Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two on Bangladesh

Sadanand Dhume in the WSJ.
Perhaps most strikingly, Bangladesh—the world's third most populous Muslim-majority country after Indonesia and Pakistan—has shown a willingness to confront both terrorism and the radical Islamic ideology that underpins it. Since taking office in 2009, the Awami League-led government has arrested local members of the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, the al Qaeda affiliate Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami-Bangladesh, and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, a domestic outfit responsible for a wave of bombings in 2005.

In July, the Supreme Court struck down a 31-year-old constitutional amendment and restored Bangladesh to its founding status as a secular republic. The government has banned the writings of the radical Islamic ideologue Abul Ala Maududi (1903-79), founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, the subcontinent's most influential Islamist organization. Maududi regarded warfare for the faith as an exalted form of piety and encouraged the subjugation of women and non-Muslims. A long-awaited war crimes tribunal will try senior Jamaat-e-Islami figures implicated in mass murder during Bangladesh's bloody secession from Pakistan.

This is apparently riling up foreign Islamists: US Islamists Take Issue with Bangladesh's Crackdown on Radicals.

Well, everyone's true colors will out. Here is some of what Bangladesh has done:

* Four senior Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders, including the party's leader Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, were arrested in July in connection with mass killings and other war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The four reportedly led Islamist militias targeting pro-independence supporters and religious minorities. Bangladeshi sources claim the Pakistani army, with the aid of local collaborators, killed as many as 3 million people during the nine-month war that ended with the surrender of the Pakistani army and Bangladesh's emergence as an independent nation.

* A recent ban was imposed on books by Islamist scholar Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi in mosques and libraries across Bangladesh. Maududi founded the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party in 1941 in Lahore, Pakistan, then part of British India. He is a leading pioneer of Islamic revivalism in South Asia and has been reported to be inspired by the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood, a global Islamic revivalist movement founded in Egypt in 1928 that seeks to establish a worldwide caliphate based on Islamic law. In one of those books, Let us be Muslim, Maududi preached that Muslims "must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God."

* Bangladesh's Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict in July overturning a 1979 constitutional amendment legitimizing military rule and sanctioning the participation of religious parties in politics. "Secularism will again be the cornerstone of our constitution," said law minister Shafiq Ahmed. "Islamic parties cannot use religion in politics anymore." The country's highest court also ruled the use of religious fatwas to mete punishment "illegal and without legal authority."

* Earlier this year, police arrested Mohiuddin Ahmed and Syed Golam Mawla, top leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist movement that seeks to establish a worldwide Islamist caliphate ruled by Sharia. Both Ahmed and Mawla are professors at the prestigious Dhaka University and Ahmed is the chief coordinator of HuT in Bangladesh. The arrests followed the government's ban of the HuT in October last year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Standing up to Bullying

The Free Press Society and Gregorius Nekschot

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The laws of economics and morality

But maybe this is an opportunity to reiterate a point I try to make now and then: economics is not a morality play. It’s not a happy story in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished. The market economy is a system for organizing activity — a pretty good system most of the time, though not always — with no special moral significance. 

Nitin Pai on Pakistan

Nitin Pai:
We need to stop believing that dialogue with Pakistan will somehow convince the military-jihadi complex to change. We need to start engaging the powers that scaffold Pakistan and compel them to influence the behaviour of their charge.

It is generally a good idea to let bad ideas self-destruct. For all the chaos in Russia in the 1990s, few people -- at least in the West -- will argue that allowing the Soviet Union to collapse was a bad thing to do. Imagine what ordinary Americans might have thought if, say Japan, had injected billions of dollars to prop up the Soviet Union, because, you know, "who wants a failed state with nuclear weapons?" Yet that is exactly what the United States is doing now with Pakistan.

India has sought to reassure the military-jihadi complex of its peaceful intent through a policy of unilateral reassurance. In the words of a former high commissioner to Pakistan,"[if] we want to give the Army reasons to change its mind on India, we can only do it through the reassurances we convey in a sustained dialogue." The reassurances, unfortunately, have been read as arising out of weakness: there is every sign that General Ashfaq Kayani is resolutely focussed on the old project. (Some Western analysts are sympathetic to the argument that intentions mean little and Pakistan is justified in worrying about India's growing capabilities. By this logic, Mexico and Canada must have nuclear arsenals, hundreds of missiles and non-state actors targeting the United States).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Read before you vote!

Transcript of a Jon Stewart takedown of the Republicans

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Anything for a vote

See this on CIP's blog.

This kind of thing makes any civil debate very difficult.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On being rich in America

Prof. Brad DeLong has a very good post on how being rich in America has changed over the years. I need to keep this for my scrapbook.  It provides a great insight into the effects of income inequality on the rich.

Cast yourself back to 1980. In 1980 a household at the bottom of the 1% rich households in America had an income equivalent in today's dollars $190,000 a year. They know of 1000 people--900 of them poorer than they are in income brackets 90-99% and 100 people richer than they are in the top 1% income bracket. The 900 people poorer than them back in 1980 had incomes from $85,000-$190,000 a year. Those are, if you are sitting at the bottom of the top 1%, the middle class who are not as successful as you. You don't look downward much. Instead, you look upward. Of the 100 above you, 90 in 1980 had incomes less than three times their incomes. And they would have known of 1 person of that 100 who was seven times as rich as they were.

Now fast forward to today. Today a household at the bottom of the 1% rich households in America has an income of nearly $400,000 a year--the income of that slot in the labor market has more than doubled, while the incomes of those at the slot at the bottom of the 10% wealthy has grown by only 20% in two decades. The 900 people he knows in the 90%-99% slots have incomes that start at $110,000 a year. Compared to Henderson's $455,000, they are barely middle class--"How can they afford cell phones?" Henderson sometimes wonders.
But he wonders rarely. He doesn't say: "Wow! My real income is more than twice the income of somebody in this slot a generation ago! Wow! A generation ago the income of my slot was only twice that of somebody at the bottom of the 10% wealthy, and now it is 3 1/2 times as much!" For he doesn't look down at the 99% of American households who have less income than he does. And he looks up. And when he looks up today he sees as wide a gap yawning above him as the gap between Dives and Lazarus. Mr. Henderson doesn't look down.
Instead, Mr. Henderson looks up. Of the 100 people richer than he is, fully ten have more than four times his income. And he knows of one person with 20 times his income. He knows who the really rich are, and they have ten times his income: They have not $450,000 a year. They have $4.5 million a year. And, to him, they are in a different world.
And so he is sad. He and his wife deserve to be successful. And he knows people who are successful. But he is not one of them--widening income inequality over the past generation has excluded him from the rich who truly have money.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Silence of the Lambs

Molly Norris was a cartoonist in Seattle.   After Comedy Central edited out references to Muhammad in an episode of "South Park", Molly Norris published a poster on the Internet,  "satirically proposing that people draw figures of the Prophet Muhammad on May 20", which she proposed as "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day".  She quickly apologized and backed down, but The New York Times reports:

A cartoonist in Seattle who promoted an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” last spring is now in hiding after her life was threatened by Islamic extremists.

The cartoonist, Molly Norris, has changed her name and has stopped producing work for a local alternative newspaper, Seattle Weekly, according to the newspaper’s editor, Mark D. Fefer.

Mr. Fefer declined an interview request Thursday, citing “the sensitivity of the situation.” But in a letter to readers about Ms. Norris on Wednesday, he said that “on the insistence of top security specialists at the F.B.I., she is, as they put it, ‘going ghost’: moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity.”
Mr. Fefer wrote that Ms. Norris had likened her situation “to cancer — it might basically be nothing, it might be urgent and serious, it might go away and never return, or it might pop up again when she least expects it.” Mr. Fefer wrote that Ms. Norris had likened her situation “to cancer — it might basically be nothing, it might be urgent and serious, it might go away and never return, or it might pop up again when she least expects it.”
What is remarkable is the silence of the liberals.  For instance, there is only one diary on dailykos. Some may think that Molly Norris called this on herself by stirring a hornet's nest.  Well, the same is true of Imam Rauf and his Park51 mosque - he too stirred up a hornet's nest, but they were out in force defending him.  And at worst, his opposition was using their free speech rights.

If liberals want to control the narrative, they are going to have to be more aggressive in protesting threats to anyone's rights, not just their pet causes.

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal, now solidly right-wing opines:

'There Is No More Molly'
Does Obama believe in the First Amendment for anyone other than Muslims


"There is no more Molly," reports Seattle Weekly. Molly Norris, formerly a cartoonist for the alternative paper, has gone into hiding. At the suggestion of the FBI, "she is, as they put it, 'going ghost': moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity."

Why? Because, as the New York Times reports, imam Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Islamic supremacist who is himself in hiding in Yemen, issued a fatwa in July declaring that Norris "should be taken as a prime target of assassination" because of a cartoon she drew two months earlier titled "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day."

In October 2001, by the way, the New York Times described al-Awlaki, who then ran a mosque in Virginia, as someone who "is held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West." How's that working out?

Here's another question: Where is President Obama? Last month, speaking to a mostly Muslim audience at the White House, the president strongly defended the right of another imam held up as a moderate to build a mosque adjacent to Ground Zero. The next day, and again at a press conference last week, Obama said he was merely standing up for the First Amendment. As far as we recall, it's the only time Barack Obama has ever stood up for anybody's First Amendment rights.

Now Molly Norris, an American citizen, is forced into hiding because she exercised her right to free speech. Will President Obama say a word on her behalf? Does he believe in the First Amendment for anyone other than Muslims?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dish Network DVRs

The first DVR that Dish Network installed for me failed within a month.  They replaced it for no charge. This copy of the same model was noisier, but otherwise ran without problem for a few months.  Then it revealed itself to have been created by the Microsoft school of programming.  The DVR started rebooting itself at 10:47 PM every evening.

The DVR apparently downloads the program guide and other information once every twenty four hours.  The time when it does this is supposedly settable from a preferences menu, and is nominally set for 3:00 AM.  From what I can gather from the web, the DVR reboots itself at the time when it downloads the program guide. Presumably its operating system has a memory leak or some other problem so that it will eventually crash unless it is periodically rebooted.   Resetting the "download program guide" time from the preferences menu did not do anything about the daily 10:47 PM reboot.

Anyway, Dish Network's technician's answer to this problem is
1. Pull out the plug and leave the DVR unpowered for a while.
2. If the problem doesn't go away the DVR has to be replaced.
3. They want to charge a shipping fee and a replacement fee for their stupid DVR.  I protested, and the Dish representative on the phone grudgingly waived the charge.

So, along comes copy 3 of the DVR.  Sure enough, within a week, it starts rebooting at an odd time, at 9:47 PM (I guess they shipped me a refurbished copy from one time zone to the west?).

At this point I'm fed up.  So, as soon as my contract with them is over, I'm abandoning Dish, once and for all.

(BTW, the standard "fix" to most problems with Dish seems to be to power-cycle the equipment.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tell me lies

Introducing the draft Constitution to the Indian Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar answered several criticisms of the draft. He said among other things the following:
What I am sorry about is that the provisions taken from the Government of India Act, 1935, relate mostly to the details of administration. I agree that administrative details should have no place in the Constitution. I wish very much that the Drafting Committee could see its way to avoid their inclusion in the Constitution.....

..... it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form by merely changing the form of the administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution. It follows that it is only where people are saturated with Constitutional morality such as the one described by Grote the historian that one can take the risk of omitting from the Constitution details of administration and leaving it for the Legislature to prescribe them. The question is, can we presume such a diffusion of Constitutional morality? Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.

In these circumstances it is wiser not to trust the Legislature to prescribe forms of administration. This is the justification for incorporating them in the Constitution.

Harsh truth! We are the better for it.

Jinnah, too, noted it, e.g.,
The irony of the situation that the Hindu caste community which is not only least fitted but unfit for any experiment in the realm of democracy is clamouring for and is falling head over heels in love with democracy.

Speech at the meeting of the Muslim University Union
Aligarh, March 10, 1941.
Archives of Freedom Movement, Vol. 237.

On the other hand, Jinnah (Aug 11, 1947, to the Pakistani Constituent Assembly)
The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan.
I suppose it is considered to be disrespectful of the religion to point out that the stuff in bold is simply wrong.   I think if someone had been kind enough to throw Ambedkar's words at the Pakistan Constituent Assembly - that democracy in Pakistan or in Islam is essentially top-dressing on a deeply undemocratic soil -  it would have been a great favor to them.  Instead, since Pakistan is Islamic, and Islam is essentially democratic - hey, Jinnah told us so -  Pakistan is automatically democratic. 

I bring this up because I see far too many American liberals taken up with this kind of nonsense.  They fall all over any Muslim who merely eschews violence, hail him as a moderate, and marvel that he talks of the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and do not care to examine the actual content of the ideas.  E.g., Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf.

Margaret Bourke-White, back in 1947, was smarter.

...I hoped he had a constructive plan for the seventy million citizens of Pakistan. What kind of constitution did he intend to draw up?

"Of course it will be a democratic constitution; Islam is a democratic religion."

I ventured to suggest that the term "democracy" was often loosely used these days. Could he define what he had in mind?

"Democracy is not just a new thing we are learning," said Jinnah. "It is in our blood. We have always had our system of zakat -- our obligation to the poor."

This confusion of democracy with charity troubled me. I begged him to be more specific.

"Our Islamic ideas have been based on democracy and social justice since the thirteenth century."

This mention of the thirteenth century troubled me still more. Pakistan has other relics of the Middle Ages besides "social justice" -- the remnants of a feudal land system, for one. What would the new constitution do about that? .. "The land belongs to the God," says the Koran. This would need clarification in the constitution. Presumably Jinnah, the lawyer, would be just the person to correlate the "true Islamic principles" one heard so much about in Pakistan with the new nation's laws. But all he would tell me was that the constitution would be democratic because "the soil is perfectly fertile for democracy."

On Azaadi

The Great Bong hits a sixer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

I spent some time this weekend, listening to about five of the Perimeter Institute's recorded lectures on the Foundations and Interpretation of Quantum Theory, available here. It was heavy going and I'm not sure I've learned a lot.

Let me just mention the problem. Quantum mechanics has an impeccable mathematical formalism, and a simple mathematical rule to relate what you calculate using the machinery with the outcomes of measurements. If you're satisfied with this then you belong to the "Shut Up and Calculate" school of physicists. What the formalism has trouble with is relating the mathematical formalism to our ordinary intuitions of the world. It is difficult even to explain how the illusion of what we perceive arises.

At this point, I refer you to Wiki.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Einstein on Socialism

I trust that this is authentic.
I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

New Jersey Drought!  It has been an extremely dry summer.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Through a thick pane of glass. Upped the structure and contrast in Viveza


The problem with a super telephoto is that framing in the close environs of a zoo can be difficult.



The Somnolent


The Ancient



from the Baltimore zoo.  Nothing inspiring, but gotta keep this blog going :


PS: following Rajan's comment, corrected exposure: