Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's . . . friggin chilly!

After five months of 40+ degree heat (with 80+% humidity) I never figured Doha would ever get the least bit chilly. I was told that during December and January you might need a jacket during the evenings blah, blah, blah. Whatever.

Well, it's friggin chilly right now! I'm told it's colder than it has been in the last few years but temps seem to be around 14-16 during the day and around 9-10 at night. A lot colder than I thought it would get, especially with the wind and humidity. Not surprisingly I don't have central heating in my apartment, the past week I've been wearing layers while sitting around the apartment.

Now I can already hear everyone in Canada moaning "Oh you poor dear, and to think it's a balmy -10 here", but it's not like you expect the Arabian desert to get this cold. And you have heating in your house too, it's not like your house is 15 degrees now is it?

I feel the most sorry for the construction workers and other guys brought over from India etc. I see them walking around in light jackets with scarves wrapped around their heads. Many of them have toques and gloves but some don't - they must be freezing.

Oh well, I'm off to Canada on Jan 6th so I guess I'll get back in touch with what real cold feels like.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In tribute to Carl Sagan

10 years ago today the world lost a wonderful person. Carl Sagan might be best known (by the older crowd) as the host of Cosmos and his regular appearances on The Tonight Show (Carson used to do imitations of him with the catchphrase "billions and billions", even though Sagan had never actually said those words in Cosmos). Now I'm of a slightly younger generation and didn't watch Cosmos so my introduction to him came later by reading his books. Some of the best non-fiction books I've ever read.

If you've never read The Demon Haunted World then you're missing out. I think it is widely considered one of the best books for introducing people to thinking critically about the world, and to look at scientific pursuit as something truly wonderful, something that has really enhanced life for people. Sagan has an excellent writing style that is very approachable to scientific laymen, and doesn't bog you down in equations and calculus. In many instances he doesn't talk about science at all, only looking at the world critically.

Now, I do have a science education but I still appreciate how well written his books are. I have a number of Sagan's books: Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot, Demon Haunted World, Billions and Billions, and Broca's Brain, but I always find myself rereading Demon Haunted World at least once a year.

I have wondered in the past what Sagan would have thought of today's world had he still been alive. He would have been thrilled at some of the discoveries astronomers and other scientists have made since his death: launching the probe onto Titan would have been a particular highlight for him since some of his research focused on Titan's atmosphere, but would there be things that would alarm him? In his writings were warnings about global warming, and things haven't gotten any better from that perspective. Wars still occur, and most people still believe in one superstition or another, and the media seems more obsessed with Hollywood than science than ever before. I would hope that he would still believe that despite some of the downsides that overall the world was progressing, and that in the end he would be pleased with what has occurred in the last 10 years.

I've never met him in person, but I miss him all the same.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Asian Games - badminton

Okay badminton is a game that I don't think I need to explain to everyone. The game is popular in East Asia so the matches that I saw had big crowds turning out to cheer on their favourites. Happened to sit behind a bunch of Thais with drums and so forth and they handed out flags to everyone to make sure there would be a big area of Thai supporters. It appeared to make a difference, the Thais with all the drums and flags didn't arrive until the 2nd set and at that point the Thai player lost the first set 21-6, but once the cheers and drumming started the game turned around and the Thai won the 2nd set 21-8. The 3rd set was a nail-biter but in the end the Thai lost 21-19. Afterward I watched some other singles and doubles matches, including a singles match with the current World Champion vs the current Olympic Champion. It was a great match, I can't figure out how they can even spot the birdie, much less return it, since it moves so fast.

Badminton is a fast paced game so is always good to watch. It's even better to see with top players and an active crowd.

Rating 8/10. Go Thailand!

Asian Games - boxing & wushu

Okay I've combined both boxing & wushu because both were similar. Now there are different forms of wushu, I went with a buddy of mine and we were hoping to see the weapons section, where people essentially do rhymic gymnastics only with weapons. It's apparantly really cool to watch as they brandish various weapons in interesting choreographed routines (I think Jet Li used to be a wushu champion before his film career). But there is another wushu discipline, called Nanshou I think, where atheletes fight each other wearing boxing gloves (without weapons) but you're allowed to kick as well as punch. That was what my buddy and I saw, turns out the weapons portion was earlier in the day. I was disappointed that I missed the weapons.

Now I also saw a number of boxing bouts during the Asian Games and I learned something about Olympic-level boxing -- it's not as exciting as standard boxing. At the Olympic level the boxers are wearing padded helmets and they only do four 2-minute rounds. It does cut back a lot of the excitement as it is unlikely that a guy is going to fall down, get KO'd or whatever. So you just watch guys throwing punches at one another for all of 12 minutes, including the time in-between rounds. And to make it worse all the bouts I saw were really one-sided. The closest bout I saw the winner had double the points of the loser and one match was almost 10:1! It says something that some guy took over 40 punches in 4 rounds and never even hit the mat. So all-in-all not that exciting. Sadly the wushu was similar, although there was an added element in that you could throw the guy onto the ground, but then it looks like you had to step back, you weren't allowed to pummel him or anything.

Upon reflection I had a more exciting time watching boxing back in Bermuda. Once a year they had an event called Fight Night where guys from various gyms (and anyone else who cared to sign up) could get in the ring and box with someone generally matched to their weight. Many of these guys had no clue how to box and the matches were fun to watch; some guys who you figured would get creamed wound up doing well, others ended in surprise KOs, others with training would show us why training matters by pummeling their not-so-well-trained opponents. Good fun, and exciting to watch, something that was missing here.

I really wish I saw the weapons part of the Wushu competition . . .

Rating: 3/10. I'd be happier watching non-Olympic boxing where there can be tension and excitement. Wushu gets 4/10 just because I hadn't seen it before, but it wasn't much more exciting than boxing - my buddy and I left after 45 minutes.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Asian Games - Kabbadi

Man it's been raining a lot here. The last two weeks have reminded me of Vancouver, it seems like everyday it has been rainy and drizzling. I think, like Vancouver, the rain record for Doha in December has been exceeded. After six months of never seeing a drop of rain I'm starting to wish for Sun again. Anyway, back to the Asian Games.

I briefly mentioned in the last post about a sport called kabbadi (kah-bah-dee). It's from India and is played primarily in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Definately an odd sport, like nothing I've ever seen, sort of a cross between tag and rugby.

Anyway here's how it works. You have seven players a side on a court roughly about the size of a badminton court. One player from a team crosses over to the other team's side to try to touch as may players as possible (that's the tag portion) then cross back into his zone. Any touched player is out and the tagger's team gets a point for each. While the tagger is in the other team's zone they are allowed to tackle him BUT if the tagger can even touch the middle line then everyone who touched him is out (remember the court is the size of a badminton court so that middle line is never too far away and all the tagger needs to do is touch it with the tips of his fingers). It creates an odd situation where the team has to stay far enough away to avoid a tag yet close enough to jump on the guy for a mass tackle. Meanwhile the tagger has to get close enough to tag guys yet try to remain close enough to the middle line to make a break for it if five-seven guys try to jump on him at once.

There's a few other rules but that's the basics in a nutshell. So when it is played at the professional level it almost looks like syncronized dance, as the tagger moves towards someone he moves out of the way while the rest of the team moves closer, then the tagger turns around and the other guys move away while their teammates move closer. Try to find a video of it on YouTube if you can. Seriously if you didn't know how it was played it looks like choreographed dance, with a sudden break when guys leap on somebody and paste him into the mat.

At the Asian Games there were five teams playing: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Japan (??). Sri Lanka didn't have a team but Indian coworkers told me that kabbadi is a northern India game which is not popular in southern India or Sri Lanka. No idea why Japan had a team though.

I saw a number of games and went to the final, India beat Pakistan for the win. Because Doha has a large number of workers from India and Pakistan thousands of people turned up to watch the final, but since the kabbadi ring only had about 600 seats most of them, me included, had to watch from a giant TV screen just outside. Apparantly hundreds more who didn't have tickets to the Aspire Sports Complex just stayed outside and watched it on screens out there.

Oh I almost forgot why it's called kabbadi. When the tagger crosses into the other team's zone he's not allowed to take a breath so he has to do his tagging and get back all in one breath. How does the refs monitor that he's not taking a breath? The tagger has to continuously say 'kabbadi' while in the other team's zone. I told you this game was odd.

Anyway it's does have it's slow moments but is definately worth watching at least once.

Rating: 7/10. I gave it an extra point just because for once in my life I had the hottest tickets in town. While walking towards the stadium I was asked twice by people if I had extra tickets, and hundreds were massed outside hoping to get a ticket. The Indian victory celebrations was pretty cool too.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Asian Games - Sepaktakraw

Okay, before the Asian Games started I had never even heard of sepaktakraw but it sounded interesting so I bought some tickets. In truth I went to any sport at the Asian Games that I had never heard of (kabbadi was another) but I liked the idea of sepaktakraw - volleyball but you can't use your hands. Sounded weird, but the game is popular in Thailand, Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia and apparantly tough to play.

Well, it was one of the best games I saw at the Asian Games!

While it is a lot like volleyball the net is lower, about 5 and a half feet. This allows players to set up the ball for spiking much like volleyball only using your feet instead of your hands. The flexibility and atheltic skill you need to be a good sepaktakraw player is astounding. Men were regularly doing full bicycle kicks to spike the ball but instead of landing on their back, like in soccer, they were landing on their feet! You'd have to though, the court surface is hard floor like in volleyball so if you landed on your back you were in for a world of hurt.

Watching players stretch out before the match you essentially have to be flexible enough to do the splits all the way to the floor. I saw one guy doing that and his coach was pushing on his back so that his chest was fully on the floor. Ouch! It looked painful just to watch. But that kind of flexibility is needed to do moves like spiking and blocking.

In the end I watched Vietnam get the gold in women's doubles, and Thailand won the men's. Myanmar (Burma) won silver in both.

Rating 9/10: if you get a chance to watch this sport on TV definately check it out. You'll go "whoa!" the first time you see someone spike the ball.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Asian Games - diving

So last night I watched men's synchonised diving. I know a bit about diving from watching Olympic coverage a couple of years ago, enough to know that the larger the splash going into the water the lower the score, but that's about the extent of my knowledge.

There were eight teams and each team had six dives, which made for more dives than a World Cup soccer match. The team from China was excellent and blew everyone else away, winning by such a wide margin that for their last dive they could have just fallen off the board and still won. Malaysia had an excellent final dive for a come-from-behind silver. I thought the judging seemed to be a bit off with what I thought was a crappy dive getting 7.5/10 and a better dive getting around the same score sometimes. But I'm not a professional so what do I know.

All in all diving is not that exciting to watch, while the first 20 minutes is interesting after that there isn't much more to see, the dives become repetitive, and I found boredom kicking in after 40 minutes. I was with a couple of other people and we left before the next event (women's synchro). I think when I watched Olympic coverage a couple of years back on TV it was a bit more interesting because the commentary from the reporters added a bit to it.

Overall 5/10: worth seeing live once but I'll stick to TV coverage from now on.

Asian Games - tennis

Now as pretty much everyone knows I love tennis. So I couldn't pass up a chance to watch the tennis at the Asian Games. The top players in the world weren't there since almost none of them are Asian (and unfortunately that top-20 mens player from Thailand was injured) but it was still good to see some quality tennis being played.

Matches were held at the Khalifa Tennis Complex near where I work and it was a pretty impressive area. The centre court could seat around 4,000 and the day I was there it was about 60% full. There was a woman from India playing, Sania something-or-other, and a large Indian crowd was out to watch her play. I figure at least 1,200-1,500 people there were from India. Sania was playing a mixed doubles match and decimated her Uzbekistan opponents 6-1, 6-3. People went crazy every time the Indian team scored a point.

With such a significant pro-Indian crowd it meant that only games where Indians were playing had a decent number of spectators, I went over to Court Two and watched two decent matches with non-Indian players and I think there was, at most, 25 people watching. I kind of felt sorry for the athletes - who wants to come all this way and have only a couple of dozen people turn out for your match while next door hundreds are cheering? I guess that is pretty standard in tennis, the crowd goes to watch the big names while the up-and-comers play on their own.

Overall I had a great day but a few things bothered me:

1) The marathon or some cycling event was held nearby so for the entire morning helicopters were buzzing around getting footage of that event. It is difficult to play tennis, let alone enjoy watching it, when helicopters are loudly flying around in the background. Thankfully they stopped by lunch time.

2) I don't think many locals knew a lot about tennis etiquette. I was stunned to see people coming into the Centre Court seating with babies & toddlers. Why would anyone bring small children to a tennis match?!? Not only that but people were constantly talking, cell phones were ringing, and people were even yelling out words of encouragement or whistling - even while the players were serving! I swear the ref was telling everyone to be quiet every second point but to no avail. Hopefully the organizers will have figured out that for the next big tennis tournament they'll at least prevent people from bringing in babies and toddlers, and maybe get people to turn off their cell phones before they come in. (Not that it'll help, I was at the chess venue where they checked to see that your cell phone was off and one guy just turned his back on once he was through security - and sure enough it rang and disturbed the players. Jerk.)

Overall 8/10, I'd go watch tennis again.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Not being an expert on martial arts I wasn't sure what to expect watching the Judo tournament. Unlike karate, kung fu and taekwondo, judo is a form of wrestling. The object of the match is to throw your opponent on their back, the moment you do that you score an ippon and win. There are other types of points that score less than an ippon but I don't recall their names; the scoreboard just showed I, W, Y, K with 'I' being ippon and the W being something like you manage to throw them but they land on their side instead of their back. Two 'W's is also a win, otherwise if no one has an I or W then the person with the most Y's win, followed by the most K's.

Since an ippon is an automatic win at any stage in the match a person always has a chance to win, doesn't matter how many other points your opponent has, or even if there's only 10 seconds left, flip them on their back and you win. It can make for quick matches but sometimes all they do is stand there gripping on to each other for minutes on end. For added excitement, choke and strangle holds are okay in judo. I saw two matches where the loser was unconscious from a choke hold, one girl in the bronze medal match was out for over 30 seconds just lying there on the mat.

In the end I watched a Mongolian win the under 73kg gold (took him almost 9 minutes) and a woman from North Korea win the under 65kg gold (her gold-medal match took 9 seconds, I didn't even get my camera out in time).

I give judo a 7 out of 10.

Monday, December 04, 2006

More Asian Games!

Okay this week has been hectic with all of the Asian Games activities. I was hesitant about the Games at first but it turns out that it's been really cool and I've been having a great time.

I skipped the Opening Ceremony because the tickets were QR500 (US$140) but I watched it on TV from a friend's place across the street. Good thing too because an hour before the ceremony started it bucketed with rain and many in the stadium, which was only partly covered, got soaked. The ceremony itself was great to watch though, culminating with a Qatari riding a horse up a long ramp to the top of the stadium to light the flame. Thanks to the wet conditions the horse barely made it up, nearly falling over because it was slipping so much. That would have been a disaster - the climax of the ceremony would have been ruined. Afterwards I ran outside to catch the fireworks.

Tickets for events are so cheap (US$1.35-2.75) I have tickets for every single day. So far I've seen badminton, gymnastics, boxing, basketball, judo & table tennis. In many of these sports the best in the world are playing; in badminton I watched the current world champion play the current Olympic champion and all of the table tennis matches that I saw were with top-15 players. I assume the judo was the same.

Doha doesn't have a lot of hotels (I think there are around 3000 rooms) so there aren't hoards of people. Most of the events are well attended but you can usually find a seat somewhere, which is handy.

I'll give updates on individual sports over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Asian Games - and so it begins . . .

The 15th Asian Games is being held in Doha. Preseumably this is the second largest games after the Olympics and the Government is hoping that a successful event here will be a springboard for getting the 2016 Summer Olympics. The venues are finished and the athletes are starting to come in. The official opening ceremony is this Friday but some of the events have started already. The other night I went to the new Basketball hall to watch the game. Tickets are only QR5 ($1.35 US) so really, who cares who's playing at that price. The game turned out to be Kuwait vs Kazakhstan. For the record none of the Kazakhstanis looked like Borat ;)

Sadly if you don't count the official Games people there were maybe 30-40 spectators, and the venue holds around 800+ so needless to say the stands were empty. I hope the TV crews weren't showing too many crowd shots but if they were I was probably in them - I went with 4 other guys so the five of us made up the most densely-packed area of seating. Maybe I was on TV all over Kazakhstan!

It was a good game up until the 4th quarter, Kuwait even led by 3pts at one stage but in the end Kazakhs but it in overdrive and won 100-76.

I've already got tickets lined up for events over the next two weeks so it should be fun. With tickets going for QR5 to QR10 I'm trying to see as much as I can. Stop back here for updates.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It rained!

I have been here over 6 months and had yet to see rain. None. Not a drop. In fact it was rare to even have a cloudy day, in the summer sandstorms were more common than boring-old clouds. But now the weather is getting cooler (ie under 30C) and for the first time since I arrived it rained.

Not a fierce downpour or anything, more like a 2-hour Vancouver drizzle, but as soon as someone noticed everyone in the office went up to the windows to see it.

I'll wait and see what happens in a few days, maybe the desert will start blooming like you see in National Geographic photos. We'll see.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

So what do you say to someone when . . .

A while back work arranged for some of us to have Arabic lessons, provided by the Qatar Centre for the Presentation of Islam. I've always wanted to learn Arabic so I attended the classes, which were taught by a nice Iraqi gentlemen. Now, when you get free lessons from a place called the Qatar Centre for the Presentation of Islam, needless to say you shouldn't be too surprised if you get some discussion about Islam mixed into the class. In the end it turned out to be about 50% arabic and 50% Islam discussions. Now after a while I found the Islam part more interesting, after all how often does one get the opportunity to pitch questions on Islam to a Muslim without him getting upset? We discussed all sorts of things: why two women's testimonies = one man's testimony in court (and for witnessing contracts), vegetarianism, styles of dress, why everyone in Qatar has massive homes and new cars when the Qur'an says to live modestly, first-cousin marriages, etc. Our teacher was always pleasant and tried to answer everything as best he could. The lessons ended right before Ramadan, and we hoped that we could get another class organized after the Eid holidays.

Recently we contacted him to see if he could give another lesson. He couldn't right now, here was the key part of the response:

"I am so sorry for not contacting you for a long time due to the hard conditions I am passing in both on the personal and family levels. I lost two of my family members and two of my relatives in one month. Most of my family members and relatives have fled their residences to other safer places, inside and outside Iraq . . ."

Um. Wow. What can I say in response to that? Seriously, four relatives dead within a month! He didn't provide details as to what exactly happened but did insinuate later on that it involved US troops. His relatives lived in Ramadi, an almost purely Sunni city, and doesn't experience much Shiite vs Sunni violence like in Baghdad. Ramadi is also one of the most conflict-torn cities, with daily attacks and gun battles by insurgents against US soldiers. Maybe they got caught in a cross-fire or hit by a stray shell/grenade, who knows?

Responding to that email was hard, really hard. They don't make Hallmark cards that sympathise with having relatives killed during a war y'know. I won't post my response, but after many hours of wracking my brains I just replied about how hard it was to respond and why, and to offer support.

By the way this post isn't about my feelings on the Iraq War, it's about a personal tragedy. I couldn't imagine what it would be like if members of my family were killed in some kind of conflict. It would tear me apart.

A similar experience happened a few months ago when the Lebanese manager at my compound and I watched Beirut getting bombed a few months ago. His wife and kids were still there and there was nothing he could do but watch his city being destroyed, and hoping that the bombs didn't hit his home. Every day he just sat at the TV and watched. For me it was just surreal. I tried to picture what it would be like if Vancouver was being bombed while I could do nothing but sit there and watch it on TV but I couldn't - I just couldn't imagine what that would be like for me to go through that. (BTW in the end his family was fine and as soon as the bombing stopped they moved to Doha).

So last night I went out with some friends to a dessert buffet at the Ritz. I originally declined because I'm trying to shed a few pounds but you know what - you only live once and for all you know it could go to hell the next day. So I went and had a great time, and will hit the treadmill more over the next few days to work it off instead. Life's too short to count calories.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Aljazeera english broadcast started today

Today a new global TV news station debuted - Aljazeera (in English). It started at 3:00pm Doha time and most of the office was by a TV to watch the debut. The husband of one of my coworkers (and my neighbour) is an anchorman for Aljazeera so I think the office was caught up in the excitement of the launch.

Up until this point I was watching BBC World but it does get tiresome, 15 minutes of news at the top of the hour and then that's it for news - the same headlines will repeat, at the top of the hour, for the next 10-12 hours. I'm hopeful Aljazeera can do better than that. With four broadcast centers - Doha, London, Washington and Kuala Lumpur they should be able to shake things up. Already I saw a brief clip about life in Harare (Zimbabwe). I don't think BBC can get a story like that because Mugabe banned them from the country. More importantly I'm hoping to see different news than the cut-and-paste job from the American stations. Is it just me, or does ABC/NBC/CBS/CNN all show the exact same news stories?

Anyway if it's available in your area try to tune in and see if Aljazeera is a different kind of news channel.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The nature of jihad

A buddy and I attended a recent lecture hosted by Georgetown University on jihad by Dr. Shah-Kazemi (an Ismaili Muslim living in the UK). I have to confess a lot of it went over my head, it was definately an in-depth talk suited towards Islamic scholars and other acedemics but it was interesting enough. From what I could glean from it the Qur'an and other fundamental Islamic works outline codes of conduct for war and fighting enemies. He then discussed historical examples from Damascus and Algeria to show how it should be properly applied - these examples outlined that non-Muslims should be shown mercy, be treated with respect when captured, and how to fight those who are actually attacking you and not others unrelated to the conflict. Unfortunately it ran overtime so there wasn't enough time to discuss the obvious question - why then do many fundamentalists/extremists not apply it this way. There was a question by someone in the audience that pointed out that much of his talk was based on his interpretation of key passages and asked how he knows that his interpretation is the correct one, but his answer went over my head (e.g. "words resaonating on both a spititual and metaphysical plane" kind of lost me).

Anyway, fairly interesting lecture and I might try to look up his historical examples to see if I can find out more about them. It definately painted a picture that jihad should not be some mob form of extremist violence.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Snopes - a website everyone should use

Ever wonder if that "missing kid" email you received is true? Or if that shocking picture a friend forwarded is real or a photoshop job? The website to find out, and one of my favourite websites, is Snopes ( Chances are that chain email or picture is already there, with an investigation to see if it is true or not. It is also a neat site for just surfing around the various lists of urban legends that they investigated (recent one: Hillary Clinton is not named after Sir Edmund Hillary of Mt. Everest fame). Back when I worked in Bermuda I would have to use snopes at least one a month to debunk some email circulating around the office.

So go to snopes, look around, then bookmark it and visit it everytime you wonder if an email or piece of trivia is on the level. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Got back from Istanbul - what a great city! Temperature was comfortable, the sights were amazing (especially the Topapki Palace and the Hagia Sophia) and the food was good. Met some Irish folk in my hotel who were working in Saudi Arabia and we hung out together as one big group. One of them used to work in Istanbul so he spoke Turkish, which helped a lot. He also knew great restaurants to go to. Being Irish lots of drinking was also a must.

If you're ever in Istanbul be sure to try raki, a local drink similar to sambuca, and to do the ferry ride up the Bosphorous.

For those of you on my pictures distribution list I'll send the pics across in the next week or so. The pictures will show things better than I could describe them.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

On Vacation

I'm off tomorrow morning for 4 days in Istanbul. I'll post about it once I return. That is, if I'm not bloated from eating too much Turkish Delight (which I love).


During Ramadan a Muslim is not allowed to eat or drink anything throught the day so the meal to break the fast, called Iftar, is pretty important. Some Iftars can range from simple meals with family up to extravagant multi-hour banquets.

The local hotels all offer Iftar buffets and I got to check two out at the Intercontinental Hotel and at the Ritz Carleton. Both decorated their seating area like a uber-decked out Arabian tent (the Ritz was actually in a ballroom while the Intercon had set up a large pavillion on the beach). The decor was stunning with tapestries, rugs, ornate furniture etc. Both had lovely buffets with both Western and Arabic cuisine, as well as a shawarma station, but the Ritz went one step further with a pasta station, tempura station, and ice-cream station. There was so much food I couldn't even try everything.

Afterward I kicked back with a sheesha, also known in the West as a hookah. Sheesha smoking uses flavoured-tobaccos and while it is not something I wound not want to do often (it is still smoking tobacco and little better than smoking cigarettes) it does add embience to the setting. I tried mango-flavoured tobacco, grape, and apple. Mango had almost no flavour but the grape and apple were great. At both places it wasn't long before the "tent" got pretty smoky as over half the guests were smoking sheeshas.

It's a shame that currently Ramadan is in the hotter summer months. I think anyone visiting the region would have a wonderful time at an Iftar buffet but since the weather is too hot for touring around and seeing the sights (and all the restaurants are closed all day for Ramadan) tourists have limited options for things to do.

What's up with

Geez, I'm finally able to access the blog again. For some strange reason I couldn't log on for the last few days. It might have something to do with the computers at my compound's computer room; since everyone at the compound uses them they probably have a ton of junk on them affecting the performance. I'll see how it goes over the next few days.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Scientific Apologetics - part 1A

I took a quick look through the 27-page response to Qur'anic Embryology and most of the cited work is internet and usenet postings, as opposed to published research. Not that published research is needed to debunk proof like a sculpted piece of gum resembles an embryo. If anyone can find out more about the Needham and Needbeer paper let me know.

Interestingly enough the debunking of the Quran'ic Embryology paper also references a website,, that apparantly has more articles challenging other "Science in the Qur'an" arguements - but my service provider will not allow me to access that website! Qatar has only one service provider and they block sites that are contentious, which usually means pornographic. I guess some sites critical of Islam are also blocked. When I go on vacation next I'll make sure to check this site out. Just on principle you should too! If my service provider won't let me look at it then it's must have something interesting on it. I think I'll tell everyone at the Bad Astronomy forum about it as well just so it gets more traffic.

That website again:

Anyway much of the embryo debate seems to hinge on Professor Keith L. Moore and some statements and research he did back in the 1980s. The Needham paper cites a reference that apparantly Dr. Moore did not convert to Islam himself, which would be odd given that the Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam almost completely relies on his work for the embryo argument, so I wonder if anyone knows the full story. Apparantly he used to teach at the University of Toronto but I don't know if he is still there, and quick search of the UofT website wasn't helpful. If you know more about this please let me know.

Animal Shelters

First some sad news, the other day a coworker's cat got run over by a car. It was originally a scrawny stray that she started feeding and it soon won her heart, within a month she was taking it to the vet for checkups, got it a collar, and let it come into her condo. The cat gained weight, stopped being scared of people, and turend out to be a nice, friendly, happy cat. But one evening it climbed over a wall and went out to the street where a car hit it. My coworker was devastated. She takes some solace in that at least the cat's last few months were happy ones.

Coincidentally the next morning the Qatar Natural History Group, of which I'm a member, did a trip to the Qatar Animal Welfare Society ( where we helped walk the many dogs they had at the shelter. I was surprised that there would be many dogs given that Muslims consider dogs unclean and tend not to have them as pets, but there were about 20 of them. Most of them were Salukis or Saluki-crosses, Salukis being one of the only breeds of dog that Arabs use. One of the people at the shelter told me that medium or large dogs are hard to find homes for since most foreigners live in apartments or condos. Small dogs usually get adopted within a few days. QAWS also has cats, a donkey (?) and a castrated bull (?!?). I get the feeling that the bull will be there for a while.

So if you want something to cheer you up, go to click on Adopt, then Success Stories, for letters from people who adopted animals from the shelter and found themselves with a wonderful pet.

If you're thinking of getting a pet, please adopt one from an animal shelter rather than a pet store. And if you live in Qatar, please consider adopting one of their wonderful dogs or cats.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Critical Thinking News

Looks like Saudi Arabia is trying to crack down on astrology with an Imam declaring it "forbidden and is considered a form of magic".

I also liked the following: "Believing that a certain star can be the cause of happiness or misfortune is a superstition from the pre-Islamic age...," Hear, hear.

I just wish they wanted to ban it because astrology is nonsense, not because it is some kind of magic. It is not magical because there is nothing to it. Astrology doesn't work.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Scientific Apologetics - part 1

Firstly, I found a online version of the book that I was handed A Brief Illustrated Guide to the Understanding of Islam. You can find it at this website. The booklet is 74 pages of which only the last 30 actually discusses general concepts of islam, the beginning 40 pages focuses on the evidence "for the truth of islam".

So Chapter 1: "The Scientific Miracles in the Holy Qur'an" (isn't 'scientific miracle' a misnomer?)

We start off with the Qur'an discussing human embryonic development. This focuses on the following statement in the Qur'an (Surah 23:12-14)

"We created man from an extract of clay. Then We made him as a drop in a place of settlement, firmly fixed. Then We made the drop in to an alaqah (leech, suspended thing, and blood clot), then We made the alaqah into a mudghah (chewed substance)."

So what's the connection to human embryonic development? In summary, booklet claims:
1) at a certain stage of development the human embryo resembles a leech
2) It is suspended in the womb of the mother
3) the external appearance of the embryo and its sacs is similar to that of a blood clot
4) (here's my favourite) if you take a piece of gum and chew it, the gum will look similar to an embryo in the mudghah stage. (complete with pictures comparing an embryo to a scuplted piece of gum with one set of teeth imprints to look like a spinal cord).

There is also a few quotes from Professor Keith L. Moore "one of the world's most prominent scientists in the fields of anatomy and embryology" supporting the idea that the Qur'an is the Word of God, I presume based on the above information.


I'm not a biologist, though I do have a bachelor's degree in chemistry, and debunking is going to take a lot of work & research. Getting up to speed on the embryology claims alone might be tough. I figured I'd have to post this up on some skeptic bulletin boards, and maybe search, to see if others could help out.

But low and behold someone has already done the work for me. A 27-page response titled "Quranic Embryology". It is an interesting read that counters a lot of the claims . . .

. . but then my joy on seeing this work turned a bit down. I'm going to have to spend some time checking the sources to see that it is on the level. Key givaway: the authors were Dr. Yusuf Needham and Dr. Butrus Needbeer. Needham and Needbeer!? Yeah, I'm sure that's their real names. Not suprisingly googling these names didn't turn up much else on them aside from this article. I figure these are just pennames but it does throw some suspicion on the work so a follow-up to the sources is definately needed.

I'll do some fact checking and let you know what I come up with. Meanwhile the Needbeer article is still worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Scientific Apologetics

The other day I was handed an interesting booklet titled A Brief Illustrated Guide to Islam, which I found somewhat amusing because only a part of it is dedicated to explaining Islam. Instead much of it discusses the “Scientific Proof of the Qur’an”, basically pointing out things in the Qur’an that agree with current research, or the views of one or two scientists, and from this concluding that this is proof that the Qur’an is divine. I refer to such arguments as ‘scientific apologetics’, using science to try to support a faith-based position.

I don’t really have a problem with religion and religious beliefs. Most of humanity needs belief in a greater power to make their lives meaningful. Yes some people are atheists but I’m pretty sure that being an atheist isn’t for everyone. For many the comfort of religious belief is truly helpful. But when said religious beliefs try to cross the faith/science boundary that we run into problems.

Generally when someone uses scientific apologetics they open themselves up to a few problems:

1) Science cannot prove/disprove the divine. Science deals with empirical observations and evidence and is unable to answer questions relating to God/Allah/gods. Many scientists themselves are religious – since science does not investigate matters of faith or the divine generally there is no contradiction in someone having religious beliefs yet practicing science. Having a passage from scripture resemble some empirical observation or scientific hypothesis does not prove divinity any more than if some passage does not conform to a hypothesis disproves divinity. Scientific apologetics does not appear to realize this concept, which brings us to . . .

If one proposes that scripture agreeing with science = proof of divinity, does that mean if an item is found in the scripture that disagrees with science that it is now proven that the scripture is not divine? No believer in a particular religion would accept the latter of course. But you can’t have your cake and eat it to: agrees = divine, not agrees = also divine? Heads I win, tails you lose!

2) What if other scriptures from other religions also have passages that agree with science, does that mean they all must be divine? People using scientific apologetics tend to focus on their own religion and not apply the same methods to other religious books. As we’ll see over the next few posts, many religions (Christian, Islam, Hindu) have all sorts of things in their works that ‘agree’ with science. So if a Christian uses science to ‘prove’ that the Bible is true, they should also agree that the Hindu scriptures are true for the same reason. (They wouldn’t of course but it creates a logical inconsistency: why should one believe in Book X because it ‘agrees’ with science but not Book Y?)

3) Just because some passage or part of a scripture can be interpreted to agree with science does not de facto mean that everything in the scripture must therefore be correct and true. That is a logical fallacy, I think it’s analogous to a doctor looking at your ear and finding that since it is free of disease concluding that your whole body must be free of disease! It also runs into problems with #1 above. Some diehard believers try to get around this by accepting research that supports their scriptural interpretations while excluding anything that opposes it (and if it’s someone like a young-earth creationist, or a geocentrist, there’s a heck of a lot of research and evidence to ignore).

So that’s just some things to bear in mind as I spend the next few weeks going over the claims made in this Islamic booklet, as well as some claims made in other scriptures. It’ll be neat, I swear.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Horoscopes for cows

Yep, there's a news article from India about a university designing horoscopes for cows. When I saw the title of the article in a local newspaper I nearly fell over - but it's not what you think. Turns out the horoscopes have nothing to do with planet positions but instead its about predicting the animals future using DNA analysis. Great article with a misleading title - check it out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Creationism part deux

Okay, creationism in Islam. Actually I had a tough time finding a lot of material, presumably most Islamic-creationist literature and websites would be in Arabic, which I can’t read, so it might be more prevalent than my English-language searches indicate.

Overall creationism, to the extent that it attacks science or denies evidence in favour of literal interpretation of scripture, does not appear to be too wide spread in the Islamic world. It does exist as there are some groups in Turkey that promote creationism, and I presume the same exists in more fundamentalist nations like Pakistan. But it appears to nowhere near as prevalent as in North America. A quick Google-news search didn’t find any recent articles (looks like everyone is still focusing on the Pope’s recent comments about Islam) so I guess the question is, why isn’t it more prevalent?

What is said about the issue in the Qur’an would be a major factor. While the Qur’an has much that is in common with the Bible (the virgin birth of Jesus for example) it does not go into the level of detail that Genesis does in terms of the creation of the world. The Bible has a detailed series of “A begat B who begat C . . .” and in North America there is a type of creationist called Young Earth Creationists who add up all the begats and thus determined that the maximum age of the Earth is something like 6,000 years, give or take a few thousand. This of course flies in the face of pretty much all of the sciences, as well as history, sociology, and other academic disciplines so YECs are pretty vocal in their anti-science stance. I think you have to go into pretty deep denial to wish away all of the evidence that shows that the Earth is older than 6,000 years - but they do it! Since the Qur’an lacks the detailed lineage in the Biblical Genesis, and I don’t think the Qur’an gives a specific age for the Universe, you don’t see the Islamic equivalent of YECs as there is no specific age to hang your hat on.

Generally Islamic creationism seems to focus on just attacking the theory of evolution, but rather than go into detail I’ll just link to a Wikipedia article on creationism in Islam, a good starting point in case you want to learn more. And of course there is always Talk Origins.

If I get a chance in the future to talk to an Islamic biologist I’ll ask them for their opinion on the issue and how widespread creationism and other anti-science thought exists in various parts of the Islamic world.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Time for a bit of a rant on creationism. I’m not talking about the belief that a divine being created the universe and all life on it, anyone believing in God/Allah should believe that, I’m talking about people who’s interpretations of scripture are so literal that they deny any evidence that contradicts their interpretations, to the point of trying to undermine scientific research and education. These are the people I have an issue with!

Sadly creationism, or as they like to call it now - intelligent design, appears to be on the upswing in America, or at least the adherent followers are getting more noisy. Part of their tactics is to promote an either-or fallacy that you can’t be Christian and agree with the theory of evolution, that they are somehow mutually exclusive, and that only atheists/pagans/communists etc. ‘believe’ in evolution (believe is in quotes because in truth one doesn‘t believe in scientific theories like a religion - if further evidence comes along that disproves evolution in favour of another theory then science will move to that theory and march onward, not holding my breath that it‘ll happen though). In fact many Christian sects such as most Catholics and Anglicans have no problem with evolution, and many biologists are Christian which does not appear to impact their research into matters such as genetics. But Heaven forbid that a Biblical literalist might think that maybe, just maybe, that any evidence that goes against their beliefs might indicate that their interpretation of scripture is wrong. Heck no! The Bible is inerrant and how they interpret it must be right. If science comes out with evidence to the contrary then in their minds it means science is attacking the Bible itself. There seems to be an underlying arrogance to that.

Let me just say that science does not attempt, nor is it able, to prove or disprove a religion. Things like the existence of God are totally beyond scientific enquiry. Science deals with empirical observation, it can only look at things that is within our power to observe and study. No test of science can study God. The Bible isn’t in danger from science and hundreds of years of scientific study and achievement hasn’t made the world a bunch of roving atheists. Almost all scientists know this.

Scriptural literalists set themselves up for confrontation with science because of their inflexibility. Once they believe something due to their interpretation of scripture it is difficult for them to accept any evidence to the contrary. How do many of them deal with it if evidence appears? Denial is one way, grand conspiracies about scientists trying to undermine Christianity is another, taking quotes from famous scientists out of context is a favourite, or blatantly lying about scientific concepts to undermine science can occur sometimes as well.

So I’ll segway into one of my favourite websites, Talk Origins. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the theory of evolution, false claims made by creationists, and other material on the war between science and religious dogma. The What’s New section is always worth checking out periodically - I especially love the summary of the monthly feedback, but if you ever come across creationist claims against evolution this is the first place you should go to investigate the truth behind the claim.

That said if you have access to a good library and are really interested in the topic be sure to check out the original source material. Talk Origins is good about listing references for their information. I sometimes get concerned when in internet forum debates people post things along the lines of “Talk Origins says this therefore it must be true”. That’s not ideal from a critical thinking perspective and I doubt the people who manage Talk Origins want their website to be seen as some kind of gospel. Part of being a good skeptic is a willingness to check sources even when you agree with what is being said.

What about creationism in Islam? I’ll get to that tomorrow . . .

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy Ramadan!

Well Ramadan just started, one lunar month where the Muslims fast during the day, pray more often and have banquets/feasts at night. Because the start of Ramadan depends on when the Moon (in a certain phaase) is sighted locals can't give an exact date for when it starts - best they can do is +/- 1 day.

So we figured it would start on Saturday night so a bunch of people from work all met up at a bar around 8pm and just as I got there the bar announced that Ramadan had started, therefore no more drinks could be served. None. Zero. No more alcohol for the next 28 days. So my co-workers that had arrived a few minutes earlier managed were holding on to the last beer that they were gonna get at this bar. I tried calling the others who hadn't arrived yet to warn them but they didn't believe me! They thought I was just joking so showed up anyway. Surprise, no more liquor!

We called around and found one bar that was serving for one more hour so it was a mad dash to get there before they closed up. In the end we all got one or two drinks so the evening wasn't a total wash. Looks like parties at compounds if anyone wants drinks now.

Because during Ramadan Muslims are required to fast during the day (no food, no water, nothing) the Government has strict rules in place. No restaurants can be open, no eating in public (including in your car while driving). I've heard hotels keep a room out-of-sight open so that guests can eat something but otherwise their restaurants are closed. Even at the office we can't eat lunch at our desks, but the boss said that from 12-1 we could eat in one of the meeting rooms. I have to figure out what to bring for lunch now - I always ate out but since nothing is open I can't do that anymore. Oh well, just another interesting thing about life in the Gulf.

On the plus side our working hours are reduced during Ramadan. I get to go home at 3pm for the next month instead of 5. Yay!!

Ramadan Kareem everyone! (I hope I got that right).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Science behind the veil

I just happened to catch this interesting article in the local paper. I think it paints an interesting contrast in what many in the West think of the Middle East, and how it actually can be. A westerner would generally not expect the physics teachers to be women in abayas. Yes, women in Qatar are allowed to work.

I'm glad that Qatar appears to be taking science education seriously. It makes sense since most jobs are occuring in science and engineering (such as construction and petrochemical) that's where young Qataris should be focusing their educational efforts. A Qatari who gets a chemical engineering degree is all but guaranteed a nice job with one of the many petroleum companies.

Now people have to keep in mind that what happens in Qatar does not necessarily represent what happens everywhere else in the region. Saudi Arabia is right next door and while I've never been there it is definately a different world from Qatar. A lot more conservative, a lot greater wealth discrepancy between the rich and the poor. Bahrain, even though it is right next door, is also very different. Bahrain is a lot more relaxed than Qatar: lots of bars and nightclubs, locals can buy alcohol, pork is available at markets, and there appears to be a lot of young asian girls hanging out in the bars (even Lonely Planet notes that prostitution is big there).

Three countries, all muslimm, three very different societies.

[update 27 November 2011 -- pork is now available in Qatar, see my post of that date]

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Away on business

I leave tomorrow for a business trip to Bahrain. I'll be back in a couple of days with updates.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bermuda gets through relatively unscathed

Looks like Hurricane Florence was a Category 1 storm and so Bermuda didn't suffer a lot of damage (unlike Fabian in 2003, which was Category 3). Some friends have already emailed to say that they're fine and while the power will be out for some of them for a day or two the storm wasn't too bad.

Bermuda enforces strict building codes, all homes are made of cement block and the walls have to be at least 8 inches thick, so while hurricanes can do damage to a roof or windows, the homes themselves are usually fine. Why doesn't the US do this in places like Florida?? (Hmmmm, I'll leave this as a rant for sometime in the future)

So if anyone else from Bermuda is reading this please send me an email so that I know you're okay.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Critical Thinking News

Apparantly a geologist in India said he developed a model that would predict earthquakes and that it predicted the 2004 Indonesian quake. So as a good scientist he let his model and data be reviewed by other scientists so that the predictions could be independently verified and tested, right? Nah, instead lets tell a bunch of people in India that a Mag 7+ quake is going to hit their area and destroy everything. I think you can figure out
what happened next. Idiot.

This is why good scientists let their theories and models be peer reviewed and independently verified before making rash statements to the public. I hope someone takes Mr. Vetkanathan to task for the problems he caused. I also hope that he will now rethink the usefulness of his model and let it be tested by others, but I'm not holding my breath. He was even so bold as to predict the earthquake to the nearest minute so I'm sure he'll find some excuse for why his wonderful model didn't work.

Hurricane Florence

It looks like Hurricane Florence is going to hit Bermuda tomorrow!

I used to live in Bermuda and was there when Hurricane Fabian hit in 2003. Not a pleasant experience. I was lucky as my house was dug into the bottom of a hill which offered excellent protection from southerly winds - exactly the direction the hurricane's winds came from. Those on the island whose homes faced south were not so fortunate - most of those homes had broken windows and roof damage. Still too close to call which direction with winds will come from with Florence. Hurricanes spins counterclockwise so if the center of the storm goes west of Bermuda (like Fabian) the winds will be from the south, if the center of the storm is east of Bermuda the winds will be from the north.

If any of my friends in Bermuda are reading this good luck, and please take precautions to ensure your safety. Arrange an alternate location to wait out the storm in case the winds will not be in your favour. Hopefully Florence will be milder than Fabian.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Critical thinking news

There are a few English language dailies in Doha, the one I usually read is Gulf Times. The paper sometimes has articles regarding some part of the world where superstitions are causing problems so from time to time I'll link to a story that highlights why education in critical thinking is important.

Today's news: Food poisoning thought to be the curse of a god.

Don't snicker too much, it wasn't all that long ago that North America was gripped with that "Satanic Cults" hysteria, remember?

The Amazing Meeting

Every year there is a big skeptic convention in Las Vegas called "The Amazing Meeting" (TAM), hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation ( I've been to the last two and had a awesome time, it is great to meet other skeptics, scientists and critical thinkers from around the world and listen to the various speakers. The speakers are generally top notch - last year had Murray Gell-Mann, Penn & Teller, Michael Shermer, the guys from MythBusters (including Kari), and many more. It's not all about the lectures though, I also attended a TAM poker tournament, a couple of parties, a visit to Red Rocks, and a brief trip to the Gun Store to fire off some weapons.

I'm planning to go to this upcoming one as well, if you're interested in skepticism or critical thinking you should think about going too. Go to the JREF website or to find out more. If you're a little strapped for cash they also have a scholarship program, funded by donations from attendees, to pay for the conference fees. I think last year the fund helped 41 people!

I've still got to work out my schedule so I'm not 100% sure that I'll be there but if there's a chance that I can make it I will, it is that much fun.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Psychics, astrologer and magicians, oh my!

One day I was reading something, I don’t recall if it was an article in a magazine or something from an internet forum, about yet another so-called “psychic” in the US who made a bunch of vague waffling predictions on some crime - predictions which turned out to be wrong (not that something minor like that will stop them from continuing their career as a psychic I’m sure). And it dawned on me . . .

I had yet to see any ad or storefront for a psychic/astrologer/palm reader etc in Qatar.

That struck me as odd as the capital, Doha, has at least 400,000 people in it, many of whom are from India where astrology is rampant. A lot of people here are also pretty well off financially - the kind of people psychics and fortune-tellers love to try to get as clients. Yet I couldn’t recall any advertising for fortune-telling services.

So I skimmed the newspaper classifieds, then the yellow pages, to find them. You know what - I found none. Not one. So I did a cursory google search on “astrology Doha”, “astrology Qatar”, “psychic Qatar” and so on. While I could find a few astrology and similar websites I couldn’t find a practitioner who was actually in the country (although I did find a Reiki healer). Apparently there either aren’t any fortune tellers advertising their trade here, or they are fairly discreet about it.

Care to guess why? That’s because under Islam fortune telling is forbidden. I had to do some internet searching on this but apparently sections of the Qur’an address this, like surah 27:65 which states Say: None in the heavens and the earth knows the unseen except Allah, nor can they perceive when they shall be resurrected, which many Muslims interpret to mean that since only God knows that which is unseen, you can’t know the future since it implies that you know the mind of God. So under Islamic thinking psychics, astrologers, and other assorted fortune tellers generally fall into one of three categories:

1) con artists;
2) deluded; or
3) practicing sorcery (a big no-no in Islam)

I guess this tends to discourage Arabs who were thinking of becoming a “psychic detective”. In some ways this is a North American skeptic’s dream - a country where tarot card readers, psychics and other assorted woos do not operate because it‘s against the law! Wow!

Now, I don’t buy for a minute that no one here in Qatar is practicing fortune-telling. A lot of people here aren’t Muslim and I’m sure that there are some astrologers working underground amongst the Indian community. You can also get satellite TV here, including the standard fare of psychic nonsense from the West including ads for psychic phone lines. But wouldn’t it be nice if the West would start taking psychic scam artists more seriously and start cracking down?

Sadly I’m not sure if this is really a plus about Qatar that I’m comfortable with. Is cracking down on fortune-telling due to religious reasons really a win for critical thinking? I think it would be a lot better if these laws were enacted because the populace knew that psychics didn’t really predict the future, maybe even going so far as to force anyone claiming to be a psychic to undergo controlled testing to prove their claims. Stopping psychics because they are ‘practicing sorcery’ just lends credence to the notion that sorcery is real, hardly an ideal solution from my point of view.

Anyway, I think I’ll try to do a bit more digging on this, to see just what the laws in Qatar are in relation to fortune-telling. A recent arrest for practicing sorcery looks like it was on fraud charges rather than sorcery, which is encouraging (story here:, but there may be fortune-telling laws on the books. Once I find out more I’ll post it up.

And so it begins . . .

So, why exactly am I doing this blog?

I moved to Qatar a few months ago and it surprised me how it was nothing like I had expected. English is widely spoken, women can work and drive cars, and most of the non-Arab women do not wear abayas (the long black clothing that covers them head to toe), instead wearing jeans and t-shirts or whatever. No one has cared that I am not Muslim, no one has stopped me in the street to 'convert' me, damn me for my Western-heathen ways, or tell me that they dislike America/the West/whatever. It's been pretty mellow actually.

I'm a skeptic as well as an armchair scientist (i.e. I read science magazines and webarticles) and I've wondered about how it works here in an Shar'ia country. Right now in America there is an increasing amount of anti-science, whether it be the push for creationism/intelligent design in schools, new age mumbo-jumbo clogging the TV airwaves, anti-vaccination hoopla, or quack medical products like HeadOn getting more and more recognition in the minds of the consumer. Do things like this make inroads here in Qatar? Do they have some other old superstitions that we aren't familiar with in the West? How does Islam mesh with critical thinking and science? I hope over time to find out.

I will also use this blog to discuss, and hopefully debunk, some common misconceptions about the Middle East and Islam that, perhaps thanks to Western media, are widespread in the West. The Islamic world is big and involves many, many different nations. How people live under Islam differs from place to place so one can't just paint sweeping generalizations about Islamic Nations as those generalizations just won't apply in a lot of countries. Algeria is not the same as Egypt, Egypt is very different from Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia is nothing like Lebanon, and so on. Life in Qatar is nothing like, say, Afghanistan yet it surprised me how many people I've talked to figured it would be. Hopefully over time readers of this blog will see the differences.

If there is anything specific that you want to know about life in Qatar, or science and research here, let me know and I'll see what I can find out. I do requests! :)