Friday, November 30, 2007

Bye Bye November

Okay, where was I?
You know, I don’t actually remember.
Hardly surprising, I’d say.
November was a busy month and I haven’t posted here since the first week of November. No problem, I’m doing it now. They really made a welcome change here when they moved the weekend to Friday, Saturday. Friday is such a great day to just relax and let the day make itself. It’s the last Friday in November and the weather is gorgeous. The windows are open and the a/c is off, for a change, so some of the smoke is getting aired out. The sky is cloudy, believe it or not. I’m a bit under the weather with a sinus-type cold. Everyone in my office has been sick for a week, so I’m not surprised. It could be worse; I haven’t had to take to the bed or anything. I’ve been doing some long-needed spring (?) cleaning around the flat.

In addition to being a work-heavy month, there’s also been more than my usual allotted time for socializing. It’s that time of year. In my earlier November post I alluded to some changes in my little blog. And, honestly, I do have some cool ideas for things I could do here. It’s just making the time and the effort to turn them into reality. Just have to see how things go. (Stop whining, Jack!) December will be another busy month, as usual. People come and visit during this period because the heat has backed off and the weather is really nice.

A co-worker from my former office, Chris, decided to retire and go to Cyprus with his wife. Since he and Rich live in Dubai, the goodbye “do” was held at the Fairmont. Quite a posh place, actually. My car was still awaiting a transmission transplant, so Sam drove us down. That was also so I could drink and not have to worry about driving home. We all met up in the downstairs bar and I had a vodka martini while we waited for the rest to arrive. Bruno was there. I hadn’t seen him since he left the institute well over 2 years ago. Patrick, Rich, Alan, Charlie (Alan’s wife—Charlotte), Sam and I made up the rest of the guest list along with Chris and his wife, Pam. We had dinner upstairs at the Spectrum. Food was quite good, as expected. There are a few pictures posted in Jack’s albums from that night.

Work has been work, details of which I am not really permitted to go into. Just believe me when I say it’s been busy. We also had over a week of really heavy fog to stumble through in the morning to work. Usually we have the odd day or so of fog, but this damn fog reappeared morning after morning. The first morning of the fog two instructors missed the turn for work and ended up way out in the desert. I was trying to drive in the fog too, but luckily had someone with me and he tried to get enough information to figure out where the instructors were and then we handed them over to someone else once we got to work to try and talk them back to the office. They finally arrived. Someone I share an office with ended up putting his car in the large roundabout not far from the main entrance to work. He was fine, only the car and his ego suffered mild damage.

Lorin’s son, Kris, flew in from Canada two weeks ago. I hadn’t seen him for years. He’s since married, has two sons and is a very successful computer (I don’t know the technical word) guy. Lorin scheduled us into the Burj Al Arab on Thursday for lunch. I’ve been there several times before, but only for the Friday brunch thing. I drove down from Abu Dhabi and met them in the lobby. We moved upstairs to the restaurant for our reservation. Riding up in the glass elevator, looking out over the Gulf and the construction of Palm Islands and The World is impressive, as is the view from the restaurant. We took our time and went over the set menu and ended up ordering from that. I was tacky and stuck with beer. I had this amazing Japanese beef that was too tender and juicy.

After eating, we took a stroll around the lobby, did a little shopping and then called for the cars. I followed Lorin, she knows Dubai and I just get angry and frustrated driving there on my own. First we stopped at the Madinat Jumeirah so Kris could do some shopping. I have to admit that it’s not my favorite shopping mall in Dubai and I was a little tired. There was also a MTV launch party going on for their new Arabic music channel. Several people, all in black, who had obviously spent way too much time and thought on what to wear and the correct positioning of facial hair, were there. Leaving the mall, I followed Lorin to the Safa Park area where her friend Naimi and family live. I hadn’t seen Naimi in years and we spent a pleasant hour or so with her and family. She has beautiful kids and they live in a great, older villa that has personality and warmth.

From there, I put Reynan and David into my car to take them back to Sharjah and Lorin and Kris were going down to Deira to have his new suit fitted. As is my habit, I got lost and when I get lost in Dubai I get frustrated and upset and feel feeble. We finally made it back to Sharjah, safe and sound on the American University of Sharjah campus and I immediately went for the Jameson’s. I was sitting on the patio in the back garden when Lorin and Kris returned.

Lorin and her entourage had come to Abu Dhabi earlier in the week. Tuesday, I think it was. She wanted to get Kris a carpet or two to take home to Canada and she has a shop in Abu Dhabi where she prefers to buy. I had planned to meet up with them at Peppino’s, an old Abu Dhabi tradition with great Italian food. As I was getting dressed to leave she called me to tell me that Peppino’s had gone dry. A quick adjustment in destination took us to PJ O’Reilly’s (obviously an Irish pub) at the downtown Meridian. It was a pleasant night so we ate outside on the upper deck, overlooking the swimming pool. Big, greasy burgers and fries were the popular choices, along with a couple pints of Kilkenny.

Back to Sharjah and on Friday Lorin had organized a brunch party for people to meet Kris before he flew out on Friday night, late. Finger food and drinks and a large crowd were on hand. Most of them know me from all the different AUS parties I’ve crashed with David and Lorin. I honestly was not in a partying mood and can’t really say why, not because it’s a secret, but because I didn’t know. I hadn’t shaved or even bothered to gel my hair and was just slobbing around in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. There were some people I knew there and we talked and that was enjoyable. Everyone emptied out about 6 or so and then we settled down to relax before dinner. I kept on drinking, which in hindsight might have been a mistake. At least I slept early. The drive back to Abu Dhabi was early Saturday afternoon with very little traffic.

And that brings me to last weekend’s Thanksgiving blowout at George’s. George’s large apartment was crammed with people and food. I knew many of the people there and felt comfortable. I even managed to meet a few new people. I arrived about 7:30 or so and after saying hello and chatting with several people I moved out to my usual spot on the balcony overlooking the Corniche and the gulf. There were a lot of other people out there smoking, too. Some people were from work so I see them almost every day, but have never socialized with them. It was a good chance to get to know them outside work. Everyone had a great time. I can’t remember what time George called everyone to dinner, probably after 9, and everyone moved around the table to grab food. The turkey was to die for and the table was filled with all the trimmings. It was really the best Thanksgiving I’ve had in years. Thank you George.

Next thing up is Christmas shopping. Cheers.

(Did you notice, no politics?)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

First Tuesday in November

All the dishes are done and I’m shaved and the clothes are laid out and everything is ready for another work day tomorrow. It’s 9:30 pm. The alarm goes off at 5 am as usual.

If you checked out my pix from my trip to the UK for last New Years you’d have seen the B & B that we stayed at while we were in the little village of Cherlton Bishop, near Exeter. It was owned and lovingly ran by a great couple, Jean and Ron Martin. Ron passed away on Sunday from cancer. I know it must be devastating for Jean and my heart goes out to her in what must be a very terrible time.

In happier news, I have my car back, after paying about 7,500 Dhs. to have a new transmission installed in addition to the 130,000 kilometer service. I really missed it and was extremely happy to return the rent-a-wreck and have my own car back.

Even though it’s only early November, the holiday visitors are starting to trickle in. Lorin’s son Kris arrives this weekend for a week. I should catch up with him the following weekend before he flies out. I haven’t seen him in 12 or 13 years. Now he’s married with two young sons. Then David’s brother Peter, whom we visited in Cherlton Bishop, is due in for a visit. Mark, Denise and daughter Clair are coming in for Mark’s birthday and Christmas. They’ll be staying with Phil and Enma.

What that means is that in terms of socializing the next two months will be full. We also have an extended National Day holiday coming up in early December and then another Eid coming up in late December, near Christmas. Any time off is always appreciated.

I’m working over in my head some changes to the blog. Time will be one of the major factors in trying to work those changes into actuality. Wish me luck. In the meantime, read Gore Vidal’s great piece on Bush for

President Jonah, Meet Oliver Cromwell by Gore Vidal
Today, as I sit, like so many Californians, at the heart of what seems to be a vast burning bush, I realize that Jehovah’s jinx of the weirdest American president is as operative in this lowering pre-Halloween season as it was last February when, guided by Scripture, I posted here on the Internet the bad news that our nominal president was seriously jinxed by an unrelenting deity who, from his throne of fire, now blows fiercely upon the west coast of the United States, spreading from San Diego to Malibu to Lake Arrowhead. Lucifer’s finest new-minted flames, a reminder to us, President Jonah’s Supreme Court-appointed subjects, that our ruler is triply cursed for his disobedience to obey his Lord not only long ago at Nineveh, but lately compounded by his inability to destroy all of Baghdad, a city hailed in that magical musical comedy, “Kismet,” by a song entitled “Never underestimate Baghdad.” But a jinxed president’s estimate is bound to be fatally wrong even in the eyes of his creator.

While contemplating the ill-starred presidency of G.W. Bush, I looked about for some sort of divine analogy. As usual, when in need of enlightenment, I fell upon the Holy Bible, authorized King James version of 1611; turning by chance to the Book of Jonah, I read that Jonah, who, like Bush, chats with God, had suffered a falling out with the Almighty and thus became himself a jinx dogged by luck so bad that when a Stone Age cruise liner, thanks to his presence aboard, was about to sink in a storm at sea, the crew for safety’s sake threw him overboard and—Lo!—the storm abated. The three days and nights he subsequently spent in the belly of a nauseous whale must have seemed like a serious jinx to the digestion-challenged mammal who extruded him much as the decent opinion of mankind has done to Bush.

Originally, God wanted Jonah to give hell to Nineveh, whose people, God noted disdainfully, “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand,” (rather like the people of Baghdad who still cannot fathom what democracy has to do with their destruction at the hands of the Cheney-Bush cabal). But the analogy becomes even more precise when it comes to the plague of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the Curse of Katrina upon a plainly incompetent president, as well as one who has been plainly jinxed by whatever faith he cringes before. Witness the ongoing screw-up of, say, prescription drugs, and the revival of an ancient race war in Louisiana. Who knows what further disasters are in store for us thanks to the curse Jonah is under? As the sailors fed the original Jonah to a whale, thus lifting the storm that was about to drown them, perhaps we the people can persuade President Jonah to retire to his other Eden in Crawford, Texas, taking his jinx with him. We deserve a rest. Plainly, so does he. Look at Nixon’s radiant features after his resignation! One can see former President Jonah in his sumptuous presidential library happily catering to faith-based fans with animated scriptures rooted in “The Pet Goat.”

Not since the glory days of Watergate and Nixon’s Luciferian fall has there been so much written about the dogged deceits and creative criminalities of our rulers. We have also come to a point in this dark age where there is not only no hero in view but no alternative road unblocked. We are trapped terribly in a now that few foresaw and even fewer can define despite a swarm of books and pamphlets like the vast cloud of locusts which dined on China in that ‘30s movie ”The Good Earth.”

As I mentioned last February, I have read many of these descriptions of our fallen estate, looking for one that best describes in plain English how we got to this now and where we appear to be headed once our good Earth has been consumed by fire and only Rapture is left to whisk aloft the Faithful. Meanwhile, the rest of us can learn quite a lot from ”Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire” by Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

I must confess that I have a proprietary interest in anyone who refers to the United States as an empire since I am credited with first putting forward this heretical view in the early ‘70s. In fact, so disgusted with me was a book reviewer at Time magazine who, as proof of my madness, wrote: “He actually refers to the United States as an empire!” It should be noted that at about the same time Henry Luce, proprietor of Time, was booming on and on about ”The American Century.” What a difference a word makes!

Berman sets his scene briskly in recent history. “We were already in our twilight phase when Ronald Reagan, with all the insight of an ostrich, declared it to be ‘morning in America’; twenty-odd years later, under the ‘boy emperor’ George W. Bush (as Chalmers Johnson refers to him), we have entered the Dark Ages in earnest, pursuing a short-sighted path that can only accelerate our decline. For what we are now seeing are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture—a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; as well as, today, the political and economic marginalization of our culture.... The British historian Charles Freeman published an extended discussion of the transition that took place during the late Roman empire, the title of which could serve as a capsule summary of our current rulers: ”The Closing of the Western Mind.”

Mr. Bush, as God knows best, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, ‘the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.’ This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud.” In fact, close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence. Berman quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the “reality-based” community, to which Berman sensibly responds: “If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed.”

Berman does a brief tour of the American horizon, revealing a cultural death valley. In secondary schools where evolution can still be taught too many teachers are afraid to bring up the subject to their so often un-evolved students. “Add to this the pervasive hostility toward science on the part of the current administration (e.g. stem-cell research) and we get a clear picture of the Enlightenment being steadily rolled back. Religion is used to explain terror attacks as part of a cosmic conflict between Good and Evil rather than in terms of political processes.... Manichaeanism rules across the United States. According to a poll taken by Time magazine fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that John’s apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled, and nearly all of these believe that the faithful will be taken up into heaven in the ‘Rapture.’

“Finally, we shouldn’t be surprised at the antipathy toward democracy displayed by the Bush administration. ... As already noted, fundamentalism and democracy are completely antithetical. The opposite of the Enlightenment, of course, is tribalism, groupthink; and more and more, this is the direction in which the United States is going. ... Anthony Lewis who worked as a columnist for the New York Times for thirty-two years, observes that what has happened in the wake of 9/11 is not just the threatening of the rights of a few detainees, but the undermining of the very foundation of democracy. Detention without trial, denial of access to attorneys, years of interrogation in isolation—these are now standard American practice, and most Americans don’t care. Nor did they care about the revelation in July 2004 (reported in Newsweek), that for several months the White House and the Department of Justice had been discussing the feasibility of canceling the upcoming presidential election in the event of a possible terrorist attack.” I suspect that the technologically inclined prevailed against that extreme measure on the ground that the newly installed electronic ballot machines could be so calibrated that Bush’s heirs would win handily no matter what (read Rep. Conyers’ report (.pdf file) on the rigging of Ohio’s vote).

Meanwhile, the indoctrination of the people merrily continues. “In a ’State of the First Amendment Survey‘ conducted by the University of Connecticut in 2003, 34 percent of Americans polled said the First Amendment ‘goes too far’; 46 percent said there was too much freedom of the press; 28 percent felt that newspapers should not be able to publish articles without prior approval of the government; 31 percent wanted public protest of a war to be outlawed during that war; and 50 percent thought the government should have the right to infringe on the religious freedom of ‘certain religious groups’ in the name of the war on terror.”
It is usual in sad reports like Professor Berman’s to stop abruptly the litany of what has gone wrong and then declare, hand on heart, that once the people have been informed of what is happening, the truth will set them free and a quarter-billion candles will be lit and the darkness will flee in the presence of so much spontaneous light. But Berman is much too serious for the easy platitude. Instead he tells us that those who might have struck at least a match can no longer do so because shared information about our situation is meager to nonexistent. Would better schools help? Of course, but, according to that joyous bearer of ill tidings, the New York Times, many school districts are now making sobriety tests a regular feature of the school day: apparently opium derivatives, not gin, are the opiate of our stoned youth. Meanwhile, millions of adult Americans, presumably undrugged, have no idea who our enemies were in World War II. Many college graduates don’t know the difference between an argument and an assertion (did their teachers also fail to solve this knotty question?). A travel agent in Arizona is often asked whether or not it is cheaper to take the train rather than fly to Hawaii. Only 12% of Americans own a passport. At the time of the 2004 presidential election 42% of voters believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. One high school boy, when asked who won the Civil War, replied wearily, “I don’t know and I don’t care,” echoing a busy neocon who confessed proudly: “The American Civil War is as remote to me as the War of the Roses.” He should have added the US Constitution, as well.

We are assured daily by advertisers and/or politicians that we are the richest, most envied people on Earth and, apparently, that is why so many awful, ill-groomed people want to blow us up. We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health: The World Health Organization rates our healthcare system (sic—or sick?) as 37th-best in the world, far behind even Saudi Arabia, role model for the Texans. Our infant mortality rate is satisfyingly high, precluding a First World educational system. Also, it has not gone unremarked even in our usually information-free media that despite the boost to the profits of such companies as Halliburton, Bush’s wars of aggression against small countries of no danger to us have left us well and truly broke. Our annual trade deficit is a half-trillion dollars, which means that we don’t produce much of anything the world wants except those wan reports on how popular our Entertainment is overseas. Unfortunately the foreign gross of “King Kong,” the Edsel of that assembly line, is not yet known. It is rumored that Bollywood—the Indian film business—may soon surpass us! Berman writes, “We have lost our edge in science to Europe...The US economy is being kept afloat by huge foreign loans ($4 billion a day during 2003). What do you think will happen when America’s creditors decide to pull the plug, or when OPEC members begin selling oil for euros instead of dollars?...An International Monetary Fund report of 2004 concluded that the United States was ‘careening toward insolvency.’ “ Meanwhile, China, our favorite big-time future enemy, is the number one for worldwide foreign investments, with France, the bete noire of our apish neocons, in second place.

Well, we still have Kraft cheese as of today and, of course, the death penalty.
Berman makes the case that the Bretton-Woods agreement of 1944 institutionalized a system geared toward full employment and the maintenance of a social safety net for society’s less fortunate—the so-called welfare or interventionist state. It did this by establishing fixed but flexible exchange rates among world currencies, which were pegged to the U.S. dollar while the dollar, for its part, was pegged to gold. In a word, Bretton-Woods saved capitalism by making it more human. Nixon abandoned the agreement in 1971, which started, according to Berman, huge amounts of capital moving upward from the poor and the middle class to the rich and super-rich.

Mr. Berman spares us the happy ending, as, apparently, has history. When the admirable Tiberius (he has had an undeserved bad press), upon becoming emperor, received a message from the Senate in which the conscript fathers assured him that whatever legislation he wanted would be automatically passed by them, he sent back word that this was outrageous. “Suppose the emperor is ill or mad or incompetent?” He returned their message. They sent it again. His response: “How eager you are to be slaves.” I often think of that wise emperor when I hear Republican members of Congress extolling the wisdom of Bush. Now that he has been caught illegally wiretapping fellow citizens he has taken to snarling about his powers as “a wartime president,” and so, in his own mind, he is above each and every law of the land. Oddly, no one in Congress has pointed out that he may well be a lunatic dreaming that he is another Lincoln but whatever he is or is not he is no wartime president. There is no war with any other nation...yet. There is no state called terror, an abstract noun like liar. Certainly his illegal unilateral ravaging of Iraq may well seem like a real war for those on both sides unlucky enough to be killed or maimed, but that does not make it a war any more than the appearance of having been elected twice to the presidency does not mean that in due course he was: in due course, our befuddled people will demand an investigation of those two irregular processes. Although he has done a number of things that under the old republic might have got him impeached, our current system protects him: incumbency-for-life seats have made it possible for a Republican majority in the House not to do its duty and impeach him for his incompetence in handling, say, the natural disaster that befell Louisiana and then the U.S. military itself.

The founders thought two-year terms for members of the House was as much democracy as we’d ever need. Therefore, there was no great movement to have some sort of recall legislation in the event that a president wasn’t up to his job and so had lost the people’s confidence between elections. But in time, as Ecclesiastes would say, all things shall come to pass and so, in a kindly way, a majority of the citizens must persuade him that he will be happier back in Crawford pruning Bushes of the leafy sort while the troops not killed or maimed will settle for simply being alive and in one piece. We may be proto-slaves but we are not unreasonable.
Reason requires that we explain to the media and to this self-anointed “war-time president” whose “inherent” powers, to hear him babble, transcend the Constitution itself. But they can’t: First, we are not at war with another country; second, presidential powers are enumerated in the constitution, not inherent--despite the weird legal misreadings by ambulance-proud White House lawyers.

Nevertheless, our neo-totalitarians are planning new wars in the Middle East, Far East, Conga Line! while his latest State of the Union speech justifies eavesdropping (without judicial warrants) on anybody in the United States that he wants to listen in on. This is what we call dictatorship. Dictatorship. Dictatorship. And it is time we objected before he shoves us into World War Three.

Can we wait till the next election? Only if the electronic voting machinery has paper trails or, perhaps, honest old-fashioned paper ballots. In any case, with one voice let us say, “We’ve had enough of you. Go home to Crawford. We’ll help you raise the money for a library, and you won’t ever have to read a book. We the folks are not cruel even though we must now echo America’s spiritual ancestor Oliver Cromwell, in his order to the infamous Long Parliament: ‘You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. And so, in the name of that God who created the whale—Go!’”

Cheers and keep an eye on this blog for changes coming soon!!