A Few Answers To Questions You Always Wondered About

September 27, 2017 | 2 Comments » | Topics: Answers

What is it like to be a woman in Saudia Arabia?

“I got into an accident in a taxi, and the ambulance refused to take me to the hospital until my male guardian arrived. I had lost a lot of blood. If he didn’t arrive that minute, I would’ve been dead by now,” tweeted Rulaa, 19-year-old Saudi Arabian female teenager in October 2016.

In December 2015, women were allowed to vote and stand in elections in Saudi Arabia for first time in the modern history of the kingdom. The religious establishment opposed the move with the Grand Mufti describing it as “opening the door to evil”, while women’s rights campaigners said it heralded a turning point for women’s rights in this tightly regulated absolute monarchy. In the same year, a gender gap index by the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia as among the worst countries to be a woman, placing it at 134 out of 145 nations. Did the election signal an improvement in the status of women in Saudi Arabia, or was it window dressing?

The country is run by the Al Saud family with the support of the Wahhabi muslim sect, which is deeply conservative, and gave birth to the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS. The authority of the ruling family relies on the continued support of the Wahhabi muslim clerics who helped them conquer local tribes and create the kingdom in 1902 in return for enforcing Wahhabi islam. The leaders of the sect are opposed to any change in the rights of women, so even though a small number of the ruling members of the ruling family have suggested expanding women’s rights, no action has been taken to date for fear of what their reaction might be.

Under the late King Abdullah, it looked like women’s rights were inching forward, but under King Salman who took over in January 2015, the trend has been reversed. King Salman fired members of the government in favour of more rights for women and filled the roles with hardliners. He also got rid of the only women in government, the minister of education.

Municipalities have no real power – 978 women stood for election and 20 were elected out of a possible total of 2,100. The enforcement of restrictions has made it difficult for the women to fulfil their roles in some areas. So, for example, some councils will not allow women to attend meetings where men are present which means not being able to attend any council meetings.

The guardianship system in Saudi Arabia means that women are in effect, legal minors for their entire lives. Saudi women required the permission of their male guardian to vote or stand in the election of 2015. Many guardians simply refused permission. Unsurprisingly, only about 130,000 women registered to vote, compared to 1.4 million men.

As Saudi Arabia is strictly segregated on gender grounds, women candidates were not permitted to talk to possible male supporters directly. All communication with men had to take place through a male spokesman appointed by their guardian. Sex segregation is strictly monitored by the religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, in all work and public spaces other than in hospitals. Unlawful mixing between sexes leads to the immediate arrest of the violators and criminal charges. The commission is brutal in exacting punishment which is consistently more severe for women.

The combination of sex segregation and male guardianship has grave consequences for the health and safety of women. In 2002, when a girl’s school caught fire, 15 girls died because the religious police would not let them escape the burning school as they did have the right religious clothing to appear in public. One witness said he saw three policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya”.

Officials are entitled to require guardian’s permission for a woman to be “admitted, discharged, or receive treatment.” For example, in July 2015, after a car chase left the driver dead and his wife and daughter in critical condition, King Fahd Hospital in Baha postponed amputating the wife’s hand because she had no male legal guardian to authorize the procedure.

Very recently, Saudi Arabia banned domestic violence, widespread in the country but this is a meaningless law as women require the permission of their guardian to file a complaint, even when the complaint is against the guardian. So a wife abused by her husband, needs his permission to file a complaint against him for the abuse!! Even, on the rare occasions when a prosecution takes place, the consequences for men are extremely lenient. For example, in May, Jeddah’s Summary Court convicted a man for physically abusing his wife to the point of hospitalization, and sentenced him to learning by heart five parts of the Quran and 100 sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, instructing that she must return to him once recovered.

Human Rights Watch released a video captioned “Even when they abuse their wives, Saudi men still act as guardians over them #TogetherTo EndMaleGuardianship”, which has been shared more than 2,300 times and gained more 8,400 ‘likes’ in 12 hours. It shows a woman being beaten by her husband before he orders her to leave. She goes to a shelter and is told to reconcile with her husband. It proceeds to show her husband signing a sheet of paper before pulling the crying woman out of the shelter and beating her in the home again.

It is not just about voting which hardly seems like the turning point for women’s rights some claimed. Women remain powerless in Saudi Arabia to decide how to live their lives, and to oppose abuse and oppression. Education reinforces roles that match “women’s nature and future role as wives and mothers” and employment law requires that “women shall work in all fields suitable to their nature” (article 149) in adherence with Sharia. Men still have power over women because of the guardianship system which requires that every adult Saudi woman, regardless of her economic or social status, must obtain permission from her male guardian to work, travel, study, seek medical treatment, enrol children at school, and marry. When women are cruelly treated, men are almost immune from prosecution, or on the rare occasions when it happens, suffer only minor consequences. Being a woman in Saudi Arabia must be demeaning and unpleasant.




What do Tibetan Buddhist monks actually do day-to-day and why are they more well known than other Buddhist monk groups?

My family is Thai Buddhist, and I was raised that way, so I can at least tell you about what it’s like for us.

The answer is, it depends. It depends on where you are, what kind of temple you’re at, if at all, and how far along you are in your, lets call it, career, as a monk.

There are a few things that are the same, for most monks. Traditionally, you wake up very early, take your offering bowl (which is one of the few possessions that you’re allowed to own) and go from house to house asking for food. Lunch is the same way. We don’t eat dinner since two meals are seen as enough to sustain you, especially since as a monk you aren’t engaged in hard labor. This is one aspect of the Middle Path, where eating too little (malnutrition) and eating too much (gluttony) are both distractions from you trying to achieve enlightenment.

The rest of your time is spent either learning the Buddha’s teachings (the Dhamma), meditating, or teaching other people Buddhism. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, it depends.

For example, in the US, there isn’t a tradition of giving food to random monks knocking on your door. So here, the monks live at the temple and people bring the offerings to them. Every week, we’d have a ceremony where people would symbolically put food in the offering bowls, and then give money afterwards to support the temple and the monks. So, just adapting to different circumstances.

Now, about the actual studying Buddhism thing. The whole point of becoming a monk is that you are giving up the material world (wealth, physical pleasure, having kids) in order to focus on attaining enlightenment and breaking out of the cycle of reincarnation. So at the start of your life as a monk, when you’re first ordained, most of your time is going to be spent reading and memorizing the Dhamma. The Buddha never himself wrote down his teachings, so each sect has their own version of what he said, as well as their different interpretations of how to practice. For example, Thai monks are not allowed to drink alcohol, because it clouds the mind and is an earthly pleasure which is distracting you from enlightenment. Japanese Buddhist monks, though, can drink. I’m pretty sure there’s literally millions of differences like that between all the different sects, so remember that when you come across something that contradicts me, like your Indian Buddhist friend telling you I’m 100% wrong about something, that’s probably just cultural or sectarian differences.

Anyway. So, as you progress, you’ll spend less time learning the teachings and more time interpreting them. Senior monks will teach you about what a certain parable means, or the implications of one interpretation or another. You’ll still be doing a lot of meditating, at all points in your career. I would say that 4 hours per day, spread out into increments, is normal. Sometimes a lot more, if you’re in a period when you’re struggling with something, or trying for intense self improvement. Sometimes less, if you’re busy with other duties.

What other duties, you ask? Well, monks don’t get to just hole up and study. They have some things that they give back to the community. There’s rituals and ceremonies that you’ll have to perform. Weddings, funerals, births, sermons, these are all typical things that monks are expected to do. Some of them are a little weird to western standards. For example, whenever a building is being built, the owners will give an offering to the temple for some monks to come and bless it. And there’s loads of random things like that that will take up a monks time.

Remember way up at the top when I talked about where your temple was? So, in rural Thailand, in small villages, often the temple will function as a school. The children will go and, in addition to getting a religious education, they’ll learn to read and write, maybe some basic math or history too.

– earmite 




If a plane crash is certain, are the passengers informed?

In 2000 my wife and I along with my 10 & 12 year old children flew Spirit airlines non-stop from Detroit to Los Angeles for a Disney vacation. My daughter and I were in the bulkhead seats on one side of the aisle while my wife and son were in row 2 on the other side. 20 minutes into the flight we hear a loud bang and the plane immediately fills with a white cloud of vapor so thick we couldn’t see the person next to us. It wasn’t smoke because we didn’t cough though.

The pilot came on the intercom and said ‘Ladies & Gentlemen, we’ve obviously had a malfunction. The smoke will clear very quickly. (which it did). We will land at the closest airport which is Grand Rapids Michigan. Please hold on for more info.’

So, everybody is pretty calm for a couple of minutes until the stewardesses began the crash positions talk. I was very calm and reassured my daughter that everything would be fine. HOWEVER, from our seats in the front row we could see into the galley where the two most senior stewardesses were openly sobbing and praying over a Rosary. Holy crap, this was serious.

A few minutes before landing the stewardesses began shouting as loud as they absolutely could ‘Heads Down’, ‘Emergency Position’. Non stop for 6 or 7 straight minutes. They were really serious. And clearly afraid. The pilot had never relayed anything other than a calm ‘no big deal’ demeanor.

It only took about 15 minutes for us to land smoothly on a runway in Ypsilanti Mich surrounded by fire trucks. Then the real problems began.

First off, I live in the Detroit area and just a few days prior to leaving there was a TV News segment on Spirit engine parts filling milk crates on peoples’ lawns in Detroit. two weeks earlier an engine had fallen off a jet, making the local news only, and Spirit never bothered to even retrieve the parts. Where the hell is the FAA? I didn’t pay too much attention to it because that only happens to other people.

During our nearly full day stranded I had the opportunity to speak with the pilot. I asked him how serious this had actually been. After all, I saw Airport. A jet can fly on one engine. Right? Apparently not. He told me that when an engine blows you’re landing in 10 to 15 minutes. Airport or not. Simple as that.

So, after nearly 24 hours delay and countless run-arounds by Spirit we got to California.

Fast forward to a week later at the airport waiting for our flight home. I began chatting up a Spirit worker in coveralls. He said he had flown down from wherever to check on a problem a jet had a week earlier. I told him that I was on that plane and asked what the story was. What he told me was the scariest thing I’ve ever heard about airlines.

He said that he was officially there to investigate ‘smoke in the cabin’. Everyone knew that an engine had exploded but they don’t put that in the paperwork because then the FAA would get involved. He flies down to LA verifies an ‘engine problem’ and flies back. Then Spirit can replace the engine as a part of routine maintenance without ever notifying the FAA. He said this is also exactly what had happened 3 weeks earlier in Detroit. That’s why nobody picked up the engine parts after they rained from the sky. In his view, that was also why the most dangerous airline flying had a great safety record.

So, the pilot doesn’t always relay the danger level and if you really want to know, keep an eye on the most senior stewards.

– Don Preston




What Makes LeBron James So Good?

If you were going to design the world’s best basketball player, you might do something like this:

Make him big enough so that he can play either wing spot and even climb into power forward should the need arise. Magic Johnson was 6-feet-9 and famously played center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 finals. Ben Wallace was only 6-feet-9, and he was the most dominant defensive center in the game for a few years. Larry Bird was 6-feet-9 and he was the most dynamic forward in history. You don’t want to go much shorter than that because you start to give up size, and if you want to play inside out, size is critical. Not just height, but having the kind of frame that will support the weight needed to bang inside. Guys like Ron Artest and Shawn Marion are good modern-day equivalents. LeBron James is like Magic Johnson, only with 20 pounds more muscle, better conditioning and diet (in Magic’s defense he came up in an era where it was still OK to go out drinking and do a nontrivial amount of drugs the night before a game), and a football wide receiver’s hands.

This perfect player will need to be a student of the game and understand it from a coach’s perspective. He’ll need to know how to assess other players and motivate them, how to game plan and how to build a plan for skills improvement. When LeBron James was 9 years old, he was sent to live with a youth football coach. This coach taught him the game of basketball, and with no father in his life, LeBron became a student of the game from the various local coaches he had until he graduated high school. LeBron didn’t come into the league as a starry-eyed kid thinking about earning a few bucks, but a student of basketball for 10 years.

You’d want him to be able to score at will but also understand how to feed his teammates. It turns out that in basketball, five people take the court at the same time, and effort and energy seem to be among the primary indicators of success. One way to motivate a team and get the best effort out of it is to feed its members precise passes in places where they’re likely to score. Get them a few buckets early and they’ll kill themselves for you all game. When LeBron was in high school, he played for a team coached by Dru Joyce II. LeBron’s teammate was Dru Joyce III, who got most of the good touches. LeBron’s first taste at organized ball was keeping the coach’s son happy so he could get more playing time and more coaching attention. LeBron’s basketball genesis wasn’t about how to score; it was about how to win with four overmatched teammates against the toughest teams in the country. LeBron’s job was to equalize as distributor, and then eventually as lead scorer and left right up down left left right right God Mode.

At some point, you need to introduce pain. And not just the pain associated with being born of a single teenage parent who had to give him up when he was 9 to family and friends who could afford to take care of him. No, I’m talking about the kind of pain and humiliation that happens to an adult, the kind that makes you question reality. Not the kind that can be forgotten, but the kind that introduces a fight-or-flight mechanism that makes you rethink your whole life and that maybe everybody who ever believed in you was just making a horrible mistake. The kind of pain that Jordan felt when the Pistons shut him down over and over again and Isaiah shut him out at the all-star game. The kind of pain that makes you hate. LeBron hates the Celtics. And Tyson Chandler. And Derrick Rose. And probably Michael Jordan, at least a little bit. LeBron was reading everything anybody said about him in the media, and a handful of guys were saying stuff on the court. And then they’d beat him. This of course culminated in the most un-self-aware series of PR events in recent memory, something that resulted in him and his team getting boo’d in every arena they played in for a solid year.

No hero narrative is complete without a fall into the depths of despair. James’ fall resulted in him spending two weeks at his house in drawn-shades, beard-growing, isolation. Brian Windorst of ESPN writes:

After James left the arena that night, he said he immediately went into a two-week depression, walling himself off from everyone. He didn’t play basketball, he didn’t talk basketball to pretty much anyone. He didn’t even shave. Looking in the mirror after days of not shaving and daring himself to watch a few minutes of that hideous Finals game film — especially Game 4 — can apparently cause a man to admit it was time for some changes. 

The season after that he won the championship. Then he did it again. Then he got back for two more tries. LeBron James is, right now, the most dominant player in the NBA, having an effect on the game through his own play but also making everybody around him 30 percent better.

Where he ends up on the all-time list is still in dispute, but there’s no dispute now that he is firmly entrenched near the top. LeBron James is almost the perfect definition of what a basketball player should be, from his psychological makeup to his now famous ability to adapt his game quickly for any situation. He’s one of the best ever, and those don’t come around very often. 

– Jonathan Brill




Do Hard Work and Determination Alone Make Billionaires?

No. One of the many qualities that separate self-made billionaires from the rest of us is their ability to ask the right questions. 

This is not the right question. (Which is not to say it’s a bad question. It just won’t get that deep part of your mind working to help you—mulling things over when you think you’re thinking about something else, sending up flares of insight.)

You’re determined. So what? You haven’t been racing naked through shark-infested waters yet. Will you be just as determined when you wash up on some deserted island, disoriented and bloody and ragged and beaten and staring into the horizon with no sign of rescue?

We live in a culture that celebrates determination and hard work, but understand: These are the qualities that keep you in the game after most everybody else has left, or until somebody bigger and stronger picks you up and hurls you back out to sea. Determination and hard work are necessary, yes, but they are the minimum requirements. As in: the bare minimum.

A lot of people work extremely hard and through no fault of their own—bad luck, the wrong environment, unfortunate circumstances—struggle to survive.

How can you leverage your time and your work?

Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion (not literally). Then develop that potential. Choose one thing and become a master of it. Choose a second thing and become a master of that. When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before, and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

The world doesn’t throw a billion dollars at a person because the person wants it or works so hard he feels he deserves it. (The world does not care what you want or deserve.) The world gives you money in exchange for something it perceives to be of equal or greater value: something that transforms an aspect of the culture, reworks a familiar story or introduces a new one, alters the way people think about the category and make use of it in daily life. There is no road map, no blueprint for this; a lot of people will give you a lot of advice, and most of it will be bad, and a lot of it will be good and sound but you’ll have to figure out how it doesn’t apply to you because you’re coming from an unexpected angle. And you’ll be doing it alone, until you develop the charisma and credibility to attract the talent you need to come with you.

Have courage. (You will need it.) And good luck. (You’ll need that too.)

– Justine Musk


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