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Create Your Own Visited Countries Map

28 countries which include Bahrain, Ireland, Netherlands, and Qatar where I didn't exit the airport and I know most people wouldn't count them, but I do so. :-P The closest I've been to the southern hemisphere is Singapore in the summer of 1989 (1.17N). And I've yet to hit up Latin America, Africa and Oceania.

Create Your Own Visited States Map

19 states + DC which includes Tennessee which I've just flown through and a couple that I've just driven through. I'll be spending a weekend in Nashville this month for a stag-do so I guess this list will be more *legit* than my countries visited.

Create Your Own Visited Provinces and Territories Map

Four years in Canada but just the three provinces visited. I'll be returning to Toronto (and Canada) for the first time in 11 years this September for a college mate's wedding.

Create Your Own Visited European Countries Map
mcgillianaire: (Geetopadesham)
There are different ways to achieve political ends. Violence is a time-tested method to disrupt and divide peaceful societies anywhere and everywhere in the world. The scale of the tragedy may differ from place to place, but the intent and outcome are always the same. It matters not who the perpetrators are or what they claim to be fighting for. Throughout history, groups of people are prepared to use force to sow seeds of distrust. They want us to cower in fear. They want us to blame the other. They want us to target refugees. They want us to question everything. We must not succumb, now more than ever. Dozens of innocent civilians have been murdered. We know them, for they belong to our human family. Political boundaries and cultural distinctions are irrelevant at times like this. Toute notre solidarité avec le peuple de Paris et Beirut en ce moment de douleur. May the souls of the victims rest in peace, and may their families and friends find strength to overcome this calamity.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)

Keen listeners of this delightful programme would not have been surprised to hear the contents of the recorded conversation between Thatcher and Reagan from 1983 that has just been released. The Radio 4 programme was broadcast in August last year, and we learnt from it via the Downing Street note of the conversation, that Reagan initially tried to defuse the situation, by suggesting he would first throw his hat into the room if he was in London, before walking in. We also learn that Reagan used the phrase 'zero hour' before he could do anything about it. Exactly as it is in the recording. If you've got 8 minutes, it's worth listening from about 3:40 to the whole section on Grenada from the UK Confidential episode. It includes a brief interview about the declassified documents with Lord Owen (former British Foreign Secretary) and an American diplomat who was working in the US Embassy (in London) at the time. It is rather instructive that the American diplomat had dinner with Geoffrey Howe (the then British Foreign Secretary), the night before the invasion, and yet neither knew anything about it! It is also worth noting that the American diplomat refers to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, that killed nearly 300 American and French servicemen just a couple days before the invasion, as a tragedy so severe that it may have resulted in the invasion as a diversion.

On the recording, Reagan says he wanted to inform Thatcher of the invasion before some rogue informant did, but in an interview with the US President's authorised biographer on the wireless last night, this was quickly dismissed. The biographer was convinced Reagan was fibbing and had intentionally delayed informing her before it was too late (about 8 hours). However, the biographer also added that on two counts, Thatcher was somewhat embarrassed. One, was not responding to the situation in Grenada, having been requested (along with the French) to do so by their government, and two, she found herself in a similar situation to that of Reagan after Britain's own invasion of the Falklands, a year earlier. Yet despite these two foreign policy setbacks, they still seemed to share a politically intimate relationship. A point driven home by the biographer's final anecdote about a poster* Reagan kept in his stable, recreating the famous Rhett Butler-Vivien Leigh pose from Gone With The Wind, with the two of them on it instead. The biographer asked if he had shown it to Thatcher, to which Reagan said no-way, she'd get upset. The biographer apparently told him, on the contrary, I think she'd rather like it, mischievously adding that it was probably her ultimate fantasy... 

I also found it interesting that the biographer seemed to suggest that the Americans were justified in their actions on the pretext of protecting the 500 or so American students on the island. In contrast, Lord Owen suggests that the students didn't seem worried at all, lending credence to alternative theories. Either way, the release of the recording has thrown further light onto an important episode in the history of Anglo-American relations. One just wonders what else will be released to us in days, weeks, months, years...even decades to come, 

(* I don't think the picture above is the exact poster. This seems to be some anti-war poster from the 1980s, but I suspect it looked something like this.)

mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has announced a package of reform proposals, including lifting some restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language and on wearing Islamic headscarves. This bit in particular caught my attention:

"Kurdish groups had also demanded that Erdogan go further on liberalizing restrictions on the use of their language, so that Kurdish children would have the right to education in their mother tongue.

Kurds see current restrictions as one of the key tools of cultural repression in Turkey, and the issue has been a source of tension that has fueled more than 30 years of violent conflict. Kurds make up 20 percent of Turkey's nearly 75 million citizens.

Erdogan's proposal would allow private schools to have some classes in Kurdish. The reforms would also allow the letters q, w and x, which are part of the Kurdish alphabet but not the Turkish one, to be used in official documents.

The seemingly narrow grammatical law had become a nationalist issue on both sides, forcing Kurds, for instance, to spell their traditional spring festival of "Newroz" the Turkish way: "Nevroz." The restrictions have been used to prosecute activists and journalists."

( Original Link, via BBC Magazine Monitor )
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)

I consider this speech one of the greatest ever and I remember the goosebumps I felt when I heard it for the first time ten-and-a-half years ago. Even after several dozen viewings a decade later, it doesn't fail to induce the same feelings. As the West prepares to attack Syria in the coming days, it's worth reminding ourselves of the arguments against military intervention without international agreement or domestic support. Robin Cook's passing was a great loss to British politics.

EDIT @ 16.30, AUG 28:
Does anybody recognise the other politicians, besides Cook and Corbyn, in that still-image of the video? I feel like I should know the names of the chap sitting immediately to Cook's right, and the chap sitting immediately behind him to his left (with hands crossed), but I haven't been able to figure it out in ten years, leaving me with little chance to figure out the others either. The chap on the top left of the screen reminds me of Richard Griffiths.


Aug. 28th, 2013 09:35 pm
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
Well done Labour, if indeed they were instrumental in securing two votes in the Commons. The second is the crucial one on military action, but it won't take place until the on-site UN weapons inspectors have reported back their findings. My views on Syria are still fairly fluid given the complex nature of the conflict, however if chemical weapons have been used (regardless of whether it was the government or the rebels), then I think I would support a limited air strike, merely to dissuade either party from engaging in that type of attack again. But only on one mandatory condition, that we had UN (and possibly even Arab League) support, just as we did with Libya. Surely that's the most important lesson to draw from the Iraq War fiasco. I don't think we should (ever) engage ground troops or take sides in this conflict because I think they're as bad as each other. If the rebels were to come to power, I'm fairly confident they would wipe out the Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs. Sad as it is to digest, pre-Arab Spring, Assad, like Saddam Hussein before him, had largely maintained the peace (albeit fragile) between the various communities. Both belong to minorities, just as the Sunni rulers do in Shiite majority Bahrain. I suspect the best solution for Syria, would be to broker a deal between the warring factions, with the support of Russia. The last thing we need is to meddle in another regional conflict that is essentially a Greater Game being contested between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet I suspect between Iran's sabre-rattling over Israel, the Anglo-American Jewish lobbies, Iran's nuclear enrichment, and rising oil prices, my advice will eventually be ignored.


Nov. 30th, 2011 09:00 pm
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)
Precious stone, 1560s, replacement from Middle French of Middle English turkeis, turtogis (late 14c.), from Old French turqueise, feminine adjective "Turkish," in pierre turqueise "Turkish stone," so called because it was first brought to Europe from Turkestan or some other Turkish dominion (Sinai peninsula, according to one theory). Cognate with Spanish turquesa, Middle Latin (lapis) turchesius, Middle Dutch turcoys, German türkis, Swedish turkos. As a color name, attested from 1853.

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)
A year ago, the Sultanate of Oman was celebrating four decades of His Majesty's rule* and everything looked rosy. A month later Mohamed Bouazizi's self immolation in Tunisia sparked the Arab Spring. What an eleven months its been since then.

The question of His Majesty's successor assumes even more significance than it did before. Who will it be? And will he receive the wholehearted support of his Omani subjects, in the same way as his predecessor, the incumbent Sultan? GOK.

(* Although November 18 is celebrated as National Day, it is actually the Sultan's birthday. His Majesty came to power on 23 July 1970.)
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)
"My friend, take care. When you recognize the concept of “Palestine,” you demolish your right to live in Ein Hahoresh. If this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came."
~ Menachem Begin, former Israeli PM in 1969 at a conference in the Israeli kibbutz of Ein Hahoresh ~ (Source)

My tweets

Aug. 8th, 2011 12:16 pm
mcgillianaire: (Default)
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mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)
16 DEC - The rights and wrongs of hacktivism (Economist)
16 DEC - Art imitating life: Funky new ad puts a spin on personal hygiene and politics (The Express Tribune, Pakistan)
14 DEC - Why I'm Posting Bail Money for Julian Assange: Michael Moore (Huffington Post)
10 DEC - Ron Paul’s Passionate Defense Of Julian Assange And WikiLeaks On House Floor (MEDIAite)
09 DEC - Pakistani media publish fake WikiLeaks cables attacking India (Guardian)

16 DEC - Top judge complains about 'sex with corpses' rules (Daily Telegraph)
16 DEC - Court backs tourist ban for Dutch cannabis coffee shops (BBC News)
15 DEC - Tweeting in court: why reporters must be given guidelines (Guardian)
14 DEC - Qatar: A centre for 'quality' international dispute resolution? (Guardian)

14 DEC - Let’s get London’s riots into the right perspective: Simon Jenkins (London Evening Standard)
14 DEC - An attack on the royal carriage by angry protesters. Sound familiar? (Guardian)

14 DEC - 'We the people' deserve something better than a high-class villain's charter (Guardian)
13 DEC - Toby Ord: Why I'm giving £1 million to charity (BBC News)
06 DEC - Medieval Britons were richer than modern poor people, study finds (Guardian)
03 DEC - Woman dials 999 to report snowman theft in Kent (BBC News)
03 DEC - Christmas with a German accent – the PR ploy taking Britain's towns by storm (Guardian)

03 DEC - India's third richest man gives £1.27bn to children's education charity (Guardian)
19 OCT - Indian man of 100 goes back to university for PhD (BBC News)

12 DEC - German man castrates teenage daughter's 57-year-old boyfriend (Daily Telegraph)

18 DEC - Liverpool fans outraged after Paul Konchesky's mum launches Facebook blast (Daily Mail)
16 DEC - India enter Formula One limelight (
09 DEC - The top 10 worst misses in football history: your votes are in (Guardian: Sports Blog)
17 SEP - Blackburn's Sam Allardyce 'more suited to Inter or Real Madrid' (Guardian)
mcgillianaire: (Default)
Since August last year I have made three trips to India (via Bahrain, Dubai and Mumbai) and two trips to Oman (via Bahrain and Doha). I started each journey from four different airports (Heathrow Terminal's 3 & 4, Gatwick, Muscat and Chennai). In all those journeys the thing that stood out the most was the sharp contrast in security checks in each airport. It stood out for three main reasons.

Firstly, London's two biggest airports had been in a heightened state of alert since 9/11, 7/7 and particularly 10/8 (The August 2006 Transatlantic Aircraft Plot). Secondly, India had been victim to several terrorist attacks in recent years and were in the midst of an intelligence crisis involving a potential conspirator in the Mumbai Attacks of November 2008, who had allegedly made several trips to India, including one to Mumbai days before the attack. And thirdly, that the so-called police-state dictatorships of the Middle East had a more than passing interest in the current climate of the global terrorist threat and significantly, its implications on their security.

You'd think that most, if not all the airports I flew through would have had a fairly standardised (ie, stringent and thorough) system of security checks. Wrong. The gulf in security particularly that for hand-luggage, between the London airports and their Middle Eastern and Indian counterparts struck me as ironic. Here was a liberal democracy inconveniencing and invading the privacy of every passenger in the name of security, while in the authoritarian East there was a comparatively negligent and indifferent attitude to security.

In London, pat downs were performed on every single passenger, regardless of whether the metal checker detected anything or not. Rarely was one allowed to walk through the detector with their shoes and belt on. All liquids/sprays had to be in 100ml (or less) containers and scanned separately by the X-ray machine. Laptops and jacket-like clothings also had to be taken off/out and scanned separately by the X-ray machine. And following the alleged incident on Christmas Day, the authorities now want to rush in the body scanners. Civil liberty campaigners have challenged the government on whether the scans will contravene our child pornography laws.

In comparison, the security in the Middle East and India was almost non-existent. Few pat downs, hardly any of them as thorough as the ones in London. If the metal detector beeped and the security area was not teeming with passengers, the security guy would perform a token check with a handheld detector, but most of the time they seemed uninterested. None of the airports necessitated liquids/sprays to be held in transparent ziploc bags and not once did I see any container above 100ml disposed of. On every transit journey via Bahrain, Doha and Dubai, I was able to keep the 500ml+ bottle of water with me that I had picked up in either Mucat, Chennai or London Duty Free. And until Heathrow nabbed my 150ml deodorant on my latest trip last month, not even London's airports detected its illegitimate passage across the world and back in twelve separate journeys between August and November.

Unfortunately, I'm still not sure how strongly I feel about airport security. On the one hand I want air travel to be safe, especially as my family, friends and I frequently use it. On the other hand, I don't feel true to my liberal ideals by accepting these erosions into our personal spaces and civil liberties for the sake of protecting air travel. I'm not even sure the security in London's airports are as effective as they are made out to be necessary, especially when one considers that the more relaxed security regime in the Middle East and India has not resulted in any incident till date. Yet I get the distinct impression that the halcyon era of stress-free air travel has disappeared forever. Each new attack will erode the few existing liberties that remain and it could have a huge impact on global travel.
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)

Eating breakfast, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper before heading to work. (August 2009)

The difference between Dubai and Muscat is ambition. Yet so much has changed since my last visit in June 2008, that there are parts of Muscat which are barely recognisable. There are a lot of new roads, and changes to existing ones. Most, if not all the flyover roundabouts have been replaced with traffic signal intersections. Two new freeways are under construction. A second CityCentre (the Dubai-based shopping mall) has opened in Qurum. A new Royal Opera House, the Sultan's pet project, is under construction next to the Intercon. A huge new building is coming up by LuLu Shopping Centre in Baushar. My school of twelve years has a new High School block and a new Multi Purpose Hall that is connected to the Sports Hall. Inside the Multi Purpose Hall is a collection of photos displaying the school's early history. My parents put it together. And then there's the two big buildings coming up outside the school. Congestion alert!

But unlike Dubai, there are no skyscrapers because strict Omani planning laws only permit buildings of modest height. Not so long ago, these laws were relaxed ever so slightly, and in the midst of the construction boom, several landlords/developers exploited the situation. Except the global economy went tits up and construction came to a halt. Several buildings remain embarrassingly bald at the top.

I'm not sure how I feel about the changes. Part of the charm about coming back was to reconnect with a place that seemed to take pride in ignoring Dubai's lightning growth. Almost nothing ever changed and it was easy to feel at ease and at home. Not anymore...
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)

It is well-known that the blue-collar workers in the Arabian Gulf, the majority of whom hail from the Indian subcontinent, work and live in poor conditions. But little has been done to highlight their plight and therefore improve it. In light of this, the Panorama team went undercover into Dubai's sub-contracted labour camps, whose construction workers are involved in luxury developments counting among them: Andrew Flintoff, Michael Owen and Jamie Oliver as their brand ambassadors, to bring the 'slave-like' injustices into the open. Naturally, the real-estate developers who sub-contracted the blue-collar labour to third parties have denied the allegations, but have said they will investigate the claims 'thoroughly'. It's hard to say what impact the publicity gained by this broadcast will have on worker's conditions not just in Dubai, but throughout the Arab world, but at least I hope it will make Brits who see/hear about the programme, think twice about buying into the Dubai glamour story. The broadcast reiterates my negative view of Dubai and one that influenced a boycott for any future visit till conditions and attitudes towards Indians (and other South Asians) changed significantly.

- There are more than a million immigrant workers in the UAE.
- Average blue-collar salaries = £120/month, for a six-day week and twelve-hour shifts.
- One company pays approximately 30 PENCE an hour for overtime.
- In one camp 7,500 labourers were sharing 1,248 rooms with poor ventilation. Upto 9 labourers in a room for three of four.
- Many workers pay upto £2,000 in middle-men transit fees to get a job and assume they can pay it back within 18 months.
- In one camp, sewage had leaked so workers created a network of stepping stones to get back to their accommodation blocks.
- In the same camp, one toilet block had no water supply and the latrines were filled with piles of raw faeces.

The list goes on. I hope something will be done about it. It is certainly something I will try to fight against when I become a lawyer.
mcgillianaire: (Oman)
Just got off the phone with me maam. Apparently the Emiratis have now hiked the tourist visas for Indians and Pakistanis from RO10 ($26) to RO18 ($47) per person. And what's more? They've added an iris photo check to the immigration procedure. Iris what? Who does that shit? It's fucking ridiculous. There were no visas less than five years ago. British citizens still don't need visas. It's absolute hell traveling by road from Oman to Dubai via Hatta. There's a shit portacabin with airconditioning for those working inside but everybody who needs a visa (ie, all the Indians and Pakistanis) has to stand outside in the hot sun. There's little or no shade and if you're especially lucky, you'll be waiting in line keeping company with a swarm of flies. Compare this to Indians and Pakistanis visiting Oman? A mere RO3 ($8) visa and a palatial-like entrance. It really angers me that they're taking advantage of us South Asians and we sit around like statues doing nothing about it. Fuck you UAE. My parents began losing interest in visiting Dubai when they introduced the visas. It got worse when they saw the poor border facilities put up by the Emiratis. This is the final nail in the coffin. I wish Indians would stop traveling to UAE. Boycott anybody? :)

Meanwhile, my mum also informs me of a new and fascinating feature that has been added to Immigration at Muscat International Airport. There is now something called an E-Gate which has this electronic card reader which you can run your civil card through upon arrival and proceed immediately to picking up your luggage. You don't need to wait in line and get your passport stamped. It's only for citizens and residents, but it's a start. The civil card is a nasty thing to have, as its only purpose appears to be to raise useful income for the government. It costs $26 per person. And heaven forbid if you lose it (as I found out). Without wasta, the replacement process involves getting signatures from seven different police stations and other kinds of meshugaas. At least they've found some useful purpose for it.
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
From The Independent, by Robert Fisk:

"When a renowned British aid worker was kidnapped in Iraq, the world was horrified. Her body was never recovered, but her execution was captured on video and sent to Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel. Robert Fisk watched it and reveals why it has never been broadcast.

If Al Jazeera's staff have paid a terrible price for their reporting and have been the witnesses to some of the ghastlier acts in Iraq, they appear to have the ferocious support of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who spends his millions funding the loss-making station. Stories abound of the day that George Tenet – then America's CIA chief – turned up in Qatar to give the Emir a dressing down for Al Jazeera's reporting. There was a stiff row between the two men before the Emir walked out. In Washington, he was invited to meet Vice-President Dick Cheney, only to find that Mr Cheney had a thick file on his desk when he walked in. It was Mr Cheney's list of complaints against Al Jazeera. The Emir told him he would not discuss it. "Then that is the end of our meeting," Mr Cheney announced. "It is," the Emir apparently replied. And walked out. The "meeting" had lasted 30 seconds."
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
As you sow, so you reap?

"A US federal judge has ordered Iran to pay $2.65bn to the families of 241 marines killed in a 1983 bombing of their Beirut barracks. The ruling allows nearly 1,000 family members and survivors to claim Iranian assets. Iran denies involvement in the bombing." -BBC

Nearly 20 years ago, the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 as it was enroute to Dubai from Bandar Abbas, Iran. All 290 passengers aboard the aircraft died (including 66 children). The USS Vincennes was in Iranian territorial waters at the time of the incident. Till today, the American government denies wrongdoing, it has not accepted responsibility nor apologised for the incident. All they did was offer ex gratia in February 1996, a settlement of $61.8 million in compensation ($300,000 per wage-earning victim, $150,000 per non-wage-earner) for the 248 Iranians killed in the shootdown, but not for the aircraft itself. And even this was done only to discontinue a case brought by Iran in 1989 against the US in the International Court of Justice. But when Americans are killed, justice is when a judge orders Iran to pay 43x the amount they were willing to pay the innocent Iranian families for their tragic loss.

"I will never apologize for the United States of America — I don’t care what the facts are" -George Bush, then US Vice-President
mcgillianaire: (The Beeb!)

American intelligence officers have decided to stop searching for Iraq's WMDs that President Bush and PM Bliar were so convinced not only existed but could be launched in less than 45 minutes against the free world.

Memo: To those whom it may concern

Congratulations boys for a job well done. Next time, try and make sure your intelligence has the correct information before going to war and ruthlessly murdering thousands of innocent civilians. In light of the fact that you are the self-proclaimed protectors and messengers of democracy the rest of us will let it pass this one time but if ye stir up trouble in the future, don't expect to remain in power after the next "election" - or whatever you like to call it.

Disappointed free-world citizen


mcgillianaire: (Default)

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