Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Man the wire. English tourist on the loose!

What follows is the content of an email I received this evening from a friend describing his most wonderful encounter with Federal Agents protecting the US capital. It is published with consent but anonymously.

"Mohammed Al-Touristkh" as we shall call him, is a great friend and a very loyal servant of the Crown. He is taking some time out between arduous postings to visit the States (and undertake some serious 'courting' of a delightful babe called Amanda!).

Here is the story. This is what we are fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan!

Howdie folks,

Just thought I would fill you in with the latest from N America. I haven't been in touch much but I spent about 3 weeks in Canada - 11 days of that skiing.

Anyways, I am currently in Washington DC visiting a friend from Baghdad and doing some sightseeing.

Sooo, I've done the Capitol, seen the White House (hey's it is sooo much smaller in real life compared to TV), the memorials on the Mall etc. etc. Very impressive. Really inspiring.

So, what's left? hmmm.

Well, I think I'll go to Arlington Cemetery (well worth a visit by the way). So, on the way to the Cemetery on the Metro is the Pentagon.

First mistake: I had a thought off the top of my head. Spontaneity will kill me one of these days.

I kinda know there won't be much to see but nothing prepared me for the reception I got. I come up from the Metro and clearly the Metro is right (I mean right) by the entrance to the Pentagon. OK, so I've worked in a few security sensitive environments.

I like to think I am becoming worldly but am I naive?

I ask the kindly security guard where I can walk around, admitting I am a tourist.

BIG mistake.

I have no Kalashinkov on me, I am not wearing a beard. No rucsac. So, they say you can't see anything, no photos. Fair enough.

I was just standing there having got off the tube. Imagine being at the gates at the end of Downing St - kinda like that. You're not going anywhere, not asking to go anywhere. Rather, you're asking where you should not go.

They ask for ID. So I show them my driving licence - which the guard disappears with for a while. Next step:

"Sir, please walk forward. Remove your hands from your pocket." I had ipod wires sprouting from my pockets.

"Sir, please empty your pockets. Show me what those wires are attached to. What's in that pocket." Crikey, what have I done?

"Sir, I would like to ask you some questions." Out comes the form.

I also want to ask a few questions, sir.

Then we go through all my intimates name, address, height, age, weight. Well, not as fat as half your country, sir.

What's the address of your hotel. Oh, well that's not too hard, I've got a card in my pocket that has the address. But I have to put down my book on my counter and I know what'll happen. I smirk inwardly. You've gotta enjoy this bit. Just out of sheer playfulness.

So I inwardly sigh with delight as I place my book down face upwards, on his desk. "Taliban" rages the front cover. Come on, sir, it's a good read.

I don't need to look into the guard's eyes to see flashing lights, sirens, alarm bells go off. The whole lot. I half expect to look down and see a red dot somewhere on my chest.

I am playing it utterly straight at this point despite my mind working overtime. I am NOT provoking. I understand what is going on. It's just a slightly unexpected version of what can happen anywhere at anytime in Iraq.

Question, "Where do you work, sir." For the U.S. Government, sir! 53rd Division, Blair Brigade, sir.

I answer, "For the Foreign Office (pause). Kinda like your State Department."


"I've spent the last six months in Baghdad." I was sort of disappointed. He was not very impressed.

I have been detained at this checkpoint for 20 mins by now. They still have my licence.

Now you'll love what happens next.

Ah, the suits appear, aka "The Feds." A pair of them. The short one is wearing a pink shirt and all cold smiles. The tall one is in a brown leather jacket; he'll be playing the bad cop.

"Sir, what are you doing here? When did you come into the country? When are you leaving?"

Am I in Hollywood? I'm not sure I've got enough make-up on for this sort of role.

I have my hands in my pockets.

"Sir, please remove your hands from your pockets." My Dad always said never to put your hands in your pockets. Now, I know why.

This is just too much. I try for a bit of childish, brazen antics. I put my hands in the air. They didn't like this.

I give a bit back after another few questions. Not aggressive, I just try it on. Fortunately, they are badly trained. They get provoked and show it. Pathetic. This is not security, this is a bureaucratic waste of time. The CIA is clearly so large they have people who have far too much spare time to enter stupid, pointless data into.

Anyway, they are basically conciliatory but it takes a while to get to that point.

The problem was I had unknowingly stepped onto federal property. Unfortunately that happened pretty much immediately after I got off the Metro - I'm serious. And I didn't have my passport on me which would have showed that I had not been smuggled in with some coke from Afghanistan, if you know what I mean.

Things are a little lighter now. They give me some advice. Carry your passport, sir. Fair enough, that makes sense. I had already recommended to them that they have a sign saying that security restrictions are in place. They have more advice.

"Even been seen reading that book on the Metro. Someone might make a phone call and report..."


"What about freedom of speech?"

"... people are scared of dying." Some people clearly are.

I'm scared of dying intellectually. Are you scared? Is your country, sir? Is it scared of asking, quizzing, being curious, being inquisitive, asking what you shouldn't ask, being different, finding out more, not accepting what you are told, going beyond the conventional.

I walk off, my mind a whirlwind. Freedom, stupid bureaucracy, the image of US overseas, 9/11, liberty, security, state of fear, debate, or lack of it, authoritarianism, militarism.

My first interaction with the federal government of the United States of America has just taken approximately 55 minutes out of my life.

Now I know them.

And they know me.

Saturday, 9 December 2006

How to deal with a marketing caller

Give yourself a couple of minutes, kick back and laugh out loud...

Click here.

Hat tip to

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

The Perth Test

The England team for the 3rd Test in Perth should be:

Strauss (Captain)

Six batsmen; 7 bowlers; 1 decent wickie.

Strauss must be Captain. Then and only then will he come to the party.
Cook will get there (remember, Bell was worse than this in 2005!)
Bell is on the verge of something special.
Number 4 is the place for the best batsman. KP must move up and send out a more positive message.
5 is the place for devastation and for the world’s best all rounder. Enter Freddie breathing fire.
Despite his double century, Colly is a dependable support act for superior batsmen above him and also the best man to bat with the tail to maximum effect.
Keepers are there to take wickets and save runs. He is technically better at that than Jones.
Mahmood is as good a bowler as Anderson and will support Hoggard and Flintoff more effectively. As it happens he is also a cocky batsman who loves to get whatever runs he can.
Monty may be quiet and unassuming, but he is also lethal.

1982 all over again

Flintoff is a great bowler and a devastating batsman on his day. He is an inspiration and a talisman.
He is, however, not a leader and not a Captain. Those are different skills and, like Botham before him, Flintoff does not possess them. He must be replaced immediately with Strauss and ultimately Vaughan.

Flintoff’s ‘shock and awe’ cricket is a weapon to be deployed, it is not a strategy that wins games. Brilliant individual play can turn and win games but only when it is deployed within a thought through strategy. It is the thinking that is missing and consequently individual brilliance is worthless.

One wonders when England will ever realise that individual brilliance does NOT equal automatic Captaincy. It is a national disease that we promote the best player on the team. I mean you only have to look across to Mr Beckham to see what I mean. For generations we coached and cultured leadership as crucially as sporting skills themselves and often carried a moderate player as Captain simply because his skills were as fundamental to the team make up as batting and bowling – Mike Brierley being the obvious example.

Flintoff came into this series with a fearsome reputation, but placed in an invidious position by the Sport’s board. He is on the brink of disaster, both personal and national.

He has to understand that the hardest decision is the one which will save his team and himself. He must throw off the shackles of leadership, return to the talismanic position he always enjoyed and put the Aussies to the sword.

Just make him watch the story of 1982. For Botham read Flintoff. For Brierley read Vaughan and for Bob Willis, read Harmison. We are now in the crucial gap between 2nd and 3rd tests, when in 1982 Botham was released to savage the Aussies and restore his reputation. Brierley managed him perfectly and carried Willis forward too, giving him the opportunity to sock it to his critics also.

This can still be his Ashes, but not if he persists, misguided by the belief that he must press on in a role that he cannot perform and which is slowly suffocating his massive talent.

Vaughan must play. Fit or not, a team around him (even at number 11!) can fight back.

Fletcher and England are living in the past

Most people will probably search our 2nd innings batting card for the answers to this miserable defeat, but the real answer lies in our 1st Innings bowling card. We dawdled through our overs, allowed hours of toothless bowling and passive defensive fielding and took far too long to get the wickets.

This test will be used by coaches for the rest of time to demonstrate just why test match cricket is won with the ball not the bat. It really doesn’t matter how many runs you score. If you can’t or don’t bowl out the opposition twice, you cannot win.

Fletcher’s determination “to bat to eight” sums up the defensive, backward approach this team is taking to the series. They believe that they cannot bowl them out, so they are trying to score enough runs to get draws. Can you imagine how Collingwood, Pietersen and Hoggard feel tonight. Massive personal performances made worthless by a tangible lack of team ambition.

We are in a pretty sorry state when we select our bowlers on the basis of their batting ability! But that is precisely what we are doing. The trouble is, the team slumps. The real batsmen don’t feel the pressure and the whole team dreads fielding.

Fletcher must reverse his thinking immediately. He must aspire to ‘bowl to four’ if you see what I mean. Whatever he does, he must restore the detailed plans for each batsmen. You see the Aussies are fighting back. Last year’s plans aren’t working anymore. The Aussies are thinking. We are just battering on.