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It started with Blackberry, but now Skype and Google are in the sights

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Hate to say that I told you so, but indications are now heating up to target any secure platform with demands of open access by the so called security services:

As Research In Motion faces an increasingly public dispute with several countries over the ability to monitor communication on its BlackBerry devices, virtually all other major technology communications companies have remained silent on the issue. That may soon change: RIM is likely just the first test case.

The government of India indicated yesterday that RIM isn’t the only company from which it will demand greater monitoring access. State authorities listed Internet phone company Skype SA and Google Inc., provider of the wildly popular Gmail service, as targets.

The move signals that the issue of monitoring data traffic goes far beyond RIM’s encrypted BlackBerrys – and probably has more to do with a looming collision between the advance of digital communication and the security demands of the state than with the Ontario company’s technology.

The Globe & Mail

What’s amazing about this situation is that it will come to pass. It will be condoned and even readily accepted in a few days time. People have become immune to state interference in every facet of their lives, easily sold into the haze of “security” – what it actually is a perverted use of the security ogre to gain access to peoples’ lives.

I don’t mind if this access was required and mandated by legitimate security concerns. I wouldn’t even mind if there was a trusted legal structure in the countries requiring access which protects the gained information and protects against its improper and illegal use. Sadly, none of our countries – the Arab and Muslim world – has anything close to this requirement.

So the wheels are resolutely turning. Against normal people and for various security services. Services who are ungoverned and mostly above the law. Services which are archaic, improperly staffed and completely outdated. Services whose only contribution to the country of their residence is the attempted depletion of the columns of the unemployable. In ours, even that privilege is diverted elsewhere, in true “Athari” style.

The essence is, my friends, is that the so called “security agencies” we are “blessed” with, are ill-suited to challenges of this day and age. And with their refusal to change or even attempt to understand the modern psyche and connectiveness, and with the unabashed aid and support given to them by the ambiguous, partial and directed judicial systems, all of which are resoundingly playing into the bosoms of corrupt political systems, how can we but expect a calamity in the offing?

Look, it’s too much to hope for business (RIM, Apple, Google, Skype, etc) to side with “us”, even though we are their ultimate benefactors. It is governments and political institutions which stand between their products and our pockets. They’re not going to “stand their ground” and state that they’re not going to give away the keys to unlock our privacy. Mark my words, they will. RIM seems to have done so already in the big K. of S. A. and it will in all the other situations too quite readily – okay, they’ll moan and groan and act like a teenage virgin welcoming being ravished, but coyly mind you, at least to seem respectable and not too easy, RIM – as will Skype et al – will ultimately bend over and lube up.

What’s the solution?

I offer you none. Other than to direct you to Open Source. At least with no exclusive economic motive behind those products, and with the varied and disparate developers, maybe, just maybe we can delay the advent of our total violation.

Privacy, my friends, is gone.

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Fasting?

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THE number of Arab Muslims in the region planning to fast in Ramadan is down by two per cent, according to a new survey.

Ninety-six per cent of Arab Muslims will observe the fast this year, down from 98pc last year, says Arab web portal Yahoo! Maktoob.

Source: GDN · 11 Aug 2010

Yeah sure. I would think the truth to be closer to about 40 – 50% fasting rather than only 4% not fasting! The statistic quoted in the “research” is definitely wrong. For one thing, no Muslim is going to openly admit that they’re not fasting or don’t intend to fast. Apart from it being a deeply personal thing, it’s declaring that one is being not a Good Muslim™. And that, my friends, has some unsavory implications.

I think they should re-do this research in a much simpler way, as follows:

  • Compare the sales of selected Khabbaz bakeries before and during Ramadhan, paying particular attention to purchases made earlier in the day
  • Check the sales levels of tinned tuna fish and other readily edible packaged foods before and during Ramadhan

With this simple exercise and a moderate understanding of statistics, one could easily project the numbers of those fasting to those who don’t. My gut feeling is that their discoveries will be, well, not very surprising as we all know the actual story.

And let’s not even go and analyse what constitutes a fast acceptable to the One upstairs. Just listen to the kind of questions asked in the several “Ask the Preacher” shows which flood TV channels during the month.

Well, regardless of whether you are fasting, and regardless of how “good” your fast is perceived, I hope you at least spare a thought to those less fortunate than yourself in this month. Go out and do some charity work for a change, and not just by opening your wallet, anyone can do that, go and actually do something constructive this month to alleviate hardships of your fellow human beings in your community.

Happy Ramadhan.

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Parliament and loss of ethics

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It’s going to be on Saturday 23rd October, 2010, HM the King has decreed. So, expect the race to parliament to start in earnest now.

Here’s the first to bolt out of the door:

الظهراني يعلن إعادة ترشحه للانتخابات النيابية 2010
Khalifa Al-Dhahrani
أعلن رئيس مجلس النواب خليفة الظهراني إعادة ترشحه للانتخابات النيابية المقبلة للفصل التشريعي الثالث. وقال الظهراني في بيان صادر عن المجلس أمس إن رغبته في إعادة الترشح «تأتي بناء على طلب الكثير من النواب والمهتمين، وكذلك رغبة المواطنين وأهالي الدائرة التاسعة بالمحافظة الوسطى، وامتداداً للخبرة البرلمانية التي يمتلكها، حيث تم اختياره رئيسا لمجلس النواب طوال الفصلين التشريعيين السابقين، فضلا عن كونه أحد أعضاء المجلس الوطني السابق 1973 ومجلس الشورى 1992-2002م». وأضاف بيان المجلس «كما يأتي إعلانه في إعادة الترشح، رغبة منه في خدمة الوطن والمواطنين والعمل يداً بيد مع الحكومة لتحقيق كل ما فيه مصلحة وخير المملكة ونهضتها تجسيدا للرؤية الإصلاحية لجلالة الملك».

Al-Wasat Newspaper – 9 Aug 2010

Al-Dhahrani declares his candidature for the 2010 elections

The Speaker of the House of Representatives Khalifa Al-Dhahrani announced his candidature for parliamentary’s third term. Al-Dhahrani said in a statement issued by the Council yesterday his intention to re-nominate himself “due to the demands of many members of parliament and other interested parties as well as the demands of citizens and the Central Governate’s 9th district constituents due to his parliamentary expertise as he was elected Speaker for the first two terms of parliament, apart from his being a member of the 1973 parliament and a member of the appointed Shura Council between 1992 – 2002. The statement add that “the announcement of his running once again was due to his desire to serve his country and countrymen and to work hand-in-hand with the government to achieve all that is good for the country and its development as envisaged by the reforming vision of His Majesty the King.

In that case, why is he using Parliamentary mechanisms, time and resources to aid in his own election campaign? To all intents and purposes as the 2nd Parliamentary term has ended and a new election date has been set by the King, then he’s out of a job. He is no longer a Speaker or anything to do with Parliament I think, so why is he even allowed to release a statement from Parliament? Isn’t this a complete and glaring case of mis-use of parliamentary power?

It’s obvious he’s totally in love with that job now, considering that last time he acted as a demure damsel in distress, refusing to stand for re-election in 2006 initially only to renege on that position when patted on the head a few times and making a dramatic entrance.

I think based on this mis-use of power alone he should be booted out of the door never to be allowed back in again. Don’t you?

Isn’t there any election committee to slap him silly for doing this and fire the guy in Parliament who allowed his office to be used unconstitutionally?

My suspicion is that this is not going to be an isolated incident in this election season. It’s now feeling like some MPs have got used to the idea that Parliament is nothing more than their own personal shop and piggy bank to do with what they want without regard to constitutionality or even basic ethics.

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If you had one wish…

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I think that if I were on my death bed, I would regret the opportunities I wasted in my life. I’m sure that you probably can relate to that too. Yes, hind-sight is very powerful to be sure, but sometimes when you are told that an opportunity will come knocking, and knocking hard and please take the time to prepare yourself to take advantage of that opportunity, there is really no one to blame for that wasted chance other than yourself.

I’m not a mind reader, but one hopes that Shaikh Muhsin Al-Asfoor is reflecting on that, at least I hope that he is if he’s not still full of himself for shaking the Royal Hand and using his great oratorial skills in front of His Majesty the King, who took the time to visit His Eminence Shaikh Ahmed Al-Asfoor in the village of Boori near A’ali. The event is given some importance in Al-Wasat this morning, while the GDN just glosses over it for some good reason I’m sure.

Al-Wasat reports that while at Al-Asfoor’s majlis, Shaikh Muhsin Al-Asfoor did the traditional welcome speech. In between the sugary plaudits, Al-Asfoor Jr. requested that the King release those apprehended at the moment serving time for killing the Pakistani in Ma’ameer and bundled with the Royal Pardon request are the others incarcerated for burning tyres or hurling rocks etc.

That’s it?

He gets one wish and this is what he uses it for?

I’m happy that he didn’t find Aladdin’s lamp, otherwise the Genie would be rolling in it laughing himself silly! He would be – rightly I guess – be laughing at this infantile request and thinking to himself that with the plethora of issues troubling this country (the Bandar Fiasco, over 100 square kilometers of land misappropriated, gerrymandering, sectarianism, corruption, blood curdling environmental disasters, nepotism, a warped balance of power, imbecilic parliament – both chambers, improper naturalisation and demographic change attempts and their accompanying problems, and oh yes, the disputed Constitution, this respected turbaned gentleman has an opportunity to deliver a prepared speech in front of His Majesty detailing demands… and he requests the release of exploited and gullible kids!

Lovely.

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…and then I shaved my chest

I was worried. Quite worried actually when a few weeks ago I felt what I imagined to be something wrong with the rhythm of my heart. I didn’t do anything about it and tried to blame it on gas or imagination. I didn’t want to worry my wife so I didn’t say anything. I searched the usual sources online for a possible explanation, and fell in the very thing I strongly advise against: only a fool becomes one’s own doctor, and I had. What I read served only to make me more anxious.

A couple of weeks ago the “flutters” were more consistent. I capitulated and together with my wife, decided to drive to the “Chest Pains Clinic” at the BDF. I walked in and was received by the attending nurse. I told her that I have a pain in my chest which I described as a flutter or a murmur, a sort of what I think would be like an air bubble trapped in a tube of liquid. She asked me for my CPR which I proffered, and then was led to a room and invited to take my shirt off and lie down on a bed. I did, and was immediately connected up to an ECG machine. After a flurry of questions and them reading the resulting chart, they decided that I have nothing to fear and go home and told to immediately check with the centre should I feel anything else untoward. “It’s all in the head, then” I thought…

I unfortunately continued to experience discomfort. I know already that three months ago my cholesterol results were way beyond average – in fact, my LDL was at 8.25 while the “norm” for my age group is a mere 2.6. That put me straight in the target site of a heart attack. But although I have changed my diet, I redoubled my efforts at exercise and three months hence I’m happy to say that I am somewhat fitter, weigh less, have discovered extra holes in my belt and reduced the LDL to 7.15, it was hardly enough to scare away a heart attack.

With that information in hand, I decided that I should talk to someone about my concerns. Fate decided that I should meet Prof. Dr. Mary Lynch Tareif, the Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at the Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Cardiac Centre who shared my alarm at the results and decided to look into the situation a bit further. Thanks to her concern, I did another battery of tests at the Centre: another ECG, Echo through to a stress test on a treadmill and then finally a CT scan of the heart. Although some anomalies were discovered, I was told that those were not currently life-threatening, and was let to go home with a a bunch of pills to take care of my cholesterol and a dire warning to take care of myself better, something I shall certainly keep in constant consideration.

I am really happy that I made the effort to go and get thoroughly checked. And, staggeringly, I wasn’t charged a single fils for the privilege, as is the case with any other Bahraini citizen referred to MKCC! I didn’t even have to sign any papers whatsoever!

I’m not sure that there are other specialist cardiac centres in the world in which a citizen (or anyone else for that matter as far as the MKCC is concerned) can simply walk in and just state that they’ve got chest pains and they’re immediately investigated without any further ado.

Thank you MKCC and particularly Dr. Mary for taking such a keen interest. I’m very much indebted to you, as is everyone who has made use of your selfless services, I am sure.

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Next wave of reality TV: Muslim Top Model

Well, model in the sense of a devout and pious young gentleman tested in Islamic and worldly knowledge; things like actually washing the dead to prepare them for burial, counseling pregnant women out of wedlock and helping orphans.

This reality show happens in Malaysia to great acclaim and a huge following. Their Facebook page has about 45,000 followers and press reports suggest and even greater following among young Malaysian women, all hoping for one of the contestants for a husband.

What do they win? Well, other than the assigned cleric’s blessing, the winner gets an all expenses paid trip to perform the Hajj in Mecca, a car, a laptop, a small cash grant and a scholarship in a main mosque in Madina in Saudi Arabia.

Is this creativity at its best or simply pandering to the lowest common denominator and using modern entertainment programming and spin it so that the maximum advertising/subscription revenue possible is milked?

Regardless, I applaud the Malaysian TV channel whose brainchild this is. They obviously recognised a niche and went with it and found success.

I’m quite sure that this new wave of entertainment is going to grace our own meagre Middle Eastern TV offerings very soon, but as usual, I’m afraid that they’re going to make pretty hash job of it. I hope that should it be replicated here or elsewhere; however, it will be done to propagate tolerance and understanding rather than increase the sectarian rift and strife in our part of the world. I somehow think that knowing the kind of religious stations we have here, it will be the latter that will be emphasised.

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Bahrain climbs the expensive rankings ladder

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Nine places to be exact, according to the International Cost of Living Rankings released in April 2010 which using New York as the benchmark and the ranking is for expatriate living.

Bahrain, according to the report, is the most expensive country in the world for clothes, 66th most expensive in the world with only Dubai from the Gulf being more expensive at 26 than Bahrain and Qatar at 41. Dubai is the most expensive for eating out, restaurants and hotels (still).

The currently “happening” place in the Gulf, Abu Dhabi, is at 74, Saudi (Riyadh) at 130th, Kuwait at 134 and Oman is at a comfortable (and best, in this case) at 241st.

Given the huge development happening in both Qatar and Abu Dhabi, I wonder how their rankings are going to be affected next year. I personally think that theirs will actually get better due to the global downturn in the economy, ironically. Qatar’s rents for instance has reduced by 4% this year according to reports, with I daresay a bigger and more substantial drop in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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Toy Story 3, how 3D should be done

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We’ve just come back from watching Toy Story 3 in 3D at the City Centre cinema and must say that we all were blown out by the 3D effect, the story, the animation, the expression on the figures’ faces, the music track, by just about everything in it!

It’s certainly a valid reason to go out and get one of those 3D TVs and rig it up with its peripherals just to watch these kind of films on it.

Very impressive indeed, and a good time spent with the family. Reminds me of when the kids were actually kids!

How time flies…

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Ministry of Information no more?

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According to this, it looks like the good lady has had her way.

The Ministry of Information & Culture neé Ministry of Information has now transformed into the Ministry of Culture with the information part devolved into an authority under the leadership of Shaikh Fawaz Al-Khalifa, the ex president of GOYS. Shaikh Fawaz will also inherit the main departments of the erstwhile MoI: Radio & TV, Artistic affairs (?), Foreign Press, the Bahrain News Agency and Press & Publications subdivided under new sections headed by assigned director generals. Although not named yet, if these DGs are the old undersecretaries (who effectively ran the ministry) then we can safely say that no real change will be forthcoming. Sites will remain to be blocked and the freedom of information will continue to be at their whims.

But, let’s wait a few weeks to find out how the chips will fall in that erstwhile ministry.

Another thing which will be closely watched by those inside and outside BRTC; however, is what will happen to those very highly paid Lebanese “experts” who were inducted in droves by Shaikha Mai Al-Khalifa at the complete chagrin of everyone there. Will they remain in their vaulted towers to continue to dictate how “the locals” run their affairs by forcing in obsolete and expensive methods and incomprehensible technologies at odds with the broadcasting world norms, or will they, like her excellency be given the boot?

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Mahmood Al-Yousif assumes the presidency of the Rotary Club of Adliya

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Believing in rendering services to the community, Mahmood Al-Yousif became a Rotarian in 2007 through his introduction to the Rotary Club of Adliya, the youngest Rotary club in Bahrain with an honorable roll of achievements throughout its young history. The club has raised approximately BD300,000 (US$800k) the vast majority of which has gone directly into helping the local community.

Rotary Clubs around the world elect a new president every Rotary year, which runs from July 1st through to June 30th.

Past and Incoming Presidents cutting the cake inaugurating the Rotary hand-over ceremony

This year, Mahmood Al-Yousif, the founder and CEO of Gulf Broadcast, has the privilege and honour to serve as the Rotary Club of Adliya’s president. He and his board have already discussed various events which will be launched during the year to help raise necessary funds for the projects the Club will support.

Chief amongst these projects is the “Gift of Life – Bahrain” an initiative to create a diagnosis and treatment centre within the Salmaniya Medical Centre – the main health care institution in Bahrain – specifically designed to care for children with congenital cardiovascular defects.

Should you wish to contribute time, effort or money to this cause, please do contact Mahmood who will be happy to provide you with the information you require.

The club aims to raise BD100,000 to not only equip the centre, but also to train a doctor and some nurses in necessary techniques to help those affected children.

Together, we can make a difference.

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