May 31, 2006


One more post before I get to work...

Living in S'pore, there are commercials here promoting the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), just as you would find in the U.S. The ad agencies that work for the SAF, fortunately, do a very nice job and I've actually enjoyed a number of SAF commercials over the years (even though I'm too old really to be humping around the obstacle courses with the kids here ;) ). One commercial that I like, Symphony of Strength, I can only find on the MinDef website as streaming video. The other video, below, is a Navy commercial (the commercials for the Navy here have been particularly creative over time).

Watch out for them ducks, ET!

X-Ray of a Duck, who may or may not have eaten the head of an extraterrestrialSETI's got it all wrong: we shouldn't be looking out into space to find ETs, they're already here. And, what's more, the damn ETs are being eaten by ducks! Don't think so? Look at the photograph. The original caption for the photo:

This undated photo provided by the International Bird Rescue Research Center, shows an X-ray taken Sunday, May 21, 2006, of an injured duck with a broken wing. The International Bird Rescue Research Center in Cordelia. Calif., plans to raise funds with an unusual duck X-ray, which they say shows the clear image of what appears to be the face, or head, of an extraterrestrial alien in the bird's stomach. Unfortunately, the duck died quickly and quietly of its injuries.

May 30, 2006

Don't Hate Her Because She's Beautiful ... and Wears a ... Tudung

Hijabs at the Amerstdam Historical Museum

What follows is a comment I made on another website, called Cultural Kitchen. They themselves are reacting to an exhibit at the Amsterdam Historical Museum called "My Headscarf."

The title of the Cultural Kitchen article is "Don't Hate Her Because She's Beautiful ... and Wears a Burqa." One of the small annoyances I've been having with non-Muslims lately (and the degree of annoyance has been growing larger recently) is that non-Muslims don't use Muslim terminology properly. My initial point in the comment was that none of the scarves in the above picture are burqas, that they are all hijabs (or tudungs, depending on where you live in the world).

But I see this improper use of terminology as being symptomatic of a larger problem: that non-Muslims, being largely ignorant of Islam and more or less unwilling to learn more about Islam and the lives of Muslims, use Islamic terminology in a very willy-nilly fashion, not really knowing what they're talking about, and exposing their ignorance to those of us who do know the terminology. (My hackles are raised even more with the improper use of "Jihad.")

But Cultural Kitchen's basic premise, as expressed in their title, is a correct one and I made that point (insha'allah) in the second paragraph.

All of the pictures and styrofoam "models" are wearing hijabs (or tudungs, as they're called here in SE Asia). A burqa is a type of all-concealing robe that has a little "grilled window" that allows the woman to see through and tends to be worn only by Muslim women in central Asia (e.g., Afghanistan). The hijab and tudung, however, are worn by Muslim women most everywhere else.

I agree with your basic sentiment, though. Don't hate her because she's beautiful and wears a tudung. My wife (we are both Muslims) has been wearing a tudung since long before we met and, of course, I think she looks beautiful either with or without the scarf. But she doesn't wear the tudung to please me (although that's a side benefit for myself), she wears it to please Allah (swt), because she tries to be a proper Muslim. And that, I feel, is the problem with many non-Muslims, such as the Dutch who are proposing this "ban." They don't seem to be willing to look at the issue from our perspective. They're merely worried about whether the Muslim community will integrate into their culture. That's a legitimate concern for any country, of course, but it's not *our* primary concern. Like Hebrew National said in their hot dog commercials, "we answer to a higher authority." Trying to ban a religious covering like the hijab or tudung is only setting one's self up for failure, because we will look at the two authors of the law (man vs. Allah (swt)), and decide accordingly.

May 29, 2006


One of my all-time favorite music videos. "I wanna be [Milady's]..." Run time: 4:58.

May 28, 2006

10 Things I Hate About Commandments

Terrible title (astaghfirullah!), but an amusing parody... Answers the burning (bush) question: "How would Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments be marketed if the movie came out today?"

May 27, 2006

How Much Oil Does America Import?

Oil RigEver since I wrote Oil: America's Smack back in February, I've had a fairly steady stream of visitors asking the same question: how much oil does America import? I touched on this answer in my Smack post, but the question is worth looking into once more.

Every year, the United States pumps up some of its own oil (called "Field Production" according to the DoE) and imports the rest. Not surprisingly, American field production has been dropping over time. In the year 2000, American commercial field production made up 33.51% of its total supply of crude oil, while imports made up 52.21%. In 2005, those same percentages were 28.44% and 55.85%, respectively. And, of course, there's no reason to expect either of these trends not to continue going down and up, respectively, in the near future.

The United States has been importing oil since at least 1910 (according to DoE statistics), when a mere 557 thousand barrels of oil were brought into the country. Last year, the U.S. imported 3,670,403 thousand barrels of oil. Of those 3.67 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. imported from a total of 42 different countries. The top 5 importing countries were Canada (16.34%), Mexico (15.42%), Saudi Arabia (14.30%), Venezuela (12.24%), and Nigeria (10.54%), for a total of 68.84% of all American imports. In contrast, imports from countries 6 through 10 (Iraq, Angola, Ecuador, Algeria and the United Kingdom) make up only 16.84% of the total, with countries 11 through 42 making up the remaining 14.33%.

Looked at another way, only 21.69% of America's oil imports come from the Persian Gulf region. Per the DoE, the Persian Gulf includes Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates; however, Iran and Qatar export no oil to the United States. If we compare imports from OPEC countries vs. non-OPEC countries, we find that non-OPEC countries are now in the majority, 52.64% vs. 47.36%. And, with the exception of one year, 2001, non-OPEC countries have been in the ascendancy since 1994.

1. American field production will probably go below 25% of its total annual supply within the next five years.
2. In that same time frame, imports will probably be in the high 50s percentage (perhaps 58-59%).
3. America will continue to seek the majority of its oil from non-OPEC countries, such as Canada and Mexico, if only to avoid being as dependent on OPEC countries as they have been in the past. However, this will probably turn out to be a pipe dream in the long run unless Canadian oil reserve estimates turn out to be near the high end. (Estimates for Canada's proven oil reserves ranges from 4.7 billion barrels (World Oil) to 14.803 billion barrels (BP Statistical Review) to 178.792 billion barrels (Oil & Gas Journal). Obviously, this extremely wide range of guesses shows that no one truly knows how much oil Canada has.)
4. Persian Gulf oil, which has ranged between 19.81% and 28.56% of all U.S. imports since 1996, will probably continue to hover in the high teens-low 20s, despite President Bush's goal to cut American consumption of Middle Eastern oil by 75% by 2025, per the latest State of the Union address.

US Crude Oil Supply and Disposition (DoE)
US Crude Oil Imports by Country of Origin (DoE)
World Proved Reserves of Oil and Natural Gas, Most Recent Estimates

Update: I've written an updated post to this; please see Update: How Much Oil Does America Import.

Note: Despite the age of this article, it remains extremely popular, currently getting over 20% of all my hits on a daily basis. Since I wrote this post, I've written a number of other articles on oil. You might want to check out the following (so far to date; the most recent are at the top):

  • Update: How Much Oil Does America Import?
  • Crude Oil Prices, Dollars vs. Euros: Is There a Difference?
  • Petroleum and Natural Gas Proven Reserves, 2008, Top 10
  • U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector, 2006
  • Antonio Rappa on Oil
  • American Theocracy
  • Juan Cole on Global Warming, Oil and American Politics/Militarism
  • World Oil Reserves
  • Oil: America's Smack

    And over at one of my other blogs:

  • Southeast Asian Petroleum Consumption Forecasts, 2007-2012

    I hope to have a number of other posts like the one above at the new blog, J2TM, in the near future.
  • Fatwa on Yang-Ping

    An amusing mp3 of a "fatwa" on "Yang-Ping." From Amir Butler.

    May 26, 2006

    Animusic Pipe Dreams I and II

    I just found out about these music videos from my Alan Parsons' e-mail list. Both videos are highly imaginative in their mixing of music and computer graphics. The songs played in the two videos are different from each other (although the "layout" of the instruments is the same), so be sure to watch both. The run time for Pipe Dreams I (above) is 3:27; Pipe Dreams II (bottom) is 3:55. Enjoy!

    There are a number of other Animusic videos available at Youtube. Check them out here.

    Islam at a Glance

    Sadruddin Islahi's Islam at a Glance (Translated by M. Zafar Iqbal)

    Islam at a Glance is a primer on Islam. The book covers and explains intelligently the concept and meaning of Islam by focusing on its fundamental beliefs and practices - such as belief in God, the Afterlife, Angels, Books, Prophets and the fundamental duties known as the Pillars of Islam. Objectives of Prayer, Fast, Zakat, Hajj - the Pillars of Islam - have been explained in such detail so as to integrate their relationship with a way of life which is Islam. It also covers the principles behind...[more]

    May 25, 2006

    Imam Ghazzali's Ihya Ulum-Din (The Book of Worship), Volumes I-IV

    Go to firaushah.comImam Ghazzali's Ihya Ulum-Din (The Book of Worship), Volumes I-IV

    This book, "Ihya Ulum-Id-Din" (Revival of Religious Learnings), is the masterpiece work of the famous Persian scholar Imam Ghazzali who has been honored as "Hujjatul Islam," the Proof of Islam. This book is classified into four volumes - Worship, Worldly Usages, Destructive Evils, and Constructive Virtues. Each volume has been further divided into ten chapters.

    The subjects are well arranged like a law book or a medical book. The first two volumes speak about... [more]

    May 24, 2006

    Big Dog Gets Barked At

    Big Dog, Little DogI had an odd experience tonight. Milady had to go to the ATM across the street from our flat and I walked over there with her. As she was waiting in line to get some money out, this very elderly Chinese woman was walking along the path, speaking very loudly to no one in particular. Milady beckoned me over.

    "That lady is crazy."

    "No kidding." Anyone could see that.

    And, of course, the inevitable happened: the old woman walked past and started talking to me.

    Actually, "talking" is a bit of an understatement in this case. "Scold" is perhaps a better word. This woman ranted on for about two minutes in Chinese, which I don't understand at all ("sie sie," or "thank you" is about all I can manage). According to Milady, the old woman started talking about why I was standing where I was and then wondered why I wasn't talking back to her...duh! And while she continued her scolding, other people (mostly Chinese) walked by with smirks and twinkles in their eyes. I could only shrug my shoulders and try to ignore this woman until she moved on, which, of course, she did, continuing her monologue to no one in particular.

    Milady was terribly amused by the whole affair and we've talked about it off-and-on this evening. To her, this was a case of the little dog barking at the big dog. (I am a big guy, and this woman was very small, thin and hunched over; she may have osteoporosis.) But I did try to be polite by not reacting to her behavior. Confucianism is widespread throughout Asia and it didn't hurt, in my mind, to grin and bear her "barking."

    Woof! :)

    Update: A few weeks ago, Milady and I were walking to the parking garage early one morning. We passed by an old Chinese woman and Milady asked, "Did you recognize her?" When I said that I hadn't, Milady said, "That's 'little dog.'" Aaah! :)

    Islam: Faith and Practice

    Mahmoud M. Ayoub's Islam:  Faith and PracticeMahmoud M. Ayoub's Islam: Faith and Practice

    What is Islam? Is it just a set of rituals or does it have a philosophy all its own? Islam and Muslims are often in the news but does the non-Muslim really understand what Islam stands for?

    In Islam: Faith and Practice, Mahmoud Ayoub presents the Islamic faith as Muslims understand it. The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with [the] Islamic faith and its basis. The second part of the book is concerned with... [more]

    Extremism Isn't Islamic Law

    One of the very few topics I strongly disagree with my ustaz (religious teacher) about is the issue of what should be done with apostates. I am of the opinion that apostates should be left alone (for the most part) in this world because, as Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an, leave the punishment of the unbelievers to Him (73:11 and 74:11) as, insha'allah, any punishment of His will be far worse than anything we could do ourselves.

    Today, the Washington Post has an article by Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, the former President of Indonesia on this topic that I thought is worth sharing.

    For a few days this year the world's media focused an intense spotlight on the drama of a modern-day inquisition. Abdul Rahman, a Muslim convert to Christianity, narrowly escaped the death penalty for apostasy when the Afghan government -- acting under enormous international pressure -- sidestepped the issue by ruling that he was insane and unfit to stand trial. This unsatisfactory ruling left unanswered a question of enormous significance: Does Islam truly require the death penalty for apostasy, and, if not, why is there so little freedom of religion in the so-called Muslim world?

    The Koran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad do not definitively address this issue. In fact, during the early history of Islam, the Agreement of Hudaibiyah between Muhammad and his rivals stipulated that any Muslim who converted out of Islam would be allowed to depart freely to join the non-Muslim community. Nevertheless, throughout much of Islamic history, Muslim governments have embraced an interpretation of Islamic law that imposes the death penalty for apostasy.

    It is vital that we differentiate between the Koran, from which much of the raw material for producing Islamic law is derived, and the law itself. While its revelatory inspiration is divine, Islamic law is man-made and thus subject to human interpretation and revision. For example, in the course of Islamic history, non-Muslims have been allowed to enter Mecca and Medina. Since the time of the caliphs, however, Islamic law has been interpreted to forbid non-Muslims from entering these holy cities. The prohibition against non-Muslims entering Mecca and Medina is thus politically motivated and has no basis in the Koran or Islamic law.

    In the case of Rahman, two key principles of Islamic jurisprudence come into play. First, al-umuru bi maqashidiha ("Every problem [should be addressed] in accordance with its purpose"). If a legal ordinance truly protects citizens, then it is valid and may become law. From this perspective, Rahman did not violate any law, Islamic or otherwise. Indeed, he should be protected under Islamic law, rather than threatened with death or imprisonment. The second key principle is al-hukm-u yadullu ma'a illatihi wujudan wa adaman ("The law is formulated in accordance with circumstances"). Not only can Islamic law be changed -- it must be changed due to the ever-shifting circumstances of human life. Rather than take at face value assertions by extremists that their interpretation of Islamic law is eternal and unchanging, Muslims and Westerners must reject these false claims and join in the struggle to support a pluralistic and tolerant understanding of Islam.

    All of humanity, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, is threatened by the forces of Islamist extremism. It is these extremists, masquerading as traditional Muslims, who angrily call for the death of Abdul Rahman or the beheading of Danish cartoonists. Their objective is raw political power and the eventual radicalization of all 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. Western involvement in this "struggle for the soul of Islam" is a matter of self-preservation for the West and is critical given the violent tactics and strength of radical elements in Muslim societies worldwide.

    Muslim theologians must revise their understanding of Islamic law, and recognize that punishment for apostasy is merely the legacy of historical circumstances and political calculations stretching back to the early days of Islam. Such punishments run counter to the clear Koranic injunction "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).

    People of goodwill of every faith and nation must unite to ensure the triumph of religious freedom and of the "right" understanding of Islam, to avert global catastrophe and spare millions of others the fate of Sudan's great religious and political leader, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, who was executed on a false charge of apostasy. The millions of victims of "jihadist" violence in Sudan -- whose numbers continue to rise every day -- would have been spared if Taha's vision of Islam had triumphed instead of that of the extremists.

    The greatest challenge facing the contemporary Muslim world is to bring our limited, human understanding of Islamic law into harmony with its divine spirit -- in order to reflect God's mercy and compassion, and to bring the blessings of peace, justice and tolerance to a suffering world.

    The writer is a former president of Indonesia. From 1984 to 1999 he directed the Nadhlatul Ulama, the world's largest Muslim organization. He serves as senior adviser and board member to LibForAll Foundation, an Indonesian- and U.S.-based nonprofit that works to reduce religious extremism and terrorism.

    May 23, 2006

    Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Passing by the Earth

    Above is a time-lapse movie of Fragment B from Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. I had written about Comet SW3 ten days ago, mentioning that this comet had broken up into a large number of fragments. Fragment B is one of the bigger pieces from that breakup. What I find interesting about this movie is that the motion of the comet in front of the stars is quite obvious. In the past, when I had observed comets in the sky, the apparent motion of the comet was never as dynamic as in this movie; you could see the comet moving night-by-night as it swung around the Sun. Here, though, the motion is very dramatic: the entire video was filmed in one night.

    (The apparent motion against the stars is due to the fact that Comet SW3 has been fairly close to the Earth, about 25 times the distance between the Earth and Moon; that's close in astronomical terms.)

    If you have any problems in viewing the movie, click on the title link.

    May 22, 2006

    Talking Cats

    This is a weird little compilation, but it's also funny. Run time: 1:10.

    Veritas vos liberabit

    This was amusing. Apparently the youth of America don't attend college to open their minds, to be introduced to differing perspectives, or to learn to think critically. No, today, they go to colleges merely to have their prejudices confirmed, and heaven help those who tell them otherwise.

    After 34 years of college teaching, I thought I had heard just about every imaginable student complaint. Last week, however, a freshman in my 300-seat US History Since 1865 course came in to discuss her exam with one of the graders and proceeded to work herself into a semi-hissy over the fact that we had spent four class periods (one of them consisting of a visit from Taylor Branch) discussing the civil rights movement.

    "I don't know where he's getting all of this," she complained, "we never discussed any of this in high school." One might have let the matter rest here as simply an example of a high school history teacher's sins of omission being visited on the hapless old history prof. had the student not informed the TA in an indignant postcript, "I'm not a Democrat! I don't think I should have to listen to this stuff!"

    Given the current student and, in some places, administrative, pressures to put absolutely everything -- notes, study guides, all potential exam questions and answers, etc. -- on the Web, I can envision the day when the Web pages for our classes might read: "In order to insure that the professor's lectures will not offend your political sensibilities or challenge any of your other beliefs and perceptions in any way, please indicate by clicking the appropriate box below whether you prefer the Republican or Democratic version of this course."

    May 21, 2006

    Sale on

    Go now to firaushah.comI'm happy to announce that the new and improved website of is up and running. For a couple weeks now I've been working on this new version of our website, which is why I haven't been blogging as often recently. The website has been completely revamped and, of course, I'll continue to work on it so as to add new products.

    Speaking of new products, we've started to sell books as well. My ustaz has a number of books he's asked me to sell for him, and I'm happy to do so. One of the books, "Muhammad: The Ideal Prophet," I mentioned in a number of posts last year around Ramadhan (in my Dunner's Learn About Islam blog). It's a very interesting book, and I highly recommend it. We've got lots of copies, so "die die must buy" (i.e., "you absolutely must buy") as we say here in S'pore. Insha'allah, we'll also add some Bahasa Malayu books to the website in a few days (my ustaz has the books, I just need to finish writing up the appropriate webpages).

    Now, to celebrate the new website, is going to hold a SALE. Here's the deal:

    If you are on any of my blogrolls OR if you've already listed on your blogroll, we'll give you $10 off on any of our Sparkly tudungs. (These are really beautiful - die die must buy!)

    If I'm not currently on your blogroll but you're willing to put on now, we'll give you the $10 off on any of the Sparkly tudungs as well.

    Finally, if you let your internet friends now about this SALE and they put on their blogroll and tell me that you recommended them, I'll give them the $10 off and you $20 off on any of the Sparkly tudungs.

    This SALE is only through the end of June so don't wait!

    May 19, 2006

    U R a Brand!

    Catherine KaputaThere's an interview with Catherine Kaputa on Tom Peter's website. Kaputa is the author of a recent book, "U R a Brand! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success." While a lot of the interview is interesting, I've excerpted Kaputa's ten "self-branding strategies" below, which I think are very good ideas as to how we can improve our own personal "brand." I've also included the digressions (in red) the interviewer ("Q") and Kaputa ("CK") had as they discussed her strategies; I felt they helped to expand on some of the points Kaputa made.

    Self Branding Strategies:
    1. Be the First
    2. Be the Leader
    3. Take the Anti-leader Position
    4. Own an Attribute
    5. Use a Magic Ingredient or Invent a New Process
    6. Be the Expert
    7. Be Preferred
    8. Set a High Price
    9. Use Your Special Heritage
    10. Own a Cause

    Strategy #1: Be the First
    This is the most powerful strategy because the first brand is generally the market leader. In the product world this means creating a new product, or breaking new ground.

    You can see it in the business world too. Michael Dell, for example, created a new market, a new category, as the leading direct marketer of computers. And he has a strong self brand as an innovator. Being the first seems formidable, but is something that anybody could do if you slice up the market narrowly enough. It's really about dissecting the market in a way that creates a new area where you can be first. It's certainly easier if you're an entrepreneur to execute that strategy, although I've seen it happen within companies, where somebody created a new kind of product or a new target market.

    Strategy #2: Be the Leader
    Positioning yourself as the leader has a halo effect. Most people feel that if you're the leading brand in a category, you must be the best brand. That's the association in people's minds. You garner a lot of business because of the perception, the connection people make between something being the leader and being the best. I talk in the book about leaders like Jack Welch and how it's important to lead with ideas and lead by example.

    Strategy #3: Take the Anti-leader Position
    For every Microsoft, there's an Apple. For every General Motors, there's a VW; a competitor that takes the opposite attitude of the leader. The leader is big, you're small and nimble, they're out of touch, you're cutting edge, they're bureaucratic, and you're entrepreneurial.

    Americans have an emotional connection with underdogs. It's a powerful position. Look at Richard Branson. His quirky, anti-leader approach is "We do it differently than the leader does it in this category."

    Q: That brings to mind a commercial from my childhood. Was it Hertz?

    CK: It was Avis, a classic anti-leader. "We try harder. We're number two." To be honest with you, I usually travel with Avis because that appeals to me. Whether they try harder or not, it really strikes a chord in people, to root for somebody that's trying to be number one.

    Strategy #4: Own an Attribute
    This is the most common positioning strategy for brands. When you look at the car category, Mercedes-Benz owns the attribute of prestige, BMW is driving performance, Subaru is ruggedness, and Volvo is safety. Look at your industry or category—what are the important attributes? Who owns what? As a person, look at—who are your key competitors? Who owns what in terms of attributes? Is there an attribute that you can own?

    I give some examples in the book of clients that wanted to own an attribute. A client named Benjamin wanted to own the attribute of accountability. He was in a very large, creative company in the entertainment industry. He was a creative business person as were many of his colleagues. He wanted to be known for accountability and follow through, a trait that helped him differentiate himself because not many of his colleagues had that trait.

    Strategy #5: Use a Magic Ingredient or Invent a New Process
    Many early packaged goods or patent medicines were built on this idea of a "magic ingredient." Today, people can use this magic ingredient or new process strategy. Obviously, people that are consultants, doctors, researchers, or scientists who use processes can develop new processes. Look at diet doctors like Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the South Beach Diet, what they do is create a "new process."

    Of course, once this new process is out there, everybody copies it. But you have an advantage because you are the one associated with the new process.

    Q: You can't take process seriously after the David Mamet movie, The Spanish Prisoner.

    CK: Cooks are all about that. In the book, I talk about how chefs used to be work-a-day people until the celebrity chef came along. I marvel at them all now. They're great self-branders. It's all based on a process for cooking, or putting things together in a different way, this new process or magic ingredient kind of idea. They look at what other people do, add a little bit of their own style—preferred ingredients and cooking process—and create success. Their personality is part of it as well.

    Strategy #6: Be the Expert
    A big point of branding is that it's not smart to be a jack-of-all-trades. You need to be known for something. Be very focused; focus is powerful. This is the strategy that I've adopted, which is to be the expert. It's not just self-branding; it's really the branding space. The thing that's different about the way I approach it is that I'm a brand consultant that works with a company's products and people. Most people just do the people part or they just do a company's brand strategy.

    I was amazed when I read in Barbara Corcoran's book (Initially published as "Use What You've Got, and Other Business Lessons I Learned from My Mom" with a title change in the paperback edition to "If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails: And Other Lessons I Learned from My Mom") that she had only sold about 12 properties when she put out The Corcoran Report on real estate in Manhattan. It made the front page of the New York Times business section on Sunday. In New York, the real estate market has always been very secretive. They don't have an MLS [Multiple Listing Service]. She published, and continues to publish what the average price of an apartment is on the East Side, West Side, Downtown, or Midtown. Suddenly she was the real estate expert in New York, and she'd only sold a dozen properties. Obviously, she's a self-branding genius to have accomplished what she did, as well as a savvy businessperson.

    Q: I recently interviewed the author of Future Shop, a book about the auction culture. He has an interesting section about the secondary market for cars; the used car industry. He mentioned Kelley, who started the Blue Book as a way to help his used car sales. But in time, the Blue Book overtook his used car business. It's one of those instances of the information surrounding the product and the sales becoming much more valuable than the sales. So I could see a future for Barbara Corcoran where it's about selling the information and not selling the properties any longer.

    CK: Corcoran is doing just that. She sold her real estate company, and she's starting a production company. The media has a craving for experts on all kinds of topics. PR and media exposure can be a very important angle to the expert strategy. Writing reports, or publishing a book about your area of expertise are both good ways to gain visibility.

    Strategy #7: Be Preferred
    This is really user positioning. You want to be preferred by a certain target audience and define yourself that way. For example, you become the Wall Street broker or financial consultant who specializes in women, or specializes in advertising people. You then begin to understand your audience very well and develop advice and services tailored to the needs of that specific group. That becomes your value added and your target group will refer you a lot, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Strategy #8: Set a High Price
    There are all kinds of stories of the $100 handbag that no one bought, but when it had a $500 price tag on it, it flew out the door. There's always that perception, that if you're a $500 an hour consultant, you're better than a $100 an hour consultant, or why would you charge so much?

    A big part of this strategy is that you don't discount. We all have a desire for luxury goods. People recognize that if they're paying top price, they're getting the best. It has a certain cachet.

    Q: It's a built-in self-validation; if I can afford to pay this, I must be fabulous.

    CK: Yeah. It's a powerful strategy to have, particularly if you're a consultant or in the professions. Pricing yourself at the upper end of the market can be very successful, because a lot of people are attracted to people that charge a lot. Certain executives price themselves in a certain category. If you don't have that mindset you're never going to make that kind of salary.

    Q: So you've really got to stay on your toes with that strategy.

    CK: Yeah. Well, look at the salaries of CEOs in this country; they're enormous. Not everybody feels they're worth it. That has to be a big part of it, feeling that you're worth it.

    Strategy #9: Use Your Special Heritage
    You see this in the product world, emphasizing the heritage of the product. Stolichnaya is an example. With cars, you see the emphasis on where they're made, such as German heritage. For people, if you have a name like Bush, Kennedy, Rockefeller, or Hilton, you have one up on the rest of us. It can really boost a career. I've been in many jobs where I've seen nepotism. Look at all the celebrity magazines in this country. People are very attracted to famous family heritages or celebrity status.

    There are all kinds of heritage. Certainly, if you have experience working at Procter & Gamble that heritage is a big boost to your personal brand if you continue to work in packaged goods or move to other areas. People will be impressed with the marketing training you had at P&G. If you're an investment banker, and you worked at Goldman Sachs, people assume you're the best.

    Q: So don't burn your bridges, because wherever you have been in the past might have some advantage for your future, right?

    CK: Exactly. It's important to think of that when you're getting a first or second job. If you're offered a job at one of these top places, it's very helpful for whatever you do later on to have that as part of your credentials. It will differentiate you and people will make a lot of assumptions. The assumptions may be true or they may not be true.

    I went to graduate school at Harvard, because I knew getting a Ph.D. from the University of Washington where I received an M.A. would not help me get many jobs. Being a Japanese art historian in the United States is a very tough career. I knew that I'd have a much better shot at getting a job if I had the Harvard brand. I'm the same person, whether I got the Ph.D. here or there, but the whole outcome of my career and life is day and night.

    Plus if you're in a place like Harvard, you get all these opportunities to work on exhibitions and book projects that lead to connections and experience. Obviously, a big thing I talk about in the book is networks and this advantage of knowing people. In advertising, you develop a media plan; with Brand You, your media plan is the people that you know and come in contact with.

    Strategy #10: Own a Cause
    I think that a lot of us are driven to do something meaningful and significant. It's not all about money. Look at Bono, he's very involved in a cause. I think it's really helped his brand a lot. He's a very successful rock musician, but it's because of his work with his cause that he meets with CEOs and presidents at Davos. It has also made him a much more complicated and interesting person, and more powerful, by owning a cause.

    Q: That's similar to Lance Armstrong and his cancer. There are stories about him not being the nicest person. I think as people we're more forgiving of someone with less attractive characteristics if we know they're devoting some real energy to a larger cause.

    CK: I think so. Even somebody like Jimmy Carter. He has rehabilitated the way people view him since he was president by his work with Habitat for Humanity and other causes. He got the Nobel Peace Prize. He really had a very poor image when his presidency ended with the whole Iran hostage crisis.

    Q: That's the very classic American dream, the concept of reinvention. Tom [Peters] writes about it a lot; he blogged about it when he saw the movie, Ray, about Ray Charles. There's a guy who kept reinventing himself. It's very American, that idea of, "We can be whatever we want."


    The above excerpt is only about half of the interview. Be sure to check out the remainder.

    May 16, 2006

    An Inconvenient Truth

    The following is a trailer for Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth:

    While watching this trailer (run time: 2:30), I was startled by a new image I hadn't yet seen. First, there is the set of photographs showing the massive retreat of the Upsala Glacier in Argentina (which I wrote about in late March; see What will they call Glacier National Park...). However, the trailer then showed the lack of snow on top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. I was actually a little incredulous that this was really the case until I found the following article on the internet (from NASA, no less).

    Some scientists say Kilimanjaro’s peak may soon shine no more. According to Professor Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University, Kilimanjaro’s ice fields could be gone by the year 2020. In his October 18, 2002, article in the journal Science, Thompson and his co-authors note that the ice on the summit, which formed more than 11,000 years ago, has dwindled by 82 percent over the past century. The authors note that the recent, dramatic decline in Kilimanjaro’s ice cap is particularly remarkable given its persistence through many previous shifts in climate, including a severe 300-year-long drought that impacted human populations living in the area about 4,000 years ago.


    At least four surveys made since 1912 reveal there has been an ongoing decline in the extent of the ice.

    As you can see below, the snow and ice on top of Kilimanjaro has melted significantly. The first photo was taken on February 17, 1993; the second on February 21, 2000, seven years and four days late (i.e., the same time of year, almost seven years to the day).

    Mount Kilimanjaro on February 17, 1993 (above) and February 21, 2000 (below)

    Is global warming an inconvenient truth to conservatives?


    May 15, 2006

    Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

    These are two rather odd print ads for towels from World War 2, and I've been trying to think through the purpose of the images. Of course, many ads from that era featured soldiers in one manner or another, and ads for towels such as these two would naturally feature a bathing scene like these. But in this day and age, the pictures strike me as being rather homoerotic. So what message is the artist trying to convey? Was he (or she) trying to titilliate the women back home while their boyfriends and husbands were off to war? That the troops were comfortable enough with their sexuality so that they could joke and frolick with each other while being nude? Or that the bond between fellow soldiers in a prolonged male environment (fighting in a war against other men) becomes stronger than normal, perhaps to the point of the men becoming gay?

    One other thing to note in the above picture are the dark, silent natives in the background. They stand and stare at the white soldiers while the latter are oblivious to the spectacle they are creating.

    From Boing Boing.

    JTL - Enter the Dragon

    As my regular readers know, I spent a year in Korea (2001-2). While living there, I was exposed to a lot of Korean pop music (K-Pop), which is the predominant style of music listened to there by the younger generation. While I didn't (and still don't) understand about 99.9% of the lyrics being sung, I do enjoy listening to the music for everything else (the melodies and harmonies, the passion in the singing, and so on).

    In my year there, I bought about a dozen CDs from various artists. The below video is the title song from one of those albums. JTL is a trio of young men, the names of whom make up the band's name (as is popular to do among Korean bands in particular and east Asian bands in general). The song, "Enter the Dragon," of course is a tribute to Bruce Lee who makes a "sweaty" cameo in the video. ;) Run time: 4:31.

    May 13, 2006

    Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3

    Numerous fragments of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 as seen by the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope.  Fragment B is to the bottom left, and Fragment C is to the top right.
    One of the few problems of living in S'pore (at least from my perspective) is that you can rarely see the night sky. Living virtually on the equator (we're one degree north of), our skies are frequently overcast day and night, as it is right now. As a result, my trying to keep up with what's going on in astronomy is largely an internet affair.

    Now, if you have the opportunity to look for Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 in the northern sky, you should. This comet, which has actually broken up into about 60 fragments or so, is about to make its closest approach to Earth today (May 13). The comet is not going to be terribly bright (in part because it has broken up into numerous fragments instead of being a single, whole comet), about magnitude 4, and has just passed through the bottom part of the constellation Lyra (right past Messier 57, the Ring Nebula; see the picture below).

    If you get the chance, check it out while you can.

    Astronomy Picture of the Day's Caption for the above picture:
    This false-color mosaic of crumbling comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 spans about 6 degrees (12 full moons) along the comet's orbit. Recorded on May 4-6 by an infrared camera on board the Spitzer Space Telescope, the picture captures about 45 of the 60 or more alphabetically cataloged large comet fragments. The brightest fragment at the upper right of the track is Fragment C. Bright Fragment B is below and left of center. Looking for clues to how the comet broke up, Spitzer's infrared view also captures the trail of dust left over as the comet deteriorated during previous passes. Emission from the dust particles warmed by sunlight appears to fill the space along the cometary orbit. The fragments are near their closest approach in the coming days, about 10 million kilometers away, and none pose any danger to our fair planet.

    Fragment C of Comet Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 and Messier 57, the Ring Nebula

    May 7, 2006

    May 6, 2006


    OK, this one is worth putting up too. Watch out for the car in the right-hand lane. Run time: 0:10.

    Spock Casa

    Another one of the Star Trek 2.0 animated commercials. This one is the long version (1:00), which I think is better than the short version. "Baby, no salsa on the leather! Keep it on the chips." :)

    NeoConservative Manifesto

    For "b." :) I'm sure your mom won't like this one either. ;) The video is very similar in theme to the "Unclassified" video below; I also like this guy's use of animation. Run time: 2:40.

    "An Afternoon with the Hijjabed"

    This is a short student film (8:29) from Multimedia University, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The video is a collection of interviews with five women, all of whom wear a tudung to one extent or another. Each of the women answer a series of questions (e.g., "What is aurat?" "Why do you wear the hijjab?" and so on) to the best of their abilities. The film is interesting in that it captures a cross-section of women who cover themselves for different reasons. You have the very traditional Zulaikha who wears both the tudung and niqab, Natasha, who wears a scarf that covers almost nothing for the least satisfactory reasons, and three others who all wear a traditional tudung although one, Wawa, a student, apparently would take hers off in public given the right circumstances (i.e., when she's with friends). Perhaps the line I liked the best is from the cigarette-smoking art director, Leyla, who said very directly, "I am a Muslim woman, and I'm not afraid to show it."

    May 5, 2006


    "What sort of community do you live in? Where would you place it on a democracy-despotism scale?" Run time: 8:26.

    May 4, 2006


    Here is a set of two "movies" and three "trailers" that is both weird and LOL funny. (Unfortunately, they haven't put anything up at just yet, otherwise I'd do my customary link.) However, if you have any interest in either the Star Wars or LOTR films, these are must-see. Essentially, they've taken snippets from all nine movies and have combined them in various ways. The three trailers are short and will give you a pretty good idea of how these guys think. (Trailer 1 , the "no" film, is particularly amusing.) The 45mb version of StarLords is a bit odd, being a straight edit film for the first half and a music video in the second half. They also use some odd choices for background music (Led Zeppelin in Trailer 3). Anyhoo... check it out.

    "Paula, You're Fired!"

    I'm not a terribly big fan of American Idol (although Milady is), but I did find this little snippet of information to be interesting:

    More than half of adult voters for the Fox Broadcasting Company’s American Idol program value judge Simon Cowell’s opinion over that of the other judges in the 2006 season, according to a study released today by Pursuant, Inc. of Washington, D.C. The study found that 58 percent of voters respect Simon Cowell’s opinion the most. This is more than twice that of the 26 percent who value Randy Jackson’s opinion and nine times more than the 6 percent who value Paula Abdul’s. (Source)

    This doesn't surprise me in the least. Cowell's comments, IMO, are spot on about 95% of the time. Jackson's comments can be decent, but he lapses all too often into "stroke the contestant's ego" mode (that and his frequent inanities like, "Yo, dog!" and "It's a hot one tonight!"). As for Abdul, she needs to be replaced immediately (actually, she should have been replaced after last year). It's amazing how often she's incoherent. She appears to listen to the music mostly on an emotional level, rarely listening to the music or the singer critically, and then gives little thought as to what she's actually going to say. To borrow Donald Trump's phrase, I'd say, "Paula, you're fired!"

    One other comment I've told Milady in recent weeks is that if I were a music producer in, say, Nashville or Detroit, I'd be praying for Kelly Pickler and Paris Bennett to both lose (as they have). Those two in particular - along with Chris Daughtry - could have very successful careers, insha'allah. The remaining three finalists could also be successful, but I'd place my bets (if I were a betting man) over the long-term on Pickler, Bennett, and Daughtry because all three are very good in their niche (country, r&b, and rock) and all three of those niches are huge.

    May 3, 2006

    A Matter of Perspective

    Crater Galle, looking northward

    This is Crater Galle. It's located on the eastern rim of the Argyre Planitia in the southern highlands of Mars, and is named after the German astronomer, Johann Gottfried Galle. The picture was taken by Mars Express, a satellite sent by the European Space Agency to photograph and perform a scientific survey on the red planet. This particular view of Galle looks northward. As you can see, Galle is a huge impact crater (although it's dwarfed by Argyre Planitia and Hellas Planitia, both of which are much, much larger). There's a long, curving mountain range in the middle, with a smaller crater to the northeast and a lone butte to the northwest.

    Now, looking at this particular picture of Crater Galle, I'm reminded of how many non-Muslims look at Muslims and Islam. Just yesterday, there was a news account from CAIR-AZ where three Muslim women were verbally abused by an Islamophobic couple:

    The three Muslim women say a white middle-aged couple approached them on April 29 at the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Scottsdale, Arizona, and asked whether they were Muslim. After learning that the women were in fact Muslims, the couple indicated they had seen "United 93" and then said: "Take off your f***ing burqas and get the f*** out of this country. We don't want you in this country. Go home." [Note: Two of the three women are American-born citizens.]

    Unfortunately, as we know all too well, this type of abuse is commonplace in the U.S. and other countries. These non-Muslims don't know much (if anything) about Islam or how Muslims live their lives. Nor, I suspect, do most have any real desire to learn about Islam. And yet, as we Muslims know and tell the few who are willing to listen, the reality of Islam is very different from what most non-Muslims think. It's all a matter of perspective. Instead of looking at Islam askance, like the above view of Crater Galle, wouldn't it make more sense to look at Islam head on, as it really is? Then, insha'allah, people might realize the true beauty of Islam, just as looking at Crater Galle head on (below) gives a different, more pleasing picture.

    Crater Galle, the Happy Face Crater, face on

    May 1, 2006

    Fridge Scare

    A successful practical joke. (Kids, don't try this at home!) Run time: 1:03. Note: Some profanity.

    Ninja Clowns

    This is cute, with some very "Matrixish" stunts. Run time: 1:00.