Friday, January 28, 2011

Blow up the topmast???

What does "blow up the topmast" mean?

I looked for possible phrases with "top mast" and "top sail", to no avail.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Veena Malik's fiery self-defense

The aspiring Pakistani showbiz/actress, Veena Malik, issues a spirited defense of herself, standing up to the beards. Given what Pakistan is today, you have to salute her courage. It is in Hindu/Urdu, sorry, no translation. You can get a sense of the controversy here.

Standing Up to the Bullies

For the record, I do support people's right to wear anything, just subject to the limitations of public safety. (So e.g., a burqa-wearer must still have a recognizable face photograph on her driver's license, and must, if necessary, show her face.)

But I also support people's right to say what they think. Here is an example:
A SYDNEY artist whose anti-burka mural has infuriated left-wing and Islamic activists is vowing that the provocative artwork will stay in place despite death threats, abuse, a string of vandalism attacks, a violent weekend protest and a police request to remove it.

The people who threaten to firebomb Sergio Redegalli's mural are the threat to public safety. If instead, we convert the mural into a threat to public safety (because someone might turn violent) then we've given in the bullies.

To remind you - back in 1927, the British Indian government decided it could ban some speech because various groups threatened to be violent otherwise. Both India and Pakistan haven't gotten that law (IPC 295A) off their books, and are still plagued by the bad law.

PTI reports:

A case was filed against former Test cricketer Ravi Shastri in a local court here for allegedly hurting the religious feelings of Hindus by reportedly eating beef during the India-South Africa Test match in Johannesburg.


The complainant alleged that Shastri has hurt the feelings of Hindus by reportedly eating beef in full knowledge and by commenting, "though I know that I am a Brahmin, I can't stop myself from eating the dish (billtang)."

The law applied was 295A. My being offended by something cannot turn that something into a crime. 295A in essence said - if you're offended by something enough to become violent, that something is a crime.

PS: The right way to deal with it - Sadhvi Ritambhara was due to speak at a Hindu temple in Mahwah, NJ. She is notorious for some rather bloodthirsty anti-Muslim rabble-rousing in India; a local Muslim organization pointed this out to the temple managers; and the temple cancelled her appearance at the temple. S.R.'s meeting was held at a nearby hotel; but I am told that the temple did not permit even a "redirect" sign on their property, to send people to the new venue. This is the appropriate use of the right of private property. ("Say what you like, but on your own dime." - I need to say this for those who ask - what about Ritambhara's freedom of speech?)

Suppose the temple management did not respond gracefully, then violence is not the answer. You make your case, and educate the community. Even just keeping a cool dignity will win some people over.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Interview with Dr Devi Shetty

This is very worth listening to.

This article provides some background. Dr. Devi Shetty has a new model of health care delivery. But you'll understand it only if you listen to the interview.
So essentially I am sitting here and telling the parents, ok, your child has a hole in the heart and it costs sixty thousand rupees which they don't have. So essentially I'm putting a price tag on human life. And that is what we do in all the developing countries. Our only job is putting a price tag on human life. That is unacceptable. So we have to come up with a solution. We can't let people die. I strongly believe India will become the first country in the world to disassociate health care from your bank balance.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Pride of the National Zoo

A lion, 2 lionesses, 7 cubs.  For the zoo-goer, a bundle of fun.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The season past

Capital Xmas Tree

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Both the grayness and the brightness of winter.

Five myths about Southern Secession

With the American Civil War a hundred and fifty years behind us,  it is bound to be fought once again in speeches and essays.  Here is a good one, in my opinion, James Loewen in the Washington Post.

The five myths Loewen explodes are:
  1. The South seceded over states' rights.

  2. In fact, Confederates opposed states' rights -- that is, the right of Northern states not to support slavery.
  3. Secession was about tariffs and taxes.

  4. Southerners had written the tariff of 1857, under which the nation was functioning. Its rates were lower than at any point since 1816.
  5. Most white Southerners didn't own slaves, so they wouldn't secede for slavery.

  6. [S]ecession would maintain not only slavery but the prevailing ideology of white supremacy as well.
  7. Abraham Lincoln went to war to end slavery.

  8. [T]he North initially went to war to hold the nation together. Abolition came later.
  9. The South couldn't have made it long as a slave society.

  10. Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


You should see this.  Our nearest galaxy in glorious detail.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pakistan slips past the Event Horizon

In my opinion, Pakistan has slid past the point of no return to the blackhole of its Islamist future.  I don't think there is anything that can deflect it from the trajectory that it is on.  Read the following and see if you agree.

A group of over 500 Pakistani scholars and clerics have described the policeman who gunned down Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer as a Ghazi (an Islamic warrior) and have warned against any expression of sympathy for the slain Pakistan People's Party leader, saying it would tantamount to an act of blasphemy.

Warning the people against offering funeral prayers for Taseer, 66, the clerics of Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan, a grouping representing the moderate Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims, praised Elite Force policeman Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri and called him a Ghazi.
The clerics said in a statement issued on Tuesday night, "There should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet Mohammed are themselves indulging in blasphemy."

Hailing Malik, the clerics said he had killed Taseer for calling the blasphemy law a 'black law'.

Hailing the 'courage and zeal' of Qadri, the clerics and scholars said his action had made all Muslims proud.

The statement issued by the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan was endorsed by the grouping's 'ameer' or chief Syed Mazhar Saeed Shah Kazmi. It was also endorsed by over 500 scholars and clerics like Allama Syed Riaz Hussain Shah, Shah Turab-ul-Haq Qadri and Pir Ghulam Siddiq Naqshbandi.

Those 'favouring the person who indulged in blasphemy are themselves blasphemous', the scholars and clerics said in the statement.

Paying tribute to Taseer's assassin and his courage, the statement described Qadri as a lover of the Prophet Mohammed and a Ghazi or Islamic warrior.

Qadri had "revived the 14-century-old traditions of Islam" and made Muslims around the world proud, it said.
The clerics and scholars asked intellectuals, ministers, politicians and media personalities who oppose the blasphemy law to learn a lesson from Taseer's death.

These personalities should "save their faith by announcing that they would desist from attempting to amend the blasphemy law," they said.
A leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party's 'ulema' or clerics wing led Taseer's funeral prayer on Wednesday afternoon after several leading clerics of Lahore, including the imams of the Data Darbar shrine and the Shahi Masjid, refused to do so.

The cleric of the mosque at the Governor's House, who is a Barelvi, refused to lead the prayer, sources said.

(from Yahoo News)
ISLAMABAD – Lawyers showered the suspected assassin of a liberal Pakistani governor with rose petals as he entered court. Some 170 miles away, the prime minister joined thousands to mourn the loss of the politician, who dared to challenge the demands of Islamic extremists.....Even so-called moderate Muslim scholars praised 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri for allegedly killing Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer on Tuesday in a hail of gunfire while he was supposed to be protecting him as a bodyguard. Qadri later told authorities he acted because of Taseer's vocal opposition to blasphemy laws that order death for those who insult Islam.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Last Man Standing

The darkness descending on Pakistan was easily foreseen. Still, when it arrives it is a shock.

One of the beginnings of the story is thus, with Asia Bibi, a poor mother of five, a Christian - (wiki):
In June 2009, Asia Bibi, a farm hand from the village of Ittan Wali in Sheikhpura District, was asked to fetch water; she complied, but some of her fellow Muslim workers refused to drink the water as they considered Christians to be "unclean".

There was an altercation. There were words. Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy and thrown into jail. As per Pakistan's blasphemy law, even repeating the words constitutes further blasphemy. As per one publication, Asia might have said, Jesus is alive and Muhammad is dead. We do not know. Asia was held in jail for an year, after which she was pronounced guilty of blasphemy with no mitigating circumstances, and sentenced to death by hanging.

Blasphemy laws are bad, and Pakistan's is particularly so. Some point out that no one has yet been executed for blasphemy. Asia Bibi might be the first. The law is such that it is used by people to harass and destroy their enemies. Just a few days ago, a doctor, Dr Noushad Ali Valliani, chucked the visiting card of a medical rep into the trashcan. The medical rep. was Mr Muhammad Faizan. Dr Valliani had dishonored the name of the Prophet, and formally charged with blasphemy. Such is the law.

Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistani Punjab, thought that injustice had been done to Asia Bibi.
“She is a woman who has been incarcerated for a year-and-a half on a charge trumped up against her five days after an incident where people who gave evidence against her were not even present. So this is a blatant violation against a member of a minority community. I, like a lot of right-minded people, was outraged, and all I did was to show my solidarity. It is the first time in the history of the Punjab that a governor has gone inside a district jail, held a press conference and stated clearly that this is a blatant miscarriage of justice and that the sentence that has been passed is cruel and inhumane. I wanted to take a mercy petition to the president, and he agreed, saying he would pardon Aasiya Bibi if there had indeed been a miscarriage of justice.”

There were howls of protest from Pakistani Islamists. Effigies of Taseer and of Sherry Rehman, a legislator who said that the blasphemy laws must be amended, were burnt at rallies. More ominously:
At a seminar titled ‘Protection of the blasphemy law and its importance’, Justice (r) Mian Nazeer Akhtar said Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was also a blasphemer for he was protecting those who indulged in blasphemy.

Another religious outfit declared Taseer an apostate. (Traditionally, historically, the maximum penalty for apostasy and for blasphemy in Muslim-ruled societies has been death, definitely if the offender doesn't repent. Moreover, the mullahs pronounce such persons to be "Wajib ul Katl" - "obligatory to be killed". If the state doesn't execute the person, any one else can and thereby gain religious merit.)

Taseer stood firm. According to one of his tweets
I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing

On the afternoon of January 4, Salman Taseer was gunned down by one of his guards.
The guard, Mumtaz Qadri of the Punjab Elite Force, yelled out ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ and emptied two magazines of an SMG on the governor in the Kohsar Market before surrendering himself.

He later explained that he had killed Mr Taseer because of his recent criticism of the blasphemy law.

The killing of Taseer has provoked a lot of protest; but also a lot of support for the killer. At one time there were supposedly **three** Facebook pages up felicitating Qadri. {I should point out that an Internet user in Pakistan is hardly likely to be one of those "poor, illiterates misled by the mullahs".} I have no doubt that Qadri thinks he will enjoy the fame of "Martyr" Ilm-ud-Din.

The story of the blasphemy laws has other beginnings. In 1927, the "Rangila Rasul" case (which made Ilm-ud-Din famous) roiled Punjab, and was making its way into the rest of India. The publisher of a scurrilous pamphlet ridiculing the Prophet, was acquitted under existing law of offending religious sentiment, and the Mohammedans were restive. The British Indian government needed a new instrument, and shamefully, Indian nationalists aided them in the Central Legislature in giving them one. The few really liberal members of legislature argued in vain that such a law was not needed; that religion did not need the protection of legislature. The threat though, was of violence - riots - if the government did not act. Then these members argued, again in vain, that the law should have an expiry date of 1930. But what ensued was section 295 of the British Indian Penal Code. After independence, in Pakistan, it was augmented with sections 295B, C, 298, to give the current mess.

The point here is that yield once to intimidation and you are headed down a slippery slope. Now the intimidation is thus (NYT)
A crippling strike by Islamist parties brought Pakistan to a standstill on Friday as thousands of people took to the streets, and forced businesses to close, to head off any change in the country’s blasphemy law, which rights groups say has been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians.

The law was introduced in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq as part of a policy of promoting Islam to unite this deeply fractious society. Many attempts to revise the law have since been thwarted by the strong opposition of religious forces, which continue to gather strength.

The British section 295 is in force in India, and as far as I know, it is used for intimidation; or government uses it to avert the threat of riots.

I'd like to point out that Seattle-based cartoonist Molly Norris is in hiding with a changed identity, because she too "blasphemed" with her quickly withdrawn endorsement of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day".

Free speech advocates of the leftist type don't take her plight seriously, because they see her as needlessly offending a beleaguered Muslim minority in the US of A. What these people do not understand is that it hardly matters that it is a minority of a minority, that is going to take e.g., mullah Anwar al-Aulaki's fatwa seriously - this is a threat deadlier than government efforts to squash inconvenient speech. You don't know when and wherefrom you are going to be attacked. As an SFGate article put it:
While WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is celebrating his $1 million-plus book deal on a 600-acre estate and enjoying his status as a lefty fringe hero, former cartoonist Molly Norris is in hiding.

The moral of this column is that in today's world, cartoons, if they target Islam, can be more hazardous to your health than crossing the mighty U.S. government and its allies.

I think free speech advocates forget that it is offensive speech that need protection; and that protection is needed more than from just the government. If they don't wake up, perhaps one day Salman Taseer will be seen to have been the last man standing.

What a Muslim liberal sounds like

See this interview with Tarek Fatah. He is either speaking the truth, or else confirming all my prejudices :) -- or both!  (Compare and contrast with Imam Faisal Rauf of Ground-Zero Mosque fame; IMO, Rauf is not a liberal, at a minimum Rauf belongs to the class of people Fatah mentions here (emphasis added):
"In the ten years that I spent researching the subject and the 45 years I have spent fighting the forces of medieval darkness that wish to drag the world’s Muslims into the past as a path to the future, it dawned on me that even those who knew the truth about the fraudulent nature of the Islamic State, were not prepared to say so, guilt-ridden in their minds, thinking this would be an act of betrayal of the Muslim community."

To pick a passage:
In the book I make the distinction between three sets of comparisons:

1. Islam vs. Islamism
2. Muslim vs. Islamist, and
3. Islamic State vs. State of Islam

In brief, whereas Islam is a religion based on the five pillars of our faith, Islamism (al-Islamiyah as the Ikhwan claims) is the use of the religion of Islam as a political tool and doctrine, whose logical end is Islamofascism (or Islamoanarchism in the words of Tariq Ali).

The difference between a Muslim and an Islamist is along the same lines. Whereas a Muslim follows Islam, an Islamist sticks to the political doctrine of Islamism. This makes it possible for even non-Muslims and atheists to be Islamists. For example, George Galloway is an Islamist as is Ken Livingstone (former mayor of London) and even Noam Chomsky who I am told addressed a large gathering of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba in Punjab University.

Lastly, while the Islamic State is the political entity and state where Islamists would exercise their authoritarian and fascist rule over the population (as in Gaza and Iran) the State of Islam is the condition every Muslim must aspire to live in where he and she can embrace the ethics of Prophet Muhammad and live by the principle of the Quran as an individual.

Monday, January 03, 2011

US Botanic Garden Christmas Display

The US Botanic Garden in D.C. had a Christmas display that included replicas of landmark buildings and toy trains.

The replica of the garden greenhouse itself: