Saturday, 25 January 2014

Islamic finance: be gone from Hong Kong

Yet another spruiker for Islamic finance in Hong Kong.  I've had my go at this in a couple of recent letters which were published in the South China Morning Post (e.g. and another)
Here is another counter by me in submission of Letter to the Editor, I've just sent off:
Davide Barzilai urges the Legislative Council to approve the issue of Hong Kong’s first Sharia-compliant bond or sukuk (“HK should not missout on growing Islamic finance sector”, 22 January).
 I urge LegCo not to approve the issue of Sharia-compliant bonds.
 There are many reasons it should not. Here are two:
 First: Sharia-compliant bonds are costly and inefficient.  Sukuk cannot pay a standard coupon rate of interest since interest is haram or forbidden in Islam. They therefore rely on the sale and repurchase of notional assets, which is inefficient and adds to the costs of their issuance. It is this cost that Hong Kong taxpayers – that is, thee and me – are being asked to pay.
 Mahmoud El-Gamal, professor of Islamic Economics at Rice University has the rare courage to call out these synthetic structures for what they are: “ruses”.  Others might be harsher and call them hypocritical.  For they shadow the interest rates of conventional fixed-income returns like Libor-plus, while claiming not to charge interest.
 Because of the cost of structuring these “ruses”, professor El-Gamal says that  Muslim customers are “paying more for less”.
 Yet, we Hong Kong taxpayers are being asked to subsidise this inefficiency, so that buyers of sukuk do not pay more for less.
 Second, is the bogus claim that sukuk are “ethical”, principally because they allegedly do not charge interest. But as noted above, they create structures which mimic conventional interest rates, an innately costly and hypocritical process.  They also claim to be ethical as they do not invest in industries involving pork, alcohol or gambling.  But why is that “ethical”?  Hong Kong without pork, alcohol or gambling: can you imagine it?  We would go down the gurgler.  As would China.  Or are we all here and in our mother country to be deemed “unethical” because we partake, happily and often, in all of these haram activities?  The “ethical” claim of Sharia-compliant finance is simply nonsense.
 I urge LegCo members to acquaint themselves with Sharia-compliant finance and see it for the ruse it is, and for the bogus ethics it claims.  We don’t want our money to be used to support a religiously-inspired con-trick. 

It's cool to be Jewish in Poland

I'm listening to BBC World Service Radio, here in Hong Kong, to a program called "Heart and Soul" about Jews in Poland.
The key message: "It's cool to be Jewish in Poland".
How amazing is that?  In the rest of Europe, especially in France and Germany, anti-semitism is rife. One of the interviewees, for example, says she moved to Kraków because of anti-semitism in Germany.  Another says "it's better here [in Kraków] than in France, the UK, Russia".
Even in the US, the land of hope and respite for so many Jews, FBI hate crime statistics for 2012 show that "62.4 percent  were victims of an offender's anti-Jewish bias", the highest of any group (vs 11.6 % for Muslims, lower than the 12.5% in 2011 giving lie to the alleged growing prevalence of "Islamophobia" in the US).
I wonder why it's cool to be Jewish in Poland, whereas it's dangerous to be Jewish in much of the rest of Europe.  Could it have something to do with the fact that there are almost no Muslims in Poland?  For, despite Obama's claim that Islamic anti-semitism is a recent phenomenon, it's actually rooted deep in the doctrine of Islam from the beginning and is embedded throughout the Koran.  I have read Bostom's  "The legacy of Islamic Antisemitism", mentioned in the link above. It is meticulous in quoting from primary sources about the anti-semitic hatred of Muslims from the beginning of Islam in the 7th Century.
Still, just wondering...  If there are any other thoughts of why Poland should be a refuge for European Jews, or better yet, that it's cool to be Jewish in Poland, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, 24 January 2014

"Chinese investors should avoid Britain's rotten egg rail project"

Courtesy: South China Morning Post
An interesting take  on the rotten economics of Britain's plan for high-speed rail. [pdf].

Sex makes you smarter

Who knew? These two below are aiming to improve their tertiary entrance scores....

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

"The science is settled'... but only when it suits you

There are many things I don't get [e.g.].
Here's a recent one: the folks who argue that global warming (a.k.a. "climate change") is an earthly crisis, urge the skeptics to accept the scientific consensus, because "the science is settled" [e.g.].
But when it comes to the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), many of those same folks ignore the science and cry "Frankinfoods" to try to scare governments into banning them.
David Suzuki is a case in point. In his appearance on Australia's Q & A program back in October, he made his familiar case for the urgency to deal with carbon emissions causing global warming, repeating his call for climate "deniers" to be arrested.  Arrested?  "You bet!" he says.
Yet, 34 minutes into the video, when the subject turns to GMOs, he staunchly refuses to accept the science -- which was well presented by two professors in the audience -- that GMOs are safe and have been clearly shown to be safe -- scientifically! -- over decades of research and practice.
   [See also below *, on Suzuki's stunning ignorance on global temperatures] 
Ditto the petition site, which screams "Stop the Monsanto frankinseed factory" (based on no science) while in other petitions it calls for urgent action on climate change, based on "what scientists say".  Mind you, I think plenty of what Avaaz does is good and helps the world.  Just not all of it.  And certainly not in the case of GMOs.
Because the science on the safety of GMO's is just as settled as that on AGW.  GMOs are safe.
What's my evidence for that?
Well, here's a summary of the consensus (a full version, with links, is below the fold):
  • The US National Academy of Sciences: GM foods are "safe".
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science: GMOs are "safe".
  • The American Medical Association:  GM foods are "as safe to eat as any other food".
  • The European Commission: GM foods are "safe".
  • The Royal Society of Medicine: "Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects...".
  • The Largest Ever Review of Studies on GMOs: there is "no evidence of harm" from GMOs.
  • The French Supreme Court: struck down France's GMO ban because the government had shown "no credible evidence of any harm to humans or the environment".
  • World Health Organisation: " effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved." 
That's a pretty impressive list of the premier science bodies in the world.  All conclude that, after many years of study and practice, GMOs are safe.
And what do we have on the GMO-skeptics ("deniers"?) side of the argument? Well, if you Google it, there's plenty there, but little that stands up to scrutiny and none that belies the consensus of the leading international scientific bodies.  A typical example of a "GMO denier" is "GMOs... risks and dangers".  This, it turns out, is a conspiracy site (it's a "9/11 truther" for example). Its main source on GMOs is a fellow called Jeffrey M. Smith, a "self-published author", whose own first example of harm is a study purporting to show that rats which ate GM foods developed cancer at higher rates than the control rats.  But, as is well-known to those who follow this issue, that study was widely debunked and retracted from the magazine in which it had appeared.

I am not the only one who doesn't get the cognitive dissonance of people who claim to follow the science in the case of global warming, but ignore it in the case of GMOs.
A recent article in the left-leaning International New York Times, A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops, quotes a plant pathologist, perplexed to find himself at odds with traditional allies on the liberal left:
These are my people, they’re lefties, I’m with them on almost everything,” said Michael Shintaku, a plant pathologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, who testified several times against the bill [to ban GMOs]. “It hurts.”
That article also shows the duplicitous tactics used by supporters of the ban on GMOs in Hawaii, including simply ignoring scientific evidence they didn't like.
So, there it is.  Believe the science. Or believe Avaaz, crying "Frankinfoods", with no science.
"Frankinfoods" is a farrago of fallacious furphies, I say.
[*] Suzuki showed himself to be shockingly ignorant of crucial aspects of the global warming story, especially the primary sources of global temperature measurements: HadCRUT, RSS and the like. Goodness me, even I know them!  Should not the man who presents himself as a global crusader for the science of AGW be rather more familiar with them than I am?  Yet he had not heard of these sources of global temperature measurement!  The QandA presenter and Suzuki's questioners were rather bemused at his stunning ignorance.
Related story: "Hybrid-rice pioneer Yuan Longping backs genetically modified foods", SCMP, 12 Jan 14.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Richard Dawkins' 5 talking points on why Evolution is true

Richard Dawkins has copped increasing vitriol from the large (depressingly large) coteries of Creationists or believers in Intelligent Design.  They claim he is an "extremist Atheist" and that he waxes "hysterical".  That is not, of course, the case. In all the books of his that I have read, and the many videos I have watched, he is consistently scientific and direct in his approach.  He can be a touch abrupt at times, even verging on the "disrespectful" if you consider his characterisation of some of his interlocutors as "stupid" and "ignorant" as disrespectful.  That may seem to be ad hominem, but then is it not stupid to ignore the science?  While on the "other side", that of creationists and believers in Intelligent Design, the proponents promise fire and brimstone on unbelievers,  often barley hiding their glee that that should be the fate of we atheists.
There's to be a debate on February 4th between Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") and Ken Ham, CEO of "Answers in Genesis".  Dan Arel thinks that Nye ought not to debate Ham.
Dawkins agrees, in the comments, but goes on to suggest five talking points for Nye....

Convert to Islam kills his mother for Islam

I suppose the apologists, and feminists in the west, will say this is a case of "domestic violence", which can happen in any culture".  
Note Spencer's quoting of the facts, from Islamic scripture and practice:
This article tells us twice that Dunleavy “misinterpreted the Qur’an.” How is it that this “misinterpretation” of the Qur’an in a way that sees it as allowing for honor killing is so widespread? After all, Muslims commit 91 percent of honor killings worldwide. A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.” However, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” (‘Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law.
The Palestinian Authority gives pardons or suspended sentences for honor murders. Iraqi women have asked for tougher sentences for Islamic honor murderers, who get off lightly now. Syria in 2009 scrapped a law limiting the length of sentences for honor killings, but “the new law says a man can still benefit from extenuating circumstances in crimes of passion or honour ‘provided he serves a prison term of no less than two years in the case of killing.’” And in 2003 the Jordanian Parliament voted down on Islamic grounds a provision designed to stiffen penalties for honor killings. Al-Jazeera reported that “Islamists and conservatives said the laws violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values.”
That’s a whole lot of “misinterpretation of the Qur’an.”
“Friend claims James Dunleavy murdered mum in ‘honour killing’ because he felt she’d shamed family,” from the Daily Record, January 20. H/T 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Islam unbound...

Death threats for this >>
LATER (25 January 2014): this issue has become something of a cause celebre  on the internet, e.g., this post on the blog of "Archbishop Cranmer", including link to a petition.
And this one, at Harry's Place -- a blog described by one commenter as "a site for lefties who are pissed off with Islamism".  Which pretty much describes me, I think, though some of my old schoolmates lefties would no doubt say that I've rather strayed from the true path of leftism in recent decades....  I got mugged by reality in the socialism of China in the early seventies, I fear....

Friday, 10 January 2014

Islam in 10 minutes

I first read the Koran ten years ago and since then have re-read many parts of it. I've also read the Classic Manual of Islamic Jurisprudence (the Umdat al-Salik); the Hadith, or sayings and deeds of Muhammad; and the Sirah, the official Islamic biography of Muhammad.  I have also read around Islam, from authors both pro and anti Islam. See my library.
My conclusion: the video above is a fair and accurate summary of three key issues in Islam:
1.  The doctrine of Abrogation (naskh).
2.  The doctrine of Sharia, or Islamic law.
3.  The doctrine of Taqiyya, or deception in the furtherance of Islam.

The end of the video gives two additional references:
On abrogation
On taqiyya

The doctrine of Abrogation is particularly important to make sense of selective and contradictory quotations of the Koran.

The doctrine of Taqiyya is particularly important to understand how people -- Muslim and non-Muslim alike -- can claim that "Islam is a Religion of Peace", when all we see around us belies that contention.

On Taqiyya, I also refer you to the book "Brother Tariq: the Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan", by Caroline Fourest.  It reveals how Ramadan speaks with one voice to western audiences (smooth, comforting), and in another to Arab audiences (advance Sharia, brothers and sisters!).  I've just read and enjoyed it (if that's the right word). It gets only 3 Stars on Amazon; I'd give it 4 Stars, faulting it mainly for not being tightly enough edited.

Terrorism is a rich man's thing, not a poor man's thing

In "Terrorism's Fertile Ground", Kennedy Odede makes a familiar -- but false -- point: "... the link between urban poverty and terrorism....".
In "Mumbai's The Word", Theodore Dalrymple tears apart the canard "... that there is some direct connection between poverty and ignorance on the one hand and extreme political violence or terrorism on the other."
The world's first terrorists, in 19th Century Russia, were either aristocrats or members of the newly-emerged middle classes.
In Latin America, Castro was the son of a self-made millionaire and Che was of aristocratic descent; the leaders in Guatamala were bourgeois and educated; the Shining Light leader in Peru was a professor of philosophy.  In Asia, Pol Pot studied in Paris.  Osama bin Laden was a Saudi millionaire and most of the top leadership of Al-Qaeda are educated to university or post-graduate level.
"Peasants are capable of uprisings," says Dalrymple, "... but they do not elaborate ideologies or undergo training for attacks on distant targets."
Which leads nicely to Odede's conclusion: "The war on terror can be won only through education, promise and real opportunities."
Of course, this is wrong (in fact, one might claim an inverse relation!).  It is false because Odede's analysis of the causes of terror, is wrong, as evidenced by those who are its architects, as Dalrymple shows.  It is not poverty, but ideology that drives terrorism.  Not to mention the obvious fact that there are many millions of poor in the world who are poor, but do not commit acts of terror, in India and sub-Saharan Africa for example.
I'm on Dalrymple's side on this one.  Read the two articles and see if you are too.
And if Dalrymple is right (he is!), then the battle against terrorism's proponents continues to be an ideological one: the values of Enlightenment West vs ideological Islam.
None of this is to say that "eduction, promise and real opportunities" should not be pursued.  Of course they should (vide  China, for a positive example of its profound effects in just three decades). But it's not going to stop terrorism, either in the "Islamic world", or by Muslims in the west.  Only robust resistance to the Islamic Jihad, to Islamic Sharia, to Islamism in all its forms will work.

"Will Digital Networks Ruin Us?"

Joe Nocera writes of the "most important book" he read in 2013, Jason Lanier's "Who Owns the Future".
Lanier's first thesis is that "... the same network efficiencies that had given them [the big players in the digital world] their great advantages wold become the instrument of their failures."  Goodbye Google, then, and Facebook, Twitter....
There are two additional components to Lanier’s thesis. The first is that the digital economy has done as much as any single thing to hollow out the middle class. (When I asked him about the effect of globalization, he said that globalization was “just one form of network efficiency.” See what I mean about a universal theory?) His great example here is Kodak and Instagram. At its height, writes Lanier “Kodak employed more than 140,000 people.” Yes, Kodak made plenty of mistakes, but look at what is replacing it: “When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.”Which leads nicely to Lanier’s final big point: that the value of these new companies comes from us. “Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars just because those 13 employees are extraordinary,” he writes. “Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He adds, “Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.” Thus, in Lanier’s view, is income inequality also partly a consequence of the digital economy.
Lanier's radical idea is that people should get paid whenever their information is used.
Have a read, it's worth it. 

"Egypt in the Dentist's Chair"

This article, by Alaa Al Aswany, is an interesting insight into today's Egypt.  Clip:
On one occasion, a woman in a niqab came to see me. She was accompanied by her bearded husband, who looked me and my staff over as if we were potential kidnappers.
I asked the patient to take a seat in the chair. Her husband, who insisted on standing next to her, suddenly said: “If you need my wife to remove her niqab, then you can stay — but the others have to leave the room right now.”
“Those in the room are not here to look at your wife’s face,” I replied. “They are dental assistants and they are indispensable.
“Furthermore, if your wife turns out to have an exposed nerve, she will be treated by our specialist, who is a Christian.”
I uttered this last phrase with a dramatic flourish and then stepped back. The man grabbed his wife as if to leave, but to our surprise, she refused.
They exchanged whispers, which turned to shouting, and we understood that the poor woman was distressed by the fact that her husband’s extremist views were preventing her getting treatment.
This made me realize that many women we’d considered fundamentalists were simply prisoners of their husbands’ dogmatism.
I've written often on the veiling issue (burqa/niqab versions), along the lines that it's on no way a "freedom of choice" issue, still less a "sartorial choice".  It's either (a) an indication of the fundamentalism of the woman (especially so in the case of converts), or (b) at the instruction of the men in her life. The above quote supports (b).
Click on "Burka" in the Labels to see previous posts on the topic.

Friday, 3 January 2014

God put us here.... Republicans

And as we open a new year, let's contemplate a startling fact: that most US Republicans now believe that a god put us on earth as we are, fully formed. The number that believes that -- now a plurality of 48% -- has actually grown in the last five years, while science has proved again and again the validity of evolution. Oh well... blast science.
The Pew Research is here.
Related: "2013 Was a Terrible Year for Evolution"