1st Quarter, 2nd Quarter, 3rd Quarter, 4th Quarter
Towards the end of 2003, I made one of the most important decisions in my life and asked the Ruler_of_spike to marry me. In the beginning of this year, we were pre-occupied with getting the ‘show’ on the road - the show being the wedding in September. The first step was to have her engagement ring made. We spent much of Christmas 2003 and the New Year admiring the stone, but it finally left us temporarily as I took it to the jeweler to have it ring made. The Ruler_of_spike and I made several trips to the jeweler to see the progress of the ring through the various stages of being made - mock-ups, mounted and pre-polish. Finally, I picked up the finished product on St. Valentine’s Day. What an amazing ring! The stone itself is amazing (that’s why I picked it), but the ring and the mounting actually add to the stone. The whole ring is just one fantastic piece of jewelry. It is bespoke, unique and totally above and beyond our expectations. The Ruler_of_spike has been receiving a lot of complements for the engagement ring and I’m very happy that I can do that for her.
Having returned to work the previous October, my contract expired after six months. It was difficult to understand why it wasn’t extended, but whatever it was, I gained a lot out of that experience. First of all, it was great working again and in the six months there, I re-acquainted and re-familiarized myself with the credit world. To add to that, the market has improved a great deal by March and, with a good solid name on my résumé, I was confident that I would find alternative employment quickly.
At the beginning of the quarter, I managed to find another temporary contract. This was with a bank that offered me a position at around the same time as when I was about to accept the offer for the previous contract. How strange the world works. Anyway, it was important that I got back to work, quickly. The project that the Ruler_of_spike was working on did not progress beyond the initial stage and then she was out of work.
There are more important things going on - wedding preparation. The amount of paper work required by the French authorities was just staggering. They asked for papers that I didn’t know existed! While it wasn’t good that the Ruler_of_spike was unemployed, but the fact that she managed to find free time between talking to agents, researching for the opportunities and preparing and attending the interviews meant that she was in a position to pursue the processes of acquiring these papers. She did so much work and most of the running around.
Aside from paperwork, the Ruler_of_spike had pretty much gotten most of the other arrangements in place as well. Of course, we spent time picking and editing the wedding invitation and the result was great - it had both French and English and the design was exquisite. Finally, there was the small matter of the wedding gift list. It took us a little while to find the store that we liked, but when we finally decided to go with one particular store, it progressed smoothly. Without making it sounds like I was indifferent about this, it was like one very big shopping trip that stretched over several weekends. To cap all that, we completed our ‘wedding preparation’ with the Catholic Church. Another milestone reached. I spent some time having a wedding website setup to help our friends getting to our wedding in Brittany. It wasn’t much, but it looked like it was helpful for some people.
After being laid off nearly 14 months previous and having been working around eight months in contract roles, I found a real job! It has taken a lot of patience and not a small number of interviews to find this job, but in the end, it was all down to one interview. I was excited by the prospect of joining a new organization and doing a new job. It was difficult to inform the bank that I was contracting with because they have indicated their plan of offering me a permanent role. However, my new employers had put the offer in front of me, compared that with the prospect of an offer being made, I went for certainty rather than hope.
The wedding preparation gathered pace. We spent a week in Brittany completing more preparations. During that week, we met with the caterer, the priest, the lawyer, the marriage office, the photographer... a long week and not much of a break.
While away in France, the Ruler_of_spike and her agents arranged a few interviews for her on her return to London. She is such an excellent candidate that all the hiring companies asked her to return for further rounds of interviews. However, as an indication of the kind of b.s. that goes on in these companies, they all gave her ‘soft’ excuses to turn her down. They just couldn’t make up their minds who they want in their jobs and ended up wasting everyone’s time. (Several months later, the agents revealed that those companies were still looking for the ‘right’ candidates. How can they progress if they can’t even figure out the basics?)
The wedding was fast approaching and my ‘best man’ dragged me away to Scotland for the traditional ‘stag weekend’ (bachelor party). Event progressed smoothly until the latter stages of the white-water rafting where I fell out of the raft and was crushed by it onto a rock in the river. My pelvis and coccyx were heavily bruised and I was in a great deal of pain, but I was well enough to leave the hospital with the aid of a pair of crutches. You only have to imagine the shock the Ruler_of_spike received when she saw me with them. Luckily, the bruising disappeared in a couple of weeks and I was walking well enough that I could rid the crutches. That was a relief in itself.
We spent another week in France just before the wedding to complete our preparations. The Ruler_of_spike was her usual self - a bundle of energy. She was driving through all the preparations to their completion and no details were too small for her attention. At the same time, I was feeling incredibly relaxed. Some guys talked about pre-wedding nerves, but I was calm and at ease, but excited at the same time. What followed as three days of non-stop ‘wedding action’! First, it was the civil wedding on the Friday; then the church wedding and reception took place on the Saturday and finally a get-together on the Sunday. Amazingly, the weather held up very well and we had an excellent time (and I trust our guests had a good time also).
Unfortunately, we did not arrange a honeymoon. There were a couple of reasons for that: I have already used up all of vacation allowance for the wedding preparation trip in July and immediately prior to the wedding and the Ruler_of_spike was still out of work at the time. It just didn’t feel right to take additional time off and blow a load of money on a trip that we can take another time. So we made the decision to postpone the honeymoon to another time. This meant that I was back at work four days after our wedding. (Can you hear that violin squelching in the background?)
Immediately prior to our wedding, the Ruler_of_spike was looking into an opportunity to act as an agent in the UK for a French company. The opportunity sounded like a good one - there would be a lot of hard work but the potential reward could be great. The owner of the business was obviously impressed by the Ruler_of_spike and was keen to offer her the position. However, when we received the draft contract from him after the wedding, it appeared to be a very one-sided contract, with little or no protection for the Ruler_of_spike. After several rounds of ‘to’ing and fro’ing’ with the owner, she broke off the negotiation for it was clear that the owner of the business was trying to take advantage of her. Having experienced this kind of owners previously, the opportunity was not what it seemed.
In the first quarter, we looked at the possibility of moving before we renewed our rental contract. However we decided against moving because of the pressure of organizing our wedding and also because of our employment situations. After our wedding, we started looking again and since it was over 6 months after signing the renewal, we had the option to terminate early. Unfortunately, we had to give a two-month notice. I guess it was because we were not under pressure to move, our laziness set in and chose not to pursue. Both the Ruler_of_spike and I know that we want to move out of our current apartment, but we just need that little bit more encouragement, like the end of our contract or something. I trust that is when we will be properly motivated.
The Ruler_of_spike finally found herself a job. It has nearly been a year but she has finally found something that she deserves. With hindsight, all those positions that she was not successful in applying for turn out to be blessings. Otherwise, she would have missed this excellent opportunity. She is now working for a company of excellent international repute and the job she is doing seems challenging. I’m so happy for her.
Due to the fact that I’ve used up all my vacation time for our wedding and its preparation, it was not possible for us to get away during the Holidays. So we stayed in London for another Christmas and New Year. We promised ourselves to be more organized next year and get some time off during the Christmas and New Year period so that we can get out of this city.
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Weapons of Mass Destruction
The debate around the UK’s (and the US’s) intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction dragged on from 2003 into 2004. In 2003, a huge row took place between the government and the BBC where the BBC accused the government putting incorrect assertion regarding weapons claims prior to the Iraq war. Subsequent to the death of government scientist Dr. David Kelly, the Hutton Inquiry was setup. Lord Hutton finally announced his findings in January 2004. To cut a long story short, Lord Hutton found the government had done nothing wrong and yet all the blame was with the BBC. I’m not certain which inquiry Lord Hutton chaired, but the one I’ve been following did not lead me to the same conclusion. In effect, the government was whiter than white and the BBC was blacker than black. Case closed.
Of course, with such criticism on the running of the BBC, heads had to roll, and they did. The BBC lost two of its most prominent (and popular) leaders and the journalist who exposed the questionable weapons ‘evidence’ also left. As one senior member of the BBC news teams said, it was one fine news story but it was poor journalism that let it down.
Interesting, in October, the Iraq Survey Group, the team setup to find weapons of mass destruction in the post-Saddam Iraq, published its report on its finding. It really did not require much imagination to guess what the findings were - there was nothing! None. Zip. There was some leftover hardware from the early 1990s (which were decommissioned by the UN weapons inspectors). There was some newer hardware (missiles technology) that the inspectors found and the regime subsequently fully disclosed and decommissioned. Aside from these rather insignificant findings, there was nothing else. All the claims of stockpiles of chemical and biological agents, plans to restart the nuclear weapons program, mobile weapons labs, weapons that can be deployed in 45 minutes, etc, were all either inaccurate or just plain false. Of course, there is always silver lining with this kind of findings: Saddam’s regime had the intention to have all these things. How about that? An intention but without supporting evidence is now an international crime. I sincerely hope that they can read the darker reaches of politicians’ minds; I’d imagine they would be in jail.
For me, I’m glad that Dr. Kelly was vindicated. The same can be said regarding Andrew Gilligan and the BBC. My comments regarding the government and the Department of Defense, where Dr. Kelly used to work, would be unprintable.
So, what became of Lord Hutton’s report? There was no official word on the subject and if there were I didn’t care to find out. My take is the following: - The BBC genuinely picked up a real scoop in Dr. David Kelly’s ‘disclosure’ that the infamous ‘45-minute’ claim was in fact wrong. - The journalist involved (Andrew Gilligan) presented the claim poorly with insufficient evidence to support the claim, but under the circumstances at the time, it was understandable. - The government effectively pushed Dr. Kelly into a position that he was totally discredited, as the UK’s ‘case for war’ was resting on such shaky ground that any doubts regarding its accuracy would mean serious political problems for the government. - Dr. Kelly, a rather proud individual with a lot of pride in his work, found no way out of the situation and took his own life. - Lord Hutton conducted his inquiry in such a way that it was more interested in following the following the process of governance, both in the government and in the BBC, and ignored the issue of validity and accuracy of the weapon evidence.
Interesting, as a final twist to the whole episode, the government admitted that much of the ‘evidence’ presented in the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD was in fact false and all the false intelligence reports and assessments had been withdrawn. The decision to go to war was made in ‘good faith’ according to the PM. I just hope that there will be less ‘good faith’ for him and his party comes election time.
Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins
Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Fame former head coach of Washington Redskins, left the team at the end of 1992. During his time as head coach, the Redskins went to four Super Bowls and won three of them, more often than not, Gibbs’ teams either were leading the NFC East or had high play-offs hopes. Since his departure, the Redskins had had four (or was it five) different head coaches in twelve seasons. Not exactly a model of consistency. In a way, Gibbs is the only person that can answer the awes of franchise - he has so many qualities that the franchise identifies but lacked. His return was like the ‘second coming’ for many Redskins fans.
However, twelve years is a long time football and especially so considering all the changes seen in those dozen years. In my opinion, the worst of the changes was the introduction of free agency. Free agency, coupled with salary cap, has made building, managing and coaching a consistent team in the NFL for the long term nearly impossible. Free agency and salary cap have combined to erode whatever little loyalty existed between football franchises and the players. It is now a case of ‘free for all’ - players try to get the most favorable contracts because they know that they can be cut for reasons other than performance, ie. salary caps; and franchises are prepared to risk losing good players through free agency because of salary cap constraints. The results are that coaches seldom coach the same group of players in successive seasons and players are forced to adapt to new systems whenever they change teams. To make matter worse for the Redskins, the coaching staff has been changed so many times in the past few years that some players’ developments have been hampered as a result.
Therefore, for the Redskins, the return of Joe Gibbs should herald the return to stability and in due course a return to former glory. On the other hand, even a genius can’t fix everything at the same time. In my opinion, he has achieved two very important tasks in the past twelve months: putting together a strong coaching staff and bringing together a group of players that can form a good base for development. There were some fans who thought it was a foregone conclusion that the team would make the play-offs, which I thought was unrealistic. Looking at the playing personnel before the season opener, there were large holes in the Redskins’ line up. On the offense, the line, the receivers and, critically, the quarterback position were begging questions to be asked. The situation in defense appeared equally bad, with question marks in every department but few answers. It was difficult to see how far the team would go with so many unsolved problems.
During the regular season, the defense certainly answered all the questions - it became the second-ranked defense in the league. Greg Williams did an excellent job of molding and gelling a group of individuals who have previously underperformed their potentials or simply not played as a unit. The Redskins defense has kept the team in every game, including those they lost - the losing margin was seldom more than a single touchdown. The big problem turned out to be in the offense. The Redskins was simply unable to move the ball - the passing game was missing for nearly the entire season and the offense has been plagued by penalties. While the offensive on the whole has been plagued by injury, the offensive line has failed to consistently protect the quarterback or punch holes for the running back. The combination of these suggested that the quarterback and the rest of the offensive personnel were not comfortable with the offensive scheme. Joe Gibbs’ offense is one of the more complicated in the NFL and it requires a lot of pre-snap motions to confuse the opposing defense right up to the moment the ball is snapped. Motion comes at a price: time and discipline. The play clocked was cut from 45 seconds to 40 several years back and those few seconds proves to be critical - players have been having problems getting into their assigned positions, leading to illegal formations and false starts. Moreover, during his first stint as head coach of the Redskins, Gibbs has a stable core of players who were there year after year, who became thoroughly familiar with offense, but this is Joe’s first year back and his complicated scheme is completely alien to the current corps of players.
For the fans who expected great things from the Redskins in 2004, they’ve been completely unrealistic. 2004 was about Joe Gibbs adjusting to the new NFL and the current Redskins adjusting to Joe Gibbs. What is important, as Gibbs demonstrated in the past, is for the team to continually keeping a core of players who become experts in the thinking and implementation his system and be able to executing the moves. 2004 was about stopping the rot and I think Gibbs has done that. For rebuilding, 2005 will be the year. It’s a process. It may be a painful one, but a necessary one.
US military in Iraq
Tom Clancy is well known for ‘predicting’ a September 11-style attack on the US. Ok the targets, the perpetrators and the motivation were all different from the real event, but no-one else even come close in terms of understanding America’s vulnerability. Moreover, Clancy understands America’s capability - he knows what kind of response the US is capable of in response to threats without and within. However, in all of his scenarios, never had he suggested deploying America’s armies to occupy a foreign country. So this begs the question: if such a scenario hasn’t even been considered, how would the real military fare in the real world?
Well, as things turns out, the US military has little clue as to how to govern an occupied country, full of mistrust and hostility. To add fuel to the fire, it was revealed that the US military personnel have been mistreating Iraqi detainees in an Iraqi prison. This brought the whole question of the kind of ‘tactics’ used by the US military to try and return the country into peace and normality. Aside from the obvious military targets, insurgents are targeting ‘soft targets’, mostly Iraqi civilians and police and foreign non-military personnel, to cause maximum amount of chaos and inflect losses of confidence on all sides. The situation is so bad that when it comes to nominating interim leaders of the new Iraqi regime, it was a foregone conclusion that whoever the US found acceptable, and therefore given its backing, would be considered unacceptable by one group of Iraqis or another, despite the fact that all these candidates have Iraq’s best interests in their minds.
The problem with the interim government is that it has no real power and in the current state of Iraqi, power comes with the barrel of the gun, which means that the US-led coalition holds nearly all of it. As it is obvious to all, today’s post-Saddam Iraqi (over eighteen months after the invasion) is probably in a worse state than when Saddam’s regime was in power. Reconstruction has hardly begun; many towns and cities still lack basic amenities (running fresh water and electricity) and the unfortunate civilians are being caught up in the fighting between the insurgents and the coalition. While the invaders have diligently recorded their own body counts, there is no serious attempt to keep track of civilian casualties. Wildly differing estimates with no single one found to be accurate (just a case of which one being less incorrect) give the impression to all that the country is in complete chaos, despite the large military presence.
Unfortunately, this large military presence does not guarantee security. An offensive to take out the insurgents have resulted in yet more human suffering - Iraqis being displaced and have homes destroyed in the name of ‘freedom’. However, even this massive show of force failed to subdue the insurgents, their attacks are taking place on a daily basis. All the talk of transfer of sovereignty and free elections is nothing but paper exercises. The Iraqis currently have no power and whatever shape or form the upcoming elections, they will be conducted under the shadow of violence or the threat of violence. The direct result of this violence is the polarization of attitudes and opinions in Iraq and with that, the elections may yield a large number of candidates who are anti-Western and pro-fundamentalists. Such results are probably the worst possible outcome for the US for democracy is a ‘funny’ thing: it may not always yield results that you like.
After the elections, there may be two different scenarios for the US’s ‘exit strategy’, neither of them are pretty: 1) a marginally pro-Western government is elected and the violence continues, the US will not pull out as it is seen that ‘the job isn’t done’ and resentment and violence towards the coalition and ‘collaborators’ continues; 2) an anti-Western government comes to power and ‘invite’ the coalition to leave - a ‘slap in the face’ for the US and the UK. There is no good ending of the Iraqi adventure, just bad or worse.
Security (the lack of) - Hostage taking and terrorist bombings
The internationalization of the conflict in Iraq is undermining international security.
Through out 2004, civilians working in Iraq, whether they are contractors or aid workers or reporters, have continued to share the pressure put up against the coalition military and all things ‘Western’. I guess the insurgents feel that contractors are working for the benefit of the West and the reporters are spreading Western propaganda. However, the kidnapping and killing of aid workers are acts of horror that are beyond comprehension. Many of these people have dedicated their lives to help the disadvantaged and the needy, yet they are used as pawn in a chess game - to be maneuvered and sacrificed for the good of the grand scheme of things - by both sides.
We have been spoon-fed by propaganda and false hopes originated from the US and UK governments that the removal of Saddam and his regime would make the world a better place. Clearly, that is not the case for people of Iraq and it is clearly not the case for the rest of the world. Case in point is the Madrid bombings just before the Spanish elections. Spain paid the price of participating in an ill-conceived operation - poorly researched (intelligence on WMD), poorly planned (there were no detail plans on how to govern Iraq post-Saddam) and poorly executed (strong-arm tactics by the US military in particular). The politicians who commit our countries to these misadventures stand to get eggs on their faces, but they don’t have much to lose, aside from ‘power’. However, the people’s lives that are affected by their decisions stand to lose everything.
Despite being situated on ‘the other side of the pond’, I was closely observing (from a distance) the campaigning for and the outcome of the US Presidential election - it has a large bearing on developments in the UK also. The US being the world’s leading power (the sole ‘super power’), its actions have broader effects than many ‘patriotic’ Americans would consider. If only they would just stop for a brief moment to consider their selfish ‘national interests’, they might even able to comprehend why there are those in the world who dislike them. While US policies do not generally have much of an impact outside the country, its foreign and economic policies and military actions have strong influences on developments across the globe. Therefore, it is rather sad that the majority of Americans who bothered to vote (less than 55% of the electorate voted, that’s less than 40% of the total population) have preferred to return the incumbent president. Of course, voters have to look after their self-interests, that is a right that no-one can deny. However, it is rather sad to see that American ‘self-interests’ are quite different from what the rest of the world sees as good for them. As some selfish ‘patriotic’ Americans would say: “You can do whatever you like, just don’t expect us to like it.”
Hong Kong and China
The tugging match and war of words between the pro-democracy democrats in Hong Kong and the Communist government in the mainland (and its supporters in Hong Kong) have continued throughout 2004. You may wonder: Why is a city clashing against the state government? After all, isn’t Hong Kong supposed to have its own rules under the ‘one country, two systems’ doctrine established before the handover? Well, it is precisely the ‘one country, two systems’ doctrine that is causing the problem.
Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing wrong with the doctrine - it protects the basic rights of the citizens of Hong Kong, rights that are considered fundamental in a liberal democratic society, like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press/media, freedom to choose and to elect, etc. These rights are fundamental, tangible and invaluable. And pressure is continually put on these rights by the ruling Communists and their supporters in Hong Kong. There have been a number of attempts to reduce or to remove these rights of the citizens of Hong Kong, from the ‘strong arm’ tactic (changing the law in the name of ‘national security’) to the ‘softly, softly approach’ (sending Olympic medalists to the territory to wipe up ‘national pride’).
Aside from these ‘overtures’, there were real issues being addressed. The most important one was the refusal to allow the people of Hong Kong to elect their own chief executive and direct elections for the Legislative Council in the next round of elections. While the provisions to allow free elections were not set in stone under Basic Law, the agreement drawn up between the UK and the Chinese Communists guaranteed Hong Kong’s freedom for at least 50 years after the handover. However, there is no precise definition of what ‘freedom’ constitutes when applied to Hong Kong and is subject to interpretation, depending on your political motivation. On the other hand, ‘freedom’ should also include the freedom to choose whom to be elected to run the territory.
I’ve no doubt that the Communists in Peking have the very best of their interests in mind. I stress it is ‘their’ interests that are being served and they are fundamentally different from those of China. The end result may be similar - a prosperous China - but the start points are not the same nor are the beneficiaries. The Communists are only interested in one thing: hold on to power. If it happens to have to pursue a market-orientated economy, so be it, but the market will have to be under Communist control (just like everything else).
My point is, is this kind of thinking and political motivation sufficient to sway the opinion of the people of Hong Kong? They may be relatively new to the notion of democracy, but freedom is certainly no stranger to them. And they certainly can distinguish what’s hot and what’s not, no matter how much you try to disguise it.
Over 700 hours of parliamentary time was wasted on forcing through a pointless and useless piece of legislation to ban fox hunting with dogs. Surely our Members of Parliament have better things to talk about. And even if they haven’t, they should have just stayed at home or return to their constituencies to serve their electorate. Instead, we now have a piece of unworkable legislation. Well done, folks.
I choose to end this round up with a piece of positive news. As a former middle-distance runner, I can certainly appreciate how difficult to achieve the double of winning both the 800m and the 1,500m. So, it is with particular joy and satisfaction to have witnessed such fate being achieved, especially by an athlete who has endured so much hardship throughout her career but has bounced back again and again. Well done, Kelly Holmes. Similarly, Hicham El Guerrouj’s performances in the men’s 1,500m and 5,000m were also worthy of note. Both are amazing athletes who conquer their fears and overcome past disappointments to achieve their goals - real champions.
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