Monday, September 24, 2007

Ramadan Challenge Update

Hello Friends,

Well I'm not too good at the Ramadan thing. I am about 4 ajiza behind and fasting is completely out the window because of a nasty chest cold.

I still fully intend to catch up on the ajiza readings and finish the Qur'an cover to cover. I will have more time in a few weeks to play catch up during my international flight and my more relaxed schedule in Paris.

While in Paris I hope to see the Parisian mosque. I will probably wait until after Ramadan though as not to interrupt.

Later my fellow sprinters

Friday, September 14, 2007

TGIFF

It's not uncommon to stumble across articles ranging from lovable and quirky to downright bizarre during the week. TGIFF - Thank Geebus, It's Freakin' Friday - is an amalgamation of short blurbs dedicated to the oddities I stumbled across during the week.

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Arrested for a-SALT-ing an officer

A quick-serve restaurant employee in Georgia was arrested for over salting hamburger meat. The young lady was charged with reckless conduct after serving a police officer with over salted meat. The office became ill after eating the burger and came looking for answers. I doubt the arrest will stand in another example of abuse of power by the police force in this country.


Darwin's Starch

It seems the reason the human race may have succeeded over other primates can be found in potatoes. Yes, potatoes. Our ability to break down starch could be the reason we out performed our primates cousins. Shouldn't Idaho be the most advanced state in the nation then?


Look out Wii

It was only a matter of time until gamers got even lazier. As if it's not bad enough the paddles turn off the console now, new game systems may eliminate the new to even move our thumbs to play the game. Brain waves will communicate with the game to move your character. Some are worried the game will takeover the brain of the gamer. Isn't that already the case with World of Warcraft and Everquest?


Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's engineered

Japanese schoolgirls are taking eye make-up to the next level. Engineered lashes are the new rave in Japan. Perhaps it's only a matter of time until the lashes have the messages you can program like the fans. Then when a girl blinks she can tell us guys if it's flirting or dirt.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tawhid: 13-Sept-07 ed.

Tawhid is a series on the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence, and Islamic theology. The word "tawhid" (TAW-heed) roughly translates to "unity" or "oneness".


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The Ramadan Challenge

Sundown 12-Sept begin the Islamic month of Ramadan in 2007. This holy month is believed to be when Muhammad received his first relevation from Gabriel in the year 610 CE. Every year Muslims around the world celebrate this month through fasting and prayer. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar the month of Ramadan starts on a different date each year (vis-a-vis our Roman calendar).

Observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan; smoking and sexual relations are also to be avoided during the fasting period. Age, illness, travel, and menustration are acceptable reasons for not observing the fasting period. Travel and menustration usually are treated as temporary stays in fasting, with most observant Muslims "making up" the fasting, prayers, and Qur'anic readings after the end of Ramadan.

Concomitantly, most observant Muslims seek to read the entire Qur'an during Ramadan. The Qur'an is broken in up into chapters and verses (suwar and ayat respectively in Arabic) much like the Judeo-Christian Bible. However, if you read the Qur'an you are not reading the suwar in chronological order - the order in which they were revealed to Muhammad. Instead the Qur'an's layout is by lenth of the surah (the singula form of suwar). The suwar decrease is length as the Qur'an progresses. The only exception is the first surah, - The Opening/Prologue - the Islamic analogue to the Christian Lord's Prayer. This surah is recited during daily prayers and is a statement of the Islamic faith.

In order to facilitate the completion of the Qur'an during the month of Ramadan the Qur'an is read in 1/30 sections called juz' (ajiza (pl)). Juz' do not run surah to surah, as the Qur'an contains 114 suwar.

Last year I tried to fast and keep up with my juz' readings. I failed to complete the process for the entire month, falling about 12 days short. My fast ended because of illness, and my readings failed when the fast ended. This year I intend to again try to keep up with the Ramadan readings and fasting. I will admit now that my fast will end early and that I intend to drink water during the day - thus my fast will not be a true fast - as I am still not 100% healthy. My wedding and honeymoon fall within the month of Ramadan. Travel is the excuse, however I don' t know that I will "make up" my fasting days. However, I intend continue with reading a juz' per day.

I challenge my readers to keep pace with me, thus the tile, "Ramadan Challenge". An online copy of the Qur'an in English can be found here or here. Most Qur'ans have a marker in them to inform the reader where a juz'begins and ends. Given that some English translations and the online translations do not have this marker, a breakdown of the length of each juz' and the corresponding ayat can be found here. The site also has some explanations of the first couple ajiza.

While I have read large portions of the Qur'an, I am yet to read the entire book. I hope to rectify that situation over the next 30 days. I hope some of you take the journey with me.

Friday, September 7, 2007

TGIFF

It's not uncommon to stumble across articles ranging from lovable and quirky to downright bizarre during the week. TGIFF - Thank Geebus, It's Freakin' Friday - is an amalgamation of short blurbs dedicated to the oddities I stumbled across during the week.

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It's a short TGIFF this week, kiddos. I didn't have much time to stumble across weird stories.

Beer Me

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin, of course it was in Madison, have released a study which argues that Guiness is just as good as aspirin at fighting heart clots. Back in the day post-op patients were given the "beer you eat with a fork" to replenish their iron! Can you imagine that now?


Acupunture to a Whole New Level

A women in China went to the doctor because of blood in her urine and the doctors discovered 26 sewing needles imbedded in various regions and organs of the 31 year old woman's body. Doctor's believe the needles were stuck into her when she was little because her grandpartents were angry that she was a girl and not a boy. Interesting method of murder, the pin cushion torture technique.

Friday, August 31, 2007

TGIFF

It's not uncommon to stumble across articles ranging from lovable and quirky to downright bizarre during the week. TGIFF - Thank Geebus, It's Freakin' Friday - is an amalgamation of short blurbs dedicated to the oddities I stumbled across during the week.

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Everything's bigger in Texas

They have their own national beer in Texas, the Alamo, and now they have a 650 ft spider web to brag about. Twice the size of a football field, the web is a dingy brown due to the massive amount of dead mosquitoes. Millions of little spiders have teamed up to create the sticky behemoth.


Stupid Human Tricks

Why is it that there are always some dumb schmo giving criminals a bad name? This week I stumbled across two inept criminal capers. What is rule number one in committing a crime, aside from don't get caught? Right. Don't video tape yourself committing the crime. It always comes back to bite you. Unfortunately for this English Youtuber, he missed that memo.

The second asinine
caper is just plain ridiculous. Okay, Bob here's the plan. In order to get free beer you'll run into the store naked and dance. The clerk will be distracted and we'll steal the beer... ready, break! As you might have guessed the criminals were foiled in the their plans as the clerk just called the cops as soon as a naked man started dancing in his store.

"Chickity china the chinese chicken"

In the shadow of the looming Olympic torch, the Chinese government is trying to clean up restaurant menus and dishes, or at least Chinglish translations of Chinese dishes. Scared that poor translations will scare tourists and/or give them the wrong impression of Chinese cuisine and culture the Beijing Tourism Bureau is reviewing and editing local menus. No longer will "virgin chicken," "burnt lion's head," and "steamed crap" be offered on the menu. Olympic tourists will have to settle for "crispy chicken," "pork meatballs." and "steamed carp."

After the menus, perhaps they should start looking at the back of disposable chopsticks wrappers. There are some horrid translations on those wrappers.


Generation Ninny

A Colorado school has banned tag because "it causes conflict on the playground." Between antibacterial soap and no dodgeball or tag, we're breeding a whole generation of ninnies.

Wowzers

It's been a busy week at work with getting a new office and some late night projects. Add in a sick puppy and mock trial recruitment and that makes for a quick and busy week. I do intend to post some Tawhid articles soon.

Have a good weekend!

Friday, August 24, 2007

TGIFF

It's not uncommon to stumble across articles ranging from lovable and quirky to downright bizarre during the week. TGIFF - Thank Geebus, It's Freakin' Friday - is an amalgamation of short blurbs dedicated to the oddities I stumbled across during the week.

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Attack of the Ex

An English woman was sentenced to 2.5years of prison for "wounding" her ex-boyfriend after he failed to respond to her advances. As if it wasn't bad enough that she ripped the body part off, she then tried to swallow it before choking and spitting the flesh out!

I would say more, but the article and actions speak for themselves. I wouldn't want to ruin it.


The Sexual Life of a Camel

This blurb takes it's title from a British drinking song. It seems an Australian women found out the hard way that the sexual life of a camel is "stranger than anyone thinks". Evidently, her pet camel may have tried to mate with her, unfortunately his weight crushed her. Having ridden a camel in Egypt, I don't understand why you would want to have such an ugly and smelly creature as a pet.

It's a further reminder of the movie Zoo. A movie I don't really need to think about.


The Meatball Defense

Move over Twinkie Defense, a former NYPD detective has put further the meatball defense. It seems his wife spiked his meatballs with drugs in order to get him to leave the force after 22 years on the job. She even passed a lie-detector test and toxicologists confirm the defense is valid.


Attack of the Vulgar Monkeys

The small Kenyan village of Nachu has been under attack my a group of nasy monkeys. Unforunately, the plight of the villagers isn't nearly as humorous as the gestures of the monkeys that they report. The villagers are in desparate need of aid from the government in order to have enough food. Mixed in with this tradegy, however, are some hilarious antics and gestures by monkeys that have researchers even puzzled.

Perhaps those TV censors that didn't like the hot fruit-on-baked goods action in the Curious George episode should read this to realize unprotected food fornication pales in the lewd imagery these monkeys are cooking up.


Dogs Get Back at Vick

An animal lover in Missouri is using the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal to get a little retribution for the dog-world. Tattered and mangled Vick cards were sold on e-Bay with all proceeds to go to animal shelters in the area. While little can be done to help the dogs that Vick and his co-defendants killed, tortured, and brainwashed to the point of being unable to re-enter domestic life - meaning all 54 dogs rescued will mostly likely be euthanized, at least some animals out there will benefit from a horrible underground culture. (If you want to read more about the dark world of dog fighting here is a BBC article)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tawhid: 23-Aug-07 ed.

Tawhid is a semi-weekly series on the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence, and Islamic theology. The word "tawhid" (TAW-heed) roughly translates to "unity" or "oneness".

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New Doses of ”Westoxification” in Iran

Iranian barbershops are the most recent target of anti-Western sentiment by the Iranian government. It seems that the barbers are being forced to close and under threat of license revocation because they gave "Western" haircuts, offered tattoos, and plucked eyebrows of their male clients.

It appears as if the Iranian government is intimating that Iranian or perhaps Islamic men must sport a uni-brow in order to remain true to their roots. They article doesn't expound upon what the Iranian government considers to be a "Western" haircut, and honestly I don't know that there is a single haircut that defines Western culture. While I was in Egypt the men's hair didn't differ greatly from the styles of men's hair in the West.

I have read no hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) or Qur'anic passages that forbid a man to pluck eyebrow hairs. While Muslims are supposed to practice modesty, is eyebrow plucking crossing the line into temptation?

Continued oppression of personal expression is only going to foment further resentment of the hardline religious scholars that rule the government. If the ayatollahs wish to rid themselves of everything Western then they should get rid of automobiles, computers, electricity... you get the picture. While religoius officials certainly have the duty to regulate the behavior of their religious community, splitting hairs over eyebrow plucking only serves to diminish any remaining legitmacy the ayatollahs claim (not necessarily a bad thing if it sparks a revolution). Moreover, stories like these only serve to further paint Islam as a backwards religion and social order. If the Iranians wonder why the West doesn't think they are responsible enough to wield a nuke, perhaps they should examine the money and effort they are focusing on whether or not their citizens are plucking their eyebrows.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oscar (not so much a Grouch)

My delinquency this week can be blamed on our newest member of the family, Oscar. He's a twoish year old Beagle that we adopted from the Humane Society in Cedar Rapids.

I hope to write a Tawhid tomorrow and I will definitely have the weekly TGIFF up Friday.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Truant!

Sorry for the delay in posts to those that use this blog as a - even if brief - way to pass the time. I had planned to get caught up on some things this weekend, however my honorable plans were derailed when Melissa brought home her brother's Wii on Friday night. Between Wii, wedding invitations, and playing around with my fantasy team/"watching" online games for the Premiership, I've neglected my blog. Hopefully this week gets me back in swing of things.

Friday, August 17, 2007

TGIFF

It's not uncommon to stumble across articles ranging from lovable and quirky to downright bizarre during the week. TGIFF - Thank Geebus, It's Freakin' Friday - is an amalgamation of short blurbs dedicated to the oddities I stumbled across during the week.

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Tough Love

A South African man was recently shot during a robbery. When he went to a local hospital for aid, he was told to "walk it off." And we thought we had it bad in the United States with HMOs?

I could understand the hospitals logic more if the man shot were the criminal, but in this case it's a 38 year-old security guard!


E-mail"lovehim"ISP.com

A Chinese couple has submitted a request to name their child the character "@". Evidently, the English word "at" that the character represents is similar to the Mandarin phrase for "love him." It is unclear whether or not the Chinese government will allow them to name their child "@" given laws that prohibit naming children using foreign languages.


The knee bone is [no longer] connected to the ankle bone...

A Japanese man rode on for a mile before realizing that he had severed off his lower leg after running into a median. He felt some "pain" but evidently didn't look down to realize his leg was missing. His friend collected the limb and brought it to the hospital. The leg was too crushed to be reattached.


More legal problems for Michael Vick?

At the end of July a hand-written suit was filed against Michael Vick claiming damages of $63,000,000,000 billion [sic] by a South Carolina inmate. Among other things, the inmate claims a violation of his civil rights, cruelty against animals, copyright infringement, theft, and a finding for the petitioner under a Bivens action (allows for remedy of damages for constitutional violations committed by federal agents).

My favorite part is the portion at the bottom of the complaint which explains why the form is hand-written. Read: Because they don't let me play with objects I could make into a shiv.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tawhid post delay

My Tawhid post will be delayed one day. If I get enough time to work on the "A Letter to..." series I will just cancel Tawhid for the week and begin that the "Letter" series.

U.S. Troops Iraqi Training Update

In an update to a previous post on the training received by U.S. troops in the past on the subject of Iraq, I wanted to let everyone know that instead of the 1940s slightly offensive manual, we now build mini-Iraqi towns for the U.S. troops as cultural training.


We don't just give them pamphlets with drawings anymore. Now they get their own summer camp.

Friday, August 10, 2007

TGIFF

It's not uncommon to stumble across articles ranging from lovable and quirky to downright bizarre during the week. TGIFF - Thank Geebus, It's Freakin' Friday - is an amalgamation of short blurbs dedicated to the oddities I stumbled across during the week.

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Biblical Action Figures

According to this article, beginning in just a few short weeks Wal-mart will carry a full line of faith-based action figures. Of course, by "faith-based" they mean Christian. Soon your child or young relative can throw away He-Man and replace him with Sampson or Goliath. My favorite part of the whole idea is that these toys are supposed to represent "God honoring toys" based on "Christian morality." [Which is probably why no David toy was mentioned, he wasn't the most moral of men] I'm sure when little Paul James Wellington III sits down to play with his toys he'll be thinking about God's providence or benevolence.

Tales of Glory toys are meant to provide the moral and loving alternative to the "toys and dolls that promote and glorify evil, destruction, lying [and] cheating." If these toys promote positive Christian values, then this can only mean that Goliath is provided as a toy for the sole purpose of being struck down as contrary to God's divine plan... nice, a promotion of intolerance and hate. But at least it's not promoting evil, destruction, lying or cheating, right?


The Ol' Monkey Out of a Hat Trick

A man on his way to New York from Peru surprised fellow flyers when a small marmoset appeared from under his hat. According to the article, the monkey was well-behaved during the flight after he vacated the man's hat. I wonder if the monkey had to wear a seat belt?

I feel bad for the monkey. It had to ride under a hat, then had to put up with crying babies and other airplane nuisances, then gets taken, put in a cage, subjected to tests, gets quarantined for a month, and will most likely end up in a zoo. If the monkey can handle a FL to NY flight without causing problems I say he should get his own place or go home with the guy. I mean that's better than most children.


A real-life Homer Simpson, almost

A German woman's personal trauma mimics that of cartoon character Homer Simpson. The 59-year old recently had a pencil removed from her brain after 55 years. Simpsons viewers will remember that Homer Simpson is the simpleton that he is because of a crayon stuffed into his brain.

The women had headaches and couldn't smell for 55 years. A part of the pencil couldn't be removed as it was too deep and surgery would be too dangerous. Evidently, her parents should have told her not to run with a pencil in her hand.


Killer Mahjong

Hong Kong doctors warn that the tile game Mahjong could be deadly. 23 people have had "Mahjong-induced seizures." The ailment is not just afflicting players either, the doctors say that watching the face paced game can also lead to seizures.

The design, sounds, and cognitive actions of the game can cause a seizure anywhere from one to eleven hours into a game for player or viewers. The only known cure for Mahjong-induced seizures? Don't play Mahjong.


How did you want your penis cooked?

Never had canine penis or bull perineum? Your only a plane ticket away from these delicacies. The Guolizhuang restaurant boasts itself as China's only speciality penis emporium.

The article speaks for itself. It is both slightly stomach churning and intriguing at the same time. I will warn you that there are pictures of penile dishes, so if you cannot handle seeing such things you may not want to click on the link.


Bad, Kitty, Bad

Bangkok police chiefs have decided to deter their police officers bad habits through shame. If an officer is found to have commited minor transgressions, they will be forced to wear a pink Hello Kitty armband for several days as punishment.

The officers will not only be forced to wear the armband of shame, they are also prohibited from telling their fellow officers what policy they violated. Did Bob come to work late or did he fail to timestamp his police report? Ooo the suspense and the shame of it all! Officers that are repeat offenders will be dealt with following more standard protocol as opposed to be forced to carry the Hello Kitty lunchbox, backpack, and cell phone clip while on the beat.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Tawhid: 09-Aug-07 ed.

Tawhid is a semi-weekly series on the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence, and Islamic theology. The word "tawhid" (TAW-heed) roughly translates to "unity" or "oneness".

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We The People: The Democratic Dilemma in the Middle East, Part II

Overcoming anti-West sentiments will not be the sole challenge facing Middle Eastern democracies in the near and distant future. The Islamic world is currently struggling from Morocco to Malaysia on how to respond to globalization. Similar to the Christian movement called Fundamentalism in the early 20th century, many Muslims are resistant to the current direction of modern life. Technological, social, and cultural advancements are viewed to be temptations and are held to be responsible for the moral degradation of society. Accepting globalization, the Internet, and international agreements with non-Muslims are tantamount to heretical actions. Any Muslim that takes part in such activities is deemed a "bad Muslim" or at it's extreme, an apostate. The movement within Islam to return to the original umma - Muhammad's first nation based out of Yathrib/Medina - and to exemplify the lifestyle of the Prophet is called salafism.

The vast majority of violent and extremist Islamists - "terrorists" in the American lexicon - are salafists; the vast majority of Islamists and salafists are also adherents of the Wahhabi dogma within Sunni Islam. Wahhabism is an 18th century religious reform movement - or sect, depending on whom you ask - started by Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab in 18th century Arabia. Wahhabism is a very conservative sect/school of thought; Wahhabism has been the religious doctrine of Saudi Arabia well before it was established as a sovereign nation as it is the doctrine espoused by the House of Saud. It is now the doctrine followed by most of the Arabian Peninsula and some of Africa. Given the amount of money available to the Saudi family, Wahhabism's proliferation - even to America - has been vast in the last century.

The doctrine and beliefs of Wahhabism vis-à-vis "mainstream" Sunnism is well-documented and a topic at the heart of many books and articles. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that Wahhabism may be the wealthiest madhhab (school of thought), ultra-conservative, and the source of more media attention, it is not the only option available to Muslim scholars in their choice of law. The dilemma in allowing Middle Eastern countries to democratically elect their governments is rooted in the popularity of salafism in the Muslim world. The example par excellence is Palestine.

In 2005, the Palestinian people overwhelmingly elected candidates supported by Hamas. Hamas, much like Hizbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, have a social outreach arm in conjunction with the more well known militant wing. Fatah, the other controlling political party in Palestine, is known for looking after itself and it's supporters rather than the families in refugee camps. Hamas, Hizbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood maintain grassroots support through their social welfare programs. However, it is their militant wings that bring the ire of the international community. With international ire comes sanctions and refusals to open diplomatic channels. When Hamas became a major player in Palestinian policy the United States and other Western countries immediately cut funding, enacted sanctions, and refused to even talk with the Palestinian government because of Hamas' terrorist activity. Israel immediately ceased paying taxes to Palestine as well. The "will of people" lead their country to be ostracized from the international community, and more importantly it prohibited them from receiving vital funds and supplies.

The West fears that if an Islamist group or party were to gain control of a sovereign nation that another Khomeini-lead Iran or Taliban-run Afghanistan will emerge. A nation that is anti-West and will support terrorist activities against Western governments. Their concerns are not unwarranted as Hizbollah's continued existence is largely dependant upon Iran and Syria's funding. The Taliban ran an isolationist government and harboured al-Qaeda as the hid from the United States after their terrorist attacks in the mid-nineties.

The great dilemma becomes whether or not we "allow" the people of the Middle East to choose their own governments. If the purpose of installing democracy in the Middle East is to promote greater connectedness and increase regional economic growth and stability, then isn't it imperative to install democratic governments in the Middle East - that is, true democracies? Governments elected by the people, and for the people; governments based on the values of the people electing the officials. Doesn't installing more puppet governments or cooking-cutter Western prototype governments and constitutions stall true democracy in the Middle East? Shouldn't the bastions of democracy in the West allow the Middle East to experiment with democracy on their own terms just as we did? We've been trying to figure out how to run our government for over 200 years. However, I am not suggesting we treat the Middle East as some sort of pet ant colony, sectioned off from the world as we watch them develop or fail. Obviously geo-political and military policies must be in place to ensure regional and global stability while the Middle Eastern countries determine how to integrate Islamic society and jurisprudence with 21st century technology and international relations.

Allowing the people to elect Islamist candidates may not be as bad in the long-term as predicted by some doomsday naysayers. Salafist - even militant - groups may hold the public's heart as a viable and welcome alternative to a corrupt government currently in power. It's easy to criticize the government from the outside. However, once the salafists take power they now become responsible for running a nation. They're now required to have solutions to the public's plight. If economic stability does not come forthwith, then popular support for their socio-political agenda will fail. They too will be considered no better than their predecessor. Hamas' recent failure as a legitimate party is prime example; however, their recent coup is also a prime example of what may happen when diplomacy fails. If an Islamist government refuses to interact with non-believers, then they will quickly find themselves isolated in the global community and economically moribund. The best policy with respect to extremist Islamism and salafism may be to step back, allow it to gain power, and then fail spectactulary. The final blow to Communism was internal systematic failure, not victory on a philosophical battlefield.

There is no easy answer. However, there are steps that need to be taken in order to ensure positive development.
1) Promote grassroots reform through Muslim voices not exclusively Western talking heads and pro-Western expatriates. Education and reform from within - Muslim voices - will hold more legitimacy. Their is a burgeoning population of Euro-Muslims that have experienced the benefits of Western government and society, while at the same time are rooted in their own religious traditions.
2) The proliferation of Salafist and Wahhabist dogma out of Saudi Arabia must be addressed directly. We cannot allow our money for petroleum to promote and finance terrorism. The more money we give Saudi Arabia the more money we're giving to anti-West sentiment and resistance to Western-style governments
3) Our presentation of democracy must be done in Islamic terms/paradigms. Islam in the Middle East isn't the same as religion in the West; there is no division between public and private life. Islamic law and Islamic values play a vital role in politics, culture, and everyday life. We must talk to Musliims with terms and values that are meaningful to them. The tools to communicate to the majority of the Middle East through Islamic terms exists. The more we can distance policies and philosophies from Western roots the more viable they will become.
4) We must look to the golden rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. It's time to start treating Middle Easterners as our equals. If we wouldn't allow ourselves to be ruled by corrupt leaders, why do we continue to trade with and invest in governments that are horribly corrupt and oppressive? Muslims and Middle Easterners are not inherently inferior to the West; they don't enjoy living in poverty any more than we do.

Ultimately, the battle between salafism and mainstream Islam is not the West's battle. Unfortunately, the Middle East doesn't exist in a bubble. Our best option is to encourage democratic and economic growth in the region that benefits the majority of the population instead of a select and corrupt few. Islam is not inherently incompatible with democracy, the first step is getting the umma to come to that realization on their own. Our efforts - however benevolent they may be - will always fail if salafists can easily turn the people against it merely because it is "Western."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No. 756

Last night Barry Bonds broke, arguably, the greatest personal record in the game of baseball - and maybe all of American sports. During his third at-bat against the Washington Nationals, Bonds crushed a 3-2 pitch into left-center field to break the tie between him and Henry 'Hank' Aaron for total (career) home runs. Aaron held the record for 33 years after surpassing George 'Babe' Ruth's previous record of 714 career home runs. I was watching ESPN when they cut into Sportscenter to televise Bonds' at-bat live. A piece of sports history was made last night whether you like the man or not. I'll be able to tell my children I watched it happen (I have to thank Colbert for not being very funny last night. Otherwise I wouldn't have switched the channel to ESPN).

After Bonds completed his trot around the bases, a small ceremony was held in which his teammates, family, and godfather, Willie Mays, congratulated him on his historical achievement. Aaron was broadcast on the giant screen over center field with a pre-recorded congratulatory message for Bonds.

Much time will be spent over the coming weeks and years talking about whether or not an asterisk should be added to Bonds career home run total (whatever it will end up being) or whether it should even be allowed to stay on the books. The "steroid era" of baseball will always cast a shadow onto Bonds' achievements, regardless of his personal culpability. Steroids certainly make you stronger, but they don't make your swing fluid, they don't tell you whether to lay off the high fastball, nor do they allow you to identify and hone in on a hanging breaking ball. If Bonds did take steroids, I am undecided about the recourse available.

If baseball didn't have a policy prohibiting the use of performance enhancing drugs in place, then in my opinion Bonds' record should stand even if he admits to knowingly taking steroids. He didn't break any rules. Does it still leave a bad taste in my mouth? Yes. An asterisk should only be added, however, if he admits to knowingly taking performance enhancing drugs. David Oritz of the Boston Red Sox recently admitted that he doesn't know if he took performance enhancing drugs in his native Dominican Republic because there isn't a governmental institution that tests dietary supplements. He stated, however, that he no longer takes supplements from the Dominican Republic. The reason people are less angry with Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Jose Conseco, Raphael Palmero, and Jason Giambi is because they have come clean. Bonds continues to shirt the issue and his trainer continually gets placed in contempt for pleading refusing to answer the grand jury's questions. It just creates the air of impropriety.

If Bonds did take performance enhancing drugs, it's likely the pitchers he was hitting home runs off of were also guilty of the same ethically questionable, but not officially illicit, activity. We'll probably never know the list of names of every player that took some sort of performance enhancing drug over the last decade or two. Major League Baseball would have to erase every record broken in the last 15-20 years just to be safe. Of course, that isn't to say that big leaguers from eras past weren't hopped up on substances that are no illegal but weren't during decades past. MLB needs to look at more than Bonds and this record; unless they do, then Bonds is right, he's just a scapegoat.

My personal antipathy for Bonds stems more from his pompous character and his constant need to make everything a racial issue. He was quoted (I'm paraphrasing) around the time he broke Ruth's record to the effect of: "Now we can forget this old dead white guy even existed because I broke his record." His argument is that Ruth's record is tainted, or even meaningless, because Ruth didn't have to play against the African-American players still relegated to the Negro Leagues. It's a valid point of contention, but certainly doesn't diminish the impressive career and stats of Ruth. Ruth may not have played against his African-American counterparts, but there is nothing to say that they were inherently better pitchers just because they were black. Moreover, Ruth didn't have the modern dietary and training benefits of Bonds. Ruth certainly got larger in his later years, just like Bonds. However, Ruth's girth was due to hot dogs, women, and alcohol not weight training, supplements, and strict dietary regiments. Furthermore, the ballparks of lore were generally deeper than the modern corporate parks (except of course for Yankee Stadium which has always had short porches).

Even Aaron didn't have the benefits of modern athletic technology like Bonds; hell, even his bat mechanics were different. Aaron hands were crossed when he swung, instead of on top of each other (i.e. if you are right handed - like me, switch if you're a lefty- you hold the bat with your right hand on top, your arms are fully extended and straight when you swing; Aaron's mechanics would place his left hand on top, meaning his arms crossed during the swing, severely effecting the power generated). Simple mechanics of a swing can make it that much easier to hit home runs, let alone the effects and benefits of weight training and dietary regiments.

In the end, it's hard to compare eras and career statistics, even if numbers are numbers. Ruth, Aaron, and Bonds are clearly three of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Bonds is 80 hits away from 3,000 career hits, a remarkable number in itself. I will reserve my judgment of his home run record until the allegations of steroids are admissions or findings of guilt. I may not like the man because of the way he presents himself in the media, but that doesn't mean I can't acknowledge his grand and historical accomplishment.

Congratulations to Barry Bonds.

A-Rod, you've got next. Go get 'em.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tawhid: 06-Aug-07 ed.

Tawhid is a semi-weekly series on the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence, and Islamic theology. The word "tawhid" (TAW-heed) roughly translates to "unity" or "oneness".

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We The People: The Democratic Dilemma in the Middle East, Part I

The democratic values of the United States of America start and end with the profound phrase "We the people." Our government receives its power to rule from the populace through the election process. The democratic model is supposed to produce a government elected by the people, for the people. Ergo, the democratic government of a pluralistic society should reflect the pluralism of its population; the majority groups control but minority groups are represented to provide a voice for their contingents as well. These elected officials work together despite their differences and govern with the best interest of the nation and its people in mind. E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) is the motto on the United States seal.

Most Americans comprehend the basics of a democratic government: the people vote to elect officials that in turn represent them and their interests during the law making and governing process. Fortunately for the United States and the American people a foreign nation isn't going to step in and overthrow our officials and put in place a regime or "elected" officials that are mere puppets of the foreign nation behind the coup d'etat. Other nations and American citizens may be critical of our polices or the actions and words of our officials, but the American government will hold steadfast regardless of its imperfections. In other words, the will of the American people is not a global threat, or at least our form of government - and policies - aren't viewed as an inherent threat to regional and global security. (While a case may be made that the Neocon agenda is a threat to global security, for the purposes of this article we'll assume the Neocon Middle East policy has good intentions and a bright future.)

While Americans can remain secure in the belief that when they take to the polls that the winner of the election will be put in office without opposition from the current government, citizens of Middle Eastern countries are not afforded that security. In many Middle Eastern countries minority groups - religious, political, and social groups - are not even allowed a place on the ballot. In those countries that a fringe group is allowed on the ballot their members are often subject to frequent arrests and claims of ballot fixing in the event they are elected to the government - see the current tribulations of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. The will of the people is rarely reflected in Middle Eastern countries that claim to be democratic. Justification for the repression of the populace's views by Middle Eastern governments tend to be rooted in a struggle against "terrorism." The large majority of the groups selected for repression - from Turkey to Pakistan - by the current governments are Islamist organizations; that is, groups that wish to create an Islamic state - a state subject to the divine Shari'a law.

Secularism is seen as a Western plot aimed at making the Islamic world more malleable for Western designers in their continuing oppression of the Islamic world. Democracy is a tool of the West to install puppet governments to purchase oil resources at bargain bin prices. More importantly, democracy and secularism place sovereignty with the people and its representative government, placing the will of man over the will of the divine. The current democratic model is undeniably Western. Concomitantly, the secular philosophy Americans proudly vaunt - or revile - is undeniably rooted in Western-Christian philosophy.

After decades of imperialist rule, corrupt kingdoms, and pseudo-democracies the Middle East is justifiably wary of cookie cutter Western ideals and paradigms. The West has been telling the Middle East how to live and think since the Enlightenment - a period of great achievement and thought based on Christian morals, philosophies, and doctrines. It's not hard to understand the apprehension and resentment of the Islamic world with respect to the West's assertion that democracy - as used in the West - is the acme of political models. Especially given that their most current experience with "democracy" is exemplifed by the governments of Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, and the failing states of Palestine and Iraq. Hardly an outstanding resume for the greatness of democracy. Turkey's government is constantly under the threat of another coup by the secular military supporters of Ataturk. Egypt has been run under a state of emergency since the assassination of Sadat in 1981 and elections are regularly fixed. Pakistan is a military dictatorship under the guise of democracy. Iraq's government was almost completely hand-picked by the United States and is at the mercy of sectarian prejudice and strife. Palestine's government is completely unstable and powerless.

Democracy is the future of the Middle East and the global community. The questions are: How does it gain acceptance in the Middle East and what will it look like?


Part II will examine the recent expressions of the "will of the people" in the Middle East and the potential framework for a democratic government in the Islamic world.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Hear the Roar of the Lions of Mesopotamia

Here is a BBC article on the celebration hosted by Iraqi leaders for the Asian Cup champions.

The victory earned the players a diplomatic passport and a $10,000 bonus. Three players were asbent, including the captain, because they feared for their lives.

Tawhid: 02-Aug-07 ed. Retroactive

Tawhid is a semi-weekly series on the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence, and Islamic theology. The word "tawhid" (TAW-heed) roughly translates to "unity" or "oneness".

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Rebuilding the Middle East

The Bush Administration has unveiled its latest policies regarding the Middle East. Since the Neocon "Big Bang" theory with respect to Iraq and democracy in the Middle East seemingly moribund, the Administration has decided to use broad military aid packages as it's new policy.

Included in this new agenda is a strategy to give almost $10b (combined) in aid to Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Israel, and Egypt annually. Needless to say, Israel and many members of Congress are not pleased with the Bush Administration's new strategy. Specifically, many are opposes to the vast amount of aid to Saudi Arabia. Some were even quick to point out that almost 4/5 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian.

The Saudi Arabian arms deal announcement comes during a time of great scrutiny and displeasure regarding the Saudi Arabian impact on Iraq's current sectarian strife and unstable future. Zalamay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the UN, accused Saudi Arabia of pursuing a destabilizing policy in Iraq.

Moreover, the deal is announced amidst great consternation over the amount - or lack - of progress politically and economically in Iraq by the Iraqi government. If the U.S. Defense Secretary is going to admit that the Bush Administration underestimated the level of mistrust among sectarian factions in Iraq, why do they think it's a good idea to give large amounts of military aid to the world's megaphone and grand supporter of Wahhabism, salafism, and anti-Shi'a dogma? Where does the Bush Administration think the Sunni factions are getting their funding? It's obviously not Iran or Syria. Is it Egypt and Jordan, presumed allies and co-benefactors of U.S. military aid?

The Iraqi government is corrupt, inept, incapable of withstanding heat - never mind the soldiers, police force, and civilians that must live and die in the heat, and unwilling to manage vital social programs - even programs and facilities started and financed by the United States. The Sunni bloc just resigned from the government amidst complaints of prejudice, slander, and corruption. Meanwhile, the United States continually fingers Iran and Syria as the reason for sectarian strife and instability.

It appears that the Bush Administration's great theory of current tyranny falling like dominoes to the democratic governments of the future of the Middle East has not only failed, it is being replaced by a strategy to arm everyone to the hilt à la Cold War v.2.0. Except we aren't protecting democratic countries, we're arming oppressive regimes and trigger-happy adversaries. What sort of message are we sending to the Shi'a government of Iraq when we arm Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States but in the same breath tell Iran and Syria the are not only the cause of the problem but cannot increase their military?

Asking the Saudis to be "more supportive" of the U.S. campaign in Iraq isn't going to stop the sectarian strife any more than the new policy to arm sectarian factions with U.S. weapons. Arming Israel and Egypt isn't going to remedy their unstable and violent region. Giving unstable and corrupt governments more weapons won't lead to greater and long lasting peace. It just leads to more violence, tyranny, and oppression.

I hope Congress rejects the "new Middle East" vision of the Bush Administration. The billions of dollars a year the Bush Administration wants to give to corrupt governments should instead be used to help the common man, woman, and child that are under-educated, impoverished, and dying of hunger, curable diseases, and sectarian suicide bombers. Arm the people with knowledge and a better life and the installation of democratic governments in the Middle East will happen. Offer the people a stable and bright future and they'll fight to keep it; offer them decades more of oppression and despotism and you'll only encourage more violence and poverty.

Tawhid: 30-Jul-07 ed. Retroactive

Tawhid is a semi-weekly series on the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence, and Islamic theology. The word "tawhid" (TAW-heed) roughly translates to "unity" or "oneness".

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Iraqi Victory

The great hope of a war-torn nation triumphed over the pride of an oppressive and rich regime. The Iraqi national football team overcame all odds and reason to shock the Saudi Arabian team 1-0 on a goal by Iraqi Captain Younis Mahmoud in the 71st minute (I had predicted 2-1). A fact that epitomizes the level of achievement reached by the Iraqi team through this Cup win: the Iraqi national team hasn't been able to play or practice at home (in Iraq) in over 17 years.

Iraqi citizens celebrated through out the country, just as they had done after upsetting powerhouses Australia and South Korea earlier in the competition. As they took to the streets, they celebrated as one nation, rather than as Sunnis, Shi'ites, or Kurds. The team and it's Brazilian coach were quick to dedicate their victory and jubilation to the Iraqi people. Hopefully the Iraqi government (on a heat "forced" sabbatical) can use this victory and common bond to their advantage in an effort to alleviate the pain caused by sectarian strife.


Homeland v. Global Security

Congress approved a Democratic bill to increase anti-terror grants for homeland security. The legislation approves the increase in funds for states at a higher risk for terror acts, while decreasing the funding for states that are not considered to be at high risk for an attack. The bi-partisan legislation seeks to answer concerns of the 9/11 Commission; the legislation also helps the Bush Administration fulfill campaign promises.

While it's comforting to know that the political polemics that dominate Washington won't stop Congress from spending money on U.S security, this legislation does little to actually rectify the underlying cause of terrorism. Congress is treating the symptoms, not the cause of the disease.

Foreign aid legislation for aid to Middle East countries designed to promote more stable economies and decrease poverty is the true anti-terrorism bill. Until young impoverished and disaffected Muslims have a viable alternative to the grand monetary benefits (to their families) of martyrdom, we will not win this "war." We have to give them a reason to live and means by which to take care of their families. The basic wants and needs of human life don't change just because they have a different religion or fly a different flag.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Yes, Yes, I know...

Thursday's editon of Tawhid is tardy as well. The dog ate it.

I will try to catch up this weekend. Between moving, work, trying to set up internet, and finding time to sleep I haven't had much time to construct decent articles. I wouldn't want to dissapoint my hoardes of readers out there, now would I?

Working on Tawhid updates and unpacking may also delay the "A Letter to..." series by a week. Luckily I am my own boss re: this blog and I approve the delay.

TGIFF

It's not uncommon to stumble across articles ranging from lovable and quirky to downright bizarre during the week. TGIFF - Thank Geebus, It's Freakin' Friday - is an amalgamation of short blurbs dedicated to the oddities I stumbled across during the week.

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All of this week's articles are from Wired.

Life after 50

It's always a bit uncomfortable to read an article about the sex lives of senior citizens. Perhaps it's because it makes us think of our grandparents, usually figures of kindness, love, wisdom, and innocence, that we don't like the idea of this country's nanas and papas bumpin' ugly. However, someday it's going to be our generation with all the wrinkles, humped backs, and insane crossword puzzle skills. Realizing that your sex life isn't exchanged for AARP benefits is an important step in the ongoing maintenance of a healthy intimate relationship.

I found two points in the article to be of particular interest:
1) The shame and immaturity of our elderly regarding prophylactics
2) There are elderly Wii bowling leagues!!!

The article isn't smutty or filled with unnecessary details; I found it to be thought provoking - especially the Wii leagues.


"Hot Fruit-on-Baked-Good Action"

The title of this blurb is a hilarious quote from an article about censorship in cartoons. Censors are actually worried about sending subliminal sexual messages to schoolchildren via free-floating bananas and donuts.

This article confirms that the censorship committees are comprised of a bunch of namby-pamby overprotective parents whose children have no immune system because everything they use is anti-bacteria, wear helmets when they color, and aren't allowed to play even semi-violent video games or watch anything that has a minor sexual reference but are encouraged to read the Bible with verve. The words that the censors wanted removed - oops, my young readers won't understand such a complicated word, I meant to say "[t]he words the censors wanted scribbled off the paper" - do not require even a high school education to comprehend - at most the child may have to pick up a dictionary. Any complications with those words sounds to me more like poor parenting and poor education than innate child naivety. It seems more likely - given the panel's absurd concern over the word "beseech" - that the censors were instead remov... er... taking out words they didn't understand.


Perv Blockers

Leave it to Japan. Concerned your daughter is the subject of male oglers in her school uniform? Worry no longer, Cramer Japan has invented pervert-proof panties. Yes, that's right; this article discusses panties that are impervious to night vision equipped perverts. They hope to start a product line devoted to "voyeur-resistant" bras soon. (What does that even mean? Bras that don't show nipples? Perhaps the bras will also be resistant to infrared rays; so why are nipple oglers "voyeurs" and panties oglers "perverts"? Aren't they both undergarments aimed to cover areas deemed "private" by society?)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Update

I am still very busy with moving so no Tawhid post today; look for a short version tomorrow to make it's way up onto the blog in the late afternoon. With Budget calling me and telling me I might not have a truck - a truck I reserved in May - tomorrow morning, my world may be a bit hectic the next couple of days. I take possession of the townhome on the 1st at 3:15pm. Thursday's edition of Tawhid should be up at some point but I don't know when right now.

Take it easy my fellow sprinters.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Project Delay and Weekend Plans

I can already tell that I won't have enough time in the next few days to properly start my "A Letter to..." series. Moving is going to take up too much time. I will delay it by a week and try to keep up with the Tawhid series on Monday and Thursday.

Given the new anti-terror bill, the results of the pending Asian Cup final match, and the Bush Administration's proposed arms deal with Saudi Arabia there should be plenty to talk about in the interim.

I am off to Boone to see my grandfather as he is not recovering from his heart surgery very well. Then I am back in CR Sunday afternoon to welcome Ms. Lowe back to the United States from Tanzania. Sunday evening I'm watching 300 with Reis before he heads of to law school in Kansas. If I am not doing one of the aforementioned activities, I will be packing and cleaning.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tawhid: 26-Jul-07 ed.

Welcome to the first edition of Tawhid! Tawhid is a semi-weekly series on the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence, and Islamic theology. The word "tawhid" (TAW-heed) roughly translates to "unity" or "oneness".

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Football and Iraq

The 29th of July will mark a monumental event for the new democratic nation of Iraq. The Iraqi national team will face off against the Saudi Arabian national team for the Asian Cup. The match could rival the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey gold medal match as an ideological tour de force: Democracy v. tyranny; religious plurality v. religious extremism; the great hope of a poor nation v. pride of an oil monarchy. The match, and the game of football, certainly means more to the Iraqi people than just the title of "Asian Cup Champions."

The Iraqi national team has won over the hearts of a war-torn country and crossed sectarian lines. The team is comprised of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims; Arabs and Kurds play together for the pride of their country. Much has been made of the team's ethnic and religious plurality in international news.

The Iraqi people have found a common bond to share among sectarian and ethnic strife. Sunnis, Shi'a and Kurds celebrated in the streets after beating Asian powerhouse South Korea on penalty kicks to advance to the Asian Cup Final; they waved the Iraqi flag and for a moment were able to forget the bloody violence that defines Iraqi life.

However, their celebration was cut short by two suicide bombings. The bombings weren't targeting American, American "puppets", or other foreign forces; instead, they were targeting the Iraqi people for celebrating a moment of national pride and joy.

The bombings only further evince the fact that the United States cannot be to blame for all of the death and violence in the country - nor can we be completely accountable for the violence that will continue once we leave. The radical sectarian groups couldn't even tolerant their fellow Iraqis celebrating something that was totally and completely theirs; only the Iraqis were responsible for this grand moment of international fame in its short democratic history, not the United States, the British, the UN, or Iran. It's as if the terrorists couldn't tolerate happiness or the brief reprise from violence that occurred as the Iraqi people - regardless of religious creeds or ethnic background - gathered together to watch the football match. The Likud party and Hamas have a similar fear of peace and tranquility; both are infamous for causing violence just for the sake of starting strife or baiting a violent reprisal from their adversary during times of extended peace.

It seems football is the only Western export that holds unquestioned legitmacy in the Middle East. If social reforms, democratic reforms, or the promise of increased personal freedoms cannot pierce the veil of Islam's prejudice against the West or rouse public support to stop sectarian violence, it's good to know that nationalism, pluralism, and communalism haven't been completely killed off yet.

I, for one, hope the Iraqi team beats the Saudis. These people deserve something to cheer about, and more importantly popular support for local sectarian groups will hopefully decrease if the terrorist groups continue to kill civilians for being guilty of nothing more than existing in a state of brief peace and joy.

Prediction:
2-1 Freedom and hope trump racism and oppresion

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Great Soccer Quest

My previous hate-hate relationship with soccer was founded upon the type of people involved with the game at my high school - okay the boys involved, most of the girls were pretty damn cute. Most of them were spoiled brats and acted the the part too; in response, most of the people I knew called them "lawn faeries." A lot of the guys that played soccer were in track and cross country with me, so I'm not speaking to their character or interactions with society without firsthand knowledge of their ass-clownery.

As I have aged and grown away from high school politics and American xenophobia, I have taken greater pleasure in watching soccer. It's no longer the sport to take a nap to, or wholly foreign to me. I always enjoyed playing the NES soccer game as a kid, and now I enjoy the FIFA 2007 game I have for my Xbox. Playing video games of sports has always given me a greater appreciation for the rules. I have learned a lot more about defensive and offensive schemes for American football through playing video games. Anyway, I have come to really enjoy watching soccer and even found myself getting involved in the matches.

I was actually outwardly upset when a referee no-called a sliding tackle by a Mexican player against the United States in the CONCACAF Cup final. Much like the Olympics, I have always enjoyed watching the United States play in matches against countries in the World Cup. However, now I actually want them to win and expect US Soccer to catch up to the global standards, whereas before I viewed it with a detached indifference or even a low standard of expectations. I hope more American fans join the soccer bandwagon in the Post-Beckham era. I recently heard that 20 million American youths participate in the sport, making it more popular amongst children than the "Big Three" (Football [American], Basketball, and Baseball). Although to be fair, girls aren't allowed to play football and are quickly escorted to females-only softball after teeball baseball.

All of the soccer education lead me to ponder the origins of the word "soccer". I couldn't understand why we were the only country to use the term and where it could have come from. Foot + ball is not fuzzy math given the rules and skill of the game; similar to Base + ball and Basket + ball. The equation falls apart with Socc + er, right? Not exactly. Evidently, "soccer" fits that equation perfectly and even has its roots from across the pond.

Wikipedia was of little help on the subject. Typing in soccer provided a vast amount of knowledge on the rules of the game and the history of football, but it did little to answer my question about where "soccer" came from. Luckily, wordorigins.org and the online etymology dictionary were of some assistance.

"Soccer" is a diminutive form of association football. Late 19th century Brits - like the youth of today - liked to truncate words; they also like to add "er" to the end of words. In an effort to distinguish between rugby football and association football they coined the terms "ruggers" and "soccer". Evidently, "assers" wasn't a viable option.

According to my research (online etymology dictionary and answers.com), the reason this British slang term was originally used in the United States was largely pejorative. Baseball was "America's pastime." Until the mid to late-nineteenth century football/soccer was a sport of hooligans and pub patrons. It was lawless and violent until the rules were codified in England. The civilized sport of baseball was chosen and modified from the British games of rounders and cricket as America's sport. Soccer was a sport of foreigners and violence. Football - America-style - became popular through Ivy League sports. The elite promoted the sport and called it "football." You can thank the ivory towers for the need to clarify these days when speaking of "football."

If you are ever harassed by a non-American fan of football/soccer about the American use of the term "soccer", feel free to point out its the Brits fault, not ours.

Biweekly Reports and a New Project

As the deadline looms for my first installment in my semi-weekly Middle East editorials and reports, I have decided on my first topic. Tomorrow will showcase a look at the impact of football (soccer) on Iraq during their current run in the Asian Cup.

However, I have greater ambitions on the horizon. It will be hard to do more than just regurgitate international news during the biweekly updates without reader participation. It will be much easier if you submit comments or ideas for issues you would like discussed. For example, I thought about using one of the days to talk about doctrines within Islamic jurisprudence or theology. I would love to hear feedback on what would be interesting to read about.

That being said, I may truncate the biweekly posts to weekly posts beginning next week for a three-part series that I am considering. The series will be titled "A Letter to..." and will have one letter each week for three weeks. A moment on the purpose and inspiration behind the series may to help to shed light on why I am taking on this project.

On October 24th, 2002 Osama bin Laden is credited with authoring an essay entitled A Letter to America. (If you would like to read the essay here is one site and a second site that have the transcript in English. Note: "Ummah" is the Arabic word for the entire community of Muslims. Muslims believe that all Muslims, regardless of nationality or ethnicity are members of this faith-based community.) The essay is the first attempt by al-Qaeda to discuss and justify their reasoning behind the 9/11 attacks which occurred just over a year prior to the release of the essay.

What made the document interesting was that it was directed at the American people, rather than the United States government or the Bush Administration. Of particular note is answer (3) to question one ("Why are we fighting and opposing you?"); here bin Laden uses our democratic process and ideals against us in order to advocate that in American there can be no "innocent civilians" or noncombatants.

My three-part series will be in the same vein as bin Laden's "letter", in so much as he was trying to appeal to a certain audience with his message. I intend to write three "letters" to three different audiences. The first "letter" will be to the American people; the second will be to the United States government/Bush Administration; and the third will be to the ummah. Hopefully I can write one each week discussing topics like the war on terror, the future of Islam and the Middle East, and democracy in the Middle East.

I would love to hear your comments and concerns as the process unfolds.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis



Preface: Lewis is a professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. His works on the Middle East, Islam, and the West's interaction with Islam have spanned the latter part of the 20th century. He coined the phrase "clash of civilizations" that Samuel Huntington made infamous. Lewis is a proponent of Turkey - as the democratic hub in Islam - and largely focuses on the clash of the two monolithic religions - Islam and Christianity.

Review: The Crisis of Islam is a quick read at just under 170 pages. This Middle East primer was written in 2004 as a collection of expanded essays on the basic idea of: "What went wrong in Islam?" What Went Wrong? is actually the title of an essay written for The Atlantic in 2002. Crisis covers a breadth of topics in a cursory fashion to give the reader a better understanding of why the Middle Eastern culture/Islam harbors such hostility and antipathy towards the West.

Lewis makes some good points and "The Failure of Modernity" offers sobering statistics on the economic, educational, and social status of Islamic - or largely Muslim - countries. His brief discussion on jihad is enlightening to those that may be ignorant on the subject. Lewis points out that jihad has been adulterated by radical Islamists/terrorists; he even provides evidence of how suicide attacks and killing noncombatants indiscriminately is not only an innovation in Islamic doctrine, it's an illict doctrine.

While Lewis provides some answers to the "humiliation" felt by Islamic culture, - an element frequently cited by bin Laden, Zawahiri, and other radicial Islamists as justification for offensive and defensive jihad - the reader must remember that Lewis has spent the majority of his academic career speaking of the decline of Islamic culture at the hands of the superior West. Certainly, some of his argument rings true given the difference in GDP and economic development -aside from oil money. However, Lewis places more stock in his belief that Islam's Western envy has more to do with decline than the impact of imperialist rule and poor management after imperialism left the region.

The book has a lot of good nuggets one can take from it and I would recommend it to anyone interested on the subject. It's not a definitive work on the subject of Islam or Islamic relations with the West, but it's a decent jumping off point.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Update

Sorry for the delay in postings. I have been busy helping with Valerie's wedding and getting ready to move. I hope to have a review of The Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis up soon. I also intend to start a biweekly commentary on the Mideast/World politics to be posted on Mondays and Thursdays.

In between the Mideast postings I will throw out any banter or musings I come up with or find of import.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Monty Python's Spamalot


Last night I went to the opening night of Spamalot in Des Moines at the Civic Center. We were in the middle and in the double letter sections (that means way in the back). Despite the distance, we could still see quite well and I didn't feel as if my Spamalot experience suffered tremendously from my inability to see faces or costumes with hawk-like precision and detail.

Missi and I attended the show with some of her friends, all of whom are big fans of Monty Python - one even being a Cornish immigrant to this country. Missi and I were the youngest in the group and the least exposed to the antics of MP. However, the show follows the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail quite closely - and I have seen that movie.

The show was funny and seemed to go quite quickly. The first act was under an hour. They even had audience participation at one point and used local lore to make the show more personal. I was most impressed by the use of pyrotechnics and computerized projectors. Broadway musicals are keeping up with the technology of the day.

I found Spamalot much more entertaining than Wicked -even the atmosphere of Broadway and third row seats can't take Wicked over the hurdle. I would pay to go see Spamalot again, I don't know that I would pay to see Wicked again.

Don't be a tit, go see Spamalot!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sketch

With birthday money to burn I picked up the Wacom Graphire 4x5 after seeing Josh tinker with it on his blog. After much playing around I still can't draw anything of substance. So I drew/wrote out my name in Arabic calligraphy. Enjoy.



My name is the darker blue; the frills are the lighter blue and swirly lines.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quatorze Juillet

Joyeux Fête Nationale! That's right my non-cultured friends, it's Bastille Day across the pond in France. Today they celebrate the over throwing of the King by the elite - not quite a real independence in the manner in which we Americans view it but hey, whatever floats your boat - and the storming of La prise de Bastille.

I got to thinking about what other interesting historical facts occurred on this date and with the help of Wikipedia I have compiled a list of important historical events:

July 14, 1223: Louis VIII is crowned in Reims, France. Three years of turbulance and in-fighting ensue among the Christians, Jews, and French provinces.

July 14, 1789: Storming of the Bastille in Paris, France. Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin would have his surname attached to a vital and historical instrument during the Reign of Terror a few years later - replacing the breaking wheel as the preferred method of capital punishment in France.

July 14, 1798: The Sedition Act was passed by the United States Congress; making a federal offense to write, publish, or say false or malicious statements about the U.S. government. It was one of four laws that comprised the Alien and Sedition Acts. The purpose of the laws were to protect the United States from alien citizens (French at the time) and to attentuate seditious attacks. The Alien Enemies Act is still on the books, allowing the President to "disappear" resident aliens if the U.S. is at war with their homeland.

July 14, 1865: The first ascent of the Matterhorn in the Alps is completed by Edward Whymper + six others. Four die on the descent in an accident; the golden age of alpinism dies with them.

July 14, 1933: All political parties, except the National Socialist German Workers Party, are outlawed in Germany; an act within the doctrine of Gleichschaltung.

July 14, 1958: The British imposed Hashimite monarcy in Iraq is overthrown by Arab Nationalists during the Iraqi Revolution. Abdul-Karim Qassem assumes control of the country and King Faisal of Iraq and Shaykh 'Abd al-Ilāh - ruler of Kuwait - are executed. Qassem rules until 1963 when he is assassinated by the Ba'ath Party.

July 14, 1966: In Chicago, Illinois Richard Franklin Speck kills eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital. His death penalty sentence was overturned and he was ordered to serve 400 to 1200 years in prison. A statute later set a maximum of 300 years for a sentence in the state of Illinois. Speck was believed to have had XYY syndrome, however that was later proven erroneous.

July 14, 1968: In Atlanta, Georgia Hank Aaron becomes the eighth member of the 500 home run club.

July 14, 1969: The Federal Reserve makes the $100 bill the largest denomination in circulation, citing "lack of use" for the removal of $500, $1000, $5000, and $10,000 bills from ciruclation.

July 14, 1980: Kathleen Schuett will give birth to a 5lb 7oz jaundice Neal Darwin Schuett in Des Moines, Iowa after going into labor during the night. At 10:14am, the 15th of July, 1980 many Parisians have a hangover and Neal Schuett is brought into this world.

July 14, 1995: The MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 - MP3 - format was named.

July 14, 2000: French President Jacques Chirac escapes an assassination attempt during Bastille Day celebrations. (Brings a nice symmetry to the post)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Crime of Jihad

I was reading a BBC Article about the extradition of Abu Hamza today when something in the article struck me as interesting. The article in itself is worth the read if you would like to find out more about why were are trying to extradite Hamza - I wonder if his plane will "accidentally" end up at Gitmo? Hamza is currently imprisoned in Britain for inciting violence and race hate.

The line that struck me as interesting was this: "At the earlier hearings, the US government accused Abu Hamza of being part of a 'global conspiracy to wage Jihad against the US and other Western countries'."

We're accusing people of waging jihad now? I didn't realize it was an offense worthy of extradition, or for that matter that you can collude to wage jihad.

The doctrine of jihad is a convulted doctrine that is the subject of much scholarly debate; so is it's role in Islam. I presume that the jihad referred to in the article is the "lesser" or militaristic jihad, commonly referred to as 'holy war' here in the West.

However Hamza isn't being charged with a violent crime against a particular person or group; he's being charged with incitement and conspiracy. It would be like us trying to extradite priests, bishops, and cardinals during the Crusades for inciting violence and conspiring to overthrow the Islamic empire.

I find this all interesting because of the article that I tried to publish in 2005. It examined the jihad doctrine under a constutional lens - as in THE Constitution. One of the scenarios I discussed in the article was whether or not we would prosecute imams for calling their fellow Muslims to fulfill their duty of jihad.

Abu Hamza isn't an American citizen, so he is afforded no protection under the First Amendment regarding his speech or his freedom of religion. However, their are a substantial number of salafi and Wahhabi imams in this country that are afforded such rights. Will the government prosecute them as well?

It's not personal; it's just business

For those of you that are looking for a new home - which isn't many people these days, leading to the decline of the dollar in the markets - consider yourself lucky because you could be the new proud owner of a piece of cinematic history. The home of the fictional Hollywood director Jack Woltz in the Godfather is on the market. For a low price of $165M, you can have the 1920's era palatial estate - 6.5 acres - complete with 29 bedrooms, 3 pools, a nightclub, tennis court, and cinema. The home was originally purchased for $120,000 in the forties.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The War for Muslim Minds by Gilles Kepel


Preface: This book was written in 2004 - prior to the London bombings; just a minor fact to keep in mind when reading the book and Kepel's analysis of "Londonstan." Also of note, Kepel is a French political science professor; alors - thus - his analysis of American policy is hardly apologetic.

Review: I liked this book. Despite his critical analysis and tone of American policy post 9/11, I didn't feel the critique was unwarranted or overtly anti-American. Kepel does an excellent job of wading through the different Islamist doctrines and groups to provide the reader with a better understanding of the internal strife within the umma and young Muslim minds. The book starts with the Second Intifada in Palestine/Israel and the failure of the Oslo Peace Accord. He quickly jumps to the influence of the Neocons on Washington policy before addressing the events leading up to and immediately after 9/11. His discussion and explanation of the jihad doctrine is clear, as is his differentiation of Islamist groups like the salafis, the Wahhabis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda to name a few. He also discusses the power struggle of the within Saudi Arabia between the Islamic scholars and the house of Saud. His ability to cover one topic and tie it back into a later chapter makes the connections of the groups, ideologies, and political jockeying even more clear.

Kepel has been criticiseized for his castigation of the Bush Administration and neocon officals, and for portraying the threat of Islamization as a weak adversary to the Western society. Kepel's critiques of the Bush Administration - and his chapter on the failure in Iraq - are no more harsh than current public sentiment. While he does argue that Islamists are no longer a real threat to Western society, he bolsters his argument with cogent arguments and empirical evidence. Kepel doesn't argue that terrorism from jihadi elements is no longer a threat to our safety, rather he argues that 9/11 failed to galvanize the Muslim world as al-Qaeda had hoped. The umma has turned its back on al-Qaeda, Kepel argues; mainstream Muslims are not interested in martyrdom operations and joining bin Laden's "war on America."

Kepel ends the book with a look at Muslim immigrant communities within Europe - a subject that receives little press in the US unless their are riots. Kepel has an uncanny ability to summarize detailed histories and ideologies in a few paragraphs. The reader can understand the plight of the Muslim immigres in France and Britain, and why the radical views of the Muslim Brotherhood or the salafi imam is more appealing than the status quo. Kepel argues in the end that this Euro-Muslim (my term) youth decides the future of Islam. A generation exposed to and benefiting from Western Democracy will either chose to embrace Western ideals and combine them with their Islamic faith, or they will reject them and embrace the hatred and separatism espoused by radical imams.

I look forward to picking up Kepel's other book: Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam in the near future.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers


Preface: This book was given to me by my friend Josh shortly after my return from Egypt in the summer of 2005 (I believe it was a birthday gift). Time travel, Egyptian gods, and anachronistic hijinx, what isn't to like?

Review: The first time I tried to read the book I was a bit put off by the paragraph-long first sentence. However, this time I paid no attention to the Dickens-like intro and was soon sucked into the adventures of Prof. Brendan Doyle.

As a matter of forewarning, the book was written in 1983, so the "present time" is a time jump in itself for the modern day reader. Doyle is the unknowing pawn of a dying wealthy old man at the beginning of the book. He travels back in time with the help of a super high dose of radiation and the adventures of Prof. Doyle ensue.

Not to spoil the book, but everyone's favorite fuzzy Egyptian god Anubis appears only on the cover; he never actually appears within the story. For your Anubis fix you'll need to watch The Mummy Returns or Stargate.

Powers' book is an enjoyable read and does a fairly good job of keeping the story moving along. At just under 400 pages, it's not your normal summertime or airplane flight read, however it's a story you can keep your imagination wrapped around.

If you have a hankering for historical fiction, time travel, and the cosmic battle between good and evil The Anubis Gates should fill that void in your soul.

The Warrior Prophet by Richard Gabriel



The Quarterly Journal of Military History (MHQ)
Summer 2007 ed.



Preface:

While I was home in the Des Moines area I stopped by Borders after catching a movie with some family. As I was perusing the magazine aisle I noticed a magazine with a front cover that read: "Muhammad the ingenious military mind of the first insurgent." My first reaction was a mixture of shock, curiosity, and offense.

Review:

As stated above, I did not begin reading this article with an open mind. I expected it to be offensive article. The cover of the magazine - as well as a picture of the relief in our Supreme Court of the Prophet- portrays Muhammad with a sword in one hand and the Qur'an in the other. Most - a product of our right-handed society, mostly - place his scimitar in his right hand, with the last message of Allah in his left. Minor problem: in Arabic culture placing the Qur'an in Muhammad's left hand is offensive because that is the hand traditionally used to clean oneself after defecation.

The article was not as offensive as I feared it would be. The majority of the article is spent discussing the ingenuity of Muhammad's military stratagem. Gabriel makes the fairly obvious argument that if not for Muhammad's military success, the faith of Islam would have either died a quiet death or remained a regional sect.

Gabriel's article is different from the apologist writings that fill the bookshelves these days. Modern day Islamic scholars deplore the categorization of the spread of Islam via "the sword and the book," as the West is keen to describe Islam's impressive conversion rates over the last thirteen centuries - hence the aforementioned depictions of Muhammad. Far from the apologetic and modern day writers on Islam, Gabriel's article embraces the militaristic elements of Islam's roots and the proliferation of the faith.

Despite the interesting military strategy discussion, I had three problems with the article:

1) The label "insurgent"
- While Gabriel's description of an "insurgency" was educational for me, as I do not have an military training, I do not feel the term is correctly applied to Muhammad. Webster's defines "insurgent" as "person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially : a rebel not recognized as a belligerent" and defines "insurgency" as "the quality or state of being insurgent; specifically : a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as belligerency."

I would submit that the so-called "insurgents" in Iraq and Muhammad rise to the level of belligerent. The Qur'aysh (the dominant tribe in control of Mecca during Muhammad's life) viewed Muhammad's military battles to be a matter of war. The Muslims certainly did as jihad doctrine is based largely on the battles with the Qur'aysh (both in the Qur'an and the Sunna). While al-Qaeda or local terrorist cells, as well as Muhammad, may not be combatants under the command of a state they certainly qualify as "inclined to or exhibiting assertiveness, hostility, or combativeness." Regardless of the modern day parallels, the Qur'aysh weren't a nation state either, merely the strongest and most wealth tribe in Arabia. The term "insurgent" is erroneously applied to Muhammad with respect to actions against other tribes. Moreover, the umma was the a faith based community with its own government and military elements. One could - and many have - argue that the umma was a nation.

Parsing definitions aside, the term "insurgent" to the general public is one that carries a negative connotation. I cannot imagine that to state officials or trained military officials the term is positive either. In the end, it is the implied negative representation that was offensive to me.

2) The label "terrorism"
- Much like the negative term "insurgent," the argument that Muhammad used "terrorism" to spread his faith and as the predominant military strategy of his army is again offensive.

"Terrorism seems to be an indispensable element of a successful insurgency, and it was no less so in Muhammad's case. He used terrorism in two basic ways: First, he ensured discipline among his followers by making public examples of traitors and backsliders...Second, Muhammad used terrorism to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies to a large scale."

Acts of treason and military defection punished by death are not limited to Muslim armies. Gabriel references the execution of Jewish tribes - Arabs of Jewish faith - as an example of terrorism against his enemies. However, what Gabriel fails to mention is that the tribes sold out Muhammad to the Qur'aysh - in fact leaving the Muslim army to die - before and during battles. According to Arabic tribal law his reprisal - death of their men for his - is not without precedence. It was less an act of terrorism ("the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion") as it was a matter of retribution. Gabriel also mentions Muhammad's execution of Meccans after he finally conquers the city, however this was limited to "pagans." Converts to Islam or dhimmi - people of the book; Christians and Jews - would not have been killed. Muhammad and his men probably did kill many Meccans after they overtook the city; I am sure that many died at his command. Does that make him any different than any other military conqueror after years of war? (Fallujah anyone?) If the answer is "no" then either every military leader is a terrorist or Gabriel is singling out Muhammad for his own personal reasons.

Despite Gabriel's claim that the faith Muhammad founded and spread should not be measured by the brutality of its Prophet, the tone of the article and the terminology used does little to bolster Gabriel's claim. The last two sentences of the article are:

"Conservative Sunnis, such as the Wahhabis of Arabia, and modern militant jihadis in Iraq and Pakistan still adhere to the traditional doctrine [of jihad]. It is among these militant conservative Muslims that the military legacy of Muhammad is most alive today."

It's not much different than telling the populace of the Middle East that the raping and pillaging campaigns of the Vikings and Genghis Khan are most alive today in the United States armed forces. Or compairing our forces to that of the Crusaders as Islamist rhetoric is quick to do.

3) The last section
- Gabriel ends the piece by trying to summarize complex theological and juristic differences with Islam in seven paragraphs. This section does little to clear up the readers questions regarding Shi'ism v. Sunnism, the legitimacy of the doctrine of jihad, classical v. modern interpretations of the jihad doctrine, and what constitutes jus ad bellum and jus in bello under Shari'a. The last seven paragraphs did nothing more than paint Islam as a religion of blood thirsty torturing heathens. By the end of the article you may believe that Muslim warriors are likely to come out of the closet and kill your children at night for not eating the their vegetables as they complete a nightly raid of your neighborhood.


While Gabriel does acknowledge Muhammad's - and his advisers' - military prowess, he also takes the opportunity to paint Islam as a backwards blood thirsty religion by using terms such as "terrorism," and "insurgent," and by adding convoluted and highly debated theological and legal doctrines into the article. The article is not devoid of merit, but it is also not devoid of polemics.

Irony for the day: Gabriel is the angel that acted as the medium between Muhammad and Allah. The Revelation passed on to Muhammad and contained in the Qur'an are the words of Gabriel.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Independence Holiday

I will be off for the homeland of Ankeny Iowa soon. I may or not may have an internet connection at my mom's, so there may be a lapse in new musings. I'm sure my small reader community will survive.

I intend to catch some Triple-A baseball and a Barack Obama speech while I am in the Des Moines area, so look for some thoughts when I return.

Have a safe and fun holiday!

Monday, July 2, 2007

The New Boogeyman

Over the last few days al-Qaeda has been linked to three terrorist attacks outside of Iraq: Yemen, Scotland, and London.

Perhaps I under estimate the power and reach of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri but it seems like anything that goes wrong is linked to al-Qaeda. They are the modern day boogeymen. The Yemenese are blaming al-Qaeda for the deaths of Spanish tourists in an attack that echoes the much deadlier attack at Luxor in 1997. An attack that was not committed by al-Qaeda but Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and Jihad Talaat al-Fath - while al-Qaeda claims al-Gama'a Islamiyya has since joined the ranks of al-Qaeda they were autonomous in 1997. While the Yemenese government believes "al-Qaeda could be involved" the article also mentions that they are prone to blame unrest on al-Qaeda.

The car bomb threat in the UK is also being linked to al-Qaeda. The UK officials stated that the threat is linked to al-Qaeda personnel or associates in a "general way."

If al-Qaeda is as far reaching and influencial as the media and government agencies tell us then the "war on terror" is going to end up with the "evil" side winning. Al-Qaeda is like The Hand or the Illuminati. They seemingly control the world and are behind every crime committed on the planet. It may be true they al-Qaeda inspires regional groups to cowardly attack civilians but that doesn't mean that al-Qaeda organized it or aided the attack in anyway. If inspiration is enough the United States would be behind every attack linked to al-Qaeda. The United States not only trained and aided some of al-Qaeda's top officials, it inspires them to kill noncombatants through our Israeli support, "immoral" lifestyle, and prescence in the land of Islam's holiest cities.

While linking every terrorist attack on the planet to al-Qaeda certainly rallies the victims to support their repsective governments in their fight against Islamist radicals and the "war on terror", it also has the equally damning result of making al-Qaeda that much more mythic. We are feeding the myth that al-Qaeda can take down the "Crusaders" and the powerful West.