March 31, 2010

Sania Mirza Engaged

I hadn't written about the Indian tennis star, Sania Mirza, for over four years now, so when my stats counter started showing a big increase in the number of hits for my old posts about her, I knew something was up. ;) Sure enough, Sania has announced her engagement to Pakistani cricket player Shoaib Malik. I'm sure this will disappoint many of Sania's bachelor fans, but that's life. Find another girl, guys! ;)

Congratulations to the lucky couple, and may they have a long and successful marriage!

Even as the media portrayed the upcoming marriage between Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik as a new chapter in Indo-Pak ties, Sania Mirza clarified that she is not here to make any political statement.

Sania termed her to decision to marry Shoaib Malik as a personal one and based on mutual consent. "My marriage has nothing to do with Indo-Pak politics. I am happy as it would be the dream of every girl to get a suitable groom one day", said Sania.

When asked about the enmity between India and Pakistan, Sania said, "This is a happy moment, you should not talk such things while taking sweets. Be happy that we are getting married. We both are happy. Our families are happy. I don't think we can ask for more".

Sania Mirza also made it clear that she will keep playing tennis, once she recovers from her injury. She also said that she and Shoaib will support each other in their respective game.

"Yes, we will settle in Dubai after marriage. But I will keep playing for India and he will Inshallah play for Pakistan", said Sania Mirza.

When asked whom he will support during an India-Pakistan cricket match, Sania said, "I will continue to support India, but I will also support my husband". She revealed that she met Shoaib Mailk six to seven years ago.

Sania Mirza's wedding reception is likely to be held in Hyderabad on April 15. A grand reception will be held in Lahore later.

HT: Breaking News Online

March 30, 2010

Tron Trailer, Saul Bass-Style

The way the trailer for Tron (1982) should have been done: Saul Bass-style. ;)

Tron vs. Saul Bass from Hexagonall on Vimeo.

Update: While we're writing about Tron trailers, here are a few more that SF Signal has highlighted. This first is a fan-made trailer for the original Tron that is exceptionally well done. The only demerit I can find in this video is that it completely ignores actress Cindy Morgan's character and that aspect (the love interest/sexual tension from a love triangle) of the movie.

This next trailer is the original from 1982. It makes for a good comparison between the two above and the two trailers for Tron Legacy.

March 25, 2010

NASA Mission "Movie" Posters

NASA, through its Space Flight Awareness division, is now making cute posters and images for its space shuttle missions and expeditions to the International Space Station (ISS). Many of the posters have a movie poster-quality to them, some more blatantly obvious than others. :) As you can see, the above image for the STS-124 mission, which flew to the ISS in May-June 2008, is patterned after the Harry Potter movie posters. My only complaint about the images available from the website is that the majority of downloads come in the form of PDF files; I prefer jpg images myself.

Check it out!

March 11, 2010

On Envy

Reflection time
Photo source.
Narrated Abu Hurayrah: "The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: 'Avoid envy, for envy devours good deeds just as fire devours fuel or (he said) grass.'"
(Sunan Abu Dawud)

Salim narrated on the authority of his father (Ibn 'Umar) that the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: "Envy is not justified but in case of two persons only: one who, having been given (knowledge of) the Qur'an by Allah, recites it during the night and day (and also acts upon it) and a man who, having been given wealth by God, spends it during the night and the day (for the welfare of others. seeking the pleasure of the Lord)."
(Sahih Bukhari and Muslim)

March 10, 2010


"The brilliance of the present is the glory of the future stored up for ever in the memory of man."
-- Pericles, Final Speech to the Athenians (430 BCE) as recorded by Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 2:64 (Rex Warner translation)

Tron Legacy

My reaction: "Oh, man! I've gotta wait till Christmas!!!" :) Below is the first official trailer in "good" quality, but you can watch the HD trailer here. If you're interested, here's Disney's official website for the movie and video game, but it's thin on content at the moment.

"We know where you're going!"

This is an amusing if unsurprising graph from Chris Blattman's blog, who snarkily writes:

Edmonton’s water utility published this graph of water consumption during last Sunday’s gold medal Olympic hockey game. Roughly 80% of Canadians were watching.

I believe the beer consumption picture looks exactly the same, but upside down.

This reminds me of when I was a teenager; my family loves to watch ice hockey, and we went to many games at the local college. There was one character in particular (a season ticket-holder) who would get up in the middle of the second period during every freakin' game to go to the bathroom, and all his friends would start singing, "We know where you're going! We know where you're going!" :)

March 9, 2010

Back to Driving School for this Clown!

This video should be nominated for one of the best (worst) fail videos of the year. The driver is such a menace. And after three run-ins with the ladder, (s)he flips on the rear-window windshield wiper! Weird!


Can't wait!

March 7, 2010

Understanding Malaysia (II)

This is part two (of two) of my post, Understanding Malaysia. The first half can be read here. This essay has also been cross-posted at Street Prophets, parts one and two.

The so-called "Allah" case, on the other hand, seems to be tied to the question of exactly who a Malay is and Malay rights. Race is an important issue in Southeast Asia, especially so in Malaysia. In Singapore, the rule as to a child's racial designation is that he or she takes the race of the father. So, for example, my daughter, who was born to a Caucasian father and a Malay mother, is officially classified as a Caucasian child. (Singapore very recently modified this rule by saying that children of mixed race can now be listed with both races; however, the lead race in the classification is the race that will be counted for official statistics. So, to use my daughter's example again, we can now classify her as either Caucasian-Malay or Malay-Caucasian, with the first of the two races being her "official" race by the government.) In Malaysia, the rule was recently changed to show the child as taking the race of the father. However, there then comes up the question of whether the child is bumiputera or not. According to one blogger (an American Muslim who lives in Sarawak, one of the Malaysian states on the island of Borneo): the rest of the country, children born of one bumiputra parent inherit bumiputra status, whereas in Sarawak, both parents must be bumiputra. Combined with the ruling above about inheriting race from the father, and you wind up with West Malaysians who are ethnically European but receive Bumiputra privileges, and Sarawakians who are ethnically Malay or Iban but do not receive Bumiputra privileges.

(See his post, Bin Gregory Productions: Good News for Mixed Kids, and another blogger's post, Macvaysia: Some Information about Malaysian Birth Certificates and "Official" Ancestry", for some of the complexities and inconsistencies about this issue.)

The reason why bumiputera status is so important in Malaysia is because the government provides a very significant affirmative action program for bumiputeras. Dr. Mahathir got his political start writing op-ed pieces as a young man (using the pen-name C.H.E. Det). In September 1969, he lost his UMNO membership after he criticized the then-Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. In his time away from politics, Dr. Mahathir wrote a controversial book that examined Malaysian politics and history in terms of race, entitled The Malay Dilemma. This book, which was banned in Malaysia until Dr. Mahathir became Prime Minister, essentially spelled out Dr. Mahathir's political positions:

  • The Malay race are the indigenous people (bumiputeras) of Malaysia.
  • The sole national language is the Malay language and all other races are to learn it.
  • The tolerance and non-confrontational nature of the Malays has allowed them to be subjugated in their own land by the other races with the collusion of the British. [The British began setting up trading posts along the Malay peninsula starting in 1771 (Singapore's was founded in 1819). In 1867, Malaya became a crown colony of the British, and remained in British hands (with the brief interlude of the Japanese occupation of 1942-45) until 1957, when Malaya became independent.]
  • A program of affirmative action is required to correct Malaysian Chinese hegemony in business.

When Dr. Mahathir became Prime Minister, he implemented his affirmative action program for the bumiputeras in what became known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). As late as 1970, when The Malay Dilemma was published, Malays owned a mere 2.4% of the Malaysian economy; at that time, most of the economy was either owned by the Chinese minority or foreign-owned. (Even today, most of Malaysia's businesses are owned by the Chinese, although their percentage is not nearly as high as it was in the past.) The NEP provided Malays with a number of special advantages and economic subsidies, which has helped to increase Malay ownership of businesses (up to about 18% as of 2004) and reduce poverty throughout the country. The NEP in turn helped to cement the notion of ketuanan melayu, Malay supremacy. Dr. Mahathir's belief, as expressed in The Malay Dilemma, was that too many non-Malay Malaysians were drowning out the Malay majority, economically, culturally and politically. Thus, according to the Malay Agenda, non-Malay Malaysians are expected to accept Malay supremacy as the price of Malaysian citizenship.

(It should be noted that the policies of the NEP and even of ketuanan melayu have been criticized by both Malays and non-Malays. Anwar Ibrahim has stated that, if he becomes Prime Minister, he would discontinue the NEP in favor of helping Malaysians of all ethnicities as opposed to solely Malays. Even a poll conducted in 2008 showed that 65% of Malays felt that race-based affirmative action should be done away with. [My own personal opinion is that the NEP issue is akin to the Social Security issue back in America, and will lead to legislative failure for any politician or political party that tries to take the NEP away.])

There is also the issue of Article 160 of the Malaysian constitution (enacted in August 1957), which legally defines who a Malay is, including a Malay's religion. Essentially, the law is that Malays are, by definition, Muslim; moreover, that while Malays can and are able to convert out of Islam, doing so will cause them to lose all of their bumiputera privileges. In other words, conversion out of Islam will cause a Malay to be considered legally a non-Malay. (Conversely, non-Malay Muslims might be able to be considered Malay if they meet certain conditions. I have been told that if I obtained Malaysian citizenship, I myself might become legally classified as a Malay.)

And so there are these various factors, between the notions of Malay supremacy, bumiputera privilege, and Malay (and Indian) Muslim identity, that have helped to create in the mind of Malays the idea that "Allah" belongs to Muslims only. For non-Muslims to claim "Allah" as the name of God when there are other words in both English and Bahasa Melayu that can be used for the name of God seems to be too much for some Malays to bear.

These reasons, of course, are not the only factors affecting the "Allah" case and the resulting upheaval; I wrote about another factor, the fear of Malays converting to Christianity, back in January. Likewise, I wouldn't be at all surprised if I left out some other reasons. For example, I received the following comment on my blog recently that reads, It was a developing then developed country. And that is absolutely true as well. All of the above needs to be seen within the context of Malaysia transforming itself through rapid economic growth.

In any event, the point of my writing this essay is to stress that context matters. The typical response by many people to stories involving Islam or Muslims is either to base their judgment upon a superficial understanding of the situation (at best) or prejudicial stereotypes. If you've read through this far, you can see just how complex these two small news stories really are.

March 1, 2010

Understanding Malaysia (I)

This post is in response to a diary over at Street Prophets, entitled Religion News: Malaysia, which discussed two recent stories, the so-called "Allah" case where the Malaysian Catholic newspaper, The Herald, has been fighting the government for the right to use the word "Allah" in its English-language publication, and an unrelated story about three women who were caned (along with four men) for adultery. I didn't have time when that diary first came out to write a lengthy comment; however, with my other priorities now fulfilled, I've been able to work on a response.

What I want to do in this post is to explain some of the context in which these two stories are set. The stories come from a country that most Americans are unfamiliar with, involving a religion that many Americans don't understand very well, in part due to all the misinformation about our religion that circulates in both the virtual and real worlds. Not surprisingly, this context is very complex and subject to frequent changes involving, among other things, Malaysian history, politics, personalities, racial and ethnic relations, and religion. I've tried to explain all these aspects as briefly as I can; however, the essay is already long enough that I've decided to split this "comment" into two posts.

Before I begin, I want to give my
bona fides regarding Malaysia. I freely admit that I'm an outsider looking in. However, those of us here in Singapore are almost all, by definition, Malaysia-watchers due to the proximity between their country, peoples and cultures, and ours. Many Singaporeans, including my wife's family, have relatives in Malaysia. When Singaporeans talk about going on holiday, they normally mean traveling up to Malaysia, and indeed, I myself have made a number of trips into Malaysia since 2003. Their news often is reported by Singaporean media, and one Malaysian TV channel, with its own news program, is broadcast into Singapore. And, of course, I am married into a Malay family with whom I have discussed Malaysian culture, history and politics many, many times over the years. So, while my knowledge about Malaysia is certainly imperfect, I think I have a decent grasp about what goes on up in that country.

There are several things one must keep in mind when discussing religious news out of Malaysia: Malaysia is a melting pot of several different ethnicities and cultures. Western (Peninsular) Malaysia (which I've traveled through) is primarily made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians, whereas East Malaysia (on the west coast of the island of Borneo) is mostly made up of Bumiputera (Boo-me-poo-trah), the indigenous tribes, along with Malays and Chinese (there are hardly any Indians in East Malaysia). There have also been strong influxes of immigrants (especially illegal) to Malaysia from all over South and Southeast Asia. So ethnically, religiously, and culturally, there is a very wide mix within Malaysia.

Another factor to consider is Malaysian politics. The country is a parliamentary democracy, and has about 33 political parties; however, four parties dominate: UMNO (United Malays National Organization), DAP (Democratic Action Party), PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the People's Justice Party, most commonly known as Keadilan), and PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party). UMNO has been in power more or less since independence in 1957, working through a coalition with 11 other parties to form Barisan Nasional (National Front). This coalition is the legal holder of the Prime Minister-ship; however, it is UMNO that calls BN's shots. The other three major parties, DAP, Keadilan and PAS, recently formed their own coalition, called Pakatan Rakyat (People's Alliance). This alliance is still rather shaky, especially as its leader, Anwar Ibrahim (a former Deputy Prime Minister under Dr. Mahathir Muhammad) is in the opening stages of his second sodomy trial. Likewise, there are some lingering concerns among non-Muslims that PAS's recent "good behavior" will revert back to its original form some time in the future.

Malaysian politics have been in a state of flux since 2002, when the former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir (he was originally a medical doctor), announced that he would retire from office in 2003, serving as PM for a total of 22 years. Dr. Mahathir is arguably the most influential man in Malaysian history, and still commands respect and admiration from many Malays. As mentioned above, Anwar Ibrahim was Dr. Mahathir's former Deputy Prime Minister, but was sacked by Mahathir in 1998; there are various suggestions as to why this was done. Anwar's replacement as DPM was Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who eventually replaced Dr. Mahathir as PM in 2003. Abdullah was generally seen as a promising replacement to Mahathir, especially with respect to getting rid of the corruption within Malaysian society. Although he won election to a second term in 2008, Abdullah was increasingly seen as a weak leader. Dr. Mahathir even quit UMNO as a protest against Abdullah's leadership. Abdullah finally resigned in April 2009, with Najib Abdul Razak (son of Malaysia's second Prime Minister) currently in office.

The 12th General Election, in March 2008, not only saw Abdullah reelected PM by a slimmer margin than he had won in 2004, it also saw the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, making significant gains in both the national and state parliaments. In the national parliament, BN lost a total of 58 seats while Pakatan Rakyat won a total of 62, bringing their total number of seats to 82 (36.9%), up from a total of 20 seats (9.1%) won in 2004. Keadilan had won 31 seats, up from 1 in 2004, while both DAP and PAS won 16 new seats each. In the state parliaments, Pakatan Rakyat took over five states, up from one in 2004 and two in 1999 (PAS had won the state parliaments in the previous two elections).

Now, of course, UMNO feels threatened by the rise of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, but of the three opposition parties, UMNO feels most threatened by PAS. DAP's constituency is mostly Malaysian Chinese, along with some of the Indian population, while Keadilan's is mostly left- to moderate-Malays. PAS has traditionally targeted very conservative Muslims, while UMNO has picked up the majority of conservative Muslims who fall between Keadilan and PAS. (When I say "left," "moderate" or "conservative," I'm not using the terms associated with American politics; rather, I'm using descriptions for Muslim attitudes. If one was to compare Asians' political views to that of Americans, you'd find that many Asians are definitely left-of-center.) UMNO doesn't target Keadilan supporters because the latter are mostly anti-UMNO; however, PAS has traditionally worked toward turning Malaysia into an Islamic state (through the implementation of all aspects of Shari'ah). As a result, UMNO has tried to increase its electoral support by stealing away PAS supporters by being "more Muslim than thou." UMNO still isn't nearly as conservative as PAS was in the early 2000s, before the latter's big electoral defeat in the 2004 election, but UMNO has definitely made overtures toward the more conservative Muslims (who tend to concentrate in the north of the country).

In the meantime, I think we are seeing two distinct developments happening within the government's bureaucracy with respect to religious issues. On the one hand, I think more bureaucrats are taking advantage of the political flux to make their own judgments regarding religious issues. One example is the fatwa against yoga that was issued back in 2008. This was slapped down by the Sultan of Selangor, who said that the council which issued the fatwa should have consulted the nine Sultans of Malaysia first. Another development is that there seems to be confusion between the two sets of judiciaries (the civil courts and the Shari'ah courts) as to who has precedence over various matters. The Shari'ah courts, apparently, are either taking the lead or being referred to by the civil courts. This was one of the criticisms with respect to the caning of the three women. As the Al-Jazeera article that Ojibwa referenced notes:

The caning, however, has raised new questions about whether a state religious court can sentence women to be caned when federal law precludes women from such a punishment, while men below 50 can be punished by caning.

However, the trend I have observed over the past few years is that if the case involves a Muslim or issues pertaining to Islam, then the Shari'ah court will have precedence, regardless of what the federal law says.

To be continued...

[For an earlier post I wrote about the "Allah" case, see The Situation in Malaysia. Cross-posted at Street Prophets.]

What Makes Newspapers Conservative or Liberal?

Here's an interesting graph. The graph measures how conservative or liberal American newspapers are. The vertical (y) axis is an objective measure, in which...
Gentzkow and Shapiro propose to measure the slant of a particular newspaper by searching speeches entered into the Congressional Record and counting the number of times particular phrases were used by representatives of each party, mechanically identifying phrases favored by one party over the other. For example, a Democrat is more likely to use the phrase "workers rights" whereas a Republican is more likely to use the phrase "human embryos". They then counted the number of times phrases of each type appeared in a particular newspaper to construct an index of the political slant of that newspaper.

The horizontal (x) axis is a subjective measure, where readers of the Mondo Times ranked newspapers according to their own beliefs about how liberal or conservative various newspapers are. Thus, newspapers are more conservative the further to the right and the higher they are on the graph. For the most part, the two measures largely agree with each other (for example, the Washington Times is both furthest to the right and third-highest from the top).

As for why newspapers take a particular slant one way or another, this study found that the most important variable is the political orientation of the people living within the paper's market. In other words, "papers to some degree are just giving their readers what the readers want so as to maximize the newspapers' profits."

For more on this study, see Econbrowser: What Drives Media Slant?.