Jan 16, 2019

Government Shutdown Affects Funding

Federal workers are not the only ones missing paychecks, the partial government shutdown has also affected academic communities, delaying funding and some travel cancellations as well. Today, I sent an e-mail to the National Science Foundation inquiring about funding, I received an automatic reply from NSF:

Due to a lapse in government funding, most National Science Foundation staff will not be receiving or responding to email until further notice. We sincerely regret this inconvenience and look forward to responding to you once we reopen.
Then a few minutes after, I received a follow up e-mail from the person in charge:
Because of the lapse in appropriations (aka, "a shutdown"), we are unable to respond to your message. Deadlines are unaffected by the shutdown.
So, here you go. You have some specific questions regarding funding and application, but you can't get an answer due to government shutdown.
I thought I should write this post in case anyone wonders whether should he/she submit the application on time or not, deadlines, according to the federal employee of NSF is unaffected by the partial shutdown.

Jan 6, 2019

Taking an Oath on the Qur'an is Not a Good Idea

While I believe everyone should have the right to use any text – holy or non-holy – for swearing-in, I cannot condone the fact that using any type of religious text for taking oath of office is latent prejudice against those who are atheists, secularists, and those who are not followers of Abrahamic religions.

Yesterday, I read on the news that Rashida Tlaib, the newly-elected Democratic Congresswoman from Michigan, took her oath on the Qur'an, a copy that is said to be owned by Thomas Jefferson. Christian lawmakers have been using the Bible to swear in to the Congress for years, which has become a tradition. Recently, Jews have been doing so too, but using the Qur'an for swearing-in Congress seems a bit odd, not only that the book fundamentally opposes to American/secular values and even Christian traditions, it does not warrant our contemporary moral concerns.

Why should a lawmaker swear in on the book that considers women inferior or unequal to men? Is it not ironic when a woman who is not considered equal to a man and whose most basic rights are inconsistent and disregarded by the book she is taking an oath on? Jefferson's version of the Qur'an is not different from the ones that are available in public. The fact that Jefferson owned a copy of the Qur'an does not mean he glorified it or interested in Islam. I know a lot of people who have copies of the Qur'an who are not Muslims. I have read Mein Kampf two times, first in Farsi when I was very young and then I read it in college. I read it not because I was interested in Hitler's views; I rather read it to remind myself of an evil mind that can easily grow in our modern day.

In the same way, given the fact that the Qur'an is the primary source of Islamic jurisprudence, Jefferson was obviously curious to learn about it and its influence on some legal system. It is not even known if he really read it. It is only said that he owned a copy, which is still available at the Library of Congress. He did not leave any note on it though. So, we cannot conclude that he really read the Muslim holy book.

So, why Thomas Jefferson owned a Qur'an? The answer is simple. He was a curious man about everything, world religions, in general, and Islam, in particular. At the time he bought a copy of the Qur'an, he was a 22-year-old law student in Williamsburg, Virginia. His curiosity of reading the Qur'an was intended to understand Islamic law (particularly the Ottoman law) and how to deal with Muslims, which was a central issue among Christians as they gradually came into contact with the Ottoman Empire. In both Europe and North America, Christian groups, such as Protestants grew interest in reading the Qur'an not because they were interested in Islam, but they were concerned about Muslims encroachment on European territory.

Christians in the West until recently refused to recognize Islam as a religion. The word "Islam" did not exist in Western language dictionaries up until 1816. Though the Islamic holy book was translated by German philologists as early as 16th century, Islam was not recognized by the Western world until the 20th century despite Muslim presence in the West as early as 16th century. There was no name for the faith; instead, Muhammadan, or Mahometanism were used for Muslim as the followers of Muhammad. Medieval Christians viewed Islam as a heresy of Christianity. In Dante's Inferno, both Muhammad and his cousin and son-in-low Ali are placed in hell. They are depicted as bloodthirsty and vicious men. Mohammad's body split from groin to chin and Ali's face cleft from top to bottom (Inf. 28.22-33; also see The Inferno of Dante Alighieri, p. 191).

In fact, Jefferson himself criticized Islam as “stifling free enquiry," in his political debates. He also held a similar view against Catholicism. He was not a very religious person, which means he did not have much respect for fairy tales in the Bible. The Qur'an is not exceptional; it contains the same superstitious elements. Jefferson despised them. He took scissors in hand and excised all pages referencing to miracles. He cut and pasted the remaining pages together and created an abridged Bible. He thought of Jesus as an inspiring moral teacher, rather than Devine being. If he had considered the Qur'an as an inspiring moral source, he may have expurgated it from superstitions too, which I would doubt there would be more than a few pages left.

It is not only wrong and misguided; it is ridiculous that some liberals are romanticizing Jefferson's association with Islam, to the degree that they have limited the scope of constructive criticism of Islam. They place Islam beyond criticism. Critics of Islam are often branded as racists and Islmophobes. Being preoccupied with the notions of non-negotiable rights, liberty and freedom of speech, both liberals and leftists use various means to labeling and intimidating everyone who disagrees with them, especially on the base of their liberal idealism. They disregard even if these values are violated by Muslims; they use this yardstick not only to purchase more party power from minorities, but also measure and judge the actions of their opponents.

Tlaib's profane outburst is an example. Ironically, her profane remark came after she took an oath on the Qur'an, which was not only ignored, but also received support from her fellow lawmaker. This shows that cursing and incivility is fine against opponents as some of Tlaib's supporters expressed. I am by no means supporting Trump, he is an empty vessel of moral values; I am more concerned at the prospect of the rhetoric of left-wing populism that may blur the lines between what is right and wrong.

Finally, it would be more meaningful if Tlaib had taken her oath on the U.S. Constitution like Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat senator from Arizona, rather using the Qur'an, which is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and American values. I personally believe that the oath should be abolished altogether. It is an ethical prejudice against those who are not religious or followers of Abrahamic religions.

Dec 31, 2018

How to Assimilate into American Culture Through Football


Yesterday, I went to the Philadelphia Eagles game, which is my adopted team. We tailgated outside the Redskins stadium, at FedEx Field in Maryland. It was full of joy to cook and drink with my favorite people and meet some new ones. Lamb me, I got drunk pretty early, but I was able to handle it well. On my way home, I walked for nearly two hours to burn out some calories, but I got really tired when I got home. I slept like a log last night.

The Eagles, my team, battled hard to get into play-off by victory of 24-0 over the Redskins. That means there is some hope for the reigning champions in postseason.

On a different note but still related; if you are new in the United States, try to learn about American football. In fact, the best advice that I can give to people who are new in this country is to follow American sports, especially football. American football is more than a religion, it is a national pride. It plays an important role in American identity. If you become a fan of American football, you have gained respect and appreciation of American people. To them, you are a comrade, regardless of your skin color, religious or ethnic backgrounds.

I have firsthand experience since college and yesterday, when I got on subway in D.C wearing my Eagles jersey and hat, I received lots of smiles and nods from passengers on the train. Everyone tried to strike up a conversation with me about my team. Someone told me that his mom is an Eagles fan, but he is a big Redskins fan. But still he wished me good luck.

Contrary to soccer, American football is very complicated. When I first came to American, the first thing I wanted to do was to learn how American football works. BBC World Service had a basic guide to American football. I tried to find it but I could not located on their website, but now you can find tons of guides online. This wikiHow guide is a good first step to understand the roles and terminology of the sport. The rest, you can follow on Youtube, simply type "guide to American football." You will have tons of video guides in front of you.

So, if you want to assimilate to American society, one way is to understand American football. Try to go to your favorite team's game. If you can't go, wear apparel and gear of your team on game day. You can watch the game on TV and make sure you talk about your team and its players with great passion and enthusiasm. This is a key to understanding American people, culture, and customs.

Dec 29, 2018

The Use of Social Media: Ego-Boosting and Time-Wasting

A few days ago, I felt I was succumbed to the temptation of using Instagram, which I have been trying to stay away from. The temptation was the result of thinking whether it is a good idea to upload some of my photographs there. I don't know why, perhaps, publicity was the spur. I opened an account, but for some reasons, I could not upload landscape photos to Instagram. I posted some photos of myself and tried different colors and features. I spent nearly two hours playing with a couple of photos. Then, suddenly, I thought, if I had spent that much time, I could have edited several photos on Photoshop and uploaded them to my website, or I could have read a few articles.

Time was not the only thing that I was worried about, it was something else: the ego. I did not download the Instagram app, but instead, I used the website through a backchannel. Even though everything looked basic, my photos looked fancy after I manipulated the light and color values. I could have stopped it, but the features and tools dictated me to do more. Therefore, I spent more time trying every available features.

Then, the following day, when I opened my account, I looked at my photos again. They looked great, except no one followed me. I thought, that is because I declined to share my contacts, or letting my friends know that I have created an account on Instagram. I again started working on my pictures. As I kept using different colors and tools to shape my portraits as best as I could, I felt drawn into the idea that I could possibly make myself look great and attractive. What a weird and unrealistic thing to do, I thought.

But for some reasons, I could not satisfy myself, I wanted my photos look really good. I never experienced such an urge before to spend this much time on my own portraits. It seemed ridiculous and I felt defenseless to the temptation and persuasion of tools that were offered to me.

It was then that I thought of the harmful impact of social media, such as Instagram, on the brain and behavior. I was offered a space, a strange yet familiar in which I felt I am not good enough. Two things happened at the same. The tools on Instagram asked me to boost my ego by changing hues and make saturation adjustment on my face, but at the same time, it took away my self-esteem from me. I felt insecure, but it offered me a panacea that I can indulge myself in egotistical projection of me and my personhood.

It was not the tools and features per se, but a range of other factors that were enticing. It opened a window to me, which listed some famous people and some were even familiar ones, and it asked me to follow them. Additionally, it ask me to share my contacts with the system. Then, it wanted me to send an invitation to my contacts and ask them to follow me on Instagram. I had a moment where I thought to myself, "What a bizarre thing that could be." I thought, I would become entangled in the web of self-doubt, insecurity, and perhaps, mental depletion.

Finally, today, I deleted my account on Instagram. It felt great. I patted myself on the back for I lost nothing. I felt I have protected myself from the invasiveness of Instagram, specially its e-mails and pushier notifications. I am considering staying away from social media like Facebook and Twitter, in general. So, I may delete or deactivate them in the year of 2019.

Dec 28, 2018

I Lost my Kindle, It is Dark Now

I feel terribly sad. I lost my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, which I bought in 2013, as a college graduation gift for myself. There were nearly 100 classic books that I have purchased over the years. I wrote lots of notes and made lots of highlights, especially on War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, and Don Quixote. These books were favorite ones, and honestly, they changed life in some way. I remember, when I decided to read War and Peace, I read dozens of reviews on who has rendered the best translation in English language; and I literally read every introduction of each translation that is made so far, and even compared certain paragraphs and sentences of the books. It took me four weeks to finish War and Peace. I devoured it. I was hoping to go back and read this and others books again and see my notes and highlights. Alas, hope has limitations.

The last book I was reading was The Heard of Darkness, a story about imperial horror in Congo in the late 19th century. I was halfway through the it and gradually realizing how Joseph Conrad is challenging the reader by constructing ethical dilemmas on good and evil.

I also had several books on Afghanistan and the Middle East. One of them was The Great Game, which I recommend to anyone who is interested in Afghanistan's issues.

I know how I lost my Kindle. I was distracted by someone. Anyway, my Kindle is gone and I'm not happy about my sloppiness. I contacted Amazon and reported it as lost. It is deregistered and locked, which means it is an unusable device for whoever has taken it. If you read this post, and found my kindle, please return it to me and you will get a gratuity. 

Dec 25, 2018

Christmas Day and a Perfect Time for Reflection

Today is a special day; Jesus, a peaceful and humble king, was born and it is a perfect time for reflection. Therefore, I use this opportunity to send my love and appreciation to my family and friends, and to my readers on this blog.

There have been times where I sat down and ask myself, how did you get here. With all bitter experiences and with all obstacles and challenges that I have been through, I should be miserable, depressed and a failed person, but I am not. I feel, I'm the happiest person on earth, and that is because I believe the people that I have come in contact with throughout my life molded me like a piece of clay in their pottery of love and friendship. Before, I was dust, unrefined and an immature person, but their love and care gave me hope and ambition to follow my dreams. Today, I feel, without their support and love, I could dissolve into dust and particles that I had been. 

I am truly grateful to my family and friends for their continued support. I couldn't make this far without their guidance and help. They have become indispensable to my life and I can't imagine a moment without them and their love. I have learned that true love never dies, but grows stronger.

Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you're having a great one and a happy new year!