Sunday, September 27, 2015

Don't Put Muslims You Meet In The Position Of Declining Your Handshake

Depending on where you live and whom you know, you may be familiar with the fact some Muslims (and Orthodox Jews, and others, but it is with Muslims that I have personally experienced this) prefer not to shake hands, either with certain people (unrelated persons across gender) or even many people (non-Muslims).  It varies by sect and geography, but it isn't strictly cultural.  It is based on at least one hadith, the example of The Prophet Mohomed, teachings of important Imams and profound ideas about oaths, loyalty and what Christians call "the laying on of hands" [1][2][3][4].  After even a very quick study of the issue, it is easy to see why a non-Muslim should not take offense if a Muslim declines to shake his or her hand.  I am aware of the gender equality problems that can also be found in this issue, but I think respecting a person's right to refrain from touch is a more immediate problem in this case.

Please read this blog post by Um Ibrahim, a woman who prefers not to shake hands with men, for reasons held by many Muslims,  Notice how she places none of the blame for the awkwardness she feels when declining a handshake on the other person.  In her words, "[T]he other person is just showing us a nice gesture. He or she doesn’t understand the rules of Islam simply because they’re not Muslims."

Now that is a gracious attitude!  My challenge to my fellow Christians, and everybody else for that matter, is to be just as gracious.  When introduced to someone you know to be (or have reason to believe to be, based on name, nationality or dress) Muslim don't put them in the position of declining your handshake.  Express your pleasure at meeting them verbally or with a non-touching gesture*.  If the other person is comfortable shaking your hand, they will probably offer theirs.

In my workplace (a university) I have found that Muslim women who cover their head with a hijab never offer to shake hands with a man.  Women who do not wear the hijab may be comfortable shaking hands with a man.  In any case, if in doubt, I don't offer my hand first.

The point is, it isn't all on our Muslim friends and coworkers to diffuse the awkwardness of such situations.  We can and should help prevent the awkwardness from ever occurring.  Non-Muslims don't NEED to shake hands.  We're just in the habit of it.  There are other ways to show a new acquaintance respect and welcome, ways that no one feel obligated to decline.

* A Muslim friend suggested to me that I put my hand over my heart while saying my greeting when meeting a Muslim for the first time.  It isn't what people expect from a white, Christian, Iowan but nobody's going to be offended.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

When Casio Releases a "Real" Smartwatch It Will Totally Rock

When people talk about Apple's competition the names that come up are Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon, Dell, Hewlett Packard, maybe Adobe and maybe some other smartphone manufacturers.  In the rapidly maturing smartwatch market it might be somebody totally different.  According to watch expert Ariel Adams the company that could sell millions of smartwatches, whenever they feel like trying, is Casio.

In an article on A Blog To Watch called What Features Should A Casio Smartwatch Have?, Adams makes a strong case that Casio has the expertise, resources and (as we say in the computer business) "installed base" to sell about as many smartwatches as they want.  Interestingly, Adams explains how they can do this without announcing their "entry into the smartwatch market."  Rather, they just need to make their current products marginally smarter.  Some of their current watches are not exactly stupid and they certainly know how to make shit people want to wear on their wrist.

"Casio may not have a product ecosystem like Apple or a serious operating system like Google, but they have a lot of things that those other companies don't. Casio knows better than pretty much everyone else out there how to create a fantastic looking and high quality watch for a very low price. Casio also knows how to make watches that consumers like to use, and that are comfortable. More so, Casio knows how to create a highly functional digital watch with features people actually use and displays that people understand."
Read the full article for a lot more detail and analysis.

Ariel Adams founded, which covers everything of interest to the watch enthusiast.  He also writes about luxury watches for other outlets and hosts the Hourtime Podcast with John Biggs, author of Marie Antoinette’s Watch, among many other things.

Joe Jackson's "Forty Years" 30 Years Later and 70 Years After V-E Day

It is 70 years since the Nazi military fell under the combined opposition of The Allies[1], bringing the European part of World War II to an end.

Joe Jackson's Big World album came out about 29 years ago, 1986.  I'm going to call it 30.  It's a great record.  One of my favorite songs on Big World is Forty Years, which is about the relationship between the anti-German Allies, 40 years on.  Now, it's 70 years.

The premise of Forty Years is that the dominant narrative of the coming global village through easier transportation and communication (a very popular and exciting idea at the time) wasn't the whole story.  Four decades into the Cold War the the peoples of the allied nations who's collective sacrifices won WWII neither remembered their shared history nor even particularly liked each other.  The whole Big World album is about social and personal aspects of what we now call "globalization."  Jackson's position is that the world was cracking as it shrank.  In Forty Years those cracks are the broken relationships between the people of the UK, US and Europe, who had so recently laid down their lives for each other.  

Forty Years has three verses, each from a different geographical vantage point; Washington DC, Berlin and an unspecified location in England[2].  The three, short choruses are variations of this.
Once allies cried and cheered
But it was forty years ago
The last verse, told from Jackson's native England is as follows.
Where I come from, they don't like Americans much
They think they're so loud, so tasteless and so out of touch
Stiff upper lips are curled into permanent sneers
Self-satisfied, awaiting the next forty years
The other verses are just as dark, in their own way.  Jackson lays blame evenly.  All parties, Jackson seems to say, are guilty of the same selective memory and self-centeredness.  Without actually glorifying the war, Jackson points out that in at least one way, it brought out something good in us that had been lost in a time of relative peace.

Buy the album.  You won't regret it.  But here is the song on YouTube[3].  

I admit that it's the arithmetic that caught my attention: 70-30=(Forty Years).  

The interval since V-E Day has almost doubled since this record came out, when Jackson was 31 years old and I was 16.  I'll leave it to you to draw conclusions about what else has and has not changed.

1. The Joe Jackson song I'm writing about focuses on just three of the counties involved in the war.  It is worth noting that WWII was pretty complicated and a LOT of different countries were involved, especially on the Allies side.  
2. Jackson has hived in England, the USA and Germany.
3. If this link goes dead there will surely be others.  You can also hear the first part of Forty Years and the other songs on Big World at

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Clash: Sandinista, Another Interesting Review, Same Author Writes About Pink Floyd

This author does not seem to have the intense personal connection to the album that I do, but does seem to come away with a similar understanding of what Sandinista is and why it is so special, musically.  He seems to know more about the album's production than I do.  Interestingly, he doesn't seem to be a big fan of punk rock, in the traditional Ramones/Sex Pistols/Black Flag/Dead Kenedy's sense.  Note that he gives both the US and UK releases[1] of The Clash's self titled album (their "punkest" record) lower ratings than Sandinista or London Calling.

McFerrin also reviews The Final Cut by Pink Floyd, which I wrote about here, comparing and contrasting with About Face by David Gilmour.  Again, we come to somewhat similar conclusions.  Alas, I can not find anything he has written about Gilmour outside of Pink Floyd, so we don't know what he makes of About Face.  If you read the introduction section of his Pink Floyd page you will see he does not hold Gilmour int he same esteem I do. 

A note about his rating scale: He rates the records in hex.  This allows a one-character rating to represent the album's position on a 16-point scale.  WAY more space efficient than a four or five star system!  ...until you consider that most people don't know from hex[3], so he has to devote a whole page on his site explaining the damn thing.  I still think it's cool.  Just keep these things in mind: 

It counts up.  9 is better than 5.  F is better than D.
All letters are better than all numbers (except 10). 
The letters are not letter grades. 

If you look at McFerrin's reviews sorted by rating, you see that the most elite rankings are dominated by The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones.  I find it interesting that someone who's priorities are clearly so different from mine[2] would see Sandinista so similarly.  

[1]  There are significant differences between the two releases, which were actually two years apart.  For the USA release four songs were removed, five songs were added and a different recording of "White Riot" was used.  That means about 1/3 of the album is different.  Although this is their "debut" album it terms of when it was recorded and initially released it was their second full length release in the USA.  Prior to 1979 the only (legal) way to get this album in the US was to buy an import of the UK version.  Topper Headon, the best known of the Clash's drummers, only appears on the tracks added to the US version.  I believe that makes the UK version of the self titled album and Cut The Crap the only Clash albums Headon is not on.
[2] Beatles, Who and Stones are perfect examples of bands I respect but am not interested in.  There are several Who songs I really enjoy when I hear them, but they are definitely in that "good but not interesting" category.
[3] Ever wonder where that idiom comes from?