god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Christopher Hitchens is a good polemicist and it shows in his book. This is not a book presenting research or theological discussion, but it does present forceful arguments against religion and the religious.

First of all, I like the title god is not Great which alludes to the Arabic Allahu Akbar (God is Great).

Secondly, Christopher Hitchens is a polemicist by his own admission and one should keep that in mind while reading this book. This is not an analysis of religion (going over its evolutionary origins for example) or even a high-minded atheist response to religion like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Keeping that in mind, I actually liked god is not Great. Hitchens is a good writer. He knows how to turn a phrase and his allusions to literature references were also clever and interesting.

His case against religion is flawed but not completely wrong. There are lots of bad and evil things the religious and organized religion have done or condoned. Despite all those issues, I think we can only say that religion does not make one better or worse. This in itself is a major indictment of religion.

However, as discussed in Religion Explained, religion and religious beliefs have natural evolutionary origins and arise out of how our mind works. So religion is here to stay. Even people who do not consider themselves religious usually have beliefs that can be classified as religion.

You can read some excerpts from the book on Slate.

When I was reading god is not Great, I decided to live-blog (or live-forum) it at UrduWeb.

Pakistan Political Poll

A discussion about a series of polls about political opinions in Pakistan. In short, Musharraf and the ruling PML-Q are very unpopular, Bhutto and PPP are losing their popularity too while Sharif is gaining. The religio-political leaders are losing too.

Whenever talk turns to Pakistani politics, the biggest problem I have faced is a lack of data. How do we know which politicians, parties and policies are popular? Most of the time, we have to make do with hand-waving and some guesstimates of political rallies and marches. So I was really happy to find the opinion surveys of International Republican Institute done over 2006-2007.

Their latest poll was conducted from August 29 to September 13, 2007 and has a margin of error of 1.58%. For some context, Nawaz Sharif arrived in Pakistan on September 10 and was promptly sent to Saudi Arabian exile while Benazir Bhutto arrived in Karachi on October 18.

The detailed results are here but I like the charts.

When Pakistanis were asked to name their top issues for voting decisions, they named mainly economic concerns: Inflation (37%), unemployment (20%), and poverty (11%). This was followed by law and order at 10%. Islamization was cited by only 2% of the respondents.

A majority (62%) does not want the army to have any role in government. More (76%, of which 70% have strong opinions on the matter) would like Musharraf to resign as army chief. Both of these numbers have increased over the course of this year.

Reports of a deal between Musharraf and Bhutto were around throughout this year. The poll shows that support for such a deal is down.

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However, a majority of PPP (58%) and PML-Q (53%) supporters still favor the deal. When given an option between a deal with Musharraf and an alliance with the opposition APDM, almost half of all respondents prefer the PPP joining APDM. This is even true for PPP supporters, which is strange since they support the Musharraf-Bhutto deal too.

47% of Pakistanis think that this deal is for improving Bhutto’s personal situation while 27% believe it is for bringing democracy. These numbers are reversed among PPP supporters.

To anyone watching Pakistan, it is clear how things have taken a turn for the worse recently, what Amber called “beginning of the end” some months ago. Still the question about which direction Pakistan is heading was an eye opener with such a dramatic change over the last 6 months.

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Government performance numbers have shown a similar trend, with the government being quite popular (61%) in February 2007.

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Musharraf’s job approval rating has fallen faster and lower than Bush’s, with 70% now calling for his resignation.

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A very interesting question is about which leader can best handle the problems facing Pakistan. No one gets a majority, showing both Pakistanis’ cynicism about their leaders and the divisions in society. But I found it very intriguing that Nawaz Sharif comes out of nowhere to suddenly lead the pack in the latest survey. Since that survey was conducted right in the middle of Sharif’s effort to return and his being packed off to Saudia again, it is premature to say whether he’ll hold on to his lead. My guess is that Musharraf is very unpopular right now and some of that has rubbed on to Bhutto due to her deal with Musharraf.

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A province-wise breakdown of leaders is even more interesting, with the religio-political leaders trailing even in the province they rule, NWFP.

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Looking at the favorability ratings of Pakistani political leaders, we see Musharraf crashing which was obvious but we also see Altaf Hussain of MQM going from 18% to 6%. Whether this will mean that MQM’s hold on Karachi will be broken is anybody’s guess. The religio-political leaders Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Fazalur Rehman peaked a year ago but have lost popularity since. And this was before the drama of Fazalur Rehman trying to hold on to power in NWFP at all costs during the Musharraf election in October. My prediction is for Fazalur Rahman to be even more unpopular in the next survey.

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Coming to elections, 74% of Pakistanis opposed the reelection of Musharraf as President. The voting intentions for parliamentary elections by party track the leaders reasonably, with Musharraf being considered the leader for the ruling PML-Q. I was surprised at the PML-N performance though. I guess most of the anti-Musharraf, non-PPP vote is accumulated there.

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In Punjab, PML-N (54%) does best followed by PML-Q (21%). In Sindh, PPP is at 64% followed by PML-Q at 8%. In NWFP, PML-N is at 27% while PML-Q and PPP are tied at 17% each (note that NWFP is currently ruled by MMA which polls even behind Imran Khan’s PTI). In Balochistan, it’s PPP at 29% followed by MMA at 15%.

Overall, it looks like Musharraf and the ruling alliance are very unpopular. So unpopular in fact that Bhutto’s PPP is getting tainted due to their willingness to make a deal. The religious alliance MMA is also not as popular as it was in the last elections in 2002. And in urban Sindh, MQM seems to be finally losing its stranglehold.

Children of Men

It shows a dystopian future where humans have become infertile and then suddenly one woman is pregnant and everyone wants to use that for their own advantage. A good movie overall.

Children of Men is about a future in which humans have stopped reproducing and the world has gone dystopian. Immigrants and refugees are locked up and crime and terrorism are everywhere. And then there is hope as a refugee woman gets pregnant. This woman has to be taken to the Human Project who are trying to discover a cure for human infertility. On the way, they have to battle the government forces as well as a pro-immigrant insurgency.

It is based on the book of the same name by P. D. James.

Overall, it is a good movie worth watching. The cinematography is great and the plot moves along nicely.

I rate it 8/10.

عید مبارک

آپ سب کو عید مبارک۔

کہیں کل عید تھی۔ کچھ جگہوں پر آج عید ہے۔ کہیں کل ہو گی اور کہیں شاید اتوار کو بھی ہو۔ اس ساری کنفیوژن میں میں یہ بھول ہی گیا ہوں کہ ہم عید کب منا رہے ہیں۔ خیر عید اسی ویک‌اینڈ پر ہے۔ سو آپ سب کو عید مبارک۔

اس بار عنبر نے عید پر مشیل کے لئے غرارہ بنایا ہے اور اسے مہندی بھی لگائی ہے۔ میشل نے چوڑیاں بھی لی ہیں اپنے فیورٹ جامنی رنگ کی۔

اتوار کو ہم نے دوست یاروں کو دعوت پر بلایا ہوا ہے۔ امید ہے اچھا شغل رہے گا۔

کچھ روابط: اسلامی کیلنڈر اور چاند دیکھنا ، چاند نظر آنے سے متعلق دنیا کا نقشہ ، چاند نظر آنے سے متعلق ایک اور سائٹ ۔

It’s Eid today in some areas while others will celebrate it tomorrow. There might even be Eid on Sunday somewhere while Nigeria celebrated Eid yesterday. In all this confusion, I have forgotten when we are celebrating it. Anyway, it’s this weekend. So, a Happy Eid to everyone!

For the occasion, Amber has sewn a gharara for Michelle and done some henna designs on her hands. Michelle also bought some bangles, in purple of course since that’s her favorite color.

On Sunday, we are having some friends over for an Eid dinner.

UPDATE: Some links related to the Islamic calendar and moonsighting: US Naval Observatory’s page on the topic, Moonsighting curves on world map and another moonsighting calculation site. Also, see Robert Van Gent’s page on lunar visibility.

Spin

This is a book about the apocalypse, love, father-son conflict, ecology and the stars going out. Definitely one of the best science fiction novels written in recent times.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is a great science fiction novel and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel last year.

It is a story about friends growing up together as the world suddenly changes and the stars disappear. It turns out that the Earth is enclosed in a time warp so that time outside is moving much much faster than on Earth. But if time is moving so much faster, the Sun might become a red giant soon and everything (and everyone) on Earth would be dead; that’s the apocalyptic part. Then there’s conflict between a father and a son and a love story.

Overall, it has a very well fleshed out plot line and good character development.

It is definitely worth reading.

Las Vegas

Last Christmas, we visited Las Vegas after eight years. With a kid in tow, there was no gambling or shows, but we had a lot of outdoor fun.

Recently, we visited Las Vegas. OK, so it wasn’t recently, it was last Christmas.

We had fun there. With a 2 year old who was fascinated with the colors and sounds of the slot machines, it was difficult to stay in casinos. Add the fact that neither of us is into any gambling. So we went to lots of places in and around Las Vegas.

Here are a few photographs from Madame Tussaud’s there.

At Madame Tussaud's
At Madame Tussaud's
At Madame Tussaud's
 

We walked up and down the Strip quite a few times. Here are the photos of the strip.

Continue reading “Las Vegas”

M

M is a classic crime thriller about a serial killer who murders children. I recommend it highly.

M is a very interesting crime movie. Indeed it is a classic.

M is about a murderer who is killing children in Berlin. The police are unable to catch him but in their efforts they inconvenience the city’s criminals. And so the criminals join together to find the serial killer. They even hold a trial for the guy.

It is definitely a great movie. I rate it 8/10.