August 31, 2008

What McCain Really Thinks About Palin

John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for Vice President is the stupidest political decision I've ever come across. It almost makes George H.W. Bush's decision to pick Dan Quayle look like an enlightened choice. Seriously, do you want a complete unknown to become the next president should McCain win the election and become incapacitated in some manner?

August 28, 2008

Bedtime Music: U2 - New Year's Day

Unlike Loverboy and REO Speedwagon, bands whose music I enjoy but never bought their albums (despite wanting to), U2 is one of those bands I never wanted to buy their albums. (The same with Led Zeppelin.) Don't get me wrong, U2 and Zep are great bands and I enjoy listening to their songs on the radio. I just never felt compelled to buy their music; my album collection didn't feel "incomplete" without them.

Anyway, of all U2's music that I do like, I enjoy their earliest music the best. This particular song,
New Year's Day, came from their 1983 album, War, and was inspired by the Polish Solidarity movement (Solidarność).

August 27, 2008

Bedtime Music: Toto - Africa

Another fantastic album was Toto's 1982 release, Toto IV. The album produced three hits (although I don't think there's a single song on the album that I don't love), including the band's only #1 hit, Africa.

Interestingly enough, despite the enormous success of this particular song:

A quote from the second verse was voted the sixth worst lyric ever, in a poll for the BBC.

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

In case you didn't know, the band broke up earlier this year, in June, when Steve Lukather announced that he was quitting the band permanently and the band was dissolving.

August 26, 2008

Bedtime Music: Supertramp - The Logical Song

I haven't had much time to do any blogging in the past month due to the birth of A'ishah and then a thorough cleaning of the apartment before Milady and A'ishah returned home. As a result, my three regular series of posts (Bedtime Music, Drum Corps Saturday and Movie Sunday) went on a temporary hiatus. In fact, if you'll notice, the last Bedtime Music post was published on July 18th, which was the day A'ishah was born - I had set that up to be posted for that night, but haven't had the chance to prepare any more posts since then. Be that as it may, I hope to resume all three series now, and I start tonight by resuming with my series of music videos, the theme of which no one has still guessed.

This particular song,
The Logical Song by Supertramp, is a long-time personal favorite. Released in March 1979 on their #1 (US; #3 UK) album, Breakfast in America, I became really familiar with this song in the summer of '79 when I worked as a lifeguard at an outdoor public swimming pool and the staff played the radio on a loudspeaker system all day long. I rather enjoy the song now, though, for its political commentary, the contrast between "liberalism" (such as it's presented in the song) vs. "conservatism." Unfortunately, I've found Roger Hodgson's description of conservatism to be all too true.

August 25, 2008

A'ishah @ 1 Month

It's hard to believe, but A'ishah is 38 days old today (a little over five weeks). Both she and Milady moved home recently after spending a month at Milady's parents' flat. (I believe we picked up that idea from a comment at Izzy Mo's blog.) Anyway, here's the little darling asleep on the couch as we cleaned our place for a baby shower:

And now she's just starting to wake up from her nap. (This picture and the next were taken by my bro-in-law, Du@n.)

Yeeaaaahhh! Get that thing outta my face!

This next picture was taken late at night recently before A'ishah's midnight feeding. (I normally feed A'ishah around midnight, while Milady does the 4 am and 8 am feedings. More often than not, A'ishah's playful at that time of night, and I don't get to bed till 1:30 or 2:00 am, when she finally falls back asleep. Of course this has completely screwed up my sleep schedule.) Anyway, just before feeding, I was struck by the whiteness of the scene, yet I didn't want to use the flash for fear of waking A'ishah up. So the only lighting here was a halogen lamp on the other side of the room, next to a wooden bookcase, which gave this picture a brownish tone.

One more pic, taken by Milady, who wanted to thank my sister, EFva, for the outfit A'ishah's wearing in the photo:

Musings on BSG

For the fun of it, I thought I'd write down some thoughts about the "reimagined" Battlestar Galactica (BSG), a series I only recently got the chance to start watching (due to the fact that Singapore TV started airing these episodes for the first time only a few months ago... and despite the fact that the series has been playing for several years in the US). In that regard, what I have to say may very well be wrong; I've not quite watched all of the first season, nor have I seen the miniseries. However, I have relied a lot on the well-written Battlestar Wiki and even the Youtube video covering the first three seasons has helped to make sense out of the series. But, in this diary, I'm interested in addressing a few specific issues.

Whom do you identify with more, the Cylons or the Humans?
One of the more interesting twists in the series is that humanity is made up of polytheists, whereas the Cylons are mostly monotheists (with a sprinkling of atheists among them, such as Number One and (perhaps) pantheists, such as Number Two). One of the more "Muslim" of the Cylons is Number Three, aka D'Anna Biers, played by Lucy Lawless. In the episode Exodus, Part II, Number Three said, "[There is] no other god but God." That is certainly close enough to the first half of the shahadah, "I testify that there is no God but God..." But are the Cylons muslim (little "m," as opposed to capital "M," which they certainly are not)? I don't know.

Why aren't the Cylons "Muslim?"
While I identify more with the Cylons, perhaps, due to their monotheism, one very significant problem I have with them in the series is their attempted genocide upon humanity. In the Qur'an, Allah (swt) makes it abundantly clear that He does not love aggressors (e.g., 2:190). But, was the surprise assault on Humanity aggression? Were the Cylons being oppressed? "...for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter..." (2:191). These are questions I don't know the answers to, nor have I seen any definitive answers.

What's the Cylons' "plan?"
In the page at Battlestar Wiki on the Cylon's religion, there's a quotation that I found of interest:

The Cylons, seeing themselves as mankind's children, believe they cannot not truly come into their own until the human race is gone. The logical conclusion they reach is that they must commit genocidal "parenticide" in order to evolve and mature ("Torn" Podcast, Act 2).

This, I think may have been the original "plan." However, between the realization among some of the Cylons that the genocide and occupation of the Colonial planets was wrong (sinful) and their continuing work to create a Cylon-Human hybrid child and (later) the Cylon-Cylon child, I think the plan metamorphizes into one of assimilation. If it's now possible for a child to be born of a Cylon and Human parent, what ultimate difference then is a Cylon from a Human? In this respect, I wonder if the story line will resemble the assimilation of the Honored Matres by the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert's novel, Chapterhouse: Dune.

Who do you think is the last, unrevealed Cylon model?
I've read some of the speculation as to who might be the fifth of the "Final Five." Personally, I still think that it's probably Gaius Baltar, although (apparently) he's been ruled out due to his appearance in a picture taken for Entertainment Weekly called The Last Supper.

Cross-posted on Street Prophets.

August 20, 2008

Pop vs. Soda

One of the blogs that I have on my RSS reader is Strange Maps, which is not so much devoted to "strange" maps as it is to unusual maps. This being an interesting map, IMO.

In 1996, the Journal of English Linguistics published an article (Soda or Pop?, #24, 1996) and the above map by Luanne von Schneidemesser, PhD in German linguistics and philology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and senior editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English. The article shows the regional variation in American English of the names given to that type of drink as of the mid 90s.

The reason I find this of interest is that this topic was the subject of much debate when I was a teenager. :) In the fall of 1977, the drum corps I was marching with at the time (the Mark Twain Cadets) merged with another corps sixty miles to our east (the Grenadiers of Broome County, NY) to form a new corps (the Empire State Express) that I marched with in the summer of '78.

Being typical teenagers, we all loved our soft drinks, except that we discovered there was a significant difference between the two sides of the corps: all the ex-Cadets called pop "pop" (as I still do) and all the ex-Grenadiers called pop "soda." And that was just something we had the most difficult time getting over. What do you call a soft drink? Is it pop or soda (or some other word)? And what I find extremely interesting about this map is that it shows exactly why the two corps could not agree on such a trivial matter. The county I grew up in, where the Cadets were located, is the furthest southeast in New York (along the Pennsylvania border) of the blue counties where people say "pop" (in the 50-80% range). And the Grenadiers came from two counties over to the east along the Pennsy border, which is an 80-100% "soda" county. And I never knew until now that my county was literally on the border of that great northern swath of "pop" drinkers that extends all the way from central New York to the Pacific, and from the Canadian border down south to roughly the latitude of 37° North (i.e., the southern border of the states of Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado and Utah).

So for the entire summer, whenever we'd travel to some city or town for a parade or competition, there was this running joke in the corps: "Hey, let's see what the local people call it, soda or pop." And as you can see, whenever we were in the eastern half of New York or Pennsylvania (or, later that summer, Massachusetts), they called it "soda." And when we traveled to the western halves of New York and Pennsylvania (and Ohio), people called it "pop." (BTW, we corps members were also warned prior to our trip to Lynn, Massachusetts that the people around Boston called pop "tonic," as is mentioned in the last bullet point below.)

  • coke: this generic term for soft drinks predominates throughout the South, New Mexico, central Indiana and in a few other single counties in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. ‘Coke’ obviously derives from Coca-Cola, the brand-name of the soft drink originally manufactured in Atlanta (which explains its use as a generic term for all soft drinks in the South).
  • pop: dominates the Northwest, Great Plains and Midwest. The world ‘pop’ was introduced by Robert Southey, the British Poet Laureate (1774-1843), to whom we also owe the word ‘autobiography’, among others. In 1812, he wrote: A new manufactory of a nectar, between soda-water and ginger-beer, and called pop, because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn. Even though it was introduced by a Poet Laureate, the term ‘pop’ is considered unsophisticated by some, because it is onomatopaeic.
  • soda: prevalent in the Northeast, greater Miami, the area in Missouri and Illinois surrounding St Louis and parts of northern California. ‘Soda’ derives from ‘soda-water’ (also called club soda, carbonated or sparkling water or seltzer). It’s produced by dissolving carbon dioxide gas in plain water, a procedure developed by Joseph Priestly in the latter half of the 18th century. The fizziness of soda-water caused the term ‘soda’ to be associated with later, similarly carbonated soft drinks.
  • Other, lesser-used terms include ‘dope’ in the Carolinas and ‘tonic’ in and around Boston, both fading in popularity. Other generic terms for soft drinks outside the US include ‘pop’ (Canada), ‘mineral’ (Ireland), ‘soft drink’ (New Zealand and Australia). The term ‘soft drink’, finally, arose to contrast said beverages with hard (i.e. alcoholic) drinks.
  • August 17, 2008

    Monkey Off Their Backs

    Congratulations to Singapore for winning their first Olympic medal since 1960. Table tennis players Feng Tianwei, Li Jia Wei and Wang Yue Gu lost to the Chinese team tonight for the gold medal, but I'm sure the country is rather happy at the outcome all the same. The last person to win an Olympic medal for Singapore was Tan Howe Liang, who won a silver medal in weightlifting back in 1960, at the Rome games. The country had become rather desperate in its efforts to win something after 48 years. (American sports fans may be able to relate if you're a fan of the New York Rangers, who finally won the Stanley Cup in 1994 after a 54 year drought, the Boston Red Sox, who won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, or (for the truly diehard fans) the Chicago Cubs, who haven't won a World Series since 1908.)

    Part of the problem has been that Singapore doesn't have much of a sports culture. If you compare the medal count to national populations, some countries with smaller populations, like Croatia, Mongolia, Armenia and New Zealand, have more medals than Singapore (two, two, five and five, respectively). So Singapore is definitely slacking. The good news is that there have been some steps taken by the government and the media to improve the situation, but progress is very, very slow.

    Now, when I wrote the title above, "Monkey Off Their Backs," one "back" is that of the government, which has been working to improve Singapore's sports culture. But the other "back" is that of Tan Howe Liang himself, the 1960 silver medal winner. Now 75, Mr. Tan is glad that someone else has won a medal:

    'Every four years when the Olympics come around, many people look for me. Aiyah, I've got tired of it.

    'Mind you, my achievement came so very long ago, and I have to repeat the Rome story again and again. It's time for others to take the spotlight.'

    So, congratulations once again to Singapore; insha'allah, the women can bring in one or two more medals with the individual table tennis play.

    August 16, 2008


    George Carty wrote as a comment on another post: "I almost wonder if Obama could do good by nicking LBJ's "Daisy Girl" attack ad. :)" My response: Excellent idea! Seriously, in this presidential election, is there any real difference between Goldwater in 1964 vs. McCain today? I think not!

    August 13, 2008

    Handphone A'ishah

    A'ishah's definitely in her colic season, and Daddy spent a fair amount of yesterday afternoon walking back and forth in the corridor outside the flat, humming old drum corps songs as he tried to get her to fall asleep. In the meantime, I thought I'd download three photos from my handphone that I took of A'ishah.

    This is the first picture taken of A'ishah. As you can see, the image is rather crappy (the "joy" of a handphone camera). :P The photo was taken about ten minutes after she was born, when they had wheeled her into a small family reception room for me to see her.

    And, as you might expect, this is the second photo taken of A'ishah. I've been using this photo as my handphone's "wallpaper" for the past few weeks. When A'ishah was born, certain parts of her face were rather puffy. In these two pictures, you can see that her lips were quite puffy; however, in a few days, all of the excess fluids drained away and now her lips are normal looking.

    After I took this photo, I spent the next five and a half minutes videotaping her before the nurse wheeled A'ishah away.

    This last photo was taken about two weeks after A'ishah was born. We had needed to go to one of the local polyclinics to have a blood test taken for A'ishah's jaundice level. She was sleeping in her carseat and I thought she looked adorable like that, so I used the only camera I had with me (the handphone) to take her picture with.

    Special note to my sister EFva: Thank you so much for the package; we got it yesterday. Milady was a bit shocked that you had wrapped everything up individually, and then almost had an overdose of sweetness and cuteness. ("Oh, this is so sweet! Oh, this is so cute!" :) ) We were both very, very pleased with your gifts. Thank you so much!

    August 12, 2008

    Do You Want "Other" Wars?

    BUSH: The danger to our country is grave. The danger to our country is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons.

    [VARIOUS SPEAKERS]: Weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction.

    BUSH: Well, our people are gonna find out the truth. And the truth will say that this intelligence is good intelligence. There's no doubt in my mind.

    RUMSFELD: There are a lot of people who lie and get away with it, and that's just a fact.

    [Scary music, flag-draped coffins, ugly statistics, injured Iraqi civilians, more ugly statistics.]

    BUSH [joking in front of an audience]: Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere. [Audience laughs.]

    BUSH: Nope, no weapons over there! [Audience roars with laughter.]

    QUESTIONER: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years--

    McCAIN: Maybe a hundred.

    BUCHANAN: There's no doubt John McCain is going to be a war president. Can anyone see John McCain as sort of a peactime Calvin Coolidge president? It's preposterous! His whole career is wrapped up in the military, national security; he's in Putin's face, he's threatening the Iranians, we're gonna be in Iraq a hundred years.

    RITTER: The Bush Administration has built a new generation of nuclear weapons that we call "usable" nukes. [TEXT: Cochran statement.] And they have a nuclear, you know, posture now which permits the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons in a non-nuclear environment if the Commander-in-Chief deems US forces to be at significant risk.

    If we start bombing Iran, I'm telling you right now it's not gonna work

    McCAIN: Bomb Iran? Heh-heh. [singing, to tune of Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann"] Bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, heh-heh.

    RITTER: My concern is that we will use nuclear weapons to break the backbone of Iranian resistance, and it may not work. But what it will do is this: it will unleash the nuclear genie. So to all those Americans out there tonight who say, "You know what? Taking on Iran's a good thing,"

    McCAIN: My friends, I know how to handle the Iranians, and I'll handle them.

    RITTER: And if we use nuclear weapons, the genie ain't going back in the bottle until an American city is taken out by an Islamic weapon in retaliation. So tell me, you want to go to war with Iran: Pick your city. Pick your city. Tell me which one you want gone. Seattle? LA? Boston? New York, Miami? Pick one! Because at least one's going.

    And that's something we should all think about before we march down this path of insanity [repeating "insanity" as pictures flash on screen.]

    MIKA BRZEZINSKI READING WES CLARK ARTICLE: "The truth is that, in national security terms, he's largely untested and untried" -- John McCain, this is what you're talking about -- "he's never been responsible for policy formulation. He's never had leadership in a crisis or in anything larger than his own element on an aircraft carrier or in managing his own Congressional staff.

    It's not clear that this is going to be the strong suit that he thinks it is. McCain's weakness is that he's always been for the use of force, force, and more force. In my experience, the only time to use force is as a last resort. When he talks about throwing Russia out of the G8 and makes ditties about bombing Iran, he betrays a disrespect for the office of the Presidency."

    McCAIN: And I'm sorry to tell ya that we're gonna be in further wars. . . . And we were in two wars today, combatting it, and there are other places in the world where we may have to. These young people that are in this crowd, my friends, I'm gonna be asking you to serve.

    There's gonna be more wars. There's gonna be more wars. We're in a greater struggle that is gonna be with us for the rest of this century.

    It's a tough war we're in. It's not gonna be over right away. There's gonna be other wars. I'm sorry to tell you, there's gonna be other wars.

    [Scary music, scary statistics, scary pictures.]

    BUCHANAN: "He will make Cheney look like Gandhi."

    HT: NWTerriD at Daily Kos

    Pax Singaporeana: Why They Hate Singapore

    Straits Times political editor Chua Lee Hoong has an interesting op-ed today about the discomfort Westerners have with Singapore. As a PR who's lived in Singapore for almost six years now, I've come across several of these Westerners online, people who are upset with the laws that govern social behavior here. I'm not so sure Westerners are as upset with the health and wealth of Singapore's economy as they are with that of China's, but their dislike for the social behavior laws here is fairly strong.

    The thing is, I don't have much of a problem with how society is governed here. As I've argued a number of times on my blog, governments have a trade off to make: either deregulate social behavior and accept a society that may be more chaotic, or regulate social behavior to some degree in order to create a harmonious society. Personally, I see the wisdom of the latter strategy.
    Pax Singaporeana is a value I cherish; its benefits certainly outweigh its costs.

    As for the issue of economic success being tied to the model of an "authoritarian" state (which I don't consider Singapore to be), as opposed to being tied solely to "Western-style 'liberal' democracy," that should be obvious to any student of international management. The fact of the matter is that almost any country that sets up pro-economic growth policies upon a solid legal framework (the rule of law) and adheres to both should do well in the long-run. And this is why, IMO, "communist" countries like China and Vietnam have been doing well economically over the past 20 years. Westerners (especially Americans) often suffer from this
    paradigm paralysis, their inability to accept that other paradigms may be just as good (or even better) than their own.

    SINGAPORE is small enough to be a suburb in Beijing, but it has something in common with the mammoth People's Republic. The little red dot and Red China are both countries the West loves to hate.

    There are those who wish bad things to happen to the Beijing Olympics. Likewise, there are those who have had it in for the Lion City for years.

    What's eating them? The easy answer is that both China and Singapore are authoritarian states. The freedoms taken for granted in the West - freedom of speech and assembly - come with more caveats in these two places.

    But things are not so simple. There are plenty of authoritarian states around, but most do not attract as much attention as Singapore and China.

    The real sin: Singapore and China are examples of countries which are taking a different route to development, and look to be succeeding.

    Success grates, especially when it cocks a snook at much-cherished liberal values.

    As Madam Yeong Yoon Ying, press secretary to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, said last month: 'Singapore is an example to other countries of how the free market plus the rule of law, and stable macro-economic policies, can lead to progress and success, but without Western-style 'liberal' democracy.'

    Don't believe her words? Read these lines from British journalist John Kampfner, writing in The Guardian last month, lamenting the spread of what he calls the Singapore model.

    "Why is it that a growing number of highly-educated and well-traveled people are willing to hand over several of their freedoms in return for prosperity or security? This question has been exercising me for months as I work on a book about what I call the 'pact.'

    "The model for this is Singapore, where repression is highly selective. It is confined to those who take a conscious decision openly to challenge the authorities. If you do not, you enjoy freedom to travel, to live more or less as you wish, and - perhaps most important - to make money. Under Lee Kuan Yew, this city-state built on a swamp has flourished economically.

    "I was born in Singapore and have over the years been fascinated by my Chinese Singaporean friends. Doctors, financiers and lawyers, they have studied in London, Oxford, Harvard and Sydney. They have traveled across all continents; they are well-versed in international politics, but are perfectly content with the situation back home. I used to reassure myself with the old certainty that this model was not applicable to larger, more diverse states. I now believe this to be incorrect.

    "Provincial governments in China send their brightest officials to Singapore to learn the secrets of its 'success.' For Russian politicians it too provides a useful model. These countries, and others in Asia and the Middle East are proving that the free market does not require a free society in which to thrive, and that in any battle between politics and economics, it is the latter that will win out."

    Mr Kampfner seems in a genuine intellectual funk. He cannot quite understand why otherwise normal, intelligent Singaporeans would trade certain freedoms for economic progress, and accept the Singapore political system for what it is.

    But perhaps he has got the wrong end of the stick. The problem lies not in the Singaporeans, but in his own assumptions. Namely: If you speak English, if you are well-educated and well-traveled, you must also believe in Western-style democracy. They are a package.

    I was on the receiving end of similar assumptions when I was in the United States in 1991-1992. When Americans asked me, 'Why is your English so good?', often it was not out of admiration but bewilderment. Their next question revealed all: 'Why then do you (i.e. your Government) ban chewing gum?'

    Another telling indicator of Western assumptions about Singapore comes from a remark by Singapore's Ambassador to Washington, Professor Chan Heng Chee, who went to the US at the tail end of the Michael Fay saga.

    One year into her posting there, in 1997, she arranged for a retrospective of the late choreographer Goh Choo San's works. Her Washington audience was awed.

    'People suddenly remembered Choo San was a Singaporean. They may have known about Goh Choo San, but to connect him with Singapore was not so obvious for them,' she said.

    Sub-text: World-class choreography does not fit their image of a country with corporal punishment.

    So the real difficulty for the West is this: We are so like them, and yet so not like them. We speak, dress, do business and do up our homes very much the same way as them. Yet when it comes to political values, we settle - apparently - for much less.

    One observer draws an analogy with Pavlovian behavioral conditioning. So conditioned have Westerners become to associating cosmopolitan progress with certain political parameters, they do not know how to react when they encounter a creature - Singapore - that has one but not the other.

    So they chide and berate us, as if we have betrayed a sacred covenant.

    Adding to the iniquity is the fact that countries - rich and powerful ones too, like Russia and the Gulf states - are looking to the Singaporean way of doing things to pick up a tip or two.

    I can imagine the shudders of Singapore's Western detractors should they read about a suggestion made by Mr Kenichi Ohmae this week.

    In an interview with Business Times, the Japanese management consultant who first became famous as author of The Borderless World, said Singapore should 'replicate' itself in other parts of the world.

    What he meant was that Singapore should use its IQ, and IT prowess, to help organise effective economies in other regions, as its own had succeeded so well.

    To be sure, his reasoning was economic, not political. But for those who hate Singapore, a Pax Singaporeana would be something to work against and head off.

    August 8, 2008

    What the Frak is Going On?

    My new love (television-wise) is the "reimagining" of Battlestar Galactica. The local cable company recently started playing the SciFi channel and, with our HubStation (a TiVo-like device), I've got almost all of the first season's episodes recorded. However, if you'd like to catch up on what's gone on in the first three seasons of the series, be sure to check out this eight-minute video. And be sure to listen very carefully; she talks really, really fast.

    What the frak!?

    August 7, 2008

    Exorcisms "R" Us

    The block I live in has a row of shops on the first floor instead of the usual void deck, with one of the shops selling joss paper. That, in and of itself, isn't unusual; in fact, this block has always had a retailer selling joss paper, joss sticks, etc., since Milady and I moved here.

    What is unusual is that the new retailer has a small sign posted outside their shop, which I took a photograph of today. Both Milady and I had our curiosity aroused at the first service offered: exorcisms. :) All of the other services offered are very commonplace here, especially among the Chinese community, but this is the first time I've ever seen anyone say they're willing to perform an exorcism. One wonders whether they've done this before and, if so, how successful they were in the past? :)

    A Response to "The Qur'an and Being True to Ourselves"

    Two people over at a blog called The Zen of South Park are trying to work their way through the Qur'an. Their first post was on Al-Fatiha, and now they're trying to get through the first ten verses of Al-Baqarah. What appears below is one of my comments with respect to the Qur'anic view of determinism vs. free will. I admit that this is a topic that I've had problems with in the past, but I tried to answer the questions as best I can. If anyone wants to help out, please feel free to join me. :)

    According to Islam, everything in this life and world is dictated by and under the control of Allah (or God).

    First, I don't know how much you've read of the Qur'an, but I will say that unless you've read through the entire Qur'an at least once (and preferably several times), it's best not to try to draw conclusions, especially on only a few verses. The Qur'an will bounce around and provide snippets of information here and there that need to be synthesized, along with material from the ahadith, in order to have a more thorough understanding of the topic being studied. This is especially the case for the topic of determinism and free will. :) The Qur'an essentially teaches that mankind has limited free will. We do have the ability to make choices although, perhaps from the perspective of Allah (swt), He knows what the final outcome will be in advance. In this case, you might say that from His perspective this is determinism, but from ours it is free will. We believe we are making our own choices. In your life, do you not think that the choices you are making are your own? Do you have the ability to choose to believe in Allah (swt) or not? We (Muslims) would in fact argue that you do have a choice. See below.

    However, it is interesting that verse 7 mentions that “God has sealed their hearts and ears, and veiled their eyes.”

    Because they had already made their choice not to believe in God. Even so, they are still given chances to reform their beliefs: "See they not that they are tried every year once or twice? Yet they turn not in repentance, and they take no heed." (9:126)

    Under this notion, everything in this wolrd is pre-destined or determined, leaving us with no liberty to really choose what is the “straight path” because Islam and the revelation of God is what is right.

    Well, Islam and the revelation of God is what is right. :) "He will admit to His Mercy Whom He will..." (76:31) If you choose to submit to the will of Allah (swt), you may, insha'allah, be able to obtain His Grace and Mercy; if you reject God, you'll suffer the penalty, insha'allah.

    If the way of Allah is supreme and reigns over all other paths in this world, then why would Allah put in this world unbelievers?

    The Qur'an points out in many, many passages that we are all here to be tested; e.g., see the above verse 9:126. Even if you took the extreme position that "unbelievers have no chance whatsoever to go to heaven in the afterlife; it's all been predetermined that they won't," perhaps they are being used to test the believers. Allahu alim. (God knows best.)

    There is a slight impression that the God we speak of here is pretty merciless. However, if you read the bismillah, which starts off every surah of the Qur’an, except the ninth, it states, “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most compassionate.” Am I seeing things or is there a contradiction here?

    To those who disbelieve, who mock Him, His messengers and His believers, who sin in such a gross fashion without sincere repentance, yes, He might seem merciless, insha'allah. To the believers, He is the Most Merciful, insha'allah. In which case, we would say, "Why would you not want to be on His good side?"

    August 2, 2008

    Sweet Child O' Mine... Usually

    Daddy decided that he'd take some photos of A'ishah today, seeing how it was Saturday and he hadn't taken any in a while. A'ishah turns one-half month old in less than an hour (i.e., she's 15 days, 11 hours old as I write this). As you can see, A'ishah's fully recovered from her jaundice.

    The custom here in S'pore is to wrap babies tightly in a blanket while they sleep; it restricts their movements but keeps them warm, both of which may remind them of their time in the womb.

    A'ishah has a very expressive face, and she'll smile every now and then. I happened to have the camera ready when this unexpected smile came forth. It certainly made Daddy happy to see it.

    For the first two weeks, it's been very difficult to get pictures of A'ishah with her eyes open. After she woke up from the above nap, Daddy was able to get a bunch of pictures with A'ishah fully alert. This is one of the better photos. (Another is so clear, you can see yours truly reflected off of her eye.)

    A'ishah was registered with the Singapore government a week ago, last Saturday. To give her her full, proper name, Daddy needed to get a legal alias, which is my Muslim name. So now my identification card has two names, plus the Jawi transliteration. Of course, I've been using my Muslim name as an informal alias for several years now; virtually all of Milady's family (except for Milady!) call me by my Muslim name. If I had needed to, I would have legally changed my name, but I'm glad that I didn't due to the amount of work that would have entailed (all my various legal documents, including my passport).

    Unfortunately, A'ishah suffers from colic in the evening. When I left her a little over an hour ago, she wasn't the peaceful little angel she was in the above photos.

    BTW, if you're a "friend" of mine on Facebook, all of the above photos plus two others not shown here (Daddy patting A'ishah's back) can be seen there as well.