Living Space

I helped a friend move yesterday. Which isn’t strictly true – I actually provided transport for a docile feline plus owner and a few assorted fragiles deemed to be too delicate for transportation on top of a bumpy truck.
The space into which the objects were moved was a demonstration of the art of the possible. Quite a small collection of boxes, bags and the paraphernalia with which we all surround ourselves, sat, somewhat forlornly, in a pile in the centre of the main living room which was beamed, with ornate faux antique light fitments. The empty space seemed constricted emotionally, void of content and breath, soulless, if you will, an empty husk from which a previous incarnation had departed. The new owners will over the next weeks fill it with light, joy and space, infusing the walls with their personalities.
I’m conscious of the fact that I myself am occupying the smallest space I have lived in for the last four years. The predominant colours are a dirty mushroom and brown, doubtless chosen to satisfy what the owner believes to be strong, masculine, efficiently unfettered taste. It’s rather like living in a luxurious hotel suite. The hard furniture is black, faux IKEA (if such isn’t a tautology) and functional – my grey display shelving fits in well. I no longer have a cat, but a patchwork cat blanket sits on the floor in renegade challenge to the austerity of the rest, which I have to confess, I quite like. It’s strange. I always thought of myself as minimalist and it really doesn’t get much more minimal, but i think I have to revise definitions a little. White leather furniture with three picture windows overlooking the ocean, bold Rosenborg landscapes on the walls plus a spotless terrace with a single potted palm is more in line with the clean perpendicularity of my mind, so my external view of a wall pockmarked with air conditioning units somehow doesn’t quite cut it, and makes me feel a bit gnomish.

Should I develop antisocial dispositions and a taste for reruns of American series, I hope my friends will have mercy on me and invite me out to get some vitamin D and practise my English.


Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 16.22.40It’s been a while since I have found something interesting enough to rant about. I’m offended and disturbed by recent commentary about executions and I am discovering that I really don’t understand cruelty which is probably quite healthy. This isn’t about the British woman who put a stray cat in a wheelie bin, incomprehensible as it might appear.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as making deeply offensive suggestions at the UN that the US Government was behind 9/11 has highlighted the lack of protest over the execution in the US of a female murderer, which he said contrasts with the “storm” surrounding a woman sentenced to be stoned in Iran. “A woman is being executed in the United States for murder but nobody protests against it,” Ahmadinejad told a group of Islamic figures in the United States last Monday, according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency. He was referring to Teresa Lewis, 41, a woman of diminished mental abilities, who was executed in the state of Virginia on Thursday. Her death plays into the hands of abolitionists who contend that the protocols governing executions are fatally flawed and morally reprehensible. The Supreme Court has ruled against the execution of the mentally impaired under the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Strangely, art mirrors life – I watched a TV movie on a similar theme the other day.
By contrast, Iran has been under international pressure to spare the life of 43-year-old mother sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in 2006. Iran’s judiciary says it has suspended the stoning sentence but she is also guilty of participating in the murder of her husband and that a final decision about her verdict is still pending. Ahmadinejad denounced the “Western media storm” as follows. “Her case is not final yet but Iran is being heavily attacked,” he said. I wonder why. Death by stoning or even the threat of it cannot under any rational circumstances be compared to elimination by lethal injection. Vets do this every day to beloved but terminally sick animals and presumably similarly humane methods are employed to end the lives of those deemed by the State to be unworthy of  their enjoyment of its continuance. Put another way, death by stoning is a sadistic, medieval practice specifically designed to inflict exquisite anguish and suffering. Rubens’s sanitised portrayal of the stoning of Stephen blurs the edges.

It seems the President either fails to understand this or simply dismisses the mental torture which this unfortunate woman suffers daily under the threat of such a terrifying ordeal. The use of torture is embedded in the Iranian mindset – Heaven preserve us all if they ever get their hands on a nuclear device. The Times published an interview in August with journalist and political activist Houshang Asadi, imprisoned with Ayatollah Khameini in the 1980’s whose brutality today surpasses what he himself suffered in prison. The special, undiluted cruelty of ideologues and authoritarian interrogators brutalised by the thumbscrews of Shari’a and the politics of fear must be more than soul and body can bear. I wonder how they can sleep at night.


Incense, Beatus and Bumps

So. The Pope survived the gossip of Algerian street cleaners and worse, the singing of hundreds of Catholic schoolchildren. He reminded the British people of their ‘spiritual heritage’. He offered apologies for the ‘unspeakable crimes’ of paedophile priests, about as effective as saying sorry for breaking a window with a cricket ball, but in spite of his undoubted cachet as a tourist attraction, he is seriously out of synch with the people he leads. A leading British newspaper interviewed a cross-section of various congregations – all of whom said they’d ‘travelled a long way to see the Pope’, much as one might travel to an Eric Clapton concert. One said ‘to be in the presence of the Pope is a dream come true’. Ah. Perhaps they were absent during catechism class.
Over 80% of British Catholics believe that a woman has a right to choose in respect of abortion and it is suicidal folly – given that man is a fallen creature and subject to missing the mark in matters of the sins of the flesh – to persist in teaching that the use of condoms contravenes Catholic teaching. Were it not for the vicarious power of the priesthood, thinking people would have long ago abandoned much of the nonsense that priests berate their flock with. I once went to a Catholic mass – the priest used the occasion to beat people up for not adhering with sufficient vigour to the prohibitions of Lent. I walked out feeling that had I wanted to get beaten up, I could have chosen more congenial surroundings.
Given that B16 is being so anal over a rubber balloon, (no pun intended) it’s beyond his comprehension to even consider the appallingness of a woman in a cassock. Incense and bumps don’t go, and I suspect, never will. One Catholic woman interviewed about the issue said she thought it inconceivable, because the priest is ‘Christ’s representative’ and Christ was a man. The stranglehold of fourth century Machiavellian manipulation on the uneducated and credulous echoes down the centuries. Were I not a believer, I’d want to set fire to all the fallacious non-logic and hocus-pocus that passes for acceptable doctrine.

One of these is Cardinal Newman, the other is a rag and bone man from the East End…[Brits of a particular vintage will know him]

The highlight according to the man himself, was the beatification of the Anglican turned Catholic, Cardinal John Henry Newman – a number of schools are named after him. The media were in a feeding frenzy and actually seemed to be in excitable nodding approval of this remarkable, bizarre event.  Newman was a prolific writer and fine scholar – he wrote ‘The Dream of Gerontius” which I used to sing to Elgar’s beautiful score, but I think he’d be a bit embarrassed that people are going to pray to him on a particular day in October. But, the ‘blessed’? I’m blessed, for Heaven’s sake, and if anybody would like to celebrate my special day with me, mid-January, near my birthday, will do fine. Bring cake.

Which One’s B16?

If you’re keen to diss Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church, you may have to line up and take a number. The queue is quite long already as Brits are lining up in dismayingly large numbers to bash the Papal visit. A reporter in Scotland suggested that the inclemency of Scottish weather might be a reason for a comparatively poor anticipated turnout at the planned open-air Mass. Also, there’s a new book out in Italian that documents five years of global gaffes by the pontiff and his blundering staff, capped in fine style today by Cardinal Kasper’s massive plonker that Britain can be compared to a “Third World” country.
Already, London buses are adorned with adverts supporting women’s ordination and last night, humanists held a Protest the Pope Campaign face-off between human rights activists versus Catholic Voices supporters of the Pope. Right from the start of the debate, there was a lot of hysterical shouting from both sides, but mostly from the unbelievers. For many, the entire boxing match boils down to three issues. First, objections to taxpayer funds being used for the state visit. Some wonder whether in the current economic circumstances we should be spending eighteen million US to provide a state platform for a religious leader who has already criticised our legislation and condemned the way we organise our society. $18m would after all buy a couple of new schools, or a handful of MRI machines. Secondly, continued and entirely justifiable outrage over the sexual abuse crisis and recent news that the pope declined to accept resignations of two bishops in Ireland, and finally protests that the church will not change its teachings to ordain women. Condom use and abortion, widely disregarded even by the faithful, remain thorns in the flesh of the man who was once the head of the descendant organisation to the Inquisition.
Also, JP2 he ain’t. John Paul was a man of the people, this one is a stuffed shirt. Even friends of B16 admit that he’s got an image problem. Where they place the blame for it may differ, but the fact itself seems clear. From a PR point of view, this is a pontificate defined by its train wrecks and animosity towards the Pope has become the new international bear-baiting. He’s like a teacher whose classroom is empty because his school is burning down. I have no love for the bolted-on absurdities of Catholic doctrine – as most people who read this will know – but grieve for the believers within the fold of Rome whose collective reputation has been so tarnished with the brushes of scandal and frankly arrogant nonsense that is often taught as Gospel from its pulpits. The work of the kingdom is poorly served by such as this.

Babies Drowning

The story is told of two men walking along a riverbank. One of them happened to glance at something floating in the river. He was horrified to see that that it was a baby! Without hesitation he jumped into the river to save the infant from drowning. When he jumped in he realised that there were many more in his immediate vicinity, all of them screaming and crying as they bobbed by. 

He began shouting to the other man. “Help! C’mon man! Get in here! Look at all of these babies! We gotta help ’em!” The other man however, kept walking upstream, despite the river full of babies, with more and more floating downstream. 
For every one that the first man saved, seven more passed him. There were too many. “C’mon man! Don’t you have a heart? I can’t save all of these babies by myself!” 
The second man replied, “I’m going upstream to find out who’s throwing these babies into the river.” 

This cautionary tale demonstrate the importance of going to the source of the problem to have a greater impact. Many people address society’s social ailments as separate entities. Thus we find numerous organisations that target a specific social evil – the solution to racism, spouse abuse, child abuse, crime, pollution, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and all the rest.

From an Islamic educational website.

Apart from the obvious, what? If not me, who? If not now, when? 

In Praise of mediocrity

I hesitate to write about this. After all, who wants to be a spokesperson for mediocrity?  It is a much better career move to write something about the Search for Excellence.  What about a new bestseller  In Search of Mediocrity?
By mediocrity I mean the stuff that clusters nearer the middle, the mean, the median—in the centre of the bell curve. Mediocrity is ordinary.  Neglecting for a moment, their mathematical differences, mediocrity is the average, the median, the ordinary churches, music, talent and intelligence.  In short, here’s a word of encouragement,  me and almost everybody around me.
We all hate to be thought of as ‘average’.  We’d all – secretly, perhaps – like to be great, to stand out, live in the penthouse that looks out (and down) on the ordinary grunts.  But most of us aren’t destined for the penthouse. We are sort of OK,  or “pretty good considering” or even almost excellent at one or two things, but we’re not great.   Many of us aren’t even average – we’re below the mean in almost anything we do from sports to playing the guitar to writing.
Our culture has persuaded us to imagine ourselves at the top edge of the bell curve – on the tiny tail of greatness. We were brought up that way by affirming parents. Most consider anything below an A or a B as failure. We’ve been taught to assume that outstandingness deserves nothing less than outstanding grades.  It is what educators call an “A entitlement” which means if we simply turn up and do our best we should get an A grade.
I read the other day that someone tested this concept out in a class of students. Slips of paper were handed out asking each member of the class to rate their work as a percentage so far in the class compared to the rest of the students.  Participation was anonymous; they folded the slip and handed it in. Results analysis revealed that 80% of the students considered themselves to be in the top 10% of the class and only a single student rated themselves average and nobody believed their work was below average.  H’m.
Greatness, brilliance, intelligence are usually distributed more like the “normal distribution” of the bell curve.  Only a few percentage points are on the outstanding tail—most of the rest of us are in the fatty bulge of ordinary people, in the middle or “mediocre.”  Our culture has defined ordinary, average or mediocre as tantamount to failure.
So, let the mediocre, penguins huddling in the middle, ordinary people whose habitation is in the centre of the distribution chart, who don’t work on television, run countries, or manage giant, multibillion dollar corporations, with property ownership and ready cash to match, applaud their mediocrity today.

I should be able to create a dynamic spreadsheet to model the curve. I’m gonna try.

Light Entertainment


The Ministry of Information has brought legal charges against three privately owned TV channels not a million miles from here for violating the “audio-visual law” by airing material without licenses to broadcast it. According to a ministry insider, a particular TV channel is expected to be investigated by the General Prosecution after it aired a soap opera without first obtaining permission from the ministry, which is given only after the material is viewed by the censorship department and approved for transmission. Another channel faces charges of defamation, meanwhile, after broadcasting a satirical program parodying members of the cabinet and the parliament, which apparently led to a number of complaints. Whatever would they have done to the creators of ‘Spitting Image” and what might happen if someone did this to a member of this royal family? A third station facing legal action is has been accused of broadcasting offensive material in its cartoon show, ( oh, please…)with a number of Moroccan viewers complaining about its offensive portrayal of Moroccan women, A rather more local cartoon, were it to satirise anatomy, would be instantly pulled perhaps because it defames hippopotami.
A large number of UAE citizens, including actors and artists, have reportedly protested at a program broadcast by a privately-owned channel. The Emirati viewers protested that one of the channel’s soap operas had insulted their nation through its negative portrayals of Emirati characters.

Get a life. More importantly, buy a sense of humour, since there does seem to be some genetic inability to acquire one. 
Their objections were reported in an article in ‘UAE Today,’ one of the country’s leading Arabic dailies, which stated that a ‘large number’ of people had expressed outrage at the show’s ‘negative depiction’ of a fraudulent Emirati couple who, in one episode of the show, tricked an Egyptian hotel guest into vacating his room in order to occupy it themselves. This seems nothing more than enterprising.
There have been calls by actors and artists in the UAE to boycott the channel and to ban those involved with it from working in Emirati TV. Ooh. The complainants reportedly pointed out that this was not the first time that a Kuwaiti TV show had broadcast offensive portrayals of Emiratis.
What a surprise. We hate the French. Also the Welsh and the Scots. Don’t you just love it here?

Saturday Night at the Movies

I’m unashamedly optimistic when I watch films. I’m so hoping that the ten bucks I would have paid had I seen it at the cinema could not have been spent better at the time. It was lots of fun to have friends round to watch the 89% rated “Galaxy Quest” on a Heath Robinson screen. 
Everybody was laughing – sometimes to the point of near-hysteria, but, poor old moi. I just didn’t get it. But, I didn’t get “Robin Hood, Men in Tights’ either. The movie seemed to need time to develop before going in front of the cameras and the anatomical and consequent digestive improbabilities of the monsters left ragged holes in my concentration. How does a fully articulated alien made from large stones actually eat? It wanted very badly to lampoon the enduring popularity of “Star Trek” – as well as the often apologetically sorry post-Trek careers of most of the series’ stars – and every so often it popped a well-crafted bullseye. More or less. The screenplay seemed to offer safety and blandness over satire and left me with something that was watchable but frustrating since the unexplored potential was so obvious. If  Sigourney Weaver was in your sci-fi comedy, wouldn’t you slip a couple of “Alien” gags in? If screenplay writers Howard and Gordon ever came up with any, they didn’t make it to the final cut, leaving a blonde (ergh) Weaver with little to do except run around in a cleavage-revealing spacesuit. Her comedic skill such as seen in “Ghostbusters” and “Working Girl,” get considerably less exposure than her chest. Nor does “Quest” get much mileage out of Tim Allen. Wake up, people. You’ve got the voice of Buzz Lightyear on board and you can’t even rustle up a little “Toy Story” parody? Alec Baldwin was supposed to get the part – he might have brought a slightly more camp feel to the role.
Nevertheless, a lighthearted, if vacuous way to spend a Saturday night, although the group dynamic was interesting – two couples plus one. The post-movie conversation was stimulating and if the pizza was, like the movie, a little crisp around the edges, the cheesecake was delightful.

Good Night and Good Luck

Good Night and Good Luck should have won an Oscar a few years ago for David Strathairn’s powerfully controlled portrayal of Ed Murrow, the reporter who stood up to McCarthy. It was nominated for six. In the 1950’s the bogeyman was Communism. Today, it’s Islam and an insignificant little pastor in Florida is proposing to burn copies of the Qu’ran, presumably believing that the First Amendment offers him protection under the law.

I am not sure that it does, but I don’t suppose he cares very much.

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ In other words, Islam, along with worship of trees is permitted under the Constitution, but Congress offers no protection to those whose actions can be attributed to cause a breach of the peace. The prevailing media mood is one where it seeks to marginalise, distance itself and ridicule this man – who, it is clear – lacks, shall we say, political judgement. I wonder if this will be enough. The president has gone on record as saying that this destructive act will act as a ‘recruitment bonanza for Al-Qaeda’, which may be perfectly true, but it fails to address the morality of the bookburning.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s leader, has written to Mr Obama asking him to personally intervene to stop irreparable damage to relations between the West and Muslims “threatening world peace”. He wrote that Indonesia and the US are building or bridging relations between the Western world and Islam. If the Koran burning occurs, then those efforts “will be useless,” said Teuku Faizasyah, the Indonesian leader’s spokesman.
The president is under pressure at home not to be seen to give in to the Muslims which puts him squarely between a rock and a hard place. If the FBI arrests Pastor Jones, civil liberties organisations will howl for Obama’s blood. If he doesn’t,  Gen Petraeus’ grim prediction that US lives will be lost in consequence may well be proven correct. 
The demonstrations are beginning. In  the central Pakistani city of Multan, the protesters’ invariable “Down with America.” seemed to be the mantra du jour.
“If Koran is burned, it would be beginning of destruction of America,” read one English-language banner held up by the protesters. Promethean hubris, perhaps, but abroad, the US shooting itself in the foot would be received jubilantly in the markets of Karachi.

“This is a plan by Zionists to put the entire world into trouble, so it should be foiled,” said Tari Naeemullah, the head of the Joint Civic Front, a coalition of non-governmental organisations in Multan.

The First War began with a comparatively small spark. Let’s hope that reason prevails and Terry Jones himself will simply use the threat rather than the action to make his point and torching the books just because he can is not seen as sufficient justification. Good night, Mr Obama, and good luck.. seems that Jones has ‘backed down’ and will no longer burn the books, as long as the Ground Zero Mosque is relocated. An apparent promise that this would happen, extracted from the Floridian imam Muhammad Musri,  was contradicted by the imam in charge of the NYC project Feisal Abdul Aruf and the saga will run on at least until tomorrow. I wonder if that was the pastor’s real agenda in the first place. The images are of street art after 9/11.

The Importance of Swimwear

Certain persons have felt it necessary to make remarks about my space management. Most of them have a certain vague ring of truth. I am, however quite distraught. In order to save weight on the aircraft, many of my possessions have been left elsewhere, including my Ralph Lauren swimming trunks, of which I was quite fond. I have therefore had to replace them, since I can hardly be expected to present myself at my fishtank of a swimming pool clad only in white Calvins. Al-Kout came to the rescue. Partially. I squirmed with indecision in the Ralph Lauren shop but eventually resisted buying a replacement pair there on the grounds that twenty seven dinars seemed too high a price to pay for poolside sartorial elegance, even for me. Instead, I went elsewhere, an inferior establishment, its only merit being that I could have had three pairs for the price of one there. My new ones do not have an efficient, masculine drawstring. Instead, a piece of Velcro plus a shoelace. The dangers are obvious. The fastener cannot be properly closed without extensive and microscopic fiddling with the two halves of the Velcro and the shoelace keeps getting caught as one tries to attach them. Nonetheless, I think the flowers are rather jolly.