Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fest, Bourbon Creme Soda

I picked this up at the Mardi Gras grocery in the Marigny neighborhood, just east of the French Quarter. It's called "Fest, Bourbon Crème Soda". The first sip of this was a decent cream soda, but then there was an after taste. I guess it was their attempt to get the “bourbon” experience in this. They didn’t quite pull it off. The flavors are “natural”, so who knows what they used to simulate the booze. After a couple more sips I warmed up to it, but I wouldn’t get another one of these. There was a bit of that bitter, cured in oak barrel taste, but it didn’t blend with the rest of the soda. It wasn’t overly sweet, but it reminded me more of a cheap whiskey than a decent bourbon. It’s a novelty, but I don’t recommend it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

I have seen the promised land

I usually say a few words around Martin Luther King Day. This year I went to Memphis. I've seen that hotel balcony in pictures 100 times, but there's nothing quite like walking up to it and realizing you are where it happened. The hotel, and the boarding house across the street have been turned into the Civil Rights Museum.
It begins with slavery. Those dates seem very far away. That the problem was not solved by 1776 makes it seem a little closer. But of course it doesn't end there. Martin Luther King Jr was killed in 1968. I don't remember where I was, but I was old enough to remember things. A few years earlier, police in Birmingham were macing and beating marchers who were protesting voting laws and segregation laws. Those images are shown in life size on a screen in the museum and they were broadcast across the country at the time.

They are the images that changed the course of the civil rights movement. People from the North suddenly felt it was their struggle too. When I hear speeches about freedom and equality I think, "of course, we all want that". And I think that if someone is asking for it, adjustments will be made and they will get what they ask for. I suspect people who didn't see bathrooms marked "colored" felt this way too. Even today, people will defend the Old South, saying they got along peacefully, that everyone was happy with how things were, that they were separate, but they were equal.

Getting people from different ethnic backgrounds together in one place was not necessarily the hardest thing Martin Luther King Jr. did. Pointing out that things could be better wasn't it either. That was fairly obvious. The way he spoke of that brighter future was brilliant and inspiring, no doubt. The hard part is having people do the difficult things that lead to that future. Oppression is maintained mostly by a fear that the things that need to be done for change are so bad, that it's worth leaving them as they are.

People who are free today, who were born into free societies, will fight to keep that because they know how good it is. If they were suddenly under an oppressive ruler, they would do anything to regain that freedom, even sacrifice themselves if they felt it would bring freedom to the next generation. But if you are born into oppression, you don't know that. You only know what you are allowed to know. A few are given small privileges, and in exchange for that, they aid the oppression. They are the ones who say, "it's good enough as it is, work hard and you'll get privileges like me." Talk to someone who works in a prison, they'll tell you they use these tactics. Economic systems are a way of formalizing this arrangement.

There are some other obvious examples, but I think  I'll just go listen to some Blues tonight.

Monday, January 11, 2016

And another thing

Still thinking about that bad piece of data manipulation I saw last week. (See previous post)

As I pointed out, it took a percentage of people who answered certain questions, averaged it (whatever that meant), and multiplied by the entire world Muslim population. It concluded 345 million Muslims believe in honor killings for apostasy. Besides using regional statistics to make assumptions about a world population, the global number includes babies. You can't ask a baby to do a poll, so the poll does not include them. Babies also can't form those types of beliefs.

According to the video, there are 345 million jihadis sneaking in through our borders via the refugee program. Even using most of the bad math they did, you have to cut that in half, unless you care about an infant or old and infirmed jihadi, which you shouldn't.

Let's use their math and look closer to home and abuse some numbers. The US is 70% Christian, that's 225 million. 23% say Jesus WILL return by 2050 and 18% say "probably". That's 92 million people in the US who aren't worried about their grandchildren's future and have no reason to recycle or clean up their local watershed or read a book.

It's hard to get numbers on things like, "do Christians believe in stoning", but we know some do, because they write books and preach about it. The Barna Group, a highly respected polling organization that polls questions like that, says 50% of adult Christians believe the Bible is accurate in all its teachings. That's 160 million who accept Exodus 21:20.

Why aren't we worried about this? Because we know we have a rule of law in this country and if people start stoning their neighbors or taking slaves, we'll stop it.

Much the same way that the entire world is working together to stop a 100,000 or so rag-tag military that is currently breaking universal rules of moral and ethical behavior. We've dropped a lot of bombs on that area, and sent a lot of weapons and a lot of soldiers. They can see where those things come from, but don't have the broad perspective that we have, or at least should have if we are watching our news and checking our facts. 

We also know that people answer poll questions in a certain way, but actually mean something else. It's easier with US Christians, because we also know they don't know their Bibles, so the question is flawed from the beginning.

The Pew poll tried to get at some of this by not only saying "apostasy", but asking about whether the law should apply just to Muslims, or just to Muslims within the majority Muslim country or majority area. (None of this is mentioned in the video, FYI, use the link) If you could design the poll properly, I suspect you would find that very few people get up every morning and want to kill everyone who doesn't believe like they do. The ones who do, aren't going to answer your poll honestly anyway and they aren't wondering around at the mall to be asked in the first place, so getting that number is almost impossible.

The Pew poll was not able to follow-up and clarify that cutting off someone's hands for stealing should only be done by an official government agency after due process and only for repeat offenders. Sure, we know some people are taking this law into their own hands, but we have some guys in Oregon right now who think they are above the US law. There's always going to be some of those. We (the USA) have a lot of people who still believe in the death penalty, something I consider particularly barbaric. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, something we can actually do something about by participating in our local government.

Really, we have much better ways to spend our time than with videos like this.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Moderate Extremism

I came across a YouTube the other day. Usually I stop watching things like this when they say “politically correct” then a minute later say terrorists are coming disguised as refugees, but someone I know wanted my comments on it, so here goes.

It starts out with statements from major politicians saying Muslims are peaceful and we are not at war with Muslims as a group. This culminates in Obama saying 99.9% of Muslims are “looking for the same thing we’re looking for”. This is put in quotes on the screen in case, I don’t know, you are deaf or something. The narrator then asks, “is this true?” So that’s the theme. I don’t expect much from this since “99.9%” is a colloquial phrase, not a statistic. Asking if it’s true is like your mother asking if it’s true that “everyone” at school is doing whatever it is you want her to let you do. The narrator then asks, “what would you say if scientific polls by major organizations have repeatedly shown a very different picture?”. I knew right then that picture was going to be blurry. Different than what? It’s going to take 10 minutes to get to those numbers, so get comfortable.

She identifies the problem as “violent, radical, extremists Islamism”. Okay, “violent, radical, extremist” anything is a problem. It shouldn’t be too hard to make a case. In fact, there’s no need to make that case at all. And she doesn’t. What she goes on to do is equate “Islamism” with violence, radicalism and extremism. And, in my opinion, she only equates them. She makes almost no real case for it. I’m not disputing the correlation, but this video doesn’t make any case for any actual causes or help us to find solutions to the problem.

She starts off saying most of the terrorism is committed by Muslims, so we need an open and honest conversation. Why that fact about Muslims leads to us needing to be open and honest, I don’t know. Shouldn’t it be a given that we need that for any conversation?  

Although she will go on to say that political correctness is a problem, she stops and clarifies that “this is not a conversation about Islam”. She has some other news broadcaster say “there is a cancer WITHIN Islam”. It’s hard to tell what her theme is here, but what this video becomes for me is one long statement of “I’m a Muslim, but I’m not one of those types of Muslims.” When she gets to the circles of influence, the one she leaves off is herself, the moderate religious person. Moderates can’t talk about how any irrational, superstitious thinking is dangerous and leaves the door open to radicalism. That’s a much larger conversation that I’ve covered elsewhere, for now, just notice that she never touches on it. She doesn’t explain how a Jihadist becomes radicalized and she doesn’t explain how her version of Islam would keep someone from becoming radicalized.

Actually I’m fine with this delineation of “Islamism” or “Radical Islam”, distinct from the larger Islamic culture and historical Islam, but she doesn’t stick to that or at least she doesn’t further define it or the causes of it. She just asserts it and wants you to know she’s not in it. Finally at one-minute and 45 seconds, after priming you with ideas about how everyone else is wrong, she says, let’s begin.

The next bit of sophisticated fear mongering is to introduce the idea that Rajid Nawaz calls “regressive liberalism”, or as a Bill Maher clip says in the video, fear of being called a racist. It’s sophisticated because that part is true, people are afraid of that. Really you should be afraid of being called a racist if you make a racist remark. Maybe what you should work on is how words come out of your mouth, and how to explain the difference between a racist remark and a fact about a culture (like not abusing poll data as we’ll see later). What makes it fear mongering is they cut to images from the San Bernadino shooting. Then they cut to neighbors who “apparently noticed suspicious activity, but didn’t call the police.” And they said they didn’t because they didn’t want to appear racist.

Really? What’s the usual story? Usually it’s “oh they seemed like a nice couple, I never would have guessed”.  Or, it’s a story of mental illness that was known by professionals who are barred by ethics from talking about private medical issues. But for this one shooting, out of the 400 shootings in 2015, it’s, “hmmm, I thought they looked suspicious.” Next cut to the ugly display by Ben Affleck, shouting at Sam Harris on the Bill Maher show. You can google that, there was a lot of internet discussion about it. Ben called Sam racist. That’s all we need to know for now.

Again, the sophisticated Raheel Raza says, that’s nice of Ben to defend her, but what she REALLY needs defending from is the radicals in her own religion who want her dead. This is that ironic moment where she is both defending Islam but agreeing with the atheist that it’s dangerous. Let’s see how she climbs out of that, or if she does. To put a fine point on it, she lists some atrocities, with images, and says THOSE Muslims are… “murdering people in the name of MY God.” Then she shows a few leaders of the extremists saying they want to take over the world. Was that necessary?  Was this build up necessary? We could have just started there.

What she did in the first 3 minutes is connect the dots from a random shooting in America to political correctness to radical Islamist terrorists. No mention at all of the problems of guns in America. A problem that affects the rest of the world and everyone is aware of. No mention of the lack of education about Islam and how Imams with an agenda fill that void. No mention at all of decades of bi-partisan support for war in the Middle East. Just the particular dots that she wants to connect.

So, we finally get to what she said she was going to do, look at numbers.

                1.6 Billion Muslims in the world.

But wait, we don’t want to confuse you with too much math, let’s have Sam Harris explain this to us slowly. Sam breaks down what he calls the “circles of influence”. This part is pretty good. I’ve read Sam’s recent book with Majid Nawaz (a liberal/moderate Muslim) and Majid agrees with this analysis. It goes like this:


But not so fast, Raheel wants to show us some more violent imagery. And here’s where she starts her numbers magic. There are 40-200,000 “fighting for ISIS across the world”. Just what “fighting for” means is not clear since ISIS is very geographically isolated. A few random acts of terrorism have occurred “across the world” and ISIS has claimed responsibility, but that is a loose connection. But, okay, we can all agree that the numbers are difficult, so let’s move on to the real obfuscation.

 Other groups are equally difficult to pin down. Al-Qaeda and a group called IRCG might number up to 100,000, so Raheel says, “the hundreds of thousands fighting for…” these and other groups. You can look at that chart and see the exaggeration for yourself.

Raheel casually includes the lone wolves in that first group of the circle, the Jihadists, and lists nice peaceful towns and cities where they have murdered people, just to make sure you get it that you should be afraid, replete with images of buildings blowing up and people in business attire hitting the ground. And the Twin Towers for good measure.

At 6:00 minutes she says another of the great ironies. It doesn’t matter how big or small those numbers are since “a handful of terrorists” can cause great disruption. Umm, that’s what terrorism IS. As George Carlin said (back when it was the Palestinians), what they are doing is, trying to win. They don’t have infrastructure, or an air force, or bases around the world like we do, but they think they are right and are willing to die for their cause, just like any soldier. But Raheel isn’t trying to be funny, or to explain geopolitics, she just wants to scare you.

I’m not taking sides here. I’m acknowledging terrorism is a strategy. When the Palestinians hijacked planes back in the 70’s they gained recognition that they were being oppressed by Israel. The world got involved. It’s still messy, but their strategy was effective. If you look at the tactics of George Washington compared to the British Army, you could say those were terrorist acts. I’m not equivocating or defending the ideology of ISIS or their desire for world domination, but if you only focus on their tactics, it is unclear what you are defending. Noam Chomsky is notorious for simply counting bodies and bombs and calling the US guilty of state supported terrorism. Regardless of your politics, it’s a matter of perspective. In this case, Raheel misses the big picture.

Since she’s got you pretty worked up by now, it’s a good time to show a picture of a horde of refugees streaming across the countryside and again, connect some random dots. I’ll give her credit that she doesn’t actually tell you to call your congressman and tell him or her to build a wall, but I’m not sure what else she wants you to get from that image. She spends another minute talking about “home grown” terrorists, meaning those born in Western countries. Perhaps she is trying to say that the problem is not regional, but she never addresses the vast differences in the regional data. It does nothing to make a case for why they become terrorists. If anything it complicates the reasoning. But, at least we can move on from that first circle now. Back to Sam Harris:

                Islamists – radical thinking, but willing to work within peaceful means, within a government.

That definition uses the words Sam uses, but compare that to what Raheel says, “instead of engaging in terror themselves, they use the political and cultural system to further their aims.” Holy crap. How the hell does she know what’s going on in these people’s heads? You can remove the second half of that sentence since anyone who participates in a democracy is “using the cultural system to further their aims”, that’s what democracy means. But she implies they’d rather be engaging in terror, but you know, it’s too messy, so they’ll manipulate your government instead.

To make her case, she picks the two worst instances of votes for terrorists in the history of Islam, when Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2006 and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2012. The news plays in the clip that “they” wanted to “limit the rights of women and they were not pro-American”. Okay, no country is required to be pro-American and plenty of America politicians are not doing so great on women’s rights either. But let’s not mention that. She also ignores votes like Tunisia in 2014, against the ruling conservative party with Islamist roots. (See the Pew data, linked below)

Next she talks about CAIR. A Muslim group in America. I don’t know much about them and will save that for another day. I’m interested in this film Raheel was in and how it got “shut down”. That will have to wait for another day. Back to our video, and the next circle:

                Fundamentalist: according to Raheel, their values are “very disturbing” but they are “not working to overthrow governments like the Muslim Brotherhood”.

Wait a minute, didn’t the Muslim Brotherhood participate in a democratic election a couple paragraphs ago? Anyway, they never received more than 25% of the support of that country, something Raheel fails to mention. As we’ll see in a minute, the 25% range is not that different than the numbers she eventually gets to, so I’m not disputing the numbers at all, they are problematic. My problem is she manipulates them in a way that distorts their meaning.

So “let’s do the numbers thing”, we’re finally there. This is her entire case, but she has spent 10 minutes showing you violent images and calling you “politically correct”, so it’s going to go by quick, don’t blink. The poll was a poll of Muslims around the world. Of course, she starts with the worst, countries like Afghanistan where 79% say apostasy is a crime worthy of execution. Pause if you want to see that Indonesia comes in at 18%. But she doesn’t do that, she takes an “average” of all of them. I’d like to see her math on that one.

BTW, one click to the “next page” from the above gives you a chart showing “Support of Religious Freedom” within the Muslim community. It is nearly 100% for most countries. As Raheel keeps asking, do you think that is a radical belief?

The next bit of math is her biggest error. She converts that average percentage into a number of people. It’s a lot and I don’t dispute that it’s problematic. There are two problems of methodology; 1) it doesn’t take into account the problems of getting good data from Muslims who live in oppressed situations, 2) she is working toward this case for a “cancer within Islam”. This is a survey of Muslims, but it does not demonstrate a “cause and effect”, that being a Muslim leads to these behaviors. From this data, that is purely correlation, not causation. A survey of people with brown skin in the South side of Chicago that shows high gang membership does not tell you that brown skin causes kids to join gangs. I know you understand that last sentence, now apply that understanding to this video.

At 12:00 minutes she makes another one of those idiotic statements. That this Pew research paints a picture of an Islamic world that is increasingly out of step with the modern world. If you didn’t know that Islam is out of step with the modern world when Khomeini was rising in Iran, you already missed the boat. The historical factors that led to Khomeini are a little more obscure, but this blog is already going pretty long. Look up where the Shah came from for more on that.  Islam was the modern world in the 13th century. They were overrun by Mongols and then lost the battles of East against West. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and Christians “reconquered” Spain. The locus of the modern world has remained shifted in that direction since.

Once again, she picks some extra scary stat about 18-29 year old Muslims within “modern” countries. I’m getting bored with this now. There will be some more violent images in a minute, I’ll skip those too. But wait, my favorite part, 53% of Muslims surveyed want Sharia to be the law of the land. Raheel is counting on you not knowing what “Sharia” means. Simply, it can mean a lot of things. This is mentioned in the glossary of the Pew study from which this video cherry picked its data. Different Muslim countries implement different aspects of it, aspects that ISIS wouldn’t recognize and openly denounces. Sharia does not equal “what ISIS wants”. Note also the old circuit rider preacher trick she uses of repeating, “Do you think that’s a radical belief?”

You might be thinking that I skipped over the most important part, the very data that makes the case. My point in writing a 3,500 plus word blog on this video is that the data doesn’t support the case. First of all, what’s the case? That ISIS is bad? That Muslims are bad? She’s a Muslim, so it can’t be that. She never tells us what we should do, other than join her and support her in having this conversation. What conversation? That ISIS is bad? Did you need a video to know that? Did you need a video to know that support for terrorism is coming from Afghanistan? This is how videos like this work, they spend a lot of time telling you what’s coming, and that they will prove it, then insert lots of violent images and frightening numbers, then they spend a few seconds of bad logic where it’s unclear what they’re saying, then they tell you they just told you and make sure the questions they raise have the obvious answer they want you to repeat.

That’s it. The only thing left is to send you to the website. At no point did she say what parts of Islam she wants to keep and what parts are the “corrupted” parts. She never mentioned that the religion she claims as hers was begun as a military operation and her holy book is full of instructions on how to conquer. She never talked about how there is no central authority of Islam and Imams have been arguing about it since the Quran was completed. (Use the footnotes in the Pew link to see the more violent ideas are in the hadiths, not the Quran.)

As Sam Harris said in the Bill Maher interview (but not included in any clips in this video), “it (Islam) is the mother lode of bad ideas”. What’s very different about Sam is, he has since corrected that and wishes he had said it is “A mother lode of bad ideas”. He recognizes that many religions have violent passages and promote the oppression of women, and are even pro-slavery. They are out of date, historical documents. They have a few good ideas and those are the ones we still talk about and implement. Following those documents as if they apply to the modern world leads to half of your population not participating in anything except making babies and puts the focus on vague values that don’t lead to progress instead of modern values that do. Harris also knows his Quran and CAN make a case for how simply reading it can lead to radicalism. I suspect Raheel avoids doing any of that analysis because it is a threat to her religious beliefs. Or it could be simply that she is lazy and does not want to sort out why terrorism is currently a problem in certain regions and has not been a problem in other regions and other times.

Raheel had 14 minutes, and never covered these basics. She never mentioned that you create child suicide bombers by teaching them in complete isolation. If you think you can’t isolate a kid right in the middle of suburbia, you need to get out and meet some of your neighbors. It is not a challenge to teach kids simple answers, the hard part is getting them to look up history themselves and understand that it was only a century ago that women in America did not have the vote. Luckily they “used the political and cultural system to further their aims” and changed that. People being born now will have to be taught that there was a time when gay people were strung up to die on barbed wire fences, not allowed to shop for matching kitchen sets at Target. We need to be careful about how arrogant we get about being a “modern” country.

I have only glanced into this Clarion Project that Raheel works with, but so far I see no reason to look further. She provided no solutions, and skipped over all of the historical and political factors, focusing merely on the number of terrorists, the potential damage they can cause and what she believes is massive support for them. She never asked why there are many terrorists in the Middle East and very few in the big Muslim majority countries of Indonesia and India. If it is a simple matter of averaging out those Pew numbers and applying them across the board, how do you explain the democratic and capitalist progress in those countries?

Don’t get me wrong, if Raheel is trying to say that her Islam is a religion of peace, I don’t have a problem with that. Any religion that has a place of worship in a peaceful country and has people who go to those places within a pluralistic free society, is a religion of peace. They have become that because the world demanded it , and I include people of any religion and the non-religious in that world. People demanded rights and stopped fighting for Kings and Popes and Caliphates or any other form of despotic leader that thought they had the only right way. Our despotic leaders have different names now and they have figured out how to get votes, or we vote for them with our dollars and Euros. We should be just as worried about them as we are of terrorism.

Just as Raheel doesn’t need Hollywood actors defending her religion, I don’t need Raheel telling me ISIS is a problem. I know that. I know it just like a peasant who’s King had gone crazy knew it was wrong. But crazy is not always so easy to identify and now it has a vote that is equal to mine. There are complex factors causing the problems of the world today and picking out a few statistics and claiming the problem is “hundreds of thousands” of Muslims, tells me nothing. When you have data like that, the next appropriate question is to ask “why”. Why those particular Muslims? Why Muslims in that area? What happened in that area 10 years ago? What happened 500 years ago? What happened in the rest of the world that DIDN’T happen there? Is death for apostasy directly related to ISIS and a desire for Sharia or it is rooted in other cultural norms? Is FGM in the Quran or does it come from tribes that preceded Mohammad?  How do you bring education to an area where girls are shot for advocating for it?

Show me where Raheel looks into those questions, and I might be interested in what she’s found.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Obligatory New Year's post

I know I usually do a New Year's post, but you should also know that I hate doing anything on a schedule. I think it's the best way to take the fun out of it. If you look back at my other New Year's posts, I usually make wild, impossible resolutions that I don't keep anyway.

So, instead, this year, I'll just suggest a book.

Islam and the Future of Intolerance. By Sam Harris and Majid Nawaz.

It's short and packed with information. It is the best thing I've found on the current situation with Islam. It covers the spectrum of belief and experience. Majid was once a recruiter for a Islamist terrorist organization and is now a political analyst. Sam is, well, if you don't know who Sam is, you haven't been following this blog.