(Originally, I wrote this in September of 2010, but did not post it, as the person in question changed his mind and did not follow through on his proposed burning of the Qu’ran and Talmud. I am posting it now, as the “pastor” changed his mind again and was part of a group that “put the Qur’an on trial“, convicted it and proceeded to burn the Muslim holy book. )

I am so deeply disgusted with the plans of the “pastor” in Florida who plans to burn copies of the Qur’an and Talmud on the September 11th anniversary. I feel ill when I think about someone so completely ignorant. How can any thinking human being be so disrespectful?

The person in question is the senior pastor of a church in Florida. This church has previously put anti-Islam signs on the front lawn of his church and congregation members sent their children to school wearing T-shirts with anti-Islamic messages on the front. The pastor invited Christians to participate as a way of remembering the attacks in 2001.

I am stunned by such displays of overwhelming ignorance.

I really dislike ignorance. Ignorance, in contrast to stupidity, to me means that a person has chosen not to understand something. It is a choice that a person makes to be ignorant. There is a world of knowledge and information available to anyone. It’s so sad when people choose not to use the available resources.

WTC Memorial Lights from the Empire State Building
WTC Memorial Lights from the Empire State Building

The event is timed to coincide with the anniversary of September 11th. The implication here is two-fold. The first is that followers of Islam were the cause of that tragic attack. The second is that only Christians died in the attack.

On the first point, you need to ask, at what point does a persons activities no longer reflect the values of his or her community? The 19 terrorists murdered 2,977 people of all races, religions and countries. Why should those 19 people still be considered followers of the prophet after committing an atrocity of such a scale? Would Christians consider someone like David Koresh (his Branch Davidian followers killed 4 federal marshals) or Rev. Jim Jones (he forced 909 of his Peoples Temple congregation to commit suicide) to represent mainstream Christian values? No, of course not.

A related argument is to ask if it is right to judge the actions of a community of about 1.5 billion people based on the actions of 19 people? Would it be fair to judge Christians based on the actions of David Koresh or Jim Jones? Would it be fair to condemn all Roman Catholic males as ephebophiles or pedophiles because of 4,392 priests allegedly involved in the Catholic sex scandals in the United States?

No, that would not be valid. And so it must also be when it comes to September 11. It is time to stop associating 9/11 with Islam. There was widespread condemnation of the atrocity by Muslims around the world in the hours and days after the attack. The Islamic community made it clear that they did not support the actions of those 19 so-called Muslims or the al-Qaeda leadership.

The second fallacy from the “pastor” is that only Christian Americans died on 9/11. In fact 2.1% of the people killed on September 11 were Muslim. That’s three times higher than the Muslim population in the U.S. (0.6%). About 15% of the victims were Jews. The victims likely included Hindus and Sikhs and atheists and agnostics. More than 90 countries lost citizens.

The actions of this pastor and his followers are a symbol of the rising Islamophobia in America. Another example is the campaign against the Park51 community centre, also known as Cordoba House, in New York City. It made me just as ill when I read what was happening there too.

Freedom of religion was one of the founding reasons for the existence of the United States. It is a basic human right – to practice a religion without fear. The early colonists fled the enforced religions of their birth countries to seek religious freedom in the New World. It is protected by the First Amendment in the Constitution, which also forms the first part of the Bill of Rights.

When they attack another religion by physically destroying their holy book, these Floridian religious bigots are going against the very freedoms that their ancestors sought and worked so hard to achieve.

By turning against the founding principles of the country, they do a great disservice to their countries heritage of free and open religion, free from persecution and government interference.

I also feel that so many of the people who have such hatred or fear of Islam do not understand the deep connections between the three Abrahamic religions. I doubt that this pastor is aware of these connections.

The Dome of the Rock, the location of the First and Second Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Dome of the Rock, the location of the First and Second Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Muslims, Christians and Jews all pray to the same God – all are monotheistic religions. Jesus was a Jew, born of Jewish parents. It was at the Second Temple, the most holy place in Judaism, that he threw out the moneychangers. He was crucified on the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, a celebration by the Jews of their release from slavery in Egypt by Moses. The Prophet Muhammad is buried in Medina with an empty tomb next to him for Jesus, who was considered a great prophet in Islam. When Muhammad made his night journey (Isra and Mi’raj) to heaven, he met Moses, who counseled Muhammad to petition Allah to reduce the number of Salat prayers from 50 to 5 per day. According to tradition, the Foundation Stone, which is currently inside the Dome of the Rock, is the spot where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and was the location of the First Temple (the location of the Ark of the Covenant), and Second Temple (the location where Jesus threw out the money changers) and is the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven during Isra and Mi’raj. According to tradition, Abraham and his son Ishmael build the Kaaba, the most holy place in Islam, towards which all Muslims pray during the Salat.

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London
Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London

The three great monotheistic religions are deeply tied together through tradition, history, geography and devotion to a single God.

(This is an important topic to me, and because I wanted to adequately express my feelings, I’ve spent about 8-10 hours writing and rewriting. I also did not specifically name or link to the pastor or his organization because I don’t want to provide any more publicity – it seems that this might be the true root cause of his actions)

Thoughts on STS-132

I’ve been thinking about what I learned from attending the STS-132 Atlantis launch on May 14th.

1. I learned that if I rent or borrow equipment, I should read the manual before I need to use the equipment. During the launch, when I was using the Canon 100-400mm, I did not set the correct focus length switch. This meant that when the camera needed to refocus, it would hunt for focus over the entire focal length. If I had set the switch correctly, it would have only used the longer focus lengths and should have focused faster.

2. Next, reviewing the photos later, I realized I should have borrowed or bought a UV lens filter, to cut down on the haze. All the launch photos have a bluish tinge.

3. Always remember to bring the lens hood if you have one. When I visited the Kennedy Visitors Complex, I forgot to bring the lens hood for the Canon 10-22mm. It didn’t greatly impact any photos but it could have – always be prepared.

4. Now, about the launch itself. As many people on the Internet have noted, it is very hard to both experience a launch and take pictures. I did my best to do both, as I only had one opportunity. If I had more chances to see a launch, I would go once to experience it, and once to try capturing the experience with my camera.

I was able to watch Atlantis as it was nearly at the official definition of outer space (roughly 100km), which was after the 4 minute point of the ascent to orbit. And as I looked up at the vehicle, two thoughts came to mind.

5. First, the planned height of the SpaceShip Two flights of Virgin Galactic will be about that height. It’s only a third of the height of the typical orbit of the International Space Station. And it doesn’t really seem very high, when you can see the shuttle attaining that in such a short period of time. You can see still the shuttle as it passes that height.

Graph of Altitudes
Graph of altitudes

6. Secondly, it absolutely stunning how thin the atmosphere of the Earth really is. As noted above, the official edge of space is 100km. All of the air that is used by every human being and every animal and every plant that ever lived on this good planet, all used that thin veneer of air. Just 100km of air, spread across the face of the Earth. That’s all there is.

And that’s where all of the air pollution goes. It’s not a limitless sky. It’s very very finite. To a single person, it seems incomprehensibly unending, but when you think about the output from 6.8 billion people, it seems very limited. All the cars of the world, all the planes, ships and lawn mowers and leaf blowers and electric generation plants – they all empty into that fragile sheet of air.

I worry about air pollution (and water pollution) and global warming. Even if a person, against all evidence, does not believe that man is contributing to the problem of global warming, certainly they cannot deny that air pollution is a problem that is created by man.

And I think about the entire trip. I flew down to Florida, which directly contributed to air pollution. I watched the shuttle, which uses aluminum-based material in the Solid Rocket Boosters. The Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) burn hydrogen and oxygen and do not pollute directly, but it took a lot of energy to create that volume of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, and another big electrical bill to cool those liquids and keep them cool. There are the transportation costs of moving everything around – the solid booster segments come from Utah, the external tank comes from Louisiana.

I’m scared sometimes that we have already passed the point of keeping our planet useful to future generations. I worry that the air pollution, global warming, pollution of our water, dispersion of all the man-man chemicals (in pesticides, medicines, leeching buried plastics, huge oil spills, garbage dumps, etc) has already put enough of our junk into the biosphere that the Earth will become uninhabitable in some distant future.

I do what I can to reduce my personal impact, but I know I am not doing enough.

William Gibson

As part of my new resolution to take in more of the opportunities here in Ottawa, I bought tickets to see William Gibson at the Mayfair Theatre. It was part of the 2010 Ottawa Writers Festival.

I brought my camera and sat in the four row; the first two rows were reserved. The format was an interview and then an audience Q&A. The interview was conducted by Kate Heartfield from the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.

Author William Gibson
Author William Gibson

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 26 years since Neuromancer was published. I re-read it about a year ago and it’s still a remarkable piece of not just science-fiction but of literature.

William Gibson mentioned that Neuromancer was actually a commissioned work, which I did not previously know.

He talked about how people growing up in a world where they have always had instant communications to anyone else is profoundly different from the rest of human experience. Will we have to educate future readers than in previous eras when a character leaves the immediate vicinity of another that in fact it means that they have lost all communications between them?

He mentioned how airports are a part of a stateless system. I am reminded of Mehran Karimi Nasseri who was stuck in Charles De Gaulle Airport for 18 years. Gibson was thinking more along the lines of business people who meet in airports and airport hotels in a third country.

It was a pleasure to have the chance to see William Gibson. I must do this more often…


I’ve been struggling with my memory lately. I can’t remember some of the simplest data – such as the dates of Rosa’s performances, or something someone tells me.

I’ve been just shrugging this off as nothing important, but in actuality it’s been bothering me. I used to have a great memory. I could remember so much, even some of the most obscure references (or so I thought – Rosa has pointed that sometimes what I remembered was not the same as what she remembered).

Just now, I could not remember the phrase “race condition”. I had to Google for deadlock to find the phrase on a Wikipedia page.

And I suddenly and horrifyingly realized that the root cause is that I’m getting old. This is what it must be like. That slow decent into the realm of imperfect memory access.

Oh my god, I’m only 14 months away from being 40. I didn’t realize until just now how close I am to being 40. I think I want to cry or something.