Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mosque in Manhattan

An intriguing debate has been rumbling along nicely in the United States. Park 51, a complex in lower Manhattan, is the location where The Cordoba Center (American spelling as it is in New York - forgive me conscience) has been earmarked for construction. The group of Muslims behind the $110 million project want the current building demolished and want to erect The Cordoba Center.

The only problem being that it is two "blocks" from "Ground Zero". As this became newsworthy the debate has fire-balled into an argument most prominently between anti-Islamist rhetoric and liberal voices - not so much Muslims as they don't really deserve a voice.

There are a few Muslims who have spoken out and the few represent a moderate voice. The voice that The Cordoba Center want people to hear. Voices 'Middle America' don't really want to hear because in their minds the planned construction is categorically insensitive to those that lost their lives on 11th September 2001. How dare any Muslim plan to establish a center for inter-faith discourse near Ground Zero.

Ultimately, Middle America has lost the battle - "the project surmounted a final hurdle on Aug. 3, 2010, when a decision by the New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the way for the construction of Park51. The tower of as many as 15 stories will house a mosque, a 500-seat auditorium, and a pool. Its leaders say it will be modeled on the Y.M.C.A. and Jewish Community Center in Manhattan."

Again, this brings into question the level of tolerance Muslims feel in the United States. Quite inversely to what has been demonstrated by a minority of white Americans, Muslims have lived for a long time in the US without ever feeling the need to relocate and indeed the number increases with reversion and immigration.

What is surprising is that there is still a latent hatred that rears its loose limb from the ground every once in a while. In fact, much of the liberal United States is geographically retained in relatively small geographic areas. The same areas that are constantly democratic havens.

Sometimes it feels like a ticking time-bomb and while Michael Bloomberg came out with some utterly positive statements about the liberties of religious expression, it still must mean that much of the US is off limits for Muslims.

In any case Bloomberg's speech (thank you Dimitri) reasserted the importance of change, liberty and freedom of expression after the decree was passed.

The center can now be built. But much work needs to be done to educate even a small minority of the US that fears or hates Islam so much. Dr. Akbar Ahmed appeared on Jon Stewart recently and is looking to bridge a gap that is much wider than it is in Europe, however, it seems Muslims have an easier task in the UK or Germany than they do Stateside. France, Switzerland...perhaps there are problems but Muslims general liberties exist.

It is the fear of those freedoms being removed and the lack of some actual freedoms that harms the Muslim psyche so much and until that fear is removed there will always be a distinct gap in what interaction communities can do.

By the same token, where does America face its biggest problem with its Muslim communities? Middle-class Muslims. Again Middle America is so easily misinformed and is so easily malleable that one way or another they affect consumer, political and social decision making.

Who started it? We will never really know but when an empire holds power and responsibility it will never be perceived by the liberal as working without an agenda.

Despite Bloomberg or Municipal Commissions, the reason why middle-class Muslims in America have been moved to any degree has been affected by US foreign policy. And it isn't likely to change with any affect anytime soon.

Afghanistan and Iraq and any other movement or motion of military might continues to blight the good work done on the ground in the US. A unified voice is what Muslims need a la Akbar Ahmed and a unified effort would solve much of the problems America face...on the ground and at policy level.

I can't see it happening and I can't see middle Americans changing either so its to the pockets of inter-culture and inter-faith success that we look to maintain our hope and happiness.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saudi Blackberry Ban

Looks like I told you so.

Saudi's ban was set to kick in earlier than the UAE's and lo and behold there is a deal already.

Posturing children, posturing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Developments, copy cats and boxing champions

Developments at Liverpool seem reaching some kind of boiling point. I'm sure we've all been here before (as Liverpool fans). I wasn't so much disappointed when the Americans bought Liverpool as non-plussed as it didn't seem as magnificent as a DIC or a sovereign wealth fund - but it was something.

It hasn't worked out and now it is quite possible we will have new Chinese or Canadian/Arab owners in the near future. Apart from, which courts its own controversy, I've found a new Liverpool website that isn't as updated but is the most balanced writing I've seen online about LFC. - worth a read and written by a jingo.

Aside from football, if there is one thing I don't like it is plagiarism. Now I love Mo Zaher's blog, Irrelevant Combinations, but when I wrote my last post about Blackberry he essentially took my views to his larger audience. A bit like New Kidz On the Block making a Beatles' song popular. Anyway, check out his writings.

Staying on Mo, he has lost his crown as Boxing Champion. Much like I took Chuma's crown as FIFA champion, even though its an inferior game. Fight Night Round 3 despite being dated has provided some classic moments in my mind and next year they will release Fight Night Champion.

It was touted as a motion game but that looks to have been dashed as an option I'm not a big fan of the motion based games on the Wii and I'm equally apprehensive about xbox's future system. However, rather than reinvent games I think these systems will enhance the experience.

Much like Blackberry is a globalised extension of communication and not a real substitute for face-to-face interactions (my belief) I feel action and sports is the same. Who knows? Who cares?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

So, ummm Blackberry? Ah Dubai...

Hmmm, so I'm back. In Dubai. I don't really know how that happened.Very blurry. Almost didn't get on the plane but I did and the last 3 weeks are history. Like I never left this place.

Reporting and news here is essentially replicated on the most. The media uses major newswires and some of the shittest papers ( in England to relay news. However, local or national news is still evolving and with a lack of correspondents outside of the country, you can sense how insular a place this is.

One story of note is that of the Blackberry. The scourge of humanity and social interaction. It ruins any meeting or conversation and it is essentially worshiped by its users. I had one...a basic one for a little while. I find it vile...and so does the UAE government.

Bobbie Johnson blogged a year or so ago on the implications of government intervention in personal interactions utilising "BBM" so this has been bubbling up for a while now.

Well, the problem arises out of Blackberry's encryption coding for its BBM service, which 1) means that the government can't prevent National Security breaches and 2) becomes even more of a problem when Blackberry states that it doesn't even know how to decode it. Highly unbelievable.

The last couple of weeks has been about dialogue between the government and RIM (the slightly unfortunate name of the company behind Blackberry) so that the authorities have access to information exchanged.

Well, its all come to a head now, like a pulsating whitehead on the dotted face of my ex-wife. Blackberry is to be blocked in the UAE by both providers on the command of the government.

Good. I'm usually quite rebellious but Blackberries (I assume thats how you refer to them in the plural) are plastic shit that ruin social interaction on a REAL LEVEL. Virtual existences should be confined to desktops or work time or when you are alone not when we are in the middle of something.

However, I think this is posturing and pressure on RIM to give up the encryption to the government. Come October 11th I think it'll be a very different story. I am not one for tech stories but Mo is so techy is almost pixelated when we meet.

And if you are a bird and you like make-up this might be the place to go.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The World Cup's business end and a note on Liverpool

This is the last stretch now. The last 8 teams. The wheat has been extracted from the chaff and essentially these are the best 8 teams in the world right now. Perhaps its just a tournament and some of this is a one off. But for now you should take this as an indicator.

A case in point: Ghana. Aside from Egypt, Ghana have been the most consistent since the start of the year of all the African nations. Their preparation and comfort with their coach has been a far stretch from all the other sides from Africa that qualified. Nigeria are joining France in the close to the bone stakes of government intervention.

Paraguay have been tough, combative and resolute. Not pretty but accurate enough to keep out the opposition. Uruguay similarly are condense. Their major difference is the front two: clinical. Argentina it could be said are the worst side to have qualified based on their streaky campaign to get to South Africa but going forward they have clicked. At the back they haven't been tested.

Not many would have said Germany would be real contenders but after England their movement and speed has to be complimented. Are they due a mistake? Yes, they can be got at. When the onus is on them to attack they are susceptible. Ghana could have exploited that but were profligate.

Brazil and Spain, the pre-tournament favourites have now found a flow that could take them to a meeting in the final. Brazil are Dunga's Brazil. Nothing fancy, just ultimately tough to beat and clinical on the counter. Spain are finding their feet - they stepped up the speed of their passing against Portugal during the second half and looked like they were in total control. They know what they need to do. And The Netherlands really do have another gear to move into.

Whether they do that is another question.
However, it is now or never. Port Elizabeth isn't the best place for the teams to meet for the fourth time in the World Cup. The pitch has come in for a great deal of criticism. Both teams have been effective rather than beautiful. Fabiano is flying at the moment and the Dutch can say their best player is either Sneider or Robben who has only just come back in.

Holland know that they are yet to impress but neither team is likely to. What I will say is that Brazil seem to control their gears more comfortably than the Dutch. For that I can see Brazil winning. But what do I know. I think Johan Cruyff is trying to induce some free flowing football from Brazil so that the Dutch can exploit some space - doubt those mind games will work with the stubborn Dunga.

Ghana and Uruguay. Well, either way this is delving into the historical. Only two other African teams have made it to the Quarters and Ghana have a continent behind ( them wishing them as the first semi-finalists from Africa. This will be tight. Uruguay are content to hit on the break while being solid in Midfield. Lugano has been immense at the back and they have conceded only once. Forlan and Suarez have switched between one another for the goals but they are a formidable partnership to have when you need them. Ghana rely on Gyan but he and a host of players are nursing injuries. Both Mensahs are in need of fitness tests as is Prince Boateng who has arguably been their best player. Muntari is likely to come in for Ayew who is also struggling.

Its those niggling injuries that perhaps puts them at a disadvantage. Uruguay look like they are experienced even if they aren't if you know what I mean. They look ready. Ghana have the support of a continent and have been precise in their play and measly in conceding. However, they have conceded and I worry that they are not physically ready because of the length of their campaign so far...same as Uruguay's but just harder on the body and mind I feel. El Pais, Uruguay's most highly read daily quotes two time coach as saying they will not afford Ghana too much respect.

I hope that doesn't bite him on his backside. Uruguay have won two World Cups. Long ago in 1930 and 1950. Pioneers in the sport despite their small size. Prior to that they won Olympic Gold and as a result wear four stars on their shirt. The Olympics was the unofficial World Championship, yet they still revel in that fact. Their heritage may spur on this team and I don't feel they have over achieved. They look comfortable. More comfortable than Paraguay or Argentina. The best balance of all the South Americans bar an incredibly resolute Brazil.

But this is the business end. I can't wait.

And domestically, Liverpool have perhaps the nicest man in football as their new manager. As a fan, I'm right behind him despite being unhappy with Rafa's treatment. But he had burnt his bridges and had made too many mistakes this season. Part of me wanted him to stay for what he gave us but as much instability as the owners have given us the one way to keep going was to keep winning and not all our woes could be blamed on the Americans. Roy has a tough job but I really do hope he does well. He deserves it and so do we.

Monday, June 28, 2010


You carry your performances forward. If you play well and know your abilities you take it forward with you to the next game. If you don't play well but you still win you run the risk of blinding yourself with your success.

It is simple. England. Before the part-time fans begin their "yeah, but if it was over the line then..."

No, England were trounced by a superior team. That isn't to say England doesn't have some of the best players in the world in the side. They do. But Capello abused this side with his belief and stubbornness in his tactics that were born and died in the 1990's. Players in the wrong place and in the wrong positions.

Let's be clear. Sven Goran Eriksson's team were better than this one. Dull, lifeless....sounds like a L'oreal advert.

And even if England went in at 2 - 2, Germany were quicker, more creative and more disciplined. Germany deserved to win. England deserved it to be this bad. And their momentum from the warm-up games and the way they started this tournament...actually, even against the States they were better, more English...they were always going to lose.

Mexico too. They had such a great opportunity but they were beaten by Uruguay and despite some bad luck against Argentina, they fell apart. They lacked confidence.

There is no such thing as a friendly or a dead rubber. You want to win regardless.

What a dramatic day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Only a C?

The first day of knock-out football has begun at the 2010 World Cup.

Some might think that there is a tectonic shift in football at the moment. Perhaps they're right. I think the worries were there before this World Cup started.

Sepp Blatter's 5 + 4 ruling (which has recently been shot down by the EU) showed that enough domestic talent wasn't breaking through across the continent. I don't know. Spain's system grooms technicality from a very young age and was seriously addressed to ensure that no matter the size of a player, that the essentials of first touch, passing and movement were in place before moving into a higher level.

I doubt that those things aren't in place in France or Italy or even in England where size usually matters. France's issue was uniquely destined to occur because of the nature of their team and the explosion in South Africa was a culmination of issues rather than football.

Italy, well, they are flooded with foreign talent in their leagues. This is a remnant of the 90's and their boom time (ala Premier League modern day) and hasn't necessarily been addressed. At the same time, players like Quagliarella (who impressed in his only real chance against Slovakia) show that there is still the talent. I am sure this will be addressed after the abysmal tournament they had. I think it should have been addressed after 2006 but the euphoria of winning the World Cup meant it was a welcome relief to the scandal that had embroiled Italian football at that time. They weren't the best team in the world - they'd just played tournament football and had won it with luck too.

Is it a shift? No, its just an increase in competitiveness. All teams are fit and now the teams that are progressing and most that haven't except for Honduras have addressed organisation. It wasn't a fluke that New Zealand took 3 points. They were well organised and disciplined. They worked hard and deserved something from every game.

Not great to watch but look at Uruguay. So well drilled and hard to break down added to the fact they have such clinical finishers. That was the difference today against South Korea. They took their chances and half chances lets say. Now the Korean peninsula can concentrate on politics again. South Korea fell away after losing to Argentina. They started with such self belief but got unhinged and didn't recover. The Nigeria match is a testament to that. They were easily penetrable.

And the United States supported by Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger. Bizarre. However, they played so well and achieved so much in the Confederations Cup. And they started slowly this tournament. They kept falling behind but still achieved what they wanted. They finished top of their group and they were super fit. Beyond organisation, they were pace and tenacity personified. USA Today's C grade is a little harsh but tonight they came up against a real test.

Ghana. I am surprised yet not at the same time. I watched them in the African Nations and it was evident they were the wisest of the lot. They didn't sack their manager for a high profile one. They reached the final of the African Nations Cup without having to break too much of a sweat with a young team. They lined up organised (there's that word again) - they lined up hard to beat. 4 5 1. And that discipline and organisation isn't just adhered to with 2 banks that aren't penetrable. The difference between them and let's say New Zealand, is precision and delicate movement.

Their passes they make time for. If they are pressed the must keep the ball. They try not to make a rushed pass and if they are in the 2nd or final third of the pitch they pick their pass perfectly. Isn't necessarily attractive and they might not be the most talented - I think the Ivory Coast are. But they reached the final in Angola with a trusted, obedient team. Muntari was sent packing and they knew who their boss is.

Now he is back but he hasn't started once. No Essien. Not even Appiah starts. The Ghanaian FA didn't want a high profile man to take charge to just show their best side. Sven Goran Eriksson might have wanted the Ivory Coast to do well but even their players looked happy to just win 3 nil against North Korea. They danced after their 3rd. What was there to dance about? You are going home!

No, Ghana are different. And they may not get past Uruguay to what would be an amazing achievement in getting to the semis. Maybe not. But this is a young team. This is the Under 20 World Champions. Maybe they won't achieve the greatness that is expected of them. Nigeria never did after winning Olympic Gold. But they have potential. And they haven't reached the Quarter Finals by fluke. This is a good team who have achieved what they deserved. And what a tournament Kevin Prince Boateng is having. A late inclusion (which will rankle Muntari and the old guard) but hard working, combative, creative, precise....goal scoring?! From Tottenham outcast to Portsmouth villain to hated by Germany to the Quarter Finals of the World Cup. Not bad.

If Uruguay get to the semis what an amazing achievement too. Back to their glory days. Either way what a top start to the knock-outs.

And now the traditional big guns role out. England awaits. Germany does too. By the way, if you thought the English constantly ranted on about the past, then you are mistaken. The Germans are still as bothered about 1966 as much the English.

And Argentina Mexico...well, two relatively attacking sides but as I wrote previously, the Mexicans have tried to bolster their chances by playing South American opposition more often. However, the Argentinian paper, La Nacion wrote about their ability to role over and respect more reputable South American opposition. 10 games in recent times against Argentina and only 1 win. Tough task but a chance to right the wrongs of the second round 4 years ago.