January 28, 2006

In Memoriam


Challenger 51-L PatchThat was the last recorded word of Challenger shuttle pilot Michael J. Smith. Today is the 20th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, and it's sort of hard to believe that that much time has elapsed. This event was one of those "where were you?" moments in my life. The launch of the shuttle happened at 11:38 a.m., and I was attending Arizona State University at the time, two hours to the west. My college roommate, Brian, and I had just woken up, and Brian, who had turned on his TV, told me to come watch. The news broadcast was similar to that of the coverage for 9/11, with the endless repeating of the shuttle blowing up, over and over again, in the frigid, clear blue Florida sky.

As a child, I had always wanted to be an astronaut. I was fascinated by rockets launching and astronauts walking on the moon, and I had really, really wanted to be up there in space with them. When I was in junior high school, we read the short story, The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale. Afterwards, my English teacher had us write an essay, to imagine ourselves being like Philip Nolan, living the rest of our life in a state of exile except that, instead of life aboard a Navy ship, we would live aboard Skylab, the American space station that had been - at the time - recently launched into orbit. Of course, to me, that thought wasn't a penalty, a punishment, but a marvelous idea and I wrote about how my life would be so wonderful if I could live forever aboard Skylab. (Or, at least, until it came down to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere and killing a cow. ;) ) Needless to say, my English teacher didn't appreciate my youthful exuberance. (BTW, a woman from my hometown, Eileen Collins, did become an astronaut and has made several trips into space. I'm very happy for her as she's been able to live out my childhood fantasy. I do wish I could join her for one flight, though. ;) )

The Challenger 51-L flight was famous for more than just its spectacular demise. This was also the flight of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher from Concord High School (Concord, NH), who had been selected for NASA's Teacher in Space program. McAuliffe, who had beat out over 11,500 other applicants, was scheduled to teach two lessons from the space shuttle. It was largely because of McAuliffe's death, whom the nation had gotten to know so well in the months preceding the launch, that the tragedy of the Challenger explosion seemed to be magnified.

Challenger Explosion"You have to dream. We all have to dream. Dreaming is okay. Imagine me teaching from space, all over the world, touching so many people's lives. That's a teacher's dream! I have a vision of the world as a global village, a world without boundaries. Imagine a history teacher making history!"
-- Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe

Just prior to the Challenger tragedy, Voyager 2 had passed by the planet of Uranus, discovering a total of ten small moons between 30 December 1985 and 23 January 1986. These discoveries, significant by themselves (and which would have made big news at any other time), were largely ignored due to Challenger. While there were a number of proposals to have the new moons around Uranus named after the Challenger astronauts (and also that of the dead Apollo 1 astronauts, Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom), the Challenger crew did have craters on the moon - and some asteroids - named after them.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of the death of the Challenger 51-L crew, I want to close by saying, "You are not forgotten. I honor your courage, and pray that Allah (swt) forgives you your sins and accepts you into Jannah in the Hereafter."

In the memory of Francis R. "Dick" Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka, Ronald E. McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe:

The Crew of Challenger 51L

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

"High Flight," John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Challenger LiftoffFor more links on Challenger 51-L and its crew, please see:

The Crew of the Challenger Shuttle Mission in 1986

Space Shuttle Mission Chronology for Challenger 51-L

JSC Digital Image Collection for STS-51L*

51-L Movies

Joseph Kerwin's report on how the Challenger astronauts died**

President Reagan's Address to the Nation

Senator John Glenn's Remarks at the Memorial Service for Judith Resnik

The Transcript of the Challenger Crew from the Operational Recorder

  • 1: There are 250 images in this collection, so it makes sense to change the "Results per Page" number up to 50 or so.
  • 2: The Challenger astronauts apparently didn't die due to the blast from the external fuel tank's explosion, but either from a loss of oxygen after the Challenger disintegrated or from the flight cabin's impact into the Atlantic Ocean.

The G Quotient

The G Quotient, or 'How Work Would Be So Much Better If My Boss Were Gay Like Me'There are several posts I've been wanting to write in recent days, and I'm hoping that I can post them all soon, insha'allah. However, I do want to warn my readers that this particular post should be considered R-rated (or "M18" for the local folks ;) ) for profanity and sexual content.

Anyhoo... Recently, I received a catalog in the mail that sells various books about management: Training and Development, Human Resources, Consulting, Leadership and Management; you know, innocuous stuff. However, one book for sale in the catalog caught my eye, and not for a good reason. It seems that there's a new book coming out later this year by a Kirk Snyder, who's written "The G Quotient." Let me give you the catalog's blurb, as there isn't any on Amazon's page for the book yet:

The G Quotient identifies a management phenomenon that will forever change the way people view successful leadership, based on a landmark and bound to be controversial five-year study by Kirk Snyder, one of the nation's leading career and workplace experts at USC. In the last ten years, across-the-board levels of employee satisfaction, workplace morale and job engagement have plummeted in the US, and while many businesses are baffled by this steady decline, Snyder's research has uncovered a unique exception. Organizations and working units under the leadership of white-collar gay males are collectively experiencing 25-30% higher levels of employee satisfaction, workplace morale, and job engagement in addition to reporting greater employer loyalty and individual productivity. Empowered workers are responding to a new type of organizational leader. The old rules about effective leadership no longer apply in the new world of work."

Yeah, right. The "reason" why you are dissatisfied with your job is because your boss is straight. Want to have higher job satisfaction? Get your boss to start sucking ¢ð¢&. Morale at the office is down? Your boss isn't getting his fudge packed.

Yup, Kirk's gone and written the great American "Gee, work would be so much better if my boss were gay like me" book. Keep patting yourself on the back, Kirk, and tell yourself how wonderful gay executives are in comparison to those straight executives who do so - uh - "poorly" at business, you know, guys like Bill Gates, Jack Welch, or Steve Jobs. Kirk Snyder: America's moral decadence at its finest.

Sheesh, what's next? Queer Eye for The Apprentice? "Donald Trump, you just have to do something with that hair! And those ties the guys are wearing! Power colors are so 1980s! Here, try wearing this tie in a nice pastel pink, I know you'll love it..."


January 23, 2006

Turning Muslim in Texas

A wonderful little video: Turning Muslim in Texas. This is a 24-minute British documentary that looks at the lives of seven white American reverts to Islam and their families. Softy that I am, I actually started to get a little teary-eyed when the one woman (not one of the intervieweees) announced that she wanted to take the shahadah right then and there. This is a MUST SEE!

January 20, 2006

"The Mother of All Teenage-Boy Fantasies"

Renee Thomas (left) and Angela Keathley in happier, cheerleading days.I woke up this morning to find my hit counters had gone crazy overnight: Angela Keathley (the brunette on the right-hand side of the photo) is back in the news. Oh, it's no big deal this time - she's accepted probation and community service for her part in the infamous brawl at Banana Joe's nightclub in Tampa, Florida, or, as The Boston Phoenix put it, "the mother of all teenage-boy fantasies."

According to the The Charlotte Observer, "Angela Keathley will receive six months probation, must perform 32 hours of community service, write an apology to Tampa police and pay court fees, said assistant state attorney Pam Bondi.

"If Keathley completes the program and stays out of trouble during the next six months, the charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing or opposing a police officer would be removed from her record, Bondi said.

"She did not have to enter a guilty plea to join the program."

Ex-Carolina Panther Cheerleaders Renee Thomas (the blond on the left) and Angela Keathley (the brunette on the right) are back in the news.According to her attorney, Keathley did not want to face a trial (no kidding), and had been accepted into a six-month diversion program for first-time offenders. As her attorney said, being accepted into the program would be, in his opinion, "a fair and wise resolution in the matter," to which I agree. In the meantime, the other ex-TopCat cheerleader involved, Renee Thomas (the blond), apparently will be in the news for a little while more (insha'allah):

"Also Wednesday, attorneys for Thomas filed a counterclaim against a woman who says she was punched in the incident.

"Melissa Holden of Tampa filed a $15,000 civil suit against Thomas in December seeking payment for injuries. Police had said Thomas allegedly punched Holden during the fight.

"Thomas' countersuit accuses Holden of defamation, said attorney Peter Anderson of Charlotte. 'It was the false allegation in regards to the sexual activity that spun things out of control,' Anderson said.

"Thomas has another appearance in criminal court on Feb. 15. She had been charged with battery, presenting a false driver's license, and giving a false name, causing harm to others."

For more information, see my original post on this matter, Desperate American Women?

Question to my Readers: Why do so many more people try to look up information on Angela Keathley than they do on Renee Thomas? For example, out of the past 20 search engine queries, 18 referred to Angela with two of those referring to both Angela and Renee; however, none of the 20 referred to Renee alone. This is not a one-off occurrence, either; Angela has consistently been more popular than Renee since November, when this story first broke. Are there any suggestions as to why this is? Is it because of her personality? Her looks? A better attorney? Inquiring minds want to know. ;)

January 12, 2006

Kerfluffle or kerfuffle?

This was funny, although I wonder about his use of the word "kerfluffle." I immediately checked the online dictionary to find out this word's definition (because that's the type of guy I am ;) ), but the dictionary doesn't use that particular spelling. It does, however, have a definition for "kerfuffle." Do you even care? ;) Anyhoo, here's the joke; from TBogg:

A man enters a bar and orders a drink. The bar has a robot bartender. The robot serves him a perfectly prepared cocktail, and then asks him, "What's your IQ?" The man replies "150" and the robot makes conversation about global warming factors, quantum mechanics, spirituality, biomimicry, environmental interconnectedness, string theory, nano-technology, and sexual proclivities.

Very impressed, the customer thinks, "This is really cool," and decides to test the robot. He walks out of the bar, turns around, and comes back in for another drink. Again, the robot serves him the perfectly prepared drink and asks him, "What's your IQ?" The man responds, "about a 100." Immediately the robot starts talking, but this time about football, NASCAR, baseball, supermodels, favorite fast foods, guns, and women's breasts.

Really impressed, the man decides to give the robot one more test. He heads out the door and returns. The robot serves him and asks, "What's your IQ?" The man replies, "Er . . . 50 . . . I think." And the robot says... real slowly ..............

"So.............. ya gonna vote for Bush again?"

January 9, 2006

Alec Rawls and the Crescent of Embrace

Thought the controversy over the Memorial to Flight 93 had died down? Guess again. Alec Rawls appears to be thoroughly committed to the idea that the Memorial will be a nefarious shrine to "Islamofascism." (Dr. M wrote about this back in September: Dumb and Dumberer....psuedo-Islamic crescents and right wing idiocy.)

Rawls has written a number of posts over the past few months that try to argue the Memorial (both in its original and revised forms) has been designed in such a way that Muslims would be able to use different features of the Memorial to do salat. For example, that the orientation of the crescent allows Muslims to determine the proper Qibla (I'm not sure Rawls is aware of the term Qibla, as he occasionally uses the term Mihrab erroneously, when he should have used Qibla instead), and that the "Tower of Voices" is a sundial that will allow Muslims to determine by the shadow the proper prayer time.

Redesigned Flight 93 memorial still an Islamo-fascist shrine
Crescent Tower is Islamic prayer sundial
Tower of Voices also oriented on Mecca
44 dead people, 44 translucent blocks on the flight path

Apparently, Rawls hasn't considered the fact that many Muslims already know when the exact prayer times are each day - obviating the need for a "sundial" - or what happens on an overcast day and the "sundial" can't be used - I grew up a few hundred miles away from the site of the Memorial, and am well familiar with that part of Pennsylvania and its climate. I also don't think Rawls has considered more fundamental issues, such as the fact that Muslims don't pray to people, like Christians do, including martyrs, and even there I don't know of any Muslim who considers the 9/11 hijackers as such.

Of course, a couple of blogs have had a field day over Rawls' writings. Many comments question Rawls' sanity.

Committed Wingnuttia
Lunacy abounds
There's misogyny, and then there's Alec Rawls

Enjoy! ;)

January 6, 2006

Bush: Arabic TV gives false impression of US

There's a news article out of Reuters which says that President Bush feels Arabic TV gives a false impression of the U.S., and that Americans need to do a better job of communicating their ideals. Bush's remarks were given at the State Department, where the National Security Language Initiative was being launched. The Initiative will try to boost the learning of Russian, Chinese, Hindi, Farsi, Arabic and other languages, in part to "protect the United States and spread democracy," according to Bush.

Now, I certainly don't have a problem with the language inititiative; I've written about this topic several times, as recently as Wednesday (see Mandarin Making Inroads in US Schools). Nor do I have a problem with the ideas that we Americans should communicate our ideals to the rest of the world (just as everyone else in the rest of the world should feel free to do the same), or that the language initiative should be started for national defense purposes and/or to spread democracy.

What I do have a problem with is some of Bush's other comments:

"You can't figure out America when you're looking on some of these TV stations -- you just can't -- particularly given the message that they spread."

"Arabic TV does not do our country justice."

"They ... sometimes put out propaganda that just isn't right, it isn't fair, and it doesn't give people the impression of what we're about."

The pot calling the kettle black! The New York Times has written a number of articles since (at least) December that the Pentagon has been paying the Lincoln Group to disseminate propaganda in Iraq.

"A Pentagon contractor that paid Iraqi newspapers to print positive articles written by American soldiers has also been compensating Sunni religious scholars in Iraq in return for assistance with its propaganda work, according to current and former employees."
-- Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda

Please, Mr. President, let's not hear talk about "fairness" when you're just as guilty of the same crime you accuse the Arab media of. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you really want to be taken seriously on this issue, then either take the moral high road and quit spreading your own propaganda or quit griping about how the U.S. is presented in the media of other countries and work toward real improvement in American foreign relations.

January 5, 2006

Bush Administration Misuses the Word "Caliphate"

I came across NPR's Morning Edition (Wednesday, January 4, 2006) in which historian James Reston, Jr., castigates the Bush Administration for their misuse of the word caliphate. The Bush administration is trying to demonize Muslims by making it sound that we wish to dominate the world (that old lie, normally propagated by Christians fearful of Islam). There's a similar article in the Toronto Star, published in mid-December, that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al are trying to create the idea that a caliphate (if such an institution could be restarted) would become a political threat to the West in general and the United States in particular. (One suspects that Reston had already read Siddiqui's article as there are similar words and phrases used in both; e.g., "claptrap.") What follows is my own transcript of Reston's speech, along with my links to various subjects. More of my comments will follow the transcript.

Announcer: A number of U.S. politicians and generals have quoted a letter reportedly written by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's main operative in Iraq. The letter says that one of Al-Qaeda's main goals after US troops leave Iraq is the establishment of a caliphate in the Middle East. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others have invoked the word caliphate as a warning to the West about terrorist designs. As part of our ongoing series of commentaries on the war in Iraq, historian James Reston, Jr., takes exception.

Reston: Perhaps the only good thing that came out of the events of 9/11 was the higher consciousness that the American people developed about the history of the Arab world and the religion of Islam, but our leaders still have a way to go. The most recent example of denseness comes from Secretary Rumsfeld's frequent misuse of the word caliphate. It is the latest dirty word in the Iraq debate. The Secretary is putting this word out as a warning, saying that Americans must be aware of a terrorist scheme to establish a totalitarian caliphate, stretching all the way from Indonesia, across the Middle East, to Spain. This is nonsense. To be sure, the concept sounds menancing, as it evokes scary images of blood-thirsty Oriental despots in black turbans and silk kaftans. To the Islamic world, however, this will be seen as yet another slur upon Arab history. The caliphates of Medina, Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul, and Granada, Spain, represent the height of Arab and Islamic achievement. The first four caliphs, as the leaders of the caliphate were called, were the successors of Muhammad. As political leaders they had the support of the vast majority of their subjects. But their religious role, as the defender of the faith, was of equal and supreme importance. It should not be forgotten that the defense of the faith is at the heart of the resistance to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. To slur the word caliphate is to insult the chief function of the caliph, to defend the lands of Islam against foreign invaders. As we try strenuously to deny that the United States is involved in a clash of civilizations with the Arab world, it is not helpful to insult the glories of Arab history and link them to terrorist pipe dreams of worldwide Islamic domination. It is a palpable absurdity to imagine the killers of Al-Qaeda ruling a true caliphate from Indonesia to Spain. To say so only dignifies and gives weight to terrorist claptrap and makes it harder for the leaders of mainstream Islam to take control of popular sentiment in the Middle East. Like invoking "crusade" or claiming a direct line to a Christian God as justification for the invasion, or engaging in medieval torture or desecrating the holy book of Islam, slurring the caliphates of Arab history is a gift to the terrorists.

Announcer: Commentator James Reston, Jr., is author of Dogs of God: Columbus, The Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors.

Personally, I'm not necessarily interested in restoring the Caliphate as it existed in the past (and certainly not as it existed in the last days of the Ottoman Empire). What I would like to see, as a surrogate Caliphate, would be an organization along the lines of both the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (with the new organization being more of the former than the latter). While I think that an Islamic international agency that works to improve the lives of Muslims worldwide is a worthy and admirable goal, I don't expect, unfortunately, such an organization to appear in my lifetime.

Update: Juan Cole has had a recent post on this topic ("Bush and the Caliphate"), which was in response to Karl Vick's article in the Washington Post, "Reunified Islam: Unlikely but Not Entirely Radical." The WaPo article is decent and worth a read. I would like to reiterate that, while I believe the idea of a revived Caliphate is nice but not a high priority, I do strongly believe that the ummah needs to unite together under some form of leadership for us to be able to resolve our problems. However, as I mentioned earlier, I'd rather see an EU type of organization formed as a substitute Caliphate rather than trying to revive the original model, which has been long dead.

January 4, 2006

"Jesus (pbuh) Would Lose the War on Terror"

I've just visited the Daily Kos for the first time, and I came across an article by "advisorjim," entitled "Jesus would lose the war on terror." Now this little excerpt just cracked me up. I hope no one is offended by this, but I thought the visual imagery created by this turn of phrase was just a hoot. In this excerpt, "advisorjim" is having a discussion about politics and the Bush administration with his father:

I don't know if this exchange had dad reeling a bit, or if he just wanted to change the subject, but either way he moved on to why he voted Republican. Republicans were the Christian candidates, to which I responded "Republicans don't have a monopoly on Christianity." "They're more Christian then Democrats," dad retorted a bit sardonically. Obviously he and I disagreed. I offered to support my position by saying that I was pretty sure how Jesus would feel about torture and the death penalty, and that I didn't think he was a fan. Dad replied that the War on Terror was different, and that the only way to win was to kill, maim, or torture whoever we had to to get the information we needed. "Arabs only respect one thing--strength. And we just have to kick the shit out of them, and torture them, and do whatever we have to do to get them to give up."

"Is that what Jesus would do?" I asked.

"Jesus would lose the war on terror," he replied.

Hence the title of this diary. Republicans are more Christian, but Jesus would lose the War on Terror. I was tempted to respond using that line from Major League ("Are you saying Jesus Christ couldn't hit a fastball!?), but I was a little dumbfounded by the statement. It was a very unpleasant look at the twisted, ugly innards of the soul of the Republican party. Suddenly I knew what it must be like to be Ann Coulter's gynecologist. All I could think to say was "Um...wow."

Mandarin Making Inroads in US Schools

An example of Chinese calligraphy.
If you are one of my regular readers, you know that I written several times about the importance of children (and adults) learning more than one language. I've also tried to stress that children (and adults) should learn an Asian language (such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic) in addition to the more popular European languages that many Americans learn.

Well, today, there is some good news on this topic. In the article, Mandarin Makes Inroads in U.S. Schools, the Washington Post reported that a number of school districts around the United States have launched Mandarin programs, including districts in the cities of Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Portland (OR). Some excerpts from the article:

High schools across the country were asked by the College Board's World Language Initiative whether they would consider adding Advanced Placement courses in Italian, Russian, Japanese and Chinese -- and the organization was amazed at the results, said Tom Matts, the initiative's director.

Fifty schools in the 2003 survey said they would offer the Russian option, about 175 said Japanese, and 240 said Italian.

"And for Chinese, it was 2,400, 10 times the number of any of the other three," Matts said. "We had no idea there was such an incredible interest out there. Of all the new AP courses, certainly Chinese shows the most promise for growth."

In the Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee is considering a proposal to allocate $1.3 billion to boost classes on Chinese language and culture in public schools, and China, too, is doing its part, said Michael Levine, education director at the Asia Society in New York City. China's education ministry has formed partnerships with states including Kentucky and Kansas, as well as Brazil, Australia and Britain, to boost teacher exchanges and training.

The Oregon program, though, is the first in the country to track students from kindergarten to college. The school district and the University of Oregon won a $700,000 grant from the Defense Department for the program this fall.

The idea is for students to move from the Portland school system to the university, where scholarships will be offered to students who will take a standard college curriculum taught largely in Chinese. Students can also opt to spend their junior year abroad, studying at Nanjing University in China.


It has long been accepted that the younger children are, the easier it is to introduce them to a second language, Patterson said.

In September, most of Yen's 24 students could not speak a word of Mandarin, one of the most difficult languages to learn. But three months later, the students were singing songs in Mandarin, laboriously printing Chinese characters and following Yen's instructions, delivered in Mandarin, with no need for any English translation.


By the time they get to fourth grade, students are relatively fluent. Lily Rappaport, 9, said she sometimes dreams in Mandarin, after five years in the program.


In the higher grade levels, students at Woodstock take not just language-learning classes but also math and science courses that are taught in Mandarin.


"There are great big multiples of kids who are studying the European languages, but when we think about our economy, and the new markets we are expanding into, it is time to recalibrate some of our attention," Levine said.

[Special thanks to Keith Welch at ShuFa West for the use of the Chinese calligraphy example above.]

Update: In looking at a few other blogs that have commented on this same Washington Post article, I came across an interesting comment over at dogmas of the quiet past. He wrote: "Mandarin is finally making in-roads in America’s educational system. In some places, they are teaching entire standard courses (i.e. reading, math, etc.) in Mandarin. Note that all of the hoopla surrounding the gall some school districts have to teach courses in Spanish is not surrounding doing so in Mandarin. Gee, I wonder why."

Heh. Sarcasm noted.