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">
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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.