Thursday, 31 December 2009

Arthur Rubinstein - The Aristocrat

Dear Readers,

To follow up on the great theme of classical piano music, I am delighted to bring to you a few snippets of information about the great Pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887 - 1982). Rubinstein was an American of Jewish-Polish descent. Following in the great tradition of piano music, most good composers came from western Europe, while the best pianists came from eastern Europe. Those with Jewish blood are in fact even more talented than others.

Anyway, this post is all about the piano clip at the end. It's so good that the publishers did not want people to share it, so they disabled embedment. However, I kindly ask you to click on the URL link to listen and see this masterpiece.


It has been told that Arthur Rubinstein was an aristocrat, and he has a velvet touch on the piano. Now, if you're reading this and have no clue about the piano, or you never actually played the piano you might roll your eyes and think this is rubbish, but listen to him and then judge. Rubinstein played many wrong notes, but he didn't care and it didn't matter. How he played the right notes was amazing. He was very gifted technically, but he wasn't as perfect as Pollini for example. Still, he was one of the most eloquent of poets of the ivories.

Here are what a few resources have to say about Rubinstein:

He was a well-known pianist-artist all his life, but not until the middle 1930’s did he become an international headliner. Despite Rubinstein’ s claim that he never settled down until his return to the United States in 1937, the records that he made in the middle 1920’s tell a different story. Such discs as the ones of Liszt’s Tenth Rhapsody, or the Albeniz Navarra, demonstrate a phenomenal virtuosity, gorgeous colorations and the most beautiful of singing lines. To tell the truth, he probably never played better.

What really happened was that, in his young maturity, he suddenly found himself in the right place. The two reigning heroes of the keyboard, Josef Hofmann and Sergei Rachmaninoff, were nearing the end of their careers. The new crop of younger pianists were, by and large, percussionists and not very interesting. (There were exceptions, of course. Benno Moiseiwitsch and Vladimir Horowitz were major pianists by any standards). The public was looking for a new Romantic hero, and Rubinstein met all specifications.

He was Polish, hence romantic and exotic. He had incredible charisma. In the United States he had been preceded by a series of superb recordings - the Tchaikovsky B flat minor Concerto, the Chopin Scherzos and other works by Chopin - that had created a great deal of interest. Suddenly Rubinstein found himself in great demand, and after World War II he became one of the most popular pianists before the public. The other was Vladimir Horowitz; but the moody, unpredictable Horowitz had a habit of taking long sabbaticals, the longest of which (from 1953 to 1965) kept him away from the public for twelve years. Rubinstein never was away.

More at:

I have to say that Rubinstein is not my favorite of favorite pianists. That title is reserved for someone that I'll reveal later. However, Rubinstein is definitely one of the most entertaining and pleasurable pianists to enjoy music from under their digits.

Again.. please don't forget to listen to this:


Monday, 28 December 2009

Chopin Waltz - Dinu Lipatti

This is the piece that made me fall in love with Chopin's music. It's also the first piece I decided to learn out of Chopin's 200+ piano works.

Dinu Lipatti is a rare breed amongst pianists. He's really a master at the piano.

Judge for yourselves.


Friday, 25 December 2009

Monday, 21 December 2009

Impossible Chopin

This piece is Chopin's notoriously difficult Etude Op 10 n 5 also termed "black keys" since it's all played on the black keys of the piano. Chopin's etudes (or studies) are one of the hardest out there in the piano world. I can play a few of his studies (e.g. Op 10 n 3 and n 12) but haven't managed to play "black keys" yet!!

Anyway this 11 year old makes it look so easy, trust me, it ain't!!


Friday, 18 December 2009

Arrested Development

(image source:

You might have heard about the UK warrant to arrest the former Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni (ציפורה מלכה לבני). This is interesting, so how does it work?

1- The legal concept is based on "universal jurisdiction" which states that some alleged crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere, regardless of where the offences were committed.
2- Current UK law supports this.
3- If Ms Livni travels to the UK, she could face arrest.
4- This is based on Ms Livni's involvement during Israel's war on Gaza.

The reactions from around the world are very interesting:

1- The BBC basically tries to argue that the UK laws are a joke and Palestinians are trying to sabotage "respectful" Israeli politicians.
2- No mention in two of the BBC's news reports about the Palestinian point of view, as if it was the Palestinians that waged war on Israel in the first place over Gaza and not vice versa. This type of journalism is clearly one-sided. Not even a name is mentioned. However all the big names are mentioned on the other side such as Netinyahu, Miliband and Ian Lewis.
3- Where was the UK (Israel's "strategic partner") when Gazans were being bombed by Israel's superior military (ironically called the Israeli Defence Force)?
4- Israel is playing the bully as usual, as if they were forced into this war. Reminds me so much of the Nazis really. "I'm only taking orders".
5- The UK bends over backwards to please Israel.

Here are some of what the BBC had to say:

Israel fury at UK attempt to arrest Tzipi Livni.
Ms Livni said the court had been "abused" by the Palestinian plaintiffs who requested the warrant.
"What needs to be put on trial here is the abuse of the British legal system," she told the BBC.

(BuJ: hmmm, so in Israel people can be put on trial for winning a legal battle in another country?)

UK ponders law change after Tzipi Livni arrest warrant
The government is "urgently" looking into reforming the law after a UK court issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Israel was a "close friend" of the UK's and stressed he was keen to "avoid this sort of situation arising again". UK Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis: "This can never ever happen again"

(BuJ: Seriously, the UK has been caught with its trousers down. Surely, the law needs to be reformed if these kinds of charges can be brought up against a respectable world leader. However, if the ONLY person successfully tried under this law is an Israeli, then surely one has to look at what the Israeli did before pointing the finger at the law. If the warrant was against the Foreign Minister of Iceland, the world will probably assume it's a typo of some sort!)

Perhaps the law will be changed in the UK. And perhaps Israel will stop killing innocent people. Soon.


Final quote: "Israeli government experts on international law have advised cabinet ministers with a security background and senior IDF officers not to visit Britain, Spain, Belgium or Norway because in these countries they risk being arrested on charges of alleged war crimes through “universal jurisdiction” laws." (Source: wiki)

Surely Spain, Belgium and Norway (in addition to the naughty UK) should look into reforming their laws against abuse by "terrorists".

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Just a word about the economic decline of Britain

As you probably gathered, I am a big fan of the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, The National.

Here is another brilliant article by them, written by Frank Kane.

* Last Updated: December 08. 2009 7:08PM UAE / December 8. 2009 3:08PM GMT

I know The Economist is not everyone’s idea of a fun read, but from time to time it really does have the right stuff. “Standing still, but still standing,” was a brilliant headline in that publication the week the Dubai World story broke.

Last weekend it did it again for me by introducing me to the Arabic concept of “shamata”, which I had never encountered in my time here in the Middle East. It translates roughly the same as schadenfreude, the German word for “taking joy at another’s pain”. Why does English not have a simple one-word term for this exquisite sensation, rightly identified by Germans and Arabs as worthy of its own individual place in the dictionary?

In that vein, here is my own little burst of “shamata”. The UK chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling, will today unveil his pre-budget review to the House of Commons. It is universally expected to be the most gloomy, pessimistic and downright spiteful bit of economic policymaking to come out of Britain in many a year.

The economic background is truly awful. The UK, with its overwhelming dependence on the twin pillars of property and financial services, was the worst affected of any of the big industrial nations by the credit crisis. It is still mired in recession while the US, France and Germany have pulled out.

The precise statistical evidence of Britain’s decline is well known and I do not propose to rehash the dry numerical evidence here. Soaring government, corporate and personal debt, falling property prices, rising unemployment, declining currency, shrinking exports … I could go on, but will not.

Instead, it will take just three “freakonomic” facts to illustrate the extent of the UK financial morass.

One: The Bank of England (BoE) has noticed a sharp rise in demand for £50 (Dh301) notes. Since the Lehman Brothers collapse last year, and throughout this year, the British public has been clamouring for the big pink-brown bills with a picture of Sir John Houblon, the first BoE governor, on the reverse side of the image of Her Majesty.

Conclusion: Britons have lost faith in the reliability of their banking system, once the envy of the world, and are hoarding the £50s, stuffing them in the safe or mattress to keep them from being blown by their bankers in some ill-judged investment in trashy US mortgages.

Two: Britain may lose its place among the 10 largest economies in the world by 2015. The Centre for Economics and Business Research says there is a distinct chance that in just six years Britain, fourth in 2005, will have been overtaken by China, France, Italy, Brazil, Russia and India.

Conclusion: The credit crisis will prove to be the decisive stage in a process of economic decline that has been inexorable since the end of the Second World War. The UK will be the main casualty of the shift of economic power towards Asia.

Three: HSBC, the big global bank that began life in Hong Kong and Shanghai and is returning to its Chinese roots, estimates that 85 per cent of UK property loans made over the past five years are in breach of their lending agreements.

Conclusion: The British property sector, the national totem of financial and psychological security since time immemorial, is, for the foreseeable future, bust. It cannot be the dynamo of economic recovery in the country.

I doubt that Mr Darling will raise any of these “facts” in his speech. Instead, he will announce a ferocious increase in income taxes to an eye-watering 50 per cent of earnings. He will include some equally draconian measures against bonuses for financial services executives in what has become known in the British press as “banker bashing”.

He has to raise more money to pay for the huge bailout packages to the banks he took over last year to avert a total collapse of the UK financial system. He also has to bash bankers because it is about the only popular thing he can come up with in a pre-election period. By all sensible prognoses his boss, the prime minister Gordon Brown, has only six months left at 10 Downing Street.

I had dinner in Dubai this week with an old media pal from the UK, a household name in press and TV and as staunchly British as they come. Over a glass he said gloomily: “I’m going to have to get out if they put tax up to 50p. I pay enough already and then on top of that I have to pay 17.5 per cent in sales tax whenever I buy something.

“It’s intolerable. Now, just when do you think the recovery will kick in here?”

Call it schadenfreude, call it shamata. Even revenge. Whichever, it feels great.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Masafi is Water

If you lived in the UAE for any period of time, you're probably aware that the word "Masafi" is synonymous with "water". So it's with great shame that I read this article:

ABU DHABI // A massive batch of Masafi water was deemed unfit for human consumption according to the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, which issued an order late last month demanding that the bottles be recalled from the shelves of retail stores through the Emirates. The ADFC confirmed yesterday that a half-million water bottles produced on October 12, 2009 with an expiration date of October 11, 2010 were contaminated, containing “impurities visible to the naked eye,” according to its press release. Sources at Masafi confirmed that 500,000 bottles had been ordered for recall. The company would not specify what the contamination was.

Regardless, I drank Masafi last night, and will drink some more today. I support them 100%.

Here's a brief introduction about the village of Masafi (stands for "Pure Water" in Arabic):


Thursday, 10 December 2009

Copenhagen 2009

Anyone feeling excited about the UN Copenhagen summit about sustainability and climate change?

I am.

Unfortunately, I think the UAE can make a lot more positive noises in the world press about this huge event.

We have the capability to do much more.

The above statement was excellent. We need to build on it.

Still, it's great that a US President is in attendance.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Closed Zone - Gaza

A fantastic short clip by Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement calls on the State of Israel to fully open Gaza's crossings and to allow the real victims of the closure - 1.5 million human beings - the freedom of movement necessary to realize their dreams and aspirations.

This is actually an Israeli body, run mainly by Jews.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

How to deliver a baby?

So, poor people prefer to deliver their babies naturally (i.e. a vaginal birth) and rich people prefer to deliver using Cesarean section?

Sounds absurd, but isn't that a common symptom in our modern times?

Apparently natural birth is too much of a stress and is too messy for rich women to bother with.

What do you think? IYM especially?

To read more, click here on the full article:

Image credit:

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Hay on Wye Book Festival

"A" marks the spot!

I loved this article in the National about the Hay on Wye book festival in the UK. It seems to focus on Arab writers which is a great thing. Arabs have a great history with the written word, however, today we seem to have failed and failed miserably compared to our glorious past.

The full article:

Excerpts from the article:

Hay, now in its 22nd year, is a literary institution. In May, more than 100,000 people braved the rain to head to the sleepy book town on the Welsh border. The festival has hosted ex-presidents, rock stars and Booker prize winners and has extended its global reach in recent years to include offshoots in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, Segovia and Alhambra in Spain and Nairobi, Kenya. Beirut39 follows Bogotá39, which launched in the Colombian city in 2007 and identified many of the most promising rising Latin American talents, including Daniel Alarcón, Junot Díaz, Wendy Guerra, Andrés Newman and Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

UAE National Day 2009

Happy Birthday to our dear and lovely United Arab Emirates, which was born on 2 December 1971. This makes our dear country a mere 38 years old. Barely considered middle-aged by human terms, so imagine if judged by national terms alongside other nations.

Given that this is my first National Day on UAE soil in a decade, I really savoured the sweet flavour of this day here in the UAE. This is a day we forget our roots and allegiances. We're not Abu Dhabi or Dubai, we're not Sharjah or Ajman, we're UNITED Arab Emirates! Our differences make the alloy of the UAE stronger, and paves the way to an even brighter future inshalla (God willing)!

Given my geographic distance from the UAE all these years, the UAE has always remained close to my heart. So I dedicate this post to all Emaratis and UAEians and anyone that loves the UAE but are unable to share this lovely day with the rest of the UAE population. I dedicate this post to all the lovely UAE supporters wherever they are, in the UK or USA, in Canada or in Australia, in Japan or in Russia, in Brunei or in Pakistan, in Kenya or in Italy. This is for you.

I was happy and proud to attend the procession organised at Emaar Boulevard yesterday under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. The story is best told through the pictures that follow. Enjoy!

1- A lovely display of the UAE flag alongside the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai at 818 meters high.

2- A chirpy street dancer on bouncy stilts with the UAE flag painted on his face.

3- A group of dancers sporting the UAE flag on stilts. They were very bouncy!

4- No parade is complete without a Camel! So the organisers got together a group of camels. They entertained us all not only with their good looks, but also with their loud camel noises, and above all their camel poopy smell.. hahaha it was really smelly but everyone loved it. Of course, what better a contrast than having the Burj as the backdrop. Camels roamed the lands where the Burj is now standing not more than 20 years ago! I remember it!

5- Even the skies of the UAE carried the colour of the flag.

6- Dubai Police offered us a lovely display of their cars and motorcycles. The black bikes are Suzukis and the white ones are Yamahas, the cars of course as German BMW's. Shame they didn't use European bikes, as they are much more fun and characteristic. Imagine Dubai Police on BMW's or Ducatis. Yummy!

7- This is a closeup on the women in black on black bikes. They are from a special branch of the Police whose job is just to protect foreign dignitaries on UAE soil. I'm so proud of them to take a job like that. It might just be me, but I found those ladies to be very attractive too! The one in the foreground (you can see just her helmet) was so petit she could barely touch the ground with her specially-designed boots. However I know what she lacks in stature she compensates for in skill and determination. Like I said, these boys and girls made me very proud!

I wonder if they need any part-time help!

8- This group of balloons was very entertaining. Organised by the RTA, it's supposed to look like a station and a metro train. Each balloon needed about 20 guys to hold it down (I assume it was filled with lighter than air Helium gas). The ironic thing is that this RTA endeavour actually caused a traffic jam, hehe.

9- No Parade is complete without mentioning of Dubai's Father, the late Sheikh Rashed Al Maktoum who happens to be the biological father of our current Dubai Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, bless them both! Sheikh Rashed is the co-architect of the Union along with his "brother" Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan. Sheikh Zayed was the first UAE President and considered by many in the UAE and beyond as one of the greatest world leaders in the last century. May they all be blessed and may their souls rest in peace.

10- I think this picture explains itself. Beautiful!
Just a minor note on translation. The Arabic word under Sheikh Mohammed's picture says "My Vision" which is taken from the cover of his book by the same name.

Finally, I took this picture from a far away place during sunset.
I believe in hope.
I believe in a better future.
I believe in the UAE.

Burj Al Arab - Happy 10th Brithday!

The implosion of the Chicago Beach Hotel in 1997.
(credit: The National)

Burj (برج): A tower. The word is Arabic in origin.

The amazing 7-star hotel, The Burj Al Arab, celebrates 10 years this month! As usual, The National has an excellent article about it. Please have a read here:

It's really worth reading it! Good work from Leah Oatway.

The architects and engineers for this iconic building that needs no introduction were Atkins. Before Burj Al Arab, I never heard of Atkins, but after seeing their masterpiece being built (I used to drive by the building site everyday), I was very impressed with the company that is one of the world leaders in the engineering field.

Although I've only been inside the Burj Al Arab a few times, I believe that it perfectly manifests Dubai's and the UAE's ambitions to be a world class city and a world class country respectively.

The Burj Al Arab (Hotel) is 321 m high, and the new Burj Dubai (tower) is 818 m high. Even though the newer, taller Burj is much more impressive in terms of numbers, I doubt it will do to Dubai what the Burj Al Arab did and continues to do.

Having said that, I can't wait for the grand opening of Burj Dubai... have they set a date yet? I'm betting on 4 Jan 2010!