I am an American Now

I guess I can claim to be a real American now since I have got that quintessential American trait: monolingualism. Just kidding.

But my language skills are getting worse. Especially in my native language, Urdu. I hadn’t written anything (yes, I mean anything) in Urdu since my college years, now more than a decade in the past. Then, recently I decided to switch this weblog to a bilingual one. Trying to write here in Urdu has been hard. And not just because I was typing in Urdu for the first time in my life. I have found that my Urdu writing skills are no longer adequate. My Urdu in these posts has been stilted and unnatural.

Mind you, I am not one of those yuppie Pakistanis who never learned adequate Urdu. We spoke Urdu at home. While I didn’t read as much Urdu literature as English, I read quite a bit, which is another thing that has changed. I haven’t read any Urdu literature recently (other than the few books, especially poetry, that I brought with me from Pakistan). Even though I have never been a great writer, I used to manage to write decent Urdu essays in high school.

Another thing that has changed is that in recent years most of my friends and acquaintances are not Pakistanis. Hence, the only person I regularly speak Urdu with is Amber. The same is true for her. Even with her, I have noticed that English is creeping into our conversation quite a lot. We seem to switch between English and Urdu all the time while talking to to each other.

On the internet, I read mostly the English Pakistani newspapers. I read Dawn regularly and The News on occasion. This is more due to the liberal nature of English journalism in Pakistan as compared to Urdu newspapers than any other factor.

My efforts to be multilingual (i.e., more than two languages) as an adult have been dismal failures. I tried to learn Arabic and Persian after high school and then French a few years ago. Sad to admit, but I am not a language person.

I think I need to work on my Urdu skills more regularly. So expect regular Urdu posts here. Also, I need to find some bookstore which carries good Urdu books.

Magic Third Party

I had planned on ignoring Nader this year, but HijabMan has compelled me to write.

What I’m puzzled by, is what I see as ‘short term’ thought. Sticking with the current two party system, shuffling between two parties that obviously aren’t in it for the human-interest. So why “anyone but Bush?” and why not “Let’s try to get a third party in there, and vote Green,” for instance.

On second thought, I am still going to try to ignore Nader by keeping this discussion focussed on third party politics.

A lot of Americans I have talked to are obsessed with the two-party system. I am not sure why a two-party system as practised in the US is such a great idea. Sure, too many parties, a la Israel or Italy, can be a problem. But two major parties with a few minor parties can still lead to stable government.

On the other hand, I do not understand the logic of some third party supporters. What exactly did Nader accomplish in the 2000 Presidential elections? More than 3 years later, where is the Green party and what has it done? Where is the party machinery and grassroots support he built? What about the policies the Greens favored? Do they have any chance of being implemented by the current administration?

I look at elections very pragmatically. The purpose of my vote1 is not to waste it for a candidate I like best. Rather I weigh different options and vote for the optimum where my vote could make a difference and elect someone more likely to do stuff I would like to see done.

This is the short-term approach. For the long term, we can focus on a party or group which matches our political beliefs. We can try to build support for this party/group and run candidates at all levels. That is why I say to Green supporters: Sure vote Green. For mayor, city council, state representative, and may be even for Congress. But in what kind of a dream world would a Green party candidate run straight for President with no Green member of Congress and change the world? Want to vote 3rd party? Build one. If all goes well, in 10 years or 20, it might be strong enough to have a good shot at the President’s job.

In the 2000 elections, I also flirted with supporting Nader for a while because if he got 5% there would be federal funding for the Greens. Also, I wanted to bring a 3rd party alternative since I am not too fond of a strictly 2 party system. But then I realized that Nader was not really building the Green party at all. So I changed my support to Gore.

One argument I have heard for running a Presidential candidate is the 5% vote threshold which results in federal funding support in the next election cycle. I don’t think that really will change anything without a mass party base and activists. Plus does anyone think that there is any realistic chance of a 5% for the Green party or Nader this time around? Wouldn’t your vote be better utilized in supporting a more feasible candidate who is closer to your policy ideas?

Some Nader supporters remind me of the jihadist mindset. Change the man at the top and everything will change. Politics is much more grassroots than that.

While we are discussing third parties and Presidential elections, let’s take a look at the US Presidential elections when a 3rd candidate has gotten more than 5% of the popular vote. It has happened 13 times since 1824 from a total of 45 elections.

Year Candidate Party Vote Share
1996 H. Ross Perot Reform 8.40%
1992 H. Ross Perot Independent 18.91%
1980 John Anderson Independent 6.61%
1968 George Wallace American Ind. 13.53%
1924 Robert LaFollette Progressive 16.60%
1892 James Weaver Populist 8.51%
1856 Millard Fillmore American 21.53%
1848 Martin Van Buren Free Soil 10.12%
1836 Hugh White Whig 9.72%
1832 William Wirt Anti-Masonic 7.78%

Now, how many of these candidates had any effect at all on the political process or later elections?

In addtion to those listed above, there were the more interesting elections of 1824, 1860 and 1912 in which the popular vote was much more divided.

Woodrow Wilson Democratic 41.84%
Theodore Roosevelt Progressive 27.40%
William Taft Republican 23.17%
Eugene Debs Socialist 5.99%
Abraham Lincoln Republican 39.82%
John Breckenridge S. Democrat 18.10%
John Bell Const. Union 12.62%
Stephen Douglas Democrat 29.46%
John Q. Adams Democrat-Republican 30.92%
Andrew Jackson Democrat-Republican 41.35%
William Crawford Democrat-Republican 11.17%
Henry Clay Democrat-Republican 12.99%

Continue reading “Magic Third Party”

Libertarian Purity

Via Brian’s Study Breaks, I scored 14 out of 160 on the Libertarian Purity Test.

It seems not only am I unlikely to vote for the Libertarian party, I am in danger of being delinked by Unqualified Offerings.

Deltoid has a list of blogger scores on this test.

Vote to Heaven

Via the Head Heeb comes this report of God focussing attention on the Malaysian elections since the football (American) season is over.

Is God a swinging voter in this month’s Malaysian elections?

An unholy row has broken out between the ruling coalition and the Islamist opposition over which side the Prophet Mohammed will be barracking for in the March 21 polls.

An opposition state premier has claimed those who voted for his Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) would get to heaven while those who voted for parties in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition were heading for hell.

“It is stated in the Koran that those who rally behind Islam are also those who want to live under divine laws laid down by Allah,” said Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the premier of northern Kelantan state.

“Naturally, they will go to heaven for choosing an Islamic party, while those who support un-Islamic parties will logically go to hell.”

The Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, on the other hand, “pray[s] to Allah, asking him to ensure the Barisan Nasional wins a big majority.”

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad struck back at the PAS leader.

“I want to ask Nik Aziz, when is he going to heaven to see if those who voted for the party made it there?” Dr Mahathir said. “If it is true, then rogues and rapists will surely go to heaven if they vote for the party.”

While Mahathir wants Nik Aziz to go to the heavens, the Malaysian election authorities had a more corporeal warning in mind.

Malaysia’s Election Commission warned that parties promising heavenly rewards for votes were breaking the law, and offending candidates could be disqualified from parliament.

In response, Mr Aziz said: “PAS will keep using the heaven issue.”

More about Urdu Blogging

Sorry about another process post, but there were a few issues that I didn’t get to in my last post about Urdu blogging.

Win 98 issues

With a default installation of Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 6.0, you cannot see some of the Urdu characters on this weblog. It seems that Tahoma version 2.3 which is included with Windows only includes the basic Arabic characters and not all the extra Urdu ones. To solve this problem, I installed the Arabic language support for Internet Explorer from the Windows Update site. This did not fix the character issue, though it seems that it is required to display Arabic script properly in Windows 98. I then downloaded the newer version (3.0) of the font from Umair’s Urdu Blog. This fixed the problem in the entry body of the posts, but not in the entry titles or the sidebar. The reason is probably because the later two are using Tahoma Bold which is still the old version.

Since Windows 98 does not seem to support an Urdu keyboard, I downloaded Unipad, a Unicode Text Editor, and copy and pasted the Urdu text I typed in the editor into Intenet Explorer text areas for comments or a new entry. This seems to work well.

CSS issue

While I was struggling with Windows 98, I decided to change my CSS file by adding some more fonts to the font-family attribute for Urdu text. The purpose was to have at least one font which has all the Urdu characters. Unfortunately, it seems that if the first font in the list (Tahoma in my case) is installed on your machine, the page will display using that even if it does not contain all the characters used. Those characters not present in the font will show up as squares in your browser. The browser will not try to locate those characters in other fonts in the list. This is the behavior in Internet Explorer 6.0 at least, which was disappointing.

Font embedding

I tried to embed the Tahoma font with the website, but in the end decided not to do that when I realized the drawbacks of that approach.

First of all, embedding of truetype fonts works only with Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer. It doesn’t even work with Internet Explorer on Mac. Secondly, if I embed the whole font, it results in a big file. I can reduce the file size by embedding only the characters used on the website. However, this means that I have to re-analyze the website after every change, using WEFT, and upload the new embedded font file.

Blogging Configuration

To elaborate on the essential steps for Urdu blogging in the previous post, here’s what you basically need to do:

  1. Get your computer to type in Urdu either by
    • installing the language pack from your OS, or
    • using a Unicode text editor.
  2. Setting the character set for your weblog to be UTF-8.
  3. Defining some styles for Urdu and English for direction, fonts, etc.

If you blog mainly in Urdu, you might want to set the language and direction for the whole web page to Urdu. This can be accomplished by changing <html> in your blog template(s) to <html lang="ur" dir="rtl">. I think this will result in a scrollbar on the left instead of the default right as well.

This is Unacceptable

Do you think I should delink Max over this libelous post?

Here’s the news story he’s talking about. You can take the test yourself here.

Urdu Blogging and Web

I am using the Tahoma font for writing Urdu. Unicode is the standard character set for such things nowadays and the Arabic script part of it contains characters for Arabic, Persian, Urdu, etc. Some other fonts provide the Arabic characters which are a subset of Urdu ones, but not all Urdu characters.

ا آ ب پ ت ٹ ث ج چ ح خ د ڈ ذ ر ڑ ز ژ س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ک گ ل م ن ں و ہ ھ ء ی ے

Problems Viewing Urdu Text Above

I am using the Tahoma font for writing Urdu. Unicode is the standard character set for such things nowadays and the Arabic script part of it contains characters for Arabic, Persian, Urdu, etc. Some other fonts provide the Arabic characters which are a subset of Urdu ones, but not all Urdu characters. Tahoma has support for Urdu characters.

I have checked both Windows 2000 and XP and the Tahoma versions (2.80 and 3.00 respectively) installed with these two operating systems support Urdu properly. Windows 98 by default does not. However, installing a newer version of the font might help you viewing Urdu pages.

Older web browsers won’t display Urdu correctly. You should use a recent browser, like Internet Explorer 5.5 or later, Mozilla 1.5 or later, Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later, Opera 6 or later. Alan Wood has a detailed list and description of different browsers’ support for Unicode. He also has specific information about Arabic support.

Mac OS 9.2 and Mac OS X also support the Arabic script. I am not sure about Unix/Linux.

This website has a list of operating systems, browsers and fonts that support the Arabic script.

If you have more information about viewing or creating Urdu web pages on Macintosh or Unix, please let me know. Also, let me know if you would like me to include other Mac- or Unix-specific fonts in my style class for Urdu and how my weblog’s Urdu posts look in other browsers and operating systems.

I have set up my weblog so that if your computer does not have a Tahoma font, then it is provided from my website automatically. This should work on both Windows machines and Macs. I am not sure about Unix. However, if you have a really old version of Tahoma which does not contain all Urdu characters, then my newer version of the font is unfortunately not downloaded (I am actually not sure about this.) I am using Microsoft WEFT 3 to embed the fonts.

If the font is downloaded, it is installed only temporarily to view my weblog. This is due to the licensing provided with the Tahoma font. I can only do “editable embedding” which means temporary installation. “Installable embedding” which would allow a font to be permanently installed is not allowed.

Umair has a font for download as well as instructions on how to install it at the bottom of his Urdu weblog. That should help all Windows users.

UPDATE: Asif has an installable package of Urdu fonts for Windows.

How to Type in Urdu

I’ll only describe the Windows options here since they are the only ones I am familiar with. For other systems, please take a look at the links at the end of the post.

You have two options: You can either install full Urdu/Arabic support or use an Urdu Unicode editor.

Urdu support based on Unicode is available only in Windows 2000 and XP. The Microsoft website has the instructions on how to install Urdu language support and keyboard. Once you have installed it, you can simply switch language to Urdu from the taskbar and start typing in Urdu.

If you are like me, you might not like the Urdu keyboard layout. Shehzad has designed a phonetic Urdu keyboard. This maps Urdu characters on your keyboard such that phonetically similar Urdu and English characters are mapped to the same key. This is good for us who are used to typing in English. I recommend that you install that as well. The installation instructions are on his page.

UPDATE: I like this phonetic Urdu keyboard layout better.

Another thing you might need to get used to an Urdu keyboard is the on-screen keyboard. This is available from the accessibility options of Windows. You can either click on the keys of the on-screen keyboard or just use it as a guide while you type.

If you are not using Windows 2000 or XP or you don’t want to install the whole Arabic/Urdu support stuff, you can download some Unicode editor. A good one is Unipad. The free version allows you to type upto 1000 characters. For longer text, you have to buy it. It comes with a built-in Urdu keyboard and font. You can display the Unipad keyboard on-screen as well. Unipad does not require that you have the Urdu/Arabic language support installed on your machine. Once you have typed your text in Urdu, you can copy and paste it into other applications. If you are planning to put the text online and are afraid if you might not have support for Urdu setup properly, you can select the Urdu text in Unipad and convert it to XML/HTML entities. All the Urdu characters will change to &1651; or some other number. This is useful sometimes, though the problem is with editing. Unipad comes through, however, since you can convert the entities back to the characters as well.

How to Type Urdu Comments

Now, let’s talk about how you can type Urdu comments on this weblog. You can follow one of the two methods from the last section.

There is, however, the little matter of correct alignment of the text since Urdu is written from right to left while English is written left to right. To get that correct, you should do the following:

  • At the start of every Urdu paragraph, type in English: @p[ur](urdu). @ followed by a space.
  • If you have an English word within the Urdu paragraph, surround it with some code like this: %[en-US](en)Word%.
  • If you have an Urdu word in an English paragraph, it needs something similar: %[ur](urdu)لفظ%.

Urdu Blogging

Let’s now talk about what stuff I had to do with my blogging software to get the Urdu blogging going properly. This is obviously Movable Type specific, but the general principles apply to other blogging tools as well. I might later add stuff about Blogger. If you are blogging in Urdu, please write up something about how to setup your blogging tool for that and let me know.

First of all, you need to make a few changes in mt.cfg. Find the line about PublishCharset. Uncomment it (by removing the # at the start of the line) and change it to PublishCharset utf-8. This will change the character encoding of your weblog from ISO-8859-1 (Latin 1) to the Unicode one. Also, uncomment the NoHTMLEntites line and set it to NoHTMLEntites 1. This will leave your Urdu Unicode character as is instead of changing them over to HTML entities like &1649; etc.

There is one more change that I did in mt.cfg. This one was for comments. Since I am allowing comments in Urdu, I have to allow some extra HTML tags than the default to take care of the alignment. I’ll explain the tags later, but here’s my sanitize line in mt.cfg:

GlobalSanitizeSpec a href,b,br/,p,strong,em,ul,li,blockquote,p class lang,span class lang,i

If your web server is running Apache, you should also add the following in the .htaccess file in the top weblog directory (if the file doesn’t exist, create a new one):

AddType 'text/html; charset=UTF-8' html

This tells the server that all your files with .html extension should be served as of type text/html and with the character set of UTF-8.

The next problem was that the Movable Type interface was using fonts that did not display all Urdu characters properly. So I was seeing a lot of squares while typing my Urdu entries. To fix that, we need to make changes to the Movable Type interface style file. This is styles.css in your Movable Type directory. I am providing my styles.css file with the necessary changes.

The changes basically are to add “tahoma” as the first font in “font-family” for the following classes/styles: a.list, input, textarea, textarea.width500, textarea.wide, textarea.short310, and textarea.short340.

The last thing that needed to be done was to define the alignment for Urdu text in a style class for the weblog. Here is my CSS file. I am using the following two classes:

.urdu {
font-family: tahoma, "Arial Unicode MS", arial, georgia, verdana, sans-serif;
font-size: medium;
text-align: right;
direction: rtl;
unicode-bidi: embed;
.en {
text-align: left;
direction: ltr;
unicode-bidi: embed;
font-family:georgia, verdana, arial, sans-serif;

Whenever I have an Urdu paragraph, I use <p class="urdu" lang="ur">...</p> around it. I don’t use anything around the English paragraphs.

When I have a few words of Urdu in an English paragraph, I use <span class="urdu" lang="ur">...</span> around the Urdu words. Similarly, when I have some English words in an Urdu paragragh, I put <p class="en" lang="en-US">...</p> around them.

Actually, since I use the MT-Textile plugin, I use the simpler Textile codes as I showed in the section about commenting.


  1. Alan Wood’s Unicode Resources
  2. Unicode
  3. Browsers and Fonts that work for Arabic
  4. Shehzad’s website about Urdu websites creation
  5. Mac OS 9 Language Pack Installation
  6. Alan Wood’s List of Arabic Unicode Fonts
  7. Urdu Support for Windows
  8. Justifying Arabic Text
  9. HTML lang and dir attributes
  10. A better way for language-based styles
  11. Authoring HTML for Middle Eastern Content
  12. U-Trans: A program for converting ArabTex transliteration code into Unicode plus an Urdu Nastalique font
  13. Unipad: A Unicode text editor
  14. Urdu Phonetic Keyboard Layout for Unipad
  15. Syed Rizwan Rizvi’s Urdu-related page
  16. Hugo’s Urdu Page
  17. Urdu Alphabet
  18. Yahoo! Group for Urdu Computing

UPDATE: More here and here.