Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Revival of KL-Spore Bullet Train...will YTL have the last laugh?

In Forbes Magazine, June 8, 2009 issue, Francis Yeoh is featured in an article, "Last Laugh."

He is one of Malaysia's richest men and is known for his flamboyant lifestyle, including his two helicopters, a private island and famous friends such as the late Luciano Pavarott.
YTL is still sitting on $2.8 billion in cash

Yeoh has had setbacks. For years he tried to get approval from the Malaysian government to build a fast train connecting Singapore and Malaysia, but the project was shelved in April 2008, apparently stalled by politics. Now Yeoh seems to be trying again, with Siemens Malaysia as a partner. He won't say much. "The more I talk about it, the more the project will never come alive," he worries. Still he argues that people didn't believe in his high-speed rail between Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the city center, which carries 4.5 million people a year. "I pray that this project will come in my lifetime. Even if it is not done by me, I want to see it happen between the two countries."
The project costed 8 billion ringits ($2.5 billion US), the bullet train project would have reduced the current six and a half hour trip to ninety minutes.

They were oppositions to the project as it could be more beneficial to Singapore than Malaysia in the long run. Jeff Oii had an entry on this here as well as Citizen Nades here. Bernama reported Posers Arise Over Viability Of KL-Singapore Bullet Train Project
However, the majority opinion is that for the project to go ahead, the Federal Government's support will be required in such matters as obtaining soft loans, providing subsidies or compulsory acquisition of land for the track.

A thorny issue is the likelihood of protests over the compulsory acquisition of land along the route as many landowners are unlikely to give up their land without a fight or asking for high compensations.

Meanwhile, rail service provider KTM Bhd managing director Datuk Mohd Salleh Abdullah has been quoted as saying that the project is not suitable for now as such a service can be provided by the state-owned rail company itself if a number of infrastructure projects are developed.
With the third bridge is said to be on the table, we may see Yeoh's dream would be realised in his life time after all.....

I want to be an EMIRATI....well, won't you too?

According to the writer..I am already ELIGIBLE to be an Emirati...he he he he..any person who has spent a considerable amount of time in the UAE (five, 10, 15 years - someone qualified must set the right number) in which they have shown two qualities: first, the ability to contribute positively to the growth and development of the UAE; second, and more importantly, they must have shown love and respect for Emirati culture and embraced this culture in their daily life.

Illustration: Luis Vazquez/Gulf News

Who wants to be an Emirati?

By Mishaal Al Gergawi, Special to Gulf News
Published: May 30, 2009, 23:15

Last week I wrote an article in which I discussed why long-term and committed residents should be granted long-term residency in the Emirates. Some of the comments I received used specific words such as citizenship. I find the confusion between residency and citizenship highly problematic and so a clear distinction is in order.

The United Arab Emirates is a young country, but it is a collection of much older principalities and emirates. These individual emirates have attracted a consistent flow of migration from Yemen, Najd, Balochistan, southern Iran, Hyderabad and eastern Africa. While every migration brought with it cultural specifics, there remained a cohesive umbrella that absorbed some facets of the migrating cultures but still defined what it meant to be what came to be known as Emirati.

I've always been fascinated by Jeddah - it is a very interesting social experiment. Due to the pilgrimage journeys, the people of Jeddah come from diverse parts of the world: Central Asia, the Levant, Egypt, east Africa, Makkah, Yemen and Turkey, among others. However, when you visit Jeddah you feel that there is a unifying theme for the city, a culture that unites all. This culture is that of Jeddah - they call it 'Hejazi'. Granted, the migration trends to Jeddah were not as bottlenecked as those to Dubai and other cities in the UAE. Also, there was always a strong absorbing population in Jeddah, unlike in the UAE. However, it still makes for an interesting benchmark.

As a modern federal union, the UAE proudly hosts many people from different parts of the world. Many of these people have started families here and, more importantly, their children have developed strong ties to the UAE - ties so strong that they feel more at home in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah than they do in Beirut, Tehran or New Delhi. What frustrates many of these Dubaians, Abu Dhabians or Sharjahians is that their identity is sometimes included in the same category as what we call 'recent expats'. And so they have started wondering about the value of their existence here and the measure of their belonging to their respective cities.

This and the examples of other countries (such as the UK, the US and Canada) has led to calls for citizenship. Here is my take on this. As an Emirati, I support naturalising any person who has spent a considerable amount of time in the UAE (five, 10, 15 years - someone qualified must set the right number) in which they have shown two qualities: first, the ability to contribute positively to the growth and development of the UAE; second, and more importantly, they must have shown love and respect for Emirati culture and embraced this culture in their daily life.

What is Emirati culture, you ask? It includes the food we eat, the way we dress, the way we wed, the way we mourn our dead, how we spend our Ramadan and how we celebrate our Eids. It also includes our music, poetry and sports. Some have said to me that isn't culture - I told them that is our culture.

Some have said it is inconceivable that the UAE will not grant citizenship to people who spend 10 years here when it takes much less than that to be naturalised in the UK, US and Canada. Here is what I think of that argument. In the case of the UK, it is a former colonial power and so it is the ironic destiny of the colonisers to be colonised by the subjects of their colonies, quid pro quo and c'est la vie. We haven't really colonised anyone but we have absorbed migrants from those regions that we governed for a short while.

In the case of the US and Canada, there is a more fundamental issue there. In those countries, whoever has the authority to grant citizenship to immigrants is fundamentally an immigrant too. Basically, there are no significant numbers of natives in these countries, let alone any in a position of power. And so the moral high ground that distinguishes those who have descended on a land and those who have been there for a significant amount of time is non-existent. Furthermore, these countries often provide citizenship mainly for political reasons (political asylum), economic reasons (attracting funds) and social reasons (refugee migration). The UAE does provide assistance and support to those who fall under the above mentioned categories in varying ways, however citizenship should be granted based on cultural reasons only.

Why, you ask? Well, because we would like to preserve as much of our culture as possible. I do not want to find one day that many elements that distinguished the UAE have just evaporated under the guise of globalisation - our differences make us interesting. Just to be clear, I will reiterate my position: I support naturalising anyone from anywhere in the world as long as they embrace our culture. This does not, of course, discount the contributions that the backgrounds of those who embrace our culture will bring to the table - in fact, we welcome them. But as in the example of Jeddah, I'd like the UAE to maintain a local context.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Life of the Prince Azim of Brunei...
Spoilt, moi? Prince Azim is above the plain old superrich
Who is this pint-sized, diamond-covered Furby? Our correspondent talks to the latest fixture on the celebrity circuit

Camilla Long

So what exactly does a billionheir do all day? “Wake up, then . . .” Prince Azim of Brunei, 25, fiddles with an enormous turqoise cocktail ring (real, but he’s not sure exactly what stone it is). “Sometimes, I stay in bed all day and watch DVDs. Sometimes I write songs – lyrics. My friend has a studio, so I’ll go to see him and put songs down, with him at the keyboard. That’s my creative process,” he sighs, “but I don’t think I’ll ever release anything.”

A pint-sized, diamond-covered Furby with a shock of black hair and dancing features, Prince Azim probably need not worry about his recording career any time soon. As the second son of the Sultan of Brunei, he is set to inherit a slice of his father’s whopping £25 billion oil fortune, so life will never be any more taxing than the odd dinner at Nobu and nights at “Mahiki!” he squeals in his high-pitched, MTV voice. “I think I’m addicted. It’s all the cheesy music they play.”

Guess how much Jade's FREE ring is worth?
Jade Goody and the Sultan of Brunei's son Prince Azim's close friendship makes them possibly one of the weirdest duos in the world of showbiz. As heatworld was the first to reveal yesterday, Azim bought Jade a rather gorgeous diamond ring as a way of saying thank you for Jade buying the drinks when they met up. But get this – the ring's only bloody well worth £3million. THREE. FREAKING. MILLION. As in pounds.

Along with the Rausings, the Mittals and the Abramoviches, Prince Azim occupies a level above the plain old superrich. For him, life is a boggling whirl of superyachts, private 747s, massive rocks and security – a world far beyond anything the Beckhams could dream of. “My dad once gave me a solid-gold and diamond GameBoy,” he says. “I was like, this is too heavy, I want a normal one.” His three bodyguards are a constant shadow on the party circuit. “You just accept things,” he shrugs.

And yet, he insists, he’s no materialist – his most treasured possessions are “my pictures”, he says solemnly. He picks up a photograph, one of countless celebrity snaps that line the dining room of his mother’s vast house – sorry, terrace of houses – in Kensington. “Leonardo [DiCaprio]. I met him at the Baftas a couple of years ago. We talked about some green charity. Orlando Bloom,” he points to another, “I met at the premiere of Kingdom of Heaven. And Johnny Depp was at the Dorchester.” (Azim’s father owns the hotel, along with the Plaza Athénée in Paris, the Beverly Hills Hotel in LA and, oh, yes, 531 Mercs.) “He was very nice. I [also] met him at Cipriani,” he says. Here’s another, in a black suit, on a polo field, with a bemused Prince Charles and sons William and Harry. “The princes – very, very nice,” he says. “They were playing polo somewhere and someone introduced us.” In the entrance hall, there is, rather spookily, a picture of Azim with Heath Ledger. “He was really, really nice.”

The prince is not afraid of showing his love of celebrities, either. He once sent a private jet to deliver a £3m diamond necklace and ring to Mariah Carey – “Some things are exaggerated,” he tweets. He hired his idol, Diana Ross, to sing at a party in 2004, and flew in Michael Jackson to another last year. Almost anyone, it seems, will do. He had a notorious escapade with Jade Goody. He was snapped leaving a club with the Big Brother foul-mouth, who was wearing, the tabloids claimed, a £30,000 ring he had given her. “She was a very nice person,” he says. “A wonderful person. I don’t judge people by what I read. I asked her if she needed a ride home, and she was with her boyfriend Jack, so we sent them home.”

Aside from the celebrity-chasing – “Madonna, if you’re reading, I want a picture!” – Azim fills his time with charity work, such as Fashion for Relief, organised by Naomi Campbell, which raised money for the Rotary Flood Disaster Appeal and which he supported by – what else? – appearing in a catwalk show. “[My first thought was] I’m too short,” he squeals. “Need I wear heels?” He found it “scary. You’ve got Claudia Schiffer and Kate Moss in the front row. I mean, I’ve met some of them before, but I don’t really hang out with them”. Afterwards, he says: “Kate was nice. She said, ‘Good work.’ I said, ‘Thank you very much. Can I have a picture?’ ” Fashion is another passion for the prince. In Versace jeans, a yellow T-shirt and a black waistcoat he designed himself – “only for myself, not a range” – his own taste is distinctive. “I like designers who are different: Galliano, Versace,” he says. “I don’t like following the trend. I do go shopping, but not all the time.”
In fact, the reason for our extraordinary invitation to Azim’s mansion is none other than a weekend bag he has designed for charity for the luggage giant MCM, which is relaunching in the UK next month. “It’s called the Prince Collection,” he coos.

Azim spends half the year in Brunei, in northwest Borneo. “It’s a place to relax,” he says. Educated in Singapore and at Oxford Brookes, Azim is part of a colourful family. His uncle, Prince Jefri, achieved fame in the 1980s for his flashy lifestyle, including a 180ft yacht called Tits, complete with tenders Nipple 1 and 2. He was sued for embezzlement by Azim’s father, but the brothers are now reconciled.

Prince Azim Of Brunei Picture
Prince Azim of Brunei pictured on a nightout at the Mahiki nightclub in London. UK.

Azim himself has three full siblings and eight half-brothers and sisters through his father’s other two wives. “My father treats us all the same,” says Azim. “He’s a very intelligent and reserved man.” His mother, a former air stewardess, split up with his father six years ago – but not before adopting (keep up) 10 further children from all over the world. Azim cites his parents’ break-up as one of the worst times of his life. “You never want that to happen to anybody, but we made her laugh,” he says. “Why does anybody split up? Irreconcilable differences.”

As for his own romantic life, “I’m one of those unlucky-in-love people,” says Azim, who lays claim to two past girlfriends. Love at first sight “happened to me”, he confirms, “but she got married. I don’t think you should force it – everybody finds their someone”. Instead, he surrounds himself with a loyal core of protectors/friends/social secretaries such as Nash, a pretty little munchkin in a Juicy Couture tracksuit who escorts the Style crew to the Prince’s gold-encrusted home, where yet more hangers-on loll around, along with bodyguards and ancient Bruneian staff, who trot out a stream of cakes, chocolates and hot drinks. “My sisters Azima and Fadzilla – Godzilla with an F, ha, ha, ha! – are based over here, so I see them a lot,” he says. “Being alone is my biggest fear.” Unsurprisingly, he is wary of new people and being taken advantage of. “It comes with the territory,” he says. “I know a lot of people see me as a party person.”

Back home, he’s kept on a tighter leash – official engagements and no holidays, because “it’s a whole big deal with the High Commission, so sometimes you just don’t want the headache”, says the prince who, apart from travelling to the UK, has only ever been abroad twice. Poor Azim! For all his cartoonish behaviour, he is a rather lovable character, a sensitive soul who cries at films such as In Her Shoes, and who, in spite of the absurd things he does with it, seemingly appreciates his wealth.

“Yes, I’m spoilt! But I’m grateful to have what I have, and I like to share it,” he says. “My mother was good in making us realise that material things aren’t everything. If I had nothing tomorrow, I’d be able to live my life and still be happy and enjoy it, because I don’t need all this gold. I just need e-mail and Twinkie rolls.” But he wouldn’t quite be the same without it.

Best History Lesson of Last 45 Years

This is the Silver Lining of Contemporary History (below)
Don't look for theories. Hear the facts.
As-Salaamu Alaykum, all home-schoolers and open minds!
See the INTERVIEW below on the JFK A s s a s s i n a t i o n,
(and the succeesive A s s a s s i n a t i o n s of Martin Luther King, et. al.)

It is the best 20th history lesson you'll ever hear.

What's new in this video that you haven't already heard?

It's WHY people like JFK are forced out of public life

...The Powers That Be don't want peace.

But first hear the evidence for yourself !

Watch the video

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Eating right to stay healthy

Health is are what you eat..etc...

Eating right to stay healthy
Environmental Sociologist Dr Lim Hin Fui walks his talk on healthy living. He tells Karen Arukesamy how his family eats well and lives well with rare visits to the doctor.

Dr Lim : Swears by macrobiotic diet

WHAT has been keeping you busy lately?

Nutrition and health care have been keeping me on my toes besides my full-time profession. I did not have any interest in food (therapy) until 1996 when my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Today I talk at public forums on food and health care.

What do you do full time?

I am an environmental sociologist by profession. I conduct studies on the impact of forest development on local activities and how it can help local communities and also how traditional knowledge helps indigenous people. I also do forest auditing.

How did you get involved with food and health care?

My father-in-law was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was given three years to live. He was active and involved in many social activities and my wife and I wondered how he could have cancer.

Looking back, we realised he had been enjoying "rich" foods (ie high in cholesterol and calories) since his 20s and it was killing him slowly. There is evidence that food consumption has very strong linkage with cancer, apart from smoking and alcohol. Despite being sad for my father-in-law, we did not give up; we sought ways to help him.

The doctor advised immediate surgery to remove the hard portion of the prostate but we had heard from cancer patients, how they suffered physically and mentally after the surgery and medical treatment. After the surgery, the tumour was removed but it did not mean he had fully recovered.

We spoke to friends about cancer treatments and a colleague showed me a booklet on cancer and its treatment (Cancer is not deadly: Public talk in Malaysia by Dr Lai Chui-Nan). The booklet did not talk about conventional treatment and surgery.

That caught my attention because we had not heard of cancer patients going through non-conventional treatment and surviving.

After reading the book, I began gathering more information on food and how it could cause diseases and I found that the accumulation of toxins in the body can cause diseases and the inability to detoxify may result in diseases.

Not all cancer specialists advise their patients to take the natural approach. They always encourage the conventional treatment.

We met a lot of cancer patients to understand the disease. When my father-in-law switched to a vegetarian diet, my mother-in-law, my wife and I decided to adopt the same diet to provide moral support for my father-in-law. It wasn’t easy but we managed it. Physical fitness is essential for cancer patients. Not many talk about it, so I thought the public should know and I wrote a book, Eating for Good Health, which has received good support and is in its second edition. My father-in-law surpassed the doctor’s projected three years and lived an extra 10 years before he passed away in January. Most cancer patients go through much pain in their final stages but he died peacefully without any pain.

Tell us more about this diet?

We read about the macrobiotic diet approach popularised by Michio Kushi (1993), which advocates the use of traditional food such as whole grains, beans, soyfoods and locally-grown vegetables as primary sources of food energy and nutrition. It also includes mineral-rich foods, sea salt and natural sweeteners like rice syrup and barley malt to replace refined salt and sugar and miso to replace monosodium glutamate (MSG).

The approach sounded interesting but we did not know much about the macrobiotic diet and our concern was to consume more vegetables and reduce meat. The diet we adopted was more vegetarian than macrobiotic.

I remember the first vegetarian lunch – three dishes of vegetables with brown rice – we had. It was tasteless, with no oil or salt. Being a meat lover, my father-in-law complained it was for cows and not humans. But we were firm in our decision to change and so was he. By early 1997, the vegetarian diet began to show encouraging results. After about 10 months of being diagnosed, my father-in-law went for his fourth blood test and his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) dropped to 3.3ug/l (microgram per litre) from 613.8ug/l when he was first diagnosed. It meant that his PSA had returned to normal and the cancer cells were under control. The doctor was surprised by the declining PSA and reversion of cancer cells to normal cells without medicine.

There is a saying "You are what you eat". How true is this?

It is relevant for all those who want to be healthy and it is very important for those who are fighting with sickness.

How do we stay healthy and still eat the food we love?

Change of mindset is vital. You can choose to enjoy life and be mentally prepared to accept whatever that comes your way like diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, etc. Or you can learn about nutrition and change your diet but that doesn’t mean you cannot eat your favourite dishes. But ensure that your regular food intake is healthy.

Once you are above 40 or 50, you should consider giving up gradually "rich" food.

How can food help prevent diseases like cancer?

The word cancer is a term many do not want to hear. Simply, cancer patients normally do not live long and in some cases, patients die within months as cancer cells can spread to various parts of the body in a short time. Others survive for a few years. The question is whether one has to die earlier because of cancer. No. There is a Chinese saying "Sickness comes through the mouth". Food consumption has a strong linkage with cancer, apart from smoking and alcohol. Studies say we should only consume 20% acidic food and 80% alkaline food. I would propose that everyone follow this formula. You need to understand what they are. Reduce meat consumption because all meat is acidic and dairy products and eggs as well. Eat more vegetables, fruits and grains.

What is healthy living?

My family and I believe that an important path to good health is via healthy eating habits. We also believe consuming vegetarian or organic food and fasting are some ways for healthy living because we can see the difference in our lives. We are healthy and have not taken medicine since 2004. My eight-year-old son has to date only gone to a clinic once; when he was one-year-old.

A healthy body makes a healthy mind because it helps prevent physical and mental stress.

You have to respect life. If you are a cancer patient and you want to live longer, you have to respect life without your favourite foods. In fact, it is not for cancer alone but for all diseases.

People should remember that changes take place gradually and it is very important to start now. Don’t wait till it’s too late because change doesn’t take place overnight. Change your menu to suit your pace and food preference.

Research has shown that over 60% of those above 40 have at least one chronic medical problem that requires treatment and by 60, at least 60% are on regular medication. It is not about long life; it is about healthy life.

But organic food is not cheap. What do you reckon the government should do?

I think the government should help organic farmers through the organic farming scheme under the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry. Then people will feel more encouraged to consume organic food. It will also encourage more organic farming. Mass production will bring prices down.

Does detoxification help?

Yes, it does. Toxic substances are everywhere – in the food, water and air. Our body and bacteria in the intestines also produce toxins. Alkaline food helps to detoxify the body. Fasting facilitates detoxification to achieve physical and mental health. Occasional fasting is effective in staying healthy and reducing weight.

In the late 1970s, I used to have anus itchiness and for over 20 years I took medicine for it. After I changed my diet, the itchiness disappeared within three months. It was amazing.

Is conventional medicine necessary if food can prevent diseases?

I am not saying it is unnecessary but you can avoid it whenever possible. Medical expenses are always a burden and the bills are escalating. Due to financial difficulties, some do not even go to the clinic for a check up. They instead rely on pain killers, self-medication or home remedies.

People hardly think about changing their diet to prevent sickness and stay fit. The government and many health-care organisations have been promoting healthy lifestyle but how many take heed. Investing in health food to prevent diseases or sickness is worthwhile. We should regard health as No.1 on the scale of importance. It is natural to think money is more important as it meets our material needs but with age, we gradually realise that money is not everything. While money can pay for medical treatment and services, it does not guarantee good health. In any case, we should give ourselves a chance to test the power of natural diet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The life of Saddam Hussien son's DOUBLE

The CIA helped him escape Iraq in return for his agreement to help the agency, he says. “I said anything to get out.” Once safe, he told the CIA: “I am against Saddam but not Iraq … I didn’t want to be a traitor.”

LARNACA, CYPRUS // Latif Yahia escaped from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq nearly two decades ago, but has yet to escape his past. It is a past so bizarre, lurid and unique that some have questioned Mr Yahia’s story – that for several years he was forced to play the body double of Uday Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator’s psychopathic and depraved elder son.

“The problem is people think because I was the double of Uday, that I’m a bull******* like him,” says Mr Yahia, puffing on a Marlboro at his Babylonian Arabic cafe near the seafront in Larnaca, a placid tourist town in Cyprus.

For nearly two decades he has sought in vain for a home in the West for his family. His odyssey across Europe included periods in Austria, Holland, Norway, Germany, Britain and in Ireland, where he lived for 12 years.

Since August, he has been in Cyprus with his Irish wife, their two children and his mother, Bahar. No refuge has worked out. He is once more desperate to move on, but claims a vengeful CIA is thwarting his every attempt to secure a normal life anywhere for his family because he refused to co-operate with the US intelligence agency.
He says the CIA wanted him to head the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a US-backed umbrella organisation of mostly exiled opposition groups created in 1992 to foment the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Yahia refused, despite, he says, being offered a blank cheque for his services. “I didn’t want to be a traitor.”

It was only then, he claims, that the INC job was given to Ahmed Chalabi, a controversial figure who went on to head the opposition group for many years.

Then, before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Mr Yahia says the CIA asked him to pretend to be Uday in a video to be released once hostilities began. In the video, he says, he was to urge the Iraqi army “to surrender and let the Americans come in”. Again he refused: “I wasn’t a traitor and I didn’t trust the CIA.”

Bitterly, he savours another irony: “For Saddam Hussein’s regime I was a traitor and for this regime [the current Iraqi government] I’m a collaborator, especially when they see I was against the war [the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq].”

The mostly Cypriot customers and occasional British tourist at his cafe have no idea who he is. But any Iraqi popping in would do a double take. Mr Yahia, 45, still bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Uday: he has a close-cropped helmet of black hair, a goatee, thick eyebrows, full lips and a bulging nose.

His account of his 4½ years as the would-be bullet-catcher for Uday is documented in two books, I Was Saddam’s Son, published in 1994, and The Devil’s Double, in 2003. A feature film combining the two, titled The Devil’s Double, is in the works, directed by Lee Tamahori of Once Were Warriors fame and Die Another Day, the 20th Bond movie.

Mr Yahia’s memoirs portray the clan surrounding the Iraqi leader in his Macbeth-like court as a gang of sadistic, bloodthirsty killers with Uday at the front of the pack, raping and pillaging with impunity.

When Mr Yahia’s second book was published six years ago some opponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq dismissed it as opportunistic propaganda against Saddam. But the horrors uncovered in Iraq after the dictator’s fall provided compelling evidence of the astonishing cruelty of Saddam’s regime and the depredations Mr Yahia had so graphically catalogued. Mass graves and torture chambers were found, as was Uday’s extensive collection of pornography.

Even those who question Mr Yahia’s credibility acknowledge no tale of Uday’s cruelty and depravity is implausible. To most Iraqis, he was evil incarnate, more feared and loathed than his father.

Mr Yahia’s account begins during the 1980-88 war with Iran, when he served as an officer in the Iraqi army. The scion of a wealthy family, Mr Yahia had attended an elite Baghdad school with Uday, where he was teased about his remarkable likeness to the dictator’s unruly son. In 1987 Uday asked him if he would play his “fiday”, an Arabic word for double that also implies the role of a deputy and bodyguard. Mr Yahia at first resisted, but after Uday locked him in a tiny cell, daubed entirely in red paint, and made “vile threats” against his family, Mr Yahia says he succumbed.

An intensive training period began. Mr Yahia was subjected to dental surgery to recreate Uday’s “chimpanzee” grin and lisp: work that he says he has since reversed. He watched countless hours of videos of Uday to learn how to mimic his master’s mannerisms, from the way he held his fat Cuban cigar to his one-handed driving style.

To desensitise him to the regime’s brutality, Mr Yahia says he also had to watch tapes of Uday and his security forces torturing dissidents and personal enemies to death.

The job came with a lifestyle of expensive cars, fine clothes and access to the clannish corridors of power in Baghdad, although Mr Yahia says none of this was an attraction: he came from a wealthy family anyway. The drawbacks, however, were unimaginably bad. Effectively he was a prisoner in a gilded cage. As Uday’s fiday, he says, he survived 11 assassination attempts by people who mistook him for Saddam’s elder son. There are deep scars on Mr Yahia’s right hand, the result, he says, of one of the most serious attempts.

After fleeing Iraq, he adds, Saddam’s regime made four more attempts on his life in European countries. Despite his special role, Mr Yahia also found himself victim of Uday’s unpredictable rages and was beaten on whim.

Although he says he was forced to watch as Uday brutalised fellow Iraqis, Mr Yahia says he never took part in rape or murder and was never even a member of Saddam’s ruling Baath Party. “One time he [Uday] asked me to kill someone and I refused and tried to kill myself,” Mr Yahia says, showing scars on both his wrists where he says he had slashed himself.

He felt “horrible” being Uday’s fiday but not guilty because he was forced into the role. “It wasn’t a job you applied for,” he says drily. “I didn’t choose my past, I was forced.”

But he does feel “selfish” that he never used the gun he always carried to “put a bullet in his [Uday’s] head and stop the horrible things he was doing”. Mr Yahia says his trigger finger was stayed by the knowledge that all of his family would have been killed by the regime in revenge.

In November 1991 he finally fled Uday’s clutches, speeding in his Mercedes-Benz to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. In March 1992 a US helicopter whisked him across the border into Turkey, he says.

The CIA helped him escape Iraq in return for his agreement to help the agency, he says. “I said anything to get out.” Once safe, he told the CIA: “I am against Saddam but not Iraq … I didn’t want to be a traitor.”

Mr Yahia is personable, engaging, larger than life, clearly bright and well educated. But it is hardly surprising that he has enemies. He makes startling accusations against powerful people and institutions. These range from the CIA, which, he claims, together with Austrian intelligence, tortured him for nearly a year in a secret cell near Vienna because he refused to co-operate with them – an episode detailed in a third book, The Black Hole, published in 2006 – to the current Iraqi government whose members he brands as “pimps, criminals and traitors”. They are, he insists, “worse than Saddam … these [US-backed] puppets in Iraq have done to Iraq what Saddam failed to do in 35 years.”

The US-led invasion and its aftermath, he argues, killed 1.5 million people and led a further five million to flee their homeland. George W Bush, the former US president, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, he says, “are the murderers of the Iraqi people and should be brought to justice”.

Mr Yahia says 145 members of his extended family were killed in a US air raid as they made their way to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul for a funeral in mid-2006. The incinerated bodies were “crispy” and unidentifiable. “I think this is what they call the liberation of Iraq,” he says, with bitter sarcasm.

If Mr Yahia seems conspiracy-minded or paranoid it is hardly surprising, given his account of his extraordinary experiences. Perhaps his most intriguing claim to The National was that the inflammatory unofficial video footage of Saddam’s hanging in December 2003 was taken by a senior Iraqi government official.

Mr Yahia alleges that within hours of the execution the official sent him the footage in a taunting e-mail that said: “Ha, ha, ha, look what they’ve done to your father! You’ll be next.”

He claims that he promptly forwarded the e-mail and video footage to contacts at Al Jazeera, Reuters and the Associated Press. A senior editor at Al Jazeera television denied that anyone had sent them the unofficial execution footage. “We picked it up from the internet. It wasn’t an exclusive.”

Official Iraqi accounts had portrayed the execution as a well-organised affair and Saddam as a weak, broken man as he faced the gallows. To the embarrassment of the Iraqi government, the video footage showed a chaotic event, as witnesses mocked a dignified-looking Saddam with sectarian taunts while a noose was put around his neck.

Mr Yahia’s equally personable wife, Karen, fully supports her husband’s claim about receiving the e-mail, saying she was in his office at their home in Ireland when it arrived. They were keeping an all-night vigil for more news after reports emerged that Saddam’s execution was imminent.

Mr Yahia says Saddam “faced death like a lion”. As Uday’s reluctant double, Mr Yahia says he met Saddam frequently. Asked if he liked the ousted dictator, he shrugs, lights another Marlboro – he smokes four packets a day – and says: “I don’t deny that.” He insists, however, he was never a “Saddamist”.

The Iraqi dictator, unlike Uday, had been decent to him. “I never saw Saddam kill anyone or give the order to do so. He was always calm and smiling, always quietly spoken,” Mr Yahia says. Nor, he argues, was the Iraqi dictator informed of the full extent of Uday’s excesses as a serial rapist and killer. But once, “after Uday did a lot of terrible things, he [Saddam] said to me, ‘I wish you were my real son’. I said to him: ‘I am your son’.”

Mr Yahia says he has mementos given him by Saddam stored in a bank safety deposit box, among them a gold and platinum watch bearing the toppled dictator’s face and a pen he says Saddam used to sign off on the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

For Uday, however, Mr Yahia feels only revulsion and hatred. “If I saw him in hell, I’d kill him.” Uday, he says, ruined his life and had his father poisoned in 1995.

When the first bulletins broke in mid-2003 that Uday had been killed by US forces in Mosul, Mr Yahia shattered his plasma television screen with a coffee cup hurled in anger. “I didn’t want him to be killed. I wanted him to face justice.”

Uday, he insists, was a coward, unlike his younger brother, Qusay, “a professional fighter” who was killed in the same siege by 200 soldiers in their Mosul hiding place.

Mr Yahia does not pause for a second when asked what the worst thing was that he had witnessed Uday do. He tells of a grotesque episode in Al Habaniya, Iraq’s leading honeymoon resort, when Uday noticed a newlywed couple walking hand in hand and called over to them. Uday was livid when they ignored him. Mr Yahia attempted to persuade Uday to leave the couple alone, pointing out that they had only been married a few days. Uday snapped back: “This isn’t your business!”

Uday’s “pimps” beat up the husband and forced the beautiful bride to his suite, where he raped her. In shame and despair, she later threw herself to her death from the fourth-floor window of the building.

Mr Yahia says the husband was accused of trying to kill Uday and sentenced to death but was later spared because of his long service in the war against Iran for which he was awarded medals. The man, Yahia claims, was one of those who nearly killed Uday in a 1996 assassination attempt and now lives in Holland.

For five years after his escape from Saddam’s Iraq in 1991, Mr Yahia could see the ghost of Uday simply by looking in the mirror. “Before that I was thinking like him,” he says.

Today, he is no longer haunted by Saddam’s first born. Mr Yahia is back to what he was in 1987, before his fiday nightmare began, although he feels the West has shattered his dreams of leading a normal life.

Despite being married to a citizen of the EU, he remains stateless, equipped only with a temporary Irish travel document. He was stripped of his Iraqi citizenship, he says, because he left Iraq illegally – without his passport or permission – and has never been back.

Today, with Saddam gone, he could return to Iraq, claiming scornfully that he could buy back his citizenship for a few hundred dollars. “But I don’t want to be a citizen of a corrupt country … I don’t want to be an Iraqi any more.”

Mr Yahia is keen to get a message out to any country that considers itself a democracy.

“I want a country called home for me and my family, somewhere I can say ‘here is my country’.

“If I knew the West would treat me like this, I’d [have preferred] a bullet from Saddam Hussein’s government … Every day I suffer and every day I feel dead.”

He is very bitter that Ireland, which allowed him residency rights, refused him citizenship even though he had lived there for 12 years and has an Irish wife. He told an Irish reporter two years ago that his naturalisation application had been rejected because of a baseless claim, passed on by the CIA, that he was an international arms dealer.

“Ireland is not a state of Europe; it’s a state of America,” he says.

Mr Yahia had high hopes of finding a new home in Cyprus, which he entered legally on his temporary Irish travel document. He was relieved to leave behind the incessant rain of Ireland for a sunny country on the doorstep of the Middle East but which is part of the European Union.

The experience soon soured. He invested €172,000 (Dh884,000) in his cafe, but says numerous attempts to have it licensed have failed. He also had problems with the authorities when his brother, Omid, entered Cyprus illegally in December to seek asylum. Mr Yahia was accused of assisting his entry, which he vehemently denies.

Now Mr Yahia cannot wait to leave Cyprus. Adding to his worries, he says he was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

To escape his past Mr Yahia says he needs a country that looks “at me as a human being, not as Uday’s double”.

When he looks in the mirror today, he says: “I see Latif Yahia, the fighter”.

Will Swine Flu Threaten Hajj?

Swine flu scares have raised concerns among the annual pilgrimage travelers and the Muslim religious heads in Egypt are planning to delay the trip to Mecca.

The authorities in Cairo also indicated that it will step up its screening process for the citizens returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca from Saudi Arabia before the Hajj season.

Egypt's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Jumua, has urged the Hajj travelers to decide how long the pilgrimage rites of the Hajj could be postponed, according to BBC.

More than two million people traveled to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, which will begin in November.

The World Health Organization reported that as of Friday 34 countries have officially reported 7520 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection, with Mexico reporting 2446 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 60 deaths.

According to the WHO, limiting travel and imposing travel restrictions would have very little effect on stopping the virus from spreading, "but would be highly disruptive to the global community."

Egyptian government wants to take pre-emptive measures to prevent its spread into the country that has not yet reported a confirmed case related to the infection. Saudi Arabia has also not contracted the flu yet.

But the threat of contracting swine flu is higher during the people's gathering during the Hajj season.

Mohammed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Mosque, said that if the level of pandemic alert is raised from five to six, it is likely that people would delay the pilgrimage rites by at least a few weeks.

Early this month, hundreds of pig farmers clashed with the riot police in the capital city of Egypt as they try to stop the government from taking away their pigs to slaughter.

The authorities in Cairo have stepped up measures to accelerate pigs slaughter to curb the spread of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus.

The government has also been criticized for overreacting to the threat and not providing compensation to the pig-farmers for their losses. There is no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products, according to the WHO.

Some excerpts....

At CrossRoads Arabia, John Burgess explains:

A Saudi researcher in Shariah law find that there is precedent to ban Umrah pilgrims (those who undertake the non-obligatory, ‘lesser’ pilgrimage) who come from areas beset with the A/H1N1 or swine flu virus. I suspect that this opinion is being floated now in anticipation of the Haj, which will take place in late November. The Haj is obligatory, in that every Muslim is required to perform the pilgrimage at least once in his/her life, if feasible.

Similar concerns were raised a few years ago, when bird flu (H5N1) was threatening. One Saudi scholar called for Haj to be canceled if there were a severe outbreak, but that proposal was shot down by others. The argument was that Haj had never been canceled on public health grounds and that to do so would be counter to Islam. Rather, those who are ill are morally obliged to not perform Haj.

Communicable diseases and Haj are historical companions. There are many records of outbreaks of disease, from plague to cholera, killing thousands in Mecca, Madinah, and Jeddah over the years. Only toward the end of the 19th C. did strictly enforced quarantines [210-page PDF] work to stop the spread of diseases out of the region, back to the homes of the pilgrims. Quarantines and strict enforcement of medical screening can protect pilgrims and that might be enough. Only time will tell. Swine flu, as bird flu before it, may turn out to be a non-issue. If it does not, however, it good that people are starting to think about it now.

The Middle East Institute's Editor's Blog adds:

This is getting stranger and stranger. The Grand Mufti of Egypt is suggesting Muslim scholars issue a collective fatwa [religious edict] to postpone the hajj due to swine flu. Arabic version is here. Keep in mind — I know I keep repeating it — there have been no cases in Egypt. In fact, according to WHO's rundown as of yesterday, the only cases confirmed in the entire Middle East are in Israel (seven cases). And WHO says, “WHO is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the influenza A(H1N1) virus.” Oh, yes, and another thing: the hajj isn't until November. Am I missing something here? Has the hajj ever been postponed for health reasons, in all of Islamic history? I don't know, but I expect you'd need at least one infected person to justify it. (Not only are there no cases in the Middle East, except Israel, but none in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan — well, anywhere Muslim.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Saudi Men's Temporary marriages with Indonesian women on rise

These women do not know that their marriages would end within a few days and that they would have to bear children of people who would abandon them.

Last year, the Saudi Embassy in Jakarta received 82 calls regarding children of Saudis who had married Indonesian women and then abandoned them

Temporary marriages with Indonesian women on rise
P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News

JEDDAH: A large number of Saudis are engaging in temporary marriages with Indonesian women with the intention of divorcing them.

“Such marriages are likely to increase if Islamic scholars fail to give a clear ruling prohibiting them,” said Khaled Al-Arrak, director of Saudi affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Jakarta.

He said most Saudis were engaged in such marriages without realizing their consequences. “Some poor Indonesians marry off their girls to Saudis hoping it would put an end to their poverty and miseries. If the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars does not ban this type of marriages, things will go out of control,” Al-Arrak warned.

There are so many offices in Indonesia that facilitate such marriages, Al-Watan Arabic daily said. The marriage takes place in the presence of witnesses and a man posing as the father of the bride.

These women do not know that their marriages would end within a few days and that they would have to bear children of people who would abandon them.

Last year, the Saudi Embassy in Jakarta received 82 calls regarding children of Saudis who had married Indonesian women and then abandoned them. “We have received 18 such calls from abandoned Indonesian wives of Saudis and their children this year so far,” Al-Arrak said.

The Saudi Embassy official said that the cases registered with the embassy accounted for only 20 percent of such marriages that have actually taken place.

Aysha Noor, 22, an Indonesian woman from Sikka Bhumi, 160 km east of Jakarta, said her parents married her to a young Saudi man when she was 16, thinking it would be a blessing for the family and end their poverty.

“We in Indonesia consider people of Makkah and Madinah as blessed ones. The man gave me a dowry of six million Indonesian rupiahs (SR2,024). The dowry helped us to solve some of our economic problems. My family did not know that the man was intending to have a temporary marriage.”

She adds: “After a few days he paid us the remaining amount of three million rupiahs (SR1,011) and left the country.” Noor said she later had a similar marriage with another Saudi before finding a job at a nightclub as a singer and dancer.

There are many women in Indonesia who have similar stories to tell. Some of them find it difficult to look after their children from Saudi husbands. The Saudi Embassy in Jakarta registers such Saudi children and helps them travel to the Kingdom to recognize their fathers but many refuse to accept them.

The embassy also receives visa requests for marriages, particularly for people of special needs and elderly who want to marry Indonesian women. These marriages often fail because the Saudi society treats them as maids and they cannot merge with the society primarily because of language barrier. Such marriages cost between SR5,000 and SR10,000.

S.P. Dharmakirty, consul for information at the Indonesian Consulate in Jeddah, confirmed that temporary marriages involving Saudis were taking place in his country.

“Indonesian authorities have taken appropriate measures to curb this practice,” he told Arab News, adding that some people involved in such illegal marriages have been detained.

The consul also pointed out that the marriage of some Indonesian women with elderly and handicapped Saudis was not legal.

“We face many problems because such marriages are not registered and the women coming from Indonesia use visa for maids to come to the Kingdom,” he said. “Some of them later come to consulate to seek advice,” he added.

When I grow up, I want to be… an EMPLOYER...

Looking back, I had limited knowledge on what kind of careers ahead. I chose to become an architect but failed to get a place in a New Zealand university due to quota system and was given a computer science course instead.
No regrets and it has been a decade that I left IT world into more challenging roles in property development.
My two elder sons have made their minds up on what they want to be. The eldest to be in aerospace world and the second one in medicine to follow his mum's footsteps as a medical doctor.
Meanwhile..the youngest one (photo below) is still blurred...

If we could do it all over again, what kind of career would you be interested?

I would go for a full-time travel writer...

As children, we all had different ambitions.

Many of us said we would become doctors or solicitors, but there were the imaginative few who dreamt of becoming television presenters, stuntmen and sports stars. And while being lucky enough to follow David Beckham’s footsteps or land the role as Vin Diesel’s body double wouldn’t have been easy, most of us had adequate opportunity to get a job in the industry we favoured.

But the latest research has shown that, nowadays, school leavers in the UAE are struggling to get the jobs they want.

Research by the Middle East Youth Initiative, a joint project by the US-based Wolfesohn Centre for Development and the Dubai School of Government, has revealed that 25 per cent of 15-24-year-olds in the UAE are currently unemployed, compared with a global average of 14 per cent.

Lucy Clarke, who is the director of NAJAH - the UAE’s education, training and careers exhibition - says the credit crunch has had a huge impact on the jobs market here. She explains this impact, in turn, affects the options open to those who want to go into a certain field of work or study for a degree.
“The global economic crisis has resulted in massive job losses across the region and made it much more difficult for new job seekers to follow their chosen career paths,” says Lucy.

“For many, the best option may be to look towards different career opportunities and develop additional skills.”

Feddah Lootah, Acting General Manager of Tanmia, the national human resource and development authority says school leavers need to be savvy in what they go on to study.

She advises those seeking further education to opt for degrees in areas such as engineering and finance which may be less popular but can offer them more employment opportunities upon graduation.
Lucy adds: “What we are suggesting is that school leavers carefully consider all their options before choosing their degree. “Not only do they need to look at their skills and interests, but also examine which industries will offer them the best opportunities in employment and career progression.
“No one knows quite how the credit crunch is going to play out, but engineering and finance courses are not as popular as communication and the arts. As a result, there may be more opportunities for graduates in engineering and finance because there are not as many people with those specific skills.”

Despite having a good education, Haroon Akram, 24, who moved over from the UK with his family two years ago, decided to re-train for a new career.
However, he found himself unemployed as a direct result of the credit crunch.

“Because the property market was booming and lots of people were making really good money in real estate, I decided to go and do a course in real estate,” he says. “Doing the course really helped me and I managed to get a job but then, when the recession hit, I lost it.”

Luckily for Haroon he is now going to work with his dad in the family truck rental business. But for those who don’t have many options available to them, Lucy suggests not being embarrassed to start at the bottom and work your way up.

“Being prepared to intern at companies, for little or no money, can be very hard, but is an excellent way to get a foot in the door,” she says.“We recommend continued professional development in any role. If you can keep abreast of the issues affecting your industry and learn about ways you can become more effective, you will have an advantage over your colleagues or those going for the same job.”

School leavers or anyone interested in a new career can register for a free place at the next Najah exhibition in Abu Dhabi by visiting

Careers advisors and representatives from universities and different industries will be on hand to offer advice

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Depressing News

UAE job losses set to continue amid recovery - analyst

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JOB LOSSES: More redundancies will be made in the UAE even as the economic recovery begins, says Standard Chartered. (Getty Images)

Job losses will continue to take place in the UAE even as economic recovery takes hold, a leading economist in the region warned on Monday.

Further redundancies would happen in the Gulf state over the coming months because the jobs market lagged behind the real economy, said Marios Maratheftis, chief economist at Standard Chartered in the Middle East.

“Inevitably job losses are taking place and, in my opinion, they will continue to take place even as the economy is recovering because the jobs market is a lagging indicator of the economic cycle,” said Maratheftis during MegaTrends, Essential Strategic Insights 2009 in Abu Dhabi.

Property prices to remain depressed - Aldar CEO

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PROPERTY VIEW: Aldar's CEO said on Monday he expected the UAE real estate market to remain flat for at least a year. (ITP Images)

The UAE property market is in line for another 12 months of depressed performance, according to the CEO of Aldar, the biggest developer in Abu Dhabi.

“I think we are in for a flat year in terms of performance in property prices," John Bullough said on the sidelines of the Megatrends conference in the UAE capital.

“My personal view is that we are in for at least another 12 months of a fairly level low-performing market.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Is CEO of Trengganu Investment Authority LYING?

According to a report published in a Malaysian newspaper and quoted by a wire service agency, Mubadala planned to get involved in the construction of hotels and villas on a 1,200-hectare site in Terengganu state on the east coast of Malaysia.

Mubadala denies reports about investments in Malaysia

By Abdulla Rasheed, Abu Dhabi Editor
Published: May 23, 2009, 23:49

Abu Dhabi: Mubadala Development Co, the investment arm of the Abu Dhabi government denied media reports about its plan to invest $1.8 billion (Dh6.6 billion) in property projects in Malaysia.

"Beyond the Medini Project in the Iskandar Development Region, we currently have no other real estate projects in Malaysia," the company said in a statement to Gulf News.

Mubadala however, clarified that they are not closing their doors to "partnerships and real estate opportunities globally that generate sustainable returns which may include future projects in Malaysia".

"Any commitment will be subject to our normal rigorous due diligence and approvals processes and the necessary disclosures being made," the statement said.

Mubadala said they are planning to expand their hospitality flagship, Viceroy, by exploring opportunities in key gateway cities such as New York, London and Paris as well as other "strategically important markets including Malaysia".

According to a report published in a Malaysian newspaper and quoted by a wire service agency, Mubadala planned to get involved in the construction of hotels and villas on a 1,200-hectare site in Terengganu state on the east coast of Malaysia.

The report cited Shahrol Azral Ebrahim Halmi, CEO of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) as the source of the story.

TIA has been set up and labelled as Malaysia's first sovereign wealth fund.

The fund is modelled on similar concepts in the Gulf with the aim of investing oil revenues in long term projects

The Malaysian fund this week said it plans to sell five billion ringgit (Dh5.2 billion) worth of bonds guaranteed by the federal government.

Halmi said the fund aims to raise another six billion ringgit (Dh6.3 billion) later this year by forward selling the oil royalty to be received by the oil-producing state over the next few years.

Gulf News Today - Power Struggle in Malaysia

Malaysian politics

Practising in Perak

May 14th 2009 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition

For federal battles to come

WHEN three legislators in Perak, one of five of opposition-ruled Malaysian states, switched sides in February, overturning a narrow majority in the 59-seat assembly, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was cock-a-hoop. After a big electoral setback last year, the long-dominant UMNO was at last taking the fight to the opposition, led by its nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister. Loyalists credited the defections, reportedly induced by the threat of corruption probes, to the bare-knuckle tactics of Najib Razak, since sworn in as prime minister in place of the mild-mannered Abdullah Badawi. Taking back Perak was just the start, UMNO snarled.

Perak was indeed the start of something, but not the rollback of Malaysia’s opposition, as foreseen by UMNO and its ruling coalition partners. Instead it has snowballed into a constitutional crisis that reveals the wobbly underpinnings of a democracy yet to be tested by a handover of power at the federal level. On May 7th, amid scuffles at Perak’s parliament, UMNO’s man was installed as chief minister. Scores of people were arrested, including the speaker of the house, who was bundled away by plainclothes police. He had objected to the takeover as it had never been put to a vote in the assembly.

Continue HERE

Twitter cat has 500k fans


Most a-miaow-sing ... Twitter cat Sockington

YOU all know about cat litter, but what about cat Twitter?

Meet the world's most popular cat who has miaow than half a million fans following his every move.

Moggy blogger Sockamillion (or Sockington) posts messages with the help of his owner.

But be warned - the Tweets aren't quite as exciting as Demi Moore's toned bum or Stephen Fry stuck in a lift.

This cat's updates include: "stalk stalk stalk AND WHAT HAVE WE HERE deadly pillow enemy BANZAIIIIIIIII CRASH oh no busted PILLOW ATTACKED FIRST run run run".

Another reads: " Step on water SHAKE PAW step on water SHAKE PAW step on water SHAKE PAW last time I am in this stupid bathroom today I swear".

Hooked already? You paw thing.

Visit for more hilarious updates.

Swine or H1N1 Flu - the predictions of a pandemic turn out to be so exaggerated

It certainly looks like another example of crying wolf. After bracing ourselves for a global pandemic, we’ve suffered something more like the usual seasonal influenza. Three weeks ago the World Health Organisation declared a health emergency, warning countries to “prepare for a pandemic” and said that the only question was the extent of worldwide damage.

Senior officials prophesied that millions could be infected by the disease. But as of last week, the WHO had confirmed only 4,800 cases of swine flu, with 61 people having died of it. Obviously, these low numbers are a pleasant surprise, but it does make one wonder, what did we get wrong?

Why did the predictions of a pandemic turn out to be so exaggerated? Some people blame an overheated media, but it would have been difficult to ignore major international health organisations and governments when they were warning of catastrophe. I think there is a broader mistake in the way we look at the world. Once we see a problem, we can describe it in great detail, extrapolating all its possible consequences. But we can rarely anticipate the human response to that crisis.

Take swine flu. The virus had crucial characteristics that led researchers to worry that it could spread far and fast. They described — and the media reported — what would happen if it went unchecked. But it did not go unchecked. In fact, swine flu was met by an extremely vigorous response at its epicenter, Mexico. The Mexican government reacted quickly and massively, quarantining the infected population, testing others providing medication to those who needed it. The noted expert on this subject, Laurie Garrett, says, “We should all stand up and scream, ‘Gracias, Mexico!’ because the Mexican people and the Mexican government have sacrificed on a level that I’m not sure as Americans we would be prepared to do in the exact same circumstances. They shut down their schools. They shut down businesses, restaurants, churches, sporting events. They basically paralysed their own economy. They’ve suffered billions of dollars in financial losses still being tallied up, and thereby really brought transmission to a halt.”

Every time one of these viruses is detected, writers and officials bring up the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 in which millions of people died. Indeed, during the last pandemic scare, in 2005, President George W. Bush claimed that he had been reading a history of the Spanish flu to help him understand how to respond. But the world we live in today looks nothing like 1918. Public health-care systems are far better and more widespread than anything that existed during the First World War. Even Mexico, a developing country, has a first-rate public-health system—far better than anything Britain or France had in the early 20th century.

One can see this same pattern of mistakes in discussions of the global economic crisis. Over the last six months, the doomsday industry has moved into high gear. Economists and business pundits are competing with each other to describe the next Great Depression. Except that the world we live in bears little resemblance to the 1930s. There is much greater and more widespread wealth in Western societies, with middle classes that can withstand job losses in ways that they could not in the 1930s. Bear in mind, unemployment in the non-farm sector in America rose to 37 per cent in the 1930s. Unemployment in the United States today is 8.9 per cent. And government benefits — nonexistent in the ‘30s — play a vast role in cushioning the blow from an economic slowdown.

The biggest difference between the 1930s and today, however, lies in the human response. Governments across the world have reacted with amazing speed and scale, lowering interest rates, recapitalising banks and budgeting for large government expenditures. In total, all the various fiscal—stimulus packages amount to something in the range of $2 trillion. Central banks — mainly the Federal Reserve — have pumped in much larger amounts of cash into the economy. While we debate the intricacies of each and every move — is the TALF well-structured? — the basic reality is that governments have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this problem and, taking into account the inevitable time lag, their actions are already taking effect. That does not mean a painless recovery or a return to robust growth. But it does mean that we should retire the analogies to the Great Depression, when –policymakers — especially central banks — did everything wrong.

We’re living in a dangerous world. But we are also living in a world in which deep, structural forces create stability. We have learned from history and built some reasonably effective mechanisms to handle crises. Does that mean we shouldn’t panic? Yes, except that it is the sense of urgency that makes people act — even overreact — and ensures that a crisis doesn’t mutate into a disaster.

Here’s the paradox: if policymakers hadn’t been scared of another Great Depression, there might well have been one.

Fareed Zakaria

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wonders of Persia

A bas-relief showing a lion attacking a bull on one of the grand staircases leading up to the audience hall in the ruins of Persepolis, a city built by the Persian King Darius I in 518 BC. Kipat Wilson for the National

“When Iranians see something amazing,” our guide explains as we tour the lavishly decorated Chehel Sotun Palace in Isfahan, “they don’t say ‘wow!’ or ‘goodness gracious!’” Arash points to a vivid 17th-century fresco that shows Shah Ismail I vanquishing an Uzbek army with spectacular style. Riding on a fine white charger, the immaculately-dressed king runs his sword through a fleeing opponent the way a butcher sticks kebab meat on a skewer. “See the man in the corner,” Arash continues, “moving his hand towards his lips in shock? We call this gesture ‘biting the finger of wonder’.”

When you book a holiday to Iran, there is certainly plenty of opportunity for wonder. The Islamic republic has developed cachet as an offbeat and seemingly difficult destination to visit, and is intriguingly coloured by the idiosyncrasies of a religious revolution that has just passed its 30th birthday. Visitors are greeted by abundant portraits of its founding father, Ayatollah Khomeini, and today’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Iranian television gives fulsome coverage to the flag-waving rallies held in honour of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and every townscape is bedecked with poignant portraits of the young men who were killed in “The Imposed War”, as the devastating Iran-Iraq conflict that lasted from 1980 to 1988 is known.

Yet most travellers are not here out of political curiosity; they are visiting Iran as pilgrims to its holy sites such as Mashhad, or to behold the glories of its past. In particular, there is growing interest from groups of European tourists who fly into Tehran to take an eight-day or longer package tour of the country’s key historical attractions. “I’ve waited 40 years to come here,” an English doctor tells me over breakfast at the delightful Abbasi Hotel, converted in the 1960s from an early 18th-century caravanserai. “Isfahan is everything I hoped for. The sights are beautiful, the sense of history is overwhelming, and the Iranians are exceptionally welcoming.”

Through a window beside us we can spy the dazzling blue dome of a neighbouring madrasa, while down below is an enchanting garden with a tranquil teahouse, plashing fountains and the heady scent of jasmine and roses.

In the warm evenings, smartly dressed couples gather here for courtship and conversation, while the hotel’s ornately decorated restaurant serves intriguing dishes such as fesenjun, a chicken dish with a rich sauce made from walnuts, aubergines, pomegranates and cardamom.

Travellers landing here soon sense that there is a deeper, underlying magic to – no, not Iran – but Persia. The distinction is crucial in a country where the vestiges of the past seem omnipresent, and which has only borne its current name since 1935. Few realise just how much the world owes Persian culture and innovation, which is said to have given us such delights as chess, polo, the water wheel, the Arabian horse, the postal service, algebra and stained glass. Rather ironically, given the soul-withering pollution and congestion of Tehran today, Persia also gave us the word “paradise”.

Iran’s ugly modern capital offers little indication of the beautiful sights that lie elsewhere in the country, but it does deliver an instant initiation into life in a city of 13 million people. Pedestrians quickly learn that drivers will rarely stop to let you cross the road, while shoppers must get to grips with prices quoted in archaic “tomans” even though the official currency is the rial.

Compensation for what seems like wasted time here is provided by two small but engaging museums. A compilation of the country’s greatest early historical hits, the collection of the National Museum of Iran stretches from 7,000 year-old pots to Roman mosaics via the gruesomely preserved head of a man buried in a salt mine in Zanjan in the 4th century. The high-security National Jewels Museum, meanwhile, redefines the meaning of bling with displays of regal rocks and ceremonial decorations that include the largest pink diamond in the world, known as Darya-I-Nur (Sea of Light), and a globe in which our planet is mapped out in over 50,000 precious stones. India is in rubies, Africa in sapphires, Iran in diamonds. Gazing at this amazing sphere of sparkles, you realise that this is a land that is no stranger to great wealth and power.

The place to start contemplating all this is Pasargadae, a lonely field of ruins north-east of Shiraz, in the south of Iran. “There’s not much to see” Arash warns us, but this is a bewitching example of how less can feel more. On a flat, flower-speckled plain stands the tiered stone tomb of Cyrus the Great, the 6th century BC ruler who founded the Achaemenid empire, which at its height stretched from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Indus River. It was the ancient world’s first superpower, with a longevity built on tolerance and devolution. The “Cyrus Cylinder”, an ancient document inscribed on a clay tube that was discovered in 1879 in Babylon and now resides in the British Museum, London, records how Cyrus respected local traditions while at the same time reminding readers that he is, of course, “king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king....”

By contrast, there is plenty to see at nearby Persepolis, the showcase imperial city founded in 518BC by Darius I. The best known of Iran’s nine Unesco world heritage sites, this is where the Achaemenid rulers gathered every spring to celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. Like Petra, Leptis Magna, Angkor and Machu Picchu, these ruins have such magnetism visitors may well find it hard to leave – my tour group was so smitten we staged a mini-rebellion and demanded extra time to go back and swoon till sunset. Built to impress subjects travelling in from all corners of the empire, the greatest wonder at Persepolis is the staircase of the Apadana Palace, which is decorated with exquisite bas-reliefs depicting officials bringing tributes from 23 nations. Skeins of wool from the Ionians, rams from Syria, camels from Arabia, elephant tusks from Ethiopia – it could almost be the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Visiting such sites brings home how important it is to swot up a little before you visit Iran – how many us know our Safarrids from our Safavids? You might also want to read some classical Persian poetry, for this is a nation where bards are still heroes.

Two of the most beloved hailed from Shiraz – Sa’di and Hafez, who wrote in the 13th
and 14th centuries respectively. Visiting the tomb of the latter, I had imagined I would encounter an atmosphere of wistfulness and contemplation – but no. The Persians may well be famous for their serene and delectable gardens, but this one was mobbed with spirited young Iranians taking countless shots of each other with their cameras and mobile phones. Often amusing, occasionally overwhelming, their animated gaggles were a reminder that some two-thirds of the national population is under 30.

We encountered a similar frenzy at other tourist spots – and foreign visitors are rarely spared. My companions and I were frequently approached by groups of giggling boys and chador-clad schoolgirls keen to practise their English, get autographs – or simply interact with a bunch of bizarre-looking outsiders, so hot and bothered in their panama hats and unfamiliar headscarves.

At the same time, such monuments, parks and gardens provided the best opportunities for us to meet Iranians, who wasted little time telling us in frank terms about the ingrained duality in their lives, with what goes in private so different than public life. We, in turn, had our own questions. Like why do you all drive so crazily? Will Iran qualify for the 2010 Fifa World Cup? Why are young men so obsessed with having nose-jobs? And, please, where can I get some decent coffee?

A tiled mural decorating the palace of Baghe Eram, or Garden of Paradise, portrays Nasser al Din Shah who ruled Iran from 1848 to 1896. Kipat Wilson for The National

The Iranians are a notably proud people, and while we grew tired of hearing how the country always produces the very best of everything – caviar, carpets, pistachio nuts, rosewater – there is no doubting that its joys remain woefully underappreciated.

Nowhere bears this out better than Isfahan, which in another life would be raking in international tourists as slickly as Athens, Marrakesh or Istanbul. Endowed with Iran’s most beautiful monuments by Shah Abbas I, who made it the national capital in 1598, the city feels remarkably untrodden despite the growing number of visitors, and it is less than two hours’ flying time from the UAE.

The focal point is Imam Square, which Iranians claim to be the second largest historical square in the world after Tiananmen. With its municipal flower beds, street photographers and horse-and-carriage rides, it feels considerably more homely than its Beijing rival. Bordered by a bazaar with some 500 shops, there is surprisingly little hard sell – the only pressure I experienced was from a genial coppersmith who asked me to take a photograph of his elderly father and send him a copy after I returned home. We bought metal spoons, dates, carpets and sets of antique tea glasses, and dined in unfussy local restaurants where a meal costs around $15 (Dh55) a head.

When Iranians eat out they nearly always opt for what one menu tellingly called “the ever popular kebabs”, but we preferred to order reviving soups, usually spicy and made with pearl barley, and sweet-and-sour dishes like tahchin, layers of chicken embedded in saffron rice then topped with sweet red barberries. Though served with little finesse, the fare was tasty and plentiful.

Isfahan was where the whistle-stop pace of travelling in a tour group was the most aggravating. Like Venice or New York, this is a city where one yearns to explore at leisure – perhaps in winter, when there can be snow, quietly discovering its romantic bridges, Armenian churches and alleys lined with craftsman’s workshops.

If you go

The Tour Cox & Kings (; 00 44 207 873 5000) has an eight-night tour visiting Tehran, Shiraz, Persepolis and Isfahan from US$1,503 (Dh5,530) per person, not including flights to Iran.

The Flight IranAir ( flies direct from Dubai to Shiraz and Isfahan, from $210 (Dh772) return. Gulf Air ( flies from Abu Dhabi to Shiraz via Bahrain. A return flight including taxes costs from $317 (Dh1,165).

Our brief encounters with its key sights were nevertheless unforgettable – particularly the music chamber on the top floor of the Ali Qapu Palace, where the plaster walls are elaborately cut out with the shapes of flasks, bottles and jars. Nearby, the huge Imam Mosque, which dates from 1611, was a shimmering ocean of blue tiles that can hold 10,000 worshippers – today it gets around a third of that every Friday. The grandeur is overwhelming – as intended – but perhaps a little too despotic for my taste. In Persian history poetry and savagery never seem far apart, and while Shah Abbas I left many beautiful buildings, it is hard not to forget that – ever fearful of an assassination plot – he also had his sons killed or blinded.

I was more moved by the smaller and more intimate Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, which was built on the east side of Imam Square for the private use of the shah and his wives. Here an entrance ticket costs just $0.40 (Dh1.5), and the seller may well strike up a conversation and ask what football team you support – and that’s something you don’t get when queuing to visit the Louvre or the Sistine Chapel. Once inside the mosque’s cool and meditative prayer hall, crowned with a 32m-high dome exuberantly patterned with mosaic tiles and grilled windows, it feels as if the gates to heaven have just been opened in a glorious blaze of blue and yellow light. At such moments you might well want to bite the finger of wonder.