I think it’s time to retire this blog.  I haven’t updated it in months, and I haven’t lived on 113th Street in two years.  While I was in India, it seemed almost sensible to have a website that used my old address, but in Brooklyn, it doesn’t feel right.

I haven’t been in the mood to blog lately.  I think having a dissertation to write has sapped some of that energy, but really I like to think that the weblog form has outlived its utility.  Short form, chronologically arranged postings are only useful up to a point.

It’s nice to have a single place where my online life comes together, and I like the openness and the flexibility of the web more than the walled gardens of Facebook, etc.  I’ll probably put some sort of page up to maintain such a presence at jamesphare.org.  Until then, you can keep up with me on Del.icio.us, Google Reader, YouTube, and Flickr.  You can also follow my dissertation progress.

So, thanks for reading.  Thanks for the comments.  I hope you’ve found this site entertaining, helpful, or interesting.

There is no such thing as the universal.  There is only the particular.

Claims to universality need not be evaluated for truth or falsity.  They serve rhetorical ends.  To claim universality is to claim superiority.  It is a mark of empire.

In the academy, we’ve been in an age characterized by ‘after,’ by lateness.  We have asked, what’s past the post?  I respond: oppositionality.  We are no longer after.  We are against.

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything here.  I’ve been sort of rethinking what I want to do with a blog.  I’m also dissatisfied with the title of this site since I now live in Brooklyn.  It’s been almost two years since I’ve moved away from 113th Street.

Of course, I haven’t been rethinking my blogging future online, which sort of defies the purpose of having a blog (actually two of them) in the first place.

My other site, Bhaktamal.org, doesn’t get updated all that often, but at least it has a distinct goal.

Or maybe blogs, at least of this sort, shouldn’t have a distinct goal.  Maybe having a space to write in public is good for thought and the whole blog-as-a-career thing is really stupid.  This blog has never even flirted with being anything more than a distraction.

Oh, and I really hate the word ‘blog.’  It’s such an ugly addition to the English language.

Imran Khan

Yesterday afternoon, the Pakistani ex-cricketer, philanthropist, and opposition politician Imran Khan spoke at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.

His speech was mostly a simple, clear, and charismatic expression of the calls for rule of law that characterize the lawyers’ movement and the opposition to Musharraf’s rule generally.

His main argument was a critique of the idea, prevalent in the Western media and political establishment, that the main divide within Pakistan is the one between extremists and moderates. He argued that extremists exist in Pakistan in roughly the same proportion as in any other society. Rather, Khan argued that the main opposition within Pakistan is between those who support Musharraf and the status quo and those who seek change.

Khan said that the main way to challenge fundamentalists is through intellectual means. Suppression only leads to militancy.

During the question and answer session, he observed that he had recently visited Washington, DC, where he saw some anti-abortion demonstrators. He said that they reminded him of Pakistani madrassah students. He asked why some consider it inappropriate to even talk to religiously based political parties.

My iBook was recently stolen in a burglary, which has forced me to turn to my desktop, which runs the variety of GNU/Linux known as Ubuntu, to try to do some work.  One of the minimum requirements for my work is the ability to write in Devanagari (the script used to write Hindi and some other north Indian languages) as well as in the Roman alphabet with the diacritics necessary for accurate transcription of Hindi, Sanskrit, and other Indic languages.

With a good deal of assistance, I’ve figured out how to do this, so I’m posting some notes on the process here for my own reference and to help anyone else who needs similar capability.  These notes are intended to assist someone who computes primarily in an English medium but who requires the ability to write in Hindi as well.

It should be fairly simple to enable support for Devanagari in Ubuntu, but there seems to be a bug in Ubuntu 7.10 that might get in the way.  You need to enable a program called SCIM, which provides support for complex language inputs.  It’s not too difficult to install SCIM and correct the bug.  Just follow these instructions.  Once installed (you also need to make sure Hindi is selected in System -> Administration -> Language Support), there should be a little keyboard on the menu bar that lets you switch between various keyboards.  One of the included keyboards is called “Hindi Phonetic.”  This keyboard allows you to type Hindi on a QWERTY keyboard based on the way it sounds.  If you’re familiar with native Hindi keyboards, there are other options as well.

(I’ve also added an additional repository to my APT sources list (http://packages.sil.org/ubuntu dapper main), which provides more recent builds of SCIM.  I’m not sure if this step is necessary or helpful.)

I found it trickier to figure out an easy way to quickly input characters with diacritical marks.  My current solution is to use T-RFC1345.  This virtual keyboard provides mnemonic input strings for various characters not present on a standard US keyboard.  A very extensive guide to these character mnemonics is available here.

To install this keyboard, launch Synaptic (System -> Administration -> Synaptic Package Manager), and install the package scim-m17n along with its dependencies.  This will install a set of multilingual keyboards, including one called t-rfc1345, which is what we’re interested in right now.

When this keyboard is selected, it mostly functions like a normal US keyboard except that easily remembered strings that begin with ampersand (&) can be used to enter characters not on the keyboard.  For instance, if you type “&a-” with this keyboard selected, it will produce an a with a macron overhead  (ā).  Or, if you type “&d-.”, you’ll get a d with a dot underneath (ḍ).  It takes some getting used to, but it’s ultimately a fast and simple way to input a huge variety of diacritical and accent marks (of course, you need to use a font that supports the necessary characters).  Check out the guide to RFC1345 to see the full range of available characters.

I hope someone finds this helpful.  I’m trying to recreate a set of steps that I discovered largely through trial and error, so if you need clarification or have a correction to make, please let me know in the comments.

Hillary Clinton’s recent comments that Lyndon B. Johnson had more to do with passing civil rights laws than did the civil rights movement grants us an insight into her thinking and the thinking of a major faction of the Democratic Party.

Clinton’s view of change and power is top down.  From her view, civil rights legislation wasn’t simply the endorsement of a movement that had brought together millions of ordinary Black and White folks to fight for an end to segregation and discrimination.  Rather, it was the accomplishment of a political leader who was motivated by little more than his conscience.  Why LBJ’s conscience didn’t prevent escalation in Vietnam is another question I guess.

The Clintons have consistently demonstrated a paternalistic attitude toward the American people.  They and their supporters like to point out how much Bill Clinton has done for poor people and people of color.  As someone who was involved in anti-poverty work during the Clinton presidency, I don’t know what they’re talking about, but that’s not the point.

It is not politicians alone who can bring about real change.  We’ll start moving toward a more economically just nation and world when a broad based movement comes together to demand the government we deserve, not when some careerist politician decides to grant it to us.

Three hundred and fifty years ago today, religious freedom was born on this continent. Yes, 350 years. Religious tolerance did not begin with the Bill of Rights or with Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786. With due respect to Roger Williams and his early experiment with “liberty of conscience” in Rhode Island, this republic really owes its enduring strength to a fragile, scorched and little-known document that was signed by some 30 ordinary citizens on Dec. 27, 1657. (NY Times)

I just realized that I was quoted last month in the Spec:

James Hare, a teaching assistant for the religion department’s class on Islam, said that when Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, another controversial figure, spoke at the World Leaders Forum, he “received not only a glowing introduction from Bollinger, but a standing ovation from the audience.”

“The contrast in the reception of these two heads of state makes Bollinger seem less like a critical intellectual and more like an ideologue for the Bush administration,” Hare said.

My point, though, wasn’t that Musharraf is simply controversial; it was that he is a military dictator and, as such, is deserving of public condemnation.  Musharraf is an ally of the Bush administration while Ahmadinejad is an opponent.  I think this distinction alone accounts for the difference in their official receptions.

Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf has done away with even the veneer of constitutional governance and declared a state of emergency–martial law (for more see my “shared items” in the sidebar or here). Taking a page from the Bush play book, Musharraf blames activist judges and terrorists for bringing about this emergency. As such, he has cracked down on the judiciary, the media, and civil society. Somehow, the most liberal elements of the Pakistani establishment are to blame for the Taliban-like elements who actually do represent a serious challenge to the Pakistani state. From what I hear, the declaration of emergency has as yet had little effect on extremists, or whatever we’re calling them these days.

The United States government must withdraw the support that it has provided to the Musharraf dictatorship for far too long. US civil society must demonstrate solidarity with those who have been courageous enough to challenge Musharraf’s second coup from within the country. US aid to Pakistan should not be restored until Musharraf steps down and restores constitutional government. Free and fair elections should take place as soon as possible to restore democracy.

A Pakistani government that does not represent the will of its people cannot achieve lasting stability. It cannot act as a serious negotiating partner with India to resolve the ongoing disputes between these two countries. Kashmir is too much of a flash point. The conflict in Kashmir has become a threat to the prosperity, the stability, and even the existence of South Asia. Open conflict between nuclear powers is something to be avoided.

A new democratic government in Pakistan should make peace with its neighbor a priority. India should reciprocate. A secure, stable Pakistan is in India’s interest. A weak, threatened Pakistan is a dangerous neighbor.

Is it significant that Musharraf doesn’t blame India for the state of emergency? That must be some kind of first.

Zotero

Yesterday, version 1.0 of Zotero was released.  Since its initial release last year, Zotero has become my most important research tool.  It’s a bibliographic management tool, but it’s also much more than that.

Zotero is a Firefox 2 plugin, so it works anywhere that Firefox does (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc).  It provides a way to keep all your document-based research organized, but it can also automatically grab bibliographic data (and more) off the web.  Zotero can automatically take snapshots of web pages, which are then available for annotation and highlighting within the browser window.

Zotero 1.0 can interface with OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Word to provide citation management (I’m not personally sure how well this works yet).  Future upgrades (handled automatically through Firefox’s extension manager) will add collaborative features and online backups.  These features have the potential to change the way humanities scholars do research.

Zotero is free, both as in beer and as in speech.  There is no charge to download this program, and the source code is available, if that’s your thing.

Importantly, Zotero has a very usable and intuitive interface.  It’s kind of like iTunes for bibliographic data.

If you’re an academic who is facing the challenge of managing your sources, check out Zotero.

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