Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Laughing Stock

This was on a few minutes ago. Typical pompous rant by some deluded bureacrat, no doubt..

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Wonderful Art of Frank Lacano

Leif Peng bought a bunch of old science booklets at a used bookstore. They had wonderful illustrations by Frank Lacano in them. Leif scanned some of them and I've included them here, as well as some of his descriptions.

These wonderful ink line drawings are by Frank Lacano and they typically appeared in science booklets from the 60s and 70s. Today, you can find these booklets for sale at a local thrift store for around 25 cents a piece for the booklets - but the work by Lacano is invaluable. They reveal so much about good design, composition and technique... and Lacano teaches as much by what he chose to leave out as by what he chose to put into each illustration.

These booklets are from 1971, but Lacano had long been a master of the ink line drawing-with-spot-colour style of illustration by the time he did these pieces. He had done similar work two and three decades earlier for the likes of Reader's Digest and Coronet magazine.

I have a special fondness for this type of artwork, since I remember it vividly from my days as a schoolboy in the 1970s and 80s. Its an approach to illustration that was popular with pulp and digest magazines in the 40's and 50's -- publications that used poorer printing methods and cheaper paper. Its a shame that its not used more today because, as you can see here, the effect can be quite striking. In many ways, more striking than full colour.

Lacano makes it look easy -- but the artist must decide which elements will be line and which will be shape - and how the combination will most effectively create an entire picture that not only defines its elements but also creates the illusion of mood and lighting - and without the benefit of local colour. Its a fun challenge, but anyone who's tried it will tell you how difficult it is to do really successfully.

Smut Abides

Petra Panorama

Click on the picture to get a panoramic effect of the city of Petra.

Say no to butts like this

Sleep Labs of the Soviet Union

In the late 1920s, Soviet architect Konstantin Melnikov proposed a worker's dormitory that would "intensify the process of slumber."

It was designed with sloping floors, for instance, which would "obviate the need for pillows" (!). Wonderfully, though, the whole building was a kind of machine-womb, because sleep technicians in a central control booth would "command instruments to regulate the temperature, humidity, and air pressure, as well as to waft salubrious scents and 'rarefied condensed air' through the halls." They would also soundtrack the dorms with nature sounds, all to perfect the experience of sleep.

"Should these fail," we read, "the mechanized beds would then begin gently to rock until consciousness was lost." These would thus have been "sleep labs" for the workers of the Soviet Empire.

Originally from Cabinet Magazine, but there's no direct link.

Serbia cleared of Genocide

Serbia is off the hook. The Hague has ruled that the Serbian nation is not directly responsible for the genocide in Bosnia. Genocide didn't happen in Serbia, the genocide existed only in Srebrenica, in those three days of execution and burial of eight thousand people.

I am split over this bad and good verdict. For twenty-four hours I've been talking on my B92 interactive blog with people from all over the world who fear/ hope/ know what this Hague tribunal sentence means... for us and everyone else.

It's a precedent for the rest of the dirty-wars in the world, which now exist in such plenty. It is the first time in history that an international court of war crimes has declared a country both NOT GUILTY of genocide and yet also guilty of NOT preventing a genocide.

The former regime of the late Slobodan Milosevic is not found guilty of genocide. His loud followers will do nothing to arrest those outside the regime, those who were clearly guilty: Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and many other anonymous police and military. If it had not been for this rainy windy weather in Belgrade, we would have eager demonstrations of support for the Bosnian war criminals, who have successfully hidden themselves from the world for eleven long years and are treated as national heroes.

The special military group Scorpions from Serbia, who took part in the Bosnian Srebrenica genocide, whose trial I have been following for a year, have also not been found not guilty -- at lest, not of genocide. These days we are waiting in Belgrade for their sentence in a lesser matter, the proven killings of seven minors: Muslim civilians.

The Mothers of the Srebrenica dead are protesting in Hague against the verdict, accusing Serbs, Bosnians, USA... any and all those who used legalities or scientific technicalities against the obvious ... the heartbreaking silence of their dead.

I wonder if tables have turned somehow. Serbia doesn't even have to pay war reparations to Bosnia. The state is required to do only official thing: to declaration for, the historical record, that Serbia regrets that genocide somehow occurred.

The President of Serbia Boris Tadic says that he respects the seriousness of this demand, and wants to pass a resolution in the newly elected Parliament... but this country is yet without government, even more new elections are being mentioned... This country is still dead set against Kosovo independence; tomorrow in front of the US embassy a big rally is planned... This confused and spiteful country has no sense in putting aside the past as the only way of dealing with its future. If, only a couple of years ago, the Serbian Parliament had passed such a sensible declaration, none of this would have happened.

In 1961, Hannah Arendt followed the trial of Nazi officer Eichmann in Jerusalem, and wrote a book called the Banality of Evil. At the end of the road her worst literary enemies were the Zionists who opposed her bitterly for ever considering a war criminal as a human being, a topic of political and moral interest, a defendant with human rights.

But Hannah was right, these things and these people must be faced, and not allowed to haunt us in their self-created banality and obscurity. I am between relief and guilt: relief for being off the hook as a Serb living in Serbia, and guilt for knowing that, at the time, considerations of genocide were of no consequence to us. Mladic may have not been a direct agent of the Serbian government, but he was given a pension by our government.

Kostunica stoutly protected the military, the secret police, the right-wing armed action groups that disintegrated into a dense haze of assassins, mafiosi, gangsters and common crooks.

If Mladic and Karadzic had been disowned and arrested in time, Serbia would not have richly earned its historical role of the Judas goat of modern genocide. We didn't have to be this badly off.

And yet, it seems we're not that badly off, after all. We're not guilty.

It's good and bad news.

- - - - -

Jasmina Tešanović is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker.

Powerful people can't draw a reversed "E" on their foreheads

"No man," as Mme. Cornuel observed three hundred years ago, "is a hero to his valet." Or, as we might phrase it in more modern language: Powerful people tend to be total dicks to the people beneath them. Though it sounds like classic playah-hatah griping, experiments by psychologists have pretty much proven this to be an ironclad law of human behavior: The more powerful you are, the more clueless you are about the lives, concerns, and needs of those beneath you.

In fact, the latest bit of proof comes in the form of a hilarious study that found that powerful people can't draw a "E" on their foreheads in a way that other people can read. Specifically, the experiment worked like this: The psychologists took a bunch of subjects and tested them for their relative sense of powerfulness. Then, as they write in their paper (DOC version here) ...

... We used a procedure created by Hass (1984) in which participants are asked to draw an "E" on their foreheads. One way to complete the task is to draw an "E" as though the self is reading it, which leads to a backward and illegible "E" from the perspective of another person. The other way to approach the task is to draw the "E" as though another person is reading it, which leads to production of an "E" that is backward to the self (see Figure 1). We predicted that participants in the high power condition would be more likely to draw the "E" in the "self-oriented" direction, indicating a lesser tendency to spontaneously adopt another's perspective, than would participants in the low power condition.
The results? Sure enough, the people who reported high senses of personal power drew their E's in a "self-oriented" direction -- ignoring the perspective of other people. Those who reported low senses of personal power did the reverse, and drew an E oriented so that others could read it.

Why are people in power so gormlessly self-absorbed? Possibly, the psychologists note, because powerful people by definition tend to have control over scarce resources -- ranging from water to money to reputation to physical beauty -- and thus are less dependent on other people, which means they don't need to rely on accurately observing or empathizing with those beneath them. Also, powerful people tend to have a zillion demands on their attention, leaving them less time to muse on what those around them are feeling. (The valet's experience is precisely the opposite, of course: If you're someone's servant, you have to be slavishly devoted to observing your master's internal state, less you screw up and get canned.) What's more, their powerful roles may require them to be jerks. Many CEOs claim they'd be psychologically paralyzed and unable to make hard decisions if they thought deeply about the implications for their subalterns, and the same likely holds true for many politicians.

Yet what's interesting in this study is how easy it is to tweak someone's sense of personal power, nudging it higher and turning them, at least temporarily, into a self-regarding twit. The people in this study weren't CEOs or political powerhouses, after all. No, they were just regular students. To provoke feelings of powerfulness, the scientists used a "priming" device that has been reliably shown to work: They had some of the students "recall and write about a personal incident in which they had power over another individual or individuals." This was enough to momentarily elevate their perception of themselves as powerful, and presto: They drew "self-oriented" Es on their foreheads. Another group of students were told to do the opposite -- to recall a position when they were subject to another's power -- and their Es came out in the opposite direction.

I suppose this also tells us something about the whole "be the ball," Tony-Robbinsesque power-of-positive thinking rubric of today's self-help psychology, eh? Just focus enough on your inner sense of power and you, too, can transform yourself into a narcissitic creep!

Printable cold sores

The idea is to print them out on transparencies and paste them up on billboards, subway ads and so on. The idea is to close the "gap between natural beauty and manufactured perfection." There's a blog for you to submit your cold-sore successes to.

Nerd Ink

Monday, February 26, 2007

Crocheted Atari Pitfall!

He may be fat but he's still a genius

Should I stay or should I go, Blair!

Sunday, February 25, 2007


For better or worse, I had sex today, thus ending my self-imposed experiment with celibacy. For those keeping count, it's been a few months since my last sexual encounter and I'm now convinced man was not meant to go so long with so little. Quite simply, the act itself is life-affirming and without it, my sense of optimism about life and the future is shrivels mightily until it's hard to believe it was ever there. The devious thing is that you think you're alright, when you couldn't be far enough from alright. Sex is...the closest thing we have to magic, in this dreary, monotonous life we lead.

How I had sex with this girl is like a scene from a Woody Allen or Mike Leigh movie. I don't mean the actual sex, but the way it was agreed upon. She was someone I knew, I cold-called her and asked if she'd like to and I promised her it would be special. She agreed and we picked a time and a place. She showed up, we had a few drinks, talked about life, politics, movies before getting up and retiring into the master bedroom (those who have been to my studio apartment, as well as those familiar with the spatial challenges of most New York apartments will recognize the sarcasm in that statment).

It was more tender than lustful, if truth be told, but it was exactly what I needed. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm at a place where it means more to me to be held, than to get off. The pressures of your twenties is true, on a multitude of levels.

I feel good, for a change. Now, how to sustain it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Infocom Text Adventures Online

You're in a winding N/W passage. The walls are caked with mud.

A small key lies on the floor.

What would you like to do?


If you've ever played a text adventure, you'll recognize this format right away. These days, it's known as Interactive Fiction, but that's pretty much the same thing. The game is text only (so are books, remember?) and the premises are different: sci fi, medieval adventurer, crime-solving gumshoe, archaeologist...there are different games for different tastes. The computer describes your surroundings and tell it what to do. There's usually an objective you need to complete, objects you can pick up (access them by typing INV for inventory), Non Player Characters (NPCs) to interact with and puzzles to solve. Some of these games require some pretty creative thinking in order to negotiate a particular obstacle and the best ones test your ability to think logically, to the absolute max.

And now you can play the best ones (by a company called Infocom) for free! Just go here and play away. Trust me, it's how I wasted my youth and you can't argue with the way I turned out.

Why you can't dance to iTunes Music

Now the Apple CEO says he would gladly sell songs without digital restrictions, if the record companies let him. That's hardly a brave defiance, and besides, I don't believe him.

By Cory Doctorow

Feb. 23, 2007 | In early February, Apple CEO Steve Jobs published an extraordinary memo about the music industry, iTunes and DRM (digital rights management), the technology used to lock iTunes Store music to Apple's iPod and iTunes Player. In the memo, Jobs said that "DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy," and offered to embrace a DRM-free music-sales environment "in a heartbeat," if only the big four music companies would let him.

I doubt Jobs' sincerity. I suspect he likes DRM because it creates an anti-competitive lock-in to Apple. I think he's trying to shift blame for the much-criticized DRM to the music industry, whose executives are twirling their mustaches and declaring DRM to be the only way forward for their industry.

The context for this is complex and global.

DRM technology is used to lock music -- and movies, books and video games -- to a specific vendor's products. It's intended to ensure that copyright holders earn royalties from their music or movies, control how they are distributed, and prevent them from being copied without permission.

Yet the dream of a copy-proof song or movie is a logical absurdity. DRM systems -- built over a span of years at a cost of millions -- are routinely cracked in an afternoon by bored teenagers. BigChampagne, the P2P (peer-to-peer) monitoring service, reports that it takes a mere 180 seconds for a DRM'ed song released on the iTunes Store to show up as a free P2P download. Anyone who thinks that companies are going to make bits get harder to copy in the future is either not paying attention or kidding himself.

DRM's principal effect is legal, not technical. Since the passage of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it's been illegal to break DRMs in this country. It doesn't matter if DRM restricts access to something you have every right to use (for example, a DRM that region-locks a movie you've bought so that it won't play in the U.S.). You're not allowed to break DRM, and corporations certainly can't field products that break it. The results are ugly: Companies like 321 Studios (whose DVD X-Copy software lets you make otherwise legal backups of your DVDs) were sued into oblivion by the motion picture companies for trying such a thing.

So if you shellac a one-atom-thick layer of DRM over a product, you get the full power of the American legal system as a weapon to use against competitors. Apple may have created a successful "Switch" campaign by reverse-engineering Microsoft products like PowerPoint to make Keynote, an Apple program that lets you run old PowerPoint decks on your Mac, but Microsoft can't create a "Switch to the Zune" campaign that offers you the ability to play your iTunes Store songs on a Zune, Microsoft's latest abortive iPod-killer.

Although Apple's DRM is wholly ineffective at preventing copying, it does manage to raise the cost of switching from an iPod to a competing device. Every iTunes song you buy for 99 cents amounts to a 99 cent tax on switching from an iPod to a Zune. That's because your iTunes songs won't play on your Zune -- or on any other player, save those made or licensed by Apple. Jobs tries to skate around this in his memo, suggesting that only a tiny fraction of the music on iPods comes from his music store, and so the anti-switching effects are minimal.

While it's true that most of us haven't loaded our 10,000-song iPods with $9,900 worth of iTunes songs, it doesn't follow that the switching cost for even casual iTunes customers is negligible. If you'd bought just one iTunes track every month since the launch in 2003, you'd have rung up $82 in lock-in music. Throw in a couple of $9.99 albums and maybe an audiobook or two and you can easily find yourself in $150 down the lock-in hole.

That's $150 you kiss goodbye if you buy a sexy little Creative Labs Zen or a weird little no-name from the wildly imaginative entrepreneurs of Malaysia. Not only won't your iTunes Store music play on those devices, it's illegal to try to get it to play on those devices.

Jobs is right. If you had 10 grand worth of proprietary music on your iPod, his company's iTunes would be anti-competitive. But that's not to say that $150 worth of lock-in (enough to double the cost of many portable players) isn't a powerful disincentive against switching from the iPod. I'm a lifelong Apple fan boy -- I have an actual Mac tattoo -- but even I remember the dark time of the Performa, when Apple's hardware trailed so far behind the market leaders that buying it was like wearing a hair shirt. I think that it's reasonable to assume that Apple won't always make the world's best music player. I'd like to keep my options open. But the longer you own an iPod, the more likely it is you'll buy more iTunes music, and the fewer options you'll have.

Jobs' DRM stance has historically been all over the map. He's defended and decried DRM and consumer rights depending on which way the wind blows, and the spirit moves him. There was the "Rip, Mix, Burn" campaign, when Apple celebrated the idea that you could take DRM-free music off of CDs and load it onto your iPod (if you want to do the same thing with a DRM'ed DVD, you're an outlaw). Back in 2002, he went on the record with this gem: "If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own."

But later, an Apple attorney told a tech conference that Apple would keep its DRM even if the labels asked to have it removed. And when Real announced that it had put a Real DRM player on Apple's iPod so that you could listen to its DRM music on Apple's player, Apple responded with legal threats.

Actions speak louder than words. Artists have asked -- begged -- Apple to sell their music without DRM for years. From individual bestselling acts like Barenaked Ladies to entire labels of copy-friendly music like Magnatune, innumerable copyright holders have asked Apple to sell their work as open MP3s instead of DRM-locked AACs. Apple has always maintained that it's DRM or nothing. These artists believe that the answer to selling more music is cooperating with fans, not treating them as presumptive pirates and locking down their music.

If you rip your own CDs and load them onto your iPod, you'll notice something curious. The iPod is a roach motel: Songs check in, but they don't check out. Once you put music on your iPod, you can't get it off again without Apple's software. No recovering your music collection off your iPod if your hard drive crashes. What's more, Apple prevents copying indiscriminately. You can't copy any music off your iPod. Apple even applies the no-copying measure to audio released under a Creative Commons license (for example, my own podcasts), which prohibits adding DRM. The Creative Commons situation is inexcusable; because Creative Commons licenses are machine-readable, iTunes could automatically find the C.C.-licensed works and make them available for copying back to your computer.

Then there's the matter of the movies and TV shows sold through the iTunes Store. The first adopter of this marketplace was Disney/Pixar. Jobs is the single largest shareholder in Disney/Pixar. Apparently, he forced himself to add DRM to his Pixar movies, turning a deaf ear to his own impassioned arguments to leave the DRM off. Videos you buy from the iTunes Store can only be watched on Apple's products. So every movie you buy from Apple is a tax down the line of switching from Apple to a competing product.

Some have argued that Apple's famous fetish for consistency in user experience stops it from putting only some tracks into the iTunes Store without DRM. The reasoning goes that users will be confused by a store that sells both DRM and non-DRM music. But if this is so, how is it that Apple currently offers DRM-free podcasts alongside DRM'ed, pay-for-use podcasts in the selfsame store?

If DRM is designed to prevent copying, why is it that vendors always end up building "security" systems with all the integrity of a wet paper bag? Jobs explains it himself. All cryptography relies on keeping a set of keys that are secret against attackers. If Jobs sells you a download of "The Incredibles," he has to give you the keys, otherwise all you have is a bunch of noisy, encrypted junk, not a movie.

"The problem, of course," Jobs writes, "is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music."

But Apple -- and DRM -- tries to resolve this problem by hiding the keys from you even as it delivers them to you. DRM relies on hardware and software that treat you, the guy who owns the device, as an untrusted party. DRM hides its keys on your own bought-and-paid-for equipment, locking you out of seeing what your own machine is doing.

Like all secrets, DRM can corrupt its host. Just look at Sony's last foray into DRM, which included a "rootkit," malicious software used by virus-writers to hide their programs' existence from anti-spyware apps. Conceptually, spyware and DRM have the same goals: to do something to your computer that you don't want to happen. Sony's rootkit infected 500,000 American computer networks, including military and government systems. Apple's DRM is even more widespread.

In Europe, Apple's DRM has attracted unwelcome attention from regulators in Scandinavia, France and Germany. Europe is slowly adopting the same treaty that gave birth to the DMCA, the WIPO Copyright Treaty of 1996. Europe's version, the EUCD, has to be incorporated into each member-state's national law, and each law is a fresh opportunity for consumer rights activists to point out the anti-competitive effects of the ban on breaking DRM, with Apple's iTunes front and center.

European regulators seem powerless to overturn the EUCD, so instead they're turning to regulatory answers to iTunes' lock-in. Norway's ombudsman has been on the forefront of this, ordering Apple to open its DRM to interoperability. This demand makes strange allies out of DRM fighters and the entertainment giants they do battle with.

Activists like the idea of regulators bringing DRM to heel. Music companies like the idea of being able to negotiate pricing and delivery of their songs. In their utopia, you'd be able to buy music at prices they set (not just 99 cents a song) from a variety of stores and play them on a variety of devices from a variety of vendors. The incredible market dominance of iTunes/iPod has made Apple into a veritable Wal-Mart of digital downloads. And that has the music companies in a major snit.

Recently, Warner Music chief Edgar Bronfman Jr. tried to get Apple to give him control over pricing of Warner's tracks, so that he could charge more for top-40 music and less for back-catalog. Bronfman was handed his hat and laughed out of Cupertino. After all, what was he going to do, pull Warner's music out of the iTunes Store and only offer it through stores whose products can't play on iPods? It's no surprise that Bronfman responded to Jobs' music memo with an infantile tantrum: "completely without merit ... completely without logic." Bronfman doesn't want no DRM, he wants a DRM that benefits the music companies without leaving any value on the table for the tech companies.

This weird alliance of copy fighters and music giants has Apple caught in a squeeze. The real meat in Jobs' memo is in his excuses for not opening up Apple's DRM to competitors. He explains that interoperability is a technical impossibility, since DRM requires that users be locked out of its secrets, and once you have multiple vendors, one of them is certain to leak the secrets.

DRM-cracker supreme Jon Johansen points out that Microsoft's "interoperable" DRM, PlaysForSure, is no less secure than iTunes, despite a wide range of licensers. Of course, iTunes isn't secure: Otherwise, it would take more than three minutes for iTunes music to migrate to P2P. Since PlaysForSure is also insecure, they can be called equivalent. Jobs' argument is that his sieve will leak faster if regulators make him go interoperable.

Of course, it's easy for Jobs to aver that he will drop DRM if the labels let him. As Princeton's Ed Felten points out, Jobs says the labels call the shots on DRM and forced him to add DRM to iTunes Music. So it's hardly brave defiance to swear to take it off when the labels tell him to. As Felten puts it, "Apple is like the kid who says he is willing to go to the dentist, because he knows that no matter what he says he's going to see the dentist whenever his parents want him to."

At the end of the day, DRM is the biggest impediment to a legitimate music market. Apple doesn't sell music because of DRM -- it sells music in spite of DRM. The iTunes Store proves that you can compete with free. People have bought billions of dollars worth of music from Apple because it offered a better user experience. But no one bought for the DRM. Some people bought in spite of it, some bought in ignorance of it, but there's no customer for whom DRM is a selling point. No one woke up this morning wishing for a way to do less with her music.

When honest people are suckered into buying DRM, they often discover that the music they bought doesn't work as well as the music their friends get free on P2P. In fact, there's no better incentive to venture into the P2P waters than getting access to the music you may have already bought. Far from protecting music from illicit copying, DRM practically demands illicit copying. With DRM, the only way to get music that plays on all your devices, past and present, is to rip it off. If you buy DRM, you end up being part of someone's business model, and a slave to the lock-in.

'One Cool Cat'

One of my favorite players on that great Celtics team. RIP.

On a cold winter morning in 1986, Dennis Johnson and his Boston Celtics teammates stood outside of Market Square Arena, unable to get inside for a shootaround before their game that night against the Indiana Pacers. Johnson bundled his coat around him and pulled down his ski cap over his ears.

"Well, they locked us out," said Johnson, "so we'll just have to bust these mother----ers even worse than normal." He said it matter-of-factly and somewhat ruefully, as a statement of fact, and, of course, that's exactly what Boston did.

Those Celtics, the best one-year team I ever covered -- they finished the season with a 67-15 record and beat the Houston Rockets for the championship -- all played their roles. Larry Bird was the heart and soul, Kevin McHale the comic relief, Robert Parish the stolid presence, Danny Ainge the frat-kid energizer, Bill Walton, the sagacious sixth man. And D.J., who died suddenly of a heart attack on Thursday at the age of 52, was the implacable cool. On more than one occasion, Bird called Johnson "the best teammate I ever had." McHale was a better player than Johnson, but Bird deeply respected Johnson's toughness, his big-game moxie, his assassin's sense of timing.

When Bird made his famous steal of an Isiah Thomas pass during the 1987 Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons, it was D.J. who had the presence of mind to cut for the basket, take the Bird pass and score the game-winning layup. When Bird was double-covered in the post, he looked for D.J. to free himself and hit a jump shot -- Johnson was never considered a great shooter unless the game was on the line. When the Celtics needed to cool down a scorer, be it Philadelphia's Andrew Toney or L.A.'s Magic Johnson, they turned to D.J., who bumped and ground and stayed in front of his man. He had been a first-team defender for five years in a row (with Seattle and Phoenix) before he came to the Celtics, after which he was a second-teamer for three years in a row and a first-teamer again in '86-'87.

One of the things Bird liked about D.J., I suspect, was that he was a pure ballplayer, not an athlete, much like Bird himself. D.J. didn't have a cut physique (never mind that he was a freckle-faced African-American), and he walked kind of gimpily, like a middle-aged man after a pickup game at the Y. One thing or another was always wrong with him. He would take off a game or two during the season and he never ran into walls during practice.

But then the game would begin, and D.J.'s cold-bloodedness was exceeded only by Bird's.

The last time I talked to D.J. was five years ago when he was an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers. He was throwing back balls at practice for players who couldn't carry his sneakers, and I thought, "This coaching thing isn't for him." But a number of people told me I was wrong. He honestly wanted to make it as a head coach in the NBA, and that's why he was in Austin, Texas, directing the NBDL Toros, when he had the heart attack that killed him.

I have no idea if he would've gotten the chance to head up an NBA team, or, if he did, whether he would've been successful. Maybe, maybe not. But I know this: What D.J. had on a basketball court -- that cutthroat gamesmanship -- couldn't be coached and couldn't be taught.

Gay Cartoons

In this fantastic short movie, the audio from "What does Marcellus Wallace look like?" scene from Pulp Fiction is illustrated with animated typography, to excellent effect.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gordon Strachan One-Liners

He's known as the 'wittiest cunt in football'.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Klaus Harmony, Komponist für erotische Filme

Klaus Harmony, also known as the Mozart of Porn, was born in Baden in 1941. He was the foremost German composer of erotic film scores in the 1970’s, crafting music for over nine classic movies in just thirteen years. In collaboration with filmmaker and long time friend, Friedrich Wohlfäht, he expanded and thrust the genre beyond its known limits.

Together they created seminal classics such as Elektrische Lippen (1969), Die Sins des Apostles (1972) and The Ladies Man (1977) which made stars of actors, Jürgen Klampf and Lola Schlipp, who was to become his fourth wife. In 1974 Klaus Harmony released an album of instrumental music, Brown on Brown which gained cult status among his fans. Following the death of Wohlfäht in 1981, Harmony continued to write movies scores, eventually retiring in 1982. In 1984 he was killed in an unexplained explosion during a visit to a second-hand music store in London’s east end.

The first volume of Oeuvre, the complete works of Klaus Harmony, is available exclusively to buy at his website. You should also just head there to hear his FANTASTIC compositions, watch the video short promo for his work or simply catch a glimpse of the world, seventies-erotica style. Completely safe for work.

A Tie

Hedgehog Mario

Ron Jeremy dressed up as Mario...from Super Mario Brothers?!? Quite disturbing and yet I can't help but think what a great game it would make: Mario with a giant schlong jumping up and down..maybe not.

Anyways, here's a bit of Ron Jeremy trivia you probably didn't know: he was classmates with disgraced ex-CIA Director George Tenet (he of WMDs in Iraq are a "slam dunk" fame); they both attended Cardozo Highschool in Bayside, Queens.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ralph Fiennes' Mile High Romp, and Me

This is the airline attendant who had unprotected sex with Ralph Fiennes aboard a Qantas flight headed to Singapore, where he was due to talk about...the importance of safe sex.

Seriously, the rules simply do not apply to celebrities: mile high liaisons, unprotected sex with multiple partners, millions of dollars, devastating good looks, adultation by people they've never met...what lottery did these guys win to get all this?

Well, I continue to learn that people are not to be trusted, no matter how nice and well-meaning and principled they might be, simply because we are all selfish. The amount of information we choose to disclose to other people we have a 'relationship' with (not just romantic), is a product of how much we think this information will compromise our perceived relationship with that person. I don't even have any disappointment about it (maybe because I've pushed everyone away to a distance that I can deal with) but I guess the little sting that hits you, everytime you're confronted with it, never really goes away. Oh well.

On a different note, I emailed someone I was involved with a long time ago and asked her if she would sleep with me. I told her I was embarrassed about asking but it had been a while and I missed being with someone. I told her I didn't want to pick up some random chick whom I didn't know and possibly would have to employ a level of mendacity to get her into bed. It sounds gay, but I am sick to my stomach of even the lowest level of lying to anyone about anything and I'd rather just stay at home and be alone with Mimi, than play any more games.

I also said I hope she wasn't offended by me asking and if she was, I would absolutely apologize, put it behind us resume our (somewhat distant) friendship. The email was, if I may say so, a specimen of simplicity and a study in how lame I've become.

She was very nice and said she didn't mind and would come over soon. Then she said something that made me kind of sad. she said she hasn't been feeling very sexual lately but would do it, if I would do something in return, for her: hold her, as she slept.

What a way to ruin the mood!

I'm kidding, of course. She said this and I agreed then proceeded to become severely depressed for the remainder of the day, as I contemplated the overbearing loneliness that seems to be a feature of the world I inhabit. And I felt like a shit for not being able to offer her more than a hug through the night and a painfully awkward sexual rendezvous that's probably going to suck due to this unmitigated dose of reality.

So, here I am. Trading sex for affection and feeling lonelier than ever, because of it. See, once my depression lifts, I'll be able to retrieve my sense of humor and pick up chicks and sleep with them, while maintaining a cheerful disengagement from it all.

Bottom line is I think too much.

And here I am, I should be asleep, but I'm too nervous. I have a big day tomorrow and if it doesn't go well..I don't know what's going to happen. If it goes well, I'll put up a picture of Tweety and if it doesn't, I'll put up a picture of Sylvester.

I recall that joke I heard recently: if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

US copyright lobby out-of-touch

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, an association that brings together US lobby groups representing the movie, music, software, and publisher industries, last week delivered its annual submission to the US government featuring its views on the inadequacy of intellectual property protection around the world.

The report frequently serves as a blueprint for the US Trade Representative's Section 301 Report, a government-mandated annual report that carries the threat of trade barriers for countries that fail to meet the US standard of IP protection.

The IIPA submission generated considerable media attention, with the international media focusing on the state of IP protection in Russia and China, while national media in Canada, Thailand, and Taiwan broadcast dire warnings about the consequences of falling on the wrong side of US lobby groups.

While the UK was spared inclusion on this year's list, what is most noteworthy about the IIPA effort is that dozens of countries - indeed most of the major global economies in the developed and developing world - are singled out for criticism.

The IIPA recommendations are designed to highlight the inadequacies of IP protection around the world, yet the lobby group ultimately shines the spotlight on how US copyright policy has become out-of-touch and isolated from much of the rest of the globe.

The IIPA criticisms fall into three broad categories. First, the lobby group is very critical of any country that does not follow the US model for implementing the World Intellectual Property Organisation's Internet Treaties.

Those treaties, which create legal protection for technological protection measures, have generated enormous controversy with many experts expressing concern about their impact on consumer rights, privacy, free speech, and security research.

Countries singled out for criticism should not be deceived into thinking that their laws are failing to meet an international standard.

The US implementation, contained in the 1997 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, represents the world's most aggressive approach to the WIPO Internet Treaties, setting very strict limits on the circumvention of digital rights management systems and establishing a ban on devices that can be used to circumvent DRM, even if the circumvention is for lawful purposes.

Given the US experience, it is unsurprising that many countries have experimented with alternate implementations.

This experimentation invariably leads to heavy criticism from the IIPA as countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Israel, Mexico, and India are all taken to task for their implementation (or proposed implementation) of anti-circumvention legislation.

Further, countries that have not signed or ratified the WIPO Internet treaties (which still includes the majority of the world), face the wrath of the US lobby group for failing to do so.

Second, in a classic case of "do what I say, not what I do", many countries are criticised for copyright laws that bear a striking similarity to US law. For example, Israel is criticised for considering a fair use provision that mirrors the US approach.

The IIPA is unhappy with the attempt to follow the US model, warning that the Israeli public might view it as a "free ticket to copy." Similarly, the time shifting provisions in New Zealand's current copyright reform bill (which would permit video recording of television shows) are criticised despite the fact that US law has granted even more liberal copying rights for decades.

The most disturbing illustration of this double standard is the IIPA's criticism of compulsory copyright licensing requirements.

Countries around the world, particularly those in the developing world (including Indonesia, the Philippines, Lebanon, Kuwait, Nigeria, and Vietnam) all face demands to eliminate compulsory licensing schemes in the publishing and broadcasting fields.

Moreover, the report even criticises those countries that have merely raised the possibility of new compulsory licensing systems, such as Sweden, where politicians have mused about an Internet file sharing license.

Left unsaid by the IIPA, is the fact that the US is home to numerous compulsory licenses.

These include statutory licenses for transmissions by cable systems, satellite transmissions, compulsory licenses for making and distributing phonorecords as well as the use of certain works with non-commercial broadcasting.

Some countries are criticised for offering exceptions to universities

Third, the IIPA recommendations criticise dozens of efforts to support national education, privacy, and cultural initiatives.

For example, Canada, Brazil, and South Korea are criticised for copyright exceptions granted to students and education institutions.

Italy and Mexico are criticised for failing to establish an easy method for Internet service providers to remove allegedly infringing content (without court oversight), while Greece is viewed as being offside for protecting the privacy of ISP subscribers.

Greece is also taken to task for levying a surcharge at movie theatres that is used to support Greek films.

Moreover, countries that have preserved their public domain by maintaining their term of copyright protection at the international treaty standard of life of the author plus an additional fifty years are criticised for not matching the US extension to life plus 70 years.

There are literally hundreds of similar examples, as countries from Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America are criticised for not adopting the DMCA, not extending the term of copyright, not throwing enough people in jail, or creating too many exceptions to support education and other societal goals.

In fact, the majority of the world's population finds itself on the list, with 23 of the world's 30 most populous countries targeted for criticism (the exceptions are the UK, Germany, Ethiopia, Iran, France, Congo, and Myanmar).

Countries singled out for criticism should not be deceived into thinking that their laws are failing to meet an international standard, no matter what US lobby groups say.

Rather, those countries should know that their approach - and the criticism that it inevitably brings from the US - places them in very good company.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The modern Muslim?

Controversial scholar Tariq Ramadan explains why Mohammed had progressive views of women, the Quran is a prescription for peace -- and why he is banned from Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

By Steve Paulson

Feb. 20, 2007 | Why are there so few moderate Muslims speaking out against Islamic terrorism? That's a common complaint heard in the West, but in truth, plenty of Muslims are critical of suicide bombers. What's harder to find are Muslim leaders who condemn terrorism while also maintaining credibility among disaffected Muslims, and intellectuals who can appeal to both secular Europeans and Middle Eastern imams. That's why the Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan is such a compelling figure.

Ramadan has been called the Muslim Martin Luther King, and he's often described as Europe's most important Muslim intellectual. He has no shortage of charisma -- a quality that serves him well as he reaches out to various constituencies. There's no doubt that Ramadan commands a large following. Hundreds of young Muslims turn up at his public talks, and tapes of his lectures are widely circulated. He travels frequently throughout the Islamic world, trying to build bridges between European Muslims and conservative clerics.

But there are some countries Ramadan can't visit. The United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all banned him -- each for different reasons. In 2004 Ramadan was all set to move his family to Indiana, where he'd accepted a teaching position at Notre Dame. But the U.S. State Department revoked his visa -- though exactly why remains a mystery. Ramadan says it's because he's an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. His critics say he has ties to Muslim terrorists. No evidence of a direct link to terrorism has ever surfaced, though plenty of people have looked for one. Yet his most vocal critics are in France, where Ramadan is a prominent public intellectual. The French journalist Caroline Fourest even wrote a book-length attack on Ramadan, titled "Brother Tariq."

One reason Ramadan garners such close scrutiny is his distinguished -- some would say notorious -- family background. In 1928 his grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt -- the group that later spawned al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Banna was murdered in 1949. Ramadan's parents fled Egypt and settled in Switzerland, where his father, Said Ramadan, emerged as a major Islamic thinker. Tariq Ramadan resists simple labels. He's a devout Muslim, but one who wants to loosen the strict interpretations of Islamic law. He embraces the Western values of pluralism and democracy, while also retaining the anti-colonial mantle of his grandfather. Ramadan is often accused of being two-faced, making nice with Western journalists while giving fiery speeches to young Muslims. Ramadan says his tone may change, but he insists that his message is consistent.

I had the chance to see Ramadan last summer in Cambridge, England, where he spoke to a small group of journalists. (After his job at Notre Dame fell through, he took an academic position at Oxford University.) In person, Ramadan was elegantly dressed and quite dashing. Now, at the age of 44, he's just come out with a book about the life of Mohammed, "In the Footsteps of the Prophet." Ramadan recently went into the BBC studios in London, where he spoke to me about his efforts to reconcile Islamic values with Western secularism, his difficulties with the U.S. government, and his new reading of the life of Mohammed.

There have been many books about Mohammed. Do you see your book as a corrective to what other scholars have written about the Prophet?

No. The purpose of the book was not to correct or to come with new revelations about his life. It's really a rereading of his life, stressing two dimensions. The first one is spiritual. We can extract from his life the spiritual lessons for now and forever. And the second dimension is about contemporary lessons as to our relationships with our neighbor, with nature, with people from other religions. So it's really to come back to the teachings, the lessons and the meditations.

What do you think non-Muslims need to know about Mohammed? What are some of the most common misunderstandings?

The perception they have is all about violence, it's all about otherness, it's all about discrimination toward women. And I think all this is wrong. He was promoting peace. And the way he was with women was far ahead of what we sometimes find in Islamic-majority countries today. You know, the Prophet's life is really an introduction to Islam.

The picture you present of Mohammed is someone who had a very forward-looking attitude about the status of women. What lessons can Muslim women take away from Mohammed's life?

First, he was really treating women as women -- and not only as mothers, or sisters or daughters in Islam. Women are equal before God and have the same rights and duties. More than that, he was so respectful. He taught people the way they have to deal with women. When his daughter came to him, he stood up and welcomed her, talked to her, respected her, kissed her in front of the people. At that time, to have a daughter in this Arab tribe was quite a dishonor. It was not valued in society. And he was welcoming women in the mosque, letting them enter and talk in the mosque. Today, in the 21st century, people don't even let women come into the mosque and practice their religion. He was promoting knowledge. His own wife, Aishah, was a scholar. This is something that we cannot forget about his life.

So if you look at Mohammed's own life, you're saying the rules prohibiting women from entering the mosque are just wrong.

Yes, exactly. This is wrong. This is coming from two main mistakes. The first one is the literal reading of some of the verses. We are forgetting to put things into context. More important than one verse is understanding the overall message of Islam. This is one mistake. We are also confusing Arab cultures, which are historical, with the universal principles of Islam. I really think we have to come back to the Prophet's example to understand the way he was promoting the status of women. He wanted them to be involved at the social level, the political level, the scholarly level, but also within the mosque. Today, we need to come back to this and say, it is not Islamic to prevent Muslim women from entering mosques. Preventing them from getting knowledge is not Islamic. Forced marriages are not Islamic. And even domestic violence: You can't just quote one part of a verse in the Quran, forgetting that the Prophet himself never beat a woman. He was so respectful. So if he is our example, we cannot accept domestic violence. This is not Islamic.

There are also verses in the Quran that call on the wives of Mohammed to cover up. Do you read these as prescriptions for how women should dress? For instance, is there a commandment for Muslim women to wear the head scarf?

The head scarf is an Islamic prescription but it cannot be imposed. So it's an act of faith. We never had one woman forced to wear the head scarf during the Prophet's life. It's a choice. This is why I'm always saying it's against Islamic teaching to force a woman to wear a head scarf. But it's also against human rights to force her to take it off. It should be a free choice. Now, the discussion we have in some Muslim countries is not about the head scarf; it's really about what we call the "niqab" -- veiling the face of the woman. This is something which was specific to the Prophet's wives and not to all women. And this is why we must have an intra-community debate about veiling the face -- to say this is not Islamic. There is no compulsion in these matters. We really have to respect the choice of the woman.

In your book, you say Mohammed was not divine. He was a man chosen by God to receive the final revelation. This raises some interesting comparisons to the status of Jesus within Christian theology, since traditional Christian accounts do describe Jesus as the son of God. I'm wondering what, if any, implications this has for people today. Do you think Mohammed has the same status for Muslims as Jesus does for Christians?

No, not exactly. We recognize Jesus as a prophet but not as the son of God. For us, there is nothing divine in Jesus and nothing divine in Mohammed. They have one dimension coming from God. We are dealing with revelations, with texts coming to the prophets that they are transmitting to humanity. But at the same time, they have a human dimension. Even the Quran is saying to Mohammed that what he did in some instances is wrong. For example, once he was so obsessed with the protection of his community that as he was talking to some rich people, he neglected a poor old man who came to him asking a question about the Quran. And the Quran said, what you did in this situation was wrong. So God is speaking to a man who is a prophet -- the best among humankind -- but still a human being. The status is quite different from what we have in the Christian tradition. And more than that, he's not a mediator. So if you want to speak to God, you don't need the Prophet. You can talk to God straight away. It's an intimate dialogue between you and Him.

What about the Quran itself? Does the Quran have a similar status for Muslims as the Bible does for Christians?

Not exactly. For Muslims, the Quran is the very word of God. The Quran is what was revealed. But we still need our intelligence, our reason and our mind to understand what was said to us. Some of the verses should be understood as immutable. When we speak about the six pillars of Islamic faith, this is not going to change. This is trans-historical. When we speak about practices, there is no change. We pray as the Prophet was praying. We fast the same. And we perform the pilgrimage in the same way. But when it comes to understanding the Quran in social affairs, we need our mind and our intellect to understand the meaning of the verses in order to implement them in a new historical context.

To make another comparison to current Christian thinking, there's a big debate over the historical Jesus and how we should interpret certain episodes in his life. Especially the miracles. For instance, does a Christian have to believe in the Virgin Birth? And what should Christians make of the Resurrection? Was this an actual physical resurrection or something more ethereal? These questions have profound implications for a lot of Christians today, especially those with a more rational bent. Is there a comparable debate in Islam today -- whether to read certain episodes of Mohammed's life literally or metaphorically?

We don't have so many miracles in the Prophet's life. Really, what is presented as a miracle is the text itself. The Quran is perceived as a miracle. But still, we have what we call the "miraj" -- a specific episode in his life when he went in one night from Mecca to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem close to God in the sky.

This was the Night Journey, when the angel Gabriel took Mohammed to Jerusalem, where he met the prophets who'd come before him, including Abraham and Moses. And Mohammed was raised beyond space and time through the heavens. It's where he received the instructions about the five daily prayers. This is a remarkable story. But it does raise the question: Was this some kind of vision, or did it physically happen?

Muslims have exactly the same debates as Christians. For some Muslim scholars, this is a spiritual experience. Others say no, he did it with his body and came back. So the debate is there. But I'm not sure it has great implications about what to extract from this story. In the end, it's an act of faith. What we can extract from this story is the many ways the Prophet is trusted by his companions, and the meaning of these prayers that we have to perform every day. They were not revealed when he was on earth but when he came close to God.

Well, let me ask you about the prescription on prayer. Can you be a Muslim in good standing and not pray?

Once again, it's a discussion between scholars. I really think that a Muslim is one who recognizes that there is one God and then with his heart or her heart is sincere. And we cannot judge after this.

It sounds like you're saying that many of these questions -- about how to pray or whether a woman should wear a veil -- ultimately come down to personal choice. These should not be prescribed by imams or other Islamic authorities.

There are norms known by the believers. It's then up to everyone to choose and decide, knowing the norms. For example, I'm not going to say that praying is not an obligation. No, there is a prescription saying five prayers a day, but now, it's up to you to decide whether to pray or not. You decide which way you want to practice.

I'm not sure what that means. If you don't pray five times a day, have you sinned? Have you violated some core Islamic principles?

Violated? I will not use that term. But I will say that you know what you have to do as a practicing Muslim. This is your responsibility. A practicing Muslim who wants to do all his duties before God should pray five times a day. These are the prescriptions. Now, you cannot impose on anyone to do it. And you cannot say you are a bad Muslim because you are not doing it. You can only say you are not fulfilling all the prescriptions. As to judging your heart, it's not my business. It's between you and God. So I'm praying five times a day. I don't know how I'm going to be judged. I just know I'm not always satisfied with my practice. Since I don't know my destiny, I'm not going to judge the destiny of anyone else.

You have a very unusual background, including two Ph.D.s -- one dissertation on Islam, the other on Nietzsche. Has your study of Nietzsche affected how you think about religion? After all, this is the philosopher who declared that God is dead.

Yes, of course it had an impact on my way of dealing with religion. Nietzsche himself was very religious when he was young. And then he was so disappointed by the answers he got from his own religion. He was very harsh with people trying to avoid the only true question for him as a philosopher: When you suffer, what are you going to do with this suffering? Because to live is to suffer. This was Nietzsche's main statement. And I think it's really important because at the center of his philosophy is a quest for meaning. This was also a quest for innocence. And coming from where I was coming -- from the Islamic tradition -- for me it was really central in my own religious education: how you can combine innocence, suffering and the quest for meaning?

You have lived in several European countries and in Egypt. How do you think about your own identity?

What I can say is that I am Swiss by nationality, European by culture, Egyptian by memory, universalist by principle and of course Muslim by religion. All this is really important. I have no problem with being at the same time Egyptian by memory and European by culture. I don't have opposing worlds of references. I really think there are common hopes and common quests.

You went to live in Egypt for awhile, the country of your parents. I've heard that you felt out of place there and you realized that Europe was your real home.

Yes, that's totally true. I was living in Europe. You know, my parents had a very difficult exile. They left Egypt because of political reasons. And they dreamed of going back there. I started idealizing my country of origin. I wanted to go there and I was sure I would find people with the same commitment to justice. Egypt was the country of my dreams when I was young. So I went there, studied there, and I felt that, no, it was not that. I'm no longer Egyptian by culture. There's something very European in me. So I felt the gap. And then I decided, I have to go back home. And my home is not the home I was thinking it was at the beginning. What was the exile for my parents is no longer the exile for me.

Do you see your larger project as finding common ground between secular Europeans and conservative Muslims in the Middle East? Are you trying to build an understanding of Islam that's acceptable in both places?

I'm not trying to promote something which could be acceptable. If we come back to the roots of the European project, we have common roots with the Islamic-majority countries. I really think we are dealing with a clash of perceptions, not a clash of civilizations. I want to deconstruct these perceptions to come to the common roots. So I'm not trying to make Islam more acceptable. There's no point. I don't have to do this. My aim is not to be accepted or to please people. It's just to be consistent. In fact, my project is much more about reconciliation.

But Muslims in Europe face different issues than Muslims in the Middle East. Islam is a minority religion in countries like France and England, and in most Middle Eastern countries, there's no effort to separate religion and politics. In Europe -- especially in France -- there is an absolutely strict separation. And a lot of people wonder whether Islam can thrive in a pluralistic society as just one of many religions, or whether there is an inherent drive within the Islamic tradition to become the one dominant religion.

I can understand that question, coming out of the repeated assumption that there is no difference in Islam between religion and politics. This is not true. There is a distinction between what is the realm of worship and what is the realm of social affairs. And here, there is a field of negotiation and rationality. Now, let me come to the reality of Western societies. People are asking, is it possible for Muslims to live in secular society? Look, millions of Muslims are already showing every day that they don't have a problem. If you look at the United States, you have millions of Muslims who are living as quiet, peaceful American Muslim citizens. You don't have a problem. The great, great great majority of Muslims don't have a problem. Even in France. Five million Muslims are living in France. Half of them are already French. They don't have a problem. The problem of the French Muslims is not the secular framework. The problem is that in the suburbs, they are dealing with discrimination and social marginalization. It has nothing to do with religion. The religious and cultural integration is done.

But when you are in the suburbs and feel you are second-class citizens, that after four generations you are still perceived as French with an immigrant background, there is something wrong in the perception. When we had the riots in the suburbs in November 2005, you had politicians speaking about "them" as if they were not French citizens. And this has nothing to do with Islam. These are French citizens doing exactly what the French do when they are not happy. They demonstrate. They are doing exactly what your sons and daughters did during the '60s. So I really think all this perception that Muslims cannot live in secular society is totally wrong. Millions are already doing it in European societies. And let me add something: If we look at Senegal, at Turkey, at Indonesia, these are Islamic-majority countries, and they are dealing with this kind of separation and democracy. And they are open to the process of rational collective negotiation. So we cannot confuse the Islamic world with the Arab countries where the lack of democracy is not due intrinsically to Islam.

But some religious issues do come into play. The head scarf has been banned from French schools. Where does that leave Muslim families in France?

Yes, you're right. What happened is that two years ago, the French government changed the law -- what is called "the law of 1905" (separating church and state) -- just to ban the head scarf from schools. Before that, the secular traditional law in France was not against the head scarf. So the French debate about the head scarf became a political issue. It's not going to solve the problem. So what should young Muslim women do now? Do they have to avoid going to school? No, we have something in Islam which is a very flexible way to deal with reality. My position is it may be a wrong law. It may be discriminatory. But if a young Muslim girl has to choose between school and the head scarf, go to school. Go to school and learn.

The other choice might be to go to an Islamic school.

Yes, but there aren't many Islamic schools in France. And I really think the solution is not to create a parallel system. It's to be part of the system. To really be in the system as citizens and to be able, from within, to say we are respecting the laws, but we think this law is a bad one and we can challenge it. But I really think the decision to ban the head scarf had much more to do with internal political tensions between the French left and right than with the religious issue of how to integrate Muslim citizens. This may be the only law that discriminates against French Muslims.

But it does seem there are a number of cases -- not so much in terms of law, but in everyday practice -- where there are tensions. For instance, what if a company won't allow a Muslim employee to pray five times a day at prescribed hours? Can you eat non-halal meat if there is no halal meat available? What if a woman needs medical treatment and there is no female doctor available? Can she see a male doctor? Which takes precedence: Islamic principles or the cultural values of the country?

I really think that Islamic thinking about living in Western societies is already articulated and developed. For example, when you are in the workplace and you can't pray five times, you can adapt your practice by having the two prayers of the afternoon together and the two prayers of the night together. These are answers that we already have in the Islamic legal tradition, which are helping Muslims to adapt to a new environment. As to halal meat, you have many different opinions about what is possible. And for some, it's not against Islam to eat the meat in the Western countries. As for women going to be treated by a male doctor, there is no problem if there is no choice. These problems are constructed out of anecdotes by new immigrants saying they can't do that. In fact, Muslim communities in the West already have adapted to their situation.

One of the big points of controversy is whether Islam itself can be criticized. And this comes up in so many different situations -- for instance, the furor over the Danish cartoons. Yes, it was insensitive for the Danish newspaper to run these caricatures of Mohammed. But on the other hand, Islamic activists deliberately whipped this up into a frenzy, even circulating some cartoons that were never published in that Danish newspaper. And all kinds of violence erupted throughout the Middle East as a result.

Yes, I think Muslims should ask themselves what kind of image they are spreading with this attitude. I was in Morocco when it happened. From the very beginning, I said, "Take an intellectual critical distance. Don't react to this provocation. Yes, it's not your way to deal with the sacred. But it's a Western tradition just to laugh at religion. And you should understand that not all criticism means Islamophobia." There are legitimate criticisms of some Muslim behaviors and some principles that are not understood. You have to explain, you have to be part of the game, you have to be vocal, and not react emotionally to all this. I think the big problem is this kind of over-emotional reaction coming from Muslims, which is not acceptable.

By the way, it's really important to remember that in Europe, and even in the States, the reactions from Muslims were really reasonable. The strong reaction was coming from Islamic-majority countries. And not by accident. I think some governments and some groups were instrumentalizing this story just to get popular support. On the other side, you had far-right parties very happy to provoke this kind of reaction. So you have people on both sides trying to polarize the debate. And we should not fall into the trap. It's clear, as you are saying, that Muslims should be very, very open to criticism. We should tackle these questions and try to come up with sincere answers.

You are clearly a voice for reform within the Islamic world. Many people in both Europe and the Middle East pay attention to what you say. Do you see this reform movement in Europe as something that other Muslims from around the world will look at and follow?

Yes, it's already happening. For decades, we had our answers coming from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, from the traditional centers of Islamic knowledge. But now it has changed. For example, the meaning of civil society, the way we deal with medical issues, with ethics, it's really now the other way around. Some of our answers are going back there and helping people think about the problems in a new way. You know, I'm traveling a lot to Islamic-majority countries -- to Morocco, Jordan, Indonesia, Africa. Last summer I visited seven African countries -- some of them majority-Islamic countries, like Senegal and Mali. And they were listening to the way we're dealing with problems. So we had exchanges of ideas and methodologies. Our experiences in the West have already had a tremendous impact. You know, this call for a moratorium that I launched two years ago, at the beginning I got such strong rejections...

The moratorium on the Islamic edict about stoning women who've committed adultery.

By the way, it's stoning adulterous men and women. And it's not only this. It's stoning for the death penalty and corporal punishment. At the beginning, I was criticized by so many Muslims. Even in the United States, people were saying, what are you talking about? And then, after much discussion, I went to Morocco and sat with 40 scholars. Even the mufti of Egypt responded with three pages on my call and mainly he said this is the way forward. He may disagree on the way it's done, but on the content he's saying we have to think about it.

You went on French television to propose this moratorium. And what a lot of people in France couldn't understand is why you didn't just come out and condemn stoning. It seems like an ancient, barbaric practice. Why wouldn't you just say it's not acceptable?

[Chuckles] Yes, I said I'm against it. And I condemned it in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. But it was a political game with the [French] home minister. He wanted to use it by saying, "Look, he's not condemning this." But I'm saying I'm against it. What I'm trying to do is open a debate in the majority-Islamic countries. The moratorium is the first step to stop stoning. So open the debate and ask the Muslim scholars, what do the texts say? And in which context? This is the only way forward. Even in Pakistan, I was called by the Islamic commission because they wanted me to promote this idea there. And they used the idea of the moratorium in one case of a Pakistani British man who was to be killed. Then they stopped and he was freed. The important Muslim council in Indonesia asked me to present my position on this because they think it's the way to say, we take the texts seriously but we need a debate on the way these texts are implemented. Look, this is the way forward.

But I've heard that your call for a moratorium got you in a lot of trouble in some countries. It angered a lot of conservative clerics. Didn't Egypt and Saudi Arabia ban you after that?

Saudi Arabia, yes. They banned me after that. Egypt banned me for another reason -- because I'm critical of the regime and say it's not a democracy. But yes, in Saudi Arabia, they said no, we can't talk about this. This is against our religion. And some of the Muslims put me outside the realm of Islam as if I was betraying the very meaning of Islamic references, which is really interesting because Saudi Arabia remains one of the most important allies of the West. And the West is saying to the Muslims, "Look, you have to denounce stoning." So there's a great deal of hypocrisy here.

My point is reconciliation and consistency. I will be against the Saudi government and the way they are implementing Islamic principles. And I will never accept that a poor Pakistani in Saudi Arabia can be treated as a slave, as an animal -- you can be just beaten. In the name of Islam, I have to say no, this is not acceptable. So let us open the debate with Muslim scholars. So my point is not to please the West or to please the Islamic-majority governments. My point is really to be consistent with my values and the principles of justice and respect toward the poor and the innocent.

Well, you sound very reasonable and yet you keep getting banned from different countries.

[Ramadan laughs]

Why do you think the U.S. State Department canceled your visa? Why have you been banned from this country?

You know, for two years, I didn't know. I was to go teach at Notre Dame University. Everything was set. Then they revoked my visa with no explanation and they referred to the Patriot Act. So my understanding from the very beginning is that they were unhappy with my political discourse and my views on American policy.

American policy in Iraq and in Israel?

Exactly. When I went first to the American embassy in Switzerland, the first questions I got were about Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because I was saying resistance is legitimate. The means they are using is not, but resistance is legitimate. And your invasion of Iraq is a mistake, it was illegal. I'm not the only one to say that. The United Nations thought from the very beginning your actions were illegal. So I think these are the main reasons I was banned. Last September I finally got an answer: Tariq Ramadan gave 700 euros to a Swiss organization which was connected to Hamas. What they don't say, and what is really important to know, is that this organization is officially recognized by the Swiss government. All the money I gave was put in my tax form and everything was official. I gave them money to support schools.

The second thing, which is much more important, is that I gave the money between '98 and 2002. I gave 700 euros to a European organization to help build schools. And this organization was blacklisted in the States in 2003. So I stopped giving money one year before this organization was blacklisted in the States. And I got a letter from the American Embassy telling me I should have reasonably known that this organization was connected to Hamas -- meaning I should have reasonably known one year before Homeland Security that this organization was connected to Hamas. It's ridiculous. How could I have known this? So it's clear that this has nothing to do with the true reason. The true reason is that I'm vocal. I'm speaking loudly against American policy in the Middle East.

A lot of people don't know what to make of your relationship with your grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. His name is always brought up by your critics because they say you are a closet supporter of terrorists. And they say he laid the intellectual groundwork for terrorist organizations like al-Qaida. How do you respond to those criticisms?

As to my relationship with terrorists, if this was the case, it would have come out in all this discussion with Homeland Security. It means that really, there's nothing in my record. And there is nothing. Now, as to my relationship with my grandfather, I have with him the relationship I have with any historical figure. I put things into context and try to understand what he did. I support some things and I am selective and critical of other things. So, for example, I respect the fact that he was resisting colonization, and that he built 2,000 schools -- half of them for women -- which at that time was totally new. He was the father of my mother, and he wanted her to be educated, and he was pushing in that direction against many Muslim scholars at that time. I think this is the work of a reformist. He took from Mohammed Abduh something which was really interesting. He said we have nothing against the British parliamentary model; this is very close to what we have as Muslims. So he didn't have a vision of everything from the West as bad.

Now, he was the leader of an organization, and he was nurturing the members with slogans. And they were misleading to many of the followers. And here I'm critical of a very simple statement, which has been misunderstood by some of the followers. For example, you have, "The Quran is our constitution." For some, it's just come to the Quran and you refuse everything else. It was not what Hassan al-Banna was meaning. But this is the way it was understood, and you are responsible for some of the ways that people understand what you are saying. So it's really important for me to be clear on that and to go further in the critical reading of this historical period of time. So I'm not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and I'm not representing them. But I'm not going to demonize my grandfather to please the West. I'm just asking the people, read, put things into context and criticize what is to be criticized, but also be fair to what he was trying to do during his life.

You have gone on record condemning all acts of terrorism. Would you say suicide bombings are never justified?

Yes, I've said that many times. To kill innocent people will never be justified. People were using this against me. I said, "Look, it's never justified. You can, in certain circumstances, understand why people could be led to this. But to understand what is happening doesn't mean you are justified." But I'm also saying the situation of Palestinians now is so bad that it's understandable without being justifiable. As an international community, as democrats, as people protecting human rights, we have to say that we need to do something. You can't be silent as to the Palestinian oppression. My silence is as condemnable as their violence. We have to say no to suicide bombings, but also no to oppression.

One final question. You almost came to the United States. Your family was all packed and ready to move to Indiana. Why did you want to come here?

Yes, between 2001 and 2004, I came to the States almost 30 times. I met with so many leaders and scholars and Muslims, and they were telling me: We must build bridges between the European and the American experiences. And this is what I wanted to do. I'm still doing it from where I am, through a program like yours and video conferences. They are preventing me from being there physically, but I'm still exchanging views and trying to come up with a reasonable approach toward the future of our democratic societies. I think the voice that you are hearing now is a voice that may be necessary for American society today, especially under the current administration.

Pop Goes My Heart

From the hysterical 'Music and Lyrics', which I went to see with Carmen. They nailed this video so bad that it hurts! And the doctor at the end of the video looks EXACTLY like Carmen's about another dimension of laughter..

Here's the review and I think Stephanie Zacharek nails it:

"Music and Lyrics"

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore make beautiful music together in this pleasingly hummable romantic comedy.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Feb. 14, 2007 | In Marc Lawrence's pleasingly casual new romantic comedy, "Music and Lyrics," Hugh Grant's Alex Fletcher, a washed-up '80s pop star, tries to convince his songwriting partner, Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), that her sleazy ex-beau, who has just written an unflattering roman à clef about her, is no great shakes. So what if he just won the National Book Award? "Nothing can make you feel as good, as fast, as" -- and here Alex begins to sing, in a feather-soft voice that carries a memory of the Temptations' David Ruffin -- "I got sunshine on a cloudy day."

If there's one thing "Music and Lyrics" understands, it's the apparent effortlessness of a good pop song, the way, particularly on a bad day, it can seem like a gift floating down from the heavens. In reality, of course, someone had to sit down and write the damn thing, and "Music and Lyrics" gets to the heart of that, too. Alex Fletcher used to be in one of those cheesy, flashy bands -- this one, à la Wham! was called PoP, and the movie opens with an absurd and alarmingly accurate vintage-style video, replete with sugar-stiffened haircuts and clumsily staged dream sequences. Now, older and supposedly possessed of better taste, Alex lives in New York, and he makes a modest living re-creating his band's old hits and signature, if dated, dance moves at theme parks and state fairs. (At one point he expresses mild dismay when his manager, played by Brad Garrett of "Everybody Loves Raymond," informs him that Knott's Berry Farm has canceled.)

But Alex is about to get a break: A Shakira-like pop star, the serene yet sharklike Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), is soliciting songs from all her old favorite has-beens, and she invites Alex to submit one. If she likes it, she'll invite him to perform it with her onstage in one of her elaborate stage shows, which mingle Middle Eastern mysticism with good old American bump 'n' grind. Alex could sure use the exposure; the problem is, he can write melodies, but he's useless when it comes to lyrics.

Luckily, the woman who usually waters his plants has taken a few days off, and her replacement, Sophie, just happens to be a part-time slogan writer with a knack for words. Sophie flits into Alex's pristine Upper West Side apartment, looking like a '70s rock-star girlfriend in her fluttery butterfly dresses and floaty scarves, a direct contrast to Alex's uniform of trim black jackets and starched white shirts. She slops her massive, floppy shoulder bag on his gleaming grand piano; he not-so-discreetly removes it. These two can't help but fall in love.

They also, of course, will write an inescapably catchy song. And if "Music and Lyrics" has all the romantic comedy earmarks, it's also an interesting little study in the process of making something. After Sophie and Alex have been hustling 'round the clock to meet Cora's deadline, she wails, "I'm covered in songwriting grime!" and you can see how those precious little devils we call words have taken it out of her.

Lawrence, who also wrote the script, has such a light touch here that it's hard to believe he's the same guy who made the instantly forgettable "Two Weeks Notice." The picture has a few problems, chief among them that there just isn't enough conflict between the characters to sustain the gentle tension a good romantic comedy needs. But "Music and Lyrics" is still great fun to watch. It may be slight, but it's also buoyant and pleasurable, partly because the leads make the whole thing feel like a spontaneous duet. Lawrence trusts them to carry the picture, without feeling the need to throw in a lot of extraneous fluff.

Barrymore, a dippy cherub, is a great foil for Grant, and her timing is somehow both precise and elastic. (She pulls off a terrific little physical gag in which she pours two cups of coffee without ever lifting the spout of the coffee pot, drizzling the brew from one mug to the other without breaking her nonstop stream of patter.) And Grant is wonderful to watch: He makes the performance feel tossed off and spontaneous, but afterward, when you think about it, you begin to think it's really a masterstroke of neurotic precision. At one point Alex pays Sophie a very kind compliment, and she tells him, "That's wonderfully sensitive, Alex. Especially for someone who wears such tight pants." He weighs those words for half a beat and says, "It forces all the blood to my heart," a response that simultaneously, and sweetly, both disguises his sincerity and intensifies it.

The song Alex and Sophie write -- and, in one nicely wrought little scene, perform -- is a marvelously unsticky ballad called "Way Back Into Love." In real life it was written by the supremely gifted Adam Schlesinger, of the New Jersey band Fountains of Wayne, who also did the music for the terrific, and sorely underappreciated, 1996 Tom Hanks feature "That Thing You Do!" Two days after seeing "Music and Lyrics," I realized I had a song fragment drifting through my head -- really just a few scraps of melody with some stray words stuck to it -- that I couldn't immediately name. Eventually I recognized this elusive specter as "Way Back Into Love," a song I'd heard, in various cleverly stitched-together bits and pieces, maybe four or five times during the course of "Music and Lyrics." Would I want to download "Way Back Into Love" and listen to it dozens of times? Probably not. But I still marvel at the way the song followed me out of the movie theater, hid for a few days and then suddenly re-emerged, unbidden. "Music and Lyrics" is an enjoyable trifle, but it also gets at the idea that any kind of pop craftsmanship, done right, is seriously hard work.

Introducing the book

Medieval tech support for the upgrade to the book. Hilarious!

The second headline seems to cast a reasonable doubt on the first..

Jessica Biel

The best ass on a white girl ever...but she looks like she could beat me up, in a fight.

Divine Joke

Q: How do you make God laugh?
A: Tell him your plans.