Jun 26, 2009

Banning the burqa is not the solution, but it's a start

French President Sarkozy recently reignited the debate over the burqa or the veil that some Muslim women wear. He said that the
...burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.
I disagree with the French president...but only with the second part of this quote. But first, let me preface my argument with my own thoughts on the the burqa, also spelled as burka and may be referred to as the hijab or the chador as well. (In this post, I am referring only to the complete head to toe burqa, with perhaps a slit or netting for the eyes. In this outfit, the face is not visible. The headscarf is something very different, and is what some women in my family back home in Pakistan wear.)

I believe that the burqa really is a construct of a misogynistic and feudal society. And there is no doubting the fact that Islamic societies have suppressed the rights of women for as long as one can remember. The cause of this evil (and it really is evil...) is not Islam, however, because Islam was meant to be the cure. In its purest form, Islamic teachings do make valiant efforts to raise the status of women, but these teachings have fallen to deaf ears. The real reason in my opinion, is illiteracy, and the fact that Islam spread like wildfire through lands that were already pagan, uneducated, and heavily misogynistic. Islam was meant to heal these ancient feudal lands of this backbreaking curse on women, but has instead become associated with women's rights violations. But that is the past, yet today things have not changed much. Therefore, in this day and age, Islamic leaders and followers deserve the blame for the imbalance of power between the sexes.

Moreover, I don't see how the burqa helps a woman as I believe it disconnects her from society at large, especially Western society. And it is unfortunate that it is mostly Western leadership that is denouncing the veil. Jack Straw, the former British foreign Minister once wrote that, "wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult". This careful statement is completely true, and besides the obvious community aspects, the head to toe covering must be unbearably uncomfortable. I can not fathom how a woman enjoys wearing something completely covering her up and is barely able to walk. It's also a safety issue. I've seen women driving with their faces covered, and its obvious to see that their peripheral vision is limited. That's just as dangerous as driving with your eyes closed.

However, even after all this, I believe it is the right of any woman to decide whether she wants to wear a burqa or not. We must recognize the fact that not all women wear the veil on their own free will. Let's not be naive here. There is immense pressure on women to wear the veil, especially if her community at large wears it. In fact most women don't even have the choice to NOT wear the veil. In these situations, both the Islamic leadership and the country in question, must provide avenues for discussion, and safety for the woman who decides against the burqa. If women choose not to wear the veil, then they should be allowed to do so, with adequate protection from their community and country. I believe the President Sarkozy should communicate with Muslim leadership in his country and convey such a point. Banning the veil outright, and imposing his belief system on another person is just plain wrong, to quote my brother.

Muslims (mostly men) around the world have been incensed with the French president's stance. They all believe that Muslim women must have the right to choose to wear the burqa. That's no problem. But these same Muslims must realize that they must provide their women with the right to NOT choose to wear the burqa as well. And that's really where the problem stems. President Sarkozy recognizes that Muslims societies are not willing to give up this stranglehold on women and what they wear. Wearing the burqa has become such an integral part of Muslim societies that people don't realize that its not an Islamic practice in the first place. And even if some sects believe that it is a integral practice, then they must allow their women the choose to wear it or not. And it is these women that must be protected. The issue isn't Jack Straw or President Sarkozy being racists against Islam, but the problem is that Islamic societies are unwilling to change and unwilling to remove the sexist policies of their uneducated, pagan past.

Jun 10, 2009

New 'words' in the English language are stupid

So the Global Language Monitor just announced that the number of words in the English language exceeded 1 million this morning at 10:22am. Since it's 11am right now, most people would incorrectly deduce that I was awaiting this event with bated breath. Well, actually the millionth word was added according to Stratford-on Avon Time so I'm about 5 hours behind and slightly less of a loser.

Anyway, I think some of the new words are ridiculous. The millionth word is actually 'web 2.0' meaning "
The next generation of web products and services, coming soon to a browser near you". Firstly, isn't that a word and a number? And secondly do we really need to add such a silly word to our vocabulary.

The stupidity doesn't end here. Some of the words that lost out by not becoming the millionth word are:
Jai Ho!, N00b, Slumdog, Cloud Computing, Carbon Neutral, Slow Food, Octomom etc.

You get the idea. Some of these words are slang, some are movie titles, and some are words in an another language. Now of course I understand that many words like veranda, chutney, kama sutra, actually originate in foreign languages, but that process took decades. In fact, a large majority of native English speakers know these words and use them in every day language. I obviously don't agree that the majority should know the word before it is officially incorporated (and by no means is the Global Language Monitor official), but there needs to be a lower limit as well. Where a certain proportion of the population needs to understand the meaning. After all, the only thing "Jai ho!" has going for it, is a Pussycat Dolls remix.

I'm not alone in finding this silly. According to their website, a number of linguists disagree with putting a number on words in a language...
Linguists believe that there is no way to count words, since the nature of what a word is, itself, is in dispute. Hence you cannot count what you cannot define. More so, even attempting to take a measure of the language is to be condemned.
Well, I'm certainly no linguist or expert in the matter, but I'm interested to see what my friends in linguistics think about this...


Jun 4, 2009

Protein folding and docking on the Playstation

Folding@home, as most people in the field would know, is the massively distributed protein folding simulation. As far as I remember, users around the globe can download a screen saver and contribute their idle computer processors to aid explicit (and recently implicit) solvent simulations of proteins folding and/or misfolding. Understanding this process is therapeutically important, as I have pointed out in an earlier post.Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that people had begun using Playstation consoles as a more than adequate substitute for expensive, and cumbersome nodes which are commonly used in computer clusters. The reason for this is that modern games require such heavy graphics and processor power, that the Playstations are computationally very efficient. Moreover, due to their popularity, the cost of a single Playstation is quite cheap, and the technology is very well developed. It makes sense that scientists involved in biological simulations have caught on. Folding@home and Sony have recently got together, making even idle Playstations useful.

It's not just protein folding, but the powerful playstations can be used for other computationally demanding assignments such as ligand docking. I just read that Simbiosys has released a version of their docking software for the PS3.

To lower the cost and power consumption typically associated with compound-library-screening programs, SimBioSys has also released eHiTS Lightning. This package combines the 2009 eHiTS software with IBM's Cell/B.E. chip multiprocessor, found in the Sony PlayStation 3, to achieve a 10-fold increase in computational speed. The PlayStation 3 hardware (shown) replaces some of the expensive computer infrastructure required for virtual screening programs, opening up computer-aided drug design to smaller companies previously unable to afford it.
Pretty damn cool!