Saturday, September 30, 2006

Beware Of Road Surprises

I just drove down Sheikh Zayed Road from Mall of the Emirates to Jebel Ali Village. The traffic slowed to a standstill no less than five times. First, because of an assortment of quilted jacket sleeves was strewn across the road. Second, half a dozen sheets of plywood on the road. Third, a clutch of kitchen cabinet doors, complete with hinges and handles, you guessed it, on the road. Fourth, the aftermath of a small collision: two vehicles, one police car and one ambulance on the hard shoulder. Fifth, on the small roundabout at Junction 6, a water tanker and a van, apparently parked in the middle of the road, leaving almost no space to pass them. Turned out the van had rear-ended the tanker - slight damage to the van, none whatsoever to the tanker, nobody hurt. But the idiot drivers refused to move their vehicles.

Still about four hours till iftar.


Friday, September 29, 2006

The Light Blue Screen of Censorship

Etisalat yesterday unblocked a bunch of big-name websites. Things like youtube, hi5, orkut, myspace, friendsreunited etc.

We are supposed to be grateful.

Although Etisalat has made no official comment on the unblocking as yet, there is speculation that it has something to do with the impending launch of rival telco du. And while some insiders are saying that du is unlikely to be 'better' than Etisalat, I'm inclined to wonder how they could actually be worse.

Plenty of sites are still blocked, however, and some are suffering from terminal tcp_errors - this is Etisalat's other kind of blocking strategy where you don't actually get to see the light blue screen of censorship...

Etisalat blocked site notice

you just get this...

network error message

Which makes you think that the site is not actually blocked, there's just some kind of technical problem that might go away if you come back later. Except it doesn't go away. This strategy is still applied to and Clickatell is interesting because it doesn't 'contravene the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the UAE', it's simply a competitor to Etisalat's overpriced SMS service.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Olbermann For President

I don't usually post about American politics and the increasingly bizarre doings of The Dubya and his assorted sycophants. But as Bush drifts further and further from recognising the wholly destructive reality of his disastrous foreign policy, now he is trying to lay the blame for 9/11 on Good Ole Bill Clinton.

Clinton was ambushed by some kind of weasel during a Fox News interview
The Weasel v Clinton

In response to that we have this splendidly uplifting diatribe on MSNBC by journo Keith Olbermann:
Olbermann on MSNBC

And on the BBC today there's Dubya, looking as engaged and angry as I've ever seen him (he's normally just reading scripts and wishing he was back at his ranch), giving the Press Corps a bollocking because they leaked sections of a classified report.

Bush is upset because the report (from all sixteen US Intelligence Agencies) says that the American & British occupation of Iraq is turning the place into a breeding ground for terrorists. In other words, its effect is directly opposite to what it is supposed to be.

"The nation's freedoms are under assault by an administration whose policies can do as much damage as Al Qaeda."

But we'd worked that out already.

Thanks to Seabee for the Olbermann heads-up.

Happy Little Post

I decided to make Half Man Half Beer's Outstandingly Fabulous Chilli Con Carne for today's dinner. This benefits from a good long cook (I mean being cooked for a long time, nothing to do with the height of the person making it), and it improves with time.

So I hit the supermarket early. So early in fact that the produce guy hadn't had time to suffocate the fresh herbs in clingfilm, and the butcher hadn't got any minced beef. I was glad about the clingfilmed herbs because when they do that, stuff like coriander and parsley immediately begin to sweat and rot and if you buy it late in the day half of the stuff is unusable.

I asked the butcher for a kilo of fatty minced beef. They normally do lean minced steak and something they call 'minced beef', which is a bit cheaper. 'Minced beef' was what I wanted (HBHB's recipe specifies some fat in the mince to add flavour: BetterArf thinks this is a typically bloke-ish thing). This is one of the great things about living here - minced beef or steak is usually just that. No sawdust, lips, ears or toenails are added to bulk it up and increase the butcher's profits.

There's a slight problem though: he has no fat kicking around - all of the beef they have has been well-trimmed. I have to accept some lean chunks of steak. He puts it through the mincer and lo and behold, a kilo of steak worth Dhs 29 becomes a kilo of steak mince at Dhs 19. Insane!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I've Won €550,000!


Date: 25th September, 2006
Ref Nr: MSTL/CN/2628/YT
Batch Number: 26/386/UTR.
Serial Number 25742-86 Coupon No. MSTL-146478972197

Dear Email Bearer,


Europe/America private international e-games organizers and Co-sponsors, MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ, officially bring to your notice of the final draw result of September-2006 MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ wheel E-game which was conducted at our international corporate office complex in The Netherlands.

Most recently this foundation set up the NEW LOTTERY SCHEME to give outprizes based on COMPUTER BALLOT SYSTEM. By doing this the foundation seek to encourage the use of Internet for academic and business pursuits. It major aim is to promote music, theater, art and literature projects in the social and political arena with a focus on health, as well as science, research, and higher education. We wish to congratulate and inform you on the selection of your email coupon number which was selected among the 45 lucky consolation prize winners.

Your email ID identified with Coupon No. MSTL-146478972197 and was selected by our E-games Random Selection System (ERSS) with entries from the 50,000 different email addresses enrolled for the E-game. Your email ID was included among the 50,000 different email addresses submitted by our partner international email provider companies.

You have won a consolation cash prize of €550,000.00 (Five Hundred and fifty thousand Euros Only). The MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ Group have approved a payout of your consolation cash prize which will be remunerated directly to you by the official Payment Agency Board.

Our DUE PROCESS UNIT (DPU) will render to you complete assistance and provide additional information and processes for the claims of your consolation prize.

For due processing of your winning claim, please contact the DPU Information Officer Mr. Bill Anderson who has been assigned to assist you.

NAME: Mr. Bill Anderson
Tel: +31-620 793 969

You are advised to provide him with the following information:
Phone/Fax number:
Ref Number:
Batch Number:
coupon Number:

Once again congratulations from all our staffs on your consolation prize winning, we hope you will partake in our forth coming MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ Email-games.


Anita Raynes(Mrs.).
(Group Coordinator)

NB: In accordance with the MICROSOFT / STAATSLOTERIJ E-games policy and regulations, this notification is dispatched directly to only the 45 lucky consolation prize Winners. This notification also contains information that is proprietary,privileged or confidential or otherwise legally exempt from disclosure. If you are not the right recipient whose email address attached to the lucky numbers along with the winning information’s you are not authorized to read, print, retain, copy or disseminate this notice or any part of it.

Och, bugger, just read the last paragraph. Guess that's me disqualified then.

Vimtogate Update

After yesterday's story about the Union Co-op Society and the price of Vimto, today's Emirates Today (sorry, can't link to article - their site seems to be broken) carries the other side of the story. Interestingly, it seems that every single detail in yesterday's article was incorrect. Apology from Emirates Today? Nope.

For all you Vimto fanciers out there, Géant has a huge Vimto promotion - Dhs 7.40 a bottle. I bought one.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Customer Service, UAE Style

I went to perform my patriotic duty this morning by paying my monthly visit to the gatherer of taxes.

I went to pay my phone and Internet bills this morning. I was expecting great things of Etisalat, seeing as how just last week they won an award for Best Customer Service in the UAE. And it's Ramadan, so everyone should be super-nice.

There was a small huddle around one of the cash payment machines, but the other had no queue. I fiddled around with it for a bit, and soon discovered the reason for its queuelessness. It wasn't working. So I joined the huddle for the other machine, which had grown a little bit (the huddle, not the machine). I stood in the queue for ten minutes, during which time the person at the front looked like he was about halfway through the sheaf of bills he was inputting.

So I stomped off to the cashier's desk and was about fifth in line. The cashier finished with the person he was dealing with, and turned the next one away because she had fewer than six bills. Buggrit! I left that queue and rejoined the cash machine queue, which by now was simply enormous. I must have had steam coming out of my ears because a security guard came up to me and suggested I use the other other machine. It's outside, round the back of the building, in a little lobby. Great. I get there. It's outside, round the back of the building, in a little lobby, in pieces.

Back to the main building. I noticed that the cashier had no customers now, so I approached him with my feeble list of three accounts. 'Cash machine' he said. I pointed out that a) only one out of the three machines was working, and b) he was doing nothing. 'Go see manager' he said.

I went to see the manager, pointed out that he had a problem, and wondered if Etisalat didn't want my money. 'Of course we want your money!' he said, so I suggested he might want to find a way to make it possible for me to give it to them. He had a quick look at the mess in the main hall and told Abdullah to be a cashier for a bit.

Abdullah donned a cashier's hat and did the business. He had no change, of course, so I ended up giving Etisalat a bit more than I wanted to.

Hurry up du, we need you!

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Consumer Protection, UAE Style

Food producers are trying to increase their prices during Ramadan. Allegedly.

Emirates Today carries a very puzzling article today. It seems that some food suppliers are trying to increase their prices, but good old Union Co-op is not allowing them to. How bizarre, I thought we lived in a free-ish market economy. I say free-ish because the still-not-abolished Agencies Law causes a lot of price distortion, none of it in favour of end-users.

The story focusses on the fruit drink Vimto, which you can buy for Dhs 5 a bottle in Saudi Arabia and Oman, but costs Dhs 8 in the UAE. The producers want to increase the price still further but the Co-op has refused the increase, as a result of which Vimto is no longer supplying the Co-op.

The AGM of Union Co-op in Dubai says that this has angered some of their customers:

“We, as Union Cooperative will not lose anything if we increase the prices.

“However, we did not want to harm them during this month, and thus stopped the price increase.

“In this, we are losing sales of 10,000 cartons of Vimto during Ramadan, but still we will not step back.”

So the poor customer who wants to buy Vimto will have to go somewhere else and pay 9 or 10 dirhams for it. Union Co-op refuses to give them the option of buying it at any price, and thinks it is doing the customer a favour.

And what does this have to do with Ramadan? Nothing in particular, it just happens to be Ramadan now. The AGM is photographed in the article holding up a letter from a supplier that announces a proposed price increase. It is dated April 23rd.

File under, nose, cutting off to spite face.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Oops It's Ramadan!

Even though it was apparently technically impossible for the moon to be sighted last night, some blokes in Saudi said they saw it and so here we are - it's Ramadan.

To those of you who celebrate and enjoy the Holy Month - Ramadan Mubarak.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Freedom of the Press

I have to admit to a certain morbid fascination with the subject of press freedom, especially in the UAE. We've seen a lot of stories about it recently. There's a debate about it in today's Gulf News between Arabic-speaking editors and media people.

It seems that this debate was sparked by some readers' letters that appeared on 7Days' website some months ago. Apparently they have been pulled, and nobody is telling what they said. Whatever it was, it really annoyed a lot of locals. And I have to admit that 7Days went through a phase when it really annoyed me - the letters page(s) contained no-holds-barred, uncivilised brawls. What had been a refreshingly frank editorial policy when the paper first started breathed life into the big papers (GN & KT) for a while. And as a long-time expat I was astonished that 7Days could publish these things without being deported.

But is press freedom good for the country? Ultimately it has to be, because it is only by talking about things that the Government would prefer to keep quiet that solutions can be found to those problems. Issues that spring to mind are child camel jockeys, mistreatment of labourers and domestic helpers etc. By reporting on these issues, the press does a great service to the country: if you don't know something is broken, how can you fix it?

The issues that I mentioned above have existed for as long as I've lived here, and nothing much was done. I was ok with that, because I am a 'guest' here, and if that is how things are then who am I to say otherwise? (Answer: just another know-it-all whingeing expat, if you don't like it feel free to go back to your own country). It is only now that the eyes of the world's press frequently fall upon Dubai that we are seeing some changes made. Dubai desperately, desperately, needs to be seen as a squeaky-clean paradise where foreigners can safely invest their money. Believe it or not, there are lots of people who will not be investing here because of the perceived lack of social justice.

But some participants in the debate seem to think otherwise. Exposing these issues causes embarrassment and loss of face. Therefore the Press should be controlled. And if people start using the Internet to get their news, well, Etisalat knows how to block websites, doesn't it?

And what about the abuse of 'control'? Just yesterday there was the bizarre case of a famous Turkish novelist being prosecuted for 'insulting Turkishness'. The case was thrown out for lack of evidence, but the mere existence of that stupid law in Turkey means
a) that anyone who publishes anything is a potential criminal
b) Turkey will never be allowed to join the EU.

There is an urgent need for the UAE to revise its archaic Press and Publications Law. As the country totters towards its first tentative experiment in democracy, it should be remembered that you cannot have a true democracy if it is illegal to criticise the Government.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

This Pot Is Not Melting

There's been a slew of articles over the past week in Gulf News and Al Bayan (AB is GN's Arabic sister paper) dealing with racism in the UAE. I won't argue with the general point that the UAE is racist, indeed, the racism is institutionalised at all levels, and there is a strong tendency towards ghettoisation. Today Gulf News published an English translation of two Al Bayan articles by Ms Maya Rashid Ghadeer, a UAE national.

The general gist is that nationals account for only 21% of the population and they feel that their culture and livelihood is at risk. I won't go into the pros and cons of that here, but I was struck by this comment:

Furthermore, if nationals were to complain against the expatriates, who have more privileges than they do, they would be branded as racist.

I would love to know in what sense expats have more privileges than locals. The only thing I can think of is that non-Muslim expats can get a booze licence and buy pork.

If there are any other privileges we're entitled to, somebody please tell me!

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Dubai Summer Surprises

I had a phone call yesterday from a market researcher. She was wanting to know what people thought about Dubai Summer Surprises. I patiently answered a load of background questions, excitedly awaiting my chance to give my opinion of Modhesh.

Finally, we got there:
Researcher: Did you take part in any DSS activities this summer?
Me: No
Researcher: Ok, thank you and have a nice day
Me: Don't you want to know what I think about Modhesh?
Researcher: No
Me: The snivelling yellow worm
Researcher: Nope, by the way, what is your goodname?
Me: Elvis Presley
Researcher: Goodbye Mr Presley

Hey ho.

Monday, September 18, 2006

UAE Cyber Crimes Law

My thanks to Grapeshisha for posting an English translation of the UAE's new cyber crimes law. I hope and pray that it is a bad translation, because it talks about issues that are very far removed from 'cyber crime'. Anyhoo, I quite like this clause...

Article No.5 of the law reads anyone convicted of hampering, blocking or preventing the reach of service or logging onto computer programmes, or information sources with any possible means whether via the use of internet or any information technology mean, shall be punished with a jail term, or a fine, or both.

That's Etisalat in the slammer then.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006


Gulf News has today published a very interesting article from the UK Daily Telegraph about the Pope's recent speech and the ensuing insanity. The Pope will be making a public statement later today. I might keep you posted.

A bit later...

El Papa has said he is 'regretful' of the actions that followed his lecture and clarified that the quote in no reflected his own personal thoughts. Most gracious.

I hope it satisfies the mullahs. Apology? Forget it.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Pope Thing

I did a post about this last night, and woke up this morning and pulled it. This one is better.

I get the sense that not one of the protesting Muslims has any idea of the context in which the Pope uttered those words (indeed there were questions on the UAE Community blog as to where and when these words had come from).

Well, he was not standing on his balcony or at a pulpit. The offending words were said as part of a private lecture at a University - they were quoted from an historical source and were not intended to represent the thoughts of the Pontiff himself. The lecture is densely theological, and I've included the full text of it below. If you can understand it, good on yer!

As I understand it, El Papa is arguing for rationality and reason in religion, as opposed to blind faith and authoritarianism. He also spends quite a lot of time slagging off the Ancient Greeks, but I'm not hearing any protests from them. I will admit that his first example was a very bad choice (he would, perhaps, have been better off citing the Spanish Inquisition - the Catholic Church has not exactly been squeaky-clean throughout the centuries).

But here's the point. If an academic cannot be free to expound, explore and explain controversial ideas in the context of an institute of learning, where can he do it? Every day, throughout the world, words are written and spoken in the name of learning that will undoubtedly cause great offence to someone, somewhere. It's that old freedom of speech thing again.

Here beginneth the lecture...

Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections

Your Eminences, Your Magnificences, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. That was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties. Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas - something that you too, Magnificent Rector, just mentioned - the experience, in other words, of the fact that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason - this reality became a lived experience. The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably.

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the [word?] ". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (cf. Acts 16:6-10) - this vision can be interpreted as a "distillation" of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and simply declares "I am", already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates' attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: "I am". This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Ps 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act "with logos" is contrary to God's nature.

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul - "8@(46¬ 8"JD,\"", worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this programme was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue, and I do not intend to repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization. Harnack's central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. Fundamentally, Harnack's goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ's divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament, as he saw it, restored to theology its place within the university: theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific. What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant's "Critiques", but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences. This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is - as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector - the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss". The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

*** NOTE: The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes. The present text must therefore be considered provisional.

© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

So now you know.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Roads. Hell.

Ach. We've had several months of respite from the perpetually clogged Sheikh Zayed Road, to the extent that recently we have not only considered heading into Dubai for an evening's entertainment, we have actually done it a few times. But yesterday we had a horrible horrible drive.

We were supposed to be meeting some folks in Jumeirah, at the big Mosque end of Jumeirah Beach Road, at 6.30 pm. Like idiots, we left Jebel Ali Gardens at 6pm. SZR was solid at Ibn Battuta Mall, tailing back I don't know how far towards Abu Dhabi. We declined to join the SZR, instead opting to remain on the parallel service road. This 'road' has no lighting and only one lane in each direction. Of course, we were overtaken by staggering amounts of hugely selfish bastards who were willing to risk a head-on collision with anything coming from the opposite direction. Grr.

After 45 minutes we were on the bridge over SZR (the remnants of Junction 5), and looking over the parapet we could see the traffic moving freely. So that entire jam was caused not by an accident but simply because the road is reduced to 3 + 1 lanes where they are building a new bridge. I really cannot understand why this should cause such a huge tailback, but maybe someone can enlighten me.

Anyhoo, we got onto Al Sufouh Road and were whizzing along quite nicely. Rather too nicely, in fact - I was flashed by a speed camera.

Then we arrived at the Umm Suqeim end of Jumeirah Beach Road. I was tempted to get on the SZR for a bit at this point, but foolishly decided against it. After all, the JBR 'beautification' project is finished now, it's 3-lanes in each direction, and really it shouldn't have taken more than 15 minutes to get to the other end.

How wrong I was. Some cities around the world have their traffic lights interconnected so that if you go through a green light and proceed at or near the speed limit, every signal you come to after that will be green. Regrettably, despite the millions that were spent on JBR and the installation of dozens of traffic lights, the signals are not linked, and we faced what seemed like a red wave for most of the time. (I'm told that all of Dubai's signals will be 'green-waved' next year).

Anyhoo, it took at least 45 minutes for us to get from one end of the road to the other, and the traffic was pretty light. I arrived at our destination wanting to do nothing more than turn right round and go home to bed. I certainly wasn't fit for an evening of scintillating intellectual and witty chat. But everyone else was, so that was cool.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Calling Planet Zog

According to today's Emirates Toady, the General Secretary of Dubai's Rent Committee

also believes that the law has been effective and that the Dubai Rent Committee has received no negative feedback on the 15 per cent cap on rents.

Good grief man! Do you not read the papers? Or talk to ordinary people? Greedy landlords are killing the UAE while nothing is done to enforce the 15% cap.

Monday, September 11, 2006

That Tag Thang

Thanks to Kaya for tagging me with this ridiculous bunch of questions. Grrr. Here goes then...

1) Are you happy/satisfied with your blog with it's content and look?
Some of the words are quite good but sadly it looks like poo.

2) Does your family know about your blog?
My immediate family, yes. But my dad and sister in England, no. They don't even know about compewters.

3) Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog or you just consider it as a private thing?
Hell no, I force people to read it!

4) Did blogs cause positive changes in your thoughts?
Don't think so - my thoughts have always been mostly made from mindless drivel.

5) Do you only open the blogs of those who comment on your blog or you love to go and discover more by yourself?
I always look at the blogs of anyone who comments on mine, and I frequently go looking for new treasures.

6) There is no question six.

7) Did you try to imagine your fellow bloggers and give them real pictures?
No. I used to, but now I've met some of them in real life I realise it's not a good idea!

8) Admit. Do you think there is a real benefit for blogging?
Of course there is.

9) Do you think that bloggers society is isolated from real world or interacts with events?
Not at all - I think bloggers are more likely to have a handle on reality than non-bloggers.

10) Does criticism annoy you or do you feel it's a normal thing?
It annoys me when someone takes one remark out of context and decides they know everything about me.

11) Do you fear of some political blogs and avoid them?
What a silly question! How can you be afraid of a blog? Most political blogs are a bit boring though.

12) Did you get shocked by the arrest of some bloggers?
I am always shocked when anyone is arrested for speaking their mind.

13) Did you think about what will happen to your blog after you die?
Well, no, oddly, I never did. Do they have Internet in the other place? Or can I sell it before I go?

14) What do you like to hear? What's the song you like to put its link in your blog?
'Tubthumper' by Chumbawamba.

15) Five bloggers to be the next "victims"?

(I wonder if anyone will realise that's not 5?).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Long Weekend

I've been testing the new Friday/Saturday weekend. Being self-employed, I tend to work all the time with the result that I am half-dead by the time my holidays arrive. So, mindful of the fact that BetterArf wants me to live at least as long as her, I'm adopting the Fri/Sat weekend. There's one small 'but' in there, which is that I will be working on a personal project on Saturdays at least, because if the end result of this project is succesful we won't be having to worry about pensions anymore.

So, this weekend has been very sociable: Thursday evening; at Tim Newman's leaving do, Friday; a long lunch with Mr & Mrs Dubaibilly, and today; some work, lunch at Aprés in the Mall of the Emirates followed by a bit more work followed by nothing much really.

Aprés is a bit surreal. It's actually a part of the Kempinski Hotel. It's a restaurant/bar and it overlooks the ski slope. The interior design is pure Brit sixties. The food is fairly eclectic, but fondues feature prominently. Good fun. After an hour or so sitting watching the skiers and the snowboarders, it was weird to leave the place and realise that you are still in the middle of the desert!

But I do like this weekend idea.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Millions. Billions. Trillions!

Talking with DubaiBilly and Cher this afternoon we got onto the topic of millions, billions and trillions. This was sparked because on our way to their house we had passed a gigantic hoarding beside Sheikh Zayed Road, advertising the 'Trillion For Lebanon' campaign. I was explaining to BetterArf that their aim was to raise a trillion dirhams for Lebanon's reconstruction. BetterArf said she didn't think three million dirhams would go very far. I was a bit confused, and she explained that she thought a trillion was 3 million. So what's a billion? I asked. Two million, she replied. Hmmm.

So, for the numerically challenged, here's what's what:

million: 1,000,000
(one thousand thousands, or 1 with 6 zeros after it)
billion: 1,000,000,000
(one thousand millions, or 1 with 9 zeros after it)
trillion: 1,000,000,000,000
(one million millions, or 1 with 12 zeros after it)

the sequence continues thus (I'm not going to type all the zeros, I don't want to break that key on my keyboard):

quadrillion: 1 with 15 zeros
quintillion: 1 with 18 zeros
sextillion: 1 with 21 zeros
septillion: 1 with 24 zeros
octillion: 1 with 27 zeros
nonillion: 1 with 30 zeros
decillion: 1 with 33 zeros

Now, if you're an old Britgit like me, you may recall from your schooldays being told that one billion was one million million. And indeed it was, until 1975 when Chancellor Denis Healey announced that poodle Britain would henceforth fall in line with the American system.

And if you're Indian, you have even more problems - they are called lakhs and crores. A lakh is 100,000. A crore is 100 lakhs or 10 million. Simple, no? So how do you write 30 million using the Indian system? Like this: 3,00,00,000 - commas separate the lakhs, crores and thousands.

While we're on the subject of arcane knowledge, we had a bit of a lunar eclipse last night, caused by the Earth casting a shadow on the Moon. We were chatting about this at our little soireé and then got onto the topic of the phases of the moon. It was suggested that these were caused by the Earth casting a shadow on the moon (not naming names, but it wasn't Cher, BetterArf or moi doing the suggesting). But no. It's all to do with the position of the moon relative to the Earth and the sun, and this article explains it brilliantly.*

*no pun intended

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Now We Are Two

Tomorrow is the second birthday of Adventures In Dubai. I'd almost forgotten about it. About this time last year I posted about how I was coming up to 15,000 hits (click here). A year later I'm coming up to 70,000.

Thank you all for reading this drivel, and for all of your mind-expanding comments!

Monday, September 04, 2006

MamaDuck Is Missing!

Blogger seem to have misplaced BetterArf's blog.

So here's a decoy:

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Summer Is Over

Summer isn't really over just yet, it's still dang hot. But today was Back To School Day for BetterArf and many other teachers, and the kids start back next Sunday.

And we've just had our first official Friday/Saturday weekend (as has Bahrain). Now if we can just get the idea into the heads of several thousand companies that a two-day weekend is a splendid idea, and that those two days should be Friday and Saturday, we might just see some progress.

Weekends have always been a total mess in the Arabian Gulf. My very first job in the region involved a five-and-a-half day week: the weekend for me was Thursday afternoon and all day Friday. But some multinational companies took Friday and Saturday. About five or six years ago the UAE Government announced that it was reducing the working week for their employees to five days, but to the astonishment of many (especially Westerners) they settled on Thursday and Friday. Now they have come to their senses but they have not made it compulsory for the private sector.

The working day is also a mess - some companies will do a split-shift that can involve their employees doing their commute home twice a day, while more enlightened companies opt for the 'let's get it over with in one hit' approach. Maybe this spreads out the traffic a bit, but those split shifts certainly create an awful lot of unnecessary travel.

None of this makes much difference to me of course - I just work all the time anyway.