Friday, September 25, 2015

The Hajj is Mathematically Impossible

As of this writing, the death toll for the Hajj stampede in Mecca is 717; hopefully, that won't get any higher. But after crunching a few numbers, I realized that Mecca (or the world's Muslim population, however you choose to view it) has long-since passed the point where it is not mathematically possible for all, or even most, of the world's Muslims to meet this obligation.

You surely know already that the pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam: every adult who is physically and financially capable is expected to make the trip at least once. The idea that every Muslim on the planet must visit Mecca isn't a problem, but the idea that those visits must take place during one specific week of the year is.

Here's some random statistics gleaned from Google: in 2014, the Saudis allowed 2.1 million Muslims to make the Hajj. The world's Muslim population is 1.57 billion. The age of majority in Islam is 15 -- which, presumably, means a pilgrimage to Mecca doesn't "count" if you made the trip with your family before that age.

I don't know what percentage of Muslims are adults versus under-15s; the American census says that America's under-18 population is 23 percent. Of course, "Americans" have a much lower average birthrate, and thus a lower percentage of young people, than do "Muslims throughout the world."

What percentage of Muslims are under 15? Dunno, but I'll generously guess 40 percent -- which leaves 60 percent adults who are now obligated to do the Hajj if they can. That's roughly 942 million people. Of course, not all of them are physically or financially capable of making the pilgrimage, ever -- though more and more are able to every year, since a modern pilgrimage on an airplane is still considerably cheaper, quicker and easier than old-school treks across the seas and through the desert. How many of the world's 942 million Muslim adults cannot make the Hajj (and are exempted from the obligation) for health or financial reasons? I'll make a conservative estimate of 20 percent (though I suspect it's probably lower). That leaves 753.6 million adults expected to make the trip at least once.

Let's say an average death age of 70 (that's a worldwide average, including poor countries with much lower lifespans than ours) -- so, once Muslims turn 15 and reach adulthood, they have an average of 55 years, or rather 55 annual chances, to make the trip. But 753.6 million people divided by 2.1 million people whom the Saudis allow into Mecca for each Hajj means it'll take 359 years for every healthy and financially stable Muslim adult currently alive to get the chance to meet their obligation -- and even that's assuming every pilgrim is older than 15 and nobody ever makes the trip more than once.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Raping Kids With American Help: When Deja Vu Goes Wrong

Deja vu is French term that describes the feeling of having already experienced a new situation (although a quick Google-search for the meaning also offers the alternate definition “tedious familiarity”).  Deja vu is French term that describes the feeling of having already experienced a new situation (although a quick Google-search for the meaning also offers the alternate definition “tedious familiarity”).

And I came down with a strong case of tedious-familiarity deja vu on Sunday, when I read in the New York Times that “U.S. soldiers [were] told to ignore sexual abuse of boys by Afghan allies.”

In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.
“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

The Times published this on the morning of Sept. 20, 2015, and when I read it for the first time, a few hours later, I could've sworn I'd read such a story before. But a little research proved me wrong. Turns out I hadn't read the same story, merely a similar one.

Flash back almost five years to December 2010, when I was feeling glum of an afternoon and made a determined effort to improve my mood:

… Brooding over government misdeeds, ranting over government misdeeds -- none of it does any good. Especially not during the holidays. Why not grab what happiness I can? Why be such a cynic? Focus on the silver lining rather than the cloud.

Like the latest Wikileaks revelation: apparently American contractors pimped out some prepubescent little boys to serve as sex toys at Pashtun warlord parties. Certainly there are criticisms one might levy against such practices, but with my new glass-half-full optimism I recognize that from a realpolitik perspective this is actually one of the smartest moves we've made since the war started. Face it: America's "win hearts and minds" campaign clearly isn't working. The best we can hope for now is to win over a few powerful dicks.

No deja vu here. I was completely incorrect earlier, when I thought I'd already read the New York Times' recent story about U.S. military personnel being ordered to ignore it when their Afghan allies raped prepubescent little boys; what I actually read before was an account of U.S. military contractors who were procuring prepubescent little boys for their Afghan allies to rape. My bad.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Your Annual 9/11 Memorial Riddle

Q: What's the difference between 9/11 and a cow?

A: The government can't milk a cow for 14 years and counting.

# NeverForget
# NeverLetThatSenseOfPanicSubside
# BeAfraid
# BeAbsolutelyTerrified
# AndStayThatWayForever
# DismantlingTheConstitutionIsTheBestWayToHonorTheDead

Last week, I recorded for later viewing several episodes of a documentary series called "The Seventies," which aired on CNN. Just last night, coincidentally, I watched the episode about the rise of terrorism in that decade -- holy hell, Americans (and Westerners in general) back then would've been justified in thinking the entire world was falling apart. There were some particularly bad weeks wherein there would be major plane hijackings every day. Not just in the US, but throughout the western world. And bombings were downright commonplace as well. As were kidnappings and assassinations of even rich and powerful people -- again, in the US and the western world. Yet we were able to get through all of that without gutting the constitution and making a fetish out of fear.

Serious question: what the hell happened, to make early 21st-century America behave so much more helplessly, cowardly and reactionarily, compared to the craphole America of the freaking 1970s? In the 70s, we'd just lost our first war (Vietnam); our economy was in the toilet (stagflation); there was an actual no-joke nationwide gasoline shortage thanks to the Arab oil embargo; the Cold War still existed so we had to live with the genuine existential fear of knowing "Our number-one enemy on the world stage has a nuclear arsenal sufficient to wipe us out in 15 minutes" -- by almost every objective measure, 1970s America was in far worse shape than the America of Sept. 10 and the early hours of Sept. 11, 2001. So why did the latter America fail so spectacularly, the first time it faced adversity? Did we really devolve that much in a single generation?
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