Sunday Oct 29, 2006

The Reciter

A very young friend of mine has pointed me to this online reciter of The Quran (قران کریم). Reciter version 2.0 uses Flash technology and has been produced by IANA, Islamic Assembly of North America. (Click on the "Reciter" link right below the "Reciter 2.0" banner ad to get the pop-up window of the best integrated online recitation of The Quran I've seen so far.)

Besides recitation, reading and repetition of each surah, it provides color coding of each ayah, as it is being recited. It also provides translations and tafsir for each ayah. The tool has integrated translations in English, French, German, Turkish, Indonesian and Malayu. After a translation has been selected on a translation panel, clicking an ayah will produce a pop-up with the appropriate translation.

The attention the tool pays to the art of interpretation, tafsir, deserves note. Four major books of tafsir, including ones by Tabari, Kortobi, Gelaleen and Ibn Katheer are available, all in Arabic. They are also activated based on the selected ayah. (I'd like to add a few points about Tabari. He was born in the same city as my maternal grandmother in 838 CE and bears a last name similar to hers, Tabaristani. He travelled to Baghdad to teach at the Baghdad University in the 9th century CE. His book of history, whose volumes take up at least 2 yards of bookshelf, has been translated into English. He died in Baghdad in 923 CE. I found and read the translation of the first volume of his book of history and the first two books of his tafsir on the bookshelves in Berkeley while studying philosophy there.)

The free online Reciter--again, you get to it by clicking "Reciter" under the banner ad--allows the user to choose among multiple reciters. The reciters included in the current version of the tool are: Ibrahim Al-Akhdar, Abdulbaste Abdulsamad, Abdullah Basfar, Ali Al-Hodaifi, Mohammed Ayoub and Mahmood Al-Hosari. As is traditional, each reciter has a particular recitation intonation. Pauses after an ayah can be adjusted to allow for repetition.

Friday Aug 25, 2006

An Open Discussion on PostGlobal


There has been a great deal of controversy regarding Iran.

This past Thursday,  Ali Ettefagh was online with Washington Post PostGlobal "to discuss daily life in Iran, the country's expanding influence in the Mideast, and solutions to the nuclear energy standoff."

It is worth a read if you're interested in those topics and would like to hear a fresh voice.

Thursday Aug 17, 2006

Dinner for 11


This is dinner for 11.
[Read More]

Monday Apr 10, 2006

Who Owns Culture

Professor Lawrence Lessig's "podcast" of "Who Own's Culture" explores the technology of "piracy" starting from player pianos and sheet music all the way to mixing technologies used for "digital creativity."

In the speech, which is synchronized with some slides, Lessig notes how the conflict between "piracy" and copy right owners has historically been framed in legal terms, and how in the past the law favored the "pirate" by forbidding any regulation of pirated technology. For example, broadcast radio today does not have to pay the performer for the broadcast of records. Same holds for VCR, another copying technology.

Lessig notes that the rhetoric of war applied to the conflict between "piracy" and "copy rights" distracts us from the main issues involved. When copyright "ownership" is given the greatest weight "collateral damage" to creativity can actually be quite serious.

He notes that as we "wage war" against 'piracy,' we will destory digital technology's potential for creativity. Hence, destroying the historical opportunity given to us by the new technology to create new cultural modes of expression. Lessig points out that the new generation will be at the forefront of digital creaitivity. Taking away their ability to use these technologies to produce cultural products is to do their generation a great disservice.

If you wait through the speech, you could watch some very funny samples of "digital creativity" in the video clips selected along with the slides accompanying Lessig's speech!

A greater issue regarding "who owns culture" is "who gets to make culture" and "who gets to describe or limit how culture is made". More importantly, the question should be asked as to what culture is — not so much what can be "counted as culture" but what it means "to have a culture."

I think, in this particular speech, Lessig defines "having a culture" a bit too narrowly as "having the ability towards" artistic creation. Most artistic creation is individual creation, and much of the culture we experience has to do with our social experience. Lessig does allude to this briefly when he contrasts "one talking to many" vs. "peer-to-peer" conversation. I supposed that's a good start towards growing an understanding of what true participation is all about.

Monday Mar 27, 2006

The Banned Play

Philip Weiss of The Nation writes about the play too hot for New York: My Name Is Rachel Corrie.

Billy Brag has written a piece and posted a song in The Guardian about Rachel (March 28, 2006). (I actually went to a Billy Brag concert back in the late 1980s or early 1990s in San Francisco, I think.)

Amy Goodman has interviewed Rachel's parents on her show.

Monday Mar 20, 2006

New York Times on Norouz

I used to read The New York Times cover to cover in the 1980s and I just read a New York Times report on Norouz to which a friend had earlier pointed me.

The article makes some fanciful claims. For example, it claims that the Ayatollahs don't want people to celebrate Nowrouz. Well, Monday morning (during the hour of the equinox), I watched a broadcast (from Iran) of historical footage from one of Khomeini's earliest Persian New Year messages, in which he underlines the importance of the celebration. (He must have given the speech in the first few years after the removal of the Shah.)

I remember that there was quite a bit of confusion after the revolution, and that during the war with Iraq, where about a million Iranians died and tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) were gassed, there was a feeling among many Iranians that any celebratory act was but an insensitive farce in the face of macabre death and the losses of neighbors and friends in a war of sanctions and steel that was being rained on Iran. (Note that Iran had completely disbanded its military after the revolution. In other words, it had practically no military defenses when Iraq attacked it. The civilians were fighting the war against Iraq with bare hands in the first few months of the war.)

The NYT article also makes a big deal regarding the coincidence of Nowruz (today) with Arbayeen - Arbayeen is the 40th day of morning for Imam Hussein (the 3rd shi'ite Imam, "leader," buried in Karbala, Iraq)...So, it is supposed to be a day of morning. Again, I was unable to catch all the TV programs from Iran Monday morning, but it was easy to see that the religious figures had mused about the coincidence of these events with no difficulty, reminding people that both events speak of rebirth...So, there's no special, improtant problem, here, in the coincidence, as the NYT article struggles to claim.

In general, the NYT reporters (as any other reporters for that matter) often speak to a very small slice of the population who already share many of the reporters' feelings and biases...This is a natural tendency...If the reporters are good, they often make a genuine effort to broaden their base of reporting. With genuine reporting, the facts that will come out are so much at odds with what we read about Iran here that few editors will dare to publish them against the grain of accepted story...So, it is a chicken-and-egg problem, besides the fact that a large part of every-day journalism, specially in the U.S., has turned into negative reporting on others (whether the others are French, Latin, Uzbek, Chinese, Hindu or Persian). This type of counter-reporting makes us feel better about our own lot in the world. In propagating this sort of attitude, instead of one of humble discovery, I find the editors to be most guilty.

In short, while the NYT article does bring some facts to view and write about them, it also twists them to make sure the reader does not come to feel any real sympathy with Iran.

The article says:

"There still exists a battlefield between those on the extremes of the debate, the ultrareligious who would like to erase elements of Iranian identity not explicitly Islamic, and others, including many in the expatriate community, who try to undermine the credibility of the Islamic government by appealing to Iranian nationalism through such traditions as Char Shanbeh Suri."

However, I'm willing to suggest that any keen observer would have a really hard time finding any such "ultrareligious" people of the type described either in power or in the theological schools in Iran. So, the claim is more of a fiction than a fact.

The article comes with a great deal of editorializing mixed with actual interviews. The editorializing goes to an extent quite unusual, as indicated by NYT's treatment of other topics.

The main reporters's contribution to the article have been recognized in an end note: "Nazila Fathi contributed reporting from Tehran for this article." -- meaning that the article was composed (from fact and fiction) in New York by the capable hands of Michael Slackman!

I conjecture that most probably Slackman has "polished" Fathi's work, preparing it for the audience here, by writing most of the "editorial" and "introductory" material interdispersed throughout the article, setting its tone. I find it quite sad that the actual presentation of report has helped create a very clear bias.

In his editorializing, Slackman makes it sound as if the carrying on with the Norouz ceremonies is some kind of silent (or open) act of protest or defiance against the government...While this may be true in the imagination of some, it is totally off the mark, and almost irrelevant because rarely can we find anyone in the government opposed to Norouz ceremonies, and indeed those in the government celebrate it with the same fervor as their compatriots...In fact, many government pensions and bonuses are connected with Norouz.

What makes the claim of "silent" or "open" protest quite silly is that Iran is no more religious today than it was in the 1950s, 1930s, 1910s or 1800s, and throughout these more religious times, all these ceremonies have gone on with the same amount of fervor as today if not more...

If anything, with access to power and resources, and in general, Iran's religious establishment has become greatly liberalized over the last 200 years, and particularly in the last 30 years. They've always been (in their most scholarly elements) quite open and liberal. (For example, see Richard Campbell's translation of works by Allameh Tabataba'i.)

Norouz Mubarak -- You Still Have Time (18:25:35 GMT or UTC, on Monday, March 20, today!!!)


Happy Norous
Nowrouz Persian New Year, !!!

Spring equinox for 1385 (Solar A.H.) occurs at 18:25:35 GMT or UTC, on Monday March 20 (today)!

It happens today, Monday, at 10:25 PST!!!

Have your family and friends around, and wish them a new year!

In Iran, this year, Norous coincided with the day of Arbayeen. Every solar year, the latter day moves back eleven days according to the lunar calendar.

Sunday Feb 26, 2006

Whales' Intelligence

Check out this video of some Beluga whales in Japan, blowing bubbles, passing a ball, turning their large bodies over in a group dance and waving goodbye!

Wednesday Feb 22, 2006

Persian New Year on Google?

Persian New Year is fast approaching.

If you're interested in seeing it celebrated more broadly on the Internet, here is a petition to ask a major search engine (yes, Google!) to help publicize when it comes.

(Thanks to the reader who pointed the peition out to me! You may need to edit the letter to suit your taste.)

Then again, this ancient new year tradition can absolutely not be celebrated properly and adequately online, not only because no material gifts are involved, but also because one needs the sofreh and the haft-seen, and more importantly, one does pay visits (house calls, really) to the elders, peers, family and friends. I just cannot imagine sharing a round of tea with my aunts on the Internet!

So, maybe it should be kept from being associated with Internet brands, which may dilute its greatness and what it stands for?

Sunday Nov 27, 2005

Technology and Culture

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I had a brief chance to finish my reading of Thomas P. Hughes' Human-Build World.

The last chapter, "Creating an Ecotechnological Environment," brings it all together. In it, Hughes argues that people in the industrial world (in particular the U.S.) have primarily focused on the use of technology to produce consumer and military goods instead of grasping its transformative power to create an aesthetically and ecologically sound environment for life. He notes that only public participation and education in parallel with a more cautious attitude among engineers and industrialists can bridge the gap between the practice of technology and socially sound choices.

Wednesday Oct 05, 2005

An Idiot's Guide to Ramadan

The month of Ramadan has begun. So, Ramadan Mubarak!

The BBC has published a rather funny "idiot's guide to Ramadan," which is generally good. The captions on the photos (although not the text) accompanying the guide seem to claim that music, movies or TV are banned during Ramadan. There's actually no such rule. Most Muslim countries carry both music, TV and movies through all kinds of channels during the month of Ramadan. I'm not a Muslim scholar, neither is the author of the guide, Adam Yosef, nor for that matter, his editor, but I believe what matters in consuming any entertainment is whether engaging in it will encourage one to break his or her fast or whether a habitual consumption might prevent one from focusing on performing duties of Ramadan. (For a list of scholars, or ulama, you might want to look here among other places.)

In fact, it might be useful, in this month, to review the works of some Muslim religious singers, including Syrian Artist Imad Rahim who sings the 99 names of Allah. I'm sure there are others, including Sufi singers, who have done renditions of pieces of this same song on a wide variety of melodies. This one was the only "free" one I could find on the net.

The BBC actually has a slightly more serious look at Ramadan. The Wikipedia entry on Ramadan is rather short but gives some very basic facts. Moon calendars and moon sightings are significant part of the Ramadan tradition. There are loads of other web sites devoted to the month.

A Ramadan timetable for the San Francisco Bay Area can be found here.

Ramadan Mubbarak !

Wednesday Sep 28, 2005

Big Media and the Big Internet

Today, there are, accroding to the National Cable Television Association, about 42 million Americans with access to broadband Internet and about 73 million with access to cable TV, and large media companies are beginning to have second thoughts about their earlier experience (including many failed experiments) with their Internet ventures.

What many have failed to observe is the deep difference between the Internet and the traditional TV. In traditional TV, choice comes through multiple channels, always finite and always given within a range. I don't get the (authentic Persian) TV programming I like to watch occastionally with our local cable TV operators. So, I choose to install satellite TV equipment at my home to get a glimpse of Persian TV broadcast directly from Iran. However, even there, I'm locked into the programming that comes to me. In another example, if you have ESPN as your favorite sports program, you've got ESPN programming from which to choose, particularly if you have a system that allows recording of your favorite programs. (People tell me that TiVo provides that function.) Despite the vast improvements in choice in broadcast TV and cinema in the last decade, TV still has a far more limited scope in its "service" offering compared to what the Internet offers. Here, I have not even started exploring active censorship, which can occur much more easily in a media world based on TV broadcasts whether through cable, air or satellite than in a media world based on the Internet. While the censorship technologies exist for the Internet, the traditions and the chaos (that was originally designed into the Internet in order to make it more resilient) continue to provide the Internet with more robustness as a free medium of expression.

If we look at the quintessential Internet service, search, it is for everyone what that everyone wants. The "market segmentation" is down to the individual using search. Successful Internet services and content providers (look at the online editions of Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and The International Herald Tribune) all have a search engine, made available at the top of their "home" page. Individual users can search for what they want. How hard is that for broadcast TV, except perhaps the most advanced TV systems and set top boxes? Even if we search TV programming, how much do we know about the content of what we have found in our search? Quite little.

So, why do we read (in a Wall Street Journal story) that

In an industry that measures success by size of the audience it can deliver to advertisers, the online audiences are already large—and still growing. The broadcast-TV audiences have been declining for a decade, box-office sales for movies this year are lagging behind previous annual takes, the once torrid sales of DVDs are leveling off, and circulation is falling at many newspapers and magazines.

Julia Angwin, "Media Firms Dig Into War Chests For Latest Assault on the Internet" (WSJ Sept. 28, 2005)

The answer lies in the availability of broadband Internet. People, when given a choice, are "voting with their feet" and moving from their TV couches to their desktops and laptops. Broadcast-TV has to do far better to make choice a reality. For decades, it has gone for the "lowest common denominator" but that lowest common denominator always existed in statistics and in Big Media's imagination. Reality of the Internet speaks differently.

Sunday Sep 18, 2005

Speaking of Blair and the BBC

Speaking of prime minister Tony Blair and the BBC, I also ran into this well-reported, at least by Mr. Murdoch, story, according to which the British prime minister has apparently found the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina too critical of the U.S., or in Mr. Murdoch's recounting, "full of hate of America and gloating about our troubles."

Among the in-depth Katrina stories reported by the BBC, you might want to take a look at this revealing animation of Hurricane Katrina, with its running time superimposed on the image.

One eye-witness story by Matthew Davis is titled "Patrolling the Venice from Hell."

I guess the reporting was good enough for people to draw conclusions they must not.

Language and Morality--What Makes "Terrorism" Terrorism

Robin Wilton has a blog entry called, "The Quantum Mechanics of UK Anti-Terror Laws." In it he quotes prime minister Tony Blair's definition of terrorism, given in an interview with the BBC. I wrote a comment on this, at Robin's weblog, which I've cleaned up here for re-"publication."

When considering the prime minister's definition of terrorism, "Terrorism is killing innocent civilians deliberately," one should wonder what makes something deliberate.

For example, when we know for certain that (with some estimatable probability) we will kill large numbers of civilians if we drop, near their homes, some bombs (including cluster bombs in areas with large numbers of children) or that if we continue an occupation and policies that lead to greater instability in a country, leading, again, to large numbers of civilian casualties, are we then terrorists? I would say that we cetainly are, unless the prime minister is going to add further inflection to his definition, by allowing for utiliterian concerns like "and we know we will kill fewer civilians than if we take other courses of action." If the prime minister's modified definition does take such turns, he will now put us in the dark territory where we are in the habit of including, in our definition, a necessary and almost godly capacity, assigned uniqutely to ourselves, to tell the future.

Again, it depends how you define deliberate. I can define deliberate as "with my eyes open" or "with my best knowledge examining the situation," etc. If our language has preserved its meaning and its contact with morality, then every man and woman in the street should be able to recognize a situation as involving a deliberate harm or not. Often the bar is very low for deliberate action. (Simple knowledge of a harmful outcome combined with facilitating the harm can count as deliberate in most cases.)

It is actually much easier to define what is not deliberate than what is. It depends on the situation and everyone would be able to recognize it as such but when our moral vocabulary is corrupted and corrupting, our minds are shackled, and we are unable to recognize what is "deliberate" and what is not, what is wrong and what is right, what is moral and what is not, etc. When that happens, morality can be undermined (and taken for what it is not) without the speakers (thinkers, knowers, writers) ever realizing that it has become what it was once not. Now, when we speak, we have been disconnected from the fabric of meaning that connects simple morals and the language we speak, and that, is the beginning of the end of a linguistic civilization connected to a particular language. In fact, that is how languages die, incapable of serving the simple functions for which they come to be.

Friday Aug 26, 2005

Concepts of Technology

O.K. While the update patches are being installed, let me say a few words about Thomas P. Hughes' wonderful little book: Human-Build World: How to Think about Technology and Culture.

In this book, Hughes reviews three separate conceptual takes on technology.

These are views of technology that have been dominant in the Western culture over the last three centuries, evolving progressively from the first to the last: (1) Technology as a mode of devine power to create, (2) Technology as a machine, and finally (3) Technology as systems, controls and information.

The first put too much religious overtones over the concept of technology, dreaming of it as God's way of enabling man to create heaven on earth.

The second view emphasized the overwhelming role of technology in the post-industrial society, giving rise to fears that the "shaping of human activities and institutions by mechanization would result in a world devoid of human spirit, or soul."

The third view emphasizes the complexity of the modern human-built world and the role of technology in its control.

The failure of systems model (greatly made evident in the failures of the Vietnam War, where technological differentials never seen before were deployed) gave rise to greater appreciation of cybernetics, information and communications, with an emphasis on feedback and simultaneous interactions, and with a critique of reductionist linear models.

Where do we go from here?

, .

Saturday Aug 06, 2005

60 Years Later

Much continues to be written about Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years after the only atomic bombs ever dropped were dropped on the civilians in these two cities.

There are essays and reports by The BBC, The Guardian, Asahi, International Herald Tribune and others. IRIB has a matter of fact report on memorial activities, China Dialy barely mentions the bomb but has a special report on war crimes. The Guardian has a selection of its war reporting. The Lewis and Clark College in Portland maintains an archive of photos and Internet resources and pointers to other published material.

In the meantime, the bomb parts and logs have been selling since 2002, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has a broad review of ethical issues and history of the bomb. The BAS has always contained great writing on the war, the bomd and the historical and ethical issues surrounding it. I used to subscribe to it back between 1985 and 1987, when it could still be purchased more easily in bookstores. Now, it seems to be only available in some independent bookstores in my area.

Of great note is the piece in The Washington Post on footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a special report in Editors and Publishers on the history of that footage, which was originally shot by a U.S. Army Air Forces film crew, with the main camera man still alive at 95 in California! What gems of continuity older people are?

Some sixty years later, the events of the summer of 1945 still raise real questions about war and peace. (Note: I'm not saying disturbing, which is the common way to refer to these questions and the common cliche to qualify them. If we accept they are only disturbing, we do not confront them as we should and we avoid addressing them within ourselves and in community through forgetfulness and rememberance.)

Friday Aug 05, 2005

Movie Tonight

Tonight, I have been watching Supersize Me.

Yasmine, my 11-old-daughter, had suggested it, and I'm proud to see she is interested in documentary films.

, .

Tuesday May 24, 2005

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

With all the discussion about filibusters in Washington, I cannot help write this short note.

A friend of mine, born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, just saw Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The same friend told me she was surprised they never showed it in her high school civic studies.

I was surprised, too, but then again, I've heard many talk about it but few seem to have seen it.

Two short pieces on this 1939 classic can be found in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

People interested in American politics should probably see it at least once, even if it has, as it is usual, quite a romantic ending, without which it may have been a much more realistic but far less hopeful piece.

Frank Capra builds a realistic image in the first two hours of the movie, a platform from which to take the leaps of faith that it demands in the last few minutes! In this cinematic technique, he is borrowing from the lessons of Sergei Eisenstein, his Russian counterpart. (See Sergei Eisenstein, Notes of a Film Director.)

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Monday May 16, 2005

The Fine Art of Webloging and Immutability

Weblogs admit a daunting range of expressive styles, topics, media and direction.

What makes each weblog unique is the persona and the focus of the writer. Without a personal voice, weblog becomes another information "hub" or "portal" at best. With too much personality-based bickering it can turn into a very bad version of a "chat" room.

So, what does this broad versatility of weblogs mean in the long run of history? Will there be more people taking time out of their precious lives webloging? Will there be less of them? What will become of all the weblogs? Will we have, as a global civilization, masses and masses of notes, recorded in the multitudes of our beautiful languages, about how we lived, ate, walked, worked, talked, consumed and thought? Is this another publishing medium that brings writing to a broader base of authors, as was done with the advent of book printing, which replaced hand-written (or carved) propagation as the only means of spreading ideas?

One thing is for sure. Weblogging reduces the transaction cost of publishing to potential readers, and the exposure of one's personal whims only builds greater trust between the author and the reader. Elsewhere on this blog, I have discussed the importance of the pen and the paper to the writer, the reader and the learner. Here, I have also written about trust in the cyberspace. In general, we need to pay greater attention to exploring the much larger problem of how instruments we use can determine not only our intelligence but also our moral state and ethical behavior.

On the historial scale, the internet has not yet proven itself to be a replacement for books when it comes to immutability.

The multiplicity in the physical existance of the book, itself, is a guarantor of its chances of survival. People who build failure-resilient systems already know the value of physical multiplicity of identical instances of a system.

The physical multiplicity we have of weblogs is in the shear numbers of private publications, some of which may have a chance to survive over the centuries as a testimony of what happened to us now. Could this be a case where micro-motives and behaviors giving rise to macro-behavior and effects? Since electronic survival becomes somewhat random, with a severe and punishing destructive force in play, what exactly will we have in what survives?

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Thursday Apr 21, 2005

Advocacy vs. Inquiry

If you have a choice between advocacy and inquiry, choose the latter.

Advocacy tends to close the mind. It runs from conflict and, when practiced with zeal, demands others to fall in line.

Inquiry opens the mind. It rests on good questions, invites differences and conflicts for consideration, and leads to better decisions, creating greater concensus among those who have decided.

.

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