January 30, 2008

Quiz on Islam

A couple days ago, I created a quiz on Facebook regarding introductory information on Islam. You can either take the quiz here and see how well you did now, or try your luck on my blog. The degree of difficulty for this quiz is, IMO, rather easy, even for non-Muslims (Muslims should get 100%). I'll put the answers up in the comment section in a day or two, insha'allah.

Question #1: Which of the following is not one of the five pillars of Islam:
a) Fasting
b) Hajj
c) Jihad
d) Prayer

Question #2: Muslims fast during the month of:
a) Shawwal
b) Muharram
c) Rajab
d) Ramadan

Question #3: Muhammad (pbuh) was originally from which town:
a) Makkah (Mecca)
b) Medina
c) Ta'if
d) Yathrib

Question #4: The Islamic calendar begins with which event:
a) The year of Muhammad's (pbuh) birth
b) The year Muhammad (pbuh) received his first revelation
c) The Hijrah
d) The year of Muhammad's (pbuh) death

Question #5: The Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad (pbuh) over a period of:
a) One day
b) Thirteen years
c) Twenty-three years
d) Thirty years

Question #6: The name of the angel who revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad (pbuh) was:
a) Jibril (Gabriel)
b) Mikail (Michael)
c) Israfil (Raphael)
d) Izra'il (Azrael)

Question #7: Ritual prayer in Islam is known as:
a) Shahadah
b) Salat
c) Zakat
d) Sawm

Question #8: Muslims must pray how many times a day?
a) Once
b) Three times
c) Five times
d) Seven times

Question #9: Which of the following groups is not considered Muslim?
a) Sunni
b) Sufi
c) Baha'i
d) Shia

Question #10: The Arabic term for Islamic law is:
a) Fiqh
b) Jihad
c) Shari'ah
d) Khalifah

January 26, 2008

Is She Real?

This picture reminds me of Memorex's long-standing question: "Is it live or is it Memorex?" Is this girl real or is she a computer-generated image? She is, in fact, CGI. This picture is one of many created by various illustrators who use 3D and 2D animation software. To be honest, most of these pictures don't really impress, most of the "girls" featured being in various states of undress as you might find in anime/manga and/or male fantasies. However, I did like this particular image, created by Beans Magic, because the face does look extremely lifelike. In fact, one wonders if the image is really CGI or a doctored photograph. If the former, then I really am impressed. (HT: IZ Reloaded)

January 24, 2008

"I Told Him So"

It's going to be a little odd this summer when The Dark Knight comes out in July, considering that Heath Ledger played "The Joker" for this film. No doubt his recent death will stir up a lot of publicity when the film comes out. According to Ledger's IMDB page (the link above), Ledger was the lead star for one other movie currently filming, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. One suspects that they may need to start from scratch.

In the meantime, there's an odd story about Jack Nicholson having warned Ledger about the rigor of taking on the role of The Joker:

Jack Nicholson has hinted he warned tragic Heath Ledger against taking on the role of The Joker in the new Batman film. Ledger, 28 - who was declared dead at 3:30pm at his Manhattan apartment on Tuesday - publicly declared himself exhausted and sleep deprived in November following the grueling shoot for The Dark Knight. He also revealed in an interview with the New York Times he'd resorted to taking sleeping pills - an overdose of which is believed to be the cause of his death - in a desperate bid to catch up on rest. And Nicholson, who famously portrayed the menacing Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 movie Batman, implied to the waiting crowd outside plush London restaurant The Wolesley on Tuesday night he spoke to Ledger about his role in The Dark Knight - and warned him about the pitfalls of taking on such a demanding challenge. When asked by the London crowds for his reaction to Ledger's untimely demise, a defeated Nicholson simply replied, "I told him so." Batman Begins prequel The Dark Knight is due to be released in July.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un

January 23, 2008

Teh Islamics are Bad

Yeah, I know, an old, tired subject (FGM). However, Bitch, Ph.D. has an interesting take on the bad reporting and treatment of Islam and Muslims by the New York Times (a lot of the comments on that site are good as well). Some excerpts:

I was instantly annoyed by this article in the NYT magazine over the weekend (actually, I was annoyed by it this morning, which is when I read it). The article, about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), had the following blurb on the front page: "Inside a female-circumcision ceremony for young Muslim girls."

Before even clicking on the link, I knew something was off. Why, after all, say that it's for young Muslim girls? Huh, that makes it sound like FGM is associated with Islam. Which, being educated in this shit, I know that it isn't.

Clicking through, I saw that the article focused on girls getting FGM in Indonesia. Which, fine, is a majority Muslim country. But maybe they mention in the article that FGM isn't part of Islam, and that there are plenty of non-Muslim populations where it is very prevalent, and Muslim populations where they don't do it at all?

Nope, that was nowhere in there. In fact, throughout the article it was made to appear as though it was the Islamic religious establishment which was responsible for the prevalence of the horrifying practice. It may be, in Indonesia. But it also helps to note that there are many rather conservative Muslim countries, like, say, Saudi Arabia, where FGM is basically unheard of. And non-Muslim populations where FGM is the norm, like many sub-Saharan African countries. Or places like my home country, Egypt, where everyone gets FGM, Muslim, Christian, or otherwise (although the practice is losing favor in urban areas).

January 22, 2008

Mercury's Sholem Aleichem Crater, by Messenger

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The other day I wrote about the sense of humor the astronomers at APOD have. Now it's time to show some of the recent photos taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft that flew by the planet Mercury last week. This particular photo was taken last Monday, January 14th. The caption for the photo reads in part:

This image ... was acquired on January 14, 2008, 18:10 UTC, when the spacecraft was about 18,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) from the surface of Mercury, about 55 minutes before MESSENGER’s closest approach to the planet.

The image shows a variety of surface textures, including smooth plains at the center of the image, many impact craters (some with central peaks), and rough material that appears to have been ejected from the large crater to the lower right. This large 200-kilometer-wide (about 120 miles) crater was seen in less detail by Mariner 10 more than three decades ago and was named Sholem Aleichem for the Yiddish writer. In this MESSENGER image, it can be seen that the plains deposits filling the crater’s interior have been deformed by linear ridges. The shadowed area on the right of the image is the day-night boundary, known as the terminator.

One interesting fact that APOD pointed out is that many of the craters on Mercury are shallower than comparable craters on the Moon, the reason being the higher gravitational pull on Mercury, which "helps flatten tall structures like high crater walls."

As for Sholem Aleichem: He was a Russian Jewish writer (1859-1916) whose stories about Tevye the Milkman became the basis for the musical and film "Fiddler on the Roof."

Cross-posted on my new blog, Ministry of Space Exploration.

January 20, 2008

"Faux News Porn" Strikes Again

I had a good laugh when I saw this screen shot from Crooks & Liars. See the sign to the left of the reporter. "Hot Babes." You think the reporter and his camera man shot this footage just anywhere and was oblivious to the girlie billboard behind them? Then you're not familiar with Faux News Porn.

January 17, 2008

Who Says Astronomers are Nerds?

Or that they lack a sense of humor? :) Astronomy Picture of the Day is reporting the fly-by of the Messenger spacecraft, which is making its first pass of the planet Mercury. Noting that it had been 35 years since Mariner 10 had passed by Mercury (the only other spacecraft to do so), the astronomers at APOD linked their site to this picture.

Groovy, baby! :)

January 16, 2008

Mike Huckabee's Christian Shari'ah

So, how is what Mike Huckabee said about trying to change the U.S. Constitution to reflect Christian beliefs any different from Muslims wanting to adopt Shari'ah as the basis for a law of the land.

I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.

Oh, that's right... It's OK when Christians want their own Shari'ah, but not when Muslims do.

Touch the Invisible Sky

Yesterday, NASA released its third and latest book about astronomy that's written in Braille for the visually-impaired. The book uses Braille, large type print, and tactile diagrams of celestial images observed by the Hubble (visible light), Chandra (X-Ray), and Spitzer (Infrared) space telescopes to provide the visually-impaired a better understanding of what celestial objects are like that we, the sighted, take for granted. Some additional information about the book:

Touch the Invisible Sky was authored by astronomy educator and accessibility specialist Noreen Grice of You Can Do Astronomy LLC and Museum of Science, Boston, astronomer Simon Steel of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA, and astronomer Doris Daou of NASA. NASA funded the astronomy Braille book, which was publicly released Tuesday, January 15, 2008.

The tactile diagrams feature raised outlines and textures superimposed on the images themselves to indicate how the objects appear differently according to wavelength viewed in – for example, radio, infrared, visible, ultra-violet, or x-ray. The text clearly and concisely explains what each image shows, and even describes how the different types of telescopes capture the images.

The Braille and the tactile diagrams are done in clear acrylic overlay, so the large print type and high-resolution color images can be viewed as well as felt. Touch the Invisible Sky is therefore a useful teaching tool for mainstream classrooms and parents with blind children, making the same information accessible simultaneously by sighted, non-sighted, and reduced-vision readers.

Below is a sample page from Touch the Universe of the Ring Nebula, giving an idea of the textural aspects given to the visual image. The other book in the series is Touch the Sun.

January 15, 2008

Petroleum and Natural Gas Proven Reserves, 2008, Top 10

Update: Please click on the link for the 2009 Petroleum and Natural Gas Proved Reserves.

The Energy Information Administration, a department of the U.S. Department of Energy, has recently released the 2008 proved reserves for petroleum and natural gas. Proved reserves are the amount of oil and gas in the ground that is "reasonably certain" to be extracted using current technology at current prices. The following are lists of the top ten countries for petroleum and natural gas proved reserves, with their quantities and percentage of the world total for 2008:

Petroleum - Billion Barrels
1. Saudi Arabia - 266.75 (20.03%)
2. Canada - 178.59 (13.41%)
3. Iran - 138.40 (10.39%)
4. Iraq - 115.00 (8.64%)
5. Kuwait - 104.00 (7.81%)
6. United Arab Emirates - 97.80 (7.34%)
7. Venezuela - 87.04 (6.54%)
8. Russian Federation - 60.00 (4.51%)
9. Libya - 41.46 (3.11%)
10. Nigeria - 36.22 (2.72%)

Notes: The world total of proved reserves is 1,331.70 billion barrels of petroleum. The total of the top ten countries makes up 84.50% of the world's proved reserves. Canada's proved reserves are estimated to be 5.4 billion barrels of conventional crude oil and 173.2 billion barrels of oil sands reserves. (Oil sands are much more costly to refine than conventional crude oil.)

Natural Gas - Trillion Cubic Feet
1. Russian Federation - 1,680.000 (27.16%)
2. Iran - 948.200 (15.33%)
3. Qatar - 905.300 (14.64%)
4. Saudi Arabia - 253.107 (4.09%)
5. United Arab Emirates - 214.400 (3.47%)
6. United States - 211.085 (3.41%)
7. Nigeria - 183.990 (2.97%)
8. Venezuela - 166.260 (2.69%)
9. Algeria - 159.000 (2.57%)
10. Iraq - 111.940 (1.81%)

Notes: The world total of proved reserves is 6,185.694 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The total of the top ten countries makes up 78.14% of the world's proved reserves. Venezuela moved past Algeria into the 8th spot for the 2008 listing, having been listed 9th last year.

January 14, 2008

Thoughts to Ponder

This is most of an e-mail I got today:

Life is sexually transmitted.

Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

Men have two emotions: hungry and horny. If you see him without an erection, make him a sandwich.

Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks.

Some people are like a Slinky... Not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

Why does a slight tax increase cost you $200 and a substantial tax cut saves you $30?

In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

January 12, 2008

Operation Change for the Better

"From the United States government and Halliburton, working together to round up every cent you have."

"Video Games Live" and Human Tetris

A woman on my Alan Parsons e-mail list asked if anyone had heard of "Video Games Live." According to her, this is supposed to be a "groundbreaking live event celebrating the music of video games," and that it has a full orchestra and choir, synchronized video, lighting, special effects, "crowd interactivity" and "live action."

Apparently, someone has already recorded (professionally) part of "Video Games Live," which happens to be on Youtube:

Another person on the list also mentioned several other videos on Youtube made by Guillaume Reymond, who did stop-motion movies of "live" video games. Below is "The Original Human TETRIS Performance," which is quite cute:

January 11, 2008

A Girl's Guide to Geek Guys

IZ Reloaded linked to this webpage: A Girl's Guide to Geek Guys. It's an amusing, albeit fairly accurate description about "geek guys." Being into Star Trek (as I have been since my teenage years), I somewhat fit the guide's description, as Milady would no doubt attest. However, I am not the complete geek as described. (Thank God!) Still, I can relate. :) And girls/women, yes, do date and marry geek guys! They'll thank you for it. Some excerpts:

Why Geek Dudes Rule

They are generally available.
Other women will tend not to steal them.
They can fix things.
Your parents will love them.
They're smart.


The Trek factor

If you're not up on your Star Trek, you can forget about getting or keeping a geek dude. And I'm not just talking vintage-era Captain Kirk and Spock either. You've got to be up on your The Next Generation, your Deep Space Nine, your Babylon 5. Armed with your own knowledge of Federation policies, you can better gauge when and how to act. The sexual politics of Star Trek are pretty blunt: the men run the technology and the ship, and the women are caretakers (a doctor and a counselor). Note the sexual tensions on the bridge of the Enterprise: the women, in skin tight uniforms, and with luxuriant, flowing hair. The men, often balding, and sporting some sort of permanently attached computer auxiliary. This world metaphorizes the fantasies of the geek dude, who sees himself in the geeky-but-heroic male officers and who secretly desires a sexy, smart, Deanna or Bev to come along and deferentially accept him for who he is. If you are willing to accept that this is his starting point for reality, you are ready for a geek relationship.


Geeks are sensitive and caring lovers and husbands. If you can hang with the techno-lifestyle, they make the best mates. They are the most attractive people, not flashy or hunky, but the kind who get cuter and more alluring over time. ... Definitely give geeks a chance.


One Last Thing

Because they have been so abused and ignored by society, many geeks have gone underground. You may actually know some and just haven't noticed them. They often feel resentful, and misunderstood, and it is important to realize this as you grow closer to them. Don't ever try to force the issue, or make crazy demands that he choose between his computer and you. Remember, his computer has been there for him his whole life; you are a new interloper he hasn't quite grasped yet.

Geek dudes thrive on mystery and love challenges and intellectual puzzles. Don't you consider yourself one? Wouldn't you like a little intellectual stimulation or your own? We thought so.

January 7, 2008

Rob Wagner on "The Myth of Muslim Honor Killings"

Rob Wagner at 13 Martyrs has come out with another solid post, this time about The Myth of Muslim Honor Killings. If you're not reading Rob's blog on a daily basis (or haven't put him on your RSS reader, as I have), you're missing out on some good writing. Some excerpts from his post:

It's impossible to simplify the complex nature of honor killings by labeling it a religious or cultural disease. No one can make a case that honor killing is a religious issue because there is no justification for it in the Qur'an or Sharia and it occurs in all religions.

If honor killings were strictly a Muslim issue, how can it be explained that such murders are virtually unheard of in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, and in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holy mosques and the most conservative Muslim country? In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that not only are Muslims responsible for only a portion of honor killings but the killings are committed on a global scale that includes Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and people of no faith.


It's also impossible to argue that it's a geographical or cultural phenomenon because these murders transcend all cultures. And it's not even a gender issue since many women are complicit in the planning and execution of the murders and that many victims are men. Amnesty International says that that "females in the family - mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, and cousins - frequently support the attacks. It's a community mentality."


Given that honor killings are a global phenomenon and not isolated to Muslims, how do critics justify their anger toward only one group? They can't, but it won't stop them from letting the facts get in the way of their agenda.

We live in a society that labels and demonizes certain groups to justify their hatred. Americans, in particular, have a nasty habit throughout history of targeting specific groups – from the American Indian to Japanese-Americans to communists and now Muslims – to justify their fear and anger. There is no logic to it. It makes no sense. But it makes people feel as if they are helping their country by attacking perceived enemies.

Incredible, Uniquely, Sparkling, Bloody Asia

Over the past few weeks, Milady and I have been discussing some of the regional tourism campaigns. The problem, IMO, is that several of these campaigns have rather simple and, thus, boring slogans. The three primary offenders are Incredible India, Korea Sparkling (which is normally said as if there’s a comma between "Korea" and "Sparkling"), and the local slogan, Uniquely Singapore. It’s not that the advertising campaigns are done badly; in fact, all three campaigns are quite professional with decent television commercials. It’s just that the slogans are not terribly interesting.

Two slogans that I find a little better are Malaysia, Truly Asia and Australia’s So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?, which, apparently, had generated some controversy in the UK and Canada; in the UK because of the word "bloody," and in Canada due to the "unbranded alcohol consumption" at the beginning of one of the commercials (and also for the use of the word "hell"). Singapore avoided the problem by having the slogan advertised here as "So where are you?"

There are a couple of countries that don’t advertise regionally, which is a little surprising, namely Indonesia, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. The most recent entrant in the tourism sweepstakes is Vietnam, the Hidden Charm, which, unfortunately, seems to have followed the lead of India, Korea and Singapore with a simplistic slogan.

January 6, 2008

Burning Salt Water

John Kanzius, a retiree, has found a way to burn salt water using radio waves. This is one of those wonderful, serendipitous accidents where Kanzius was trying to find a way to kill cancer cells using radio waves but, instead, discovered an alternative source of energy. The water burns because the radio waves shake the water molecules hard enough to break the chemical bonds that hold the hydrogen atoms to the oxygen atom. The hydrogen atoms then burn with the oxygen atom, causing an intense flame (as you can see in the below video).

Presently, there are two significant hurdles to using Kanzius' method for energy generation. First, more energy is consumed by the radio wave generator than is released by the burning hydrogen. Second, the vibration of the salt molecules (sodium chloride) releases chlorine gas which, of course, is toxic. Should both of these problems be overcome, the world may have a new source of energy that should last us for thousands of years.

(HT: Mohamad Latiff)

January 5, 2008

Ya Get What Ya Pay For

John Walkenbach at The J-Walk Blog has done a brief statistical analysis of the amount of money spent on advertising among the major political candidates competing in the Iowa primary vs. the number of votes each candidate received.

The diagonal line is the linear best-fit line. The two variables have a correlation coefficient of 0.779.

Romney ended up paying the most per vote: $238. Obama and Clinton both spent about $103 per vote. The biggest bargains were for Edwards ($48/vote) and Huckabee ($35/vote).

One of the things John didn't point out is that, generally speaking, the politicians got what they paid for. John McCain and Fred Thompson hardly spent any money and, as a result, got hardly any votes. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent the most money and got the most votes. Of course, there are two primary exceptions, namely Romney and Edwards, but otherwise the model here works fairly well: ya get what ya pay for.

[Note: For those of you who are statistically-challenged, the correlation coefficient measures how well the data fits to the "best-fit line," as John calls it. The number ranges from +1 (perfect fit) to -1 (perfect "anti-fit"). If the correlation coefficient had been +1, each dot would have lined up exactly on the best-fit line. A correlation coefficient of 0.779, then, shows a strong correlation. This is a good thing. ;) ]

HT: Advertising is Good for You

January 3, 2008

The Falcon Will Rise Again

One of the people on the Alan Parsons e-mail list has asked which one of our posts to the list we are most proud of. There are a couple posts I've written that I've liked, but I've always enjoyed this one, where I "quibbled" over whether the song "The Eagle Will Rise Again" (on the Pyramid album) should have used the imagery of a falcon instead. This was originally written on Sunday, March 21, 1999:

This letter may seem to be quibbling over a minor point on "The Eagle Will Rise Again," but I'll quibble anyway. :)

First, some introduction. This past Thursday, I visited the "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. This exhibit is on the last leg of a five city tour, consisting of over 200 artifacts from the Egyptian collection of the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany. The response to the exhibit has been truly amazing. This is not an exhibit where you can just walk in and look around. You have to purchase your ticket in advance for a specific date and time to tour. When I arrived on Thursday night, there were signs all over the doors saying the exhibit had sold out of tickets for the rest of the exhibition (which is supposed to close at the end of the month). Touring the show was a fantastic experience for me, and I'm very glad and fortunate to have seen the artifacts. After the tour, I purchased the show's catalog, which I just finished reading yesterday.

In the catalog, there are some references to the relationships between the various kings/pharaohs, gods and the animals which are sacred to the gods. One of the central myths to the ancient Egyptian religion involves Osiris, Horus, Isis and Seth. "After the creation, Osiris was given dominion, or kingship, over the land. He ruled with justice and maintained order, but his brother Seth was jealous and murdered him. Osiris's wife, Isis, used magical means to bring him back to life. He then became the principal god of the afterlife. A dispute over rulership ensued between Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, and his uncle Seth, with Horus emerging as victor and asserting his right to follow his father on the throne of Egypt."

A little later, it says, "The myth of Osiris, who was able to gain eternal life by the grace of the sun god Re, was central to the practices of preparation for burial and the belief in the possibility of life after death in another world. It was also of vital importance in the orderly transition of power from the deceased king to his son. The new king was likened to the young, living Horus with the dead father considered to have entered the next life as Osiris."

Earlier in the book, I came across the following passage about falcons: "The falcon, for example, was associated with the celestial god Horus and the bird, as a representation of the present ruler or "living Horus," was an important symbol of Egyptian kingship." There were other birds mentioned in the text (the ibis, which was associated with the god Thoth, and the vulture, which represented the goddess Nekhbet), but there was not a single mention about eagles. Now, granted, this book is not an exhaustive text on the topic, but it did get me to thinking that perhaps a more correct lyric would have been "The falcon will rise again" instead of "The eagle will rise again."

Like I said, a quibble over a minor point. :)

Chinese Pity

This is one of two quotations at the beginning of Tom Friedman's book, The World is Flat (Chapter 8) that I thought is an excellent commentary on the state of American politics today:

"Chinese pity comes from their belief that we are a country in decline. More than a few Chinese friends have quoted to me the proverb fu bu guo san dai (wealth doesn't make it past three generations) as they wonder how we became so ill-disciplined, distracted and dissolute. The fury surrounding Monica-gate seemed an incomprehensible waste of time to a nation whose emperors were supplied with thousands of concubines. Chinese are equally astonished that Americans are allowing themselves to drown in debt and under-fund public schools while the media focus on fights over feeding tubes, displays of the Ten Commandments and how to eat as much as we can without getting fat."
-- James McGregor, a journalist-turned-businessman based in China, and a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, writing in The Washington Post, July 31, 2005

January 2, 2008

Who Controls the Middle East?

Juan Cole has an interesting blog post today featuring an animated map of the Middle East. The map shows who has controlled the Middle East since 3000 BCE. As Juan wrote:

I'd have added a couple of phases at the end, including the Cold War divisions of states by their alliances with the US and the Soviet Union, and then the new US empire in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus bases in some of the Stans of Central Asia and Qatar and Kuwait.

Update: Ijtema has highlighted this post on their blog (thanks, iMuslim!), and she made a really good observation by comparing this video to the following Qur'anic ayah:

Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the End of those before them? They were more numerous than these and superior in strength and in the traces (they have left) in the land: Yet all that they accomplished was of no profit to them. (40:82)

So true!

January 1, 2008

Stupid Sara

Sometimes non-Muslims are so blinded by their hatred for Islam that they blame Islam for things our religion has nothing to do with. Consider the post Islam's War on Women by one Sara Coslett. Sara had noticed some demographic statistics for certain Middle Eastern countries that show a sex ratio favoring men:

I wonder how is it [sic] that in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar the ratio of men to women is greater than 2/1, in Kuwait 1.5/1, Bahrain 1.34/1, Oman 1.26/1, and Saudi Arabia 1.22/1.

These particular ratios are for the population as a whole but, Sara, taking them at face value, doesn't dig deep enough. Instead, she comes up with two pathetic reasons for the skewed sex ratios:

Two possibilities come to mind. First, Muslim countries are notorious for practicing female infanticide.

Except, this isn't true. If Sara had said India or China are notorious for practicing female infanticide, I'd have quickly agreed with her. The problem is, the countries Sara highlighted don't have very high abortion rates to begin with. According to Johnston's Archive, which tracks historical abortion statistics, we find that the abortion percentage for all residents, in and out of the country, were extremely low for the six countries in question. While not all countries have a full listing for their statistics, the abortion percentage for Qatar was 1.3% in 2004, 0.05% for Kuwait in 2001, and 0.07% for Bahrain in 2004. The abortion ratio wasn't available for either the UAE or Saudi Arabia; however, the total number of abortions in 2006 for both countries among residents was 63 and 5, respectively. Note that all of those abortions were obtained overseas, meaning no abortions were performed among residents at all inside those countries. (No statistics are available for Oman.) With numbers so low, there's no reason to believe abortion is a cause for the skewed sex ratio.

In fact, it is not. If we next look at the CIA's World Factbook, we can look at the sex ratio at birth. Here, we find that for Bahrain, there were 1.03 boys born for every girl (2007 est.), 1.04 boys for every girl in Kuwait (2007 est.), and 1.05 boys for every girl in Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (2007 est.). Compare this to India (1.12 boys per girl; 2007 est.) and China (1.11 boys per girl, 2007 est.), and you see that Sara's argument with regard to female infanticide holds no water.

Sara's other argument is even more absurd:

The other possible reason for such a disparity between males and females is that census counters do not include females when polling the population. We know that Muslims regard women as property, so like a slave, they would not be considered a human and thus not counted.

Even if one were to accept Sara's argument at face value, the fact of the matter is that other sources, such as the World Factbook would provide fairly realistic estimates for the male-female population (see the "Age Structure" statistic).

Of course, there's one possibility that Sara hadn't considered, and that's immigration. Looking at NationMaster statistics, we see that immigrants make up the following percentages of the national population: Bahrain - 40.66%, Kuwait - 65.83%, Oman - 24.45%, Qatar - 78.34%, Saudi Arabia - 27.51%, and the UAE - 70.85%. And, as any expat will tell you, the vast majority of all expats are men. It's not surprising, then, that the sex ratio in the six Middle Eastern countries Sara highlighted should favor men: they're the ones who moved to these countries in search of work.

But Sara would rather blame Islam; that way she doesn't have to think too deeply about why things are the way they are:

It is obvious to me Islam has declared war on its female population.

Stupid Sara.

Update: Since writing this post last night, Sara has re-written her original post, plus written another. The problem is, while Sara realized that she made a mistake after reading my post, she compounded the original error by falling on another bogus claim:

Clearly something tragic is happening to females after age 15. Therefore, instead of two possibilities I realized there was a third - honor killings.

Most of the remainder of the re-written first post is merely a rehash of her original post. The second post, Erratum: Islam's War on Women is a strange mish-mash of retractions, corrections, and old allegations. On the one hand, she admits to forgetting about the impact of immigrants into the six countries she originally highlighted. She also admits that she was wrong "...in my assumptions that the Muslim practice of honor killings and a disregard for women as people..." However, she also makes some odd statements, such as:

Surprisingly I noticed Mr. JDsg did not refute or even mention anything about honor killings.

What Sara disregarded was the fact that she had not written anything about honor killings in her original post. What was there to refute or mention? Even so, honor killings is not going to be a high enough number to explain the skewed sex ratios. Honor killings do, of course, happen, but the number of killings committed is not going to be that high. This is merely Sara grasping at another straw.

Sara concluded her new post by writing:

While population data is a poor example for Islam’s War on Women, the war does continue.

That's it, Sara, keep beating your dead horse. You've been wrong in just about all your other "reasonings." Show us how more wrong you can be.

Update #2: Looked at Sara's blog once more, just to see if she had followed up on the comments I had made there the other day. No, she hasn't responded, and she's shut off her comments once again to only those who have "registered" (the usual cowardly BS tactic used by right-wing blogs who don't want to hear that the emperor wears no clothes.)

Marty Feldman - Lightning-Coach Tours

I was breezing through the Internet, caught a brief glimpse of a Monty Python video and decided to post a Marty Feldman video instead. (Yeah, go figure!) This is "Lightning Coach Tours," originally aired on the BBC on December 9, 1968, from Marty's Marty show, actually known as It's Marty (as of the time of the showing; this was the first episode from the second season, which used a different name for the series).

The coach driver ("Everybody back on the coach!") is John Junkin, who had a long, distinguished career as an actor, dying a little less than two years ago, on March 7, 2006.