August 31, 2009

A'ishah Walking

Two new videos of A'ishah and three new photos. This first video is of A'ishah walking unassisted last night (August 30th). (Obviously I held the hand phone wrong.) Still, it shows how much she's progressed in her motor skills. Remember, this kid is only 13 months old!

This second video is of A'ishah and Daddy playing around with the camera while relaxing on the bed. A few extreme close-ups (thank goodness her nose was clean ;) ).

These first two photos were taken about a week ago, when we had to go to KK Hospital to visit the gyne for a regularly scheduled appointment. The hospital is still taking precautions regarding the H1N1 virus, so the hospital staff checked our temperatures at the door and asked us to wear face masks while inside, even A'ishah. Of course that was next to impossible, and she wore it for maybe a total of five seconds. At least she was willing to pose with the face mask on her long enough for me to take her picture.

This last photo was taken last night; it was actually a mistake as I had thought I had put the hand phone camera on video mode. Still, despite the blurriness and red eye, who can resist a smile like this? :)

August 29, 2009

August 27, 2009

Visual Effects: 100 Years of Inspiration

A short, entertaining video about special effects in movies and television over the past century. A few of the clips show how some of the effects were made (for example, actor Bill Nighy as Davy Jones (The Flying Dutchman) in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies). I thought at first I'd mention that this would be a good video for guessing the names of the various movies shown, but there's a listing at the end that gives the titles and years for all of the clips shown.

If there's one significant movie in terms of its groundbreaking work for visual effects that I think is missing from this video, it's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My Tafsir on Surah Fussilat (41):9-12

"The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." - Cardinal Cesar Baronio (1598), as cited by Galileo Galilei

A couple days ago, I received a comment from a certain someone who asked about verses 41:10-12 in the Qur'an. This person is apparently under the impression that the Qur'an is suggesting that the Earth was created first in all the universe before anything else (including the stars). I told him that the verses were analogical, but I wanted to expand on the point further. Below are the relevant verses (41:9-12):

Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in two Days? And do ye join equals with Him? He is the Lord of (all) the Worlds.

He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measure therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in four Days, in accordance with (the needs of) those who seek (Sustenance).

Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: "Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly." They said: "We do come (together), in willing obedience."

So He completed them as seven firmaments in two Days, and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge.

First, I'm amused that verse 41:9 was skipped in the certain someone's original comment, if only because we both that he's become a self-proclaimed apostate. So, unless he's changed his mind and come back to a state of Islam (insha'allah), I'd say that his answer to the first question is "no." (Astaghfirullah!) Regardless...

The thing about the remaining verses, 41:10-12, is that they follow a specific sequence. This sequence was done with the original recipients of the Qur'an in mind, that being the early Muslim community and the Jahiliyyah-era Arabs (this surah, Fussilat, being revealed in the later Makkan period). As any good writer knows, you write to the level of your audience. Verse 41:9, for example, talks about the creation of the Earth, but Allah (swt) uses concepts that the audience at the time of the revelation would have understood; i.e., it took two of His days to complete. He, Allah (swt), didn't talk about things like the nebular hypothesis of solar system formation or protoplanetary disks. That sort of thing would have been far above the heads of the original recipients of the Qur'an.

So He followed a specific sequence that could be understood. Verse 41:10 first discusses the earth, the mountains, and the necessary chemicals - including water - that were needed to support life (once again, written in a way that could be understood by the original recipients). This verse came first, IMO, because everyone knows what the Earth is and would have asked a question like "How was the Earth made?" at some point in their life. The following verse, then, would be the next logical question: "How was the sky made?" And, finally, verse 41:12, completes the sequence by discussing the heavens and the stars. These verses were written in an order that is completely natural from the perspective of a human: we look down at the ground and then progressively higher, into the sky and then up to the heavens.

The mistake is to assume that these verses show the actual sequence of creation. Like the quotation at the top of this post, the Qur'an was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. These four verses were revealed not to provide a scientific proof, but to discuss how the Earth, sky and heavens were created in a manner that a people with a lack of scientific knowledge could understand.

Wa allahu alim. (And God knows best.)

August 26, 2009

Dutch Anti-Discrimination Ad

The Netherlands haven't received much good press over the past few years with respect to Dutch-Muslim relations, and for good reason: xenophobic politicians such as Geert Wilders and the late Pym Fortuyn have tarnished The Netherlands' image. So when the Dutch do something right in this area, they need to be congratulated.

Above is one of three new ads that have been produced for, the anti-discrimination agency (along with the below video).

To view the other two ads, see here.

August 24, 2009

The More Things Change... Pro-regressive Muslims

Guess the author and the year in which this quotation was written. (Answer in the comments.)

It is my observation that most contemporary researchers and writers about Islam fall into one of two groups. The vision of one group has been blinded by the glamor of Western civilization. Overawed by this great idol, they worship it, approach it imploringly, and stand before it humbly, with downcast eyes, accepting Western principles and customs as unassailable and proven beyond doubt. Accordingly, if some aspect of Islam agrees with these principles and customs, they praise and extol it, while if some aspect opposes them, they try to find similarities and agreements, offer excuses and apologies, or resort to far fetched explanations and distortions, as if Islam had no choice except to surrender to the philosophy and customs of Western civilization. When we examine their views, we find that they permit things which Islam has prohibited, such as statues, lotteries, interest, being in privacy with a non-mahrem woman, a man's wearing gold and silk, and so on. They frown upon things which Islam has permitted, such as divorce and plurality of wives, as if, in their view, whatever is legal in the West is halal and what is illegal is haram. They forget that Islam is the word of Allah and that His word is always uppermost. Islam came to be followed, not to follow; to be dominant, not subordinate. How can the Lord of men follow men and how can the Creator submit to the whims of His creatures?
If the reality had been in accord with their desires, the heavens and the earth, and whosoever is therein, would have been in corruption... (Holy Qur'an 23:71)

Say: Is there among your partners (whom you associate with Allah) any who guides to the truth? Say: Allah guides to the truth. Then does He Who guides to the truth have more right to be obeyed, or the one who is not guided unless he receives guidance? Then what is wrong with you all? How do you judge? (10:35)

August 22, 2009

The Big Bang

A short, interesting video about the Big Bang. Be sure to take notes, you'll be quizzed after watching this. ;)

August 19, 2009

"On What Planet Do You Spend Most of Your Time?"

Classic. Lady, you are such a loser!

Dude, Where's My President?

Watching the health care reform debate overseas, I have to shake my head in disappointment at the performance of the President and the Democratic Party. It's like, "Dude, where's my President? Who is this pantywaist who waffles on whether to have a public option or not? Where's 'Mr. Yes We Can and Yes We Will?'"

Kick @$$, Mr. President! You need to be the hammer to these DINO Blue Dogs. Too much for the rest of your term rides upon this moment. Who cares what the Republicans think? Work for the majority who voted you into office. You'll never get another opportunity like this.

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August 16, 2009

"Why Don't Islamic Countries Get Rich?"

I came across this paragraph a couple weeks ago, and finally remembered to post it to the blog. The paragraph is a small part from a review published in the July 23rd edition of The Economist on Alan Beattie's book, False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World. Beattie is the world-trade editor at the Financial Times and a former economist for the Bank of England.

Turning to religion, Mr Beattie asks: “Why don’t Islamic countries get rich?” Ah, he replies, some of them do. Islam is often held up as inimical to economic progress. That is nonsense, he says. The Muslim Hausa have provided some of Nigeria’s most successful traders for centuries. “Had Max Weber lived among the Hausa”, Mr Beattie sniffs, “he might well have concluded that Muslims were good for growth and constructed his convoluted psychological theories around the tenets of Islam.” The author picks his way through religious texts, history and modern commercial practice to argue that there is no reason to draw a firm causal connection between any faith and economic progress.

Here is another review for False Economy, from Business Week, that discuss the Islamic question:

Beattie, who studied history at Oxford University and economics at Cambridge, draws on both disciplines to overturn assumptions about the evolution of the global economy. For example, the data do not support the belief that Islamic societies inherently perform worse than other nations, or for that matter that there is any correlation between religion and growth. Malaysia has both a strong Islamic identity and a modern economy. Religion is an obstacle only when development is blocked in God's name, often in self-defense by those who hold power, Beattie argues.

In looking up information about this book, I came across an old blog post at Aqoul that discusses a Financial Times article Beattie wrote on the same subject, most likely becoming part of his research for the book now published. (Unfortunately, the FT article is no longer available on the FT website.) However, the Aqoul post refers to the original study Beattie was writing about, Religion, Culture and Economic Performance by Marcus Noland at the Institute for International Economics, which was published in August 2003. In that study, Noland found that:

The results with respect to Islam do not support the notion that it is inimical to growth. On the contrary, virtually every statistically significant coefficient on Muslim population shares reported in this paper—in both cross-country and within-country statistical analyses—is positive. If anything, Islam promotes growth.

(A similar paper by Noland and Howard Pack, Islam, Globalization, and Economic Performance in the Middle East (published June 2004), came to the same conclusion.)

So, the partial answer to the question, "Why don't Islamic countries get rich?" is, "It's not Islam's fault." To answer the question more thoroughly requires a more conventional economic analysis. (I hadn't originally planned a part two, but I feel one may be necessary at this point.)

Update (8 May 2011): I think the events of recent months (the "Arab Spring" and especially the examples of Tunisia and Egypt) have shown that the problem with respect to economic growth in Muslim countries is not Islam itself, but the authoritarian control by governments over economic activity, especially when that control is used to stifle the economic activity of the average Muslim in favor of cronyism. Don't forget that the Tunisian revolution, which started the Arab Spring, started when a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire because local officials wouldn't allow him to support himself and his family by selling fruit and vegetables from a pushcart.

August 15, 2009

Movie Sunday: Animal House

This blog is very heavily visited by college students looking up information for their assignments and term papers, so to welcome everyone back to school (it is mid-August after all), we'll do a Movie Sunday post on the classic 1978 movie, Animal House. What's so striking to me about this movie is not just the comic material, but what would become an all-star cast (other than the big names at that time of John Belushi and Donald Sutherland). Two actors made their film debuts in Animal House (Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon), and a number of others have had very long and successful careers since then (e.g., Bruce McGill and Tim Matheson). The fact that the score was written by Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven) is icing on the cake.

  • Donald Sutherland was so convinced of the movie's lack of potential, that, when offered a percent of the gross or a flat fee of $75,000 for his three days' work, he took the upfront payment. Had he taken the gross percentage he would have been worth an additional $3-4 million.
  • Although the film takes place in Pennsylvania [and was filmed in Oregon], a Tennessee flag is shown in the courtroom. This is because the set decorator was unable to find a large enough Pennsylvania flag for the scene, and the blue Oregon state flag wouldn't work because it had "State of Oregon" text on the upper part. So the set decorator used the most generic flag he could find, which turned out to be the Tennessee state flag.
  • All of John Belushi's behavior in the cafeteria was improvised. He was not told to pile all the food on his tray and when he did the director urged the camera operator to "stay with him." The infamous "zit scene" was also improvised. The reaction from the cast is genuine.
  • The scene in which Bluto smashes a bottle over his head to cheer Flounder up took 18 takes because Stephen Furst kept laughing.

    Dean Vernon Wormer: Greg, what is the worst fraternity on this campus?
    Greg Marmalard: Well that would be hard to say, sir. They're each outstanding in their own way.
    Dean Vernon Wormer: Cut the horseshit, son. I've got their disciplinary files right here. Who dropped a whole truckload of fizzies into the swim meet? Who delivered the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode.
    Greg Marmalard: You're talking about Delta, sir.
    Dean Vernon Wormer: Of course I'm talking about Delta, you TWERP!

    Pinto: Before we go any further, there's something I have to tell you. I lied to you. I've never done this before.
    Clorette De Pasto: You've never made out with a girl before?
    Pinto: No. No, I mean, I've never done what I think we're gonna do in a minute. I sort of did once, but i was drunk...
    Clorette De Pasto: That's okay, Larry. Neither have I. And besides, I lied to you, too.
    Pinto: Oh, yeah? What about?
    Clorette De Pasto: I'm only 13.
  • August 8, 2009

    Getting A'ishah to Say "Bubbles"

    Thursday night, I was pouring a drink of pop with my right hand while holding A'ishah in my left arm. As I poured my drink, A'ishah said the word "bubble." And that completely took me by surprise because I had never heard her say that word before, although apparently Milady has, while A'ishah has taken her bath. So I was thrilled that she could say this new word... And then A'ishah knocked my drink onto the floor! :)

    Since then, Milady and I have tried to get A'ishah to say "bubbles" while recording her with our handphones. The following four videos are our best efforts.

    August 5, 2009

    Question on Titanic

    I received an interesting e-mail the other day from someone who stumbled upon my Titanic webpages. The person asked if I knew of a scene from the movie in which a man dresses up as a woman in order to board one of the lifeboats, bypassing the ethic of "women and children first." This is my response:

    I'm sorry to say, I don't know of any scene in Titanic in which a man dresses up pretending to be a woman in order to get onto a lifeboat, nor have I ever read of anyone having done this on board the real Titanic.

    There are two scenes in the movie in which the issue of violating the "women and children first" rule were addressed. The first takes place around the 2:10 mark of my copy of the film.* This scene is where the real-life person, Bruce Ismay, played by Jonathan Hyde, gets on a lifeboat to the disgust of First Officer Murdoch (Ewan Stewart). Ismay did indeed get on one of the lifeboats and was shunned by society for the remainder of his life because of it. (Even though he was not part of the crew, he was Managing Director for the White Star Lines, the company which owned Titanic. People apparently thought that he should have gone down with the ship like the Captain was expected to because he was part of management. In fairness to Ismay, the lifeboat was nowhere close to full when it was lowered, and Ismay was the only remaining passenger in the vicinity. In this regard, the movie was quite faithful to the scene.)

    The scene that you might be thinking of comes a little later in the movie, around the 2:22 mark. This is when the fictional character Cal Hockley (played by Billy Zane) picks up a crying girl who had become separated from her parents. He takes the girl to one of the officers (Chief Officer Wilde, played by Mark Chapman), where he claims that "I'm all she has in the world." The officer passes them through and he gets on to the lifeboat.

    Now, it's possible that there could have been such a scene included in one of the deleted scenes. I don't own the special collection DVDs that include the deleted scenes, nor have I seen all of the deleted scenes on Youtube, although I've seen some of them there. However, as I said above, in all my readings about Titanic, I've never read anywhere that a man dressed up as a woman in order to board one of the lifeboats.

    Thanks for sending in the question. It was quite interesting.

    * You should probably add about one or two minutes here. My current copy of the movie, a VCD, was partially censored by the government of Singapore, where I currently live. Until a few years ago, they used to cut out parts of movies that featured nudity or what they considered to be "excessive violence." So the scene in which Rose is drawn by Jack has been partially cut to delete Kate Winslet's nudity.