Blog Milestone

Around 5pm ET today, the weblog passed 100,000 page views according to Sitemeter. It took 9 months since I got my own domain and switched to Movable Type. I understand that some weblogs get more traffic in a day.

In other news, Valentine’s day was very good for traffic statistics. I got a lot of hits for “Valentine Poem.” So much so that this post is now the 2nd most popular of this weblog in the past month.

I have also made some small changes to the weblog. One is the listing of the appropriate categories for each post. This is just to remind Jonathan that he promised to do that on his weblog some time ago.

There are also links to the “about” pages for the authors as well as pages listing all the posts by a specific author on the right sidebar.

If you have any questions whose answers you would like to be on the “about” pages, feel free to ask.

Pakistan and Iran are Arab?

There was a really bad article in the New York Times by Leslie Wayne about Arab Americans backing Bush in this election cycle. Leslie Wayne considers Iranians and Pakistanis as Arab too. Who knew?

Fortunately, I don’t have to debunk it since Jack Shafer of Slate already has.

Juan Cole provides a good summary of languages in the region. He also writes about politics of the different immigrant groups from the Muslim world.

One thing I would add is that Pakistanis have generally been Republicans because of the perception that Republicans have sided more with Pakistan in its conflict against India.

UPDATE: The New York Times has appended a correction to the article today:

A headline yesterday on a front-page article about fund-raising for President Bush’s re-election referred imprecisely to donors described in the article. Not all are Arab-Americans; they include Pakistani and Iranian-born donors.

Secularism in the Middle East

Talking about the hijab ban in France and plans to allow “painless” female circumcision (also known as female genital mutilation) in Italy, Letter from Gotham writes:

Can somebody please tell me what is the difference in principle between outlawing one religious custom and allowing another? I recognize that wearing a scarf does no harm to anyone. My point is, isn’t the secular society the ultimate authority?

She asks again.

I’m not clear on what he opposes. Is it this particular ruling [hijab ban], or the right of a secular government to ban certain religious practices? [… Should] nice, sanitary female genital mutilations […] be allowed? After all the parents want it. Or does a secular government have the right to interfere in the practice of religious customs?

I think she raises an important point. My opinion is that on the general concept, there are definitely times when the state can and should interfere into religious or cultural affairs. This should be restricted to practices which are barbaric or otherwise restrict the rights of individuals or groups, etc. It is always a good idea to consider whether a specific policy will work or not and what its side-effects will be.

Thinking about this issue, I came across an excellent post at Pedantry.

I’m an advocate of secular government, and I believe secular government can only be a success when religious people demand it as something in their own best interests.

This is very close to my own stance as well.

I think there are legitimate grounds to see in contemporary Islamic legal thought the possibility of a system of laws and governance that need not be excessively unjust or alienating and would certainly draw on more genuinely local traditions than copying European legal and political ideas directly. I think there may even be grounds to think that the development of such a code might be preferable in the real circumstances that prevail in the Middle East to imposing European legal standards.

I prefer to criticise (or praise, when the opportunity arises) modern Islamic politics on the basis of what it wishes to establish rather than because of its religious origins alone. Indeed, having claimed that it is wrong to deny people their religion when they undertake political acts, I can hardly condemn Islamic political ideology for being both political and Islamic. I think non-Muslims could take a far more progressive approach to Islamic politics by criticising it for what it actually proposes rather than for its lack of secularism. When Islamic political activists demand the promotion of social justice because Mohammed commanded it, the secular advocate of social justice should not start getting picky about whether social justice is desirable because it’s what God wants or for more secular reasons. When Islamic politicians demand a second rate status for women or non-Muslims because of something they claim their religion demands, rather than either debate Islamic theology or demand that Islamic politicians establish a secularism neither they nor their constituents believe in, we ought to go and hunt down Islamic political activists with contrary ideas so that we can support their alternatives.

Scott has hit on a very important point here. Most of the Muslim world is not secular. Most people there take their religion very seriously. Also, in most of these countries, the secular elite that have ruled over the years have not really being a smashing success.

There are Islamic political parties in a number of Muslim countries, for example the religious alliance MMA. But a number of secular parties also have some religious character. A secular culture like Europe is not likely in the Muslim world in the near future and we cannot force them to adopt secularism.

The Muslim states should be allowed to develop their own path to a tolerant, good political system. This system would be based on their local culture and religion to some extent.

This obviously does not mean that we allow the extremists like Taliban etc. to take over entire states. Instead we should judge actions rather than a take binary decision between secularism and Islamism. If a political leader advocates for the government to take care of the poor, a la the Alabama Governor, that is well and good. Mistreatment of minorities and women obviously is not.

You might say that the theory is fine but the real world is different and there are a lot of extremist Islamic parties. A counterexample is obviously the Turkish AKP. A number of political parties, both explicitly Islamic and generically Islamic, have been willing to be part of democratic systems. Their actions need to be watched, but there is no reason some of them shouldn’t evolve into liberal democratic parties.

The alternative is not attractive either. Secular dictators which flout the rights of their people can become huge liabilities. US support of such dictators will be seen by the people of those countries as inimical to their interests. Plus these dictators haven’t really done much good. I don’t think Algeria would have been worse under FIS than the military government and the civil war it has gone through in the last decade.

Blogroll Changes

I have dropped a few blogs from my blogroll and added some.

Among the additions are (in no particular order):

  • The Manifest Border: A weblog about immigration from immigration lawyer Randy Tunac.
  • Pedantry: A very interesting weblog by Scott Martens about politics, Europe, language, philosophy and his grandpa’s adventures.
  • Quark Soup: About science and policy by freelance science writer/journalist David Appell.
  • Daily Kos: The ultimate political blog.

I am looking for more interesting weblogs, especially those covering natural and applied sciences. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Weeks 1-2

First step: Zack is coming home on 27th Nov for Thanksgiving. After a very painful month (Zack’s CRVO problem), finally we are relaxed a little bit.

I got up 25 Nov and realized that I may be ovulating. (I have PCOS and a year back my doc put me on Glucophage which seems to be working in the sense that at least my cycle is regular now). This realization was purely based on the fact that mucous was very watery and clear. So I said to myself… well I missed this window too as Zack will not be here till the 27th (2 days later).

Later I forgot. Zack came home and we had a very nice time. We had friends over for thanksgiving dinner and enjoyed a lot.

Exciting News

Today (Valentine’s day) is probably an appropriate day to reveal this news.

Amber and I are expecting a baby.

This weblog will now be turned into a full-time pregnancy journal. Just kidding. All your favorite content will still be posted, but there will also be pregnancy-related posts by both Amber and me.

However, I don’t think our pregnancy journal will be as interesting and humorous as fishyshark by Kos.

Kucinich at Tech

Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich had a rally at Georgia Tech on Feb 10. I didn’t get a chance to attend. But here is a report from the campus paper.

A delayed flight, however, pushed back the featured speaker’s first showing until around 8 p.m., a little over an hour after the rally began. Still, this did not stop the roughly 250 supporters packed into the Old Architecture lecture hall from rising to their feet to give Kucinich a loud welcome, complete with cheers and hoisted posters.

There was no lack of activity while the crowd waited, either. The rally played host to an entire program, complete with an emcee and multiple speakers and poets. All gave performances or speeches aimed at promoting Kucinich’s platform and criticizing the Bush administration. Musical performances by local band a fir-ju well were interspersed among the speeches throughout the evening. “I was glad to see how many Tech students were here,” said Tim Atkins, Georgia coordinator for Kucinich’s campaign. “We were originally expecting more community people than Tech people, but it was just the opposite.”

While many came to shout their support for Kucinich, others came just to learn more about the candidate or even just to be at a political rally in a presidential election year.


The human mind is a strange thing. It has this enormous capacity to hold conflicting and contradictory ideas without exploding.

Consider, for example, this Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Barely half — 52 percent — now believe Bush is “honest and trustworthy,” down 7 percentage points since late October and his worst showing since the question was first asked, in March 1999.

[…]The survey found that nearly seven in 10 think Bush “honestly believed” Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Even so, 54 percent thought Bush exaggerated or lied about prewar intelligence.

[…]While 21 percent said they believe that Bush lied about the threat posed by Iraq, a larger number — 31 percent — thought he exaggerated but did not lie.

It seems a number of people (about 10%) believe that people who lie or exaggerate can be honest and trustworthy!

Fading Stars and Fraying Stripes

In the past few years, a thought has grown in my mind. The seed of it, a nod to inevitability, long layed dormant, but the events of the past few years prompted germination.

The steady erosion of the nation’s manufacturing base and malignant mediocrity of the nation’s primary educational system serve as the soil in which it took root. But, the rain of events following the attacks on the 11th of September brought forth the sprout. First, the shock of the attacks combined with the current administration’s financial recklessness to produce the largest deficits in the nation’s history. As one might expect, the public and private sectors of the nation turned their attention to defensive measures, measures which may protect and will certainly prove costly. Then, the current administration’s arrogant misuse of American Military might to dipose one of many tyrants, secure the free flow of oil and give a swift wack to the hornet’s nest that is the middle east fertilized it.

Rooted in long-standing systemic deficiencies, watered by the current economic downturn and fertilized by growing arrogance at the highest levels of government, the seed sprouted and bloomed. I find the resulting question holding a place in the sun of my attention. Is the United States in a fundamental decline?

Humanitarian Imperialism

Referring to the current troubles in Haiti, Tacitus asks:

One might fairly ask whether such chronically failed states might be better off under some sort of permanent protectorate or even colonial arrangement for the maintenance of peace and good governance.

I don’t know why colonialism and empire fascinates some Americans today (see Max Boot, for example)? I thought Tacitus was better than that, but I guess not.

Does Tacitus really think that making Haiti an American colony would improve the lot of the Haitians without much negative repurcussions?

Let’s even forget US-Haiti history (US fear of the slave revolt; its embargo on Haiti; US recognition about 6 decades after Haiti’s independence; US occupation 1915-34; and US support of the Duvaliers). Will Haitians welcome becoming a US colony?

Does Tacitus even know what a colony is? It seems to me that he has a very romanticized idea about imperialism and colonialism.

Now, I won’t deny that the British did do some good things in India. But there are lots of worse examples where imperial regimes destroyed local infrastructure and society.

Also, in a colonial arrangement, the colonial subjects didn’t have much in the way of rights. Nobody asked them whether they would like the empire to take over their land/region/country. Plus there were independence movements in all colonies, some peaceful, others violent.

Doesn’t Tacitus know about the US imperial adventures in the Philippines? The resistance against the US occupation at the start of the 20th century resulted in the death of about 200,000 Filipino civilians, 16,000 Filipino combatants and more than 4,000 American soldiers.

Tacitus makes the same mistake with Nauru and Australia but then admits that he “had no idea” when someone in the comments detailed the relevant history.

Now, I am no big fan of nation-states and wouldn’t mind the incorporation of failed states into others if it led to the overall good. My requirements include the local population agreeing to becoming part of the other country and being given equal rights as citizens, etc.

The naivety and 19th century mentality of some people is, however, very disconcerting.