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 »


Wired today offers up 12 (broad categories) of hacks to improve IQ and mental performance, and a few related articles. It’s nice to know that caffeine is better for you in small frequent doses, though I’m a little bothered by the apparent suggestion to supplement this with prescription pharmaceuticals. One supplement takes on myths about brain health: fish, crosswords, supplements, hand-eye coordination building through video games, and gum are out, though this quote suggests the author may be a little out of touch:

School principals may scoff, but the notion that gum enhances alertness dates to World War I, when sticks were slipped into soldiers’ rations.

I don’t think there are principals scoffing; these days schools pump kids with gum and candy before and during standardized testing. It’s all part of No Child’s Teeth Left Behind. Of course this is not based on the “myth” being here renounced – that the act of chewing “activates” the brain, but rather on the “fact” which Wired embraces in true geek style that a dose of sugar along with your caffeine boosts your brain power.
Someone should have chewed a few pieces of Bazooka or at least looked at a map before they wrote this, though:

You’ve mastered Africa. Now you’re ready for a real geographic challenge: Central Asia from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan.

That is, after memorizing all 47 nations in Africa, you should move on to the real challenge of memorizing the three countries (inclusive) and one sea from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan.

Google officially and belatedly commemorated Tom Lehrer’s 80th birthday. I think this may be the best tribute:


April 3, 2008


ZYGO SCRABBLE is a charitable society, established for propagation of the game of Scrabble in India.

This being summer vacation in India, they’ve got “‘Word Camps’ for school children in April and May to initiate children into Scrabble, Creative Writing etc.” all over the Twin Cities. Schedule.

For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers – washingtonpost.com

In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended last year for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners and 22 first-graders, according to the State Department of Education.

What a nightmare. I’ve also recently heard the near-opposite: a middle school student who violently sexually assaulted a classmate, about whom the school said it could not take action do to his IEP for behavioral issues. I guess it’s all part of No Social Pathology Left Behind.

Often it seems that school administrators and district officials do not actually have a clear idea of what the law expects of them. Police respond to the school whenever called, but don’t seem to be in any better of a position to advise as to what the law (and civil precedent) would have the school do. In most cases, if parents weren’t so supremely obnoxious and abusive of the system, we wouldn’t be in such situations.

Gcompris and Childsplay are great. They seem to get more polished with each release. Some of the activities are really quite ingenious. Others are odd or obscure and insufficiently documented. (I’d write the docs if someone wanted to spend a day explaining what we’re supposed to do.)

What I would like to see is some sort of administrative interface for running sessions. Preferably a command line one for easy use over SSH. Really the only thing it needs is a way to kill the program safely. Killing the process the normal way leaves the screen resolution all messed up. Maybe this command could have options like --dinner and --bedtime to customize the warning dialog it shows to the user. Then they couldn’t use the excuse that they thought it crashed and just restarted it.

Most of the time, though, it’s not intransigence I’m dealing with. Both of these programs are meant to be used as an entirely self-contained environment. At home, though, they don’t quite live up to that, as the selection of activities appropriate for any given age group is limited. So often the kids will want to play a few activities in one or the other and then move on to something else. And they have an acute sense of their time running out. Both of these programs make it hard to get out of them.  There’s an “Are you sure you want to quit?” dialog, which can be frustrating for the pre-literate. If you’re in TuxPaint or the animation tool, you may find yourself facing three or four dialogs before you can escape. Short of, or in addition to, the administrative tool, it would be nice to disable all of these dialogs at run time. In GCompris you can disable the exit button – presumably to run safely in some sort of kiosk mode. I’m not sure how administrators are expected, then, to close it. I presume you just have to kill it and then restart X.

Gcompris does have an extensive set of administrative options, and it’s worth looking over the documentation for that – you might find something useful you never knew about.

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.