Why British Muslims stand out

Pew survey on Western-Muslim relations: four-letter explanation why Britain stands out.

You have heard of the latest gloomy Pew Global Attitudes survey of relations between Muslims and Westerners : in a word, bad. Who’s to blame? The other side, except that

.. Fully 28% of Jordanians and 22% of Egyptians volunteer that “Jews” are mostly to blame for bad relations [between Muslims and westerners] , although Jews were not mentioned in the question.

One ray of light is that Muslims in Western Europe, surveyed separately by Pew for the first time (warning: small samples with large margins of error) are evolving different attitudes to those of the Muslim heartland. This is heartening in the face of the racial discrimination these immigrants routinely encounter. (It is racial, not religious; with marginal exceptions like the French ban on the hijab in schools, difficulties over prayer obligations in the workplace, and appropriate religious education where this is offered, they enjoy pretty full freedom of religion. Their problem is that they are stigmatised as Asians (Britain), Arabs (France and Spain), Turks or Kurds (Germany) – or else as black Africans, which is even worse.) Ayatollah Khomeini aimed right when he issued the scandalous fatwa against Salman Rushdie: it is in prosperous, cosmopolitan, educated Europe that Muslims will produce their Moses Mendelsohn.

But there’s one country that bucks the trend: my own.

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The Granada mosque

Significance of the new Granada mosque.

Last Friday I drove Pat to Granada for a PET scan (yes, provided by socialised medicine). It took a while, so I went for a walk in the Albaicín, the old Moorish/Jewish quarter. It’s so picturesque as to be corny, with narrow cobbled lanes intersecting at strange angles, whitewashed old houses with flowered courtyards, and little squares with churches and cafés. Tourists used to be warned to watch out for Gypsy pickpockets (stereotype!) while listening in smoky bars to proper flamenco – middle-aged men in bad suits singing about poverty, tormented love and loss, a music that’s stylistically far removed from the blues, fado or rebetiko, but very similar in its social roots. If you want this, hurry before it’s too late. The Albaicín is being rapidly gentrified and even the graffiti are upmarket.

One of these squares is a fine mirador. On one side is the Granada mosque, of much more than local significance.

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Blogophobia

Excerpt from Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog on “Parys Launcecrona” .

.. and rampant Pictism all at once.

Geoffrey Chaucer intervieweth “yonge, riche, sexie” Parys Launcecrona:

GC: Do ye rede of blogges?

PL: Y do nat wante to get too close or Y mighte falle in.

GC: Whate saye ye?

PL: Y do not wante to falle in the blogge. Also, blogges smelle nastie. And ful oft ther ys sum Pict at the bottom of the blogge who is all lyk mummifiede.

(Mummy link added)

PS: Better a mummified Pict than a rabid lamb. Brooks’ biology is as shaky as his sense of style. Why didn’t he insult us liberal bloggers more competently with a comparison to the highly social vampire bats, which suck blood and transmit rabies but navigate the night with unnerring precision and look after unrelated offspring?

Who’s winning the Great War on Terror?

Bin Laden is winning the “Great war on Terror”, and suggestions for changing this.

The operative part of House Resolution 861 – the one that just passed on a strict party split – was the refusal to set a withdrawal date from Iraq. I found the half-baked rhetoric of the preamble at least as interesting, for it shows the depths of confusion into which US policy has fallen; and, by the same token, the extent of Osama bin Laden’s strategic victory.

He started from a very difficult position. Most jihadi Muslims, including the Taliban, Chechen autonomists, Hamas, and al-Zarqawi follow the fairly realistic “near enemy” strategy aimed at “liberating” Muslim majority populations into the delights of fundamentalist rule. He leads a small minority group of jihadis espousing an apparently insane “far enemy” strategy directed at the United States as the ultimate guarantor of the vile régimes all jihadis want to overthrow: secular, corrupt rulers of Muslim countries and of course Israel.

Consider his objectives.

Continue reading “Who’s winning the Great War on Terror?”

Dem dry bones

Ezekiel, Gilgamesh, Plato and Richard Coen on ancient deforestation.

cedar.jpg

In Sunday’s C of E lectionary, Ezekiel sees cedar trees like this in Israel (KJV):

17:22 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:

17:23 In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.

God’s silviculture here is peculiar.

You can’t grow a cedar from a cutting, any more than a cut Christmas tree will grow on in your garden. It’s just possible that Ezekiel and his auditors knew this (though God can perform miracles); however, the natural reading is that he didn’t. Ezekiel was born in Judaea, but went into exile in Babylonia with King Jehoiachin. The trees available in either place were either palms (which only grow from seeds) or fruit trees – olives, apricots – which can reproduce from cuttings, though apparently carob trees can’t. Nowadays you can reproduce many conifers by tissue culture , but that’s a very recent invention.

It seems likely that Ezekiel (writing from 592 to 570 BCE) and his audience had never seen a forest of cedars; probably any forest.

Deforestation in the Near East started long before the time of Ezekiel. Richard Cowen of UC Davis tells the story here. It’s a working draft for a chapter in a promising book, so I’ll only lift two standard references from him.

In the world’s oldest book, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BCE), the heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu go on a destructive logging expedition to Anatolia. Finding the cedars with difficulty – already! – (vs 61), they slay the protective deity/monster Humbaba, fell the best trees, and raft them down the Euphrates. Princes like Gilgamesh and Solomon needed timber for prestige buildings, but the real damage was done by inefficient charcoal smelting on a huge scale.

150 years later, Plato showed a melancholy understanding of the changes in the Critias:

In comparison of what then was, there are remaining [in Attica] only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left. But in the primitive state of the country, its mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains, as they are termed by us, of Phelleus were full of rich earth, and there was abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain, for although some of the mountains now only afford sustenance to bees, not so very long ago there were still to be seen roofs of timber cut from trees growing there, which were of a size sufficient to cover the largest houses; and there were many other high trees, cultivated by man and bearing abundance of food for cattle.

The typical Mediterranean mountain landscape left by Bronze and Iron Age asset-stripping is denuded to Plato’s skeleton. This is the Sierra de Alhama, SW from Granada, but it could be anywhere.

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Old forests are rare in the region – the Trodos forest in Cyprus was saved by a combination of conservative monkish landowners and a British colonial ban on goats; those of inland Sardinia by remoteness. The cedars of Lebanon are reduced to a few small stands.

Reafforestation in these conditions is painful and expensive; I’ve seen freshly dynamited terraces in Cyprus.

A word you don’t hear much in the climate change debate is hysteresis. Going back on a big environmental change is very hard work; it may be impossible.

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Note: the copyright in the cedar photo lies with this tourism promotion site, but I don’t suppose they mind the free advertising.

Engagements

Scott T. Paul and Mark Leon Goldberg at TPMcafé are following John Bolton’s zeal on Darfur.

Stoically fulfilling a prior engagement at a London Thatcherite think tank, Bolton gave his precious support to other Security Council ambassadors on a three-country, four-conflict junket through scenic Central Africa.

My British counterpart is in Sudan today — or maybe in Chad, I forget which.

Empathy damage assessment

Follow-up to post on Coleen Graffy’s radio remark on GITMO suicides with estimated worldwide audience

The radio programme on which Karen Hughe’s sidekick Colleen Graffy made the GITMO comment I posted about earlier wasn’t some little talk show in the boonies. It was the flagship twice-a-day Newshour programme of the English-language BBC World Service.

How many people does it reach? The weekly global audience for the World Service in English is 39 million. The BBC ran the item on other programmes; to my knowledge the high-profile domestic morning Today radio programme (about 6 million daily – only proles watch breakfast TV in Britain) and the struggling 24-hour TV news channel BBC World (no audience figures available). I assume the story also ran on the radio World Service in Arabic (12 million weekly) and Urdu (10 million), and probably in other languages. Let’s say the daily audience is half the weekly one and it only follows news. That gives a global audience for Ms Graffy’s sensitive public diplomacy of 35-40 million, nicely focused on wavering pro-Americans. To give perspective, Fox News’ most popular programme, The O’Reilly Factor, draws 2 million viewers a night.

Empathy

Three detainees at GITMO hanged themselves on Saturday. Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (that is, under Karen Hughes), told a BBC radio news programme yesterday that the suicides were

a good PR move to draw attention.

(A Pentagon spokesman later dissociated himself from the phrase.)

That’s what I call really putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Grading

Among the elements of standard pedagogy that could use the most work, in my view is grading. Conventionally, this is done on specific exercises like an exam with a red pen, something I have never seen an adult to do another’s work, and by subtracting points from a preset total (usually 100). The latter violates the most fundamental principles of quality assurance, which prescribes using errors only to direct attention (in groups) to a productive process, never to assign blame to individuals. Deming is quite clear about this, discouraging not only punishment of individuals but individual rewards for excellence. He points out that if you single out the best salesman among twenty for a big prize, you will (i) usually reward random variation, and the winner’s performance next year will be disappointing as it falls back to the mean (ii) create one winner and nineteen resentful losers (iii) provide no guidance for anyone about how to improve performance.

I have learned to grade everything by adding points for successes; I’m much more concerned that students will be afraid to use the stuff in the course in original ways for fear of making a mistake than that they will do something not quite right as alums and cause world war III. It seems to help the affective environment of the course a lot. I can always regularize the raw point scores on an exercise with z-scores.

We also tend to give grades that count some sort of terminal event, like an exam or a paper, very heavily, which provides feedback at a time when it can’t be used to improve performance, at least in the course itself. Grading a term paper draft, with extensive comments, is worth ten of grading the final product in terms of learning, as far as I can tell.

Actually, I’m more agnostic about how, and how much, educational practice should mirror work life than Mark thinks (see below), but I admit to being uncomfortable about how profoundly different they are. A typical classroom, for example, builds the skill of being in a room with a known authority who knows the truth, something successful organizations do not reward.

I think grading on some sort of a curve is unavoidable, partly because my exercises tend to be openended and I don’t really know what should get an A until I see how my students do with them, partly because classes vary from year to year in a way that seems to confound the central limit theorem, at least if each year’s enrollment is any kind of a sample from the same distribution. I’m happy to have the fat part of the distribution move up and down year to year so comparable performance more or less gets the same grade each year even if the class is full of stars.

Here’s a “curved” grading scheme that students seem to have stopped grousing about, invented many years ago over several years of improvisation and experiment with Bob Leone. I count collaboration and group work, including class discussion very highly, as much as 40% of a course grade in some cases. I also need to undermine very ingrained instincts to flatter me and protect my ego, and anyway I can’t observe what I care about, which is students’ success in making each other smart, so I don’t feel I can properly grade class participation and don’t want the students to think there’s much payoff in showing off for me. From the start, I make a lot of fuss about getting students to pay attention to each other, putting a mug book on the web site in the second week, insisting they bring name cards to class every day, and learning their names in the first few weeks. Then, all the students grade each other on a scale of 1-5 on the criterion “X’s contribution to my learning in this course” (which obviously means different things to different students) three times during the semester.

I publish the results of the first two rounds, alphabetized within terciles or quartiles, so no-one is at the top or bottom of the class, but these rankings don’t count for the final grade. The third time, I (and the TAs, if any), grade the student at the bottom of the distribution (or the second-lowest, in case of a hopeless outlier) on an absolute scale, and everyone else gets grades from there up to A. I make sure from the start that everyone notices the devious incentives: if people lower down the scale get their hands up and play, and if people at the top get together with lower-scorers and encourage them to overcome shyness and do their reading, everyone can get an A for this element. The undesirable incentives to scramble over the backs of your fellows to succeed are at least highly diluted.

I’ve tried the experiment of grading the students for class participation myself before I see their ‘votes’ three or four times, and between a quarter and third of the class always wound up quite far from where I would have put them, usually higher. I infer having them grade each other, aside from its modeling of what I want them to do and giving incentives to do it, obtains information I couldn’t otherwise obtain.