Friday, April 11, 2003

Today I reinstalled mozilla for Linux, Persian/Arabic sites weren't working. Previously I had "unstable" in my /etc/apt//sources.list and just had done apt-get update, then apt-get upgrade, and it gave me a 2003-03-27 Mozilla. But the Unicode/UTF-8 support was completely broken. I spent six hours with xfstt (X font server true type), xfs, xfs-xtt, gucharmap, gfontview, mkfontdir, ttmkfdir, copying TrueType fonts from my windows partition, stuffing around with pref.js to make it recognize truetype fonts based on the advice on, etc. Nothing worked!!! Just then I said to hell with it, erased all vestiges of mozilla from my system, then downloaded the generic version 1.3 from, and ran the installer. Now everything works fine again.

The problem was that it couldn't seem to find any unicode fonts, so I was just getting boxes with numbers. What's the moral? Maybe, don't upgrade mindlessly?! If it's not broken, don't fix it, perhaps? Yet the Linux kernel releases up to 2.4.20 (the most recent) have been vulnerable to a local root exploit involving ptrace, requiring an immediate fix.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Mr Kho'i was killed by fellow Shi'ite Muslims. Iraq is divided in ways that outsiders like me cannot understand.

The Iraqi opposition:

The Iraqi opposition is about as divisive a bunch as could possibly be conceived. This is partly a reflection of Iraq's ethnic and religious patchwork, partly a result of the diverse spectrum of cruel experience Iraqis have suffered, and partly, Iraqis readily admit, a reflection of national character. One short-lived prime minister during the 1921-58 monarchy is said to have remarked, when asked why he declined to form a political party, “Find me three Iraqis who agree on anything, and I certainly would.”

Eurasianet interviews Mohsen Kadivar (who, like Soroush, left Iran to teach at Harvard).
The Economist writes about the fifth edition Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. In the online version of the article they helpfully provide links to and The UK version has 3739 pages and costs the equivalent of $US120.30. The US version has 3984 pages and costs $US105.00 (eh? that must be why the sales rank is higher).

If you want to buy the complete 20 volume 1989 Second OED, it depends where you live! If you are in the US, it is $US895; Canada, it's $US1250; Singapore $US1400; Australia $US1500, New Zealand $US1800; and UK/Europe, $US2800!! (Yes, I checked both and, though it is less than 1/3 the price used.) It is a very strange pricing structure. Outside the UK, there is an INVERSE relationship between how much money people have and its price; and in its home country it's 3 times the price it is in the US. (Only in the UK can you have the blue leather edition for more than twice that price.)

Since I move around so much I think the CD-ROM (version 3.0) is for me. Also, the hard copy doesn't have hyperlinks, or the supplements included. Again, the price depends on where you live. $US295 in the USA, $US320 ($US390 from the OUP site) in the UK/EU, $US500 (for version 2.1?!) in Canada, $US387 in NZ, $US330 in Australia, $US235 in Singapore. (And $US3 in Iran. The lack of a copyright convention is one more thing keeping Iran out of the WTO, and an Iranian trade official told me that Iran intends to use it as a bargaining chip, which sounds illogical to me.)

Getting back to pricing differences, where will you buy the fifth book of Harry Potter ("The order of the Phoenix") when it is released? offers a 40% discount, but offers a 50% discount! Of course they both come out on June 21. Assuming the exchange rate stays the same, it means the UK version is much cheaper ($US13.26 vs $US17.99) for a change! Ooooh, and Janet just explained to me that in the UK, the only difference between the "adult edition" and the normal one is the cover. So that you don't get seen reading a kid's book! "No, I am not kidding!" - Janet

In real life, I am having a discussion about the meaning of "pimp juice" (in Persian, "ab-e-koskesh"). It was Sarah who brought it to my attention. Fortunately a web search provides the answer. Sarah tried to explain it to me by printing out the lyrics to this song. There is a definition in the song:

"Now your pimp juice is anything, attract the opposite sex
It could be money, fame, or straight intellect"

but there's also an interview with the artist, Nelly which clears it up (I think). Let me say I am just amazed by the profundity of Nelly's lyrics. It just beats any Shakespeare, Dante, or Hafez:

"It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes,
I am getting so hot - I wanna take my clothes off."

Good to see concious, thought provoking lyrics coming back.

And I finished reading "Reading Lolita in Tehran!" I learned new words like upsilamba and poshlust that I could have picked up reading Nabokov in the first place. Maybe there will be a review soon; I recommend it to all interested in modern Iran or women's issues there though.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Former CIA analyst: US ‘conned into war’

I was just writing about Robert Baer there... what does he think about the war?

“The American people, Congress, government and president were conned into this war, in the full sense of the word, by neo-conservatives and hawks in Washington who sold a false bill of goods. The president was lied to and given erroneous information that was filtered through Iraqi exiles who had not lived in Iraq for 20 or 30 years and had no clear idea of realities inside Iraq. The exiles had no intention of fighting themselves, but wanted the US to fight for them,” he told The Daily Star Thursday in an interview.

British embassy attacked.
MOLOTOV cocktails were thrown at the British embassy in Tehran as around 250 Iranian students demonstrated against the war in Iraq. ...

The demonstrators, who were calling for the expulsion of the British ambassador, burned US and British flags and chanted "death to America, death to Britain", while throwing tomatoes and eggs at the embassy.

They also distributed the photograph of the driver who was killed as his car smashed into the wall of the embassy compound on April 1, with a note reading "martyr of a suicide operation".

An interesting detail.

Bush puts God on his side. The BBC article contrasts this with Lincoln, who said the civil war was a curse on both sides. Also, a minister remarks that believing God is on your side makes life easy for believers because no self-examination is then required. It is exactly what happened in Iran; it's why the leaders there are unable to criticise themselves, and the future is grim. A thought from Dave Andrews: it's those people who are absolutely certain that they are doing God's will who commit the worst atrocities.

Fark on how Fox would cover historical events. I liked the "Kent State Shootout" one the best. (Both today'ls links from popdex).

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Over at the I believe that blog a writer comments on Zahra Eshraghi's denial of the statements attributed to her in the New York Times. It seems she believes Eshraghi rather than journalist. Unfortunately, there's a long history of Iranians making taped statements to Western journalists and then denying they ever said such things! (see comments at the other blog). So I tend to believe the journalist. As an Iranian friend once said to me, "Spanish culture is just like Iranian culture, only they don't tell lies!" :-)

This brings us into a discussion about taqiyah. What is taqiyah? It is dissembling for the sake of faith, or hiding your true beliefs. At the link they quote (interestingly) Jesus and St Paul not saying exactly what they mean. The deputy judiciary chief of Iran, Larijani is quoted by Elaine Sciolino as saying...

"There's a hidden reality, a hypocrisy that keeps the peace," Larijani told me.
"It protects the dignity of the other. Architects don't build glass houses in Iran. If you don't speak of everything so openly, it's better. Being able to keep a secret even if you have to mislead is considered a sign of maturity. It's Persian wisdom. We don't have to be ideal people. Everybody lies. Let's be good liars."

It's relevant today because the fatwa from Sistani is under discussion at the same blog, and taqiyah can provide a good explanation of why there is so much argument over it! That is, Iranian state-controlled media does all they can to deny it, Iraqi TV quotes Sistani saying attack the invaders, etc. I know, I know, as if I'd attach credence to state-controlled media... but unless you've lived in a free, open society you won't really understand the safeguards against error in the media of such societies. Bias on the other hand is unavoidable (go and read Manufacturing Consent). There's a great quote from the book "See No Evil" by Robert Baer I can use here. I hope it helps Westerners understand Middle East media, and Iranians understand Western media (granted, Iranian press is among the freest in the Middle East):

"In the Middle East, life goes on behind high walls, out of view of strangers, especially foreigners. And it wasn't just walls made out of mortar and stone. The Middle East is a place wired to obscure the truth. Television and newspapers don't report news; they report whatever propaganda the government wants them to report. Investigative reporters don't exist. Books on politics and society aren't worth reading. The only time a scandal spills into the public is when the government decides it should. At the personal level, things are no different. Middle Easterners believe that the less they give up about themselves, the better. They'll talk about politics only in the most general terms, and they wouldn't even consider discussing terrorism. In their eyes, terrorism is a state activity; expressing your opinion on it just gets you thrown in jail."

Some UK embassy staff quit Iran after truck blast; Eight family members of British embassy staff leave Iran. Like I was saying, some Iranians want to scare all foreigners away, or don't realize the effects their actions are having. This reminds me again of the Daugherty article:

``These same Iranians who shouted "death to America," who condemned everything American as evil or decadent, and who would have killed us had it been ordered, would nonetheless ask my colleagues for help in obtaining visas to the United States, and then could not understand why they were laughed at. If the reader by now suspects, too, that these Iranians, at least, seemed to have difficulty with the concept of cause and effect, he or she would be dead on.''

The LA Times reports 50% support among Americans for taking action against Iran if it continues to develop nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Hmmm. I understand to some Iranians it's a national pride issue to get nuclear weapons, since Pakistan has them. But...

``... Shahram Chubin, in a study for the International
Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), points out, acquiring nuclear weapons
"would put Iran into a different league of risk and reprisal, and this would
not necessarily leave it with enhanced security."'' (Economist)

This is so true, but as I have noted so many times, the current Iranian leaders are incapable of self-criticism (perhaps there's a shortage of mirrors in their houses or something). And don't expect them to adopt the rational path, this is the Middle East!! I have grave fears for the region...

Finally a reader asked me to link about Najaf, Karbala, and Imam Ali. Umm, I was going to say a week ago that the US news channels were never pointing out that Najaf and Karbala are holy cities to Shi'ite Muslims, but this did change as the US troops approached.