May 31, 2009

US Unemployment Rates - April 2009

The April US regional and state unemployment figures were recently released. The figures, overall, seem to have stabilized somewhat, even though the national unemployment rate increased by nearly one-half of one percent. Almost one-half of the states had their unemployment rates improve, while the number of states with double-digit unemployment rates remained steady, at eight. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Overall, the "official" national unemployment rate (U-3) increased by 0.4%, from 8.5% to 8.9% over March's number. For the past twelve months, the national rate has increased by 3.9%.
  • For the most inclusive unemployment rate measured (U-6), the increase was 0.2%, from 15.6% to 15.8%. For the past twelve months, U-6 has increased by 6.6%. (If there is one bit of good news with respect to U-6, it is that the spread between U-3 and U-6 decreased slightly, from 7.1% in March to 6.9% in April. This is the first time since March 2008 that this particular number has decreased.)
  • In terms of a monthly change, the state with the largest increase was West Virginia, with an increase of 0.7%. Ohio and Rhode Island tied for the second largest increase, at 0.5%, while Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana and Puerto Rico all had a 0.4% increase.
  • A total of twenty-one states had their monthly unemployment rates go down in April, with an additional eleven remaining unchanged. The previous month, only two states had their unemployment rates go down with three remaining unchanged.
  • On an annual basis, four states have increases over 5.0%: Oregon at 6.4% (down 0.2%), South Carolina at 5.3% (down 0.2%), North Carolina at 5.1% (down 0.4%), and Michigan at 5.0% (unchanged).
  • The states with the lowest annual increases are North Dakota at 1.0%, Iowa and Nebraska at 1.1%, Alaska at 1.4%, and Arkansas at 1.6%.
  • A total of eight states have double-digit unemployment rates, unchanged from March (and not counting Puerto Rico, which has an unemployment rate of 15.4%). The state with the highest unemployment rate is Michigan (once more), at 12.9%, up 0.3%. Oregon comes in second with a rate of 12.0% (up 0.1%), and South Carolina places third with a rate of 11.5% (up 0.1%). In fourth place is Rhode Island with a rate of 11.1% (up 0.5%). In fifth place is California at 11.0% (down 0.2%); in sixth is North Carolina at 10.8% (unchanged), and in seventh is Nevada at 10.6% (up 0.2%). The newest state in the ranks of the double-digit unemployment rates is Ohio, at 10.2%, up 0.5%. Indiana, which had been among the double-digit states last month, dropped down 0.1% to 9.9%.
  • The states with the lowest unemployment rates are North Dakota (4.0%, down 0.2%), Nebraska (4.4%, down 0.3%), Wyoming (4.5%, unchanged), South Dakota (4.8%, down 0.1%), Iowa (5.1%, down 0.1%) and Utah (5.2%, unchanged).
  • In terms of non-farm payroll employment (i.e., number of jobs), the states with the biggest decreases since March are California (-63,700), Texas (-39,500), and Michigan (-38,400).
  • For annual changes in non-farm payroll employment, the states with the biggest decreases are California (-706,700), Florida (-380,300), Michigan (-284,800), Ohio (-262,600) and Illinois (-255,400).

The PDF version of the Bureau of Labor Statistics press release can be found here.

Dutch to Rent Out Prison Cells

An odd story out of the Netherlands. The US should be so lucky!

The Dutch justice ministry has announced it will close eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty.

During the 1990s the Netherlands faced a shortage of prison cells, but a decline in crime has since led to overcapacity in the prison system. The country now has capacity for 14,000 prisoners but only 12,000 detainees.

Deputy justice minister Nebahat Albayrak announced on Tuesday that eight prisons will be closed, resulting in the loss of 1,200 jobs. Natural redundancy and other measures should prevent any forced lay-offs, the minister said.


Some reprieve might come from a deal with Belgium, which is facing overpopulation in its prisons. The two countries are working out an agreement to house Belgian prisoners in Dutch prisons. Some five-hundred Belgian prisoners could be transferred to the Tilburg prison by 2010.

The Netherlands would get 30 million euros in the deal, and it will allow the closing of the prisons in Rotterdam and Veenhuizen to be postponed until 2012.

HT: Moon of Alabama

May 30, 2009

Links for 29 May 2009

Dick Morris Thinks Convincing the Japanese to Develop Nuclear Weapons is the Solution to Dealing With North Korea (Oh, yeah, that's the ticket! Bring all of Northeast Asia into a nuclear arms race. No, thank you!)

Another Ralph Peters idea: Eventually, soldiers will need to start killing the media too (Yesterday, I linked to a post where Col. Ralph Peters suggested we should just kill all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Some people have been looking into his previous statements, and found that he's also suggested that the military kill the media as well: "Rejecting the god of their fathers, the neo-pagans who dominate the media serve as lackeys at the terrorists’ bloody altar. ... Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media." Unthinkable now, unthinkable in the future, too, you nitwit!)

Fox News Embraces Right-Wing Theory That Obama Is Forcing GOP-Owned Car Dealerships To Close (Of course, no one seems to consider that "...all car dealers are, in fact, overwhelmingly more likely to donate to Republicans than to Democrats — not just those who are having their doors closed.” But why let facts get in the way of a good hysteria? See also TBogg's Negro president locks Republican car dealers in the trunk and Yet another intrepid Malkin 'investigative scoop' goes pffffft.)

Was Rape an Enhanced Interrogation Technique? (The answer: YES! No wonder the Obama administration is trying to keep the new photos from Abu Ghraib secret.)

Rachel Maddow Responds to Tancredo's Racist Screed

Countdown: Jesse Ventura on Torture Prosecutions and Waterboarding (Ventura on "why he thinks we haven't had any prosecutions for torture in the United States, 'Mancow' Muller's waterboarding and Sean Hannity never agreeing to go through it himself.")

How to talk to a right winger ("What was ostensibly good for Israel for 40 years will also be good for another 400 years. For 40 years we were able to deceive ourselves, to mock the world, to occupy, to oppress, to trample and to kill. So why shouldn't we continue?")

The Potential Korea Escalation

Yield Curve

"Fermi Problems" (Fermi Problems are interesting; I've run into a few, and I know that Microsoft has used them as part of their recruiting process. Thoma mentions that "Watching someone work out a Fermi problem in real time reveals a lot about their brainpower." More specifically, what it really does, IMO, is show how one works through a problem: the assumptions made and the logic necessary to solve the problem itself. Whether the solution itself is correct is mostly irrelevant. How one comes up with the solution is what's at stake.)

Are Durable Goods Orders Bottoming? (Another sign that might indicate the recession is beginning to fade.)

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
A quote to remember...

Closer: The Cutout Of Delight (Always carry an extra hand in your purse, my dear?)

Russian police find feral girl in Siberia (Astaghfirullah! Poor girl. Russian police have taken into care a 5-year-old girl who has been shut up in a flat in the company of cats and dogs for her entire life, police said on Wednesday. ... The girl, who lived in the Eastern Siberian city of Chita, could not speak Russian and acted like an dog when police took her into care. ... "For five years, the girl was 'brought up' by several dogs and cats and had never been outside," a police statement said.)

Crater on Mars named for Isaac Asimov (An asteroid was already named after him, but this is still an overdue honor.)

May 29, 2009

Links for 28 May 2009

A little late but I have my reasons... :)

Rachel Maddow Show: Cutting Through the Spin on Sonia Sotomayor

Fox talker Peters has a Gitmo solution: Just kill them all ("You have to wonder just what level of moral and ethical depravity you have to reach to be a Fox News talker these days. ... Col. Ralph Peters -- who doesn't exactly have a track record for probity to begin with -- went on Neil Cavuto and offered a solution to dealing with terrorists at Guantanamo Bay -- just kill them all.")

Krikorian: People should stop pronouncing Sotomayor’s name correctly. (It's amazing the amount of stupidity permeating the Republican party.)

Sotomayor and MLB (Interesting. "It was Sotomayor's ruling that forced Major League Baseball players and owners to resume the national pastime in 1995 after a 234-day player strike wiped out the final six weeks of the regular season and the entire postseason in 1994.")

‘Censored’ Abu Ghraib photographs show rape of detainees. (Both of male and female prisoners.)

Countdown: Worst Persons May 27, 2009

The Phantom Torso Returns (The European Space Agency (ESA) sent a mannequin into space to determine radiation levels astronauts face. The conclusion: short trips (six months) to the moon are fine; trips to Mars may make the astronauts toast.)

Volcanic Terrain on Mercury

Michelle Obama and the Right to Bare Arms

Is it any surprise that the American media would focus on such a trivial topic?

Darth Vader Throwing a Tantrum in the Death Star Canteen

Someone's taken Lego Star Wars characters and made a stop motion animated video of an Eddie Izzard's routine: Darth Vader throwing a tantrum in the Death Star canteen. Cute.

May 28, 2009

The Birthday Balloons

Not to be too cryptic this morning, but if The Birthday Balloons means anything to you, you'll know what Milady and I suffer through every evening at dinnertime. ;)

Here are two hints to the uninitiated:

Henri Rousseau's The Merry Jesters, and

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Eine Kleine Nacht Musik.

May 27, 2009

Links for 27 May 2009

Countdown: Worst Persons May 26, 2009 (Laura Ingraham, David Zurawik and Pete Hegseth)

Keith Olbermann Talks to Erich "Mancow" Muller About His Waterboarding Experience (At least here's a guy who puts his money where his mouth as - as opposed to the coward Sean Hannity. "I was willing to prove and ready to prove that this was a joke and I was wrong. It was horrific. It was instantaneous and look I felt the effects for two days. I had chest pains. I told my wife, look I have two little kids-- we prayed. I said dear God help me. I had chest pains I was so stressed out by this.")

Going off the rails on a crazy train (TBogg on the right's reaction to the Sotomayor nomination. "My sense is that, if they really want to go after and beat up on this Sotomayer, who presented herself very well this morning, they will pay for it at the polls for years to come. Not with Hispanics, who were lost to the party dating back to the Pete Wilson days (not that the peck-sniffier elements of the right can help themselves), or with women, but with people for whom "empathy" and compassion aren't qualities to be sneered at.")

Tancredo: Sotomayor ‘Appears To Be A Racist’ (A classic case of “Pot - Kettle - Black.”)

US and European Employment Rates

Consumer Confidence Up (I agree, at least partly, with Bonddad that consumer confidence has increased due to the change in Washington politics. But I also think economic conditions have been improving as well over the past few months and people are responding to that as well.)

Three beautiful ads for dental floss

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Quran Read-A-Long: Al-`Imran 1-9 Discuss the Quran Itself

Lā ilaha illa al-Lāh, Muhammadun rasūlu l-Lāh (The shahada inside a flowery circular badge. Beautiful.)

PSM (A Gillette video (cartoon) about "when there's no underbrush, the tree looks taller." Their advice: use short, light strokes. "Tastefully" done according to one blog (debatable), but definitely R-rated material here.)

Whirlpool Galaxy Deep Field (Very nice pic of Messier 51, the famous Whirlpool Galaxy, and its companion galaxy NGC 5195. It's actually the detail of the smaller galaxy that makes this photo of interest for someone like me.)

Q&A: Hobbit Director Guillermo del Toro on the Future of Film (An interview with film director Guillermo del Toro over at Wired. del Toro, if you’re not familiar, directed Blade II, both Hellboy movies, and the fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth - a must see movie if you’re not familiar with it. His discussion on the future of movies is interesting.)

100 Best Movie Lines in 200 Seconds

The interesting thing for me about this video is not the number of movie lines I'm familiar with, but the number I find that I use in everyday life. For example, when our ten-month-old daughter, A'ishah, is crying, Milady and I mimic Tom Hanks by saying, "There's no crying in baseball!" (from A League of Their Own). Milady also uses "Stella!" (from A Streetcar Named Desire) when A'ishah cries.

May 26, 2009

Links for 26 May 2009

Mapping the Fallen (Someone has done a mash-up of all the American and coalition soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and marked both their hometowns and the place in which they died on Google Earth.)

Terror Plotter's Sick Brother: 'He Did It For Me' ("What's worse: A healthcare system where someone is so desperate, he'd blow up buildings to pay for his brother's treatment [the brother apparently has a bad liver], or an FBI that thinks nothing of setting people up so they can claim they caught some 'terrorists'?")

Andrew Breitbart says Oprah is secretly running the Obama White House (This guy is a real loon!)

The North Korean Nuclear Test

Israel's Plans For Launching A War On Iran

Obama Announces SCOTUS Pick: Sonia Sotomayor. Now Let The Games Begin! (See also Judge Sotomayor, Right-Wing Interest Groups Driven By Financial Motives In Attacking Obama’s Court Pick, and Obama To Name Sonia Sotomayor As His Supreme Court Nominee.)

As Unemployment Claims Run Out, Many Workers Are Opting for Early Retirement

Cut your ad budget at your own risk (The advice here is frequently taught in business school and is really a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often managers do just the opposite. The results of the study are interesting: "Almost half of Americans believe that lack of advertising by a retail store, bank or auto dealership during a recession means the business must be struggling.")

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Upcoming Productions (Bin Gregory announces his future seventh, insha'allah, and writes a wonderful bit of snark about the "Muslim Plot to Take Over the World™.")

Lesson of the Death of 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte

A school 'condemned to death' ("Why are the authorities refusing to fund France's oldest Muslim school, now facing bankruptcy?")

Hubble Floats Free

Oslo Grand Prix: Horserse (I missed this one a couple days ago, but it's too good not to link to. Ever see a six-legged horse before? ;) )

May 25, 2009

Links for 25 May 2009

Sorry for the lack of link posts the last few days; it's been a busy weekend. Today's post is very short (due to Memorial Day back in the U.S.)

Tom Ridge disses Limbaugh as 'too shrill,' says Cheney is out to lunch too (A glimmer of intelligence in the Republican party.)

Colin Powell on the Trouble With The Republican Party Base ("You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on it. I believe we should build on it.")

Empire Media ("One issue I have with the U.S. media is its complete inability to reflect on what the U.S. is actually doing when they report on foreign reactions. ... Today the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock is outraged that Spanish prosecutors and judges care about international crimes against humanity. He does not spend a second on thinking about how much of that may be really justified when one takes into account the openly admitted misdeeds of the U.S.")

Carina Nebula Panorama from Hubble (APOD has featured this photograph before, but it's still an awesome pic.)

Salt and Pepper Shakers that look like Batteries (Cool!)

384 – Does My Metro Area Look Big in this Ring Road? (Ring roads of the world.)

May 23, 2009

Hitler on Star Trek

No time to do the daily links post today; enjoy this vid instead. BTW, Milady and I just saw the movie this afternoon. ;)

May 21, 2009

Links for 21 May 2009

The Colbert Report Word - I Know You Are But What Am I? (If the Republicans really want people to go against the Democrats, they'll need a name that instantly turns people off. "Chrysler?")

Why is Cable TV airing Cheney's speech opposite of President Obama's? ("They want this to be Frazier and Ali, but it's about a liar and a sadist getting free airtime to attack a president who is trying to restore the country's footing after eight years of "compassionate conservatism." Wars, death, torture, wiretapping, loyalty oaths and moles planted in every department of the government which includes the OLC (the arm of the government that the Bushies used to try and give them legal cover for the crimes they committed) are part of Cheney's legacy. Isn't this just what the country needs? To hear a man trying to repair a record of death and destruction with blood dripping from his hands.")

O’Reilly: ‘I Consider Myself A Middle Class Guy’ Even Though I Make $10 Million A Year

Performance of the Singapore Economy in 1st Quarter 2009 and Outlook for 2009 ("The economy contracted by 14.6% on a quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted annualised basis in 1Q2009, less than the 19.7% decline previously estimated.")

Asia Needs to Change Its Model (This won't happen anytime soon.)

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Restoring American Islamic Relations: Obama's Cairo Speech

Studying Muslim integration in Europe ("Our data indicates that Muslims are eager to contribute and play a more recognised role in advancing the best interests of their nation.")

Why don’t they ever quote this? (Heh.)

Above Earth Fixing Hubble (This pic is almost like the NASA equivalent of "Where's Waldo?" ;) )

New 'broadband' cloaking technology simple to manufacture (This was a very interesting article: ""Instead of being reflected as normally would happen, the light flows around the object and shows up on the other side, like water flowing around a stone," Shalaev said. The research falls within a new field called transformation optics, which may usher in a host of radical advances, including cloaking; powerful "hyperlenses" resulting in microscopes 10 times more powerful than today's and able to see objects as small as DNA; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; advanced sensors; and more efficient solar collectors. ... Recent cloaking findings reported by researchers at other institutions have concentrated on a technique that camouflages features against a background. This work, which uses metamaterials, is akin to rendering bumps on a carpet invisible by allowing them to blend in with the carpet, whereas the Purdue-based work concentrates on enabling light to flow around an object.")

Links for 20 May 2009

Thank God I did this over two sessions.

Republican Strategist Tantaros Thinks Suggesting She Undergo Waterboarding Is "Lame" (Coward.)

Countdown's Worst Person: Bill O'Reilly...New Champion For Protecting Our Privacy

Ventura's smashdown tour continues, with Yellow Elephant Kilmeade the latest victim (Sooner or later, conservatives are going to realize that going mano a mano against Jesse Ventura is not a bright idea.)

Bet Accepted (Seven reasons why Republicans have an uphill battle to control even one branch of the federal government.)

Barton: We Shouldn’t Regulate CO2 Because ‘It’s In Your Coca-Cola’ And ‘You Can’t Regulate God’ (This sort of argument strikes me as similar to what I heard druggies argue several decades ago, that because marijuana, cocaine and other drugs were "natural" (as opposed to man-made drugs like LSD) that it wasn't "harmful." Yeah, right!)

Countdown: Worst Persons May 19, 2009 (The coward Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Joe Barton.)

In Search of ... Hyperinflationary Expectations (Short answer: not any time soon.)

FRBSF Economic Outlook ("To me the forecast seems optimistic, but in any case, employment is unlikely to turn around until many months after output recovers. ... Let's hope the forecast is correct, or even understates the speed of recovery, but policymakers must take seriously the possibility that this forecast - as has been generally true for all the forecasts from various sources that have come before it - will have to be revised downward later.")

Math and the City ("These numerical coincidences seem to be telling us something profound. It appears that Aristotle’s metaphor of a city as a living thing is more than merely poetic. There may be deep laws of collective organization at work here, the same laws for aggregates of people and cells. ..." See also Why Has Globalization Led to Bigger Cities?.)

Geography of a Recession (The New York Times has created an interactive map of the United States that can show you, county-by-county, what the unemployment rate is and the one-year change in unemployment.)

Japan Shrinks 15.2%

The $5-million billboard. Was it worth it?

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 284-286 Complete the Second Sura

Bibles Destroyed in Afghanistan... By U.S. Military (On May 6th, I linked to a story about US Army soldiers proselytizing (masquerading as "giving gifts") in Afghanistan, with the video showing a stack of Bibles in the Dari and Pashto languages. Now, supposedly, according to an Army spokeswoman, "the Bibles shown on Al Jazeera's clip were, in fact, collected by the chaplains and later destroyed. They were never distributed." Take of that what you will.)

The Uighurs: Compilation ("This is a post compiling the questionable and/or false claims that have been made about the Uighurs.")

If Chris Coleman Was a Muslim? (No kidding.)

Sagittarius and the Central Milky Way

Rose is Rose

Hairdressers Journal: Linda Blair Special (Doesn't anyone review these sorts of images and realize just how badly they've been manipulated???)

Sci-Fi’s Top 5 Toughest Gals (#s 1, 2 and 3 I completely agree with. Four, I'm OK with; Five??? How was Scully "tough?")

May 20, 2009

Great Bro-ments in Star Trek History

Funny stuff! The singing puts the video over the top. Must watch!

Links for 19 May 2009

Better late than never.

Matthew Yglesias: Republican Efforts to Make Hay of Pelosi May Backfire (Classic quote: "You know, Newt Gingrich knows a lot about saying stupid things and being forced out of the job as Speaker.")

Jesse Ventura slams Sean Hannity, who actually says America is 'better off' after George Bush!

Ann Coulter attacks faith of Notre Dame officials, but gets rattled when called on the carpet (I'm amazed any news program bothers with this woman.)

Alan Keyes denounces President Obama as "the focal point of evil" (The stupid never stops, does it?)

Peter King says getting to the truth about torture is anti-American (How about "A Republican is, by defintion, anti-American?")

Where Art Thou, Howard Dean?

Obama/Netanyahu Meet Produces Few Results

Kuwait Elections: 4 Women in Parliament, Shiite Reps nearly Double

Montana town requests that U.S. government send 100 Gitmo detainees to its prison. ("Thar's gold in them there detainees!")

Obama: Israeli settlements ‘have to be stopped.’ (I'll believe it when I see it.)

Steele invokes Ronald Reagan to argue that the GOP should never look ‘backward.’ (Does this guy even think before speaking?)

"Banks Just Don’t Go Under" (Angry Bear briefly looks at the possibility (more likely probability) that bank directors could be found personally liable for their bank's demise. This type of lawsuit has already been filed locally, here in Singapore, where a prominent investor, Oei Hong Leong is suing Citigroup because he lost $1 billion last year.)

Just How Serious is the Credit Contraction? (Not as bad as you might think.)

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Oh man, white muslims again

Sites in 3D: 360 x 180° Panoramic Photographs

Don’t Be Ig’nit (An Izzy Mo rant, which most likely will generate tons of comments. Sometimes I feel jealous of not getting this type of attention. ;) )

Specter cancels appearance at ‘anti-Islamist’ conference. (Good news for once.)

Fear of the Muslim Mother (Umar Lee on the Muslim Demographics video.)

Dilbert (As a matter of fact I do have an MBA. Why do you ask? ;) )

Discount Dance: Dance Dance Revulsion (Some Photoshoppers should leave well enough alone.)

Holy Season One, Batman! (In the "someone has too much time on their hands" department, a compendium of all the "Holy..." uttered by "Robin" in the first season (alone) of the 60s TV series Batman. A total of 111 of them, all in 3:19.)

May 19, 2009

Jesse Ventura on The View about Waterboarding

"If waterboarding's OK, then why don't we let our police do it to suspects so they can learn what they know? ... If waterboarding's OK, why didn't we waterboard McVeigh and Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, to find out if there were more people involved? ... We only seem to waterboard Muslims. ... Have we waterboarded anyone else? Name me someone else we've waterboarded!

Note to Elisabeth Hasselbeck (the dumb blond in the video), to (the coward) Sean Hannity, and any other moron who thinks waterboarding isn't torture: If you really believe that, if you have the courage of your convictions, then, man or woman, you should undergo waterboarding yourself. No if's, and's, or but's. Until you've undergone the experience, as Ventura has, you have no reason to claim that waterboarding isn't torture. Prove that it isn't torture. Until then, shut up!

Journey to the Galactic Center

At the center of our Milky Way Galaxy lies a supermassive black hole. Once a controversial claim, this conclusion is now solidly based on 16 years of observations that map the orbits of 28 stars very near the galactic center. Using European Southern Observatory telescopes and sophisticated near infrared cameras, astronomers patiently measured the positions of the stars over time, following one star, designated S2, through a complete orbit as it came within about 1 light-day of the center of the Milky Way. Their results convincingly show that S2 is moving under the influence of the enormous gravity of a compact, unseen object -- a black hole with 4 million times the mass of the Sun. Their ability to track stars so close to the galactic center accurately measures the black hole's mass and also determines the distance to the center to be 27,000 light-years.

Text from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

May 18, 2009

Links for 18 May 2009

Another light day; people must still be sleeping off the weekend. ;)

Michael Steele uses former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman as proof Republicans are a 'Big Tent' party. She quit the GOP in 2003.

The Chris Matthews Show: Has Cheney Influenced Obama's National Security Decisions? ("Centuries from now, when historians want to know how it all went so terribly wrong for the United States, all they need to do is look at this clip. They'll listen how these talking heads--people allegedly employed for the purpose of informing the public--these supposed erudite and informed members of the pundit class just yawned and shrugged at the notion of the torture of human beings, preferring to look at it from a political point of view." The problem goes deeper than that, of course, but it's a start.)

Obama-Netanyahu must not be Kennedy-Khrushchev ("If Obama can cow Netanyahu, his Middle East policy may have a chance. If Netanyahu comes away thinking he can thumb his nose at Washington, the whole Middle East could be in flames by the end of Obama's first term.")

"The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness" ("By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men." Perhaps because more women must work today compared with women in the early- to mid-70s?)

How Sand Dunes Grow Huge

The Meaning of the Word "Halal"

We Muslims use the word halal on a daily basis, using it normally to describe various foods, drinks or behaviors that are acceptable ("legal") in Islam. However, for those of us whose mother tongue isn't Arabic, we may miss out on some of the deeper meanings of even familiar words that have made their way into English language discourse about Islam between Muslims and even non-Muslims.

One such word is halal, which, as we Muslims know, means "that which is allowed, permitted or permissible, legal, licit, legitimate." But did you know that it also means "to loosen a knot?"

Hallun originally meant to untie a knot. In Surah Ta Ha, 20:27, Moses (pbuh) asks Allah (swt) to "loosen the knot from my tongue." Apparently, Moses (pbuh) was a stutterer, and was asking for Allah's (swt) help in order to be able to speak more clearly when facing off against Pharaoh.

Halaltu was used to express the idea of untying knots of the luggage to stop on a journey. Likewise, the second half of verse Ibrahim 14:28 (wa ahallu qawmahum darul bawaar) meant that the kufran caused their people to alight in the house of perdition:

Hast thou not turned thy vision to those who have changed the favor of Allah into blasphemy and caused their people to descend to the House of Perdition?-

Likewise, someone who unties his ahraam after the hajj is said to have become halal: "But when ye are clear of the sacred precincts and of pilgrim garb (wa idha halaltum), ye may hunt..." (fas-Taadoo; see Surah al-Ma'idah 5:2).

Another passage that refers to halal is Surah al-Ahzab 33:50, which reads in part, "We have made lawful to thee thy wives..." (inna ahlalna laka azwajaka). The husband is haleel and the wife haleela. They are haleels to one another.

So how does halal relate to food? While halal-uqdah means untying (i.e., solving) a (problematic) knot, the expression metaphorically refers to the slaughtering of an animal when the "knot" of its neck is "untied," thus becoming permissible to eat.

(Based upon pp. 141-42 of Muhammad Umar Chand's book, Halal and Haram: The Prohibited and the Permitted Foods and Drinks According to Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures.)

May 17, 2009

Links for 17 May 2009

Rather slim pickings today.

Al Gore: I Waited 2 Years To Make Statements That Were Critical

Governor Huntsman to Resign and Join Obama Administration as Ambassador to China (An interesting choice.)

Under Rumsfeld, Pentagon published Bible verses on top-secret intell reports. (Update: You can see the actual cover sheets with the Biblical quotations at GQ.)

Atlantis and Hubble Side by Side (A very impressive photo considering that the photographer had to be within a five-kilometer-wide strip of land, know the shutter speed needed to take a clear photo (1/8000th of a second), and catch the transit within a mere 0.8 of a second.)

May 16, 2009

In PAS They Trust

The baby has recently discovered all the old newspapers underneath the coffee table; today she pulled out all of one pile, where I discovered this Straits Times article on the Malaysian political party, PAS. The article actually came out almost a month ago (published April 25th), but I thought it was interesting enough to share some excerpts from it. (The entire article doesn't appear on line, unfortunately. What follows is what I've retyped myself.)

Some background information in case you're not familiar with Malaysian politics:
Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party) is a small opposition political party in Malaysian politics that, by non-Muslim/Western standards, would be considered "Islamist." They have governed several of the smaller northern states over the years, but got a thorough drubbing in the 2004 general election, being reduced to a mere seven seats in Parliament. Part of the reason for their electoral unpopularity had been their constant call for Malaysia to become an Islamic state, including the implementation of hudud and qisas laws. However, that rhetoric has been toned down in the past five years, and support for PAS has increased substantially since then, especially, as the Straits Times article points out, among the non-Muslim Indian population. (Indians make up 7.1% of the Malaysian population, according to the CIA World Factbook.) In Malaysian politics, this is newsworthy!)

Mr. Balendran's [a Malaysian Indian who is Hindu according to the article] view: "If PAS takes over Malaysia, I will be very happy because there will be no more corruption and Malaysia will be in a good situation."

The PAS Supporters' Club for non-Muslims was founded in 2004 with just 100 members, said its founder, Mr. Hu Pang Chow.

Its membership was at 10,000 last year, but has surged to 50,000 since the opposition made big gains in the [2008] general election and PAS joined the Pakatan Rakyat ["People's Coalition"] opposition alliance, he said.


So why do non-Muslims opt for PAS, instead of the secular Democratic Action Party (DAP) or the multi-racial Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)?

Mr. Hu said those who join the club see PAS as "being the most principled and sincere." The bulk of the members are ethnic Indians.

Some members are avoiding PKR, which is seen by some Indians as not being strong in supporting Indian issues. And some Indians feel that DAP is too Chinese-centric.


PAS has always been demonized by ruling Barisan Nasional coalition leaders as the party that will implement its strict version of Islam in Malaysia.

But Mr. Balendran said he is not worried about the PAS aim of setting up an Islamic state or implementing shariah laws - including hudud, which prescribes amputation and stoning - because he says such laws would apply only to Muslims.


The steady 18-year rule by PAS of Kelantan state has also boosted trust among some non-Muslims, said Mr. Hu.

Social scientist Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia also credits PAS' religious credentials for its popularity.

"It has religion as its backbone and the perception is that it is more sincere and will be able to uphold equality and the welfare of the people," he said.

PAS has also toned down its rhetoric on an Islamic state with the emergence of more moderate-minded young leaders.


PAS is now working towards setting up a full-member wing for non-Muslims within the party.

This is expected to happen by next year, pending approval from its central chiefs and an amendment to the party Constitution. ...

Links for 16 May 2009

Countdown: WTF!! Texas Still Wants to Leave the Union (Countdown on Texas's Governor Perry still thinking about seceding from the US)

Rachel Maddow Show: Tracing Torture's Trail (A time line for how torture was used in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and to justify the invasion after the U.S. had already gone in.)

Dennis Kucinich: We're Moving From Industrial Capitalism To Financial Capitalism To Crony Capitalism!

Australian Press Releases Abu Ghraib Photos

Gore: Cheney is in no position to talk ‘about making the country less safe.’

Steele: We Need Guns To Defend Ourselves Against ‘Terrorists’ Coming To ‘Our Communities’ More stupid from the GOP; no doubt lacking any real terrorists, redneck gun owners will kill indiscriminately local innocent Muslims instead.)

Yes, it’s that bad for the GOP (Includes The Colbert Report video, "Stephen's Sound Advice - How to Re-Brand the GOP.")

Industrial Production Drop Worse Since WW II

CPI Report (See also Bonddad's post.)

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
The Boys' First Portraits (Abu Sinan's two younger boys had formal portraits taken; those two kids are sooo good looking!)

White privilege and the white convert (An excellent essay by Indigo Jo; on the longish side, but "must read" material.)

Islamic Calligraphy Art of Four Qul (The "Four Qul" being Surahs 109, 112, 113 and 114.)

M97 - The Owl Nebula

C&L's Late Night Music Club with Wayman Tisdale, 1964-2009 (Sadly, Tisdale died the other day, most likely from bone cancer. It was a pleasure to watch him play with the Phoenix Suns for three seasons, from 1995-98. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.)

Rochester Institute of Technology's Domino Madness! (If you like watching large sets of dominoes fall, this video will satisfy.)

New Look: Show A Little Leg ("Evidently the New Look is similar to the I Have Polio Look.")

Saturday Morning Matinee: Reach (Cute animation. Check it out!)

Star Trek Movie Quick Recognition Chart (Can't decide which Star Trek film to watch tonight? /film ("Slashfilm") has an interesting flow chart to help you make the right decision!)

May 15, 2009

Trekkies Angry with New Star Trek Film

Links for 15 May 2009

Michael Savage has the nerve to ask Hillary for help (I've come across this story three times today, and I've had a laugh every time. If Clinton even asks the lowliest clerk at the State Department to help Savage in his complaint against the UK, I would consider her to be extremely magnanimous.)

Cheney's MAD ("[W]hy would a wildly unpopular figure who has proclaimed he has no future political ambitions mount such an unprecedented public campaign to criticize his successors?" A question I had been asking myself. My own pet theory is that he's trying to lay a legal groundwork (i.e., poison the well in his favor) should he be charged with crimes against humanity.)

Latino advocates press for federal investigation of Luis Ramirez' hate-crime death in PA (Back on May 8th, I linked to a story about a Mexican immigrant who was murdered in rural Pennsylvania, with the alleged murderers being acquitted. However, a number of civic groups and politicians are pressuring the Dept. of Justice to press civil rights charges against the two teenage boys accused of Luis Ramirez's murder.)

Truth, Justice, and the American Way ("We should waterboard Cheney to get the truth about what happened regarding the interrogations. He says it's not torture, there's no lasting damage, and it works, so what are we waiting for? I want the ad revenue from the live broadcast.")

57 percent of GOP insiders think Cheney has ‘hurt the Republican Party since leaving office.’ (No duh!)

Perry again refuses to reject secession. (There must be something in the water in Texas...)

Sessions: Guantanamo detainees are lucky because they get ‘tropical breezes.’ (Your moron quote-of-the-day: "[Prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay] wouldn’t be treated any better in the United States, and they wouldn’t have the tropical breezes blowing through,”)

Where's my recovery, dude? (The "joy" of economics is that economic data is never straightforward, especially in the trends one hopes for.)

Paul Krugman: Empire of Carbon (Krugman on China's pollution problem: "Sooner than most people think, countries that refuse to limit their greenhouse gas emissions will face sanctions, probably in the form of taxes on their exports. They will complain bitterly that this is protectionism, but so what? Globalization doesn’t do much good if the globe itself becomes unlivable. ... It’s time to save the planet. And like it or not, China will have to do its part.")

Why I Think Retail Sales Are Bottoming

Chrysler Dealership Closings ("The Chrysler dealership network is a highly bloated, inefficient network compared to the Japanese competition. ... Toyota sells more cars with fewer than half the number of dealers...")

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
British company dumped toxic waste in Africa

Muslim GP was 'forbidden from going to mosque' (These doctors who prevented a Muslim woman doctor from attending prayers might well consider reading Surah Al-Alaq (96).)

Blog About Palestine Day 2009 (By special request! Always happy to oblige, if I can.)

Elusive Jellyfish Nebula

Lunar Leftovers: How the Moon Became a Trash Can

The Menace from Earth (Robert Heinlein's "juvenile" short story, first published in 1957, available for free. Click here if you want the plot synopsis.)

May 14, 2009

Links for 14 May 2009

What Obama Means when he says "the troops" ("People keep telling me that America is a better place since 20 January 2009. As with the claims of economic recovery 'right around the corner,' there is precious little evidence.")

Countdown's Worst Person: Your Not So Grass Roots Are Showing

RNC having special session to brand the Democratic Party 'Socialists' (I'll accept the "socialist" moniker as long as we can call the Republicans "Nazis.")

C&L's Late Night Music Club with Yusuf Islam (The website Crooks & Liars does a nightly music video, with tonight's video being Yusuf Islam's Peace Train.)

Daily Show's Jason Jones explores ASU's pristine academic environment (As an alumnus of Arizona State twice over (Bachelors and Masters), I find Jones' humor lame. As anyone remotely affiliated with the university would know, that's not the library. And the students he interviewed strike me as fraternity/sorority types; you know, not exactly the brightest bulbs on campus. BTW, Jason, what university did you graduate from? Ryerson University? Where's that?)

Did You Have Your Bowl of Cholesterol Drugs This Morning? (An interesting story developing between the FDA and General Mills: the way in which Cheerios, the breakfast cereal, is being marketed has caused the FDA to declare the cereal a drug. "General Mills may not legally market Cheerios unless it applies for approval as a new drug or changes the way it labels the small, doughnut-shaped cereal, the FDA said.")

GOP icon declares his party "brain dead" (The rest of us already knew this...)

The Renminbi as the Reserve Currency? (There's an interesting thought! Not that it would happen anytime soon...)

China Expands Global Role

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Of Life and Star Trek and Sex Education (Rozas' take on a conversation between some teenage Malay girls is rather interesting.)

The BNP is a threat to every Muslim

Just one in eight terror arrests ends with guilty verdict, admits Home Office

A Space Shuttle Before Dawn (The space shuttle Atlantis, sitting on Launch Pad 39A, back in April, as it was being prepared for its launch a few days ago. Cool pic.)

INTERVIEW: C.J. Cherryh (CJ Cherryh is one of my favorite SF authors; she recently gave a brief interview in connection with her new novel, Regenesis, which is a sequel to her 1988 novel, Cyteen. Good news!)

382 – Two Eggs and a Kidney: Regional World Cities (Strange Maps is a blog I've been reading for quite a while now; check it out if you're unfamiliar with it. With respect to this map, I'm a little surprised LA isn't considered at least a major regional center, as Singapore and Hong Kong are. These latter two cities (S'pore and HK) do seem to be mirror images of each other in terms of being major regional centers, but I would expect people from Sydney might argue about whether they or S'pore has more influence in the southern half of the Asia and Oceania map.)

May 13, 2009

Links for 13 May 2009

The Daily Show: Excuse Me Your Dick is Out

The Daily Show: Bill Bennett Finds Comedians More Offensive Than Waterboarding

Detainee-abuse photos about to be released, Fox's Smith and Herridge report (Abu Ghraib 2?)

Bristol Palin Has Miraculously Transformed Herself Into the Abstinence Fairy!

Colbert uncovers an Alpha Dog counting gonad wrinkles in Montana (Perhaps the dumbest person ever to try to get out of jury duty.)

Liz Cheney on waterboarding: It's not torture, and besides, the end justifies the means (You'd think some people would get the hint and lie low somewhere. Antarctica, maybe?)

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

Feingold says Cheney is wrong: ‘Nothing I have seen’ in the CIA memos proves torture was necessary.

Cheney: For diplomacy to work, U.S. must threaten to bomb Iran. (The man's a madman.)

Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter to speak at ‘anti-Islamist’ conference. (The man's a DINO.)

‘Smokey’ Joe Barton: Regulating CO2 Could ‘Close Down The New York And Boston Marathons’ (Remember, kids: If you're the dumbest one in your class, you can still become a Republican politician!)

Wilkerson on Cheney: He's Destroying What's Left of the Republican Party ("He's destroying what's left of the Republican party. I think the latest polls show we're down to 21% of Americans who identify as Republicans. ... I suspect that if Cheney continues it will be down in the low teens. He's destroying the party. There needs to be someone with some ahhh.. as we say in the Army some intestinal fortitudes, some guts who steps forward and tells this man to go home and shut up.")

Tracking the recession

De-globalization and Development

Energy Update

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Yusuf Plays First U.S. Gig In Over 30 Years

Bruthaz of Blogistan (Thanks for the link!)

Richard Pryor As President (Does the younger generation even know who Richard Pryor was?)

Busy (Take your time, dude. Baby and momma come first. Love the pic!)

Rose is Rose

Digitigrade leg extensions will make you taller and let you walk like an animal (This one is very odd; be sure to watch the video.)

Harlan Ellison Rejects Hometown Prize (Good for him: "According to, the author was offended that he would have to pay his expenses for the trip to the ceremony, apparently calling the award "a fraud and a sham." ... [S]ome members said they had never heard of Ellison, who will be 75 this month, Roberts said. The jury voted to give Ellison the lifetime achievement award anyway.")

The Independent: Secret War Report Led to Spy Charges for Roxana Saberi

One of the potential pitfalls for those of us bloggers who cover news stories is that of the knee-jerk reaction. It is all too easy to react quickly to a story without having read or heard all of the information. The recent case of Roxana Sabieri, the Iranian-American journalist who was recently sentenced in Iran to eight years for spying, is very typical of the knee-jerk reaction. Of course, there were several other factors that made Ms. Roxana a cause celebré. The fact that Ms. Roxana is pretty certainly didn't hurt her. (If you think I'm being sexist, don't forget the numerous other cases of attractive women and girls the media and bloggers have fawned over.) Add to the fact that Ms. Roxana's arrest and trial made for a story similar to the typical "damsel in distress" fairy-tale or Lifetime channel "women in jeapordy" movie, with the "villain" in this case being Iran (and a Muslim country to boot). It's no surprise that the public went gaga over her story.

Which made the linked article over at The Independent (UK) all the more interesting for having provided some of the missing details. For example, the charge of spying was not simply a trumped up charge, but had some basis in fact:

A joyful Roxana Saberi yesterday thanked those who helped win her release as her lawyer revealed his client had been convicted of spying in part because she had a copy of a confidential Iranian report on the war in Iraq.

Ms Saberi, a freelance journalist who was freed on Monday after four months in prison in Tehran, had copied the report "out of curiosity" while she worked as a freelance translator for a powerful body connected to Iran's ruling clerics, said the lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht.

It turned into a key part of the prosecution's case against Ms Saberi during her secret, closed-door trial in mid-April before an Iranian security court, Mr Nikbakht said. Prosecutors had also cited a trip to Israel that Ms Saberi had made in 2006, he said. Iran bars its citizens from visiting Israel, its regional nemesis. (Emphasis mine.)

Now certainly the Iranian government didn't help their image in their rush to judgment:

Ms Saberi's original trial was a swift, single session that her father said had lasted only 15 minutes. She didn't have a chance to speak and she was sentenced to eight years in prison, drawing an outcry from Washington.

But she spoke in an appeals court on Sunday, explaining her side to the judges, Mr Nikbakht said.

Still, she had done wrong, as she admitted to the court:

Ms Saberi had admitted that she had copied the document two years ago but said she had not passed it on to the Americans as prosecutors had claimed. She had apologised, saying it had been a mistake to take the report.

At the time, Ms Saberi was doing occasional translations for the website of the Expediency Council, which is made up of clerics who mediate between the legislature, the presidency and Iran's clerical leadership over constitutional disputes. Mr Nikbakht gave no details on what was in the document because it remains confidential.

Ms Saberi also told the appeals court that she had engaged in no activities against Iran during her visit to Israel, Mr Nikbakht said.

The court accepted her explanation and reduced her sentence to a suspended two-year term, prompting her release.

And to make matters worse for Westerners who despise Iran and its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the latter comes out of the story looking like one of the good guys:

Another of Ms Saberi's lawyers, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said a letter from the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the court, urging it to give Ms Saberi's case a complete review, had helped bring about the sentence reduction.

Update: Moon of Alabama comes to similar conclusions:

Iran had good reason and acted within its laws in arresting and sentencing Roxana Saberi. The 'western' media used the case for the usual Iran bashing. Ironically this publicity gave Iran the opening for offering a deal.

The speed of the appeal sentence and the probation are unusual. The personal intervention of Ahmedinejad and the presence of Vali Reza Nasr in Tehran point to a government deal. For immediately setting free Saberi, Iran will get some U.S. concession.

Within a few days we are likely to see some reporting in Iranian media that the three diplomats arrested in Arbil two years ago have been set free.

A small step on the larger path of U.S. Iranian détente.

Spock Channels Joe Pesci

This video was a test for the unfinished adventure game, "The Secret of Vulcan Fury." The dialog comes from the 1990 movie, Goodfellas, where Joe Pesci's character, Tommy DeVito, asks why Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, thinks he's "funny?" Note: strong profanity.

May 12, 2009

Links for 12 May 2009

Jesse Ventura: You Give Me a Water Board, Dick Cheney and One Hour, and I'll Have Him Confess to the Sharon Tate Murders (This is the sort of straight talk one wishes for in politicians, which every serving politician runs away in fear from. There are some very classic lines in here: on W's intelligence (or the lack thereof), on Dick Cheney, on Colin Powell, on waterboarding.)

Chris Matthews Slams Harold Ford for "Cheney Talk" ("With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?")

Wingnuttery of the Week: Stossel says we should eat endangered species if we want to save them (Also, be sure to check out the killer whale video!)

Naturalized Citizens Are Reshaping California Politics ("The new citizens are reshaping California's electorate and are likely to reorder the state's policy priorities, some political analysts predict. Several polls show that Latinos and Asians are more supportive than whites of public investments and broad services, even if they require higher taxes.")

Gov. Perdue: Georgia Can’t Afford Supply-Side Economics During The Recession

Clinton defends the U.N.: ‘If we didn’t have a United Nations, we’d have to invent one.’

Rig Counts Still Falling ("In more bearish news for the oil market, rig counts as compiled by Baker Hughes are continuing to fall across the world, implying a radical investment pullback in future production — ultimately a bullish factor further down the line." In other words, expect higher oil prices in the future as production decreases.)

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
KFC and the BNP (More Islamophobic "outrage" as eight London KFC restaurants start serving halal chicken.)

Mohammad (Flower Calligraphy Noor Deen) (This is another Muslim blog that I recently added to my RSS reader. This revert to Islam is a very talented artist!)

Forty Thousand Meteor Origins Across the Sky

W: As In WTF (Such long fingers you have, dear!)

Sci Fi Moms, Vol. 5

May 11, 2009

Japanese Binocular Soccer

This video is both amusing and so typically Japanese. Someone must have thought, "Let's get a bunch of guys to wear strange outfits while trying to play soccer with binoculars strapped to their heads." And what the heck is that one guy doing running around wearing a vampire bat's head?

Links for 11 May 2009

Happy Vesak Day!

Pakistani president believes Osama bin Laden is dead (Pakistan President Asif Ali Zadari believes Osama bin Laden is dead. "I don't think he's alive," Zadari told NBC's David Gregory. "I have a strong feeling and reason to believe that.")

The Faulty Logic of Tea Baggers (More proof that wingnuts have no intelligence.)

Coulter brings up a tender subject for Hannity: Fox anchors getting waterboarded (While I have no love for Ann Coulter, her twisting the knife in Faux News' Sean Hannity over his cowardice to submit to waterboarding - which he volunteered to do for charity - is a delicious irony.)

The Problem is Statelessness (Juan Cole: "In my view, the central problems in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the statelessness of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and in their diaspora, the continued military occupation or blockade by the Israelis, and the rapid expansion of Israeli colonies, which are usurping Palestinian land and rights. ... Until the statelessness of the Palestinians is understood and seen as the central problem that it is, there can be no real progress on the issues.")

Generation Charlie X ("I think people who who spend their time worrying about other people comparing Obama to Spock and then use that as a launching pad to lament failing American/Israeli relations maybe need to spend less time with computers, fanboy movies, and The New Republic and a little more time exploring strange new worlds. You know, like girls; the final frontier.")

Iran Releases Journalist Convicted of Spying for U.S.

More on Employment (Bonddad: "What I do see is the possibility of another "jobless" recovery on the horizon." Me: Unfortunately, that is an all-too-true possibility.)

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Prisoners in Ranby jail make bomb to blow up Muslims ("A bomb made by jail inmates to blow up Muslim prisoners came within moments of exploding outside a prayer meeting. The device, made with fireworks and detonators smuggled in with a fishing rod, was put in a room where worshipers wash their hands and feet for Friday prayers. ... But a prison officer spotted it, picked it up and carried it into the middle of the playing field. A bomb disposal unit called to Ranby Prison in Retford, Notts, confirmed the bomb was a viable device primed to go off.")

Top 25 Star Trek Characters

Get in Shape!

Caught this one on Watts this morning. :)

May 10, 2009

Links for 10 May 2009

Happy Mothers Day!

Texas is charging rape victims who cooperate with the police. (Absolutely ridiculous. "CNN reports that Texas hospitals are charging women who have been raped thousands of dollars for their rape kits that are collected by police as part of their investigations. According to CNN, Texas’s crime victim compensation fund consistently has a surplus and could likely cover these expenses.")

U.S. soldiers, attacked, kill a 12-year-old Iraqi boy (Absolutely ridiculous. The boy is found with the equivalent of less than US$9 in his hands, and the US military concludes that "...insurgents are paying children to conduct these attacks or assist the attackers in some capacity, undoubtedly placing the children in harm's way." Eyewitnesses, however, say that the boy "...was standing by the side of the road selling fruit juice - a common practice in Iraq -- and had nothing to do with the attack. Good job, US Army! Shoot first, ask questions later! Child killers!)

Oil Prices

Three Pictures from the April Employment Situation (Menzie Chinn on April's employment statistics.)

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
Islamophobia (David Sanger's review of Juan Cole's book, Engaging the Muslim World, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Generally speaking, a positive review; however, Sanger stumbles badly when he says that the US has troops around the Afghan/Pakistan border "to stop radical groups from taking over either state." What? The Taliban wasn't a radical group?)

Lest You Forgot... (This is one of the newer blogs in my RSS reader; the posting is done erratically, but the writing is well worth reading.)

Scaremongering over Muslim demographics (Indigo Jo on the Muslim Demographics video; I must say I was a little surprised he didn't link my post to his essay.)

The American Indian Give-Away (Very nice diary over at Street Prophets about the Native American Indian practice of "give-aways." Very much worth reading.)

Luann (The comic strip.)

Dilbert (The end of capitalism.)

Obama the Comedian

Highlights from the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Barack Obama appears in the first half of the video, and is mostly funny; Wanda Sykes is featured in the second half. Her first few jokes are very caustic (eliciting an "Astaghfirullah!" from me at her kidney failure "joke"), although the last few were a little funnier.

HT: Think Progress

May 9, 2009

Links for 9 May 2009

And be sure to wish your Moms a very happy Mothers Day tomorrow!

The Colbert Report: Let's Get Ready to Humble!!!

The face of naked eliminationism (You're just going to love the guy who carved a Nazi swastika on his forehead.)

Pete Hoekstra: The Terrorists at Gitmo Are a Bigger Threat Than the Nazis Were (Another Republican moron.)

Swine flu genes traced to North Carolina factory farm (Remember how the Republicans were running off at the mouth about how it was the Mexicans who brought swine flu to America? It turns out that the original source of the virus comes from "an industrial hog farm in Sampson County, North Carolina's leading hog producer.")

Hating America (More on Sean Hannity: "I get it, Sean. You're too much of a pussy to eat spicy food. Next thing you know they are going to call [Obama] an elitist for washing his hands after using the bathroom, or weak for apologizing after burping.")

Worst Person in the World indeed: CBS sports analyst fantasizes about soldiers shooting liberal leaders

Male Unemployment Rates At Or Near Post-War Highs

David Simon on the Death of Newspapers: 'My Industry Butchered Itself'

Islam/Muslim Blogs:
US Army: "We hunt people for Jesus" (The comment section is mostly between Naeem and myself so far.)

Galaxies of the Perseus Cluster

The Top Five Awful Star Trek Tattoos (Includes a grinning George Takei (Mr. Sulu) pointing at a tattoo of his face on some guy's back.)

Meep! (Very cute photo.)

The Death Star vs. the USS Enterprise

"Military force was authorized yesterday minutes after the E.T.'s 48 hour deadline had passed. The E.T's were given an ultimatum to stop their whale poaching and leave Earth or face military action."

May 8, 2009

What is Riba?

This post is primarily based upon a comment I wrote over at Jay Solomon's blog, The Zen of South Park:

This is one of the trickier questions in Islamic finance. As Jeffrey Harding pointed out in his recent article, The Money That Prays, the definition of riba is problematic, especially for non-Muslims:

After a long study of Islamic finance, the anthropologist Bill Maurer couldn’t settle on ‘interest’ as the perfect translation: it seemed clear at first but became streaky as he looked closer. ‘Usury’ is the obvious alternative, but are we to rely on the older sense of the term – any charge, however small, for the use of borrowed money – or on the way it’s understood today, as extortionate interest only? Wilson, a professor in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham who is intrigued by ‘the influences of religious belief on economic behavior’, holds that riba is usury in the first sense. That’s the view of most practicing Muslims; it seems to echo the meaning of the word in Deuteronomy, where Moses instructs the people of Israel not to lend to their own kith and kin at a rate: ‘Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury.’ Very close to ‘interest’ after all then. Yet if, like Melanie Phillips, you believe Islamic banking in the UK merely hastens the day when a green flag is raised over Westminster, it’s important to think of ‘usury’ in the later sense, in order to insist that Muslim law is either deluded or deceitful: ‘The whole issue of sharia finance,’ Phillips wrote last year, ‘is based on a fabrication . . . sharia does not proscribe interest. It proscribes usury.’

Phillips, a known Islamophobe, would obviously want riba to be "usury" in the modern sense, an excessive interest rate. However, Phillips is not an Islamic scholar by any stretch of the imagination. Riba, in my opinion, is any amount of interest, even one cent above the amount of principal. Consider the following ahadith:

Narrated Abu Salih Az-Zaiyat: I heard Abu Said Al-Khudri saying, "The selling of a Dinar for a Dinar [gold], and a Dirham for a Dirham [silver] (is permissible)." I said to him, "Ibn 'Abbas does not say the same." Abu Said replied, "I asked Ibn 'Abbas whether he had heard it from the Prophet s or seen it in the Holy Book. Ibn 'Abbas replied, "I do not claim that, and you know Allah's Apostle better than I, but Usama informed me that the Prophet had said, 'There is no riba (in money exchange) except when it is not done from hand to hand (i.e., when there is a delay in payment).' " (Bukhari: 3.34.386)

Abu Salih reported: I heard Abu Sa'id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him) said: Dinar (gold) for gold and dirham for dirham can be (exchanged) with equal for equal; but he who gives more or demands more in fact deals in interest. I sald to him: Ibn 'Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) says otherwise, whereupon he said: I met Ibn 'Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) and said: Do you see what you say; have you heard it from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), or found it in the Book of Allah, the Glorious and Majestic? He said: I did not hear it from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). and I did not find it in the Book of Allah (Glorious and Majestic), but Usama b. Zaid narrated it to me that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: There can be an element of interest in credit. (Muslim: 10.3876)

Ubaidullah b. Abu Yazid heard Ibn 'Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) as saying: Usama b. Zaid reported Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) as saying: There can be an element of interest in credit (when the payment is not equal). (Muslim: 10.3877)

Ibn 'Abbas; (Allah be pleased with them) reported on the authority of Usama b. Zaid Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as having said this: There is no element of interest when the money or commodity is exchanged hand to hand. (Muslim: 10.3878) [In other words, what is known as a spot transaction.]

What I find interesting is that riba applies even to material goods. Consider:

Abd Sa'id reported: Bilal (Allah be pleased with him) came with fine quality of dates. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to him: From where (you have brought them)? Bilal said: We had inferior quality of dates and I exchanged two sa's (of inferior quality) with one sa (of fine quality) as food for Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him), whereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Woe! it is in fact usury; therefore, don't do that. But when you intend to buy dates (of superior quality), sell (the inferior quality) in a separate bargain and then buy (the superior quality). And in the hadith transmitted by Ibn Sahl there is no mention of" whereupon". (Muslim: 10.3871)

Narrated Abu Burda: When I came to Medina. I met Abdullah bin Salam. He said, "Will you come to me so that I may serve you with sawiq (i.e. powdered barley) and dates, and let you enter a (blessed) house that in which the Prophet entered?" Then he added, "You are In a country where the practice of riba (i.e. usury) is prevalent; so if somebody owes you something and he sends you a present of a load of chopped straw or a load of barley or a load of provender then do not take it, as it is riba." (Bukhari: 5.58.159)

In the first hadith, the excess quantity of dates traded (the inferior quality dates) was riba and therefore haram; even an equal trade of inferior for superior dates would be haram as the quality of the two sets of dates would not have been equal. Thus, a halal transaction is two sided, the sale of the inferior dates for cash first, the purchase of the superior dates for cash second.

The second hadith is even more interesting for how commonplace this custom is. "I owe you, and I'm repaying my debt to you, but let me also give you this gift to make up for the fact that I owed you the repayment (and maybe I was late in making payment)." Sound familiar? That's riba, too.