No More Editing Embargo

It seems that the embargo on editing scientific and technical papers from countries on which the US has imposed economic sanctions (Iran, Cuba, Libya and Sudan) has been lifted. According to IEEE, they can now publish papers from the embargoed countries.

IEEE scored a victory for freedom of the press and the scholarly publishing community with the ruling it received Friday from the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control. The ruling exempts peer review, editing and publication of scholarly manuscripts submitted to IEEE by authors living in countries that are under U.S. trade embargoes, such as Iran and Cuba. OFAC determined that IEEE’s publications process is “not constrained by OFAC’s regulatory programs.”

The government’s decision confirms the position IEEE has argued for over a year that its entire publishing process falls outside the scope of OFAC’s regulations because of the Berman Amendment to the trade sanctions law that excludes the free exchange of information from OFAC’s economic embargoes.

IEEE had earlier obtained a September 30, 2003 ruling from OFAC that exempted a large part of its editorial process but left uncertain whether it had to publish such papers “as is” or could edit such papers prior to final publication. This latest April 2 ruling clarifies IEEE’s full freedom to engage in scholarly peer review and style and copy editing of papers, all without OFAC regulation or licensing. The earlier September 30 ruling had also been limited to Iran, while the new ruling covers authors in Cuba, Libya and Sudan as well as in Iran.

What’s in a Name I

One of the interesting pastimes during pregnancy is choosing a name for the baby. Since we can’t be sure about the gender of the baby, we have to consider both boy and girl names.

The question then comes down to what sort of names to choose. Most people choose names either from their own culture or the culture they are surrounded by. For immigrants, the question can sometimes be quite important. I have heard arguments on both sides. On the one hand, a name in one’s native language is one of the basic links of one’s child to a culture they won’t exactly be part of. On the other hand, giving a strange (to the community one has settled in) name to one’s child can point the child out as an outsider.

We don’t care much about these issues, but there is a related problem that’s important. It is pronunciation. We want to pick a name that’s simple, beautiful as well as pronouncable by both Pakistanis and Americans.

The emphasis on pronunciation comes from the way my name has been distorted all my life. My name is “Zakaria” (زکریا). It’s a Hebrew name from the Old Testament. It is also found in the Quran as the Prophet Zakaria who was the father of John the Baptist (یحیی) [Yes, I know there are some differences between the Bible and Quran about my namesake]. Because it is a Biblical name, there are lots of different spellings and pronunciations. That, by itself, is not so problematic.

My pronunciation problems started in Pakistan over a confusion about the meaning of my name and some features of Urdu. My name means Yahweh (God) remembers. Now, remembrance of God is popularly known in Urdu and Arabic as zikr/dhikr (ذکر). Notice the difference in the first character in zikr (ذ) and in Zakaria (ز). They are two different letters, both pronounced as “z” in Urdu and Persian, but having somewhat different sounds in Arabic [In fact, there are four letters in Urdu that have the “z” sound]. This caused spelling errors of my name in Urdu, so much so that my Urdu teacher in middle school would try to “correct” my name on any work I turned in. I finally did win that battle with him.

The pronunciation errors were, however, not a result of this issue. They owed their explanation to another peculiarity of Urdu (and Persian and Arabic): lack of vowels. We have long vowels in Urdu but the short vowels are never written down. There are diacritical marks for short vowels, but they are almost never used. Let’s take a look at my name. Letter by letter, it would be transliterated from Urdu to English as “Zkrya.” Add in the people’s assumption that my name is related to “zikr” and you get “Zikree-a.” That used to piss me off.

Our pronunciation problems obviously weren’t over when we came to the US. Here, people do all sorts of stuff to my name. Those who call me “Zachary” or “Zachariah” are ok by me. The most common mistake, that I don’t like, though is to elongate the second “a” to say “zakaaria.”

I have been used to people mispronouncing my first name since birth. So I have gotten over it. However, I never thought someone would drastically mispronounce my last name. It really is pretty simple: “Ajmal.” The worst mistake you can make is elongating one or both of the short a’s. But I have heard worse. People have tried to think of the “J” in my last name as either a Spanish or German one. That sounds so awful, I usually don’t recognize it.

Enough about my problems. There are issues with Pakistani names due to lack of similar sounds in English. For example, Talha (طلحہ) has a soft “t” that doesn’t exist in English. There are other letters and sounds as well. I remember how amused I was to first hear the word khakis from a native English speaker. Its origin is Hindi/Urdu خاکی and we don’t pronounce “kh” as “k” at all.

Names in Pakistan can either be local (i.e., Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto, etc.) or borrowed from Persian, Arabic or Turkish. There is a large number of such borrowed names.

When a name from a different script is transliterated into English, there are always multiple versions. For example, Muhammad/Mohammed, Usama/Osama, etc. Talking to Kianoush, it also seems that my Urdu-speaking instinct for transliteration is different from his Persian-speaking one. For example, where I would think an “i” as the appropriate vowel, he likes to use “e.” The Turks also use much more different spellings for the same words. This not only means different spellings for the same word, but also different pronunciations based on those different transliterations.

Therefore, we are limiting our search to names from either the US or Pakistan which would work in both places. Even if the name is strange to one country’s ears, they shouldn’t have to struggle to pronounce it.

Here are some online resources for names.

  • 1990 US Census name distributions: A list of first and last names in the US arranged by their popularity.
  • Behind the name: Lists of names from different cultures/languages and their meanings.
  • Popular baby names from the Social Security Administration.
  • Name Statistics: Check the popularity of specific first and last names in the US.
  • Baby Names lists more than 6,000 names. I noticed Persian and Arabic names in addition to European ones.
  • Parenthood has Norse, Phoenician, and Aramaic in addition to the regular ones.
  • Babycenter allows you to search names by first letter, last letter and number of syllables.
  • Popular baby names seems to have a good collection of names as well.
  • Or you could invent a name.
  • Muslim names: This requires a long discussion which will have to wait for part II.

Feel free to suggest any names you like in the comments.

Next: What’s a Muslim name?

Two Questions

I have two questions, one tongue in cheek and the other a serious question. I might actually regret putting the two together in one post, but here it goes.

First Question
Most (all?) US currency has “In God We Trust” written on the bill or coin. Let us suppose that proof is found that God doesn’t exist. What will happen to the US economy? Will the currency lose its value? Will the $100 bill be worth anything? Will it cease to be legal tender?

Second Question
The origins of this question lie in some discussions on blogs. I was asked once what I would do if I had to choose between my Muslim and American identity? The discussion ended when some decided that I wasn’t an American.

The question of loyalty is interesting and difficult, despite the obnoxiousness of some who ask that question. So let me ask what is more important to you? God or country? Family or country? Self or country? What is our loyalty to the state? Or what should it be?

Let’s look at this from another angle. During the Iraq war, a number of bloggers said something to the effect that they opposed the Iraq war but supported the troops. What exactly does that mean? What are the limits of such support? And when and why should we not support the troops of our country?

Does supporting the troops mean hoping that they win? When should we hope that they win? When would you be indifferent to their win or loss? And what conditions would make you hope your country loses the war? Or do you believe in “my country right or wrong”?

I am asking this question in the most general context and not in the specific case of the Iraq war. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the limits or otherwise of loyalty, patriotism and nationalism.

Go Yellow Jackets!

This calls for a celebration.

Surprising Georgia Tech sure is making a name for itself at this Final Four.

Will Bynum shook loose for a layup with 1.5 seconds left and sent the Yellow Jackets further than they’ve ever been in the NCAA tournament, putting them into the championship game with a 67-65 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday.

[…]Now coach Paul Hewitt and his third-seeded Jackets will play for the title Monday night against the Duke-Connecticut winner.

Here’s a good omen for them: Tech has already beaten both of those powers.

Picked to finish a lowly seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Jackets weren’t expected to do much of anything this season with a team of unknowns — hardly an All-American among them.

And surrounded by big names like Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun and Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton at this Final Four, they were considered the biggest underdogs of all.

UPDATE: We meet University of Connecticut for the final on Monday.

Go Jackets!

Week 20: Boy or Girl

Finally, the pregnancy is half over. Amber is starting to get a bit bigger from her 100lb (46 kg) self. She needs new clothes but doesn’t like the maternity clothes available. I’ll leave it to her to write the details of her travails.

Now is the time to find out if we are having a boy or a girl. Amber has always wanted a boy. I have an adverserial side to my personality which means that I am hoping for a girl. It’s fun to argue about the sex of the fetus. One interesting aspect of our discussions is that Amber seems to want a most feminine boy while I am looking forward to a tomboyish girl. Perverse, isn’t it?

To answer the big question of what are we having, we turn to our friend, the Internet. It turns out there are many, many ways to predict the sex of your unborn child.

Let’s first use the Chinese Calendar method. Amber was 30 at the time of conception which was in November. Checking the table, we find out it’s going to be a boy.

People also say that girls have heartbeats faster than boys. Our fetus’s has consistently been greater than 140, so girl ties boy 1—1. But all my enthusiasm was dashed though by this guy who did some scientific study showing that fetal heart rate does not predict sex at all.

Instead of boring you with each of these old wives’ tales, let’s go directly to the results. Taking this quiz, we found out that there’s a 66% chance that we are going to have a girl. Yay, I win!

Enough of the old wives’ tales. Let’s find out how we can scientifically find out the gender of the fetus. There seem to be three main methods:

  1. Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) is generally only performed if there is a high risk of genetic abnormalities as there is a 4% chance of miscariage as a result of this test.
  2. Amniocentisis is also similar and is generally not recommended unless the Alpha-fetoprotein test comes out positive.
  3. Since the other two options are out, the only one we are left with is the ultrasound. An ultrasound is not a very good way of finding the gender of the baby. We know several people who got it wrong. The most common mistake is “we can’t see a penis, so it’s a girl.” The accuracy depends on several factors like the position/pose of the fetus, gestational age, technician’s ability, etc.

We were hoping our doctor would make a recording of the ultrasound video at our next monthly appointment. May be if we played it like 100 times, we could figure out if it’s a girl or a boy. Plus I could use my mad image analysis skills to write a penis detection algorithm. Unfortunately, they don’t do video recordings.

UPDATE: Here is some info about the accuracy of ultrasound for determining the gender of a fetus.