Feb 242015

This morning, I performed wu’du (ritual cleansing before prayer) for the first time in years. I don’t like wu’du much, it’s a little too messy. I’d prefer to wash my hands and face and just pray. No my feet aren’t caked in mud either. I can’t imagine that not giving myself over to the minutiae of wu’du will cause my prayers not to be accepted by God. Still, it didn’t seem all that bad after all these years.

Prayer, salat, namaaz, comes and goes for me. I fast during Ramadan. I give to charity. And I try not to sin (too much). I regard prayer as a way to calm the mind but it’s damn near impossible to hear the Creator talking back to me. So I keep trying. From time to time.

After finishing Fajr (morning) prayer, I opened up my email to find a link to an article titled, Practicing Islam in Shorts by Thanaa El-Naggar. It’s a really great article and well describes how I grew up. My parents always said they wanted to give us the tools to accept Islam on our own terms. What we did with it as adults was our business. “La-ikraaha fid’deen” – “Let there be no compulsion in religion”.


So as children, my sisters and I went to Islamic Sunday School and boy, did I hate it. Mostly because I was picked on for the being the youngest and quietest in my class. I had long sideburns. Kids can be cruel. I really enjoyed the history portions of class but I stunk out loud at reading Arabic. But mostly, as Naggar points out, I just hated the minutiae.

My Islamic studies teachers taught me how to how to obsess about the mundane—about all the things I’m doing incorrectly and therefore my prayers will not be accepted. They taught me guilt. They taught me fear. They taught me that being a good Muslim is difficult.

Continue reading »

Feb 182015

Eight months ago, I had to put my dog to sleep. Oreo was about 12-14 years old; I had him for six of the best years of my life. Towards the end, he had kidney issues and possible heart issues as well. His legs had grown stiff and he could barely make it around the block whereas he had been able and wanting to walk for hours in his youth. He lost interest in food and dropped a lot of weight. I fear he might have suffered a stroke because he went downhill pretty fast in the last few days.

It was the right thing to do. It was also the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Despite those trying times and no longer having to pick up poop a couple times per day, I regret not one minute that I had him. I don’t regret the difficult first few months when we were adjusting to each other. I don’t regret that it took years for his personality to come out. I don’t regret the last year when I barely took a vacation outside Pittsburgh. I don’t regret the difficulties of him having more and more accidents in his last year when he hadn’t had more than one accident in the previous 3-4 years.


Dog owners (ugh I do hate using ‘owner’ but it’s the word that works) often like to joke that we prefer our dogs to people. Sometimes, that’s true. My mom used to joke that I would never find a girl as dedicated to me as Oreo. Good. I don’t want that in a human relationship. Continue reading »

Feb 112015

Rod Dreher, in a characteristically brilliant post entitled When ISIS Ran the American South, reminds us that no society is too far removed, historically-speaking, from the brutality inflicted by the likes of ISIS.  There is a time within recorded memory, not ancient history, when Americans did unspeakable things to each other and made a religion out of their actions. Lest we forget, lest we start to navel gaze too much.

ISIS filmed that poor Jordanian pilot burning to death as an act of revenge and terror. We call those Islamist fanatics animals. But white people did this often, and sometimes even made a public spectacle of it. “The white men, women, and children present watched the horrific murders while enjoying deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey in a picnic-like atmosphere.”

By Fred Gildersleeve (1881-1958) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The whole post and the comments section are well worthy of your time. Of particular import is this comment:

I had to understand how all of this happened. How could Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians in the South NOT have put a stop to this when they had the social and cultural power to do so? Why did Southern Evangelicals become chaplains to the racist South? So, I investigated it and wrote a book about it. I had to get answers. What I ultimately found is that their main concern, initially, was that they protect their own way of life and their own prosperity. Racism was a way to do that for Southern whites and religion became useful when it was seen as was a way to give their impulse sanction. But, we still do this today. We still remake God in our own image and see Him as a means to an end – our own end of blessing our life. That is what Southern Christians (and non-Christians did – but you know like I do that everyone thought they were a Christian, or claimed to be. Almost everyone, anyway). They were the original Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. They devised a religion that worked for them and supported them in the construction of the society that they wanted. It was a mess. [emphasis mine]

It occurs to me that this is the very thing which ISIS is doing. Not simply that they are using my religion, but that they are constructing their very own religion. Years ago, while traveling through Morocco, I watched a BBC Asia interview of a Malaysian Islamic terrorist who was serving a long prison sentence. The interviewer held up a Qur’an and asked the man to point out what passage he used to justify his violent views. The terrorist declared that his justification lay not in the Qur’an. But that he and his ilk were following the teachings and orders of Osama Bin Laden and other ‘leaders’ who had called for violent jihad. It’s worth repeating the comment from above:

They devised a religion that worked for them and supported them in the construction of the society that they wanted. It was a mess.

Continue reading »

Jan 212015

Yesterday, I wrote that there is a possibility (but certainly not a probability) that there exists two dark, icy super-Earths somewhere beyond the Oort Cloud of our solar system.

There could be at least two unknown planets hidden well beyond Pluto, whose gravitational influence determines the orbits and strange distribution of objects observed beyond Neptune. This has been revealed by numerical calculations made by researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid and the University of Cambridge. If confirmed, this hypothesis would revolutionise solar system models. [Daily Galaxy].

I hypothesized that the first of these potential planets is Korriban, home world of the Sith of the Star Wars saga. But I have also come to believe that if the second super-Earth exists, it is none other than Gallifrey, home world of the Time Lords of the Doctor Who series.


Gallifrey Returns… Again?

Since the resumption of the series, there have been two instances of Gallifrey nearly coming back, so to speak.

From the Tardis Wikia article on Gallifreyan History:

During the Eleventh Doctor’s timestream, he and all of his prior incarnations (as well as his successor incarnation, unbeknownst to him) came together to freeze Gallifrey and the surviving Time Lords in time; and transferred Gallifrey to a pocket universe where it was safe from the Daleks, who destroyed themselves. (TV: The Day of the Doctor) Due to the memory of these events being wiped from every incarnation before the Eleventh Doctor, the Ninth Doctor believed himself responsible for the destruction of both the Time Lords and Gallifrey. (TV: The End of the World, Dalek)


The Time Lords began reaching out through a Crack sending the message “Doctor who?” on the planet Trenzalore in order that the Eleventh Doctor might speak his true name and return them to the universe. Rather than restart the Time War, the Doctor refused for hundreds of years. The Time Lords did save the dying Doctor’s life by granting him the a new cycle of regenerations, allowing him to regenerate into the Twelfth Doctor before closing the crack and sealing themselves away in the pocket universe, possibly forever (TV: The Time of the Doctor).

It’s safe to say that Gallifrey wouldn’t be trapped in the pocket universe forever. The materialization of Gallifrey near Earth was clearly a mistake by the Time Lords. In their madness and desperation, they got the timing and location wrong. But now after we know that Gallifrey was whisked away into the pocket universe, leaving the Dalek’s to (mostly) destroy each other in the crossfire, its reappearance as a wayward super-Earth in the Oort Cloud makes sense.

The Time Lords of Gallifrey, chief among them Rassilon, may be corrupt but they aren’t dummies. Surely they will have learned from their mistake during the last days of the Last Great Time War as well as when they tried to force The Doctor’s hand on Trenzalore.  The Doctor simply will not allow innocent populations to suffer just to see his home world restored to the universe, to say nothing of whether it would restart the Time War. Better in his mind, to keep Gallifrey locked away for now, than to see others suffer.

But if the Rassilon and his ilk can restore Gallifrey to the universe without endangering a native population and thereby forcing The Doctor to intervene, the Oort Cloud would be a prime region to re-materialize. Lying out in that desolate region of the Sol System, they would probably go unnoticed by The Doctor, at least until such time as they were prepared to face him and make their presence again known to the universe.

Related Articles:
Are Scientists on the Verge of Locating the Sith Homeworld?

(We’ll discuss the implications of having both Gallifrey and Korriban in the Sol System at another date)…

Jan 202015

From the Daily Galaxy:

There could be at least two unknown planets hidden well beyond Pluto, whose gravitational influence determines the orbits and strange distribution of objects observed beyond Neptune. This has been revealed by numerical calculations made by researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid and the University of Cambridge. If confirmed, this hypothesis would revolutionise solar system models.

Ok, let’s back up a bit. Last March, scientists discovered a dwarf planet, 2012 VP-113, orbiting in a region in between the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. There are only two objects in this inner-Oort cloud, the other being Sedna.

The orbits of 2012 VP-113, nicknamed Biden, and Sedna suggest, “the possible presence of a dark and icy super-Earth, up to ten times larger than our planet.” [emphasis mine]


I think we can theorize that this monster planet is in fact our galaxy’s Korriban, the home world of the Sith. We all know that the historical documentary series, Star Wars, takes place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. What the documentaries (or mockumentaries, as Episodes I-III are known) never tell us is how far away and how long ago.


If the Force exists in our galaxy, and one presumes that Human Beings are not force-sensitive, then there must be both a light and a dark side. And so I posit that one of the dark super-Earths could very well be a version of Korriban, cut adrift from its home system, drifting past Earth.

Related Posts
Gallifrey Returns in the Oort Cloud?

Jan 072015

ou… la liberté d’expression est non négociable.

The offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper which has attracted controversy for lampooning Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, were attacked today, resulting in the deaths of 12 people and injuries to 3 others. From the New York Times:

Among the dead were four prominent cartoonists who have repeatedly lampooned Islamic terrorists and the prophet Muhammad, leading to speculation that the attack was the work of Islamic militants acting alone or in concert with extremist groups. A police guard assigned to protect the newspaper was among the first victims. A second police officer, who responded to reports of the shooting, was killed on the sidewalk outside the offices by the fleeing suspects, the Paris police said. The shooting of the second police officer was captured in a widely-seen video.

Speech has consequences. Sometimes it can get you in hot water with your bosses or friends and family. It can get you fired. Freedom of speech does not constitute freedom from criticism. If you say something stupid, you may deserve to be called out on it. If you say something offensive, you may deserve to be criticized. Criticized. Not to be murdered or even have your life threatened.

I care not for those who will point out the crimes of the West against the Middle East. As if that is justification for this barbarism. Firstly, the offenders-in-chief at Charlie Hebdo are just writers. Their weapons are words, not bombs. Words must be met with words. Not violence.


Secondly, I would venture to say that no one gets to throw stones because all of our houses are made of glass. I would wager that those self-styled jihadis have also laughed at jokes about Christianity, Judaism, Christ, Moses or the Dark Lord Cthulhu.

We make fun of everything – religion, sexuality, sports, gender, etc. We laugh, we get offended and then we go home to bed. Continue reading »

Dec 302014
Lefty and Proud!

…or Soon the Southpaw Revolution Will Come!

Lifehacker has a post about switching to a RTL (right-to-Left) orientation which should make using one’s smartphone easier with the Left hand. Less strain to reach when using your Left hand.

If you’re like most people, you use your right hand on your phone. And that’s fine. Because you’re probably one of those people. The right-handed. But if you’re a Lefty, you probably use your phone in your right-hand as well. You’ve probably trained your right hand to make those sorts of movements as quickly and efficiently as possible. Because that’s the world we inhabit. A right-handed world. I even the play guitar right-handed because a Left-Handed guitar would’ve been more expensive to purchase.

Switching to a RTL orientation is actually a little weird so far. It’ll take some retraining because I’m so used to the right-handed-centric orientation. But it’s worth it. Because LEFT.

The Leftorium

Dec 242014
Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet

Recently, Azealia Banks has gotten into a huge battle with the white Australian rapper Iggy Azalea over Iggy’s cultural appropriation of blackness, calling it a “cultural smudging”. As we have moved further and further away from the founding of the genre, as the older heads recede from the game, hip hop risks losing its sense of history.

I came in to hip hop in the late-1980’s through mid-1990’s when political rap was at its popular forefront – Public Enemy, Ice-T, NWA and its solo member offshoots Ice Cube and Dr Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Doggy Dogg, even Arrested Development. A suburban kid can’t really relate to those conditions but the music was authentic, real, harsh, raw and sometimes funny. And did it ever sound great, lyrically and sonically.  Dr. Dre’s Ain’t Nuthin’ but a G Thang still ranks among my favorite songs of all-time. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s The Message was jarring, to say the least.

Thomas Rice as Jim Crow

As such, Iggy Azalea and folks of her ilk, who willfully disregard hip hop’s socio-political history, are the new minstrels. To simply mimic the very vocal patterns within which hip hop was established, when that is not her modus operandi, and to make an exaggerated fetish of some behaviors is to disrespect the genre. It is profoundly inauthentic. No one who truly cares about the genre and isn’t just looking to make a buck (or an aussie) should applaud it.

Aamer Rahman takes the significance of this appropriation a step further:

A white rapper like Iggy Azalea acts out signifiers which the white majority associates with black culture – hyper sexuality, senseless materialism, an obsession with drugs, money and alcohol – as well as adopting clothing, speech and music – as a costume that they can put on and discard at will. It’s a cheap circus act.

Continue reading »

Oct 202014

In a provocative essay in Foreign Affairs, Shashank Joshi lays out the reasons why India has, by and large, stayed out of Middle Eastern affairs. Of particular interest to me are the ideological reasons:

New Delhi has deeper ideological reasons for its opposition to intervention in the Middle East. Indian policymakers tend to view recent Western intervention in the Middle East as comparable to the U.S.-funded and Pakistan-led effort to support opposition forces in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979. In the Indian view, it was the West’s intervention that primed Afghanistan for the growth and spread of radical Islam. Suhasini Haidar, strategic & diplomatic affairs editor of the Indian newspaper The Hindu, summarized the feelings of many Indians in a July 2014 op-ed: “Each of the countries today at the center of the world’s concerns over extremism is, in fact, a country that has seen direct or indirect Western intervention, not Western absence — Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Iraq.”

Well, imagine that! You mean to say that Western action in the Middle East (ostensibly usually led by the United States under both Democratic and Republican regimes) isn’t a magical panacea to what ails that troubled region?!


It’s true that India has enough on its regional plate with rather ornery neighbors in Pakistan and China. Regardless, I don’t consider it an isolationist move to stay out of Middle Eastern affairs. It just pragmatic. There is little to be gained by wading into the morass of complicated, centuries-old grudges, alliances and enmities that tangle Western Asia.

Continue reading »

Oct 072014
Angela George [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Or… Infidels Have No Place at the Table

By now you’ve probably heard of or seen the clip of Ben Affleck angrily defending Islam against the invectives of Bill Maher and Sam Harris. Here’s the clip in case you missed it:

Did you watch it? I confess that I haven’t watched it, nor am I likely to do so because I can already tell it’s just… too much. I generally enjoy the rantings of my fellow Irishman Bill Maher on sundry topics but I have to hit mute any time he starts railing on Islam. I’ve watched Bill for years and he has consistently blanketed all Muslims with the same characterizations. That there may even be a portion of the population pushing back or that there may need to be more nuance than a single characterization of one billion people’s faith doesn’t pass muster with him.

Harris penned a defense of his appearance on his blog. It’s definitely worth a read. A couple excerpts of note:

Kristof made the point that there are brave Muslims who are risking their lives to condemn “extremism” in the Muslim community. Of course there are, and I celebrate these people too. But he seemed completely unaware that he was making my point for me—the point being, of course, that these people are now risking their lives by advocating for basic human rights in the Muslim world.

After the show, Kristof, Affleck, Maher, and I continued our discussion. At one point, Kristof reiterated the claim that Maher and I had failed to acknowledge the existence of all the good Muslims who condemn ISIS, citing the popular hashtag #NotInOurName. In response, I said: “Yes, I agree that all condemnation of ISIS is good. But what do you think would happen if we had burned a copy of the Koran on tonight’s show? There would be riots in scores of countries. Embassies would fall. In response to our mistreating a book, millions of Muslims would take to the streets, and we would spend the rest of our lives fending off credible threats of murder. But when ISIS crucifies people, buries children alive, and rapes and tortures women by the thousands—all in the name of Islam—the response is a few small demonstrations in Europe and a hashtag.”

Harris is right, of course, that there are dangerous people and interpretations of Islam that must be dealt with. I think he underestimates the degree to which ‘other’ Muslims cry out over atrocities committed in our religion’s name, in no small part because it’s not as sexy to cover on CNN or Fox News.

Continue reading »