Who am I?Where am I?

29 December 2008

Viagra and Afghan Warlords

My buddy Alex sent this to me and correctly stated, "You can't make this stuff up!" True indeed!

America's CIA has found a novel way to gain information from fickle Afghan warlords - supplying sex-enhancing drug Viagra, a US media report says. The Washington Post said it was one of a number of enticements being used. In one case, a 60-year-old warlord with four wives was given four pills and four days later detailed Taleban movements in return for more.
"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people," the Post quoted one agent as saying. "Whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra." The newspaper said the use of Viagra had to be handled sensitively as the drug was not always known about in rural areas.
It quoted one retired agent as saying: "You didn't hand it out to younger guys, but it could be a silver bullet to make connections to the older ones." In the case of the 60-year-old warlord - the head of a clan in southern Afghanistan who had not co-operated - operatives saw he had four younger wives. The pills were explained and offered. Four days later the agents returned.
"He came up to us beaming," the Post quoted an agent as saying. "He said, 'You are a great man.' "And after that we could do whatever we wanted in his area." The pills could put chieftains "back in an authoritative position", another official said. The paper said the CIA had a long line of inducements for the notoriously fickle warlords, including dental work, visas, toys and medicine.
It quoted one private security official as saying that simply handing over large sums of money would raise suspicions about newfound wealth.



Where is the Humanity?

My good friend, who goes by the alias 'The Cat', advised me not to write this and offend "the choosen people." I cannot not write this. I was working on a post about Somalian Pirates and another about Cricket, but this weekend kind of changed all that and my focus.

I am a fan of the underdog. I love the NCAA basketball tournament each March where almost annually, a small unknown school beats a roster full of future NBA players. I enjoy the world cup in soccer/football when a small team from a smaller country defeats a larger country like Senegal (defeating France) in 2002. In baseball, I root for the Toronto Blue Jays, against the New York Yankees, and for the team with the smaller payroll in the World Series. I can't stand Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Liverpool. I root for the team in England with the most English players on its roster, so this year, I'm a Hull supporter. I root against Brazil in football, Australia in cricket, and New Zealand in rugby. Thus, it's probably natural that I would support the Palestinians against Israel.

If this were a sporting event, I would be supporting the young Hebrew boy, armed with a slingshot who fearlessly walked out into battle against the giant aggressor. In this case, I would be supporting the Palestinians since they use the modern version of the proverbial slingshot against one of the most technologically advanced miltaries in the world. The only problem is that this is not a sporting event. This is real life. These are real people being murdered (over 300 as of this writing). Where is the humanity?

I will freely admit that I have many mixed emotions when it comes to Israel (and to the Palestinian cause to which feelings about Israel are inextricably linked.) First, history shows that during the years leading up to World War II, the United States did nothing to help the plight of Jews in Europe. Ships carrying Jewish refugees were refused entry into US waters and Jews onboard sent back into the clutches of Hitler's maniacal regime. Jewish leaders repeatedly asked military leaders to bomb railroad lines, which the Germans used to transport Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. Had these lines been bombed, which they could have easily been, thousands of lives would have saved. Roosevelt refused. Thus, it was perhaps understandable that American leaders, supported the creation of Israel after World War II. As an American now, probably as a result of a smidgen of collective guilt, I do think that the state of Israel has a right to exist. Secondly, if a people do not have rights to govern themselves, then often they are persecuted. History is fraught with examples of this, which further supports my belief that a Jewish state should exist.

Over the years, I have had one particularly good relationship with a Jewish carpenter (no...not Jesus), who really taught me a lot about life and helped me get to where I am now. For this, I will be eternally greatful. In South Africa, two of my closest friends are Jewish. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with them, just as I now enjoy celebrating Islamic holidays with Muslim friends, particularly now that I reside in the Persian Gulf. This is one side of the coin.
However, as I sat in front of the television this past weekend, watching Al-Jazeera do it's best to be neutral, and CNN and BBC make no effort to do the same, I was aghast on many levels. Where is the humanity? There is something inherently unfair about attacking buildings and positions with F-16 fighters when the opposition is either unarmed or has mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. Why now? Is this just politics before an Israeli election. Historically, Isreaeli politicians have acted as though bombs exploding in the West Bank and Palestine were euphonious and could help them convince the Israeli public to vote for them. Sadly, they have normally been correct and their policies have won them the plaudits of Israeli voters.

Israeli politicians were repeatedly paraded in front of cameras over the weekend. They were beseeched with questions about why this was happening. Their only explanation for the actions of the government and military was that Hamas started this latest conflagration. This argument is not valid. We can go back to 1948 and engage in a vicious cycle of who started what. In the end, this was started by the dispossession of Palestinians from their land by the Israelis.

Regardless of who began this latest sordid episode, the Israeli reaction is akin to a child being hit with a pebble on a playground and turning around and shooting everyone on the school ground with an uzi. What defines "starting the fight" anyway? There was a 6-month cease fire, which was largely honored by both sides. However, during the past several months, Gaza was cut off by an Israeli blockade. It is arguable as to whether the blockade prevented arms from getting into Gaza but it is quite clear that food, medicine, and essential staples necessary to survive, were cut off. Hospitals have been bombed. Hospitals don't have medicine. An overwhelming percentage of Palestinians living in Gaza receive food aid. This has been cut off. In short, the world has abandoned Gaza.

As I watched this weekend, I remembered why I long ago had a poster of Yasser Arafat in my house and a Palestinian flag hanging next to it. Regardless of the circumstances that led us here, Gaza and the West Bank are occupied territories. They are occupied by an alien invading force. If my country was similarly occupied, I would fight for it with all resources at my disposal. I too, would fight the Israelis.

If one examines George Bush over the past eight years, one can see a microcosm of the Israeli state. After 9/11, Bush had the highest approval ratings in history, the sympathy of the world, and could do whatever he wanted (within reason.) He squandered this in a mis-guided war, obstensibly (according reports on what Condoleza Rice stated at the time) to establish a democracy in the Middle East. More on this in a moment. The Jewish community, post-1945, had the sympathy of the world and leveraged this to establish Israel. This sympathy has been squandered. I cannot sympathize with a nation that drops bombs from F-16s on hospitals. To do so would also be to sympathize with my own leader, who has done the same thing. Morally, I cannot do that. Israel is as wrong as Bush and their actions have only served to radicalize many segments of the populations in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

According to reports, Bush's team had different reasons for wanting to invade Iraq. Condoleza Rice wanted to set up a stable democracy in one of the most un-democratic regions in the world. In case nobody understands this, the occupied territories are democratic. Hamas has been elected! Gaza and the West Bank are (with all due respect to Lebanon) the only truly functioning democracies in the Middle East. Israel denies citizens within it's territory the right to vote (since both of the occupied territories are presently within the country of Israel). People do not generally vote for organizations and parties that will lead them to self-annihiliation unless they see no alternative. The fact that Hamas was voted into power illustrates just how desparate the plight of Palestinians in Gaza has become. The West Bank, where things are more stable, has not voted for Hamas. Despite the fact that there are over 600 Israeli Army checkpoints, a wall that encroaches on Palestinian land and divides it's people further, and the daily harassment meted out by the Israeli occupying army, West Bank residents still have hope and have not voted for a radical organization like Hamas. Clearly, Israel has destroyed this hope in Gaza and the people have voted for an alternative. Has nobody posed the question: what caused this to happen?

As a student of African history, the liberation movement that most strongly correlates to the Palestinian cause is the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Mandela, Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, etc., were all viewed as terrorists because they were fighting for freedom against an oppressive and sinister force. So too are the Palestinians. The Israeli government has lost it's touch with reality and has completely misprized the will of the people of Gaza to fight on. Furthermore, it has completely lost the ability to think of Palestinians as fellow humans and continues to pursue an otiose and outdated policy bent on beating Gaza into submission. Lastly, it has recklessly murdered over 300 people in 48 hours (35% of whom are women and children). This is very similar to apartheid government policy, which ultimately proved futile.

On another level, the Arab governments in this region have demonstrated that they truly do not care about Palestine. Postponing the Arab League meeting until Wednesday illustrates this. How can the Arab world not issue a cohesive statement for at least five days after something as monstrous as this. These governments are not democratic and do not reflect the will of the people in this region any more than Stalin reflected the will of the Russian people.

One can only hope that the Israeli citizens realize emerge from their chthonic state, realize their mistake, and elect a new government before it is too late and world opinion has seriously weakened the ability of the Israelis to negotiate. This is not the place where I want to place too much faith at this point. This would be similar to placing faith in the white South African electorate between 1948-1994.
The peace process lingers at the edge of a staircase devoid of a balustrade. If it fails, more lives will be lost. The time is now! Free Palestine. End the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Remove the Jewish settlements from these areas. Get a solution to the city of Jerusalem. Get a peace deal now before more innocent lives are lost.


18 December 2008

Me in Muscat, Oman

These pictures were taken last week in Muscat. Yes, I walked around the capital of Oman dressed in traditional Omani attire.


This Made me Laugh

"I'm not afraid of dying... I just don't want to be there when it happens" Woody Allen


16 December 2008

Duck or an Eagle

I received this email from my Mom and thought it was poignant. Personally I like ducks as they are much better tempered than eagles, but metaphorically speaking, I'd rather be an eagle!
Richard the Nomad

Duck Or An Eagle?

Harvey Mackay, tells a wonderful story about a cab driver that proved this point. He was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a brightshine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the backpassenger door for Harvey. He handed my friend a laminated card and said: 'I'm Wally, your driver. While I'm loading your bags in the trunk I'd like you to read my mission statement.

'Taken aback, Harvey read the card.It said: Wally's Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest andcheapest way possible in a friendly environment.

This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of thecab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, 'Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.'My friend said jokingly, 'No, I'd prefer a soft drink. 'Wally smiled and said, 'No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice.'Almost stuttering, Harvey said, 'I'll take a Diet Coke. 'Handing him his drink, Wally said, 'If you'd like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.'As they were pulling away, Wally handed my friend another laminated card, 'These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you'd like to listen to the radio.'

And as if that weren't enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him.

Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he'd be happy to chat and tell him aboutsome of the sights or, if Harvey preferred, to leave him with his ownthoughts.

'Tell me, Wally,' my amazed friend asked the driver, 'have you alwaysserved customers like this?' Wally smiled into the rear view mirror. 'No, not always. In fact, it's only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day. He had just written a book called You'll See It When You Believe It. Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you'll rarely disappointyourself. He said, 'Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don't be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar abovethe crowd.'''That hit me right between the eyes,' said Wally. 'Dyer was really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customerswere unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.

''I take it that has paid off for you,' Harvey said.'It sure has,' Wally replied. 'My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I'll probably quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don't sit at cabstands anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on my answering machine. If I can't pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it and I take a piece of the action. 'Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of a Yellow Cab.
I've probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn't do any of what I was suggesting. Wally the Cab Driver made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles. How about us? A man reaps what he sows. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up...let us do good to all people. Ducks Quack, Eagles Soar
Author Unknown


11 December 2008

10 December 2008

Wear Sunscreen

I heard this song the other day and loved it! Figured I would post the lyrics and the wikipedia link to find the history of it.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of '99... Wear Sunscreen If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked….You're not as fat as you imagine. Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. Do one thing everyday that scares you Sing Don't be reckless with other people's hearts, don't put up with people who are reckless with yours. Floss Don't waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind…the race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself. Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements. Stretch. Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds know still don't. Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone. Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't, maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't, maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…what ever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else's. Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don't be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.. Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room. Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly. Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go,but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography in lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel. Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you'll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders. Respect your elders. Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out. Don't mess too much with your hair, or by the time it's 40, it will look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth. But trust me on the sunscreen...



02 December 2008

Emirati National Day Celebration

This are a couple of the pics from yesterday's Emirati Day celebration at my school. Ali is the math co-teacher that works for the same company I do. Mr. Mostapha is in the middle. He is a science teacher. I'm on the right.


Richard the Nomad