November 30, 2008

Movie Sunday: Kung Fu Hustle

I thought I'd do an Asian film this week for Movie Sunday. While the Asian film industry isn't nearly as big as either Hollywood or Bollywood, a number of countries in east and southeast Asia have decent film industries, including South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. This particular film, Kung Fu Hustle, while it did very well in the U.S. for a foreign language film, was huge here in S'pore. The film is usually played several times per year on S'pore TV now. The problem with preparing for this post was not a lack of videos to chose from (the most common problem), but keeping the number down to my traditional two. There are so many great comic and fight scenes to choose from. :) BTW, these clips are the first time I've seen this film dubbed in English; prior to this I had only seen the film in the original Chinese (with subtitles).

Trivia:

  • The name "Pig Sty Alley" (Zhu Long Cheng Zhai) is a play on the Chinese name for the Walled City of Kowloon (Jiu Long Cheng Zhai), a Chinese enclave in Hong Kong for much of the 20th Century, and well-known as a breeding ground of crime, slums and disorder. It was torn down in 1993.
  • The "Landlady," played by Qiu Yuen, appeared in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun at the age of 18. She played one of two teenage girls who, together, beat up almost every male student in a Thai martial arts academy, allowing Roger Moore to escape. She starred in Kung Fu Hustle by chance. She had accompanied another actress to the audition, where she was seen by the director, Stephen Chow, smoking a cigarette while having a sarcastic expression on her face. Chow convinced her to appear in the film only after much persistent persuasion.




Donut: [nearing death, grabs the landlord] With great power comes great responsibility...

Landlady: Donut, you are badly hurt. You must keep still.

Donut: This could be the end of a beautiful friendship!

Landlord: Oh, Donut. Tomorrow is another day!



Sing's Sidekick: Memories can be painful. To forget may be a blessing!

Sing: I never knew you were so deep.

November 29, 2008

Drum Corps Saturday: 2005 Carolina Gold

In eighth place at the 2005 DCA finals was Carolina Gold; they had a score of 85.588 in the prelims and 85.988 in the finals, just barely beating last week's corps, the Atlanta CorpsVets. This would be Gold's best showing at DCA to date; they haven't done quite as well since 2005.

The show's theme was "Reflections," and consists of Summertime (from Porgy and Bess), Fascinating Rhythm (from Lady Be Good), I Got Rhythm (from Girl Crazy), Autumn Leaves, and Remembrance.



November 28, 2008

Bedtime Music: Bear McCreary - All Along the Watchtower

I'm going to end this week with a "bookend," another song used on the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Here in S'pore, we're still watching the second season's episodes; however, I had read a few weeks ago that Bear McCreary, who's in charge of the music for the series, had come up with a very unique cover of the Bob Dylan song, All Along the Watchtower. Wow! I love it!

Unfortunately, once again, the version I really wanted to use isn't available for embedding; however, you can watch that video here. In its place, I'm using another video that has a static picture. But who cares? Just press the play button and be amazed at this very cool version of the song.
:)

November 27, 2008

Bedtime Music: The Monkees/Smash Mouth - I'm a Believer

Something a little more light-hearted tonight. In a first, I'm presenting two different versions of the same song, I'm a Believer, the first by The Monkees and the second by the band Smash Mouth. While you may not be familiar with the latter group, you've heard their cover of this song if you saw the first Shrek movie. What you may not know is that the song was originally written and performed by Neil Diamond. The Monkees' cover of the song, however, made it to #1 on the US Hot 100 chart and remained there for seven weeks (and for four weeks on the UK chart), which are remarkable achievements. Since The Monkees' cover came out in 1966, well over a dozen covers of this song have been recorded.



U.S. Unemployment Rates: Where Do We Stand?

The October US unemployment figures were recently released and, with very few exceptions, the numbers are rather dismal. (Highlights can be found here.) The numbers that were released, however, are only the "official" statistics. Meaning, the official unemployment rate that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives out in its monthly press release is only one of six unemployment rates that it actually calculates. The "official" unemployment rate is the not-so-imaginatively named "U-3." There are two smaller unemployment rates (U-1 and U-2), and three larger (U-4 through U-6). What I'm concerned about is U-6.

The official definition of U-6 is:

Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.

...where...

Marginally attached workers are persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for a job. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.

Yada yada yada.

In essence, U-6 covers everyone who's either unemployed, whether they receive unemployment benefits or not, or might be working a part-time job but who really want to be working full-time (i.e., they're underemployed).


On to the statistics then. In October, the "official," U-3 unemployment rate was 6.5%. This is the highest unemployment rate we've seen since March 1994. However, the U-6 unemployment rate in October was 11.8%. This is the fourth month in a row that U-6 has been over 10%, with the lowest rate this year having been in February, at 8.9%. The last time U-6 was this high was in January 1994, when it was 11.8%. (Ironically, this is also the very first month U-6 was published.)


As most economists are presuming today, the country is almost certainly in a recession at this time (even though it hasn't been officially announced yet). How do these unemployment rates, then, compare against the last three recessions? U-6, being a rather limited series of data, only covers one time period when unemployment was almost as bad as it is today. In June 2003, U-3 peaked at 6.3%, while U-6 peaked in September, at 10.4%; the largest spread between the two unemployment rates that year was 4.3%.

The next earliest spike in unemployment rates happened in June 1992, when U-3 reached 7.8%. However, there wasn't any U-6 rate at that time, so we can only guess what it might have been. Doing a little spreadsheet analysis, my own guess is that the spread between U-3 and U-6 at the time was about 5.3%; add that to the 7.8% and the hypothetical U-6 unemployment rate may have been about 13.1%. The worst of the three recessions, though, was that of the early 80s. U-3 peaked in November and December 1982 at 10.8%; this is the only time U-3 has ever peaked above 10% since 1948, when the current series of unemployment rate data starts. Assuming that the spread between U-3 and the hypothetical U-6 was still around 5% at that time (and I think it may have actually been larger), total unemployment and underemployment probably would have been around 16% in late 1982.

So. Unemployment is bad now. It's slightly worse than it was six years ago, but it's also not as bad as it was back in the early 90s or the early 80s, which was much, much worse. Consider that your positive thought for the day. ;)

November 26, 2008

Bedtime Music: The Doors - The End

Tonight's song is The End by The Doors. My introduction to this song came about in 1979 (or 1980) when I first saw the movie Apocalypse Now with some college friends. As you may (or may not) remember, Francis Ford Coppola used this particular song to frame the movie, playing excerpts of The End at both the beginning and during the climactic scene of the movie (the killing of Colonel Kurtz).

Of the song, Jim Morrison said,


Every time I hear that song, it means something else to me. It started out as a simple good-bye song probably just to a girl, but I see how it could be a goodbye to a kind of childhood. I really don't know. I think it's sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.

The Late Show - Sarah Palin's Top 10 Excuses

David Letterman's Top 10 List for Sarah Palin's "excuses" for her turkey debacle. (Can't this woman get anything right?)

Peter Schiff as Cassandra

A couple blogs I read have commented about the Youtube video (below) of financial commentator Peter Schiff's predictions from 2006 and 2007 about the current financial crisis. Crooks & Liars has given a very simplistic response: "Peter Schiff was right." Yeah, of course; so? Angry Bear thinks the real problem is that the various shows Schiff has appeared on (primarily Faux News, CNBC, and Bloomberg) deal in economic propaganda:

If we do not learn to understand "crap" reporting, if we do not learn to understand story telling for selfish purpose, if we do not learn to understand that propagandizing is not solely a political tool, but more importantly an economic tool, we will not solve our's and the worlds current economic condition.

That's true, but I'm not completely convinced that the problem is that the financial news shows and networks are really propagandizing. To me, propagandizing involves deceit, either through lying by omission, providing a loaded message or, as in the case of the Bush misadministration, just plain lying. I'm not sure that the financial news shows and networks are necessarily lying per se (even Faux News, although they do so blatantly on political news); instead, these people are "religious" fanatics. They have become true believers in the Gordon Gecko mantra "Greed is good." With the American economy jimmied through debt instruments (such as bonds), not even significant economic problems in the past (e.g., the Crash of 1987, the S&L crisis of the late 80s-early 90s, or the recessions of 1990-91 or 2001-02) have caused any doubt in their minds that the system is broken. Schiff, to me, is like the woman from Greek mythology, Cassandra.

Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, was loved by Apollo, who gave her the gift of prophecy; however, because she would not return his love, he cursed her to correctly predict the future yet never be believed:

In more modern literature, Cassandra has often served as a model for tragedy and Romance, and has given rise to the archetypal character of someone whose prophetic insight is obscured by insanity, turning their revelations into riddles or disjointed statements that are not fully comprehended until after the fact. (Wikipedia)

Schiff correctly predicted the future several years ago, beginning to warn of the structural problems in the economy (that have not been addressed yet, despite all these billions of dollars being spent in bailouts), yet, at that time, Schiff's message was largely ignored if not publicly derided. (Has Laffer ever paid Schiff the one cent bet and written a letter of apology?) The paradigm, that "Greed is good" and the idea that the American economy can survive on debt and a service economy while hollowing out the manufacturing sector, needs to be broken. Now if that paradigm is "propaganda," then I'll agree with that too.

November 25, 2008

Bedtime Music: The Flamingos - I Only Have Eyes For You

Tonight's song has an interesting history. I chose it because of its ties to the great George Lucas film, American Graffiti, but the song is literally as old as my Dad. ;) The song was originally written for the Warner Bros. musical comedy Dames, released in 1934, with Dick Powell singing the song to Ruby Keeler. The song has been covered by numerous artists over the decades with this version, by The Flamingos, having been released in 1959. The Flamingos' cover of "I Only Have Eyes for You has been honored by both Rolling Stone magazine (#157 in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time) and the Grammy Award Hall of Fame.

The Daily Show on Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, the gift that kept on giving (in a very perverse sort of way ;) ).


Good riddance.

November 24, 2008

Bedtime Music: Philip Glass - Metamorphosis One

This week's theme is going to be a little bit different. I thought I'd take original songs that were later incorporated into movie or television soundtracks.

We're starting off this week with
Philip Glass's Metamorphosis One. This song was performed by Bruce Brubaker, and is featured on the episode Valley of Darkness from the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately, a video showing how the music was incorporated into the episode can't be embedded; however, you can watch it here. The video clip below has only a static picture; however, the music is beautiful enough that you can begin playing the video and go do other things on other tabs while you listen to the music. :)

VoxEU: Quo Vadis Islamic Finance?

A good article on Islamic finance (if you're interested in the subject) at VoxEU, the European economics blog. The three authors, all of whom work for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), give a brief analysis of the state of the Islamic finance market, a listing of significant challenges facing the industry, and some concluding remarks. Below are some excerpts, primarily from the introduction and the conclusion; the section on challenges is significant and noteworthy, but I'll let my readers go to the original post to read it if they're interested.

BTW, in case you're unfamiliar with the Latin phrase, "Quo Vadis?", it means, "Where are you going?"


Since the summer of 2007, the global financial system has undergone a period of dramatic turbulence, which has caused a widespread reassessment of risk in both developed and emerging economies. The global financial turbulence appears to have had a limited impact on the Islamic finance industry, which has been in an expansionary phase in recent years (Economist, 2008; Financial Times, 2008). This rapid growth has been fueled not only by surging demand for Sharia’ah compliant products from Muslim financiers but also by investors around the world, rendering the expansion of Islamic finance a global phenomenon. In fact, there is currently over $800 billion worth of deposits and investments lodged in Islamic banks, mutual funds, insurance schemes (known as takaful), and Islamic branches of conventional banks.

...

...[P]erhaps the most striking has been the growth of sukuk, the most popular form of securitized credit finance within Islamic finance. sukuk commoditize capital gains from bilateral risk sharing between borrowers and lenders in shari’ah-compliant finance contracts into marketable securities without interest rate charges.

The sukuk market has held its own amid groundswell concern about the credit crunch and dysfunctional money markets. Although the current level of issuance remains a fraction of the global volumes of conventional bonds and ABS, the sukuk market had soared in response to growing demand for alternative investments before the first episode of severe market disruptions in 2007 showed first effects (Jobst et al, 2008). Gross issuance of sukuk has quadrupled over the past few years, rising from $7.2 billion in 2004 to close to $39 billion by the end of 2007, owing in large part to enabling capital market regulations, a favorable macroeconomic environment, and large infrastructure development plans in some Middle Eastern economies (see Figure 1).

By 2008, however, sukuk volumes dropped to $15.2 billion (about 50%) while the structured finance market dried up with just $387 billion issued (down by about 80%) during the same time. Factors contributing to this decline include the presentation of new rules on sukuk, the global financial crisis, and Gulf states’ currency risk. The slowdown in issuance was most pronounced in Malaysia, where fewer domestic transactions at smaller volume have balanced the market shares of Gulf Cooperation Council and Southeast Asian countries.

The rapid evolution of Islamic finance activities points to the available profit opportunities that beckon. This in turn has prompted a vetting process among a number of jurisdictions around the world to establish themselves as leading Islamic financial centres. In this regard, the case of London is perhaps the most remarkable insofar as it has managed to extend its leading position in world financial markets to become a center for Islamic finance. Similarly, Hong Kong, New York, and Singapore are also making important advances to accommodate Islamic finance within their jurisdictions and aspire to join the ranks of the more established Islamic centers such as Bahrain, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur.

...

Islamic finance faces many challenges, including recent regulatory changes, illiquidity issues, liquidity risk management concerns, need for harmonized regulation, regulatory disparity amongst national supervisors, and a potentially unlevel playing field.

...

Despite the number of challenges outlined above, the long-term prospects look promising for Islamic finance. Financial institutions in countries such as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia have realized considerable demand for shari’ah-compliant assets and are gearing up for more shari’ah-compliant financial instruments and structured finance. In addition, financial innovation, driven by both domestic and foreign banks, will promote alternatives modes of intermediation and contribute to further development and refinement of shari’ah compliant derivative contracts.

As Islamic finance comes into its own, greater regulatory harmonization will be inevitable. Recent efforts have addressed legal uncertainty imposed by Islamic jurisprudence, discrepancies of national guidelines, and poorly developed uniformity of market practices. The Islamic Financial Services Board has moved ahead with its standardization efforts of the Islamic financial services industry that will foster the soundness and stability of the system. Globally accepted prudential standards have been adopted by the Islamic Financial Services Board that smoothly integrate Islamic finance with the conventional financial system.

Finally, despite the declining global sukuk issuance in 2008, emanating from both the Accounting and Auditing Organization of Islamic Financial Institutions decision and the impact of the financial crisis, the sukuk market will regain momentum, driven by demand from financial institutions, insurance companies, and pension funds across Islamic and non-Islamic countries. Many challenges still lie ahead, but the banks’ search for profitable opportunities and the ensuing financial innovation process in tandem with favorable regulatory developments at domestic and international levels will ensure that the Islamic finance industry will continue to develop at a steady pace in the long-run. The jury is still out how Islamic finance will be affected in the short-run by the repercussions of the global financial crisis.


HT: Economist's View

"Want!" Yeah, No $#!+

Remember that super-cool computer they used in the 2002 movie, Minority Report, the one with the long transparent "monitor" and the light-emitting diode gloves Tom Cruise used in place of a mouse?



Think it'd take forever for that type of technology to arrive? Actually, it's the other way around: the people from Minority Report visited Oblong Industries to see the current technology and then extrapolated how it might look in the future. The future is now.


g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

HT: Yet Another Web Site

November 23, 2008

Movie Sunday: Smoke Signals

A couple months ago, there was a diary written on Street Prophets that asked for examples of great movies that no one (or hardly no one) had ever seen. My choice would be a very small independent movie called Smoke Signals that was released in 1998. This is a "road movie" in which the very nerdy Thomas Builds-the-Fire is saved by Victor Joseph's father, Arnold. Arnold, however, abandons his family and moves to the Phoenix, Arizona area, where he lives until his death, ten years later. When Victor and his mother hear of Arnold's death, Thomas offers to finance Victor's trip to Phoenix as long as Thomas is able to go with him.

Trivia:

  • Smoke Signals was the first movie ever to be written, directed, and co-produced by a Native American.
  • In the first clip below, the car driven by the two Native American women is supposed to be only capable of driving in reverse. The actress driving the car actually learned how to drive long distances in reverse; as a result, no stunt driver was needed.




Thomas Builds-the-Fire: Hey Victor! I'm sorry 'bout your dad.

Victor Joseph: How'd you hear about it?

Thomas Builds-the-Fire: I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight. And your mom was just in here cryin'.



How do we forgive our fathers? Maybe in a dream. Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often, or forever, when we were little? Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage, or making us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage there at all? Do we forgive our fathers for marrying, or not marrying, our mothers? Or divorcing, or not divorcing, our mothers? And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness? Shall we forgive them for pushing, or leaning? For shutting doors or speaking through walls? For never speaking, or never being silent? Do we forgive our fathers in our age, or in theirs? Or in their deaths, saying it to them or not saying it. If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

November 22, 2008

The Pearl - Thoughts on Identity

Last weekend, Milady and I spent a nice afternoon with Gabriele Marranci and his lovely wife. Gabriele, if you don't know, writes the blog Islam, Muslims, and an Anthropologist. The Marrancis recently moved to S'pore, where he's working at one of our local universities. Milady and I asked them to go out for lunch with us, and we took them to a restaurant we like in the Arab Street area before walking over to Masjid Sultan to do salat (Asr).

Now I bring this up because one of the topics we discussed at lunch was Gabriele's definition of identity, this being one of his research subjects. I've been thinking over this idea for the past few weeks, but wanted to meet with Gabriele and discuss the topic personally before writing about it. Identity is not something I've given a lot of thought to in the past but, with the birth of my daughter, who is of mixed race, and various comments that have been made to me by people over the past few years, I've started to think more seriously about this issue. Identity is a topic Gabriele has focused on professionally, but I didn't agree with his definition of identity as he wrote in a recent post on artist Sarah Maple. So, having heard Gabriele speak on this subject, I thought I would write about how I view identity.

If I could give a metaphor for my definition of identity, it would be that of the pearl. A pearl is created when some sort of irritant gets within the shell of a mollusk, which then begins coating the irritant in concentric layers to protect the organism. The calcium carbonate, which coats the irritant and creates the pearl, is made up of different materials that, together, make up "mother of pearl." In my view, an individual's identity is similar to that of a pearl. Like a pearl, we have a nascent identity that acts like the irritant (although I wouldn't actually call this nascent identity an "irritant"). As we go through life, our identity is built up of multiple identities in layers that, in time, become both deep and complex. Like mother of pearl, these multiple identities are made from different components; in my definition, there are four: genetic, rational, cognitive, and emotional.

The first component, genetic, is the most basic; I don't know that I'd say the genetic component is the nascent identity, but it is, without question, the most fundamental component we all have. The genetic component defines us primarily by gender, and race or ethnic group. The first question on a parent's mind is, "Is my baby a boy or a girl?" Finding out the answer to that question shapes every aspect of how we all treat that child; likewise, for the child, this distinction, boy vs. girl, will become the most important aspect of their identity as they grow older. Race or ethnicity can also be an important factor in a person's genetic identity. This is one of the questions on my mind with regard to my daughter: how will she be treated by her peers as she grows older and they understand that she isn't fully one race or the other? I have mixed-race cousins who, as teenagers, chose not to acknowledge themselves as either black or white but, instead, claimed a completely different - and false - identity (they told people they were Puerto Rican). I don't want my daughter to go through the pain my cousins went through, which is why I'm concerned about this question. Likewise, we also define our familial identity through genetics. I am their grandson, their son, their brother, her husband, her father, their nephew, their uncle. We wear all of these identities based upon our genetic relationships to other individuals. We treat each familial identity differently, just as everyone else does in their relationships to us. As for whether our sexual identity is part of the genetic component is something I can't say with any certainty. Is he or she homosexual because of their DNA, or was he or she influenced in some way (lured by another, sexually curious, etc.) to try gay sex? I can't say; Allahu alim (God knows best).

The second component I label as "rational," although another name might be "membership." We identify ourselves as members of various groups. One of the first groups we join is that of a class of students. We proceed through school, joining other groups over time: the band, the orchestra, sports teams, clubs, scouting groups, and so on. In time we graduate, where we join yet another group, that of the alumnus. In all these groups, we usually make a conscious choice to join the group or not. I can become a member or I may pass on membership. My association and identity with this group is (or should be) based upon a rational decision. This is the area that I find most problematic in Gabriele's definition; I believe such memberships should be based upon specific criteria. Examples: I sometimes joke that, although I am of Irish, English and Scottish ancestry, I grew up Italian due to the cultural influences of various Italian friends and families (some of whom are extended family). Am I Italian? No. I lived for a year in Korea; just before I left there, one of my students told me that I was Korean, meaning I thought like a Korean. Am I Korean? No. In 2000 I reverted to Islam, and I accept everything that is within the orthodox definition of being a Muslim. Am I a Muslim? Yes (insha'allah). Are the Ahmadiyya Muslim? I would say no. By Gabriele's definition, I believe the Ahmaddiya might make the claim that they are part of Islam because they "feel" to be Muslim. This is not good enough for me. To be a member, you must accept the rules of membership; if you don't, you're not a member - you're a wannabe. Granted, the definition of who is a Muslim and who isn't is somewhat fuzzy, and we can all fall into and out of a state of Islam, in which case only Allah (swt) knows who truly is a Muslim and who isn't. But I can't just say that, well, I grew up in a quasi-Italian culture, and I lived for a year in Korea and, as a result, I'm both Italian and Korean. It doesn't work that way. Membership in these groups are based upon specific rules, and I can't just claim membership based upon my feelings.

The third component is cognitive, meaning by a person's way of thinking. This component and the next, emotional, are the two most important components, in my opinion. A person's identity through their thinking is ever changing over the span of a person's life. By our life experiences and attitudes toward a myriad of topics, we form numerous identities. Our ability to think logically and succeed through our educational systems often dictates various identities through life. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is a question we ask of virtually every child; what will your occupational identity be? We think about the occupation(s) we wish to be employed in and work our way through the educational process toward the desired outcome. (Of course it doesn't always work out that way.) In turn, these occupations often lead us to be in specific socio-economic groupings, another identity. Sometimes what groups we end up in is beyond our control, but most of us strive through our adult lives to be in the group(s) we aspire to. (For example, most of us want to be rich; very few of us want to be poor.) Similarly, we make choices about what type of lifestyle we want to live. Do we want to live in the city, the suburbs or the countryside? Do we want to be homebodies or do we want a more frenetic lifestyle? Again, these are choices we think our way through, although we may be influenced by others, especially our parents, about the lifestyle we want to live. The college or university experience is another major factor in the cognitive component. Not only are we preparing for a future occupation there, but we are also being challenged in our beliefs and attitudes by professors and friends. Each of these individual issues may form separate identities; we may become a part of larger movements.

The final component is emotional, and I think a good argument can be made that both the cognitive and emotional components are deeply intertwined. For example, memberships in a political party or religion are probably decided upon by a mix of both rational and emotional arguments. I believe that a person's cultural identity is largely based on the emotional component. Culture is dependent upon a number of determinants, such as language, religion, food, clothing, art, music, and rituals and customs. While many, if not all of these, have some basis in rational thought, for most of us these cultural factors have very strong and deep emotional attachments. We grow up within a specific culture and perhaps one or more sub-cultures, often viewing our mother culture, rightly or wrongly, to be the correct culture, the way other cultures should be. ("Why can't they be like us?") Of course, if we travel to other parts of the world (or even within our own country), we may acculturate aspects of another culture into our identities. When I say I grew up Italian or I think like a Korean, this is what has really happened to me. I have taken aspects of these other cultures, indirectly and directly, and incorporated them into my own identity. My identity has shifted to some degree, especially since I began living overseas seven years ago, in 2001. My wife now says that I think like a Malay (her culture); that may be but, in all honesty, I can't really tell if it's true or not. The process of acculturating elements of Korean culture was more distinct to me; it was a very exotic culture, from my initial perspective, and I could maintain some difference in my mind between my American cultural background and my exposure to Korean culture. But my acculturation to Malay culture has gone on much longer and been such a deeper exposure that I think I may lack the ability now to see the differences. I may have to return back to America just to understand just how much I've changed.

Which component predominates? Of the four components, I would say that the rational component is the least prominent, even though these memberships are normally chosen by conscious decision. The genetic component may be the next most important, although, for some, this component may be extremely important. For a transgender individual, the genetic component ("What sex am I?") may be the most important component of all. As I mentioned above, the cognitive and emotional components are deeply intertwined; still, I would say that the emotional component, especially from the cultural perspective, may be the most important component of all. However, as a result of all these different components combining together, I feel as if I have not just one identity, but a large number of different identities, all making up, in layer after layer, the pearl that is my personal identity.

Happy Baby

A'ishah giggling while Daddy gives her lots of little kisses on her cheek and prolly tickling her with his goatee in the process. A'ishah turned four months old four days ago.

video

Drum Corps Saturday: 2005 CorpsVets

Finding decent drum corps videos on Youtube can be very much hit-and-miss. As a result, for at least the next few weeks, insha'allah, I'm going to be highlighting a number of DCA corps.

In 2005, the tenth place corps at the DCA Open Class finals was the Connecticut Hurricanes, who scored 84.075 at the preliminary competition and 84.425 at the finals. In ninth place was the Atlanta CorpsVets, who had 85.488 in the prelims and 85.500 in the finals. Their show that year was "The Music of Don Ellis," with the songs Open Wide and Strawberry Soup.



November 21, 2008

Bedtime Music: George Benson - Breezin'

Finishing off this week's Bedtime Music is a televised performance of George Benson playing his 1976 hit, Breezin'. (Unfortunately, the flute solo at the beginning of the song isn't on the video.) I'm not sure exactly when this video was recorded, but it has to be prior to 1983 as The Old Grey Whistle Test, a program on BBC2, changed its name to just "Whistle Test" in that year.

Interesting fact about Breezin': The song was originally written and performed by Bobby Womack in 1971, five year's before Benson's cover.

Interesting fact about George Benson: There's an interesting anecdote about how George really learned how to play the guitar; from jazz.com:

Benson credits the uniqueness of his approach to several days in San Francisco spent in the company of the blind pianist Freddie Gambrell, who had made a trio recording several years before with Chico Hamilton. “I was walking around the city, taking in the scenes, and quite by accident I walked into this club and heard a piano player who was very good,” Benson recalled. “I told him who I was, and he said, ‘Go get your guitar,’ which I did. He gave me a lesson in harmony. He was a guy who had a big jar on his piano for people to drop the dollars in when they made requests. He stopped doing that to show me what he was talking about. I didn’t understand anything he was saying to me. He was calling off chord changes; I didn’t understand any of them. He would say ‘C!’ I’d play a C, and he’d say, ‘No, not that C.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. There’s more than one C?’ He began to explain. What I learned has been with me to this day.

“I think people began to notice me when I started to apply that theory and experiment, and what I learned from Freddie Gambrell separated me from the normal guitar thinking. That made me interesting to other players, who would always ask me, ‘Where you coming from, man?’”


Cat on a Roomba

Warning! You will waste 46 seconds of your life if you watch this video! That's 46 seconds of your life you will never get back!

Except, of course, it's pretty darn funny watching this cat sit on the Roomba and get a ride around the room. My cat absolutely hated the vacuum cleaner and would dive underneath the bed until about ten minutes after I had finished vacuuming to finally come out. In that regard, this cat's pretty amazing.

November 20, 2008

Bedtime Music: The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five

Time for some "old skool." Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, is well known for its 5/4 time signature; however, it is less well known for being a sleeper hit. Released on the 1959 album Time Out, the song didn't reach the Billboard Hot 100 chart until 1961, which is unusual in itself when one considers that popular music in that era was quickly being dominated by rock and roll. By 1966, the time this video was recorded, you can tell from the applause that the song was well known by the audience.

Interesting facts about the Dave Brubeck Quartet:
Take Five was originally written by saxophonist Paul Desmond; when he died in 1977, all future royalties to the song were donated to the American Red Cross. Dave Brubeck, who is now 87 years old, was awarded with the "Benjamin Franklin Awards for Public Diplomacy" by the U.S. State Department in April 2008 because, "as a pianist, composer, cultural emissary and educator, Dave Brubeck's life's work exemplifies the best of America's cultural diplomacy." He is currently scheduled to be inducted into the California Hall of Fame next month.

The Qur'anic Version of the Stories of Ibrahim and Lut (pbut)

Cross-posted from Street Prophets. Also, see the note down at the bottom of the post.

I thought I'd touch on Southern Mouth's diary Sodom and Gomorrah from a slightly different perspective. What I'm trying to show, insha'allah, are some of the differences between the stories of Lut and Ibrahim (pbut) in the Qur'an vs. what is told in the Old Testament. Some of the comments in Southern Mouth's diary made light of topics that either don't appear in the Qur'an or have a different perspective. What follows is the most significant passage in the Qur'an (11:69-83) regarding Lut, Ibrahim (pbut) and the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, followed by some of the differences between the two holy books. I've also added two minor notes in the Qur'anic passage to clarify certain passages, highlighted in [brackets].

There came Our messengers to Abraham with glad tidings. They said, "Peace!" He [Ibrahim (pbuh)] answered, "Peace!" and hastened to entertain them with a roasted calf.

But when he saw their hands went not towards the (meal), he felt some mistrust of them, and conceived a fear of them. They said: "Fear not: We have been sent against the people of Lut."

And his wife [Sarah] was standing (there), and she laughed: But we gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob.

She said: "Alas for me! shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!"

They said: "Dost thou wonder at Allah's decree? The grace of Allah and His blessings on you, o ye people of the house! for He is indeed worthy of all praise, full of all glory!"

When fear had passed from (the mind of) Abraham and the glad tidings had reached him, he began to plead with us for Lut's people.

For Abraham was, without doubt, forbearing (of faults), compassionate, and given to look to Allah.

O Abraham! Seek not this. The decree of thy Lord hath gone forth: for them there cometh a penalty that cannot be turned back!

When Our messengers came to Lut, he was grieved on their account and felt himself powerless (to protect) them. He said: "This is a distressful day."

And his people came rushing towards him, and they had been long in the habit of practising abominations. He said: "O my people! Here are my daughters: they are purer for you (if ye marry)! Now fear Allah, and cover me not with shame about my guests! Is there not among you a single right-minded man?"

They said: "Well dost thou know we have no need of thy daughters: indeed thou knowest quite well what we want!"

He said: "Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could betake myself to some powerful support."

(The Messengers) said: "O Lut! We are Messengers from thy Lord! By no means shall they reach thee! now travel with thy family while yet a part of the night remains, and let not any of you look back: but thy wife (will remain behind): To her will happen what happens to the people. Morning is their time appointed: Is not the morning nigh?"

When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer,-

Marked as from thy Lord: Nor are they ever far from those who do wrong! (11:69-83)

Points that aren't made in the Qur'an:
  • Southern Mouth wrote that "Again, Abraham asked and God agreed to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 righteous people." As you can see, Ibrahim (pbuh) pleaded with Allah (swt) on behalf of Lut's (pbuh) people, but an exact number isn't mentioned. One assumes from verse 74 that he pleaded on behalf of all of the people.
  • Likewise, JCH quotes the following: "In the final analysis there were only three righteous in Sodom, Lot and his two daughters." Again, the Qur'an doesn't say how large the family that departed is, only that they all escaped with the exception of Lut's wife.
  • Grada pointed out that "After all, there are indications from the incest part of the story that he was a drunk..." In no part of the Qur'an is it suggested that Lut (pbuh) committed incest or had gotten drunk. In fact, I think most Muslims would probably argue that the former charge is an outright fabrication.

    Other points:
  • Southern Mouth also wrote, Personally, I found it repulsive that Lot - who was saved from the towns' destruction - offer the men clamoring at his door his two virgin daughters to do as they wanted. In some of the exegesis for the Qur'an, it is pointed out that the use of the phrase "my/thy daughters" (verses 78-9) does not necessarily refer to Lut's (pbuh) biological daughters; rather, it refers to the young women of the town, just as in modern cultures, younger men who are not relations might be called "my son" or, especially here in S'pore, older men and women who are not relations are very frequently called "uncle" or "aunty."
  • Ramara wrote: Lot's wife must have been also good, since she also escaped but looked back and became a pillar of salt. In the Qur'an, Lut (pbuh) is warned (in verse 81) that his wife would turn away from him. The lure of the sinful life was too great for her to resist.
  • An interesting difference between the Old Testament and the Qur'an can be found in Andrew White's comment. He quotes that Ibrahim (pbuh) "stood by them under the tree while they ate." Likewise, Lut (pbuh) "...made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate...." And yet in verse 70, the angels don't eat of Ibrahim's (pbuh) roasted calf: But when he saw their hands went not towards the (meal)...

    Note: One point that isn't discussed in this post that is very relevant to the discussion is an earlier comment I made on the original diary by Southern Mouth. There, I wrote:

    Well, seeing how you brought the Qur'an into it...

    The main point of this diary was my disagreement and distaste for those who preach/teach that America is on the brink of destruction because of all the sin. I read nothing in the Sodom and Gomorrah account where Abraham went to Sodom to preach their impending doom.

    Well, Abraham (pbuh) didn't go to Sodom; that was Lot (pbuh). ;)

    The Qur'an also teaches that nations/civilizations are "on the brink of destruction because of all the sin," although Muslims don't normally harp on such themes as you ascribe to American Christians. There are numerous passages in the Qur'an telling of the destruction of various cities, the tale of Sodom and Gommorah being only one. There are also a number of verses in the Qur'an that tell Muslims to consider the ruins of formerly inhabited cities, ghost towns, in the region, to consider the fates of those peoples. The purpose of all these stories and verses is not to gloat, so to speak, over a people's impending destruction, but to warn them of the need to repent before time runs out.

    However, it's not just individuals who need to repent, but communities as well. In Islam we have two types of duties, fard al-'ayn, in which every individual is responsible, and fard al-kifaya, which is a collective duty imposed on a community. Communities are also given time to repent; if they don't, they may suffer a similar fate to individual men; i.e., a failed civilization. The immediate warning in the Qur'an was to the pagan Makkan society in which Muhammad (pbuh) was born. Essentially, Allah (swt) is trying to tell them: "Look, I want you all to repent but My patience won't last forever. There may come a time that I will give up on you because you all gave up on Me. So repent now while you have the chance." I believe that this is also the message the American Christians are trying to say as well, but they've taken a different tone and tact from how Muslims would treat the subject.
  • November 19, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Dave Koz - Faces of the Heart

    Tonight's song is Faces of the Heart by saxophonist Dave Koz. If you watched soap operas during the early 90s, you might be familiar with this song as it was used in the opening credits for General Hospital between April 1, 1993 and August 27, 2004. Faces of the Heart was originally released on Dave's second album, Lucky Man, which came out in June 1993.

    Interesting fact about Dave Koz: Like Monday night's artist, Kenny G, Dave also worked with jazz musician Jeff Lorber.


    November 18, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Sade - Smooth Operator

    Next up is Sade's Smooth Operator. The song comes off of her 1984 album Diamond Life, but the single wasn't released in the US until 1985, where it reached #5 on the US Hot 100 and #1 on the US Adult Contemporary charts.

    This particular video is the full-length version, which gives a dramatic back story to the song. The first 30 seconds of the video show Sade being interrogated about the nameless "Smooth Operator" by the police. The song then begins and goes through the 5:53 mark; the remainder of the music is an instrumental jam on the melody while Sade's character is chased and nearly strangled to death by the Smooth Operator. He then becomes involved in a chase and shootout with the police before being shot and falling to his death. The video was nominated in 1985 for two MTV Video Music Awards,
    Best Female Video and Best New Artist.

    Interesting fact about Sade: Her first name is actually Helen.


    November 17, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Kenny G - Songbird

    Last week's theme for Bedtime Music was classical music (which I greatly enjoyed doing); this week, I'm going to do jazz.

    First up is Kenny G with his 1987 hit,
    Songbird; this is the lead song off Kenny's 1986 album, Duotones. Songbird reached #4 on the US Hot 100 and #3 on the US Adult Contemporary charts, while the album peaked at #1 on the Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.

    Interesting fact about Kenny G: Although he had already started working professionally as a musician (being a saxophone soloist for Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra), Kenny attended the University of Washington with a major in, of all things,
    accounting.

    November 16, 2008

    A Little PhotoFunia with A'ishah

    I discovered PhotoFunia, a website that takes pictures of people and places the face of the person into pre-made templates. It's been fun to experiment with; obviously, I've been using various photos of A'ishah to play with. This is a little less than half of all the photos I saved to the computer, some more of which I may put on the blog at a later date, insha'allah.











    November 15, 2008

    al-Ghazali, Economist

    I was a bit surprised to find a link to a blog post on ancient Islamic economics over at Economist's View, but that's exactly what the post is about: the famed Muslim theologian al-Ghazali (1058-1111), author of The Incoherence of the Philosophers and other works, had written on the topic of the division of labor that is mirrored by the writings of Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, which was published well over 650 years later, in 1776.

    The post highlights several examples where al-Ghazali's writings are mirrored by Smith's, including a comparison between al-Ghazali's 25-step process for the making of needles vs. Smith's famous example of 18 steps in the manufacture of pins. However, a more interesting comparison is where al-Ghazali writes about the vertical division of labor; for example, How many people does it take to make one loaf of bread?

    For a bread, for example, first the farmer prepares and cultivates the land, then the bullock and tools needed to plough the land. Then the land is irrigated. It is cleared from weeds, then the crop is harvested and grains are cleaned and separated. Then there is milling into flour before baking. Just imagine – how many tasks are involved; and we here mention just only some. And imagine the number of people performing these various tasks, and the number of various kinds of tools, made from iron, woods, stone, etc. If one enquires, one will find that perhaps a single loaf of bread takes its final shape with the help of perhaps more than a thousand workers.

    Smith provided a similar example for the question, How many people does it take to manufacture a woolen coat?

    How many different trades are employed in each branch of the linen and woollen manufactures, from the growers of the flax and the wool, to the bleachers and smoothers of the linen, or to the dyers and dressers of the cloth!:

    Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation. The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! how much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour too is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith, must all of them join their different arts in order to produce them.

    Could Smith have read al-Ghazali's work prior to his writing The Wealth of Nations? Allahu alim; I have no idea.

    The full post can be read here.

    November 14, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Bach - Third Brandenberg Concerto, First and Third Movements

    I was first introduced to Johann Sebastian Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto as a teenager while listening to Walter (Wendy) Carlos's album, Switched On Bach. I could now write about how wonderful I find this music and how it's associated in my mind with J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit... but I won't. ;)

    What I will write about is how the six Brandenburg Concertos were originally ignored and then lost for many years. In 1719, Bach visited Berlin as an agent of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, who was buying a harpsichord. While there, he met with and impressed the local military governor, Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt. In the hope of securing patronage from the Margrave, Bach dedicated the six concertos to him. However, the Margrave lacked the musicians to play the concertos, and the King, Frederick William I of Prussia and the Margrave's nephew, preferred George Handel's music instead. The scores remained in the Margrave's library until his death in 1734, having never been played, and were sold for the equivalent of US$22 (in 2008 money). The scores eventually found their way into the Brandenburg archives, where they weren't discovered until sometime in the nineteenth century, which is how the "Brandenburg" Concertos got their name.

    The first video is of the
    First Movement; the second video is of the Third Movement. Both movements are Allegro. The Second Movement (Adagio) was apparently supposed to be an improvisation on a theme, and is only occasionally performed. In this case, I can't find a video of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra playing the Second Movement.

    Brandenburg Concerto #3, First Movement:



    Brandenburg Concerto #3, Third Movement:

    Four Exoplanets Seen

    An interesting day in astronomy. Two different articles announced the discovery of four exoplanets around two stars. The announcement of exoplanets, in and of itself, isn't terribly newsworthy; after all, over 300 have been discovered so far. What make these four stand out is that all of them have been observed visually; that's newsworthy.

    In the first article, published by Science (and picked up by The Economist, where I first read the story), a star 128 light years away, designated HR 8799 and located in the constellation of Pegasus, was found to have three exoplanets orbiting it (labeled b, c and d in the photograph). The planets appear to be between five to ten times the mass of Jupiter, with the closest planet being the smallest and the furthest planet being the largest, somewhat like our solar system. The planets were imaged in infrared radiation and are still glowing with the original heat from their creation roughly 60 million years ago. (The Earth, by contrast, is 4.5 billion years old.)

    The other exoplanet recently discovered orbits Fomalhaut, a star only 25 light years away from Earth, located in the constellation Piscis Australis, or the "Southern Fish." NASA reports:


    In 2004, the coronagraph in the High Resolution Camera on Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys produced the first-ever resolved visible-light image of the region around Fomalhaut. (Note: A coronagraph is a device that can block the bright light of a central star to reveal faint objects around it.) It clearly showed a ring of protoplanetary debris approximately 21.5 billion miles across and having a sharp inner edge.

    This large debris disk is similar to the Kuiper Belt, which encircles the solar system and contains a range of icy bodies from dust grains to objects the size of dwarf planets, such as Pluto.

    Hubble astronomer Paul Kalas, of the University of California at Berkeley, and team members proposed in 2005 that the ring was being gravitationally modified or "shepherded" by a planet lying between the star and the ring's inner edge.

    Now, Hubble has actually photographed a point source of light lying 1.8 billion miles inside the ring's inner edge.

    ...

    Observations taken 21 months apart by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys' coronagraph show that the object is moving along a path around the star, and is therefore gravitationally bound to it. The planet is 10.7 billion miles from the star, or about 10 times the distance of the planet Saturn from our sun.

    The planet is brighter than expected for an object of three Jupiter masses. One possibility is that it has a Saturn-like ring of ice and dust reflecting starlight. The ring might eventually coalesce to form moons. The ring's estimated size is comparable to the region around Jupiter and its four largest orbiting satellites.

    Kalas and his team first used Hubble to photograph Fomalhaut in 2004, and made the unexpected discovery of its debris disk. At the time they noted a few bright sources in the image as planet candidates. A follow-up image in 2006 showed that one of the objects had changed position since the 2004 exposure. The amount of displacement between the two exposures corresponds to an 872-year-long orbit as calculated from Kepler's laws of planetary motion.


    To give an idea of how large an 872-year orbit is, the dwarf planet Pluto orbits the sun once every 248 years (about 28% of the time Fomalhaut b takes); the dwarf planet Eris orbits the sun once every 557 years (about 64% of Fomalhaut b's orbit).

    Of course, none of these four exoplanets may actually qualify as being the first seen visually; I reported on a possible exoplanet being seen in mid-September.

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

    One other article of note. In an article on the evolution of rocks and minerals, The Economist notes:

    Understanding just how dramatically life shapes minerals will play an important role in the exploration of the universe, says Dr Hazen. Knowing which minerals form at different stages of a planet’s evolution, and which depend upon life to be present, are crucial to understanding the mineralogy of other planets and moons.

    With NASA’s Messenger probe now going into orbit around Mercury, Dr Hazen predicts that it will find only 300 or so minerals on the planet. If there are 500-1,000 detected, then it will suggest that there is a lot more to Mercury than anyone originally thought. And if minerals that depend upon life for their formation show up, then researchers will be flummoxed. The same is true for Mars and other planets—including the exoplanets that have been known about but which have just been seen for the first time orbiting stars outside the Solar System. Dr Hazen argues that considering minerals in evolutionary terms is a powerful way to help identify how far a planet has developed geologically. Moreover it can tell you whether life was present at some point—and even whether it is present now.

    Photo Credits: Of the HR 8799 system, The Economist; of the Fomalhaut system, NASA, ESA, P. Kalas, J. Graham, E. Chiang, E. Kite (Univ. California, Berkeley), M. Clampin (NASA/Goddard), M. Fitzgerald (Lawrence Livermore NL), K. Stapelfeldt, J. Krist (NASA/JPL), courtesy of APOD

    The Stupid

    Lexington is an anonymous columnist writing opinion pieces about the American economy and politics for The Economist. (There are similar, anonymous columnists for Britain and Europe.) This week's column, Ship of Fools, is interesting for what it says about the Republican party: they're brain dead. Not that this is a surprise to those of us on the left, but, considering that Lexington is a Republican (it's obvious from his/her writings), I wasn't expecting him/her to dare speak the truth. (Likewise, read the comments to see much wailing and gnashing of teeth at Lexington by the "faithful.") Some excerpts:

    The Republicans lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than they lost the battle for educated votes, marching into the election armed with nothing more than slogans. Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantánamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be water-boarding. Ha ha. During the primary debates, three out of ten Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution.

    The Republican Party’s divorce from the intelligentsia has been a while in the making. The born-again Mr Bush preferred listening to his “heart” rather than his “head.” He also filled the government with incompetent toadies like Michael “heck-of-a-job” Brown, who bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. Mr McCain, once the chattering classes’ favorite Republican, refused to grapple with the intricacies of the financial meltdown, preferring instead to look for cartoonish villains. And in a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket, a woman who took five years to get a degree in journalism, and who was apparently unaware of some of the most rudimentary facts about international politics.

    Republicanism’s anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future. The party’s electoral success from 1980 onwards was driven by its ability to link brains with brawn. The conservative intelligentsia not only helped to craft a message that resonated with working-class Democrats, a message that emphasized entrepreneurialism, law and order, and American pride. It also provided the party with a sweeping policy agenda. The party’s loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda.

    This is happening at a time when the American population is becoming more educated. More than a quarter of Americans now have university degrees. Twenty per cent of households earn more than $100,000 a year, up from 16% in 1996. Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster, notes that 69% call themselves “professionals.” McKinsey, a management consultancy, argues that the number of jobs requiring “tacit” intellectual skills has increased three times as fast as employment in general. The Republican Party’s current “redneck strategy” will leave it appealing to a shrinking and backward-looking portion of the electorate.

    Why is this happening? One reason is that conservative brawn has lost patience with brains of all kinds, conservative or liberal. Many conservatives — particularly lower-income ones — are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders. They take their opinions from talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the deeply unsubtle Sean Hannity. And they regard Mrs Palin’s apparent ignorance not as a problem but as a badge of honor.

    Another reason is the degeneracy of the conservative intelligentsia itself, a modern-day version of the 1970s liberals it arose to do battle with: trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes, ruled by dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changed world. The movement has little to say about today’s pressing problems, such as global warming and the debacle in Iraq, and expends too much of its energy on xenophobia, homophobia and opposing stem-cell research.

    Conservative intellectuals are also engaged in their own version of what Julian Benda dubbed la trahison des clercs, the treason of the learned. They have fallen into constructing cartoon images of “real Americans,” with their “volkish” wisdom and charming habit of dropping their “g”s.

    ...

    Business conservatives worry that the party has lost the business vote. Moderates complain that the Republicans are becoming the party of “white-trash pride.”

    ...

    Richard Weaver, one of the founders of modern conservatism, once wrote a book entitled “Ideas have Consequences”; unfortunately, too many Republicans are still refusing to acknowledge that idiocy has consequences, too.