Thursday, 26 February 2009

A non-post: Blogger's Block

Guess what, Soos? I'm preparing for a business trip next week. (More details when I get there. Watch this space for live blogging from an exotic location to be announced soon!)

It's 6:30pm in the office. Now, I'm done. All documents are in order. And yet I feel like I should stay attached to my computer, connected, in case I miss anything important. Very sad indeed. I shall head off now, and hopefully all will go well. Not the most exciting blog post in the world but my mind really is blank right now.

To be continued from airport or mystery destination...


Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Stereotypes incorporated*

Presumably most people have seen this article in The Washington Post by now as it’s been doing the rounds on Twitter**.

I’m not going to spend too much time on this as it would be giving it more importance than it deserves. In short, it’s a heavily biased, highly unsubstantiated rant about Dubai using a fair amount of stereotypes and a big dollop of crass commentary. It’s not even original as the author confesses to have never been to Dubai and is relying on anecdotal evidence and recycled content.

It did get me thinking about all the funny things I’ve heard about the Middle East by, for the most part, well meaning individuals. So, I’ve decided to compile a list of my top 5 favourite ‘Arabisms’ (not sure if this is really the right word). I’m sure loads of people will have excellent ones as well so feel free to share.

5. “Did you know there are no hip operations in the Middle East because people spend so much of their time squatting?” no I didn’t actually, but I’ll let my uncle who needs a hip replacement know that it’s all in his head

4. “So Sara, this must be really new for you.... Snow” ummmmm not really... I am, in fact, FROM EARTH

3. “McDonalds is a chain of restaurants – they sell burgers” burger this mmkay?

2. ”I thought Arab women were meant to be chained to trees somewhere” ok, granted this was about ten years ago but still relevant!

1. “I would die if I thought you were correcting my English, I mean... You’re a foreignor!” ‘nuff said...

And one more just because I can’t resist it

“But I thought Arabs didn’t like Muslims” great big sigh.....

* I've borrowed this title from a song of the same name by Iraqi band Euphrates. They're great... I recommend looking them up

** for those of you not yet on Twitter – WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!?!?! Get your butts on this bandwagon dudes

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

El Hussein bombed, Abu Simbel revealed

I've often wondered about the thought process that a suicide bomber or terrorist leader goes through when planning an attack. I don't think I'll ever figure it out. My biggest question today about the Cairo bombing, is why El Hussein? Why this centre of Islamic art, architecture and modern Egyptian culture? Why Khan El Khalili? Those poor bazaar owners who are already struggling for business. Those hundreds of admittedly very annoying street kids and beggars. I can only imagine it was a very pissed off tourist who decided to hell with their nagging, let's bomb the place.

Meanwhile, in the south of Egypt, 290km southwest of Aswan, thousands gathered at the Temple of Abu Simbel for an event that happens every year, on Feb 21, and has been happening for over 7,000 years. On this night, the rays of the rising sun shine on the face of the divine figure of Ramesses II. The axis of the temple was built such that this only happens once a year, to commemorate the accession of Ramessess II to the throne. The beauty of its scientific accuracy lies in that the sun rays don't even touch the figures on either side of him. They shine on him, then disappear, leaving the sanctuary in darkness for another 12 months. It was shocking to see how many people actually knew this, and traveled as far as from Australia and Japan to witness it.

Watching both events in the same news bulletin really struck me. And I can't explain why. But the two stories are now linked for me. I can't think of one without the other.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Sometimes, you just gotta let things go

I think that cartoon is pretty funny actually. Using a monkey to denote stupidity is not uncommon in popular imagery and to say that it's meant to be mocking Obama is a bit of a stretch. There is so much debate around the various stimulus packages and the way the downturn is being handled - you really have to want to be offended to decide that THIS TIME, it's about racism. Yes, there are lines, but we're also getting really touchy about stuff.

I agree with you about the Dubai thing though. Having grown up there and seen it go through all its changes I can definitely say - yes there are things I don't like. As you say however, I don't remember there ever being a memo saying "come... invest in Dubai. We will then model our society on yours and change deeply ingrained elements of our culture to please you. We would like to thank you for coming and for taking the time out from shopping and tanning to whinge. In fact, a warm round of applause for formulating an opinion all by yourself - please continue to enjoy your untaxed income and remember to complain bitterly all the way through that relaxing pedicure".

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A Cartoon Moment

Very frustrated with Internet connection right now. I mean, I build my life around being online, and etisalat destroys it. Euufff.

Anyway - what do you think of this? The New York Post apologised for the offence it caused. But the cartoonist defended it saying it was in reference to some local incident involving a chimp. Was it, really? Not many people would get that though, would they?

I don't want to bring up the whole Danish cartoon controversy and the reactions to it again, but I'm interested to hear views on if and where there is a line to draw? And do preachers of FoS preach only based on their own beliefs and values?

And now an update because of this - isn't this angle everyone's taking about "dubai pretending to be a modern city" just simply their own interpretation of what is modern and open? I don't ever remember Dubai every saying it was going to be a secular place. OR void of any political affiliations. It's not Switzerland.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Freedom of speech you say....

I consider blogs to be pretty much private property – or maybe private intellectual property is a better term? But also that we are responsible for the consequences of what we say in the public domain whether it’s in a blog or in our living rooms.

The increase in questionable coverage of the Middle East is becoming tiresome and I am in full agreement with much of what Boss man Alex says in his excellent blog entry on freedom of speech (FoS). Maybe this is a product of the suspicious times that live in but – rather cynically – I think the very concept of ‘freedom of speech’ is often a bit of woolly marketing talk.

Now hear me out – I do think FoS is incredibly important and that it is a privilege to have. However, with so many people offering their (often unsolicited) opinion of freedom of speech in the Middle East I’ve decided I’m ready to offer my (also unsolicited) opinion of freedom of speech in the West. HAHA I say….

There’s many ways the media is put under pressure to print the ‘right’ kinds of stories and not question the status quo. Really who wants to be accused of ‘jeopardizing national security’? The US government is notorious for manipulating the news cycle and keeping journalists in line by sulking and cutting their access to information and spokespeople.

Even on a day-to-day level, we’ve all seen the BBC mired in controversy time and time again for the more colourful commentary of its presenters.

So, there you have it. I agree we have a way to go with freedom of speech but frankly – who doesn’t? And crucially, cultures evolve as per their surroundings and societal need. This isn’t fashion or some sort of business based best practice and no one’s ‘way’ is necessarily better than others.

While we’re on the topic - Muntadar al-Zaidi facing up to 15 years in jail for expressing himself at George Bush is shameful. This is a spectacular fail for the US and Iraqi governments and a travesty of the legal process.

Over and out…

What is Freedom of Speech?

I'm not surprised that the Jerusalem Post published Will's article. The same way I'm not surprised that The Guardian allowed Germaine Greer to publish her self-serving column about her book.

The whole point of blogs and the way the Internet has evolved, is frankly, to allow anyone who feels like it to say whatever they want to say. And in turn, allow anyone else to comment, object, rant, agree, concurr, debate, discuss, etc etc. And so, no, I don't think anyone has the right to govern blogs of self-expression in an open forum like the Internet.

Having said that, an official media outlet's online presence does need to have governannce, and that is defined by its own editorial policies and organisational mission. Albeit online, that still also means governed by the journalism laws of the country where it is based. Now here's where it gets a little complicated, I think. A journalist or editor who has his own personal blog, not on the newspaper's site, how much of their own views can they express and not be seen to contradict their employer's policies?

Bear with me I'm about to contradict myself. Does what I said mean that any citizen's blog needs to be governed by the laws of the country they live in? And so get arrested and jailed for saying the wrong thing about, let's say, the ruling party? No, I don't believe that should be the case. But it is, isn't it? The Internet has scared the authorities who've managed to gag their people for decades. So it's like 'oh crap how do we stop this thing?!'. Can they?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

What's the deal with Will?

I guess Max is value (though I hate to say it), we'll see how he gets on with 13 year old Dad. I guess good PR doesn't necessarily exist in a vacuum. Annoyingly, some of the best and most genius PR campaigns I've heard of have been on behalf of sketchy companies on a drive for 'positive' spin.

Listen... look away now if you’re in an especially tolerant and happy mood – I can’t have you ruining my upcoming rant with your rational positivity.

So there’s this guy I follow on Twitter, he’s a recent or soon to be recent graduate who’s dabbling in journalism. He writes for a regional paper and seems to be dedicated to developing a career. All good so far. He even traveled to Israel to follow and report on the elections and did a really good job of tweeting new developments with good analysis.

One of his more recent tweets links to an article he wrote that’s been published in The Jerusalem Post calling for Jews and Catholics to unite against Islamism. His argument is a little over simplistic and glosses over the complexity of the dynamics between regional players. Most problematic for me though is his use of the term ‘Islamism’, a highly contested term on a good day.

Now, do I rail against young Will who probably deeply believes in what he is saying. Or do I rail against JPost and their editors because I don’t think this article should be in a newspaper at all, I just don’t think it’s very good journalism.

The debate about bloggers becoming civilian journalists is an interesting one and I look forward to seeing it develop. Will the quality of reporting to take a dive because it’s being pushed towards the lowest common denominator? By the same token, we are seeing some excellent reporting done across a wide variety of new and traditional media that we would not have had access to as recently as five years ago.

So, what’s the solution. Can we even set a standard and, if so, what should it be based on? Should there be one at all? Should writers in any capacity be held accountable for their work?

I don’t have a clue, any ideas?

Jade and Max

It's a strange one, this. But here's a woman who 'sold' her entire life for reality television and had it broadcast to the masses. Everything she said and did has been in the public eye for - how long? 2 years?? So, when it came to her terminal illness and imminent death, I suppose it was difficult to pull out of it now. In a way, the media would never have left her alone anyway - trying to get into the wedding, trying to spy on her and get photos and 'inside scoops' , comments from her doctors, etc. So, what the hell? Sell it to them, willingly, and bring in a substantial amount of cash for the boys!

It's impossible to say if I would do the same if I were her - I'll never know. And yes, I think there is a level of discomfort with the whole thing. And maybe it is taking Reality TV a bit too far. I'm certainly not going to be looking for Jade's news and phtotos, but then again I expect Mr. Clifford's efforts will ensure they get shoved in my face whether I like it or not.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

How much is too much?

We are certainly curious by nature, I can’t see any other good reason for spending billions of dollars to hang out on the moon for a few minutes. But there is the element of control, or perhaps the illusion of control? You know the drill, happy, laughing pictures of people looking their best and comments about their general excellence on their walls.

On a slight departure, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around something and I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with it. Jade Goody’s public battle with cancer as orchestrated by controversial PR dude Max Clifford sits a little uneasily with me. Death and disease are not strangers to the spotlight but this seems entirely different, like it’s much more opportunistic. Like it’s being used as a hook, or rather more cynically, as a means of personal gain.

Did it all start with Reality TV?

Interesting question, Sarsour. Did it start with reality TV? Don't you think it's simply within human nature to want to know all those intimate, private, confidential details of strangers' lives? Reality TV shows like Big Brother are crap. But the ones with more interesting concepts like discovering talent on American Idol (which I just found out through Twitter that Ashton & Demi watch religiously) or even watching housewives switch homes and struggle (can be funny for some people - creeps me out though). But no, the Internet is completely different.

I like the mystery behind the people , and i think there's a fine line between a social network online and taking that offline. I mean, a Twestival once in a while for a good cause is cool, but do I actually want to integrate my Twitter life and Twitter followers into my offline life? I don't think so. That would take away so much from it. So to everyone who sends me direct messages saying "thanks for following, let's also connect on Facebook" the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


You know I see your point about being empowered within social media, but it always seems like just a matter of time before advertising/marketing/PR catch up and start insidiously planting chocolate peanut butter cravings in my head.

I am liking social media though. I have yet to foray into the world of facebook but on an information level - Twitter rocks. In addition to immediate access to a wide range of news (be it industry, breaking or weird) there's also something wickedly fun about knowing that Stephen Fry is off for a walk.

I don't think we've lost the ability to communicate in a physically peopled environment. I would suggest that social media has redrawn the lines around what we consider to be personal information and what is for public consumption. Or was that was reality TV?

Dear Sara

I think it's cool that we're starting this blog. Although I've no idea where it's going to lead. I'm glad to see that you're embracing social media, and starting to accept that it's not necessarily an invasive, spying tool. It's funny how sometimes people ask me how I am or what 's my news, and I wonder: "if only you'd look at my Facebook profile that would save me having to update you." Most likely, if it's not on my profile, then I don't wanna tell you or anyone else about it.

Has social media limited our ability to interact human to human? Probably. But it's also broadened our horizons and given us a choice. I look for what I want, it doesn't get imposed on me.

Power to the people.