Monthly Archives: October 2009

Cats on a Friday Afternoon

tortoiseshell cat stairs patio green lawn grass

calico cat outside backyard grass green verdure greenery leaves autumn

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Strange Bedfellows

It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last, but it’s always interesting to see intolerant Christian hardliners team up with intolerant Muslim hardliners.

From the Truth Wins Out blog:

The Liberty Counsel — the lawsuit-friendly organization that helps Exodus International and other Christian Rightists sue defenders of religious freedom — is defending the new president of the United Nations General Assembly, former Libyan Foreign Minister Ali Abdussalam Treki, who on Sept. 15 disagreed with a 2008 General Assembly statement by 66 nations urging decriminalization of homosexuality.

According to PrideSource, Treki said: “As a Muslim, I am not in favor of that. I believe it is not accepted by the majority of countries (and) it is not really acceptable by our religion, our tradition.”

In an Oct. 24 statement to American Family Association’s OneNewsNow propaganda service, Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel rose to defend Treki, who rose to his position at the U.N. through the sponsorship of Libya’s longtime terror mastermind Muammar al-Qaddafi. Barber said Treki’s views on criminalization were in tune with much of the world.

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Good or Bad News About Lawsuit Against Blackwater

Judge Tosses Lawsuits Against Blackwater, Now Xe.

Judge Refuses to Dismiss War Crimes Case Against Blackwater.

They sound like totally different, opposite stories, but they’re about the same decision, passed down Wednesday.

The entire AP article:

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday tossed out a series of lawsuits filed by alleged Iraqi victims of the contractor once known as Blackwater USA, but is allowing the plaintiffs to refile their claims.

In a 56-page ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., dismissed claims filed by 64 plaintiffs — including the estates of 19 people who died — who says Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings and beatings. The lawsuits also claim the company, now known as Xe, “fostered a culture of lawlessness” while it held a State Department contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

Ellis is allowing most of the plaintiffs to refile, but only if they will be able to prove that employees engaged in intentional killings and beatings. He said a pattern of recklessness or a culture of lawlessness is not enough to sustain an allegation of war crimes under the federal law that governs the issue, the Alien Tort Statute.

Xe’s lawyers had argued that the lawsuits should be dismissed under any circumstances because the allegations involve political questions that cannot be resolved by the judiciary and because private entities cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. Ellis rejected those arguments.

Both sides said they were pleased with the ruling. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Susan Burke said she will refile. She has said in previous hearings that she will be able to prove that Blackwater’s actions were intentional, not just reckless.

Xe spokeswoman Stacy DeLuke said in a statement that “we are confident that they (plaintiffs) will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis’ opinion.”

The ruling comes as a federal judge in Washington is considering what evidence to allow in a criminal prosecution of five Blackwater security guards accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007.

From The Nation‘s article:

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis’ lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.

“We were very pleased with the ruling,” says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater’s spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, “We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis’s opinion.”

Ellis’s ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis’ lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs’ documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis’s ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.

Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company’s contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater’s argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is “unavailing,” adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that “claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes” are legitimate under the statute.

Ellis also rejected Blackwater’s argument that “conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a ‘military objective’ rather than for economic or ideological reasons.” Ellis said that under Blackwater’s logic “it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater’s] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate ‘military objective’ for committing the murders.”

“What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis’s ruling is “an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago” when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years “that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US.” Ellis’s ruling, he says, “is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law.”

Ellis rejected Burke’s allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings “require[s] state action, and none is alleged here.” Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq–or that the Iraqis’ lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts.

I’m going to guess that they would have liked this tried in Iraq for one or both of two reasons: 1) Iraqi courts might have ruled they owed a few thousand dollars per dead Iraqi, and/or 2) Iraqi courts might have ruled that Blackwater wasn’t responsible for the actions of its employees. The latter reason is why Blackwater/Xe is arguing that another lawsuit against them, brought by the widows of three American servicemen’s widows, should be held in Afghanistan.

Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater’s own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater’s claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater’s lawyers “offer no support” for this argument “in the case law or from recognized international treatises.”

One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis’ suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Sweet.

Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince “wholly owns and controls this enterprise.” They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater’s headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that “Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs.” In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.

On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.” What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.

Burke’s case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces “fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause,” the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. “[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square.” The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative “wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as ‘payback for 9/11,’ and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot,” while “several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds.”

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Happy Birthday, Universe

I read over on Pharyngula that today is the universe’s birthday, as determined with utmost precision by the Anglican archbishop James Ussher in the 17th century.
Many happy returns!

Wikipedia says:

The Ussher chronology is a 17th-century chronology of the history of the world formulated from a literal reading of the Bible by James Ussher, the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh (in what is now Northern Ireland). The chronology is sometimes associated with Young Earth Creationism, which holds that the universe was created only a few millennia ago.

Ussher’s work, more properly known as the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world), was his contribution to the long-running theological debate on the age of the Earth. This was a major concern of many Christian scholars over the centuries.

The chronology is sometimes called the Ussher-Lightfoot chronology because John Lightfoot published a similar chronology in 1642–1644. This, however, is a misnomer, as the chronology is based on Ussher’s work alone and not that of Lightfoot. Ussher deduced that the first day of creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday October 23, 4004 BC, in the proleptic Julian calendar, near the autumnal equinox. Lightfoot similarly deduced that Creation began at nightfall near the autumnal equinox, but in the year 3929 BC.

Ussher’s proposed date of 4004 BC differed little from other Biblically-based estimates, such as those of Bede (3952 BC), Ussher’s near-contemporary, Scaliger (3949 BC), Johannes Kepler (3992 BC) or Sir Isaac Newton (c. 4000 BC).[1] Ussher’s specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth’s potential duration was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This view had been almost completely abandoned by 1997, six thousand years after 4004 BC. Today some biblical scholars, as well as a number of evangelical Christians, believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible calling for a 6000-year-old Earth.[2]

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Muntazar al-Zaidi in Switzerland

AP News has a news article about my favorite show thrower that reads like a blog post. The author/reporter couldn’t resist injecting his own point of view into his article, and for some reason the editor let it run.

He [Muntazar al-Zaidi] condemned the United States, saying it played a role in 1 million deaths and forcing 5 million people to flee. He made no mention of the violence among Iraqi groups since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Did the author/reporter, Bradley S. Klapper, used to write speeches for George W. Bush? Because this sounds exactly like something he’d say. As if, when talking about the US invasion of and years-long @#$%ing of Iraq, it’s unfair not to mention that some of the deaths were at the hands of Iraqis fighting each other as a result of the world-class incompetence of the Bush administration. I think this is an outgrowth of the “fair and balanced” trend in journalism today where if you have a scientist on your show explaining global warming, you must give equal time to whacked out minister or small town board of education member countering that God wouldn’t make the earth any warmer than we can handle.

Most of Iraq’s 2 million international refugees live in neighboring Syria and Jordan, while the International Organization for Migration says a similar number of Iraqis are uprooted inside the country’s borders. About 100,000 Iraqis have suffered violent deaths over the last 6 1/2 years, according to The Iraq Body Count, a London-based group whose figures are widely considered a credible minimum.

And here he’s complaining about al-Zaidi’s accuracy. Klapper provides us with an unattributed estimate of 2 million refugees abroad and a vague, also unattributed estimate of “a similar number” inside Iraq to imply that al-Zaidi is making stuff up. He also gives us a lowball estimate of 100,000 deaths and hopes we won’t notice the word “minimum” right next to the word “credible.”

Al-Zeidi’s reception in Switzerland was noteworthy. While his shoe-throwing act of protest in December made him a hero for many in the Muslim world, there was little public outpouring of support for him when he was released last month in Baghdad.

To back up his claim that al-Zaidi got a lukewarm reception in Iraq, Klapper gives us no facts whatsover. We’re supposed to take his word for it because he’s a news-talking guy.

Here’s a YouTube clip from the news at the time of al-Zaidi’s release last month:

It kind of looks like he’s missing a tooth or two. This one shows a little more of the crowds’ sentiments. They look jubilant to me:

I mean, I can understand that Mr. Klapper wants to make the pinko Swiss look un-American, but what’s his angle, trying to make it sound like Iraqis weren’t happy to see al-Zaidi out of jail?

The article started like this:

The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush leaned back in his chair and soaked in the round of applause.

This was not Baghdad or Damascus or Beirut. This was Geneva, where Muntadhar al-Zeidi was given a hero’s welcome Monday far warmer than the subdued reception in his own homeland.

Again with downplaying the way the Iraqi’s received him. That is so bizarre.

By the way, Muntazar al-Zaydi now has 46,248 fans on his Arabic-language Facebook page.

Here’s a Guardian audio article about the celebrations in Baghdad on the occasion of al-Zaydi’s release.

“It’s a mood of high celebration…”

They do report that it was more subdued than they expected. That could be because it was in the middle of Ramadan. Possibly because al-Zaydi wanted some peace and quiet.

From the Telegraph:

Mr Zaidi returned to his home in the Shia suburb of Sadr City, where relatives had gathered with balloons, banners and sheep to slaughter in his honour.

Scores of people, including local politicians and tribal leaders, joined them for the celebration. “They are very happy and they are singing and dancing,” one of his brothers, Maytin, told The Daily Telegraph. “This is our tradition when someone gets released, we play music and dance.”

Another brother, Uday, said the journalist would be sleeping at an “undisclosed location” and would travel to Greece for treatment on Thursday.

“I congratulate the Iraqi people and the Muslim world and all free men across the world on the release of Muntazer,” said Uday Zaidi. “Every time Bush turns a new page in his life he will find Muntazer’s shoes waiting for him.”

And OMG, I went one click too far, and found this execrable post by Bob Barr saying al-Zaydi should quit whining, because if he had thrown his shoes at President Bush while being a swarthy Iraqi in the United States, he would have been treated much worse, probably including waterboarding (which he says he was treated to in Iraqi prison, too). As if everyone didn’t know that already.

Seriously, it’s unbelievable.

I don’t usually link to assholes, but the commenters are pretty funny. Apparently Bob can’t attract his own kind to his blog.

UPDATE: My apologies to Bob Barr. A little bird suggested that my sarcasm meter must have gone out of whack, as Barr’s whole post was a work of sarcasm. I am disappointed in myself, since sarcasm was the only language my family spoke at home.

Also, if parts of this post appear to missing, blame WordPress. I don’t know what’s going on with that.

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Crusader Broccoli

So there I was, looking up broccoli in Wikipedia and then clicking on the Arabic version of the article to see what the Arabic word for broccoli is. For the tiniest split second I was thrown by this: القرنبيط الأخضر أو البروكلي أحد نباتات الفصيلة الصليبية

“One of the crusader family of plants”? No, haha, it’s “cruciferous.” Same adjective.

That’s what makes translation fun.

Broccoli kitten loves broccoli. Now that’s fun. I bought some broccoli for my adult cats after seeing this video, and neither one of them had the slightest interest.

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God’s Will Holds Sway in Court

Once again we’re traveling to a backwards land where the inhabitants don’t enjoy the separation of church and state. The bronze age denizens here consulted their terrifying holy book in deciding the fate of man accused of murder during a robbery, admittedly a heinous crime.

The brave folks at Amnesty International ventured to that benighted realm to investigate and shine the light of truth on the situation.

After the trial, evidence emerged that jurors had consulted the Bible during their sentencing deliberations. At a hearing in June 1999, four of the jurors recalled that several Bibles had been present and highlighted passages had been passed around.

One juror had read aloud from the Bible to a group of fellow jurors, including the passage, “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death”.

The judge ruled that the jury had not acted improperly and this was upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

In 2002, a Danish journalist interviewed a fifth juror. The latter said that “about 80 per cent” of the jurors had “brought scripture into the deliberation”, and that the jurors had consulted the Bible “long before we ever reached a verdict”.

He told the journalist he believed “the Bible is truth from page 1 to the last page”, and that if civil law and biblical law were in conflict, the latter should prevail. He said that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible, “I would have left the courtroom”. He described himself as a death penalty supporter, saying life imprisonment was a “burden” on the taxpayer.

In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the jurors had “crossed an important line” by consulting specific passages in the Bible that described the very facts at issue in the case. This amounted to an “external influence” on the jury prohibited under the US Constitution.

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We Invented it First, Several Centuries After Those Other Guys

From Wikipedia:

The geocentric model held sway into the early modern age; from the late 16th century onward it was gradually replaced by the heliocentric model of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler.

Whereas over in the mysterious east, which we for some reason insist on depicting as backwards and inferior:

Muhammad ibn Jābir al-Harrānī al-Battānī (Albatenius) (853-929) discovered that the direction of the Sun’s eccentric was changing, which in modern astronomy is equivalent to the Earth moving in an elliptical orbit around the Sun.[33]

In the late ninth century, Ja’far ibn Muhammad Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi (Albumasar) developed a planetary model which some have interpreted as a heliocentric model. This is due to his orbital revolutions of the planets being given as heliocentric revolutions rather than geocentric revolutions, and the only known planetary theory in which this occurs is in the heliocentric theory. His work on planetary theory has not survived, but his astronomical data was later recorded by al-Hashimi, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī and al-Sijzi.[41]

In the early eleventh century, al-Biruni had met several Indian scholars who believed in a heliocentric system. In his Indica, he discusses the theories on the Earth’s rotation supported by Brahmagupta and other Indian astronomers, while in his Canon Masudicus, al-Biruni writes that Aryabhata’s followers assigned the first movement from east to west to the Earth and a second movement from west to east to the fixed stars. Al-Biruni also wrote that al-Sijzi also believed the Earth was moving and invented an astrolabe called the “Zuraqi” based on this idea:[42]

Mo’ayyeduddin Urdi (d. 1266) was the first of the Maragheh astronomers to develop a non-Ptolemaic model, and he proposed a new theorem, the “Urdi lemma”.[101] Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (1201-1274) resolved significant problems in the Ptolemaic system by developing the Tusi-couple as an alternative to the physically problematic equant introduced by Ptolemy,[102] and conceived a plausible model for elliptical orbits.[81] Tusi’s student Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (1236-1311), in his The Limit of Accomplishment concerning Knowledge of the Heavens, discussed the possibility of heliocentrism. ‘Umar al-Katibi al-Qazwini (d. 1277), who also worked at the Maragheh observatory, in his Hikmat al-‘Ain, wrote an argument for a heliocentric model, though he later abandoned the idea.[78]

For example, it was Ibn al-Shatir’s concern for observational accuracy which led him to eliminate the epicycle in the Ptolemaic solar model and all the eccentrics, epicycles and equant in the Ptolemaic lunar model. His model was thus in better agreement with empirical observations than any previous model,[91] and was also the first that permitted empirical testing.[103] His work thus marked a turning point in astronomy, which may be considered a “Scientific Revolution before the Renaissance”.[91] His rectified model was later adapted into a heliocentric model by Copernicus,[102] which was mathematically achieved by reversing the direction of the last vector connecting the Earth to the Sun.[4] In the published version of his masterwork, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Copernicus also cites the theories of al-Battani, Arzachel and Averroes as influences,[81] while the works of Ibn al-Haytham and al-Biruni were also known in Europe at the time.

During this period, Islamic-ruled regions of Europe, such as Al-Andalus, the Emirate of Sicily, and southern Italy, were slowly being reconquered by Christians. This led to the Arabic-Latin translation movement, which saw the assimilation of knowledge from the Islamic world by Western European science, including astronomy.[4] In addition, Byzantine astronomers also translated Arabic texts on astronomy into Medieval Greek during this time. In particular, Gregory Choniades translated several Zij treatises, including the Zij-i Ilkhani of the Maragheh observatory, and may have played a role in the transmission of their work (such as the Tusi-couple) to Europe, where it eventually influenced Copernican heliocentrism.[3]

And on the same page I find out that more Muslims have traveled in space than I had previously been aware of:

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there have also been a number of Muslim astronauts, the first being Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as a Payload Specialist aboard STS-51-G Space Shuttle Discovery, followed by Muhammed Faris aboard Soyuz TM-2 and Soyuz TM-3 to Mir space station; Abdul Ahad Mohmand aboard Soyuz TM-5 to Mir; Talgat Musabayev (one of the top 25 astronauts by time in space) as a flight engineer aboard Soyuz TM-19 to Mir, commander of Soyuz TM-27 to Mir, and commander of Soyuz TM-32 and Soyuz TM-31 to International Space Station (ISS); and Anousheh Ansari, the first woman to travel to ISS and the fourth space tourist.

In 2007, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor from Malaysia traveled to ISS with his Expedition 16 crew aboard Soyuz TMA-11 as part of the Angkasawan program during Ramadan, for which the National Fatwa Council wrote Guidelines for Performing Islamic Rites (Ibadah) at the International Space Station, giving advice on issues such as prayer in a low-gravity environment, the location of Mecca from ISS, determination of prayer times, and issues surrounding fasting. Shukor also celebrated Eid ul-Fitr aboard ISS. He was both an astronaut and an orthopedic surgeon, and is most notable for being the first to perform biomedical research in space, mainly related to the characteristics and growth of liver cancer and leukemia cells and the crystallization of various proteins and microbes in space.[123]

Other prominent Muslim scientists involved in research on the space sciences and space exploration include Essam Heggy who is working in the NASA Mars Exploration Program in the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, as well as Ahmed Salem, Alaa Ibrahim, Mohamed Sultan, and Ahmed Noor.[124]

Some other cool stuff:

The first mechanical astrolabes with gears were invented in the Muslim world, and were perfected by Ibn Samh (c. 1020). One such device with eight gear-wheels was also constructed by Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī in 996. These can be considered as an ancestor of the mechanical clocks developed by later Muslim engineers.[144]

Navigational astrolabe
The first navigational astrolabe was invented in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages, and employed the use of a polar projection system.[145]

Orthographical astrolabe
Abu Rayhan al-Biruni invented and wrote the earliest treatise on the orthographical astrolabe in the 1000s.[64]

Universal astrolabe (Saphaea)
The first astrolabe instruments were used to read the rise of the time of rise of the Sun and fixed stars. The first universal astrolabes were later constructed in the Islamic world and which, unlike their predecessors, did not depend on the latitude of the observer and could be used anywhere on the Earth. The basic idea for a latitude-independent astrolabe was conceived in the 9th century by Habash al-Hasib al-Marwazi in Baghdad and the topic was later discussed in the early 11th century by Al-Sijzi in Persia.[146]

The first known universal astrolabe to be constructed was by Ali ibn Khalaf al-Shakkaz, an Arabic herbalist or apothecary in 11th century Al-Andalus. His instrument could solve problems of spherical astronomy for any geographic latitude, though in a somewhat more complicated fashion than the standard astrolabe. Another, more advanced and more famous, universal astrolabe was constructed by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī (Arzachel) soon after. His instrument became known in Europe as the “Saphaea”.[147] It was a universal lamina (plate) which “constituted a universal device representing a stereographic projection for the terrestrial equator and could be used to solve all the problems of spherical astronomy for any latitude.”[148]

Zuraqi
The Zuraqi is a unique astrolabe invented by Al-Sijzi for a heliocentric planetary model in which the Earth is moving rather than the sky.[42]

Planisphere
In the early 11th century, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī invented and wrote the first treatise on the planisphere, which was an early analog computer.[64][149] The astrolabe was a predecessor of the modern planisphere.

Linear astrolabe
A famous work by Sharaf al-Dīn al-Tūsī is one in which he describes the linear astrolabe, sometimes called the “staff of al-Tusi”, which he invented.[150]

Astrolabic clock
Ibn al-Shatir invented the astrolabic clock in 14th century Syria.[151]

Various analog computer devices were invented to compute the latitudes of the Sun, Moon, and planets, the ecliptic of the Sun, the time of day at which planetary conjunctions will occur, and for performing linear interpolation.

Equatorium
The Equatorium was an analog computer invented by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī (Arzachel) in al-Andalus, probably around 1015 CE. It is a mechanical device for finding the longitudes and positions of the Moon, Sun, and planets, without calculation using a geometrical model to represent the celestial body’s mean and anomalistic position.[152]

Mechanical geared calendar computer
Abu Rayhan Biruni also invented the first mechanical lunisolar calendar computer which employed a gear train and eight gear-wheels.[153] This was an early example of a fixed-wired knowledge processing machine.[154]

Volvelle
The volvelle, also called a wheel chart, is a type of slide chart, paper constructions with rotating parts. It is considered an early example of a paper analog computer.[155] The volvelle can be traced back to “certain Arabic treateses on humoral medicine”[156] and to Biruni (c. 1000) who made important contributions to the development of the volvelle.[157] In the 20th century, the volvelle had many diverse uses.

Torquetum
Jabir ibn Aflah (Geber) (c. 1100-1150) invented the torquetum, an observational instrument and mechanical analog computer device used to transform between spherical coordinate systems.[158] It was designed to take and convert measurements made in three sets of coordinates: horizon, equatorial, and ecliptic.

Castle clock with programmable analog computer
In 1206, Al-Jazari invented his largest astronomical clock, the “castle clock”, which is considered to be the first programmable analog computer.[159] It displayed the zodiac and the solar and lunar orbits. Another innovative feature of the clock was a pointer which traveled across the top of a gateway and caused automatic doors to open every hour.[160]

Mechanical astrolabe with geared calendar computer
In 1235, Abi Bakr of Isfahan invented a brass astrolabe with a geared calendar movement based on the design of Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī’s mechanical calendar computer.[161] Abi Bakr’s geared astrolabe uses a set of gear-wheels and is the oldest surviving complete mechanical geared machine in existence.[162][163]

Plate of Conjunctions
In the 15th century, al-Kashi invented the Plate of Conjunctions, a computing instrument used to determine the time of day at which planetary conjunctions will occur,[164] and for performing linear interpolation.[165]

And there’s a lot more, but my copy-and-paste fingers are getting tired.

Astronomy in Medieval Islam Wikipedia page.

This came up because I just looked at an article about the Vatican’s dusting off some old astronomical equipment they’ve kept sequestered away for years, including something I had never heard of before, an orrery.

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Climate Change

It’s Blog Action Day and the topic is climate change. I personally have as good as no expertise on the subject, but here are some links to articles and posts about climate change and the Arab world.

The Arab Climate Alliance’s English page and Arabic here.

Climate change has already started harming people and ecosystems around the world. We can see it in the raising food costs, increasing forest fires, extreme weather events (such as droughts, floods, etc.) and many others. It is considered to be the biggest threat facing humanity. The Arab World will be one of the most impacted regions, with water resources growing scarcer and the agricultural sector becoming the victim of more extreme weather, thus threatening our water and food security.

Here’s an ArabEnvironment.net post about 160 Syrian villages being abandoned as a result of climate change.

Some 160 villages in northern Syria were deserted by their residents in 2007 and 2008 because of climate change, according to a study released on Tuesday.
The report drawn up by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) warns of potential armed conflict for control of water resources in the Middle East.

“The 2007/8 drought caused significant hardship in rural areas of Syria. In the northeast of the country, a reported 160 villages have been entirely abandoned and the inhabitants have had to move to urban areas,” it said.

In Syria and also in Jordan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, “climate change threatens to reduce the availability of scarce water resources, increase food insecurity, hinder economic growth and lead to large-scale population movements,” the report said.

“This could hold serious implications for peace in the region,” the Canada-based institute said.

The study, financed by Denmark, predicts a hotter, drier and less predictable climate in the Middle East, “already considered the world’s most water-scarce and where, in many places, demand for water already outstrips supply.”

Here’s an article on Arab Media Watch’s blog about climate change.

At a recent seminar at the American University of Beirut, climate change researchers from four Levant countries reported that massive quantities of fresh water are pumped out of the ground and used by private interests, without state regulation. Consistent over-exploitation of underground aquifers has seen fresh water supplies decline steadily in many if not most Arab countries. Water sectoral allocation, pricing, re-use, storage and conveyance are widely mismanaged throughout our region.

A treehugger.com article on the Arab world’s dealing with climate change.

Environmental issues affecting the Arab world include widespread desertification, water scarcities, soil degradation and declining land productivity. Despite the fact that environmental factors have already contributed to political unrest in places like Sudan, Arab countries lack coherent policies on climate change. A survey of 56 countries last year placed Saudi Arabia dead last in dealing with climate change.

It’sgettinghotinhere.org’s article on climate change in the Arab world.

“Again Arab leaders missed yet another opportunity to defend the survival needs of the region from climate change impacts.” said Wael Hmaidan, Executive Director of IndyACT. “While today’s climate summit is attended by Presidents of the US, France, China and many others, only Algeria participated at the Presidential level from the Arab region”, added Hmaidan.

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Loonwatch.com is exactly the blog I sometimes daydream about creating if I won several million dollars and quit my job. But now I don’t have to, because Loonwatch.com already exists.

The people behind Loonwatch do exhaustive, point-by-point takedowns of what the islamophobes are saying. It’s really impressive.

I highly recommend this post about Islam’s view on apostasy in comparison with Christianity’s: Fathima Rifqa Bary Needs to Read Her Bible; Final Word on Islam and Apostasy.

Oh wait, *smacks forehead*, I remember now where those verses are from. Ahh yes, they are from the Bible (Deuteronomy, 13:6-10). There are of course many other Biblical verses in the same vein, such as 2 Chronicles 15:13 which reads: “All who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.”

Oopsie doopsie!

Maybe it’s not such a good idea to randomly quote someone else’s scripture or medieval texts without any context as a proof to demonize a people or to fear monger.

Yes, the majority “classical” and “traditional” opinion codified hundreds of years ago was indeed that apostates from Islam should be killed. However, such views are abundantly present in the Judeo-Christian tradition as well, yet Jews and Christians have over the course of time reanalyzed their canonical texts and come to different understandings today.

Before the Great War, the Ottoman Empire united Muslim lands under one symbolic leadership. (Perhaps an oversimplification but it suffices for our discussion here.) It is interesting to note that the Ottoman government eventually stopped enforcing the punishment for apostasy and finally abolished it altogether in 1844, more than one hundred and sixty years ago.

The main argument used by Islamophobes is that Islam as a religion itself advocates the death penalty for apostates, and therefore it is the religion itself–not the interpretation of it–that is the problem, an unusually obtuse and altogether unhelpful assertion. Furthermore, some of them argue, Muslims must abandon their belief in the inerrant nature of the Quran. In other words, the Islamophobes posit that the only possible way for Muslims to become “civilized” is to view the Quran as any other text, deleting what they dislike from it and adding whatever they wish to it–or as Daniel Pipes puts it: to make it “defunct.”

The Quran is an open text, because it generally refrains from specifics. In fact, names are almost never used in it, in order that its verses have not only a specific meaning but also a more general import. For example, a verse may have been revealed to placate the Islamic prophet Muhammad during a particularly difficult time in his struggle; so even though the verse will have a specific reason for revelation (to one particular man in one specific situation), it can also be used in a general context: Muslims will use that same verse when they themselves are going through tough times.

Because of this unique structure of the Quranic text, what one gets out of it depends a lot on the reader, who tends to inject into verses his own background and biases, for better or for worse. Having said that, it seems to the author that an unbiased and neutral reading validates the argument of the reform-minded Muslims: nowhere in the Quran does it clearly and definitively say one must kill apostates. In fact, it seems to say the exact opposite.

If Muslims can understand it in that way, why this continual insistence by the Islamophobes that the Muslims “must” abandon their belief in the inerrant nature of the Quran? (Again, it is in order to set up a situation whereby Muslims simply cannot fulfill the requirements to be accepted into society, which is exactly what the Islamophobes desire.)

Ms. Fathima Rifqa Bary was incorrect: unlike the Bible, the Quran does not at all say to kill apostates if they choose to leave Islam. Rather, it says the exact opposite. The Quran declares emphatically:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth is distinct from error!” (Quran, 2:256)
Almost every Muslim knows this verse by heart. It categorically closes the door to religious compulsion, and is used by reform-minded Muslims to promote freedom of religion and the idea that the people have a right to follow whatever religion they so choose. Because “truth is distinct from error,” people should be able to discern it for themselves without having to be forced.

So there are clear and explicit verses of the Quran that reform-minded Muslims naturally understand to mean that freedom of religion must be extended to all, and that compulsion into Islam is not to be tolerated.

Mind you, I’m just quoting little bits. The whole post has much more information.

Enter the Hadiths. For those who don’t know, the Hadiths are a body of collection of the prophet Muhammad’s sayings or traditions. In other words, the Quran is considered by Muslims to be the word of God, and the Hadiths are the words of their prophet. Unlike the Quran however, Muslims do not believe that all of the Hadiths are authentic. Rather, many of them are apocryphal and therefore rejected. In other words, if some Islamophobe claims that such-and-such Hadith exists, be aware of the fact that many of them are rejected by Muslims. The Hadiths do not occupy the same rank as the Quran, but are rather a secondary source open to criticism.

In this huge body of collection, we find the Hadith that Islamophobes rely on as their trump card in this debate, which reads as follows: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” At first glance, that seems pretty clear and unambiguous but has the Islamophobe proven his case? Well, let’s take into consideration that the Bible has many seemingly clear and unambiguous verses which call to kill apostates, yet we never assume that Christians today believe this, nor do we insist that Christianity itself demands it.

Let’s be clear here: we’re not trying to bash Christianity at all. What we are saying however is that if we extend the common courtesy to Christians that they can contextualize such verses in the Bible, then why do we not extend the same courtesy to the Muslims when it comes to the Hadiths? Keep in mind also that Muslims believe that their Bible–so to speak–is the Quran and not the Hadiths. In other words, if Christianity’s primary source seems to say that apostates are to be killed, then why do we not accept any explanation from Muslims about their secondary source? (Hint: Islamophobia is the answer!) It is this terrible double standard that bothers Muslims and those who believe in religious tolerance.

Reformists believe it was in this particular situation that the Hadiths about killing “apostates” who “leave the community” and “wage war against God and His Messenger” were said. “Leaving the community” is a reference to leaving the community of Medina to join the invaders. Therefore, they reason, it was not merely “peaceful apostasy” which is to be punished, but rather high treason, i.e. trying to destroy the Islamic state’s army. It was a specific plot of the unbelievers to convert to Islam in order to mass apostatize and defect to the pagan side to destroy the Muslims.

One can see then how apostasy and defection are linked; back then, there was a pagan army and a Muslim army. If you were pagan, you fought for the pagan army. If you were Muslim, you fought for the Muslim army. If you converted from one to the other, then you’d likely abandon one army and defect to the other. Hence the phrase “the one who reverts from Islam (apostates) and leaves the community.”

In other words, the Zanadiqa being referred to here were not “peaceful apostates” who simply changed their mind, but rather they were guilty of high treason, causing a civil war, instigating a rebellion in Egypt, and ultimately killing the Caliph. Indeed, they were similar to the group of people who had pretended to convert to Islam in order to apostatize during the thick of things (i.e. in the battle between Medina and Mecca). The bottom line then is that even the Hadith that the Islamophobes rely upon can be used as a proof that only those apostates who wage war against the state are to be killed.

We understand it perfectly well with classical Christian texts. Let’s look at the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the most influential Christian scholars in history. The Vatican considers him as “the model teacher” for those pursuing priesthood.

The Summa Theologica, a book written by St. Thomas Aquinas, is considered one of the best summaries of Catholic doctrine to this day, and continues to be relied upon. In other words, here we have a text that is certainly more central to the Catholic faith than the Reliance of the Traveler is to Muslims. Well, let’s take a look-see into what the Summa Theologica says about apostasy; the first part talks about how Jews are apostates and thus worse than regular disbelievers, and the second part talks about how apostates ought to be compelled by the sword to Christianity:

Then a quote follows. I’m not quoting the quoted quotes. How messy would that look? The important thing is that Loonwatch.com is one-stop shopping for refuting the arguments of Islamophobic loons.

His statement also betrays a superficial understanding of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The four schools are not defined by their final rulings or verdicts, but rather based on their methodology (Usul). Within a school itself, all sorts of conflicting opinions can be found, since a school is defined not by a ruling but by the methodology one uses to arrive at such a ruling. In other words, contemporary Muslims can still follow the same methodology and arrive at different conclusions, without betraying the school of thought itself. Many followers of the four schools have done so with regard to the issue of apostasy.

So the fact that a person follows a school of jurisprudence does not at all mean that he must commit himself to one particular ruling. Furthermore, many Muslims do not follow a school of jurisprudence at all, with still others claiming that it is wrong to follow the four schools whatsoever. Bottom line: there are diverse opinions on this matter, and to pigeonhole Muslims into a particular belief is wrong. It is just wrong to speak on behalf of Muslims; let them speak for themselves!

Of course, Spencer quotes an Islamic scholar who lived hundreds of years ago as a proof. Sorry, but that’s not a proof to Muslims, nor is it binding. Whilst moderate Muslims respect Imam al-Qurtubi like Catholics respect St. Thomas Aquinas, they don’t believe his words are divine and simply disagree with them. That is in actuality the bulk of Spencer’s argument, since the verse itself is not at all “direct proof” of anything!

In other words, neither the ultraconservative Muslims nor the Islamophobes can make their case, i.e. that the Quran says to kill apostates, without having to get rid of certain Quranic verses, those that are abundantly clear that religious compulsion is forbidden. This in actuality shows the strength of the reformist view, namely that if one looks at the Quran as a whole, it mandates religious freedom.

What seems apparent is that Fathima’s parents never threatened to kill her; rather, she was brainwashed by some Christian extremists (who by the way look down on the Christian mainstream) into thinking that Islam itself–and the Quran in particular–mandates death for apostates. Notice in her emotional interview that she clearly was of the view that: the Quran mandates it, ergo religious Muslims believe in it. This logic is faulty and problematic.

The Islamophobes have jumped on this opportunity to spread fear and hate, insisting that Islam is intrinsically culpable, a pagan and heathen religion incompatible with those who love Christ.

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