Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas in Dubai

Christmas in Dubai was weird. We are broke, so my present to my wife was a shirt that I never wear, and her present to me was nicely presented tin of peanuts and a frosted ear plug. In a nativity-relevant occurrence, a decent dining table (only one wobbly leg) and two chairs suddenly appeared in the stairwell on Christmas Day – we have lots of room in the inn but are desperately in need of furniture, il hum du llilah. We spent the morning people-watching as a slight Christmas buzz could be felt, largely due to the nearby sounds of an early filipino party which veered from contemporary carols to Bob Marley.

Late afternoon, after several aperitifs, we sat down to roast lamb. This was enjoyed to the further accompaniment of liquid gifts from friends who recently passed through customs. We then finished off one of the bottles whilst watching a DVD of The Who Live in Brighton in 2006. This actually gave me hope after entering a deep, post prandial, depression. We would have then polished off the rest of our gifts, but sobered up to Cat on Hot Tin Roof (movie version with Newman and Taylor) followed by a phone call home. A very pleasant walk down by the Creek followed, and we were in bed and sound asleep by 1030pm

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dubai Lime party at the Loft

It was good to see that Dubai Lime have restarted their residency at the Loft and were kicking things off with a party for all Limers and with no charge on the door. The musical fayre was a more mixed bag than on the few occasions that I have checked out Lime music events before. Once again it gave a significant role to the Canadian songstress Jennifer Gove (Buddy can you spare a recording contract?) - I am told that Jennfer, like all Limer performers, has a very regular day job and does no gigs save those that Dubai Lime put on at coffee shops and the Loft ocassionally. Hard to believe, as I told her slightly drunkenly outside afterwards. Less impressive were Midnight Oil (Aussie band in the 80s, no?). Well, the "Kuwaiti-born" new wavey drummer, Ahmed was good. I think he should split from "Sam from London" and find a funkier cooler vehicle for his talents. Sam was sometimes painful in the vocal department, and own songs were decidely bedsit-driven. He tried hard though and a decent cover of Losing My Religion (in Dubai?) went down well, especialy amongst a table of Nigerians near me. REM are so damn international, aren't they? "Iz", from the UK (?), pushed a few emotional buttons..for some...and played well and passionately, performing mainly his own songs. A final word for the compere, Glaswegian-born John McCorrigan (?). He was funny and an all round good bloke. I am sure he has more "Stella Street" type impersonations in his wardrobe that he could amuse us with next time. Frankly I missed the last music act as we had to go due to our finances not being at ease with AED28 for a small bottle of Heiniken. Me thinks the Loft a tad greedy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dubai Jazz 2008

Thrilling news that the internationally-acclaimed jazz artiste Mr David Gray will be gracing us with his presence as this year's much lauded Dubai Jazz Festival. The highly influential unplugged tunesmith who has influenced legions of bejeaned, stubbly and oh so emotional singer songwriter clones over the last few years will no doubt raise a chilled white whine at the news. Those interested in jazz, for all its manifold varities, better look elsewhere. Of course this is something of a tradition at Dubai Jazz. Last year Dee Dee Meyers (or someone who sounds like a Clinton staffer.. DD Bridgewater...Who?) was a top feature. She was a bit jazz; less so was Freddy Cole who is jazz as in being black and soulful, which covers an awful lot of talented people who would not dream of labelling themselves jazz. More RnB really, when the term meant rhythm and blues as opposed to, well, black. Strange really, I remember that just a few weeks after the Dubai International Jazz Festival 2007, the genuinely acclaimed Scandinavian jazz pianist Bobo Stenson was a part of the "Gulf Jazz Festival" that was on the road in bohemian fashion between Gulf Arab capitals and played a night at the Deira Raddison SAS. I missed that too, but in his case wished I had not. He has played with some key names at the freer end of the jazz scene since the 60s, including Charlie Haden, and is a virtuoso whose subtleties would be lost on virtually anyone who has ever trod the boards of Dubai Media City's open air auditorium. Speaking of jazz artists, the famous brand of toilet manufacturers also lends its name, appropriately enough, to an AOR band by the naff name of Toto who headlined Dubai Jazz this year. Was it last year that Thelonious Monk's son and heir Roger Hodgson was on the bill? Don't get me wrong, Supertramp's Logical Song and Bloody Well Right were groovy forays into sixth form art rock back in the 70s, but the only thing that was jazz about them was Antony C Helliwell's tenor, and that was played strictly rock-stylee. Jeez. I mean there is a lot of jazz talent out there. And I do not mean soft white female vocalists of the current jazz and rootsy "wave" like Dana Krall or Katie Melluah, nor the excreable Jamie Callum, who substitutes the sensitivities of the gym for the escoterica of the music. This is where the play off between bums on grass and the cost of a ticket to see class acts that people might have heard of from the real jazz scene kicks in. However Dave Holland, Anour Brahem (yes, an Arab), Charlie Haden, Pharoah Saunders, Lyle Mayes, Bobo Stenson... these guys do not cost like those pop artists increasingly drawn to Abu Dhabi do, and, if marketed right, people would come to see them. Anyone interested out there?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Gordon Brown

(Quote: Money Week magazine, 5 Nov 2007) ".......Moreover, Gordon Brown may yet share the fate of another Prime Minister. James Callaghan's place in history turned out to be a footnote to Harold Wilson. He took over as Prime Minister in mid-term and had an opportunity to go to the country early, but chose to cling on to power to the very last minute. The economy deteriorated through the winter of discontent, and he was routed at the polls. Gordon Brown, too, is facing a deteriorating economic outlook. In the past few years economic activity has been underpinned by a booming housing market and financial services sector as well as large increases in public spending. A stimulus from any of these areas is unlikely next year. The outlook for 2009 is more problematic, but by then the Brown government may be a busted flush. It is possible that Gordon Brown's worst nightmare waits - being a footnote to Tony Blair. Politics is interesting once more. ....."

I made this comparison about 18 months ago on the basis of the UK Treasury (Red Book) fiscal and UK economy projections...

The key DIFFERENCE, of course, is that we are unlikely to see again the 1978/79 style meltdown, but the Labour party disaffiliating and/or bolshie UK trade unions have some options. The other key difference is that Jim was popular right up UNTIL the winter of discontent, and bested the silly blonde girl all the time over the dispatch box. Oh, and the other key difference, JC was a likeable if a tad dry (by today's standards) bloke...Gordie ain't no "Sunny Jim"; he has remained a shit ever since he dissed me in a lift back in '95. JC, like all successful politicians (the only one in the 20th century to hold all top FOUR offices of state) knew how to exercise the popular touch. He also had the background to make it seem genuine. Gordon Brown (not to be confused with that much more interesting politician, and companion of JC, the former chancellor George Brown) is a privileged scion of the Manse and Scotland's Oxbridge: Edinburgh University. Combine that with a rarified, puritanical, cold showers and proddy guilt upbringing from a clerical father, and you have the man. As Paul Weller said in 1982 (?), I'm voting Tory..

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

GCC and Iran

The attendance of Iran’s President Ahmedinejad (AN) at the GCC Summit on December 3 was blessed by all countries in the GCC, said Hamid bin Jassim at the closing GCC press conference. The Qatari prime minister and foreign minister said that there have been many other such invitations to non GCC heads of state. On this occasion the desire was expressed by the Iranian president to attend, and the foreign ministry in Qatar was notified accordingly by Iran, and we extended an official invitation. It was seen as important to extend the dialogue in this fashion. Outside the press conference a senior Kuwaiti media official told me that the attendance was important as a way of expanding the current dialogue with Iran, although he acknowledged that the Kuwaiti foreign minister for example had said that we are not clear on what is wanted by any part of the regime in Tehran. He added that this is a GCC view, not just that of Kuwait. He rejected idea that the speech by AN and the press conference yesterday was in effect saying “halas” to the Saudi idea for a Swiss nuclear bank. His caution may related to the KFM saying that he heard of the invitation in the press. The problem the Kuwaiti said is that Iran wants to ease the tension by deflating the football outside of the region. In other words there is a perceptible lack of genuine Iranian diplomacy. This same ball he had claimed was in Iran’s court as the GCC had made its proposals known on nuclear compromise.

Other comments in the margins at the summit suggested surprise, even anger, among GCC participants that an invitation that may not have been a matter of consensus was not responded to with warmer words by Iran. The speech to the GCC, the first in the history of the GCC by an Iranian participant, let alone a head of state, had not even mentioned the nuclear issue. When questioned about this at his own press conference, AN said that he did not want to dwell on something used by “two countries” to cause problems and that the issue was “over”. This comment was not seen positively by the GCC participants, least of all the hosts Qatar. The Qatari premier told the press on December 4 that we should not allow outsiders to be drawn into conflict, implying the US. Iran should take into account the concerns of the countries of the area, he said. If it is extending the true hand of cooperation this is good, but if we allow outsiders to be drawn into the conflict this is not acceptable. One question from a locally based AFP correspondent concerned the latest US intelligence (NIE) judgment that a weapons programme had not been continued after 2003, and whether this meant that the dispute was over. HbJ said that he did not know as his only information came from the IAEA and the “brothers” in Iran. It has a right to a peaceful programme and thus the dispute should be resolved by peaceful means and direct dialogue by the parties concerned, referring to Iran, the IAEA and it seemed the leading international countries involved in the dispute. In the normal fashion, he did not choose to identify the GCC as an interested party in this respect. The GCC does regards AN’s proposals as positive, said HbJ – the Iranian leader issued a 12 point programme for cooperation in his speech – and as practical ways to enhance cooperation and we said so in our agreed closing statement read out at the conclusion of the conference. Iran is a neighbouring country and should remove causes of tension between the GCC and Iran. In this respect HbJ mentioned the islands dispute and added that all the countries of the region (including Iran) were interested in a peaceful conclusion to the current situation. One questioner suggested that there could be (reciprocal) steps taken toward Iran on a bilateral or a multilateral basis by GCC states. Kuwait he said had argued that individual countries could consider initiatives. However all were in agreement that ideas of individual countries had to be agreed collectively. (It was not clear to this observer what the collective status was of the Saudi initiative for a nuclear enrichment bank)

Afterwards another well-connected Kuwaiti raised the issue with me of the NIE, believing that the making of a US-Iran deal could be in the wings, and that the report was possibly released to underline the idea of engagement with a locally feared Iran. While sounding fantastic it seems that the war option has been largely taken off the table, even if the risks of conflagration should not be downplayed too much. Conspiracies always abound in the region. Gulf Arabs will wonder again about US will-power at a time when, as the Kuwaiti argued with me, there had been a shared view about who was causing the problems in Iraq and what needed to be down about it. In this situation a GCC reluctance to come forward with plausible diplomatic initiatives with Iran, despite the ball actually being in the GCC’s court after the Ahmedinejad GCC speech, will be underlined. The refrain of powerlessness will go out with greater vocal strength now that the US has, quite possibly without management of the soft intel, effectively signalled that its Iran policy, like that of Iraq previously, is in freefall. Perception is nine tenths of the political law out here.

There was a question at the GCC press conference on whether there had been discussion about revaluation of individual currencies outside of the peg to the dollar. The summit declaration had reinforced the target date of 2010 for a common currency, with a review at the next summit in Muscat, and has not passed judgement on individual currency policy. In response to the question HbJ said that collective decision making was desired in terms of currency policy (mindful it seemed of their impact on the currency union goal). However he noted that the decision was for sovereign countries who “can do what they want”, and noted that this had already been exercised by Kuwait. Before the summit the desire for collective sanction had been expressed by the UAE and others at the time of the pre summit finance ministers meeting. A GCC common market will however come into being in January, for it has been deemed so at Doha. Some countries will have to move quickly to make the claimed equality of treatment in business and investment terms a reality in less than a month. This will not be a common market with a level playing field however, as Dubai’s open platform for foreign (non GCC) ownership and investment is hardly the same as current practice in Saudi.

More positively, and key at a time of apparent regional tension, the Saudi-Qatari kiss and make up appears to be genuine. Abdullah turned up to the summit, and al Jazeera continues to turn down its negative kingdom coverage. Saudi is the backbone of the GCC, declared HbJ to much scribbling in the press conference. The big brother is back, especially when Doha had thought it would be in the frontline of a US-Iran conflict and thus needed to ensure solidarity to reduce exposure.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Andy Warhol in Dubai

Well am gearing up to hear meaningless prattle about nuclear options and collective approaches to weak currencies and employment problems in Doha. Been a strange holiday weekend. Began with a phone call from HQ. This was immediately followed by a trip to the XVA Gallery in the cultural nub that is otherwise known as Bastakia (Bur Dubai). Here we were promised the first of a series of Andy Warhol flicks. Being something of a doyen of the genre, my mind boggled at the idea of an open air, open to the public, showing of Joe Dellesando's arse, or nubile aryan flesh being cut up and splattered around the courtyard care of 3D specs....the possibilities were endless. The first of what promises to be a whole series of bohemian delights, albeit filmed on downers, was the fairly obvious choice of "Chelsea Girls". This launched the Warhol silver screen process, with the Factory's finest up there on split screen display, drag queens and naked butts, not to mention some serious needle fascination. The rolling of the opening credits was a pleasing counterpoise to the evening adhan. However after we had seen about 6 of the 8 "characters" - Edie Sedgwick, Nico of course, Gerard Malanga, Joe and a bevvy of boys, and several transvestites, we decided that we had seen enough. It was sexy and fascinating in a bohemian Big Brother on mandrax kind of way. So afterwards you need a beer and a cigarette to wash the taste out of your mouth. This we did, to excess.

It was a bizarre counterpoint to the ensuing National Day excesses too. The fireworks have been fab, and it's been nice to see the flag frenzy too. Much talk on Dec 2 (National Day itself) about maintaining the democratic path and preserving the national identity of the country...We shall watch the programmes designed to ensure these objectives with great interest...another drink somebody?