Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 17th, 2008

Prophesy of end of time: Rainbow over the Levant, (part of a fiction novel)

Women participate in the electoral system

Women were to be allowed to be candidates in any electoral system for the municipality or the chamber of deputy.  The voting right to every citizen who was eighteen years of age regardless of the voter’s marital status such as being single or staying with his parents or not having a steady income was to be the law of the land. Any religious laws that abridged women rights were discussed and critiqued. The bottom line was that if God provided men with specific rights like marrying more than one woman in some religions, then women had equal rights to marry more than one man in other religions.  This concept did not make much logic in our tradition but offered a fertile ground for dialogue that was totally lacking on gender discrimination.

The concept of taxation without representation was being argued as illegitimate and pressures for political reforms to elect representatives who were cognizant with the laws were making steady inroads in the status quo.  The First Emir was secretly behind this wave of demands and encouraged the exchange of ideas by staying above the fray and admonishing the sanctity of freedom of expression as the ultimate weapon for change and development.

The new political party had to cater to the intellectuals in order to disseminate the new principles and social values.  The First Emir then promulgated the urgency to build and staff art schools of music, acting, painting and sculpting in every major town.  He also worked on the intellectual vanity by erecting two imposing museums in Byblos and Beirut for artifacts, industrial machineries and achievements in all sectors of artistic endeavors.

This was the most glorious period in the cultural development in the Levant society; freedom of expression was carried far which almost broke many taboos in topics for discussions; formal cultural circles were spreading among elite families and endeavoring to dissect documents, articles and positional treaties.  Reason was pinned against religious dogmas and the seed of dissention was taking roots within the polarized extremist positions.

Part 5: Latifa Regency (1400-1402)

Chapter 17: The Exile

In 1400, Timorlank was closing in with his Tatar hordes toward Northern Syria. The Viceroy of Aleppo was frantic and sent messengers after messengers for directions from his master the Sultan of Egypt.  He requested reinforcements and financial support but Cairo did not stir.  The Viceroys of Damascus and Hama were of no help either and completely in the dark as to the policies of the Sultan of Egypt.  The agents of the First Emir reported that Egypt’s position was not to intervene at this stage either financially or militarily and to concentrate its resources in Egypt for the time being. It seems that the advisers to the Sultan reminded his Majesty that these hordes, like the Moguls before them, never ventured into Egypt and most of the time they retreat after capturing Damascus. They also reminded the Sultan that when Holago the Mogul decided to advance to Palestine a century and a half ago the Mameluks defeated him easily in 1260 at two major battles.

These counselors assured the Sultan that the Mameluks would repeat the previous military feats if Timorlank dared advance toward Palestine with his already exhausted forces and stressed on the facts that the previous Fatimide and Ayubid dynasties had deteriorated and their hold on power had begun to decline when they had tried to stretch their dominions into Iraq.  The Mameluk’s Viceroys in Damascus and Hama decided not to put up a fight against the Tatars and invested their time in hoarding as much money and riches as they could gather and flee in due time.  Aleppo was destroyed and Timorlank entered Damascus in 1401 without a fight and transferred all its remaining artisans to Samarqand, his Capital, within a year.

Prophesies of the end of time

There were other factors accounting to this social uneasiness, apathy and helplessness.  Any society facing changes in its structural order is usually ripe to the cyclical apocalyptic prophesies of the ultimate end of the World.  The Levant had already experienced one such depressing mood during the lifetime of Antoun and twice in the previous century with a slight delay of such rumors emanating from Europe.  The Fatimide dynasty in the 11th century reigned in Egypt and claimed its right to the Caliphate of the Moslems by proclaiming the imminent coming of a disappeared Imam. The decline of the Crusaders’ hold on the Levant and lack of subsequent infusions of men and financial support combined with the occurrence of pests or plagues prompted one of these cataclysmic beliefs within the Levant Crusaders; the other period happened when news of the Mogul invasion were imminent and the fact that indeed Holago erased the Capital Baghdad in 1258.

Shortly after Antoun was born, society remembered the plague that devastated Aleppo half a century before which added to the fear of an imminent recurrence of a Tatar invasion led by Timorlank toward Syria.  These apocalyptic prophesies were shared by both Christians and Moslems; the Shiaa Moslems would preach the coming of either the 6th disappeared Imam or the 12th Imam to unite the Moslems to some kind of victory and the Christians would rely on the eschatology of Christ returning and reigning for one thousand years over a peaceful and happy World before the end of time would take place.

Antichrist finger pointing or which power was represented by Satan was convenient and successful in fomenting pockets of extremist sects within each religion.  Actually, a century later with the Renaissance upheaval in Europe, Luther was able to establish his religious Reforms by capitalizing on the fears spreading in Europe of the coming of the end and using the advancing Ottoman armies toward Vienna as the sign of an angry God punishing the Christians for following the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church who forgot the Word of God.

After the devastation of Aleppo the First Emir realized that his stay might induce Timorlank into driving a hard bargain over the Levant; he determined that his high profile in the region was a liability to the Levant.  He nevertheless ordered Gergis to join Ibn Khaldoun’s mission waiting to meet with Timorlank encamping around Damascus and to try reaching an agreement that would spare the Levant from further distresses.  Ibn Khaldoun was the famous 14th century Arabic North African author of “History of Civilizations” and he met with Timorlank camping outside Damascus and made him promise not to exact his vengeance on the population; a promise that Timorlank never kept.  Most of the craftsmen and merchants had evacuated Damascus and fled to Lebanon and Egypt while the remaining craftsmen were denied exiting this city after the hordes of Timorlank sacked it and would be transferred to Samarqand the Capital of the Tatar.  In disgust at his helplessness and the inaction of Cairo the First Emir decided to travel overseas for an extended period until the political situation was stabilized.

Although the societies in Syria, Lebanon and part of Palestine suffered economically and organizationally, the Mameluks in Egypt retained their cohesion and managed to survive another century before they were defeated militarily by the ascending Ottoman Empire in 1516.

Chapter 16: Postponement of a written Constitution (#23)

The First Emir had secretly adopted the party lines of the Aram National Party and he swore allegiance and signed the contract as a regular Party member.  He directed Mariam to be his official representative, thus propelling Mariam firmly into the highest hierarchy of the Party, which was the legislative committee.  The government allocated a budget to promote the expansion of the Party through an increase in the educational budget and proclaimed that all political parties should join efforts for the “Unity and Defense” of the nation. 

Although the First Emir kingdom did not stretch beyond the Eastern mountain chains of today’s Lebanon, he recognized the necessity of unifying the people in Syria for a satisfactory defense front from any major invader. The First Emir was willing to negotiate in due time for an alternative name of the Party and other concessions on the political principles by the opposition groups.

The First Emir felt that winning the mind and heart of his citizens to the new program was going to be much harder than anything contemplated before. He knew that the society was enjoying wealth and stability from an open sea, an economy relying on medium size industries and tourism: the Syrian market was conquered without the need for direct interventions.  This state of affairs was ideal for business and suited greatly the institutions of the government which abhorred undue risks to their profitable businesses by hinting to probable preparation for war. 

Since rational dialogue was not propitious at this stage because of the powerful institutions, the First Emir had to create a climate of emotional need for the slogans of the new party.  Before setting the propaganda machine at work, the new party had to propose its position on a written Constitution and a draft electoral system.

The new spirit disseminated in the land was highly controversial in most of the regions, but the new society had enjoyed enough freedom of expression that the fundamental issues were tolerably discussed. Women, for example, would enjoy equal rights as men in education, work opportunities, inheritance and acquiring properties and businesses.

The suffrage of the female gender

Miriam stepped in as candidate for the coming legislative election and struggled hard to provide women all the rights accorded to men. She led a vast campaign of civic demands to altering the previous temporary electoral system into a fair and equitable Constitution that would guarantee equal rights to both gender in duties, responsibilities, and rights. 

Mariam’s position as head of the Legislative committee in the Aram National Party gave her an important leverage for organizing impact lobbying pressure groups in the State administrations, propagating the new demands within the masses and concentrating their energies into a few targeted reform changes.

Mariam was installed in Baldat El Mir and had a wing in the Saraya as minister of education; she was still not married because of unusual circumstances but had a steady gentleman for many years by the name of Ignatios Doumany.  They both did not mind a formal wedding but realized that the social traditions would inevitably pressure the couple into changing their priorities; Miriam would have to refrain from open political activities and cramp her flexibility to maneuver in the political scene; and Ignatios would have to assume roles that he was not willing or capable of shouldering as head of the family and controlling its behavior according to the expected norms.

Ignatios was an academician and a linguist versed in ancient languages such as Latin, Greek, and Farisi; he used to teach at the Foreign Office Center in Baldat El Mir. Later on, during Latifa Regency, he would transfer to Mtein as head of the new branch of that department which was recently established in the historic Capital.  He was housed in an annex to the house of Mariam and instructed her two adoptive daughters and played the role of the adoptive father in the household management. 

Samar, the eldest daughter, was already about eighteen and was adopted during the mountain outlaws’ period and was the dynamo for refueling Mariam with recharged energy and revolutionary zeal for change, especially in gender discrimination issues and females rights.  The second daughter Sahar, it was rumored that she was Mariam’s legitimate kid.  Sahar was seven, had the freckled face of Mariam but resembled more to Ignatios. 

Mariam Had adopted Sahar after she returned from her leave of absence that lasted ten months in Palestine; she went there accompanied by Ignatios to study the school systems of the European missionaries in Jerusalem.  During her stay, she trekked behind Jesus’ footsteps throughout Galilee, Judea, Jericho, and the Dead Sea, and then crossed the Jordan River to Jarash and Petra.

Ignatios was aware of the different treatments received by Samar and Sahar from Mariam; Samar was encouraged to behave as boys were raised, independent and self-confident in society but Sahar succumbed to the unconscious symbiotic relationship of mother and daughter.  By attitudes, gestures, and remarks Mariam unconsciously sent messages to Sahar who assimilated them in her upbringing and generated reactions as daughters do to preserving the “love” of their mothers:  Sahar was wholly scared to part from her mother during her travels and behaved in subordination to customs with sudden violent outcries and revolts when the pressures of rivalry and jealousy aroused among her mother and her sister. 

Sahar was fond of making the life of Mariam untenable in most circumstances and the kind and patient support of Ingatios was essential in keeping the peace and tranquility in the family atmosphere; the efficiency of Ignatios was far better when Mariam was away.

In the town of Antelias, Mariam called for and organized a vast gathering for the female gender active in the electoral process for holding administrative, organizational, or management positions in the government or private enterprises. This assembly lasted for two days and Mariam spoke on the first session saying:

“Compatriots, mothers, daughters, wives, single women and grandmothers; I welcome you wholeheartedly and admire your courage and determination to join this beautiful gathering of dedicated citizens.  As you can witness, male citizens are excluded from this gathering, not on the basis of our unwillingness to have a fruitful dialogue with them but because we need to be alone to boldly discuss critical issues among ourselves without shame or innuendoes, or patronizing attitudes.  As far as I know, this is a first grand gathering of its kind made possible by the new era of openness and freedom of speech and assembly. Let us take full advantage of being together and openly discuss and set up a workable agenda for our political and social platform”.

“Please, this is not the time to feel intimidated; we don’t have to work on the basis that the next gathering will be more suited to expound on your grievances because this sort of get together, among the female gender, might not happen again for decades, realizing full well the entrenchment of the patriarchal system we are still experiencing in every step of our life.  The strength of this system can handicap our development and the acquisition of our political, economic and social rights”.

“Understand that this is not the time to dwell on what your father, or husband, or brother might think or say or do.  This is an opportunity to think and feel for yourself as a full fledge individual. What are your needs, emotionally, financially and educationally as an integral citizen of this free Nation?”

“This is an exciting time but fraught with serious dangers if we fail to unite and express our steadfastness and stubbornness for securing our natural rights and demonstrate that we are the group on which is founded the survival of our society.  We are not to dwell on survival anymore; we are here to go beyond the de facto status we have been subjugated to; we are to design the new life process that this society need to erect in order to progress and the best strategy to counter the calamities that our Nation might have to sustain”.

“First, we will form committees to discuss, study and make recommendations on the subjects of education of the girls, the inheritance both tangible and immaterial, wedding traditions and conditions both financially and emotionally, voting rights, representation in the Parliament, municipalities, and governance as half the society, mothers’ rights in childbearing and support from the public funds for medical and babies growth, travel rights, and work rights”.

“This is your golden opportunity to talk plainly in everything that is cramping your life and your dreams. Please, I urge you to recall all your dreams when you were young and how you might be able to accomplish them if full citizenship rights are accorded to you by your valiant fights.  Remember, rights are never offered without struggle; let us fight with the firm determination to earn them publicly and in the privacy of our own homes and families”.

“We can win our rights by our union after agreeing on a platform.  Let this platform represent our youthful dreams and not what our fathers, husbands or brothers might agree with.  Let our feelings and our minds mesh to win the battle of gender equality and equitable progress of our people and children.  Long Live our First Emir! Long Live women rights! Long Live the Levant Nation!”

To protect the convention of the women, each of the three accesses to the meeting place was guarded by a phalanx of the army, located half a kilometer away, with an order to deny entrance to disturbing or curious elements.  Male supporters were assembled close to the military barracks to cater to the requirements of the convention and ensure smooth logistical supplies. Two female phalanxes insured the internal security of the convention and participated in the military committee.

The first day of the convention was hectic in the administrative and management tasks, but a learning curve settled as the days went by.  Many bold and articulated female leaders went beyond the enthusiastic themes of claiming laws for the equality of the sexes and dwelled deeper on the other facets that were restricting their independence to growing wings.  They reminded their colleagues that they were mostly responsible for their secondary status in society because they exhibited the attitude that a good wife has the duty to efface herself in conversation among men and avoided the critical financial decisions in the household.  They encouraged the wives and daughters to voice their concerns in family matters and stop interjecting their accumulated anger as a mean to establishing peace in the family environment.

After the convention, which made the headline news in social gatherings for months to come, the female population vented their feelings and inclinations to the public and were ready to pay the price for their rights as equal to men in social status.  There were  divergent arguments;  one group viewed that individual family decisions such as who is head of the family, how to lead life and maintain family cohesion should be separate from the Constitution and only female rights as a complete human being equal to men in everything in the law should be an integral item in the Constitution.  Another group maintained that specific articles in the Constitution relative to women might harm their peace of mind and the harmony in the households; instead the laws should maintain her power to reclaim her rights at critical circumstances whenever she is ready to grasp them, especially for divorce and separation cases.

Securing female rights in the Constitution was the glorious fight that Mariam accepted to lead against all odds.  It was at this period that the government proclaimed prizes for anyone inventing techniques or equipments that would facilitate the printing of leaflets which were done manually.  The demand for mass writing materials generated ideas and the rudiment of a few inventions that did not materialize because of the political instability in the Levant.

End of tome I

Organization of the Aram National Party

Noura and Gergis invested many hours to have a viable structure for the processes of administering and organizing a political party. They devised a system based on certification of eligibility to various levels in the organizational hierarchy. They wrote down 5 criteria based on disciplinary, civic, intellectual, strife, and political awareness achievements.  The adherent who would attend meetings regularly and obey directions for a year was certified as a full member, then if he paid his taxes and did not have any civic blemish he was certified as a “worthy” member, then if he showed dedication to learning the foundations and the Party lines and confirmed his faith he was certified as a “graduate”, then if he accepted missions and was successful in his assignments he was given the titled of a “Chest” in the Party and was eligible for defense and military training positions, then if he pursued a profession and could earn a decent living out of his specialty he was awarded the title of “Cornerstone” and was eligible to executive positions, then if he kept up his cultural development and knowledge of the social and political status of the Nation along with valuable practices in any one of the party administration branches he was offered the title of “Trustee” and was automatically eligible to elect the legislative committee members and be eligible to any legislative and executive positions and be nominated to any committee membership.  The most sought after membership was in the Highest Court of justice committee and required a thorough knowledge and practice in the legal profession. 

This system of certification and potential eligibility to the hierarchical echelons was considered a satisfactory method for insuring professionalism and dedication to the cause of the Party and consequently the safeguard of the Nation interests and promotion of human rights in society. The township and district executive members would be basically appointed by the highest executive council but the major townships would elect supervising committees by the full members and higher titled members; the districts would elect their supporting and supervising committees by the “worthy” and higher level members. The highest court of justice committee would establish 4 headquarters in all the Nation territory so that timely justice is provided for all claimants in the Party whether it be civic differences or Party disciplinary problems.


Preparations for the second revolution

The First Emir summoned Gergis, Mariam and Mustafa to a secret enclave to discuss the current State of affairs and how to plan to counter the decadence invading society from the top down.  Gergis rehashed on the principles, articles, and organization of the Aram National Party, and then discussions ensued:

Antoun said: “I have a serious problem with the article defining the borders of the Aram Nation.  If this article is circulated in writing then the Mameluk Sultan will have material evidence that we are preparing for independence and I am not ready for this dangerous step”

Gergis said: “We can drop this article but if we are asked about the boundaries of the Nation, and we will be asked, then I propose that we verbally offer suggestions to that effect and analyze the reaction of the adherents”

Antoun replied: “Do your best to avoid responding to that question or at best generate responses instead of offering your own opinions.  Now I have two more concerns; first, it seems to me that the hierarchical structure of the Party, although logical and well intentioned, will scare away good potential citizens from joining and participating as full members. I am under the impression that you are expecting already disciplined citizens to be attracted, especially the military officers.”

Mustafa said: “I guess that this structure is meant to encourage adherents to continue learning and improving on their potentials. I have some understanding of a few organizations that divulge the duties and responsibilities in stages when members have accomplished what were required of them previously and are ready to assume higher responsibilities.  May be we could emulate their systems by keeping the requirements secrets until the time is ripe for the next stage in the hierarchy?”

Gergis replied:  “I am aware of these secret structures and they worried me as to their consequences in forming ignorant zealots who are ready to commit unimaginable atrocities in the name of performing their duties and obeying orders.  We cannot take this direction if our principles are clear and our purpose open and honest.”

Antoun said: “I understand the genuine attitude of Gergis and I would be ready to take my chance with transparent teachings upfront as evidence of our confidence in our people and his capabilities.  We are in the business of enlightening the masses and not forming passive leaders waiting to be spoon fed at every stage of their organizational development; true leaders are ready to take initiatives and plan their political development as leaders should. I am under the impression that you guys are adopting the thinking and attitudes of the civil servants.”

The room was silent and heavy with accusations. 

The face of Mustafa turned from pale to hot purple and intoned defensively:

“What are you trying to convey my Don?”

The First Emir smiled lightly and said: “At least we guys have worked hard for our living before we engaged into politics and we know the value of work that the people understand; but we have engendered a class of civil servants who is entertained by the hard work of our people and yet sincerely believes that they are doing them a favor.  Our civil servants are into politics big time and have raised the motto that “everything in life is politics” so that they hide their indolence and refusal to try work that can add value to society.  They want the government and the people to feed them throughout their retched life as a deserved right for their sacrifices to the well being of the working people. If we found a political party we are also creating another brand of civil servants living at the expense of the party members and still believing they are the best and chosen ones among them.”

Gergis replied: “I understand your concerns my First Emir and many times I have been recollecting the happy and good period of our youth but our job right now is much harder emotionally and I can barely have a good night sleep. I feel that you have a recommendation to suggest and I cannot provide a satisfactory answer of how to bypass the formation of a professional class of political administrators and managers.”

The First Emir voice started low and then its pitch grew in crescendo saying: “I abhor the idea that any sane civil servant is set for life remunerated by another group of people.  I suggest that civil servants at the pay of the Party should not hold full time positions for more than two years; they should have an earning job before taking a political assignment and return to the real life of earning their bread after the assignment is over; new blood has to circulate continuously in the Party if it has to serve its purpose.  I suggest that we include a separate article stating that members are not required to serve in administrative and political positions unless they feel the drive and have the talent to serve in a party position.  Members have to understand that joining the Party is not a hindrance to continuing living the way they like but a school of life improvement if they have the drive for it.  Back to my third concern…”

Mariam interrupted him saying: “Excellency, sorry to cut you in but I feel it important to expand on your second concern.  As far as I can recollect, the status of civil servants was one of the hottest issues immediately after we won the insurrection and most of us felt uncomfortable holding government positions because we were unfamiliar with their demands, rules and procedures.  We meant well to shorten government assignments but circumstances and lack of funding prevented us to hold on our commitments. According to our wishes exiting civil servants were to be compensated so that they could open their private trades but we found it more economical and more expedient to extend their appointments at the expense of our principles and the trend stuck with practically no incentives or courage to change our administrative structure.  We need practical means not to revert to previous expedients in the Party hierarchy.”

The First Emir replied: “Yes, I do remember and several times I thought that we should hold fast to the commitments of our revolution and failed to communicate my worries in due time. I guess the Party has to consider business infrastructure to sustain its growth and not rely on the government fund or Party members’ dues. It is my position that any political party that cannot offer services to its members and their families over and above what the government is able or willing to offer then the party would become a serious liability to society.  Imagine adherents fed on principles and emotions bottled up with no positive outlets for practical changes then I can foresee rash and irresponsible responses funneled through incompetent leaders. Now back to my third concern; I wonder why there is no mention of religions in these principles”.

Gergis answered: “It is a dangerous subject to approach and the best we could come with is freedom of beliefs which is what we have been practicing but still is a momentous milestone to be able to state it bluntly”.

Antoun replied: “Our society is founded on dozens of religious sects and hiding this fact under the carpet would not strengthen the unity of the Nation. I remember my lack of patience with the confessional elements during the preparation for the insurgency and I do recognize that we failed to approach this fundamental problem through rational discussions. I suggest that we openly study this problem emanating with each district identifying itself according to its religious affiliation first; this trend is extremely stubborn and is spreading havoc to our concept of a united Nation”.

Mustafa: “Do you suggest my Don that we should adopt a religion as the main one for the land so that we retain a distinctive identity?”

Antoun: “I think that you are attempting to be sarcastic. We never stated it formally but I believe our actions tended to distance State affairs from religious meddling.  May be it is time to officially announce to the citizens that there should be a separation between State governance and religious beliefs.”

Mustafa: “To the best of my knowledge no citizen ever contemplated such a separation, not only because it has never been an issue but because they sincerely believe that governance is not possible without the blessing of religion. Besides, we have been doing fine without this announcement and any confrontation with the religious hierarchies at this junction might exacerbate the political climate.”

Gergis: “I believe that it would be a great idea to include the principle of separation between State affairs and religious beliefs in the Party’s articles.  The application of this principle might turn out to be extremely delicate and requiring a lot of tact but it certainly might allay the fears of many minority sects which are the most virulent in time of scarcity and instability.”

Antoun: “Indeed, the future generations should be able to accept this necessary trend as most normal if it is adopted by the grass roots first and made an obvious statement as time goes on.”

Mariam: “I still cannot delineate the fine line where State affairs starts and where religion stops. Suppose that I believe 100% in one religious dogma then my faith in these doctrines should take precedence over anything else that is of this World. If we have to boldly approach this topic we might as well identify the basic issues that are harmful to the professional running of a government and how religion can be of support.”

Antoun said: “Religions should preach what is all about the after death and State affairs is about enjoying our life, running society in an ordered fashion, and what is needed to survive as a society in an independent Nation.  I am not attempting to pin Reason against Faith but these concepts are the main delineations with the implicit understanding that Faith is in no way synonymous to Spirit”

Mariam: “With due respect Your Excellency, this is a pretty simple concept that is basically trying to sweep the problem under the carpet as you mentioned previously. The population is basically very religious and relying on reasoning will not cut it. For example, what if a citizen secretly belonging to a minority sect has cheated in his true religious affiliation and is elected to the highest position in the Nation, then would his election be valid on the basis of separation of religion and State affairs?”

Antoun: “You certainly are devious Mariam and I appoint you as the devil advocate to Gergis. I am inclined to reason that in this instance it is politics rather than cheating since it is none of our concerns his personal religious beliefs if we are sincerely secular as long as the candidate never offered to divulge his religious affiliations. I have been hearing rumors, which I am inclined to believe, that many Christian sects allow parallel pagan traditions among agrarian people. These peasants still worship Mother Earth for its bounty and do indeed offer human sacrifices to ward off calamities and dry years and they could not shake it off as far as I know.  Now, no sect is going to confess or proclaim that these ancient rooted beliefs and traditions are part and parcel of its religious principles although it is a pagan religion anyway you consider it.  Would you think Mariam that these pieces of information might complicate your example? All I can tell you is that I am not good with abstract notions. I do believe that anyone who reaches a stage in his growth to claim that his faith is total in the after death then he is a liar and not worth a dime anymore.  I also believe that whoever claims that we are just dirt and nothing else is also a liar and not worth a dime. Even if I still have a tiny pride it would be impossible for me to accept that we are just reduced to dust and dirt after death.  I am a good judge of character and the scoundrel is anyone who wholeheartedly believes that clinging to life is the best attitude to preserve and yet keeps preaching about the after life.”

Mustafa: “I think that I agree with your premises my Don though I am afraid that you will have the whole population against you if you proclaim that whoever claims has total faith is a liar.”

Antoun: “I guess you are in an ironic mood today and your attitude may be taking the edge off our heated discussion but hope that you will put a break to your behavior.  What I mean is that as long as we have a whiff of energy left in us to struggle for survival then our faith is necessarily within the range of the two extreme positions. Once we reach an extreme point in our beliefs then we are reduced to either stones or carrying on irrational behavior.”

Mariam: “I still need to grasp the dividing line where we can bring to court a religious movement with a political position that we deem it out of its jurisdiction. I can offer several examples that are very pertinent; first, there are a couple of sects that prohibit carrying arms or using them against their fellow men and second many sects insist on reading verses from the Bible or the Koran before starting classes or even providing an answer or delivering a speech. Another issue is shouldn’t the full time religious clergy have the right to vote, and why the clergy has to appoint representatives as it is applied now instead of the people electing these representatives?  It is time for the people to have a direct say on matters that impact their daily life and send a strong message to the clergy that more transparency is needed in their internal dealings and the community has to have a share in their financial discussions.”

Gergis: “Now we are talking business.  Abstract notions have to be explained in procedural forms if justice is to be applicable in any governmental action.  I can see the usefulness of not prohibiting the clergy from participating fully in elections though I can guess that the outcome of any election would be biased toward the clergy interest because they clearly have the power to easily impress and dissuade well intentioned voters.”

Antoun: “In response to the first example of Mariam I guess we were successful in enlisting many families in the army after they initially refused on moral grounds by increasing the pay and benefits of the soldiers.  I believe that adequate incentives and direct and patient communications with the members of these peaceful sects can open acceptable alternatives. As to the second example I sincerely do not see it fitting within the framework of our concerns. I think the most serious difficulty is that the clergy would interfere one way or another in the implementation of State decisions and programs.  For that reason we need to set higher standards for candidates otherwise the clergy representatives will dominate the floor and weaken any fair law.  Also, our work is going to be much harder now because the clergy is on the offensive big time. We will have to analyze every proposal from different perspectives and test the people’s responses to the proposals first before submission.”

Mariam: “I can see that the struggle is going to be tough for decades and only dedicated and highly learned servicemen would be able to turn the tide.  Stable nations had the vast majority of its citizens believing in our religion and a so-called secular government could be camouflaged under the implicit recognition that it is functioning within the nation’s religious beliefs. In our case with no overwhelming majority for a single religion we might be playing with fire attempting a distinct separation.  I don’t think Mustafa was joking when he alluded to the need of adopting a religion for the Nation. This was the case with the exception of the Roman Empire though most societies then were pagans, similar in their practices and traditions and their Gods were not invisibles and all that encompassing in a single unifying God. It is my position that change would be won by secular schooling and eliminating any notion that requires the support of religious dogma in the reading materials. Let the mind guide the kids in school and let their parents decide on their religious education outside of school”

Gergis: “I am inclined to include in the principles of the Party that religious beliefs are intrinsically personal matters but once a person is given State responsibilities or given a civil service appointment then he should adopt reason as his guiding God and the articles of the Constitutions as his guiding principles.”

Antoun: “I think we are agreed, you and I, though I see Mariam fretting in her place and doubt that she is about to accept your opinion.”

Mariam: “I understand your position Sir and the need of proclaiming Reason as our guiding power in managing our State affairs but I suspect that if this principle is formally included in the articles of the Constitution then one day the State will persecute religious beliefs under one reason or other. What sound like reason to you is within the abstract frame of mind to me; I have been around to know that many excellent civil servants, not of your political inclinations, will be sacked on the basis of preaching his faith at some point in his service, a right that is guaranteed in the Constitution also.  I demand that any censure based on stating religious principles should be examined by a regular civil court and all expenses paid by the State. “

Antoun: “I think Mariam that your apprehension might be founded.  Gergis, would you include in the Party principles something to the effect that faith is necessary for the spiritual stability of the Nation but that human Reason is capable and well endowed of forecasting changes in society and providing the appropriate remedies for the survival and development of the Nation?”

Mariam: “I suggest that we add in the Nation’s Constitution a clear article that no authority in the land should has the power to persecute any citizen based on his religious beliefs or to proclaim any religion unlawful unless we are ready to ban religions all together as anathema to unity and progress of our Nation”

Antoun: “Mariam, you are driving a good bargain that should satisfy the Party and the Nation.  I guess we have to bite this bitter pill since we have a wide variety of sects and refrain by law from forced persecution no mater how small a sect might be or to our distaste. I have to agree that the Aram Nation is going to be a precarious nation unless it enjoys a long peaceful reprieve with strong infusions of unifying and tolerant leaders. Are we all agreed on Mariam’s article?”

Mustafa: “I can go along this line of thinking if we could overcome the material power of the clergy.  I think that we have to target the essence of their power, mainly their riches. We already have taxed donations in money and their best parcel of lands which allowed us to study the trend in people behavior toward the hegemony of the clergy; now we need to study the problem of pro bono work on the clergy lands simply because the peasants are scared on the status of their after death.  I suggest that the clergy properties and profits should be taxed as any business. Donations should be taxed more heavily and pro bono work need to be revisited.   If the peasants are not paid by the clergy then part of the fruit of their labor that increases profits should return to the State to invest it for the benefit of all the society.”

Gergis: “These suggestions are pleasant to my ears because their rationales are sound and just. I move to adopt this taxing scheme.”

Mariam: “Don’t you share my view Mustafa that this new tax is proposed in the worst time?”

Antoun: “I tend to disagree with you Mariam. I think this tax is an excellent idea and very timely.  We know that the citizens are aware of the clergy injustices and unfair privileges. We could use the citizens’ restlessness and anger to our advantage by concentrating our effort and public pronunciations on that important platform. It is kind of killing more than one bird with one shot. If we all agree then I order Gergis to write up the required laws and establish a list of priorities targeting the financial worth of the richest monasteries.”

Mustafa said: “May we add another criterion for the priority list?  I have been wondering whether to annex a few properties that are strategically important to the military?  The clergy has been giving us hard time and was successful in baffling our plans.”

Antoun replied: “You may coordinate with Gergis on that list.”

Mariam said:  “I think that we may have an opportunity to expand our schooling institutions by appropriating annexes to the monasteries or suitable lands by providing tax breaks in these instances.”

Antoun: “Am I familiar with your machinations Mariam!  Your alternative could be acceptable only on a case by case basis and only if the negotiations are done openly and the townspeople participate vigorously in the negotiations.”

Mariam: “May I ask why the military is exempt from open negotiations?”

Antoun: “I could see that coming.  Actually it has nothing to do with paternalism or chauvinism. Historically, there is no love affair connecting the citizens with any military institution although no Nation was able to safeguard his integrity, independence and interest without a strong physical military institution.  In your case, every parent wants to educate his children and the odds are high that you will win your negotiations.  The way I look at it is that the service ministries are the cornerstones in the victory over the clergy. The more negotiations you win the more the people will grasp that this tax is for their interest and in no way intended to harass or persecute the clergy.  The victory of our platform resides in your zeal, stubbornness and continuous success.

Mustafa: “I am interested in the strategy contemplated to win victory over the clergy’s power.”

Antoun: “The clergy is powerful because it is the people who lent them acceptance and support to manage their spiritual needs and they will revert to them at the first spiritual malaise once their stomach is empty and opportunities scarce.  Anyhow, back to your strategy Mustafa. First, this tax law should be a tight secret.  Second, the tax law has to pass the legislature quickly.  To achieve passing the law fast we need to select a judicious timing for convening the House; the meeting of the House could be held close to major religious celebrations so that the clergy representatives would fail to attend the meeting. Once the tax law is passed, legality would assure us a hefty leverage in our struggle.  Timing, readiness and quick actions are the means to our victory.”

.  It was decided in that enclave that political parties would be legalized with conditions that their leaders, ideologies and funding be made public with the implicit primary objective of the government to acquire the necessary intelligence without undue pressures or disruption of the political situation.  It was also decided that the Aram National Party be funded through a special appropriation to the education ministry for only two years but kept a State secret and that Gergis would take a year sabbatical from his government functions to concentrate on the organization of the Party.  The First Emir planned to appoint each year a new leader for the Party and run his corresponding government functions in order to have a deeper and detailed comprehension of the intricacies of the government. Once the idea of forming a political party took hold in the First Emir’s mind his life regained some of its earlier enthusiasm.

The First Emir discovered that the ideas and principles of the Party had been disseminated slowly but surely in the last two years and he implicitly resented being kept in the dark for so long and this message came to him as a chock that he has been out of touch in the day to day running of the State and neglecting to frequently meet with his close associates and the citizens.


The Tatars are coming

Terrible rumors were spreading that hordes of Tatars were again on the march from the North East torching and destroying towns on their path.  Although these hordes were coming from far away Samarqand and had to cross Iran and part of Turkey before advancing toward Syria the population was in turmoil and business was hampered by the forthcoming calamity, reminiscent of the Mogul invasion a century and a half ago. 

The First Emir grasped the fact that the population needed a leader they could trust and allay their fears. He understood that this situation could have a positive side to it:  reorganize the population through a firmer ideology of values that could unify the people to face a ruthless and stubborn enemy of that magnitude. The new moral and political ideology was to unite the people and take advantage of the capabilities of all the member of the society.

Rainbow over the Levant: Mariam (1394-1399).  Part 4

Chapter 15: The second revolution (fiction, continue 21)

The political system was relatively stable; order and the rule of law were functional; peace on the borders was lasting longer than in the previous decades; yearly budget for the various ministries were allocated and plans were carried out decently.  A few worries were deeply disturbing the First Emir:  the system was reverting to a declining cycle of feudal and religious polarization during municipal and parliamentary elections. The old guards were sleeping on their laurels and insidious machinations of grand thefts of the public funds were agitating the population to open criticisms of the validity of the regime.  The First Emir suspected that foreign agitators were exploiting some of the valid arguments about the regime and he thought that the best strategy was to adapt taking side with the population against the opportunists and unprofessional officer corps in the various departments.

While fear of instability was a common tendency in the Middle East the underground sectarian organizations were extremely secretive and disturbing.  It was in these periods of anxiety that Sect-State behaviors would predominate the political landscape with two variants; the first variant being that a charismatic feudal Lord would take advantage of the particular structural and administrative traditions of his sect and appoint his spiritual leaders in order to further his hold on the temporal and spiritual power of his sect, like for example the Druze sect; the other variant being the supreme cleric usurping the temporal leadership in his sect and imposing the temporal leaders such as in some Shiaa sects.  The second variant of Sect-State was usually the more dangerous for any central government than the first variant or the other secretive sectarian organizations.

The Levant government was not immune to these fears in the society and a few Sect-States and secretive sectarian organizations were on the rise and such behaviors were spreading among its public servant members. Nevertheless, rational scapegoats were needed to tame the growing restlessness among the populace so that a closer investigation to the criteria adopted for hiring and assigning government service men were carried out and rumors of fraudulent activities were acted upon.  These decisive moves were well promoted and new recruits from disadvantaged families were interviewed and accepted to training facilities.

Besides, the First Emir, who was now in his late forties and was considered old by the standard of the time, had discovered new vocations in writing his memoirs and a hobby in aquarelle painting.  Actually, the First Emir was suffering from backache which made horse riding an excruciating exercise while his shortsightedness was an excellent excuse for discarding reading the accumulating documents.  For some time, his zest in daily running of the nation and ruling a wily people was waning and he was seriously contemplating taking longer time offs for doing what he enjoyed most.  The reality was that the First Emir was experiencing what is currently described as middle age crisis; he was becoming despondent because of subtle recognition that he had grown much older in physical and mental agility and endurance.  He was experiencing the nervousness and uneasiness of some kind of chemical addictions which caused many official sessions to be cut short and the tendency to implicitly relegating some of his powers to close associates because he could not shoulder further pressures.  The side effects were his harsher invective toward his associates when they failed to adequately carry out the delegated power on specific projects and programs and tended to maliciously blame them on usurping his power and sometimes because he had forgotten his verbal commitments or delegated commissions.

The First Emir would disappear incognito for a couple of days with a reduced group of his personal guards, all attired as normal citizens as to blend easily with the common people, and leaving a short message stating that he has gone on inspection of his kingdom so that to keep everyone of his civil servants on their toes. Actually, a few of his closest and oldest friends knew that the journeys were taking their beloved Emir to locations of his youth that provided him with splendid recollections and relieved the stresses of his conflicting emotions.  These short peregrinations were helpful mentally but left the First Emir in no better physical conditions on his returns; he was sick and depressed and used to confine himself in his private rooms claiming quality time to studying important and urgent plans.  His oldest friends were worried but the second generation of civil servants was feeling comfortable and secure in its sinecures before political troubles challenged the First Emir into action.

Individually and on many occasions the trio of Mariam, Mustafa and Gergis confronted the First Emir with the state of affairs in the Nations.  Mariam offered the First Emir facts on many political organizations already in action and most of them being financed by foreign powers and neighboring Viceroys and disseminating ideas based on religious beliefs to destabilize the State.  Mustafa argued that it would be to the advantage of the State to acknowledge the existence of these organizations and allow them to function within the laws of free associations and freedom of speech instead of letting them work underground. At least, Mustafa argued that the State would then be in a better position to recognize these secretive organizations and understand their political positions and be prepared to counter their ideas. With his usual diplomatic tact Gergis hinted that the best alternative would be to organize a grass root political party that would carry the right message to the future generations and sidetrack most of these dubious confessional underground parties.

At length, the First Emir was well prepared by his counselors to listen to the principles of a political party that might be capable of rejuvenating the Nation. Gergis expounded on the principles and articles of the Aram National Party.  For two weeks the First Emir felt restless and an ingenious plan of action was rehashed in his mind:  start a new revolution from the grass-roots beginning with new adherents of fresh and young officers and out best his earlier successes. It is very credible to assume that organizing from scratch was his best skill but it was more likely that it mould be an opportunity for the First Emir to reinvigorate his purposes to life though any potential successes were less convincing judging from the behaviors of his early decrepit conditions.

The First Emir reasoned from experience that reinventing the same political system would not establish a system that could secure the survival of a society for long.  Consequently, he reasoned that the outcome of another revolution must rely on a new vision to guide the process for a stable society that would survive calamities and political upheavals.  A new vision was needed but the First Emir could not pinpoint its characteristics and procedures but hinted out to Gergis to unofficially study the restructure of his administration.

In the meantime, Gergis sent Noura an urgent message to Florence summoning her to come back as soon as possible.  The message hashed out his new responsibilities as leader of an underground political party and proclaimed that he would be unable to carry out his duties without her support and close proximity.  Noura realized that the still bachelor Gergis had never married because she was his first and only love and decided that she would indeed grab this opportunity and join her best friend ever.

 

Article #46, (April 30, 2006)

 “Human Factors engineering versus Industrial, Computer, and traditional engineering fields”

            The term “engineering” is becoming pervasive and a misnomer in the public language; a janitor calls himself a cleaning engineer since he was trained to polish hardwood floors and he might be using machines and has to maintain them by cleaning and oiling the parts; a garbage collector is a sanitary engineer though on which ground he earned that prestigious degree is flimsy; any technician is an engineer since he can read drawings and execute the plan.  Mainly, the new public relation trend in the competitive job market encourage affixing “engineer” to our skills because it sound better in society’s circles and on our resume since, logically, part of an engineer’s job description is to repair or maintain the proper functioning of machines, equipment, and systems.

            Maybe the title is deceiving and might leave the impression that I am attempting to compare the technical differences among traditionally well established engineering disciplines such as electrical, mechanical, civil, and aeronautic engineering, and the relatively new engineering disciplines such as computer, telecommunication, industrial, and human factors engineering.  This article is actually a reminder of the purpose of an engineer, what designing should mean, and for whom products/systems are designed for.

            Frankly, how superior is a freshly graduating engineer compared to a trained technician in the corresponding field?  How qualified is an engineer who spent two years doing cost estimation compared to a trained technician who is still better at reading drawings, estimating the cost of his job, knowing the competing products, their specifications, and can put them together for a functioning system?  If companies perceive the competence of a graduate engineer as incomplete or unsatisfactory for the market demands and that the best position for him in the first three years on the job is to cost estimate the material expenses for bids, then why the university does not train the engineer to cost estimate real life projects during his four year stint within its compound?

            How long a qualified engineer should be working for a company in order for management to evaluate him as eligible to be assigned a design job which should be the purpose of his university curriculum?  I know graphic designers taking on design jobs right after graduation; so what’s the problem with the engineering curriculums?  My contention is that engineers are not being properly trained to be designers, or the students are not getting that impression from the messages of their instructors, or the structure of the courses are not effective in conveying a behavior’s change in the engineer’s mind..

            Traditional engineering disciplines have a solid, well established knowledge base through centuries of experiments, trial and error, design guidelines, and practice.  My impression is that the fact of an existing and complete knowledge base has diverted the needs of forming scientific and experimental minds and has reduced the students to kind of learning robots of primarily rule based knowledge and equations of inanimate phenomena. 

The computer and telecommunication engineering disciplines are still young and offer more job opportunities with training oriented to creative designs towards end users.  Moreover, the competition in advanced technology for products in the latter fields encourages the designers to build up on the “common sense” acquired from experiments and prior designs in the behavior of end users. Although the knowledge base of human capabilities/limitations, physically and cognitively, is not an intrinsic part of the curriculum, it seems that most of the current researches in psychology, marketing and human factors/ergonomics are oriented toward providing design guidelines for the computer and telecommunication engineering disciplines.   

It appears that supplementing design guidelines from non engineering disciplines is giving a false sense of confidence in the computer’s engineering designs and thus, failing to impact with scientific and experimental minds in the complexity of human behavior for the graduate computer related engineers

Industrial engineering should be geared toward engineering management of industries and systems. However, the curriculums emphasize on the material and inanimate phenomena in the optimization of the processes.  Learning about inventory, layout of manufacturing facilities, material handling, production processes, and optimization models for increasing performance and minimizing costs or unwarranted parameters is fine and necessary.  If we recognize that managing the human element of workers, operators, secretaries, and managers is the main problem in running any system, then why not face this problem upfront?  Squeezing single lame courses in human factors and, from time to a time a course in organization or management, will not cut it and will not lead to a behavioral change in designing for people or managing workers’ problems in industries.  Does a graduating Industrial engineer have to rely on the archaic method of trial an error for many years of training on the job before he begins to appreciate the human factors essentials? 

Is it not within the industrial engineering job description to be familiar with the difficulties facing the workers in matters like shift work, inspection, training, overtime, and turnover, or the capabilities and limitations of the workers in physical and mental abilities according to age and gender, or the safety regulations and health regulations in the workplace, or the current legal doctrine in consumer product liabilities?  Claiming that many of these problems are the realm of other social disciplines will not prepare an industrial engineer to his job or achieve the purported goal of graduating capable engineers.

Human Factors/Ergonomic discipline realized that every artificial system or human made system that governs and organizes our modern life is fraught with errors and potential health and safety accidents that diminish the efficiency, validity, and reliability of these systems if a sound comprehension of the capabilities and limitations of the designers, operators, workers, and end users are not accounted for in the implementation of a system or a machine.  The proclaimed purpose of Human Factors engineering is to designing interfaces among the various sections of a complete system so that the targeted user may perform efficiently his task without the need to comprehend the inner technical functioning of the system.

However, the scope of designing interfaces is vast, all encompassing, and cannot rely on general design guidelines: every system has its peculiarity, its target users, and its knowledge base.  Interfaces are varied from all kinds of displays, controls, instructions manuals, training programs, and performance aids. Even designing formats for screens are not the same for computers, televisions, or specialized audio-visual complexes because each task or industry is different and the outcomes are changing as requirements change.

It appears that Human Factors discipline extended its reach and scope in every form of modern technological breakthroughs that it failed to catch up or specialize in well defined systems.  Many disciplines are off shout of the Human Factors trends; for examples, biomechanical theories generated many branches in the bio technology fields and drivers simulation design modeling; display, illustration, formatting, warnings, and facilitators design guidelines generated the graphic design discipline without any theoretical foundations in perception or controlled experimentation training in its curriculum; concerns for the safety and health in the workplace generated safety engineering and industrial inspectors; human-computer interface and interactions guidelines generated computer friendly software programmers.

The fundamental concerns of Human Factors is the people within a system have generated disciplines that are focusing more on the well being of the target users without these discipline taking the pain of offering the requisite courses intended to familiarize and initiate the graduates to the complexity and scope of understanding the end users.

Article #45, (April 15, 2006)

“Main errors and mistakes in controlled experimentations”

This article targets controlled experimentations investigated in the social and psychological sciences or when human participants or living subjects such as animals are used.  The natural physical science experimentations are much more immune to generating random errors or systematic bias errors because these kinds of errors are due principally to the variability of human subjects.

As a reminder, controlled experimentations study the variables/factors that may cause statistically significant effects on the behavior of a set of valid and representative dependent variables in order to validate a theoretical model that describes and defines the processes and the working of a phenomena or a concept. The basis of the analyses of the data obtained in the experiment is to sort out the various types of errors that result from the differences and variety of effects on the behavior of the system/model.  What the scientist wants is the effects of the factors under study and their interactions due to the experimental differences and this can only be done by trying to control errors generated from systematic biases and by accounting for the size of random errors introduced in the experiment due primarily to the changing behavior of the subject/participants from moment to moment, activity to activity, and trial to trial.

            The major step that can achieve this goal is a sound design for the experiment which is basically an experimental structure of the model and a milestone toward the proper direction of the investigation. This planning phase of a formal pattern for collecting observations has 3 principal objectives: first, to identify all the variables that the investigator decided to test, second to decide on the number of subjects and trials to be tested, and third to decide on the techniques for the order and schedule of the experimental trials, primarily to counterbalance the trials sequence in order to control any systematic biases.

            Systematic errors are virulent viruses that can pop up at every step of an experiment. For example, if we were testing the design of bottle lids and the subjects were consistently trying to twist lid #1 and then lid #2 we will have serious doubt if the difference in the observations are not due to fatigue from the effort of opening lid #1, the excitement to exerting more efforts with lid #2, or some other physical or psychological changes in attitudes and expectations. Selecting subjects by not considering their gender, age, skills, level of education and other differences in capabilities and limitations is a serious cause for systematic errors if these variability are not factored in the design.  Procedures and instructions may be sources for systematic errors if they were not properly tested with a different set of subjects for comprehension, clarity, and potential mistakes.  The attitude, voice, and gesture of the investigator may offer the subjects clues that generate systematic errors. The best technique to avoiding systematic errors is to counterbalance trials by using scheduled order of trials; for example the second test would start with lid #2 then lid #1.  Frequently, counterbalancing technique might be cumbersome, impractical, or not feasible due to lack of participants then the next best technique is to randomize the order of trials or subjects by assigning test trials or the designated subjects according to a list of numbers generated from a mathematically randomized lists of numbers.

Consequently, systematic errors that are the product of biases affect the internal validity of an experiment and the expert investigator’s job is to control the introduction of these systematic biases through counterbalancing or randomization of stimuli, trials, selection of subjects, design of the experiment, testing of instruction materials and procedures. 

            Once systematic errors are strictly controlled then the design of an experiment should yield a measure of random error (residual) in the experiment due to human variability between trials and between themselves.  The experimental error must come from the same experiment as is used to test the primary factors of interest.

Another problem that can affect the validity of the results of an experiment is when an important factor that can have a substantial effects on the dependent variables/data was not considered or the investigator failed to control its effects; for example, when the products under study are sensible to temperature and the investigator did not conduct the trials within an acceptable range of temperatures.  In such a case, it would be difficult to claim that the relationships are due to the variables manipulated in the experiment or to the variable that was not accounted for; these kinds of invalid experiments are said to have confounding effects.  The investigator has thus to know the subject matter thoroughly in order to avoid dubious results and be candid about his mistakes and offer justifications if the effects of the confounding factor is proven not be significant enough in this particular experiment.  That is why it is important to consider a post experimentation phase targeted at validating any anomalies not designed purposely in the experiment. Once all the main factors are accounted for the investigator can control the factors that he is not interested to test in his experiment and consequently he will control them either in the setting conditions, the procedures, the instructions, and the selection of the participants.

There are two other types of errors; error of type I is when the investigator does not reject a hypothesis when he should have, and the type II error when the investigator reject a hypothesis when in fact he shouldn’t have.  The power of an experiment is represented by the level of type II error selected:  the least it is the more powerful the experiment is and that is why many subjects are employed or trials are conducted.

While a sound design for an experiment allows the statistical package to compute the various random errors such as the within and the between errors and to decide whether to reject or not reject a hypothesis at a criterion level of statistical significance, eliminating or avoiding the errors of systematic biases and confounding effects of uncontrolled variables are solely the  responsibility of a professional investigator who know the subject matter with a long an practical expertise of conducting controlled experimentations.

“What do Human Factors measure?”

Article #41, started on April 5, 2006

This article is an ongoing project.  The dependent variables or performance measurements adopted by Human Factors/Ergonomics are varied and should be judiciously selected to correspond to the tasks, systems, methods, and purposes.

The professionals in the field of human factors, depending on their primary discipline and interest, consider appropriate performance measurements for the types of controlled experiments, evaluation, or testing methods… They want to either answer practical problems, which cannot be resolved by the traditional methods,  analyze systems’ feasibility and performance or oriented toward basic research.

These dependent variables should be necessarily directly related with the essential human factors performance criteria, of mainly reducing errors in the operations, safe usage of products/systems, and health concerns of workers and end users.

Many of these measurements and their corresponding techniques and procedures were initially developed by psychologists who were attuned to the practical facets of their discipline, and how their research can be applied to engineer design of interfaces, between target users and systems, as man-made systems are growing increasingly in complexity and becoming essential in running the functioning of our daily lives.

For example, I posed a problem to class for participation.  We were to evaluate two warning alarms used in factories and to decide which product to select.

I asked them what could be the potential, valid, and effective dependent variables for this evaluation.  Obviously, the first answer was to measure how loud the alarm is. This variable would not do: alarms are designed to be loud to alert workers and employees, but the data on how many of them heard the alarm going off will certainly not provide a decisive choice.

The next step was to make the students think about the real purpose of having a warning alarm.  Obviously, warning alarms are produced to warn against the existence of fumes, the starting of fire, a serious danger, or a drill.  Suppose you were conducting a drill, then what you might be interested to observe and record?

At this junction ideas started to fuse from every corner; the noise of the alarm should be jarring and very uncomfortable to the ears, visual stimuli should be designed in the product such as in police cars, automatic connections to fire brigades should be contemplated when installing warning alarms, more than one exit door should be opened, emergency exit doors should not be blocked by inventory materials.

Now, where the warning alarm should be installed?  Should it be next to the emergency door because this is the normal direction where heads turn to, or in the opposite direction because the reaction of people is to move in a direction away from the warning noise?

I meant to explain the fundamentals of evaluation methodology and ended up with practical answers, which is fine and encouraging, but we had to get back to methodology and what could be the most appropriate safety measure.

Most probably, how many workers actually vacated the premises on hearing the alarm could be a good starting decision variable.  Better, how many vacated within a standard duration in accordance with safety regulations might be an improved measuring stick.

At this stage, there was confusion in discriminating among, controlled experimentation, evaluation, and testing methods as well as the differences among dependent, independent and control variables.

Obviously, what we were discussing was testing the effectiveness of warning devices since evaluation is targeted for the packaged deal that includes after sales services, maintenance, repair, instructions manuals, extra commendable features, and so forth.

In addition to rating each specification, evaluation methods might consider comparing end-users behaviors such as like/dislike, acceptance, or rejection depending on psychological preference judgments.

That in testing the warning devices the main factor is the products was not straightforward to the students because we were considering among other factors. For example, the frequency range of the alarm, whether it is in the lower or upper frequency scale, the timber of the alarm, the loudness range and levels to manipulate, the characteristics of the background noise, the layout of the facility, the type of noises emanating from the machinery and equipment  the outdoor noise level, the characteristics of the workers and their hearing deficiencies, and how the workers were initiated with drills, safety warnings and instructions.

What could be the performance measures for warning products in controlled experimentation?  In this case the investigator needs:

First, to select objective, accurate, and reliable measurements such as the increase in heart beats above individual baselines, or the duration needed before the heart beat return to its resting level, or the reaction time for any changes in the dilation of the pupil of the eyes, or other physiological characteristics that are not highly correlated among themselves if more than one dependent variables are used.

Second, the purpose in controlled experimentation is to select the characteristic of sound or noise that best affect the outcome of the study in order to design a performing warning alarm with the purpose of eventually reaching design guidelines for products/systems, and

Third that the conditions and location of the experiment have to allow the repeatability of the experiment.

More than one session is necessary to sort out the difficulties and distortions in the untrained experimental mind.

However, we agreed that in testing the warning alarms we need to control important factors that might affect the results such that we need to test all the selected warning alarms in each one of the facilities, in every location that they might be installed, during the day and night shifts, in the morning, after lunch, and at the end of a shift if necessary and funding is available.

Article# 40, April 2nd, 2006

 “Experimentation: natural sciences versus people’s behavior sciences”

This article is intended to compare the kind of controlled experiments that are applied by scientists in physical natural phenomena and those developed by scientists dealing with the behavior of people or employing human participants in the experiments.

Although the physical sciences such as all the branches in physics and chemistry used controlled experimentations long time ago to develop the huge body of knowledge on the natural phenomena, it was the social and psychological sciences that tried to develop the appropriate and complex statistical modeling packages in order to study the more complex and more varied human behaviors.  It appears that the restricted and countable number of variables in studying the physical nature and their relative lack of variability with time did not encourage the physical scientists to contemplate sophisticated statistical models for their controlled experiments or even to teaching the design of experiments in the engineering curriculum. 

Before we expand on the variability of human behaviors it might be more appropriate to analyze the most critical difference in the two sciences. Knowing that any concept is synonymous with the corresponding necessary set of operations in order to be able to measure it scientifically in experiments we can understand the big leap forward of the body of knowledge in natural sciences compared to the social and psychological sciences.  Whereas the physical scientists can define the concepts of force, moment, power and the like through the relationships of measurable variables based on length, time, and mass the scientists investigating human behaviors have to surmount that hurdle before seriously contemplating to measure human concepts.  Human behavior and the cognitive concepts of attitudes, mental abilities, and moods, problem solving mechanisms, perception, and the like cannot be measured scientifically until sets of operations are agreed on for each one of these concepts through the study of human activities or the things that people do while performing a valid task or a set of purposeful tasks.  For example, saying that color blindness is a deficiency that confuses colors will not cut it; what is needed are a set of instances that could define this illness such as what exactly are the colors of the spectrum with mixtures of two primary colors can a protanope (color blind individual) match that are different from normal people, he will confuse a blue-green color with white or gray, will confuse red, orange, yellow, yellow-green, and green when suitable brightness and saturations of these colors are used, and has reduced visibility in the red end of the spectrum.

Two decades ago the air force in the USA contracted out groups of psychologists and human factors professionals to specifically establish a set of operations that could be submitted to potential airplane fighters to measure and evaluate their capabilities for the mental and perception workload needed for the job. This set of ten or twelve operations measuring short term memory capacity, reaction times, computational abilities, attention span, and types of errors committed in each operation is the kind of hurdles that the study of human behavior have to surmount.

The operationism of a single human concept may be a life project for a group of scientists that require secure and continuing funding from concerned parties who have vested interests in thorough study of the concept.  It is obvious that limited human concepts will enjoy deeper and more complete investigations than others.

May be because the physical scientists did not face the problems of establishing sets of operations that the method of controlled experimentations was not deemed essential enough to rigorously teach in high school programs and ultimately failed to initiate the students to the experimental methods; until recently when social sciences made significant in roads into the educational programs.  This lack of early initiation of students to experimental methodology might also be the main reason why rational thinking and the experimental mind is not that widespread throughout all societies and are just confined to the privileged who could afford higher educations at select universities.

Whereas physical scientists rely on equipments to objectively observe and measure, the more the equipments are precise the more accurate are the data; scientists of human behavior have to rely on people’s responses and observations.  It has been proven that man is not a good observer of complex events; even when viewers are forewarned that they are to see a movie about a crime and that that are to answer questions about details later the accuracy of the observers are very low. 

Man is unable to be an objective recorder of the events that transpire because he gets involved in the scene actions.  Man has a very narrow range of attention and barely can satisfactorily attend to a couple of stimuli. This observation deficiency is compounded by our sensory differences and illusions; for example, one in sixteen is color blind, many suffer from tone deafness, taste blindness and so on.

Man does not think of himself objectively but rather has convictions, feelings, and explanations based on very restricted experiences, hearsays, memories and he tends to generalize and develop a set of beliefs concerning the operation of the mind.  Man usually expects to see and then see what he wants to see and hardly deviates from his beliefs and sometimes even when faced with facts.  For example, many scientists have overlooked obvious data because they clanged to their hypotheses and theories.  Man has to generate an abundance of reliable information and assimilate them before he could eliminate a few systematic biases that he acquired from previous generations and his personal experiences.  Consequently, experimenting with people is more complex and more difficult than the physical scientists or engineers have to cope with.

First, there are no design drawings for people’s mind and behavior as engineers are familiar with because the structure of human organisms is approximately delineated and the mechanisms are imperfectly understood.

Second, people vastly differ in anthropometric dimensions, cognitive abilities, sensory capabilities, motor abilities, personalities, and attitudes.  Thus, the challenge of variability is different from physics where phenomena behave in stable fashions, are countable, and can be controlled with minimal management. 

Third, people change with time; they change in dimensions, abilities and skills as well as from moment to moment attributable to boredom, fatigue, lapse of attention, interactions among people and with the environment.  People deficiencies in senses, physical abilities and cognitive capabilities changes with time and thus, the techniques of selecting subjects have to account for the differences in age, gender, specific deficiencies, training, educational levels, communication skills, and incentives to participate in an experiment.

Fourth, the world is constantly changing and systems used by people are changing accordingly.  Thus, interfaces for designing jobs, operations and environment have to be revisited frequently to account for new behavior and trends.

Fifth, everyone feels is an expert about human behavior on the basis of common sense acquired from life and specific experiences and we tend to generalize our feelings to all kinds of human behaviors but not so expert in the fundamentals of natural sciences such as physics or chemistry.  We think that we have convictions concerning the effects of sleep, dreams, age, and fatigue; we believe that we are rather good judges of people’s motives, we have explanations for people’s good memories and abilities, and we have strong positions on the relative influence of nature and nurture in shaping people’s behavior.  Consequently, the expertise of psychologists and human factors professionals are not viewed as based on science.

Six, physical scientists may enjoy the possibility of “testing to destruction” of prototypes or the materials under study, a luxury that experiments on people forbid or are impossible to do outside the safety range allowed by moral standards, laws, and regulations.  Research on people has to circumvent this major difficulty by using dummies, animals, or willing subjects thoroughly aware and educated to the dangers of the procedures.

Seventh, research on people is regulated by privacy laws and concepts such as consciousness, mental images, fatigue, and motives are highly personal experiences and not open to public inspection while science must be a public affair and repeatable by other researchers. 

A good time to die (October 16, 2008)

 

            We know by now that decisions for resuming experiments on atomic explosions, in open air or underground, are bad news.  We know that decisions to leave man out of the loop of programmed launching of guided ballistic missiles are wrong decisions.  We are learning that the ozone layer is good and protects the living organisms from lethal dozes of ultra-violet radiations; that the depletion of ozone over the Antarctic is very bad news.  We recognize that the increased concentration of CO2 may be causing the “Greenhouse Effect”, melting the North Pole and increasing the Oceans water level.  We have this gut feeling that the deforestation of the virgin forests in the Equator is degrading the quality of air and increasing the numbers of tsunamis or cyclones or tidal waves or hurricanes.  We blame those who still insist on residing around the targeted sea shores as if these cataclysms would disappear any time soon.  We are less sure how the high tension pylons amidst towns alter the health of children but active citizens must have learned the lesson to no longer wait for the results of research and experiments when health and safety are of concern.

 

We know that our intelligence is intrinsically malignant but the most malignant are those vicious, lengthy and recurring cycles of the decision processes to settle on remedial plans of actions. We frequently don’t know the mechanisms to resolve what we initiated and much less these processes that takes decades to recognize the problems and reach agreements to act and persevere in our programs.  Earth has mechanisms to stabilize harms done to it but it requires man to leave it alone for hundreds and thousands of years.

Every time man creates a problem to earth’s quality and stability we have to wait for a valiant scientist to sound the alarm.  Then we have to wait for this scientist to affiliate with a recognized international figure to give credit and weight for his discovery.  Then we have to wait for the convinced scientists and professionals to sign up a manifest and present it to the UN so that the UN might receives a wake up call to take on its responsibilities to preserving human rights for clean air, clean potable water, clean environment and human rights for health and safety and security.  Then we have to wait for one superpower to admit that what is happening is bad, that the level of tolerance, invariably set by unprofessional specialists in the field, is no longer acceptable.  Then we have to wait for one superpower to unilaterally agree to distance itself from the pack of wolves and actively remediate. Then we have to hear the complaints of economical infeasibility of regulations to remedial actions and then we have to set a period that lengthens to decades to start an effective program that agrees to everyone concerned.

Albert Schweitzer in his book of selected three calls to action “Peace or atomic war” describes the fundamental process that was initiated to put a halt on atomic explosion live experimentations.  You discover that physicists and not medical specialists volunteer to set levels of tolerances to radioactive emissions.  You hear Edward Teller, the “eminent” physicist and “father” of the hydrogen bomb say “We have got for our national security to keep testing for a harmless hydrogen bomb”; as if States at war intend not to inflict harms!  The UN had to wait for 9235 scientists and headed by Linus Pauling to sign a manifest in January 1958 explaining the lethal harm to the next generations of radioactive emissions.  Then the US Administration gradually stopped financing apologetics in Newspapers that the experiments constitute no tangible harms.

After the US, Britain and the Soviet Union were forced to agree on a moratorium to open air explosions they resumed their nuclear explosions in “controlled, secure, and safe” underground testing fields.  I never stumbled on a manuscript describing the consequences for underground nuclear testing.  Usually the consequences are of long term nature and time-line researches are too expensive to follow up.  My gut feeling is that these underground testing are directly linked to the current drastic increase in large scale seism, volcano irruptions and tidal wave catastrophes.  Earth may sustain one major destructive factor but it requires more than one main factor to destabilize earth and its environment.

Individual responsibility: Truth is a personal reflection (October 15, 2008)

The epilogue of one of Albert Schweitzer autobiographies awed me; he presented his philosophical view on life and Truth.

This article interprets and extrapolates on Schweitzer’s philosophy and the reader might as well consider this philosophy as mine too.

The only living Truth is what you arrived at individually by your own reflection and spiritual labor.

Any teaching that robs the individual of his own capacity of discovering his Truth is bogus; organizations and associations that claim to offer their unique way to spirituality by releasing the individual from his responsibility to think his way out have goals of amassing power through the unity of spiritually lazy members who lost confidence in their worth.

We exist because we still have the drive to find the Truth, and find it individually with confidence in our mental, rational, and spiritual ethical potentials.

The day-to-day struggle for survival may be the path to our sure death if we fail to find time to reflect on our spiritual power, to find time to exist as a free person regardless of the opinions imposed upon us by the masses surrounding us.

You cannot adore two Gods:

You have got to regain your optimism in your ethical spirituality in order to overcome the flood of consumerism, of ready made opinions and paradigms.

Respect of life is the antidote to pessimism because you learn to regain a sense of your responsibilities.

The affirmation of the living and active ethics of life. The elementary reflection on nature and interrelationship does lead to mysticism, a good active direction, because life should remain mysterious or what is the meaning of hope and faith.

Your responsibility to discover your Truth does not mean to reach a set of rigid, immutable, and uncompromising set of Truths; that is anathema to life.

Individual Truth is a shifting target and the more you invest time and knowledge to re-discover your soul the more zest you gain for an ethical living and love toward your neighbors.

When we give up re-thinking occasionally our previous decisions then we have decided to let go of life and our spiritual development.

For example, shall I kill the mosquito that has just bitten me or shall I take a break and massacre all the mosquitoes in the room or just let them live?  It is healthy to change our practiced decisions occasionally; it is a sign that we are still in the active life struggle for spiritual identity.

Knowledge would inevitably lead to pessimism because we are unable to grasp the reality of what life is offering us in misery and hatred and violence; but this is a good thing of acquiring knowledge because it is the way to strengthen our will and hope and love for individual Truth which will resurrect as we resume our quest to reflecting on life and nature.

The spirit born out of individual Truth is more powerful then the forces of circumstances.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2008
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