July 29, 2008

EPOXI: The Moon Transiting the Earth

I'm still rather busy, being the new daddy and all, and while there are several things I'd like to write about here, I'm going to have to wait until later.

In the meantime, you might find this very short video (28 seconds) of interest. It was taken by the spacecraft
EPOXI (formerly known as Deep Impact) and shows a time-lapse transit of the moon passing by the earth. More information can be found here. Check it out.

July 26, 2008

John McCain's Epic Fail?

Don't you get the feeling that the Republicans are starting to think, "Uhh, excuse me, but could we have a second primary season?" That maybe John McCain isn't quite the standard bearer (or the campaigner) that they thought he was? That maybe they shouldn't taunt the Obama camp into taking trips overseas because he hadn't visited Iraq or Afghanistan yet?

Yeah, supermarkets are filled with voters; let's see if we can find some in aisle five!

One thing that Crooks and Liars noted is that Faux News is using video from McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, perhaps in an effort to make him look younger than he is. The video can be seen in the Daily Show clip above at the 3:24-3:31 mark.

Photo credits: Crooks & Liars (first and second)

July 24, 2008

I am a Muslim

A post from Frostfirezoo.com, a blog that normally doesn't get this serious. Still, it's good to see someone "get it."

And how true are the things written on the protest flag that person is holding .... It so depicts not only the sentiments of every muslim who's been targetted for their racism, genocide, class of imperialism and brutality but also voices the millions of Americans, Panamanians, Rwandan, Venezveulans and every single soul who's been a victim of "treachery disguised in fake democracy", lies, misinformed and misguided reports. How the hell you can create peace out of bombardments, liberate through lies and your greed. bombing to save your own skin. Saying no we are not racists or whatever and doing everything exactly opposite. Just in few days time ... Afghanistan was destroyed... Iraq was destroyed ... lebanon was destroyed ... just to safeguard your own political and material interests ...

God help us... how can you expect people to love you when you are the very reason for the loss of mothers, fathers, siblings and even children... When you arm one military force only to support her to bomb and rock the civilians' places. Impossible...

More Pics of A'ishah

I'm happy to say that everything's going well so far with A'ishah. We had to run to the polyclinic and the hospital over the past few days, to have blood taken to see how the jaundice is and for a second metabolic test that the hospital wanted to run. We go back to the polyclinic tomorrow and we're expecting a phone call from the hospital anytime between today and next Tuesday. Hopefully everything is fine, insha'allah.

Thank you to everyone who's come by, sent us e-mails and wrote comments on the blog. It's been great to get the support and well wishes from all of you. I wish I had more time to talk to everyone, but both of us have been extremely busy since the birth. I'm spending most of my evenings over at my in-laws' flat to be with Milady and A'ishah, and I haven't had any time for blogging or even keeping up with my RSS feeds. (And that's in addition to being back at work. :P )

We've got two photos we wanted to share with you all (there are others that we've taken, but these are the best of the bunch). If memory serves, this first picture was taken late in the evening on the birth day (last Friday), before the jaundice set in.

And this photo was taken on Monday, just before Milady and Mibaby were able to go home. As you can see, her face is really yellow from the jaundice. It's not nearly as yellow now, but she's not quite as fair skinned as she was on her birth day. Her skin is a little darker now, more reddish than previously. To be honest, I think she got her skin tone from me. :) We loved how she touched her face with her forefinger like that, as if she was deep in thought.

One of the things that amused me yesterday when we were at the hospital was how A'ishah is such a "chick magnet." We get into the elevator with me holding A'ishah in her car seat, and we're standing at the very back of the car, yet every woman turns around to look at her. There were several other incidents like that as we walked through the halls of the hospital as well. It reminded me of a scene in the 1987 movie, 3 Men and a Baby, where Selleck, Danson and Guttenberg are in the park with "Mary," the baby, and about two dozen women become infatuated with her. This Youtube clip is a fan video from the film, but the scene I mentioned is in it, at the 1:55 to 2:09 mark.

July 19, 2008


Introducing A'ishah or, as it will probably be written by Milady's side of the family, A'isyah. AKA "Mibaby" (courtesy of Izzy Mo) and "ADsg" (me). A'ishah was born yesterday (July 18th) at 11:41 am at KK Women's & Children's Hospital here in S'pore. She weighed in at 3.745 kg (slightly under 8 lbs., 4 oz.) and is 52 cm (20.5") long. Both she and Milady are doing well. This is the first child for both Milady and I.

Yesterday was a very emotional day for all of us. Milady and I have been trying to have kids for all five years of our marriage. And even though we had gone through IVF for a number of years now, all of our efforts had failed up through this point. Even with A'ishah we had a couple of scares along the way but, thankfully, everything worked out in the end. All praise, credit and honor goes to Allah (swt) who answered our prayers.

BTW, I did recite the adhan/iqamah to the baby yesterday. Now I'm off back to the hospital; needless to say, blogging will be very sporadic in the next few days.

Update: Milady and Mibaby came home from the hospital today (Monday, July 21st). The jaundice wasn't severe enough to keep Mibaby at the hospital, and Milady is recovering well from the surgery. This is a very quiet baby, who rarely cries (so far); she takes after her daddy, according to her mommy. :)

July 18, 2008

Bedtime Music: REO Speedwagon - Keep On Loving You

REO Speedwagon is like Loverboy for me: a band whose music I like, but one that I never bought any of their albums (even their greatest hits). Keep on Loving You is your typical '80s power ballad: smooth, slow and schmaltzy. The song peaked at #1 in the U.S. for one week, preceded by (of all things) Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 and succeeded by Blondie's Rapture.

July 17, 2008

Bedtime Music: Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody

This song was another no-brainer for my current series (which no one has guessed yet ;) ). The very first record I ever bought (a 45 rpm) was of this song, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. When Wayne's World came out in 1992, I really felt that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were speaking for my generation (those of us who were teenagers in the '70s) when they chose to start the film with Bohemian Rhapsody. BTW, if you ever try to sing this song (karaoke), it's a killer. BTDT.

July 16, 2008

Bedtime Music: The Police - Every Breath You Take

Sorry for the break in my Bedtime Music series; the big day is very quickly approaching, and Milady and I have been busy with preparations. The good news is that I'm over my illness.

Every Breath You Take, off of the 1983 release Synchronicity by The Police is one of those songs that have really dark lyrics set to a beautiful melody. (Eric Woolfson of The Alan Parsons Project wrote a number of songs over the years that fit this odd genre.) The theme of the song, of course, is about stalking another person. In the mid-'80s, I had a college roommate who had gotten out of a relationship with another person. This other person had left Every Breath You Take on a cassette tape for them to show their intentions. Creepy! I have no idea whether the other person went through with their threat.

July 15, 2008

Obama on Islam

I'm a little surprised none of the other Muslim blogs I read picked up on this yesterday. This is an excerpt from an interview conducted by CNN's Fareed Zakaria with Barack Obama on foreign policy issues. Comments below the excerpt.

ZAKARIA: But how do you view the problem within Islam? As somebody who saw it in Indonesia ... the largest Muslim country in the world?

OBAMA: Well, it was interesting. When I lived in Indonesia -- this would be '67, '68, late '60s, early '70s -- Indonesia was never the same culture as the Arab Middle East. The brand of Islam was always different.

But around the world, there was no -- there was not the sense that Islam was inherently opposed to the West, or inherently opposed to modern life, or inherently opposed to universal traditions like rule of law.

And now in Indonesia, you see some of those extremist elements. And what's interesting is, you can see some correlation between the economic crash during the Asian financial crisis, where about a third of Indonesia's GDP was wiped out, and the acceleration of these Islamic extremist forces.

It isn't to say that there is a direct correlation, but what is absolutely true is that there has been a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there's bottom-up economic growth.

You know, the way we have to approach, I think, this problem of Islamic extremism ... is we have to hunt down those who would resort to violence to move their agenda, their ideology forward. We should be going after al Qaeda and those networks fiercely and effectively.

But what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse.

And that lumping together Shia extremists with Sunni extremists, assuming that Persian culture is the same as Arab culture, that those kinds of errors in lumping Islam together result in us not only being less effective in hunting down and isolating terrorists, but also in alienating what need to be our long-term allies on a whole host of issues.

There are some good points and one bad point about this excerpt. First, the bad point:
  • The reason why I read this interview in the first place was because CNN had placed a banner on TV saying Obama "linked Islam to economics." As you can see in the article, Obama tries to tie Islamic militancy in Indonesia with the 1997 Asian financial crisis. But neither Obama's math (over two years, the Indonesian GDP fell by only 15%, not the "about a third" Obama claims) nor his timeline really fits the data. Basically, I feel that Obama's trying to tie militancy with poverty. The problem is, that theory is outdated. John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed's book, Who Speaks for Islam? point out that politics, not poverty or piety, is what drives Muslim extremists. This point isn't new; Esposito and Mogahed released a report that brought this point up back in November 2006. So I think Obama needs to be a little more careful in trying to understand the root causes of the problem. Economic solutions may not be the best solution when the problem is political in nature.
  • Obama gets it right when he said, "there was not the sense that Islam was inherently opposed to the West, or inherently opposed to modern life, or inherently opposed to universal traditions like rule of law."
  • I also agree with Obama when he said, "there has been a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there's bottom-up economic growth." Bottom-up economic growth is always important, whether it's a Muslim country like Indonesia or the United States. But economic growth needs to be pursued not for the sake of preventing Muslim extremists, who tend to be better off economically than moderate Muslims (according to Esposito and Mogahed), but for the sake of improving standards of living globally.
  • Likewise, when Obama said, "And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse." Unfortunately, I doubt this will happen until Americans become more mature in learning how to interact with the Muslim world.
  • Finally, I was very pleased when Obama said, "And that lumping together Shia extremists with Sunni extremists, assuming that Persian culture is the same as Arab culture, that those kinds of errors in lumping Islam together..." Unfortunately, many prominent Republicans, such as George Bush and John McCain, have shown over the years that they are essentially clueless to vital nuances, such as the difference between a Sunni Muslim and a Shia Muslim or between an Arab and a Persian. It's refreshing to see a politician who has a clue about foreign policy for a change.
  • July 13, 2008

    Movie Sunday: Slap Shot

    You may wonder how I pick movies for my Movie Sunday series. A lot of it has to do with whether I can find two decent clips on Youtube; that's not always possible. Earlier in the week I had watched Brian's Song, the 2001 TV remake. I had never seen the 1971 original, but I knew the story, bawled like a baby, and said, "Gotta use this for Sunday." Except, there are very few video clips of either version available.

    While looking for those clips, I came across clips for
    "The Longest Yard," thinking that this would be a nice way to show something from both movies (the 1974 original and the 2005 remake). Except that, once again, there are no clips from the original I want to use.

    But now I'm thinking about sports comedies and
    Slap Shot comes to mind. This is another great movie, probably the best hockey movie ever made (at least IMO), and my only regret is that I couldn't find a clip (in English) of Michael Ontkean's strip-tease at the end. ;)

  • Nancy Dowd, the writer of the screenplay, originally intended for the movie to be a documentary; her brother, Ned Dowd (whom the character Ned Braden is named after) was a player on the Johnstown Jets, whom the Charlestown Chiefs are based upon. The director, George Roy Hill, convinced Nancy to rewrite the movie as a comedy.
  • Ned Dowd served as stunt coordinator and technical adviser as well as playing the role of "Ogie Ogilthorpe." Since Ned Dowd's introduction to film-making with Slap Shot, he's had a very successful career as a director and producer of a number of A-list movies.
  • Steve Carlson, who plays Steve Hanson in the movie, played for two seasons with the Johnstown Jets, then returned to coach the Johnstown Chiefs in the late '80s-early '90s.
  • The championship trophy presented at the end of the movie was, in reality, the Lockhart Cup, which was representative of the North American Hockey League championship. It now sits in the basement recreation room of actor Danny Belisle, where it has become a flower pot.

    Oh this young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him, well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle. Number six, Ogie Oglethorpe.

    The fans are standing up to them! The security guards are standing up to them! The peanut vendors are standing up to them! And by golly, if I could get down there, I'd be standing up to them!
  • July 12, 2008

    Drum Corps Saturday: 1975 27th Lancers

    Placing fourth in 1975 was the 27th Lancers of Revere, Massachusetts. In an indirect way, an incident that took place at the 1966 VFW National Finals set the stage for the 1975 corps. Before there was a 27th Lancers, there was the Immaculate Conception Reveries, more commonly known as the I.C. Reveries. In '66, the Reveries had placed 14th at the VFW Nationals prelims; however, due to political nonsense that was more commonplace pre-DCI, the 13th place-Racine Scouts were allowed to compete in the finals (while the Madison Scouts, who placed tenth in the prelims, didn't march in the finals) and the Reveries were left out in the cold. However, through a bit of trickery, the Reveries were able to get onto the field and then sat down on the starting line until their grievances were heard. In the end, the corps was allowed to perform their show, but were not judged in the competition.

    Between this incident and several other reasons, the Immaculate Conception Church that was sponsoring the corps at the time decided to withdraw its support at the end of the 1967 season. Some of the corps' management and staff decided to reorganize the corps as an independent unit, and renamed itself the 27th Lancers, supposedly after one of the units in the Charge of the Light Brigade. (The only "Lancer" unit in the charge was the 17th Lancers; there has been a 27th Lancers in the British military, but they were formed in 1941 and disbanded in 1945.)

    By the time of 1974, the 27th Lancers had become very successful, but most if not all of the charter members had aged out. As a result, 1974 was a rebuilding year for the corps and they placed 20th at DCI, the lowest the 27th Lancers would ever place in the corps' history. However, 27th rebounded very strongly in 1975, rising up to fifth in the prelims with a score of 85.85, and fourth place in the finals with a score of 88.05.

    Incidentally, when the church cut off support for the I.C. Reveries senior corps, another group carried on the Reveries name, but as a junior corps. The junior Reveries continued on through the 1974 season, when half the corps defected to join the 1975 27th Lancers, the group in these videos. The other half of the Reveries first merged with the Blue Angels of Danvers, Massachusetts in 1975, and then with the Beverly Cardinals in 1976 to form North Star. So, out of one corps were the seeds of two great drum corps of the '70s and '80s.

    The Repertoire: Crown Imperial * Chameleon * Celebrate * Spectrum Novum * Danny Boy

    July 11, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Orleans - Dance With Me

    Although this band actually formed in the Hudson River valley town of Woodstock, New York, several members of the band Orleans had ties to the Finger Lakes region of New York, which I grew up in. So, for me, this was a "local" band that made it big.

    Orleans had two huge hits in the mid '70s: Still the One, which was used endlessly by the American broadcast channel ABC, and "Dance With Me," which reached #6 on the pop charts. This video, obviously, is of the latter song.

    Orleans' co-founder John Hall is now a Congressman, representing the 19th District of the State of New York.

    Republicans to America:

    "It's all in your head, don't whine so much, it doesn't matter if what we promote doesn't work, you'll feel better knowing we've failed to do what's best for the country. Now go back to sleep and don't bother us grownups; we're busy looting America."

    HT: Talking Points Memo

    July 10, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Night Ranger - Sister Christian

    OK, first, a personal update: I'm recovering. :) We don't know what I had -- some jungle fever -- but we did confirm today through a blood test that I didn't have dengue (thank God!); I've already gone through that once before. However, a lot of the symptoms were very similar to dengue, including the fever, chills, muscular aches, and rashes. You live in the tropics, you get tropical diseases. :P Add to this the fact that Milady is getting very close to delivering the baby (most likely sometime next week, insha'allah), and I haven't had any time to write any regular blog posts. (Update: We got a visit this morning from two guys with the NEA, who were trying to figure out how I came down with the fever; the gov't takes dengue prevention very seriously here. Based on our discussion this morning, I think they concluded that I got bit by a mosquito somewhere in the Little India area, which is the neighborhood where I work.)

    Anyhoo... We're now halfway through the theme (if anyone's tried to guess it). This song, the 1984 release
    Sister Christian, was Night Ranger's biggest hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #2 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Drummer Kelly Keagy wrote the song after visiting his home and discovering just how quickly his younger sister, Christy, was growing up. Per Wikipedia:

    The lyric, "You're motoring. What's your price for flight? In finding Mr. Right?" is the subject of much debate. The band stated in a VH-1 Behind the Music interview that the term "motoring" was synonymous with the term "cruising." The term is most often used to describe driving around in a car slowly as a social experience, but can also be used to describe picking up people for casual sex. When Keagy visited his family he heard second hand about his sister cruising for a man to casually sleep with. After verifying this with her he was shocked and lamented how fast she was growing up. He then went back home and wrote "Sister Christian" about the experience.

    Apparently sister Christy was so mortified after the song was released that she nearly changed her name.

    This particular clip comes from an old late night television show called
    Rock Palace.

    July 9, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Meatloaf - Paradise by the Dashboard Light

    I'm still not feeling the best, so I'm going to try to write this quickly.

    This is one of my favorite songs of all time. I've sung it publicly a couple times (karaoke), which has been a lot of fun. In case you're wondering, the woman who sings the woman's part of the song is Ellen Foley; however, the woman actually appearing in the video is Karla DeVito, who's a successful singer in her own right. The baseball announcer who does the interlude between the first and second sections of the song is Phil Rizzuto, who played for the New York Yankees in the '40s and '50s, and was one of the club's TV/radio announcers from the '50s through the '90s. (I listened to him announce many games when I was a teenager in the '70s although, to be honest, I liked listening to Bill White better. ;) )

    July 8, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Loverboy - Working for the Weekend

    Seeing how I'm supposed to be resting with this fever, I thought I'd write up tonight's "Bedtime Music" prologue now while I have the chance.

    Loverboy is one of those bands in which I've always enjoyed their music, yet have never bought any of their albums. (A terrible disgrace, I know.) You'd think I'd pick up one of their greatest hits albums, but, no, not even that. I guess there's always been some other album that was a greater priority to buy. Anyhoo... Working for the Weekend is your classic Friday night song, even though it's Tuesday.

    Back to bed; I need to rest.

    July 7, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Kansas - Dust in the Wind (Live)

    I'm a little late with my "Bedtime Music," due to a fever I came down with yesterday afternoon. I had chosen the video a couple days ago, before I got sick, but hadn't had the chance to write the prologue before I went to bed (early) last night.

    This is another one of those songs that really needs no introduction; it is a bit surprising, though, that
    Dust in the Wind is the only top-ten single the band ever had, peaking at #6. I saw Kansas once in concert when they were the opening act for the Alan Parsons Project back in '96 or so.

    As "Ted Logan" (Keanu Reeves) once said, "'All we are is dust in the wind,' dude."

    July 6, 2008

    Are You Chinese, Japanese or Korean?

    I'm currently reading Yasutaka Sai's book, The 8 Core Values of the Japanese Businessman: Toward an Understanding of Japanese Management. In his third core value, "Aesthetics and Perfectionism," Sai retells a story about three different Asian perspectives as to what is aesthetically desirable (pp. 55-56):

    Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) was tea master to the leaders Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi and founder of the Sen school of tea ceremony. One bright autumn day, having invited guests for a tea ceremony, he ordered a young monk to clean the small temple garden. The monk swept up every fallen leaf and told Rikyu that the job was finished. The tea master glanced at the scene and stepped down into the garden. He gently shook two or three trees until a few dead leaves fell to the ground. "Now the stage is set for our guests," he said.

    A south Korean intellectual has criticized this incident as typical Japanese affectation. He said that a Chinese would probably have left the garden clear of leaves, as the priest had cleaned it, and a Korean would have held the ceremony with all the fallen leaves just as they were, in their natural state, finding that truly beautiful.

    So what are you? Is your aesthetic sense "Chinese," "Japanese" or "Korean?" (I do think that Singapore, being a Chinese-majority country, does have a Chinese sense of aesthetics.)

    Bush Tours America to Survey Damage Caused by His Disastrous Presidency

    HT: Crooks & Liars

    Movie Sunday - Platoon

    I watched Platoon for the first time in a very long time last night. The film was very good to begin with (winning the 1987 Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director), and I think it's passed the test of time, especially with other superb war movies having come out since then, such as Saving Private Ryan. What really strikes me about this movie now, though, is what an all-star cast Oliver Stone had assembled. Most of these guys were relative unknowns then, but many have become outstanding actors over the years, including Forest Whitaker and a very young Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

    Well, here I am, anonymous all right. With guys nobody really cares about. They come from the end of the line, most of 'em. Small towns you never heard of: Pulaski, Tennessee; Brandon, Mississippi; Pork Van, Utah; Wampum, Pennsylvania. Two years' high school's about it, maybe if they're lucky a job waiting for them back at a factory, but most of 'em got nothing. They're poor, they're the unwanted, yet they're fighting for our society and our freedom. It's weird, isn't it? They're the bottom of the barrel and they know it. Maybe that's why they call themselves grunts, cause a grunt can take it, can take anything. They're the best I've ever seen, Grandma. The heart & soul.

    Are you smoking this shit so's to escape from reality? Me, I don't need this shit. I am reality.

    July 5, 2008

    Leadership Qualities of the Arabs

    As a student and lecturer of management and leadership; I found this section in Hugh Kennedy's book, The Great Arab Conquests to be rather interesting. This looks like a topic that could be further expanded on. From pp. 371-72:

    The quality of leadership in the Muslim armies was clearly very high. The small elite of Hijazi city dwellers, mostly from the Quraysh and associated tribes, who provided the majority of the senior commanders, produced some extremely able men. Khālid b. al-Walīd in Syria, Amr b. al-Ās in Egypt and Sa'd b. Abī Waqqās in Iraq were all military leaders of distinction. In the next generation we can point to Uqba b. Nāfi in North Africa, Tāriq b. Ziyād and Mūsā b. Nusayr in Spain, Qutayba b. Muslim in Transoxania and Muhammad b. Ishāq al-Thaqafī [sic; Kennedy really means Muhammad b. Qāsim al-Thaqafī] in Sind as great commanders. The Arabic sources also talk a great deal about councils of war and commanders taking advice before deciding on a course of action. This is partly a literary fiction, designed to outline the possible military activity and emphasize the "democratic" nature of early Muslim society, but it may be a genuine reflection of practice, whereby decisions were made after a process of consultation and discussion.

    The effectiveness of the leadership may be in part a product of the political traditions of Arabian society. Leadership was passed down from generation to generation within certain families and kins, but within those groups any aspiring leader had to prove himself, showing his followers that he was brave, intelligent and diplomatic. If he failed, they would look for someone else. He also had to take account of the views and opinions of those he hoped to lead. Being someone's son was never qualification enough. The astonishment of the Iranian queen mother that the sons of the great Qutayba b. Muslim did not inherit his position are an indication of the difference in culture between Iranian and Arab in this respect. Incompetent or dictatorial commanders were unlikely to survive for long. Ubayd Allāh b. Abī Bakra in Afghanistan and Junayd b. Abd al-Rahmān in Transoxania are among the few examples of failure in command; they lasted only a short time and were savagely excoriated by the poets, the political commentators of their time.

    There were other features of the Muslim command structure which led to success. The sources lay continuous stress on the roles of caliphs and governors, particularly the caliph Umar I (633-44), in organizing and directing the conquests. It is quite impossible that Umar could have written all the letters about the minutiae of military operations that are ascribed to him, but these narratives may reflect the fact that there was a strong degree of organization and control from Medina and later from Damascus. There are very few examples of commanders disobeying orders, equally few of rebellions against the center by commanders in distant fields and provinces. This is all the more striking because it contrasts with events in the contemporary Byzantine Empire, where the military effectiveness of the state was constantly undermined by rebellions of military commanders hoping to take the imperial crown. The way in which successful generals like Khālid b. al-Walīd, Amr b. al-Ās, Mūsā b. Nusayr and Muhammad b. Ishāq [sic; again, Muhammad b. Qāsim al-Thaqafī] accepted their dismissal and quietly made their way back to the center, often to face punishment and disgrace, is very striking.

    I take exception to Kennedy referring to the councils of war and commanders taking advice being "partly a literary fiction." All the sirah I've read of the Prophet (pbuh) refer time and again to his taking council not only with his Companions, but even his wives (e.g., Umm Salamah at the time of Hudaybiyyah). Moreover, Kennedy proves his own point when he later wrote, "He also had to take account of the views and opinions of those he hoped to lead." I don't think this is a literary fiction at all, but was the standard operation procedure of the Arab commanders, who used the example of the Prophet (pbuh) to great effect.

    When Kennedy also wrote that the poets would "savagely excoriate" weak commanders, this is not an exaggeration. Earlier in the book (p. 288) Kennedy had provided several poems; this first was written against Junayd b. Abd al-Rahmān, who led the Arabs in the disastrous Battle of the Tashtakaracha Pass (south of the city of Samarqand, in what is now Uzbekistan):

    You weep because of the battle
    You should be carved up as a leader
    You abandoned us like pieces of a slaughtered beast
    Cut up for a round-breasted girl.
    Drawn swords rose
    Arms were cut off at the elbows
    While you were like an infant girl in the women's tent
    With no understanding what was going on.
    If only you had landed in a pit on the day of the Battle
    And been covered with hard, dry mud!
    War and its sons play with you
    Like hawks play with quails.
    Your heart flew out of fear of battle
    Your flying heart will not return
    I hate the wide beauty of your eye
    And the face in a corrupt body
    Junayd, you do not come from real Arab stock
    And your ancestors were ignoble
    Fifty thousand were slain having gone astray
    While you cried out for them like lost sheep.

    Another poem was written against Ubayd Allāh b. Abī Bakra (pp. 196-97):

    You were appointed as their Amir
    Yet you destroyed them while the war was still raging
    You stayed with them, like a father, so they said
    Yet you were breaking them with your folly
    You are selling a qafiz* of grain for a whole dirham
    While we wondered who was to blame
    You were keeping back their rations of milk and barley
    And selling them unripe grapes.

    * A measure of four liters, the implication being that this was very expensive.

    Photo credit: Masjid Jamia Khalid ibn al-Walid, location of the tomb of Khalid ibn al-Walid, from Wikipedia/Mohammad Adil Rais

    Drum Corps Saturday: 1975 Blue Stars

    Formed in 1964 as a color guard, the Blue Stars began marching in field shows in 1966 and became a top drum corps a year later, in 1967. By 1972, the corps had reached second place at the DCI finals, followed by a third place finish in 1973. The 1974 corps had a bit of a scare, falling to twelfth place before rebounding in 1975. The corps actually placed sixth in the prelims with a score of 85.10, but moved up to fifth in the finals with a score of 87.50. This is the highest ranking the corps has had since 1975, but with the Blue Stars' return to Division I/World Class status, there's a chance the corps may return to its previous level in the future.

    Blue Star Trivia:
  • The corps at that time was actually known as the First Federal Blue Stars, their major sponsor being First Federal Savings & Loan.
  • The Blue Stars were the first corps to wear gauntlets.
  • The Blue Stars' helmet design is trademarked; no other corps or band can use a copy of it without the corps' express permission.

    The Repertoire: Canzona * I've Been Searching So Long * Introduction * The Ballad of Billy the Kid * Soulero

  • July 4, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Journey - Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'

    For a band that was known for pumping out a string of popular songs through the late 70s and early 80s, it's a little surprising to discover that Journey's 1979 release, Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin', was the first song the band had to make the top 20, peaking at #16.

    BTW, Happy Fourth of July!

    DCA June 2008 Rankings

    DCA rankings in June don't mean much, considering that the season for the all-age corps doesn't get into full swing until July. Still, here are my current rankings:

    1. Buccaneers
    2. Minnesota Brass
    3. Hurricanes
    4. Caballeros
    5. Bushwackers
    6. CorpsVets
    7. SoCal Dream
    8. Kilties
    9. Chops, Inc.
    10. Governaires
    11. Crusaders
    12. Gulf Coast Sound
    13. Frontier
    14. Fusion Core

    The average high score for the month was 67.436, with the top seven corps above the average. The hardest working corps was Minnesota Brass with four shows, followed by Chops, Inc. and the Governaires with three each.

    In terms of the year-on-year improvement rankings (which compares the high scores from this June with the high scores from last June), most corps are doing better this year:

    1. Minnesota Brass +8.887
    2. Chops, Inc. +7.937
    3. Governaires +4.237
    4. Hurricanes +3.712
    5. SoCal Dream +2.625
    6. Gulf Coast Sound +1.000
    7. CorpsVets +0.850
    8. Kilties +0.762
    9. Buccaneers -2.375
    10. Bushwackers -2.538
    11. Caballeros - 4.062
    12. Frontier -7.000

    The Crusaders and Fusion Core are not included in these rankings because they didn't compete in any competitions in June 2007.

    The average year-on-year improvement was +1.170; in comparison, last June's year-on-year improvement average was +5.487. The difference between 2007 and 2008 is that, in 2007, there were three corps who had had double-digit increases over 2006's scores (CorpsVets, Kilties and Music City Legend) and only two corps with negative "improvements," whereas this year, as you can see, the numbers are down all around.

    There is one other set of improvement rankings, this being for the year-to-date. Here, we're taking the maximum score obtained by a corps so far in June and subtracting the very first score they received for this year. The result is the amount of improvement in the score to date. All of the improvements are (by definition) positive. We will skip the six corps that had only one performance in June.

    1. Chops, Inc. 7.250
    2. Bushwackers 3.325
    3. Minnesota Brass 3.250
    4. SoCal Dream 2.125
    5. Buccaneers 1.437
    6. Kilties 0.525
    7. Caballeros 0.313
    8. Governaires 0.000

    The average improvement for the month of June was 1.302 points.

    July 3, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Iron Butterfly - In a Gadda Da Vida (Live)

    It's hard to believe this song is 40 years old now. As I recall hearing when I was a kid, this song was the D.J.'s friend. In a Gadda Da Vida, as originally released in 1968, is over seventeen minutes long, thus giving a D.J. plenty of time to go to the bathroom, or take care of other business while the song played.

    And then there's the song title. Per Wikipedia:

    A commonly repeated story says that the song's title was originally "In the Garden of Eden" or "In the Garden of Venus" but in the course of rehearsing and recording, singer Doug Ingle was intoxicated and accidentally slurred the words, creating the mondegreen that stuck as the title. However, the liner notes on 'the best of' CD compilation state that drummer Ron Bushy was listening to the track through headphones, and couldn't hear correctly; he simply distorted what Doug Ingle answered when Ron asked him for the title of the song (which was originally In-The-Garden-Of-Eden). An alternate version of the story, as stated in the liner notes of the 1995 re-release of the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album, states that Ingle was drunk when he first told Bushy the title, so Bushy wrote it down. Bushy then showed Ingle what he had written, and the slurred title stuck.

    Note: Due to the length of the song, there's a cut in the video at the 4:15 mark.

    Tu Huan: Life in Kufa During the Abbasid Caliphate

    I finally finished Hugh Kennedy's book, The Great Arab Conquests this morning. This is the sixth post in this series from the book, and I expect that there will be three more, insha'allah, on leadership qualities of the Arabs, conversion to Islam, and the battles between the Byzantine and Sasanid empires that tie in with Qur'anic ayat (not necessarily in that order). I also want to update my post on jizya with some additional information I came across at the end of the book.

    In the meantime, this passage is about the writings of a Chinese prisoner of war who lived in Kufa, Iraq during the Abbasid caliphate. It provides a first-hand account from a man who lived there for eleven years before returning home. Only a small amount of Tu Huan's writings have survived through today; what did survive was included in an encyclopedia that was compiled by one of the author's relatives in 801. From pp. 360-62:

    The Arabs, of course, never conquered China but they did capture a number of Chinese prisoners of war in the campaign that led to the battle of Talas between the Chinese and Muslim armies in 751. Among these was one Tu Huan, who was taken to Iraq and remained there as a prisoner before being allowed to return home in 762. His account of the Muslims is short but extremely interesting, showing how the Muslim world at the end of the period of the great conquests, appeared to someone from a completely different culture.

    The capital is called Kūfa [Ya-chü-lo]. The Arab king is called mumen [that is, Amīr al-Mu'minīn, Commander of the Faithful]. Both men and women are handsome and tall, their clothing is bright and clean, and their manners are elegant. When a woman goes out in public, she must cover her face irrespective of her lofty or lowly social position. They perform ritual prayers five times a day. They eat meat, fast and regard the butchering of animals as meritorious. They wear silver belts around the waist from which they suspend silver daggers. They prohibit the drinking of wine and forbid music. When people squabble among themselves, they do not come to blows. There is also a ceremonial hall [the mosque] which accommodates tens of thousands of people. Every seven days the king comes out to perform religious services; he mounts a high pulpit and preaches law to the multitudes. He says, "Human life is very difficult, the path of righteousness is not easy, and adultery is wrong. To rob or steal, in the slightest way to deceive people with words, to make oneself secure by endangering others, to cheat the poor or oppress the lowly -- there is no greater sin than one of these. All who are killed in battle against the enemies of Islam will achieve paradise. Kill the enemies and you will receive happiness beyond measure."

    The entire land has been transformed; the people follow the tenets of Islam like a river its channel, the law is applied only with leniency and the dead are interred only with frugality. Whether inside the walls of a great city or only inside a village gate, the people lack nothing of what the earth produces. Their country is the hub of the universe where myriad goods are abundant and inexpensive, where rich brocades, pearls and money fill the shops while camels, horses, donkeys and mules fill the streets and alleys. They cut sugar cane to build cottages resembling Chinese carriages. Whenever there is a holiday the nobility are presented with more vessels of glass and bowls of brass than can be counted. The white rice and white flour are not different from those of China. Their fruits include the peach and also thousand-year dates. Their rape turnips, as big as a peck, are round and their taste is very delicious, while their other vegetables are like those of other countries. Their grapes are as large as hen's eggs. The most highly esteemed of their fragrant oils are two, one called jasmine and the other called myrrh. Chinese artisans have made the first looms for weaving silk fabrics and are the first gold and silversmiths and painters.

    The account shows a mature Muslim society, which accords with the picture we know from other sources. The picture dates from the early years of the Abbasid caliphate immediately before the foundation of Baghdad, which was begun in 762, the year Tu Huan was allowed to return home. We know from Arabic sources that the caliph Mansūr was famous for his eloquent sermons in the mosques, and it is interesting to see the emphasis our Chinese observer puts on condemning oppression and injustice on one hand and stressing jihād and the rewards of paradise on the other. We are shown a puritanical society where the veiling of women and the prohibition, at least in public, of alcohol and music are clearly evident. It is also a prosperous society, and one in which the prosperity is widely shared across the different social classes and in both town and village. It is understandable that many of the people conquered by the Arabs would have wanted to be part of this thriving community. Kūfa was, of course, a Muslim new town and a place where one would expect to find Muslim norms strongly adhered to. At the same time, it is striking that there is no mention of non-Muslims, who must still have been in a majority, even in Iraq, an area where conversion to Islam was fairly rapid.

    Saudi Aramco World published an article on the Battle of Talas back in 1982 that may be of interest. Also, some pictures of the Talas area may be found here.

    Photo credit: Masjid Kufa, courtesy of Mumineen.org

    DCI June 2008 Rankings - Open Class

    If the rankings for the World Class corps was sketchy, the Open Class (Div. II/III) rankings are very shaky. While 20 corps marched in June, only five corps performed in more than two shows. My current rankings are:

    1. Blue Devils B
    2. Jersey Surf
    3. Vanguard Cadets
    4. Teal Sound
    5. Revolution
    6. Citations
    7. Velvet Knights
    8. Yamato
    9. Gold
    10. Impulse
    11. 7th Regiment
    12. Spartans
    13. Colt Cadets
    14. Raiders
    15. Mystikal
    16. Incognito
    17. Dutch Boy
    18. Racine Scouts
    19. Blue Devils C
    20. Targets

    The average high score for the month was a very respectable 61.923, with the top eight corps above the average. The hardest working corps this month was the Colt Cadets, who performed in six shows, followed by Revolution, who marched in five.

    In terms of the year-on-year improvement rankings, the Open Class corps did much better than the World Class corps.

    1. Citations +9.95
    2. 7th Regiment +9.65
    3. Velvet Knights +9.05
    4. Racine Scouts + 8.20
    5. Mystikal +6.55
    6. Gold +5.65
    7. Revolution +5.60
    8. Targets +5.20
    9. Dutch Boy +4.95
    10. Jersey Surf +4.55
    11. Blue Devils B +3.20
    12. Teal Sound +2.55
    13. Vanguard Cadets +2.05
    14. Colt Cadets +1.20
    15. Impulse +0.65
    16. Blue Devils C -3.30
    17. Spartans -10.75

    Three corps (Incognito, Raiders, and Yamato) are not included in these rankings: Incognito, because it's a first-year corps; Raiders, because they didn't do any shows in June 2007; and Yamato, because they were inactive last year.

    The average year-on-year improvement was +3.82; last June, the year-on-year improvement had been +5.96. Still, it's very pleasing to see fifteen of the seventeen corps coming in with strong improvements over last year's efforts. The big surprise, of course, is the Spartans, who have really dropped in comparison to last year. We'll have to see how well they can recover in July.

    Update: One more set of "improvement" rankings, this being year-to-date. Here, we're taking the maximum score obtained by a corps so far in June and subtracting the very first score they received for this year. The result is the amount of improvement in the score to date. All of the improvements are (by definition) positive.

    1. Revolution 11.60
    2. Racine Scouts 9.00
    3. Colt Cadets 6.10
    4. Blue Devils B 4.60
    5. Dutch Boy 3.60
    6. Incognito 3.20
    7. Targets 2.75
    8. 7th Regiment 1.90
    9. Citations 1.40
    10. Impulse 1.30
    11. Velvet Knights 1.20
    12. Raiders 0.90
    13. Jersey Surf 0.70 (tie)
    13. Vanguard Cadets 0.70 (tie)
    15. Blue Devils C 0.00 (tie)
    15. Mystikal 0.00 (tie)
    15. Spartans 0.00 (tie)
    15. Teal Sound 0.00 (tie)
    15. Yamato 0.00 (tie)

    The average improvement in June was 2.493 points for the Open Class corps. The rankings for the last five should be taken with a huge grain of salt. As mentioned above, most of these corps have not performed in very many shows (e.g., Blue Devils C, which did only one show in June). This type of ranking will become more meaningful as July progresses.

    July 2, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Hootie & the Blowfish - Only Wanna Be With You

    Milady and I heard this song on the radio the other night; it was the first time I had heard the '95 release, Only Wanna Be With You, in ages. I remember watching this video a lot in early '96; this video, along with TLC's Waterfalls, was in heavy rotation at the time. Can you name all the athletes and sports announcers? Click on the link to find out.

    DCI June 2008 Rankings - World Class

    The season started late this year, on June 21st, so the rankings are rather sketchy right now. For the World Class (Div. I) corps, my current rankings are:

    1. Blue Devils
    2. Santa Clara Vanguard
    3. The Cavaliers
    4. The Cadets
    5. Phantom Regiment
    6. Carolina Crown
    7. Bluecoats
    8. Boston Crusaders
    9. Pacific Crest
    10. Blue Knights
    11. Blue Stars
    12. Glassmen
    13. Mandarins
    14. Colts
    15. The Academy
    16. Spirit
    17. Crossmen
    18. Madison Scouts
    19. Troopers
    20. Pioneer

    The average high score for the month was 72.515, with the top nine corps above the average. The hardest working corps were the Blue Stars, Carolina Crown and Pioneer, each of which performed in eight shows.

    In terms of the year-on-year improvement rankings (which compares the high scores from this June with the high scores from last June), only three corps did better than last year:

    1. Pacific Crest +4.45
    2. Mandarins +0.75
    3. Blue Devils +0.05
    4. Madison Scouts -0.05
    5. Boston Crusaders -0.15
    6. Santa Clara Vanguard -0.35
    7. Crossmen -1.15
    8. The Academy -1.45
    9. Spirit -1.70
    10. Blue Stars -1.95
    11. The Cavaliers - 2.20
    12. Pioneer -2.50 (tie)
    12. Troopers -2.50 (tie)
    14. Carolina Crown -3.35
    15. Phantom Regiment -3.60
    16. Colts -3.75 (tie)
    16. Glassmen -3.75 (tie)
    18. The Cadets -4.15
    19. Blue Knights -4.25
    20. Bluecoats -5.90

    The average year-on-year "improvement" was -1.875; in comparison, last June's year-on-year improvement average was +1.626. I'm fairly certain that the June scores are below last year's efforts because the season started five days later this year than last year (June 16th). Hopefully we'll see real improvements when the next set of rankings are done in two week's time.

    Update: One more set of "improvement" rankings, this being year-to-date. Here, we're taking the maximum score obtained by a corps so far in June and subtracting the very first score they received for this year. The result is the amount of improvement in the score to date. All of the improvements are (by definition) positive.

    1. Pioneer 9.40
    2. Blue Stars 8.90
    3. Troopers 7.80
    4. Glassmen 7.30
    5. Spirit 7.10
    6. Boston Crusaders 6.90 (tie)
    6. The Cadets 6.90 (tie)
    8. Carolina Crown 6.80
    9. Blue Devils 6.30 (tie)
    9. The Cavaliers 6.30 (tie)
    11. Blue Knights 6.20 (tie)
    11. Bluecoats 6.20 (tie)
    11. Santa Clara Vanguard (tie)
    14. Crossmen 5.60
    15. Mandarins 5.40
    16. Colts 5.20 (tie)
    16. Phantom Regiment 5.20 (tie)
    18. Madison Scouts 5.00
    19. Pacific Crest 0.90
    20. The Academy 0.00

    The average improvement for the month of June was 5.98 points. The rankings for Pacific Crest and The Academy should be taken with a grain of salt as both corps have only appeared in two shows so far this season.

    July 1, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Grand Funk Railroad - We're an American Band

    I'd like to use this song for the upcoming Fourth of July, but I gotta stick to the theme. ;) As to why Grand Fund Railroad wrote this song:

    According to rock critic/writer Dave Marsh in his book, The Heart of Rock and Soul, Grand Funk was touring with the British group Humble Pie in early 1973. After one performance, the two groups were drinking in a bar when the two groups began arguing over the merits of British versus American rock. Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer stood up and after bragging about American rock heroes such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Elvis Presley, proudly announced, "We're an American band!" Thus inspired, Brewer wrote the song the next morning, and it was the top selling song in the world by September of 1973.

    Jizya: Amounts Paid in the Treaties of Orihuela and Misr (Egypt)

    One of the complaints about Islam by Islamophobes is the issue of jizya, the tax levied on non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state. In return for the payment of the jizya, non-Muslims were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to Muslim protection from outside aggression, to be exempted from military service and taxes levied upon Muslim citizens. What has never been brought up in any argument I've read against the jizya is exactly how much was paid by the non-Muslims. In another of my posts about Hugh Kennedy's book, The Great Arab Conquests (yes, I am almost finished with the book ;) ), Kennedy addresses this issue in several passages. The first passage is with respect to the Treaty of Orihuela (pp. 315-16):

    We are better informed about the conquest of the area around Murcia in south-east Spain. This was ruled by a Visigothic noble called Theodemir (Tudmīr). He negotiated a treaty with Abd al-Azīz, of which the text, dated April 713 [Rajab, 94 A.H.], is recorded in several Arabic sources.

    In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This text was written by Abd al-Azīz b. Mūsā b. Nusayr for Tudmīr b. Ghabdush, establishing a treaty of peace and the promise and protection of God and His Prophet (may God bless him and grant him His peace). We [Abd al-Azīz] will not set any special conditions for him or for any among his men, nor harass him, nor remove him from power. His followers will not be killed or taken prisoner, nor will they be separated from their women and children. They will not be coerced in matters of religion, their churches will not be burned, nor will sacred objects be taken from the realm as long as Theodemir remains sincere and fulfils the following conditions we have set for him:

    He has reached a settlement concerning seven towns: Orihuela, Valentilla, Alicante, Mula, Bigastro, Ello and Lorca.

    He will not give shelter to fugitives, nor to our enemies, nor encourage any protected person to fear us, nor conceal news of our enemies.

    He and each of his men shall also pay one dinar every year, together with four measures of wheat, four measures of barley, four liquid measures of concentrated fruit juice, four liquid measures of vinegar, four of honey and four of olive oil. Slaves much [sic; must] each pay half of this.

    Kennedy continues:

    This treaty is a classic example of the sort of local agreements that were the reality of Arab "conquest" in many areas of the caliphate. It is clear that rather than embark on a difficult and costly campaign, the Muslims preferred to make an agreement that would grant them security from hostile activities and some tribute. It is a pattern we can observe in many areas of Iran and Transoxania. It is interesting to note that much of this tribute was taken in kind (wheat, barley, vinegar, oil, but of course no wine). In exchange for this, the local people were allowed almost complete autonomy. Theodemir was clearly expected to continue to rule his seven towns and the rural areas attached to them. There is no indication that any Muslim garrison was established, nor that any mosques were built. Theodemir and many of his followers may have imagined that the Muslim conquest would be fairly short lived and that it was worth paying up to preserve their possessions until such time as the Visigothic kingdom was restored. In fact it was to be five centuries before Christian powers re-established control over this area. We do not know how long the agreement was in force: Theodemir himself died, full of years and distinction, in 744. It is likely that it was never formally abolished but rather that as Muslim immigration and the conversion of local people to Islam increased in the late eighth and ninth centuries, its provisions became increasingly irrelevant.

    In another passage, with respect to the Treaty of Misr (Egypt), Kennedy writes (pp. 153-54):

    It was probably at this time that the document known as the Treaty of Misr (Egypt) between the Muslims and the Byzantine authorities was drawn up, though the exact context of this document remains unclear. It is in many ways similar to the treaty Umar had made with Jerusalem and was presumably modeled on it. It begins with a general clause safeguarding the people their religion (millat), their property, their crucifixes, their lands and their waterways. They would be obliged to pay the jizya (tribute) every year when the rise of the Nile (ziyādat nahrihim) was over. If the river failed to rise properly, payment would be reduced in proportion. If anyone did not agree to it, he would not pay the tribute but he would not receive protection. Romans and Nubians who wanted to enjoy the same terms might do so and those who did not were free to leave.


    In many of them [different written accounts about the treaty] the tax to be paid was assessed at 2 dinars per adult male except for the poor. Some also said that the Egyptians should provide the Muslims with supplies. Each landowner (dhī ard) was to provide 210 kilos of wheat, 4 liters of oil, 4 liters of honey and 4 liters of vinegar (but, of course, no wine). They were also to get clothing: each Muslim was to be given a woolen jubba, a burnūs or turban, a pair of trousers (sarāwīl) and a pair of shoes. It may be that many of these south Arabians had arrived very ill prepared for the coolness of an Egyptian winter.

    In other words, the jizya paid per person in terms of currency was a very nominal amount. It would be like asking for a tax of one or two dollars per person; the poor, any slaves, presumably women and children would either pay a lower amount or be exempted altogether. The in-kind payments of food and clothing would cost more, but these were no doubt requested by the Arab armies because their soldiers needed the supplies. As Kennedy points out (p. 334), Arab soldiers were expected to provide their own equipment and pay for their own food. Once the payment was made, life went on as before. Muslim armies charged less in terms of the jizya if the town submitted peacefully instead of battling with the army (probably what the slave had told the people at Junday-Shapur, who quickly realized how much cheaper it would be for them to pay the tribute than to fight the Muslims; in fact, Kennedy tells of a number of cities that came to the same decision).

    Jizya, then, was not the crushing tax burden one finds in ancient Greek and Roman histories. It was a relatively small amount paid by the non-Muslims; as more and more people became Muslim, the amount paid for jizya actually shrank over time. Of course, we Muslims have our own taxes (e.g., zakat).

    Update: As promised earlier, here is one more passage from the book that suggests that the jizya was not terribly oppressive, at least at first. From page 373:

    Although we cannot be clear about this, it is possible that the Arabs were, initially at least, less demanding of the resources and services of the ordinary people than their Byzantine and Sasanian predecessors, and the taxes they imposed may actually have been lower. It is not until the end of the seventh century that we get complaints about oppressive tax gathering.

    Photo credit: A street in Lorca, Spain, by Howzey

    Watts Zap Best of 2006 (#3)

    If Alejandro Valverde doesn't win the Tour de France, I think Cadel Evans of Australia has a very good shot; he placed second at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. A dark horse might be Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic. I'm not too familiar with him, but he recently won the Tour de Suisse.