Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Reports - The Hiram Key

I recently read a book that I'd found on the used books shelf at the local charity shop. It was called the Hiram Key.

It was a book about Freemasons, an organisation that in some ways seems silly, and others fascinating. The author traces the roots of Freemasonry back through time, suggesting they have links to ancient Egyptian rituals, which directly influenced the rise of Judaism and Christianity. He goes onto suggest Freemasons spawned from the Knight's Templar of France, who were themselves the guardians and seekers of historical truth, the knowledge thereof leading to claims of Heresy and their downfall.

I don't have any interest in reading stories of religious epiphany or someone's road to finding Jesus, or Moses, or Mohammad. I am however fascinated by the history of it all. I want to know more about the times of these impressive figures, how they lived and changed the world. More than anything, I want snippets of the truth, especially if it's controversial.
I'm like someone hanging on every word of the tabloids and their latest dirt on Brittany, Branjolina, or you name it. Except my fascination is about different religions and how they got it wrong.

The Hiram Key is most controversial toward the Catholic Church, saying it was a creation of the dying Roman Empire in a bid for it to retain power. It claims the Catholic Church relied almost solely on the misguided religious interpretations of Paul, whom among other upstart Christian groups in the holy land, was considered a complete charlaton who filled in the holes of his sketchy understanding of Jesus with his own ideas.

It's controversial and I like it...

As a child, saying the Lords Prayer every day at school, I used to think it finished with, "All men." It makes sense to a child, as though that final blessing is reserved for everyone, though a staunch feminist might disagree. So where did Amen come from anyway?

It's a word that all three religions, Judaism, Christiantiy, and Islam, finish their prayers with. According to the Hiram key, it was a link between ancient Egypt's most powerful god and ceremonies, and modern religion. It was a reference to Amen Ra, the Egyptian sun god.

The Hiram Key, Pharoh's, Freemasonry and the Secret Scrolls of Jesus: A worthwhile read if you are like me and enjoy some different perspectives on history. If you can get past it's main weakness, that it often passed off conjecture as truth in order to further other points of conjecture, then you're in for an entertaining tale, and a peek into a secretive sect of society that dates back through the centuries and continues to capture people's imaginations.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Billion Earths?

A decade ago, it was widely touted that the earth was unique. We were a cosmic fluke, the perfect location, the perfect sun, the perfect protection from other planets.

Newsflash, most solar systems form planets. According to recent publications, there could be a billion earth like planets in our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of billions of galaxies in the observable universe.

According to Wikipedia, "Our galaxy is estimated to contain at least 200 billion stars[8] and possibly up to 400 billion stars,[9] the exact figure depending on the number of very low-mass stars, which is highly uncertain."

I would guess that the nearest earth-like planet is within 20 light years. Furthermore, I would guess that the nearest earth-like planet and star worthy of serious life-giving contemplation is within 50 light years.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jihad - Installment III

Jihad:

1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty ;

also : a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline

2: a crusade for a principle or belief


My experience with Majid and his friend wasn't my first experience with Arab hospitality, nor would it be my last. Throughout my time in the Middle East, I'd been invited for tea on several occasions. Taxis were paid for by locals whom I'd asked for directions. Sodas and teas were bought for me. In fact, anytime I asked for help, I found this bend-over-backwards hospitality to be second nature. If you asked for directions, people didn't just point and explain, but they detoured their course and walked with you to get there. If you asked where you could buy a soda, they'd sit you down and rush to the store to buy one for you.

After my experience in Saudi Arabia, I asked a Jordanian why two complete strangers would be so kind. The answer I received was this: "Muslims believe that a traveller might actually be an angel from heaven. It is their duty to be generous to all strangers, thus it reflect positively on their chances of entering heaven."

In a sense, that fits with the non-violent definition of Jihad. Through generosity, kindness and hospitality, a good Muslim hopes to show behaviour that reflects well on their internal struggle, that being to appear worthy of the ultimate goal, which is going to heaven. Therefore the deeper meaning behind Jihad can be defined as the struggle to appear worthy in the eyes of Allah.

In this sense, such an act, falls under one of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat.

Definition zakat (zə-kät`)

Islamic religious tax, one of the five basic requirements (arkan or "pillars") of Islam. All adult Muslims of sound mind and body with a set level of income and assets are expected to pay zakat. Zakat is due yearly on certain types of property and is distributed to eight categories of individuals specified by the Qur'an. These categories are usually defined to include orphans, the poor, travelers, beggars, debtors, slaves, and the efforts to propagate Islam. Zakat is payable, at different rates, on crops, harvests, herds, gold and silver, and merchandise. For gold and silver, which is understood to include all liquid assets, the rate is 2.5%. Being religiously prescribed, zakat is distinct from charity (sadaqa) which is voluntary. Zakat is essentially a personal exercise with no intermediary control, and could be given directly to its recipients, although a central treasury often collects it. In recent times, Pakistan, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia have enacted legislation to enforce the zakat.


This helps explain why the hospitality or assistance often results in a gift or monetary help, paying for a taxi, a soda, etc. Particularly in the Zakat categories of travellers and the efforts to propagate Islam.

So when I asked the Jordanian about why someone would be so kind to a traveller, perhaps hidden in his answer about angels was also the effort to propoage Islam.

So where does violence fit into Jihad?

A more apt definition of Jihadist might be hero, in the sense that it is someone that stands up to an aggressor for principles they believe in. I like to think they are willing to fight and die for a just cause. In ancient times, a band of ragtag desert tribesmen wielding swords and facing down an army was a more realistic interpretation. In modern times, a bomb is dropped on the Jihadi, or a shot fired from an impregnable tank, etc.

Every religion has its heroes. Often the most revered are those who refused to renounce their faith in the face of death or disfigurement. That is perhaps the true Jihadist. Not someone who perceives an injustice and mass murders indiscriminately. In their anger and blame, such a reaction means they are losing the inner struggle for goodness. IMHO, it is retroactive to the deeper Zakat meaning of propagating their faith.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Run-in with Jihad - Part I

Jihad:

1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty ;

also : a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline

2: a crusade for a principle or belief


This is a blog about an amazing coincidence.

It starts here, in the chapter I wrote about my time in Saudi Arabia.

My Saudi Arabian memories had been mostly bad up to this point. I’d been delayed at the point of entry to near starvation, and I was later kicked out of a city for not being a Muslim. Outside those unfortunate blips however, I’d been mostly treated with respect, been approached with a kindly curiosity, and was even invited to sip tea on plush red carpets on several occasions.

Then, turning my conceptions of Saudi Arabians completely upside down, I came across Majid and his friend.

If you haven't already, click on the above link and read my chapter about Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, the remainder will confuse you.

It was two years later, and I was in Morocco now. I’ve read the

New York Times a handful of times in my life. This was one of those rare occasions it came across my lap and I found this article.


If you can't read it, I found another posting of it online, here.

The second paragraph caught my attention.

“He went to Iraq seeking Martyrdom because of the recent events there,” Abdullah Al-Enezi said of his younger brother Majid, who had been training to be a computer technician.”

Could it be the same person I'd met two years previously?

I scoured through the rest of the article, then immediately went to my old diary from 2002.

This is what I found.


Here’s a translation of my atrocious handwriting. I've edited out other addresses for privacy reasons.

Tuesday October 29th

Stopped in Tabuk with a broken muffler pipe. Two local teenagers helped find a garage, then drove us to Pizza Hut. (They) Paid for our lunch without telling us. (Then they) Drove us back and paid for the welding on the Beach Buggy. Then (they) gave me a gift, traditional Saudi Headdress and beads. (The) Nicest thing a stranger has ever done for me. We then drove off to Jordan and spent the night in the desert. (majid.r.enazi(at)hotmail.com)

I later tried the email address, it didn’t work.

I’ll do a future blog on how Jihad relates to Majid in both instances, the generosity and the holy war.

I've crunched the numbers on the liklihood of Majid Enazi being Majid El-Enezi on another blogpost here.

Crunching the Jihad numbers.

For my blog on Majid, You’ll notice the two names are spelled differently, however in Arabic they would be spelled the same. Arabic uses only strong vowels, A, E, and W. Softer vowels can be shown with accents, which are usually left out. Furthermore, many Arabic names, when translated into English, can have the (El) taken out. El is a linking word, like (the), and many Arab names have it.

Both Majid Enazi and Majid el-Enezi, would likely be MJD, El-ENZI when written in Arabic. Furthermore, newspapers might alter names for various reasons, foremost because they are being translated from Arabic, but also because that’s how they hear them and therefore spell them differently.

The next question was, how many Majid el-Enezi’s or el-Enazi’s are there in Saudi Arabia? Is it a name like John Smith? Was it just a coincidence that I came upon two people who happened to have the same name?

So I did some research.

The article describes Majid as a younger brother who had been training to be a computer technician. Therefore, the age seemed right. The boy I met was a teenager between the ages of 17 and 19 in 2002. In 2004, it would make sense that he was studying for a degree.

An easy way to check how common a name is would be to use Google or Facebook. I did, and here are the results.

The only concrete reference to Majid El-Enezi is a link to the same New York Times article. I found no solid links to the name Majid Enazi.

Same goes for Facebook, I found no Majid Enezi’s or Enazi’s.

There are however 283 Enezis and 171 Enazis on facebook, most of which are preceded by ‘al’

Of the Enazi’s on Facebook, just over half show they are from Saudi Arabia (of the people who use the network location option).

For the Enezi’s, it’s about 20%.

Extrapolating, that narrows it down to about 100 Enazi’s from Saudi Arabia, and 50 Enezi’s. I’ll take a guess and say that the majority of Saudi Arabian males between the ages of 20 and 30 are using Facebook. For the sake of argument, say it’s 50%.

So, that means there are 300 Enezi's and Enazi’s of interest. Approximately 25% are women, so the number narrows further to 225 potential ENZ’s.

The majority of Facebook users in Saudi Arabia are young males, of which Majid would fall into the category of. Say 80% are males under 35. So we’re down to 170 people.


But out of the 170 young male Enezi’s in Saudi Arabia, how many would be in the three-year age range that fits with Majid in the article?

If the approximate 170 young Enazi males are evenly distributed from 15-35, then there are about 25 young Enezi’s who fit the age profile.

In conclusion, there is a very good chance that the Majid Enazi I met, is the Majid al-Enezi from the New York Times article.

Here’s a photo of Majid giving me the gifts.




If you enjoy this, or happen to know Majid, please leave a comment.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Haunting Ghosts of Bushenomics

Apparantly, the Bush administration overpaid for the Bank bailout to the tune of 78 billion dollars.

Broken down, that's $260 per American citizen handed over to the banks, just because, well, they screwed up.

For a family of four, they're on the hook for about a grand to pay for Bush's latest screwup.

Not that it's a big deal. With a ten trillion and soaring National debt, a thousand bucks is a drop in the bucket compared to the $130,000 each American family owes toward the national debt, assuming it could be paid off right now.

If Americans were to merely keep the debt at bay with interest payments, and assuming interest was stable at 5%, that family would pay

$6,500 per year.

Here's a graph to show the history of the US debt, since 1938.




Broken down, here are the numbers of who has been responsible for what.

For the sake of argument, I've mostly put the first year in office per president on the previous administration's bill.

Presdient

term

debt

Approx.

Interest owed

Interest adjusted


increase

Bond Yield

for term

(deficit)/surplus


Nixon/Ford

69-77

700 billion

6.50%

130 billion

(570 billion)

Carter

78-82

350 billion

12%

516 billion

166 billion

Reagan

82-90

2.8 trillion

7.50%

940 billion

(1.86 trillion)

Bush I

90-94

1.8 trillion

5.50%

670 billion

(1.13 trillion)

Clinton

94-02

1.2 trillion

5.50%

2.67 trillion

1.47 trillion

Bush II

02-10

5 trillion

4.50%

2.7 trillion

(2.3 trillion)




I could crunch the numbers for days, coming up with historical interest rates, how much each president added to the debt vs how much they had to pay in interest.

To make this easy, I've estimated the average interest rates during various presidents since Nixon, which is really when the US Federal debt started increasing at a dramatic rate.


Here's the graph I used for my interest rate estimates. The purpose of this estimation is to break down how much each president was on the hook for, based on the 10 year US T-note yield. The chart above breaks each leader's debt down into interest from previous debt, vs debt they accrued by overspending.





Based on these interest corrected figures, lets add up the total budget management by Republicans vs Democrats.


Republicans - 5.86 trillion deficit

Democrats - 1.63 trillion surplus

Interest on previous debt - 7.596 trillion

Other statistics: over 90% of the debt came from three leaders whose reign lasted 20 years, Reagan, Bush, and Bush jr.