May 30, 2011

Arabs' Got Prostitution!

Before I get into this, I want to ask you to do something: after you've clicked the "follow" link (please!), there is something else.  Share this post on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else, with your female friends.  That's right, just the ladies.  Especially Arab ladies.  The share buttons are at the bottom of the post, next to the "comments" link (please feel free to do that too).  But really, share with the ladies you know; I will explain why.

So let me begin: like the piece about internet polls, this one was inspired by a discussion on a forum.  I just want to make clear at this stage that it is a pretty dark subject, and that many of my dear friends and brothers will be shifting uncomfortably in their seats when they read it.  Not all of course, but a lot.  This is why I want you to share it with women only - I don't want any one individual to feel a finger is pointed at him.  But I do want to get this subject discussed, and questions asked by women about the men in their lives, so that men can ask some questions of themselves rather than rush into a knee-jerk denial.

For anyone who spends time in one of the GCC countries - there are others, but the GCC is where I have spent most of my adult life - this question is going to come up.  Brothers.  Men.  Muslims. Arab dudes.  What IS IT with you and prostitutes?

In most non-Arab countries, if a man told his friends that he paid to be serviced by a trafficked sex worker, they would be horrified. "Chinese takeaways" in Dubai are not something that most people think of as recreation in other countries.  For most people I've known in various countries of the world, it would be a terrible shame to be known to have "bought" sex.  So why is it so common in the GCC?  And it is.  Maybe this sounds like a stereotype, but ask yourself honestly: if your friend, cousin or whoever is going on a trip to Morocco, Lebanon, Thailand, or just a weekend in Dubai with the "guys", what are you thinking? Yeah, and you're almost certainly right.  Maybe that's why you try not to think about it, but you should.  Ever seen a group of SUVs full of camping equipment in the long term parking at the airport?  I have!  Why?  Because the guys told their wives they were going on a five day desert trip.  They are actually now on final approach to Bangkok, and will be holding a packet of Viagra (genuine or otherwise) in one hand, and a teenaged (genuine or otherwise) prostitute in the other, before the sun sets, and long after.

In the GCC, even "decent" men seem to think it's a rite of passage, or somehow amusing, to have sexual "adventures" with prostitutes.  I mean ordinary men.  Average, normal men.  Husbands, fathers, even those  who pray on time and fast devoutly.  Men who have never touched alcohol in their lives even.  People I call friends.  Many, many of my friends - and I don't mean the small minority who like to go the bar at the weekend.  I mean the majority for whom a strong coffee is their biggest intoxicant.  That's what bothers me, and should bother you.  I'm talking about your husband, your brother, your father, your son.  The guy sitting next to you.  Because over many years I've learned that for a large proportion of khaleeji men, using prostitutes is just one of those "naughty" things you don't tell your wife about; no worse than telling dirty jokes, breaking wind in front of your friends, or smoking a sneaky sheesha.

But this isn't a minor indiscretion.  There are some obvious reasons why women need to worry about this.  One of them is HIV.  In every GCC country, foreigners are required to submit to an HIV test when renewing their labour or residence permits.  There is an ethical issues about this - in other countries, no-one can compel you to test, and if you choose to have a test, counselling is available before and after.  But more than that,  it seems to be a bit of a waste of time when nationals are not compelled to have tests, nor inclined to do so of their own choice. Not to mention the fact that some foreigners also manage to pay a 'fee' not to have the test. And short term visitors aren't tested anyway.

I used to live in Saudi Arabia, where the official AIDS statistic among nationals at the time was under 500. Yet the editor of a daily newspaper there told me in confidence that he had personally visited two AIDS clinics there in Jedda where each had over 1000 patients with full blown AIDS. If you extrapolate that across the country, and then add the fact that in a HIV epidemic, AIDS sufferers are initially a very small number compared to virus carriers (it can lay dormant for up to 15 years), the problem must be very big.  That was ten years ago.  I suspect the problem in Oman is similar.

My Saudi friend gave a reason for the problem: foreigners were tested, and also tended to be more aware of sexual matters like using condoms to prevent disease (even uneducated labourers). Yet many of his compatriots never used a condom.  His junior Saudi staff on the paper earned around OR 150/month (this is around ten years ago). They would travel every Summer with their small savings to Beirut, Dubai or Morocco. There they would stay in the cheapest hotels, drink the cheapest liquor, and go with the cheapest girls (usually sharing one between them). He thought this was a common phenomenon among single (and some married) men. Nobody ever advised them on sexual health at school or through public information campaigns, and of course they would never think of having a test. 

The big shock would come when they married: they would give the virus to their wife, which would not normally be discovered until she was pregnant, at which point there is a 60% chance that she will transmit the virus to the baby too.  I don't know how many Omani men use prostitutes as a percentage. But I do know from a doctor who ran the blood lab, that one well-known hospital in the Muscat area receives dozens of cases a week of young women with the HIV virus, mystified as to how they got it: they married as virgins and assumed their husbands had done the same.

But it's not just a matter of personal health.  As human beings, we should wonder how a typical prostitute ends up that way, and I have a story to share.  During my life I have done many terrible, sinful things.  Pretty much everything you can think of short of murder, and several things you can't.  Despite that, and for many reasons, I've never had sex with a prostitute.  However, In late 2003 (if I remember rightly), at an apartment in Dubai, I spent all night talking to one.  A girl in her early twenties from a provincial Russian city.  Her name wasn't "Natasha" (the generic name given by some to Russian prostitutes in the Gulf), but let's call her that anyway.  This came about during a truly bizarre evening (in my mind at least).  Perhaps that bizarre thing is that for others it was so ordinary.

I had been with a close friend (innocent party I hasten to add!), at an event in Dubai and we were supposed to be flying back to Muscat.  At the last minute, I had a call from another friend, "P" who had been our host, who invited me to stay on for the night, and offered to put me up at a the apartment of another friend of his, "E".  I didn't know "E", but had no other plans and agreed to stay and drive back with "P" in the morning.  But on arrival at "E"'s apartment, where I expected to find "E", "P" and another man I didn't know "C", I also found four prostitutes. Two Chinese, one Kazakh, and a Russian.  The "Natasha" was for me.

As P, E and C retired to various rooms with their entertainment, I found myself sitting with a nervous young woman in the living room.  For the next seven or eight hours, we talked.  First off, I told her nothing was going to happen.  She was worried.  I said she could tell the Kazakh (who appeared to be her boss) whatever she needed to in the morning, but this was a night off: she could sleep, drink, watch TV or do what she liked.  But I didn't do prostitution.  With that done, after a long uncomfortable silence, in broken English, and eventually through some tears, I got the story:

Natasha had grown up in Stavropol in a comfortable middle class family by local standards.  Her father had a decent job and supported his family with reasonable ease.  Natasha had graduated from veterinary college and was looking for a job.  But none were to be found.  She was well aware, from information campaigns and  TV documentaries, of the risks to women who traveled abroad to work in unfamiliar places.  But after two years of unemployment, being reasonably strong in English and aware of the dangers, she looked into it: there was an office in the city offering jobs in the UAE, which surely would have been closed down by now had there been problems with it.  And anyway, such things couldn't happen to a smart, independent, educated girl.  Out of self respect, she needed to earn her own living.  So she would try a three month contract working in a shop in Dubai.

There was a weekly direct flight to Sharjah (not the most obvious economic connection, really), and once she'd signed up at the recruitment office, she was on her way within days.  On arrival, she was met by another Russian lady - a Chechen - at the airport, who took her passport to put her visa in, and drove her to her new apartment - a modern, pleasant place that she would share with five other girls.  And then the thunderbolt hit.  "What time do we go to the shop in the morning?" she asked the Chechen lady.  The devastating reply was simple enough: "Shop?  What shop?  Don't be ridiculous girl, you're a prostitute."  Natasha wasn't a prostitute, said so, and demanded to be taken back to the airport.  Then came the game-changer: "Sure, if you didn't know then you can go home.  Just call your father and get him to go to the Western Union office.  We need your flight, registration and visa fees, your advance rent, your lost earnings and our administrative charge, plus the money to get you another ticket back.  It will be $14,000.  Do that and you can go."

Natasha knew her father didn't have that kind of money.  Maybe he could get it, from loan sharks or whoever.  And if he knew her situation, he certainly would.  But there was a choice to make: put her father in debt to gangsters, or survive the next three months.  She didn't want to make the choice.  She begged and cried and shouted in the apartment.  "Shut up, calm down.  It is what it is, but you'll get used to it."  That was the advice from the other girls.  And after three days, she went with the first man.  And that was that.  She became what the Chechen woman told her she was.  Every week she called home and told her family things were OK.  At the same time, she tried to dissuade her younger sister who was thinking of joining her, telling her it was difficult and not fun, but trying not to give anything away.

The tragedy is unimaginable.  And it gets worse.  I said that at least, after all she'd been through, the end was near.  Her three months were up in just a few days and she was due to go home.  The ticket was bought.  Whatever hideous experience she had had, it was almost over.  She could go home and start again.  I asked what she thought she might do, and I was shocked:  she said she would probably come back.  "I am a bad person now.  I have done horrible things with all these people.  I am worth nothing.  I am what she said I am".  In a few short words, the tale of a human psyche destroyed in detail.  By the time early morning came (and "P", mercifully, woke early and wanted to get going), Natasha had her dead-eyed expression reassembled for the day ahead.  The veterinary student from Stavropol was gone again.

That, at least most of the time, is how a normal woman becomes a prostitute.  The prostitute with whom our friends and brothers have their adventures.  The subject of the knowing glances, the winks, the laughter as we sit together over coffee at some later date.  And that's why I don't think it's so funny.

On a side note, yes I do single out Dubai as it seems to be such a central and openly-tolerated part of the economic model there.  It's a reason I rarely go there and feel no admiration for its economic "achievements".  Dubai is by no means alone, but it's the people-trafficking and prostitution capital of the Gulf and seems to revel in the fact.  Clean your house, really, before you brag about how big it is.

Back to the point, and apart from the health issues, and the victims of prostitution directly, I think there is another issue worth mentioning.  How does having sex with numerous different women for money, affect a man's general view of women?  There is another sad thing, I believe, about the prostitution culture among khaleeji men.  Any woman who he gets his hands on outside of marriage, can immediately be given the same status as those exploited sex workers. A "whore is a whore". Someone even asked me about an Omani businesswoman I know recently: "Oh, Z? She's a prostitute right?" He actually used that word in English. What he meant was that he'd heard she had a boyfriend.  She was in some kind of relationship with a man, and he drew no distinction between her, his co-religionist and compatriot, and a sex worker.  What's more, it was clear what he meant by the analogy - it was two things: one one level "what a low, worthless woman", and on another level "do you think I can get a turn?".  Such is the common duplicity of male culture around here.

There are plenty of men (and not just young boys) who put great effort into "romancing" girls and women from their own country, to the point that can get some pleasure. At which point they start thinking of them as "whores".  Actually, sometimes that even becomes self-fulfilling.  Having successfully compromised the girl's moral integrity, she is a different person in their eyes.  When the girl realises they no longer want to marry her (if they ever did), and dumps them, they turn on her: share any information, even pictures, personal details, and pass the word around.  They might blackmail her to keep seeing them, have sex with them if she hasn't gone that far before.  Some will even recommend her to their friends as (how disgusting is this expression) "open".

This is a pretty difficult subject to talk about, but let's talk some home truths: in the culture of many men in this region, there are two kinds of women - wives and whores. Wives are virgins who never spoke to a man, women who know men (to whatever degree) are whores, and whores are all the same, there to be played with.  And as someone pointed out in the forum discussion that inspired this, it's not just men: perhaps it will be surprising to some how much this equivalence is also perpetuated by women.  In the mean time, men are just men: girls are just expected to follow the "don't ask, don't tell" principle.  Whether they tell or not is up to them.  But I'd suggest you ask.

I love my Omani and other khaleeji friends, my brothers.  But there are certain attitudes that disgust me.  Don't be offended: as they say, your friend is the one who tells you the truth, not the one who believes you.  And the truth is that a lot of you have a really nasty habit of fucking prostitutes.  Think about it.

P.S.  I hope no individual will think I'm accusing him, but even most of those who are innocent probably know this is true.  So share this with some women as they are the only ones who won't be insulted you showed it to them.  The button's just down there.

Ladies! Calm DOWN!

I appreciate that the tone of the inaugural The Linoleum Surfer offering has ruffled some feathers (no, no, I didn't mean I'm calling you "birds", it's a turn of phrase alright?)  In a cheap, tabloid effort to attract an attention to an important point, I used sexist terminology and some hoary old lines about men and women, to draw the proletarian masses into the piece in the first place.  This is a blog, not a policy statement.  It's entertainment, sometimes with a serious point, sometimes not.  But maybe I've mixed up the two a little too much for some tastes in that post.  I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.

The point of the piece "The Sexist Surfer, and a Woman's Right to be a Stereotype" was meant to be in favour of a woman's right to choose.  I thought it was clear from the later paragraphs that I was never suggesting that women should not work, or be denied the right to.  I just think that a woman who has, and makes her own choice to prioritise a more traditional gender role, should be free to do so without the mockery of other women.  For a woman to choose to work is a right.  A woman has a right to be educated (whatever her future plans).  Equal opportunity, equal pay, and equal choice.  That's what I'd expect for my own daughters, and what I insist they expect for themselves.

In any case, it is often an economic necessity for both partners in a relationship to have jobs.  That is self-fulfilling in a way as I mentioned - if most families are dual income, dual income quickly becomes the economic baseline.  That's just a reality, not a suggestion on my part that women should give up their jobs to help men and reduce inflation!  That would be stupid, which again I said in the article.  Some people seem to have got past the first couple of lines and decided they were going to be annoyed regardless.  Please don't; I am far from being a misogynist.

Thanks for all the comments though:  the points about under-valuing the work of someone who keeps house and raises children (their own or someone else's), are really important.  Several people have also pointed out that very few men feel able to take that role either.  Fair point.  But in my limited experience (I've only known one or two) of the men who did decide to be full time parents, they seem to be better received almost because the role is less common: sure, their male friends joke about them chatting up the single mothers in the park.  But there is also a kind of admiration, a curiosity certainly, and an appreciation of someone daring to take the path less trodden.  My issue is that often, if an intelligent woman makes the same choice, it is other women who sneer at her.

I admire women (like the mother of my own children) who can manage to be all things at once - highly educated, professionally accomplished and attentive and responsible parents too.  In this day and age it is probably an economic luxury in most households anyway for one partner never to have a job.  But basically, I'm just saying that everyone should have their choices - men or women - and if they are fortunate enough to have this particular choice, not be judged for taking their own way.  If some felt that undermined the position of most modern women who somehow have to balance everything - often without an equal contribution from the men - it was not my intention.

That post annoyed some of you (and I have to say, delighted others, I just wish they'd commented too!).  But I hope we're a bit clearer, and I'll even it up: the next one will probably be disturbing on another level, but men are definitely the villains of the piece, and it disgusts me as much as it will you.  So watch this space.

And don't get your knickers in a twist, love.


May 29, 2011

My New Favourite Blog: Sabria's "Out of the Box"

I came across this by chance earlier after being asked to look at another blog from Saudi Arabia.  And it's straight on my "follow" list.  As well as having some of the most interesting subjects and insightful opinions, this is probably the best writing I've seen out of Saudi Arabia, or anywhere, in a long time.

Take a read of Sabria S Jawhar.  Respect.


May 28, 2011

Everybody Loves Bombs! According to a Poll...

I've just lifted this from a forum as it's very relevant to a post here last week.  

The justifications for trying to bomb Libya to democracy have had a boost in the last few days, with numerous news sites carrying a poll carried out by a an American research organisation called Ipsos.  The poll was produced on behalf of the respected news giant Reuters.  Although the headline from the researchers themselves was "mixed support" in NATO countries, many news media highlighted what appeared to be some very high levels of support in certain other countries of the world, for the war against the Libyan Government.  Here's a summary of the findings, quoted from the Ipsos site (my underlining):

"The study, which was conducted after a UN resolution approved a “no-fly zone” and NATO nations began bombing missions against Colonel Gaddafi, the current ruler of Libya, indicates that citizens from South Africa (83%) are most likely to support the action, followed then by those from Belgium (78%), Australia (77%), India (75%), France (72%), Sweden (71%), Canada (70%), Brazil (68%), Japan (68%), Spain (64%), South Korea (63%), Poland (62%), the United States (61%), Germany (59%), Great Britain (58%), Hungary (54%), Mexico (53%), and Italy (52%).

Those countries least likely to support the mission are: Russia (23%), Turkey (35%), Argentina (38%), Indonesia (46%) and a completely split Saudi Arabia (50%)."

Interesting stuff.  But I have a problem with it, for two reasons:

My first concern is the idea that what "most people think" is that same as what is right.  Yes, you could argue that it's the cornerstone of democracy, but that is basically true only in principle: every day governments that are democratically elected, make decisions they know people do not want, because they have a mandate to decide.  Democracies like the US or UK are not based on the people deciding.  They are based on the people's deciding who should decide.  And the people then complain about them until they can change them.  

Even that's a risky business - after all, George W Bush won the popular vote. Twice. So did Hitler for that matter.  As another instance, up to 2% of the electorate in some western countries protested about the war in Iraq in 2003 - about the same percentage as took to the streets in Cairo this year. Nobody listened.  Then in the UK for example, 80% of people voted shortly afterwards for one of the parties that had supported it. And  yet polls now show most people think the war was a bad idea. 

So "the people" can't make up their minds can they?  Either way the point is that the media articles around this poll (not the poll itself, to be fair), try to make a political case that the war on Libya is good, because most people say so.  I am not sure that's intellectually sound as any kind of argument.

But let's assume it is - that the majority opinion is paramount on any given subject, and the outcome of this poll is therefore very important.  My other worry is then: How accurate is this poll?  Does it really represent the percentages it claims?  Not every person in the world can be asked the question, but who is asked and how, are important.  So I had a read of the whole press release from Ipsos, and was a bit shocked to say the least at the differences in the impression gained from looking at all the facts, and from just looking at the reported summary above.  To begin with, look at the question asked in the poll:

"As you may know, a number of countries who are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (“NATO”), including the United States, France, Great Britain, Canada and Germany, undertook, with the support of the Arab League, to enforce a United Nations Resolution and intervene, militarily, in Libya. Based on what you have seen, read or heard, do you support very much, support somewhat, oppose somewhat or oppose very much, this intervention?"

The question asked in this poll is factually incorrect.  It was asked during two weeks in April. That was after Germany had pulled out (ten days into the bombing). They pulled out because the "no fly zone" had become a war - on the side of some Libyans against other Libyans. So Germany is not supporting military action, let alone participating, and neither are the four Arab countries who initially pledged to enforce a "no fly zone" - presumably for the same reason.  Canada aren't involved in the intervention either. And the Arab League wasn't "supporting intervention" at the time of this poll: it was calling for a ceasefire. Well, at least they got "Libya" right in the question - not a lot else.

But more importantly, the sample size for most of these countries is pathetic: they cite important countries like South Africa (an important African ally), Saudi Arabia and Turkey, based on only "a minimum of five hundred...maximum of one thousand" clicks on their site from that country. That's hardly a "survey". Around 18,500 people covering 23 countries.  One thousand in India - that's one person for every million.

Considering too that only 6% of adults in India have internet access at all, even Saudi Arabia only 29% and that this question was available for just fifteen days on a single news site, the methodology is ridiculous.  There was no way of ensuring a balanced, representative demographic because the survey was passive; who ever wanted to be in it was counted.  Or whoever could.  It was therefore limited to a tiny sample from an economic elite.  Another thing - it took three weeks to publish the results, i.e. some of these alleged opinions were collected over a month ago.  Hardly "news", then.

Finally, perhaps the most spectacular distortion of this "survey": not only was it limited to people who chose to visit Ipsos's "Reuters poll" page, but it was also only available in English.  What the hell kind of international survey limits its results to the educated, internet-savvy, western-news-reading, and bilingual?

So 83% of mostly wealthy, inevitably white South Africans out of the five hundred who were reading about Libya online in English at Reuters, who decided that they wanted to click the link and vote on a poll...didn't like Qadhafi a month ago.  Is that really worth talking about?  Or that out of a similar number of English speaking Saudis who read their news on Reuters and thought they'd vote in a poll, they were evenly split? And a few hundred English speaking Turks who read their news in English on Reuters etc...they mostly don't like it?  And this is assuming too that the country locations recorded by the site are always correct - and that the respondents are nationals of those countries rather than expatriates or visitors; impossible to know.

All in all this is a tiny, culturally and economically specific sample, made to look like the voice of whole countries. It is the headline in a thousand news stories around the world, based on a few mouse clicks in a coffee break.  Whatever you or I think of the war in Libya, there is a serious issue here.  As more and more people rely on the internet for information, and more companies (even respected ones) use the internet as an easy way to carry out research, the risks are increasing.  Reading the first few lines of this post you might well have had the impression that millions of South Africans are cheering for the bombs to rain on Tripoli.  And yet if you dig through the facts - that the newspapers don't repeat - you find a meaningless bit of web-clicking by a few hundred people at most, on the condition that they preferred to get their news online, in English, at Reuters, and felt like expressing an opinion in this instance.  Regardless of the sample size, that simply could not have been a representative and diverse group of South Africans, Saudis, Turks or Indians.  Or anyone.

Mark Twain wrote a quote that he attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."  Perhaps there is a fourth kind now: internet-based polls.  Or worse, internet polls repeated selectively by newspapers.

May 27, 2011

Democracy Update!

Mimi is probably Oman's bravest blogger, talking about social problems and her own experiences.  Mimi's blog today has some thoughts on the forthcoming Shura elections in Oman:  How does a new voter know who to vote for, and even how to register?  There are four months to go, which isn't long when you think that many people will take a holiday in July and then be busy with Ramadhan life throughout August (good time for political campaigning I would have thought!)

Anyway, it's important to talk about this stuff - and I have been here.  Find out how to use your votes, and think carefully about who you give them to:  that person could be making new laws from October or even be a minister, so make sure you know that they want what you want!  Your vote is precious!

Update: Lady Brenda's Birthday

For those who have been following this saga closely, the latest news:  the Viscount Bothends has yet to find anything amusing in this blog.

For those who haven't, it's like this:  My good friend the Viscount Bothends has been most uncomplimentary about this, your favourite web log.  He has also asked for my suggestions for a gift to mark the seventieth birthday of his dear mother, the Lady Brenda.  Now, I have made about ten suggestions so far (see previous posts).  All of them as inappropriate as his failure to show some love for The Linoleum Surfer.

In light of his continued intransigence, I have no choice but to make further recommendations in the same vein, and will continue to do so until he says something nice, right here.

So, for Lady Brenda's seventieth birthday I give you:

a)  Superglue

b)  An ostrich

c)  These*:

You brought this upon yourself, Bothends.  I implore you, bring an end to this madness.

*Picture copyright of, 2011

Arabs: Rude, Violent, Suicidal, Murderous!

Calm down, it's not what you think.  OK, it's a bit what you think, just not the what you think that you're thinking.  Yeah.  So just bear with me, I'll get back to the title in a minute.  By the way, if you don't like this piece, blame Abu Hamed.  He made me.  Thanks.

I heard a quote many years ago from an Iraqi friend, by some prominent Israeli; it was along the lines that Israel need never fear the Arabs as long as they didn't read books or stand in queues.  I'm paraphrasing, but that's the way I heard it.  Anyway, he or she forgot one important addition:  "Or as long as they don't know how to drive a car".  There, I said it.

Right here in Oman, there's some crazy statistic of the highest per capita rate of fatal road accidents in the world.  And it's not just Oman:  The UAE, Saudi Arabia...even cosmopolitan Lebanon (mind you, they did learn from the French...).  I have spent half my life in this part of the world, living in or visiting at least a dozen Arab countries.  And they all have one thing in common:  Nobody can drive.

The thing about driving is everyone thinks they're good at it.  I, for example, am an outstandingly good driver.  Except for using my phone while trying to open my chewing gum and changing lane at the same time, maybe (and you can see my views on "multi-tasking" in a previous post; yes, I fanny about a bit while driving).  But amazingly, during ten years on and off in Oman, I've never had a car accident - right here in the most dangerous driving environment on earth.  But why is it that the people of this country can't move along a road without crashing into each other?  After all, Omanis in particular pride themselves on being polite, peaceful individuals.  So how is it that as soon as a steering wheel is put between their carefully manicured fingertips, they become all the things listed in the title above (there, I told you I'd get to it).

Something, somehow, makes people want to kill and maim themselves and others.  All sense or order, respect, tolerance and mercy is entirely lost.  Every dark hollow of the inner psyche is opened to the light and poured onto the accelerator pedal.  Not even just the young boys that you see in other countries.  No, on these roads, even grandad is a boy racer.  Tailgate, beep your horn and flash your lights in fury even though the car in front has nowhere else to go; overtake wildly on the wrong side, cause massive articulated trucks with 1970s tires to slam on the brakes as you dive across three lanes for an exit.  Weave around in the lane and across the lanes...brake, accelerate, brake again...why haven't you worked out that there is a third option of just taking your foot off the gas?

There are some psycho women out there as well, doing all of the above while SMS'ing Marwa to see if she's at the salon yet and trying to adjust the stereo with three inch long fingernails.  Most women, on the other hand - well, women and Indians - are reduced to a state of cowering indecision: To change lane, or not?  To enter the highway or just stop in terror on the slip road, hoping that you can somehow inch yourself into the mayhem without being destroyed...yeah, driving at 20kph into highway traffic doing 120kph is much safer....habla!

And it's not just the highway...driving along the wrong side of the road in any built up area seems fine: just play "chicken" with whoever's coming the other way; normal traffic rules (such as they are) only apply on roads with six lanes and cameras.  The rest of the time, just take that blind corner on the wrong side, plough through the playing children, splash water or dust on pedestrians with abandon, and generally act like you're Mad Max and the collapse of civilisation has long been and gone.  Oh, and don't forget the car park:  Walking more than ten metres to the mall is for assholes and Indians.  Just park right outside...for an hour if you want...until you can get a space on the first row.  As soon as anyone leaves, hit that pedal like your sandal's on fire boy!  Lurch across in front of that other guy and get that space!  Front first, at a bit of an angle...take up two spaces if you can.  Because you park like a blind old woman.  Yes you do.

Or why not take the cream?  Use the disabled space you jerk.  Because you're only going in for a couple of minutes right?  And the disabled guy who's just pulled up to find you parked there is psychic?  He knows you only went to get some Baskin Robbins for your fat face and will be back in a he should just wait, right?  (By the way, I really want to see a guerilla campaign start along these lines:  If you see a car parked in the disabled space with no disabled sticker, don't call the police - they might be too late.  Let the selfish bastard's tires down.  Go on, do it!)

It's unfair to paint all Arab nations as being the same though when they all have a special individual culture: Saudi Arabia has a real thing with red lights, for example: you know those moments when you are kind of speeding a little, racing to get through the lights before they change?  You reach that point of no return just as the light is hanging on amber, and it hits red as you drive through?  You just made it?  Yeah right.  In the Magic Kingdom there are five cars after you.  And one of them has a goat in the passenger seat.  Lebanon?  Lights are for decoration.  Morocco?  They don't turn on their headlights until they see another car because it wears out the battery (oh yeah).  Iraq - well you've got to die of something, Egypt - three lanes, seven cars, easy...beep beep!, are you doing?, UAE - get the **** OUT OF MY WAY!!!

It did occur to me that perhaps this "cultural phenomenon" could be better exploited by car manufacturers.  After all, some cars are already called different things in different markets.  So how about some Arabian specials?  The Nissan Scud - long-range ballistic missile with unreliable guidance.  The GMC Widowmaker - full size SUV can murder a family of nine in one go.  The Toyota Shaheed - a mini-saloon like the Echo: "Yeah, I'm gonna die but I'm taking the shwarma queue with me!").  That kind of thing.  (Please email if you are a major auto manufacturer seeking a region-specific branding strategy.  I'm totally gifted).

I'm told not to make this post so long (oops), so maybe I'll write a "better driving manifesto" later.  But in the mean time, think on this: first, if you're going to get something really good out of demonstrations and reform across the Arab nation in the next few months, put a highway code on the list of demands.  Near the top.  That's just after a free election, but several places above Krispy Kreme for all and a free Nancy Ajram concert, OK?  And for now, when you really feel the need to access your inner dark side, release your frustrations or just express your vivacious personality, then do it at home.  Work out.  Kick the cat.  Anything.  Just stay away from the damn  car.  Please?

P.S.  The car at the top of this piece was crashed by me, in Saudi Arabia, a few years ago.  It was totally my fault.  I was driving like a dick.

May 25, 2011

Scores, Wars and Media Whores: The Genius of Hindsight

As the UK announced the departure of its last few military personnel from Iraq this week, a former general has been telling the press how he knew all along that the "evidence" for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction resources was unreliable.  Maj Gen Michael Laurie, who was head of the Defence Intelligence Staff at the time, claims that Tony Blair's PR guru, Alastair Campbell, distorted the famous "dossier" of evidence to make the case for war.  Oo-er.

The thing is, Maj Gen Laurie, you either thought it was right, or you didn't.  Eight years on since the invasion of Iraq strikes me as a strange time to decide that the information you and your colleagues put together for the Government, and indeed the world to see, wasn't right.  The same can be said of Sir John Scarlett, who was chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the Cabinet Office:  Having overseen the compilation of intelligence material from all agencies into a single picture for the Prime Minister, one might have thought he might be held at least partly responsible for that picture's being entirely inaccurate.  Instead, he was given a less central,  less demanding position in 2004 - head of MI6!  During several years in that role, and since, Scarlett has hinted more than once that he never believed in the case for Iraq's continued possession of, or intent to use, WMD.  But he, like Laurie, is eight years too late in saying so.

An inquiry after the war into the catastrophic intelligence failures, concluded that "Scarlett should not be expected to resign".  But why not?  Or perhaps more importantly, why hadn't he and Laurie done so before the war?  As these former intelligence "experts" who compiled the case for war in Iraq would now have us think that they never believed in it, why weren't they resigning on a point of principle?  Even politicians do that!  If Laurie says he was pressured to "make the case for war" by Alastair Campbell, why didn't he complain?  Was he such a shy little major general, to be bullied by a former Daily Mirror columnist?  OK, to be fair, Campbell has a reputation as a tough guy, but having met him myself once and even received a thank you letter afterwards, I don't quite buy it.  And either way, where are the General's principles in serving his nation?  Did he really help send tens of thousands of his fellow soldiers into war while not mentioning to anyone that he thought it was a mistake?  Did he hell.

So all the spooks are saying they knew all along that it was a mistake and they didn't believe their own intelligence reports.  Right.  But they are nothing on the venerable Dr Hans Blix.  The former chief UN weapons inspector was asked to say, or not say, one thing in January 2003: a resolution had been passed, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (the one that authorises force), saying that there would be "serious consquences" for Iraq (i.e. war), unless Mr Blix reported the "full, final and complete" disclosure of what Iraq had done with the weapons it used to have.  Hold that thought for a second.  

Ever since he left his post, Dr Blix has been tarting around the media all over the world, explaining how he always knew Iraq didn't have any WMD any more.  So what did he do when he had to report back to the Security Council?  Why, he stood up and said "I cannot say that Iraq's disclosure on WMD is either full, final or complete".  Did he know that meant war?  Of course he did.  And did he mention in the speech that despite that, he was sure there weren't actually any weapons left?  Well no he didn't.  Not until after the war had started.  Blix, Laurie, Scarlett and however many others: what should we think of you? You could have said what you thought, blown your whistles or resigned like gentlemen in January 2003, but instead choose to pretend to be wise in hindsight every year since. Liars? Media whores, cowards, or just hypocrites?

And they're not alone.  There was another nice instance of retrospective wisdom and morality recently, again involving some western folk: the awarding of the FIFA World Cup for 2018 and 2022, to Russia and Qatar respectively.  The reaction to that was accusations by Lord Triesman and others from England, and the redoubtable Chuck Blazer from the USA, alleging that the whole process for awarding the tournament is corrupt.  Some have even suggested that FIFA in general is corrupt (I supposed putting it in Switzerland at least gives Executive Committee members an excuse to drop in on their numbered bank accounts).  Now personally, and having been involved peripherally in England's disastrous bid for the 2006 World Cup, I have an opinion as to why Russia and Qatar won: it could be because they were clearly the best, most imaginative, and most committed bids.  

However, that's not the point.  The US lost out to Qatar, a little country, where it is rumoured the population consists of wealthy ragheads who don't go to church.  And England lost out to Russia, despite its not being England.  And neither the Americans nor the English were happy about it.  "Corruption" they cry!  There's no transparency! No accountability!  The system is rotten!  Which begs the question then: why did they go along with it?  If the system's rotten, not transparent, not accountable and the other bid teams are paying bribes to  corrupt members of the Committee, why on earth would you even think about trying to participate?  

Because, one way or another, they hoped to win.  Whether it's former generals or football officials there seems to be a common trait among men of influence in the modern world - never mind the truth while life is still sweet.  Never mind the system.  Never mind the ethics.  It's not crooked if you can still win.  And it's not wrong and it's not worth questioning, until you're safe with your pension and already know the answer, or you've already lost or retired and can prostitute your retrospective genius to the eager media.  Once the blame game is well underway, having someone involved stick a knife in someone else is always going to sell newspapers.

So everything is fine until you screw it up.  But when you do, the system's to blame, you knew all along, and someone will pay you to say it.  Well that's alright then.

May 24, 2011

A Comment From Yemen

Posted on a blog I follow. Nothing else to say from me, except that I kind of admire the guy's optimism, although I don't really share it.

Headrush - Ed Webb's Dickinson Blog: What happened Yesterday in Sanaa:

May 23, 2011

2012 Olympics to Feature Destructive Envy as New Event - Oman Tipped

*** Warning!  May Contain Deliberate Untruths as Satire Preservative. ***

Exclusive to the not-daily "The Linoleum Surfer"!

Officials of the International Olympic Committee confirmed in a press release today that the London 2012 games will feature "Destructive Envy" as a competitive event for the first time.  This is in recognition of the sport's growing international following, and will be welcomed particularly in many Arab countries, where it is considered a national pastime.  A number of countries will be hoping for medals in 2012, having already competed at Destructive Envy or "حسد/Hasad", as it is known in Arabic, as an exhibition sport in Beijing 2008.

The inclusion of the sport has given a huge boost to the small Arabian country of Oman, whose previous Olympic record is sparse to say the least.  As reigning Arab champions, the Indian Ocean sultanate with a population of a mere two million, is now hotly tipped as a possible gold medal winner.  Oman has never previously won an Olympic medal, but has dominated Hasad events in intra-regional competition.  Most recently, the Omani team clinched a thrilling victory at the Asian Games, causing the tyres to burst on the Emirati team bus just as they seemed certain to steal the title.  This was a boost to the much-vaunted Team Hasad Oman  after a surprise loss in Beijing, when the team from Egypt (where the sport is known as "Eye") managed to give everyone food poisoning on the final day.

Dr Khalfan Al Falani, team captain of the Omani outfit known by fans as "الحاسد الاحمر/Al Hasid Al Ahmar", expressed his delight:  "This is a really big deal for us here in Oman, to finally get a chance to compete in the national game.  Sure, some people like football or whatever, but there's no sport like this one.  It really is very much part of our cultural make-up, and we learn it from birth.", said Al Falani.  "As a Hasad PhD and team captain for a few years now, I can tell you we're really at the top of our game, and we're working really, really hard to keep developing."

"Among the team members, the Hasad culture is built on a strong team rivalry.  For instance, after winning the Asian Games, I got a special bonus as captain - a new car.  No sooner had I driven it home from the dealership than I had a throat infection that kept me quiet for a week!  I think I have the deputy captain to thank for that one - he really is awesome!  We have a great spirit going on between us though, and as soon as the antibiotics kicked in I went straight to his house to admire his new cappucino machine.  The flooding from a burst pipe and resulting electrical fire meant he had to move out for three months - it was awesome!"

But it's not just with other members of Team Hasad Oman that the national talent can be seen, claims Al Falani:  "You might have heard that after the 2012 games, the Olympic stadium they built is going to be used by a football team called West Ham.  Well, when we heard that we really saw a chance to flex the Hasad muscles and show what we can do as a warm up to competing there: in the second last game of the season we relegated those smug jerks at West Ham right out of the Premier League, making them throw away a two goal lead at another struggling club - let's see how they like their new stadium from the second division!  Ha!   That's real top-drawer professional class Hasad ,I'm telling you!  All we needed was one Omani player on the other team and they were doomed.  By the way, I just want to say a big thank you to Big Ali for that one - cross training with him is always a pleasure!"

So it's good luck to the Omanis for 2012 and good luck to Dr Khalfan Al Falani, who's hoping to add to his impressive collection of Hasad honours on behalf of the sport's spiritual home. "Hey, say ma sha' Allah will you?", he added wryly.

IOC officials were unable to comment on the recent sacking of West Ham United's Israeli manager.

Air Conditioning for the Retarded

Here's just something that came up in conversation yesterday:

My personal bodyguard and origami instructor, Nobby Knuckles, and I were chatting last eve.  All of a sudden, Nobby took leave of the conversation for a moment to "close the AC, it's freezing in here", at which point I was moved to wonder:  Why is it that people set the thermostat on the air conditioning to a temperature far lower than they actually want?

Most people who have air conditioning have lived with it for many years.  Some have never known a house without it.  And given the almost British obsession with the weather found among Omanis (and the specifically Khaleeji obsession with temperature), I would have thought that by now most people would know what represented a comfortable temperature for them.  For most people, it's somewhere around 23.5 degrees Celsius.

So, why set your air conditioning the task of moving the air temperature in your room to 16 degrees?  The only conclusion I can reach is that Nobby K, along with millions of others, believes the air conditioner to have some kind of personality, along with the supernatural ability to dick around with the laws of thermodynamics.  Now Nobby is a down to earth sort, and very opposed to any supernatural ideas.  

Yet Nobby and so many others seem to think that if the temperature is, say, 27, and they set the desired level to 23, the air conditioner will underestimate the task.  Perhaps just take its time.  Stop for a cup of tea.  "I'll get round to it in a minute", says Mr Air Conditioner, "I'm just watching the end of Seinfeld and I haven't seen this one".  After all they've only been asked for a relatively small task.  "Shove it down four degrees?  Yeah, no biggie...won't take long, so I'll just finish this cuppa and take a look when I'm ready, alright?"

That is just not on.  Air conditioners must not be lazy!  So Nobby sets out to trick Mr Air Conditioner - get him into a bit of a lather.  Panic stations!  Because, conversely, if they set the level to the absolute minimum, the peak of possibilities in air conditioner-world, then Mr Air Conditioner will really take notice:  "Damn" he will say. "Nobby Knuckles has just asked for 16 degrees Celsius!  That's miles away! I'd better get right on with it if I'm going to reach there before Arabs Got Talent starts".

Mr AC will obviously be so excited by the challenge of racing to the thermal basement, that he will go about the cooling process twice as fast, getting to the desired 23 degrees in but a fraction of the time it would have taken if that's what had been requested.  Perhaps in his haste, Mr AC will call in all the other AC's on the roof to help:  "Shuffle over here boys would you and give me a hand...yeah you too from next door, come on over will you?  Nobby has got a right cool-on and it's going to take me forever at this rate..that's it...point your compressors this way...HEAVE!!!!"

Then once it gets to about 22, or 21, Nobby feels a bit of a chill.  Turns it off.  Until it gets warm again, and Nobby again requests an urgent 16.  It doesn't help, Nobby!  The AC is on or the AC is off.  Adjust the fan speed if you must.  But the rest of it is simple 0 or 1.  Basically, stop turning the AC on and off, and pick the temperature you actually want.  That little box on the wall with the numbers on it does that job for you, so being a human thermostat instead is a bit silly.

You know I respect you, Nobby.  But for a third dan origami black belt and international bantamweight champion shit-kicker, you're an idiot.

May 22, 2011

Demonstrators Go Home! Enemies of Democracy!

I might have mentioned elsewhere that I'm not a big fan of democracy (ooh!), and maybe I'll come back to that in another piece.  But in the mean time, let's just assume for the purposes of this rant that democracy is great.  Or even just good.  Or just something that "some people" think they want.

"Some people", allegedly, include the demonstrators who have excited their government, their neighbours and some small corners of the international media by sitting on roundabouts and occasionally breaking windows, in various parts of Oman.  There have been many reasons cited for these outbursts, and many causes attributed to the participants.  But overall it is difficult to imagine that all of them have a common cause:  Every commentator, blogger and placard seems to say something different, from "end corruption" and "sack the minister", to "give me a job" or just "give me money".  But if you average all these out somehow, you get an overall picture of what the demonstrators have in common:  They feel poorly represented, poorly served, and in many cases, just poor.  Bummer.

In the latest adventure, an alleged "three thousand" demonstrators sat on the floor in Salalah (other witnesses put it closer to a couple of hundred, but it doesn't really matter - let's take the biggest estimate at face value).  They were, depending on whom you believe, asking for an end to corruption, the replacement of Indian management at a company, or to have their personal loans paid off by the Government because they couldn't afford them.  I won't even comment on that last one.  But I'll take a wild guess that once the crowd began to gather, elements of all three were probably there somewhere.

As we know now, the Government has decided that all this running around waving placards and blocking roads has to end, or there will be trouble.  And there was.  A jail full of people, some ringleaders carted off for a more intense conversation up north and possibly an accidental nut-kicking along the way, and a general sense of loss and foreboding among the good people of Salalah.  Not for the first time, demonstrators have been summarily removed.  And you know what?  Quite right too!

No, I'm not a Nazi or any kind of totalitarian by nature.  Well, apart from supporting benevolent dictatorship as the most efficient form of government, but I said I'd skip past that.  The reason I'm against these demonstrations mostly, is that they are fundamentally against the democracy that the media claim they espouse.  Many, if not all on some level, are supposedly raging at the lack of representation of the common man's (or woman's) needs within government.  And yet, how is this representative?

The most ardent advocate of democratic reforms in Oman has always been Sultan Qaboos himself:  an odd position you might think for a man added to the "dictators" list in international media.  But with no political pressure, certainly not internally, he took the decision to begin elections to the Majlis al Shura (consultative council) a generation ago.  The franchise has been gradually expanded, and in the last couple of elections, every Omani adult (over 21) has been eligible to vote (except the security forces - and not many "dictators" would be bold enough to remove the "payroll vote", even if they did have elections - this is unique to Oman).

One could argue that the Majlis has had no powers to make legislation.  Neither has it the authority to debate matters of foreign or defence/security policy.  But both of those things are irrelevant:  none of the recent demonstrations have been concerned with those two areas of policy, and as of March - literally within days of the first major demonstration (or the first one to feature violence, if you want to look at it that way) - the Majlis had new powers to legislate.  What's more, some new ministers would be appointed from within it for the first time.  And just to make this more relevant, the registration deadline for candidates was quickly extended.  In short, if you demonstrated in Sohar to ask for more power to the people, the removal of certain ministers and increased help for job seekers, you got the lot.  In a week.

It's hard to imagine any "democratic" country responding so quickly and dramatically to the demands of a few hundred (actually only a few dozen initially) demonstrators.  And in some ways, perhaps it is wrong that a small amount of disruption should be allowed to have such an extraordinary impact on national policy.  After all, of a million adult Omanis, who are these few to call for such a change by themselves?  How undemocratic!  But again, this goes back to the personal will of Sultan Qaboos: the will to bring about gradual, iterative political reform was already there, so accelerating it by a step or two was perhaps a smaller decision than it appeared.  And listening to the pulse of the people; recognising that this small emergency represented a broader groundswell of frustration with the economic realities, and the danger of imitating the crises elsewhere, is just smart.  I would say that these reforms were not the signs of a leader out of touch like a Ben Ali or a Mubarak, but of one far more in tune with reality, and already committed to the political and social progression that others have talked about, but within the framework of national tradition, and without the need for chaos.  There is a lot to be said for leaving a man in a job for forty years - he can learn a thing or two!

In a few months' time, the Majlis elections will take place.  Elections that have a more serious meaning than ever before.  Those who win a seat will be able to argue for completely new legislation, and if they convince their elected colleagues, they will be able to draft it and impose it on the whole country.  That's real power.  That, in any political system, is enormous.  And with fewer than a hundred seats, one voice can be very loud indeed.  What's more, if five of those elected members are to be chosen as ministers, there is a good chance that any talented candidate can make himself a powerful instrument of direct government.  For most campaigners in March, this must have been beyond their wildest expectations.

Now, back to the demonstrators in Salalah, Sharqiya or wherever.  I am wondering, as these reforms have been announced and implemented, what on earth are they doing sitting on roundabouts, obstructing the public, and trying to bully local government offices into their viewpoint?  If, as they would have you believe, they represent the true voice of their communities, the majority unspoken view of the masses, then they have the tools to do something about it for real:  choose the most capable spokesman, campaign for his (or her) election, and get their new representative to propose whatever changes they want from the very heart of Government.  Even if they don't want to stand for election, how about holding their local candidates to account?  Ask them for their manifestos!  Insist that if they want your votes, they have to commit, in front of the community sabla, to pursuing the demands of these people who are now protesting.

The system for people to be heard is there.  The reins of power have moved substantially to the hands of the electorate.  So why are you sitting on the floor?  In the 2007 elections a healthy 63% of voters turned out.  But that's 63% of the 390,000 registered voters.  Which by my estimation means that fewer than half those eligible to vote actually registered, and fewer than two thirds of those actually got around to it (please comment and correct if those figures are wrong).  That's a pity.  But the stakes for the 2011 elections are much higher.  This majlis is not just a talking shop, it's a policy-maker, an executive tool of the people.  Instead of blocking the road and complaining about your lot in life, how about registering to vote, campaigning for a candidate you can believe in, and holding him to public account with serious policy commitments?  

A Wikipedia piece on the Majlis states that in the last election "Generally, people who emphasized their professional and educational background lost, while candidates who mainly campaigned based on their tribal and family ties won".  Now, whose fault is that?  The people are not represented by gangs of unemployed boys eating chips on the pavement.  They are represented by a new democratic structure, but only if they want to be.  They must speak, with the greatest deliberation, by voting.  Demonstrators need to go home, think about what they want, organise their views and ensure they are expressed at the ballot box later this year.

If you have the option of making changes and don't use it, then you've forgone the right to complain.  Now get out of the damn road, will you?

May 21, 2011

Silence is Golden...Unless You Asked a Question...

Further to yesterday's post, an update:  Of the reported 283 visitors or visits to this site, and the eight followers so far, none have yet contributed a suggestion for Viscount Bothends' mother's seventieth birthday present.

In the mean time, his lordship has yet to re-establish any form of communication.  Or even become a follower of this blog.  Which is a bit off, really.

However, I have not been sitting idle.  My own febrile deliberations have added the following genius brainwaves to the list for Lady Brenda's forthcoming celebration:

- the complete works of William Burroughs

- gerbil

- taxidermy kit (not necessarily to be used in conjunction with the above, but worth being prepared...)

- vuvuzela

- Segway ("eat my dust, mobility scooters!")

- abstract painting by little-known visionary (e.g. below, although that one's sold)

- oxyacetylene welder

More thoughts, please?

May 20, 2011

Advice: Good, Bad and Ugly...

I've had my ear bent this evening by my old friend the Viscount Bothends, who has condemned my posts on this blog as insufficiently rude, uncharacteristically serious, and therefore too far from the essence of my personality.  In short, dull.

He then asked me for advice on what to get his formidable but dear mother, Lady Brenda, for her forthcoming seventieth birthday.  My suggestions so far have included a framed picture of me, rollerblades, and a crossbow.

Subsequently, and up until the time of writing this post, he has severed all communications.  While I attempt to re-establish diplomatic relations, would any of you be able to offer any suggestions for a birthday present, not too expensive, for a seventy year-old woman?  (Who doesn't have much interest in in-line skating.)

Thanks.  I knew I could rely on you.


Dictators, Demonstrators and Democracy: The Aye-Rab Spring

(There are probably going to be a few more posts on this subject, but let's get the ball rolling...)

As the bombs rain on Libya, the fingers wave at Syria and the tumbleweed roll across the space in the news where Bahrain used to be, I'm wondering: What is it that the "democratic West" want to happen?

The answer to that should be pretty simple, perhaps one of two options:  There's Option A: the old-fashioned short-term interest thing of the last few decades, of letting the Aye-rab leaders do what they like to their own people as long as they're on the right side. Meaning not commies.  Or more recently, not "Aal Kayeeda", or anything else that sounds bad, or involved waving fists on the TV in a Millet's windcheater and saying nasty things about Israel.  Especially not in English.  (No, I know nobody's said "windcheater" since 1977 and it was funny even then, but that's kind of the point).

Option B would be the "ethical" choice.  What idealists like to think of as the "long view".  That it's in the interests of the West to have all this out now, and get some good old parliamentary democracies set up around the region, at which point they'll all be happy:  Peace, prosperity and diplomatic relations with Israel will all inevitably follow.

The thing is, based on actions so far, the US, Europe (less Germany, who have really gone off fighting since about 1945) and their hangers-on, don't really seem to have made their minds up about which one they're after.  There is quite a lot of evidence for the former (simple self-interest), as there usually is:

- Ignoring Bahrain.  Ignoring the arrival of Saudi tanks in Bahrain.  Stopping talking about Bahrain altogether, even on the news.  Yep, that's old school (cf. KSA circa 1982).

- Even before that, there was Egypt:  OK, in Egypt the old guy had to leave in the end.  But the good ol' democrats said everything except "leave" to Uncle Hosni so it surely wasn't down to them.  That is, until they'd managed to speak to the Army on the phone and confirmed he was definitely leaving, and it was therefore time to be on the side of whoever was coming in his place (the Army, so far).

- Ben Ali was a quiet one of course - small country, not next to Israel or any major energy reserves, and they speak French quite a lot, so whatever (cf Algeria, since forever, and they have oil even...).

- And then there's Uncle Ali down in Yemen.  An ally in War-on-Terror, which is not in fact a seaside resort, but a club where you can torture troublesome beardy men outside your own national jurisdiction.  At the same time as confirming that the US was seeking the removal of another Arab leader, US Secretary of Defense Robert ("not Bill the other guy") Gates was replying to a question on whether they'd like the Yemeni demonstratorterminator to go too:  "Er, I don't think it's for us to comment on Yemeni internal affairs", was the answer to the bemused press corps.

So, all good thus far.  It's old fashioned "realism".  Not scary Dubya-ist neo-conservatism where you have to do stuff and invade people and regime change and send the beardies to Cuba for a decade of underwater yoga in orange.  Nope.  Reagan-era.  Nixon-era even.  Just a simple question: "Is he our guy?"  Yep, he unless he gets overthrown accidentally and we have to make the new guy into our guy, he's our guy.  Leave well alone.

There's a bit of a problem with the Option A thing though:  A lot of talk about "the will of the people" and "democracy".  Ah shit...the "D" words!  They don't have elections, those countries, at least not real ones (real ones where 28% of the 55% who voted are considered a "majority", like in the United States/Kingdom).  They're not Democratic, and they must be!  They've hurt innocent Demonstrators, and they are Dictators!  Boo!  Come on everyone, altogether now...BOOOO!

And what do we do with dictators, children?  Well, nothing usually.  China's a "Most Favoured Nation", North Korea's yanking the chains at leisure with its shiny new weapons of mass destruction, Robert Mugabe is still in the big chair, the generals are still running Myanmar (Burma) instead of that nice lady with the weird name who Michelle Yeoh is playing in the movie...but that's all OK.  No interests at stake.  Most of those people are gooks and the others are Africans, I don't recall any of them saying anything about Israel, mining the Straits of Hormuz or having unusual beards.  So what the heck, eh?

Which option to choose then?  Surely the "realist" Nixon-esque view must prevail?  But no!  Obama is about principles, Sarkozy has an election and a baby on the way, Cameron rides a bicycle and there's a global recession.  What we need, ladies and gentlemen, is a cause.  So here we go, back on the "Aye-rabs must have democracy" thing again.  To be fair, some of the Aye-rabs have even mentioned it themselves in between shouting "Go away" and "Allahu akbar".  Not many have use the word, but some.  Egypt has it now, - being run democratically by the democratic generals and with democratic mobs of democratic thugs stopping a leading candidate from casting his vote in the referendum.  Well, it's probably going to be alright then isn't it?  Isn't it?  Either way, we need an Option B.

The thing is, the principled, democratic West didn't do anything about Egypt or Tunisia.  And according to the people who know where some of these countries are without even using Google or Wikipedia or anything, "doing something" in Bahrain, or Yemen, might be bad.  And upset the other "leaders"  who we still like (N.B, you're not a dictator until the West don't like you - same time as a "government" starts being called a "regime").  So what to do?  Option A is so much easier.  But the Obaminator's got a record debt to forget, we're all reformers and democrats and "on the side of the people", so surely we've got to sell one of these guys out quick, right?  But who?  Who can we set alight to appease the democracy-deity?!  Who is going to give us the ethical Option B?!

Who indeed?  And then there he is, our sacrificial knight in glorious Technicolor armour.  What a gift.  On the TV, waving a fist, wearing orange and talking shite.  And orange isn't even a proper colour for clothes.  Especially not for a "Leader".  Orange is totally a colour for a "deranged dictator", or a Guantanamo Bay Underwater Yoga Resort resident.  OK, technically this dude was on our side, a signed up member of War-on-Terror.  Yeah, he did give up all his weapons.  And he did send over those guys for a televised trial for blowing up a plane despite maintaining they never did it.  And he gave us some oil deals.  And he let that whole "we bombed his country and killed his daughter" thing go.  Can't say he was the grudging type.

But never mind that,  we need someone!  Proper leaders don't wear orange.  He's had a couple of people killed in demonstrations just like all the others.  He said "zenga zenga" on telly and nobody knows what it means and it sounds funny.  And the other Arabs don't even like him, especially the ones who are still "leaders" with "governments" and not "dictators" with "regimes".  And even though he's on our side and he made friends in 2003 and did everything we told him, we had our fingers crossed all the time.  Haha.  He even lives in a tent.  Hahaha.  Baba Muammar, consider yourself to be holding the short straw!  Demonstrations my butt!  We're giving you a whole civil war, we're joining in on the other side, and you're IT!

So a few more of the funny guy's relatives are "taken out" with "precision munitions".  Some guys who used to be the bad guys are now the good guys (1980's Afghanistan veterans at Langley must be weeping with nostalgia).  The guy who was the bad guy and then made himself our guy, is the bad guy again.  And we're fighting a war for democracy, except with no coffins, weeping widows or ugly maimed drooling men (at least not American ones) to embarrass us on TV.  Fan-tastic.

Option A then.  With a bit of Option B for the cameras.  But it's a bit shit if you live in Tripoli.  To be continued...

P.S.  I almost forgot about Syria.  Much like everyone else.  It's a tough one Syria, because he's kind of a bad guy, but he speaks English and he hasn't actually attacked anyone, apart from a few demonstrators like the others.  And the guys his dad attacked before were all troublesome beardies who might have wanted to fight to get the Golan back instead of just saying "grr" every now and then.  In Arabic, to themselves, so we don't really notice.

Alas, the media have picked up on this one, so we have to say or do something.  I know!  Me, Mr President, me!  I have an idea!  We will freeze his assets.  And his sister's!  Yeah!  They're Aye-rabs, they're bound to have all their money somewhere in Michigan...that'll show them.  Well, it'll show CNN anyway...phew!

May 19, 2011

The Sexist Surfer, and a Woman's Right to be a Stereotype

So here we are:  Blog entry number one.  Technically number four, with three old pieces from another site uploaded.  But this is it, the big moment, the real one I've been thinking about all day:  The inaugural post of the Linoleum Surfer.  So it had better be good, right?  Important.  The Arab Spring.  Libya, Bahrain, Syria, even what's been happening here in Oman.  Or the global economy, clean energy, saving the planet?  But no.  In recognition of my 100% female following (both of them) on the first day of this blog, I'm going to upset some women.

See, I am a sexist.  Kind of.  Not a sexist who thinks women can't do anything.  Not the kind who thinks their only conceivable (no pun intended) purposes are to provide sexual pleasure or cook dinner.  On the contrary, although I prefer the company of a woman for sexual pleasure, cooking I can quite happily do by myself.  And yes, women can do anything.  Or at least, just like men, for everything that can be done, there is probably a woman who can  do it.

The thing is, I'm that other kind of sexist: the ordinary man who thinks that men and women are different.  And we've not been popular lately.  Not in the West, that's for sure.  And increasingly, we're much maligned in the traditionally safe havens of Arabia.  We think men and women are just made differently - a biological fact that we all know from an early age, but also we believe, a difference in thinking, in skills, in nature.  And we're under attack:

Firstly, the role of the male has been successfully destroyed.  We have not only to accept the female boss, but also not to make jokes about our female boss's appearance, even though we can refer to our male boss as fat, bald, or just plain ugly.  We also have to pretend to understand signs that we just can't read from the women we love, for fear of being seen as "insensitive" otherwise.  N.B. Women:  men do not do "hints". So scream it, bawl it, print it on your t-shirt and then scratch it into our flesh with a broken pencil if you want it to register...thank you for listening...yes, you do it so're a woman...

And in the West, men have given up being men altogether:  No more sense of responsibility, no more short haircuts and stiff upper lips. Now it's all crying, earrings, video games for granddads, fizzy pop for booze and not knowing how to fix the boiler yourself.  And since when did superheroes, the Norse deity of thunder for example, start waxing their chests?  I'll tell you when:  since boy bands topped the charts, since cardigans replaced bomber jackets, since all talk show hosts had to be overtly homosexual and since not appearing to be an overgrown vanilla-flavoured freshly-powdered baby instead of a man made you a suspected rapist.  Men, have you ever found yourself wondering how your father or grandfather had all that discipline, and strange knowledge in repairing the vacuum cleaner or mowing those neat lines in the lawn?  It's gone.  And why?  Because the feminists made him cry.

Secondly, the feminist-lesbo-killers have given the female a real PR job.  Men are from Mars (stupid cavemen who don't listen!), and women are from Venus (beautiful, spiritual creatures who must be studied and understood).  No!  Men and women are from Earth.  Men need to watch the telly, and women are better at untangling knots, but really crap at parallel parking or putting suitcases into the boot.  These realities are now the stuff only of edgy stand-up comedy though.  Not to be taken seriously.  The Venusians must rule.

They've also invented a concept called "multi-tasking", which is what men used to call "fannying about".  Getting on with one thing and doing it properly is now known, conversely, as being "anal" and (how did this become a pejorative phrase?), "male-brained about it".  If you don't stop doing what you're doing and start fannying about, then you'd better move over.  Dither a bit, do a little of everything, share and care and talk about it.  Be a fucking big girl or die.  That's it, the modern world, the death of manhood, the beginning of the demise of the human race.

But there is a serious point to all this.  Not only has the archetypal male been summarily castrated, waxed, subdued and slaughtered, but equally obsolete is the female who raised us all.  I'm not kidding.  My grandmother had a "little part-time job" for a while in the War.  The rest of the time she popped out a couple of children,beat carpets, boiled cabbage, baked cakes, made-do-and-mended, ironed socks and stopped her husband leaving the house with a bit of paper stuck on his neck where he'd cut himself shaving.  She also spoke four languages, listened to Radio Four, knitted, crocheted, kept an immaculate garden, played the zither, went dutifully to church and helped raise her six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.  She damn well wouldn't now.

As a western woman, choosing to make your life's mission the production and direction of a series of healthy, well-adjusted generations beyond you, is now officially a failure of ambition.  Keeping house is voluntary slavery.  Raising your own children is a sign of mental deficiency.  Go to a dinner party and watch the look on the other women's faces as your wife answers that yes, she's well-educated, but her preference is to be a stay-at-home mother.  Maybe a bit of part-time work or a small home business when they get a bit older.  Watch them sneer.  Not the men, you understand, the women.

And don't think this is confined to the decadent West either:  The Arabian feminist is on the rise, mark my words.  Of course, the Omani working woman has her maid, and her mother's maid, to raise her children while she's at the bank.  No worries about expensive day-care:  The illiterate Indonesian slaves will do the upbringing thank you very much!  And mama can get a Gucci handbag.  In the mean time, because families are mostly "double-income" now, the market has followed them:  The average house price used to be around three times' the average salary.  Now it's around six times'.  So you're stuck:  Unless you're a very wealthy man, your lady just HAS to work, or you'll never get a place of your own.  And how's that record unemployment coming on, too?  Three million and rising in the UK is plenty.  In Oman, four times as many young men are claiming unemployment benefits as are in private sector employment.  Just think about that one for a minute.

Now I'm not saying that a woman can't be a pilot, a PhD, a police...person, chairman of the board or top of the hit parade.  Quite definitely some can.  And if they can and they want to, damn it they should, and nothing should stand in their way!  Nor am I saying that economic ills will all be resolved by firing all the women and giving their jobs to (presumably) less qualified, less motivated male alternatives.  But, feminist-laser-psychopaths, ask yourselves this:  When did a woman lose her right to choose to be a wife and mother?  When did that become something to look down upon?  When you get old and contemplate the end of your days, what will be your greatest achievement?  Maybe, just maybe, raising a family will be one of them.  Maybe the only one.  So maybe the woman who chooses that path deserves a bit more respect, not just from her caveman father, husband and son.  But from the woman who claims to be promoting her gender's cause.

P.S.  Fellow man:  Grow up and save society, will you?  If you want your wife barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, you'd better get a job - and learn how to unblock the sink while you're at it.