February 28, 2008

Do You Measure Up?

I wish I had more time for blogging; every week Asia Weekly has at least four or five stories that I'd like to quote from. This is one of those stories.

The search is on for ideal females to present medals at the Olympics, says the South China Morning Post. Citing a Xinmin Evening News story that offered a "glimpse of what the government defines as the ideal beauty," it reported on criteria used by judges combing through Shanghai's top universities to fill the 40 slots reserved for local beauties. Presenters must be between 18 and 24 and meet 15 body-type requirements, including:
  • "The whole body should not be clumsy, too fat or slender, unbalanced or an abnormal shape."
  • "The distance from the forehead to the base of the nose, from base to tip of the nose, and from tip of the nose to chin should be equal."
  • "The length of the eyes should be three-tenths the length of the face."
  • Shoulders must be "full and even . . . not drooping or shrugging."
  • "Soft and smooth" thighs, with "slightly protruding calves."

  • While I've read articles about people trying to "quantitize" beauty before, the fact that the Chinese are using such a system strikes me as being rather Asian. When companies may literally have thousands of qualified candidates for a job, Asian companies often use unusual criteria to weed out some of the competition. Height requirements are a very commonly used criteria whereby short people (occasionally men, but more often than not women) are excluded from a job, even though height may have no role in the person's ability to do that job. I've read several stories about women, desperate for jobs, who have gone through painful bone-lengthening surgeries in China that sometimes create unintended deformities. This type of surgery is, under normal circumstances, perfectly acceptable, being used primarily for people who have one leg longer than the other - an aunt of mine could have benefited from such a surgery had she been younger when the surgery was first developed. However, it's sometimes done here in Asia as an elective surgery on people who normally have no need for such a surgery.

    Likewise, it was quite common for Korean companies, when I lived there, to discriminate against potential employees on the basis of their English skills. Once again, more often than not, there was frequently no need to use this criteria because the company didn't necessarily need anyone to communicate in English on the job; however, to whittle down the number of acceptable resumes, young Koreans often had to score above a certain number on one of several standardized tests (which most of my students took once every month, even before knowing how they had done on previous months' tests).

    So I'm not surprised that the judges would use so many requirements to select forty women for a two-week job at the Olympics. I wouldn't be surprised, either, if several thousand women tried out for the forty slots. Perhaps for the 2012 London Olympics, some enterprising TV producer will create a reality-TV show, perhaps along the lines of "American Idol," where the London presenters will be chosen publicly.

    February 27, 2008

    Update to "On Submission"

    The following is a question I was asked with respect to my post "On Submission" over at Street Prophets, which I had cross-posted over at that website.

    But, why did God give us free will in the first place, if all He wanted us to do with it was submit it to his?

    I think the answer can be summed up simply as "We are to be tested by Him before we can be admitted to His good company." The Qur'an makes numerous references to the fact that Allah (swt) will test us in various ways prior to our deaths.

    Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere (2:155)

    Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah." Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near! (2:214)

    And so on and so forth. According to one website, there are 54 ayat that deal with "trials and tests" alone. However, the question then might become, "why should He test us if He wants us to submit to His will?" Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an that:

    If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! (10:99)

    In which case, what would be the point for mankind? Where is the merit in having striven during one's life? In Islamic theology, it is supposed that the angels have no independent will of their own, that they act and obey without any will or capacity to disobey. (Iblis (Satan), who refused to bow down before Adam (pbuh), is said in 18:50 to be of the Jinn and not a fallen angel as in Christian theology.) If Allah (swt) had wanted, presumably, mankind would not have been needed as He has all the angels He wants who are created to obey. In one hadith:

    Abu Ayyub Ansari reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: "If you were not to commit sins, Allah would have swept you out of existence and would have replaced you by another people who have committed sin, and then asked forgiveness from Allah, and He would have granted them pardon." (Muslim; #37.6621)

    So, He wants us to be around, to strive (jihad) so that we may join Him in the hereafter. In which case, we are then given the choice as to whether to accept Him and His message or not:

    Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it)... (18:29)

    We do have free will to make this choice, although that free will is not unlimited.

    (With profit) to whoever among you wills to go straight: But ye shall not will except as Allah wills,- the Cherisher of the Worlds. (81:28-9)

    As Yusuf Ali wrote in part in his commentary to this verse:

    Allah is the Cherisher of the Worlds, Lord of Grace and Mercy, and His guidance is open to all who have the will to profit by it. But that will must be exercised in conformity with Allah's will (verse 29). Such conformity is Islam. Verse 28 points to human free will and responsibility; verse 29 to its limitations. (Footnote #5996)

    Insha'allah, I hope this helps to answer your question. Wa allahu alim. (And God knows best.)

    February 25, 2008

    On Submission

    Last week, George Carty asked a good question in a comment on one of my blog posts:

    Given that Westerners prize their individual freedom, is it not to be expected that they'd fear a religion whose very name means "submission"?

    And I responded:

    If this is truly the case, then it's for lack of understanding of what "submission" in Islam truly means. Not that that's anything new, misunderstanding Islam, that is.

    George's question gave me a lot of thought for a couple days as I thought about how to respond to it more fully. The simple fact of the matter is that to become a Muslim, to submit to the will of Allah (swt), is not only completely compatible with individual freedom, but the decision to submit can only be done with complete freedom by the individual to make such a decision. Muslims point out time and time again,

    Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (2:256)

    One cannot sincerely choose to join any religion unless one has complete freedom to make their own personal choice.

    Be that as it may, once one becomes a Muslim, there are certain rules, duties and obligations one is expected to follow. Many of these are "non-negotiable." Muslims are expected to follow the five pillars of Islam as best they can. We are expected to obey the Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as best we can. What makes these obligations so frightening for many people is that they touch upon fundamental lifestyle issues: what we eat, what clothes we wear, how we live their lives. These people are not comfortable with making wholesale changes to their lives. And even Muslims tell new reverts to Islam: "Go slow. Take your time." We know that we ask a lot from people when they return to Islam. But, likewise, a Muslim whose faith continues to grow will want to make those changes in his or her life. He or she will want to obey those rules and fulfill those duties as best he or she can. As Yusuf Ali often pointed out in his commentary, when the Qur'an says that we should "fear Allah" (swt), this is not out of any fear from punishment (such as hell fire), but from a fear of doing anything that might be displeasing to Allah (swt). To "fear" Allah (swt) really means to love Him. We want Allah (swt) to be pleased with our faith and conduct in our daily lives. Muhammad's (pbuh) proudest title was that of "Slave of Allah" (swt) - Abdullah - and this title can only be obtained from the voluntary, conscious decision to submit to the will of Allah (swt), and not to be compelled or coerced into such a "belief."

    In that regard, yes, non-Muslims often don't have a clue when they hear that Islam means "submission." This is not the submission of a human slave to a human master. That connotation is completely false with respect to Islam. Muslims submit to Allah (swt) because of their love for Him. As the above ayah points out, he who "believes in Allah (swt) has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks." Who would not want to cling to such a handhold?

    February 24, 2008

    A Parade of Propaganda, A Festival of Ignorance

    Comedian Lee Camp just broke the cardinal rule for guests on Faux News: being honest. You know he won't be invited back on the air for a long time. Check out this little exchange:

    Camp: Can I just ask a question?

    H: Sure.

    Camp: What is Fox News? It’s just a parade of propaganda, isn’t it? It’s just a festival of ignorance. A million people are dead in Iraq. Come on, this is ridiculous. What's the point of this? This is insane. People at home, go outside. Go, go hug your children. Love your family.
    BTW, you notice the end of the segment with all the cheesecake on the set? Fox News Porn strikes again!

    HT: Crooks & Liars

    February 23, 2008

    Kyle Rothstein and the Benefits of Fluency in a Second Language

    For several years, I've been promoting the need for foreign language education in the United States, not just for children to learn a second language haphazardly and in their teenage years as the American educational system often does, but for kids to become fluent in another language, preferably an Asian language like Chinese, as the heart of the world's economy shifts more and more to the Far East. I first read about Kyle Rothstein in the Hong Kong-based periodical, Asia Weekly, which has a brief excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article. Rothstein, an American teenager, has greatly benefited from having learned Mandarin, beginning at the age of five, despite growing up in a monolingual household (as most of us Americans do). He is now appearing in his second movie, Milk and Fashion; his first movie, The White Countess, features Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, and Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave. The following are excerpts from the L.A. Times article:

    Kyle Rothstein stands out in a sea of Chinese faces not because he is an American teenager with curly red hair and clear blue eyes, but because he speaks Chinese. Fluent Chinese.

    The visual and verbal double take is the handiwork of his father, Jay Rothstein, a prescient American businessman who put Kyle in a bilingual English-Mandarin school in San Francisco when he was 5. The elder Rothstein had read that if you don't learn to speak a foreign language by that age, you never really get it.

    "I knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Rothstein, who at the time was traveling to China on business several times a year. "There were times when he was crying every day, asking, 'I am not Chinese -- why do I have to learn Chinese?' "

    But the benefits soon became obvious. By the time he was 12, Kyle had met two American presidents, hobnobbed with countless Chinese dignitaries and appeared on four Chinese TV shows. Now 17, Kyle is living in China's most cosmopolitan city, finishing school and starring in a soon-to-be-released feature film, "Milk and Fashion," about an American kid growing up in China. His father is the producer.

    "I rebelled at first, but now I am grateful that my dad pushed me," Kyle, a reedy teenager with Shirley Temple locks and a relatively reserved temperament more befitting an honor student than a budding actor, said as he sat in the cafeteria of his Shanghai high school. "Everything about me has changed because of the Chinese language. It's opened up so many doors that other people don't have."


    "I wanted to give him a good life, to do distinguished things," said Rothstein, who gained custody of his son after he and his wife divorced when Kyle was 6; she visits about twice a year. "Now college admissions officers are interested in him and saying, 'He has such an exotic resume -- we want him.' They want international kids. It's a global world."

    More Americans than ever are waking up to the possibility that Chinese is the language of the future. With China's fast rise as an economic powerhouse, the language, once considered obscure and difficult to learn, is being embraced by parents looking to give their children a leg up in the global economy.

    In 2000, about 5,000 American elementary and secondary schoolchildren studied Chinese. Today, the number is as much as 10 times that, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The College Board offered Advanced Placement exams in Mandarin Chinese for the first time last year, and more than 3,000 high school students took the test.

    When Kyle enrolled in San Francisco's Chinese American International School, the oldest Chinese bilingual elementary school in the country, there were few others like him.

    Rothstein, not a Chinese speaker himself, was unable to offer many after-school opportunities for his son to practice his conversation skills, so he found a way to turn strangers into teachers.

    "We would go to tourist sites like Fisherman's Wharf or Golden Gate Bridge and have a race to look for visiting Chinese delegations," Rothstein said, referring to group tours from China. "When we found them, I would walk up to them and say, 'Hey, I found this kid on the street. He only speaks Chinese. Can you talk to him? Find out what he likes to eat? Can you take him back to China?' "

    The reaction was usually the same: "What? How? Wow!" Then everybody would have a good laugh as the visitors marveled at the little redheaded American boy speaking their mother tongue.

    Word spread, and soon Kyle became a kind of unofficial cultural ambassador and a must-see personality.

    When the first President Bush visited San Francisco's Chinatown, organizers made sure he met Kyle. " 'So this is the kid everybody's talking about,' " Rothstein recalled the elder Bush saying. In 1998, the Rothsteins joined the delegation accompanying President Clinton on his trip to China.

    Kyle and his father, a consultant who helped U.S. businesses set up shop in China and then switched mostly to the movie business, moved to Shanghai in 2003.


    To his teachers in China, Kyle is not only an anomaly but also a role model, and not just for foreigners.

    "He's the first typical American high school student we put into the normal Chinese class," said Sally Zhang, the vice principal of Jin Cai High School. "The Chinese students feel amazed. Most Chinese parents think learning English is very important. Now they see even foreign students can speak such good Chinese. So they know we should pay more attention to the Chinese language."

    Although the popularity of Chinese is growing among nonnative speakers, the number learning it pales in comparison with the number studying English, now being learned by an estimated 200 million Chinese. To these Chinese, English is a tougher nut to crack. That's why they appreciate making friends with foreigners such as Kyle and hope there will be more of them in the future.

    "We tried to speak English to him, but our English is so bad," said Shi Jun, 17, one of Kyle's pals. "Then we realized his Chinese was so good. We could communicate so much better."

    For another article on Kyle, published in 2002 when Kyle was 11-years-old, see: Little American Emperor (Shanghai Star)

    For articles on Jay and Kyle Rothstein with regard to the movie Milk and Fashion, see:
    Q&A With 'Milk and Fashion' Movie Producer Jay Rothstein (Emerging China)
    Caucasians Speak Fluent Mandarin in Chinese Film (Shanghai Daily)

    The Freakin' *Grumble Grumble* Book Meme

    Courtesy of a vengeful Izzy Mo. ;)

    The Rules:

    1. You have to look up page 123 in the nearest book around you.
    2. Look for the fifth sentence.
    3. Then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123.
    4. And then tag five people, just like you were tagged!

    The nearest book around me? In a tiny room filled with three bookcases, which book qualifies? Seeing how I was tagged all five times, I'll do a little penance and write out two passages, one for fiction and the other for non-fiction.

    Fiction: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

    She did not let her parents know, and above all never hinted to Peter how often she thought about Ender, how often she wrote him letters that she knew he would not answer. And when Mother and Father had announced to them that they were leaving the city to move to North Carolina, of all places, Valentine knew that they never expected to see Ender again. They were leaving the only place where he knew to find them. How would Ender find them here, among these trees, under this changeable and heavy sky?

    Non-Fiction: The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why, by Richard E. Nisbett

    Imagine that you see a college student being asked to show possible donors around the campus for a day and that for this service the student is offered only a small amount of money -- less than the minimum wage -- and imagine that the student refuses. Do you suppose you would think it is likely that the student would volunteer to help in an upcoming Red Cross blood drive? Probably not very likely. But suppose a friend of yours had seen another student offered a reasonable amount of money -- say, 50 percent above the minimum wage -- to show the donors around and the student had agreed to do so.

    Whom shall I piss off today? ;) How about Rob Wagner, our sister in Islam Kay, another sister in Islam, DramaMama, fellow drum corps alum James Chappell (who completely missed my recent posts of the 20 best SF novels), and (let's see if he even notices a lowly blog like mine) Mr. "IZ" of IZ Reloaded.

    February 22, 2008

    Lisa Lynnette Clark to be Released from Prison

    The following is a compilation of two newspaper reports I've combined. Links to the original newspaper articles online can be found below.

    Lisa Lynette Clark, the Hall County woman whose 2005 marriage to a 15-year-old boy 22 years her junior made national headlines, is scheduled to be released from a Georgia prison on Friday.

    Clark, who was was pregnant with the boy's son when the two were married by a retired Dawson County probate judge in the driveway of his home, is finishing a two-year prison sentence for helping her teenage husband flee the state. The teenager, who was on probation for a burglary and was in a group home in DeKalb County, was caught in Ohio and returned to Georgia.

    On Nov. 8, 2005, Clark, who was then 37, and her teenage lover, were married, taking advantage of a legal loophole that allowed a minor to marry without permission from a parent or guardian if the bride is pregnant.

    But a day after the two were married, authorities in Hall County, where Clark and the teenager lived, issued a warrant for her arrest, charging her with child molestation. Later that month, a Hall County grand jury indicted Clark on charges of child molestation, statutory rape and enticing a child for indecent purposes.

    Clark was released on bail, but arrested the following February in Douglas County after authorities determined that, contrary to her repeated denials, she had been communicating with her teenage husband after he ran away from a state group home in DeKalb County.

    "We believe he went [to Ohio] on a Greyhound bus that she arranged," Douglas County District Attorney David McDade said.

    McDade said Clark also sent money and a prepaid cellphone to the teenager in Ohio, where he was taken back into custody near Cleveland.

    "Our information is that she hoped to get him out of state, hide him from Hall County authorities, prevent them from prosecuting him there, then reunite with them," McDade said.

    In March, 2006, Clark pleaded guilty as a first offender to statutory rape and spent nine months in the Hall County Jail. During that time, she gave birth to a 7-pound, 9-ounce son she named Skye Cobain Gonzalez, in part to honor the late Kurt Cobain, founder of the rock group Nirvana. The baby was placed in a foster home.

    In May 2006, Clark pleaded guilty to helping her husband escape from state custody, and was sentenced to two years in jail. She was transferred to the state prison system, and has most recently been incarcerated at the Metro State Prison.

    Georgia Department of Corrections spokesman Paul Czachowski on Thursday confirmed Clark's prison release date but declined for security reasons to provide details.

    Georgia's state law sets the marrying age at 16, but had allowed an exception for younger people to marry if the bride was pregnant. The law was changed in 2006, and now 16- and 17-year-olds can wed only with the approval of a parent or guardian and a probate judge.

    Clark gave birth while behind bars and agreed to leave the child with foster parents in Douglas County.

    Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation in April 2006 closing a loophole in state law that allowed couples of any age to get married without parental consent in the case of a pregnancy.

    Woman who married boy, 15, leaves prison Friday
    Woman who had child with boy groom to be released from prison

    Posts of mine on Lisa Lynnette Clark:
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark Gonzalez Speaks
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark to be Released from prison
  • What Ever Happened To... Lisa Lynnette Clark
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark Timeline
  • Lisa Lynnette Clark gives Birth
  • Desperate American Women?
  • February 20, 2008


    Whenever I see this sign, I think of Michael Gambon's booming voice as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies.


    Obviously, this is just a construction sign that, for some reason, is missing its "N."

    February 19, 2008

    Tennessee's Finest

    After watching this video, it sorta makes me say to myself, "Thank God I wasn't raised in Tennessee," ya know? Parochialism at its "finest."

    A)I don’t want a man that’s going to use the Koran to be sworn in as President instead of the Bible.”

    Q) Where did you get this information that Barack Obama wanted to be sworn in on the Koran?

    A) From one of our Church members that’s keeping up with what his comments are and you know he wouldn’t even do the Pledge of Allegiance. He refused.

    HT: Crooks & Liars

    February 18, 2008

    Lego Petronas Tower and Dome of the Rock

    Arthur Gugick is a Cleveland, Ohio high school math teacher by day, a Lego artist by night. Arthur creates wonderful recreations of landmarks (primarily buildings) from around the world. Two that are of particular interest to me are the Petronas Towers (which I've been to several times) and Dome of the Rock (which, unfortunately, I haven't been to yet). Be sure to check out Arthur's website. For more pictures of the Petronas Towers and Dome of the Rock replicas, click on the links below.

    Petronas Towers

    Dome of the Rock

    February 14, 2008

    "Christian Ramadan"

    An odd story out of the Netherlands:

    To motivate young people to observe fasting and prayer during the 40-day Lent, Catholics are promoting the religious occasion this year as a "Christian Ramadan", the Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday, February 12.


    Der Kuil said the idea of "Christian Ramadan" was spurred by concerns that the Lent has become less important for Dutch over the last generation, especially since the Vatican loosened fasting strictures in 1967.

    He notes that of the four million Dutch who describe themselves as Catholics and the 400,000 who attend Mass every week only a few tens of thousands still fast Lent.

    Most Catholics now focus on charitable work during the 40-day feast.

    Through the "Christian Ramadan" campaign, the organizers hope to bring back spirituality and sobriety to the Catholic tradition.


    Der Kuil said they wanted to benefit from the increasing familiarity and popularity of the word Ramadan.

    "The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent."


    Der Kuil recognized that through the campaign they came to realize the amount of similarities between Muslims and Christians.

    "The agreements are more striking than the differences," der Kuil maintained.

    "Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition."


    Several thoughts come to mind:
  • Does this mean that Christianity is so weak in Europe that a Christian concept such as Lent can only be understood by defining it through the terms of what many view as a rival religion?
  • If you have to define your own religion in terms of another's, then it's time to admit that the other side has "won," that Dutch Catholics should admit the truth and become Muslims.
  • That if your religion is so weak and your culture doesn't practice - literally - what you preach, then maybe it's best to get on the cases of your lapsed brethren for their own faults rather than bad-mouthing people from other religions who are more pious than you.

    The real problem in Europe isn't "Multiculturalism" or "Shari'ah" or "Jihad" or "Eurabia" or any of the other bogey words that have come to symbolize the West's Islamophobia. The real problem is that most Muslims practice what they preach, that they live their religion (as we are supposed to), and that just scares the crap out of them. Because Europeans are afraid of religion. Because living a religious life will take them out of their comfort zone, introducing them to new routines and a new lifestyle. But especially because they realize that they live in a religious backwater. That despite all their material achievements and economic success, they've become spiritually backwards. The Quraish were in a similar situation during the last stages of the Age of Jahiliyah: economically successful, spiritually impoverished. Allah (swt) was merciful to the Quraish: they realized the truth before it was too late and became Muslim when they had the chance. The question now is whether Europeans (in particular, and the West in general) will do the same.

  • Happy Valentine's Day, Milady!

    Money's a little tight right now (as I'm sure you know), but I didn't want you to think that I couldn't afford even a rose. So here's the Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237), just for you. ;)

    I love you, sweetheart!

    February 12, 2008


    I came across Qur'anFlash through Ijtema just now. Wow! Fantastic. I'm hoping that these people will get the English language navigation system completed soon, because I'd love to pop this onto my thumbdrive. In the meantime, I've put a banner onto the sidebar on the right so that we (you, me, us) can access this website from this blog, if that's your thing. ;)

    February 9, 2008

    Evangelizing for Alan

    This week's Friday Random 10 over at Street Prophets asks the question, "Choose the ten songs/works off any album that you think best represents your favorite artist (singer, composer, band...)." This is my (very long) response:

    Being an evangelical for Alan Parsons, I find a mere 10 songs very limiting for a man who's been creating music for over 30 years now. After all, he's come out with 16 albums, so I can't even represent one song per album. Still, I'll try to give a sampling of both his greatest hits and some personal favorites to give an indication of what his music is like.

    1. The Cask of Amontillado - From "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (i.e., TOMAI; the Alan Parsons e-mail list uses tons of acronyms for both album and song titles). Most people would probably choose either The Raven or Fall of the House of Usher (a long, symphonic arrangement), but I like "Cask" because it's about a chilling murder that's beautifully sung in a duet form (John Miles singing both parts). (This is a common feature of Eric Woolfson's lyrics: he writes music about how much he hates or despises certain people, but it's all done to a catchy melody. ;) )

    2. I Robot - From "I Robot" (IR). One of the best instrumentals by the band. It certainly set the standard by which all future instrumentals by the Project were judged.

    3. Games People Play - From "Turn of a Friendly Card" (TOAFC). The big radio hit on this album was "Time," but I've always preferred "Games People Play," sung by Lenny Zakatek. The Project used a large number of vocalists for various songs, primarily singers from bands who may or (more often than not) may not have hit the big time. Zakatek is my favorite vocalist from the Project; he primarily sang high-energy songs.

    4. Psychobabble - From "Eye in the Sky" (EITS). My favorite song. This particular album was probably the most successful of all the APP albums, and there are a number of songs from this album that are still played regularly today, such as the instrumental "Sirius" (which is a popular song for athlete introductions at various sporting events), "Eye in the Sky" (the title song), and "Old and Wise," which is extremely popular in the Netherlands for some reason (according to Dutch members of the e-mail list). This song and "Prime Time," from the next album, "Ammonia Avenue" (AA), are very popular among the fans at concerts because they feature extended guitar solos (often lasting five minutes or so) in the middle of the songs.

    5. Days Are Numbers (The Traveller) - From "Vulture Culture" (VC). Up through this time, the mid-80s, one of the more important members of the band, Andrew Powell, had been writing orchestral arrangements that gave the Project's albums a lush, progressive sound. However, Powell had been hired to write the soundtrack for the movie "Ladyhawke" (with Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer), and wasn't available to orchestrate VC. As a result, VC has a more traditional rock sound to it. This particular song, "Days are Numbers," is more in the way of a ballad, and I've always liked it.

    6. Freudiana - From "Freudiana." By the end of the 80s, the Alan Parsons Project had completed its contractual obligation of nine albums to Arista. Eric Woolfson, who had been the principal songwriter and one of the main vocalists for the band, had wanted to branch out into more theatrical music; this album, "Freudiana," is the first of those albums. In fact, there are two versions of this album floating around, "Freudiana White," which is performed by the Alan Parsons Project (although whether this really is an APP album has long been in dispute), and "Freudiana Black," which is the original cast recording, sung in German. Freudiana was the last album Eric worked on in collaboration with Alan. Since then, the two men have had a equitable working arrangement: Eric has written a number of rock musicals based on previous APP albums (his music is especially popular in Korea, for some reason), and Alan is allowed to use the songs Eric wrote for his concerts. Despite a strong desire by the fans for the two men to work together once more, they continue to work separately.

    7. Turn It Up - From "Try Anything Once" (TAO). This was Alan's first non-Project album under his own name. However, it remained very much a "project" in that Alan relied heavily upon other people to write the music, especially lead guitarist Ian Bairnson. This song is by Ian, and is very popular.

    8. Apollo - From "On Air" (OA). Like most other AP/P albums, this album followed a theme, in this case, "flight." Some of the songs were very personal; one song was dedicated to skysurfer Bob Harris, who died while filming a Mountain Dew commercial, while another was dedicated to Ian's cousin Erik Mounsey, a British helicopter pilot who was killed in a friendly fire incident above Iraq in 1994. "Apollo" is a somewhat typical AP/P instrumental, but it's unique in that it's the first of several "techno" instrumentals.

    9. Ignorance is Bliss - From "The Time Machine" (TTM). This was one of those albums that should have done better commercially. By coincidence, Alan had written an album about time travel that came out when Mike Myers' second Austin Powers movie, "The Spy Who Shagged Me," was released, which discussed a "time machine" (be sure to make the quote marks with your fingers when you read that) by the noted Cambridge physicist, Dr. Alan Parsons. Later versions of the album include a remix of the title track, the "Doctor Evil Edit" by Alan's son, Jeremy, who's performed on several of his dad's albums since TAO. This song, "Ignorance is Bliss," is perhaps the song closest to being a lullaby, and has been on my mind a good deal recently as my wife is about four months into her first pregnancy.

    10. Chomolungma - From "A Valid Path" (AVP). This is Alan's most recent album, released in 2004, and "Chomolungma," which is one of the names for Mount Everest, is the last song on the album. AVP is Alan's move into Electronica, to see if he could find a new, younger audience for his music. The first 80% of the song is a fairly straightforward instrumental, heavy on percussion; however, the last 20% gets a little odd: first, there's a snippet from a radio interview of John Cleese that Alan heard and got permission to use, and then the song ends with a dog barking (presumably Alan's family dog). The bit by Cleese is funny and relates to the background noise; the thing with the dog barking, I have no idea why it's there.

    February 8, 2008

    Contextualizing Muslims

    I came across a blog, GetReligion.org, where some of the commenters had suggested that a "Tmatt trio" be created for "contextualizing Muslims." Being unfamiliar with what a "Tmatt trio" is, I poked around the blog and found that it's a series of questions the writer, Terry Mattingly (tmatt), has used since the mid-80s to "find out where Christian leaders fall on a doctrinal (not political) scale from left to right, from progressive to traditionalist." The questions are:

    (1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?
    (2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?
    (3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

    And I had been trying to think, is there a set of questions that can be created for Muslims. I think the problem in trying to do so is that the range of possible answers given by Muslims to most questions would actually be quite narrow. Take the third question above (which is the only one of the three that's actually relevant to Muslims). The correct answer, of course, is "yes," which I suspect 99% of the world's Muslim population would agree to. (IMO, you'd really have to be outside of a state of Islam to answer "no" to that question.) And so the third question really isn't a good discriminator in being able to separate Muslims into more distinct groups. Which, of course, is something that's frowned upon in the Qur'an anyway. So I'm not sure such a trio of questions is really possible except for nit-picking into the minutiae of the religion because the basics of Islam are, IMO, pretty universal among all Muslims.

    February 7, 2008

    What a freakin' crybaby!

    Can't beat your in-state rival? Lose recruits to your in-state rival? Do you suck it up and try harder? No. You call your in-state rival names. Yeah, that'll solve your problems, coach! Pussy! :) From the Arizona Republic:

    The smoldering Arizona-Arizona State football rivalry grew hotter on Wednesday when Wildcats coach Mike Stoops said ASU has "turned into a J.C."

    Speaking at a football signing day news conference in Tucson, Stoops said some recruits had told him that it was easier to earn acceptance at ASU.

    "Each school has to recruit to that school and what type of academic requirements there are," Stoops said. "Obviously, Arizona State has turned into a J.C. and we are a four-year college. According to all the players, they say it is easier to go to school there, easier to get in. I thought we had the same requirements. It is news to me."

    It was also news to ASU coach Dennis Erickson, who had little to say about Stoops' remarks.

    "He can say what he wants," Erickson said. "We're all the same. There is no difference.

    "The bottom line with recruiting, and all that talking back and forth and all the stuff, is who's going to win games and who isn't right now," said Erickson, who defeated Stoops and Arizona 20-17 on Dec. 1 in Tempe. "What we've done with our group academically, as far as helping our guys be successful, that's what it's all about.


    Tensions between the football programs, located 90 miles apart, grew last month when highly touted tailback Ryan Bass of Corona, Calif., backed out of an oral commitment to Arizona and said he would attend ASU. Bass was among the 27 signees announced by the Sun Devils on Wednesday.

    Arizona signed only two players from the state - seven fewer than Arizona State. The disparity could be a byproduct of ASU's three-game win streak in the Territorial Cup series. Stoops is 1-3 against Arizona State.

    On Adultery

    The following is a response of mine from some comments over at Rob Wagner's blog, 13 Martyrs. Rob had originally written in response to a previous comment by "anonymous":

    And, anonymous, yes, the death penalty for adultry [sic] is hideous, but as a rule not practiced, especially in Arab countries.

    To which "anonymous" wrote:

    OK. So Arab countries are not, as a rule, following islam. [sic] Good! But would it really be a better world if we sacrelized [sic] murder on grounds of adultery, as is the case with sharia?

    My response to "anonymous":

    The problem with a lot of people (and not just Westerners) is that they look at another culture through their own cultural perspective without much thought as to the reasoning why something is in another culture. You think that, from Rob's statement, that Arab countries aren't following Islam (correctly). That isn't the case. The shari'ah system is set up to make these types of punishments difficult to implement. On the one hand, the punishment is very severe because it's trying to deter the crime from being done in the first place. Muslims know that if you're not punished in this life, you may be punished, insha'allah, in the next, and that punishment may be much more severe than the punishment today, insha'allah. Better to avoid any punishment whatsoever by not committing the crime in the first place. On the other hand, to convict for adultery requires four witnesses. Unless you're an idiot like Paris Hilton or Rob Lowe, where your sex tape gets distributed publicly, the odds are very low that people may witness your affair. (Still, Allah (swt) knows, and you'll answer to Him.)

    Which comes to your supposedly rhetorical question, which you obviously know my answer: yes. Religion is not just about the betterment of the individual, but of society as well. Groups of people ("nations," as they're called in the Qur'an) can and will be collectively punished by Allah (swt), insha'allah, for their transgressions. Both the Bible and the Qur'an make that abundantly clear. (Sodom and Gomorrah? There are other examples in the Qur'an.) Adultery is not just a problem for the individuals concerned or their families. It affects society as well. The transmission of STDs, the breakups of families, the custodial issues about children? These all hurt society and, yet, you'd rather society to continue on its merry way instead of trying to curb the problem? At least Islam makes a serious attempt.

    February 6, 2008

    Comments About the "Top 20" SF Novels

    This happened to be an interesting topic, and I do appreciate all the comments that the previous post generated. In preparing to write about the top 20 science fiction novels I'd choose, I thought I'd go over the earlier listing and discuss why I agree (and disagree) with those choices. Please feel free to chime in and criticize my criticisms, if you'd like.

    1. The Lord of the Rings (1954/55) - Technically not SF, but fantasy. However, the two genres are very much related to each other, and some authors like C.J. Cherryh bounce between the two fields. While I'd prefer not to have LOTR on a list of the best SF novels, the book is so influential that you can't really not have it on the list.

    2. Time Enough for Love (1973) - Enjoyable book, especially for "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long," but I wouldn't rate it #2 and, in fact, I'd drop it from the "top 20" altogether. (This is a book I've reread recently as well.)

    3. The Martian Chronicles (1950) - Another book I've reread in the past few months. Influential book? Absolutely. Worthy of being in the "top 20?" Not a chance. And the writing is very dated at this time.

    4. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) - Sad to say, I haven't had the chance to reread this one in a long time. I remember Heinlein's use of a Russian "accent" to be off-putting at the beginning, but it grew on me as I continued reading the book. I'm not sure I can remember enough about the book to say whether it's worthy of a "top 20" honor, but I'll be conservative and say "no." I expect I'll need "room" on the list for other books.

    5. Fahrenheit 451 (1953) - Another book I haven't read in a long time. Another book that, while influential and speaking on an important topic (censorship), I'll also pass on.

    6. Ender's Game (1985) - Worthy of a "top 20" listing; worthy of being made into a major motion picture. Until about 10 years ago or so, making this novel into a movie would have been extremely difficult (a lot of wirework at the very least); in today's realistic CGI world, the "battle scenes" that are at the heart of the novel should be a breeze for today's filmmakers to do. A movie based on this book should pull in "Harry Potter" numbers at the theaters.

    7. Second Foundation (1953) / 8. Foundation (1951) / 12. Foundation and Empire - One of the things that struck me about this list of "top 20" SF novels is that the books seemed to be picked either because the plot was based on a strong conceptual idea or because the book was a sentimental favorite. The Foundation series is another one of the former. I had originally read the Foundation trilogy when I was around 20 years old; about a year ago, I reread "Foundation." Such terrible writing. Isaac Asimov became a great writer, but the first book is not representative of his eventual skill. However, once again, yes, an incredibly influential series. (George Lucas' planet of "Coruscant" was obviously based on Isaac Asimov's "Trantor.") Worthy of a "top 20" honor? No, not today.

    9. Dune (1965) - This is a book that I often reread (actually, I'll go through all of Frank's Dune novels in one go, from start to finish). The writing remains fresh, even though the book was written in the early 60s. Most definitely top 20. To be honest, I'd probably rate it #2, behind LOTR.

    10. Starship Troopers (1959) - Another book I've reread in the past year. As a Heinlein "juvenile," it's better than most. It's worthy of a "top 20," but I'd place it in the last quarter.

    11. Rendezvous With Rama (1973) - Haven't read it in a long time, but it's worthy of a "top 20." I read this for the first time when I was in my early teens and, well... it made a great impression on me (as did several other of Arthur Clarke's novels).

    13. Pet Sematary (1983) / 14. Farnham's Freehold (1965) - I haven't read either of these books, so in all fairness I can't really say whether they should belong in such a list; however, I'm going to exclude them from my own listing.

    15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Read the short story (The Sentinel), read the novel (several times), watched the movie (don't know how many times). But is it really worthy of a "top 20" in today's era? I don't think so.

    16. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) - I consider this novel to be the last and best of Heinlein's juveniles (although it's obviously not one of the "official" Scribner juveniles). Although certain aspects of the writing have become somewhat dated (and Heinlein's various discussions about Islam are both accurate and completely off the deep end in equal measure), it remains, IMO, one of Heinlein's best works. I would rate it higher than either of the other Heinlein books discussed above.

    17. Speaker for the Dead (1986) - It's been a while since I've read this novel; I think it resonates with people the most for the semi-spiritual aspect, the "speaking" for the dead. Although it's a direct sequel to Ender's Game, it's written in a completely different frame of mind. (Imagine George Lucas following up Star Wars with, say, Solaris, using the same characters.) I'm not sure whether it's still "top 20" material, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and say "yes."

    18. Have Space Suit - Will Travel (1958) - No. Another Heinlein juvenile. OK plot. Purely in this list for sentimental reasons. Nice to read, but not anywhere close to "top 20" material.

    19. Childhood’s End (1953) - Yes. It's been ages since I've read this, but some parts of this novel have remained vivid memories.

    20. Glory Road (1963) - No. Haven't read it since '83 or so. Who were these guys who voted for this novel trying to kid? It's OK, but it's nowhere near "top 20" material.

    February 3, 2008

    Top 100 ... er, 23 ... er, 20 Science Fiction Novels

    I just came across this website, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. One of their webpages lists the "Top 100 Novels." Except that, for some reason, they only list the top 23. And even there, they double-count "The Lord of the Rings" as a separate novel along with each of the individual novels. So it's either the top 22 novels or the top 20, take your pick. I've deleted the three individual novels from the list, making it a top 20. Dates in parentheses are publication years.

    1. The Lord of the Rings (1954/55) - J. R. R. Tolkien
    2. Time Enough for Love (1973) - Robert A. Heinlein
    3. The Martian Chronicles (1950) - Ray Bradbury
    4. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) - Robert A. Heinlein
    5. Fahrenheit 451 (1953) - Ray Bradbury
    6. Ender's Game (1985) - Orson Scott Card
    7. Second Foundation (1953) - Isaac Asimov
    8. Foundation (1951) - Isaac Asimov
    9. Dune (1965) - Frank Herbert
    10. Starship Troopers (1959) - Robert A. Heinlein
    11. Rendezvous With Rama (1973) - Arthur C. Clarke
    12. Foundation and Empire (1952) - Isaac Asimov
    13. Pet Sematary (1983) - Stephen King
    14. Farnham's Freehold (1965) - Robert A. Heinlein
    15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Arthur C. Clarke
    16. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) - Robert A. Heinlein
    17. Speaker for the Dead (1986) - Orson Scott Card
    18. Have Space Suit - Will Travel (1958) - Robert A. Heinlein
    19. Childhood’s End (1953) - Arthur C. Clarke
    20. Glory Road (1963) - Robert A. Heinlein

    Two comments: Of these twenty, the only two I haven't read are Pet Sematary (I've never read any of Stephen King's books) and Farnham's Freehold (which is surprising, as I've read just about every other Heinlein juvenile). The other surprise is just how few books there are from certain eras. The newest book on the list is Orson Scott Card's "Speaker for the Dead," with his "Ender's Game" the next youngest, both from the mid 80s. Nothing is listed from the better works of the more recent writers: Bear, Brin, Cherryh, Gibson, Robinson, Wolfe, etc. Likewise, a lot of good work from the "New Wave/Dangerous Visions" era of the late 60s/early 70s is missing as well, authors such as Delany, LeGuin, Niven, Silverberg, etc. While I enjoy Heinlein's novels just as much as any other SF reader, seven of the top 20 seems a bit much when other just-as-good-if-not-better novels are not included on the list.