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Who speaks for the group?

October 25th, 2008 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Often times, people ask who speaks on behalf of group Y.  Now group Y can anything, such as representatives of a nation, religion, city, minority, etc.  It’s an on-going conflict between people who have different ideas and who has the to say “this is what group Y thinks.”  Why is this relevant?  I’ll get to that in a bit.

Three people convicted in connection with the infamous Bali Bombing of 2002 have been executed.  For reference, here’s an article on the matter:


Fury grips bombers’ villages

10/11/2008 11:13:00 AM

Islamic leaders have condemned the Bali bombers in a bid to quell religious tensions after the three militants died together at the hands of elite Indonesian police snipers in Central Java yesterday.Indonesia was last night on high alert for terrorist attacks and mob violence as hundreds of hardline followers gathered in the bombers’ home villages in East and West Java to bury the men responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings.

Authorities fear reprisals as news of the executions reverberates around the archipelago and world, and Australia has warned travellers to reconsider their plans to visit the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The head of Indonesia’s top Islamic body, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, denounced Amrozi, his brother Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, saying they had not died as martyrs as the three wished.

The head of the organisation, Umar Shihab, told website detik.com, ”To die as a martyr is impossible: people who kill cannot be said to be martyrs unless it is war.

”I think it’s not right. We are not at war.

”We are in peace and what they did, they killed Muslims.”

The three bombers died immediately and opted not to be blindfolded before their execution by firing squad, officials said.

Police were on high alert across Indonesia, particularly at shopping centres and embassies, which have recently been subject to bomb threats.

Hundreds of supporters chanted and tried to break through police lines in Tenggulun, East Java, to get close to the bodies of Amrozi and Mukhlas, which arrived by helicopter before being placed in two ambulances.

Hundreds of heavily armed police could not control the 500-strong crowd which surged around the ambulances.

Clashes broke out and the police were driven off the road amid shouts of ”Jihad!” and ”Get out!”

Similar scenes greeted the arrival, in the West Java town of Serang, of Imam Samudra’s body as it was paraded through the streets between his local mosque and graveyard, shrouded in a black cloth bearing a Koranic inscription in Arabic.

Members of a radical group headed by hardline cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the co-founder of Jemaah Islamiah, who was jailed on a conspiracy charge related to the bombings before being released, pushed people aside to make way for the body.

Westerners in both villages were abused as ”infidels” and told to leave.

Earlier, as the bombers were taken from their isolation cells where they had lived for the past three years and been held under special conditions for the past week, they shouted ”Allahu Akbar!” or ”God is Great!”

Heavy storms cleared as the men were handcuffed and placed in separate trucks for the 6km journey to their execution site, an orange plantation in a disused prison on Nusakambanan Island, known as Indonesia’s Alcatraz, off Central Java. It is not yet known what their last words were as they were chained to separate 2m-tall poles, several metres from each other, and a doctor placed a marker over the exact position of their hearts.

Then groups of 12 specially trained police snipers lined up facing each of them. After receiving the final order from their commander, they simultaneously peppered the bodies with 5.6mm bullets.

Only one sniper in each group had a live bullet, a spokesman for the Indonesian Attorney-General’s Office, Jasman Pandjaitan, said.

The three condemned men did not put up a fight before their executions, he said.

”They were very cooperative,” Jasmine said of the convicted terrorists.

”They died immediately, a few moments after they were shot.”

The men had asked not to be blindfolded but did not give a reason for the request, he said.

Prosecutors informed the men last Wednesday about their impending date with the death squad, and they were moved into complete isolation on Friday.

”The three of them were asked if they had anything to convey: they didn’t convey any message,” Mr Jasman said.

After the three were pronounced dead, their bodies were taken to a health clinic for autopsy, and their bodies prepared for burial, in line with Islamic custom.

A brother of Amrozi and Mukhlas, Ali Fauzi, brought two 20m-long pieces of fabric from his home village in which to wrap his brothers’ bodies. The execution was said to be the most elaborate yet in Indonesia, with up to 1000 mobile brigade police on the island for security purposes.

Reaction was swift across Indonesia, and the world, after the state-sanctioned deaths of the men who killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, when they organised twin bomb attacks at nightclubs in Bali on October 12, 2002.

In Bali and Australia, the news brought relief to some survivors and families of Bali bombing victims but others feared reprisal attacks.

Former Adelaide magistrate Brian Deegan, who lost his son Josh in the bombings, said, yesterday, ”I have [a sense of] trepidation as to what might happen as a result of this.”


Reading that article, one might walk away thinking that Indonesia as a whole supports the people who were executed, and the execution might have been done to appease the “West”.  Reading the article carefully, however, revels this little blurb:

The head of Indonesia’s top Islamic body, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, denounced Amrozi, his brother Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, saying they had not died as martyrs as the three wished.

The head of the organisation, Umar Shihab, told website detik.com, ”To die as a martyr is impossible: people who kill cannot be said to be martyrs unless it is war.

”I think it’s not right. We are not at war.

”We are in peace and what they did, they killed Muslims.”

The article also mentions 500 people were there to receive the body.  To put things in context, Indonesia has a population of ~237 million.  Of the ~237 million, 204 million are Muslim.  Also note that these ‘Ulama’ are the religious leaders of Indonesia, and it’s likely they represent the majority of the country.

Now, on to my point.

Here, you have a spokesperson who represents the majority of the population, and issuing a statement (which was stated before and was one of the reasons they were sentences to death), and it gets a little blurb in the article.  While the rest is the article is about how this small group of supporters ran amok with the funural (noting that the government gave strict conditions to allow the families to bury the bodies, and the government was willing to recind that privilage when threats were made).

I find it ironic that some groups are allowed to be branded, while others get a free pass.  No one can deny that Muslims were the responsible parties on 9/11, 3/11, London bombings, etc..  On the same token, other groups can’t deny what was attributed to the group that affected the public at large (Guatamal Contra, Operation Ajax in Iran, Colonial rule in N. Africa, etc.).  Being human means we have a human history, and human history is wrought with very tragic things.

Oh well.

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The Genders

October 10th, 2008 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Women totally dominate men of intellect and possessors of hearts.
But ignorant men dominate women, for they are shackled by an animal ferocity.
They have no kindness, gentleness or love, since animality dominates their nature.
Love and kindness are human attributes; anger and sensuality belong to the animals.
” -Rumi
The above quote strikes as one of the clear distinctions between progressive-modernity and tradition.  To provide some background info, Rumi is a famous Persian poet (Muslim) who lived during the 13th century.  To put things in perspective, 400 years AFTER Rumi said that the above quote was when the Salem Witch Trials took place.
Now I’ll go into details on why I made that last statement.  Islam is constantly in the news/media today as a religion that promotes the following things:
  • Forced dominance of the religion
  • Subjugation of women
  • Violence
  • etc.

It would take far too long to go through all of the above.  I might touch on the others later, but who knows.

To give some perspective on the time the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Edictum Rothari, or the compilation of compilation of Lombard law, was promulgated.  These laws were very detailed for its time.  Some notable references with regards to women are:

  • Women could not inherit
  • Vigilantism, as it applied to killing women for her unchaste actions, was allowed
  • Women could not own land
  • Women were under forced wardship of men
  • etc.
I attended a  World History lecture where the lecturer said around the time Islam was growing, there was a session held in Rome about the very nature of women.  The meeting was to figure out if women were actually the same as men (from mankind), or if they were temptresses for Satan.  I can’t find any details on this now.  Should I find any I will update this post.
During the Seventh century women were subjected to many similar tribulations in Arabia.  Much like Europe, families prized men as children, and female infants were often subjected to infanticide as female children “shamed” families.  Once Islam became established women were given the following rights (still in the Seventh Century AD) :
  • Infanticide was forbidden
  • Women were allowed to own land
  • Women had financial rights
  • Males in families became the protectors of the female members
  • etc.
Now back to Rumi’s quote, which was made 600 years after Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) death.  Here you have a man, who lives far from Arabia, and his claim that women are women dominate men of intellect.  The counter side is that men without hearts will dominate women by force (subjugation).  This type of man has the need to dominate in their relationships.  They are devoid of of gentleness and kindness
Things like this get my blood pressure up as it just proves more and more why relativism is a complete sham, but that’s a post for another time.

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The Art of Begging

September 23rd, 2008 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Do not hustle sign

I was in NYC the week before Christmas, 2007 for training.  One of the most interesting aspects of the big cities are the types of beggars.  The commons ones are as follows:

  • The drunk: trying to fill his last empty cup with some change to score another drink
  • The musician: who is sometimes quite good, and other times quite terrible.
  • The guy with the story board: always a good read
  • The artist: does something to attract attention (act as a statue, robot, etc).

There were two guys in NYC that stood out.  One had a sign that said “I am the famous Italian singer (insert name I don’t remember)”.  The sign had more than that, but that was the key point.  He felt his best way to ask for handouts was to inform everyone of his identity (if that’s who he really was).  Unfortunately, I was in a big crowd and did not have time to snap a picture.  The second guy was not begging, but he was a bell ringer for The Salvation Army.  Most bell ringers just smile and ring their bell.  This guy (Hispanic guy, marginal accent) kept repeating in line with “give those something who have nothing, give something to people who need it” (among other things).  Which was a pretty good and strong pitch.

I found a “residence” of sorts later on that same night.  I don’t have the picture on me at this time, but I will update this post when I find it.

This past weekend (Sept 20-21, 2008), I was in Antwerp and Brugge, Belgium.  Like any other large city, you had your various panhandlers looking for a handout.  The “artists” are the ones that usually get my attention, with the musicians in second if they are doing something unique.

The guy on the left was playing some type of percussion instrument (Brugge).  From a distance, I was under the impression someone was playing a harp.  When I found the source, it was a guy with a UFO shaped metal… thing… that had depressions in the metal around the outside.  He tapped the depressions to play the instrument, but to my naive ears, it sounded like a harp.  In any case, it was something new to me so I tossed a couple a couple Euro coins in.

The artist was next (Antwerp).  In the city center of Antwerp, there are a number of historic buildings, churchs, bell towers, statues, etc..  Next to one particular batch of statues was an individual who painted himself to resemble the statues, and with his eyes closed, it was a damn close match.  A double take on the artist was required as was able to stand very still.  Some kids attempted to fish their hands into his contribution cup, to which he broke his stance and slowly moved his cane over to brush their hands away.  Since I was marginally entertained and I took a picture of him, I tossed a few coins in.

Some people complain that these people need to “get off their lazy bums and find a job”.  In some respect, the artist or musician provides some for of entertainment and that could qualift as a job.

Anyway, here’s a video I shot with a digital camera in Inverness, Scotland of a street bagpipe player (May, 2005)


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The Misfortune of being Fortunate

January 20th, 2008 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Today’s world is one that necessitates the full exploitation of the senses. Food, entertainment, religion, transportation, etc. – everything now involves the maximum use of everything possible.

Some (negative) examples below:

  • Virtue has almost no value
  • Everyone has the right to do everything, but no one needs the “license”
  • Being moderate is considered bad
  • We encourage conformism for bad habits, but discourage them for good habits (examples listed below)
    • Not drinking alcohol is frowned upon, as drinking is “normal”
    • Being unwilling to partake in risky behavior makes you “weak” (exceptions noted)
    • Not cursing is irregular
    • etc.

Economics is the all about opportunity cost. If I do *X*, how will I benefit, how will I be adversely affected? There are three major assumptions that exists in basic economical theory

  1. People have rational preferences among outcomes that can be identified and associated with a value.
  2. Individuals maximize utility and firms maximize profits.
  3. People act independently on the basis of full and relevant information.

The first part I always seem to have a problem with. Short term gain always seems to take precedent over long term effects. People operate in an extremely irrational manner, making decisions because the perceived impact is lower than the actual impact. Add to that a reduction in the amount of “shame” society in general now has (the shame that was once associated with drug/alcohol abuse, promiscuity, etc. among other unethical/immoral behaviors). Beyond that, the repercussions of actions are then minimized by the introduction of laws that are supposed to cover every minute detail of life (creating definitions for everything). Not only are people not ashamed of their actions, but often, the law has stepped in to define what people can and can not seek recourse from.

The third rule also seems to lacking in today’s world. With the amount of information that exists, there seems to be a sufficient amount of misinformation to supplement and counter the information, and plenty of people appear to be making decisions on the misinformation that exists.

The idea of moderation is on the brink of extinction. Being humble, or getting by on a reasonable lifestyle, is no longer acceptable. Life is about exploitation of the senses and constant self indulgence.

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Content with the Present

January 8th, 2008 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Sitting around gaging how things have been going the last three years, I began to contemplate if I was content with the present, my present. I then recalled something that my wife shared (something someone said to her):

People who look for drastic changes in their lives are not happy with their present. They think a major change in their daily routines will make them happy. They’re usually wrong.

Happiness is such an important part of daily life. An important part of achieving happiness on a daily basis is being content with the present. By constantly being displeased with the present, a desire for a drastic change will persist that most likely has little chance of fulfilling the desired outcome. That desire is often filled with unrealistic expectations of what the “change” will hold, whether is be financial housing, weather, etc.. We’re always looking for that next step, since our present isn’t “it”. The next step will fulfill EVERYTHING.

What next step? What will it offer and how do I know it will be different from what I have? Are my surroundings the cause of my desire for change, or is my perception of my surroundings causing the distorted perception of the present and the desire for an unrealistic future?

The truth: There is no next step. There is only the here and now and the decisions we make now will impact what the next step CAN be. No sense is griping over the present, the best thing to do is be content, make the best of it, and go from there.

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Value Adding

December 30th, 2007 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

During Ramadan in 2007, I was able to meet a student from UM Flint by chance. He came to attend an Community Iftar (breaking of the fast) at the Mosque in Flint, MI and I happened to be there visiting my family that same day. He was not Muslim, he had just come to learn and about one aspect of the Muslim faith, and since he didn’t really know anyone there, I decided to act as host and keep him company during his visit that night.

Of all the things discussed that night these were the points of interest:

  • He was a Math and Physics major (with a good GPA)
  • He had taken a year off to help with the relief effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
  • His sense of adding the most value was digging a well in some remote village

…and that was when it hit me. It seems by living in a place of relative comfort, when compared with many other parts of the world, is something to be ashamed of. So much that he thought that he could be the most useful doing the most mundane tasks that can be attributed to the most basic technology in developing or underdeveloped areas. While those things are “noble”, someone who has a technical skill beyond manual labor should work where they can provide the most return on their time.

It’s just mind boggling. If someone has the capicity to do something great, like improve the irrigation process for farmers in the developing world, then that has a much better impact than helping them dig a new well. On the same token, throwing money at problems doesn’t fix them either, but that’s another story.

I think they should mandate everyone take intro to econ classes so people can learn about absolute and competitive advantages…

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Kids say the dardest things

December 20th, 2007 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

The inability for children (younger than seven) to process things is often accepted as normal, that they don’t have the cognative ability to understand certain situations. While this statement often has merit, every now and then something comes through that completely contradicts this and really brings things into perspective.

(For whatever reason, this has been a recent recurring theme, and I have no idea why/when it will stop).

Losing someone is never easy. I posted back in February that I had lost someone very close to me. This perosn was also a son, an uncle, a father and husband. My wife shared two things his youngest son (he’s ~5 years old) had said during that weekend (Feb 9-11):

  • The wife of the deceased was crying (this was within two days of his death). The youngest son, uncomfortable with the sight of his mom upset said “Mom, why are you crying if dad is in heaven?”
  • My wife was playing with the youngest son (same one in the previous bullet point), trying to make conversation about, well, anything. They came to the topic of his toys and favorite things to do and what he liked to play with. He mentioned he really liked to ride his bike. My wife, eager to engage in a conversation, asked who got him the bike. He responded that “my dad got it for him when he was alive.”

The second statement really struck me, as it demonstrated this child knew he was not going to see his father again. He understood there are two (high level) stages in life, alive and not alive, and he differentiated events by that time frame. The first one doesn’t really strike the same chord, as it comes from things taught from a religious point of view (what happens after death).

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The Profound Effect of the Tounge on the Heart

December 12th, 2007 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Driving home last weekend, there was a long silence towards the end the trip. As usual, with my insanely active mind, random thoughts began to flow through. Some were memories of actions by a recently deceased individual. In my mind these actions were very profound and, since this person was very close to me, evoked an outward emotional response (a grin). My wife asked me what was flowing through my head, I responded it was something completely unrelated to anything we had discussed. She wondered if I’d share, and I decided to. When I verbally recounted the thoughts, an uncontrolled reaction of my eyes watering and a tremble in my voice. It was very difficult for me to complete the last sentence without an obvious weakness heard in my tone.

Reflecting on that later, I noticed that the thought alone did not evoke any reaction beyond the smirk. It was the same information in both instances, once strictly in “my head”, and the latter a verbal out pour after thinking it over once more. Compound this with the fact that this was my second pass with the information made it a bit more awkward. It was sort of a ‘du’h’ moment, since this applies to the whole concept of “getting it out” when something is bottled up inside. However, this ‘something’ was not bottled up, it was a known… Still, actually saying the words hit hard. When observing someone else going through the same thing, I usually think to myself “they’re just getting it all out.” Contrasting that a self perception, I thought I had gotten it all “out” previously, but apparently that’s not the case.’

Almost seems silly sometimes…

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Net Present Value

October 23rd, 2007 · 1 Comment

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

I helped with interviews on campus this past Friday. Since it was my first time helping I doubled up with someone and took most of the notes while the other person asked all the questions. I took advantage of the opportunity to look for the the distinctive behaviors that separate the good interviewees from the par or bad ones. Once I began to *look* for things, it was obvious who had had rehearsed questions to one specific answer, who had only generated ideas, and who had no idea what they were doing. The following is what I discovered:

  • Pauses work wonder to gather thoughts before answering questions. Rushing into an answer puts a dead lock on the theme for that answer and can be detrimental to your ranking of interviewees
  • People who come in with *props* to pass off for bonus points are easily exposed. Example: Interviewee walks in with the daily WSJ for an afternoon interview and can not recap any of the top stories after stating they were “reading” it.
  • Be aware of hands and facial expressions. They do wonders to convey messages (either supporting your statements or exposing your uncertainty).
  • Be assertive. It’s completely possible to not be the best candidate but to be ranked above others due to positive outlook, and assertiveness

One central aspect that came to mind was that it’s the same way people see investments: The employer may not be doing a long term outlook on the candidates, they want to know who the best candidates are now (only using hindsight). Some of the people I felt had the best potential outlook from a long term perspective, were ranked the lowest because of certain responses or certain things not desirable to the interviewer. Others were able to pull ahead of others because of their positive outlook and how they carried themselves.

The net present value of some candidates did not play into how highly they were ranked, but unless someone comes up with a better crystal ball, nothing will change.

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Does history matter?

October 14th, 2007 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Something interesting to note (at least in my mind):

One of the most adopted concepts people love today is being a relativist, in more than one shape or form. A big one is the moral relativists, where whatever is acceptable today is acceptable, regardless of what history has told us. Or relativism in general, believing that NO absolutes exist what so ever, not even the concept of “truth”.

What adds to the interest here: if you read history, each generation had it’s group of relativists for its time. 20th/21st century, Rome, Mongols, et all, they all had something like that. What makes it even better, is all these groups either had stories passed down by word of mouth, or today, with the vast amounts of books and resources (some good, some bad). The icing on the cake here is that it seems no one is interested in learning from the past.

Here’s kicker  – “I” (not I as in myself, but I as in an individual) should be able to experience whatever I have an interest to try. If someone tells you the stove top is hot, do you actually double check with your palm? Or someone informs you the knife you are working with is razor sharp, do we ensure it is by running our finger along the blade? …and yet feel the need to do this with other things even when others, who may or may not have a direct experience with the topic at hand, advise otherwise.

Some might say a hypocrite is the worst thing you can be. I have two replies to that:

  1. The context of the hypocrisy makes all the difference.
  2. People who are unable to control their own weakness should never allow that to silence them from giving sound advice, or advocating the “good”

For example – an alcoholic who advises someone not to drink, all while carrying a bottle in their hand. It’s still sound, good advice given the source. A counter example would be someone saying that no one should advise them how to raise their children, yet they always see fit to demean, yell, insult, and beat their children. The context makes all the difference.

I might touch more on this later.

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