March 26, 2007

The Tragic Loss Of Bob Woolmer and The World Cup 2007 (part 1)


And I’m back…it’s been a long time, but no time like the present, eh? Bla blah. Anyway, the gap has been big but with exams, assignments, interviews and crucial career decisions on the horizon, what better time to update what may be called the beating heart of Warwick? (oh, give it up, u Boar people…)

But first let us begin with the most relevant and important (the Middle East can wait): the most spectacular event in the cricketing world. I refer, of course, to Dwayne Leverock defying physics, gravity and belief to catch AR Uthappa in mid air. More on Dwayne later.

History lessons

World Cup ’75 gave us Gavaskar’s tremendous 5 hour stay at the crease (amassing 36 not out, supposedly a stern response to England’s 334). Presumably somebody forgot to tell the Indians the new format of the game. Then WC ’83 gave us Kapil Dev’s phenomenal 175 n.o. that remains only in memories and pages because BBC cameramen were on strike that day. Cricinfo tells us:

[In the West Indies v Australia 1975 final] Lillee slapped a Van Holder no-ball straight to Fredericks at extra cover. The crowd missed the call and rushed on, thinking the match was over. Fredericks tried another run-out, only to see the ball disappear into the horde. “Keep running,” shouted Lillee to his mate. When order was restored, umpires Dickie Bird and Tom Spencer declared they could have two runs. “Pig’s arse,” cried Thommo. “We’ve been running up and down here all afternoon!” So they gave them three.

World Cup 2007, however, is a serious contender for the most groundbreaking world cup in cricket. Having been overshadowed by tragedy, the quality of cricket and events on the field will simply not compare. In fact, tragically, even the tragedy is no more – now it’s a mystery and a pot of conspiracy theory. We shall return to the cricket later…


And cricket takes a back seat…

The murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer (left, in the ‘70s) has crossed the sport pages (even cricket, which occupies the back page from the news side AND the sports side in this country) and entered the front page even in non-cricket-interested nations (presumably under “the crazy world of cricket”). By all accounts, it is clear that Woolmer was a uniquely disciplined and honest man, if not a brilliant coach. His friendliness to Pakistanis and the team was countered by a certain lack of control over the team – characterised by drug scandals and the (former) Captain’s all-pervasive presence. Nonetheless, despite these scandals, the stress on youth and professionalism placed on the team by Woolmer, despite mixed success, is a beacon to coaches everywhere. As to the murder itself, a strong case may be made for his forthcoming book being the fuse for this fire – supposedly it contained sensitive information on many cricketing figures. This has since been refuted by Woolmer’s close friends.

As for the perpetrators, there seem to be broadly 4 theories: unknown criminal, Pakistani player(s), bookmakers or fans. The player theory can be safely eliminated, as no Pakistani player would risk everything to protect professional secrets. Clearly, the bookie angle is very strong, given the subcontinent’s long running problems. A big stumbling block is: why right after the game? The perp had time to go and why not do it elsewhere where it would garner less attention?

This has the appalling hallmark of a routine inner city killing – the complete lack of method (blood spattered walls), the timing and lack of motive elsewhere. Meanwhile, the sport and Pakistani squad are left in shock as to how the relatively happy world of sport could be so openly ripped apart. Clearly security will have to be tightened; this is the only blameworthy element so far. That nobody heard or saw anything is not reason enough, security can be all-encompassing. There are suggestions of a Bob Woolmer academy in Pakistan, which can only be a good thing, given the current state of Pakistani cricket. Perhaps some of ol’ Bob’s finer instincts can be carried on.

No doubt the killers will be found and locked up till they die and ugly as it is, we are reminded that it’s just a game, at any level. And yet the World Cup will go on.

August 07, 2006

Preston, Lancashire: Race hate capital of England?

Shezan Umarji

The papers have their say

Another year, another 'race riot' in Northern England – another innocent caught in crossfire. The deceased’s parents grabbed the first picture they could find, so we now remember Shezan Umarji as a suave young man all dressed up in a suit. Unfortunately, his end came in a disgusting spectacle of mindless hatred.

This has raised a spectre of Preston as the race hate capital of the UK. The Sunday Telegraph tells us that the race crime rate in Preston is 3.8 per 1000 – this may not seem significant, but when one considers that it is higher than the Midlands and West Yorkshire (where the terrorists of 7/7 came from); it is indeed worrying.

Clearly, any discussion of or solution to these problems must include the Muslim youth our (Northern) towns and cities contain. By many accounts, things are worse than previously – the Sunday Times on August 6th ran an article describing that way the second generation of British Muslims has become highly politicised and considerably more so than the previous generation.

A denizen’s view

I live in Blackburn, which is (literally) within spitting distance of Preston and not all that different to Preston itself. I also spend roughly half my time there, and I will say this first: it depends on where you live. No–brainer, right? I, for one, (and anyone who knows me will vouch for this) quite enjoy my time here – most streets are clean, people are friendly, there are quite a few pool–halls, cinemas and gyms to occupy anybody.

But there are problems – the North–West is one of the most deprived areas of the country, and it’s visible in certain areas. Different folk live separate lives. Even pretty girls tend to stick together. But then that’s another blog entry. The divisions can sometimes be so stark that even within the wider ‘Asian’ community (people from the Indian subcontinent), Hindus and Muslims live mostly separate lives.

However, the incident that resulted in Shezan Umarji’s death was a simple but tragic incident: two people got into a fight, people joined in to ‘help’. The fact that it took on a racial aspect shows the racist views of some of those individuals, but mostly the alcohol that most of them had industriously imbibed all day. I would say there was and is a problem in that particular estate owing to certain individuals, but I do not believe for a moment that there is problem of racism in Preston or East Lancashire that is disproportionate to the rest of the country. In general, alcohol + mob mentality = make usually sensible people fight whatever is in front of them. That’s it.

In fact, the only systematic problem here is poverty. This is what needs to be addressed – as it is being, somewhat slowly.

So there you have it – it’s not so grim up North. Don’t be afraid to visit us. Pleeeeeze!!!

April 18, 2006

Offside Rule For Women & Spellchecking particulars

The Offside Rule For Women (sorry…)

In preparation for the World Cup, the "offside rule" explained for women:

You're in a shoe shop, second in the queue for the till. Behind the shop assistant on the till is a pair of shoes which you have seen and which you must have.

The female shopper in front of you has seen them also and is eyeing them with desire. Both of you have forgotten your purses.

It would be rude to push in front of the first woman if you had no money to pay for the shoes.

The shop assistant remains at the till waiting.

Your friend is trying on another pair of shoes at the back of the shop and sees your dilemma.

She prepares to throw her purse to you.

If she does so, you can catch the purse, then walk round the other shopper and buy the shoes!

At a pinch she could throw the purse ahead of the other shopper and "whilst it is in flight" you could nip around the other shopper, catch the purse and buy the shoes!

BUT, you must always remember that until the purse has "actually been thrown", it would be plain wrong for you to be in front of the other shopper and you would be OFFSIDE!


Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy,
it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a
wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist
and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset
can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it
wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed
ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro

That'll fcuk the splelchekcer


Spell checker poem

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

April 13, 2006

Save Sudan (& Chad)

SudanThe regular foot-dragging with regards to action in Africa has not been interrupted this year. While the UN continues to "agree to discuss agreements to consider possible sanctions on Sudan" or something of the sort, almost 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur region – about 35 times the number of people killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict over 50 years.

This conflict is between non-Arab black tribes (like Fur and Masalit), and tribes known collectively as Baggara. Both these groups are, by international standards, black people and Muslims. However, this has not stopped conflict between them, caused by competition in the slave trade and differing economic needs. Access to land and surface water have frequently become warring issues. Unfortunately, this conflict is part of the amorphous history of violence in Sudan and this conflict occurred alongside the second civil war (1983–2005). Meanwhile the Sudanese government blames rebels for killing more than 3000 soldiers and destroying 80 police stations.

Almost 6 million people have been displaced, many of them across the border to Chad. The American government, uncharacteristically, has pushed hard for intervention but not enough to take unilateral action, as in, say, Iraq. And now the war is spilling into Chad – another dirt poor country with few paved roads and little oil. The plot has thickened, however – the Sudanese government, which was for UN intervention, has now started to lobby against it.

Sudan was already one of Africa's poorest countries and with more than half of the state budget devoted to the war effort, economic development is inhibited by the country's security concerns, the severe shortage of foreign exchange, inadequate infrastructure and exorbitant debt. The national economy has, however, begun recovery – Sudan 's GDP grew by 6% in 1999 and inflation dropped sharply to 8.8% in 2004 after peaking at 166% in 1996. The GDP real growth rate for 2004 was 5.9% – growth attributed to oil these days. Nevertheless, oil exports that now account for about some 70% of export earnings (77% in the first quarter of 2001), are unlikely to boost the economy significantly unless the civil war can be ended.

History Lesson

The First Sudanese Civil War occurred between 1955 and 1972 between the northern part of Sudan and the south, which demanded more regional autonomy. Half a million people died over the 17 years of war – an agreement was signed in 1972 which addressed some but not all concerns. These crucial failings then led to the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005). The period between 1955 and 2005 is sometimes considered a single conflict with a ceasefire in between.

Looking ahead

There is a 6000-strong AU force present – but is widely held to be incompetent, as most AU efforts are. The peacekeeping force needs to be multiplied considerably – remember that the region of Darfur alone is the size of France and Sudan bigger than Western Europe. The fighting must be choked off once and for all using a large contingent of soldiers, about 30,000. This seems fantasy at the moment due to the lack of peacekeepers worldwide. As the Economist says, the force must have a 'Muslim face' – but as it points out, Pakistan, Nigeria, et al are busy.

There are deep economic and social structural problems in Sudan – a promised referendum in 6 years for Southern Independence is one step towards unity of a sort. The United States should use its influence with more vigour because this is a case where few would not follow the USA in a concerted attack and few would damn it for going it alone.

February 22, 2006

Selected Images

Bin LadenChurchsignManRoad signs

Good Country Songs

Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth 'Cause I'm Kissing You Goodbye

Her Teeth was Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure

How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

I Don't Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling

I Just Bought A Car From The Guy That Stole My Girl, But The Car Don't Run So I Figure We Got An Even Deal

I Keep Forgettin' I Forgot About You

I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well

I Still Miss You, Baby, But My Aim's Gettin' Better

I Wouldn't Take Her To A Dog Fight, 'Cause I'm Afraid She'd Win

I'll Marry You Tomorrow, But Let's Honeymoon Tonight

I'm So Miserable Without You, It's Like Havin' You Here

I've Got Tears In My Ears From Lyin' On My Back and Cryin' Over You

If I Can't Be Number One In Your Life, Then Number Two On You

If I Had Shot You When I Wanted To, I'd Be Out By Now

Mama, Get A Hammer (There's A Fly On Papa's Head)

My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, And I Don't Love You

My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend, And I Sure Do Miss Him

Please Bypass This Heart

She Got The Ring And I Got The Finger

You Done Tore Out My Heart And Stomped That Sucker Flat

You're The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly

If The Phone Don't Ring, You'll Know It's Me

She's Actin' Single, And I'm Drinkin' Doubles

She's Lookin' Better After Every Beer

I Haven't Gone To Bed With Any Ugly Women, But I've Sure Woke Up With A Few

February 06, 2006

Is this free speech?

These images depict the prophet Muhammed. One with a bomb and another with a dagger. Is this what the bastion of freedom and liberty, Western Europe, believes free speech to be?

Let us remember that Islam forbids depiction of Muhammed in any way, never mind in such an insulting manner. The European newspapers publishing these pictures are appealing as if protecting their rights against state intervention or secrecy: lest we forget, this is about cartoons. The first newspaper, Jyllands Posten, knew the furore this would cause and baited Muslims with their publication. This is not free speech - if John Locke and John S Mill were alive today, they would be disgusted. This is not what they had in mind when they thought of liberty, the promised land. This is the deliberate insulting of a religion with more than a billion followers –

Mistakes on all sides

Once again Muslims around the world have not disappointed the provocateurs. Embassies have been destroyed, diplomats attacked, a Catholic priest shot dead in Turkey, and much more. If the newspaper started out in the wrong, they now seem a distant object in the whole palaver thanks to the outrageously disgaceful behaviour of "a minority" of Muslims in several countries. How is it that "a minority" are always ready to take up arms and placards and pierce the air with outrageous claims and threats? That so many Muslims find it so easy to take up arms and engage in such bloodthirsty rhetoric is a worry for the world and does not make life any easier for the 'other Muslims'. Let us see for a moment what Arab newspapers carry occasionally:

It is true that many of these images are printed in the lunatic fringe of the Arab media spectrum, but not all. The image containing Ariel Sharon and the bloody sword is from Al-Wafd, the main opposition paper in Egypt, with substantial coverage. So hypocrisy comes into it also.

However, I believe Jyllands Posten was right to apologise but must retract the cartoons - the media cannot work on an eye-for-an-eye ethos. This conflict is being painted as the inevitable fight between Islamic censorship and Western liberty - sorry to disappoint, but it is not. It is a Vin Diesel while people are pretending it's a Schwarzenegger. The issue is right, but the provocation and timing wrong. The crucial issue here is this: if Islamic censorship causes problems within the 'Western' way of life, then there is cause for people to evoke freedom of speech. If, however, cartoonists and Editors go out of their way to bait a religious group and then hide behind freedom of speech, then we have entered a wrong alley.

The reaction by a lot of Muslims has been pathetic and horrendous; mostly overreaction. But we must not lose sight of the issue here: insult of a religion. The prophet Muhammed is a tremendous figure in history and should not be depicted thus. Muslim media needs to pay the same attention to its anti-Semitism, but just because media in Islamic countries show such flagrant hatred for Jews does not mean we demean and sully the image of their prophet in return.

There is a very thin line between freedom of speech and insult. It must be trodden very carefully. Damn those grey areas.

February 03, 2006

The Merits Of Democracy

Hamas membersThe United States is engaging the Middle East in dialogue over democracy while castigating it for harbouring and encouraging suicide bombers and other assorted terrorists. It invades Afghanistan and Iraq…talks about invading Iran.

Despite being in a quagmire in said places, it forges ahead with conviction with encouraging Muslim and Arab countries to democratise. And then, just then, the state of Palestine elects a group to government known to the rest of the world only in headlines either preceding or following any combination of the words "suicide" and "bomber". Dubya's jaw must have fallen to the floor.

It is a testament to politics today that instead of praising what appears to be a fair and open election in an area where it is rare, we are having to castigate the Palestinians for electing a party that uses suicide bombing as a tactic. To use the word 'ironic' would be a little tragic – needless to say, this is not what the Democratists hoped for. We must, however, dig deeper. Hamas won because of a broad platform that did not solely focus on the white elephant in the room; they were able to present a united front (Fatah is torn apart by internal divisions by more than a 100 'independents'). Could it be that this broader platform is part of a reform of Hamas? It is surely too soon to tell.

I am of the belief that given power, Hamas will clean itself up and attempt to do the same with Israeli relations. Our hawkish news sources had better be careful with their words, the peace process is not dead. Not yet.

Is this the will of the people? Do they share the party's ethos of action at any cost? Only time will tell: truth is stranger than expectation…

January 29, 2006

The Constant Gardener (2005)

Movie image
The Constant Gardener (2005)
5 out of 5 stars

I initially waited for a while before seeing this film, for a variety of reasons. Well, mostly because the name and the combo of actors didn't quite light the fire. I went to see 'The Exorcism Of Emily Rose' instead. In retrospect it seems a shocking decision.

This film is a masterpiece through and through - combining awe-inspiring photography with jaw dropping African scenery tied together with a thin but sturdy string. Furthermore, it does exactly what it says on the tin – it is a political thriller mixed with a love story. For me the latter is always weak compared to the former as subject matter, but the film just about pulls it off.
I cannot remember the last film I saw which does anything like this anywhere near as well.

The basic story goes like this: an affable, low-key British diplomat (played by the quintessentially English Ralph Fiennes) finds and marries Tessa (a boisterous and rebellious Rachel Weisz). She begs him to take her to Kenya and he does. Unfortunately, she is a passionate human rights advocate wth very little respect for laws and regulations.

She manages to get into a spot of bother with a couple of pharmaceutical companies and the film really kicks off. She is killed and her partner for the trip tortured before being crucified. Our valiant diplomat finally decides to go for it and pursues this dangerous alliance of business, government and contract-killers. It's adapted from a Le Carre novel – what did you expect?

Anyway, sounds awfully complex and heavy, doesn't it? Well, it is a bit.
But don't let that put you off. It is, in my opinion, one of the very finest films to come out of English language cinema in the past 20 years. If you see just one film in the near future, make it this. Ultimately, if I wasn’t hugely impressed with this film, I wouldn’t have bothered to write a review. Too much bother, you see. But this film deserves it. And if you don’t trust me, check out link.

I find it most disgusting that it was not considered for any category at the Golden Globes. Perhaps its modest nature put punters off – due to its documentary-esque nature, the acting is rarely dramatic. Weisz is good in her somewhat limited role, but Fiennes really outdoes himself with a superb portrayal of a modest man undone.

The photography is simply brilliant – it is shot almost as a documentary at times, at times with instrumental music, at times with African (and other) tribal music; all combining to create an unforgettable experience. It may well leave a mark on you because of the way it showcases the fragility of life, or the perceived cheapness of African lives, or the way it is shot. But then I’m being sentimental – see for yourself.

January 28, 2006

The Many Faces of The Ian Blair Debacle

So the Met Chief has apologised for asking why the Soham murders got so much publicity. I could write all day about the wider debate of what we expect from our public figures (if you have a loud voice given to you by your job, you must use it wisely), the insanity of political correctness, and so forth. Ultimately, he should have known how his comments would be construed and that they are insensitive to the families involved.

Besides being unreasonable, it is also unfortunate that Mr. Blair's comments have reared such a backlash – because this has almost completely obscured his point. Let us now hear what he actually said:

_I am pretty furious. We do devote the same level of resources to murders in relation to their difficulty…the difference is, is how these are reported. I actually believe that the media is guilty of institutional racism in the way they report deaths.

That death of the young lawyer was terrible, but an Asian man was dragged to his death, a woman was chopped up in Lewisham, a chap shot in the head in a Trident murder – they got a paragraph on page 97…There are other dreadful crimes which do not become the greatest story in Britain….

With one or two exceptions, clearly Damilola Taylor was one, the reporting of murder in minority communities appears not to interest the mainstream media…"

Ian Blair
Race warrior

The wider point he makes is about why crimes involving non-white people do not receive the same attention as the Soham murders did. There is truth to what he says, but he must not compare anything to Soham. The loss of children always hits us harder than other crimes – to compare Holly & Jessica with the other examples is, then, somewhat erroneous.

Soham had a combination of things: a) they were children, b) the sadistic manner of their deaths. Yes, they were white. I suspect while the first two are above controversy, the final one is riddled with it.

Let me say this – the Damilola Taylor murder received considerably less coverage than the Soham murders. Is it because newspapers and TV saw the outrage created by Soham and followed it? Was the outrage caused by Soham so much greater than Damilola? If you live in the UK, that's a no-brainer.

So why? One was a black boy stabbed in a stairway, the other two girls carefully lured and murdered by a sadistic man and his acquiescent girlfriend. Is it the sadism? Is it the location – Peckham vs Cambridgeshire?
If the media merely follows public reaction, are we saying that stories about your own race resonate with you more than stories about other races?

I don't think so, but Sir Ian must not be damned for questioning this: it is not so open and shut.

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