Worse than Who’s Who

November 19, 2009

The recently released report entitled “The 500 Most Influential Muslims” would barely be acceptable as an IB MYP Personal Project from a 10th Grader. I certainly hope that the people who did the actual work were undergrads and not doctoral candidates or – Hasha lillah! – Esposito and Kalin themselves.

Aside from my personal biases, the most jaw-grind-inducing problem was the sheer inconsistency. There was apparently no criterion for deciding how individuals were assigned to the various categories. This was really noticeable with religious scholars who were haphazardly assigned to three or four different categories. There was also no consistency in the amount of detail or the extension of meaning of terms used in the sidebar. National placement was also fluid – Shaikh Nuh Keller (US born, resident in Jordan for two decades) is listed under the USA, while Shaikh Gibreel Haddad (Lebanon born, US educated, longtime resident of Syria, and settled for about 5 years in Brunei) is listed under Brunei.

The “top 50” are ranked, and the rest simply listed by country and region in their categories. The most offensive category is that for “women.” All of the women included are shoved in this category, no matter what their field. Sheikh Hasina Wazed – the Prime Minister of a country with a population greater than those controlled by the four “most influential” combined is not only relegated to this category but even has her name mis-Arabized. (I suspect the editorial hand of John “qital=killing” Esposito there.) The only exception is Sheikha Munira Qubeysi (!!!?!!1!1!) who makes it as the token woman in the top 50. Read the rest of this entry »

Be counted or else.

June 4, 2009

Morning Edition is talking today about the usual troubles the census goes through to get everyone counted. Apparently just about everyone in NYC belongs to one of those groups least likely to return a census form: young and single, immigrant, or African American. Apparently Hispanics are an exception to the immigrant trend for whatever reason. One of the suggested reasons for immigrants not returning census forms is their being unaware of what a census is. Is that really possible? While I’m sure that some of the states which haven’t had a functioning government in decades might miss out on the fun, I’m not personally aware of any country without a census.

Actually, I assume that in most countries it’s more important than it is here. Much of the developing world uses some form of representational quotas to fill their legislative bodies and apportion cabinet positions. The result of that could be that it’s more contentious or that it’s more corrupt, but either way everyone has a stake in making the census prominent in the national consciousness.

I was in Turkey for census day in 1997. Not having any advanced warning, that was the day we had chosen to get back overland from Trabzon to Istanbul, via Giresun. This was made nearly impossible by the fact that every 50 yards or so across the entire country there was someone dressed like this demanding papers of everyone on the street:

Turkish Police

Apparently no one is allowed to leave their homes on census day unless they have advanced parole. The dolmuşes  (shared taxis—yeah, I’m sure that plural should be made with a ‘lu’, but you get the idea) were getting stopped constantly and everyone had to show their permission slips. It was only in Giresun that we finally found an English paper that explained what was going on. (No one on the Black Sea coast seems to speak English and either I couldn’t figure out what Volkszählung meant or they were using something else to describe it in German—everyone in Turkey speaks German, while I only pretend to—or they were using some other phrase to describe it. I’m guessing the latter because the word seems pretty obvious 12 years later and in writing.)

I just wonder what sort of effect that type of experience has on people—would they be more or less likely to return a US census form? Would it have to do with fear of the census or the need for serious encouragement to actually bother with it?

As Fears Grow Over Pakistani President, U.S. Woos Rival

This paragraph is the only real background on NS in the article, and could at best be called counterproductive or misleading:

Mr. Sharif, 59, represents the Pakistan Muslim League-N, a coalition that includes a number of Islamist groups. He was prime minister twice during the 1990s, and received hero status in Pakistan for ordering nuclear weapons tests in 1998.

(Either my headache is more severe than I thought or they changed that in the last twenty minutes from “Muslim League of Pakistan” to PML (N)—there goes 25% of my rant!)

Anyway PML (N) is not a coalition, though presumably they are referring to the APDM which was made up of every party—Islamist, secularist, feudalist, opportunist—which actually wanted Musharraf out at the end of his reign.

His ties to Islamists are nothing but pure political calculation. The PPP and PML have each taken their turns flirting with the religious parties or the military or the West or the Saudis, and neither party has ever had even the slightest hint of an ideology beyond their own political survival, the humiliation of their rivals, and the advancement of the material well being of every hoodlum willing to rob the country blind under their banner. Read the rest of this entry »

The Paris Berlinskis

April 3, 2008

Instapundit wondered aloud today whether David Berlinski might be related to Claire Berlinski.

I’m a huge David Berlinski junkie. A Tour of the Calculus has been serving for some time as the book I keep out for whenever I need an escape. I’ve probably read each chapter a dozen times or so. As a humanities geek masquerading as the other sort of geek, I find popular science writing tremendously appealing. Popular math writing? Well, that’s the greatest thing since motorcycle rides and drives with one’s wife through Western ghost towns which somehow lead to New York cabbies explaining imaginary numbers.

On the other hand, I had no recollection of ever having heard of Claire Looking at her site, I realize I’ve read quite a few of her articles over the last few years without paying any attention to the name. “Why I don’t have a real job and other frequently asked questions” is definitely the funniest thing I’ve read so far this month. I’m going to have to read her (and her brother’s) novels. And her forthcoming book is about Margaret Thatcher!

Although I’m tempted to assume they’re alter egos of the same person, the biographical details suggest she would most likely be his daughter, if they are related at all. Although, isn’t there some sort of modern day etiquette that if both you and your father are, um, “knowledge workers” (the sort of people who promote themselves with web sites) and you score the domain name for your fairly common last name, you have to turn it over to your father?

UPDATE: The DNA test results are in. And yes, David Berlinski’s Wikipedia page is rather misrepresentative on the ID issue. He’s included in Uncommon Dissent, and is a skeptic with regards to Darwinism, and so is a favorite thinker of ID people, but I don’t think he’s ever publicly aligned himself to the whole IDeology. I hope no one would be discouraged from reading him on calculus and algorithms thinking that everything he writes is about ID.

Got Pedantry?

March 10, 2008

One’s inner prescriptivist can take any of several forms. Some people get all worked up over singular they and that/which and the like. Such people have spent too much time with The Elements of Style and not enough with the English canon.

Others are driven to rage by common spelling and punctuation errors. I recognize that these indicate sloppiness, but I use a fairly broad definition of “informal” and say that in informal contexts this is no big deal. Especially since I frequently mistype my itses and put my theirs there. As one of the afflicted, I know that it does not mean I am unaware of the distinctions in meaning and the proper usage.

What pushes me over the edge is when a common phrase is used in a way which makes it clear that the speaker just doesn’t get it. For example, when proverbs are applied literally, to precisely analogous situations. [Name withheld] always uses “sau chuhe kha ke billi hajj ko chali” to refer to bad people going to hajj. Uff.

The most abused phrase in the English language has to be “beg the question.” Someone needs to rescue the poor thing. People in the media consistently misuse it. Maybe one in a hundred times is it used correctly. This really, truly infuriates me. This morning, in his weekly ten minutes, the host of WHYY’s therapy hour subjected these three words to the usual torture. Which, compounded with my general distaste for psychology, sociology, and the Social Sciences in general, as well as their practitioners, just pushed me right off the edge.

Yes, yes, you could say the same thing about this that I said about that/which and its friends in the first paragraph. But see, I’m right and they’re wrong. Which does not beg any question, though it might raise – or even beget – a few about my own priorities or emotional stability.

In a related note, this woman fundraising on WLVT has been reminiscing about growing up with Sesame Street (she looks like she must have been at least a teenager when it premiered in 1969). She casually said – in a very Lehigh Valley way – something like “Of course back then we didn’t learn Spanish [on the show.]” Unless I misheard or misunderstood that, I’m going to have to call complete and utter BS. The Rodriguezes (Luis and Maria) were there from 1971 on. Certainly there was plenty of Spanish on there by the late ’70s. Khair. The real question is who could possibly think that 10 minute pledge breaks in the middle of Sesame Street are appropriate? Maybe if there was some promise of hope: “Alright parents, your kids are probably pulling your hair out by now. As soon as we get ten more pledges we’ll go back to Elmo and Big Bird. It’s all up to you.” But no.

Rumor of violence spreads through schools — themorningcall.com

Sometime in late November rumors began circulating in Bethlehem schools and on Myspace.com of a Columbine-style attack by members of the 229 Brigade and Pink Army P.A. On April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in suburban Denver, two students murdered 12 others and a teacher before killing themselves.

Ellen Gerber of Easton said in an e-mail that her son Randy created the Pink Army P.A. site as harmless, artistic peace movement. Gerber said media should not fan the rumors.

”I have pink army men all over my house, attacking a snowman, sitting on my hutch and even being attacked by my cat,” Gerber said. ”I know what the actual meaning behind the whole ‘movement’ was because it happened in my house. What it turned into is another thing.”

Randy Gerber has not responded to phone calls or e-mails.

People who claim to be members of these organizations have contacted a reporter and said they are peace activists and there will be no violence. However, these members have declined to meet with the reporter. At least one apparent member, though, found time to protest outside The Morning Call offices Monday afternoon, handing out bright pink fliers decrying ”fear mongering.”

At this point it seems like this may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. As far as I know, neither of the original “groups” ever even mentioned violence, but if some other kid already had intentions of that sort, it seems almost certain that they might appropriate the day. What a mess.

Next: Innovation Tools & Trends Tapping Into TED – BusinessWeek

That afternoon, president of the Children’s Health Fund, Irwin Redlener, investigative journalist Steven Emerson, Philip Zimbardo, he of the controversial Stanford Prison Experiments of the 1960s, which cast average Joes as prison guards or prisoners, with terrible consequences, and human rights expert, Samantha Power, consider Will Evil Prevail?

OK, my title’s unfair. I don’t really know much about Power beyond the titles of her books and the fact that she advised Obama, and I know nothing of the Children’s Health Fund; so I can’t necessarily label them as “the good.” And I don’t think Emerson and Zimbardo are really evil, but they are strikingly similar characters: researchers who claim to be investigating evil who’ve long since undermined anything they could say through delusional self-importance, methodological and intellectual sloppiness, and borderline (or worse) fraud.

Seriously, though, what sort of productive conversation on the stated question could these four really have in the course of an hour or so? Many of the TED talks available online are incredible, but most of the panels for this year seem pathetically designed. And one would think a private conference on TED’s (price) scale would be able to put together a schedule at least as informative as that of your average academic conference. Although I suppose there would have to be actual substance for the program to summarize that substance. Whoever assembled the program did manage to describe Emerson as “a terrorist investigator.” So maybe I’m not the only one thinking along the lines of my title.