Saturday, September 29

A Touch of Philosophy

I spent a the day attending a one-day class designed to introduce newcomers to Philosophy at City Lit. Coming from a Computing background, I had already done bags of Logic and Reasoning, but I wanted to see if there was any relation between what I learned at Imperial and a more historical presentation of what could be seen as the same kinda thing.

Anyway, the course was pretty good both in terms of topic and tuition. I've recently had a passing interest in the subject and it complemented that pretty well - sometimes it seems like the course was designed especially for me.

Since it was over five hours long I can't really go into much detail as to what we did. But in brief we covered the following:

  • Pre-Socrates (Thales, Heraclitus and Zeno), Socrates and Plato - Socratic Method, forms and innate knowledge.
  • Modern Philosophy and Concepts.
  • Rousseau and his Social Groups and Interactions.
  • Rights and Freedoms, Choice.
  • Kant's Moral Judgements - The three "oughts": Technical/Instrumental (you ought to wear something to stay warm), Rational (7+5 = 12 and not 11) and Moral/Practical (you ought not to lie. Why? Conclusion reached from higher moral faculty). Categorical Imperative.
  • Sartre and his Alienation and Bad Faith.
Some of it was pretty challenging too, but I think I engaged the class enough. I'm not sure how successful I'll be, but I'm going to try to incorporate some of these concepts and ideas into my writings too.

Friday, September 28


xxxx says (11:07):
    man my new position in the office means
     i can't turn round and look at hot girl talking to colleage
Shak says (11:11):
    sure you can
    i do it all the tiem
    its why i have a reputation
    shak the starer
xxxx says (11:11):
    er exactly
Shak says (11:11):
    you care too much about what others think

For Goodness' Sake

I like to think that the majority of people are good. That is, that they make a conscious effort to be good and to avoid being bad. It's a major assumption I know, especially once you take one look at the news nowadays, but for the sake of this post let's just suspend our belief for a bit.

The fact is that no matter how good you are, no matter how on the straight and narrow path you follow, your actions in themselves are no guarantee of good happening back to you- although I would like to believe that some notion of karma exists I think any returns we do get is more a case of cause and effect rather than mystical balance.

So in the worst case then, there's a definite lack of justice. But is that what being good is about?

The way I see it, there are three reasons why a person may demonstrate good behaviour:

  1. For reward - treat others how you would like to be treated by them and all that. An example of this may be keeping away from relationships with the idea that you'll eventually find someone who's the same because you deserve it. As I've explained above, there are no guarantees. Oh and even feeling good about yourself is a reward of sorts.
  2. For status - which may not be as shallow or arrogant as it sounds. Although I'm sure some people act good to be seen doing so, there is no doubt that good breeds good, so those who intend to be an example to others may also fall into this category, as are those who are good for their parents' sake (even during the times they are not around).
  3. For the sake of being good itself - more subtle than the above, this means you are good simply because you want to be and think it's the right thing to do. People in this category don't need other people to notice their actions, although it's a bonus for all if they do. Needless to say this is probably the smallest group of the three.
On the surface it doesn't matter which of these groups a person falls into - being good for whatever reason is, uh, good enough. And in reality it's probably much more grey as we flit from one group to the other depending on the situation and mood at the time.

However I would say that the last of the three is the "purest" state to be in - there are certain implications that the others bring with them. So for the first, you may become disappointed if you don't get the returns you think you deserve, and for the second you may end up in the situation when you're only good depending on who's around to witness it, pretty much making you a slave to circumstance.

Being good for the sake of it also means that it's your natural state, and that it's not an effort for you to do what you do. And the really nifty thing about this hard to reach place is that since people will inevitably see you and most likely mirror your behaviour, you'll get the first two consequences above as a bonus anyway.

So the next time you do something nice ask yourself two questions: are you expecting anything in return? And would you have acted the differently if no one was around to witness it? If the either answer is yes, then pat yourself on the back for being good. If, however, both answers are no, then congratulations: you've just done something good for the sake of being good itself.

Thursday, September 27

Link Of The Day Click for more info

Wired reports on Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a devout Malaysian Muslim who's due for a nine day trip to the International Space Station during Ramadan.

I previously touched on the story here, so I won't discuss the findings of Shukor again. But it is heartening to know that the practical technicalities regarding progress aren't beating on the Islamic spirit for once.

Wednesday, September 26

Fall Season 2007

Yep, that's right. Amazingly it's that time of the year again. But first, a recap of last year's television going-ons.

2006 was an unusual year, largely because I was playing catch-up for most of it. Four seasons of Veronica Mars were the main culprits, which was fine because the show was so ace (it's no longer with us unfortunately). But that wasn't all I had to cram in and I still have this year's Family Guy and ER pending. Oh, and I haven't even made a dent into the first season of House.

I've also only just finished Season Six of Smallville too. Yes, you read that correctly: despite my best efforts I found myself totally unable to dump this show. I have no regrets with that though - this season was one of the best which is not surprising seeing how heavily it had been borrowing from Buffy throughout.

Talking of dumping, Entourage and Shark have both died before they even had a chance to begin. Despite both featuring the absolutely lovely Sarah Carter, I just don't have the time (although perhaps I'll keep that single episode of Entourage in which she guests). I tried watching Grey's Anatomy, but it wasn't very good. I'll definitely leave that one for the girls.

The OC came to a natural end this year too (thank heavens), but other than that and Veronica I don't have any more drop outs from my schedule. The only new show joining the rest is Heroes, which isn't actually as good as everyone seems to think it is; think the television equivalent of The Da Vinci Code and you'll have an idea of what it's like. Oh yes, and hopefully there'll be a season of Little House to watch.

So the bulk of my schedule for 2007/08 remains the same as last year: 24, Doctor Who, Lost (which totally redeemed itself last season - and then some), One Tree Hill (they're all grown up now, apparently) and the fantastic Prison Break all await my eager attention.

Happy viewing!

Islamic Branching

There are many interpretations of Islam in existence today, and that's disregarding the pedant's stance which says that Islamic practise is unique to all individuals. But even if we stuck to the more formal schools and interpretations there are a dazzling array of opinions, thoughts, philosophy and practise of the religion.

I think what makes these Islams different to the equivalent divisions found in other modern religions are their common baseline, namely the Quran and its corresponding basic theology (and so this discussion is limited only to those Islams which agree on these fundamental ingredients).

The mutual acceptance of a difference in opinion varies in reality though. Sufism was practised by some of the greats, but most mainstream Muslims seem to pour scorn on any mention of it. We have four main accepted Sunni schools of thought, each with a teacher at the head whose lives were spent becoming interpretive experts, and there was no reason to think each weren't equally sensible in forming their conclusions. Yet some of us spend so much time trying to convince each other we are doing something wrong.

Whichever stance a Muslim eventually takes, it must always start from the baseline: a reading of the Quran (if possible without even interpretation). In this way it's like a constant religious axiom. Some further inputs are other scriptural sources (mainly the Hadith), the cultural contexts in which we exist and other "real life" considerations like science, technology and even secular ideals. These are then fed into a methodology which eventually results in outputs in the form of rulings and prescription.

These inputs are "spatially" relatively constant between all the various Islamic groups by virtue of them all living in the same here and now. However, since they change "temporally" (apart from the scriptural sources of course) we should expect the rulings and prescriptions to change over time too - and that's while making the huge assumption that the methodologies remain static. They probably don't since, recursively, they're based on rulings too.

Another source of difference is perception. This acts like a random variable input into the methodology-machine and means that you can get two different outputs with the exact same inputs. As a real life example of this, just check out how Islam is practised in Indonesia versus how it is practised in Saudi Arabia. We can't say which is right or wrong or how they rank in terms of closeness to the truth since they've both developed in exactly the same manner, if not with the same conclusions.

This discussion isn't meant to suggest we all get out our own methodology machines and run them flippantly to get our own tailored versions of Islam; no, most of us just aren't equipped to do this. We have to first spend the months or years it takes to become an expert in doing so, but the point is that there is no reason for us, through this expertise, to stop generating new rulings if we wanted to today.

The various practises of Islam that we see today are nothing but branches of a big old Islamic tree. Each are equivalent in status and validity and none are closer to the truth than the other. And who knows? Once we consider living with our differences as an essential requirement for a genuine ummah, perhaps we might show a bit of unity too?

Tuesday, September 25

The Irony of Life, Literally

Today a good friend lost her fourteen day old daughter. In the meantime, another friend became a father to his first born.

It's weird when things like that happen. It just goes to show how eventful life can be sometimes.

Monday, September 24


There's a class of people who can actually read minds. Not literally of course[1], but these folk have such an awareness of themselves, their surroundings and those around them that they are able to see a situation outside of their own bodies and perspective. And since they see themselves as another player on the given platform, they get a global view of a situation and its ongoing development.

And so they know how to run an conversation, equally engaging people or pushing their buttons. They can predict the reaction of a single person or alternatively a larger crowd. In fact, most of the times you talk them you're probably just confirming exactly how they thought the conversation would go anyway.

Sounds like the ideal position to be in, right? Well unfortunately for these people this ability is a curse. Since for the most part they're just going through the motions, interactions with others lack any kind of spontaneity, while conversations become patronising, almost fake as if you're just an actor in a play. And if that is indeed the case, then what does that say about the honesty of these Mindreaders? Can you still be genuine when you're always just "playing along"?

And there are further implications for these complex beings. The only interactions they really enjoy are those with a comparable amount of awareness. Only other like-minded people will be able to test and be tested, surprise and be surprised and engage and be engaged by a Mindreader in a flurry of recursive reflection. You'll often notice a bunch of them huddled in a corner relating or laughing at some joke that works on a level only they understand. It's almost like a secret club.

The logical implication for finding a partner is that if a Mindreader is supposed to choose a partner that they're to be fully honest with, someone who knows them as well as they know themselves, then the only person able to do this would have to be another Mindreader. Otherwise, there'll be (at best) a disparity in the level of involvement or (at worst) manipulation and control by the Mindreader over his other half.

Mindreaders also have a much darker side. Since they know themselves so well, they're also aware of their potential. This has the effect of them believing that they're above all others, that they're part of an elite; it can become pretty narcissistic, and a humble Mindreader is a rare beast.

For some it goes even further. They lose sight of the fact that, at the core, they too are human and are subject to the same flaws that they so easily detect in others; namely that others are totally able to read them too, that they also need love, good communication and can exhibit irrational behaviour and stuff.

But I'm not saying that being a Mindreader is a good or bad thing; no, I'm just observing that they exist. Perhaps they go by another name or something... But what I'm really interested in is how many of you actually know the type of person I'm talking about.

[1] Not that I'm discounting the existence of telekinesis altogether or anything...

Sunday, September 23

Link Of The Day Click for more info

Quran Explorer is a handy little web application that renders Quranic text, a choice of English translations and recitals. It's pretty ace, especially when you need to look up a verse or check your pronunciation.

Thanks to Fuad for the link!

A Dream Final

India versus Pakistan in an international Cricket final. Both teams showing that they're on form and both teams comprehensively beating that benchmark, Australia, in their earlier stages. And when they faced each other in what now seems like many moons ago, they tied (bowl outs aside).

You really couldn't have scripted it any better.

What's more interesting is the way in which each side has reached their respective places in the final. Pakistan have, quite unbelievably, been the balanced and consistent team of the tournament. Each member has been noted for their individual contributions and they've demonstrated a maturity and sportsmanship that belies the fact that they're so new and shiny.

On the other hand, India's performance resembles that of a wedge - they started off on quite shaky and timid ground and have gradually transformed into an almost violent force that's really to be reckoned with. And in some ways they've begun to resemble the English and Australian teams in how they display the passion they obviously hold. I've never seen the team react so loudly on a fall of wicket than I have during the closing stages of this tournament.

The two contrasting styles within this T20 World cup will meet in the final, and as a Pakistan fan I have to admit that I'm a little concerned. What I am sure of is that it's going to be pretty explosive in Johannesburg tomorrow.

One thing I just don't get though: who's brilliant idea was it to hold the final on a Monday at 1pm?

Friday, September 21

A Glocal Community

There are approximately six billion people currently on this here Earth of ours. That's quite a lot, right? Well you know, I'm not so sure any more.

I mean yes, I don't think any of us can imagine more than a thousand people or so in terms of personal reach or influence (although going by Facebook, some of us do have more friends than others). I guess what I'm not sure of is the size of the world. Just how big is it?

A simple example of this is how some individuals have a relatively large and visible influence. We're talking about the Bushes, Cruises and Gates here. They can literally make decisions that will affect people living in the farthest corners of the globe. This is a relatively new ability for a mere mortal to have.

But this kind of influence isn't limited to just world leaders and big box office movie stars. They say that there is a maximum of seven degrees of separation between any two people in the world. If true, one of the implications of this is that if you transmit an idea to everyone that you know, and then they do the same and so on, it will only take seven iterations for the idea to go global. I don't know about you, but that's quite intimidatingly little.

Okay so it doesn't quite work like this - ideas have a kind of "half life" where they become less effective as they become transmitted. But good ideas do travel; even Islam recognises this behaviour when it talks about being rewarded for teaching a teacher (the original chain combo bonus, perhaps).

Also today, technology helps keep ideas intact during transmission; viral emails are big business now, and things like Facebook's News Feed facility has a lot to answer for when it comes to the almost too rapid dissemination of information.

And Social Sciences evolve by the day too. Groups (of general individuals rather than those based on arbitrary classifications) can now be modelled and so become predictable; this in turn means that they can be educated and taught (or, from another perspective, manipulated and groomed) very easily. They can also be attracted or repulsed to some stimuli in the most efficient way possible. And the scary thing is that it's not at all as difficult to do as it sounds.

Anyway, the point is that all individuals have the potential to make some kind of a far reaching difference in this world, good or bad. Now this last bit isn't intended to sound like the vacuous inspiration message that it almost certainly is: heck if anyone needs to get off their lazy bum and be a positive influence, it's me.

But I like the idea that just one person, no matter who they are, can make a difference in this world by taking advantage of this butterfly effect of thoughts and ideas. It doesn't even have to be overt or intentional; just by leaving a positive example for people to follow you might end up being at the start of something big.

Wednesday, September 19

A Dua For Ramadan

Here's a quick and simple dua for when you feel thirsty during Ramadan:

La howla wa la Coca Cola wa la Pepsi Cola wa la any Cola will do; even Qibla Cola

Ameen. Although a part of me wonders if it's okay to find that as funny as I do. Perhaps if we declare it a satire on Islamic commercialism we'd get away with it. Just.

Thanks to Aisha for the gag.

Appropriately Praying

For the past five years or so, I've been using my Ramadan commutes on the Tube to read the Quran. This has gone on largely without incident till today, although thinking about it I guess I'm actually surprised that it's taken this long for something to happen.

A girl, presumably a Muslim, politely interrupted me and asked if it was indeed the Quran that I was reading. I confirmed that it was, at which point she, albeit in the nicest possible way, accused me of being disrespectful for reading it in such an unclean place. At least I think that's what she said since a lot of her words were in hardcore Punjabi (apparently she didn't want to speak her mind so fully in front of all the goriya. Nice).

Now, although she was referring to the level of cleanliness around us, I suspect her real objection was to the appropriateness of praying at all in such a place. Of course since I was doing the actual reading, I held another opinion. As far as I knew there was nothing in Islamic fiqh that would make prayer prohibited for a regular Tube ride no matter how groggy it became or who else is using it at the time. In my view I was okay.

Ironically, this wasn't always the case, and there was a time when I would also pour scorn on fellow commuters who read the Quran on public transport, and for much the same reasons: essentially that it was better to pray in "nicer" surroundings.

I think that it was Hajj that changed my stance. The lack of comfort and far from ideal situations there (for example the crowds or heat) meant that, if I wanted to complete the rites at all, I had to adapt my practice to overcome the obstacles presented to me at the time.

Now when I say adapt, I don't mean compromise; no, it was more a case of figuring out what was important, what my objectives were and the reasons for which I was there in the first place. Once I established these, what seemed like obstacles before suddenly didn't matter much - although not ideal technically and spiritually I was still achieving what I wanted to. This was a general principle I took from my experience there and one of the most important lessons I had learned during my pilgrimage.

Looking at previous Ramadans when I didn't read on the Tube, I didn't really read the Quran much more than I usually did outside of the holy month - and I certainly didn't manage to finish it. Now though, I get through close to two juz (chapters) a day, or one and a half Qurans in the month, by using dead time which would otherwise have been wasted.

Similarly I'm much more steadfast in my salaat (regular prayer) now too; previously I would exclusively pray only in a home or mosque (because they were the ideal locations), choosing to miss and catch up later if I wasn't. But I've now learned to be resourceful enough to find a clean and legally (that is whatever is technically obligatory for a prayer to be valid) suitable place wherever I happen to be - and I reckon that the position I place myself in now is closer to the ideal than it was before, by virtue of my no longer reading a prayer outside of its allotted time.

So I do get where my critic was coming from. I will never instruct someone to read the Quran on a train if they feel uncomfortable doing so. And I will always prefer to pray in a clean room at home too, and stop reading in a place if it really does become objectively and technically unsuitable to continue (which really only amounts to a few extreme cases). But regardless of all of that, I'm not sure that you can accuse someone who is reading more Quran or praying more regularly than they would otherwise of being disrespectful to the faith.

I don't know the situation of this particular lady, but in my opinion real disrespect is putting the holy book in a place so safe or on a shelf so high that it doesn't get read much at all. On the contrary, I reckon that Islamic practice is for all times (unless explicitly instructed otherwise) and God is everywhere, and not just in or during those which happen to be the ideal.

Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to discuss the issue to the detail I've gone into above; she was only with me for one stop. But I'm secretly thankful of this really - in the process of giving me her advice she had put me a page or two behind in my daily read already, restricting me in a way a Tube train or other fellow non-Muslim passengers never would.

Monday, September 17

Personal Liability

If we assume that people are a product of their experiences, then the implication is that people aren't inherently good or bad, but instead rather lucky or unlucky, since if the same person was in a different environment or situation, they would effectively be someone else. Hmm. I wonder if that last sentence is as difficult to read as it was to write?

Anyway. If we take this causality to the extreme, then it kinda absolves the individual of any liability - the whole "it's not my fault I think in this way" argument. And if that's the case, then who do we, well, blame for all society's ills?

How about the parents? Well maybe. The thing is that they were also a product of their experiences so the blame slides off them too. Which leaves education, schools, community, governments and more generally, society itself. But that all sounds like a big old cop out.

And besides, where does that leave choice and freewill? Technically, personal choice is always there for all of us: we can either do something or not. But I think that it's reasonable to say that some choices may be difficult for us depending on the person we are and the situation we are in, and for a straightforward example see the thief who finds it easy to steal in order to feed his family, while a stubborn person will stick to his ways even when continually proven wrong.

What is this post trying to say? Well, regardless of who is to blame for the ills of this world, whether individually or collectively, I think that the original assumption at the start of this post implies that everyone has the same potential to do good or bad. And if that is the case, then perhaps providing the positive experiences you've had is preferable to punishing those deemed to have done you wrong?

Indian Call Centres

You know, I've never had the horrible experience with these that you hear of in the media. Maybe it's because I'm accustomed to the accent, but I like to think it's because I'm a people person with bags of patience. Frankly, if their allegedly clinical and scripted style gets me an answer efficiently then I don't care where they happen to be at the time.

In the latest example of this, I had to call Virgin Media's technical support to query the quite rubbish download speeds I've been getting lately (around 6Mbit/s when I should be hitting 20). As is usual with these things, I make sure the problem isn't with me by doing the necessary research, tests and due diligence required to be confident of such a thing. It saves time and helps you relate to the operator if you already know your side of the script.

And it was nice when they took my number and called me back in order to save on the call charges (a quite unreasonable 20p a minute) and refunded me what I had clocked up already (which I knew I was due but it was nice not to have to ask). They even invited me to party with them in New Dehli once they established I was a) Asian and Gujarati, b) Muslim and c) fasting (and so, presumably, religious or cultured).

So yet another positive Indian Call Centre experience then? Yes, I think so, even though the issue hasn't been resolved fully yet. And this time the operator wasn't even female.

Saturday, September 15

Islamic Conscience

With respect to a world containing religion, there are two ways to come up with laws and rulings. The religious view would be to use scripture and that in a wholly literal manner. A secularist would prefer to use "his head". I won't go into too much detail but suffice to say that there are pros and cons and similarities within both approaches.

Which leads me to wonder whether there's a middle ground somewhere?

The literalist's stance would be that there is no room to form an opinion other than from scripture. And they would be right in a sense; with respect to Islam what has been written is the word of God, it cannot be changed and has to be used when we're trying to figure out what's right or wrong.

However, is it truly possible to be totally literal in reading a text? I'm not so sure that it is; I reckon that there are latent "opinions" within a reader that they are unable to shed completely when interpreting writings - kinda like a Heisenberg Principle but for reading books. I reckon that Islam is aware of this fact, has controls and processes built in to manage it, and in fact is in the spirit of the religion itself.

This is proven by the vast number of opinions we actually have today; you can pretty much find an interpretation to suit any conclusion you want. At this stage, we have to decide as individuals as to which opinion we want to listen to, and that's is where our own personal Islamic Consciences come into play. This in turn is part of the hidayat we ask of God each time we pray; the guidance we need to pick from the many options laid out in front of us.

It's important to note that the level of difference and ambiguity of a ruling isn't constant but depends on what specific question we're asking about; some parts of the Quran and Hadith are clear and have a more of a consensus than others -I'm not suggesting for a moment that Muslims should have a free for all and start drinking alcohol or beginning casual relationships based on their whims.

But I do think that a single ruling is more than a specific Hadith or Quranic verse; that the best way to come to a decision is to look at Islam as a whole, its spirit and ideals and see what that would have to say about the issue, as opposed to taking a specific sound bite and (sometimes quite tenuously) applying a ruling from it.

I'm quite lucky in that I've been practising Islam for quite a while. I've been through the whole madarassa thing (and despite my initial reluctance to attend it, it was one of the best things I was involved in as a school kid). I've also been through the UK's education system including college, university and then work and been exposed to things which don't have a typical basis in Islam (that's not to say they're unislamic though, more secular).

It's these two disparate yet complimentary experiences that I draw from to decide whether something is islamically right or wrong, or valid or otherwise. In other words, it's these things that have formed my Islamic Conscience, the back of the mind feeling that I use to decide what Islam would say on a matter.

And even though some might think some of my opinions are anything but Islamic (I'd be the first to admit that my behaviour sometimes isn't), I do make sure that I think and contemplate enough about an issue before coming to a decent conclusion regarding it. That is the role of Islam in my life, and that's what I think (and remember, IANAS) constitutes a real, if not exclusive, practice of the religion.

Wednesday, September 12

Twenty Down...

... Five hundred and eighty to go!

Here's wishing all those hoping to make good use of it a fulfilling Ramadan!

EDIT: And I've yet to hear of any against-the-grain deviants who are choosing to perform their first fast on Friday either. Perhaps this is the year when the impossible actually happens?

Cars vs Boobies

Sensationalist titles aside, I should make it clear that this post is not about running women over with your pick-up truck (no matter how much you might think that they deserve it). There is a serious point about inequality here somewhere. But it's probably best that I start from the beginning anyway.

So there we were, a mixed group having a friendly spot of dinner, with some of us not quite knowing each other that well yet. In some way or another the topic of cars came up - specifically what we each drove. For an innocent joke, someone claimed that I drove a Porsche, while he himself claimed that he drove a Ferrari.

We must have been pretty convincing because all of a sudden we had become very popular with those at the table who happened to have been blessed with a pair of X chromosomes. Now don't get me wrong: we didn't get any offers of marriage or anything else, but there was a definite increase in interest, at the very least passively - we had both become funny all of a sudden, and what we did, when we bought our cars and how many children we wanted all became points of interest. Well, okay, perhaps not that last one.

To be fair on the company at the time, this wasn't a particularly unique reaction on their part. In fact, I would guess that it happens a lot and not just when the trigger happens to be a fancy marque. As a man, if you flash an expensive watch or phone, dress to impress, even wear some expensive shoes, bizarrely enough you're sure to get more attention from the opposite sex.

I'm sure some of the female persuasion reading the above would see no problem so far. And that's okay, because it's normal and acceptable for a woman to react in this way (apparently - this was an observation of the girls at the table, not mine). What they didn't agree with (surprisingly enough) was my pointing out how hypocritical they were all being.

I did this by simply asking whether or not it was okay for a (hypothetical) man to be (hypothetically) impressed by a woman's (hypothetical) bra size. I took the verbal and almost violent reaction as a resounding "no", and came to the conclusion that I might have been better off picking a less blatant example to make my point.

But the point itself still stands. Why is it okay or at least acceptable for a woman to be impressed by a man's car/house/suit/bank balance, but not for a man to be impressed by the (hypothetical) size of a woman's assets/pins/behind? And further, why is it okay for the former to express this vocally but not the latter?

Neither reflect the true personality of the owner; not outside of the respective stereotypes anyway. Both acts, however complimentary, are equally shallow, equally irrelevant and equally offensive - I know I was dismayed at the change of behaviour toward me once people were told that I drove a fancy German sports car. I'm still kinda struggling with it, in fact. Did they really only find me funny because they thought that they were going to get a lift home with the top down?

There is a clear double standard here. Both triggers of appreciation are terribly wrong and inappropriate, yet only one happens to be accepted as being offensive. What's up with that? And even if we took the position that this kind of behaviour is acceptable (whatever the details), frankly I'm glad I drive a Suzuki. At least then I'll know for sure that a girl will like me for who I really am.

Tuesday, September 11

Game: God of War II (PS2) Click for more info

Yes, God of War II is just more of the same blissfully mindless slashing action we saw in the first. Yes, it's just as ace as the first, and then some (spoiler: you fight a 300ft high statue in the first level). And yes, it's definitely worth playing.

And as one of the few PS2 games I've promised myself to play, I'm glad.

Monday, September 10

Fancy a Date?

Some of you will be shocked (or alternatively rolling on the floor, laughing out loud) at such a suggestion. Shak, date? Guffaw. And to be honest, yes, you'd be right to be - I just don't, and never really plan on doing so either. In my opinion, you can get to know someone pretty well without "going steady" thankyouverymuch, although I suppose that in itself doesn't justify not dating in general. It certainly looks fun anyway, eh?

So then why don't I hook up with a honey? Well, for me, it's for a mixture of different reasons really. Religion obviously plays a big part and then there's issues of family and culture. But these reasons are common enough (I know of a few others who hold the same opinions) and I think that if that's all I had it wouldn't be long before I did the whole two-phone-tango.

I mean, personally, I believe that there is room within Islam to sort of (kinda) date, you know, as long as it's within limits. And with respect to family, here too precedents have already been set (and the theory is that my parents had actually expected me to find my own kuri too, which is probably why they procrastinated in finding her for me instead). So I ask again, what's stopping me?

I guess the main barrier for me is that particular sense of romance I have. In a nutshell, I'm not really interested in anything that isn't going to last forever (forever ever? Forever ever??) or at the very least a very long time. And the extremely rational side of me will not settle for a relationship that isn't wholly practical or "realistic" in the first place (which, of course, is totally irrational and unrealistic in itself).

If I was a gentleman, I would claim that I respect relationships far too much to create them so flippantly as one would in the course of dating, but I'm not and so I might suggest that it's more to do with a fear of failing, or ruining some notion of a 100% success rate in these things instead. That still all sounds absurd, so I'll just stick to saying that I'm just a one-and-only-one-girl-ever-for-life kinda guy. And faced with that kind of finality, it's not surprising that I steer clear of anything less.

Still, as I've indicated previously there is an argument saying that dating, whether in the short or long term, does in fact help with personal development - especially with respect to any deeper kind of relationship in the future. However, even if there was some kind of a definite guarantee that having a fling (oh, okay fine: "or more") would make things easier for me later on, I still don't think that I would. I guess I'd rather keep my principles intact than make things easy in the future, but then I'm hoping that there's some kind of extra eventual payoff in doing so too.

Oh and yes, just in case you were wondering there is also that little problem of no one actually wanting me. Sigh, boo hoo, etc.

XKCD Click for more info

Feeling on the shelf? Have no fear! As XKCD today explains, the shelf actually increases your chances at hooking up:

The sad thing is that I've done much the same analysis (with much the same conclusion).

Saturday, September 8

Film: Atonement Click for more info

Based on the book that, apparently, just could not be filmed, Atonement immediately put to bed any fear I had of the novel I had rated so highly two years ago being spoiled by its on screen transition.

It just manages to get everything right. The feel, the themes and the feeling are all there intact. The time jumping style of the book has also been brilliantly recreated with the copious use of enjoyably confusing flashbacks.

Technically the film is wonderful too. A lot of care has been put into the direction and setting - I was especially impressed by wartime France. Acting was good too, with nods to James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan (who plays a 13 year old Briony), although I must admit having been a bit disappointed with Keira Knightley.

All in all a wonderful film, accessible even to those like me who usually go for things a bit less, well, deep. I'm not sure if it's Oscar material, but these things don't matter - I thoroughly recommend it anyway.

Friday, September 7

City Circle: Ramadan Reflections: The Ins and Outs of the Fast Click for more info

It's been a while since I've attended a CC talk. It's always been there but between having other things to do and not having any interest in the topics being covered when I was free, I've just not been. Tonight's talk was about Ramadan and although I kinda knew what to expect I was hoping to be surprised anyway.

The guest speaker for this session, Sidi Talal Al-Azem, was new to me. I was impressed though; the fact that Sidi Talal had been born in the West but Islamically educated in Damascus was demonstrated in his accessibility - he appeared just as real as the audience attending without trying too hard. That he was funny and articulate helped too, and personally I found his emphasis on spirit quite refreshing (for a non-hippy).

Content wise, the talk was split in two. Before Maghrib, he spoke about the basic fiqh regarding fasting in Ramadan; the "outs" as we were told. Briefly, we learned that:

  • As always, intention is important. That is, deciding half way through a day on which you happened to not have eaten anything yet that you were going to fast, didn't make it so. This is different from forgetting to wake up for sehri; the intent we're talking about here was of an implicit rather than explicit type.
  • The fast starts at the "true dawn" (something which confused many of us, but just means what we already call dawn), and ends at Maghrib.
  • Eating, drinking and sexual intercourse were forbidden during this period.
  • Although eating due to forgetfulness of the fast will not break it , unintentional consumption of food will. The difference is subtle, but there: if you accidentally drink a bit of water during whudu or are forced to eat something, then your fast has been broken and you'll need to make it up (albeit without expiation).
  • Touching and kissing your partner in marriage is okay.
  • Vomiting is okay unless it's more than a mouthful.
  • Tasting food while preparing it is okay but disliked (assuming it's for an honest enough reason).
  • It's okay to break a fast or miss one if you're fearfully ill, pregnant, breast feeding or old (although in the latter case you have to feed a poor person instead).
  • The expiation for breaking a fast due to sex (and, contrary to what I learned, nothing else) is to fast for two months consecutively.
  • That you can't break a fast you haven't got; if you had no intention of fasting then, although possibly sinful, you don't have to suffer expiation in the cases you would otherwise.
  • Itikaf is especially recommended during this month, that as well as the normal rules you are not allowed to touch a partner and that you're not allowed to trade materially during your retreat.
So more or less textbook stuff that any of you who had done their time in a madarassa should know already. Still, it was good to get a refresher I guess.

The second half was much more interesting, for we were to hear about the more esoteric side of Ramadan; the spiritual or "in" side. Most of the material was lifted from Imam Ghazali's Ihya'ul ulum al-din ("Revival of Religious Sciences"), but the Sidi Talal's accompanying commentary was much appreciated.

We listed three types of fasts: the ordinary, the special and the extra-special. The ordinary level is something we should all be able to understand - that of refraining from eating, drinking and sex and nothing more.

The special is slightly more conceptual, and basically requires us to keep our ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet free from sin. Although straightforward on the surface, it turns out that this requires a level of self awareness and control that can only be borne from self-analysis and introspection. The idea would be to free ourselves of attachment to anything other than God.
Pretty heavy stuff then.

The extra-special state is basically an evolution of the above. At this stage our hearts would be free from unworthy causes where nothing concerns or moves us but God.

We then discussed self control specifically (a large part of the advanced states of fasting). We recognised the empowering feeling you get when you successfully overcome your nafs (desires, self, ego), including skipping those quick looks (ahem), refraining from lying and backbiting, and even overeating.

A few final points were covered too which are worth noting here: so, how a continuous level of subtle Islamic consciousness or awareness may be preferable to an intense yet irregular overt practice and how to determine your status in the eyes of God (by asking what His status is in yours).

All in all a pretty good and fulfilling City Circle, and I've definitely become a fan of Sidi Talal (even though he would probably baulk at such an idea). Quite aptly, it was just the thing to see in the holy month of Ramadan with.

Anonymous Comments

One of the more popular requests I get is to allow those of you without Blogger accounts to comment. Well here you go: I've gone and done just that. Don't say I never do anything for you lot.

I only ask you not to abuse the facility. My main fear is the proliferation of advertising spam, but I'm also weary of, well, the more unhelpful comments blogs get. So consider this a test period - I may end up using moderation if things get too hectic (unlikely) or just switching back altogether depending on what actually happens.

It's also worth remembering that, although I may move to take down the really offensive stuff, I'll never touch a comment left by a registered member (whether I know them or not). So if you really want to make yourself heard here without limit, then think about creating an account.

Anyway, have fun commenting - in fact, why don't you all go ahead now, say hi and tell me what you think?

Aunties Always Know

I had an interesting conversation with a phoopi (aunt) once. This was back in Pakistan the last time I visited, way back in 2005[1]. My phoopi is a typical aunt-from-back-home: she's funny, approachable, simple and knows what's important in life. In other words, she's super-wise.

Anyway the context was that of the usual marriage-drilling, and in particular when[2] I was going to. After the usual jovial toing and froing, my aunt profoundly came to the conclusion that I just didn't understand girls.

It's something so obviously true that I was more stunned that I had to travel all the way to Karachi to be told this. I guess it's something one takes for granted; after all I can do algebra, I can debate (kinda), I can run marathons and I get along with people from all walks of life, so it never occurred to me that I fundamentally may not be able to understand women. Well, in the context of a relationship anyway.

I mean, sure, a lot of guys blatantly don't know what they're doing when first getting involved with a member of the opposite sex. But they usually step up to the challenge, learn on the job or just blag their way through it. I've never quite been a blagger myself, and I've never been pushed to learn the skills required either.

For example, introductions to date have failed (albeit amicably) because I've either been too deep, too shallow, too religious or not religious enough. Perhaps I lack consistency, I dunno, but whatever it is it seems to the bigger issue of a lack of experience than not being at all attractive on paper.

So what's the solution? Well, I could just not worry and wait for it to be thrust upon me, when I would undoubtedly(!) rise to the occasion. Or I could try and get some practise in and do what other, more normal, people do (when they're not blogging, of course) and start dating.

But I'm out of words for today, so I'll leave that particular discussion for a later post. But for now, just remember: sometimes the wisest people to talk to are also those most accessible to you.

[1] And why am I writing about it now? Let's just say my backlog of drafts really is that long...

[2] Personally, I prefer "if" to "when". Perhaps its fatalistic, but it'll make it all seem less of a failure if (when?) it doesn't happen.

Thursday, September 6


xxxx says (15:02):
    i miss you shak
    i miss london
    i miss undergrad days..
    why'd we have to grow up eh
    or whatever (dont be pedantic)
Shak says (15:02):
    so we can have sex

Wednesday, September 5

Love - A Commodity?

I reckon that it's totally possible to treat love as a commodity.

By this, I mean treat it as a finite resource that we all have a countable portion of, that we can equally earn more of and squander at the same time.

So we can spend it on people and possibly even things. We can lend it to someone temporarily (and charge a fee for that facility), or gladly give it away for free. Or we can keep taking it off others while offering nothing in return. Between these two extremes, we can vacuously trade it for an equal amount back (although since it's difficult to establish value, that usually doesn't happen).

We can be stingy and horde it and keep it all to ourselves, under our mattresses, never to be used on anyone or anything else. But as with any other commodity, the unused stock we keep has a limited lifespan. Perhaps as it gets older it matures like a fine wine does (or cheese if you want to keep it halal). On the other hand, perhaps the longer it stands unused, the more it rots.

Or we can be the opposite and give it away cheaply to anyone who asks for it, and eventually find that we don't have any left, that we're bankrupt, when we really needed to have some. And if so, then we can steal it and have it stolen too. We can counterfeit it or pretend to own more of it than we actually do. We can promise to give it to someone but then refuse to pay out when the time comes.

Blimey what a soppy post.

XKCD Click for more info

Only XKCD can explain Nash equilibrium in such an accessible way:

Nerdy guys are quietly sniggering to themselves everywhere...

Monday, September 3

Being Blatant

I like to think that I'm a relatively honest chap. I know everyone says this, but I'm quite good at keeping quiet so I don't have to. The flip side of this type of integrity is that when I do open my mouth, I tend to be quite honest.

Of course, when I say "honest" I mean brutally so. People continually accuse me of being way too brash, forward, cheeky or explicit, and to an extent I agree. I like to see it as a positive characteristic of mine, imbuing both a sense of charm and integrity at the same time.

The important thing is that I try not to be personally offensive. Now, I'm not saying that I don't ever offend those I interact with (quite the opposite, in fact!), but I think that this is more due to a disbelief that I would say such things out loud at all than to them in particular. Most people realise this once they get past the surface outrageousness of what I might have said.

I think that this lack of personal venom is important for lots of reasons. Technically it saves my bacon, as people realise that they don't really have a legitimate reason to be offended (and that I'm a nice guy really). Secondly, it reduces any sensitivity and increases the openness within a group. And finally it allows me to be the same person to all, wherever I am (as opposed to different people to different groups) and so reaffirms the integrity in my words and myself. Well, maybe anyway.

But why am I writing this? Well, as I've mentioned before that people do accuse me at times of being a bit too blatant and this in some respects is a response to that. It's not, however, an apology - no, it's more a boilerplate explanation I'll use each time some accuses me of being politically incorrect or inappropriate when in actual fact I wasn't.

Although the fact that you're still hanging around to even read this probably means that you already knew that anyway...

Saturday, September 1

Food: Addis Click for more info

Addis is a nice tidy joint, a five minute walk from King's Cross Station. The food is Ethiopian in origin, and served on injera, a pancake like bread, and in that eat-from-the-same-plate communal thing you may have heard about being offered in other places.

The main dishes themselves were nice, although I don't think I'm much of a injera fan - the lemon taste becomes a little too overbearing after a few bites. Still I manged to leave Addis stuffed to the brim.

The bill came to a fair £7.50 per head (including the injera but not a drink), but it is an acquired taste. Worth checking out if you know what you're in for.