Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Push to upgrade to Windows 10

It continues:

Microsoft Makes Windows 7 And Windows 8 Support Worse
Think your copy of Windows 7 is supported until 2020? Think your copy of Windows 8 is supported until 2023? You might want to think again because Microsoft MSFT -6.00% has just announced radical changes to how it will treat users of both operating systems…

Talking on its Windows Blog, Microsoft has announced it will now stop support for installations of Windows 7 or Windows 8 if they are on new or upgraded computers running the latest chips from Intel INTC -10.34%, AMD or Qualcomm QCOM -4.44%. Specifically these are listed as ‘Kaby Lake’ (Intel), ‘Bristol Ridge’ (AMD) and Qualcomm’s ‘8996’ (the base for the Snapdragon 820). Between them these chips will dominate sales of all new desktops, laptops, hybrids and tablets in 2016.

In fact Microsoft is going even further than this by also refusing to support Windows 7 and Windows 8 on Intel’s current generation ‘Skylake’ processors, with the exception of a “list of specific new Skylake devices”. This list includes the Dell Latitude 12 and XPS 13; HP EliteBook Folio and G3 and Lenovo ThinkPad T460s and X1 Carbon. Even then support on those devices will only last 18 months ending on 17 July, 2017.

Yes, you read this right: Microsoft is breaking from 31 years of Windows history by refusing to honour its promised Windows lifecycles unless users stick to old hardware. Upgrade your existing Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer to these chipsets or buy new hardware and install Windows 7 or Windows 8 on it and the official Windows Lifecycle dates don’t mean a thing.

All of which begs the question…

Why Is Microsoft Doing This? [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links, and the links at the end to related articles. I've posted previously about Microsoft plans to
force the Windows 10 upgrade. This also is pressure in that direction.

I've been using Windows 10 on one of my machines. It's not absolutely horrible, and even has some nice features. It is thus far proving to be about 95% stable. Unfortunately, the unstable 5% can kick in when I'm trying to get serious work done. I find such unreliability intolerable to try and run a business with.

I need a RELIABLE computer platform to run business software like QuickBooks. If Windows 10 does not improve it's stability, I will most likely migrate to Apple, because it's a mainstream OS that can provide that stability. At least I hope it is. Can anyone tell me differently? No OS is without some problems, but a certain degree of stability is necessary for business. I use a computer to get work done, not so I can work on the computer to try to get it to work.
     

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Is this what successful foreign policy looks like?

Yes. Successful for Iran:
This humiliating Iran photo says it all
The Obama administration, the mainstream media and Democrats more generally vastly underestimate the potency of the photos and videos showing our Navy sailors on their knees with hands behind their heads as they are taken into custody by the Iranians. It is the perfect embodiment of what many Americans see as the humiliation suffered by the United States under this president as our adversities defy us and take advantage at every turn. To then have the utterly tone-deaf Secretary of State John Kerry insist that we did not apologize, but then publicly thank Iran, is even worse. And to top it off, we have film of our sailors held captive, compelled to apologize. The sole female sailor apparently was compelled to don a head covering.

This, according to President Obama and Hillary Clinton, is what a successful Iran policy looks like. No wonder Donald Trump, who speaks to the rage Americans feel about our declining respect in the world, is striking a chord.

[...]

The White House won’t dream of making a fuss, not when it so desperately wants to lift sanctions on Iran and push forward on the Iran nuclear deal, the very deal that has emboldened Iran to engage in stunts like this one. Oh, the administration is going to be “looking into the videos and would respond if the U.S. determined that the sailors were treated inappropriately.” Don’t hold your breath.

This is a propaganda bonanza for Tehran, one that it will exploit to the hilt to make clear to its allies and those it seeks to intimidate that the United States is weak, unreliable and useless. It furthers their ambitions in the region and demoralizes those resisting Iranian aggression. For countries and individuals on the fence (e.g. the Sunni tribes), the message is clear: You really want to stick your neck out for the Americans?

Bizarrely, Kerry thinks this shows how terrific our new relationship with Iran is because, you know, we got our people back. By continuing to act in effect as a PR flack for Tehran, Kerry invites further aggression and endangers our own troops and those of our allies. Be prepared to see Iran’s conduct become infinitely more audacious once it has pocketed more than $100 billion in sanctions relief. [...]
Read the whole thing for links and more. And get used to it. It's the Democrats Foreign Policy, and it's not going to change anytime soon.

     

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When a mother's love is not enough...

Reports: ISIS fighter executes his own mother
Already notorious for its public and gruesome executions, a member of the Islamic State killed his own mother in front of a crowd in Syria this week after she tried to get him to leave the terrorist organization, according to reports.

The man, identified as Ali Saqr, 21, executed her in front of hundreds of people in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and another Syrian rights group cited by The New York Times.

The groups said that she confronted her son and urged him to flee with her out of fear that coalition forces would soon sweep in and wipe out ISIS, the observatory said. Saqr turned her in to ISIS authorities, who then ordered Saqr to execute her in front of the post office where she worked, according to the observatory.

The execution is the latest example of the Islamic State's high-profile executions, which have included beheadings of American citizens, foreign journalists and others captured by the group. [...]
Talk about being disappointed in the way your kid turns out. This has to be among the worst examples. The poor woman.
     

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

"Creepy" Robot Receptionist?

Yeah, kinda. Sorta. In a way. Or not. What do you think?:
Does this “humanlike” robot receptionist make you feel welcome or creeped out?
From a distance, Nadine looks like a very normal middle-aged woman, with a sensible haircut and dress style, and who’s probably all caught up on Downton Abbey. But then you hear Nadine talk and move, and you notice something’s a bit off. Nadine is actually the construct of Nadia Thalmann, the director of the Institute for Media Innovation at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. She’s a robot that’s meant to serve as a receptionist for the university.
Thalmann modeled the robot after herself, and said that, in the future, robots like Nadine will be commonplace, acting like physical manifestations of digital assistants like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. “This is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and conscious of what is happening,” Thalmann said in a release.

Nadine can hold a conversation with real humans, and will remember someone’s face the next time she sees him. She can even remember what she spoke about with the person the last time they met. NTU said in its release that Nadine’s mood will depend on the conversations she’s having with others, much like a human’s mood can change. There’s no word on what she’d do in a bad mood, though—hopefully she won’t be able to close pod bay doors, or commit murder. Perhaps when the robot uprising happens, we won’t even see it coming, as they’ll all look just like us. [...]
The article goes on to talk about how the evolution of these robots is likely to continue, as they get better and even become commonplace. Read the whole thing for photos, video, and many embedded links. Do watch the video, it's short. I have to admit it's the most life-like robot I've ever seen.

I said it was "kinda" creepy because it looks so life-like, yet is not alive, and I'm not used to that. Talking to "life-like" things. But I suppose if it becomes commonplace, one would get used to it as normal. But more than "kinda creepy", it's ... pretty darn kewl! Commander Data, here we come...

Here is another link to a similar robot by another scientist:

The highest-paid woman in America is working on robot clones and pigs with human DNA
[...] Rothblatt also explained how she hired a team of robotic scientists to create a robot that was a “mind clone” of her wife, Bina Aspen.

Starting with a “mindfile”—a digital database of a person’s mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and values gleaned from social media, email, videos, and other sources—Rothblatt’s team created a robot that can converse, write Tweets, and even express human emotions such as jealousy and pain in ways that mimic the person she was modeled after.

When Bina’s mortal self dies, Rothblatt said the robot version of her wife will live on, making it possible for “our identity to begin to transcend our bodies.”

It sounds like science fiction until you see photos of the robot, see her tweet, and hear snippets from her conversations that made audience members gasp and chuckle nervously as they realized Rothblatt was talking about more than just an idea. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links and more. And get ready for the Brave New World. It's closer than you think.
     

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Oregon is ranked among the 14 worst states in the US with corruption problems

Actually, most of the 50 states didn't do very well in a recent investigation:

Oregon gets an F on holding officials accountable
SALEM — Oregon continues to take heat from government accountability groups for the influence-peddling scandal involving former Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes.

A report released Monday by the Center for Public Integrity ranks Oregon 44 out of 50 states in terms of ethics and public records laws. It says state officials and lawmakers have failed to address profound weaknesses revealed by the allegations that forced Kitzhaber from office in February.

"For many, Kitzhaber's resignation is a thing of the past," the report says. "But the scandal that ensnared the former governor highlights a wobbly legal framework in Oregon's government, where good behavior is taken for granted rather than enforced."

The report, written by Lee van der Voo, a freelancer for The New York Times who covered Kitzhaber's resignation, blasts the Oregon Government Ethics Commission for being slow to respond to media reports that Kitzhaber and Hayes might have used their public roles to profit Hayes' private environmental consulting business. The couple remain under federal investigation. No criminal charges have been filed.

Oregon is among 14 states that received an "F" overall. The three highest-ranked states — California, Alaska and Connecticut — scored in the C-range. Thirty-three states got Ds. [...]
Read the whole thing, for embedded links and more. Reasons sited were budget cuts, which meant there were no funds for auditing or monitoring actions of politicians. How convenient.

The last integrity investigation was in 2012, when Oregon received a C- rating. So things have been getting worse. The following link gives a list of categories, and the individual grade to each, which leads up to the composite grade of "F", detailing Oregon's corruption problems:

Oregon gets F grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation

I'm not surprised by any of it. But what is to be done about it? Nothing, I suspect.
     

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Advice For Your Life

10 PAINFULLY OBVIOUS TRUTHS EVERYONE FORGETS TOO SOON
You know how you can hear something a hundred times in a hundred different ways before it finally gets through to you? The ten truths listed below fall firmly into that category – life lessons that many of us likely learned years ago, and have been reminded of ever since, but for whatever reason, haven’t fully grasped.

This, my friends, is my attempt at helping all of us, myself included, “get it” and “remember it” once and for all…



1. THE AVERAGE HUMAN LIFE IS RELATIVELY SHORT

We know deep down that life is short, and that death will happen to all of us eventually, and yet we are infinitely surprised when it happens to someone we know. It’s like walking up a flight of stairs with a distracted mind, and misjudging the final step. You expected there to be one more stair than there is, and so you find yourself off balance for a moment, before your mind shifts back to the present moment and how the world really is.

LIVE your life TODAY! Don’t ignore death, but don’t be afraid of it either. Be afraid of a life you never lived because you were too afraid to take action. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside you while you’re still alive. Be bold. Be courageous. Be scared to death, and then take the next step anyway.



2. YOU LIVE THE LIFE YOU CREATE FOR YOURSELF

Your life is yours alone. Others can try to persuade you, but they can’t decide for you. They can walk with you, but not in your shoes. So make sure the path you decide to walk aligns with your own intuition and desires, and don’t be scared to switch paths or pave a new one when it makes sense.

Remember, it’s always better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than the top of the one you don’t. Be productive and patient. And realize that patience is not about waiting, but the ability to keep a good attitude while working hard for what you believe in. This is your life, and it is made up entirely of your choices. May your actions speak louder than your words. May your life preach louder than your lips. May your success be your noise in the end.

And if life only teaches you one thing, let it be that taking a passionate leap is always worth it. Even if you have no idea where you’re going to land, be brave enough to step up to the edge of the unknown, and listen to your heart.

[...]
Follow the link to read the other eight. With lots of embedded links. It's good stuff to remember, not just for the beginning of a new year, but for your whole life through.
     

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Space Storm: Aurora over Oregon?

It is (or was?) apparently a possibility:

Strong Geomagnetic Storm May Be Approaching: What You Need To Know
People in Illinois, Oregon and other northern states may catch a glimpse of colorful aurora Wednesday as a geomagnetic storm brews in Earth's magnetosphere. The Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a strong geomagnetic storming watch, expecting a G3 storm to arrive in conjunction with a coronal mass ejection impact.

The prediction center said the G3 geomagnetic storming could effect power systems, spacecraft operations and high-frequency radio transmissions. The storm means that the northern lights may be visible as far south as 50 degrees geomagnetic latitude.

Geomagnetic storms happen when solar wind produces "major changes in the currents, plasmas and fields in Earth's magnetosphere," according to the Space Weather Prediction center. The center has been tracking a coronal mass ejection that's likely to impact earth and has been associated with a small radio blackout on December 28.

These storms may bring beautiful colors into the night sky, but their impacts are widespread, from GPS interference to the creation of harmful currents in power grids.
See the whole article for embedded links and photos. It was supposed to have started yesterday, lasting into the 31st. I didn't see anything last night, but then we are in the southern part of the state. According to the Space Weather Website, the storm is only rated G2 now.
     

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Fah Who Foraze, Merry Christmas to All

Below is a 1930's or 40's Christmas Angel, that watches over our dining room table every year. We inherited it many years ago from an elderly neighbor in San Francisco.


It is set into a rather gaudy looking wreath of shiny silver and gold tinsel and glitter. I love it because it's cheerful, and reminds me of Christmas Past.


Christmas, like so many other things in our lives, seems to be more electronic and digitalised these days. That's not necessarily bad, just different. I enjoy wonderful new LED Christmas lights and Digital entertainments as much as anyone does. It's just that things like this wreath remind me of times we used to have similar joys without plugging something in or turning something on.


I'm not a luddite against electricity. It's just that I think that while we can enjoy the complexities our modern world can offer for our ease and enjoyment, I believe we can also benefit from not losing touch with the simpler joys and pleasures in life. Things that can also help keep us grounded in the here-and-now of our life, and the larger picture of our lives, without becoming lost in endless distractions. Instant gratification distractions and fantasies, that can cause us to loose sight of the things that really matter in the larger picture.


As we move forward into the Brave New World of our future, I hope we remember to bring with us the best parts of our past, and continue to value and cherish the things that make us human, that don't really change much, regardless of the twists and turns of technology, regardless of how many electronics we do or do not own. The things that don't involve flipping on a switch, pressing a button, or voice activated software.

"Fah Who Foraze, Dah Who Doraze". Welcome Christmas, and a Very Merry Christmas to All!


     

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Nina Hagen: Silent Night

I remember back when I was in college, Nina Hagen was hot stuff. Her style of music -comic punk?- isn't to my tasts. But I rather liked her rendition of this classic song.



Her rendition of Ave Maria is fairly decent too. But the graphics that go with it... Not Safe For Work.

     

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Do you have a dream?

I enjoyed this:



It's a bit over-the-top in parts, but I still enjoyed it.

     

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Talk is cheap...

...and therefore probably worth doing. And with Russia involving itself so directly in the Syrian conflict, it would be difficult to try to achieve anything there without talking to them.

Obama officials are talking to Putin more than ever
But do they have anything to show from their stepped-up dialogue?
An Obama administration debate about whether to engage Vladimir Putin or treat him like a pariah has tilted in the engagement camp’s favor—even as critics and some officials worry that it’s become too easy for the Russian president to get a stature-enhancing meeting with U.S. leaders.

When Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Moscow on Tuesday for a planned sit-down with Putin, it will be his second visit to see the Russian leader since May. It also follows three face-to-face encounters between Putin and President Barack Obama since late September. Some critics of engagement fear that Putin has, in effect, used his military intervention in Syria to win a seat at the diplomatic table, while others doubt that the increased dialogue is achieving anything.

“The skeptics are still skeptical,” said Evelyn Farkas, who departed as the Pentagon’s top official for Russia and Ukraine this fall and pushed for a generally harder line on Moscow than the White House has adopted. “You don't have any results yet for the engagement people.”

For now, sources say, Obama and Kerry in particular believe the costs of interacting with Putin are relatively low and that discussion—whose tone a senior administration official described as “not warm but not hostile,” and “businesslike”—is more likely than a freeze-out to yield progress on disputes over a peace deal for Syria and Russian aggression in Ukraine. [...]
Will anything good come of it? Who knows. Something may come of it, or it may all come to nothing. Time will tell.
     

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The Best Place to Live

10 best places to live in the world: Where does the U.S. fall on the list?
Norway has done it again.

The Land of the Midnight Sun was named as the best place to live in the world for the 12th year in a row in the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report.

Released today, the report includes an index that ranks 188 countries according to livability. Each country was given a score based on data in three areas: life expectancy, education and income-standard of living. [...]
I was a bit surprised by the #2 spot. Weather was not included in the ranking, but #2 has good climate as well, making it even more attractive.

Can you guess which country was picked as the worst?
     

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Elon Musk, on OpenAI: “if you’re going to summon anything, make sure it’s good.”

I agree. Will these guys lead the way?

Elon Musk and Other Tech Titans Create Company to Develop Artificial Intelligence
[...] The group’s backers have committed “significant” amounts of money to funding the project, Musk said in an interview. “Think of it as at least a billion.”

In recent years the field of artificial intelligence has shifted from being an obscure, dead-end backwater of computer science to one of the defining technologies of the time. Faster computers, the availability of large data sets, and corporate sponsorship have developed the technology to a point where it powers Google’s web search systems, helps Facebook Inc. understand pictures, lets Tesla’s cars drive themselves autonomously on highways, and allowed IBM to beat expert humans at the game show “Jeopardy!”

That development has caused as much trepidation as it has optimism. Musk, in autumn 2014, described the development of AI as being like “summoning the demon.” With OpenAI, Musk said the idea is: “if you’re going to summon anything, make sure it’s good.”

Brighter Future

“The goal of OpenAI is really somewhat straightforward, it’s what set of actions can we take that increase the probability of the future being better,” Musk said. “We certainly don’t want to have any negative surprises on this front.” [...]
I did a post about that comment of his a while back:

The evolution of AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Nice to see that those who were making the warnings, are also actively working to steer the development in positive directions and trying to avoid unforeseen consequences.

I still think real AI is a long way off. But it isn't too soon to start looking ahead, to anticipate and remedy problems before they even occur.
     

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Russia's interest: it's the ports

It's not their only interest, but understanding the importance of the two ports is one of the keys to understanding Russia's actions:

The Link Between Putin’s Military Campaigns in Syria and Ukraine
[...] Both Sevastopol and Tartus play a role in compensating for Russia’s geographic deficiencies as well. “Russia’s always had the challenge of not having great maritime access, just as a result of its geography, and so to the extent that it wants to be an active player in [the Mediterranean] … it has to have some ability to operate outside of its own coastal waters,” Mankoff explained. This ambition is enshrined in Russia’s new maritime strategy, detailed in the Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation 2020. The strategy places particular emphasis on the Atlantic Ocean due to “NATO expansion, the need to integrate Crimea and the Sevastopol naval base into the Russian economy, and to re-establish a permanent Russian Navy presence in the Mediterranean,” according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. The doctrine also stresses the importance of the Arctic, given its mineral resources and the easy access it offers to both the Atlantic and Pacific.

All this isn’t to suggest that naval strategy is the primary motivation behind Russia’s interventions to support pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and Assad in Syria. In the case of Syria, Putin has a track record of opposing Islamist movements like ISIS (in fact, that track record is one of the factors that brought him to power in the first place). Mankoff suggested that Russia’s Syria policy could be a mix of the personal and the political, saying, “If Putin believes that Assad is his guy and that he has a personal obligation to him, then that may play a role above and beyond what the professional diplomats and strategic thinkers believe is going on here.” Additionally, Mankoff argued that the Russian government might be deliberately trying to draw a comparison between its unflinching support of Assad and America’s brittle support of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, which dissipated during the Arab Spring. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links and more. I've posted previously about Russian Geography and History, that broader context also explains a lot. You can read that post here:

Russia, geography and history
     

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Gun violence has declined since the '90's

WTF? How can that be, when the news headlines seem to be screaming the opposite? Take a look at the facts:

We’ve had a massive decline in gun violence in the United States. Here’s why.
Premeditated mass shootings in public places are happening more often, some researchers say, plunging towns and cities into grief and riveting the attention of a horrified nation. In general, though, fewer Americans are dying as a result of gun violence — a shift that began about two decades ago.

In 1993, there were seven homicides by firearm for every 100,000 Americans, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2013, that figure had fallen by nearly half, to 3.6 — a total of 11,208 firearm homicides. The number of victims of crimes involving guns that did not result in death (such as robberies) declined even more precipitously, from 725 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 175 in 2013.

Older data suggests that gun violence might have been even more widespread previously. The rate of murder and manslaughter excluding negligence reached an apex in 1980, according to the FBI. That year, there were 10.8 willful killings per 100,000 people. Although not a perfect measure of the overall rate of gun violence, the decline in the rate of murder and manslaughter is suggestive: Two in three homicides these days are committed with guns.

This decline in gun violence is part of an overall decline in violent crime. According to the FBI's data, the national rate of violent crime has decreased 49 percent since its apex in 1991. Even as a certain type of mass shooting is apparently becoming more frequent, America has become a much less violent place.

Much of the decline in violence is still unexplained, but researchers have identified several reasons for the shift. Here are five. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links, graphs and more.

Gosh. So, if we have become a less violent society with fewer gun deaths, why does the media make the opposite seem to be true?

Ask yourself, what else has happened since the 1990's? The internet. And with it, instantaneous 24/7 news reporting. So now, if somebody somewhere shoots somebody, it can be reported all over the world within the hour.

Unfortunately, that is unbelievably attractive to the malignant narcissists who want to become instantly famous and recognized, even if it means killing themselves in the process. So we have malignant narcissists seeking fame and recognition at any cost, and a news media looking to instantly report anything and everything tragic and terrible. The two feed off each other, creating a lethal combination. It also makes less (gun deaths) seem like more, because nearly ALL of them get reported widely now.

Some people think taking guns away from everyone is the answer, punishing everyone for the actions of a few. Gun control is a bigger issue than can be tackled in a single blog post, and I'm not going to try here. But I had done a prior post, about Gun Studies and Politics, that has some relevance.

The topic is so polarized, that it can be difficult to get accurate or complete data, as one side or another wants to cut funding, when they start to see answers they don't like. Yet a lot could be learned from what has been tried and failed, as well as what has been tried and worked. I believe that if objectivity could be maintained, some answers could be found that don't include trampling on the 2nd amendment, or denying law abiding citizens the right to protect themselves. Cooler heads and less retoric are needed. Can it be done?
     

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Why the Alawites in Syria Supported Assad?

Could it be because they didn't want to surrender to the Sunni majority which historically has persecuted them, and because the Alawites can't form a state of their own, even if they wanted to? Consider this:

Five Reasons Why There Will Not Be an Alawite State
Will the Alawites try to establish an Alawite State centered in the Coastal Mountains?

Many opposition figures and journalists insist that the Alawites are planning to fall back to the Alawite Mountains in an attempt to establish a separate state. This is unconvincing. Here are the top five reasons why there will not be an Alawite State.



1. The Alawites have tried to get out of the mountains and into the cities. After the French conquered Syria in 1920, the earliest censuses showed a profound demographic segregation between Sunnis and Alawis. In no town of over 200 people did Alawis and Sunnis live together. The coastal cities of Latakia, Jeble, Tartus and Banyas were Sunni cities with Christian neighborhoods, but no Alawi neighborhoods. Only in Antioch did Alawis live in the city and that city was the capital of a separate autonomous region of Iskandarun, which was ceded to the Turks in 1938. In 1945 only 400 Alawis were registered as inhabitants of Damascus. Ever since the end of the Ottoman era, the Alawis have been streaming out of the mountain region along the coast to live in the cities. The French establishment of an autonomous Alawite state on the coast and their over-recruitment of Alawis into the military sped up this process of urbanization and confessional mixing in the cities of Syria. Assad’s Syria further accelerated the urbanization of the Alawites as they were admitted into universities in large numbers and found jobs in all the ministries and national institutions for the first time.

2. The Assads planned to solve the sectarian problem in Syria by integrating the Alawites into Syria as “Muslims.” They promoted a secular state and tried to suppress any traditions that smacked of a separate “Alawite” identity. No formal Alawi institutions have been established to define Alawi culture, religion or particularism. They did not plan for an Alawi state. On the contrary, the Assads bent over backwards to define Alawis as main-stream Muslims, Bashar married a Sunni Muslim in an attempt at nation-building and to stand as an example of integration. He claimed to promote a “secular” vision of Syria. [...]
And you have to wonder if a deeply religious segment of the Sunni population took offense at Assad's "secular vision" for Syria? The same segment that later joined IS/ISIS/Daesh? I say "wonder" because I'm sure there were lots of contributing factors that lead to the Syrian civil war, and I don't pretend to know or understand them all. The whole of Syrian history and it's complex politics is far more than I could ever hope to cover here in a blog post.

The article was published in July of 2012. There is much commentary and embedded links after it, talking about the civil war they could see was coming. Read the whole thing for the other 3 reasons against their being an Alawite state, and the detailed commentary, articles and links that follow.

They saw it coming, and couldn't stop it. Can it even be fixed now? Where would you even start? It's sad for all concerned.

You can read more about the Alawite religion here. Some history and politics too.
     

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Whose Islam is it anyway?

I've noticed more articles like this lately, about Muslims who live in Western countries, complaining about being asked to apologize for terrorist acts that have nothing the do with them:

This British teen hilariously captures why Muslims are tired of being told to condemn ISIS
Within hours of the attacks in Paris, the familiar ritual began: the calls for Muslims to denounce ISIS rolled in, as they inevitably do after a terrorist attack by a group claiming to act in the name of Islam.

This is a common occurrence, and Muslims — myself included — are tired of it. We're tired of being held responsible for the atrocities committed by individuals whose actions and beliefs are abhorrent to us and completely at odds with our values and our understanding of our religion. We're also tired of people acting as if we haven't already condemned ISIS, al-Qaeda, and terrorism over and over and over, loudly, publicly, "unreservedly," and in great detail.

It just starts to get old after a while.

[...]

It wasnt the views or opinions of politicians that made me respond but the views of the general public when fridays terror attacks happened which were extremely unfortunate there were only 2 opinions on my twitter time line the first was of people demanding an apology for what happened which was met by either muslims apologising for the acts that occured or the other view, which was my view of muslims asking why we should apologise as ISIS has nothing to do with Islam? [...]
The last part I put in bold. I get tired of hearing Muslims saying that. Why? Because ISIS and other terrorist groups commit their acts in the name of Islam. Looking at it quite objectively, the majority of terrorist actions in the world are being committed by Muslims, in the name of their religious beliefs. To keep saying that it has nothing to do with Islam, treats the rest of us like we are stupid, or not paying attention.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ISIS has nothing to do with YOUR interpretation, YOUR understanding of Islam? In fact, the author of the article practically says as much later on:
[...] This isn't the first time Muslims have used social media to express irritation at being told to "do more" to counter extremist ideology and to apologize for the actions of strangers who have perverted our beliefs and who actually kill way more Muslims than they do any other group. [...]
Yes, very true. As is true the fact that many Muslims and Muslim groups often denounce the acts of terrorists, which is good news. Which is ironically, why you don't hear about it much. The Media tends to focus primarily on bad news. Muslims denouncing terrorism, not so much. If you follow the above link to the article, there are embedded links to many such denunciations. Much like many I've seen elsewhere. But it's not typically front-page, headline news.

I essentially don't disagree with the author. I would just balance it a bit by adding that the reasons people ask for denunciations by Muslims living in Western countries is, that we like to believe that our Muslim neighbors and coworkers really do denounce the violence, that YOUR interpretation of Islam genuinely is peaceful, and therefore you wont murder us at the next holiday office party.

It's human nature for you to complain about the unfairness you feel in your situation. It's also human nature for us to not want to be murdered, to wish for and welcome immigrants who want to join us and support our culture, not kill us and destroy it. We have already had too many refujihadis. If people are getting fed up with that, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

Ideally, peace loving Muslims who wish to join Western cultures should be our allies against terrorism. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell who is who, or when a seemingly integrated immigrant may "convert" to more extremist views and act on them. It's doubly unfortunate, because the extremists want us to be distrustful and alienated from those Muslims who would be our natural allies.

And talking about "Whose Islam is it anyway", have a look at this really, uh, "different" perspective:

How a Blonde Tattooed Texas Girl Became an ISIS Twitter Star
Last Monday, I had 60 followers on Twitter. Today, I have more than 4,300. Not to brag or anything, but that's more than Benjamin Wittes; more than Bobby Chesney; more than Jack Goldsmith; more than my boss, Daniel Byman. But here's the problem: A healthy number of them are Islamic extremists, including no small number of supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A lot of them live in Saudi Arabia.

And some of them want to marry me.

The reason is a single tweet.

Early last week, the hashtag “#MuslimApologies” began trending on Twitter. The hashtag was a tongue-in-cheek response to those—such as right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham—who, in the wake of the beheadings of Westerners by ISIS, have questioned why Muslims have not been more vocal about denouncing terrorism carried out in the name of Islam (except that many have). Tired of constantly being asked to apologize for the acts of a few vile individuals who twist Islam to justify their barbarism, Muslims on Twitter decided to take a humorous stand—by apologizing for everything: the Twilight saga, World Wars I and II, that Pluto is no longer a planet, and, my personal favorite, that Mufasa had to die in The Lion King. Some also used the hashtag to sarcastically apologize for the important contributions Islamic culture has made to the world, from algebra to coffee to the camera obscura.

Of course, I wanted to get in on the fun.

[...]

If you were to pass me on the street, you would never suspect I’m a Muslim: I don’t wear hijab. I have platinum blonde hair and blue eyes. And I am heavily tattooed. I grew up in Texas and was raised Southern Baptist. I use the word “y’all” a lot—and not ironically. But I am Muslim. I also speak Arabic and hold a Master’s degree in International Security with a focus on terrorism and the Middle East. Several years ago, I realized that although I had long studied, analyzed, and written about Islamic political theory and how jihadist ideologues like Osama bin Laden use the Qur’an to justify their heinous acts of violence, I had never actually read the Qur’an. So I read it—and what I found in its pages changed my life. I found answers to questions about faith and belief and morality that had been plaguing me since my youth. I found the connection to God I thought I had lost. And three years ago, I converted to Islam.

Just to be clear: I detest the twisted interpretations of Islam espoused by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS just as much today as I did before I converted—in fact, probably more so, since now I see it not only as a sick bastardization of a beautiful religion, but a sick bastardization of my beautiful religion. When I read the Qur’an, I find a God who is beneficent, who is merciful, and who cherishes mankind. I find a religion that encourages independent thought, compassion for humanity, and social justice. The jihadis claim to love these same things about Islam, but have somehow decided that the best way to share God’s message of mercy and compassion with the world is to blow up mosques and behead humanitarian aid workers. Great plan, guys.

After sending my tweet, I went to bed. When I awoke the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my humble little tweet had been retweeted numerous times and I had picked up dozens of new followers. Several people—almost all Muslims—had responded expressing their happiness for me and welcoming me to Islam. So that was nice. I also got a few trolls, of course: people telling me I was brainwashed, trying to convince me that the CIA created ISIS, or asking me if I had engaged in female genital mutilation yet. That was less nice, but to be expected; it is Twitter, after all. Then things took an unexpected turn. My tweet went viral—at last check, it had been retweeted more than 11,300 times—and I soon began to notice a disturbing trend: of the thousands of people who were retweeting and following me, many of them had the black flag of ISIS as their Twitter profile photos. Others had pictures of themselves holding swords, standing in front of the black ISIS flag. Uh-oh.

[...]

You know all those articles (some better than others) that have sprung up lately about how ISIS is this social media juggernaut that is remarkably adept at spreading their propaganda online? Well it turns out that you don’t become a propaganda juggernaut by conscientiously vetting your sources or fact-checking. Who knew?

So it doesn’t matter that I also happen to tweet things in support of LGBT rights, post YouTube videos of The Clash, or actively try to get the “#No2ISIS” hashtag trending. All that matters are the tweet about becoming Muslim and the tweet with the picture of pro-ISIS graffiti.

Here’s the thing: it’s clear that my tweet about becoming Muslim struck a nerve with a lot of Muslims, both here in America and in the broader Muslim world. Non-Muslims sometimes don’t realize how much hatred and negativity gets thrown at Muslims and how utterly soul crushing it can be to have to defend yourself and your beliefs on a daily basis, and it’s really nice to see someone saying something positive about Islam.

At the same time, though, it’s precisely the actions of ISIS and their followers and the words of intolerance emanating from the Salafi camp that provoke this reaction against Muslims. And I, for one, do not appreciate having my conversion story used to attract more people to a repugnant ideology that spawns suicide bombings and beheadings. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links, her twitter posts, responses to those posts, and more. Not to mention her photo; she definitely IS a platinum blond without a hijab. Her story is fascinating. Just when you think you have it figured out, it takes another twist or turn. Two things I gained from reading this are:

One: There certainly is more than one way to interpret Islam. Your mileage may vary. And...

Two: Be careful of what you say on social media, and who you say it to. Your words can easily be taken out of context and used by other people for purposes you never intended.

At first it confirmed what I've always thought about social media like Twitter; that it is inherently shallow, and because you can't use it to speak about anything in depth, it's way too easy to be misunderstood. But, on the other hand, any one who follows up her story (actually bothers to find out more about it and her) might have their minds blown.

Islam isn't going away, and if it finds more ways to peacefully coexist with the rest of the world, so much the better. Many of it's adherents keep insisting it's a religion of peace. Well, let's see more of it, folks. Seeing is believing. Actions speak louder than words. Although I'm sure many would argue that the majority of Muslims in the world are peaceful, are not terrorists, and in fact are often victims of terrorists. So, what do we do?

I would like to see a follow up to this story, to see what happens next. Will Jennifer regain control of the Twitter message SHE wants to communicate? I'll be watching.


Also see:

Bombing Syria Won’t Make Paris Safer

The CAIR Effect: See something, do nothing

     

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