its shortcomings, the religious community can rightly claim enormous capacity for self-reform. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation