2nd Blogiversary

I started this weblog 2 years ago with a test post on Blogger. However, I didn’t update regularly until November 2002 starting with a photograph of Allatoona Lake.

Things have changed quite a lot in the last two years. From an average of 20-30 visits per day, hits have increased to about 450 visits. I have posted 674 entries and had 2766 comments. I have met two excellent bloggers (Jonathan and Gary) in real life because of this hobby.

The focus of my weblog has expanded as well. When I started out, my plan was to focus on politics, Islam and photography. With our pregnancy, this blog got a lot more personal than I had planned.

As for the future, I think my current frequency of posting (i.e., about once every 2 days) will continue for a while.

I am planning on starting a baby blog as well, like Cerin Amroth by Polytropos. I haven’t decided yet whether to use TextPattern or WordPress. I like Textpattern, but can’t find a nice way to do restricted posts there.

Shahada and Jazakallah Khair

If this post was written by Brad Delong, it would be titled “Why Oh Why Can’t We Have a Better Press Corps?” or “Zack Bangs His Head against the Wall.”

The basic story goes like this: Some Muslims students planned to wear green stoles at graduation at University of California, Irvine. The Arabic writing on the stoles said “God, Increase my knowledge” on one side and “There is no god except God and Muhammad is God’s messenger” on the other. Some groups, student and other, protested against that because they heard that the “Shahada” would be on the stole. They interpreted “Shahada” as martyrdom instead of the profession of faith. That by itself could be an honest mistake since these people don’t know Arabic and are not conversant with Islam. However, they persisted in calls for protesting or banning the stoles even when told about what would be on the stoles.

If you want more details, please visit alt.muslim, Muslim Wakeup, or Live from the Nuke-free Zone. I’ll focus on the media reporting here.

Forget FrontPage Magazine, Worldnet Daily, and O’Reilly Factor. Let’s take a look at so-called better news sources. All of them played this story as a he said, she said one.

Students and administrators at the University of California, Irvine are debating the meaning of green stoles some Muslim students plan to wear this weekend at graduation.

Critics say the stoles are meant to show support for the terrorist group Hamas. But the Muslim Student Union says the stoles are a show of religious solidarity.

Dean of Students Sally Peterson […] says the two sides were waiting for an unbiased third party to translate the Arabic writing on the garment before releasing a statement calling for a “safe and celebrative commencement.”

According to Muslim students the Arabic translates to “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger” and “God, increase my knowledge.” They say the words are known as the “Shahada.”

Some say that the word shahada was Hamas’ call for Muslims to martyr themselves.

The Orange County Register reported it the same way.

At last count, 11 members of UCI’s Muslim Student Union were planning to wear stoles bearing religious slogans over their gowns – the same slogans that students say were worn last year at three UC campuses without incident.

This year, however – after incidents that included the mysterious burning down of a cardboard wall erected by pro-Palestinian students and Jewish complaints over anti-Zionist speakers invited by Muslim groups – the words seem to have new meaning.

The controversy began after rumors began circulating on campus that Muslim students planned to wear Hamas armbands to graduation – an allegation that they vigorously deny. Hamas is a pro-Palestinian group that promotes suicide attacks.

Jewish students and outside groups began to vigorously protest to campus officials about the Hamas armbands – reports of which even surfaced Wednesday night on “The O’Reilly Factor,” a Fox television show.

A very different truth soon surfaced, though. Although no one was wearing armbands, a handful of Muslim students did plan to wear stoles over their gowns, – as do many other graduates who want to commemorate groups they have ties to.

On one side, the stoles say “God, increase my knowledge.”

On the other side, they have the word “shahada” written in Arabic.

This mistake was present in almost all articles. The stoles did not have the word “Shahada,” they had the Shahada i.e. “There is no god ….”

Jewish students and outside groups that have gotten involved in the controversy, such as the American Jewish Congress, say the wearing of a garment with that word implies approval of terrorism and suicide bombings.

“I am offended by that,” said Larry Mahler, president of the UCI chapter of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. “What they are doing is ratifying the suicide bombing that killed innocent people.”

Again confusing Shahada as martyrdom.

Muslim students said the word is intended only as a religious statement. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Web site, shahada may be translated as, “There is no God but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”

Shouldn’t the CIA website statement have killed this controversy? However, in the article, the reporter never authoritatively states any facts. Wasn’t it easy to ask the Muslim students to show the reporter a stole with the Arabic writing? Now, the reporter could not obviously be expected to know any language other than English because that would require surrendering his US citizenship. But he could have asked someone else, may be some scholar of Arabic, to translate that writing. May be his story might have more legs then?

And it is not a matter of one or two reporters. The LA Times was guilty of it as well.

The stoles, critics say, are meant to show support for the terrorist group Hamas; the Muslim Student Union says the stoles represent religious solidarity.

[…]Peterson said that according to the Muslim students, the Arabic lettering on the stole translated as “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger” and “God, increase my knowledge.”

Leila Shaikley, a UC Irvine freshman and a spokeswoman for the Muslim students, said the words on the stoles were known as the “Shahada.”

Some of the dispute, Peterson said, appears to be over the meaning of the Arabic word shahada.

Ceren said that the word was Hamas’ call for Muslims to martyr themselves.

It didn’t get better in their story a day later.

The stoles bear white Arabic lettering that reads, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger,” and “God, increase my knowledge,” the Muslim students say.

Hamas militants are often seen in green headbands and similar stoles, critics of the Muslim student group say.

Even after the graduation ceremony, the LA Times was saying that the words on the stole said “Shahada.” I wonder what happened to that translator that UC Irvine asked to check the writing on the stole.

Some Jewish students said that the stoles showed support for terrorism because the Arabic word on them, “shahada”, could be interpreted to show support for suicide attacks and the militant group Hamas.

The final story in LA Times on June 22 did not have any clue what was written on the stoles.

The idea that if a reporter just quotes both sides, she is being objective is completely nuts. There are lots of facts that can be easily checked. A reporter should check his facts and write based on them. The “he said, she said” method signifies a gossip column, not an objective news report.

And finally, our laugh of the day comes from Jewsweek;.

According to a letter sent by MSU board member Jazakhallah Kair [bolding mine — ZA] to all graduating Muslims, the word shehada (martyrdom) will be printed on one side of the arm band and a verse in Arabic on the other. Shehada is the term regularly used by Hamas terrorists in Gaza to describe suicide bombings in Israel.

These guys obviously have no clue. But hey, if they don’t know what shahada is, how can we expect them to know about Jazakallah Khair. Jazakallah Khair means “May God grant you good” or “May God reward you for the good.” It is quite obviously the salutation at the end of the Muslim Students Union email before the name of the person, which the Jewsweek columnist confused with the person’s name.

New PM but Same Ruler

Pakistan is having a change of Prime Minister, though it will still be ruled by Jamali’s boss, President-General Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali has resigned following a meeting with the country’s President, Pervez Musharraf. Mr Jamali confirmed his resignation and nominated ruling party president Chaudry Shujat Hussain as successor.

[…]The news followed weeks of speculation in media and political circles.

[…]Mr Jamali made his announcement at a meeting of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) parliamentary group.

“I resigned from my post as prime minister today,” he told reporters. “Long live Pakistan.”

Earlier in the day, Mr Jamali told President Musharraf he was stepping down.

He said he had been “authorised” to announce Chaudry Shujat Hussain’s name.

Mr Jamali said Mr Hussain would face a mandatory vote of no confidence in parliament —- where the PML enjoys a commanding majority —- on Monday.

Mr Hussain paid tribute to Mr Jamali, saying “His name will go down in the history in golden words.”

But our correspondent says many of Mr Jamali’s 19 months in office were dogged by accusations of ineffectiveness and nepotism.

He says Mr Jamali made no secret of his absolute loyalty to President Musharraf, whom he once famously described as his “boss”.

But there has been speculation that relations between the president and the prime minister deteriorated over Mr Jamali’s alleged failure to fully endorse Mr Musharraf’s policies.

Analysts say Mr Jamali was also the victim of a power play in the governing party.

This comes a day after Jamali dimissed such rumors.

Prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has dismissed rumours about his resignation and said that he has neither tendered resignation nor has he been asked to do so and he is not preparing to resign from his post.

[…]He said: “Rest assured, the president has reassured me. I have no problems with the party and as such there is no truth in reports about an in-house change”.

He said: “I am perturbed about the repetition of these reports while my word as chief executive should have been sufficient to end the confusion and responsible people in newspapers should have taken notice.”

Jamali announced his resignation at a party meeting.

In his farewell press conference and address to a handful of ministers, ministers of state, advisers and party stalwarts, Jamali said he had never injured the feelings of anyone, and he was thankful to Chaudhry Shujaat, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain for helping him to assume the office of the prime minister following the October 2002 elections.

Ah, the Chaudhries of Gujrat. Strange characters! Now one of them will be Prime Minister while another (Pervez Elahi) is already Chief Minister of Punjab. These guys are not my idea of candidates for high office.

He said the issue was debated and consulted at all appropriate forums and finally it was decided to hand over the office to PML President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. “We discussed it today thrice and finally agreed on one point to save the system,” said Jamali.

Chaudhry Shujaat is the guy with most power in the PML-Q nowadays. So I guess he’s going to enjoy the office of the Prime Minister for a short time.

Meanwhile, President Pakistan Muslim League and Prime Minister-nominate Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain announced on Saturday night that Shaukat Aziz would be the prime minister once he gets elected as member of the National Assembly.

“The PML has nominated Shaukat Aziz as the prime minister, but the final arrangement will be made once he gets elected as MNA, as no senator can be leader of the House,” Shujaat said.

[…]Shaikh Rashid Ahmed told The News that Shaukat would contest elections from Okara, where the outgoing senior minister, Rao Sikandar, would vacate his seat for Shaukat. “I think Rao Sikandar will be made Punjab governor in place of Khalid Maqbool,” he added.

Nice quid pro quo. Rao Sikandar gets to be governor in return for vacating his seat.

As is usual, Musharraf praised the outgoing PM. But if Jamali is such a good guy, why did Musharraf ask him to resign?

The president appreciated Jamali’s services to the nation and termed him a “person of sterling qualities of grace, dignity, sincerity and loyalty.”

The religious political alliance had their conspiratorial comments.

The MMA has termed the resignation of Prime Minister Jamali a conspiracy against the budding democracy in the country, saying it was an insult of the parliament and a dangerous threat to national security.

The main opposition party, Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, talked about the military leadership.

The Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians said the resignation of Mir Zafarullah Jamali as prime minister shows the military leadership never accepted the civilian and political set-up.

“The system was unstable and the resignation had exposed the fallacy of the argument that the National Security Council would usher in political stability,” PPPP President Makhdoom Amin Fahim told a party meeting.

Reaction from the European Union:

Maintaining that any change in the top office of Pakistan is the prerogative of the elected representatives, European leaders have pledged to continue supporting all the initiatives in Pakistan which are taken in accordance with the Pakistani Constitution and averred by parliament.

[…They] sounded positive note on the news that Shaukat Aziz might take over as PM after getting elected to the Lower House.

In Europe, Aziz is known as a pragmatic politician. The European views on his talent for sprucing Pakistani economy with progressive standards of macroeconomics became conspicuous when EU foreign policy wizard Chris Patten in his address to the European Parliament made a specific reference to Shaukat lauding his talent as finance minister, while advocating the ratification of the EU-Pakistan Third Generation Agreement.

It seems to me like Shaukat Aziz was chosen because he would be able to present a good face to the international community. Another plus point is that he is not from among the traditional politicians. I also read somewhere that the ruling party/coalition couldn’t agree on any other more political candidate.

One of the more interesting things to watch will be the tenure of Chaudhry Shujaat as Prime Minister. I must say I have even less respect for him than for Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif. Also, Shaukat Aziz, the presumptive PM, will be the senior minister in Shujaat’s cabinet. How will these two work together?

Chapati Mystery also has a post on the topic.

What’s in a Name III

This is the last post in my series of thinking aloud about our baby’s name.

We were thinking about our daughter’s last name when I found an article about the issue of women taking their husbands’ last names. A debate then started in the blogworld about this issue. For example, see Crescat Sententia.

Matthew Yglesias favors women keeping their own name after marriage.

The basic dilemma is that, for many women, their lives will go better if they just take their husbands name. It’s more convenient in a whole lot of ways. But if everybody (or even just most people) could be pursuaded to keep their own names, then the “convenience” factor would cease to point toward the name switch. Plus, things would be fairer. The question is how do we get from here, where it’s often rational to change your name, to the fairer world where it’s usually rational not to change it?

Diotima rubbed me the wrong way with this comment.

I think it’s incredibly important for a family to have the same name. A family isn’t just a collection of autonomous individuals, but shares a common identity. So, my thinking lately, is that I’ll pull a Hillary when I get married and keep my last name as a middle name: Sara Butler X.

I guess I don’t have a family then, just a collection of individuals. I guess her response is limited to her culture only since different cultures have very varying practices on this matter. For example, here is a Kenyan tribe tradition.

In my father’s tribe, it’s not customary to take the last name of one’s father. Each kid gets his/her own last name. The name is determined by the conditions under which the child is born, i.e. morning, noon, night, raining, etc. The last name also varies in the spelling with regard to gender: girls’ last names begin with A, boys’ with O. With Kenya having been a British colony, some Kenyans use their fathers’ last names in keeping with the European tradition. Some don’t. However, even those who use the European system of naming still have a “middle” name; more accurately, two last names.

Or consider the rigid Japanese laws.

Hiroko Mizushima has been married several times to the same man. But theirs is no soap-opera saga: Dr. Mizushima once divorced her husband to get a passport so the name would match her other documents. She remarried him to have their baby, and then filed for divorce again to continue publishing under the byline with which she’s built her career as a child psychiatrist.

“We’ve been married for nine years and never had any real intentions to get divorced,” Mizushima says. “But I write in international journals and have patients who know my name, so how can I change it?”

The couple is legally married again, but Mizushima insists on going by her original family name, which is technically illegal.

Mizushima is supposed to make laws, not break them. As a freshman politician who was elected to the lower house of parliament this summer, she is leading a drive to change the timeworn laws that require members of a family to have one last name.

As Brian Ulrich points out, the naming conventions arose out of specific cultural/historical factors.

The American way of assigning surnames stemmed from a combination of urbanization in the late middle ages (how to tell John the Baker from John the Miller) and Norman record-keeping with respect to property rights and needing a word to call different descent groups. It was set up on a strictly utilitarian basis.

Other cultures developed different naming patterns. In Arabia, the key question was descent and figuring out who was related to whom and to what degree. [… I]n this system there is no provision for women taking a husband’s name, though Yasser Arafat’s wife is Suha Arafat, probably a sign of Western influence on the elites. Names are about ancestry and origin, not a means of defining a bounded entity for the purpose of property rights.

Does anyone have any suggestions about books which cover the cultural history of naming conventions and the factors which shaped them?

But I digress. This post is not about women taking their husbands’ name after marriage. It’s about what to name our child. On that topic, One-sided Wonder thinks it is important for children to have the same last name as their father.

I’m in favor of keeping your own name, and I don’t think it’s very important for a mother to have the same name as her children. The maternal bond is such that it doesn’t need that sort of reinforcement. (And I say that as someone who has had a different name from her mother most of her life.) But I do think it’s very important for a child to have the same name as her father.

When a woman elects to keep her maiden name, some people have suggested hyphenating the last names of the parents for the children. But that gets out of hand pretty quickly. Crescat Sententia has another suggestion.

I find hyphenation a response that only is good for a generation or so, not to mention that it doesn’t work so well with salty names. I had a friend in high school whose mother’s last name was Saltanovitz and father’s last name was Przybylski. They did the most equitable thing I can think of: each parent used his or her own name, one child became Saltanovitz, and the other became Przybylski. As far as I know, the family doesn’t feel disunified because of embracing both names.

In Pakistan, we do not have any set standards for last names. Some people use their family name (acquired because of tribal, clan or occupational reasons) as their last name. “Khan” is probably the most common one. Another common family name is “Syed” but that is usually used at the start of the name rather than the end. Most people’s names do not contain a family name. This is changing over time. For example, Pakistan’s President-General is named Pervez Musharraf. “Musharraf” is actually his father’s name. But he has started using it as a family name by naming his son “Bilal Musharraf.”

In my case, my last name “Ajmal” is my Dad’s given name. To confuse matters further, it is his middle name.

We also do not have a fixed tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name at marriage. However, British influence does mean that some people do so. The lack of a family name can cause problems with this issue though. Some women thus take as last name their husband’s last name, which might be her father-in-law’s given name. Others tag on their husband’s first name, especially in social situations, but sometimes also legally.

When Amber and I got married, in a fit of romance and sentimentality, we decided that Amber should take my name as her last name. Since I didn’t really have a surname, she switched from “Ambrin Asum” to “Ambrin Zakaria.”

This didn’t present us with any problems in Pakistan. But it did require us to listen to a long lecture by the immigration officer at JFK when we first came to the US. He said something about how familial relationships can be found without sharing a last name. I just hope his last name wasn’t Smith, of which there are about 3 million in the US.

Other problems we have encountered include all the “Good Samaritans” who helpfully “correct” our names whenever they see them together so that Amber and I share the same last name. Thus, I become Ajmal Zakaria, which causes further problems and we have to get my name fixed.

There was also a health insurance company who did not have a last name field for dependents of the subscriber. Since Amber was the primary subscriber, I became Zakaria Zakaria in their database.

Therefore, in addition to a first name, we need to choose a last name for our kid. Our first thought was to change our last names so that all three of us share the same last name. But that would result in a lot of hassle for Amber and me. So, we are going to stick to our names and just choose a last name for the baby. There are three options:

  1. Ajmal: My last name and my Dad’s given name.
  2. Zakaria: My first name and Amber’s last name.
  3. Some other name.

Option 3 would confuse the heck out of people, so that’s out.

Deciding between options 1 and 2 depends on utilitarian issues like convenience as well as how well her first name goes with the chosen last name.

Any suggestions?

Garden of the Gods

I was curious why this park in Colorado Springs, CO was named Garden of the Gods.

It was August of 1859 when two surveyors started out from Denver City to begin a townsite, soon to be called Colorado City. While exploring nearby locations, they came upon a beautiful area of sandstone formations. M. S. Beach, who related this incident, suggested that it would be a “capital place for a beer garden” when the country grew up. His companion, Rufus Cable, a “young and poetic man”, exclaimed, “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” It has been so called ever since.

Garden of the Gods Garden of the Gods
Kissing Camels Try getting between the rocks there Siamese Twins

It was raining lightly, but the weather was very nice for a walk and drive through the beautiful red sandstone formations.

The Da Vinci Code

I liked The Da Vinci Code quite a bit. I found it a good and gripping read in general, though at times it did stray too far in explaining some odd interpretation of history.

Some people have been somewhat incensed by the basic plot of the novel. One reason for that might be Dan Brown’s claim at the start that:

All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.

I read the book as a work of fiction. So I don’t think it gives any insights into Christianity or its history. Unlike this article though, the person to the right of Jesus in The Last Supper seems to me to be at the very least an effeminate man.

The idea of Jesus not being divine also presents no problem for me as I am not Christian.

I do find it interesting that The Da Vinci Code has spawned so much work debunking the premise of the novel from a theological point of view.

UPDATE: An interesting website related to the book Cracking the Da Vinci Code.

The Rain Curse

Based on my stay here in Denver, this place is the wettest city in the US this side of Seattle. It’s been raining almost continuously since before my plane landed on Wednesday afternoon. Not only has it rained, it has also snowed in the mountains. The Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park was closed because of snow. I also saw some trace amount of snow falling at the summit of Pikes Peak.

It seems like rain follows me everywhere, whether it be Yosemite National Park, Acadia National Park, North Georgia mountains, High Point State Park in New Jersey, Seattle, Versailles, or Loire valley.

Despite the rain, on Thursday evening, I drove up to Boulder to meet Gary Farber of Amygdala. We had dinner together and then wandered about in the local mall in search of a coffee shop. We had some interesting discussions about blogging and other stuff. Gary assured me that there were mountains just next to Boulder. I am not sure I believe him since I couldn’t see a thing. There were some comic aspects of our meeting as well, but I can’t reveal all because of Gary’s threats.

I had planned my trip so that I would have Friday to wander around the nonexisting mountains close to Boulder. So I was all set to go to Rocky Mountain National Park. The Old Fall River Road doesn’t open until July, but the Trail Ridge Road was supposed to be open. Until it snowed. Changing plans at the last minute, Sister Soljah came to the rescue. She had suggested a few other places in a comment on my Denver post.

The weather forecast for Colorado Springs was good for the morning. So I headed to the Garden of the Gods. The red rock formations there were beautiful. I took a lot of pictures, a few of which will be posted later. Even though there was light rain and I got a flat tire, it was fun walking and driving in the area.

Unable to resist the attraction of the mountains, I decided to drive up to the summit of Pikes Peak. If the weather had been better, my physical conditioning much better, and I had acclimatized to the high altitude, I might have tried hiking up. But that wouldn’t have worked today. It was about 19 miles but took me almost an hour as there was some fog and the latter half of the road (called a highway) wasn’t paved. The view at the top was good even with all the clouds. It was cold though and windy. My jacket kept me warm but my hands got cold taking pictures. The drive back down was worse since the fog had increased quite a lot. But I survived driving at 10 miles per hour.

Rain again brought me back to my hotel room and the free wireless internet connection.

Photographs will be posted after I have sorted them out.

Bilingual Health

Who knew speaking both Urdu and English could improve my mental health!

Being fluent in two languages could protect against age-related cognitive decline, says a study in the June issue of Psychology and Aging.

Researchers from York University in Toronto compared the results of 154 bilingual and monolingual middle-aged and older adults on the Simon Task, which measures reaction time and aspects of cognitive function that decline with age.

All the bilingual people in the study had used two languages every day since the age of 10.

Yay, I qualify.

The study found that both older and younger bilingual people performed better than those who spoke just one language. Being bilingual offers widespread benefits across a range of complex cognitive tasks, the authors concluded.

Via Language Hat.

What Kind of Thinker Are You?

No surprise there.

You are a Logical-Mathematical Thinker

Logical-Mathematical thinkers:

  • Like to understand patterns and relationships between objects or actions
  • Try to understand the world in terms of causes and effects
  • Are good at thinking critically, and solving problems creatively

Other Logical-Mathematical Thinkers include
Isaac Newton, Archimedes, Albert Einstein

Careers which suit Logical-Mathematical thinkers include
Physicist, Chemist, Biologist, Lawyer, Computer programmer, Engineer, Inventor

Via Amygdala

Paging Denver Readers

I’ll be in the Denver, CO area on June 17-18. If any readers want to meet me, please drop me an email (my email address is on the right sidebar) or leave a comment.

Also, I need suggestions on things to do in the area. I am thinking of going to Rocky Mountain National Park if possible.