Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tariq Ramadan on the Western Muslim

A total of 30 minutes (in 10 minute segments), but well worth it.

As a plus, to back up one of Ramadan's points that European culture was built in part on Islam, here is what Robert Briffault wrote in The Making of Humanity:

The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories; science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The ancient world was, as we saw, pre- scientific. The astronomy and mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized and theorized, but the patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute methods of science, detailed and prolonged observation, experimental inquiry, were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. [...] What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry, of new methods of investigation, of the method of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of mathematics in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Words II

For those who enjoyed the revelations in the audio article "Words", there is another article on the subject of language in the NYT called "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?". It starts out a bit slowly especially if you remember "Words" but picks up. Fortunately it's geared for those of us who think in English.

101 Places Not to Visit

I think this is great, although I am sure we can come up with our own list - or at least add to the current one.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Clash of Civilizations? - the original

The original essay can be found here. To echo James, it definitely is a must read. (Actually, I don't think he ever said that so it is a proactive echo.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Happy Saturday Night

"Have I the Right?" by the Honeycombs (notable for having a female drummer, Honey Lantree). I've been listening to it on repeat.

Clash of Civilizations

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has just released her new book, Nomad. She's a proponent of Samuel Huntington's ideas put forth in Clash of Civilizations (Mom bought me this book for Christmas one year, and I count it among my list of Very Influential Books). Based on its hotly debated thesis, Hirsi Ali published a controversial op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Yesterday, a reader on my second favorite blog, the Daily Dish, responded to her views. I wrote a short rebuttal, which, to my delight, they chose to publish.

For ease of reading, I've reproduced both comments below.

In the Cordoba Center debate, I have been thinking about the fact that the only Muslims who consistently come across as acceptable among Republicans these days are those like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who have left the faith and are capitalizing on it.
I am an Iranian American who does not practice Islam (although many members of my extended family do) – but I am deeply respectful of people of any faith. In that vein, I am uncomfortable with the role Ms. Hirsi Ali has taken to playing in our media and political spheres. She paints Islam with a broad and deliberately ignorant brush. The Islam she describes in Somalia is NOTHING like I know and that is practiced in Iran or in many other majority Muslim countries. She deliberately (and I believe cynically) confuses Islam with conservative tribal culture. For example, there is nothing in the Koran or Islam about female circumcision, but there is a long tradition in Somali and other tribal African culture of that practice that cuts across and predates religions. Given how articulate and smart she sounds, I can’t help but think that she knows better.

This kind of sloppy thinking conflates culture and conservative tradition with religion. No one in our media challenges her or other "ex-Muslims" who have signed on to the “clash of civilizations” thesis (except for Nicholas Kristof who got lambasted for his review of her latest book). It is as if Ms. Hirsi Ali is part of a cynical game by certain political factions who can take cover from charges of bigotry by pointing to the token "expert" Muslims on their side.

Finally, any criticism of Ms. Ali is countered with the story of her flight from Somalia and the crazy person in the Netherlands who threatened her life. While the way her story is told is touching, her personal narrative is irrelevant.

And my response:

I want to respond to this reader. It may be true that torture and subjugation existed in Somalia before religion, but it is religion (often protected by demands of "respect") that is now consistently the warrant for, and incitement to, genital mutilation. In other words, yes, female circumcision predated Islam in Somalia, but a widely-held interpretation of Islam buttresses its continued existence into the 21st century.

And I'm sorry if your reader thinks that the Islam Hirsi Ali speaks of is "NOTHING like I know and that is practiced in Iran". That doesn't change the fact that a religious-based government uses the Koran to justify everything from dress codes and censorship to hanging gays and stoning adulterous women. It's the height of solipsism to accuse someone of painting Islam with too broad a brush, then claim that the only type of Islamic religion practiced in Iran is a peaceful one.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Because we still can't post pictures in comments -- Cordoba House revisited

In response to Jim's meditation on electing a Muslim as president, we recall Colin Powell's comments when he endorsed Obama:

Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That's not America. Is there something wrong with a seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion that [Obama] is a Muslim and might have an association with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel particularly strong about this because of a picture I saw in a
magazine [the New Yorker]. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay, was of a mother at Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star - showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death, he was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the head stone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith.

And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life.

I was never a fan of the war in Iraq, but it seems to me that if Muslims are willing to go overseas and die for their country, the least we could do is let them build a mosque where they want.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ebert to Hitchens

Roger Ebert on Christopher Hitchens. A few touching and profound comments.

I must say, for being a movie critic, Roger Ebert is a pretty thoughtful guy.

My first whiff of his extra-movie-critical prowess was his defense of the school official who sent five guys home for wearing American flags on Cinqo de Mayo, in a heavily Latino school. Here, he says what everyone knew but were unwilling to say:
The question is obviously not whether Americans, or anyone else, has the right to wear our flag on their t-shirts. But empathetic people realize much depends on context. If, on Cinco de Mayo, you turn up at your school with a large Mexican-American student population wearing such shirts, are you (1) joining in the spirit of the holiday, or (2) looking for trouble?

I suggest you intend to insult your fellow students. Not because they do not respect THEIR flag, but because you do not respect their heritage. That there are five of you in matching shirts demonstrates you want to be deliberately provocative.
Here, I liked particularly what Ebert had to say about God and Mystery: "I worship the void. The mystery. And the ability of our human minds to perceive an unanswerable mystery. To reduce such a thing to simplistic names is an insult to it, and to our intelligence." I'm not sure about worshipping the void -- it sounds a bit nihilistic to me -- but the rest of what he says is right on. It's my perception and sense of the unanswerable mystery that gets me up every Sunday morning for church.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cordoba House

Anybody else want to take a whack at Krauthammer for this bit of bad judgment: Sacrilege at Ground Zero?


Even NRO's Josh Barro

While we're on the subject, here's a swipe at Sam Harris: Atheists Vs The Mosque

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New and Improved, not

One site I frequent a lot is Metacritic. It allows me to see how critics critique a movie without having to learn anything about the movie. It has been extremely useful in finding what I want quickly and easily. The other day I selected my link to the site and found something entirely new. Now, one of the things I have learned from my elders is that, in general, the older you get the more resistant to change you become. So, despite immediately not liking the change, I thought I should give it some time. Sure enough it wasn't quite as bad as it looked at first, but even after a few days I still preferred the old layout. Then I noticed that there was a comment section for the change. I started reading the comments and 99% of them hated the new format. Either everyone who visits Metacritic is old or they will lose their readership to Rotten Tomatoes, if they don't change back. I wonder if they will?

Adventure Juice

So obviously I think the internet is a waste of time and is only leading us to Satan.  But I did come across this blog, Adventure Juice written by a righteous dude named Sean Harvey.  I like people who share my surname and he needs vote for him.  His blog will be a permanent link on the left side of this blog. This video sums up my view of the internet (damn wife)-

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Luke, not the Brightest Star in the Galaxy

Amazingly the Rebellion Alliance won with this guy.  Though in Luke's defense his plan worked.

3) His Insanely Stupid Plan To Rescue Han Solo from Jabba The Hutt

Let us imagine that Luke Skywalker is trying to tell you his plan to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.

Luke: "Okay so, first we get Lando Calrissian posing as a guard inside Jabba's Palace."

You: "How do we do that?"

Luke: "We just get him a costume and he--just walks in."

You: "Um, okay, say it's that easy. So then Lando gets Han out of the carbonite and we pick them up and get away?"

Luke: "No. What happens next is that I put my lightsaber in a hidden compartment in R2-D2 and send R2-D2 and C3PO to Jabba the Hutt as gifts."

You: "Wait, why-"

Luke: "Just listen. Next we have Leia pose as a bounty hunter arriving at Jabba's palace with Chewbacca captured. She's going to hand over Chewbacca to Jabba."

You: "Wait, why? Wouldn't that mean we would now have to rescue Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C3PO? That just makes it more difficult, right?"

Luke: "Just go with me here. Next, Leia is going to sneak around at night and get Han Solo out of the carbonite, but get captured."

You: "What? Why would we get everyone captured like that?"

Luke: "Now I'll show up, use my Force powers to get in to Jabba's fortress, get past the guards to an audience before Jabba and then use my Jedi mind trick to get Jabba to release everyone. If that doesn't work, then I'll get captured."

You: "Okay, if you can just use your Force powers to get in to the palace and all the way to Jabba, then let's just have you go in right now and get Han out."

Luke: "No, that's stupid. I'm going to get myself captured. Because then you see, we'll be taken to the sarlacc pit and then, when we're on the skiff, I'll get sent out first and then R2-D2 will manage to get to the top of Jabba's sail barge and shoot out my lightsaber, and then with Lando's help, we'll just--rescue everyone and then everything will be fine!"

You: "That is the stupidest plan I've ever heard of."

Luke:"I've thought of everything."

You: "Clearly you didn't."

War of the Worlds


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Language and Thinking

There is an audio magazine called Radiolab. You New Yorkers or former New Yorkers probably already know about it. I found it via a reference from This American Life. If you have an hour and are interested in the nature of language, you may find the article "Words" interesting. Go half way down the second column to play the audio file. It could have been better edited but it illustrates some good ideas and adds new meaning to Guillermo del Toro's statement that we are saved through story telling.

By the way, Guillermo del Toro has amicably resigned from directing the two Hobbit movies. He originally signed up for 3 years, but found out it will now require 6.

Edit: Looking over this post, I think I may have under sold the article. In order to mitigate my soft sell, I'll put on my carny hat. "Prepare to be astounded! Step right up to 'Words.' What would existence be like without language? Can you think without language? Who is better at thinking, a five year child or a mouse? Does the quality of our thinking depend on the richness of our language?"

Monday, August 9, 2010

More on Perry v. Schwarzenegger

David Boies, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs in Perry v. Schwarzenegger on Face the Nation on Sunday:

Well, it's easy to sit around and debate and throw around opinions appear -- appeal to people's fear and prejudice, cite studies that either don't exist or don't say what you say they do. In a court of law you've got to come in and you've got to support those opinions. You've got to stand up under oath and cross-examination. And what we saw at trial is that it's very easy for the people who want to deprive gay and lesbian citizens the right to vote [sic], to make all sorts of statements and campaign literature or in debates where they can't be cross-examined.

But when they come into court and they have to support those opinions and they have to defend those opinions under oath and cross-examination, those opinions just melt away. And that's what happened here. There simply wasn't any evidence. There weren't any of those studies. There weren't any empirical studies. That's
just made up. That's junk science.

And it's easy to say that on television. But a witness stand is a lonely place to lie. And when you come into court, you can't do that. And that's what we proved. We put fear and prejudice on trial, and fear and prejudice lost.

Perhaps this is what bothers me so much about they anti-gay marriage people. Robert Procter, Professor of the History of Science at Stanford University, coined the term "agnotology" to describe the construction of ignorance. The important thing here is that Proctor is not describing being ignorant; rather, he is pointing to a deliberate effort by someone or some group to create ignorance. One succesful manufacture of ignorance is in the area of global warming. Belief in human-caused global warming declined from 52 percent to 42 percent between 2003 and 2008. People are actually becoming more ignorant about global warming than there were. The anti-gay people are guilty of pushing the same agenda. They want to make us more ignorant. Well, I'm against ignorance.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Best Magazine Articles

Listed and linked. I now have an incentive to waste even more time on the internet.

One of my all-time favorites is in the top 10, an article entitled "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" If you read it (and you should because it's amazing), you will be granted a lifetime of smug lectures to newlyweds who giddily show off their engagement rings. Really deflates everyone in the room. Makes boring parties or dinners a whole lot more fun.

Barbary Wars

The recent discussion about the religiousness, or rather lack of religiousness, of America's Founding Fathers touches on a book I'm reading, Michael Oren's Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present.

The first chapter recounts America's first foreign policy problem, that of piracy off the coast of North Africa. (The famous line "From the Shores of Tripoli" in the Marines' Hymn refers to the Battle of Derne, the first time a United States armed force fought on foreign soil.) In a tiny nutshell, the First Barbary War was immensely influential in creating the type of government we now have. At the time, the Constitution had yet to be written. Arguments raged between Anti-Federalists and Federalists about the level of power granted to a centralized government, including the creation of a standing navy, which the anti-federalists worried could be used against its own citizens. But a steady stream of kidnapped sailors and an increasingly crippled merchant economy helped sway opinion in the Federalists' direction. A national navy and a more centralized government was the result.

But more specifically, two things in particular struck me in Oren's chapter about the Barbary Wars. The first was the justification used by the Barbary pirates for their attacks on trading ships. John Adams, then America's minister to Great Britain, met with Dey Abd al-Rahman of Tripoli who told him:
"It was... written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their [the Muslims'] authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."
The second, more surprising discovery for me was article 11 in the Treaty of Tripoli, which halted the wars for a few years:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

I don't understand why this article isn't brought up every time a news network stages a boring debate about whether or not America's Founding Fathers intended the US to be "Christian Nation." The answer to the question was written out in direct, unambiguous language, and passed unanimously by Congress.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop 8 Ruled Unconstitutional

The ruling.

Last two Paragraphs of Judge Vaughn Walker-

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians.  The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.FF 76, 79-80; Romer, 517 US at 634 (“[L]aws of the kind now before us raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected.”). Because Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any rational justification, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.


Hitchens on Cancer

Vanity Fair Article- Topic of Cancer by Christopher Hitchens

Here's the comedy

Warner Bros. is making Looney Tunes again. It's hard to beat Wiley Coyote for pure "Grindhouse/Deathproof" mayhem.

Mad Men

I realize Mad Men is old news, but for anyone who hasn't watched the show, I highly recommend it. The first three season's are on DVD. I can't tell how accurate the show's depiction of the early 60's, and while I am still waiting for a sympathetic character (maybe the lack of one is what makes the show great), the story line, writing, acting are all excellent. However, after finishing the first season of the Wire and going straight into Mad Men (don't worry to all you Wire aficionados out there, season 2 is sitting on top of our DVD player waiting to be watched), we might be ready for a comedy soon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Our Forefathers

I have been reading "The Age of Wonder" (How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science) by Richard Holmes. It is packed with fascinating and intimate stories. I'd like to share just a small excerpt, a footnote actually:

Adams never forgot this spirited meeting with Herschel. Years later, in 1825, he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, his successor as President, complaining of the orthodox Christian beliefs of most British scientists, and advising Jefferson not to hire them to teach at the University of Virginia, where he was Chancellor. Adams contrasted these scientists' attitudes with Herschel's untrammelled vision. 'They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton's universe and Herschel's universe, came down to this little ball [planet earth], to be spit upon by the Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.'