Wednesday, October 31

Link of the Day Click for more info

Here's a simple yet super-useful web application that tells you in which direction Qibla is according to your position on a Google map.

Now it's not so useful on it's own (there's still no way for a web page to give you compass directions yet!), but if accessible from a mobile device this can put to an end all those mental calculation/guesswork we do when trying to figure out where Makkah actually is when we arrive in a new place. After lining up your device with a known street or landmark you should be able to determine the direction of Qibla.

Thanks to Sarah for the link.

One To Watch: Britz Click for more info

Tonight 9pm, Channel 4

The fabulous Riz Ahmed and Manjinder Virk team up in what's promised to be a good watch about a pair of siblings, each going off in extreme and opposite directions to each other.

So yes, totally clich├ęd and probably without surprise; I certainly won't be watching for any debate pushing plot lines. I am looking forward to some good acting and production - I just hope it won't disappoint in that respect at least.

Monday, October 29

Stopped And Searched In His Tracks Click for more info

Minister detained at US airport

What this headline fails to mention is that the stopped official in question was Shahid Malik, minister for international development. This event is ironic on so many levels, I'm going to have to list them all one by one.

IRONY ONE: He was returning from a series of meetings in Washington dealing with terrorism (probably including security of this type).

IRONY TWO: Shahid has previously spoken about how being stopped for being a Muslim is now a fact of life and we should accept it as such.

IRONY THREE: His deep disappointment at being stopped purely because he's a government official.

It seems that a day doesn't go by without us creeping closer to an Animal Farm; some certainly seem to be more equal than others at the moment. My respect for this man has reached a new low and if I was allowed to swear on this blog I know what I'd call him.

Sunday, October 28

Film: Eastern Promises Click for more info

I had enjoyed A History of Violence, the last Cronenberg-Mortensen collaboration so much that I didn't hesitate in wanting to go see this. A Russian mafia thriller set in London sounded like the perfect context in which to give me more of the offbeat and sophisticated violent plot Violence had provided two years ago.

Eastern Promises didn't quite hit the same spot as last time, but it was a good film anyway. Not violent as the last (in terms of quantity rather than quality), bloodlust was clearly less of an marked objective here, allowing the makers to focus on the art of actual story telling instead.

But apart from that, this film does seem to be a bit less special than Violence; not much happens by then end and you're left asking yourself where the rest of the film went to. Not quite a recommendation then, but definitely one to check out on DVD if you get the chance.

Saturday, October 27

Food: Aziziye Click for more info

I had heard loads about this Turkish restaurant, novel for having been situated under a mosque. I just never had an opportunity to pay it a visit so when an Imperial chum organised a bit of a Prayer Room Reunion there I have to admit that a part of me wanted to go just to check out the venue.

So imagine my disappointment when I arrived at what appeared to be just another souped up kebab shop. Not that there's anything wrong with that per se, but these joints are ten a penny all over London and I didn't see anything that made Aziziye any different. My expectations had been dashed, let down by word of mouth.

Nothing changed by the end of the evening either - the food was passable but nothing amazing. Even the on-floor seating that some seemed to have gotten excited about wasn't enough to perk me up. To be fair the same people had told me that Aziziye wasn't now what it used to be, but even if it was twice as good I don't think it would have been of any note.

Still, thirteen quid got us loads of food and drink so if there is one thing this place impresses with it's the price. But unless you're really on a budget I can think of plenty of other places to go have a meal at.

Chelsea Vs Man City

Although I've been to watch a fair few Cricket matches, I've never actually seen a Football game live. I guess it just didn't quite appeal to me both in terms of interest (there's a level of tribal fandom with Football that I don't relate to) and value - fifty quid or whatever for ninety minutes play seems a bit steep to me.

But when my place of work offered me a pair of tickets (I declined a single place in the corporate box), I thought I'd take my brother (mad Chelsea fan) to Stamford Bridge and see what the fuss was about.

I've been to The Bridge before, ironically to play myself rather than watch others. Coming back wasn't much of a shock then; the pitch still seemed small compared to what I've seen on the telly. But more than that, the play seemed slower too and the players less... professional. I guess television is weird in making real life more than it actually is.

It took me a while to get used to no commentary, a lack of replays and different camera angles, but as a result I seemed to be able to hone in on my other senses and followed the game in a totally different way. I guess I now know what people mean by them being closer to the action. It's not just a physical thing.

The match itself was amazing: we witnessed six goals being scored by the home side - not bad considering the other two matches I could have chosen instead both ending in goalless draws. The downside to this, of course, is that I probably think this is a normal result when you watch Football live; I wonder what it's like watching a match with no score?

The atmosphere was awesome too, but also telling of how fanatic those who follow Football seriously actually are. And the snob in me marvelled at the number of great unwashed all in one place at the same time.

So yes, overall my first match was pretty damn good. It's nice that, unlike cricket, you can be in and out in a couple of hours, and games can be very exciting to watch (provided the teams score more than five times, of course). Still, it was obvious that I enjoyed today's match in a vastly different way to the fans watching with me; theirs is a level of passion I don't think I'll ever achieve.

Thursday, October 25


xxxx says (09:38):
    let's go
    I think she's fit
Shak says (09:38):
    she hot
xxxx says (09:38):
Shak says (09:38):
    i know man i know
Shak says (09:39):
    i wanna produce games just so that i can stalk her on games production forums
xxxx says (09:39):
    now thats funny.... you should blog that you should
Shak says (09:39):

Wednesday, October 24

Film: Stardust Click for more info

Fun filled fantasy romp set in the world of Stormhold, situated behind The Wall and home to kings, witches, monsters and star people. Here, we follow the adventure of young Tristan as he travels over to the other side in order to impress, yes, you've guessed it, a girl.

Stardust wasn't that half bad either. In fact, I'll even go as far as saying it was pretty awesome - it reminded me very much of the first Pirates film in how straightforward and to the point it all was. You don't need to concentrate to watch this film, folks.

The brilliant dialogue helped loads and had me in stitches throughout; Claire Danes, as Yvaine, plays one of the most common (yet gorgeous) Star person I've seen on cinema. The old hands Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer also kick ass, with Charlie Cox as our hero doing a fine job too. Visually the film is top notch.

The film does fail at times though, with a few weak and shallow moments at pivotal moments. But still, it's worth bearing through these in order to experience the high levels of feel good factor this flick manages to produce in the viewer at the end. Despite its flaws, I'd say this is definitely one to watch.

Game: Portal (PC) Click for more info

It's safe to say that I wouldn't have bought Valve's The Orange Box if it wasn't for one of its games, Portal. Said to be fun, innovative, funny, short and sweet there weren't many things to put me off this game.

And you know what? A Portal Gun really is as fun as it sounds. For those who don't know, this weapon allows you to shoot entry and exit portals on most surfaces, allowing you to traverse spaces within the level. It's a brilliant idea in theory and even better in practice - I've had fun just creating jump loops and reverse angle views of myself, and I've not even played the game properly yet.

Add to that some ingenious level design and a brilliant script and we end up with something quite special; I'm not even put off by the alleged short length of the game. It runs okay on my aged PC too, with my ATI Radeon 9800 managing to churn out a good 40fps with just the texture detail set to low.

Brilliant stuff, and just the thing to get me back to playing games on the PC.

Monday, October 22

Film: Brick Lane Click for more info

It goes without saying that if I hadn't been invited to this sneak preview by a friend I probably wouldn't have seen Brick Lane at all, ever. And I know how hypocritical I am being in this case by judging a book I've not yet read by its cover, but then we all have hunches for a reason. I feel giving the film adaptation a chance is a good enough compromise though.

And my hunch about Brick Lane did hold in part. Terribly cliched and telling a story that's been done to death for the last ten years or so, we are told the story about yet another deceptively weak Asian woman, married to her repressive husband at a young age, finally breaking free by having an affair and tasting real love and then realising what is actually important in life. Blah blah blah. There are no surprises in this film, but hey, at least her lover isn't a white guy this time.

So no, no points for an original plot then, but then there's more to a film than just its story. Tannishtha Chatterjee does a brilliant job as our protagonist, Nazneen, with the remaining casting and production values as a whole pretty top notch; the makers of the film generally do a good job in condensing a 500-page novel to just one and a half hours. There are also rare moments of pure genius and joy, each touching and engaging in their own right - especially when I found myself reflecting on them while walking up the actual real life Brick Lane thirty minutes after the film ended. Unfortunately there just isn't enough of these moments to carry the film through as a whole.

So it's not a flick I can unconditionally recommend unless you already know you want to see it - Brick Lane does exactly what it says on the tin. But I don't regret going to watch it, if only to see what the media fuss was all about. And with respect to that, I'd say that the criticism has been largely unjustified and so perhaps the only really interesting aspect of this film at all.

Sunday, October 21

Video of the Day Click for more info

Here's the latest from Imran J Khan and gang. Super awesome and taking satire to another level as per usual:

Favourite bits include that graph, subh/maash/alhum guy and the judge who's straight out of Prison Break.

Unlike their peers, these guys don't seem to judgemental, critical or shallow; just real. People like these actually give me hope.

Thursday, October 18

Commuter Colleagues

I wonder what the exact protocol is when bumping into people you recognise from your daily commute away from the commute itself?

As a testament to just how small the world is, it's happened to me quite a few times. And in those situations I've managed a range of reactions from ignoring them, throwing a smile their way and striking up a full blown conversation (with the extremely rare case resulting in a full blown relationship to match). And in return all have had some pretty random responses from being blanked to reciprocation.

Whatever, it's a strange and sometimes awkward experience. Still, I can't wait to randomly bump into Chewie or Victoria...

Film: Ratatouille Click for more info

Just how enjoyable can a film about a cooking rat actually be? I mean a general audience can't possibly relate to a rat and it's not like cooking is the most exciting subject to base a story around either, right? These thoughts contributed to a general sense of cynicism I had before I sat down to watch Ratatouille, but as this was a Disney-Pixar film I had to give it the credit I wouldn't have offered to just any other film.

The first thing that came to my mind was how mature the output of these particular CGI collaborators has become, both in terms of visuals and general production values. It seems that these films are no longer a showcase of the latest computer animation tricks; that's not to say Ratatouille wasn't visually stunning because it absolutely was - it's perhaps the best looking CGI out there. But now the visuals complement the film instead of potentially distracting from it, and as a result you tend to appreciate them even more.

Content has grown up a little too. I spotted at least two suggestive innuendos which went far beyond the usual brand of adult humour this genre usually provides. There was also a pretty passionate scene during the film that, although not being totally out of place in a Disney flick, came pretty damn close.

Otherwise, barring the laboured start, Ratatouille was just as funny, engaging and heartstring tugging as any of its sibling films were. I would say that it wasn't as emotionally undulating as it could have been, sticking to a more consistently medium level of pace and fun and frolics, but I don't think the film suffered much because of that - it just wasn't as epic as, say, The Incredibles was.

Overall it was an ace flick and totally put any cynicism I initially had to bed. So, just how enjoyable can a film about a cooking rat actually be? Pretty damn enjoyable actually, and I urge everyone to go watch Ratatouille as soon as they can.

Wednesday, October 17

Being Gotten

There's a lot to be said about not being understood by other people. No, I'm not talking about the stereotypical way in which some teenagers feel they're misunderstood by their parents. It's not that this is any less important; it's just not what I'm getting at here. Or perhaps it is. I'm not quite sure yet.

I've already spoken many times about being "different" and "unique" in this here blog, both personally and more recently generally and how it's mainly due to all of us being our own particular people. However what I've noticed is that the more difficult it is for someone to get you, the harder it is to form any kind of relationship with them, and as such those who are in serious relationships are usually easily understood, not only by their partners, but by others too.

It's also important to realise that being understood isn't about having someone agree with everything you say, but more about knowing where you're coming from and going to. It's a mixture of acceptance, tolerance and respect, and further each earned rather than granted for free just because you happen to have a nice smile (or great rack. Whatever).

I've not got any delusions of grandeur here: I'm not saying that those who are misunderstood somehow operate on a higher plane than their counterparts, but merely on a different one which may put them out of reach with a large slice of people. And as I've mentioned before it's also quite likely too: confer with how different people will relate to different parts of you respectively, but none can quite relate to the same as a whole.

But all is not lost for those who feel that most of the world just doesn't get them. Personally, I've met people who have gotten me enough to keep my interest; albeit to a platonic level due to them already being taken, being the wrong gender or being out of reach for some other reason. Ironically I've even been in the situation where even though someone gets me pretty quickly, I never quite got to get them back in the same way.

Which brings us to marriage. If anyone needs to understand you to a really high level, it's your other half. Now for some, the initial reaction to this sentiment is to declare the need to compromise. For me, this means to change yourself in a fundamental way - be it to dumb yourself down, hide your complexities, shallow your depths or remove some of your layers - all in order to somehow make yourself more accessible to the largest pool of potential suitors possible.

And it could and does work: many successful unions have been created between two people who never really quite understand each other fully. For those of us still single and looking, the question is whether this a situation we would mind being in or not. The simple answer to that is no as we would have done so otherwise.

The more difficult question is whether it's actually worth waiting for that someone to finally get you before running off into the sunset with them, since it may mean having to wait for quite a long time.

Link of the Day Click for more info

SingStar Bollywood on Friday

I dunno if it's a joke or not... But if it's true I hope someone gets this!

Monday, October 15

The Numbers Game

Generally, whether two people get on or not largely depends on two things:

  1. Who the two parties respectfully are - both on their own as individuals and when in the company of each other. This is largely made up from their experiences and how they grew up etc.
  2. What the two have been through together, or the context of their relationship - so their common work environment, college, shared uni mates and local friends, common relatives, whether they first met formally (say via an introduction) or not.
A lot of this is out of our hands. You can influence the first, but it's requires a conscious effort over a long period of time and is probably not worth it, while the second is just defined by destiny and circumstance and the like.

And so, although there are specific ways to make or break a specific relationship, I think that if you remain true to yourself and one happens to be more trouble than it's worth, I don't think that it's unreasonable to walk away. Even the most approachable person will eventually find people with whom they don't get along and there is no failure in being incompatible with someone, since at the end of the day you really are who you really are.

I'll go further and claim that people, in all their gorgeous uniqueness, are generally incompatible, and that the likelihood of meeting someone you are compatible with increases as you meet more people. Ironically, however, the closer two people want to be (be that just mates, FWBs, BFF or marriage partners), the more these incompatibilities matter.

But this is all pretty obvious stuff so far. Or is it? People seem to be pretty surprised when an introduction or potential rishta doesn't work out. Why is this? Well, let's consider some numbers.

Let's suppose that we line up one hundred people in order of compatibility with respect to our single test subject, Mr X. Let's suppose that they're equally spaced out with the first being totally incompatible and the last being totally compatible. Let's now suppose that Mr X requires 75% compatibility with another in order to seriously consider them to form a relationship with. This means that, in the worse case, Mr X needs to meet 75 of these people before he meets someone who fits the bill.

Of course these numbers have all been plucked out of the air and people can't simply be ordered in terms of compatibility and the like. The particular point I'm trying to make is that out of all the people we come across and meet in our busy social lives, the chances are that we'll only be compatible with a small number of them.

Which is why I've always said that this whole marriage lark is essentially just a simple game of numbers. Further, this is a game that works above objective criteria and background checks; incompatibility isn't due to one party not being able to cook, or being too short or not being virgin enough - even if all the boxes are ticked, if you're not compatible you're just not compatible. No, relationships break down for reasons much more abstract than these.

But it's not all bad news, since the converse implies that we might find ourselves to be compatible with people we wouldn't ever consider on paper. But if these pieces of paper we each carry with us are so useless, why don't we just throw them all away?

We each have an innate ability to figure out or feel whether we like someone or not, although admittedly some of us need to hone and trust that ability. But once we do that, all that's left to be done is to doggedly keep on looking for people until we find that someone who we happen to be compatible with - someone we usually won't recognise until we actually find them.

LegoRobot Click for more info

I found this hilarious. Not that I agree with the sentiment of course.

WARNING: Do not browse the rest of LegoRobot's strips. Some are... disturbing at best.

Bonus Day

Well it was on the 11th anyway. Whoops!

Sunday, October 14

Film: Resident Evil: Extinction Click for more info

More of the same never seem to be enough for most of the 111 minutes this film runs for. But it's not the lack of originality that brings RE:E down; no, it's more the lack of the spirit the previous two had (the same spirit found in the games) that makes this a merely passable film.

The acting and direction is fine, and there are some great set pieces, but just when you feel something big is about to be turned over, the Extinction lets you down and takes the easy way out. The first two weren't epics by any means, but they had a lot more ambition and scope than this did.

One for the fans looking for completion then? For the rest of you, there's always DVD.

New Music

Yes. Yes. I know.

Hey Hey - Swami

Fun little track with a hint of swingness to it.

Last Night Remix - P Diddy ft Keyshia Cole, Lil' Kim and Busta Rhymes

I've not really been a fan of P Diddy's since No Way Out, but I reckon Keyshia makes this a tune.

Everything - Michael Buble

Something I picked up from Brisbane, this is a damn good classic yet modern ballad.

Baba Veh - Desi Vibes

Cheeky filmi/bhangra number.

M.U.R.D.E.R. - Jay Sean ft Thara

A collaborative effort from our very own Jay Sean, pure R&B with not a hint of Asian anywhere.

Kala - M.I.A.

Come Around convinced me to pick up the rest of M.I.A.'s album. Highlights include Jimmy, XR2 and BirdFlu.

Stranger - Rishi Rich ft Mumzy

Good stuff from the upcoming talent Mumzy. Managing to seamlessly put together a range of different styles Mumzy manages to come up with the goods. A tune.

Let's Party - Mumzy

More from Mumzy, and although I don't dig this as much as Stranger, it's still worth an entry on my playlist, if only for a while.

Saturday, October 13

Film: Laaga Chunari Mein Daag Click for more info

Okay, I admit it, I'm not quite sure what the title means or what proverb it's referring to. Thankfully, that didn't stop me from enjoying this film as much as I did.

More "life" than "love" story, LCMD is mainly about Badki (an ever delightful Rani Mukerji) and the lengths she goes to to save her cash-poor family of all its ills. A heroic but sparse Abhishek Bachchan is thrown in at regular intervals just in case you needed a romantic thread to keep the film together, but I found it largely irrelevant to the main story. Chutki (Konkona Sen Sharma) and the rest of the talented supporting cast are thrown in to round things off.

Shot well, acted adequately and offering a strong balance of both tears and joy, I thought that LCMD was pretty damn good; certainly one of the better "classical" Bollywood flicks I've seen this year. Worth it for the cheesy feel good factor alone, I heartily recommend it.

Film: The Heartbreak Kid Click for more info

A Farrelly brothers film was probably not the smartest choice with which to begin my post-Ramadan film feast, but it had been on my list to watch at some point and was chosen to be watched.

So we have the usual smut and vulgarity hanging around a plot of sorts, a "real-life" context in which a fairytale is spun out and a fair few laughs we've come to expect from a typical Farrelly flick.

But perhaps it was because we had just come of Eid, or perhaps I was just knackered, but The Heartbreak Kid just didn't quite seem to cut it. I did chuckle and I was revolted and I did go "aaw", just not enough and to the same extent as I would have for one of its predecessors.

One to save for the good ol' DVD, I think.

Thursday, October 11

They Call It Fasting For A Reason

Fastest Ramadan ever, or what?

EDIT: Cripes, it seems that the Middle East have announced, while mosques up and down the UK have too. Didn't see that coming... But Eid Muburak anyway I guess!

An Imperialist Ten Years

It's ten years this week since I started at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine. That's a long time, although since I was there for four of those years it's not that depressing. It also happens to be the university's centenary this year, but unfortunately I missed the events celebrating this due to Ramadan commitments. I last visited the South Kensington campus back in March.

I don't exactly remember my first day at IC, but we did go around in our tutor groups meeting our supervisors during the first week. I remember it well - it was my birthday and I was quite depressed at the lack of girls, the lack of a student atmosphere and the lack of girls there.

I had seen my brother and aunt go through university and had been expecting the same deal, but in hindsight it makes sense that a prestigious place would offer good study rather than social facilities. Students go to Imperial to work, not play.

My first lecture was a nightmare. I was close to tears in fact: coming from a totally non-Computing background I was well out of my depth and totally struggling. Still I guess it goes to show what happens if you stick something out - I made my mark by the end of the first term, started winning prizes and recognition and eventually graduated top of the whole class of 2001. Not bad considering I managed my fair share of back-row sleeping and I'm quite proud of the fact that I never once bought a text book for my studies. On the other hand, I didn't miss a single lecture during my four years there so for those of you who think you can bunk the odd one or two... don't!

In a nutshell, my time at Imperial was a unique experience. It wasn't quite the university experience I had been looking forward to during college, and a part of me regrets not having had a regular student life during my student years. The same part of me still blames Imperial for not being married yet.

But it was an experience all the same, and anything lacking in that may have been due to me rather than the university itself. It's also safe to say that I wouldn't be the person I am today without my Imperial studies; and since I turned out okay(ish) it's not really something I can regret, eh? Well, not that much anyway.

Wednesday, October 10

Islamic Babies

There's no deep and intellectual point here today. No, right now I want to talk about babies. Specifically whether the parents who brought theirs to Salaat-ul-Qiyaam a couple of days ago. The question is, are they being selfish?

For the sake of objectivity, let's consider both answers.

Yes, they are selfish: it's wholly inappropriate to disturb a baby's sleep and take them out into the cold at that time of night. Even if we disregard the baby themselves, it's inconsiderate towards the rest of the jammat - even if the parents can handle their darling's constant wailing that doesn't mean the rest of us have to.

No, they are not selfish: they should be applauded for not allowing their situation prevent them from practising their religion. Any small risk they take on the well-being of their child is their risk to take, and the rest of us should be patient and just deal with it.

Practically I don't see a problem with it myself, but principally I do see some issues (and yes, I lied about not having a deeper point).

Firstly we need to talk about the potential trophyism. Is the baby being used to show their commitment to Islam? There is no way of knowing this from an external point of view, but since we're talking about nafl prayer here, it's arguable how necessary it is for both parents to attend - they could rotate babysitting duties or something.

Secondly we need to talk about the sensibility of the parents. I'm not sure many would advocate dragging their babies out of their cots at 3am in the morning, so I think it's a valid question to ask whether these particular ones have a screw loose or not.

Thirdly, we need to talk about what impression is being left on the child. I'll leave the detail for another time, but I've seen people spiritually burn out before.

I'm reminded of how some brought their children on Hajj too. This is slightly different in two ways - firstly Hajj is an obligation so the costs to not do it are higher. On the flip side, it's a much bigger deal physically too, and I for one would never bring my children on the pilgrimage, both for their own safety and that of others (and I still baulk at the thought of those who brought prams along with them to the jamaraat).

Anyway. Practical Islamic exposure to young children: good or bad? I dunno, and I guess it ultimately depends on the parents. Personally I pity the child more than anyone else, and so will keep a lid on any irritations I have when they attend prayers.

Sunday, October 7

TV Presenting For Beginners: Day Two

Continuing on from yesterday, today was pretty much more of the same. Well I say "more" when in actual fact we only created two more pieces of work in front of the camera.

The first was a class exercise using a teleprompter. I think most of us found this pretty straightforward and not as counter-intuitive or off-putting as it could have been. Still it was a bit tricky for some of us to remember that we weren't just supposed to read the words off a page.

The final exercise was to do an individual piece form a choice of around six options. I chose to do the teleshopping activity and for two minutes I was trying to sell a beard trimmer on QVC. It was more fun than it may sound.

And that was it really. The day went ever faster than it did yesterday, and it was a good chance to put into practise the hints we had been already given. The class was rounded up with general tips on how to practice further, how to move forward in the industry and any obstacles we may encounter in the real media world.

As for me, well I'm not sure TV presenting is something I'll be quitting my day job for. As a rare activity I do now and then it's pretty cool though, and this course was just the ticket I needed to smooth over any rough edges I may have had (and no, I'm not just talking about that red topi).

Being a Child of the Seventies

You know, it's a very unique thing being a child of the Seventies. For instance:

  • We missed out on cheap housing, just as we got into a position to buy.
  • We missed out on making a ton of money with over-inflated IT contract rates.
  • We were of the generation that owned Back to the Future and Indiana Jones.
  • We did The Transformers first.
  • We've been around since the beginning of videogaming.
  • We were influenced by the hippie-ness of the Sixties, without having to be hippies ourselves.
  • We were of a youthful partying age when the Millennium hit (although for some of us it was Ramadan anyway).
  • We know what Tube trains used to look like before they got upgraded.
  • We have seen our fair share of wars, including that sparked off by 9/11.
  • We know of life before and after PCs and the Internet.
  • We know of life before satellite television.
  • We know what it's like to meet up with friends as a teenager without owning mobile phones.
  • We witnessed some major growth and evolutionary changes of Islam in the UK.
  • We got stuck in relationship limbo, where, although we could "fight" off forced marriages without too much trouble, we weren't allowed or equipped to find our own instead.
Still, I think it's a brilliant era to have been born in and I wouldn't swap it for any other in its vicinity. All hail the Seventies!

TV Presenting For Beginners: Day One

Another week and another course, this time it's something a bit more practical and hands-on than Philosophy.

Similar to the acting course I did a while back (also at City Lit), the course was aimed at "beginners". I use quotes since this didn't necessarily mean that none of us had some experience in television or a related field.

The general format was to be given a task, which was then filmed and played back to the group as a whole (and at times painfully so). Feedback would then be given that we would take with us to the next task. This iterative process proved to be quite productive and most of us had changed loads by the end of the day.

In detail, the tasks included creating: a personal introduction, an audition, a ten second slot, a twenty second slot and a two and a half minute interview with a partner. The timekeeping was especially difficult for us; we found it difficult to do more than one thing at a time! Other difficulties included us failing to keep our concentration up, our breathing controlled and our smiles always switched on.

The people making up the class itself were pretty good - and not just because I was one of the only two guys there. Well, okay, it was because of that, but we didn't have any duff players either. It was a fun seven hours and I learned loads. I can't wait till day two - luckily it's being held tomorrow.

Friday, October 5

The Tarawih Bottle

You know that bottle of water some people bring to their Tarawih prayer? Well I invented that.

Not the actual bottle itself of course, but the idea was original to me; I was taking a refilled bottle to the daily hour-plus long prayer back in the late-eighties, way back when people were raising their eyebrows at such decadent behaviour.

Ironically, I had grown out of it by university, but it seems that now age isn't really a factor determining who brings their own water or not. Thankfully, another tradition related to the bottle (without going into too much detail it involved spinning it) hasn't survived the years and propagated.

I don't need recognition though. Consider it my gift to The Ummah.

Islamic Perspectives

A few weeks ago I found myself in the middle of a debate about what exactly constituted "the People of the Book" in Islam. The conclusion and respective arguments are out of the scope of this post, but what shocked me was an alarming lack of acknowledgement of a difference in opinion.

At one point, a participant was accused of "twisting and cherry-picking" rulings in order to make life easy for themselves. This was all the more ironic considering how the accusers were mainly Muslim women who chose not to wear the hijab. If I was a meaner person I'd go as far as accusing them of mild hypocrisy[1].

Now, I'm not a woman and so I tend not to put too much thought into the issue of hijab. If pushed, I'd say that although it's prescribed and preferable, it's not obligatory in the same way salaat is (say). In any case I believe that the imposition of it on anyone is not allowed.

But I recognise that this might possibly be against the mainstream Muslim opinion. I also recognise that the two opinions have arguments for them. My friends, however, could not see this and thought that theirs, that the Quran merely suggests modesty rather than head covering per se, was the technically correct and reasonable opinion. In other words, they thought that theirs was the absolute truth, and that the majority had gotten it wrong; quite an arrogant position actually. They just couldn't see the blatant subjective interpretation in their reasoning.

It's a brilliant example of how some (or even most) today cannot see a particular issue from a perspective other than their own. I'm not saying that there has to be an acceptance of ideas contradictory to your own; no, being open-minded isn't about accepting the opinion of another as fact, but just that they could have come to a different conclusion even while using the exact same methodology as you.

When coming to any kind of conclusion there will always be a latent amount of personal interpretation even if you don't realise it. Even if you're not in a formal or qualified position to to the hard work yourself, you're always choosing who to listen to (we now have a mufti/webpage for every purpose), and the conclusion that makes sense to you should always be a result of external and internal debate.

Now, it's arguable to claim exactly how many people rigorously think about what they believe (explicitly or not), and it's this that should be criticised, not the conclusions themselves. Think about an issue long enough and with good intent and I think it becomes valid no matter what it says.

In general, I don't think that Islam is about narrow and strict, black and white viewpoints, or actively accusing others of twisting laws for personal gain. I think it's more about active and critical thinking, perhaps a more philosophical approach than usual.

So no, it's not about who constitutes the People of the Book, or whether a woman has to cover her hair or not. It's about looking into the matter deep enough, and thinking about what is right and on what basis long enough, until you're comfortable with the answers that you're looking for. And as long as your counterpart has done exactly the same thing, who are you to say that they're wrong?

[1] To be clear, the "mild hypocrisy" I was referring to above was related to how criticism was being made of a subjective opinion (regarding The People of the Book) by those who were, implicitly, doing the same thing (regarding the hijab), since by their own definitions and terms, my friends could be seen as cherry picking too. The point is that one person's twisting of the rules can be the reasoned conclusion of another, and it's kinda hypocritical of someone to think that they somehow fall outside of this.

Wednesday, October 3

Arbitrary Wrongness

Here, in the United Kingdom, the consumption of alcohol and the practise of homosexuality are both considered right by law (or at the very least, not wrong), while things like forced marriages are considered wrong. I can think of a handful of countries in the world where these two positions are in the opposite.

I think that one of the things we often take for granted is how arbitrary right and wrong are. I mean we have the same people all over the world, and yet each have come to their own set of, usually contradictory, rules and norms as to what to do and how to behave.

Perhaps it would be helpful to briefly consider where notions of right and wrong come from. These are the basic roots from what other more complex laws reduce from.

  1. A religion or other belief. This one is easy; basically we're claiming that we're told, externally, what is right and wrong and are just doing what we're told. In Islam, drinking is wrong.
  2. An internal higher faculty. We're born with an inherent set of facts saying what is right or wrong. It's important to realise that these aren't learned, but could be passed down and so subject to genetic rules. Or they could be constant across all humans. Lying is wrong.
  3. Pain. If something causes pain then it's wrong. The pain has to be physical though, since mental pain might be due to a learned behaviour. It's wrong to murder someone.
  4. Choice. If something causes a removal of choice, then it's also wrong. It's wrong to steal the property of other people.
I have a bit of a problem with this last one, since choice could be considered an arbitrary notion too. Plus we have many situations where the only way to get some choices is to restrict others.

Actually, these are all on pretty shaky ground, since each can be shown to reduce from the others. For example, let's say that alcohol is forbidden in Islam just because it is. At the end of the day a Muslim has chosen whether to follow the religion or not and so he's used another basis to make that decision. But let's pass over this recursive behaviour for now and assume they're all mutually dependant on each other or something and take moral righteousness as arbitrary whether it's based on religious scripture, secular thought or anything else.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this. The first is that it's possible for each of us to have our own tailored sets of right and wrong - a more general version of the "Religion is personal" point of view. And if take that as a given, then secondly it becomes impossible to criticise each other for them (although, of course, you can advise or refuse to advocate), since at the core, we each have the same theoretical notion of what is right or wrong.

Monday, October 1

The Ten Percent Rule

It may come as a shock to hear me say this, but people are not black and white robotic like creatures, but are instead rather grey. They're not all perfect and always follow the rules or do the right thing (for themselves or others). It's this inconsistency that makes them human.

If you lose sight of this inherent ability to fail there's a danger of becoming frustrated or even disappointed with yourself and those around you. So that prat who just cut you up on the pavement, or that short woman who was really inconsiderate with her brolly or even that close friend who just isn't getting the point you're trying to make; if you consider these all irregular lapses on their part rather than normal behaviour, then perhaps you can live with it.

But for those of us who see everything in terms of numbers, this isn't much help. We need a bit of a formal definition for this natural human "looseness". The way I reconciled it was by wrapping the inevitable failure of people in what I call The Ten Percent Rule.

The basic premise is to divide the positive and the negative recognise that, on the whole, the former outweighs the latter nine-to-one. So ten percent of all commuters will refuse to give up their seat to another who needs it more, ten percent of people will walk too slow for you liking and ten percent will always underpay their share of the dinner bill. The point is to recognise for all these guys there are a whopping ninety percent who aren't annoying you.

It's all very well to dissect society in this way. But since we, as individuals are also part of that same society, the rule can be applied to ourselves too. It's within tolerable bounds for you to be late for an appointment ten percent of the time, or to feel way too tired to work for one day in ten.

On the other hand, if you are able to control and monitor your behaviour then perhaps the ten percent can act as an acceptable tolerance for making mistakes. If you were acting like a right obnoxious tit one night, then make sure you show better character the next nine. If you stood someone up for a date, then make sure you make the next nine on time.

If you've been holding out on extravagant spending for nine weeks, well then perhaps by the tenth it's time to treat yourself. If you caught the wrong train, or calculated a sum incorrectly, or even missed your favourite TV show - as long as it's happening within that ten percent don't worry about it. And if you manage to beat the rule and get one hundred percent, then give yourself a pat on the back for being extra special.

But why ten? Well okay, this is where I admit that the above rule is all a bit woolly really. I mean in reality good and bad things probably happen far from this arbitrary boundary. But considering the rule forces you to think about the good too, and how often it happens in comparison to the bad. And if you find that you've got nothing to complain about ninety percent of the time then perhaps you'll be more accepting of the flaws we each demonstrate.

The rule makes the few times people upset you easier to digest, since it says that potentially it could be so much worse. After all, if crap happens only ten percent of the time it means that it doesn't for the other ninety. I'm sure you'll all agree that that's a pretty large margin to be smiling about.