July 30, 2011

Apple CEO Survives Mugging Attempt!

(Warning: 78.2% Satire.  Not Suitable for Minors.)

Washington, DC - The Linoleum Surfer

Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of technology giant Apple Inc., was today reported to have survived a mugging attempt while walking in the popular Pennsylvania Avenue area of the US capital, Washington DC.

According to witnesses, a tall African-American male, estimated to be in his late forties and "with prominent ears like Will Smith", accosted Jobs without provocation.  The assailant was reported to have shouted bizarre, cryptic messages including"give me the 75 billion you feeble-ass mutha****a!" and "can we use your money to get out of this shit- yes we mutha****in' can", while reaching violently for Jobs' jacket pocket.

Police sources indicate that the language used by the mugger might be a clue to his identity, and symptomatic of a man "in a dark place, psychologically speaking - this seems like a guy under a lot of pressure".  A Police Department spokesperson confirmed that a man matching the above description was being sought in connection with "an incident", and that he had been accompanied by "several white men in suits and dark glasses who appeared to have sophisticated communications equipment, small arms and ballistic-resistant vehicles."  Members of the public were advised not to approach their congressmen.

Bystanders watched in disbelief as the attack took place, before Jobs apparently "levitated above the city", allegedly making an "L-is-for-loser" gesture with his finger and thumb.

Steve Jobs is believed to have extensive private health insurance.

(Wtf?  Read this.)

July 28, 2011

World's Dumbest Terrorists

Warning: May contain man-made satirical substances unsuitable for those of choleric temperament.

A thought: further to my previous post on the Norwegian Christian extremist terror attack (that still sounds kind of cool in a totally wrong, uncomfortable way, doesn't it?), I am wondering if there is another way we should have known it wasn't a Muslim who did it?  See, Muslims have been terrorists for ages.  "Islamic extremist terror" or whatever your term of choice might be, has been around since at least the early nineties in the public consciousness, and in reality for way longer.  Yet for all of that, on seeing that one dude alone with a rifle and some fertiliser could murder ninety people without even getting a punch in the face, we should have known that he wasn't a Muslim.  Because, ladies and gentlemen, for all the years of training and experience, Muslims totally suck at terrorism.

No, I mean it.  To be fair, the 11 September murderers averaged around one hundred and fifty dead innocents each (is it really hot down there, boys?), but that's a one-off.  It also took many more people to make that happen, so the real average is way lower.  Oh, and they all had to die, which even if you think dying in the act of multiple homicide is a fast track to heaven, is resource-intensive.  Minus points for that.  As for the other most celebrated acts of terrorism carried out by Muslims, most have also involved the expenditure of at least one single-use human, and few can rival the weirdly camp Norwegian Walter Mitty for ruthless efficiency.

But, you've got to ask yourself: How?!  I mean, how the hell can the people who have the number one terrorism brand in the world be so bad at it?  Really, think about it:

- There are manuals on the internet on how to make explosives.  Kids can learn to fly planes, drive all manner of cars, bikes and boats, work stuff by remote control, and even synthesise lethal nerve toxins in the privacy of their student accommodation.  And how many Muslims do you know who don't have incongruously good IT skills compared to their overall level of education?  Muslims dig technology and the internet.  And cars.

- There are training camps in at least four countries I can think of where battle-hardened warriors can offer live-fire practice with all manner of ex-soviet light weapons, and heavier ones too.  They are all in countries with an extremely low cost of living, and all (as far as I know) offer their services totally free.

- As for those weapons, you can then buy a Kalashnikov in America without being arrested.  And thanks to Schengen and the Channel Tunnel, you can get one pretty much anywhere in Europe illegally, but easily, for less than the price of a high-mileage Ford Escort.  

- There are millionaires and billionaires who will fund you.  There are teachers and mentors who will coach you in the spiritual path to the point that you think killing babies is what God wants.  And there are a dozen messages in your email inbox every day, explaining in great detail exactly who God wants you to murder and how many afterlife blow jobs are waiting as reward.

So let's say you're of the frame of mind that terrorism is the career for you, and that you're messed up enough to get started.  Everything is there for you, nice and easy.  Weapons, knowledge, funding (although most terrorist incidents could have been funded by a summer in McDonalds if you didn't waste anything), guidance and even free training are all readily available.  You might already live in a target-rich environment and have no visa issues or worries about making a living.  What's more, considering your absolute disregard for the arithmetic of human life, pretty much everywhere on the planet is a target-rich environment!  

With all these advantages, Muslim terrorists should be the Rolls Royce of horrific murder.  So how is it that the Norwegian Nazi, the Oklahoma guy, even that Israeli who whacked everyone in the mosque in Al Khalil (Hebron), are so much better at indiscriminate slaughter?  For one-man shows, they killed a load of people.  And, at the end of it, they get be a tax burden on the Infidel, living in secure accommodation with three squares a day while they write their memoirs. Ahmed is just a smouldering pair of sandals.  

Well, there are two good reasons why Muslims are underachieving in the bloody terrorism business.  The first is that a lot of people know that Muslim extremists are the number one terrorist brand, and thanks to the long track record of baby-murdering, and the likes of Evil Bob telling the world that all Muslims are terrorists, it's pretty difficult now to get established if you're a Muslim.  As most Muslims belong to a relatively small selection of ethnic groups, and tend to be the minority in the best target environments, they do stand out a bit as well. Especially as they usually call themselves special Muslim names just to alert the security guard/immigration official/flying school receptionist/mail order clerk to their evil intent.

As a visibly Muslim person, a majority non-Muslim environment where you might want to be a terrorist, can be unaccommodating.  Even the most incompetent security agencies are capable of seeing that someone's been a regular visitor to free terrorist training camps, or hanging around with other known terrorists.  Also, there's an infrastructure issue.  Stuff like forged documents and vehicle plates are hard to come by if you're not plugged into an established criminal fraternity.  That's fine if, say, you're already a gangster and in or near your home town, like Abu Musab al Zarqawi.  But Ahmed don't get no love from the New Jersey Mafia.  And when you call up to order ten tons of nitrogen fertiliser and give the name on your credit card as Hamza Jihad Al Muslim, you're probably only a short time away from some men with gas masks and assault rifles smashing your door down and kicking you in the nuts.

But once your aspiring extremist murderer has got around all those things, and is about to go to work, he's still going to suck.  Why?  Because he's stupid.  Really.  Even if he's a doctor or a pilot, with an apparently strong track record of intellectual achievement.  Like the man who drove a Jeep into Glasgow airport, and managed to get himself burned only almost to death and punched in the face by several members of the public, without killing anyone else.  Great work, Doc.  And thanks a bunch for having a car just like I had at the time.  The jokes were hilarious.  Piece of shit.  

More often though, the aspiring terrorist has a strong track record of being a loser.  If you're an unemployed bum with no social status or family respect, maybe a couple of minor drug convictions, no girlfriend and an unpleasant skin condition, the whole Islamic extremism thing is so you.  Everyone knows that in many of our Muslim communities, men with long beards who talk noisily and constantly about religion, are to be respected.  Venerated even.  To excess in my opinion.  So it you're a 24-carat shit-heel, there's a business class flight to respectability just begging for you to board.  Yes, you too can be a beardy bigmouth who tells everyone about how religious you are.  Grow that face, baby!  Shave your head.  Dress like a Pakistani or a short-robed Saudi regardless of your own ethnicity.  Hang around in the mosque like it's your house.  Lecture people with a smug half-smile about stuff you just read on the internet.    You've made it.  You might still be an educationally subnormal, unproductive bum.  But now you're a bum who has to be listened to!  Yay!

Except that being stupid, you're now prey to smarter people than you.  The REAL terrorists.  The ones who write that first hate-filled but oh-so-plausible post on the internet, with its out of context verses, its obscure ahadith, its bizarrely pejorative language about other religions, races and nationalities, and its bare-faced lies.  The ones who know how to manipulate inadequate half-wits like you.  The ones who make the brand.  The ones who offer you the transition from halfwit loser, to anti-hero.  The fact is that most people who carry out terrorist acts are young, ignorant, and have troubled pasts with their families and/or the law.  There are cleverer, more calculating minds that guide them, but it's usually the morons who get to blow themselves up.   I'm guessing that's the reason that the normal hallmark of Islamic extremists is incompetence.  

So why isn't the extremist terror franchise getting a better quality of outlet, like me? I'd like to think I'm a reasonably intelligent person.  At age 15, I made explosive devices for fun and to show off to my friends, with stuff I could buy over the counter as a 15-year old boy.  And the internet didn't even exist - I got that stuff from an old book!  I have imagination, language skills, local knowledge of several countries and no criminal record.  I'm a decent shot with a rifle.  I have strong feelings about various political issues, and deep anger at the injustices of the world.  And I'm a Muslim.  On paper, I'd make a fantastic murdering extremist.  So why am I working in a normal job and writing on here instead of signing up for loony-school?  I'll tell you why: like a billion other Muslims, I think killing people is a really, really bad thing.  And you really have to be a special kind of retard to be a terrorist.

P.S. Perhaps you think that some of this seems in bad taste.  Maybe.  I've personally lost two friends killed and a third maimed for life to Al Qaida-inspired terrorist acts.  All just ordinary, innocent people.  I've also had the unusual experience of having sectarian terrorists shoot at me and an American soldier threaten to fire his rifle into my face, in the same day. Strange times.  And whatever political or religious perspectives I have on a million different issues, I really despise terrorists, their supporters, and anyone who holds human life cheap.

But that's really why I'm writing this.  It's important to ridicule terrorists.  Abuse them.  Laugh at them.  Remind the world of exactly how un-cool being a terrorist is.  How far it is from being right or good.  Deride them and curse them because they really are the biggest a**holes.  Thanks for reading. 


All About Amy

Maybe this is an odd subject for someone who usually writes about social or political issues.  But it is a social issue, in a way.  Amy Winehouse died a few days ago.  I'm not sure how but the list of guesses is pretty short.  And for someone who doesn't really go in for mawkish displays of competitive mourning for celebrities I've never met (the Princess Diana grief-fest still nauseates me), I'm somehow surprisingly sad.

I've seen the predictably bad taste jokes (some of which are funny though, I admit!), but even more than that, various parroted and mis-spelled Facebook status messages along the lines of "who gives a shit?"  Dozens of people died in Norway, country X's brave soldiers don't get this much attention, etc. etc.  Which is all true.  As it's also true that the Norway terrorist incident cost fewer lives than the famine in Somalia on the same day, yet got more attention.  That's just the way news works: life in Baghdad still sucks, but it's not news eight years on.  Dying African babies was due a headline again 20+ years after LiveAid, but it can't be interesting every day, can it?  Unless you're the one whose babies are starving to death, but they don't watch TV...

But the thing is, for some weird reason, I do actually give a shit.  Yes, I know she was a serial abuser of alcohol and other drugs.  Yes she has made a whole bunch of very stupid life decisions.  Yes her dignity was in tatters for years.  But as she's dead now, isn't it time to stop calling this woman names?  Tragic, foolish...no doubt.  But to put it bluntly kicking a corpse seems a bit unnecessary.  We've all made our mistakes, had our destructive phases and habits.  Personally I used to drink like a fish - I think there's still a stool at the bar somewhere in the Intercontinental that has the shape of my buttocks moulded into it.  I took a decision to clean up my act and did so more easily than I ever thought possible.  But I had no public eye or media pressure on me - only friends and family - and many true ones who remained constant throughout.

I think it's worth considering how weird a life must be for an oddball musical creative type who finds sudden huge fame at the age of seventeen.  After all, would you have been able to take it in your stride?  When I was seventeen, I was full of BS just like Amy (but without the talent, obviously...)  I was a typical, uncomfortable, hormonal and confused teenager, dripping with obnoxious braggadocio, yet underneath still painfully insecure.  Loud and vehement, sarcastic and abrasive, yet completely vulnerable and ignorant.  Ms Winehouse seems to have stayed that way all her life, and I certainly kept many of those unpleasant qualities well into my twenties, and even still.  Yet I can't really imagine what it would have been like to be immersed suddenly in a world of genuine admiration for what I could do, but surrounded by people who were adding up in their minds just what I could be worth.  

One figure who stands out amidst the media circus, and always has in some way, is her father, Mitch Winehouse.  I've always been impressed by the dignity and steadfast love he's shown in public.  According to him, and to others who knew her, Amy was "all about love" - an affectionate, generous and loyal person.  So the sad thing, and I think what really made me think about this at all, let alone write about it, is this:  that a woman with all that talent (and what a talent!), with all those qualities, should lead such a troubled and unhappy life, and ultimately end it alone.  I somehow suspect that for all her apparent blessings, she didn't have a good friend in the world.  Sure, it's hard sometimes to feel pity for someone who seems to have everything - fame, fortune, public adulation - and screws up.  But when I try to imagine being in those shoes, it's not so hard to forgive, and pity her I do.

Every society can be judged by how it treats those less fortunate, and for all her gifts, I don't think society has been kind to Amy.  The celebrity culture, the ridiculing of morality, the coldness and individualism of modern civilisation, all played their part, and perhaps they always have.  That might seem like a strange thing to say, but really, how fortunate is someone with an extraordinary and celebrated gift, with wealth and privilege and millions of adoring followers, if this is the outcome?  I am not sure she was so fortunate at all.  I think I'd rather be anonymous and loved and mourned by my friends, than known by millions but cursed casually by strangers even after my premature and miserable death.

That, more than anything, is why I'm sad to hear about Amy.

July 24, 2011

Muslims and Murderers

Two words that go together pretty well it seems.  We know all about Fox News, the Daily Mail, raving ignorant  Islamophobes, and more calculated, erudite warmongers like "Evil" Bob Spencer.  They're all out to get us by convincing the ever-manipulable mob that the beardies are out to blow up their buildings and eat their children.  So begin the unofficial profilings, the back door constitutional amendments and the slick promotional campaigns for bigotry and barbarism in the name of the free...

Then we have it, this week.  Someone makes something blow up in Norway and kills a lot of people.  Everyone assumes it's a brutha.  Murder = Muslim.  Terrorism = Towelhead.  Etc.  Newspaper headlines trumpet the latest infamy of the Al Qaida international franchise of doom and yet again the right-wing editorials ring the patriotism bell, urging the masses to "support our boys" in Afghanistan or Libya or wherever, watch out for Pakis mumbling on the train, and cling on to their "values".  More proof, more evidence, and more "enough is enoughs" over the lunchtime alco-pops: the beardies are coming to ruin our "way of life", ban smiling and burn our grandmothers.

Stand down though.  It wasn't Beardy, it was a white supremacist Christian fundamentalist exercising his voice of protest through the media of lead and explosives.  In fact, in some weird way, he appears to have been killing everyone because he hated Beardy so much.  Perhaps that's the latest spin: if it wasn't for those pesky pig-kickers he would never have gone crazy enough to do it.  Somehow, it's still down to the beardies.  "Crazy" is an interesting word in this context though:  I don't remember Usama bin Laden being described as having any mental disorders despite his public and proud confessions to genocidal murder.  Why?  Because that's what Muslims do.  Then when you find out it was someone else, suddenly the language is of mental illness, not fringe pseudo-religious extremism.  It's not even a terrorist attack any more, not even an "outrage". It's an "unfathomable act" of a "deranged" man.

A lot of these points about the premature conclusions of the Western media, and the sudden change in language, have already been made very eloquently elsewhere.  Quite rightly, the obvious bias and tabloid pitchfork-shaking in the Evil Zionist West is getting called out.  Good.  But there's a problem.  Something isn't being mentioned here.  It's that it wasn't just the massed ranks of the Church of Medium Agnosticism who were looking for Beardy as soon as something went "bang".  It was us.  Team Makka.  We all thought it was one of us wot dunnit too.

One of our esteemed blog sisters "Starry-Eyed" wrote about it here.  Al Jazeera reported "suspected Al Qaida involvement" just as quickly as Fox News had.  Analysts, sensible people, friends and colleagues, and most of all, Muslims, all jumped to the same conclusion, then tried to find an explanation.  Was it because Norway has a small contingent of military personnel in Afghanistan?  Was it because Norwegian companies are involved in the Iraq oil industry? (That one was a real stretch!)  Was it because a Kurdish Al Qaida franchisee was prosecuted in Norway?  Well, actually, no.  It was a white, native, Norwegian-to-the-last-gene neo-Nazi with weird ideas about European Christianity and nationalism.  But just like with the London nail bomber.  Just like back in Oklahoma even, in the pre-September 11 world when we weren't even used to such things, it wasn't just the Evil Zionist West who pointed the finger straight at Beardy, right or wrong.  It was all of us.

Why?  Well here's the uncomfortable part.  We do it because we know it's usually true.  Now we can nit-pick about how this Christian extremist (I do love saying that, sorry) killed a higher percentage of his countrymen then the September 11 attacks killed Americans.  But it's all bullshit and we know it.  Muslims kill a big pile of people all the damn time.  Actually, they usually kill each other most (Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and now also Libya - as sponsored by Lockheed Martin).  Muslims do a lot of nasty murdering, and it's a really, really bad thing.  So bad we are starting to think it's normal.

Time to get to the point, then.  Islam makes rules for war.  Clear, unambiguous ones, like children and women, priests and monks etc., being non-combatants who must always be protected.  Like never destroying the environment or means of people's living, or messing with the water supply (maybe a bit obscure at first glance that one, but think about it for a second).  It says never fight unless you're attacked.  Make peace, compromise, infinitely and indefinitely because fighting and killing really, really sucks.  For those of you infidels who've done Islam 1.1 either out of educated interest or just so as not to sound such a dick when promoting your atheism to Muslims, you'll know that mainstream Islamic practice has two proper sources: the Qur'An - unchanged and undisputed since it was written down in the first hard copies by the Prophet's (saws) own contemporaries, and the Sunna, which is often a subject of greater debate and special incredulity to the non-Believer.  Well just to be clear, those rules I've just mentioned all come from the Qur'An.  Clear as day and night.

So the nub of the problem is this: we all know that killing folks is a really, really bad thing.  We also know that a lot of Muslims are so way out of line that every time a pall of smoke appears on the horizon we are mentally cooking up the apologies and excuses before we even turn on CNN.  So maybe, instead of feeling smug that this time it was a blue-eyed Bible-basher instead of brown-eyed 'Bu Basheer, we should consider why we are just as likely to be prejudiced as Rupert Murdoch.  We jump to the conclusions because a lot of Muslims are terrorists.  And maybe instead of blindly forwarding hate-filled emails, mumbling empty platitudes about politics we don't know much about, or acting like witless automatons in repeating obvious and vile stupidity just because we heard it from a blind man with a nice voice, we should give that some thought.  Or better still, some voice.  Some action.  Stand up and challenge stupidity and hate from within our own communities.  Shout down the shrill voices and ridicule the ridiculous.

The only reason we keep hearing these alien voices screaming "something must be done about the Muslims", is because too many of us are too timid to do something about ourselves and our neighbours.  So next time something explodes in a messy and expensive way, here's a thought for you: maybe it doesn't matter if it was a Muslim this time or not.  It frequently is, and it's partly your fault.  So what are you going to do about it?

July 15, 2011

Exploiting Brown Insecurity!

My friend Abu Shakwa and I were sitting the other day in our favourite brunch spot - Bani Daris Patisserie and Auto Parts of Medinat Qaboos.  As we tucked into our devilled rabbit kittens and raw meat smoothies, the subject came up of skin-whitening.  By coincidence, the subject came up entirely separately from two other places in the subsequent 24 hours.  I take that, then, as a personal instruction from a higher power, to write something about the subject (and thanks to Ms Amal al Moustafa for making the suggestion on the TLS Facebook Page - she was the second.)

So let's start with the well-known yet weird truth: millions of women around the world try to change to colour of their faces and be "fairer".  The word itself is an interesting one.  "Fair" actually means beautiful.  But from around the seventeenth century it gained a second meaning of "not dark".  So somehow, centuries ago, even in northern Europe where everyone was essentially white, "beautiful" and "not dark" were becoming synonymous.  Now, especially in Indian English and common usage among English-speaking Arabs and Africans, fair usually has one meaning: light-skinned.  But the understanding of the original meaning is there too.  Light-skinned equals beautiful.  Two meanings, one word.

Ironically, if you say the word "fair" to an English person, the first association that comes to mind is probably the meaning of equitable or just.  Or the other meaning (from a different root) of a festival.  "Fair" meaning pale or beautiful is a little obscure in English English.  Maybe that's because among white northern Europeans now, you are more likely to find a desire to be darker.  To many of them it says healthy, dynamic, affluent: people who are tanned, especially in the winter, are those who are rich enough to fly off to the sun for a holiday whenever they like.  They swim and frolic, play tennis at private clubs, and get a tan.  Tanned means healthy and rich.

But for an African or Asian, and perhaps back in mediaeval Europe, it meant the opposite: dark skin meant someone poor, who had to work in the sun.  The rich, successful, important man or woman, stayed in the shade eating the fruits of the darker man's labour.  The dark person was poor, unsuccessful and unimportant.  So a white European getting darker is a symbol of their achievement.  And a brown Asian getting lighter is too.  Even the perception of "healthy" is a little different: in our globalised world, Arabs and Indians go to the gym and try to make their biceps bigger and bellies smaller, just like the Europeans.  But not always: in many cultures, especially in Africa but even, for example, in the south of Oman, either or both sexes are considered more beautiful if they are fat.  Why?  Because again, the successful, important person, can sit on his or her ever-expanding butt while the nobody works the fields, staying fit and lean...and brown.  Even now then, to a degree, white and fat is the ideal of the brown woman, while thin and brown is the obsession of the white one.

If Fatma wants to be white, and Fiona wants to be brown, both face a problem.  Everyone knows that spending too much time in the sun - especially if your skin is not well defended naturally, like whitey Fiona - can cause problems.  First you will get burnt.  Second, you might get skin cancer and die.  Which doesn't look great at all.  But less well-known are the side effects of trying to be white.  Fiona can paint her body with a dye instead of toasting her skin in the sun and having a face like a tobacco leaf by the age of forty.  Fatma can also paint herself with white makeup (check out Dhofari fashion!).  But she can also use one of a multitude of "fairness creams".  Fair = pale = beautiful.  In a bottle.  But at what cost?

There are many different kinds of whitening creams sold to women (and increasingly now, to men).  One projection I read recently said that the market for whitening creams could reach $2 billion in 2012.  That would be enough to feed every malnourished person on the planet over the same period.  So it's big business. The problem is, that just like with tanning, there can be a lot of unpleasant side effects.  Hideous hyperpigmentation, cysts, cancers, and every manner of rash and irritation.  Some contain mercury, or prescription drugs that even doctors are wary of using, chemicals that can cause kidney failure, dementia, and damage to an unborn child.  Horrible side effects are so common we've probably all seen them at some point:  Has anyone ever seen an older lady with pale, patchy skin and weirdly dark areas around her eyes like a panda?  That's a very common side effect of long-term use, and I know I've seen it myself many times.

Most of the more serious health problems and deaths are caused by unlicensed products dumped on the developing world.  But big, well-known brands have to be more careful.  And surely, multi-national companies have products that are checked to the most stringent standards, right?  Well yes, and no: the same product might have different ingredients for different markets depending on local regulation.  Even something that's allowed in the US, might be banned or prescription-only in the EU.  And then there is the problem of fakes - counterfeit bottles of well-known brands made by unknown persons with unknown ingredients.

But even if you use the most popular and trusted brand - Unilever's "Fair & Lovely" range - and even if it's genuine, do you really know what's in it?  Unilever claim that it doesn't contain any "dangerous" ingredients.  Now that's an interesting use of language, because I have to ask what the legal definition of "dangerous" is?  Surely if it's legal, it can't be legally "dangerous", so I wonder if perhaps we have a usage of words here that's designed to reassure about everything, while meaning nothing?  This is a subject to which I shall return in another post, but the language of the food, cosmetics or any consumer product manufacturer, is always suspect.  For example, when they say "no mercury", does that mean "no mercury", or does it mean "no mercury above FDA-approved safe levels"?  You might assume the former,  but you might be wrong.

Unilever does say specifically that "Fair & Lovely" does not contain hydroquinone - a drug that is dangerous if used in excess or over a long period.  Hydroquinone is legal in the US up to 2% concentration without prescription, and up to 4% from a doctor.  Of course, without medical guidance, who is to stop some insecure woman using ten times as much as is recommended, even at the lower concentration?  After all, if you buy something over the counter to put on your face, it's harmless, right?  It's banned in some other countries though - notably France - because apart from all the other nasty side effects, they believe it can cause leukaemia (cancer of the blood).  Anyway, Unilever say there's no hydroquinone in "Fair & Lovely".  They also show lab reports to prove that, and also to prove the absence of mercury or steroids.  So as far as we know, there's nothing really nasty in that particular brand - although Unilever have refused to list their actual ingredients.  Perhaps that is only for intellectual property reasons, if we give the benefit of the doubt.

The active ingredient in "Fair & Lovely" is niacinamide, along with two different kinds of sunscreen.  According to Unilever, niacinamide was discovered to have "a skin-lightening action" during research in India. This led to the launch of the brand in 1972.  Niacinamide is a less frightening compound than some of the others, has side effects that are less dramatic and less common, and might even have other benefits, such as making the skin retain more moisture.  This, along with sun screen, is what Unilever claim makes Fair & Lovely work.  The thing is, I'm not convinced it actually does:

According to Unilever's "Fair & Lovely" website, the effects are very limited, if you read carefully: of course like any cosmetic, they are careful to point out that "Fair & Lovely" is not designed to treat any actual problems, such as hyperpigmentation.  It is for cosmetic use only.  And that's an interesting term.  Cosmetic.  Superficial.  On the surface.  Changing the appearance rather than the fact.  Because as the website explains, "It is not possible for any cosmetic to make anyone fairer than their original complexion".  What?!  All of that waffle, and you don't get any "fairer"?  You see, it can only provide "benefits" and affect "sun-exposure related darkening, oily and rough appearance".   So essentially, the market leader in "whitening" is going to make your skin appear smoother, and stop you getting a tan.  Like sunscreen.  Actually, it is sunscreen.

There you go then, ladies and gentlemen of colour.  The cosmetics technology breakthrough you were waiting for, available since 1972: if you wear a lot of sunscreen, you lose your tan.  Wow.  So if you want to be whiter, you have three choices: settle for just losing your tan and use "Fair & Lovely" or any other high-factor sunscreen.  Or, use light-coloured makeup.  Or buy other skin-whitening products that have actual whitening ingredients, but they will eventually disfigure, injure and possibly kill you.  Here's a really weird one: some people actually use the more dangerous ones to "bleach their anus or vaginal area".  Have you really ever heard anyone say "yeah, I would have married her, but her labia are a bit dark...".  No, me neither.

Anyway, back above the waistline: you can't make yourself whiter.  At least not safely.  But why would you want to?  Really, in this day and age, aren't we all aware that there are beautiful people of every colour, race and social stratum, and that a billionaire is more likely to be Chinese or Indian than American?  Or that a supermodel can be Afro-Caribbean or Brazilian?  Why, but why, would anyone be so insecure as to think being a different colour would make them more beautiful?  

Well, maybe because that's what you're told.  Societies all over the world have invented strange definitions of beauty ever since women first looked at their reflections in a pond.  But aren't we supposed to me moving on from that?  Not really.  I can't remember the last time I watched MBC and didn't see an advertisement (alternately in English and Arabic) for "Fair & Lovely" - the one with the beautiful lady wanting a lighter face with no pigmentation spots.  She's so much happier once she's lighter (or, as it appear in the ad, has different makeup, but advertising is what it is...).  Mercifully, the government in India actually banned one of these ads for suggesting that a woman might actually find a husband and a better job more easily if she changed the colour of her face.  India stands alone in that though.  For the rest of us, the daily message is clear: if you're dark, you're ugly and unsuccessful in love and in life.

Insecurities are something we all have.  Maybe we should also look at the hilarious ads telling mothers to sterilise their children from head to toe or they'll get a rash.  There are always buttons for advertisers to press, to sell fear to the masses: "If you don't buy this, you will be ugly".  "If you don't buy this, you will be a bad parent".  "If you don't buy this, you will not be cool".  "If you don't buy this, your girlfriends will gossip about the state of your toilet when you leave the room."  Utter bullshit.  But surely, in 2011, after civil rights in America, an end to colonialism (almost), global communication, awareness of other races, cultures and human commonalities like no other time in history, "you are ugly because you're brown" is the most bizarre message of all?

Everyone has to make up their own mind I suppose.  But to Fatma who wants to be white, and Fiona who wants to be brown, I have a couple of pieces of advice: first, twenty years from now you will look at a photograph of yourself from today and realise that you looked way, way,  better than you thought you did.  Second, if you think poisoning yourself or changing the colour of your face with a dollop of makeup will make someone love you more, then you need to find someone else to love you.  Take my word for it, somebody will.

And on that latter point, I'm very light-skinned, and I happen to find very dark-skinned women most attractive.  So, er...Fatma is it?  How you doin'? ;)

P.S.  Separate issue I know, but don't mess with that big booty either...I like it that way...thanks.

July 13, 2011

English English

A quick post on a subject of no genuine importance yet great cultural concern!

The English I speak and write is...well, English.  As opposed to American or Indian.  I do use Americanisms frequently, and occasionally switch from one dialect (is that the correct term?) to another.  But in general, my default English is of the English variety.

One thing every English-speaker will have noticed is how much variety there is within this language.  Many will also note how protective some groups or nationalities are of their language - be it English, Arabic, or any other.  So this article on the BBC website entertained me greatly.

From an English English perspective, I have wondered at the ignorant use of baseball terminology myself.  Not that I have anything against baseball beyond its inherent inelegance and crushing dullness.  But it is displacing gradually the proud tradition of cricket metaphors in English, such as "by close of play", "playing a straight bat" or "bowled him a googly" (the latter of course now replaced directly by "threw him a curve-ball").  I use both kinds, but I would hate to see the latter disappear.  At least Indians know their cricket, bless them.

Another difference is in pronunciation.  Ever since the Gulf War of 1990-1, English people have been pronouncing the word "patriot" in the American way, because of the American missile defence system with which the public became familiar at that time.  In the British pronunciation, "pat" rhymes with "fat",  In the American, "pat" rhymes with "fate" i.e. "pate-ree-ott".  It's been irritating me for twenty years so far, just because it doesn't seem to fit with English pronunciation in general.  The first time I heard an English newsreader use the American pronunciation in a context away from missile systems, I almost choked.  That one is well on the way to becoming standard.

But the emphasis of words is different too.  The Australian habit of a rising tone at the end of a sentence even when it is not a question, has invaded English English via afternoon sitcoms since the eighties (the "idiot interrogative" as I once heard it described by comic Rory McGrath, I think - he should get a knighthood for that).  But even more pervasive is the subtle change in emphasis:  For instance, "GArage" as used to be the English English, is now becoming "gaRAGE".  And for decades, the English have been saying "ICE cream" rather than the English "ice CREAM".

In fact, in English English people used to say "iceD CREAM", but the "d" has been dropped, as is popular in America.  Simplifying such words seems to be something of an obsession.  Iced tea is now "ice tea" (check your Lipton can - a British/Dutch company too!), which if you think about it, is as illogical as it is ugly.  One simply cannot make tea from ice.  Only make tea, and then ice it afterwards.  At which point, it has been iced, surely?  Although I'm told that "iced" now means "murdered".

Anyway, as Mr Engel's article concludes, the incomparable promiscuity of English is a large part of its success.  English has adopted words from Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and a hundred others and that's without even looking at European languages.  It seems that now English is being passed back into English.  And there is no point in worrying about it.  There are so many dialects of English now, both official and unofficial, that the pretence of any "original" or "standard" English is long destroyed.  Here in Oman, apart from English, American, Canadian and the all-pervasive Indian English, there is a local dialect too.  I maintain that it's simply wrong, but I am swimming against the tide:

- "out" instead of "outside" e.g."are you out?" meaning "are you waiting for me outside?" rather than the traditional meaning of "are you not at home at the moment?".


- "down" instead of "downstairs" e.g. "i am down" meaning "i am on the ground floor" rather than our metaphorical standard "I am feeling depressed" (is that American or English by the way?)


- "sleep" instead of "go to sleep" e.g. "did you sleep?" meaning "have you gone to sleep?"; the continuous meaning having been lost.

and my pet hate:

- A land.  Not in the sense of a country (e.g. "a foreign land").  Here, the indefinite article is added regardless, e.g. "I have bought a land close to the beach".  Which should be, correctly "some land", or "a piece of land", or best of all "a plot of land".

To an instinctive pedant like me, bad English is annoying and I do my best to fight it at every quarter.  And let's not even mention that in general, Omanis (if you'll pardon the Americanism), can't spell for shit.  At the same time, I can't help but notice that Arabic is absorbing English at an astonishing rate.  That doesnt' irritate me so much as it seems to be used more consciously, and people know that it is technical or colloquial rather than real Arabic.  Apart from the obvious "internet" etc., there are some real beauties coming through: recently a good friend of mine was very tired and described himself as "metkansel".  To non Arabic-speakers, this is a reflexive verbal noun derived from the English "cancel" and therefore meaning "self-cancelled".  What's more the meaning of "cancel" to which it refers is actually "written off" in English English e.g. "I crashed my car and it's totally cancelled".  So a new colloquial Arabic word come into being that is grammatically Arabic but based on an Omani dialectic usage of an English word.  Brilliant.

Not everyone thinks so.  In this globalised linguistic minestrone, by clinging in desperate futility to an impossible purity of the language, the French are gradually strangling theirs to death.  English is growing, French is shrinking.  And they can pass all the laws they like, but "le weekend" is in French to stay.  I think the rate of change and growth in modern English is unprecedented.  Sometimes it's annoying.  I'm told that split infinitives are now officially allowed (as opposed to allowed officially), depriving the obnoxiously grammatical of a stick with which to beat others.  I do resent that a little.  But language is a living, breathing thing that evolves and changes constantly.  There is no point in fighting it.  At least not for too long.

English and every other language will grow, shrink, import, export and most of all, change relentlessly (I simple will not say "relentlessly change"!).  There is no way back.  Today's bad English will become tomorrow's standard.  I think they now call that "pwnage".

July 12, 2011

Qatar 2022 - Get Over It and Be Happy!

I like football.  Quite a lot.

So like hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of others, I waiting with great interest to see where the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments would be held.  2018 was, in my opinion, too hard to call, with a lot of noise from England, absolute confidence from Spain and Portugal making you wonder how they could be so sure, and an ambitious bid from Russia.  But 2022 I never had any doubt:  surely Qatar was, as they say, a no-brainer?

So what, really, is all the fuss about?  Today, the Qataris are defending themselves vigorously and accusing certain quarters of prejudice.  I have to agree.  Because whatever you think of the process, and whatever you think of FIFA, Qatar and Russia had something on their side that goes way beyond suspect financial practices.  They had the best bids.  By a long way.  OK, I can see the eyebrows raised and hear the sharp intakes of breath, but really.  There was no contest.  Three things seem to be ignored by the stone-throwers when they take their pot shots at Qatar, and seem to have been ignored by some of the other bidding associations too:

1.  What did FIFA want?  

No, I don't mean bribes.  Well, maybe a bit...but we'll come back to that.  Let's look at their track record over the last few years.  They've played it safe a few times (i.e. major football nations of Western Europe), but three of the last six World Cups have been in "new" markets.  Not new in the sense that they'd never heard of football, but new in the sense that FIFA had not paid them much attention before.  The USA in '94, Japan/South Korea in 2002, and of course South Africa in 2010.  FIFA have shown for some time now that their priority is expanding (and exploiting) the popularity of the game in new markets.  Moving away from traditional power bases of football has been the trend for the last two decades.

Let's not forget that all three of those "new" hosts were controversial, or that all three turned out pretty well:  The USA managed to fill stadia (massive ones too) across thousands of miles and different time zones.  And Ireland vs Italy in New York was a wonderful occasion (rather better than the final, it has to be said..)  South Korea and Japan managed to qualify before they hosted, and work out the logistics of the first ever shared tournament.  South Korea also played brilliantly, vindicating the argument for Asia as a rising football force.  And South Africa managed to pass off without thousands of visitors being mugged and murdered as some had suggested.  

Now another tournament in a challenging location beckons:  2014 in Brazil.  Not that Brazil isn't of the football establishment - it is - but with new infrastructure requirements and a high crime rate, they have many of the challenges that South Africa had.  Yet nobody's complaining because Brazil is Brazil.  They've had a raw deal too:  While Europe has had three tournaments out of the last six, South America which is the other giant in footballing terms, has had none.  Even North America ("CONCACAF") has had two.  So Brazil were definitely due one - and needed European support to get it, which brings me onto:

2.  Corruption

The principle slander of Qatar's bid has been that they "bribed" their way to victory.  Of course in the absence  of any actual evidence, that's taken real effort to sustain.  The first accusation was that Qatar had coordinated illegally by making a "deal" with Spain/Portugal that they would bring votes to each other's bids.  Shocking stuff.  Yet the complaints about Spain's having done exactly that with Brazil were strangely muted in comparison: Spain/Portugal's confidence was largely born of the support they were expecting from all of the South American countries, because they had led the European support for Brazil 2014.  So cutting a deal with Brazil is not such a big deal.  Cutting a deal with Qatar though, would have been out of order.  No wonder the Qataris are talking about prejudice.  Also unmentioned was that as the representative of the British monarchy, Prince William was campaigning for both England and Australia at the same time.

The last laugh on that one, though, is with Russia.  Spain/Portugal did indeed get some support from Latin America, but not from Europe.  Which begs the question:  why were all the bids for 2018 from Europe, and four out of five bids for 2022 from Asia?  Are these confederations in complete disarray, or were some of these bids just to make up the numbers?  When England lost out to Germany for the 2006 tournament, the word in the corridors was that you couldn't be expected to win without the support of your own confederation.  Perhaps this time, the rule is that you can't win without some disposable competition from your own confederation.

Perhaps if you're determined to be sceptical, you'd say that if it's a bribery competition, Qatar and Russia were always the clear favourites.  No comment.  And neither should I without any evidence at all.  But the one actual accusation of bribery against Qatar has been retracted - and even that, if you actually read the detail, was that the money would be paid to the federations, not to the individuals.  The rest aren't really accusations at all:  just resentment of Qatar's having spent a lot of money on their bid.

But on the point of making "donations" to federations that happen to have representatives on the Executive Committee, there are some stones being thrown from within some very fragile glass football stadiums.  For example, why is it that out of all the developing countries in CONCACAF, and all the countries with strong links to the UK, the FA (English) gave so much attention to Trinidad & Tobago in their international development programmes?  That country was the only recipient in its confederation of assistance from the FA during the two years leading up to the vote.  Could that be anything to do with the Trinidadian Jack Warner's vice presidency of FIFA perhaps?  Why wasn't the sore-losing American, Chuck Blazer*, complaining about that rather than the Qataris?

I am neither suggesting that bribes were paid, nor condoning such a thing.  But let's not be naive:  the process of "lobbying", "building relationships", "marketing", "outreach", "development" and other such cuddly terms, is about giving people stuff to persuade them to like you.  And every bidding nation has done something.  If the nations now complaining loudest had really thought FIFA was corrupt and that the bidding process would be decided by bribery, then why would they decide to bid?  So that they could complain afterwards?  Because they were paying too?  Or because they never really thought that at all, and just needed an excuse after the event, to justify the failure of their half-hearted, dishonest and incompetent bids.

3.  The bids

So this is the main point.  Russia and Qatar had really, really good bids.  The loudest protesters - England and the USA - didn't.  It's as simple as that.  Here are some obvious comparisons:

- England and the USA are the two richest and most established sporting markets in the World.  The USA had the tournament in 1994.

- Russia is the biggest country in Europe, a rising economy, and has never hosted a major tournament.  Qatar sees itself as representing the Middle East, where an estimated 130 million watched the last final on a Qatari TV station (almost as many as Western Europe), yet no country of the region in either Africa or Asia, has hosted the tournament.

- England and the USA promised "possible" new stadiums.  As it stands, none of those "possible" projects have happened.  In the case of England, Tottenham are still arguing about the Olympic stadium, Liverpool might now have the money but have lost their planning window, Plymouth Argyle are essentially bankrupt, and Nottingham Forest silent on their new plans.  So no new development looks likely for now.

- Russia and Qatar will each build a complete new set of stadiums.  Unequivocally promised.  Not "subject to" or "potentially".  They will be built.

- England and the USA will not be providing any new transport infrastructure.  They have enough.  England did promise some local minibus services for fans.  But if you wanted to get from Plymouth to Newcastle, it would be on the same old train lines that British people complain about - and could cost about $300.  The cost of flying is hard to predict!

- Russia will build completely new high-speed rail links between its major cities.  Qatar will build a new rail system linking every stadium directly.  All travel on these gleaming brand new services will be completely free to fans with match tickets.

Overall, among all the European bids for 2018, Russia was the stand-out:  biggest market, biggest development potential, biggest commitments to the game and in its legacy, and least represented before now.  And in Qatar's case, something similar: extraordinary commitments, a region again with massive interest that had never had any attention before, a special legacy (the new stadiums will have a modular design and be given away to developing nations afterwards), and let's not forget useless competition: the USA with no commitments at all that had the tournament only in '94.  Japan and South Korea, separately, but who shared the tournament only in 2002.  And Australia - like the USA a place where football is fifth choice, but without the compensating benefits of a large market to approach, or a strong women's game.  Also terrible for TV scheduling and therefore most of the tournament's income.

So really, why the fuss about Qatar?  The weather?  Well, Mexico in '86 also had temperatures over 40 Celsius, and the problem of altitude to add.  Qatar is at sea level, and will provide climate controlled stadiums, plus brand new air-conditioned transport for fans right up to the door, free of charge.  Or maybe it's because Qatar doesn't allow alcohol.  Except that's not true; visiting fans will find plenty of bars.  Alcohol sales in the stadium itself are not permitted by FIFA anyway.  Maybe it's because it will be hard to get visas.  Except that Qatar have said they will give a visa to anyone with a ticket.  And that they would welcome Israeli qualification - and their fans.

There is no question that a tournament in Qatar will be different to anything that went before it.  Mexico '86 gave the "Mexican wave".  Italia '90 made everyone whistle "Nessun Dorma".  USA '94 finally got the Americans interested in the global game (slowly, but it stuck).  Japan/South Korea made the first Asian stars. South Africa gave us the vuvuzela (well, perhaps we'll skip that one).  So what will Qatar 2022 give us?  I'm anticipating the first five star tournament.  The most family-friendly.  The air-conditioned indoor "fan zone".  And of course, the only tournament in history where, if you wish and if you can get the tickets, you can attend every single game.

Not a single other bid came close to Qatar's in terms of ambition or originality.  I'm delighted they are hosting 2022.  It's time to stop the mud-slinging and get on board to enjoy the show.  Of course with ambitious bids, they have to be delivered, and again there's a contrast: does anyone think that Qatar will fail to spend the money, really?  As opposed to England: as the bidding process reached its conclusion with the Prime Minister, the heir to the throne and Lord Beckham in attendance, the UK was halving its committed funding to  its own Olympic team, and handing over the as yet unfinished new stadium to a football team, as it had specifically promised not to do.  Breaking promises over a major sporting event while you're bidding for another one is probably quite silly.

Anyway, regardless of what people say - silly rumours about re-scheduling the tournament for example - Qatar will get on with it, and they will succeed.  I for one am delighted for them, and am thinking of booking a hotel room now.  It's easy to resent the unfathomable wealth of this little country.  But instead of getting bitter and resentful about it, as fans maybe we should be happy that so much of it is about to be spent on hosting our favourite game?

*The USA's member of the FIFA Executive Committee, Chuck Blazer, was the loudest campaigner against corruption.  Yet he's currently under pressure both from both his own federation and confederation for "inappropriate" behaviour and comments.  According to some reports, he didn't vote for his own country back in December (?!)  Still, at least he's not a sand ni****...