Friday, September 30, 2011

The Implications of Anwar al-Awlaqi's Death

On paper, I agree that terrorists deserve to die. My reasoning is simple: those who are not afraid to take the lives of others deserve to be deprived of theirs. Although as a Christian I believe in compassion and forgiveness of the sins of others, this is one of those rare exceptions. In a similar vein to serial killers/rapists -- defined as those who commit the same heinous crimes over and over again-- one's number of chances to change is limited. Can you imagine what would have happened if the in the biblical story of the prodigal son, the younger son left his father again? I shudder to think that the father would have shown the son the same love and are as before.

But the death of Anwar al-Awlaqi, the Al-Qaeda terrorist suspected of organizing activities targeting American soldiers and civilians, raises a profound and vital question. Does the U.S. government have the constitutional right to target and kill its own citizens? The central issue, of course is that Anwar al-Awlaqi was born in the United States and therefore is a U.S. citizen. By having him assassinated, President Obama and the CIA essentially have just ended the life of an American citizen on purpose. Had this man not been a terrorist, this mounts to blatant murder. But, the problem isn't so black and white as Anwar al-Awlaqi is a terrorist.

Based on the comments I have read from the Yahoo article, it appears the overwhelming majority of commenters support the action of President Obama and the CIA. They say things like "terrorists only have one right: the right to die" and express gladness at al-Awlaqi's death. I agree with this sentiment on the grounds that, despite being an U.S. citizen, the man effectively convicted treason when he took up al-Qaeda's cause in terrorizing the United States. In the olden days, the punishment for treason is...death, since treason is regarded as the most egregious sin one can commit against his/her country. But let's stop for a moment and think about the consequences of this. In other words, what's next?

What worries me is that this marks the beginning of something terrible: the erosion of our rights as citizens of this country we call the U.S. of A. Not that this hasn't started since 2001 -- the Patriot Act and espionage scandals that followed-- but for the first time, the government has targeted and killed one of its governed. This time the killing is justified as al-Awlaqi is clearly a terrorist and therefore not subject to the protections offered by the Constitution. Yet what would stop the government eventually to label other "classes" of citizens and also designate them to die. The line has been crossed and the boundary has been blurred.

An analogy that comes to mind is the message of the movie V for Vendetta. In that film, the British government essentially creates a disease that frightens the population into voting for an absolute dictatorship. It is an extreme comparison, but I think we should be careful and not overlook the significance of what has happened. There may be frightening consequences.

Follow up on the Xiaomi Phone

A month or two ago, I posted something concerning the newly announced Xiaomi M1 "superphone". While I was very impressed by the specifications of the phone, it was the (relatively) low price of $310 that really caught my eye. Other tech enthusiasts shared my opinion -- how could a dual-core 1.5 Ghz, 1 GB of RAM, 4-inch HD screen phone cost a meager $310? It just did not seem possible as similar spec-d phones retail for at least double that price. Needless to say, I was eager to see the reviews of the product.

Well, now Engadget released their review (a first in the English-speaking internet world) on the product and it is positively raving. To summarize, the reviewer(s) were impressed by the MIUI version of the Android OS, the large battery size, the transflective LCD screen, and (shockingly!) the Xiaomi phone's low price. The knocks/criticism was minor at worst: its relative heft and processor performance. All in all, Engadget's review validated the Xiaomi M1 phone as a successful product that will be sure to sell millions....under the right market conditions. Only problem is, the device will not be available outside China PR. I'm sure you can purchase it off Ebay or other international retailers, but that is a serious obstacle to the device's popularization.

So what's the point of this blog post? It's not just to regurgitate the contents of the Engadget review. Instead, I am declaring the very real possibility that I may purchase one in about a month's time. You see, my father will be traveling to China for a business trip and I realize that I could have him bring me back one (I would reimburse him of course). Furthermore, this possibility is made more real by the opportunity the Xiaomi phone presents to improve my fluency in Chinese. Figure that having a device in native Chinese would force me to re-learn some things, right? The Engadget review already mentions that the device should work with the AT&T network. Bingo.

For repeat visitors to my blog, you may remember my former discussions about possible gadget acquisitions from iPads to a new phone. Fast forward from then to now, we have seen the formerly "possible" devices become reality. For instance, the iPhone 5 is right around the corner, the Samsung Pad 10.1 has been released and, after much agonizing delays, the Samsung Galaxy S II phones have been released (or close to) at AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. I am no longer in the market for a tablet computer, due to my company's expected transition to Windows 7 -- which nets me a Lenovo X220 laptop. But I am still very much in the market for a new cell phone. Do I risk purchasing the new phone from overseas? That is very much possible.

I'm Back*!!

The title is kind of a misnomer since it's suggesting that I will be resuming my blogging activities as before the announced hiatus. The truth is, half and half. While I will be resuming blogging every now and then, the topics will be more personal. In many ways, this blog will function as a personal diary of sorts -- to track my current activities like reading materials and traveling destinations.

To be completely honest, I realized as of late that, despite the demand on time it places, blogging can be very beneficial. Informing your viewers/readers aside, it also helps improve your writing as well as provide a sense of accomplishment. As someone who can be labeled as "driven" and "goal-oriented", I like to go to sleep each night knowing that I accomplished something (even if it's a self-created illusion). The fact that I find myself idle at work more often than not helps too...

Kicking things off, I just came back from the local library with an exciting haul of reading material. I like to read (evident by the posts as book reviews) and I try to borrow a myriad of books on a wide range of subjects to sustain this habit. The books from this haul are as follows:

  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See -- this is supposedly a famous novel and it's a culture-specific fiction, which I like to read. Fiction adds variety to the rest of (non-fiction) below.
  • Using Microsoft Access 2010, by Alison Balter -- realized I need to learn Microsoft Access.
  • Oracle SQL: Essential Reference, by David Kreines -- same as above, my work involves using Oracle and so knowing SQL would help tremendously.
  • Learning MySQL, by Hugh Williams -- same as above
  • Drive: the Surprising Truth..., by Daniel Pink -- this is another widely-acclaimed book. I just finished "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely.
  • The Art Instinct, by Denis Dutton -- heard about this from a TED talk and thought it sounded very interesting.
The goal is to post some sort of review (maybe not on the SQL and Access books). But I'm behind already on book reviews so, I'd advise not to bet on it...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

(Yet Another) Blog Status Update

Here we are again. I haven't posted anything for the past week and a half. The standard excuses apply: work, school has started, and I am still a tiny sad about Mandy. But these excuses aside, I am hereby officially announcing a reduction of my work on this blog. Rather than "beating around the bush" on the subject by offering excuses after excuses for the (obvious) inactivity, I think it is best to be forthcoming. Does this mean I will stop blogging altogether? NO. It just means I will be posting less frequently.

A few reasons has led to this announcement of sorts:

  1. School has started and I will be devoting a significant chunk of free time to homework.
  2. Really need to be better prepared for work, such as learning the necessary programming language to be successful.
  3. Am part of a campus Christian fellowship and outreach to students will further consume significant chunks of free time.
  4. Would rather spend a little more time on reading and playing sports than spending a couple of hours a day writing about a myriad of different subjects.
In addition to reason #4, the biggest factor for my future diminished activity is that these past few months with blogging have been an experiment of sorts. When I first started back in April, the goal was to push hard and see where I can go with it. I had some grand vision of eventually becoming a professional blogger (aka quitting my current job). At first the main issue was creating content to attract readers to my blog -- this took time but I understood the effort needed. Readership steadily picked up to the point of my blog averaging 50-60 views per day (~1000 views per month) by late June. I was pretty encouraged by this.

Yet for some reason, the amount of views hit a wall at this point. I never surpassed this threshold, except on occasions when some unique posts attracted short-spurts of interest. (I am also responsible for slightly diminishing my blogging output). In addition I found myself lacking the time to blog, since it mostly was a reflection of personal experiences (e.g. writing a book review requires that I first read the book). These two issues combined was discouraging; the 4 reasons listed above only sunk the ship faster. Henceforth, I will be blogging perhaps 4-5 times per week on the identical range of topics as before. 

Another obstacle I should point out is that Blogger, as good of a blogging platform as it is, can at times be frustrating to use. The level of customizations are very limited, for example. It's actually mind-boggling that a Google-owned site of great potential is marred by a lack of refinement. I think I would set up my own blogging site next time -- if I ever took up this experiment again.