Wednesday, November 21

Religion quiz

So how much do you know about religion? Take the quiz from the Pew Forum on Religous and Public Life - and find out!

At the end, you will see how your score compares with others and how those of various faiths, gender or educaton performed. 

The two questions that stumped most responders: Which preacher participated in the period of religous activity known as the First Great Awakening?  and According to the rulings by the US Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer or not? Only 11 and 23 percent, respectively, responded to the two questions correctly.

Friday, November 16

Perspective

Many in the Washington, DC, establishment bemoan the downfall of CIA chief David Petraeus, a general who led and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some suggested the request for his resignation was too harsh.

In an interview with AFP, a Taliban official laughed, then commented on the severe punishments exacted in Afghanistan for adultery. "From a Pashtun point of view, Petraeus should be shot by relatives from his mistress's family," the Taliban official explained. "From a sharia point of view, he should be stoned to death."

Petraeus suggests that the affair began after he left the military. According to Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman for Wired:

"the Uniform Code of Military Justice expressly forbids adultery (even among retired servicemembers), assigning a maximum penalty of 'dishonorable['] discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to one year....The CIA, on the other hand, has no policy against infidelity. In fact, Langley explicitly says extramarital affairs are OK — as long as you tell the Agency, as long as you tell your partner, and as long as no foreigners are involved."

Coming up with tough policies is easy, enforcing them not so easy. Conservatives tend to develop these policies for others, never expecting to apply them to their own. There is no rule of law with nconsistent enforcement, only injustice. In a small world, while drafting laws and their enforcement mechanisms, governments must consider if the penalties will win support of citizens and respect or ridicule from other nations.

Thursday, November 15

Ethics

"Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has ordered the Pentagon to find out why so many generals and admirals have become embroiled in legal and ethical problems," reports Craig Whitlock for The Washington Post.

The entire US federal government operates by chain of command. The government won't improve when people at the top, the ones responsible for bureaucratic bungling, hubris, lack of clarity and many other personnel and administrative difficulties, perform exit interviews. These are the same people who refuse to listen to advice on best practices from their employees, who regard any suggestion as personal criticism. The government needs to take a close look at select offices that have high employee turnover, contributing to inefficiencies and unnecessary costs.

Such reviews are essential for departments that have interactions around the globe. The lack of accountability is unconscionable, particularly for the many who are not American citizens and must suffer from the petty insecurities and mismangement of too many US officials. And one is too many.

PS: Wish we could say the sequester would help ...

Tuesday, November 13

Soft power


Soft power requires patience but over the long term is stronger, more enduring than hard power.

"Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade rather than coerce. It means that others want what the United States wants, and there is less need to use carrots and sticks," wrote Joseph S. Nye, Jr., in 2003 for YaleGlobal Online. "Soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. When U.S. policies appear legitimate in the eyes of others, American soft power is enhanced. Hard power will always remain crucial in a world of nation-states guarding their independence, but soft power will become increasingly important in dealing with the transnational issues that require multilateral cooperation for their solution."

Soft power can be as mundane as jeans and other clothing or a pop song. It can be as lofty, the most intense literature and films that revolutionize the way others think and view the world. Governments have little control over soft power, and shouldn't try too hard, except to encourage curiosity and creativity and free thought. Coercion only puts people off in cross-culture interactions. Soft power comes with contentment, joy, fervor, kindness, the power of quiet example.

Soft power emerges from the aspirations and dreams of ordinary people - anywhere - and can strike when we least expect it.

Photo of clouds copyrighted by Axel Rouvin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 12

Love and terror

Learn something new everyday, from the AP and The Washington Post ...

[General] Petraeus and Broadwell apparently used a trick, known to terrorists and
teen-agers alike, to conceal their email traffic, one of the law enforcement officials said. Rather than transmitting emails to the other’s inbox, they composed at least some messages and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder or in an electronic “dropbox,” the official said. Then the other person could log onto the same account and  read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail that is easier to trace.

"A January 2005 PBS special on al-Qaeda identified the tactic as one of several “terrorist tricks, alongside logging in from public Internet cafes,” reports Max Fisher in his Washington Post blog.

It's a good bet that it won't be long before Gmail and other free email services are tracking drafts - if they aren't already.

Image courtesy of Gmail.   

Saturday, November 10

Force

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Morra Aarons-Mele points out in a free market, equipped with social media, "women with opinions are a force to be reckoned with." She points out that women dominate every social-media market and "Women are influencing each other's decisions through non-stop conversations on social media."

Thursday, November 8

Symbols

The flag of Afghanistan has had more changes during the 20th century than any other nation on earth, reports the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook.

The line drawing in the center shows a mosque, the year the country won independence from the United Kingdom, wheat and a scroll with the country's name. The green is described as representing agriculture, prosperity and Islam.

After the Taliban were defeated and Hamid Karzi was elected in 2004, the flag was adjusted slightly - the wording on the scroll was revised from "The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" to "Afghanistan," explains Worldpics.com.au

The image of the flag, courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

Wednesday, November 7

Warning!

Do not even try Dynamic Views from Google for your blog. It's a disaster, a travesty of messy designs for people who don't want to read.

The result is pure ugliness. Downloading the templates does not always work and I can guarantee - you will want to return to your original design.

Trust

Public service requires mutual trust. The Republican campaign slogan for 2012 was “Believe in America.” The election results should have come as no surprise. The list of Americans who have failed to win Republicans' trust is long. For the party to survive, they need to rebuild trust among diverse pockets of the electorate and the electorate as a whole.    

7 percent: Government employees can’t be blamed for the climbing deficit. Falling revenues, uncertainty, stagnation bear much of the blame. Government workers represent 7 percent of the workforce.

20 percent: Appeals to religious values fall on some death ears, with one out of five Americans reporting they are religiously unaffiliated, with more than a third holding atheist or agnostic views.

47 percent: Americans who pay no federal income taxes – including senior citizens, the working poor or veterans – have contributed to the country, are contributing to the country or will someday contribute to the country. Don’t knock them.

50.8 percent: Politicians who try to intervene between women and doctors on health care face a challenge when women make up more than 50 percent of the population. And women vote at higher rates. Denying or suppressing voting rights produces a backlash that can linger for years.   

80 percent: “Studies show that approximately 80% of all new jobs come from small businesses or new companies in their fast growth phase; those that grow the fastest hire the most,” writes Walter Cruttenden, author and investment fund founder, in comments posted on the US Securities and Exchange site. “However, because research, development and new product innovation are risky and often require multiple rounds of equity financing, short sellers often target these companies, to the detriment of America. Short sellers are essentially traders that are hoping a company will experience problems (such as product delays or the inability to raise financing) so they may profit from the setbacks.”

97 percent: The vast majority of researchers agree that climate change is a real problem,  exacerbated by humans. The US military, the insurance industry and other businesses are already making preparations and issue warnings.

100 percent: Transparency on tax returns is essential. Tax reform is needed. The share of wealth among the top 5 percent grew while wealth of middle class households declined between 2007 and 2010, according to the Federal Reserve. Americans can and should understand the complexities of the tax code.

100 percent: The polls are no place for bureaucracy. There’s no reason to deny voters early voting privileges or absentee ballots. Requiring identification, filling out and signing forms, ballots in folders, machines that can match time of voting with a select ballot, questions from poll workers add to the confusion of voting days and long lines. Long lines at the poll are unconscionable.

President Dwight Eisenhower said in his 1961 farewell address: “Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”

The party that opposes government intervention cannot impose unreasonable controls on women’s health care, climate-change research, voting procedures and more. Trust is crucial for any successful society. Democracy requires that governments trust their people.
 
Photo of penny courtesy of US Government and Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 6

Invisible women


AlJazeera.com's Afghanistan Live Blog is a wonderful resource, but then one realizes the posts, at least recent ones, largely overlook women.

So we can only imagine their experience ... and that is the source for Fear of Beauty. Imagination. 

Afghanistan is not alone. Every society has its invisible people. And they can have fascinating stories.

Screenshot courtesy of AlJazeera.com.

Friday, November 2

Islamic fiction

Demand is high for Islamic fiction in the English-speaking world.

"Storytelling is a traditional Islamic art and the novel brings this art right into the home. Muslims of all ages need the contemporary Muslim story as a vehicle for interpreting the world in an Islamic light. Non-Muslims might also appreciate an insight into the diversity and unity of the Muslim way of life that the art of storytelling can provide," writes Yafiah Katherine Randall for Islamic Fiction Books.

Well, Fear of Beauty is about a woman in rural Afghanistan who struggles to learn to read with only the help of the Koran.

So is the book Islamic fiction if the author is not Muslim herself?  You decide. It would be nice to think of the novel as one that bridges cultures as some do ... and not offend as did the opening song to Arabian Nights.

"Alf layla wa layla (known in English as A Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights) changed the world on a scale unrivalled by any other literary text," explain Saree Makdisi and Felicity Nussbaum in The Arabian Nights in Historical Context: East and West on Oxford Scholarship Online.  "Inspired by a 14th-century Syrian manuscript, the appearance of Antoine Galland's twelve-volume Mille et Une Nuits in English translation (1704-1717), closely followed by the Grub Street English edition, drew the text into European circulation. Over the following three hundred years, a widely heterogeneous series of editions, compilations, translations, and variations circled the globe to reveal the absorption of The Arabian Nights into English, continental, and global literatures, and its transformative return to modern Arabic literature, where it now enjoys a degree of prominence that it had never attained during the classical period."

Still, those banned books are good. 



And don't forget to sign up for the Goodreads Giveaway of Fear of Beauty. 

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and The Arabian Nights. 


Thursday, November 1

Power of literacy

UNESCO provides statistics on global literacy efforts: More than one out of six of the world's adults are illiterate, two thirds of them women. Those who are illiterate and their children are likely to encounter a bleak future with limited opportunities. Among the 122 million who are illiterate worldwide, 60 percent are women.

The statistics are stark in Afghanistan, where going to school can be a dangerous venture. So about 40 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women were literate in 2000, according to The World Factbook of the CIA. UNESCO monitors populations, but of course, there is a lack of reliable cross-national data on literacy.  And lands with high rates of illiteracy are often too dangerous to monitor.

"Literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict," explained UNESCO on Literacy Day this year. "The connection between literacy and peace can be seen by the fact that in unstable democracies or in conflict-affected countries it is harder to establish or sustain a literate environment."

Fear of Beauty is about a rural Afghan woman who always wanted to read, but becomes desperate after her son dies in a fall and she finds a paper nearby. She begins by picking out words in her family's Koran, but soon realizes the process will go much more quickly with a teacher. And yes, literacy empowers her.

Photo of Kabul book press in 2002, courtesy of US Department of State and Wikimedia Commons.