Sunday, October 30, 2005

The More Things Change ...

... the more they stay the same.

I am an 80s kid, and sometimes its fun to take a nostalgic look at the past and see what's different now.


Then: Pagers. A small and portable gadget, clipped to your belt, with a tiny LCD screen. If someone needed to get in touch with you, they would page you, and the pager would show the number up on the screen. You then had to go to the nearest landline phone to make the return call.

Now: A cellphone with a gazillion utilities like camera, MP3 player, USB storage, GPS. If someone calls you, you still look at the number, press 'Reject', then go to the nearest landline phone because you don't want to waste your 'daytime minutes'.

Major Change: Pagers did not have those annoying musical ringtones. They would go a gentle 'beep-beep', not 'Lay Up The Bitch You Motherf*****'.


Then: The Walkman. A must-have faithful companion when jogging on those cold mornings, or just something to listen to on the way to work. The tapes had a serious drawback though - to get to the one song you wanted to hear, you had to forward serially through the others.

Now: The glittering Ipod. Reputed to store pictures, videos, and more than 10,000 songs. You still cannot jump to song number 347, you have to hold down the scroll button to quickly pass through the other songs before it.

Major Change: Walkman users would pause their music and listen to you on the street. Ipod users carry around a 'Do-Not-Disturb' sign.


Then: Your TV cost a few hundred bucks. There were 8 buttons for 8 channels. Channel 1 had news, 2 had Pat Robertson, 3 had some hollywood drama that sucked, and so on. There was nothing good on TV. You plopped in your Blockbuster Star Wars VCR that had a few bad scenes because some previous renter spilled Cheesys on the tape.

Now: Your TV and entertainment systems costs more than a small car (think Kia). There's 1000 channels if you subscribe to satellite, or at the least a 100 if you have cable. However half of them are news, Pat Robertson is still on TV and Hollywood drama Joey still sucks. Since there's nothing good on TV you plop in your Star Wars DVD from Blockbusters. The guy who spilled Cheesys has moved on to smudging the DVD's recording side with Doritos-laden fingerprints, so you still got a few scenes that jitters.

Major Change: Never has crap looked so good on high definition.

And finally *drumroll* ...


Then: Iran is being led by a religious fanatic who stirs up fervent rallies by the angry youth and says America is the Great Satan and Israel must be destroyed. A bunch of guys named Bush, Cheney and Rumsfield are in the White House, leading Americans in a fight against what they called an evil ideology. The US is heavily involved in Afghanistan. Israel still plays the anti-semitism card if someone says 'boo' to it.

Now: Iran is being led by a religious fanatic who stirs up fervent rallies by the angry youth and says America is the Great Satan and Israel must be destroyed. A bunch of guys named Bush, Cheney and Rumsfield are in the White House, leading Americans in a fight against what they called an evil ideology. The US is heavily involved in Afghanistan. Israel still plays the anti-semitism card if someone says 'boo' to it.

Major Change: Saddam Hussein, the same guy he was as he is now, was one of the good guys.

plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

PS. Read this article on Democratically Elected Madmen. Sounds like what someone would say back in the 80s about Thatcher, Bush Sr. and the Ayatollah.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Eid Party Games

I was talking with my Tamil neighbour on the bus who also happens to be a clergy in the neighbouring church (I don't know exactly what his position is but I have seen him in the black robes). He was telling me his son was having a few friends over on Sunday, and they were going to have what he called a Christian games afternoon. When asked to elaborate he said he was going to hold a small quiz on the Bible, and then have them act out a play on some holy script (in preparation for Christmas), amongst others.

That got me thinking. Our Eid is coming up, which marks the end of Ramadan. It is a day of remembrance of Allah, and spent with family, friends and community. We give each other gifts and cards and pay visits. In Muslim countries, the frenzy of last minute Ramadan shopping for Eid dwarfs the Christmas shopping here by many times (remember the population of Muslim countries :-) ).

So I decided to make some 'Islamic Eid' games. They can be fun, played when you visit your friends for Eid, or just to keep the kids busy while you catch up on the latest gossip.

Pin The Black Stone On The Kaaba

On a large white piece of cardboard paper, draw the Kaaba. Color the Kaaba black and make the two golden coloured lines near the top. A small white mark near the base marks where the legendary Black Stone is supposed to be. Give the players a small tack to represent the Stone. Players then take it in turns to put the 'Black Stone' on the Kaaba, blind folded. Mark each person's guess with a small sticker with their name on. The winner is the one who puts the stone closest to where the original mark is.

After the game is over the story of the Black Stone and the construction of the Kaaba by Ibrahim (Abraham pbuh) can be repeated.

Wikipedia: Kaaba and the Black Stone

Pass the prayer cap

Arrange all the players in a circle. Start the azaan tape and pass the prayer cap to the person beside you. The host can, and at any time, stop the azaan tape. The person holding the cap is out. Game continues until the winner is chosen.

Guess the Surah

This is for the non-Arabs. Pass out pages to each player. On each page is a table with two columns. On column 1 write the name of any chapter of the Quran, but in English. For example 'The Cow'. Players will have to guess the proper Arabic name of the surah (in our example it is Bakarah). The one to have the most names filled out in 10 minutes is the winner.

Show and Tell

This is more of a kids game. You bring one item or two. For example bring a small rock and a toy camel figure. The kids have to guess which Islamic story the game is from. In our example it is the story of Prophet Salih (R) who miraculously carved a she-camel out of a stone mountain. After the correct guess the person with the show and tell items will do a short presentation of the Islamic story.

PS. Bringing a cross to the Show and Tell is too easy, and will be considered cheating. So is bringing a boat full of animals.

Guess the Qiblah

Put a blindfold on the player and twirl him/her for a moment. Then, with blindfold on, he/she points to the direction they think is the Qiblah. Repeat for all guests. The guests with the absolute correct answer (or closest if there are none) are selected and the process repeated until there is a winner.

Wikipedia: Qiblah

and finally ...

The Local History Game

Each guest is asked to memorize a short history of any notable Islamic person from their area of origin. For example anyone from Sylhet, Bangladesh, can choose Hazrat Shah Jalal (R). They have to inform the others about what this person did in their area, how he contributed to the culture and history of the locality, and how it affects YOU today. The more local you can get, the better.

That's all I could think of. More suggestions are welcome.

Acknowledgements: I searched for Eid Party Games on the net. I only found one link. The 'Pin The Black Stone On The Kaaba' game is from that site.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Windsor Teacher On Trial

This is such an unusual news article that I could not resist blogging about it. From the Star,

"From praising Osama bin Laden and calling the Holocaust an "exaggeration" to telling students he'd like to have sex with their mothers, a former Windsor-area high school teacher is accused of having broken just about every taboo of civil conduct - in class or out."

William Fabel's outrageous statements include:

  • To a female Grade 10 student, Fabel said: "I was looking at Playboy magazine and saw someone who looked just like you."
  • After the Columbine shooting, he entered the class pretending to be a gunman, causing students to cower under their desks.
  • To the mother of two students at the start of a parent-teacher interview, he asked: "Who do you want to talk about first? Dumb or Dumber?"
  • He told one student his mother was a "M.I.L.F." - meaning a "mother I'd like to f---."
  • To his class: "I'm a leg man; I have cameras hidden under all the girls' desks!"
  • To a Catholic: "Your religion's stupid. That nun isn't getting any!"
  • He spoke about his own sexual activities and offered tips to male students on "how to get into girls' pants."

And these are just a sample of his overall 'quotes'.

Fabel got a teaching certificate and degree from University of Toronto in 1988. My question is, how did he pass the 2 years needed for certificate, which included a 1 year teaching practical? Did he keep his mouth shut while he did his certificate? Or was his comments less offensive then as diversity was less in Toronto then?

News Links: Toronto Sun Toronto Star


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Iraq War Dead Crosses 2000 - A Lie

While I sit in an air conditioned mosque and break my fast with the sweetest of dates and spiciest of chicken, it is hard to pause and reflect that in some other parts of the world, people leave their homes and do not know if they will come back (Iraq), or they have gone to bed having everything but woken up with nothing (Pakistan quake victims).

The US media have been covering the 2000th death in Iraq as a grim milestone. I don't know what is a milestone. What about the 100,000th Iraqi death? Was it not a milestone?

When asked once about civilian deaths, General Tommy Franks, US Central Command chief replied, "We don'’t do body counts."

In the blog "Truth About Iraqis", the author posts,

"Democracy cannot, should not, and will not be measured by the power to vote. It will be measured by the sanctity of human life."

As I posted during Katrina that "society is judged by how they treat their poorest, their weakest, and their most vulnerable citizens". And Bush's government was found wanting, yet the Americans were not (over 70% of Americans donated to charities).

This article refers to how 'liberals' will destroy America. It uses the British Empire as a parallel and points how soft thinking ruined the great empire. While I am sure the British Empire made great contributions such as road and infrastructure to its colonies, it also had many dark chapters. The slaughter of innocent protesters at Amritsar, the cutting of fingers of the muslin weavers of Bengal, the rape of tribal women in Africa, and so on. So maybe it was a good thing the British decided to disband their empire.

The US media will choose to focus on the US dead and ignore the suffering of Iraqis. CNN's Christian Amanpour is one US reporter I have seen to ask and report on their lives, and how unsafe it has been for the normal Iraqis. One Iraqi woman wailed into the camera, "What kind of life is this, just eating and sleeping? We have no life."

Those are the stories that need to be told. The pro-Republican media, led by Fox, will tarnish the liberals for 'weakening' America with their anti-war cry. However it is the liberals who will ensure America lives up to her ideals.

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers - and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce - and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution - and it vas not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."
- President Ronald Reagan, 1982.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Gerrard Street Tales

The Gang of Three's T and E went for post-Iftaar dinner on Gerrard Street, along with E's brother S. Upon finding a suitable Pakistani establishment, they entered and placed their order. Very soon, the sizzling plate of butter chicken and the scrumptious curry beef made its appearance at their table, along with the obligatory naan and biryani. It was then that E asked for a knife and fork.

“What?” S poked fun at his brother, “Why do you need a fork for desi (South Asian) food?”

“The biryani,” E countered. “And the butter chicken.”

“Use your hands.” T told him in the ‘wise man’ voice. “If it was good for the messengers of God it should be good for you.”

“Besides,” S offered his wisdom. “Your hands are probably more sanitary than these forks, and who knows who has eaten with them in the last hour.” Then he looked at E’s hands and added, “Provided you have washed, of course.”

“I don’t know.” E raised his hands in protest, taking the teasing in good humour. “We are in a restaurant, we are in Canada, and I am using a knife and a fork. Screw you!”

Amidst the general ribbing of becoming ‘too westernized’, E got his knife and fork. As he prepared to dig in, the door to the restaurant opened.

Two girls walked in. Extremely beautiful, faces fair, slim figures and dressed fashionably Indian. They sauntered over, looking for a table.

E poked his knife into a piece of chicken leg.

“Mmm, guys, this is good.” He raised the chicken piece and looked over at T and S.

They were busy signaling to the waiter for a fork and knife.

The girls had sat down at the next table.

(Story credit: E)


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Not In My Backyard


Not In My Backyard.

That's what they called us when we opposed a recent city plan to create a 'Home for the Homeless' in our area. I have tried to see whether they were right.

You see, like any big, major, growing city, Toronto has a homeless problem. They clog up downtown streets on the 5 o clock rush hour, begging for alms as cars stop for the lights. They sleep in open parks. Many see them generally as a nuisance, a bunch of people who will NOT help themselves and rather CHOOSE to live the way they do. That's what City Hall was accused of, not caring enough for the less fortunate.

What does City Hall do? They decide to build a bunch of 'Home For The Homeless' shelters around the city, away from the downtown core. Well, they say, you can't fight City Hall. We did.

Toronto has some obscure clause added to its constitution during amalgation that lets area residents have a say in any city project. And boy, did we pack the school gyms and wherever they held a public meeting.

It was ugly, it was brutal. The city did everything in its power. They deliberately booked rooms with lower capacity. They scheduled the meetings in bad weather. Our area councillor, who is as left as you can get, was very much for the plan. He repeatedly tried to argue that we should be doing more for the less fortunate. We were mentioned in the Toronto Star.

The regular special folk were there too. They were bunch of social activists, writers, 'humanists', and other city workers all arguing why we should support the plan. Sure, it was not near their homes.

We had our concerns. We are near a river, and our property value would plummet, causing us to lose tens of thousands of dollars, were we to resell. The children now are let loose to play in nearby fields, but with the arrival of homeless the atmosphere of a residential area would be lost. Parents were skeptical of assurances that the 'bums' would only sleep for the night and not venture into our area during the day. Nobody here locked their doors, left the cars out, and tools lay around in the backyard. We did not want that feeling spoilt.

NIMBY. Nimbysts.

That's when the taunting started. It grew ugly. Racial insults started to flow. It's amazing the amount of hatred and vitriol we keep locked up inside ourselves for normalcy, but can unleash in times of stress. The cops grew edgy. But the residents held firm.

In the end a compromise plan was adopted by the city. The 'Home for the Homeless' would be scrapped. Rather, the city would fund a plan to create a Habitat for Humanity project. Instead of a shelter, these are a bunch of actual homes that will be awarded to actual families who are too poor to buy a proper home.

As we left the hall, one resident started to murmer, "This is just double speak. We are gonna fight this too." And many agreed.

NIMBY? I don't know. But I can relate to it.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Bengali Wedding In Toronto

My friend the K-man got married recently, here in Toronto. As promised to some Nahdians, here are some of the pics.

The official 'Akhd' and wedding was in the evening.

T and E arrive to be part of the 'Baraat'.

At the groom's cousin's place before departing with the Baraat.

The groom is fed a spoonfull of 'doodh-bhaat' (rice and milk) for good luck.

Naach Mundiye

We arrive at the bride's place. This is the 'gate dhaara' (official symbolic barring of entry to groom until some gifts are obtained).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Crossing the US Border

It would be only a matter of time at any event or social gathering before one of the bespectacled gentlemen would slowly arise and announce, "Ah but, you won't believe what a hassle I went through the other day to cross The Border ..."

The Border, ofcourse, is the US-Canada border, and crossing is usually going from the Canadian to the US side. Living in Canada, trips to the US are a regular part of life. I mean the first time I asked one of my coworkers and a long time Canadian are there any good cities nearby Toronto for a weekend trip? and he answered, Ya! The US!

I don't think most people face too many undue hassles crossing the border. If everything is on the level, and you co-operate and help the officials who are only doing their duty, you are unlikely to face trouble. But that does not mean there are not some, er, amusing incidents.

Once I was crossing with our university group. Our group included a black Jamaican-Canadian with dreadlocks, a red-headed Irishman, his blonde Swiss girlfriend, our Russian instructor, and me, the token South Asian guy. The official looks at us, and barks, "Are you all family?"

And he was quite serious.

This other time, December 2002, four of us friends crossed at the Windsor-Detroit border, on the way to Florida. The official indicated to us to park the car and go inside for 'deeper' interrogation. It was a year and few months since 9/11, and the Iraq war was just being sold to the Americans. And here I was, with three Pakistani friends (all born in Karachi) and me, a Bangladeshi.

[15 minutes before the border, inside the car]

Allright, everyone, do we have our answers ready? As we rehearsed, okay?.

Remember we have nothing to fear, we are all legally here and nothing's fishy. No I am not shivering, it's just cold.

Don't speak unless spoken to, and answer only what is asked.

Maq, dude! Why the hell did you bring your Pakistani passport? Where is the Canadian one? Why do you still have that Pakistani passport?

[I will leave out the rather colourful details of what our driver friend told Maq he could do to his Pakistani passport]

Once inside, the immigration office was daunting. There, in English, French and Spanish, were written the words, "We, are the guardians of the United States, serving our country and our President with pride, ... yada yada."

Then, right underneath, in Arabic, was "Why are you being detained?"

Then an immigration officer comes in, with this really huuuuuge gun. He cocks it, and then yells, "Hey Mike, this thing f****** works!"

Then he comes over, looks at Maq's (short for Maqbool) brother Omar (what a name, at that time) and said, "So you guys want to enter US. Have you ever been arrested, convicted, or charged with assault?"

Omar, the reliable friend he is, replied, "Not me!"

Translation: I don't know the rest of these creeps, but not me.

Needless to say, the official burst out laughing. He was really cordial after that.

Another time, when I was with family, this officer asked me, "so why are you born in ..., and your parents born in ..., and your sister in ... and your brother in ...?"

As if I had any choice in where I was born!

Needless to say, even though at times they may be vexing, I understand they have a tough job. Their country's been attacked. And I know, most terrorists look like us, so we get 'special attention'. I understand that. However, it is also not right to harrass people just because they are of a certain ethnicity. There's a fine line there.

What about the way back? I can honestly say Canadian officials are the least bit worried about you if you are coming back from the US and riding a car with Canadian plates. My theory is, they figure you have already been vetted going into the States, so why bother.

Most of the time they will ask us: "So did you buy anything in the US over your prescribed allowed tax limit so we can charge duty on that? Did you?"

One time we were returning late into the night (2 am) via the Niagara border. The girl only person at the Canadian counter was asleep. We had to honk our horn (loudly) to wake her up.

And the reaction from the Canadians returning is even better. The same guys who are rehearsing on the way in will be like, "You know, if that guy asks too many questions, I am going to let him hear it."

One thing though, a few days into the States, the heart longs for Canada. It is a cherished sight to see the 'Welcome to Canada' or 'Bienvenue Vers Le Canada'. Many times we have burst into a rendering of 'O Canada' after crossing the border.

I would be interested to hear other people's experiences at The Border. I bet they would be equally colourful.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I.T. Is Like, So Easy, Eh?

I really can't stand some people, of the middle aged variety, who thinks we who studied Computer Science have had it easy. They think anyone can do what we do. Without studying.

I ran into this 'Uncle' at one of those society parties. He has just recently moved to Canada after like a lifetime in the Middle East.

Him: "So, Mezba, how have you been?"

Me: "Same old same ... I mean I have been good, Alhamdulillah. How are you?"

Him: "I have been thinking ... you are doing something in computers right?"

Me: "Yes". Yeah, I program those code that work on machines that supply electricity to downtown Toronto, but yeah, I am doing 'something in computers'.

Him: "I have decided to accept a job in that ... field ... too."

Me [surprised]: "Yeah? You have a job offer already?"

Him: "Oh no, I am going to apply to one of those programming positions. I mean with my experience and education it should be easy right?"

Me: "Oh, sure uncle, you go right ahead." Education? You are a Mechanical Engineer who graduated when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan. That too from Solimullah High Institute of Technology. 1960. Experience? You have worked 20 years for the government in the rich Middle East where if a machine was broken they just got a new one instead of fixing it.

Him: "Sure, the job requires ..Ja..Ja.. Java, C, HTML, but I mean I can learn it in 4-5 days right?"

Me: "Oh absolutely." Sure, it took us 4 years of blood and sweat and tears in university, not to mention those pesky linear algebra and discrete math courses, but I am sure you, who requires help downloading an attachment from your email, can learn it in 4-5 days.

Him [continuing]: "Yeah, my son is giving me this book, Programming Java In 7 Days. So I should be OK."

Me [silent]. Isn't your son studying Philosophy?

Him: "I heard they do train you on the job too. So after I pass those interviews, I think I can accept the job."

I.T. is not easy. We did not spend 4 years learning a programming language. We spent 4 years studying how to think like a program. We learnt how to not just to code, but to code properly, efficiently. O(n) instead of O(n2). If you don't know that don't think about it.

We studied analysis, design of information systems, data management. We had to spend 4 years where there were 2 girls for 40 guys. Sure, our social skills may need a little refining, but the next time your airplane lands safely, your car stops properly, your letter prints correctly, that's us.

We are not someone you call to fix your damn computer because you opened an email attachment from Nigeria that said "Be Rich Tomorrow, I Just Need You To Run This Program Today". If you don't know when your printer cartridge is empty and are perplexed as to why your document won't print, don't call us.

We will call you.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

When Politicians Lie ...

See also Guests At The Foundation Fundraising Dinner.

What's the difference between lying and break a promise? Come 2007, I have a feeling Dalton McGuinty is about to find out.

You see, paraphrasing Jon Stewart, Canada is like a bizzaro world version of USA. Here, the Liberals (our equivalent of Democrats) are in power, their ideas popular, their men media savvy, while the Conservatives (our equivalent of Republicans) are defeated, rudderless, with no solid leadership. Recently Canada has legalized same sex marriage, decriminalized marijuana, rejected any abortion restrictions, and maintain guns are for police and law enforcement officials only.

So it was no surprise when Dalton McGuinty of the Liberals rode to power in Ontario two years ago, clinching 72 seats out of 104. His signature during the campaign had been a bunch of promises, the most famous of which, repeated most often, was "I won't raise your taxes, but I won't cut them either. Our schools, hospitals and welfare services need that money. I won't raise your taxes, ... I won't raise your taxes, ... "

What's the first thing he does on winning the premier's seat? Raise taxes.

Breaking your promise is when you made a promise in good faith, but on coming to power you realized the situation is bad and you cannot keep your word. That can be forgiven. Not lying. Most Canadians now believe McGuinty lied. He said anything to get elected.

Usually when Liberals lie they can get away with it by demonizing the opposition even more. And the federal Conservative Party has obliged, recruiting sexists, men with big mouths, anti-immigration anti-minority candidates (a travesty in Ontario). But now with John Tory at the helm of the provincial Conservative party, they could just turn things over.

As I said before, whatever the mess the federal Conservatives in Canada are in, the provincial wing have done the right thing in electing this man as their leader. I heard of him first when he ran for the position of the mayor of Toronto (ironically against David Miller, now his good friend). He was speaking at that time of discrimination women in hijab face when job hunting.

Currently he has pulled all the right strings to ensure the Conservatives get good press. He has done a lot to make his party inclusive of minorities and other entities that generally shy off from the Conservatives. He attended the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto this summer, the same time the federal Conservative leader Stephen Harper shied the parade (and then dressed up in a weird cowboy outfit).

Tory will have an important test soon. The Liberal MPP from Scarborough Rouge-River, Alvin Curling, has been made the ambassador to the Dominican Republic, meaning that seat is now empty. The riding has a population of 115,437, of which 97,400 are visible minorities. In such an immigrant, mostly liberal Christian, riding the Conservatives had always run an Anglo, hardline Christian candidate. Needless to say he didn't gel with the voters. You need to be smart in picking your candidates.

This time Ms Cynthia Lai is going to run on their behalf. John Tory has to ensure she wins the riding. This would be the first step towards their victory. They say a week is a long time in politics, and there are still two long years for the election, but when politicians lie, they deserve to be punished.

Guests At The Foundation Fundraising Dinner

The Islamic Foundation of Toronto held a fundraising dinner for the earthquake victims of Pakistan. A host of dignitaries from the political arena attended, showing how mainstream muslims have become in Toronto. Mr. Qayyum of the Foundation got a big applause when he invoked God's blessings on Canada for what they have done so far.

Toronto mayor David Miller is the first of the invited guests of honour to address the gathering.

David Miller has always worked very well with immigrants, minorities and communities, and this was no exception. He spoke well, was concise, and spoke of what Toronto is doing for Pakistan (helping with water purification techniques).

The long-time federal MP for the riding, Derek Lee, speaks of the Canadian response.

Derek Lee has served this community for a long time, and he spoke of the troubles Pakistanis were facing with the onset of winter. He got a few smiles when he said we Canadians know better than anyone how harsh winter can be.

Ontario Leader of the Opposition, John Tory, the leader of the provincial Tories, talks of the pledge.

The more I see of this guy the more I like him. Whatever the mess the federal Conservatives in Canada are in, the provincials have done the right thing in electing this man as their leader. I heard of him first when he ran for the position of the mayor of Toronto (ironically against David Miller, now his good friend). He spoke then of discrimination women in hijab face in job hunting. Today he was full of class, and got a standing ovation when discussing his own pledge.

Ontario New Democratic Party leader Howard Hampton addresses the majlis.

The NDP has always been a muslim-friendly party. It was Alexa McDonough, the leader of the federal NDP, that stood up in the house of Parliament after 9/11, and said, "Mohammed and Osama are Canadian names too". She was discussing the persecution many muslims at that time were facing. Mr. Hampton thus spoke to an appreciating audience.

Cynthia Lai, PC candidate for the area in the upcoming by-election, speaks.

I was happy to see the PC party has ditched their long time loser candidate for this riding and chosen someone who reflects the ethnic makeup of the riding (another positive for John Tory, he has made a big gesture in including minorities in his party, that has always been portrayed, sometimes unfairly, as anti-immigration, racist). Ms Lai spoke well.

Overall it was a great evening. Almost CND $50,000 was raised, with more on the way.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Why I Avoid Certain Parties

I plan to attend a community meeting tomorrow where the leaders of the provincial Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party will be speaking, as well as the mayor of Toronto, so tomorrow's blog will probably be heavy on a serious topic. Thus am posting in a lighter vein today.

I have been desperately trying to avoid Iftar parties. People forget that the month of fasting is supposed to connect you to the hungry and needy people of the world. Instead, I am overwhelmed at the size of the food usually on offer. Bengali iftar parties can often feed the entire Canadian army for a week.

I have found that the best way is to take a very little bit of everything and stay out of sight of the aunt (henceforth referred to as the Aunty) who's throwing the party. Too much of any one thing will make you sick, and you MUST have enough space left for the sherbet (drink) which will help avoid strange gastronomic noises during the night prayers.

The first item will be dates that everyone claims is from Mecca. Now these are very sweet and tasty. After all you have been fasting the whole day so anything will taste good. Do not get suckered in. Eat just one or two. You need space for other foods.

For sure drink the mango lassi (drink) now, for if you go to Maghrib prayer thinking you will have it later, you will find that the little kids have finished it.

Then, after the obligatory Maghrib prayers, comes the main food. This is where you will run into the Aunty who is the hostess - and she will not take Naa (no) for an answer. "No" means you are shy. If she offers you that extra piece of kebab , dripping with a delectable jhol (gravy), never say "No". For if you do she will now give you two of the 90%-oil-10%-meat serving as a reward for your modesty. If that happens, wait. When everyone's attention is reverently focused on her 90-year-old elderly parent who has just entered the room, put the kebab back into the serving dish.

Beware your cousin. If he tastes something awful, he will turn to you and always ask [very loudly] 'hey did you taste this, this is good'. Always in the presence of the Aunty.

Many Bangladeshis prefer to wait until they have finished eating COMPLETELY before going for the spicy drink (yes, spicy drink) called Burhani that's as refreshing to me as two-day old bathroom water. It seems to be a favourite of our elders. We Bangladeshis do not usually drink during the meals - hands are too full of korma to hold the glass, you know. And if you leave halfway through the meal to quench your thirst you will find that in usual Bengali efficiency the next person in line is now sitting at your chair and at your place.

Bangladesh TV has a tradition of producing special natoks (TV shows) during Ramadan. Some of them can be mildly interesting. If you are invited to one such family's house for iftar, where one lady will undoubtedly mention the latest natok that her son's friend's mother's brother has got from Dhaka. Pretend to know everything about it. The plot is usually the same - the daughter (Kulsum) loves this hard working engineer (Altaf) who has come from the village but made it in the big city but her father has planned her marriage to his friend's son (Rana) who is also classically handsome but residing in America. After 12 episodes, the father comes around to her point of view, her boyfriend succeeds in wooing the family with his good Muslim/Bengali values while Rana of America is a dweeb womanizer. Or the Rana from America actually turns out to be super rich and super cool and super good so the poor engineer fiancee Altaf is left in the lurch. Either way the girl wins. Who says women are not empowered in Bangladesh. I miss Kothao Keu Nei.

Finally the sweets. We are famous for our gulab jamuns, rosgollas, faloodas and so on. After a dinner where you have effectively thrown out the Atkins diet for the 'see-food' diet (you know, see food, will eat), this can be the final torture.

No wonder I try to avoid certain Iftar parties.

"Have some meat. Oh, you are vegetarian? All right, have some lamb then!"
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Do You Like Kids?

It was this article that got me thinking about one of my cousins. Let's call him Sumon.

Sumon got married in Bangladesh and soon moved to the States with his new wife. He had a great job, and for four years, they lived happily. However, they had no kids. As is usual, suggestions from everyone around was ever present.

"You should make this dua (prayer) and blow three times ..."

"Have faith in God."

"You should sleep in a East-West direction."

To his wife: "Have you made milk with nuts for him at night?" (some old Bengali wives' tales).

Then, in the fifth year of marriage - First son.
In the sixth year of marriage - Second son.
In the seventh year of marriage - Third son.
In the eighth year of marriage - First daughter.

As is custom for Bengalis, everyone has two names. The official name, that you place on your certificates and passports, and the nick name (daak naam) that has absolutely no relation to your proper name, used by family.

Sumon's nickname for his daughter was Eiti, a common Bengali name.

Now Eiti is ALSO how you end Bengali letters. It is the equivalent of 'Yours Truly', or 'Sincerely'. It's how you sign off. For whatever reason, for five years now since Eiti's birth, no more kids. Eiti indeed.

And now, here was this family on CNN with four times as many kids.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) -- Michelle Duggar just delivered her 16th child, and she's already thinking about doing it again.

Saffiyah discusses the case here. I like this comment by aidan:

"good lord. I can't even take care of a fish tank"

Once I met this girl at an Iftar party. We got talking, and it turned out she was studying sociology. We were discussing the ageing population of Canada. She then asked me what I thought the optimal number of kids for a family was.

For some reason I misunderstood and thought she was asking what time it was.

"Ten," I had replied.

Needless to say there was an Eiti on the conversation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tax Those Programs

During my first job at an internship I was responsible for maintaining code at a small company. The company would accept a contract from a client to create a software application for a particular job. They would then outsource the contract (usually to India). Once the finished application came back from India, the company would contact their client, and this is where we would come in. Our job was get the software into production, and maintain it as the need arose.

It was a very frustrating job. The code shipped back would be full of errors, and be very badly written. It was easy to see why - they were made by some guys in Bangalore who had learnt the programming language (C, Java, etc) in 3-4 months in one of those 'quickie' courses given in India. Where a software engineer here in Canada would have spent 4 years in an university, learning not just languages but techniques, styles, conventions, all designed to help him program efficiently, quickly and easily, the guys in India knew none of those things. The returned code was hard to maintain, extremely hard to debug and almost impossible to change to meet future needs.

Nowadays things have changed. Companies contact India directly for outsourcing. The programmers in India have become smarter, more capable and successful. They are now proper IT graduates. Their main selling point is they can work for 40,000 rupees while a programmer here will work for 40,000 dollars. As an IT person, I have a personal fear of outsourcing.

I have a solution to this.

Do you know why we charge taxes on imported cars. Mazda dealers, for example, import their cars from Japan, and have to pay a tax to do so. GM, Honda, Toyota, which makes cars in Ontario, do not have to do so. This is because a car made outside Canada has contributed nothing to Canada during manufacture. If a Canadian buys that car, the money the car company makes benefits foreigners. That's why we charge a tax on imported items, to compensate the loss a domestic manufacturer bears when his product is not sold.

Similarly a software 'imported' from outside, say India, should be charged import duties. It should be treated just like a foreign product, for it is a product. If we make it hard (read: expensive) for contractors here to outsource software needs, they will have no choice but to hire domestic workers.

This won't affect the majority of our software that we buy from US (due to NAFTA) but all outsourcing will be affected. The Government of Canada must not embrace an outsourcing culture that has already seen manufacturing go exclusively to China, software increasingly departing to India, and leaving large numbers of skilled workers unemployed at home and with no choice but to try their skills elsewhere.

BBC: New muscles in the marketplace

Monday, October 10, 2005

Is Earthquake God's Wrath?

It was the early days of Hurricane Katrina and the images of poor black Americans in dire conditions filled the TV screens. At that time I ran into a very patriotic Iraqi friend of mine.

"This hurricane is from Allah." He said. "The Americans are destroying one of our cities. Now Allah is destroying theirs."

The first of his statements was not open to debate. All things, good or bad, ARE from God. But I argued with him about his second statement.

"One cannot presume to know why Allah does what He does." I said. "These things happen, and its not always a cause-and-effect morality system. You cannot say this is because of that."

He was not alone in blaming the hurricane on the sins of Americans. Alabama State Senator Hank Erwin said the damage done by Katrina was God's wrath on a sinful coast. I am so glad I did not take that position because today, as the earthquake in Pakistan's death toll crosses 20,000, I would like to ask my friend what was his explanation for this natural disaster.

The racists at Little Green Footballs did not even pause.

"Where's your God now?" Taunted one.

"We had a hurricane that killed 1000 people." Said a more mathematical one. "You had a tsunami with 200,000 dead and now an earthquake with 20,000. That's 2-1 for our God."

Ignoring the fact that both Muslims and Christians worship the same God of Abraham, natural disasters are now being turned into a one-upmanGodship .

"If God loves a servant, he sends tribulation upon him," so goes a Hadith in Islam. The saying has always pointed to the parable of Job in the Bible (Ayub in Islam - peace be upon him) who suffered through decades of disease but kept his faith in God. In Islam those who die in a natural calamity are accorded the status of martyrs. I am told Christianity has something similar. For those left behind, a tragedy of this scope is a reminder of God's power and our own mortality.

If you still believe disasters are due to our sins, look at these natural calamities.
- For the first 300 years after Jesus, any Christian in the Roman Empire was subject to persecution.
- Moses' (Musa in Islam - peace be upon him) people were bound in slavery for decades.
- Severe draught afflicting the Muslim empire during Omar (R) 's time.
- and many more (trials and hardships of Joseph (Yusuf), Jacob (Yaqub), Jonah (Yunus) and so on).

As we can see, earthquakes, tsunamis and the like affected those before us, the best of us. And now it affects us. And it will affect those after us. If God is indeed sending a tribulation on those He loves, then He must love both the American Christians and the Pakistani Muslims, as we know He does.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Americans Need Debate

I just finished watching a video of the speech Bush gave to the National Endowment for Democracy. His speech, which recycled his older arguments for the war in Iraq, lacked any particular details on how he was going to exit Iraq, which I think has become his main bogeyman. But as I watched him, and reflected on the US political system, I realized one thing.

Americans don't have any of the good old fashion debate that we in Canada and other Parliamentary-style governments such as Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, Bangladesh enjoy have. Consider this:

Last year four RCMP officers (they are equivalent of FBI in Canada) got shot by a madman who later killed himself. Later it was discovered the killer was supposed to be in jail but released by a weak justice system. The families are calling for tougher sentences for drug-related offences and a new national drug strategy.

Two days ago, Mr. Martin told the House of Commons that he had already had a lengthy meeting with the families of the victims. But what he failed to mention was that this was long time ago, not recently when they were in Ottawa, as his statement implied.

The Opposition immediately crucified him.

Yesterday, the Conservative Party took the matter to Question Period, calling on Mr. Martin to apologize.

"I wonder why the Prime Minister would mislead the families and mislead the House in this fashion?" Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said.

Conservative MP Rona Ambrose called for government action on the families' demands.

"The families were very hurt by the Prime Minister's words. Will the Prime Minister apologize to the families?" she asked.

They all said Paul Martin was accused yesterday of misleading Parliament after saying he had "long discussions" with the families of the four RCMP officers who died at the hands of James Roszko near Mayerthorpe, Alta., this year.

Prime Minister Paul Martin was then forced to apologize.

Remember our sponsorship scandal? A bunch of the government was found to have been skimming tax money. Paul Martin was forced to give an address to the nation, essentially asking them to have faith in him as he got to the bottom of the mess.

This is what leader of the Opposition Stephen Harper said in reply.

"My fellow Canadians.

We have all just witnessed a sad spectacle -- a prime minister so burdened with corruption in his own party that he is unable to do his job and lead the country, a party leader playing for time, begging for another chance.

This is not how a prime minister should act."

Or let's go to Britain. There in the House the Opposition is practically sitting 10 feet away from the Prime Minister.

"We have to raise our demands. We don't want Bush out of the Whitehouse, we want Bush in prison with Blair and all the other war criminals who have brought us to this pass," said George Galloway, an opposition MP to the house.

When was the last time the President of USA was involved in such a debate. I was watching CNN during last year's US Presidential elections, and this is what Aaron Brown said:

"John Kerry will have to be careful in criticizing the President because Americans don't like a direct criticism of their President."

Excuse me, but how else are you supposed to tell the leader of the free world that he is wrong if not by criticizing him. He is the one who is calling all the shots and the place where the buck stops. All Senate, Congress decisions ultimately come to him for a veto.

As I watched the first debate then I realized why Bush bristled whenever Kerry got close to a criticism. He was not used to it.

Where is the criticism of Bush when he gave a false statement in a State of the Union speech? Where is the criticism of Bush when he took his nation to war based on false premises? Where is the criticism of Bush when he referred to Americans in New Orleans as "people in that part of the world"?

Sure, people ARE criticizing him, even some politicians, but Bush does not have to face them in a legislative setting. He exists in the White House, comes to the lawn for a few press conferences (the lowest number so far of any President), takes a few questions, and leaves. He does not have to argue his point in a regular debate as do
our leaders.

This can lead a leadership that exists within a vacuum, as Jon Stewart said recently on an Oprah show. Link is here [a web page containing a video file].

In his words, "Washington has a loss of perspective and you lose respect for the truth It becomes a pursuit of power rather than pursuit of the truth."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Iftar on 2nd Ramadan

Iftar 2nd day of Ramadan - Picture 1

Iftar 2nd day of Ramadan - Picture 2

Iftar refers to the evening fast-breaking meal during the Islamic month of Ramadan. We get up early in the morning before dawn and eat a meal called Suhur. The whole day is then spent fasting, till sunset, when Iftar is taken.

Fasting reminds one of the plight of the genuinely hungry. It also teaches us about will power, as we are encouraged to break all bad habits for one month.

Fasting is also mentioned in the Bible. Surprisingly the US Marines also has a page on Ramadan.

In the pictures above I brought home some samosa and pakoda from a nearby Indian restaurant. Needless to say one of their busiest times is during Ramadan. The yellow sweets are called laddoos. Dates are also present, and are traditionally the item used to break the fast, followed by water or some sherbet (fruit drink). Since we are North Americans we also have some fast food (chicken fingers).


I have never been a part of the cellphone brigade.

Recently, I had to order a new cellphone to replace my older one. The only reason I chose to do so was because the older one would suddenly stop working.

Our cellphone company has recently decided to use voice-activated technology. I preferred the older touch-tone system. Now your co-workers will be mystified as you dial a number, wait for sometime, and then start sprouting excerpts like "English", "Toronto", "Cellphones", "New Phones", "You moronic goobstopper just get me to a live real person."

The last comment was met with, "I am sorry but I could not pick that. Your comment has been stored and will be analyzed later to help us improve our system."


Then Sue came online. Well she was probably Suneeta but we will let that go. She had a nice voice.

"How can I help you, sir?"

"Well, I need to order a new phone. The older one is not working properly."

"Certainly, sir. May I ask what do you do mostly with your phone?"

At the point I was a bit puzzled.

"Um, talk. You know, to other people."

"Oh no, sir. I mean do you play games, play MP3 music, surf the net, capture photographs, text message or record videos? We also have newer devices that let you take dictation, as well as use it as an USB storage device."


It's amazing what one could get in a cellphone today. After talking with Suneeta Sue I went to their website to check out the phones. They even have $3000 phones with ALL those features in one.

It wasn't too long ago I took my first phone. 6 years ago, when I bought my first car. I needed it in case the car broke down on me, as it was a very old car. At that time the phone was the latest, and it was huge, with only two features, 1) excellent network capability anywhere and 2) Twelve ringtones. I could talk from almost anywhere. Nowadays cellphones are crammed with the latest gizmos yet many don't seem to work in basements with wafer-thin walls. And cellphone companies use unfair practices to lock you into using their product for years.

I just have one question though.

It took decades for governments to respond to early warnings about tobacco, asbestos and radiation. Cellphones are a relatively new technology that is growing forward in quantum leaps. Should we have similar concerns about these popular devices? Has anyone figured out what the effects of having 1 gigabyte of data stored near the bottom of your body with constant wireless signals coming to and from it? With the recent introduction of cellphone for kids who have lower immune resistance to diseases, who is doing the research? Does it bother or alarm you that the only entities conducting studies into harmful effects of cellphone technology are cellphone companies themselves?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Muslim Comedians

There was a big MuslimFest in Mississauga recently, and their biggest draw was the comedy show. Unfortunately, though we took on other stuff from the festival, the comedy show was sold out. Few months back I had attended another Muslim comedy night at Yuk Yuk's, called Allah Made Me Funny. I had a hard time sleeping that night as my stomach was still aching from too much laughing.

There is this guy. He plays off his Taliban-style looks and deadpans, "Everywhere I go people look at me as if I am responsible for 9/11. I had nothing to do with 9/11 ... 7/11 maybe, but not 9/11."

There were a lot of families at these events, mainly because it was 'Muslim' comedy. That meant no fart, sex, blonde jokes, and no expletives. Which implied the lines had to be really funny to be effective.

I really liked the British girl, Shazia Mirza.

"My name is Shazia Mirza. At least that's what it says on my pilot's licence."

"I went to Mecca. In front of the holy black stone, where you repent your sins, someone pinched my bum ... Clearly, my prayers had been answered."

There was Preacher Moss, a black Muslim convert.

"When I was young and they caught a criminal I would pray it wasn't a black person." He says honestly. "And now when they catch a terrorist I pray it's not a Muslim. And then came the DC sniper!!! A black AND a Muslim!!! I was like, whaaaaat!"

Comedy had a long history in Muslim times before disappearing until recently. It started with the Messenger of God himself. Once an old pious lady came to him and asked him if she was going to heaven after death. With a straight face he told her that no old women were going to heaven.

The Prophet said to those nearby: "Tell her that no woman goes into heaven as an old woman." He then read the Quranic verses: "We shall have brought them into being in a life renewed ... " (56: 35-36), meaning heaven-goers were going to heaven as they were in their prime.

There there was Mullah Nasiruddin, a famous character of folklore in the ancient Muslim world.

A friend asked the Mullah how old he was.

Forty, he replied.

But you said the same thing last year and the year before that, the friend objected.

Yes, The Mullah replied, A true Muslim always stands by what he said!

And many more.

Why was there a dearth of Muslim comic until recently?

I think it is because coloniasm and imperialism. Hear me out!

Until the 17th century most Muslims were in Muslim lands and masters of their own destiny. Suddenly much of that was under Christian forces. Therefore it became an us-versus-them attitude and no one made fun of themselves any more. After the colonies became free, the departing colonists installed their own puppet dictators who stifled freedom of speech. So in many countries these people still cannot say what they want.

So no matter that much Muslim comedians are now coming from Muslims in the West, who enjoy freedom of speech, religion, dress etc. It is also now catching up in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and many African countries. Long may it continue.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Grass On The Other Side

When I was a university student I was the editor of the campus newspaper The Underground. We were a leftist bunch, forever upset at the provincial government for shortchanging students and higher tuition fees, the federal government for cutting the arts budget, for not sending the army to help the poor farmers of Nicaragua, the university for cancelling several research projects, and so on. Now that I am working and earning, and a bit less idealistic, I am still upset at the government but for different reasons. Why are they wasting so much tax payers' money on useless stuff like ballet and why are students not paying their own tuition? Why is our money wasted in Darfur? Screw them, I want to keep more of my own money! The classic left-to-right conversion.

Ofcourse living in Toronto means many US cities are close by for vacationing. Whenever I would visit a cousin in Chicago, I would marvel at their transport system. Reversible highways! The north becomes south bound during opposite rush hour. What a novel concept! Here in Toronto, stuck in coma-inducing rush hour, I would think about that. Or when forced to use the subway, I would imagine the excellent connectivity of the New York City Transit.

Recently a friend of mine visited from the States. Now he lives somewhere south of Dallas, Texas, in a small village. He must be the only brown guy in the county, and works as a system administrator. He tells me its like Duke of Hazzards country down there, and being a Muslim there is as common as snow in Sahara. He has been living there since graduation, for about three years now.

And boy was he impressed with Toronto.

"Your subway system is so neat!" He gushed. I nearly choked on my shwarma.

"Ours? As in Toronto's?"

"Oh ya! I was in New York and they had piss on the floor of the trains. And were we warned to avoid Penn station after 9! And your streets feel so - safe!"

Now that part I can testify to. Many a time, after returning from a night out on the west end of the city, I have gotten lost there. After driving around a while, I would hit the highway and be back on the road. No matter how late, we never felt unsafe.

Even once in Montreal, we reached there around 11 pm. After, um, seeing the sights on Rue Catherine, the entertainment district, we got lost on returning to our car. A bit of walking around and we found it again. 2 am in the morning in a strange city and we never felt unsafe.

Hah! While going to Chicago for the first time, we stepped off the I-55 to get some gas. And I called my cousin's husband to tell him that. He nearly had a heart attack, and yelled at me to get back on the highway. Later we found out we had alighted on Chicago's famous South Side. So safe, I can understand.

"And the streets are so clean." My friend was going on. "The parks are really nice to sit around, and the litter on the roads are invisible."

Again I was like, "Toronto?" I never noticed the lack of litter. I drive downtown Spadina too. But my friend showed me a few pictures of him while in NYC, Chicago and Houston. He was like, there's good areas of the town, and bad areas. Here you don't see that too much. I mumbled something or the other about our tax dollars going to a useless welfare system to artificially lessen the class gap.

But he wasn't finished.

"And your women! The women of Toronto are the best looking bunch of any city I have been to!"

Now this time, in addition to my dinner just falling to the floor in shock, so too did my jaw.

"Toronto? Women! You must be nuts. Have you been to Montreal?" He confessed he hadn't. My French friends from college had a joke. "Why are all Montreal girls so good looking? 'Coz we have a rule here. If you are sixteen and you are ugly looking, we send you to - Toronto!"

"Seriously, you must be nuts. I mean ya, some women here look after themselves, but seriously, you must be nuts."

"No way man. There so much variety here. In Texas where I am, [switch on offensive mode] I am used to like ... farm girls ... who are like ... big." Naturally he may have been exaggerating. I mean Jessica Simpson seemed all right by me. "And not to mention the diversity of restaurants in Toronto. And not to forget many of them are halal! Oh don't even get me started on Toronto."

No, he wasn't being polite. I could only shake my head. Toronto? Maybe, the grass is greener always, on the other side.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Ramadan News

This situation is so funny.

1st News.

First, a little background.

The Islamic calendar is based on the moon, as is the Jewish calendar. Every 29th day of the lunar month, people go and look for the new moon. If it is sighted, then the next day is the first day of the next month, else the next day is the 30th day of this month, following which the next month starts. Nowadays due to technology the positions of the moon can be calculated and we have a reasonable prediction.

So all over the Muslim world, people would wait to see if Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, would start on Tuesday Oct 4 or Wednesday Oct 5. But wait!

There is a solar eclipse! On the 29th day of the month!

Suddenly some scholars are saying because the solar eclipse means the moon will come into 'view' in front of the sun, this means the 'new moon' is 'sighted' and so Ramadan for sure begins the next day. The others say this does not count, and a new moon has to be sighted the proper way (i.e. at night).

In either case, the final say lies with the government, who will decide. And in non Muslim countries like Canada, US, it means the bigger mosques in cities.

2nd news.

Apparently there's an October surprise by - um - God.

For the first time in 33 years, Jews and Muslims will mark the start of their most sacred seasons on the same day this week. Rosh Hashana -- the Jewish New Year that begins the 10-day period known as the Days of Awe -- and the monthlong Islamic fast of Ramadan fall on Tuesday.

What's more, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a relatively minor Christian holiday mostly commemorated by Roman Catholics, also will be celebrated that day.

At a time when Jews and Muslims around the globe observe their religious traditions, locally and nationally members of all three world religions are participating in interfaith activities that highlight their similarities and growing closeness.

You know what this means right? All of a sudden on the same day most Jews, Muslims, and some Catholics will be hungry during the morning. Hopefully something will be done about poverty and world hunger.