This is just laughable:

In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts.

Forget the civil liberties aspect of this (passive monitoring is defensible in certain situations, and I have nowhere near enough interest to even try to find out whether it was justified in this case. I'm a techno and policy wonk, not a law wonk).

No, what bugs me about this is the sheer technical ignorance of such a scheme. Where to begin? It's like keystone cops with respect to misconceptions about what radiation is, how it is produced, how nuclear bombs work, the details of their construction and transportation, etc. No such thing as a suitcase nuke exists within the technical capability of the United States, let alone a group of secretive raghead nutjobs in a stripmall mosque. And monitoring of what energies of radiation? Does anyone in this bonehead, incompetent, utterly inept Administration even understand what radiation signatures to look for? Can they even distinguish between a nuclear bomb and someone who just had brachytherapy?

I'm just venting really - I'm not interested in drafting a basic Radiation Detection Physics lecture on the spot. But it is probably par for the course that the same crew in charge that has unlimited power to detain citizens, torture them, spy on communications without even FISA rubber-stamp warrants, deny habeus corpus to known innocents, and all the other assumptions of executive privelege in the name of our "security", couldn't even justify it's case against Jose Padilla or even acquit Sami al-Arian of anything despite his entire defense consisting of the single sentence, "the defense rests".

The War on Terror - at least on the home front - is just sound and fury and signifies nothing. I much preferred it when the grownups from the last Administration were in charge. Much like the FEMA director, the people in charge seem to be in over their head, and that means we are less safe, not more.

UPDATE: the detectors were worn on belts. There's no way that they could detect radiation from a nuclear device. It has to have been "dirty bomb" concerns, which the Padillacase was supposed to have been the signature case. If they could even point to a single case where these extreme measures actually resulted in a conviction of a terrorist, I'd be far less critical.

My Brass Crescent Award nominations

I have posted these in the nominations thread, but would also like to share them here.

BEST MIDDLE-EAST/ASIAN BLOGGER - Aunt Najma, of A Star from Mosul. There are many Iraqi blogs that give a first-hand perspective of what life is like in the most interesting (in the Chinese curse sense) country on Earth. But A Star from Mosul just has a voice that I think most can relate to.

BEST GROUP BLOG - American Footprints, formerly known as Liberals Against Terror. This blog, run by famed blogger/commentator praktike, and mysterious sage mentor Nadezhda, also features contributions from Brian Ulrich and Eric Martin. This is a truly excellent resource for those interested in a truly liberal, freedomist, and honorable American foreign policy. Their analysis of the Iraqi elections has been a superb group effort, with the latest entry by Nadezhda a rich vein of links to previous entries.

MOST DESERVING OF WIDER RECOGNITION - Hujefa Vora MD, and his new blog Around Midnight in the ICU. Hujefa and his wife got some unwanted attention last year during a Cowboy's game, and that incident gave him his first excuse to write. Since then his new blog has only five posts but each one is a gripping and amazing read.

BEST THINKER - Thabet of Muslims under Progress. He's been blogging for years and simply always has something that makes me think, learn, and speculate. He isn't a short essayist by any means - his latest post/book review In Defense of Religion is a scroll-fest of ever there was one. But Thabet takes his time, because good thinking doesn't come in factoid size. There's always a serious and thoughtful disccussion with high SNR on most of his posts as well.

BEST FEMALE BLOG - Umm Yasmin of Dervish blog. Umm Yasmin has not blogged since her State of the Ummah links roundup a few months ago, and hopefully she is well. Her essay on Tampering with the Text, a response to Irshad Manji's assertion that the Qur'an requires editing, was a masterpiece. Hopefully recognition of Umm Yasmin will entice her to return to blogging more actively :)

BEST POST OR SERIES - sepoy at Chapati Mystery, whose series labeled That Terror Thing was the best analysis I have yet seen on the issue of Islamic terror, triggerred by the London bombings. The installments are: London 2005, That Terror Thing II, III, IV.

BEST NON-MUSLIM BLOG - Dean Esmay of Dean's World. Dean is a staunch and principled advocate of freedom - that's why I label him a neo-liberal, not a neo-con. He's always been honorable about encouraging muslims in the West to engage in dialouge and defending muslims from accusations of perfidy, recognizing that the average muslim is an average person first and foremost.

BEST BLOG - Avari/nameh. Of course! He's just too good :) Haroon would be a great pick for most of the Categories above (and in fact last year won a sizable fraction of them). Maybe this year we can just accept that he's the best and leave the other categories for some fresh blood? :)

As for New Category nomination, I choose Person of the Year, which shoudl be a recognition of a single man or woman who has influenced Islam and Islam's relationship to the world the most this year. The Person of the Year need not be a muslim. And the influence need not have been positive!

Have you nominated blogs for the Brass Crescent Awards yet? If not, what are you waiting for! Remember, muslims and non-muslims alike are encouraged to participate. So join us!


Brass Crescent Awards nominations thread

UPDATE 1/30/06: Nominations are now closed. Please visit brasscrescent.org for the voting, which begins Friday, Feb 3rd.

On behalf of City of Brass and AltMuslim.com, the nominations thread for the second annual Brass Crescent Awards is now open!

What are the Brass Crescent Awards? They are named for the Story of the City of Brass in the Thousand and One Nights. Today, the Islamsphere is forging a new synthesis of Islam and modernity, and is the intellectual heir to the traditions of philosophy and learning that was once the hallmark of Islamic civilization - a heritage scarcely recognizable today in the Islamic world after a century's ravages of colonialism, tyrants, and religious fundamentalism. We believe that Islam transcends history, and we are forging history anew for tomorrow's Islam. These awards are a means to honor ourselves and celebrate our nascent community, and promote its growth.

The Awards will take place in two phases. First, the nominations phase, where all of you nominate your favorite blogs for each of the categories below. Then, we will have a Finalists' round of voting, to distill the list. Finally, we will have the final voting round.

What is also new this year is that we also would like to solicit your opinion on a new category. In addition to your initial nominations, please also suggest a Category for a Brass Crescent Award that you would like to see. We will add the most popular suggested Category to the Finalist round and invite nominations at that stage.

Here are the revised categories for this year's Awards:

BEST MIDDLE-EAST/ASIAN BLOGGER - The Islamsphere is truly a global phennomenon. In Iraq, despite the chaos and uncertainty, there is a sea change of free speech and expression, the vanguard of which are blogs. There are also bloggers in India, in Pakistan, in Jordan, and most other countries that host muslims, all of whom have their own perspectives on faith, culture, and politics.

BEST GROUP BLOG - which multiple group blog in the Islamsphere has the best diversity of writers and the most interesting debate on Muslim issues?

MOST DESERVING OF WIDER RECOGNITION - Which blog is a true diamond in the rough, one that everyone should be reading but who most just haven't heard of (yet) ?

BEST THINKER - Who is the most stimulating, insightful, and philosophically wise among us? This category is intended to highlight a blogger who may not post daily, but when they do post, they really make an impact.

BEST FEMALE BLOG - The woman's voice in Islam is equal to the man's, and in the Islamsphere we seek to make sure the female perspective is highlighted and given its rightful due. Which muslim woman's blog has done the most to explore the role that women play within Islam and society?

BEST POST OR SERIES - Which single post or group of posts in the Islamsphere was the most original and important, above all the others?

BEST NON-MUSLIM BLOG - Which blog writen by a non-muslim is most respectful of Islam and seeks genuine dialog with muslims?

BEST BLOG - the most indispensable, muslim-authored blog there is. Period.

Note that except for the last two categories, any blog is eligible for any category, including blogs authored by non-muslims. In defining the Islamsphere, we are not relying solely on adherence to the faith, but an affinity for parts of the diverse cultural fabric that Islam embraces and is embraced by worldwide. Please also note that neither altmuslim.com nor City of Brass may be nominated for any category.

Please leave some descriptive text about why you nominate a blog, rather than just leave the URL. Also, please note that we can't really accept a nomination for a blog unless you specify a category.

Link to this nominations page from your own blogs to help promote the Brass Crescent Awards! You can use either logo below, by cutting and pasting the associated HTML code.

<a href="http://cityofbrass.blogspot.com/2005/12/brass-crescent-awards-nominations.html">
<img src="http://static.flickr.com/41/76590620_ea04cc4183_o.jpg"></a>

<a href="http://cityofbrass.blogspot.com/2005/12/brass-crescent-awards-nominations.html">
<img src="http://static.flickr.com/41/76590619_4237337f6e_o.jpg"></a>

Reality distortion field

Apple makes very aesthetically pleasing, but grotestquely overpriced hardware. The reasons that people buy their products anyway are 1. the iPod is pretty darn hip, and 2. their software (mainly the OS, and also their content creation applications in Video) has a reputation for amazing quality, competency, and user-interface.

Which probably explains why this Ars Technica review of Apple's foray into professional-grade photo editing via their new Aperture application has been so consistently misrepresented by Apple partisans.

the Aperture review:

Let's get this out of the way early: Aperture is not a competitor to Photoshop. Unless you bought Photoshop exclusively for the Camera RAW plug-in or the Bridge program, Aperture cannot replace Photoshop.


This is a complement to Photoshop, not a replacement.

From the partisan camp:
Why are people so obsessively comparing Aperture to Photoshop?

A textbook case of strawman misrepresentation of the argument if there ever was any. Look, I seriously question any professional photographer's skills who thinks that Aperture's inability to produce an accurate histogram, or maintain the integrity of RAW format files, is not a big deal. Looking at real professionals' comments and it's clear that Aperture is an albatross.

Make no mistake. The entire selling point of Aperture is non-destructive RAW file editing. Not Photoshop replacement. That primary and verified complaint by the Aperture critics is that the software fails on that single, central task.

Ultimately though Aperture's failure as an app (and failure is exactly what it is) has no bearing on Apple's success as a company. Apple will get it right aroudn v2.0 or so (remember that Windows, the most successful piece of software ever written, didn't get its stride till v3. 3.1, actually.)

The real problem is that Apple's hardcore base deify the company and so are utterly incapable of supplying honest critique that would actually be to Apple's benefit. If they could bring themselves to do so once in a while, there would be even fewer misfires like Aperture than the low rate of same that Apple presently enjoys. "yup, it's a flub, Apple will get it right next time, or we won'tbuy that version either" is a more honest defense than "na-na-na-na-na-na- I can't hear you!" against the doomsayers.

(via Brian, who has maintained reasonable neutrality on the issue overall, but still treats the partisans with a bit too much credulity.)


Theological incorrectness

Read it. Read it all.

I take issue with some of it. For example, when Razib asserts that,

In our public discourse on the Islamic terrorist phenomenon many of
us, Muslims, non-Muslims and terrorists, pretend either as if a) the
terrorists live in a world of inverted values and principles from
which they derive their anti-truths, or b) they are an unfathomable
force of nature beyond comprehension.

that's not quite true. At least, not to a Shi'a making pilgrimage to Karbala. We know full well why they martyred Imam Husain AS, and we know full well why they martyr us, and our fathers, and our sons, today.


Three Bohras killed in Iraq, several wounded

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un

Among the victims was Shk Yahya, the father of Murtaza, one of my closest and dear friends.

In a shocking tragedy yesterday in Iraq 3 Mumineen from London were killed when the minibus they were travelling in was ambushed by gunmen at a checkpoint near Baghdad airport.

The 3 men, Shaikh Yahya bhai Ghulamali, Shaikh Saifuddin Qutbi (Makai) and Shaikh Husain Mohammedali were in a party of 4 Mumineen bhaiyo and 1 bahen who had set out on ziyarat of Karbala and Najaf with the niyyat of Huzurala's (tus) tuulul umr.

Shaikh Saifuddin bhai and Shaikh Husain bhai both died at the scene whilst Shaikh Yahya bhai succumbed to his injuries this morning following surgery. The other two members also suffered from gunshot wounds but are not in any danger.

Mumineen in London converged on Husaini Masjid to offer the families sympathy and support with Shahzada Ammar bhaisaheb Jamaluddin spending nearly an hour consoling them at the side of Al-Muqaddasah Busaheba's ziyarat.

Both Shaikh Saifuddin and Shaikh Husain bhai leave behind young families of 3 and 4 children repectively. Shaikh Yahya bhai also leaves a family and grandchildren with his son just recently married. The three men were dedicated servants of the community; sincere, honest and devoted. Their khidmat was performed from the heart, both physically and through their material wealth. No matter how small or large the khidmat they were on hand to do it, from arranging the parking of cars to organising the reception and ziyafat of Aqamola (tus) they were there in body and soul unfailingly. They will be sorely missed by the Mumineen of the UK and London in particular.

We offer our taaziyat, condolence and dua to the families of the deceased. They must bear with the tragedy and we wish them sabr by the Dua of Imam Husain (as) and Imam Husain's Dai (tus) in this devastating time.

The 3 men had the sharaf of ziyarat and daakhili of Imam Husain (as) in Karbala and now they are in his jiwaar for ever.


Reports from news media:
Two Britons killed in Iraq named (BBC)
Two Britons killed in Iraq ambush (Al Jazeera)
Third Briton Dies in Attack (Sky)


in memoriam: Egg the betta fish

On friday (jumo'a ni din) my daughter's first pet, a betta fish she named "Egg" (I think inspired by the opening scene of Finding Nemo) passed on to the great goldfish bowl in the sky. We performed Egg's dafan (burial) yesterday (technically his tiji-din, or third day as is customary).

Egg was cool. A bright blue betta fish, he and about three dozen of his brethren were handed out at a birthday party. Unlike most of his brethren, he actually survived :)

Egg's first home (apart from the plastic bag) was the small bowl that he came with. I added some nitrogen-absorbent rocks to the bottom. His next home was a relatively gargantuan (by betta fishkeeping standards) 5-gallon tank given to us by a friend who didn't want to lug that sucker with him while moving to Washington DC.

Egg survived Hurricane Rita. Or rather, he survived being taken out of his roomy tank, stuck back in his puny bowl, and then spending 9 hours in a hellish car ride for a total distance of 60 miles to our in-laws place (a trip that under non-evacuee conditions takes only 1 hour). While at my in-laws' place he also survived being dumped out of his bowl onto the carpet, then having to live in tap water with barely any water-treatment solution left. He then survived three days of living in progressively filthier water in that same puny bowl, exacerbated by the fact that I stopped feeding him to keep the filth down as much as possible. Call it the survival-starvation diet. It worked, because we got back home and he went back to his tank happily.

For the next two months, Egg did just fine. He seemed to have no emotional trauma from his Rita adventures. He developed some odd habits, like hanging out near the water heater in his tank all day, or slowly swimming backwards and downwards for no apparent reason, or chasing food particles around the tank. Sometimes he would just chill out all day in the fake grass. All in all, he had it pretty good. Especially given that most bettas are stuck in a half-gallon bowl, and I never got around to buying some cheap fish roommates to fill out the tank.

Last week, though, prior to Thanksgiving, he suddenly stopped eating. Since we were going to my in-laws' again for the long weekend, I transferred him to a new small travel tank I bought for cheap from WalMart and took him with us. Though he wasn't eating, I figured he might start up again and would definitely starve if we abandoned him to his tank at home for four days.

Unfortunately, in Katy he didn't want to eat either, and expired shortly the second day we were there. My father in law buried him in the backyard near the orange tree. Despite an attempt at distraction, Sakina noticed what was going on and started to wail about just WHAT did he think he was doing with Egg in the backyard?! There was some drama and a few tears shed, and then she announced she wanted a goldfish like Elmo's Dorothy. She asked one more time about Egg yesterday evening, but seemed pretty satisfied with the answer to her "Why did we put him in the backyard?" query with the truthful answer, "He's dead, gone to heaven." Which is true, in one sense.

So, to my daughter, reading this in ten years, your first fish had a decent life and lived longer than anyone expected for a birthday party trinket prize. You named him well, amma and I fed and housed him well, and you shed honest, if brief, tears for him. And next time you stop by Nanajan's house in Katy, pause by the orange tree and remember your first pet.

(I am not buying you a pony.)


hearts and minds

The insurgency in Iraq has two components. The "rebellion" against occupation, which is largely a home-grown guerilla movement against the US troops, and the "jihadist" one which is largely a foreign fighter-driven ideological movement. The latter, under command of Abu Musab al Zarqawi (LA), is the one that targets Iraqi civilians indiscriminately, like this:

on Thursday, a suicide bomber blew up his car outside a hospital south of Baghdad while U.S. troops handed out candy and food to children, killing 30 people and wounding about 40, including four Americans.

Three women and two children were among the dead in the attack outside the hospital in Mahmoudiya, a flashpoint town 20 miles south of Baghdad in the "triangle of death" notorious for attacks on Shiite Muslims, U.S. troops and foreign travelers.

Al Qaeda doesn't care about muslims. Killing children is a desperation tactic which reveals the emptiness of their rhetoric.


100 GB 7200 rpm

Such specs for hard drives are nothing new for desktop hard drives, but for notebook hard drives (2.5" form factor) they are state-of-the-art. Via Anandtech, Seagate and Hitachi released 100 GB / 7200 RPM drives a few weeks ago. According to reviews and head-to-head comparisons, it looks like the Hitachi drives have better performance, are cheaper, and are more robust. As the specs and capacity of 2.5" drives improve, I think that portable 2.5"-based RAID arrays for data backup are not too far off in the future. For reference, here's an article on notebook-drive-based RAID using 5400rpm drives a few months back from Tom's Hardware.

The drive in my new T42 thinkpad on order is a Hitachi 60GB/7200. I will be posting some comparative benchmarks between that drive and the one in my present T40 (an 80GB/4200) once i get the new machine. There's a comparison of 7200, 5400, and 4200 rpm drives at LaptopLogic that I can compare my results to.


Ariel Sharon to quit Likud

This is major news:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided to quit his Likud Party and set up a new party for upcoming general elections, Army Radio reported late Sunday.

Earlier, the moderate Labor Party voted to leave Sharon's coalition, already weakened by an internal Likud rift over Israel's pullout from Gaza. Setting up a new party would scramble the political picture for the early election, set tentatively for March.

While I believe that Sharon will someday have to face justice for the war crimes of Sabra and Shatila, it is undeniably true that he has demonstrated true leadership since ascension to Prime Minister (though of course the circumstances of that ascensioin itself are another black mark).

It is astounding how this "Settler among Settlers" has been the one who withdrew from Gaza. The Wall between Israel and the West Bank has been largely a success and surprisingly responsive to outside oversight to ensure that it stays as fair as possible. And now, this resignation from Likud, which I think bodes potentially well indeed for a moderate center party in Israeli politics.

There is hope indeed. And Sharon deserves a lot of credit.

UPDATE: more details - Sharon's goal is to dissolve the present Parliament:

In a bold gamble, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday asked Israel's president to dissolve parliament, pushing for a quick March election just hours after deciding to leave his hardline Likud Party and form a new centrist party.

Sharon's decision to leave Likud sent shock waves through Israel, redrawing the political map, finalizing his transformation from hardliner to moderate and boosting prospects of progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians.

His confidants say Sharon felt Likud hardliners, who tried to block this summer's Gaza pullout, were imposing too many constraints and would prevent future peace moves. Palestinian officials expressed hope Monday that the political upheaval in Israel would bring them closer to a final peace deal.

The dramatic events began with Sharon's decision late Sunday, after a weekend of agonizing, to leave the party he helped found in 1973. On Monday morning, Sharon asked President Moshe Katsav to dissolve parliament, a step that would move the vote to the beginning of March, or eight months ahead of schedule. Katsav said he would weigh the request and decide quickly, after consulting with leaders of other parties.

Midday Monday, Sharon met at his office with 11 breakaway Likud legislators, expected to form the core of the new party, reportedly to be called "National Responsibility."

And, the tantalizing tidbit that the new party, tentatively called "National Responsibility", might even include Shimon Peres!

Among those expected to follow Sharon out of Likud are Vice Premier Ehud Olmert and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, two top academics and even ousted Labor leader Shimon Peres were mentioned as possibilities. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was still undecided Monday.

Alas, Israeli parliamentary politics don't have much analogue to US politics. Here, independent candidates at best have neutral effect (Perot) or profoundly damaging (Nader).

Brass Crescent links roundup

It's been long overdue, and with the Brass Crescent Awards on the horizon, I think that it's about time to do another links roundup. No overarching theme like last time; this is more of a quick tour of a few blogs that I think should be on everyone's radar.

Abdusalaam al-Hindi blogs from Alabama, a Daari Desi in Dixie. He has always had an eye for the eclectic, such as an interesting theory that the design of the minbar/mehrab in many masjids worldwide may have been inspired by architectual features of ancient Jewish synagogues. Lately he has been talking about the French rioting, and also has been keeping an eye on Indian politics.

Islamicate is a group blog whose primary author goes by the delightful moniker, Islamoyankee. The blog is focused on commentary about the state of the modern Islamic world, and convergence between east and west. Islamoyankee's father recently passed away, so he has understandably had more important things than blogging on his mind recently.

Since I never have defined the Brass Crescent as exclusive to practitioners of Islam, but the broader intersection of Islamic culture which neccessarily includes other faiths, I'd like to next highlight the best-named-jewish blog ever, The Velveteen Rabbi. She had a very thoughtful piece on defining "Jewish Renewal" that I found very applicable to the muslim community as well. She has recently been attending the 68th Annual Union for Reform Judaism right here in Houston and been blogging the conference diligently. I just had to steal one of her photos from the conference!

Probably everyone has heard of Haron Moghul by now, given his total dominance of last year's Brass Crescent Awards. we should create a Haroon category where everyone can just nominate him and vote for him. I predict he will take that category with ease :) But the fact remains that he is one of the Crescent's most essential bloggers. His essay a month ago about the roots of Hindu rage was particularly important. As an American desi myself, I often have trouble even understanding Partition, yet it remains central to dialouges of identity between desi-Americans. Sepia Mutiny is perhaps the best place to see these dialouges in all their nuance unfold.

Abu Aardvark is another critical read. If there's one blog that everyone in the Brass Crescent doesn't have on their blogrolls yet but should have, it's his. He has a knack for applying Arab pop-tart music as social commentary. But he also has his somber moments, such as this insightful comment about the danger of liberalizers adopting takfir as a strategy. It is tempting to declare Osama bin Laden et ilk to be unbelievers, but doing so is a validation of the binary mindset which allows OBL's brand of hirabah to grow and sustain itself. The post Liberals and Takfir is essential reading.

Zachary Latif has been blogging for about as long as I have, but he went on a pretty extended hiatus a while back. He seems to hve picked up the baton again, so do pay him a visit. As a bonus, the orange seizure-inducing layout is gone. I found his comment about France essentially being too technocratic and meritocratic to be quite interesting; it gives some added dimension to the anger of the immigrant class, who are largely excluded from obtaining the requisite strings of certificates and exam scores. Part of teh reason for that exclusion is racism, the other economic, and combined they form a barrier to full participation in French society that most immigrants can never surmount. Plus, Zack has a pretty hilarious (and possibly auto-biographical?) story about math.

Finally, I'd like to welcome Hujefa V to the blogsphere. Hojo is a physician in Dallas, whose love of the Dallas Cowboys got him some unwanted attention last year. That incident gave him his first opportunity to write in the public domain, and the result was a masterpiece of reasoned and patriotic appeal. His new blog, Am In The ICU, promises to be just as compelling, since it will be about what he knows best. That is, medicine, and football. Or both :)

That wraps it up for now. Hopefully Shahed and I will get the Brass Crescent Awards rolling soon. Stay tuned :)



I've been using an IBM Thinkpad T40 for the past couple of years for my research. It's a fine machine, ordered and paid for by my advisor. Now that I've graduated though, he needs his sizable investment back of course, so I began researching what I should replace the machine with.

My needs were 1. thin and light, given that it would be used for travel to conferences and on the bus, 2. fairly powerful given that I will be running IDL and MATLAB, and 3. rock-solid and dependable. These requirements, along with a lot of help from the forum at NoteBookReview.com, led me right back to IBM/Lenovo's T42. I chose the T42 instead of the T43 primarily because I could get a faster hard drive. I spent about a month and a half researching models from Fujitsu, Asus, Toshiba, and HP before finally deciding that the T42 was indeed the machine for me. I placed an order and the machine should be shipping next week at long last.

Here are some specs:

* Pentium M 1.86 GHz
* 14.1" SXGA screen
* 1 GB RAM
* 7200 RPM, 60 GB hard drive
* Bluetooth and Wireless 802.11b/g
* model part number 2373m3u

I plan to run some basic benchmarks on the old machine before I send it back to my advisor, and then compare them to the new one to get a good sense for how much performance I am gaining.

One of the major issues I faced was whether I should wait until the new Yonah (dual-core) Pentium-M chips are released in January. I decided to buy now, however, because new models with Yonah would be much more expensive anyway, and I also need a machine asap since my advisor needs the old one back and can't wait until January. Plus, it is not clear that dual-core will be supported in most of the software I use at the outset (though that will change over time, a horizon of a year or two IMHO). I got a very solid config at a very reasonable price, which I think will be more than sufficient for the next few years to handle whatever I need. I could have saved another $150 had I purchased from an ebay reseller, but I think that the peace of mind of buying direct from Lenovo was worth the markup.

The machine should be here after Thanksgiving. Can't wait :) As for multi-core, I will build myself a Yonah-based desktop next year.


Kudos to Condi

She sucked as NSA, but rocks as Sec. State:

After marathon all-night negotiations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a comprehensive agreement between the Israeli and the Palestinian governments Tuesday designed to ease the Gaza Strip's isolation by allowing more reliable access for its goods and people to Israel and the outside world.
The agreement allows the Palestinians to begin work on Gaza's seaport, and assures donors that Israel will not interfere with its operation. It leaves unclear when the port would open and under what guidelines, but work to get it up and running will take at least three years, Palestinian officials said. The deal says discussions on renovating and reopening Gaza's international airport will continue.

"The important thing here is that people have understood that there is an important balance between security on the one hand, and, on the other hand, allowing the Palestinian people freedom of movement," Rice said at a news conference with international envoy James Wolfensohn and European Union foreign minister Javier Solana. "The other important point is that everybody recognizes that if the Palestinians can move more freely and export their agriculture, that Gaza will be a much better place, where the institutions of democracy can begin to take hold."

That last bit is the key, and Condi stresses it exactly teh right way. Not surprising given her background in diplomacy (no word on whether her rift with mentor Scowcroft can ever be healed). Nadezdha has all the gory details.


Paul Cella throws a gauntlet; I pick it up.

Steven den Beste also throws one, but the FARK collective handles it better than I could.

And add Dennis Prager to the jafi pile, for the record.


Moustapha Akkad killed by hirabists

InnaLillahi Wa inna Ilahi Raji'un

Famed director Moustapaha Akkad, and his daughter, were among the victims of the vicious bombings by Al Qaeda in Jordan.

Akkad may be most well known to American audiences for his work on the Halloween series, but the muslim community will always revere his masterpiece The Message, starring Anthony Quinn. Here is what I wrote about The Message two years ago:

The MessageThe definitive project in film to narrate the early history of Islam was the powerful movie, The Message (1976). The director, Moustapha Akkad, actually shot each scene twice, with different sets of actors for the English version and the Arabic version, because he felt that subtitles would mar the film. Anthony Quinn played Hamza in the English version. Akkad also introduced the cinematic equivalent of the Islamic tradition of not representing the Prophet SAW visually, by framing scenes involving Muhammad SAW from his point of view. Thus, when other characters address the Prophet SAW, they are actually addressing the viewer of the movie. Some scenes had the Prophet SAW off-screen, and Akkad used a haunting musical theme to indicate Muhammad's presence. Muhammad's SAW spoken words are never heard by the audience but are heard by the other characters. The net effect is to convincingly establish the presence of the Prophet SAW but yet never actually violate the tradition against representation. It's partly a brilliant statement about perception and cue within movies in general as well as a merely functional device to circumvent offense. I consider Akkad's use of this device to be the opposite of Jar Jar Binks - rather than visualize an artificial person, the character has enormous impact upon the film and the mportance of the character is underscored, by their absence (visually speaking. But in cues from other actors and the music, the character exists. With even more realism than the jarring artifice of a CGI construct).

The damage done to the muslim world by hirabists such as Al Qaeda is incalculable. They invoke with empty words the welfare of muslims as justification for their evil, yet muslims are always their most numerous victims. And the damage extends far beyond tragic loss of life, to culture and heritage as well. For their crimes against muslims and greater humanity alone, not taking into account how they defame the holy faith of Islam itself, they are a blight upon the earth and they deserve death and speedy return to the fires of hell from whence they came.



The Brass Crescent Awards will be along soon enough.

Texas Amendment Proposition 2 - Marriage Ammendment

Which way should we vote? For me the answer is very simply, "YES". Let me explain. I feel marriage is a social contract and concept. Its a matter of society deciding what is acceptable for our society. Having said that, yes I am also a stern believer in providing equal economic opportunity for any other unions. Remember, our country has always promised equal economic opportunity not social equality. We would not want social equality. Social equality strips identity and culture.

The only argument I have seen that makes sense against this proposition is the one that suggest that by "banning" marriages for all other unions, you effectively remove economic opportunity and benefits that are afforded to married couples.

But proposition 2 when read in its entirety, clearly talks about defining the word marriage as defined between man and woman. It does not take away rights from any other unions. It simply says marriage does not include other unions. So you may say, "what about same sex unions? What about their right?" That is where opportunity exists to create new laws to afford economic equality.

We need laws to define other unions and therefore providing benefits of inheritance, common property, etc to unions between same sex couples. Instead of fighting for the same word, "marriage", why not fight for the economic benefits for the same sex couples and call it something else - because it is different after all.


There is much heat generated from the fires in Paris. And not just that from burning cars, mind you. Any student of history can look at the Parisian civil unrest and see reflections of a thousand incidents of urban rioting by an alienated immigrant or minority underclass. However, for the polemically inclined, the fires are themselves kindling for an entrenchment of the attitudes that led to such profound alienation in the first place.

However, I think that there is indeed authentic analysis of the Parisian rioting to be found elsewhere. This Washington Post article is a good start:

While French politicians say the violence now circling and even entering the capital of France and spreading to towns across the country is the work of organized criminal gangs, the residents of Le Blanc-Mesnil know better. Many of the rioters grew up playing soccer on Rezzoug's field. They are the children of baggage handlers at nearby Charles de Gaulle International Airport and cleaners at the local schools.

"It's not a political revolution or a Muslim revolution," said Rezzoug. "There's a lot of rage. Through this burning, they're saying, 'I exist, I'm here.' "

Such a dramatic demand for recognition underscores the chasm between the fastest growing segment of France's population and the staid political hierarchy that has been inept at responding to societal shifts. The youths rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the most neglected of the country's citizens. A large percentage are members of the Muslim community that accounts for about 10 percent of France's 60 million people.

One of Rezzoug's "kids" -- the countless youths who use the sports facilities he oversees -- is a husky, French-born 18-year-old whose parents moved here from Ivory Coast. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, he'd just awakened and ventured back onto the streets after a night of setting cars ablaze.

"We want to change the government," he said, a black baseball cap pulled low over large, chocolate-brown eyes and an ebony face. "There's no way of getting their attention. The only way to communicate is by burning."

There is plenty of first-hand anecdotal evidence that lends some nuance to the situation on the ground. For example, Jérôme at the European Tribune provides some perspective, pointing out that this is not some apocalyptic "End of France" scenario, but rather a symptom of an underlying sickness and mistakes by the French government (for example: both police budgets and social activity programs have been cut heavily). Also, see Tim at Balloon Juice, whose wife is French and just returned from Paris. He makes the key point that these rioters rage not because they are muslim, but because they are french.

See Also Greg at Belgravia Dispatch, who offers his own lengthy and reasoned analysis of the political ramifications and likely outcomes. Greg is no apologist for muslim terror, but in his assessment there is a failure of society, not faith, at work here. I fully agree with his prescription that every rioter - no matter how young - must be prosecuted under maximum extent of the law. But "fixing" what is wrong with France is not as easy as banning more headscarves. It will require hard decisions about the economy and a repudiation of the stifling business environment which strangle opportunity and deny economic entry and participation to the under class. As Greg puts it,

It's time to shine a strong light right there at home, put aside the defensive, diversionary pseudo-narratives and deceptions, and get to the hard work of putting the nation on a better course (particularly the dismal employment picture). If not, openings to more radical avenues will likely result--whether of a rightist or leftist variety (more likely the former, I'd say).

Dave Schuler also has similar comments with a very helpful rundown of what we do know and what we don't know. There is a thoughtful discussion at Tacitus that is also worth reading.

But what of those who insist that Islam must be relevant in some way? Well, as far as cause, they are simply wrong. But their dogmatic insistence obscures the very real threat that these riots provide as an opportunity for Islamists to capitalize upon. Francis Fukuyama sounds the alarm for European home-grown Islamism in a much more restrained and productive fashion that the "Eurabia" rantings of Bat Ye'or. The antidote is more freedom, not less; more opportunity, not less. As Theodore Dalyrymple wrote in his now classic essay about the French immigrant ghettoes:

...among the third of the population of the cités that is of North African Muslim descent, there is an option that the French, and not only the French, fear. For imagine yourself a youth in Les Tarterets or Les Musiciens, intellectually alert but not well educated, believing yourself to be despised because of your origins by the larger society that you were born into, permanently condemned to unemployment by the system that contemptuously feeds and clothes you, and surrounded by a contemptible nihilistic culture of despair, violence, and crime. Is it not possible that you would seek a doctrine that would simultaneously explain your predicament, justify your wrath, point the way toward your revenge, and guarantee your salvation...? Would you not seek a "worthwhile" direction for the energy, hatred, and violence seething within you, a direction that would enable you to do evil in the name of ultimate good? It would require only a relatively few of like mind to cause havoc.

Prescient, but hardly eerily so, of Rezzoug's "kids" quoted above, eh? France has every right to require its citizens to be French. But every Frenchman - regardless of origin or creed - must be given a genuine share of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité.


Blogger geneaology

This is a great idea: a family tree of the Blogsphere. I launched UNMEDIA (which became City of Brass) in March 2002, and I credit Steven den Beste of USS Clueless as the direct blogfather. When Steven stopped blogging (for personal reasons), I wrote a brief tribute that really captured what it was about his blog that inspired me. I suppose (the Reichenbach analogy aside) that it is unlikely Steven will return to active blogging at USS Clueless, though you can find him still participating in the blogsphere if you know where to look :)


whither the Clash? religion and freedom are uncorrelated

There have been some conservative essayists whose thesis includes the assertion that Islam is a threat to Western values of freedom. This, despite the fact that tens of millions of muslims live in the West, are good members of society, bear their civic duties without complaint and fully participate in the fabric of community. Yet, the skeptics remain quite cold in their assessments, advocating that their fellow patriots like myself - muslim Americans, note noun and adjective - are simply unrepresentative, and that our families shoudl have been barred from ever having immigrated here on sole basis of their professed faith.

To those critics, I offer the following.

Dean Esmay recently looked at data from Freedom House and posed a simple question: are liberal democratic (i.e. free) and electoral democratic (i.e. partly free) nations particularly troubled by the presence of Islam within their borders? And, do countries become less free when Islam has a major foothold?

His findings - untainted by sentiment or blinders, as those of who who are familiar with his writing can attest - are here.

Further, a reader of Dean's World took the data and performed a more rigorous statistical analysis upon it. He has published the excel file containing the raw data and the analysis methodology for all to review.

I invite the critics referred to above to inspect these results. In this, the holy month of Ramadan, and the Abrahamic convergence between three faiths, my aim is only to foster goodwill, not ill will. I accuse no one of racism, nor of evil intent, and I recognize the underlying patriotic impulse beneath the words with which I have taken offense and which I seek to answer here. Nothing more.

were the Sunnis empowered by the election?

I am very proud of Iraq, and what the ordinary heroes of that nation have achieved as they emerge from the dark sham into the light of authenticity. This is a true victory for the Iraqi people.

However - democracy is but a tool by which liberty is attained, and Liberty is hard. Interpreting this election as a measure of liberty's inevitability is perhaps the greatest threat to Iraq's democracy, fledgling and still vulnerable as it is. I want to see that tree grow; it certainly has been watered enough by the blood of Iraqi patriots (and American ones).

Here lies a genuine danger. One could look at the voting and conclude that the Sunni insurgents recognized the futility of violent struggle and are now trying to excercize power via political channels. This is obviously the desired result.

However, one might instead interpret the results as follows: the Sunni electorate - despite massive and record turnout, was still unable to clear a pretty low bar for exerting their influence. Despite significant Sunni populations in four provinces, they were unable to achieve a majority in the three required to block passage. Couple this verification of political impotence with unfounded yet widely published allegations of fraud, and what conclusion might a Sunni draw?

These elections were marked by relative calm (compared to the previous ones). I think if that calm persists, then the fears above are unfounded. However, a steady return to violence might be the seeds of a disastrous civil war, the worst possible outcome and failure of our efforts and sacrifices in Iraq that can be imagined.

I am a believer in the need to finish what we have started in Iraq. My concerns are driven by the desire to see that success be nurtured through this stark and still critical phase. A single misstep can be fatal, so we must not blind ourselves with this latest victory to the enormity of the task yet ahead.


not wanted

This story is making rounds in the Brass Crescent:

Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has proposed a ban on the wearing of Muslim burkas - full-length veils covering the face - in certain public places, to prevent people avoiding identification.

Alarm about Islamist terror has increased in the Netherlands since the Van Gogh murder.

A Dutch MP who campaigned with him against radical Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, defended Mrs Verdonk's plans in a BBC interview.

She told the World Today programme that CCTV cameras, used to help track down terrorists, must continue to reveal suspects' faces.

The CCTV operators "need to see their faces and if you cover your face you cannot be identified".

The jafi angle is certainly there; after all, the argument about CCTV cameras is so specious as to be laughable. However, as always with burka issues, this is more than a simple case of Islamophobia.

The murder of Theo van Gogh was a raw and tragic event that ripped off the Dutch veneer of tolerance (thin in most of Europe to begin with) and replaced it with fear. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been marked for death by the fanatics so it is no surprise to see her endorsement of any measure which in some way "strikes back" (even though this measure does not, actually, strike back). The Dutch are human beings like the rest of us. And their soecity is uniquely vulnerable for its very openness. Perhaps to preserve their culture, they need to limit their own tolerance.

However, what it comes down to is that the Dutch are about to force some women (not all, but some) to wear less clothing than their personal sense of modesty demands. And they impose this burden upon innocent women out of fear of male islamist fanatics. Truly, the terrorists have won.

UPDATE: This is becoming a textbook case of "radicalizing" :

Few Dutch Muslims wear a burqa, though the issue could prove explosive if Muslim radicals encourage their women to wear it in defiance of a ban.

"encourage" sounds pretty shameful to me. What is happenning is that the muslim women in the Netherlands have become pawns between a tiny minority of male muslim extremists and a tiny minority of hard-line Dutch politicians. Can't muslim women be allowed to wear - or not wear - what they want based on their personal sense of modesty? Both sides are oppressing the muslim women here. It's shameful.


Please help

Pakistan earthquake reliefSepoy at Chapati Mystery writes:

It was the summer of our junior year in high school. Khayyam, Sohail, Reza and I went to Mansera and beyond for a hiking trip. Our host in Mansera was Bilawal. His house was one of the many in lanes [galli] that dotted the mountain side. Thin strips of mountain rock led from the main road up to his house. Beneath the wide chasm. The jokes were that us fools will come out in the night and take a wrong step into the darkness below. We went fishing in the coolest, clearest river I had ever seen. And by fishing, I mean, we packed some gunpowder in a small bread ball with a long fuse and dropped it in the river. It was my first time alone in the mountains. I went many times after. Much further into the ranges with many, many fond memories. I keep remembering Bilawal's face. Not his face in person but his face in a picture that was taken and that I haven't seen since. Isn't that funny? This trick of memory. In the picture, all four of us are "striking a pose" with our jeans rolled tight at the cuff and our high-top Reeboks puffed high. I think my tshirt collar was up. I have no idea if Bilawal or his family are alive.

The human toll of this earthquake in Pakistan continues to rise. The Indo-Pakistani diaspora has taken the lead in relief efforts (though the Bush Administration has generously sent considerable money and material through official channels as well), and in the blogsphere, sepoy, emullah, and Haroon have been doing yeoman's work in compiling links to vetted and authentic charities that are already on the ground.

Of these, the Edhi Foundation is the most respected, experienced, and competent. While they prefer snail mail, you can donate online through this third party. Now there is also an American Red Cross Earthquake Relief fund. And the official airline of Pakistan, PIA, will airlift donated good and supplies for free to Pakistan if dropped off at any regional office, including Chicago, New York, Houston, San Francisco, and London. Here are contact numbers for PIA offices worldwide. Winter is coming and many hundreds of thousands are homeless, so the urgency is acute.

Please. Head over to your local PIA office and donate supplies. Or click over to Chapati Mystery, avari/nameh, or emullah and see what you can do to help. Let our sense of propriety and justice correct the otherwise natural inequality of our sentiments:

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

The Adam Smith quotation via Daniel Drezner, who is the epitome of facing adversity with grace.


Islamists don't care about muslims II

again, Haroon:

It might also be hoped that, in addition to causing India and Pakistan to realize the benefits of a fair and flexible peace, Pakistanis and Muslims more generally realize the true enormity of terrorism and the terrorists who have based themselves in Pakistan, capitalized on Pakistani resources, sentiments and grievances, but have fallen utterly and entirely silent in this, an hour of national (indeed, international) need. Israel has extended to Pakistan an offer of aid. (I don't know in what amount, nor do I know how the Musharraf government has responded.) But if Israel offers Pakistanis aid, and none of the so-called jihadist movements, centered on Darths Laden, Zarqawi and Zawahiri do not, perhaps we will realize, once and for all, the menace and scourge they represent, and the blot upon the name of Islam. They are viruses, who infect organisms, who are not alive except for when they harm others. They can do nothing to help. Perhaps - and this is the most frightening part of all - that part of them is irrevocably dead.


One way to lower gasoline prices

I know the major topic today is still the catastrophe in Pakistan, but I think it is worthwhile mentioning that with each of these global calamities, our energy prices continues to rise.

I think most pundits agree that the price hikes in the recent months have been a combination of multiple issues including speculation, profiteering, lack of refining capacity (that has finally caught up with us) and numerous other global supply challenges due to war and strife in critical oil producing areas.

Despite the constant rise in cost I still do not see a single person rising up and saying anything about a national strategy over the next 10 years focusing on fundamentally addressing this challenge.

Here is one thing I read recently that could make an immediate impact. Did you know that that there are 15 different types of "blends" of autombile gasoline (PDF link) that are produced in the USA? FIFTEEN! Why so many? Because the EPA, combined with the different state environmental agencies have created a requirement for 15 different types of gasoline to be produced. Here is where a national strategy could benefit us rather than each state doing its own thing. During the hurricane crisis in the gulf coast, refineries were shut down, but other refiniries that produce other "blends" could not make up for the loss of production because some of those blends cannot be sold in the gulf coast states.

The reason for the different "blends" comes from the winter, summer additive requirements combined with different emmission standards for different regions of the USA. Why not create a national standard based on the most restrictive air quality requirement and use that everywhere?

We should revisit the 15 "blends" and determine a national standard based on a strict EPA goal to reduce emmissions everywhere and then have ALL refineries produce only a couple of blends. This would increase overall capacity and by some estimates lower gasoline costs by almost 30 cents!

I think the time has come for our local and national leaders to examine a 10 year strategy to reduce our dependency on oil. The first step is to rexamine the layered policy such as the 15 blends of gasoline that artifically chokes the supply of energy.

Islamists don't care about muslims

inshallah, some of the rural villages of Pakistan will receive international aid very soon, including much material from the United States. Haroon notes, with respect to the need for human relief and assistance in Pakistan:

While there are a handful of unfortunately high-profile terrorists who constantly claim to defend the lands of Islam from ghosts and goblins, not once have I heard them sending any of their money or supposed expertise or supplies to assist even their co-religionists, let alone other human beings, who don't figure into their upside-down, bankrupt calculus.

For those who are merciful to God's creatures, God is merciful to them.


Eathquake in Pakistan kills 18,000

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un

We heard about this within an hour of the event yesterday, the news media is still catching up. Still very little idea of how many in my community were affected by this. Initial word of mouth reports are that every buildng is damaged. EVERY. Many shops and businesses destrroyed. Still the toll in terms of human life is far higher:

A powerful earthquake centered in the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan on Saturday morning sent tremors across South Asia, killing more than 18,000 people, including at least 1,600 in remote northern Pakistan, among them hundreds across both sides of disputed Kashmir, and shaking houses and high-rises throughout the region.

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan's chief army spokesman, who announced the toll on Sunday, said at least 45,000 people had been injured, a vast majority on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. He said that "so far there are many areas which have not been reached" by the army, but that military units were expected to reach all of them by the end of the day.

It registered 7.6 on the Richter scale. We have many close friends and family in the region affectedd by this earthquake, and do dua that they are saved from tragedy.

UPDATE: While Zack's relatives seem to have come through, Haroon also still has friends and family unnaccounted for, as does Thabet. He also notes that the initial offer of aid from the US was rather miniscule; I counsel patience, as with the tsunami the amount of aid given by the American people always becomes a force unto its own. The amount the federal givernment offers is irrelevant. The expat community of Pakistanis in America will send vast sums to be sure; what is needed far more than merely money to the Patriarch's coffers, but the kind of material aid that the Red Cross and other organizations can deliver on the ground. You can't feed dollars to your children.

You can donate to victims of the earthquake via the International Red Cross. More information on how to help is here. There's also a Quake Wiki. Also see the BBC's excellent quake coverage, they have devoted an entire section to it for the latest information.

UPDATE: $50 million dollars pledged from the US.


Abrahamic convergence

Via Street Prophets, comes more information about the convergence of holy observances in the Abrahamic faiths. There's actually a project called The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah that is calling for a interfaith observance on Oct. 13th. Some background:

In other periods of history, this group would have made unlikely bedfellows.

The first is a small Jewish community that has always been against the oppression of Palestinians.

The second is a small group of Muslims who are opposed to the fundamentalist definition of "jihad" as military struggle rather than as the interior struggle to be holy.

The third is a small group of Christians who have no doubts about the sins of Christianity against both these communities and, even more, a memory of Francis of Assisi, who in the midst of a Crusade against Egypt, crossed the battle lines to talk to Sultan Malik al-Kamil.

Francis, to convert the Egyptians, tried to strike a bargain: He would go into a fiery furnace and, if he came out alive, the Egyptians would convert to Christianity. Al-Kamil's answer to Francis was a gentle and a wise one. Gambling with one's life, he argued, is not a valid proof of one's God. Then, both of them wiser, he spared Francis' life and sent him on his way again.

Like Francis, these people have decided to do what their governments won't do. They are stepping across battle lines.

They are reaching out as friends to one another in formal, public ways. They are listening to the spirit in the heart of the other.

They call their project The October Surprise. The surprise is that the Jewish High Holy Days, the Islamic Month of Ramadan and the Christian feast of St. Francis of Assisi who opposed the Crusades and learned from an Islamic teacher, all come in October.

Check out the Tent of Abraham web site for more information. I like "Abrahamic convergence" better than "October Surprise" though :)


Shehrullah il-Moazzam

Ramadan Mubarak! Today is the 1st of Ramadan, 1426 Hijri, by the classical Islamic calendar. My community of Dawoodi Bohras does not rely upon moonsighting but rather on the astronomical cycle to commence Ramadan, so today I commence observance of fasting.

O Allah! This is the month of Ramadan in which descended the Qur'an as a guide to mankind and a criterion to separate truth from falsehood. O Allah! Bless us in the month of Ramadan, and give us Your help and accept our ibadat, for You have power over all things.

There is no god but Allah. We seek Your forgiveness. O Allah! Grant us Paradise and save us from Hellfire.

Mubarak to all on the holy month of Shehrullah il Moazzam. Please remember me and my family in your precious dua during Ramadan.

UPDATE: cool, Abrahamic convergence this year: It's also Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Shana Tova!

I'll be posting about Ramadan at Dean's World, as an effort at outreach to a non-muslim, conservative, and largely pro-war audience. My muslim readers are encouraged to visit DW and participate with respect and decorum in the discussion there. My first post discusses fasting.


laptop fuel cells

ok, this does sound good at first blush:

LG Chem is on the ball when it comes to fuel cell technology. They have developed a fuel cell unit for user in notebooks that can power a 25W unit for up to 10 hours. The only problem is that it is an external unit so that makes yet another accessory that you would have to lug around with you:

Different from the concept announced by Taiwan-based Antig Technology at the CeBIT trade fair earlier this year and other companies before, this product works as an external power supply connected to a notebook through a DC-in jack, LG Chem explained. The device weighs less than 1kg, and one 200cc methanol cartridge is enough to power a 25W notebook for more than 10 hours, LG Chem said. The company expects that cartridges will be priced under US$1. The base unit price will be around US$500.

but think for a moment. How are you going to get through airport security with multiple 200cc vials of methanol? I wouldn't even try.



We're home, highway speed from Katy to League City right through downtown. No flood damage, though there were a few shingles strewn about the yard. I will call a roofer to inspect and make sure that there wasn't anything more serious. The power had clearly been out for some time, given the oozed tubes of toothpaste in the bathroom, but was back on when we got home. I unloaded the car and will tackle the plywood later this afternoon when it isn't as insanely hot. My wife is already on shift at UTMB in Galveston and is on call. Back to normal :)

Other Houston bloggers are returning too - Charles had no trouble getting home from Dallas on I-45. We should throw a post-Rita blogger party :)


Khidmat is not a zero-sum game

I have been involved for nearly a decade in the development of a portal site for my religious community, the Dawoodi Bohras. We recently have upgraded servers again, planning to retire our aging boxes. The new server hardware, donated by EZZI.NET of Long Island, is running 64-bit CentOS Linux and will support SMP. One of our long term goals in this is to cultivate a skill set within our community to help leverage technology in service of our religious observance and preservation of our culture (a modernist streak that runs deep in our community, profiled by Jonah Blank in Mullahs on the Mainframe). To that end, we have launched a blog that details the technical side of maintaining our community infrastructure. I encourage anyone (Bohras or otherwise) interested in building a communications infrastructure for their own community to take a look.

Houston reawakens

The Houston chronicle has been superb - they have two Rita-themed blogs, one called The Road Home, which has latest user-supplied information about road conditions as evacuees return to Houston from Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas, and also the Rita Blog, which has tons of helpful info about gas stations, supermarket re-openings, power restoration, etc. Everything we need to know.

My home in Dickinson looks like it should have power restored by the time we get back. We plan on leaving Tuesday morning; my wife has to be back at UTMB by wednesday morning.

Also via Eric Berger, a good analysis of why the evacuation - though impressive in scope - was so painful:

Hurricane planners have a little ditty that goes, "run from the water, hide from the wind."

It means evacuate if you are in a coastal surge area, but hunker down if you are in an area that will get hurricane-force winds and rain only.

The biggest problem in Houston's painful evacuation last week was that perhaps a million people, almost half of those who left, ran from the wind. To make matters worse, the regional evacuation plan was missing a key element: pre-planned contraflow lanes that are a part of virtually every other hurricane-prone city's evacuation strategy.

This echoes Taha's comments from two days ago, IMHO. Plus, if the wind is hurricane strength and you have children, who is going to fault anyone for running from the wind?

UPDATE: Mayor White also had a similar critique:

Days after the evacuation that saw tortuous delays on Texas highways, Houston's mayor says the handling of gasoline supplies is "totally unacceptable."

Speaking to reporters, Mayor Bill White says that's a part of the state plan that needs improvement.

People trying to flee north from Houston sat in traffic all day or night, and some ran out of gas. Those who could make their way to gas stations often found the pumps empty.

we need to learn from this for next time. It went amazingly well. But it needs to be done better, especially since today's chronicle did have stories of tragedy (including the death of at least one child from heat exposure, and the infamour exploding bus) directly attributable to the titanic traffic snarls. Contraflow would have helped immeasurably, and MUST be part of the plan next time, period.

The Aggie jokes just write themselves

via Eric Berger, check out this picture of Loupot's bookstore at Texas A&M taken by Andrew McNeel.

The Aggie jokes just write themselves


sitting dry

well, we came back from masjid at around 12:30am, given that the hurricane was diverted so far to the east that it barely even rained here in Katy. Plus the hurricane was degraded down to category 1. Still, we did lose power for about 10 hours, though it just came on again about 20 minutes ago. (attn mumineen: see the Bilad e-Akhbar blog at mumineen.org for details).

So, we are in good shape. About to go back to masjid for afternoon prayer. Looks like the worst is behind us :)

Of corse, I hope our house in Dickinson is ok.. that is something I cant worry about right now though of course. We will cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now, we are all safe at my inlaws' place, and happy, and even comfortable - what more besides water, power, and DSL could we want?

sincere thanks to all bloggers and commenters who linked and sent their support and prayers our way.

Houston Makes It Through

(Guest poster Taha Raja is a businessman in the Sugarland area, a member of our local congregation of Dawoodi Bohras in Houston)

Hello all,

My name is Taha Raja, a close friend of Aziz. Fortunately, Rita barely touched us here in Katy at our masjid! It was a miracle to say the least considering the menace that was in front of us two days ago! I am now back at my house in Katy and this area barely received a couple of inches of rain and sustained winds around 30-40 mph. This was a non event for Katy Residents - Thank God!

I wanted to add that having experienced this from the beginning, I am truly impressed by the outstading leadership provided by Mayor Bill White, Judge Robert Eckels. The Greater Houston Area evacuated around 2.7 million people as per the press conference this morning! WOW! Yes we saw the gridlock, yes we saw gassless cars, and yes there was tremendous frustration. No doubt in hindsight we could have done better. But without any precendent, without knowing all the factors ahead of time, the simple fact that 2.7 million people got out in time was an amazing feat by our city, county and state leadership.

Can we improve on this? Absolutely! What can we do? Well I am sure there will be numerous pundits and experts that will analyze and cross analyse this event to come up with alternatives. In my humble opinion, I would say that if we are to expect everyone to evacuate in their own vehicles (for the most part) then the choices are going to be few and far between. There will be gridlock and there will be these surreal images of hundred mile traffic jam. But the Federal Government can assist. We can have prepositioned gasoline, motorist assistance, and other aid all along the evacuation routes. We can have as many busses as possible to increase density of evacuees - thereby reducing individual cars. We can have the "counterflow" planned and opened up prior to the evacuation orders. Staged zipcode evacuation may be an option as well - not sure exactly if this would work in a panic situation like we had.

So now in retrospect, we thank the Almighty for his grace on Houston. It was truly amazing to see a reporter showing young trees bent as the only damage in downtown this morning. And while she was reporting you could see streetlights all lit up! Power was still on in downtown. Centerpoint reports only 75000 homes without power. These are amazing statistics considering the doom and gloom we faced 2 days ago from Rita!

I do not want to undermine the total effect of this storm. Obviously there are many family, friends and citizens who are effected in the East Texas and Lousiana area. I am sure the damage there is greater and as of 6AM this morning this is still a CAT 2 Hurricane. My thoughts and prayers are still with them and as a concerned citizens, if there is any help we can provide after the fact, we should and we must! God Speed to all! Shukran! (Thank You!).


the power is ours

We chose to come to the masjid for one reason: in numbers, we have strength, and prayer. Such was our salvation. The storm is making landfall further east and there will be very little threat to Houston. There will be even less threat to Katy, where we are.

I am in our comunity's masjid in Katy, with a large fraction of the jamaat here. We were prepard to sit out the storm here. We will likely remain here until morning, but it definitely wont be as bad as was expected. We will hang out here tonight and if things are pretty calm (relatively) we might go back to my inlaws place as early as 8am. We have generators, water, food, etc here in the masjid (not to mention a wireless connection :) so we are all set.

shelter in place

ok, final decision. Headed to masjid for mghrib, will sta there tonight and most of tomorrow until storm passes. Last update for a while, but cell will work for a while longer so call me :) Blogging will resume after we get back from masjid, if power and DSL still remain.


the new favorite word of every broadcaster is "contraflow". I swear I hear it a thousand times a day. All it means is that they reversed the direction of traffic on the eastbound lanes on I-10 and the southbound lanes of I-45 so that traffice could expand to those lanes also. I-45 has been positively demonic; people have spent 30 hours on the freeway and barely getting past Waco. I-10 has been pretty bad too; we did hear from some friends who made it to SA having left at 7am and taking them from between 12-15 hours. The main reason we didnt leave was concern about running out of gas and being stranded like so many have been; the aforementioned friends were driving a Camry and went without AC. That just wouldn't work for us, we need to use our big SUV to accomodate everyone and we cant go 15 hrs without AC given that we have a 3yr old. The contraflow arrangement started at 4pm and initial reports are that it did start to help clear up some of the congesion, but given the storm's continuing NE-drift, we decided to sleep comfortably here tonight and eat a good breakfast.

This morning we slept in; I tried to stay up after praying fajr but was just still wiped out from the hellish drive to Katy the day before. We just woke up and I checked the advisory, and found this from advisory #23:




Overall, the storm is weaker and is even further away. The next advisory is at 1pm, so things may change, but for now it looks like here in Katy we won't have hurricane force winds. We will likely have tropical storm force winds (39mph) and significant rain. Its even possible we wont lose water or have an electricity outage longer than a few hours. I'm being optimistic :)

So, contraflow. Our plan is to stay here, not try to reach SA. We are headed to masjid this afternoon, and will simply ride it out from here. As for our house in Dickinson, it will certainly fare worse there than here; I hope that the damage is limited to shingles and food spoilage, but it's likely that there will be some flooding. I hope the preparation we did was enough, but I just cant think about that right now. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it...



took us 9 hours to go 60 miles from our home to Katy at my in laws' place. Exhausting. Rita's track now projects to pass directly over Galveston island, which means that we are out of here. Headed to San Anonio this afternoon.

If theres any silver lining, our hourse will now be in the southeast quadrant - maybe teh wind damage will be less. But Galveston is going to be hit hard, as will the medical center in Houston.

family: cell phone shoudl still work fine, will call mom/dad when we reach san antonio.

3:40PM: nevermind, still in Katy. Traffic is impossible - will never reach San Anonio on a tank of gas. Maybe leave tonight, esp now that I-10 is open ion both directions westbound. We will see, still deciding. We are in Katy house, call us here (land line number), cell phones are intermittent.

4:00PM - woah! storm tracks are pushing further east. If it makes landfall near Beaumont then Galveston will be spared, and we prolly wont even lose power here in Katy. The thing can turn on a dime, of course. Theres supposed to have been a 4pm advisory by now but it isnt out yet. I'll check again in 15 min and try to blog again around 5pm.

ah, here it is. Public Advisory #21:


Hmm. Our plan is to stay put in Katy until this evening and re-assess whether we still want to go to San Antonio depending on whether the storm continues its curving away towards Louisiana.


batten down the hatches!

Good news, my wife is not classified as E1 so that means she wont have to ride out the storm at the hospital. She is however E2 which will be on call mmediately afterwards. If all goes well, that could be as early as sunday; if not, then possibly tuesday or even thursday. She was already given her special medical car permit so that she will have access to Galveston island despite police blockades.

We are evacuating this afternoon to my in-laws' in Katy. Due to the kindness of my neighbor, a pastor at a local church, I have precut plywood for the south and east facing windows, but all stores around here are totally out of PlyLox. I just spent a pile of money at Loews on brackets, drill bits, screws, etc to see if we can jury rig something to hold the plywood in. I'll send one car with my wife and daughter ahead and will stay behind with the handyman to finish the work, then drive out to Katy early evening. Will probably hit a lot of evacuee traffic, but c'est la vie :)

As they say, if you evacuate voluntarily, you get to go in your car, to your destination of choice. Waiting until mandatory evac means you go how and where they tell you. Any Galveston county residents: get out today.

This thing will hopefully blow over, pun intended :) I wish I had plylox; will definitely buy some after the storm. Hope I dont damaege my brick too much today, but have to do what I have to do...


Rita's comin' to Texas, folks

and she might even be headed down Galveston way. It is of course too early to make definite predictions about where Hurricane Rita is going to make landfall, but there's been a lot more consistency in the predicted tracks all of a sudden.

(scroll to the end of the post for the most recent satellite imagery and track predictions)

It's important in the wake of Katrina that we all take hurricane preparedness seriously. Other Houston-area bloggers of note are Charles and Kevin - I hope that they also keep an eye on this. A hit on our region of the Gulf is very likely and we need to make sure we are ready. Here's the relevant info page from NOAA that we should be bookmarking, especially given that Rita is predicted to gain significant strength as she rounds the Keys and engters the warm open water of the Gulf.

And Houston, not New Orleans, is the real center of gravity for oil production in this nation. And that industry is very vulnerable right now...

As far as Galveston is concerned, the great Hurricane of 1900 was the proverbial hundred year storm. Well, it's been 105 years. I live in Galveston county and I have my exit route planned. My wife is a resident at UTMB however and so it is conceivable that she might be called to duty. If that happens I am staying with her and sending the baby to safety in Katy with my in-laws.

Eric Berger did do a worst-case scenario story a while back in the Chron which put the potential damage from a "perfect" storm at about ten times the cost of Tropical Storm Allison. While wind damage woudl be pretty bad in and of itself, the storm surge along Clear Lake and the Ship Channel are the real concerns:

More devastation would be caused by winds blowing over the Gulf of Mexico and pushing surface water inland -- creating up to a 20-foot storm surge. Such a wall of water would swamp most development near Galveston Bay, including Texas City, Kemah and Johnson Space Center. Varying levels of water would flood much of the area between Sam Houston Parkway and the bay.

On Galveston Island, the seawall could hold back much of the storm surge, but at some point the water would creep onto the island from the bay side. The island's highest point is just 22 feet above sea level.

Much like a river becomes deeper and more turbulent when it narrows, a storm surge also can increase in height and intensity when its source of water narrows. Dodson said this has profound implications for the Port of Houston. Some models ended with a 30-foot wall of water in the Ship Channel near the port's turning basin, he said. "It would be huge," he said. "It could overwhelm chemical storage facilities, water treatment plants and other sensitive areas."

What was wierd about TS Allison was that it essentially parked itself over Houston for a week. The article above mentions that Allison could be considered more properly a 10,000 year event rather than a 100 year event. If thats true, then the flooding from a hurricane strike should drain relatively quickly. However, there's no real way to compare the effect of a hurricane at category 4 or 5 with the TS because of the added factor of the storm surge and winds. So really it is anyone's guess.

UPDATE: Anne has posted at BlogHouston, and so have Charles, Laurence Simon, Tom Kirkendall, and Eric Berger.

UPDATE 2. The mayor of Galveston has called for a voluntary evacuation. Buses will be provided staring at 10am wednesday. By then we should know whether Rita is really going to be knockin' on our door or not.

Here are some graphics from NOAA which should be automatically updated with the latest information. Reloading the URL to this post will give you the most recent version.

5-day cone of probability

Approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow).

72-hours 75-miles strike probability

Probability, in percent, that the center of the tropical cyclone will pass within 75 statute miles of a location during the next 72 hours.

Satellite imagery (visible spectrum)