Monday, November 19, 2007

More on the Red Arrows

I wrote previously about the Red Arrows visiting Jeddah. I'm afraid I wasn't able to escape the cubicle farm to attend, but Alex Sykes did and was kind enough to provide me with a picture. Thanks Alex!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Holy Saudi Cows

I'm fuming.
Who wouldn't after reading this pretty piece of news (BBC News). And here's an alternate source (Arab News). And another (Al Arabiya).
A lawyer for a gang-rape victim in Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six-months in jail says the punishment contravenes Islamic law.
Lovely. The poor girl gets gang raped fourteen times, and all the towel heads with big beards can think of was the girl breaking the taboo of Saudi sexual segregation. What about the rapists?
The sentences for the seven rapists ranged from 10 months to five years in prison.
To put things into perspective; a few months ago a man accused of raping a boy was sentenced to death. But of course the girl was somehow guilty for being an object of lust. She went out with unrelated man after all. She must be a slut! The poor rapists. How could they resist the temptation?

The Saudi society and its hypocrisy make me sick sometimes.

Oh and it gets better. This appeals court had actually doubled the girl's sentence from the last time the case went into court.
A source at the Qatif General Court said that the judges had informed the rape victim that the reason behind doubling her punishment was “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.”
How dare she speak against the most Holy of Holy Cows? Their words come directly from God after all? Oh, and her lawyer. He was behind all of this. Burn the Heretic!
Judge Soliman Al-Muhanna from the Qatif court told the lawyer (Al-Lahem) that the judicial committee had decided to suspend him from the case. They also confiscated his license which is granted to Saudi lawyers by the Ministry of Justice. To Al-Lahem’s surprise he received a call from the Judicial Investigation Department of the Ministry of Justice to inform him of a disciplinary session he should attend on 25th of the Hijra month.
The thing is, we've come to expect this kind of injustice from our esteemed justices. But what really really makes me want to pick up a chainsaw and go medieval and people's asses is the reaction from many people in the Saudi society. Most would just shrug it away citing that their Holinesses know best. Some even have the audacity to change the question into "Yeah, but what was she doing with that guy in the first place?". Seems everything can be forgiven in Saudi Arabia, except for going out with strangers. That and speaking out against Judge Dredd.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book Review: "The Difference Engine" by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

Scifi fans revere the name William Gibson. His classic book Neuromancer single-handedly started the cyberpunk genre, and introduced the word cyberspace. Films like The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell all trace their lineage to Gibson's vision of a bleak, dystopian, computer run world. And while I'm not too familiar with his work, Bruce Sterling is another cyberpunk author of some renown. So what are the two doing writing a book set in Victorian London?

Starting a new Scifi genre, that's what.

You see back in the 19th century, English mathematician Charles Babbage designed what is probably the first programmable computer. Made from gears and mechanical parts, Babbage's analytical engine was ahead of its time. Too ahead. Babbage died before his vision could be completed. But, what if Babbage had perfected his design? What if the computer revolution came a full century ahead of its time? Perfectly coinciding with the Industrial Revolution?

Say hello to Steampunk, where the 19th century is re-imagined into a more high-tech world.

Gibson and Sterling paint a wonderfully detailed world where the Engines have touched every facet of everyday life. From mechanized animated displays, to automated factories, to gargantuan government engines that store data about everyone in the realm. In this world three people, unrelated at first, have their lives changed and intertwined when a mysterious set of punch-cards, a computer program, makes its appearance. Shady characters stalk them and will do anything to get their hands on the cards. In the background, unrest boils as the rampant industrialization and the pollution it brings takes its toll on London.

Unfortunately, despite the teasingly good premise, the book fails to deliver. As typical of Gibson the world is vivid with detail, however the storytelling suffers. The book is basically a collection of three novellas, each covering one of the three major characters, and a small collection of short stories at the end. All three novellas end somewhat anti-climatically, and the characters failed to grip my attention and were quite forgettable actually. By the end of the novellas very little is achieved and many tantalizing questions are left unanswered. The book also had the chance to explore the effects of 2oth century tech on a 19th century world and values, but does very little of that.

Ironically, it was the last part of the book that I enjoyed the most. The short stories and news bites that compromise the book's final pages do a good job of fleshing out the world of The Difference Engine and go a long way into providing the book with actual closure. A somewhat chilling ending that is typical of Gibson. If only the whole book was in this format. Overall, The Difference Engine feels like an interesting exercise in speculative thought that found itself, clumsily, turning into a novel.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The RAF Red Arrows in Jeddah

Just got the news. The Red Arrows, the acrobatic team belonging the British RAF (don't you find it rather amusing that the Brits don't feel the need to explicitly say that it's the British Royalty they're talking about, it's just Royal this or that), will be conducting one of their famous air shows here in Jeddah. The show will be tomorrow (November 7th) at 3:00 pm and held in the Corniche near Al Nawras roundabout.

I have to question the timing though. I understand the need for having plenty of daylight for the show (hence the rather inconvenient 3:00 pm timing), but couldn't they have held it on Thursday?

Whether I'll actually attend is yet to be seen since I finish work at five, but if I can squirm away from work tomorrow I'll try to bring my camera with me to take a few shots.