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Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Lord’s Hotel has CNN (not CNN IBN like other places). I like that. Although the amount of adverts annoyed me, CNN was my channel of choice early in my contract in Korea, and watching it now and occasionally back in Britain reminds me of that time; in fact, it’s the jingles that are the most evocative.

Its mix and balance of stories and programming is very good, and, dispensing with my pro-British bias, is a lot better than BBC News 24. For that matter, London is one of the channel’s broadcasting bases, so it has a number of English voices in addition to some Antipodeans and Europeans. Unfortunately, there’s been no sign so far of the lovely Anjali Rao. Her post on Talk Asia has been taken over by the entertaining (but much less attractive) Richard Quest (or maybe she’s on holiday).

There’s just been a story about Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, criticising England’s FA for appointing the Italian, Fabio Capello, as the new England manager (he’s just started in his new post). Apparently, this goes against the spirit of football or something. Of course, the reason the FA gave the job to a non-Englishman is that they, and we the nation, want the chance to actually win something (or just qualify for something).

I don’t know a huge amount about football, but it seems painfully obvious that the closest thing England has to a world-class football manager is Sir Alex Fergusson. And he’s Scottish. If he ever quits coaching Manchester United it’ll be interesting to see if he expresses any interest in the job. In the meantime, Capello has about two years to earn his salt and get us to South Africa.

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The last few days have seen the story of Gillian Gibbons broadcast over the airwaves. She’s been charged with insulting Islam in Khartoum, having named her students’ teddy bear Mohammed (or having allowed it to be named this). And today she’s been sentenced to fifteen days in jail.

Having taught English in a foreign country will almost certainly do so again, I have a feeling of there but for the vagaries of chance go I. She also has the same surname and is from the same place as someone I know, but it turns out there’s no relation.

She could be accused of being naïve, but it’s difficult to comprehend how seriously and personally people from other cultures take religion – especially when you come from a secular society like Britain where religion is almost an afterthought. Nevertheless, the reaction of the Sudanese authorities and religious groups seems completely wrong to me. Even taking into account that Gillian Gibbons’ ‘crime’ may be more serious in the context of Sudanese society than it would be here, the Sudanese have taken the opportunity to make a crisis out of a mistake.

I don’t understand why someone at the school didn’t deal with this before it got out of hand. Gillian Gibbons can be forgiven for not appreciating the sensitivites involved, but another member of staff could easily have quietly fixed things. Instead, the school sent letters about Mohammed the bear home to parents. Were they trying to get her arrested and deported?

I’m not surprised that Muslim representatives in Britain have been saying they’re embarrassed by all this – the last thing relations between Isalm and the West need is for parts of the Muslim world to live up to the fundamentalist stereotypes that people in the West have.

The sooner everyone becomes atheist, the better. Can you wait a few thousand years?

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I can now officially go to India.

Today’s visa adventure started before dawn. I’d set the alarm on my mobile phone for 7 am, and, in fact, I barely got any sleep. Just after I’d drifted off my phone informed me, ‘It’s time to get up.’ I really should change that. I got dressed in the darkness and left the hostel. For some reason, my watch informed me that it was getting on for 6:30. I hadn’t used my phone for quite some time – and the clock was still on British Summer Time.

I got into the centre of London nice and early, then, and proceeded to break my fast at McDonald’s by Charing Cross Station. I arrived at the High Commission of India on Aldwych for 8:30 – the opening time – and discovered a great queue stretching round the crescent opposite all the theatres and fancy restaurants. I walked along the queue. I continued walking along the queue. After further walking along the queue I reached the end on the other side of the D of buildings made up of India House, Bush House and so on.

I was expecting something like this, having read about it on IndiaMike.com. There were a good few hundred people in the queue and, with all the other people who joined it after me, I reckon the number of visa applicants today was possibly into four figures. The queue went down fairly rapidly, considering – although it still took nearly an hour to reach the front. When we got there we were issued with cards with our ‘Q’ numbers and a time to submit our applications.

My time was 11:30 – 12. When I got back things became less simple. Inside you go up a staircase if you have a yellow ticket or down half a staircase if you have a white one. Mine appeared to be pale green (but then I am slightly colour-blind). Without thinking too much about it I went into the wrong visa hall where the was a crowd of people just inside the door. My Q number was X253 and the number on the display in there was 370 or something. That didn’t seem right.

A short but confused conversation with the chap on the door outside (the confusion was all on my part), revealed that I had to go upstairs. Again there was a crowd just inside the door. More confusion ensued. I ended up half figuring things out, half following a bloke who was in the same boat as me. Turns out you have go past the crowd to the far end and wait in a queue to hand over your application (and £30). That done, I was given a receipt and told my visa would be ready in an hour.

I went out again (took some photos of Trafalgar Square), came back and waited. Eventually, my number came up and my passport was returned to me, complete with visa – valid until 20 May 2008. I smiled.

Later I – again, eventually – met up with my former colleague and lovely French woman, Morgane. We had a drink, chatted. The conversation took a somewhat metaphysical turn, and she propounded a Gaia-like notion that global warming and both over-population and declining birth-rates are the Earth’s way of healing itself. Naturally, I don’t much care for hippyish ideas, but apparently that makes me grumpy and cynical.

Later I found out that England were beaten 3-2 by Croatia. Although I support England and always follow the major tournaments every other year, I didn’t have much sypmathy with the result. Steve McClaren may be a decent manager, but I’ve never seen how he could possibly be the world-class coach the national team needs if it’s going to do well. Who next? Terry Venables seems like the logical choice – his financial scandal is well behind him, he’s well-liked and he didn’t do too badly last time. But I suspect that he doesn’t have the necessary calibre. What about Guus Hiddink? Or maybe Felipe Scolari would be up for it this time.

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As I’ve been typing these last few posts, I’ve been half watching CNN’s coverage of the assassination of the Lebanese industry minister, Pierre Gemayel. I saw the news come in. The anchorman was constantly looking down at his screen, saying first that Gemayel had been shot, then that he was seriously injured, then that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya had reported that he had died.

So now I know why CNN has so many adverts and sponsorship messages: so it can fund continuous coverage when something dramatic happens. For the last half an hour or so, they’ve been showing endless library clips of Gemayel. There’s one in particular with him on the phone and smiling that makes him look an awful lot like a young, Arabic Del Boy.

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Pun 1

While I’m typing away at my latest batch of blog posts I’ve got This Week on the TV beside me. In the light of David Beckham’s recent resignation as the England captain, Andrew Neil made a crack about Tony Blair: he asked, Will the Prime Minister end it like Beckham?

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Yesterday my building was hosting Exercise Hawthorn, the national practice session for dealing with an outbreak of avian influenza. Then it was cancelled earlier today when a dead swan was found that appeared to be a victim of bird flu. So now, having set everything up for the exercise, we’re in an excellent logistical position to deal with a real outbreak. I have no idea what the people dealing with the situation directly are up to, but the level of activity here in the Facilities office has ramped up, just a touch.

A couple of my colleagues have just come back from Argos with armfuls of pillows and sleeping bags – in case people need to stay the night here, and even though there is not only a hotel directly across the street, but no one apparently needed overnight in-house accommodation during the foot and mouth outbreak. I’ve been put in charge of clearing rubbish out of the telephone exchange room. My boss originally told me to dump a load of old telephones, then his colleague suggested that might look a bit dodgy. People in the ex-exercise area are complaining that they can’t get any sound on the TV up there – the TVs across the floors have been muted because they disturb people working.

Of course, on the news this morning there were the usual comments about bringing all free-range poultry indoors (just tell them it’s a holiday) and reassurances over the safety of chicken and eggs. I could be wrong, but I don’t think bird flu will be a big deal at all – it’s transmissibility is much lower than f&m (although, yes, I suppose birds can fly), and it’s not as though people live with ducks and chickens the way they do in some parts of the far east.

All this fuss over one dead swan.

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