July 30, 2010

Response to George

Would reducing or eliminating America's dependence on foreign oil undercut the economic basis of Islamophobia?

It might to a degree, but not nearly to the extent that it might have if this was the mid 70s. Although I was only a teenager at the time, the mid 70s seemed to be the main era when Islamophobia was based largely on economics. The trigger event was the oil crisis of '73-'74, which awakened the Western public to both their oil dependence and the fact that Middle Eastern society (in particular) was being built upon petrodollars. This awakening brought about a number of articles that I remember reading which tended to be anti-Arab, anti-Islam. One cartoon I remember from that era showed an Arab sheikh in his thobe and kaffiyah standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon and being told by a man in a business suit behind him that "It's not for sale." (This reminds me of the late 80s, when Japanese businesses began buying up a lot of American businesses and properties, with a resultant backlash against the Japanese at that time; Michael Crichton cashed in on that xenophobia with his book (and movie), Rising Sun.)

But since the mid 70s I'd say that the economic basis for Islamophobia has dwindled fairly dramatically. American Islamophobia today tends to be rooted in a lot of other, non-economic factors (e.g., terrorist acts committed by Muslims, American military misadventures in the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq) and Central Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan), the Iranian hostage crisis and the dysfunctional diplomatic relationship between the US and Iran ever since, America's blind support for Israel, and the rise of a more visible, more active Muslim community, both in the U.S. and worldwide, that scares American non-Muslims both politically and religiously).

As for foreign oil, as of two years ago (June 2008, when I last wrote about this), five of the top ten countries the U.S. imported oil from were non-Muslim: Canada (who was the #1 seller of crude oil to the US at the time), Mexico, Venezuela, Angola and Ecuador). The first three of those countries provided over 44% of all the U.S.'s imported crude oil. So the U.S. is not quite as dependent upon oil from Muslim countries as perhaps they were in the past.

Personally, I don't think that, even if the U.S. didn't buy a single drop of crude oil from a Muslim country, that would stop all the Islamophobia in the U.S. Many Americans simply can't live without having someone else to hate. Some Muslims haven't helped the American (and worldwide) Muslim community with their actions, but Muslims aren't the only group currently being vilified in the U.S. at the moment. The Hispanics can attest to that.

July 27, 2010

Are Muslims Organized to Resist Bigotry?

There was an interesting comment over at Daily Kos on a diary that discussed the Cordoba House community center and mosque (the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque"). Here is the original comment:

I wish Muslims were organized to resist bigotry
I don't think they realized the importance of political engagement or are simply unprepared to deal with this level of discrimination that came after 9/11. It is time they learned from the civil rights movements and get very active. The fact this bigotry is tolerated demonstrates how much bigotry our media is willing to propagate at the expense of those who don't loudly resist.

And this is my response:

It's not that Muslims aren't organized to resist bigotry or that we don't realize the importance of political engagement. On the contrary, there are several organizations that engage in both of these aspects every day, including CAIR and MAS among others. Could these organizations do a better job than they are now? I'm sure they would say "yes," along with a request for more manpower and money.

But let's be realistic here: the real issue is not the Muslim community's level of organization vis-a-vis bigotry, it's the level of bigotry among non-Muslims. And the real problem there is that these types of attitudes, once set, rarely change. There are a number of Islamophobes here at Kos who one might think would change their opinions and attitudes toward Islam and Muslims after participating in so many discussions on these topics, but I have yet to see any evidence that those attitudes have changed at all. They have had the opportunity to learn about Islam and the Muslim world, they have discussed Islam and the Muslim world with a number of different Muslims here at Kos, but there is no change. They continue to sputter in their rage against Islam.

If the 2008 presidential campaign and the Obama presidency have shown anything, it is that racism never died out. The success of the civil rights movement may have caused racists to lower their profile in the 70s and 80s, but their attitudes never went away. They were the true sleeper cells within American society. Muslims have been doing their part to resist bigotry and to organize politically, but I don't ever expect Islamophobia to ever go away in American society. For that to happen, American would need to revert en masse to Islam. Not that that couldn't happen; it's done so with a number of different cultures before, but I'm not holding my breath until that time.

Feet and Shoes in Korea and Singapore

One of the blogs I read through Google Reader is Juliette Wade's TalkToYoUniverse. Juliette is a science fiction author who blogs about the writing process. One of the topics she frequently writes about is how more realistic fictional worlds can be created by taking real-life examples and using them as the basis for fictional settings. In particular, Juliette examines cultural perspectives on different subjects, and tries to get other writers to think about how people in their fictional world/culture would approach the subject. As a former expat who lived in Japan, many of Juliette's blog posts discuss Japanese culture.

In a recent post, Juliette wrote about feet and shoes across cultures, asking, "What do you know about feet?" In the post, she discussed a number of topics about shoes and attitudes toward feet; for example, different types of shoes (e.g., Japanese fishing boots and snow boots, shoes for the bound feet of Chinese women, etc.), form vs. function in the design of shoes, walking vs. driving, and attitudes toward the wearing of shoes inside one's home or not.

Having been exposed to several different Asian cultures, I decided to comment on some of the observations I've made about the wearing of shoes in South Korea and Singapore. In my comment, I tried to complement her topics by adding additional reasons why attitudes toward shoes are the way they are here in Asia. Below is most of my comment that appears on her blog:

There are actually quite a few other factors that help determine the style and wearing of shoes in addition to those you mentioned. When I lived in Korea, their attitudes toward the wearing of shoes in the home probably mirrored that of Japan, although I can't say about whether most Koreans wore slippers within their homes. Certainly my apartment had the equivalent of the genkan (1) where shoes were taken off and left. Actually, that area next to the front door was "sunken" or, rather, the rest of the apartment floor was raised because of the onbol (2) that lie underneath the floor, providing some warmth to the room.

A lot of attitudes toward taking shoes off in the home come from practical considerations. Singaporeans universally take off shoes before entering a home (regardless of ethnicity or religion) because the climate is very wet here and one walks through lots of puddles and/or mud. Korean and Singaporean men also frequently spit and, while one tries to avoid stepping in that, one never knows if one did accidentally, so, best to take the shoes off rather than tracking that into the house as well.

Both Singapore and Korea are still developing economically, and construction sites tend to be muddy and/or dirty.

Various religious facilities (e.g., Mosques and Buddhist temples) require one to take off one's shoes before entering those buildings. (In Islam, that consideration is practical as there is no furniture in the prayer hall which allows people to walk anywhere, and one puts one's face on the carpeting during prayer.) Also, because one needs to take off one's shoes within mosques, many Muslims choose to wear shoes that don't have laces. In Singapore, sandals and flip-flops are the preferred shoe to wear to the mosque because they are the easiest to put back on when one is leaving the building.

In Singaporean and Korean homes, bathrooms tend to be wet as there are no bathtubs, thus showering is done in the middle of the bathroom floor (there's a drain in the floor for the water). Only rarely have I worn flip-flops in the bathroom; usually it's just bare feet, which also means that many Singaporeans walk around with bare feet in the rest of the house; wearing socks means needing to take them off before going into the bathroom.

Singaporeans tend to have two places to store shoes, one indoors and one outdoors. Many apartments here have an outdoor shoe rack, which may be used by family members or guests. However, many people just leave their shoes lying outside their front door when they come home and leave them there overnight. (I used to do that with a pair of flip-flops, but they were stolen, probably by an estate maintenance worker who had big feet like me. Since then I always keep my shoes indoors, unless I know I'm going to be leaving the house within an hour or two.)

One other factor is health. Several members of my family, including me, all wear sandals as our normal foot wear because we are type 2 diabetics. Type 2 diabetics are susceptible to bacterial and fungal skin infections, and closed-toe shoes are perfect environments for those types of beasties (moist, warm). With sandals the feet are drier and cooler, which helps to minimize infections (which are very painful itches). With the exception of some athletic shoes that are only worn for an hour or so at a time, I haven't worn anything but sandals since 2005. (That includes at work, so I tend to buy more stylish sandals. ;) )

One other side issue is home flooring. Singaporeans and Koreans almost exclusively use ceramic tiles for their floors. With so much dirt and mud here, people would be forever vacuuming their carpets. With tile, cleaning is much faster: just a sweep through and mopping. Those few rugs that are used here tend to be small rugs, either for the kitchen and/or bathroom or larger carpets (like a Persian rug) that's used for decorative purposes.

(1) A genkan is an area inside the front door of a Japanese home where shoes are taken off and stored before entering the rest of the house or apartment.
(2) An onbol is a set of water pipes located underneath the floor of a Korean home or apartment; the onbol heats up the floor during the winter months, helping to make the home a little bit warmer.

July 25, 2010

Is Sarah Palin Gunning for 2012?

This is a rather humorous news article about Sarah Palin, I believe from Taiwan. On the one hand, the news presented orally (see the translation below) is straight-forward and non-partisan. However, the animation on screen mocks Palin and her family mercilessly from start to finish. I particularly liked the "notes" scribbled on Palin's hands: "abstinence," "small government" and "obama sucks" on her left hand, and "drill, baby, drill," "Dutch have dikes" and "Norwegians = Dutch sorta" on her right hand.

Sarah Palin was a virtual unknown, even in the US, when John McCain picked her as his vice-presidential running mate in August 2008.

But after parting ways with McCain, Palin has since become the standard bearer of the Republican Party and the conservative right in the United States.

Her opinions are sought after by a highly respected broadcast news organization.

Her family life is the subject of much fascination. There have been rumors her daughter and future son-in-law could feature in a reality TV show.

With her rising political profile, Sarah Palin has waded into New York City politics and in the process, invented new words. She compares herself to William Shakespeare.

She has used her popularity to raise US$1.3 million so far this year for her political action committee, SarahPAC.

This fund-raising largess has raised speculation that Sarah Palin could be preparing to run against President Barack Obama in 2012.

If she wins, that would indicate the American people have "refudiated" Barack Obama and chosen conservative values.

July 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, A'ishah!

Today is A'ishah's birthday; my daughter is now two years old. Happy birthday, Honey Bun; I love you so much! :)

Painting by Michael Whelan: The Ultimate Sandbox

July 8, 2010

Dream Machines

Every now and then, NASA reminds us of the "little a" in the agency's name; that is, that NASA is also involved with aeronautics as well as space exploration. NASA recently held a design competition for passenger planes of the future and, not surprisingly, the proposed supersonic jets are very beautiful. The description for the above plane, the Supersonic Green Machine, is below:

This future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The team used simulation tools to show it was possible to achieve over-land flight by dramatically lowering the level of sonic booms through the use of an "inverted-V" engine-under wing configuration. Other revolutionary technologies help achieve range, payload and environmental goals.

The next plane is the Icon-II:

The "Icon-II" future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by The Boeing Company.

A design that achieves fuel burn reduction and airport noise goals, it also achieves large reductions in sonic boom noise levels that will meet the target level required to make supersonic flight over land possible.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the chance to fly on either of these two babies. NASA expects that they would enter service into the global air fleet some time around 2030-2035.

To see the four other airplanes submitted for the design competition, click here.