31 January 2011

What are you most excited about right now?

Spending a couple of days in Damascus and Palmyra

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How many countries have you traveled to?

15 -- Cuba, Mexico, Ireland, Brazil, Norway, England, Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Morocco

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If you could change one thing that happened last year what would it be?

I would have taken better care of myself and avoided a hospital stay

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What's your favorite drink?

Coffee!

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How did you end up living in Jordan?

I vacationed here annually for ten years. Over that time I made many many friends, and one special one. I decided it was time to live life to the fullest rather than grinding out day by day in an office until I was too old to travel. So, here I am! Now, instead of working in an office I teach English as a foreign language and will soon be licensed by the Ministry of Interior as a tourist guide.

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30 January 2011

great blog

Thanks for reading and come back often!

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nice

Thank you! I wish you had identified yourself so I could thank you in a more personal way. I appreciate your reading my blog and hope you will come back soon! Ol' Big Jim

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Egypt Update

Thousands have gathered in Tahrir square again chanting their continuing demand for the resignation of Mubarak.



Jet fighters and military helicopters are flying low over cairo as more army trucks appear in Tahrir square. Does this indicate military solidarity with the current regime, or the opposite? The jets have now gone away. They didn’t have the presumed intended effect of scaring the protesters, but only made them more angry.



Somehow Al Jazeera has managed to get back on the air with their excellent coverage of the situation as it occurs in Egypt. I am filled with admiration for their tenacity. Watch Al Jazeera live here http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/ for full coverage and analysis.
Hillary Clinton reports that there is still no discussion of cutting aid to Egypt. She also said “we expect free fair elections as an outcome of what is happening in Egypt.” This is the first time such a statement has been made by the US.



Today Clinton appeared on Fox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union and ABC’s This Week. The Obama administration are working to get a grip on the rapidly changing situation occurring in Egypt.

When she was asked whether Hosni Mubarak had taken appropriate steps to hold on to power she responded with “It’s not a question of who retains power…It’s how are we going to respond to the legitimate needs and grievances expressed by the Egyptian people and chart a new path. Clearly, the path that has been followed has not been one that has created that democratic future, that economic opportunity that people in the peaceful protests are seeking.”

She further stated that free and fair elections are expected to be one of the outcomes of the upheaval and continued by clarifying that outcome as “an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy, like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago.”

Although the new rhetoric from the White House has a stronger tone than has previously been heard it’s still possible the Mubarak administration will find some flexibility in it. A tweeter known to me only as abuaardvark commented that the “Clinton comments seem aimed less at Mubarak than at military officers who may soon seize power that US expects democratic transition after…” I confess I had the same impression as I heard her remarks.

Meanwhile, back in Egypt the citizens are being manipulated and terrified by the sudden absence of the police forces. Widespread looting has taken place, including the break-in at the Egyptian Museum. There has been a great deal of talk about the withdrawal of the police force as a method of creating chaos and that agents provocateur are operating among the gangs and local thugs in the looting of shops and private homes. State television is constantly beaming pictures of criminal gangs; probably in an effort to sow more seeds of terror. There have also been reports that before leaving, the police opened the jails and prisons, allowing the inmates to re-enter and wreak havoc amongst the citizenry.

The new vice president, Omar Suleiman is “acceptable” to Israel and US because of his past interactions and support of the Zionist regime. However, it is precisely this history that makes him unacceptable to the Egyptian people. Chafiq’s appointment as Prime Minister points to a strong military operated government. Both these men are remnants of the old regime and will hardly be palatable to the Egyptian public.


Unrest in Egypt

In light of recent events in Egypt, it is astonishing to learn that tourists are still visiting the ancient sites! Saturday afternoon the authorities closed the Pyramids of Giza to tourists. As I watched the coverage on Al Jazeera I was amazed to see the large numbers of tourists being turned away and reboarding their buses.

Dr Zahi Hawass, Chairman of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities was interviewed by Al Jazeerah about the fire burning the National Democratic Party building located next door to the museum. In a statement that was sadly prophetic he said “If it (the museum) is damaged through looting or fire, it would be a loss to all humankind.” Later when it was discovered that looters were, in fact in the building he said “They managed to stop them.” He added that the would-be looters had vandalized two mummies by ripping their heads off and had cleared out the museum’s gift shop.






Nine men took advantage of the damage to the museum’s security caused by the fire next door and entered the museum. They were apprehended by police and a crowd of civilians as they attempted to make off with the skulls of two mummies and two statues estimated to be more than 2,000 years old.
In addition to the vandalism of the mummies some of the King Tutankhamun collection were damaged by the miscreants. A ritual figure of King Tut Hunting a Hippopotamus and ritual figure of King Tut Astride a Panther were smashed. Both objects date to around 1324 BCE and were part of the trove discovered in 1922. Many of the glass cases housing the artefacts were smashed as seen in this clip from Al Jazeera English:

video


There was some speculation at the German ZDF Television that a high-ranking member of the ruling NDP was involved in the looting. As of this writing I have been unable to confirm this information.

On a different note, I’ve just received tweets from several friends saying that Al Jazeera offices have been closed by the Egyptian officials and banned from further reporting on the protests. In the first few days of protests not one media outlet considered it newsworthy. Al Jazeera was there. They have provided 24 hour coverage and analysis of the events in Egypt as they happened and have done a superb job. This doesn’t bode well, particularly considering the fact that the entire country has been almost completely blacked out by the government. Cell phones, Twitter, Facebook and in some cases land lines have been interrupted in order to prevent the outside world knowing what is happening there. For the first time since the invention of the internet, the regime has shut it down throughout the country.


An Al Jazeera spokesman said they will continue strong coverage despite the fact that the Egyptian Ministry of Information have revoked their license to broadcast. In a statement they said,

“Al Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists. In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard; the closing of our bureau by the Egyptian government is aimed at censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people.

“Al Jazeera assures it audiences in Egypt and across the world that it will continue its in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the events unfolding in Egypt.

“Al Jazeera journalists have brought unparallelled reporting from the ground from across Egypt in the face of great danger and extraordinary circumstances. Al Jazeera network is appalled at this latest attack by the Egyptian regime to strike at its freedom to report independently on the unprecedented events in Egypt.”

Does Mubarak really think he can overcome this?


Salute to Egyptian Citizens

Like most people living in the Middle East I have been glued to Al Jazeera and internet coverage of the momentous events taking place in Egypt. Since 25th January, the beginning of the protests, I have been constantly impressed by the mostly peaceful nature of the protests on the part of the Egyptian citizens. I have noted, with some disdain that the majority of violent acts have been perpetrated by the police force, up to and including murder of protesters.

Egyptian National Museum


As we enter the fifth day of the protests there is a complete absence of police officers. They have simply vanished into thin air. Security is left to the army who are patrolling and guarding the main thoroughfares and business districts. The neighborhoods however, have no protection against the unsavory element that has emerged over the past day. These people, in groups and singly, have been looting shops and private homes. They even entered the Egyptian National Museum and damaged many priceless historical objects.

Ritual figures of King Tutankhamum dating from 1324 BCE


In response to the damage to the museum artefacts Egyptians formed a human chain around to prevent further entry and damage.



With the lack of a police presence and the army busy in the larger areas, citizens have taken on the role of protectors of their homes, streets and neighborhoods. In most neighborhoods around the city men have formed watch groups. They stand guard at intersections and entrances to residential areas stopping cars to ensure they have legitimate reasons for being there and they are patrolling the streets to ensure no more homes are broken into and robbed.

Again I am impressed by the citizenry of Egypt. They are comporting themselves with pride and dignity worthy of admiration.

The demands of the Egyptian people are very simple. They want to live a life that allows them to work and support themselves and their families. Currently the vast majority must try to subsist on less than two dollars a day. Unemployment is rampant and hope, until now has been nonexistent under the thirty year iron fist of a ruthless dictator.

Every person has certain inalienable rights to the four freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are: freedom of speech, belief, freedom from want and freedom from fear.  The will of the people is supposed to be the basis of the authority of government. That right has been denied Egyptians for thirty years. Now, they are taking back that right. Their voices are being heard round the world and eventually must be heard by Hosni Mubarak. The time has come for the dictator to relinquish his office and allow the people to decide what form their government will take.
I stand in complete awe of the people of Egypt.

They have my highest admiration and my constant prayers for their success.


28 January 2011

Angry Jordan, Part III

Jordanian citizens took to the streets again today for the third consecutive Friday to protest our government. According to Ibrahim Alloush it isn’t a question of replacing the Prime Minister with someone else, but rather demanding changes in the way the country is run. According to Alloush Parliament is merely a “rubber stamp” for the Executive Branch and that Jordanians have been led to protest in the absence of any real venues for relief through legal methods.

In addition to the estimated 3,500 protesters in downtown Amman another 2,500 Jordanians were in the streets in six other cities throughout the kingdom. The number of the demonstrators was buttressed by the presence of Islamic Action Front (political branch of Muslim Brotherhood). They gathered outside al-Husseini mosque and processed down the street chanting “In the name of God, the government must change!” and “Qura’n is our constitution, jihad is our path!”.

His Majesty, King Abdullah II has promised reforms, including the controversial election law. Generally, people do not believe he will acede to demands for popular election of the Prime Minister and Cabinet officials. By tradition those roles are Royal Appointments.

Also being protested is the repressive taxation that has almost broken the back of the working class in Jordan. The economy is struggling under a record deficit of $2 billions this year as inflation has soared to 6.1% just last month. Unemployment stands at 12% and around 25% of the populace live below the poverty line.

The Prime Minister, Samir Rifai, announced new subsidies over the last two weeks amounting to around $550 millions for fuel, rice, sugar, livestock and LP gas as well as giving a pay rise for civil servants and security personnel. The announcement was received with derision by the protesters. Suhair Asaaf, an electrical mechanic and Muslim Brotherhood member said “They lie to the people. They reduce some things and increase others more.”

Mahmoud Thiabat, a 31 year old father of three is a civil servant earning $395 per month. He says “The government buys cars and spends lavishly on its parties and travel, while many Jordanians are jobless or can barely put food on their tables to feed their hungry children.”

His Majesty met with Parliament Speaker and committee heads yesterday promising “transparency, frankness and dialogue on all domestic issues to strengthen citizen’s confidence in their national institutions.” He said “There is a lot of talk in the society about issues like corruption, nepotism and favoritism which must be debated and responded to”. He further added that some of the “issues are right, others are not. But citizens have the right to have a candid answer.”

Labib Kamhawi, an independent analyst calls the king’s pledges “cosmetic” and more needs to be done while another man described them as “window dressing”. However, Kamhawi further stated that “Nobody wants to see a regime change in Jordan, like in Tunisia or Egypt. But People here want to see accountability, transparency, an end to corruption in government circles and wider public freedoms and popular participation in the decision-making.”

May God be with us all.



Left: We want to plant what we eat, Right: Selling public sector, selling people's future








Caution 111 members of Parliament, we are about to explode!


Dear government, what about teacher's 280 JD salary? Do you want me to beg??!!

Down with the Rifai government

We want a saving government


11 billion dollars, our debt because of previous governments


26 January 2011

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what do you miss from America the most in the following areas, food, culture, politics and recreational activity ...

I have to honestly say I miss my family and friends most of all. I miss Splenda because I don't like Sweet 'n' Low and I missed pork for a long time; not so much anymore. My life here is filled culturally and recreationally. I do miss the occasional Thursday night baseball game with my two great friends, Rick and Brent. Believe it or not the other thing I miss absolutely most is my job and the wonderful staff with whom I worked so long.

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25 January 2011

"Educational Terrorism"


I wrote this post in response to the post of another blogger. I thought it was worth sharing.

I am a foreigner here, relatively new to Jordan (<2 years). I am one of those who was shocked by the treatment of the little boy. I was also one who tweeted it and posted it on my Facebook page, as well as sending the clip to Her Majesty, the Queen. Now I read your post and learn that pupils are allegedly beaten, tied with chains and that some children have actually died! I am not questioning the veracity of your statements, but if these things are happening on a regular basis, where is the outrage? Where are the parents of these children and why aren’t they doing something to stop it?

Because I am accustomed to the uncaring attitudes of the bureaucrats in the US, I’m not at all surprised by the attitudes of the principals and ministers. I also understand the overwhelming nature of the job of the teachers. None of these mitigates inattention by the parents. Principals, teachers and Ministry of Education personnel can be forced to “care” if the parents of these defenseless children stand up for the rights of their kids. The kids can’t do it; it is the job of the family to ensure a child can attend school without the fear of being bullied, humiliated, tortured and sexually abused by so-called educators.

The very idea that a restroom was shut down in the school at Madaba is a clear indication that the Ministry is well aware of the problems. That was the wrong approach to such a problem. The teacher or teachers who were guilty of abusing pupils should have been immediately and publicly punished. There is absolutely no excuse for that. Paedophiles will find a way to vent their twisted desires, and closing the restroom only made them look elsewhere. Perhaps even a place less observable. But now they can point to the closed restroom and say "it isn't happening anymore." 

In the end, it is only the parents who can prevent any of this. Parents should be intimately involved with the education process of their kids. If the educators know that parents are checking up on them, ensuring the progress and safety of their kids the likelihood of abuse will plummet. When a child is brought into this world of uncertainty he should at least be assured that his parents will assume and maintain their responsibility toward him until he reaches adulthood. No higher responsibility is given us than to raise our kids in a way that they are safe and as free from fear as it is possible to be in this world in which we live.

There is lots of blame to go round in this scenario, but the ultimate blame lies with the parents who don’t know what is happening to their kids when they are in the care of the education system.

Today, I read the following blog post from a fellow blogger here in Amman:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why the Jordanian Teacher Terrorizing that Kid Should Not Be Punished

I watched the clip of a Jordanian teacher terrorizing a 1st-grade student in a public school. It was painful to see a young kid being humiliated, but it was more painful to see the reaction of a wide array of people to this youtube clip.

It looks like the people who were "shocked" the most were those who never gave a damn to start with. We all know that children get beaten up in almost every single public school in Jordan. Sometimes they get brutally beaten up, tied by chains, humiliated, and the physical abuse may even qualify as torture in some cases. Some students died, actually died, as a consequence of violence targeted at them from teachers.

The ministry of education doesn't pay attention to these cases. The principles of these schools don't care, mainly because most of them support the right of teachers to treat their students as their kids (i.e. beat the shit out of them-if necessary!) And just like having 10 kids can be a burden to a father, having 50 kids in one class is a huge burden. There is not time to pay any special attention towards kids.

I'm not even going to discuss sexual abuses against kids since I don't have names (obviously not clips either) but we hear the stories about teachers who have been "investigated" by school administration and asked to teach a different class because of clear sexual abuses against students. Things have got so bad in a public school in Madaba that a school shut down its restroom because of such sexual.

All these fake reactions by the ministry of Health were a result of the clip going viral, and not because of the violence itself. That little kid is lucky. His misery that went viral will almost guarantee he'll never be hit again , at least for a while. But make no mistake, this morning in Jordan a big number of students in Jordanian schools will be beaten up in schools by teachers and principals and nobody will record it on youtube, not allowing the Ammani elitist living in a bubble to pretend to be have feelings to allow them to feel sorry for kids who seem to be living in a different planet.

At least that teacher was teaching that kid something other than that his country is giving up on him and unless his parents were rich and connected he didn't belong to this land he lived in anymore.

24 January 2011

What's your favorite city?

New Orleans, LA

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If you could instantly become fluent in another language, which language would you pick?

Arabic

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What kind of music can you just not stand to listen to?

Rap

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What's the furthest you've ever traveled?

Birmingham, AL to Amman, Jordan ~ 10k miles

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Would you rather get up early or sleep late?

Get up early

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What was the best job you've ever had?

Billing/Collections Manager at Cunningham Pathology

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Would you rather be rich or famous?

Rich!

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What was the last book you read?

Just After Sunset by Stephen King

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15 January 2011

Day of Anger in Jordan

Following the example of the Tunisian protests, our Twitter community rallied round a “Day of Anger”. It was announced on 12th and took place downtown on 14th January after Friday prayers. Protests were also mounted simultaneously in Irbid, Karak and Dhiban. The primary focus of the protest was rising prices. However, political disenfranchisment and concerns about the government led by Prime Minister Samir Rifai were also addressed.

Reports estimated about 400 people in Amman. I was there. Far, far more than 400 people were there. I am certain there were no fewer than a couple thousand. Look at my pictures; I think you will agree.
The Muslim Brotherhood were expected to take part, but at the last moment they decided to hold their own protest and have decided to stage a sit-in on Sunday.

Sadly, one government institution was not there. The office press did not cover the protest at all. I saw TV cameras from other stations there, though.

The demonstration was very peaceful and orderly. In accordance with the urges of the Twitter community all anger was directed in the right direction and not at each other. There was no violence or even near-violence that I observed. However, when we reached the end of the street and cars were once again allowed to pass I did witness one man who went out of his way to drive his car into the crowd. Again, there was no retaliation from the protesters, but the police very quickly put an end to his prank.

Several people took to the stage and made empassioned speeches and all the crowd were emotionally moved. We are in a precarious position here in Amman. Jobs are simply not to be found. The fortunate few who have landed a job are very, very poorly paid. Add to this the continual upward spiral of prices and taxes and you have the perfect growth media for anger and dissatisfaction. Our sales tax alone here is 16%!! Before His Majesty ordered a price reduction two days ago, gasoline had reached 0.6900 JD per litre. For my western family and friends that comes to about $2.61 per gallon.

Now, try to imagine this: A man with 3 children and a wife works 12 hours per day and earns 180 JD ($250) per month. That’s right; per month! How can this man even come close to paying his rent, water, electric and still buy food for his family? What about tuition for his kids to go to school? 
Clothes are needed, too. And somehow he has to stretch these 180 dinars to cover all this.

Anger? Dissatisfaction? How can they not be angry when they see government officials and civil servants earning 10 times his salary at his expense??? They drive the newest, most fancy automobiles and live in villas located away from the poorer sections so they don’t have to soil themselves by being in their neighborhoods.

Despite the poverty, disenfranchisement and general rough treatment they somehow still manage to be the most hospitable and generous people I have ever had the privilege to know. I am very proud to call them my friends and family. 










A sea of people

400 protesters? The "officials" need to learn to count!




Marching with the brothers


The sign says "Beware of my hunger and anger!"


Algerian flag




In the thick of it!

abo Zaky came too!


A Parliament on al-Rifai's way - Stop rising prices!

"Break the fellowship and tear down al-Rifai's government"



Beware my hunger and anger!






The citizens are taking high prices up the arse

Red sign (with pita) "Where are you my dear?" Orange sign "Cold and hunger!!!"

"Where is the Ministry of ...?? (The Ministry that sets prices, I can't remember the English word)


No matter the occasion, we must ensure the hair is carefully combed over...

Top: Prime Minister al-Rifai
Red line: Poor people
We can clearly see where his loyalty lies...

Speeches at the end of the street

As we walked back to the car I saw live chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys for sale

This cock is a beaut, isn't he?

These two are just happy to be out of the cage!

Courtyard of al-Husseini Mosque

Jim, just before going inside to rest a bit

Buyers, sellers and onlookers on the pavement outside the mosque