For the GEEK in you

Monday, July 31, 2006

Peace in our time

Late today, stuck in admin no-man's land. Back on track though.

Today's post is inspired by a good friend of mine, who before I left, professed:

"I don't like Jewish people."

Ok, why exactly? It's the usual litany of reasons...Jews control the world...Lebanon blah...dead people blah...

But does he actually know any Jewish people? Has he ever met any? Nope. Never interacted once with them, never shook their hands. But he's been trained to hate them, by his family, by the media, by the general consensus of his people.

What do you say to that? How can you change something that's been so ingrained into someone? A Jew is not a species. It is not a race. It is a religion. A choice made by a person. It is not like a colour, or personality, or a sexuality, it is something placed upon you at a young age, a hole drilled into your head and the cement of dogma poured to set.

It is something fluid, something that can be and should be open to discussion. People blather endlessly about their faith and defending it, but in truth one must understand every aspect of it to do so. And if you don't, then I don't see how you can stand behind it. If there's even one part where you go, "God..oh eck..erm..mysterious ways!", then the whole thing falls apart. That's because humanity has been given Reason. I don't believe in Divine Providence, don't believe that God works to help us in ways which we can't see.

I'm getting at something here, of course. Like my friend, I was a staunch Muslim. That's meaningless, though. I was staunch because I was supposed to be, because that's what you should answer when people ask. When I actually delved into it, I was confronted by inconsistencies and paradoxes, ideas which could not be resolved. Ironically, it wasn't the West, wasn't pop culture. It was having the courage to speak up to myself and question my beliefs, to accept that no cow is sacred unless we make it so.

And these problems aren't the sole purview of Islam, they're common to all the major religions. One has to ask why exactly someone who had a clue would put the holy places of the three major religions on planet earth in exactly the same place, if He/She/It didn't want their followers to tear each other to pieces. Oh, but that's easy, right? The 'Right' religion will win out in the end.

No, I don't think so. If Israel wanted to win, they could fire one of their nukes into every neighbouring country, or use their muscle to literally shove the Palestinians into the sea. They don't because even they have a line, something which their humanity clings to. Similarly, Hezbollah has failed to incite the Arabs of the region to open revolt because their people won't sacrifice their lives willingly. The only lives they're throwing away now are of the innocent.

This war will not bring peace. The only way, in my humble opinion, is for everyone, my friend included, to realise that Jews and Arabs are all people at the end of the day. Break down your walls, cast aside your hate. Meet and mingle and you'll probably find much in the common at the end of the day. Maybe there's a Jewish chick who likes 80s music and rocks out to Falco when no one's watching, peppy and goofy in all the wrong ways. Perhaps there's an Arab guy who's kinda shy, kinda dopey, casting sideways glances at you and thinks of rainy days by the window sill, holding your hand.

But you'll never know, because you hate Jewish people.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

On the Seventh Day God Rested

And so shall I. It's Sunday!

More inaneness to come. Before I enjoy the Sabbath however, here's something I never knew: Thomas Dolby did half the soundtrack to Howard The Duck. There was even a music video. Featuring the entire cast.

Ok, that song is a total guilty pleasure. As is the film, which was a Friday staple on on Ch33 for the longest time. It still has great special effects, ya know, and the fact I first saw it in black and white (thanks ch33!) made it a weird film noir for me.

One thing which didnt show up on the CH33 version was duck boob.

Probably for the better.

If you doubt me, there's proof. But I ain't going to soil my blog with it.

Ok, I'm outta here! Regular programming resumes on Monday.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Monopoly: Or Sometimes These Freaking Things Just Write Themselves

Ah, how it takes, back, lazy summer days, spent tossing the dice over a rosewood table with friends and family, clip clopping our little pewter representatives around the periphery of that classic Parker Brothers's game.

What's this? Why, it seems Dubai is getting it's very own edition! Capital! Wouldn't that be such fun, to play that childhood favourite, thoroughly updated with some of our very own regional flavour! Wouldn't you jump for joy?

Would I, bollocks.

Okay, first off, who here actually admits to playing Monopoly? I must have played maybe two complete games of it in my entire life and that's only because a proper rules game takes like three weeks to finish, multiplied by the number of people playing. Heaven forbid if you had that kid who didn't know the rules and just joined because he 'wanted the race car'. Edmund Hillary went up and down Everest (with time for a photo op) faster than the average game of Monopoly. I still have two, unopened, original Monopoly boxes at home, which have been that way for the last fifteen years. Thank you, friends-who-let-their-parents-choose-the-birthday-present. When I really wanted this instead. Oh lord, who wouldn't I have sacrificed on the altar of nerd nirvana if I could have that.

But I digress.

So it isn't the quickest game. It isn't exactly the most interesting, either. I remember getting a damn sight more jizzed about reading the thick manual that came with it rather than playing (I'm er...funny... that way). I remember a whole lot of guff about auctions and interest, all of which made no sense, soI quietly went back to Ludo. I'm guessing it won't hold a whole lotta interest for the average local, who gets bored with his mobile - the pinnacle of modern communciations engineeering - approximately 20 nanoseconds after leaving Axiom, whereupon he promptly turns around and returns inside to get 'some games' installed. And a loud, grating ringtone, no doubt.

But wait!

Toys'R'Us store manager in Deira, Jokesh Mehra...said: "It's the best selling board game at Christmas ... I think we should have one in dirhams ... it's a game that represents Dubai very well because of the property boom and the high prices."

Evidently I spoke too soon. Who the hell is buying this damn thing and inflicting untold pain on future generations?
His second line got me thinking though. Monopoly does represent Dubai! Why, just think about it:
  • The Bankers control everything.
  • You can go to jail by accidently being in the wrong place at the wrong time!
  • (This applies only to locals) If you hang around the place for a cyclical revolution, you get free money! (To other expatriates: You receive the Do Not Collect 200 card.)
  • Some players can own a Get Out Of Jail Free Card!
  • Before you know it, all your income can get taken away by rent.
  • Suddenly, there's no longer any free space left to live!
  • You never manage to land on Free Parking.
  • Money doesn't seem to have any value beyond seeing who has the most Right Now:it's all about the title deeds, baby!
  • More hotels and houses than we know what to do with!
  • And in the end, everything comes down to the luck of the dice! Except that some players started with a sports car and you started with an old boot.
According to GN, the 'Dubai-exclusive' edition will have some of our current landmarks. Ok, some are pretty obvious, Burj, Emirates Towers, etc. After that though, it gets tricky. Jumeirah Beach Hotel? Jumeirah Towers? Jumeirah Beach Residences? Ski Dubai, with or without Mall 'o the Emirates?

In closing, I say, let's add some real landmarks. Concrete, terra firma, buildings that Dubai came up with, which may not have been the best, or the biggest or whatever, but all of which stood for something once upon a time.

  • The good old Clock Tower. For most of the my youth, the real symbol of Dubai, sadly sidelined by all this glitzy nonsense coming up now.
  • Ditto for the Trade Centre, for so long the pinnacle of buildings in Dubai. I don't give two shits about any other building in Dubai (Burj including) but the Trade Centre has real sentimental value for us oldtimers.
  • The humble Toyota Corolla/Nissan Sunny: the real engine of commerce in the middle east. Without these steady Japanese workhorses, no one would have lived through the tough early years.
  • The bus station/abra stands. Now these really deserve some plaudits; if only every tourist/New Dubai resident got the chance to tour the city and waterways, they'd understand what Dubai used to be really all about. And they'd probably also meet all the people who really built this place, who really created something out of nothing in this desert inferno and who are now being ingloriously turfed out, clutching their battered suitcases and worn passports, traipsing back home twenty years later with nothing to show for it.
Next: Why can't we all just be friends?

Love And Marriage, go together like pastrami and chutney

"Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up." - Joseph Barth

So at last, that time has come, that glorious time in a man's life, when he must put away the playthings of youth and turn to more serious matters, of life, love, and progeny. Where he sallies forth into the great unknown, his faithful partner at his side, eager to experience all of life's travails and silent blisses.

Sod That.

Years of Maturity:2. Marriage Proposals: 1.

What utter freaking joy. To be paraded around family members like a well done piece of sirloin. All the while, everything that is your self worth is boiled down to an endless list of statistics and bullet point achievements. It doesn't matter what kind of person you are or how compatible the two of you are, everything comes down to the thickness and texture of your CV. Of which mine is roughly equivalent to a Wrigley's wrapper.

Asian families make it even more fun because half the time, all the so called 'rules' get tossed out the window and the decision is made long before you even wake up the morning. So there you are, all chirpy(ish) and eager to face the new day sun and all that, and all of a sudden you get the dreaded call - that so-and-so's parents are coming to check you out. By you, of course, they mean your parents. Because Lord only knows, the most important thing is that the in-laws get along.

So you say you're sick of All That? That you're aNew Age man, ready to forge his own path into the ether and drag back his own mate by himself, thankyouverymuch? Silly you. Ok, if you insist. You can meet the girl first.

And after that ordeal concludes, you'd wish you just closed your eyes and reopened them sixty years later as they lower you into the casket. What exactly are you supposed to say when you meet this woman? Hi? Nice, looking at your, er, CV? And why do you get a nagging feelling that she resembles nothing so much as a cowpat?

Oh, but your friends don't help either. As they get knocked up one by one, no matter how you proclaim your bachelorhood, the heat is on, baby and you'd better know it. What's worse, everyone, arranged or otherwise, seems to be getting these gorgeous birds. Which leaves me with a whole lot of photos of girls from the dreaded 'middle' of class which is the black hole of obscurity/mediocrity.

What about girlfriends, you say? Nothin' but trouble. Something's always 'wrong'. Wrong age. Wrong colour. Wrong country. Wrong religion (my personal favourite). You're reduced to being a man seeking solace in the arms of lovers but not wives. Oh, just pick one, you say, and weather the storm. This isn't the least bit original, Marwan. Anyhoo, aren't you a New Age man, open and all?

Sure, I am. The 'rents, not so much. For the moment, they're still the ones (gnash) in control.


Next: The 'other' Monopoly in the Middle East.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Importance of Being Earnest

Read this guy. Print out his preamble.

Then take a pen. Or a marker. It's ok, I'll wait.

Then take every instance where the author refers to 'Thai' and replace it with, 'local'.

And bingo, you've understood the nature of culture in South East Asian and the Middle East.

This whole lack of confrontation malarkey has been stretched like week old chewing gum in the UAE. Nobody, anywhere, anytime, is willing to call bullshit on something, for fear of upsetting someone 'higher up'. Eventually, that means that we start to self censor outside the office even in the street.

I'll walk down the road and if someone from a certain community is nearby, I'll instantly start talking in the most forced nonchalant manner, because I think that I'll somehow get in trouble for speaking my mind and anyway, I want to avoid the confrontation.

But this isn't my attitude. It's been given to me, by my parents and their parents before me, to not call whooey on anything or speak my mind assertively for fearing of upsetting folks. Try as they might, though, it still isn't my attitude.

I'm western educated, open minded, my whole life spent outside my so-called 'home country'. People who know me well will say I have more in common with Bertie Wooster than any kind of Asian person, so if I'm outspoken and a bit crass sometimes, well that's just who I turned out to be. No amount of shushing and dressing downs is going to change that now.

So what exactly am I supposed to do when I see people trying to paper over the cracks of discontent? What can I do when I see injustice everyday and people treated like dirt? Am I supposed to bow my head and move on, not even point it out?

Isn't that what we are all doing?

Next: Of Marriage Proposals and Men; and How Taking out the trash can be hazardous for your health.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

'Small' Arms

The always interesting Tim Newman here.

It's a great point he makes, that so-called small arms like AK-47s are in fact to blame for much of the death in the world today. Watch Lord Of War, when Nicholas Cage's corrupt arms dealer lovingly caresses an AK, pontificating on its durability, ease of use and plentiful supply of ammunition in virtually any conflict zone in the modern world. It is these guns which fuel the modern conflict, these guns which find themselves in the arms of children and wartime rapists and psychopaths.

You give a man a gun, you give him a means to defend himself. You also give him a one shot solution to the slightest grievance. And while he may agonise over taking that first life, the second one doesn't hurt so much. Even less so the third. By which time, the gun has become an applicance, like a toaster. Once someone's moral compass is broken, it can't be fixed, can't be patched up with duct tape.

But of course, those lives don't matter, because they are being snuffed out in faraway Africa. While American 'smart bombs' grab all the headlines, it's not like they can be deployed by any Tom, Dick or Harry, so they can be in effect only utilized properly in nation-to-nation conflicts. They can cause untold suffering in a single instant, but they atomize their targets. Meanwhile, that Russian or chinese made AK just keeps plugging away, reliable, safe, and convenient, being passed from the hands of one dead owner to another, good as gold.

But those lives don't matter. The only ones that do are of people who look like us. And african children, minds irreparably warped, tiny fingers clinging to their hand guns and AKs, simply don't look as photogenic as those loads of adorable lebanese children lying lifeless amid the rubble. You want to pick up those lifeless bundles, caress their dusty hair and scream impotent epithets against the heartless fiends that snuffed them out.

Those Africans kids, though, now they're a bit scary, innit? Those eyes don't exactly scream give me a hug, the torn clothes make them look awfully low class. And where are their parents?! Why aren't they around to show them what they are doing is wrong, to take them home and fatten them up a bit?

Nah. That conflict's a bit old hat, innit? We sent money for all those Aid thingies, so surely they must have sorted it out now. It's not like someone would make the same mistake twice and keep selling guns to Africans, would they?

Newsflash - Sri Lanka to its citizens in Lebanon - "Tough"

Read this.

"Labour relations minister Athauda Senevirathne said most Sri Lankans in Lebanon wanted to remain, and urged relatives not to press them to leave."

Oh yes, I do just love the smell of napalm in the morning. Obviously, their citizens have no wish to leave a bombed out warzone. Which is nothing at all like home. No, the Sri Lanka government quite clearly thinks that their citizens should be ruddy used to it by now and if not, well, now is the perfect time to level up their 'Dodge' skill.

90k civilians and no one wants to get them out? Including the freaking Labour Relations minister? For goodness sake, even the Indians have got their people largely out by now, but the Sri Lankans drag their feet, humming and hawwing. Without even being able to contact most of the concerned individuals, the government has decided they don't want to be rescued and instead blame the relatives?! The people, who, uh, don't want their family pounded into dust?

And it's sickeningly obvious why. These low income workers represent a significant source of foreign remittance to the economy (when you're as tiny as Sri Lanka, 90k is a lot of people). The government doesn't see people, they see dollar signs. With the homeland currently on a war footing, it would cost the gubment a packet to send ships and planes to repatriate them, and another packet to send them back when hostilities cease. So they have coldly gambled that enough will survive the conflict to resume sending fistfuls of blood soaked cash (of which various corrupt gubment types will take a tidy bite) to those relatives.

As always, it's good to be any colour besides brown.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The End of All Things: Lebanon Edition

I don't normally comment on issues of politics or the region, because I'm far from well versed in these matters. One needs an element of cross eyed-ness to penetrate the wheels within wheels which underpin the Middle East. Remember the old adage, "a water pipe breaks in Damascus, which must be the fault of Israel"? Probably, but add that the semtex to blow up the pipe was most likely supplied by Iran.

Anyway, you know what?

I'm tired.

Fed up. Had it up to here.

Not. Interested.

In this war in Lebanon.

I'm sick of seeing dead children on the front page of the paper. And in the middle. They're rather a good way to break one's joie de vivre.

Because I don't care. Really, really don't. Feel no pain when I see dead children, or dead civilians, or destroyed, blasted, burnt out shells. Because I come from a place where I've been seeing this all my life, where every day brings forth new casualties. So if Lebanese people are dying in their hundreds, it makes no difference to moi. Because they didn't start petitions when my people were dying, they didn't send delegations to the security council. Because my skin colour doesn't entitle me to be alive.

In fact, I'm prepared to say that in some ways, I almost admire Israel. They care so strongly about their people - or at least about projecting the image that they do - that they are willing to journey to the darkest edges of insanity, raining biblical amounts of fire and brimstone upon unblemished innocents - for the sake of just two men.

And it's because those two men matter. Not because of their families or of public pressure, but the country values their lives.

Hezbollah doesn't value the lives of their countrymen. Why else would they be prepared to engage in a dangerous game of chicken with the most fearsome regional power? When all is said and done, they will withdraw from Lebanon back to their strongholds in Syria and Iran, while people are left to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

Should the US intervene? Why?
This region has clamoring for all out war with the infidels since I was a child. Well, now they've got it, so let's see what you're made of. Oh wait, looks like you ain't hard enough. Smacks of all manner of irony that they're asking the people they despise and behead to save them. So what if the Americans supplied them? Ask your 'good buddies' in the region to step in - God will do the 'needful'.

Oh dear, it looks like God has forsaken you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Dubai

Bur Dubai is not quite as spiffy as the posters. Ah, the quality of life.

A phenomenon I've noticed recently - the dust has become so thick it's impossible to keep it away. Used to be you could wash your car bimonthly - lucky if you can get away with three days now.

And the dust is really weird - this greyish, powdery, kind of thing that reminds me an awful lot of concrete dust. Lord only knows what it's doing to our lungs, but hey, if we don't like it, we can leave right? Or stop breathing.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Nectar of the Gods

From the menu of a rather famous place on Diyafah road (a trifle to guess).

Spot the difference between the sharwarmas. I couldn't and I've eaten the damn things. (Seems like varying levels of ketchup/chili, FYI.)

Ah, the drinks menu. I'm personally enamored of "dayablo", although I'm thinking of a rather different version that an rather adventurous bartender cooked up for me - and that was called "El Diablo".
And it really wise to be drinking something that means literally, 'the Devil'? Doesn't that technically make it firewater?

Kidny plate. Because the extra 'e' was overbudget, but the kids were still pretty cheap.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Award Makes More Confident

And all your base are belong to us, etc.

Not sure what creeps me out more: the aryan in the vest next to the sign, or the creepy prepubescent boy in underwear on the back window (which I couldn't get in frame, sadly).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The world is funny and all that

This might well become a photography blog - I see enough loopy shit on a daily basis. There's sloppy advertising and then there's Dubai advertising - which often seems like three blind men, a monkey, three random Indians, King Gyananendra and the producers of New York Minute were locked in a cage and the bloody victors allowed to submit the final proposal.

For example:

Taken opposite the Deira Abra station. Nothing special? Look closer at that street sign.


One can almost hear the plaintive first strings of Gustavo Santaolalla's score. Or perhaps I should replace that with the tender musings of one Nancy Ajram. Either way...erm...let's just say it was hard to keep eyes on the road (and Deira is one place you really want to)...

And this is notable not for the spelling mistake, but that the writer took the care to correct it for version 2.0.

And introduce a completely different one. Maybe if I rub it, Robin Williams will pop out...?