Facebook’s “periodic table of genders”

The periodic table of elements in its current form.  Source: Todd Helmenstine, chemistry.about.com

The periodic table of elements in its current form.
Source: Todd Helmenstine, chemistry.about.com

In 1869 Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev published the first version of the modern periodic table of elements in which he classified chemical elements according to the number of protons in their atoms. It is a fascinating tool to categorize and organize chemical elements. Elements which share similar physical characteristics and chemical behavior are put together in groups, periods, and blocks to make it easier for students of chemistry and scientists to work with them. As a student of social sciences, I would like in this post to give some reflections about the implications of organizing elements in this particular way.

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Oriental(ist) Metal Music

Narjahanam

Cover for the most recent album Wa Ma Khufiya Kana A’atham (2013) by Bahrainian oriental metal band Narjahanam 

Metal music has gone global. It is a fact that is recognized by most fans and followers of this genre of popular music. Many documentary films, academic books, and media features have documented excitedly the globalization of metal music tracing it to the farthest corners of the globe.

One of the regions in which metal music has thrived in the past decade is the Middle East. Following the explosion of folk metal—a variety of metal music in which folk tunes, instruments, and themes are fused with conventional metal music—in European metal scenes some 15 years ago, many Middle Eastern bands have attempted to create their own version of folk metal. The term “oriental metal” has hence entered metal nomenclature to refer to bands that incorporate “oriental” sounds with metal music.

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Upholding Tolerance is not only the Majority’s Resposibility: The Debate over the Color of Santa Claus

The penguin Santa proposed by Aisha Harris (Illustration by Mark Stamaty)

The penguin Santa proposed by Aisha Harris (Illustration by Mark Stamaty)

Recently a huge debate has spread all over the internet and mass media concerning the identity and color of Santa Claus: is he essentially a white character? I’m sure many of you have come across this debate on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network.

The debate started when Aisha Harris wrote a piece in which she recounts her confusion when she was a child over the color of Santa Claus. She, as an African American, had a black Santa Claus at home, but outside she saw a white Santa everywhere. Her father’s answer that Santa could be of any color didn’t satisfy her. She felt insecure and ashamed, because she thought her black Santa wasn’t the “real thing.” In order to “spare millions of nonwhite kids” feelings of insecurity and shame, she suggests that Santa is transformed into a Penguin. She thinks that a penguin can appeal to all people regardless of color and at the same time preserves as much as possible of the characteristics of the traditional Santa (such as coming from a snowy cold land).

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The Mechanical German Language

Book cover of the "Awful German Language" by Mark Twain (source: www.ebook.de)

Book cover of the “Awful German Language” by Mark Twain (source: ebook.de)

In 1880, American famous writer Mark Twain expressed his agonies of learning German in an essay titled The Awful German Language. The essay is a very enjoyable read, especially for German learners, as it satirizes brilliantly the German language and its perplexity. There are many memorable passages to quote. My favorite is this:

Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe these examples:

Freundschaftsbezeigungen.
Dilettantenaufdringlichkeiten.
Stadtverordnetenversammlungen.

He adds:

Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape,—but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel through it.

For more quotes by Mark Twain about German, see here.

Having been learning German for more than two years and a half (not very successfully, to my dismay), I think it is high time I wrote my own version of The Awful German Language. However, a blog post is too short to lay out “the several vices of this language,” to use one of Twain’s expressions. I will therefore limit this blog post to one single aspect of learning German; that is, why German may sound very mechanical for those who attempt to learn it.

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Genius in Simplicity

ak-vs-m16

The best assault rifles in the world head to head (source: factpile.com)

The internet is filled with endless, unresolved, binary debates such as: blonde vs. brunette, Pele vs. Maradona, Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, Lion vs. Tiger, Mercedes-Benz vs. BMW, etc. Fans hotly argue against each other, sometimes fanatically, with each side glorifying its “idol” and listing its undisputable merits, while disproving the opposite side’s arguments and mocking its self-evident “stupidity.” Sometimes during my long journeys of internet-surfing, I become locked up in these debates; not necessarily because I’m interested in the topic itself, but just for the fun of watching people tearing each other apart over it. Recently I became interested in the ultimate quarrel over the best assault rifle in the world: Is it the Russian/Soviet AK-47 (the Kalashnikov) or its American rival, the M-16?

I’m not by any means a gun enthusiast and I don’t claim any special expertise in this area. I did actually once shoot with the AK-47 during my military training in school (in Syria high school students used to receive lousy military training, but it was cancelled later. Now, tragically, many young Syrians do it for real!). I would like, however, to show that the contrast between the AK-47 and the M-16 is not merely a matter of technical features and performance, but of philosophy, i.e. philosophy of design.

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