April 29, 2007

Millenium Simulation

I downloaded this video a couple weeks ago and promptly forgot about it until today, when I was downloading various files off my thumb drive onto the home computer. This video is a "flyby" of immense universal structures. The opening picture looks something like this:

You recognize what these are, right? Capillaries, the tiniest blood vessels in an animal's body. These are the vessels that run throughout our bodies, bringing cells oxygen through the red blood cells and helping to clean away the cellular waste products.

Except that, of course, what we're looking at isn't tiny, but gargantuan. The opening sequence starts at 1 Gpc/h; one gigaparsec. A parsec is a unit of length in astronomy, approximately 3.262 light years in length. The closest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, is 1.29 parsecs away. A gigaparsec is one billion parsecs in length.

The video slowly flies into a central point (presumably the neighborhood of the Milky Way), where we begin to realize that all of these "capillaries" are really strings of galaxies that are connected together in a type of capillary formation through gravitational forces.

The video stops moving forward at 3.9 Mpc/h (megaparsecs); i.e., 3.9 million parsecs or 12,721,800 light years in distance. Here, we can easily make out individual galaxies. The video then reverses flight until we reach the 1 Gpc/h distance once more.

Beautiful, ain't it. And, once more, helping us to realize just how small and insignificant we all are (and our problems), and just how immense the power and majesty of Allah (swt) is, who is able to create and sustain all of this.

Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave ? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous. (2:255)



(Run time: 1:19)

April 27, 2007

Third World America and the Boogying of the President

I'm not a terribly big fan of American Idol (although Milady is), but as we watched the "results show" last night, I was struck by one scene. Idol judge Randy Jackson had gone home to New Orleans to visit with some of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and, here, 600+ days after the tragedy, people are still homeless, living in trailer camps set up by FEMA amid the drugs and violence. In fact, what American Idol didn't mention is that officials in New Orleans are still recovering bodies and expect to find more corpses because some houses there have yet to be touched.

In all this time.

And I turned to Milady last night and said, "Only a third world country isn't able to recover after a natural disaster after two years."

In other news, President Bush gets down, gets funky at the White House:

April 26, 2007

Turn off your freakin' hand phones!

Reason #1138 why you should put your hand phone on "silent mode" during meetings (and at the theater):


(Run time: 0:52)

April 25, 2007

Pathetic Western Education

Another good article I'm stealing from IZ. The following geometry diagram comes from a British exam for college freshmen:


Now, compare that problem with the following problem, from a Chinese college entrance exam:

That's right, the Chinese test is for kids trying to get into a university, the first is for dunces who are already in their university.

BBC, where this article first appeared, says: "A glance at the two questions reveals how much more advanced is the maths teaching in China, where children learn the subject up to the age of 18, the society says.

"It has sounded a warning about Britain's future economic prospects which it claims are threatened by competition from scientists in China."


Gee, ya think? Tom Friedman says the world is flat. No, the world is tilting to the east, to Asia, and at an accelerating pace. The west is quickly becoming a has-been (read my previous post) as educational curricula - especially in the sciences and mathematics - become watered down for students who wouldn't make the grade otherwise. (See below.)

And you know things must be really bad in Britain when the Royal Society of Chemistry has to offer a £500 prize to see if anyone can solve the above Chinese problem.

----------------

So, how pathetic is education in the West? The BBC also reported that British schools are encouraging students not to take A-level mathematics courses: "...as maths was a difficult subject, schools feared examination failures which would threaten their standings.

...

"'Schools and students are reluctant to consider A-level mathematics to age 18, because the subject is regarded as difficult, and with league tables and university entrance governed by A-level points, easier subjects are taken.'

...

"'Increasingly, universities are having to mount remedial sessions for incoming science undergraduates because their maths skills are so limited, with many having stopped formal lessons in mathematics two years earlier at the GCSE level.'"


Also,

"Since 2002, there has been a 15% fall in the numbers taking maths at A-level in England, while those taking physics fell 14% and computer sciences 47%."


At least some people in the UK recognize that the problem needs to be solved, although some of the suggestions are mixed. On a positive note:

"'We are changing the curriculum, creating a new entitlement to give more pupils the chance to study separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs and piloting 250 science clubs for 11 to 14-year-olds.'

"Some £30m was being spent over the next two years on recruiting 3,000 extra science teachers and encouraging more students to study sciences..."


However, a third BBC article states that a report by the Council for Industry and Higher Education recommends that "A-level students should be paid for passing exams in science and maths... ...a payment of about £500 might be enough to encourage students to stick with Stem [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] subjects."

April 24, 2007

American Theocracy

The past two weeks or so, I've been reading Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy, subtitled, "The peril and politics of radical religion, oil, and borrowed money in the 21st century." (When he refers to "radical religion," he's not talking about Islam but protestant Christianity in the mold of the Southern Baptist Convention, and other fundamentalist and evangelical Christian churches.) The book is a very sobering indictment of American politics and culture, suggesting that a convergence of three problems that face the U.S. (and that the Republican party have embraced) may very well lead to America's "fall from grace," a fall which is largely avoidable but that Americans have set themselves up for.

The following passages came from the last chapter of the book.

One can only imagine the private conversations - the blunt economic language - in the conference rooms of Asian financiers and exporters, each group as confident of its contingent's coming hour as executives in Manhattan and Chicago circa 1919 were of America's: "Why don't the Americans take care of their industry and invest in it? Why do they dither over primitive and antiscientific religion? Why are their children so far behind our own students? Why can't they cut back on their foolish and unaffordable overconsumption of oil? How far can we - should we - support them?"
p. 360


To policy makers elsewhere in the world, Washington's espousals of these priorities in the American South is one thing; pushing them globally is something else. These gender and sex-related postures have gone hand in hand with opposing the Kyoto Protocol, embracing a concept of unilateral preemptive war, declining to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and appointing as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations a man such as John Bolton, whose previous attacks on the world body - some admittedly justified - bore a more polished resemblance to the name calling in the Left Behind series.

Realistically, these events and circumstances hardly encourage foreign central bankers, diplomats, or political leaders to buy and hold U.S. Treasury bonds, support American energy profligacy, join U.S. ventures in the Middle East, or believe that young people unskilled in mathematics, addled by credit cards, and weaned on so-called intelligent design instead of evolution will somehow retool American science for another generation of world industrial leadership. Dismissing global opinion is easy in Idaho or suburban Houston, but in the world beyond the GOP core constituencies, such attitude keep exacting a price.
pp. 370-1


First, put in one column the earlier estimates as to when China might or might not start to catch up with and even pass the United States in gross domestic product
[various estimates mentioned in the book place China passing the U.S. by the years 2034-2040]. Next to that sequence put a middle-range forecast for several decades - the 2010s, probably - when global oil production outside OPEC might peak. In the next imaginary column, visualize two related trend lines - the cost of oil per barrel and the annual expense of the growing amount of oil and gas the United States will have to import. The adjacent column should list the prospects over the next fifteen years for the U.S. current account deficit - and one column beyond that, the reader can mentally jot down the unfolding prospects for the U.S. dollar during the same stressful and high-powered time frame.

Beyond these, of course, it will also matter what happens to Social Security, Medicare, the federal budget deficit, and the various tabulations of U.S. public, private, and total credit-market debt. The 2010s could easily be a very troubled decade, and the 2020s after them. Many cautionary time frames are converging just at a time when the political leadership of the United States - much like that of past leading economic world powers in their later days - is not in the most competent hands.
p. 382

April 23, 2007

Ghorab Calls the Name of Allah (swt)

This little bird, apparently called a "ghorab," has a call that sounds very much like "Allah." BTW, note that the video comes from YouTubeIslam. (For some reason, the video is not embedding properly onto the blog. You'll have to click on the link to view the video.)

Wired: The Making of Star Wars

IZ Reloaded brought to my notice a new book coming out for the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. Wired's got a gallery of 20 photos and various snippets of information about the making of the movie. Below are a few of the photos, and some of the more interesting snippets of information:


Storm troopers wore all-in-one black leotards over which the front and back of the body clasped together. The upper and lower parts of the arms were held together with black elastic. The belts had suspenders that attached to the legs. They wore ordinary domestic rubber gloves and black boots painted white with shoe dye.

Mark Hamill says of the storm trooper uniforms, “You couldn’t sit down. They built us some sawhorses to sit on and that’s the most we could rest all day. It was terrible. You got panicky inside those helmets. I only once freaked out and said ‘Get me outta here.’ It really was uncomfortable.”

Harrison Ford clearly enjoyed playing the trigger-happy Han Solo. The earliest incarnations of the character depicted Han as an actual monster. He said of his character, “I always knew that I couldn’t get the girl. Han knows if he gets the girl, it will just be a one-night stand.”

Early character sketches had Han Solo sporting a cape and beard. That’s not all. At one point, in the second draft of the script, Lucas got rid of Princess Leia and turned Luke into a girl. A month later he restored Luke’s gender and decided to make Leia his twin.

The Dark Lord of the Sith was conceived in Lucas’ imagination under the original name Dark Water. He then became Prince Valorum. Similarly, Luke Skywalker started off as Annikin Starkiller.

Day one of principle shooting in the Tunisian desert: robot malfunctions, uncooperative weather, transport trucks catching fire, not to mention concerns by neighboring Libya that the sandcrawler, based on NASA-designed vehicles, was part of a secret military weapons buildup on its border. The crew did manage to leave Tunisia on schedule, after two weeks.

Carrie Fisher tries on John Mollo’s design for Princess Leia for the first time. Original sketches on the left.


April 22, 2007

The Ideological Animal

Psychology Today has an interesting article on various factors that help to mold our political preferences, such as our educational levels, personality traits, and what Dutch professor Geert Hofstede refers to as the Uncertainty Avoidance Index, a measure of a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. This index "indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations." In fact, reading through this article, I was struck by how much overlap there is between it and Hofstede's research.

(Two factors left out of the Psych Today article that Hofstede comments on is that both a geographic factor and a religious factor also help to determine one's political preferences. Briefly, people who live in regions near major port cities or near oceans or inland seas (e.g., the Great Lakes) tend to be more liberal; they are often more curious about what's coming into port; conservatives, on the other hand, would be more afraid (uncertainty avoidance). Likewise, there tends to be a split among Christians: those people whose ancestors came from countries that were part of the Roman Empire (and, later on, became primarily Roman Catholic countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, tend to be more liberal than those people who were outside of the Roman Empire (the Germanic countries and Scandinavia), where Protestant Christianity took hold.)

What amuses me no end about this article is how closely it reflects my personality. That second paragraph in particular describes me, the liberal, to a T: the clutter and color, the travel documents, maps and flags (I collect flags, and prolly have about a dozen so far). The books (and books and books :) ), the optimism, the classical music (to a smaller degree) and the jazz (which I love), the abstract art (to a degree) and the romantic comedies. I do think I am much more religious than many liberals, however.

Below are various excerpts. Click on either the title link or the Psychology Today link above to read the full article.


Our political preferences are equally the result of factors we're not aware of—such as how educated we are, how scary the world seems at a given moment, and personality traits that are first apparent in early childhood. Among the most potent motivators, it turns out, is fear. How the United States should confront the threat of terrorism remains a subject of endless political debate. But Americans' response to threats of attack is now more clear-cut than ever. The fear of death alone is surprisingly effective in shaping our political decisions—more powerful, often, than thought itself.

...

Most people are surprised to learn that there are real, stable differences in personality between conservatives and liberals—not just different views or values, but underlying differences in temperament. Psychologists John Jost of New York University, Dana Carney of Harvard, and Sam Gosling of the University of Texas have demonstrated that conservatives and liberals boast markedly different home and office decor. Liberals are messier than conservatives, their rooms have more clutter and more color, and they tend to have more travel documents, maps of other countries, and flags from around the world. Conservatives are neater, and their rooms are cleaner, better organized, more brightly lit, and more conventional. Liberals have more books, and their books cover a greater variety of topics. And that's just a start. Multiple studies find that liberals are more optimistic. Conservatives are more likely to be religious. Liberals are more likely to like classical music and jazz, conservatives, country music. Liberals are more likely to enjoy abstract art. Conservative men are more likely than liberal men to prefer conventional forms of entertainment like TV and talk radio. Liberal men like romantic comedies more than conservative men. Liberal women are more likely than conservative women to enjoy books, poetry, writing in a diary, acting, and playing musical instruments.

"All people are born alike—except Republicans and Democrats," quipped Groucho Marx, and in fact it turns out that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are evident in early childhood. In 1969, Berkeley professors Jack and Jeanne Block embarked on a study of childhood personality, asking nursery school teachers to rate children's temperaments. They weren't even thinking about political orientation.

Twenty years later, they decided to compare the subjects' childhood personalities with their political preferences as adults. They found arresting patterns. As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.

The most comprehensive review of personality and political orientation to date is a 2003 meta-analysis of 88 prior studies involving 22,000 participants. The researchers—John Jost of NYU, Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland, and Jack Glaser and Frank Sulloway of Berkeley—found that conservatives have a greater desire to reach a decision quickly and stick to it, and are higher on conscientiousness, which includes neatness, orderliness, duty, and rule-following. Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.

The study's authors also concluded that conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity, a trait they say is exemplified when George Bush says things like, "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think," and "I'm the decider." Those who think the world is highly dangerous and those with the greatest fear of death are the most likely to be conservative.

Liberals, on the other hand, are "more likely to see gray areas and reconcile seemingly conflicting information," says Jost. As a result, liberals like John Kerry, who see many sides to every issue, are portrayed as flip-floppers. "Whatever the cause, Bush and Kerry exemplify the cognitive styles we see in the research," says Jack Glaser, one of the study's authors, "Bush in appearing more rigid in his thinking and intolerant of uncertainty and ambiguity, and Kerry in appearing more open to ambiguity and to considering alternative positions."

...

In one study, they exposed some participants to the letters WTC or the numbers 9/11 in an image flashed too quickly to register at the conscious level. They exposed other participants to familiar but random combinations of letters and numbers, such as area codes. Then they gave them words like coff__, sk_ll, and gr_ve, and asked them to fill in the blanks. People who'd seen random combinations were more likely to fill in coffee, skill, and grove. But people exposed to subliminal terrorism primes more often filled in coffin, skull, and grave. "The mere mention of September 11 or WTC is the same as reminding Americans of death," explains Solomon.

As a follow-up, Solomon primed one group of subjects to think about death, a state of mind called "mortality salience." A second group was primed to think about 9/11. And a third was induced to think about pain—something unpleasant but non-deadly. When people were in a benign state of mind, they tended to oppose Bush and his policies in Iraq. But after thinking about either death or 9/11, they tended to favor him. Such findings were further corroborated by Cornell sociologist Robert Willer, who found that whenever the color-coded terror alert level was raised, support for Bush increased significantly, not only on domestic security but also in unrelated domains, such as the economy.

...

After all, Cinnamon Stillwell and others in the 911 Neocons didn't become more liberal. Like so many other Democrats after 9/11, they made a hard right turn. The reason thoughts of death make people more conservative, Jost says, is that they awaken a deep desire to see the world as fair and just, to believe that people get what they deserve, and to accept the existing social order as valid, rather than in need of change. When these natural desires are primed by thoughts of death and a barrage of mortal fear, people gravitate toward conservatism because it's more certain about the answers it provides—right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, us vs. them—and because conservative leaders are more likely to advocate a return to traditional values, allowing people to stick with what's familiar and known. "Conservatism is a more black and white ideology than liberalism," explains Jost. "It emphasizes tradition and authority, which are reassuring during periods of threat."

...

Across the political spectrum, people who had been primed to think about death were more conservative on issues like immigration, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage than those who had merely thought about pain, although the effect size was relatively small. The implication is clear: For liberals, conservatives, and independents alike, thinking about death actually makes people more conservative—at least temporarily.

...

Campaign strategists in both parties have never hesitated to use scare tactics. In 1964, a Lyndon Johnson commercial called "Daisy" juxtaposed footage of a little girl plucking a flower with footage of an atomic blast. In 1984, Ronald Reagan ran a spot that played on Cold War panic, in which the Soviet threat was symbolized by a grizzly lumbering across a stark landscape as a human heart pounds faster and faster and an off-screen voice warns, "There is a bear in the woods!" In 2004, Bush sparked furor for running a fear-mongering ad that used wolves gathering in the woods as symbols for terrorists plotting against America. And last fall, Congressional Republicans drew fire with an ad that featured bin Laden and other terrorists threatening Americans; over the sound of a ticking clock, a voice warned, "These are the stakes."

"At least some of the President's support is the result of constant and relentless reminders of death, some of which is just what's happening in the world, but much of which is carefully cultivated and calculated as an electoral strategy," says Solomon. "In politics these days, there's a dose of reason, and there's a dose of irrationality driven by psychological terror that may very well be swinging elections."

Solomon demonstrated that thinking about 9/11 made people go from preferring Kerry to preferring Bush. "Very subtle manipulations of psychological conditions profoundly affect political preferences," Solomon concludes. "In difficult moments, people don't want complex, nuanced, John Kerry-like waffling or sophisticated cogitation. They want somebody charismatic to step up and say, 'I know where our problem is and God has given me the clout to kick those people's asses.'"

...

Studies show that people who study abroad become more liberal than those who stay home.

People who venture from the strictures of their limited social class are less likely to stereotype and more likely to embrace other cultures. Education goes hand-in-hand with tolerance, and often, the more the better:

Professors at major universities are more liberal than their counterparts at less acclaimed institutions. What travel and education have in common is that they make the differences between people seem less threatening. "You become less bothered by the idea that there is uncertainty in the world," explains Jost.

That's why the more educated people are, the more liberal they become—but only to a point. Once people begin pursuing certain types of graduate degrees, the curve flattens. Business students, for instance, become more conservative in their views toward minorities. As they become more established, doctors and lawyers tend to protect their economic interests by moving to the right. The findings demonstrate that conservative conversions are fueled not only by fear, but by other factors as well. And if the November election was any indicator, the pendulum that swung so forcefully to the right after 9/11 may be swinging back.

...

If we are so suggestible that thoughts of death make us uncomfortable defaming the American flag and cause us to sit farther away from foreigners, is there any way we can overcome our easily manipulated fears and become the informed and rational thinkers democracy demands?

To test this, Solomon and his colleagues prompted two groups to think about death and then give opinions about a pro-American author and an anti-American one. As expected, the group that thought about death was more pro-American than the other. But the second time, one group was asked to make gut-level decisions about the two authors, while the other group was asked to consider carefully and be as rational as possible. The results were astonishing. In the rational group, the effects of mortality salience were entirely eliminated. Asking people to be rational was enough to neutralize the effects of reminders of death. Preliminary research shows that reminding people that as human beings, the things we have in common eclipse our differences—what psychologists call a "common humanity prime"—has the same effect.

"People have two modes of thought," concludes Solomon. "There's the intuitive gut-level mode, which is what most of us are in most of the time. And then there's a rational analytic mode, which takes effort and attention."

The solution, then, is remarkably simple. The effects of psychological terror on political decision making can be eliminated just by asking people to think rationally. Simply reminding us to use our heads, it turns out, can be enough to make us do it.

April 19, 2007

Citrus Lift

Umar Lee has recently posted some of his favorite Geico Caveman commercials. These don't play in S'pore, which isn't too surprising considering that most commercials are targeted to a very specific audience. However, one commercial aired locally that I do like (but have no idea if it's played back in the States) is for Herbal Essences' Citrus Lift shampoo:


(Run time: 0:29)

April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech, In Perspective

Juan Cole has kept the Virginia Tech tragedy in perspective:

I keep hearing from US politicians and the US mass media that the "situation is improving" in Iraq. The profound sorrow and alarm produced in the American public by the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech should give us a baseline for what the Iraqis are actually living through. They have two Virginia Tech-style attacks every single day. Virginia Tech will be gone from the headlines and the air waves by next week this time in the US, though the families of the victims will grieve for a lifetime. But next Tuesday I will come out here and report to you that 64 Iraqis have been killed in political violence. And those will mainly be the ones killed by bombs and mortars. They are only 13% of the total; most Iraqis killed violently, perhaps 500 a day throughout the country if you count criminal and tribal violence, are just shot down. Shot down, like the college students and professors at Blacksburg. We Americans can so easily, with a shudder, imagine the college student trying to barricade himself behind a door against the armed madman without. But can we put ourselves in the place of Iraqi students?

I wrote on February 26,

'A suicide bomber with a bomb belt got into the lobby of the School of Administration and Economy of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and managed to set it off despite being spotted at the last minute by university security guards. The blast killed 41 and wounded a similar number according to late reports, with body parts everywhere and big pools of blood in the foyer as students were shredded by the high explosives.'


That isn't "slow progress" or just "progress," the way the weasels in Washington keep proclaiming. It is the most massive manmade human tragedy of the young century.

Maz Jobrani: Persians vs. Arabs

Iranian comic Maz Jobrani, on the difference between Persians and Arabs. "I am Persian, like the cat. Meow!" :)

April 16, 2007

Ranking the Arizona State Quarter Designs

The Arizona Republic has an article today on the Arizona state quarter that's scheduled to be minted next year. The website for Governor Janet Napolitano has an online poll that allows the public to rank the five contending quarter designs. The Republic article is somewhat snarky toward the various designs, which I've included in this post.


"Grand Canyon"

The good: The Grand Canyon is Arizona's biggest tourist attraction, with 5 million visitors each year.

The bad: It's not all sunsets and fun. A National Park Service Web site warns: "Every year, scores of unprepared hikers, lured by initially easy downhill hiking, experience severe illness, injury, or death from hiking in the canyon."

The ugly: Arizona already is known as the Grand Canyon State, and the motto is carried on license plates and three of the five new quarter designs. Can you say "overexposed"?


"Grand Canyon and Saguaro"

The good: Beautifully captures two of Arizona's most iconic images.

The bad: Design is a tad busy with a saguaro, the Canyon AND an image of the sun rising (setting?) over the rim.

The ugly: Uhh, since when do saguaros grow along the Grand Canyon? I know, I know, the little "Grand Canyon State" banner on the design separates the two images. Just keep telling yourself that . . .


"Desert Scene"

The good: Feels like something out of a 1950s Western, with a saguaro stretching skyward and the sun peeking over mountains in the background.

The bad: A hot, dusty image. So thirsty. Must . . . have . . . water . . .

The ugly: Some have sarcastically suggested the image would be a more accurate representation if it depicted a bulldozer knocking over one of the saguaros, clearing the way for another house.


"Explorer"

The good: Design memorializes John Wesley Powell, the namesake for Lake Powell who in 1869 led an expedition down the Colorado River that included the first known passage of the Grand Canyon.

The bad: That August, thinking they surely would die if they continued down the Grand Canyon, three members of Powell's crew abandoned the expedition. They were promptly killed by members of a local tribe.

The ugly: Before his adventuring, Powell lost an arm in the Civil War. The quarter design depicts him so.


"Code Talkers"

The good: Honors Arizona's Navajo code talkers, who used their language to create a secret, uncrackable code that was critical in defeating the Japanese in WWII.

The bad: Design has come under fire from critics who say it fails to honor other Native American code talkers, including the Hopis.

The ugly: At least the coin design is a more fitting tribute than the abysmal 2002 film Windtalkers.


My rankings (in the order discussed above): 1, 2, 3, 5, 4.

Forbes: Meeting the Halal Test

The Asian edition of Forbes magazine has a new article on Nestlé and its drive to become a leading marketer of halal foods. Nestlé has annual sales of $3 billion for its halal products out of the worldwide total of $580 billion. Much of the print article focuses on Nestlé Malaysia and the Malaysian government's efforts to make that country a "halal hub" for SE Asia (in competition with Singapore and Thailand).

Note: There are some very significant differences between the online version of this article vs. the print edition. The print version comes to 16 paragraphs, whereas the online edition has only 13 paragraphs. Moreover, one of the 13 paragraphs (#9, comparing the halal market to the American kosher market) is not in the print edition.


You might think of Nestle as the least likely company to venture into such a ticklish market as religious food. The Swiss multinational has, after all, attracted more than its share of protesters with other product lines (namely, infant formula and chocolate). But far from shying away from the halal market--food that passes muster with Islamic authorities--Nestlé has jumped in with both feet.

For centuries the men who decided whether food was halal were bearded and worked in mosques. But Othman Yusoff--not a mullah but a clean-shaven Nestlé executive--has forged a career as a halal expert. He's in charge of Nestlé Malaysia's halal lines, making sure they're free of alcohol, pork or any product from an animal not slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines. This covers everything right down to KitKat bars that are free of flavorings that have traces of alcohol.

Yusoff, 45, was a food engineer in Groupe Nestlé's R&D headquarters in Switzerland more than a decade ago when he was asked to help figure out how to keep some of his employer's supply lines halal. It proved to be a good career break. Nestlé has become the biggest food manufacturer in the halal sector, with more than $3 billion in annual sales in Islamic countries and with 75 of its 481 factories worldwide producing halal food. "Nestlé's set the pace on halal for multinationals," says Abdulhamid Evans of KasehDia, a Kuala Lumpur consulting company.

Nestlé is tapping into a vast market. With 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide and Islam the fastest-growing religion, halal food sales are now worth $580 billion annually, according to Malaysia's Halal Industry Development Corp. "Food companies are not going to be global unless they're halal," says Joe Regenstein, a professor of food science at Cornell University. And an increasingly affluent and savvy base of Muslim consumers means that the halal industry is growing in sophistication as well as size. Well beyond being just about meat, it now embraces products from lipstick to vaccines to savings accounts. In 1990 the Islamic Food & Nutrition Council of America had only 23 clients paying for its halal certification services. Last year it certified products for 2,000 companies worldwide.

Nestlé, which had $81 billion in sales last year and ranks number 51 on Forbes' Global 2000 list, caught the wave when the halal industry was pretty much a matter of uncle-and-auntie butchers and the neighborhood bazaar. In the 1980s Nestlé Malaysia started a halal committee--a group of 11 executives who oversaw halal standards from farm to fork. In the early 1990s this division decided to make all of its imports and exports halal, even though that meant its food scientists would have to occasionally engage in angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debates. "Alcohol is not allowed," observes Nestlé Malaysia's managing director, Sullivan O'Carroll. "But if a product has natural alcohol in it, for example, from fruit, it is allowed. So there can be a debate as to whether the alcohol is there naturally or has been put in." Nestlé Malaysia has pioneered halal standards for Nestlé worldwide, with Yusoff and his staff flying off to consult with executives from India to West Africa.

The lengths that Nestlé must go to meet these standards can be seen at the Maggi noodle factory outside of Kuala Lumpur. It looks ordinary enough, with its bright lights, conveyor belts and white-coated workers bent over noodle vats. But for one thing, if animal bristles are used in the factory's machine brushes, they've been checked to make sure they don't come from pigs or animals not slaughtered in accordance with Islam.

Like the rest of Nestlé's hundred halal lines, the noodles have been subjected to an intensive screening process, starting with the R&D. A halal checklist runs around 30 pages for each product and includes such questions as "Does product contain pork or parts thereof, e.g. enzymes, bacon...?" Then the Muslim scholars at Jakim, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development, must approve the checklist. And to help avoid hitches with its suppliers, Nestlé Malaysia established a halal training program for small businesses, with employees at 1,200 of them trained.

Scale--and building halal factories from scratch, rather than modifying old ones--have kept costs down, notes O'Carroll. "When we compare our factories in Malaysia with other Nestlé factories around the world, we are at least as cost-effective," he says.

Nestlé's hope is that halal will reach an audience beyond Muslims. Precedent for a religious food's breakout into the broader market comes from the American kosher sector. Because there are only 1,000 halal-certified products on American store shelves, many Muslims cross over to kosher products--there are 90,000--and Muslims now represent 16% of the $100 billion U.S. kosher food industry's consumers.

How do you sell halal to an infidel? Talk about health, purity and ethics. That image would dovetail with Nestlé's new push as a health-and-wellness company. "We see halal as something which can develop along the lines of organic food," says KasehDia's Evans. Opening the first World Halal Forum last year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi invoked halal as "that which is good, healthy, safe and high quality in all aspects of life. [It] represents values that are held in high regard by all peoples, cultures and religions."

There could be a nice side effect from pushing the halal market beyond its original customer base. Halal's association with purity and animal welfare could help overcome Islamophobia. "Halal could be an extremely good platform for changing perceptions," notes Evans.

Still, selling foods internationally is harder than selling petroleum. Country-to-country differences in halal methods and standards have created headaches for manufacturers for decades. Middle Eastern import companies used to send halal slaughterers to South America to kill the chickens themselves. A couple of years ago, when Muslim scholars in Australia decided that stunning was an Islamically permissible way to kill animals, Australian beef--20% of Malaysia's beef imports--suddenly fell afoul of Malaysia's halal standards. The government banned Australian beef, and Nestlé Malaysia, which was importing all its beef fat from Australia, had to look for alternative sources overnight. The company scrambled to import from South America, but making the change took months. As long as different countries interpret forms of killing in slightly different ways, "it makes trade challenging," O'Carroll says.

Hammering out global standards is a key goal of the second World Halal Forum in Kuala Lumpur, to be held in May. But getting Islamic scholars from Dacca to Detroit to agree will be tricky. Darhim Hashim, a director of the Halal Industry Development Corp., argues that not just Islamic scholars but trade experts and food scientists must be involved in setting the standards. "We need to apply science to the discussion," he says. "There has been a tendency in Islam to make issues out of things that aren't issues." Nestlé's Yusoff says the industry needs to be demystified. "Halal is not that difficult," he says. "A lot of things are halal. Not so many things are not."

April 15, 2007

The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood

Yesterday, I briefly visited a bookstore and glanced at the latest issue (March/April 2007) of Foreign Affairs magazine. One of the articles is on the Muslim Brotherhood in which the authors, Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke, argue that the American government should engage with some of the national branches of the Ikhwan, in that some of these groups are "moderate" enough to work with.

The entire article is not available online, although one can buy a PDF file of the article from the Foreign affairs website (click on the title link above). As I said above, I only glanced through the article so I'm not completely familiar with the authors' arguments; however, I thought the article was noteworthy enough that I've put in the first segment of the article below.


Summary: Even as Western commentators condemn the Muslim Brotherhood for its Islamism, radicals in the Middle East condemn it for rejecting jihad and embracing democracy. Such relative moderation offers Washington a notable opportunity for engagement -- as long as policymakers recognize the considerable variation between the group's different branches and tendencies.


FRIEND OR FOE?

The Muslim Brotherhood is the world's oldest, largest, and most influential Islamist organization. It is also the most controversial, condemned by both conventional opinion in the West and radical opinion in the Middle East. American commentators have called the Muslim Brothers "radical Islamists" and "a vital component of the enemy's assault force ... deeply hostile to the United States." Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri sneers at them for "lur[ing] thousands of young Muslim men into lines for elections ... instead of into the lines of jihad."

Jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood (known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy. These positions seem to make them moderates, the very thing the United States, short on allies in the Muslim world, seeks. But the Ikhwan also assails U.S. foreign policy, especially Washington's support for Israel, and questions linger about its actual commitment to the democratic process.

Over the past year, we have met with dozens of Brotherhood leaders and activists from Egypt, France, Jordan, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom. In long and sometimes heated discussions, we explored the Brotherhood's stance on democracy and jihad, Israel and Iraq, the United States, and what sort of society the group seeks to create. The Brotherhood is a collection of national groups with differing outlooks, and the various factions disagree about how best to advance its mission. But all reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy. There is also a current within the Brotherhood willing to engage with the United States. In the past several decades, this current -- along with the realities of practical politics -- has pushed much of the Brotherhood toward moderation.

U.S. policymaking has been handicapped by Washington's tendency to see the Muslim Brotherhood -- and the Islamist movement as a whole -- as a monolith. Policymakers should instead analyze each national and local group independently and seek out those that are open to engagement. In the anxious and often fruitless search for Muslim moderates, policymakers should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood presents a notable opportunity.

Robert S. Leiken is Director of the Immigration and National Security Programs at the Nixon Center and the author of the forthcoming "Europe's Angry Muslims." Steven Brooke is a Research Associate at the Nixon Center.

April 12, 2007

Alfred Rowe and RMS Titanic

Saturday is the 95th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. While I've never written about Titanic on my blogs before, I do have a series of webpages on the subject that are quite popular (every day, anywhere between 20-50% of all my hits are with regard to Titanic). This post is with regard to a letter written by a first-class passenger on board Titanic, Alfred Rowe, which is up for auction on the 21st. A number of articles have been published about this letter in recent weeks; below is one of them, taken from the Daily Express:

Businessman Alfred Rowe described the ship as “too big” and a “positive danger” in a letter to his wife Constance written four days before it sank.

In the letter, written on Titanic notepaper, he also tells his wife that he is going down with a cold. He adds: “I took a lovely Turkish bath yesterday and that did me good.”

Mr Rowe, 59, was among the 1,522 passengers and crew who died when the liner struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage to New York in 1912. He managed to scramble on to an ice floe but was found frozen to death.

The letter is being sold at auction by Mr Rowe’s family, along with a diary in which Constance records how she waited desperately at home in Liverpool for news of her husband’s fate. The letter was posted on April 11 in Queens­town, Ireland, the ship’s last port of call.

Mr Rowe, who owned a 200,000-acre ranch in Texas, joined the Titanic in Southampton and, although he was travelling first-class, he took an instant dislike to the 46,000-ton ship.

Describing how the Titanic had a near-miss with the SS New York as its wake caused the other ship to break its moorings, he wrote: “She is too big. You can’t find your way about and it takes too long to get anywhere.

“She has no excessive speed...and is a positive danger to all other shipping. We had the narrowest possible escape of having a hole knocked in us yesterday by the New York. The two ships actually touched.”

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: “It is a remarkable letter. Most other passengers wrote about how magnificent the ship was and described her as a floating palace. Alfred Rowe clearly wasn’t impressed and des­cribed her as a danger. He appears to have something of a premonition of what was going to happen.”

The letter and diary are expected to fetch £60,000 at the auction of White Star Line memorabilia in Devizes, Wiltshire, on April 21.


Sources:
  • Text: "I'm Going Down With Something"
  • Photo: Letter Predicted Titanic Danger


    Alfred Rowe is not mentioned in James Cameron's 1997 film, Titanic, although there was Quartermaster George Thomas Rowe in the movie. (I have no idea if the two men were at all related.)

    The following is the biography of Alfred Rowe on the superb website, Encyclopedia Titanica:

    Mr Alfred G. Rowe, was born in Peru on 24 February 1853, the son of John James and Agnes Rowe of Liverpool. He was one of seven children. Rowe later moved to England, and then, in 1879, settled in Donley County, Texas where he started a ranch with his brothers Vincent and Bernard.

    In 1910, Rowe had moved back to England with his wife and children. He returned a few times a year to check on his ranch, which he had left with a manager. For his last such trip Rowe booked passage on the Titanic as a first class passenger (ticket number 113790, £26 11s).

    Accounts at the time suggested that after the sinking he swam to an piece of ice where he was later found frozen to death. However the body was simply picked up, like so many others, by the Cable Ship Mackay-Bennett.

    It was forwarded from Halifax on 4 May 1912 to Liverpool on the Empress of Britain. On Tuesday 14th May 1912 he was buried at Toxteth Park Cemetery, Smithdown Road, Liverpool.

    His eldest brother Charles Graham Rowe (of Graham Rowe & Co., Mersey Chambers, Old Church Yard, Liverpool) received his effects on 30 May 1912 which consisted of one gold signet ring, a card case containing two photos, cards and certificate of posting of a registered postal packet. Three Bank of England £5 notes, newspaper cuttings, and memos in pencil.

    Note: The ranch would eventually grew to encompass about 100 sections and reached from Gray County, through the present town of McLean, to Lela on the north, and from there to the present town of Quail and to within five miles of Clarendon. Rowe donated land in Gray County that eventually became McLean. The remains of his ranch, now considerably smaller, makes up the Lewis Ranch, named for W.J. Lewis, who bought the ranch from Rowe's widow.
  • What Ever Happened To... Lisa Lynnette Clark

    The following is an article about Lisa Lynnette Clark that was published a few days ago in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lisa Clark is a woman whom I wrote about in the past, and who remains an object of public fascination. Among all the topics I have ever written about, the three words that make up Lisa's name are my top three keywords that people have used on various search engines (and by a fairly wide margin). On Tuesday and Wednesday, I had about 750 hits over and above my daily average and that was solely due to interest in Clark's story.

    The following article is the original "What Ever Happened To..." story published Monday; plus a final sentence that comes from a similar article published in the Houston Chronicle.


    Judith Ann Hayles is proud of the 16-year-old grandson who lives with her in Hall County. A high school junior, he has a computer, shows an aptitude for electronics, and jams on the guitar with friends.

    He talks about joining the Marines when he graduates, "but I won't sign for him if we're still in Iraq," his grandmother said. "I know he'd like to study music, too. At his age, what he wants can change."

    What won't change is the fact her grandson already has a child of his own, a 14-month-old boy, born to his 38-year-old wife who is now in prison. Because he is still a minor, the newspaper is not using his name.

    Hayles doesn't want her grandson's name revealed, either. "He's getting out of the situation he's been in, and I don't want everybody to know his past."

    The teen's past involves Lisa Lynette Clark, the mother of one of his high school friends. The affair became public when Clark, 37, and the teen, then 15, were married in November 2005 by a retired county probate judge who performed the ceremony in his driveway. Hall County authorities arrested Clark the next day, charging her with sexually molesting a minor.

    Hayles, who has no fondness for Clark, said the charge was apt.

    "She's a pedophile, that's what I think," Hayles said. "I believe she seduced and stalked him, and he was living a double life he kept secret from me."

    Although state law sets the marrying age at 16, the marriage was performed under an exception that allows younger people to marry if the bride is pregnant.

    In March 2006, Clark pleaded guilty as a first offender to statutory rape and spent nine months in the Hall County Jail. During that time, she gave birth to a 7-pound, 9-ounce son she named Skye Cobain Gonzalez, in part to honor the late Kurt Cobain, founder of the groundbreaking "grunge rock" group Nirvana, known for the early '90s hit song "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

    "He loved the music; why I don't understand," Hayles said of her grandson. Cobain, who grappled with drug addiction, died in April 1994 of a shotgun blast to the head.

    Skye is being cared for by a woman who employed Clark as a medical transcriptionist, said Hayles' sister, Patricia Redd of Decatur, Tenn. "I've heard the woman's interested in full custody, and I'd be happy about that," Redd said. "My sister's too old to take on a baby, and we know he's being well taken care of."

    Clark is now serving a two-year sentence in a women's prison. She pleaded guilty to a Douglas County charge of helping her teenage husband's flight out of state in February 2006. The teenager, who was on probation for a burglary and in a group home in DeKalb County, was caught within two weeks by authorities in Ohio and returned to Georgia. He then spent four months in a state wilderness program and went back to live with his grandmother after his release last August.

    Assistant Douglas County prosecutor Jeff Ballew said there was evidence that Clark mailed a package, including money and a cellphone, to her husband in Ashtabula. Ohio, where she knew people.

    "Hall County's case was pending, and there may have been a motive on her part that he not be available as a witness," Ballew said. "Even if there had been no sex case at all, she facilitated his escape from a juvenile facility, which is a crime."

    Clark is scheduled to get out of prison in May 2008. A spokeswoman for the corrections department said the warden would not allow her to be interviewed because of unspecified disciplinary reasons.

    Defense attorney Daniel Sammons said Clark has written him "a couple letters. I can't talk about them, but I don't think she's adjusting easily to prison with the isolation from her child and the stark conditions she's in. This was a first offense, and she had no criminal record."

    Sammons said when his client is released, a condition of her probation is that she stay away from Hall and Dawson counties.

    Hayles said she and her grandson are going regularly to counseling. He's behaving more like an average teen these days, she said.

    "He has a girlfriend now and she's his age, thank the Lord."

    It was not clear whether the teen was still married to Clark. Hayles and attorneys in the case did not immediately return calls to The Associated Press on Monday.


    Sources:
  • What Ever Happened to... Hall County Boy 'Adjusting'; Wife Twice His Age is in Prison
  • Teenage Groom Living Normal Life

    Posts of mine on Lisa Lynnette Clark:
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark Gonzalez Speaks
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark to be Released from prison
  • What Ever Happened To... Lisa Lynnette Clark
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark Timeline
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark gives Birth
  • Desperate American Women?
  • April 8, 2007

    Gollum & Smeagol Sing Barry White

    This is one of those videos that brings several thoughts to mind:
  • Creative, yes; out of the box, definitely. But Barry White and Gollum/Smeagol from Lord of the Rings? Whodathunkit?
  • This guy has waaay too much time on his hands.



    (Run time: 2:31)
  • April 7, 2007

    Notice of Revocation of Independence

    Those crazy Brits! ;)

    To the citizens of the United States of America, in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

    Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy. Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a minister for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

    1. You should look up revocation in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up aluminium. Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour', skipping the letter 'U' is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters. You will end your love affair with the letter 'Z' (pronounced 'zed' not 'zee') and the suffix ize will be replaced by the suffix ise. You will learn that the suffix 'burgh' is pronounced 'burra' e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to respell Pittsburgh as 'Pittsberg' if you can't cope with correct pronunciation.

    Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up vocabulary. Using the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up interspersed. There will be no more 'bleeps' in the Jerry Springer show. If you're not old enough to cope with bad language then you shouldn't have chat shows. When you learn to develop your vocabulary then you won't have to use bad language as often.

    2. There is no such thing as "US English". We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize.

    3. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard. English accents are not limited to cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier). You will also have to learn how to understand regional accents -- Scottish dramas such as Taggart will no longer be broadcast with subtitles. While we're talking about regions, you must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is Devon. If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become shires, e.g., Texasshire, Floridashire, Louisianashire.

    4. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys. Hollywood will be required to cast English actors to play English characters. British sit-coms such as Men Behaving Badly or Red Dwarf will not be re-cast and watered down for a wishy-washy American audience who can't cope with the humour of occasional political incorrectness.

    5. You should relearn your original national anthem, God Save The Queen, but only after fully carrying out task 1. We would not want you to get confused and give up half way through.

    6. You should stop playing American football. There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American football is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your borders may have noticed that no one else plays American football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a difficult game. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American "football", but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like nancies). We are hoping to get together at least a US Rugby sevens side by 2005. You should stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the 'World Series' for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.15% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. Instead of baseball, you will be allowed to play a girls' game called rounders, which is baseball without fancy team strip, oversized gloves, collector cards or hot dogs.

    7. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because we don't believe you are sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you will require a permit if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

    8. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 2nd will be a new national holiday, but only in England. It will be called Indecisive Day.

    9. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts. You will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

    10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips. Fries aren't even French, they are Belgian though 97.85% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer, which should be served warm and flat. Waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.

    11. As a sign of penance 5 grams of sea salt per cup will be added to all tea made within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this quantity to be doubled for tea made within the city of Boston itself.

    12. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all, it is lager. From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. The substances formerly known as American Beer will henceforth be referred to as Near-Frozen Knat's Urine, with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as Weak Near-Frozen Knat's Urine. This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.

    13. From November 10th the UK will harmonise petrol (or Gasoline, as you will be permitted to keep calling it until April 1st 2005) prices with the former USA. The UK will harmonise its prices to those of the former USA and the Former USA will, in return, adopt UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US gallon -- get used to it).

    14. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.

    15. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.

    16. Tax collectors from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to 1776).

    Thank you for your co-operation and have a great day.


    John Cleese

    April 5, 2007

    Russia's Muslims: A Benign Growth

    There's a significant article about Russia's Muslim population in this week's Economist magazine.

    A Benign Growth
    Apr 4th 2007

    Russia's fastest-growing religious group is its Muslims. But they are not much like their counterparts in other countries


    MUSLIMS in Russia—or at least the politically active among them—are rejoicing. On March 30th a human-rights case that had become a touchstone of Muslim concerns was dramatically resolved. The story concerned a Russian who had adopted Islam, prefixing his Slavic name of Anton Stepanenko with a Muslim one, Abdullah. Thriving in his adopted faith, he became an imam in the south Russian town of Pyatigorsk. But in January 2006, say friends, he was arrested on sham charges of kidnapping and theft.

    Senior Muslims across Russia used their access to the pro-government press to make a public appeal to President Vladimir Putin for his release. Suddenly, just as Muslims were about to celebrate the Prophet's birthday, the imam's fortunes changed: the charges against him were reduced and he was freed. His release came just in time for this “exemplary, heroic figure for all the nation's Muslims”, as one report called him, to go to the mosque and lead his flock in Friday prayers.

    The imam's travails, and ultimate release, exemplify two features of Muslim life in Russia. One is the state's pragmatic combination of authoritarianism and flexibility towards minorities. Another is the emergence within Russia of an active but ultimately loyal Muslim community. Muslims want a fair deal and growing influence to match their rising numbers.

    Whatever the Stepanenko case was about, it had nothing to do with the bloody war for the independence of Chechnya, which most people outside Russia—including many Muslims—see as the biggest quarrel between the Russian state and Islam. Not that Chechnya is easy to sweep aside. For the world's Muslims, the troubled region is usually listed with Palestine, Kashmir and Bosnia as one of the places in which Islam has been under attack. The repression of the Chechens, as well as sputtering violence in the entire neighbourhood, is the biggest albatross round Mr Putin's neck in his efforts to cultivate Muslim countries.

    Yet in most of Russia a quite different contest over the future of Islam is going on. All of its participants insist that they have no desire to live under a ruler other than Mr Putin. But they differ on how, and how far, to hold him to a promise he first made in Malaysia in 2003, when he declared that Russia was a Muslim power, which hoped to play a role in global Muslim affairs.

    A Muslim power? It sounds bizarre. But Russia has more Muslims than any other European state (bar Turkey); and the Muslim share of the population is rising fast. The 2002 census found that Russia's Muslims numbered 14.5m, 10% of its total of 145m. In 2005 the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, put the number of Muslims at 20m. Ravil Gaynutdin, head of Russia's Council of Muftis, talks of 23m, including Azeri and Central Asian migrants.

    Moreover, the Muslim population of Russia is rising even as the country's overall population falls. Many Muslim communities long predate Russian rule. Shamil Alyautdinov, the imam of the newest and most dynamic of Moscow's four mosques, insists that the very word “minority” should not apply to a faith “which emerged on Russia's territory far earlier than Christianity did”.

    Aside from the Caucasus, there are now two concentrations of Muslims in Russia. One is in Moscow, swollen by labour migration, where they may number 2m. The other is in the faith's old bastions: Bashkortostan and, above all, Tatarstan (see map), where a revival of the faith has been overseen successfully by a wily regional president, Mintimer Shaimiev. In several parts of the Caucasus, old-style compacts between local rulers and “tame” clerics have alienated young people; but in Tatarstan they still seem to work quite well.

    Tatarstan has its share of Islamists, some of whom face severe repression. Seven men sent back to Russia from Guantánamo Bay all suffered harassment or torture, says Human Rights Watch, a lobby group. Two were later convicted in dubious circumstances of blowing up a gas pipeline in Tatarstan. Especially in the early 1990s, Russia's new freedoms—to go on pilgrimage or to open mosques—imported new influences, from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. In Tatarstan much of the alleged radicalism was linked to a foreign-financed religious school, now closed. Last week six people were convicted of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a non-violent Islamist movement to restore the caliphate that is banned in Russia (as is the international Muslim Brotherhood).

    But in general Islam's resurgence in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, has been peaceful. For the first time since Ivan the Terrible conquered the place in 1552, the city's Kremlin houses a mosque, its minarets vying with nearby Orthodox Christian onion domes. Ramil Yunusov, its Saudi-trained imam, gets on fine with the local Orthodox clergy. Just 25 years ago, says Gusman Iskhakov, the mufti who heads the Muslim Spiritual Board of Tatarstan, the region had some 20 mosques. Now there are around 1,300. In Russia, says the mufti, things are better for Muslims than in many Arab countries. Muslim prayer rooms are to be found in Kazan State University, where Tolstoy and Lenin studied. Even as he grumbles about the harassment that an Islamic beard can incur, one foreign Muslim notes the small but growing number of local girls and women wearing headscarves. Tatarstan, he avers, is the last hope for Muslims in the former Soviet Union.

    Rafael Khakimov, an adviser to Mr Shaimiev, uses the term “Euro-Islam” to describe the faith that has evolved in what was for long the world's northernmost Muslim outpost. Wherever he turns, Mr Shaimiev likes to present a benign image. Accompanying Mr Putin round the Middle East, the Tatar leader shows Russia's pious Muslim face, a tactic that underpins the Kremlin's Middle East diplomacy. In February the Saudis gave Mr Shaimiev an award for services to the faith. But when they are talking to west Europeans, the Tatar authorities like to present themselves as more open-minded than most other regions of Russia.

    Many people in Arab countries, says Mr Shaimiev, have never lived on equal terms with other cultures, and their teaching doesn't suit the needs of the Tatars, who have. His government has opened its own religious schools and universities, to propagate its preferred form of Islam.

    Among the politically active Muslims of Moscow who lobbied for Imam Stepanenko, the mood is different. For one thing, there is a row between two contestants for official favour: the cautious Mr Gaynutdin, and Talgat Tadjuddin, a feisty chief mufti who in 2003 proclaimed a jihad against America. But more significant than these two old-timers is a flashier movement based on Muslim entrepreneurs, journalists and websites such as www.islam.ru. Ansar, a publishing house linked to the site, turns out Russian translations of Islamic thinkers along with catchier titles such as “Love and Sex in Islam.”

    Since no political force in Russia has much hope if it stands in open opposition to Mr Putin, these Muscovite Muslims tend to flex their muscles by being (even) more critical of the West than the Russian norm. Shamil Sultanov, a Muslim legislator who is close to the new movement, praises Mr Putin for “standing up to America” and its nefarious plans. Such talk meshes easily with a strand of Russian nationalism that looks to Islam as an anti-Western ally. And the easy fit between Russian-style political Islam and ordinary Slavic pride may be one reason why the Kremlin tolerates it.

    Terms like “Euro-Islam”, says Rinat Mukhametov, a Muslim journalist, reflect a patronising Western Orientalism. For an up-and-coming advocate of Islam in Moscow, nothing could be worse.

    April 4, 2007

    Iraq and Counterinsurgency

    This is a very good article that gives you the bad news straight: There's never been an insurgency that wasn't put down in less than ten years. The author, William Tucker, has worked in Iraq as an embedded reporter with the US Army. Instead of comparing the American occupation of Iraq to colonial occupations (such as the British in Sudan), Tucker looks at the American occupation of the Philippines that began in 1898 and only ended after WW2. However, Tucker is pessimistic that the "successful" occupation of the Philippines can be repeated in Iraq due to a number of significant differences in the conditions then and now.

    I've cut out the first four paragraphs of the article to go straight to the meat of the issue.

    (HT: Juan Cole)


    Ask military leaders how long this is going to go on and they will give you the same response. "We've done a lot of studies of insurgencies. There's never been one that was put down in less than ten years. The 1920s insurgency in the Philippines, the British experience in Sudan in the 19th century -- all of them weren't quelled in less than a decade. Iraq is going to take the same amount of time. We just hope the people back home have the patience to see it through."

    The problem with this analysis is that all the examples are from colonial experiences, both Europe's and ours. The British are often held up as the gold standard -- as in Max Boot's neoconservative manifesto, The Savage Wars of Peace. Since the Philippines is our own experience and in many ways the best analogy to Iraq, let's take a long look at what happened.


    AMERICA INHERITED THE PHILIPPINES from Spain in 1898 after winning the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. We were anti-colonialists -- the war, after all, was fought under the Monroe Doctrine -- and our general public declaration was that we would soon grant the Philippines its independence.

    Once in possession of the Islands, however, people began to have second thoughts. Were the Philippines really capable of governing themselves? Didn't they need some political experience? Wouldn't they benefit from the tutelage of an advanced country like the United States? Maybe we should hang on to them awhile.

    President William McKinley was firmly in favor while his 1896 Democratic opponent William Jennings Bryan led the opposition. Meanwhile, sentiment in Congress was mixed, with Thomas Reed, the powerful Republican Speaker of the House, in the opposition camp.

    In the midst of the Congressional debate, Rudyard Kipling, England's most famous writer and a product of British India, sent a poem to his friend Theodore Roosevelt, then the Governor of New York, urging America to live up to its colonial responsibilities. Within a year it had appeared in McClure's and -- in an era when poetry mattered -- became a centerpiece of the debate.

    Take up the White Man's burden--
    The savage wars of peace--
    Fill full the mouth of Famine
    And bid the sickness cease;
    And when your goal is nearest
    The end for others sought,
    Watch sloth and heathen Folly
    Bring all your hopes to naught.

    Take up the White Man's burden--
    And reap his old reward:
    The blame of those ye better,
    The hate of those ye guard--
    The cry of hosts ye humour
    (Ah, slowly!) toward the light: --
    "Why brought he us from bondage,
    Our loved Egyptian night?"

    The Treaty of Paris, which confirmed American ownership of the Philippines, passed the Senate by only one vote. In The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman recounts Speaker Reed's reaction: "We have bought 10 million Filipinos at $2 a head, unpicked. And nobody knows what it will cost to pick them."

    The "insurgency" broke out a year later when two American privates on patrol killed three Filipino soldiers in San Juan, a suburb of Manila. While Admiral Perry had not suffered a single casualty in the Battle of Manila Bay and the whole Spanish-American War only produced 332 deaths, the counterinsurgency was much costlier.

    Over the next fifteen years, 126,000 American soldiers were engaged in the conflict. A total of 4,234 died, along with 16,000 Filipino insurgents. The poorly equipped Filipinos were easily overpowered by American troops in open combat but mounted a formidable guerrilla campaign. Atrocities were committed by both sides. Estimates of civilian deaths, largely from famine and disease, ranged between 250,000 and 1,000,000.

    The insurgency lasted fifteen years, on and off, even as we tried to establish civilian institutions. Future President William Howard Taft served as the first American Governor-General of the Philippines Commission, replacing military governor Arthur MacArthur (the father of General Douglas MacArthur). Taft's Commission oversaw the creation of a national as well as many local governments but retained most executive and legislative powers. A Philippine Constabulary was also organized to deal with the remnants of the insurgency, gradually shifting responsibility away from the United States Army.

    Still, the insurgency did not abate until 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson started a drive toward independence. Over the next three decades, the Filipino Legislature and the powers in Washington went through many stops and starts, with the Philippines Independence Act finally passing in 1933 over President Herbert Hoover's veto. The treaty was subsequently rejected by the Filipino Senate, however, because it retained American naval bases.

    We were still in possession of the Islands when the Japanese invaded on December 8, 1941, chasing General Douglas MacArthur to Australia and initiating the Bataan Death March. Complete independence was not granted until after World War II.


    IT COULD BE ARGUED that the American colonial occupation of the Philippines was basically a success. The Islands have become a fairly stable democracy and their English-knowledgeable populace is rapidly entering the world information economy. But all this was bought at the cost of decades of conflict and 4,000 American lives.

    Can we accomplish anything resembling the same thing in Iraq? It is very doubtful. The Philippines were an isolated country on the other side of the world while Iraq is a cauldron of ethnic and sectarian conflict smack in the middle of the most volatile sector of the planet. Moreover, all this is taking place not in a world knit together by the telegraph lines but in the age of easy travel and instant communication, where every conflict is soon internationalized.

    When I was embedded in Iraq, I told the soldiers that I considered it my duty to report to the people back home as precisely as I could what is going on in Iraq. But I also consider it my duty to inform the military leadership in Iraq of the mood of the people back home.

    After hearing their arguments for staying the course for a decade or more, my message is simply this: "The American public is not going to put up with daily death tolls for ten years or even another six years. If things haven't changed significantly by 2008, the candidate who wins the Presidency is going to be the one who campaigns on the slogan, 'Bring the troops home now.'"

    April 3, 2007

    The Amman Message

    To be honest, I had not heard of The Amman Message until Abu Sinan blogged about it a few days ago. His complaint with the Amman Message deals with who gave the Message its initial push (King Abd'Allah of Jordan) and various of its signatories. However, I find Abu Sinan's reasoning comparable to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. His complaint deals not with the message itself, only with some of those people who have attached their names to the document. Personally, I looked through some of the list of signatories and found people who, IMO, are the opposite of whom A.S. is complaining about. For example, among the signatories from SE Asia are Dr. Yaaqob Ibrahim (who serves, among other duties, as Singapore's Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs) and Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdallah, who is also an Islamic scholar.

    But the point I should not have to stress to Abu Sinan is that we are all sinners, and that it is our intentions that matter the most. Can you judge the intentions of King Abd'Allah or some of the other signatories, Abu Sinan?

    I, personally, support the Amman Message.


    In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

    May peace and blessings be upon the Prophet Muhammad and his pure and noble family


    (1) Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (Mathahib) of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali), the two Shi'i schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ja'fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Islamic jurisprudence, is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible and impermissible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are inviolable. Moreover, in accordance with the Shaykh Al-Azhar’s fatwa, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash'ari creed or whoever practices real Tasawwuf (Sufism) an apostate. Likewise, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate.

    Equally, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare as apostates any other group of Muslims who believes in God, Glorified and Exalted be He, and His Messenger (may peace and blessings be upon him), the pillars of faith (Iman), and the five pillars of Islam, and does not deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion.

    (2) There exists more in common between the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence than there is difference between them. The adherents to the eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic principles of Islam. All believe in Allah (God), Glorified and Exalted be He, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Qur’an is the Revealed Word of God preserved and protected by God, Exalted be He, from any change or aberration; and that our master Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind. All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith (shahadatayn); the ritual prayer (salat); almsgiving (zakat); fasting the month of Ramadan (sawm), and the Hajj to the sacred house of God (in Mecca). All are also in agreement about the foundations of belief: belief in Allah (God), His angels, His scriptures, His messengers, and in the Day of Judgment, in Divine Providence in good and in evil. Disagreements between the ‘ulama (scholars) of the eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence are only with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu') and some fundamentals (usul) [of the religion of Islam]. Disagreement with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu') is a mercy. Long ago it was said that variance in opinion among the ‘ulama (scholars) “is a mercy.”

    (3) Acknowledgement of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Mathahib) within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas: no one may issue a fatwa without the requisite qualifications of knowledge. No one may issue a fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence. No one may claim to do unlimited Ijtihad and create a new opinion or issue unacceptable fatwas that take Muslims out of the principles and certainties of the Shari'ah and what has been established in respect of its schools of jurisprudence.


    Notes:
    Section 1:
    Notice that a number of religious groups that are either offshoots of Islam (e.g., the Baha'i, the Ahmadiyya) or are quasi-Islamic groups (NOI, Submitters, etc.) are not listed among the definition of who is a Muslim. Also, insha'allah, this definition of who is a Muslim and who isn't I hope will help to defuse some of the sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shi'a, especially in Iraq and Pakistan.
    Section 3: I find this section to be the most important of the three. This section removes the ability of both extremes of Muslims, the al-Qaeda types and the Secular/Pro-regressive" Muslims, to write legitimate fatawa. The eight mathahib are the only legitimate providers of fatawa for the Ummah.

    April 2, 2007

    "I am Michelle's Hood"

    If you're not familiar with Patriotboy, he's famous for his "letters." This one is addressed to the right-wing Islamophobe Michelle Malkin, who recently wrote an essay called "I am John Doe" in response to CAIR's lawsuit against US Airways and the Metropolitan Airports Commission in Minneapolis/St. Paul. You may recall that six imams were denied a flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix last November because they had the temerity to do their prayers. According to Malkin, the reason why the imams are filing the lawsuit is because they are "publicity-seeking." Malkin herself, who is a Filipina, is known for sucking up to redneck white folk by being anti-immigration, apparently not realizing that the same people whom she allies with would otherwise be persecuting her because of the color of her skin.

    To Michelle, all I have to say is, "Go play with your ping-pong balls. You intimidate - and impress - no one."


    Michelle Malkin
    Our Lady of the Concentration Camps

    Dear Mrs. Malkin,

    Although I enjoyed your (Jesse's?) "I am John Doe" piece, I think you held back a little bit. I reworked it to make your point a little more clearly.

    Dear traitorous Brownislamunistofascist, Homoislamunistofascist, Femislamunistofascist, Poorislamunistofascist, JehovahWitnessislamunististfascist, Hebrislamunistofascist, and/or Libislamunistofascist,

    You do not know me. But I am on the lookout for you. You are my enemy. And I am yours.

    I am Michelle's hood.

    I am tucked away in your neighbor's sock drawer, your boss's personnel files, and your Republican National Committee's campaign playbooks.

    Talk radio hosts wear me in their studios. Columnists stroke my soft white cotton for inspiration. Pundits use me in lieu of viagra.

    I'm part of the official uniform of the Washington Times and the unofficial uniform of the National Review, Fox News, and ABC Radio. Mickey Mouse wears me to Disney board meetings.

    I am Marty Peretz's muse and Lou Dobbs's raison d’etre.

    I am Michelle's hood.

    My owners will never forget the shame they felt when a brown man was promoted over them, when a homosexual tricked them into arousal, when a feminist convinced their wives that they were equals.

    They will never forget that Jews don't love Jesus, that Jehovahs Witnesses are cultists, that the poor are just lazy, and that liberals are traitors.

    I am Michelle's hood.

    I serve as a symbol of conservative values.

    I motivate Republican voters.

    I inspire Rush, O'Reilly, Hannity, and Michelle.

    I am Michelle's hood.

    I will be with those who racially profile.

    I will be with those who torture.

    I will be with those who spy on our citizens.

    I will be with those who lynch homosexuals.

    I will not be censored in the name of tolerance.

    I will not submit to your concepts of decency. I will not be intimidated.

    I am Michelle's hood.


    Well, that's it. I think it makes your point much more clearly. I hope you'll consider using it.

    Heterosexually yours in a chaste and biblically appropriate kind of way,


    Gen. JC Christian patriot.