December 30, 2007

Catholic Naked Jogging

Odd news story out of Colorado. The incident actually took place back in June, but this news report is as of December 20th. One would think that if he "sweats profusely if he wears clothing," then he needs to move further north... say, Alaska? Then he should be able to do nude jogging in the wilderness (and be a feast for the mosquitoes) to his (and their) content.

GREELEY, Colo. - A Catholic priest charged with indecent exposure after being accused of jogging naked in the pre-dawn darkness has pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial.

The Rev. Robert Whipkey was arrested June 22 in Frederick, about 25 miles north of Denver, after an officer saw him walking on a street naked at 4:35 a.m. Whipkey told police he jogged naked because he sweats profusely if he wears clothing, according an arrest report.

Whipkey did not speak at a hearing Tuesday, and neither he nor his attorneys would comment afterward. His trial is scheduled for March.

Whipkey served parishes in Frederick, Mead and Erie but was placed on administrative leave by the Archdiocese of Denver in August.

The archdiocese said Whipkey was investigated for "inappropriate personal behavior" more than eight years ago when he was a pastor in Sterling. The archdiocese said that incident did not involve "physical or sexual contact with another individual," but it gave no other details.

December 29, 2007

Psychopathic American Politics, Giuliani-Style

Personally, I don't think I could ever vote for any Republican ever again. Not even for a dog catcher's position. Republicans have shown that they can't be trusted to run any administration. They lack American values.

And then there's Rudy Giuliani.

The Guardian has produced a video that intersperses clips from a rally for Giuliani in someone's home in Manchester, New Hampshire with clips from an interview with Giuliani's biographer, Wayne Barrett, who's ... shall we say ... less than impressed with him.

What immediately caught the attention of other people (e.g., Crooks & Liars) was a comment made by John Deady, co-chair for New Hampshire’s Veterans for Rudy:

...(Rudy Giuliani has) the knowledge and judgment to attack one of the most difficult problems in current history. And that is the rise of the Muslims. And make no mistake about it, this hasn’t happened for a thousand years. These people are very, very dedicated. They’re also very smart, in their own way. And we need to keep the feet to the fire and keep pressing these people ‘til we defeat them or chase them back to their caves, or in other words, get rid of them.

While Deady's words are certainly ignorant and offensive, another man interviewed in the video comes out as saying (at the 3:15 mark of the Guardian video), "You have to say, 'Enough with this; we're going to protect what is ours. If it means we got to shoot you in the head, so be it.'"

Yeah, that's going to win hearts and minds, all right. Welcome to psychopathic American politics, Giuliani-style.

Update: According to Faux News, John Deady has resigned from the Giuliani campaign after making his Islamophobic comments:

Official Statement from Rudy Giuliani New Hampshire Chairman Wayne Semprini:

“Mr. Deady offered his resignation from his volunteer position in the campaign and I accepted his resignation.”

December 24, 2007

Why Islam?

I just came across this blog post from the religion writer for the Chicago Tribune, Manya Brachear. The Islamic Circle of North America-Chicago has put up a billboard on I-294 near O'Hare International Airport that reads "ISLAM" and has a toll-free number and website address ( I think it's an interesting way to approach dawah and, apparently, the billboard has led to some reversions, alhamdulillah. Below is a Youtube video from ICNA showing the billboard and providing additional information at the end (run time: 1:14).

In the past month, I’ve received more than a dozen calls about a billboard erected near O’Hare Airport asking “Why Islam?” Why drivers have chosen to call me instead of the toll-free number on the sign frankly baffles me.

I decided to let Sabeel Ahmed, a spokesman for the group sponsoring the billboards, address some of the callers’ concerns.

Callers wanted to know why such a billboard was necessary. What did it accomplish? And who was funding such an expensive advertising endeavor? And who calls that number? (I started to wonder myself when my phone kept ringing.)

Most callers to the hotline seek translations of the Quran in English or Spanish or literature about the faith, said Ahmed, a spokesman for the Islamic Circle of North America. A smaller percentage asks specific questions about events in the Middle East. Some are Muslims grateful for the positive publicity. Some have made donations to help fund the campaign.

Some who have dialed 1-877-WHY-ISLAM have converted to the faith, Ahmed said. For them, the Chicago chapter of ICNA has started classes in Chicago and Villa Park.

Then, Ahmed said, there are the angry callers who just want to tell Muslims they’re wrong.

"Usually I listen to what they’re saying because they’re already emotional to begin with,” Ahmed said. “We want them to express their views."

James Gustafson of Chicago was one of those drivers who called me instead of the number. He was indeed angry.

"They’re rubbing it in our face,” he said. “I don’t buy what they’re saying. These people are not standing up like they should against these radical Islamic terrorists.”

Ahmed has heard those sentiments.

"After they slow down, we go about explaining to them in the context. Suicide is forbidden by Islam and killing innocent people is forbidden,” he said. "We recite them words from the Quran that say that. Muslims should not be judged by the actions of a few people, just like Christians and Jews should not be judged by actions of a few.”

A quick glance at comments posted to The Seeker in recent months shows that a number of people harshly judge Islam, and occasionally other faiths.

Instead of asking “Why Islam?” I’d like to ask “Why so much hostility?”

December 23, 2007

No Kidding

Odd Stories from Asia

I picked up a copy of Asia Weekly yesterday; this is a small magazine published in Hong Kong, made up primarily of news stories about Asia from newspapers and magazines worldwide. In a recent issue (#40; December 10th-16th), there were a number of short but very odd stories that are worth sharing.

First, in the "Would You Believe It?" section, a couple of stories from China:

Health requirements are so strict for women hoping to enter the People's Liberation Army that some recruits try to make up for deficient oral health by replacing their rotten gnashers with dog teeth, reports China's Shenyang Evening News. According to an "unnamed military expert," one recruit from a recent class of 268 young women in Shenyang "failed her physical check last week because she had canine [dog's] teeth."

Doctors in China admit they are baffled after a man began to perspire green sweat. Cheng Shunguo, 52, of Wuhan, says his sweat turned green in the middle of November. "I noticed that my underwear and bed sheets were all green," he said, reports Ananova. Doctors carried out blood tests on Cheng, but found everything to be normal. "We cannot find the cause," admitted a spokesman for the hospital, which reported the case to media in the hope of finding a solution. In 2004, a similar case was reported in China's Guangdong province.

A migrant worker from Chengdu has suffered from a "strange affliction" since 1996, reports China Daily. When suddenly gripped by bouts of the unknown illness, the middle-aged woman is only able to walk backwards. Doctors have been unable to find the cause.

The next story comes from a two-page feature, "My Own Private Korea," which is a selection of excerpts from the writings of George Clayton Foulk, an American naval officer who was an intelligence officer attached to the US Embassy in Korea in the early 1880s (and who was fluent in Korean). The following excerpt comes from the forthcoming book, Inside the Hermit Kingdom: The 1884 Korea Travel Diary of George Clayton Foulk (which sounds fascinating):

A private encounter with two female entertainers:
At one place, two rather pretty girls came in. As usual at first, they were scared out of their wits at the sight of a man with short hair, and "red" (brown) at that. But after I had showed them a mirror, some photographs, &c., and had talked a while, they became quite at home. They sang for me, and told me stories. Suddenly one of them, the prettiest too, reached behind her and brought out a brass bowl, the Korean chamber pot, which girls of caste and officers always carry with them (by a servant) when they go away from home. Without moving an inch from her position, three feet from me, she put this under her clothes, and while she made the pot ring, went on with her conversation as if nothing at all unusual was going on! Great Caesar! I have been to strange lands, but I never experienced anything like this!

Finally, an obituary for a Malaysian policeman who had plenty of chances to die while on duty but finally passed away at home:

To most of his colleagues, as well as the criminals he was chasing, Kulasingam Sabaratnam, or "Kula," might have well been the toughest person they knew on the Royal Malaysian Police Force, says The New Straits Times. He was known for taking risks and surviving them. "Since you all have wives and families, let me go first," he usually told his officers before an action. "I'm not married." Kulasingam's fierce dedication to his work helped to bring about the demise of 25 secret societies and several of the most notorious criminals active in Malaysia during the 1970s, such as the "infamous" robber Botak Chin. In his 35 years on the fource, Kula was spashed with acid, shot, attacked by an axe-wielding psychopath and nearly crushed by a falling tree. In the end, he died after slipping in his bathroom and fracturing a hip. He was bedridden after hip-replacement surgery and died November 29 at the age of 77 after contracting pneumonia. Over 200 people paid their last respects to the former Johor Criminal Investigation Department chief at his funeral.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raje'un.

December 22, 2007

The Call: Let the Day Begin

Crooks & Liars has an interesting video on their "Late Night Music Club" today with what they call "a batch of pure, unstepped-on science fiction geek musical heroin." The song is The Call's "Let the Day Begin," played to a video montage of clips from "Battlestar Galactica" (the SciFi channel version). It's a rather interesting video. Check it out. (Run time: 4:01)

December 21, 2007

Dan Fogelberg, RIP

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raje'un

This is a few days late, but I wanted to pay tribute to a great singer, Dan Fogelberg, who died of prostate cancer last Sunday, the 16th, at the age of 56. (Guys, if you haven't had a medical checkup in a while, now's the time!)

The following video is of Dan in concert, singing his 1981 hit, "Leader of the Band" (run time: 4:28), my favorite song of his.

December 19, 2007

Tied for Third

I'm happy to say, alhamdulillah, that I tied for third in this month's photography competition, sponsored by PhotoVideoi magazine. This was the second time I had entered a photo for the competition; the first photo hadn't made the top 20 (out of a total of 42 submissions). This month's theme, "Color," drew in a total of 76 submissions, so I'm rather happy that my photo did so well. This is the photo I submitted, along with the caption I wrote:

Hungry Ghost Offering

This photo showed for me the value of making mistakes. Several years ago, at the start of the Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival, my wife and I walked around the neighborhood taking photos. I intended to take a regular picture of this small shrine using my flash (as the picture was taken in the early evening). However, I had forgotten to turn the flash on and this was the result. By contrast, the next photo I took, with the flash on, was rather boring and uninspiring; the light took all the mystery out of the photo. I've always enjoyed this photo for the red hues. The natural light complements the colors of the fruit and booklet.

One thing I didn't mention in the caption is that this photo was taken by a simple digital point-and-shoot camera. Although Milady and I normally use our DSLR, that doesn't mean that the cheaper, less sophisticated cameras can't take good quality photographs.

Milady also submitted one of her photos for the first time:

Colours in Context

This photo was taken at Sentosa. What I like about this photo is that it combines both natural and man-made colours. We use colours in different contexts; here, the use of red and yellow highlights the location of the fire hydrant so that it can be seen very quickly in an emergency. Whereas, among the vegetation, the yellow colour of the flowers helps to attract insects for pollination.

Below is a listing of the other 15 photos that were published this month in addition to my own (asterisks indicate photos that are among my favorite submissions):

7. Colours - Liew Tong Leng (Winner)
8. Colours Everywhere - Jose Laurente Jr (Winner - Photographer of the Year 2007)*
13. Colour - Wee Keng Hor
16. Colours - Tan Yu Han
22. All the Colours of the Rainbow - Camillus Gerard Cai
25. Flowers of the sea - Mohamad Noor B Abd Rashid Lim*
37. Lory Colours - Andrew JK Tan*
38. The Colours of Excitement - Chong Yin In
39. Ice Sets Fire - Sandra Wang
49. Xmas Tree - Andreas Iwan Sudharma
52. Colourful Hats - Sahari Sariman*
53. What Colour is your World - Erik Sevilla Estrada
55. Colourful Benches - Clara Tan*
65. Food Colours - Yee Lai Ying
76. Childhood Love - Ng Cheng Cong

These are some of my other favorite submissions, but were not published by the editors:

1. Colours - Wilson Low
2. Heavenly Flower - Teo Sze Lee
14. Bamboo Sea - Peh Chee Ee
15. Lights and Water - David Ng Soon Thong
47. Peaceful Trondheim - Lee Men Huang
73. Miss Colourful - Benjamin Balmoris Jr

Afghan Marriage

Rob Wagner at 13 Martyrs talked about a photo from a UNICEF photo competition, the theme being the hardships faced by children around the world.

This particular photo, which won the competition, was taken by American Stephanie Sinclair. She said she was struck by how many young girls are married to much older men. This is a 40-year-old bridegroom and his 11-year-old bride during their wedding in Damarda, Afghanistan.

The problem I have with this photo in that, without context, the image may lead to wild conjecture. What is the man's motive for marrying this young girl? We don't know. I'm sure most Westerners would focus on the sexual aspect. I think this is what most Western men would first think of if they were given the chance to marry someone as young as this girl. That being what they would do, they ascribe this motive to the Afghan man.

But we don't know what's really in this man's heart, and his having sex with her may be years away. In a country where the average life expectancy (for both men and women) is less than 44 years (CIA World Factbook), the chances of him surviving much longer are not too good. Is she an orphan and he's providing a stable home for her? Does she come from a poor family and marrying her is a way for him to help provide for her now and later, after death, through an inheritance? Allahu alim.

Unfortunately, people often judge other cultures through their own cultural biases and, all too often, find the other culture wanting, even though they rarely have enough information to make an informed judgment. This is culture shock, no different than if a person went to Afghanistan and witnessed this scene him or herself.

December 18, 2007

The Blog Readability Test

Not a bad level, actually. As a writer, I am concerned about having my writing as readable as possible. Not that I try to dumb down my writing, but I do want people to understand what I'm saying as easily as possible. (I think it also helps that I try to use George Orwell's rules at the end of his essay, Politics and the English Language.)

BTW, my other blogs come out as:
Dunner's Learn About Islam - Junior High School Level
Ang Moh in SG - Elementary School Level
Areology - Genius Level

The readability level of Areology isn't any surprise as that's a blog devoted to science and space exploration. You know, something you need an ed-you-kay-shun to understand. ;)

December 16, 2007

U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector, 2006

I'm becoming more involved in the analysis of oil and energy usage worldwide, and I found this little diagram just now that's rather helpful in understanding where US energy sources come from and whom they supply. (Click on the diagram to enlarge.)

Source: Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2006, Tables 1.3 and 2.1b-2.1f, and 10.3.

On the left side are the basic sources of energy: petroleum, natural gas, coal, renewable energy sources (such as solar power, ethanol, etc.), and nuclear energy. The right side shows, on a very basic level, who gets that energy: transportation, industrial, residential & commercial, and electric power. Now, obviously, industrial and residential & commercial, all get electricity, but the government has split that source of power out separately. Each of the sources and sectors have their own percentage, showing how much each contributes and consumes, respectively.

The lines connecting the two sides also have two sets of numbers each. For example, 100% of nuclear power obviously goes to electric power; however, nuclear power only makes up 21% of all the electrical power in the US. Likewise, transportation derives 96% of all its fuel from petroleum; natural gas and renewable energy sources (e.g., ethanol) only supply 2% each of transportation's fuel needs.

* Percentages do not necessarily equal 100% due to rounding.
1 Excludes 0.5 quadrillion Btu of ethanol, which is included in "Renewable Energy.”
2 Excludes supplemental gaseous fuels.
3 Includes 0.1 quadrillion Btu of coal coke net imports.
4 Conventional hydroelectric power, geothermal, solar/PV, wind, and biomass.
5 Includes industrial combined-heat-and-power (CHP) and industrial electricity-only plants.
6 Includes commercial combined-heat-and-power (CHP) and commercial electricity-only plants.
7 Electricity-only and combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plants whose primary business is to sell electricity, or electricity and heat, to the public.

December 14, 2007

Ask an Expat

This is a diary I wrote for Street Prophets' "Ask a..." series. You can go to the original diary by clicking on the title above. This is actually the second "Ask a..." diary I've written there, the first being "Ask a Muslim," written back in June. I'm more than happy to entertain questions here on this topic, but I think you're more likely to find many other questions being asked and answered over at Street Prophets, so please visit there as well.

For this "Ask a..." diary, I thought I'd go over ground that's not necessarily religious or political, but should (insha'allah) be of interest to people. I've been an expatriate for over six years now, having lived in two countries, South Korea and Singapore. I was in South Korea for a little over one year, and have been in Singapore ever since. (I've also visited Malaysia a number of times, and have gotten to the point where I feel confident traveling around Kuala Lumpur.) I am now a Permanent Resident (PR) of Singapore, equivalent to the US's "Green Card," and am expecting to receive a letter in the mail sometime this month from the government, offering me citizenship. (Singapore will grant citizenship to PRs who have lived here for two years; this month marks the second anniversary of my PR status.) I get a fair number of questions from people who are interested in where I live (or have lived), what it's like, what it takes to become an expat, and so on. I thought I'd write up a small FAQ of my own, and then answer any questions y'all may have.

So, how do you like Singapore?
This is perhaps the most common question I get here, especially from taxi drivers. Being a Caucasian, I'm very much in the minority, ethnically speaking, so it marks me out somewhat. Most taxi drivers will know that I'm a PR (especially if they pick me up in front of my apartment block; I live in a very "heartlander" type neighborhood). What they don't know is how long I've lived here. And because I've been here a long time, S'pore has become "home." It's a nice place; it has its ups and downs, just like any other place, but there are more good things here than bad, at least for me.

An alternative question I get is "What's it like in Singapore?" The short answer is, "Hot, wet and green." (This is the jungle, after all.) Another alternative question is "What's the weather like there?" And the short answer, once more, is "Eternal summer." Seriously. There's only one season here all year long.

How did you become an expat?
I had gotten into a disastrous online relationship with a woman in Europe. Everything had gone well up until the point I met her at the airport; after that it went downhill. So I returned to the US with a brand new passport and a reawakened interest in traveling. I had always loved traveling, doing quite a bit of it when I lived with my parents. But I hadn't gone hardly anywhere for most of my adult life. And I felt like my career had stagnated. So I asked myself, do I want to resume my career? Or do I want to try something completely different? I chose the "different." I had come across an ad for English teachers in Korea. On a lark, I sent my resume to this agency, which responded very quickly. Yes, they were willing to help me find a job. And, in fact, they worked rather hard trying to land a position for me. Two schools were interested in hiring me, but things fell through. Then a third school became interested, and they contacted me. (Called me at three o'clock in the freakin' morning. My aunt: "J, someone's calling you from Korea!" Told her the next morning that I was thinking of working there. Her response: "That's crazy!" But she had said the same thing when I told her I was a Muslim, and that had worked out just fine, too. :) )

However, in all honesty, I had been really struggling with the idea of whether to work overseas in those weeks when I was waiting for a job to come through. One week, I would be, "Yes, I'm absolutely going to go work in Korea," and the next week I would be, "There is absolutely no way I am going to work in Korea!" I asked quite a few people for their opinions. Finally, I talked to my Dad. "What do you think?" And he said, "Go!" He had been stationed in Japan in the '50s with the Air Force, so he knew somewhat about being an expat, especially in Asia (granted, his knowledge of Japan is completely out of date with what it's like there now). But his main argument was that, by going, I would grow, intellectually, from being exposed to the new culture. And that was very much the case. (Interestingly enough, when I talked to my Dad's twin brother a few years ago, asking him what he would have said, my uncle said that he'd have said the same thing.)

So I arranged a flight to Korea - and then 9/11 happened. I was scheduled to leave the US on the 14th or so. But with the disaster, I had to rebook my tickets, so I actually left for Korea around the 22nd. The flight to Korea took 14 hours. I flew into Incheon in the evening, and was rushed to another plane by some woman from the agency. I was the last passenger on my next plane (they had held up the departure so I could get on board). From Incheon it was a one-hour flight to Busan, where I was met by several people from my new school, including a young American teacher who was acting as the "HOD" (head of department). And we drove into Busan, where I got a room at a "love motel" (the other teacher actually recognized one of his female students coming out of the motel - alone), and then we went to a coffee shop for a couple hours where I started to get my bearings about what life was like in Korea.

How can I become an expat?
Find a job overseas. Seriously. Unless you have a small fortune tucked away (usually a quarter-mill at the minimum), the only way to live as an expatriate is to work for a company in another country (that is, until you get your PR status). The two most common routes for finding work overseas is either by working for a multi-national or to become an English teacher. Surprisingly, the latter strategy is not a bad option. Teaching is the type of job that's in fairly high demand around the world (especially in eastern Asia), and can be fairly rewarding, both professionally and perhaps even financially. You won't get rich working as a teacher but, depending on the country and its cost of living, you may be able to save a significant portion of your paycheck. (I saved a heck of a lot more money working in Korea than I ever did from working at my jobs in the US.) Working as a teacher can also lead to free travel around the world. Many schools offer free airfare to and from their country for their expat teachers, in addition to a 13th-month bonus if they complete their contract. One colleague and his wife (and their dog) went from country to country, seeing the world while he worked for a year in each country.

What's the food like?
In Korea, Korean food is by far the most common type of food available. A lot of restaurants specialize in a very limited menu, even as low as two or three dishes. So if you're feeling like eating a specific type of food, you have to go to the restaurant that serves it. One other thing that was unique to Korean restaurants was "service." Many restaurants and coffee shops gave "service" after a meal, meaning, you could get your choice of a free cup of green tea or coffee, or a small container of ice cream. (Actually, speaking of "service" as we normally use the term, many of my colleagues thought that, if we should ever open up a restaurant in our home countries, that we could make a fortune if we ran the business like the Koreans do. The level of service that Koreans provide, even at the tiniest restaurants, is far superior to anything you'll find in the US or Canada.)

In Singapore, the type of food available is much more wide ranging, as would be expected from such an ethnically diverse country. Because the country is primarily made up of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians, those three types of food are extremely common here. A lot of food is also served here at "hawker centers" or by "hawker stalls," which are tiny hole-in-the-wall kitchens that, once again, serve a very limited menu.

Three other things to note about food: In both countries, spicy food is extremely commonplace. Koreans tend to favor red pepper paste; Singaporeans (and Malaysians) chili sauce. Also, seafood is much more common here than in the US. Squid is highly favored in both countries. Koreans often eat dried cuttlefish with mayonnaise and red pepper paste. Finally, if you just gotta have western food, that's also fairly common in both countries. The tentacles of McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut and a whole slew of other American fast food restaurant chains are spread throughout Asia.

Do I have to obey the law there?
This is a controversial question, for some reason, that some people find hard to grasp. The obvious answer, of course, is "yes." If you commit a crime here, you will be tried, sentenced and then (probably) deported after you've served your sentence. It doesn't really matter that you're a foreigner; you'll go through the legal system just like any local citizen (and the embassy almost certainly won't help you either). Each country has its own set of laws and punishments, and some of those laws and punishments can be very severe. If you should have, for example, over a certain weight of drugs in your possession, Singapore (and Malaysia) won't hesitate to execute you. Singapore (and Malaysia) will also cane prisoners for certain offenses, as Michael Fay found out in 1994, and the caning often produces permanent scars on the prisoner's buttocks. Moreover, various countries have certain taboos that will cause legal problems. For example, in Thailand, it's illegal to deface a portrait of the King. Last December, a Swiss man drunkenly spray-painted over the Thai King's portrait. He was caught, tried, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. This past April, the King pardoned him after he spent a few weeks in jail, and he was deported. Moral of the story: Do as the Romans do.

When are you going to come home?
I have no idea. I have no plans at the moment to return to the US, and fear that, the next time I do come back home, it will be for someone's funeral. Other than that, I'll probably be here for a long, long time. (Insha'allah.)

Who Mike Huckabee Isn't

A cute, satirical video about who Mike Huckabee isn't.

"Not a crook or a weirdo or a Mormon. Let's leave it at that, OK?"

(HT: Crooks & Liars)

December 12, 2007

December 11, 2007


I recently discovered Rob Wagner's blog, 13 Martyrs, and have really enjoyed his writing. (He's now on my blogroll.) Rob lived and worked for three years as the managing editor of an English-language newspaper in Jiddah, KSA, and he comes across as knowledgeable about Islam and the Middle East. (When are you going to become a Muslim, Rob?) His most recent post is Truth and Lies About Shariah, and I thought I'd make a few comments with regard to the nature of shari'ah.

If, for the average non-Muslim, jihad is bogey-word #1, "shari'ah" is a close second. The word itself means "path to the water source." The analogy is appropriate for the Qur'an often refers to Jannah (heaven) as a garden "beneath which rivers flow." The problem for most non-Muslims is that they have a very limited and fuzzy understanding of what shari'ah refers to. Most discussion focuses on what Muslims refer to as hudud. Hudud has specific, fixed punishments for a limited number of crimes, namely, the drinking of alcohol, theft, highway robbery, illegal sexual intercourse (zina), and the false accusation of zina against a person.

Shari'ah, however, is much broader, covering a wide range of areas affecting a Muslim's daily life, including politics, economics, banking, business, contracts, family, sexuality, hygiene, and social issues. In June, The Guardian had an article about shari'ah courts in Britian (In the Name of the Law) that gave an idea of the breadth of cases one local court, in Leyton, has dealt with:

It considers everything from inheritance settlements and whether property deals comply with Islamic laws against accruing interest, to the proper time to start Ramadan (in a country that is always overcast, how can you rely on the first sighting of the crescent moon?) and whether a soft drink that advertises itself as a non-alcoholic alcopop can actually be allowed to call itself alcohol-free. In one email, a woman who is losing her hair asked if Muslim women are allowed to wear wigs.

But the overwhelming majority of cases are to do with divorce - 95% of the roughly 7,000 cases the council has dealt with since opening its doors in 1982 - and, specifically, with releasing women from bad or forced Islamic marriages.

One thing that Rob wrote that I don't agree with is:

Sharia can't fit on a wide scale in a democratic country. However, neighborhood mosques have been very successful both in the UK and the United States in using Sharia to settle local minor disputes, somewhat akin to a small claims court or private arbitration. And in some African Muslim communities, citizens have the option of using Sharia to administer small-scale civil or criminal justice. It appears to work at this level if supervised properly, but anything broader would create significant conflicts with existing secular laws.

If you're one of my long-time readers, you know that I've often spoken highly of Singapore's Syarhiah Courts. Singapore is a great example of a secular, democratic government that has implemented shari'ah into its legal framework. Here, the syari'ah courts deal primarily with family issues: marriage, divorce, inheritance, custodial issues, matrimonial property, and the like. Other issues, such as dietary issues, organ transplants, zakat (charity), etc., are dealt with by MUIS, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, which is an agency of the Singapore government. Other aspects of shari'ah, especially banking and commercial law, are being phased into the Singapore legal code, especially as Islamic banking becomes more prominent within the banking industry. About the only major area where shari'ah hasn't been implemented in Singapore is with regard to criminal law.

It's not that shari'ah will necessarily create conflicts with existing secular laws; if done properly, such as through Singapore's example, shari'ah and secular law can complement each other.

December 9, 2007

Stray Cat Blogging

Back in December 2004, my fifth post on this blog dealt with the subject of cats in S'pore. S'poreans who live in "HDB flats" (which is most of the people here) are allowed to keep small dogs in their apartments, but not cats. The ruling has never made sense to me, and so S'pore has a small stray cat population. The cats live off of the generosity of people (mainly women) who will purchase cat food for the strays. (In the past, I've also seen rats eating the cat food - with the cats waiting their turn. Fortunately, the number of rats here is even smaller than that of the cats.)

I do love cats, but since I can't keep one at home, I do take the occasional picture of strays. This little beauty had its picture taken near a hawker center just south of the Bedok Community Library.

December 8, 2007

La Lune! La Lune!

Austrolabe has a humorous video of a man, Henri, who appeared on the French version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Henri's question was rather simple, "What rotates around the Earth?" The potential answers: the moon, the sun, Mars, or Venus. Henri couldn't make up his mind, so he asked the audience for help. Now here's the real shock. The audience percentages were: for the moon, 42%; for the sun, 56%; for Mars, 2%, and for Venus, 0%. Mon Dieu, over half of the French audience thinks that the Sun revolves around the Earth! Copernicus must be rolling in his grave. What are they teaching those people in France?! ;)

What's also funny is that, in the Austrolabe comments, another French guy, Michel, is asking them to remove the video on the grounds that it's "racist." Sorry, bud, this video is no more “racist” than the stumble three months ago by Miss Teen South Carolina 2007, who humiliated herself with that strange, rambling answer. Don’t want to look bad on TV? Don’t get on it in the first place.

BTW, Henri won 1,500 Euros for his trouble.

December 6, 2007

Fly Me to the Moon...

I've been putting up various photos from the Japanese satellite Kaguya (Selene) that's orbiting the moon (see here and here). I've just discovered, courtesy of LPOD, a nine-minute video taken by the satellite's high-definition television camera.

The following video is a series of short video clips taken from orbit as Kaguya passes overhead. The entire video is rather disjointed to watch, and it has no soundtrack; however, the video does has some very amazing footage of lunar landscapes from both the near side and the far side of the moon (for example, the crater Tsiolkovskiy and Mare Moscoviense (Moscow Sea). (There are also a number of unintentionally amusing uses of "Japlish" for the captions; for example, "Mid-latitudes of South" instead of "southern mid-latitudes.") And, best of all, there's a dramatic Earthrise at the very end of the video.

"You like me, you really like me"

Or... maybe not.

Two sets of "awards" are being given now among the Muslim blogosphere: the Brass Crescent Awards, by altMuslim and City of Brass, and Umm Zaid's "IslamiBlaghies." Of course I am up for neither. As I mentioned on Street Prophets the other day:

People read me but no one comments

That's the story of my life. I've made slow progress over the years in building up an audience (not too large and not many loyal), but what aggravates me most of all is that hardly anyone comments. (This is, in part, what I enjoy about writing diaries here and at Daily Kos, that I can write something and get a number of responses, far more than what I'd get on my blog.) This sort of reminds me of my time in Korea, trying to start conversations with my students. Student would ask, "Mr. JDsg, what do you think?" And at first, I'd be stupid enough to answer them: "Blah, blah, blah." And the answer would be so freakin' reasonable that they'd all shut up. Same thing happens with my blog. "Oh, whatever Mr. JDsg said, that's the bottom line; no need for me to comment anything further."


I realize that the odds are stacked against my not being noticed. One, I'm not able to post as much as I'd like due to work and family. No surprise there. I'm not unemployed, and I'm not a househusband. It's not like I can spend hours writing long tomes about... whatever. If you've read my blog over the months, you might have even noticed that I often write two or three posts over the weekends, when I have more time. Weekdays I'm lucky to get one written in a day.

Two, my main blog is more of a general content blog than being exclusively devoted to Islam. Maybe 25% of all my posts have been devoted solely to Islam and/or Muslims. Once again, no surprise there (if you know my personality). I find lots of topics interesting. I think my masthead is rather accurate, especially that last section: "Islam, videos, current events, business, science, and any other topic that amuses and abuses my mind."

Third, I don't often write completely original posts, and I think the two awards above focus on writers who do just that. I often write about events that have happened and my reaction to them. Writing a post that's completely original is time-consuming, which I don't have a lot of.

Another factor, I think, is that I live in an area that doesn't have a whole lot of dysfunctional Muslims. I read blogs like Umar's and Tariq's, and often think, "What the f*** is up with that?" Tariq's Nationalism? post being a great example. That's not to say S'pore doesn't have problems among the Muslim community, but our problems tend to be well known and discussed in a variety of media, including the MSM. Our issues are not just percolating at the blog level.

That all being said, here's a list of my favorite posts (of my own) from the past year, separated into three categories (Islam/Muslim-related, general content and photographs (my own)), in chronological order, from oldest to newest:

An Open Letter...
The Difference Between the Qur'an and Its Translations
Sequoias in Their Midst
What Can I Do For Him, Here, Now?

General Content
The Accounting of Love
Mister? Why Your Face So Red?
"Physician, Heal Thyself"
Funeral Masks
I Didn't Vote for Bush, Either

Self-Portrait: The Uncle in Niece's Eye
Moon Over Singapore
Movement and Energy
Singapore Scavenger Hunt

December 2, 2007

ASU Triumphant (Yet Again)

My university, Arizona State, has won the Territorial Cup for the third straight year over my other university, the University of Arizona. (I attended the U of A for two years, but got my two degrees from ASU; I consider myself a Sun Devil.) What was great was that the game was shown live here in S'pore, and I caught all but the first eight minutes or so of the first quarter, when ESPN switched coverage to the game. Amazing, huh? This was the first game I've caught on TV of the Sun Devils since I left the US in 2001.

Anyway, a very good season has concluded (overall: 10-2; Pac-10: 7-2), and now it's on to a bowl game (the Fiesta Bowl, insha'allah). (The above photo is of ASU's junior running back Keegan Herring, after scoring a touchdown; credit: The Arizona Republic.)

Update: Twelth-ranked ASU (11th-ranked in the BCS) will be playing #17 Texas in the Holiday Bowl on December 27th. This will be ASU's third Holiday Bowl appearance (where they're 0-2), and their first game ever against Texas. It should be an interesting game. BTW, speaking of rivalries, my high school's football team beat our cross-town rivals, EFA, 41-13, for the third time in four years. Good job, Green Hornets!

November 27, 2007

What Can I Do For Him, Here, Now?

Just before Ramadan, a non-Muslim friend asked me if I'd be willing to talk to his wife, who's been looking into Islam. She fasted part of Ramadan with us (alhamdulillah), but she's still unsure of herself. So I wrote the following as part of my most recent e-mail back to her. I'm posting a slightly revised copy of my response here, not for her sake (she's already received my e-mail), but for the sake of others who may be considering a reversion to Islam, insha'allah.

One of the reasons why this e-mail has taken a few days to write is because I wanted to address this section at length (but not too long ;) ). First, remember that the length of time in making a decision is not so important (as long as you make the right decision ;) ). I think what it all boils down to is, what type of relationship do you want to have with God? I would call this the one inescapable relationship. When someone dies, Muslims will say, "Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raje'un," meaning, "From Allah do we come and to Him do we return." Of course, many people think that they can escape this inescapable relationship (atheists and the like), but we all go back to Him in the end, when we will be judged and then sent either to Heaven or Hell. A lot of people don't like to believe in this, but that's their nafs talking. (Some people take a "universalist" approach - as in the Unitarian Universalists, which I used to belong to a long time ago. A Universalist would argue, "I can't believe that God is willing to send any human to Hell." That's their nafs, their ego, talking.)

And I think a lot of nominal Christians (and members of other religions) are going to be surprised on the Day of Judgment when they say, "Well, I lived a good life. I didn't do too much wrong." I don't think that excuse is going to fly either. Every now and then, I hear of someone's dream that, real or otherwise, sounds like it has a kernel of truth to it. One dream I heard of a few months ago was the dream of a man who had a friend, an Islamic scholar, who had died. And the dead friend said in the dream something to the effect of, "All that other stuff that we did, it didn't count for so much. What really counted was our prayer." (I told this to Milady and asked her what her parents would say in reaction to this story; she said her parents would say, "Of course!" :) )

I think we need to recognize that we need Him, but that He doesn't need us. We depend upon Him for our sustenance, whether it be physical, intellectual or spiritual, but that the way will not be easy. Of course we will go through challenging times. Does that give us the right to whine during those times, or to ignore Him as soon as the danger has passed? (There's a great pair of ayat in the Qur'an that deals with this issue, 10:22-3, where sailors pray to Allah (swt) while out on the ocean in the middle of a storm, but return to insolence once they're back on land.) Are we grateful to Him? Do we show it? I know I don't show it nearly enough. Reading the Qur'an the past couple of nights, I've read through passages that say how wonderful Heaven will be. Lounging around, eating and drinking. And I think to myself, if I reach there, insha'allah, will I be satisfied with all that? Or am I the sort of person who might say to Allah (swt), "What can I do for you, here, now?" And I realize that this is the question I need to ask myself now. What can I do for Him, here, now?

First Image of the Moon by Chang'e-1

Credit: China National Space Administration

Recently, Japan launched its first moon probe, Kaguya (Selene), which has taken some very beautiful HDTV images of the Earth and Moon. Yesterday (November 26th), the China National Space Administration released the first photo taken by their new lunar orbiter, Chang'e-1. According to Chuck Wood at LPOD, "...the first image of the Moon taken by China’s Chang’e orbiter stretches from dark-floored Hanno H to Helmholtz at bottom left. This view of the southeast limb is actually a composite of 19 frames, each 60 km wide, taken on Nov 20 and 21. When available at full size the mosaic will have a nominal resolution of 120 m, roughly comparable to that of Lunar Orbiter IV (58 - 134 m), Clementine (100 m) and SMART-1 (50 m)."

BTW, do you think the person who came up with the CNSA logo (the blue logo on top) may be a Star Trek fan? ;)

Sinking to a New Low

The group "Muslims Against Sharia" sank to a new low today when they left a comment on one of my posts. The comment was in praise of the recent Islamophobic Awareness Week (where David Horowitz and others made college students aware as to just how Islamophobic they are). I find it odd that an anti-Muslim group should resort to commenting on Muslim blogs; sorry, your voice won't be heard here. I've already deleted your comment, and will continue to do so in the future, insha'allah.

Update: "Muslims Against Sharia" continues to post comments here, which continue to be deleted. What's interesting is that, without knowing me (for I certainly don't know who they are), they've resorted to name calling ("...Islamonazis like you...") because I'm not willing to let them comment on my blog. (BTW, I did keep your comment in my e-mail in case you dispute your name calling.) Yes, I do censor comments like many other blogs; yes, this is a long-standing policy; no, I don't care about your so-called "free speech." My blog, my rules. Comprendé?

Update #2: On second thought, I've decided to publish Mr.'s ( most recent comment (his third so far), to show you all the so-called adab of this "Muslim."

Muslims Against Sharia has left a new comment on your post "Sinking to a New Low":

That wasn't name calling, you cocksucking Islamonazi (this was), that was a description. I was merely pointing out the difference between Islamonazi fucks and Muslims, but you are too fucking stupid to understand it.

If giving up Shariah means becoming like this clown, then I will gladly keep Shariah, alhamdulillah!

Update #3: There's an old saying that's applicable here: "Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." Unfortunately, the very immature Mr. is either ignorant of this saying or hasn't taken it to heart, as he should. My point in publishing his third comment seems to have escaped him completely when he wrote his fourth (which I've already deleted). That is (because Mr. seems to need my spelling things out for him), as a supposed representative for his "organization," he thinks that being rude, vulgar and immature will make people look upon him (and them) favorably. Actually, he is his own worst enemy, making himself and his "organization" look bad all by himself. This doesn't surprise me, though, as I find it very typical of neocons. In that regard, Mr. seems to be taking lessons from "Muslims Against Shariah" member Pamela Geller Oshry (below) of the blog Atlas Shrugs who, as a neocon Islamophobe (sorry for being redundant) Jew, doesn't seem quite to fit the definition for being a Muslim. But, then, logic has never been the strong suit of the neocons.

Update #4: Mr. (who apparently has nothing else better to do in Iowa during the winter - you'd think Update #3 would have been enough of a clue - but for once writing from a computer not at work although still in the same city - and remaining just as vulgar) protests that Islamophobe Pam Atlas isn't a member of Muslims Against Sharia but merely a contributor. Whatever! The fact that Pam Atlas is affiliated in any way with Muslims Against Shariah is signal enough to any sane person that said organization shouldn't be taken seriously. (Certainly no sane person takes Pam Atlas seriously.)

Be that as it may, I do thank Mr. for all the traffic he's sent me. It's a pleasure to provide some truth about Islam and Muslims to your readers, unlike the lies and misinformation you present. I was especially happy when I got a visitor from New York yesterday, who spent over two hours on my blog (with a total of 21 hits). Say... isn't Pam Atlas from New York? ;)

November 25, 2007

What's the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow?

It's the last week for weekly tests at my school, and I've decided to give my students a bonus question (not that I'll give them any extra points; just to amuse and confuse them ;) ):

"What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"

"Well, you have to know these things when you're a king, you know."

November 24, 2007

Juan Cole on the Iraq War, Chretien, Bush and Afghanistan

Juan Cole at Informed Comment has an important post today that bears repeating. The first half of the post reads:

Whoever is responsible for this disgusting travesty is an automatic candidate for Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World." My guess is that the trail will lead back to Donald "its not a guerrilla war" Rumsfeld and Richard Bruce "most prominent traitor in American history" Cheney. Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that 20,000 US troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered brain injuries were never classified as wounded by the Pentagon and are not included in the official statistics for the wounded issued by the Department of Defense. Although some of the under-reporting of this condition could be inadvertent, the scale of it strongly suggests an underlying policy.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien says that it was among the great victories in his life that he stood against US pressure to join in the Iraq War.

Uh, the purpose of a wise and mature US foreign policy is to avoid close allies ending up speaking like that. Bush has destroyed half a century of good will among NATO allies, most of whom now think they are better off not following Washington's lead. Leaders who threw in with Bush, like Aznar of Spain and Berlusconi of Italy, have been ushered off the political stage by enraged publics. As someone who grew up when the US (and its currency) was respected by most Europeans and other North Americans, I am sad to see the way W. has debased our position and humiliated our country.

Among the biggest irritants in NATO countries against the US now is the mission in Afghanistan, which seems both open-ended and ultimately fruitless. Canada did not dodge that bullet, and has lost dozens of soldiers there, though you would not know it from reading US newspapers. On Friday, Pushtun guerrillas killed an Australian soldier in Uruzgan province (Mulla Omar's birthplace), and others killed 3 civilians, attacked a police checkpoint and killed 7 officers and kidnapped 6 others. (What is the mission? If the mission is to get Pushtuns to stop worrying about Islam and start welcoming foreign troops in their country, I wouldn't hold my breath).

November 19, 2007

I Didn't Vote for Bush Either

I'd been meaning to write about this since last week, but hadn't had the chance. Last Wednesday, the New York Times published an article about the American representatives at the World Bridge Championships who held up a small sign at the awards dinner that read, "We did not vote for Bush." The photograph of the woman holding up the sign, along with her teammates, all smiling broadly, brought out the typical hysterical overreaction from the right, with accusations of "treason" and "sedition." And while that overreaction might be worth a blog post in and of itself (which I don't expect to write), what I wanted to focus on was the issue of public diplomacy among citizens overseas.

As an expatriate who's lived in Asia for a long time now (six years and counting), this is an issue that I'm rather familiar with. Now, these women at the Bridge tournament were not expatriates, but they were overseas, representing our country. Regardless of whether we think of ourselves as "ambassadors" for our country when we travel abroad, we in fact are.

Now, as an unofficial "ambassador" for their country, holding up that sign was in poor taste, even though the team's captain, Gail Greenberg, said in the NYT article that the sign was "...a spontaneous gesture, 'a moment of levity...'” I've no doubt that it was. I can also sympathize with the women. In situations like this, when you're overseas and your government isn't behaving normally, it's quite common for others to ask for your opinion. "What's going on over there?" Been there, done that...lots of times. And in private, I'll be very blunt with my criticisms about the U.S. (Ask Milady. ;) ) Those of us who lived in Arizona during the turmoil of the Evan Mecham administration (January 1987 - April 1988) know all too well what it's like to have a daft, unpopular government embarrassing the rest of the populace. Stories abounded in the newspapers at the time of Arizonans going out of state and having people ask them, "Just what the f*** is going on in Arizona?" It's the same situation now with the Bush administration. As the NYT wrote,

Ms. Greenberg said she decided to put up the sign in response to questions from players from other countries about American interrogation techniques, the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues.

“There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture,” Ms. Greenberg said. “I can’t tell you it was an overwhelming amount, but there were several specific comments, and there wasn’t the same warmth you usually feel at these events.”


“What we were trying to say, not to Americans but to our friends from other countries, was that we understand that they are questioning and critical of what our country is doing these days, and we want you to know that we, too, are critical...”

I've no problem with that; as far as I'm concerned, let people around the world know that you're unhappy with the way the United States is being governed at this time. In a country that prides itself on free speech, that's neither treason nor sedition. As an "ambassador" for your country, people will trust you and your opinions more for being truly "fair and balanced," instead of toeing the line like some party apparatchik. People around the world can see through the BS just as well as anyone else. But do everyone a favor and leave the signs at home.

By the way, I didn't vote for Bush (or Mecham) either.

November 18, 2007


A print ad for the Head snowboard ad campaign, "Jump Higher." From the advertising agency Advico Young & Rubicam of Zurich, Switzerland.

(HT: Advertising is Good for You)

November 17, 2007

Earth, by Kaguya

The other day I posted several high-definition TV pictures of the Earth and Moon by the Japanese satellite Kaguya ("Selene"). That post has been fairly popular so far, and so I've decided to add a second post.

Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

This photo, also taken by the HDTV camera, shows the Earth from 110,000 kilometers on September 29th. (The photo was released to the public on October 1st.) Both Greenland and the western half of South America are easily seen in this image. North America is not as easy to make out, although I believe I can see landmarks such as Florida and the Chesapeake Bay region in the photo.

Funeral Masks

"Pastor Dan" at Street Prophets had an interesting diary the other day about a recent funeral he attended. He saw a woman take a picture of the deceased and asked the question, "Why do people take pictures of the dead?" While I'm certainly no expert on the subject, I decided to add a couple of comments to that diary, which have been expanded upon below. This is what Dan originally had to say:

An Aged Relative took a snapshot of the deceased to add to her collection. She said she had one of her mother, father, and sister.

This is one of those customs I don't judge but can't pretend to understand. I suppose it's no odder than laying out the decedent in the front parlor, a custom still followed in some sub-cultures.

But yeah, what gives?

Several people who had made earlier comments on Pastor Dan's diary noted the popularity of photographs taken of the dead during the Victorian age, but the practice actually goes back thousands of years. I'm not sure if anyone knows exactly when the practice of making a death mask or funeral mask first started, but this practice has occurred in many different cultures. Both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks made funeral masks for their dead, especially for royalty. Some of these masks are very famous and familiar to us; others not so much. Of course, nearly everyone will recognize the funeral mask of King Tutankhamen, made of gold and a number of semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, carnelian, quartz, turquoise and obsidian, plus colored glass. However, the Egyptians also made mummy masks for non-royal subjects, both men and women, up through the Roman era. These masks were much less expensive than royal masks, of course, often being made of "cartonnage," which was a process similar to papier-mâché in which layers of linen were plastered together, molded and then painted. In later periods, papyrus scrolls were used in place of the linen. (Source)

Heinrich Schliemann, the amateur archaeologist who discovered the ruins of Troy, is also famous for having dug up the shaft graves of Mycenae. Among the art objects found in the shaft graves of Mycenae's Grave Circle A included what is now known as the Mask of Agamemnon, made of gold, although the mask (along with four others found at Mycenae) are now dated to the Late Helladic I period (c. 1500-1550 BCE), perhaps 200-250 years or so before the life of the actual Agamemnon (if he was, in fact, an historical figure, which I believe he was).

Gold, of course, was a popular choice of material for royal death masks around the world, but other materials were used as well. Wood was a popular material in many cultures, such as the Ibo (right) and the Egyptians, being abundant and easy to carve. Jade was popular among the Mayans and the Chinese, the latter also making funeral masks in bronze.

Into the Roman era, we find a significant difference between the earlier peoples versus those of the later antiquity: the funeral masks are kept among the living instead of being buried with the dead. The ancient Romans made funeral masks of their ancestors, normally of wax, but hung them in the front lobby to their home so that visitors could see the visages of prominent ancestors (especially those who had held public office, such as the consulship). In Tom Holland's book, Rubicon, he wrote:

"Beyond a portico designed to echo the features of a temple, the walls of the atrium were hung with forbidding images, the wax death-masks of magistrattes, bearing witness to the honours won by the family in the past. Painted lines connected the portraits, reaching backwards into time..." (p. 116)

In the West, the practice of creating funeral masks has lasted into the twentieth century, even at a time when photography has made the masks irrelevant. Ludwig van Beethoven's plaster funeral mask has survived to this day (top photo, above), as has that of the Bohemian-Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. What's interesting is a comment made by a friend of Beethoven, Stephan von Breuning:

"Such casts of great men are often permitted," wrote Bruening beforehand, "and if we forbade it, our refusal might afterwards be regarded as an encroachment upon the rights of the public."

The alleged death mask of Bruce Lee.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

The Carpetbagger Report has an odd, disturbing account about Associate Justice Clarence Thomas' behavior at a recent 25th anniversary dinner for the Federalist Society. The man's only 59, but this anecdote doesn't strike me as behavior or thinking befitting a Supreme Court Justice:

It’s hardly the most substantive of observations, but I couldn’t help but notice that Clarence Thomas, one of the three sitting high-court justices on hand, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence with his public appearances.

[T]here were signs that Thomas is not a regular on the speaking circuit. "You know, it’s really hard to talk up here when this guy in front of me keeps moving," Thomas announced early in his speech. He was referring to a television screen on the floor in front of him that was showing his own image — but because nobody but Thomas could see the TV, nobody knew what he was talking about.

"It’s me! I see myself moving around!" Thomas explained, then let out a resonant laugh: "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" He continued: "This guy keeps moving around in front of me. Jeez! At any rate, stop looking at this guy in front of me! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You look at it and think, it’s too much of a good thing!"

A technician covered up the offending screen with a black cloth.

Thomas, who is well known for not saying a word during 16 years of oral arguments, probably should start bringing his reticence on the road with him.

The last comment, about Thomas "not saying a word during 16 years of oral arguments" is not completely true - he has spoken occasionally during oral arguments - but one has to wonder about his state of mind in situations like this.

November 15, 2007

Update to "LAPD Announces Muslim Mapping Project"


Five days ago, I wrote about how the Los Angeles Police Department was trying to map "likely terrorist breeding grounds in Muslim areas" of LA. I just received an e-mail from the Muslim American Society which announced that the LAPD has canceled the mapping project:

A police plan to map out Muslim communities, a proposal that civil rights groups sharply criticized as racial and religious profiling, has been shelved, a police spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The LAPD planned to have its counterterrorism bureau identify Muslim enclaves to determine which might be likely to become isolated and susceptible to "violent, ideologically based extremism."

Several Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California criticized the plan and sent a letter to Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing expressing their concerns.

"There was a clear message from the Muslim community that they were not comfortable with it. So we listened," said Mary Grady, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department. She couldn't immediately say when the plan might resume.

Grady said the remaining part of the initiative, which includes outreach efforts to strengthen ties with Muslim communities, would continue, and police planned to meet with Muslim leaders Thursday.


There are an estimated 500,000 Muslims in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.

November 14, 2007

Earth Over the Moon and Earthset, by Kaguya

Credit (both photos): Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

Some beautiful photos (actually video outtakes from a high definition TV camera) from the new Japanese spacecraft Kaguya (aka "Selene"). In the above image (click on the photo to enlarge), taken on November 7th, the Moon's surface is near the South Pole, and the Australian Continent (center left) and Asian Continent (lower right) can be seen. In this image, the upper side of the Earth is the Southern Hemisphere, thus the Australian Continent looks upside-down. According to Chuck Wood over at LPOD, the crater in the lower center right (where you only the rim is exposed to the sunlight) is Shackleton; the far hill underneath the Earth is Malapert Peak, and the hill in front of that (with the crater to the left) is the "Peak of Sunlight."

In the image below, the Earth is setting toward the horizon near the Moon's South Pole. It took about 70 seconds from the left image to the right image (complete setting).

One thing I find interesting about these images is that, even though they are video outtakes, they have a different "texture" than one might expect. The images of the Earth almost look like paintings (perhaps in an Impressionist style; whaddyathink, Izzy Mo? :) )

November 13, 2007

Update to "Physician, Heal Thyself"

My blog post from the other day, Physician, Heal Thyself, got a mixed reaction. Personally, I felt it was one of my better posts in quite some time. And initial reactions were quite positive. Being selected for Ijtema was an honor, being the first time they had noticed me. And then, when I cross-posted the diary over at Street Prophets, it was quickly promoted to the "front page," which happens for noteworthy diaries (and was another first-time honor for me). Moreover, my essay inspired another man to write the diary, Can America Respect Islam?, which also generated a lot of comment.

However, when I posted this essay over at Daily Kos, the diary was largely ignored. I'd like to say that this was because I posted it at the wrong time of day (during the middle of the night over in the US), but the next diary posted after mine got well over 500 comments and immediately made it to the "Recommended Diaries" listing. C'est la vie.

What I wanted to do here was to highlight three sets of comments between myself and others from both Street Prophets and Daily Kos that I thought were of interest. The first comment was by StarWoman on Street Prophets, who wrote:

Cultural arrogance, alas, has long been part of American culture.

The real problem is not that American needs to promote its own values and cultures to the world, but that the world needs to promote its values and cultures to the U.S.

Amen to that.

Do you have any suggestions as to how the rest of the world can do that?

My response:

Start with TV

In S'pore, we have documentaries and TV series that focus on different parts of the world. Two weekly programs that my wife and I watch every now and then are "Japan Hour" and "Dynamic Korea." (In fact, I caught the tail end of this week's "Dynamic Korea" about an hour ago.) These are programs that focus on cultural aspects of these two countries; "Japan Hour" is primarily about food and inns, while "Dynamic Korea" covers a broader variety of topics. Now the distance between Singapore and these two countries is about seven hours' flight, which is exactly how long it took me to fly from NYC to Switzerland back in 2001. So, although it's all part of eastern Asia, it's still a considerable distance from here (like crossing the Atlantic).

Of course these are only two programs. Much of the news here focuses on the arc of Asia from Pakistan to Japan, occasionally from the Middle East and Australia. The BBC World Service gives the British perspective, CNN the American, CNA (Channel News Asia) the Asian. With respect to sports, S'poreans prolly have a better knowledge of the placement of teams in the English Premier League and the Spanish Primera Liga than they do of their own teams in the "S League." I catch sports broadcasts for cricket, rugby, badminton, table tennis, billiards, and several other sports, in addition to the traditional slew of American sports. (About the only American league that's not shown here consistently is the NHL, although the broadcasters will show the Stanley Cup finals. Also, I got really upset this summer when the Tour de France wasn't broadcast, which I've watched every other year here.)

So if I were going to expand American horizons by showing them the world, I'd start with TV first.

The second set of comments was started by "DreadWolf" at Daily Kos, who wrote:

I've worked with Muslims for many years and have mutual respect for those I know personally.

I think you are actually contributing to the problem, though perhaps unintentionally. For most Americans who do not work with Muslims, all they hear from the Muslim community is cries of victimization. Though there is certainly much America can do, I notice you do not mention anything the Muslim world could or should do to address the discord. Sadly, that one-sidedness is the common theme that usually comes through quite clearly from Muslim advocates.

For example, your main message is that Americans should try to learn more about Muslim/world values and culture, but you preface it with "we're not necessarily interested in yours".

Whether intended or not, that comes across as an air of superiority, and Americans pick up on it quite well. It only reinforces the existing perceptions.

My response:

...I notice you do not mention anything the Muslim world could or should do to address the discord. Sadly, that one-sidedness is the common theme that usually comes through quite clearly from Muslim advocates.

I believe the "one-sidedness" only appears that way because American culture is so self-absorbed. The rest of the world is plugged into all of the world; we frequently know what's going on elsewhere and not just at "home." American culture is mostly plugged into America, with a little bit plugged into western Europe and Japan. Take the news, for example. Most Americans get their news from American networks: CNN, Fox, the three primary networks. How many news networks do they get from overseas? I live in SE Asia; I get CNN, BBC and Channel News Asia (plus two business news networks, plus a couple other stations/minor networks). The Asian networks normally cover everything that happens from Pakistan to Japan, plus the Middle East and Australia on occasion. You'll be lucky if you find that coverage on CNN. The Muslim world discusses the "discord" fairly frequently; one of the local TV channels here often discusses social problems among the local Muslim community, such programs being aired during prime time. The problem isn't that the issues aren't being discussed locally or internationally (ever catch the Doha Debates?), it's that Americans don't pay attention - and that makes it seem "one-sided."

For example, your main message is that Americans should try to learn more about Muslim/world values and culture, but you preface it with "we're not necessarily interested in yours".

You must remember, the rest of the world knows far more about America and American culture than the typical American knows about what it's like in the rest of the world. They've already been able to judge American culture and values, and have largely found it lacking. (A lot of Americans find their own culture lacking; I'm sure I don't need to provide you with any examples.)

Whether intended or not, that comes across as an air of superiority, and Americans pick up on it quite well. It only reinforces the existing perceptions.

This as to, say, all the Americans telling the rest of the world how superior American culture and values are to their own? The Muslim world in particular tends to view everything with a moral lens. The ends and the means. It's not so difficult for the rest of the world to see American culture for what it is: shallow, vapid, arrogant and ignorant. L.C.D. The point of Kaplan's argument was that Americans used music (jazz and rock) to help smooth out their differences with communist societies. "Hey, those Americans can play really good jazz, no? They can't be all bad." Today, Muslim society - and the rest of the world - get an extremely steady stream of American culture - in all forms of media. And having viewed that stream of culture with their moral lens, they have to question the type of values that produce that culture. It's as if Americans were saying, "Hey, come be decadent with us." Why would Muslims want to debase themselves to the American cultural level? If that comes across as an "air of superiority," then that's a good thing.

The last set of comments was started by "pico," who was reviewing the post as part of the "Diary Rescue" the Daily Kos staff do every day (highlighting noteworthy diaries that might otherwise be missed by the "Kossack" community; there are so many diaries being published on Daily Kos every day that it's quite easy to miss some of the better ones):

...[W]hile I agree with much of what you say, here's one point of disagreement:

[America] perhaps even needs to tone down the amount of "culture" it bombards the world with.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by that, since there's no monolithic America that exports culture: what goes around the world goes via individual artists, groups, and companies. Are you suggesting, for example, that bands agree not to tour as much? Otherwise I'm not sure what you mean.

My response:

You're right when you say there's no "monolithic America" when it comes to culture. Much of the culture exported comes in drips and drabs (the individual artists and groups), and that's not going to ruffle too many feathers. It's the corporations, acting singly and together, that can cause problems.

For example, when I lived in Korea, there was a law at the time which stated that foreign films (read, "Hollywood") could only have x% of all movie showings. The law was put into place to help protect the Korean film industry, which has been growing over the decades and now produces some quality films. However, the government wanted to make sure the Korean theaters weren't overwhelmed with the numerous Hollywood productions that could otherwise flood into that country's cinemas. Hollywood had been trying to lift that restriction for some time (I don't know if it's been lifted since I left there).

The practical benefit to the Korean public was that they got to watch the better movies made in America. Hollywood wasn't going to waste their percentage of theater showings by sending over schlock; they sent over the better movies. Hollywood still made a significant chunk of change from the film rentals; they just didn't make as much as they would have wanted. And the Korean film industry was given some breathing space, which has helped the industry to grow. (Hopefully, Korean movies are making their way to the US because some of them are quite good.)

TV is in a similar situation, in which you have large, powerful corporations that are able to sell broadcasts of many TV series. However, that problem is somewhat muted in that American networks aren't able to dominate, say, Asian TV as much as Hollywood can dominate the theaters in that there are significant numbers of native-language networks that broadcast here as well. Still, you could easily spend all day watching American television (and movies) here in Asia. And that's the problem I find when America bombards the world with its culture.

Pico's response:

Fair points

Although it seems the scaling-back effort still has to come from other nations, right? I can't imagine how one would ask film producers not to market their films overseas: but you've given a good example of how a nation can stem the flow of Hollywood into its theatres.