December 26, 2005

Lecturing on Astronomy

Comet Hale-BoppLast weekend, I gave two presentations to some Muslim children who attended a three-day camp run by my ustaz (religious teacher) over the Christmas holidays. The ustaz had mentioned in our classes that one of the other students would be bringing in his telescope for the children to look at the stars and planets, insha'allah. He did, in fact, bring his telescope in, but, as I feared, the sky clouded over very quickly after sunset, and it was virtually impossible to see anything in the sky all evening long. Unfortunately, this type of situation happens all too often here in S'pore. (I am rather spoiled, having lived beneath the clear desert skies of Phoenix for so long.) Because I did fear a cloudy sky might happen, I burned some CD-ROMs of various pictures about astronomy and space exploration to be shown at the camp. I had told the ustaz about the CD-ROM the night before, and so there was a laptop computer and projector ready to go at the camp. (Last night, while attending class, the ustaz and several others thanked me for having brought in the CD-ROM as it had saved the evening.)

Making the presentations was a rather nice experience for me. One reason is because I've long had an interest in astronomy. My dad bought me a refracting telescope in 1973 as Comet Kohoutek went by the Earth, and I've been hooked ever since. (I was even an Astronomy major when I attended the University of Arizona in my idealistic youth. ;) Unfortunately, higher math ended my dream of becoming a professional astronomer, but I do continue to follow what's going on in astronomy and the other sciences.)

Venus, by GalileoAnother reason for my satisfaction was being able to see people comprehend new ideas for the first time (actually, this happened more often with the adults than the kids, making it all the more gratifying). For example, in a discussion afterwards with some young men, they had never considered the idea that the light we see in the sky (whether it is starlight at night or sunlight during the day) is really showing us past events. As one brother said, he thought that what we saw in the sky was happening right now, instead of realizing that what we see in the night sky has come to us from hundreds, thousands, millions, even billions of years ago.

"When you look into a night sky you see the stars far away, you're seeing them because of the light which travels from them to you. Now it takes time for light to travel here, so what you are doing is seeing the stars as they were in the past, the amount of time it has taken for the light to reach us and the further and further away those stars are, the further back in time you are looking. Now you are seeing a star that is say six thousand years ago, imagine somebody on that star looking at us, they would be seeing us as we were six thousand years ago. Which of those two is now? So space and time are linked together. As we are looking across space, we are looking back in time."
-- Professor Frank Close, "Temporalia," The Time Machine by Alan Parsons

I also enjoyed the fact that I could tie in several Qur'anic concepts to the pictures I was showing. With the picture of Venus (see above), I related how the planet is very similar to Earth (in terms of its size, mass, density, composition, and so on). However, Venus is also incredibly hot (over 467° Celcius/872° Farenheit) so that nothing can live there that we know of (lead would melt on the surface). We know that the dense Venusian atmosphere causes a runaway greenhouse effect, which is why there is such intense heat on the planet. Our concern as Muslims is that, because we are Viceregents for Allah (swt) here on Earth (2:30), we have accepted a trust (33:72) to care for the Earth and all its inhabitants, plant and animal. However, we have allowed too many greenhouse gases to escape into the atmosphere, causing problems like the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica (ozone protects animal life - including humans - from damaging ultraviolet radiation). [For a graph that shows the size of the ozone hole in relation to the area of Antarctica and North America, click here. For links to various movies and graphs of satellite data showing ozone levels over Antarctica and the Northern Hemisphere, click here.]

The other Qur'anic concept I tried to point out is man's relationship to the universe and Allah (swt). For this, I used the below slide, showing the Earth as seen from Mars. In this photo, taken by Spirit, the Earth is merely a speck of light in the sky. Humanity has an unwarranted arrogance about itself, as the Qur'an points out numerous times. For example, "Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds, In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient." (96:6-7) and "Truly man is, to his Lord, ungrateful; And to that (fact) he bears witness (by his deeds);" (100:6-7) We view ourselves as being Masters of the Universe, and while we, humanity, have done many great things, we still inhabit an extremely tiny portion of the universe. We need to be reminded of our true place in the universe and who is truly the greatest, to whom we bow in Islam.


Earth, as seen from Mars

[Note: All of the above photographs were used in my presentation at the camp, and almost all were obtained from Astronomy Picture of the Day, a website that I highly recommend to anyone who has any interest in astronomy.]

December 25, 2005

Christmas in Malaysia

Justin Raimondo, of, has just written an excellent essay, entitled "Christmas in Malaysia." Raimondo writes about current events/politics, and every now and then he has written some line about Islam that has shown his ignorance. Otherwise, he is an excellent writer, and I've been reading his columns off-and-on for the past four years or so.

Raimondo was invited to speak recently at the Perdana Global Peace Forum in Kuala Lumpur (KL), and he initially showed his ignorance regarding Malaysia in particular and what life might be like in an Islamic country in general:

"To say that Malaysia is not what I imagined would be an understatement of epic proportions. Situated just south of Thailand, north of Indonesia, and quite close to the equator, the country describes itself as officially "Islamic," and this, at least in the minds of most Americans, means a stultifying uniformity, a monolithic apparatus of cultural and all too often political repression. It means women in burqas, gay people in hiding, and a society generally groaning under the weight of an enormous repression."

In other words, all the typical cliches that we've come to hate. But Raimondo has an open mind:

"I am now well into my second week of staying in Kuala Lumpur, at the fabulous Crowne Plaza Hotel, and it is clearer than ever that my prejudices were not only mistaken – they were and are the exact opposite of the truth. Malaysia is the virtual incarnation of religious and ethnic diversity, a veritable melting pot of racial and devotional groups that somehow manage to live in relative harmony far beyond anything I have seen even in that paradigmatic paragon of multiculturalism, California. Malays, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and a generous smattering of Anglo expats swarm the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the biggest city in the country: yes, there is a Muslim majority, but non-Muslims are not subject to sharia law. Malay Muslims coexist with Chinese Catholics, and Buddhist priests roam the Bukhit Bintang plaza, begging, amidst crowds shopping for the latest fashions and punk rockers with pink hair stroll fearlessly down the street.

You never saw such diversity. And that's just during the daytime. At night…"

A little bit later, he writes:

"I have to say that I am… astonished by Malaysia. Here is an "Islamic" country where a gigantic Christmas tree sits in the lobby of the hotel I'm staying at, and the cafĂ© waiters in the plaza a few blocks away are dressed like Santa's elves. Here is a city where the nightlife puts San Francisco's to shame. Where the city's oldest gay bar, the Blue Boy, makes Baghdad-by-the-Bay seem like a dive in Podunk, Idaho; where people party well into the morning light, and you can have a good time for a few ringgits (the Malay currency: around 30 cents). The food is fabulous: Malay (spicy, somewhat Thai-like), Arab (there's a great place right off Bukhit Bintang), Chinese (you haven't lived until you've sampled the pleasures of Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown), and too many more to go into here. The place is a gastrointestinal paradise!

"Modernity is juxtaposed next to traditionalism: on the one hand you have the soaring heights of the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world, lit up like a vision of futurity against the night sky, and on the other hand you have women in traditional dress – colorful costumes of bright color and the requisite head covering – traversing its corridors. Two, three, many worlds coexisting: the past and the future converging into a new synthesis of creativity and entrepreneurial energy. The impression one gets is of a tremendous vitality, a restless yet directed life-force that seems to spring right out of the earth."

Raimondo even discovers that Malaysia's former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Muhammad, isn't the person he thought he would be:

"I had some concerns about former Prime Minister Mahathir, but then I read this Paul Krugman column and my fears were somewhat allayed. Upon meeting Dr. Mahathir, whatever reservations remained were put completely to rest: the man seems to emanate benevolence and great gentleness, almost an aura of serenity, like some sort of Buddhist guru."

And so, I have some hope for Raimondo, that perhaps when he writes about Islam in the future, that he will remember his Malaysian experience and realize that his preconceived notions are not necessarily true...

Unfortunately, I don't have the same hope for most Americans, many of whom wallow in their ignorance regarding Islam and the Muslim world. But for those of you who can afford the trip, I would suggest that you come here to visit Malaysia and Singapore to see not only how Islam is lived by we Muslims, but to see how our two cultures can live harmoniously together despite the ethnic diversity (which, IMO, is much more diverse than most Western cultures).

On a personal note, I'd like to say that I can attest to most of what Raimondo wrote about Malaysia and Dr. Mahathir, that what he's written is true (except for the part on the gay bar - I have no idea about that ;) ). Malaysia's a great country, and I've enjoyed every one of my visits there (the most recent of which was just last weekend, when Milady and I drove up to the city of Melaka, along with some of her family). I've been to KL several times (one of which was for Milady's and my honeymoon), and it's a great city. You're missing out if you don't visit us here in Southeast Asia.

Side note: While you're at it, be sure to read Eric Garris' story about his return to the United States after going to the Perdana Global Peace Forum.

December 24, 2005

Sex on the Brain

Looking at one of my hit counters this morning, I was struck by how many people currently have sex on the brain. Aren't you guys supposed to be celebrating Christmas or something? Ho, ho, ho, and all that?

Out of the past 20 search engine referrals (such as those made by Google, Yahoo, etc.), 13 had something to do with nudity with 2 more being questionable. Of the 13, eight people wanted to see the Indian tennis star, Sania Mirza, naked (what else is new?), two wanted to see nude pictures of coeds from Arizona State University (this is regarding the upcoming Playboy pictorial that will be published next year), and then there was one each for Angela Keathley (the ex-Carolina Panther cheerleader who may or may not have been having lesbian sex in a bar's bathroom stall), a generic "young mother posing nude" (hey, perv, you wanna see the kid too?), and one for "JD erotic photos" (sorry, wrong JD, no erotic photos here). The two that are questionable included one for "sania mirza's skirt" (uh, it looks like any other woman tennis player's skirt?) and another for "texas street korea." The latter is a (in)famous street in the "Russian" neighborhood of Busan, Korea, near some of the piers, where you can find a number of Russian bars, stores, and hookers. (I visited there briefly one night to see what the place was like.)

I've got a few more comments to make regarding what my visitors want (including a survey I took on people looking for information/photos on Sania Mirza), but those will be in later posts, insha'allah.

December 19, 2005

Machiavelli on Change Management

Niccolo MachiavelliI just finished burning some files to a CD for a colleague, and I happened to re-read a very short file that I had stored in my computer. Ol' Nic here knew a thing or two about change management that I think bears repeating.

A Thought Concerning Why People Complain About New Systems

"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. Thus it arises that on every opportunity for attacking the reformer, his opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others only defend him half-heartedly, so that between them he runs great danger."

The Prince
Niccolo Machiavelli

Teenage Computer Addict Commits Suicide

A strange story coming out of Malaysia (hat tip to Zaim Bakar Blog). Apparently, a 16-year-old Chinese boy committed suicide by electrocuting himself after being told by his father that he needed to cut down on his internet surfing. According to the father:

"He wanted me to upgrade his computer. Instead I gave him an ultimatum. ... I told him I would upgrade his computer if he studied at least seven hours a day. He did not reply. That was the last I spoke to him."

Eight hours later, Yap found his son’s lifeless body. He had electrocuted himself with a wire tied around his left wrist in his own room.

Yap and his wife, identified only as Then, 48, rushed Way Chung to nearby Assunta Hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival.


[Yap] said he found a note on Way Chung’s computer. "It was his will. He left his dumb bells and MP3 player to two of his close friends. The printed note was left on the top of the keyboard so that no one would miss it."

"Ah Boy, as we called him, was a computer addict. To him, it was his life. The first thing he did when he came home from school was to switch on the machine. Now that it is the school holidays, he was spending even more time on it. He surfed the Net for music downloads and slept in the wee hours. He even forgot to eat his meals."

Yap said he now regrets buying the computer for his son.

"If I had followed my head and refrained from buying the computer for him, Ah Boy would still be alive today. I had never agreed to young children like him spending too much time on the Internet," said Yap, adding that his son was active in taekwondo and basketball in school.

I have heard of several cases up in Korea where young men have died because of playing computer games in the PC Bahngs for too long a time (frequently over 24 hours at a stretch); however, I don't recall a similar situation where a teenager has killed him (or her)self because their parents began to limit their computer time.

To my Western readers, that the father asked his son to study at least seven hours a day may seem excessive by Western standards but it is not all that unusual here in Asia. Asians place a very high premium on education (much more so than Americans). In Korea, secondary school students normally get to school by 8 a.m. or so, and will study at the school (with occasional breaks) up through 10-11 p.m. The study regime is not as stringent here in S'pore as it is up in Korea as the competition to get into the universities isn't as fierce here; however, there is still a strong orientation toward getting a good education, usually coming at the expense of extra-curricular activities, such as sports. (There are school sports and other ECAs here, but they're not as big a part of a secondary school student's life as they are back in the US.)

In the meantime, I think it's important that families be sure to keep computers and television sets out of the kid's bedrooms, so that their usage can be limited and monitored by the parents. If you're going to let the kids have something in their bedrooms, make sure that they have good books to read.

Takes a $#!&&!ng and Keeps on Ticking

This post is about my love affair with the HP-12C. :) This morning, I wanted to download a manual for my HP-12C, Hewlett-Packard's mainstay business calculator, and stumbled upon The Museum of HP Calculators, an interesting little website that has pages (photos, manuals, etc.) for various HP calculators that have been sold over the years. For the past 20 years, I've used a grand total of 3 HP calculators - two 12C's and one 18C...there is nothing better.

The HP Museum's webpage on the 12C has an interesting story that deserves more exposure:

One HP-12C was used by a zoo keeper to calculate feed mixtures. The zoo keeper dropped the calculator and it was consumed by a hippopotamus. The calculator survived the hippo's digestive process as well as the washing that followed.

Which makes one wonder, why would anyone be interested in continuing to use any calculator that's been covered in hippopotamus shit? :)

Anyhoo... The 12C is simply a great calculator. My current calculator has followed me through all my travels to Europe and Asia, and the batteries for it died only last week after Allah (swt) knows how many years of usage. If you're a business person or business student, the only calculator you should remotely consider buying is the 12C.

[Note: This post has not been sponsored in any way by Hewlett-Packard. However, if they want to give me a new 18C, I'd gladly take one. ;) ]

The Hewlett-Packard HP-12C Business Calculator

December 15, 2005

More (Lots More) Nude Christian Calendars

LeonKJ wrote (in Menj's blog): "My friend, it’s unfair not to differentiate between Christianity and its self serving heretics. Christianity is very unanimous against porn, and this movement is very likely a small deviationist group."

Leon was writing in response to Menj's post, "Biblically-sactioned porn," which was in reference to the nude calendar a German Christian youth group published and was recently reported on the BBC website. I brought up this topic on December 4th with my own post, "How does one say, "I am a Christian Degenerate" in German?" Two people, "Celestine" and "LeonKJ," complained to Menj for his linking the making of the nude, pornographic calendar with Christianity (as I did with my post). My response to both of these people is, "Too bad. Menj and I are only speaking the truth."

While many Christians may very well be against pornography, the fact of the matter is that this particular calendar was made for the express purpose of luring young people to church. Sex sells, and this German Christian youth group was using it to sell Christianity to teenagers and young adults. Celestine and LeonKJ might be offended by the fact that Menj and I are calling a spade a spade. However, as the Qur'an says, "And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is)." (2:42)

As for Leon's other point, that "...this movement is very likely a small deviationist group," that may very well be so; however, if Leon had checked out the BBC webpage more carefully, he would have noticed that there were four other links to more cases of Christians either making or promoting nude calendars. This "movement" is not confined to one small group, but appears to be spreading, especially in Britain. Following are some quotations (and pictures) from the four articles:

"A Gloucestershire vicar is lending his support to a nude calendar by displaying the images in his church. The Rev Stephen Earley from St Martins in Horsley, launched 'Exposed 2005' after a service on Sunday commemorating the genocide in Rwanda, Africa. 'I've been very impressed by the calendar, the pictures have all been very tastefully shot,' he said." (Vicar's support for nude calendar)

Posing nude for the Holy Trinity Church (Barsham, UK) calendar
"A curate from Suffolk and a number of his parishoners have defrocked themselves to raise money for charity. Assistant curate John Buchanan, of Holy Trinity Church, Barsham, hopes to raise £90,000 for the organ restoration fund by posing nude for a calendar." (Curate is defrocked for calendar)

"The stars of a calendar featuring semi-naked builders, produced to raise cash for a north Cornwall parish, have defended their vicar from criticism. Reverend Christine Musser, 48, who took over the seaside parish of Boscastle last year, revealed on Wednesday that she had received letters calling for her to resign after backing the calendar. Divorcee Mrs Musser, star of BBC's A Seaside Parish, said criticism over the calendar was 'inevitable.' Calendar producer Raymond Rogers praised the bravery of Mrs Musser, who appears on the front of the calendar backed by partially-clothed local builders. 'There's no way we would do anything to embarrass the Church.' ... Mrs Musser has said she will be staying put, despite the hostility. She said: 'I thought I was going to come in for some flak from it because, if you put yourself in a public role, I guess you are going to find others that disagree with you. But the overwhelming response from the majority of people far outweighs the negative responses. Nudity and the Church are not traditionally linked, but to my mind, it was a group of guys who don't come to church, but are very much part of the community who wanted to show their support for their community church. How could I not support them?" (TV priest backed over calendar)

Photo from the 'Heavenly Hunks' calendar for the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir Association
"Male members of a cathedral choir have stripped off for the second year running to produce a saucy calendar for charity. The 'Heavenly Hunks' of Portsmouth Cathedral Choir Association are back by popular demand, according to the group. The calendar, which has the backing of the Bishop of Portsmouth, shows eleven young men from the choir revealing their hidden talents against the backdrop of the cathedral. ... 'It is a refreshing story about the Church of England and a great example of some young guys doing something fun because of their membership of the church and of Portsmouth Cathedral Choir.' The Bishop of Portsmouth, The Right Reverend Kenneth Stevenson, said: 'I support anything that involves young people having fun as part of the church and congratulate these lads who have bared more than their souls to raise money for these charities.'" (Cathedral choir strips for calendar)

Of course, these are just the calendars that are being published and supported by Christians. Other, secular groups are promoting their own nude calendars: the Paralympic Games (Games hope rides on saucy calendar), the Royal Air Force (Aircrew bares all for calendar), and ambulance crews (Ambulance crews strip for calendar). Surprisingly, there is one British charity that has refused to be associated with a nude calendar, the Shrewsbury Amateur Operatic Society (Charity says 'no' to saucy calendar). But this last group appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

LeonKJ also wrote: "We all have problems with people like this, in Islam, you have Salman Rushdie and Osama Bin Laden, both, with diametrically opposed ideologies, that makes the average Muslim reject one, or both as lunatics who should not be allowed to carry the label."

I'm glad to hear you say this, because a Christian has finally realized that his religion can be "highjacked" for the wrong reasons. However, I hate to say it but, it's too little, too late. Christians deserve to be criticized for being decadent. It's you who have the problem, not us. Clean up your own house.

December 13, 2005

Will the Last Person Leaving Detroit Please Turn Off the Light on Their Way Out?

There's another good post over at Tom Peters' blog, written by a Mike Neiss, The View From Home.

After reading my colleague John O'Leary's blog about his Shanghai experience, I was struck by the contrasts to what I see from my viewpoint here in the rust belt of the great American Midwest. John saw bright lights and energy! I drove past an empty factory with a sole security light protecting an empty parking lot. Ford announced another restructuring plan—closing ten facilities and eliminating thirty thousand jobs. Add that to the previously announced plans at GM to close nine facilities and eliminate another thirty thousand jobs and you can almost feel the life breath leaving these once proud companies. It is dark and cold here in Michigan this morning. No lights, no energy ...

I will leave it to my more well-read friends to argue the macroeconomic reasons for the sorry state of our auto industry, and offer instead some cut the crap observations:

1) We may have invented capitalism, but we took our eye off the ball. Perhaps it is our complacency, but the truth of the matter is that we are being outworked from the boardroom to the factory floor. In my travels overseas, I have seen a hunger for success far greater than what I see at home. If your counterpart anywhere in the world is willing to work harder then you, they win, you lose. This applies whether you are a CEO or a pipe-fitter.

2) GM is restructuring their executive team, bringing in European talent to save the day. Ford did that. DaimlerChrysler did that. U.S. business schools and grads take note. Where's the homegrown talent? If you can pull your eyes away from your spreadsheets, you might be able to see what we are missing.

3) Ford wants to attract younger buyers. Here's a big clue ... old designers can't design for young taste. Unless talent and performance starts meaning more than seniority and entitlement, it isn't going to work. Put a 25 year old in charge of design. And make it a woman.

4) Throttle back on the cost-cutting mentality. I drive a U.S. nameplate vehicle. Mechanically, it's great. Design ain't bad. But the radio quit, the rear window washer failed, and the latch on the glove box doesn't hold it closed. I am sure they were fashioned with the lowest cost components. Cost does not equal value ... and low cost parts decrease brand equity for a very long time.

5) And suck it up. No one is doing this to you. It is a fate you have created for yourself. While the big three are closing facilities, Toyota is building U.S. capacity with new factories. Apparently, you can make money, and lots of it, building vehicles here in the U.S.

What Neiss wrote about the American auto industry applies not only to that industry, it applies to all American industries. After living in east Asia for four years, one thing I can tell you about Asians is that they will out-compete, out-work, and out-study the average American or Canadian. The economies here are growing very strongly, and will continue to grow strongly as long as they maintain these values. Let me give you an example.

In Busan, South Korea, there are underground shopping centers that lie underneath major streets. I used to walk through one such shopping center that ran from Seomyeon (downtown Busan; pronounced "Suh-myuhn") and the school where I taught, perhaps a kilometer away. And underneath this street were two wide corridors that were lined - on both sides - with numerous small shops. So, imagine, if you will, four long rows of stores, usually 15 feet wide, running for over half a mile. Now there were a number of different types of stores, men's clothing, camera shops, backpack shops, and so on, but 90% of all of the stores sold women's clothing. Literally, about 200 stores selling women's clothes (of all types) within a kilometer's distance of each other (and this didn't count all the other stores, both in that neighborhood and in others, above ground and below ground, that also sold women's clothing). That's competition! And this is just one example of one small industry. I could give other examples (and maybe will, insha'allah, in future posts).

But this is also very representative of Asian competition. Asians compete fiercely, in many aspects of life, and they will gladly take away your business if you are too lazy. And this is why Shanghai is doing so well, along with Singapore, and Korea, and Japan, and...well, you get the picture. This is also why Ford and GM are continuing to have massive layoffs. Believe me, I won't shed a tear for American business. They've earned their problems.

December 12, 2005

The Customer is Always...?

Tom Peters had a post about a banner found at the Hua Xin Li Dress Co., Ltd. in China (Slogan from the Godless Commies ...). One person, who left a comment on the blog, listed a few of his (or her) favorite quotations on customers. I thought these were worth sharing:

"If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful." - Jeff Bezos.

"I never get the accountants in before I start up a business. It's done on gut feeling, especially if I can see that they are taking the mickey out of the consumer." - Richard Branson

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." - Bill Gates

"In our way of working, we attach a great deal of importance to humility and honesty; With respect for human values, we promise to serve our customers with integrity." - Azim Premji

"Each Wal-Mart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community." - Sam Walton

"It helps a ton when you learn people's names and don't butcher them when trying to pronounce them." - Jerry Yang

"Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business." - Zig Ziglar

It's sort of ironic that I should find this list of quotations today as I had a really terrible experience waiting in line at the bank during my lunch hour. Extremely slow service (and not for the first time). This bank (UOB) needs its tellers to get some additional training in customer service and queue management.

December 9, 2005

Update on "Xenophobia in Florida"

I was breezing through my blog, looking at old entries, and realized I had never checked to see what the final outcome was of the election between Tom Abraham and incumbent Don Sherrill, holder of Seat 4 on the City Council of Orange City, Florida. Sherrill, as you may recall, made xenophobic comments regarding Abraham's ethnicity (he's from India) and suggested that he may be a potential terrorist.

Anyway, Sherrill won the election, although only by a very slim margin. From the Orlando Sentinel article, Recount Confirms Orange City Results:

Orange City's heated City Council election ended on Thursday with a handshake and a smile after a recount failed to change the outcome.

The Seat 4 contest between incumbent Don Sherrill and Tom Abraham has been shadowed by disparaging comments Sherrill made about Abraham's Indian ethnicity.

After the general election Tuesday, Sherrill led Abraham by 19 votes. Orange City's canvassing board granted Abraham's recount request despite the fact that the election was not close enough to trigger an automatic recount.

On Thursday, the four-person canvassing board recounted the 746 votes cast in that race. Abraham did pick up one vote, from a wrinkled ballot that was apparently not counted on Tuesday. That reduced Sherrill's margin of victory to 18.

"I conceded the election and he wished me good luck," Abraham said after the results were read out loud and he shook hands with Sherrill.


Abraham said he had still not received an apology from Sherrill, but that even if he did get one, it would be too late.

"A delayed apology would not be the same," Abraham said.

Abraham, a nuclear-medicine technologist, said that one of his supporters intends to speak out against Sherrill's comments at Tuesday night's council meeting.

After the recount, Sherrill said he was happy with the outcome and that he accepted his opponent's concession. He said he doesn't think he owes Abraham an apology and that the Orlando Sentinel "twisted my remarks around." Sherrill said he will address the controversy over his remarks at Tuesday night's council meeting.

Yeah, Don, I see you still can't own up and take responsibility for your comments. And if you can't take responsibility for these comments, which are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, how can we be reassured that you can take responsibility for the more important duties and decisions you'll make on behalf of your constituents?

More can be found on this topic at Sepia Mutiny's post, "It’s over."

One more comment: The very slim margin of this election (18 votes separating the two men) shows the great importance of getting out and voting - and not just for the big elections, but the small elections as well. Little elections, like a city council race, may seem like small potatoes, but every election allows people and ideas to influence and regulate how we live our lives. You may not like any of the candidates, but chances are good you won't like one candidate more than the other. Don't let that one person you don't like tell you how you should live your life. Vote against him or her, and try not to let the rascal get into office. (And if the rascal does get into office, at least your conscience will be clear, insha'allah, that you made your best effort not to let him or her into office.)

December 5, 2005

Honor vs. Honour

There's an interesting little comment at Don't Bomb Us, a blog run by three Al Jazeera staffers. It seems that an anonymous poster can't find any articles at the Al Jazeera website for the topic "honor killings."

"Don't you think that the murder of women throughout the Islamic world by their uncles and fathers and husbands because these women have the audacity to date who they want or express what they think is newsworthy?"

And Mohammed, one of the staffers, came back with this reply:

"You make mention that our website does not mention "Honor Killings" - that is true since we don't use American English - we use English English.

"Try your search using "honour" instead - or just click here for Google results.

"You see, sometimes little cultural misunderstands can cause such a big fuss."

How true. This is just one of those little incidents that seems to be so representative of how ignorant people "think." They don't understand the subtleties of the world, expect everyone else to be like them down to the smallest details, and then get upset before considering the idea that perhaps the fault lies with them.

And, just for the record, honor (or "honour") killings are not limited to Muslims. In the UK, honor killings are done not only by Muslims, but by Sikhs, Hindus and even Christians. See more at the BBC's "Lamp and Owl." Moreover, as the "Lamp and Owl" article points out, there is nothing in Islam, Hinduism or the Sikh religions that condones honor killings.

December 4, 2005

Juan Cole on Muriel Degauque

Dr. Juan Cole at Informed Comment had an interesting paragraph in a recent post. I'm sure the Islamophobes wouldn't agree with this analysis, but whoever cared what they thought? ;)

The case of Muriel Degauque, the poor Belgian Catholic girl who became a kamikaze in Iraq, has sent a chill through Europe. As I have argued before, the jihadi mindset is a cult-like ideology that is like software and can be installed in any mind. It is a set of plausibility structures, of premises that lead inexorably to killing oneself and others for some vague Cause. It is so insidious precisely because people inside the movement find the premises so compelling. It is not really anything to do with Islam per se, and most of the kamikazes don't know much about formal Islam. It isn't really any different than the Solar Temple Cult or other such self-destructive religious phenomena, except that the jihadis have become politicized and so kill themselves and others on the battlefield.

Emphasis mine.

How does one say, "I am a Christian Degenerate" in German?

Christian Degenerate Calendar
Umar of Jihad of Umar posted a link to a recent BBC article about a German Christian youth group that has created an erotic "Biblical" calendar.

The 12 re-enacted passages feature a bare-breasted Delilah cutting Samson's hair and a nude Eve offering an apple.

Bernd Grasser, who is a church pastor in Nuremberg and is supporting the project, said, "It's just wonderful when teenagers commit themselves with their hair and their skin to the bible."

"There's a whole range of biblical scriptures simply bursting with eroticism," said Stefan Wiest, 32, who took the racy photographs.

Anne Rohmer, 21, wearing garters and stockings, posed on a doorstep as the prostitute Rahab. "We wanted to represent the Bible in a different way and to interest young people," she told news agency Reuters. "Anyway, it doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that you are forbidden to show yourself nude."

The Nuremberg-based group said they wanted to represent the Bible in a way that would entice young people.

One wonders what's next. Hookers for Christ?

December 2, 2005

Does this make me a groupie now? ;)

This is one of those "I've died and gone to heaven" moments. The other day, I left a comment on one of Tom Peter's posts ("I Disagree!") at his blog. Now I've been a big fan of Tom's books since the '80s, and today I found that Tom had personally responded to my comment. My comment above (in black), followed by Tom's response (in blue):

Robert Floyd wrote: "...they [non-profits] do not understand that they must run their organization like a business if they want to survive."

I started my own non-profit a few years ago, and I've worked as an accountant for another (very large) one. The thing is, non-profits *are* businesses, the only difference being, they're trying to minimize their profits. Otherwise, the principles of business (whether it's accounting, management, finance, marketing, etc.) all apply. Non-profits must be run as a business, period.

Posted by JD at December 1, 2005 02:37 AM

JD, I remember addressing Boy Scout leaders years ago. Couldn't figure out what to say. Then I talked to one of their top people. He said, "Say what you always say." He went on to add that the Boy Scouts were in a life and death competitive struggle like any other business. "We compete for boys' attention," he said. "That attention increasingly goes to TV, computer games, etc. We need more 'mind share.'" I was amused-amazed that he was out me-ing me.

Posted by tom peters at December 1, 2005 07:24 AM

I haven't had this feeling since meeting Alan Parsons for the first time ;) (but that's another story).

December 1, 2005

Dennis Prager and the Value of Freedom

As I noted in an earlier post, Dennis Prager had made a stir among the Muslim community with his "five questions." Numerous people have written responses to Prager with regard to those questions. I, personally, don't have any desire to answer all five questions (which I generally regard as silly), but one question in particular gnawed at me. That was question three:

"Why is only one of the 47 Muslim-majority countries a free country?

"According to Freedom House, a Washington-based group that promotes democracy, of the world's 47 Muslim countries, only Mali is free. Sixty percent are not free, and 38% are partly free. Muslim-majority states account for a majority of the world's "not free" states. And of the 10 "worst of the worst," seven are Islamic states. Why is this?"

And so I visited Freedom house's website. Freedom House conducts an annual survey of all the countries in the world, and ranks those countries on two scales, political rights and civil liberties (the methodology that Freedom House uses can be found here). Survey results for the years 1972 through 2005 can be downloaded in an Excel file. And so, of course, I downloaded the file and reviewed the results.

And, lo and behold, what Prager wrote in his question is true. But, as Paul Harvey would say, "here's the rest of the story."

Looking at the ratings by Freedom House, I was curious as to how the local countries here in SE Asia would fare. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are all ranked as "PF" or "Partially Free." Indonesia has a Political Rights score of 3 and a Civil Liberties score of 4 (the best scores are 1 and 1, respectively), Malaysia has scores of 4 and 4, and Singapore 5 and 4. Mali, to give some contrast, has scores of 2 and 2, with a "Free" designation. So, based upon Freedom House's rankings, you'd think, "Wow, Mali must be a great place to live; their people are free. And Singapore, so awful! Those people must be oppressed."

Except, of course, that you can't judge the quality of life in any given country based upon a single factor. And this is where Prager's Question 3 is based upon a stupid assumption: That freedom in the form of political rights and civil liberties is somehow indicative (and predictive) of a country's quality of life. Let's take one other factor, Gross Domestic Product (Purchasing Power Parity) on a per capita basis, and see how the four countries mentioned above stack up.

Singapore, with the lowest combined score of political rights and civil liberties, has the highest GDP per capita of the four countries, with $27,800. (All of the following statistics come from the CIA's World Factbook.) That number is 29th highest in the world, and is higher than Italy (#30) or the European Union's combined average (#32). Malaysia, with a slightly better Freedom House ranking than Singapore, has a GDP of $9,700 per capita (ranked #83), which is just slightly behind that of Russia (#82) and ahead of Mexico (#85) and the World average (#89). Indonesia, which had the highest Freedom House statistics for the three SE Asian countries mentioned, has a GDP of $3,500 per capita (ranked #149), which is slightly better than that of up-and-coming India (#154). Mali, Prager's Freedom House champion, has a GDP per capita of $900 (ranked #214), which is just ahead of war-ravaged Afghanistan (#216) and has a GDP 2.25 times better than last place East Timor (#232).

Now, to be fair to the people of Mali, the CIA World Factbook reported the following:

"The government has continued its successful implementation of an IMF-recommended structural adjustment program that is helping the economy grow, diversify, and attract foreign investment. Mali's adherence to economic reform and the 50% devaluation of the African franc in January 1994 have pushed up economic growth to a sturdy 5% average in 1996-2004."

So there is hope for the people of Mali, that the country can continue to grow economically and provide a better life for its people. But in the meantime, let me ask Mr. Prager the following question:

"If you could only live in either Mali, with its very poor economy but high ranking of political rights and civil liberties, or in Singapore, with its very good economy but much lower Freedom House ranking, which one would you choose?"

Of course, we know you would choose Singapore, as I did (and do). So, what then is the real value of freedom? Is it as necessary as you think? Or do we just recognize how intellectually dishonest you really are.