August 17, 2014

Monique Evans Embarrasses Herself

Monique Evans, Miss Texas 2014, embarrassing herself at the Texas Rangers game.  Seriously, MLB needs to institute a few rules for people whom they're considering to throw the first pitch.  I'd suggest, at the very least, that the ball must cross the plate (we'll be generous and say anywhere between the two batters' boxes) and that the ball must not touch the ground before reaching the catcher (no bouncing the ball on the ground or rolling it, like Miss Evans did here - apparently she confused baseball with bowling).

August 14, 2014

Robin Williams on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

This is a must–watch episode. Essentially, Williams stole the show within 10 seconds.

August 9, 2014

Jessie Ware - What You Won't Do For Love

I heard this cover of the Bobby Caldwell song What You Won't Do for Love on Internet radio yesterday. I'm not familiar with Jessie Ware's work, but I really like this version.

August 4, 2014

Alan Parsons - Fragile

(Yeah, I know; I'm on a roll. Two days in a row.)

I had heard about Alan's new song, Fragile, some time ago, but I only got to see this music video and hear the song for the first time last night. It's pretty good. Check it out!

August 3, 2014

Conflicts Forum on Palestine

This excerpt from a longer essay on Conflicts Forum was published on July 31st. The point mentioned at the beginning of the fourth paragraph (whether Hamas' tactics can work in flat, sandy Gaza) seems to have been answered in the affirmative; otherwise, the essay seems to be spot on. There are several points mentioned here that I haven't seen anyone else address, which is why I wanted to share this excerpt.

The rest of the essay deals with Iraq/ISIS/Iran and Ukraine/Russia, so if you have an interest in these conflicts, you might want to click on the link above.

In Palestine, we see something akin: Israel has used the pretext that it was searching for three young settlers taken hostage, and ‘presumed’ to be still alive (but whom the Israeli government knew to be dead, and to have been killed by Palestinians who were not Hamas), to degrade Hamas institutionally in the West Bank, as well as in Gaza – with Prime Minister Netanyahu saying (in Hebrew) “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan” – Or, in other words, ‘no two-state solution’ and effectively no end to the occupation.

Netanyahu used the murders to nurse Israeli popular anger at Hamas (whom the PM said repeatedly was responsible – when it was not).  Mirror passions were then ignited amongst Palestinians in wake of the revenge immolation alive of a sixteen-year-old Palestinian boy. Netanyahu’s aim in this political deceit was to use the crisis firstly, to hobble Hamas in the West Bank; and secondly, to try to re-impose the status quo in Gaza (the return of the PA to governing Gaza). The December 2012 ceasefire agreement, brokered with Hamas, which Israel claims Hamas to have breached with retaliatory rocket fire – in fact provided for some alleviations on the longstanding encirclement and siege of the Gazan people – alleviations were never enacted by Israel

Netanyahu now wishes to re-impose the unalleviated siege (i.e. the earlier status quo) under the guise of a ceasefire agreement, whereas Hamas seeks to break it definitively. It plans to do this by following the tactics used by Hizbullah in Lebanon in the 2006 war:  Hizbullah’s leadership was buried deep underground; it allowed the initial aerial carpet bombing to roll over their (largely) unaffected military forces – and Hizbullah fighters managed to keep on firing rockets into Israel.  The purpose of the rockets was never intended to inflict a military defeat on Israel, but was intended to force IDF ‘boots on the ground’ in South Lebanon (ideal guerrilla country), where the IDF could be made to experience pain.  Ultimately the only answer to rockets whose operators can ‘fire and flee’ in less than 60 seconds – well before Israeli forces can lock onto the firing point – can only be ‘boots on the ground’.

It remains to be seen whether Hamas’ tactics will work (Gaza is mainly flat and largely sand – unlike south Lebanon – which puts Hamas at a distinct disadvantage).  But clearly the Hamas military wing, who are the ones calling the shots, do not want a ceasefire at this time – especially “a fraudulent ceasefire”.  ”My Israeli source”, commentator Richard Silverstein, writes, “who was consulted as part of the negotiations, tells me that this was not, in reality, an Egyptian proposal.  It was, in fact, an Israeli proposal presented in the guise of an Egyptian proposal.  Israel wrote the ceasefire protocol.  One side prepared the ceasefire, and essentially presented it to itself and accepted it.  The other side wasn’t consulted”. Tony Blair, the Quartet Envoy, similarly facilitated the ‘ceasefire’.

Hamas wants to force Netanyahu into a ground incursion (and seems now to have succeeded in this).  And Netanyahu and President Sisi hope to use any ‘ceasefire’ agreement to return Gaza to the status quo ante - and to stage the replacement of Hamas as the source of governance and authority with the Palestinian Authority (in other words, to stage a ‘soft coup’ in Gaza as in 2007).

But the point of all this is precisely its pointlessness. Israeli security officials openly say that ‘mowing the grass (i.e. killing Gazans in sufficient numbers to deter aggression – until the next round of conflict) is pointless. It is strictly tactical and short-term, and achieves nothing strategic. Israel just has to continue ‘mowing the grass’.

The Palestinian issue (though demoted in regional attention over recent years), nonetheless is both neuralgic and iconic for most Muslims.  It still remains the fulcrum around which regional differences may be buried.  It can and does have the ability to de-stabilise politics (Arab leaders still fear its prominent featuring on news broadcasts) – albeit not to the extent they did in earlier decades.  It is plain that the situation in Gaza is critically unstable and cannot continue indefinitely; the two-state project has been dead for some years (Martin Indyk recently confirmed its demise), yet Europeans and Americans seem paralysed in their decision-making: they simply find it easier – given the strong political cross-currents  – to broadly let events take care of themselves.

April 24, 2014

Meskel Square, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Traffic lights? We don't need no stinkin' traffic lights! But, seriously, count the number of accidents in this video. it's exactly zero!

February 28, 2014

Rain

As those of us who live in Singapore know, we've gone for a month without rain, and our normally luxuriant lawns are all toasty brown now. At the grocery store, the cashier asked me, "Would you like anything else?" I thought for a moment, then said, "Yes, I'd like some rain, please. I prefer that the grass be green." She didn't say anything, but she did smile.

Update: I'm happy to report that Singapore began getting the rain we needed several weeks ago. We started getting rain again about nine or ten days after I originally wrote the above post. While the lawns have all returned to their usual emerald green color, the trees are very much hit-and-miss. Perhaps a quarter of all trees here suffered badly from the stress of having no water. (Dead leaves would fall from the trees like it was autumn in New England, a very unusual sight here in tropical Singapore.) While most of the dead leaves that can fall off have done so, there are still many trees with either dead limbs or the tree itself has died from the month-long drought. Those will need to be cut down and replaced eventually. I expect it will take some time, perhaps up to a year or so, before the last traces of this dry season disappear from sight.

October 29, 2013

August 25, 2013

Banu Islam

“I am a Muslim. I exist only to serve Allah (swt) and His creation.”

On the whole, humanity is rather immature. We are born this way and it normally takes us at least two decades, if not more, to reach a level of cognitive and behavioral maturity that is acceptable to ourselves and society. This level of maturity is taught to us through many means, one of which is the institution of religion. Most religions, including Islam, seek to mature humanity. In Islam, we Muslims mature through our submission to Allah (swt) by conforming to His rules and legislation, which is presented to us in the form of shari'ah. The rules and legislation by which we mature aren't onerous, but they do take a significant level of discipline and determination in order to be carried out successfully and consistently.

This "discipline and determination" is known to us as jihad. It is the greater jihad, the jihad by which we seek to control and contain our nafs, our ego. Those of us who are parents (and I am the father to a five-year-old daughter) see the need to control the nafs daily through our children. "Abah, I want this! Ibu, I want that!" As children get older, their desires become more sophisticated, but their maturity levels also increase as well, insha'allah. People usually get to a point where their material needs are met, but their maturity levels have also plateaued.

The problem is that these maturity levels may or may not have reached their full potential. Have each of us met that full level of maturity? For example, consider three types of behavior: drinking alcohol, gambling and tattooing. All three behaviors are considered both legal (usually) and acceptable within modern non-Muslim society. But even while these behaviors may be acceptable in non-Muslim society, they are considered unacceptable among Muslims.

Engaging in these behaviors are signs of immaturity. An immature person wastes his or her money on alcoholic drinks that can cause numerous individual and societal problems (let alone being a poison to one's body). Through gambling, an immature person wastes his or her money in the unlikely possibility of winning a large payoff. Through tattooing, an immature person "decorates" his or her body with art that is often regretted (and sometimes removed) later in life. A Muslim avoids these immature behaviors altogether, thus bypassing the pain these behaviors may cause to themselves and to others.

Instead of engaging in immature behaviors, the Muslim engages in mature behaviors, especially that of salat (prayer), sawm (fasting), and zakat (and saudaqah, the giving of charity). Each of these behaviors are not only mandated as part of the Five Pillars of Islam, but are of supreme importance for increasing and maintaining the maturity level of Muslims individually and as a society. Salat is of primary importance. It not only restores our focus on Allah (swt) throughout the day, but also helps us to remember (through the various surahs we recite in the individual rakah) what we need to do for society as a whole.

Sawm is similar to salat except that, instead of being an intellectual reminder, sawm is visceral. We feel the hunger that the less-fortunate undergo so that we may acutely understand their needs and be motivated to help society. And, whereas salat and sawm are reminders for action, zakat and saudaqah are the actions themselves, the actual giving of charity to the poor, either directly to those in need, or indirectly, to agencies who will help us distribute the charity to others.

It should be noted that the giving of zakat and, especially, saudaqah goes not only to other Muslims in need, but also to non-Muslims as well. Muslims must act as khalifa, guardians of the community and the environment, to help in the process of maturing humanity, whether the individuals are Muslims or not. In that respect we try to be like the tide, lifting all boats together. We are lifting not only our community but that of the non-Muslim community as well.

Ideally, our goal should be to strive to bring everyone up to the minimum levels (myself included) that are expected of all Muslims in Islam. There are probably very few people who don't fail in one aspect of Islam or another. Are we only meeting what is expected of us with regard to the five pillars (especially that of salat, sawm, and zakat/saudaqah) but of the other aspects of a Muslim lifestyle as well? For example, do we behave with the proper adab? Do we eat halal food consistently, especially in those places where halal food and drink is not so easily available? Do we cover ourselves properly, both men and women, and lower our gaze appropriately, both men and women? Do we minimize our exposure to the negative aspects of our culture (especially as broadcast through the media and entertainment industries)? Do we minimize our exposure to the negative aspects of our economy, such as with regard to interest and casino capitalism as a whole? (I realize this last part is extremely difficult given the pervasiveness of the global interest-based economy. Still, does one try?) Islam addresses all of these issues and provides solutions for the maturation of humanity, but do we listen and implement these solutions into our lives?

Just as parents set limits on their children's behavior, Islam has set limits on our behaviors. Some, the immature, may whine and complain about those limits (with a few going into outright rebellion and/or apostasy because their egos cannot handle those limitations). However, the majority of us understand how we benefit from such self-restraint. One has only to look at the troubles plaguing the non-Muslim world, created by their indulgence in various vices, to see what we can and do avoid: the loss of wealth through gambling or the purchase of alcohol and/or drugs, the increased chance of illnesses through the consumption of alcohol, drugs or other haram products, the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, especially through zina, the loss and heartbreak of families split apart after cases of adultery, and so on. Moreover, these limitations are lifelong. We do not "graduate" from the limitations once we reach a certain age. Most, if not all, of these limitations will remain with us until death.

What also makes matters difficult is that many of these limitations have little or no ability to be enforced externally; they must be enforced internally. For example, governments can and do enforce some Islamic limitations (even by secular governments) to one degree or another. The sale of alcohol might be restricted to certain hours or prohibited altogether; the sale of various drugs may be strictly regulated or prohibited, depending upon the substance, and so forth. But other Islamic limitations are not enforced by various governments except in certain select cases; for example, riba, zina and adultery. Thus, the individual is left to him- or herself to maintain the limitations. This is the reason for the greater jihad. Can we maintain our ability as individuals and as a society to reach our full potential?

I began to write this essay last December while vacationing in Japan and reading one of Frank Herbert's Dune novels. It is unfinished, from my perspective, and perhaps I will finish it in the future, insha'allah. A couple months ago, I came across another essay, Psychology, Islam & Self-Control, that says much of what I'm trying to say here. I recommend that you read that essay as well.