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An open letter to Justin Trudeau:

Image result for Light Armoured Vehicles

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Why is our Canadian government, which represents all Canadian citizens to the world, still committed to sending billions of dollars worth of weaponized Light Armoured Vehicles to the morally bankrupt, terrorism exporting, Wahhabist regime in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, you inherited this appallingly brokered weapons sale from Crime Minister Harper but that should not be an excuse for us to forsake morality, neutrality as well as common sense and sensibility in the name of the almighty dollar. The LAVs in question are still under development so none have yet been shipped. i strongly urge you to uphold Canadian human rights policy, practice and law and deny export permits for arms sales to the misogynist, oppressive oligarchy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  If you do go ahead with this mephistophelian matter you can add Human Rights abuser to your CV when you’re looking for your next job.

Sincerely,

rob clément

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A lot happened in 2011. People around the world were affected to a greater or lesser degree by what occurred. i was struck by an, at times, overwhelming sense that i could not do anything to affect change or to help those working for change either here in Sohar, Oman or in the streets of the cities and towns around the world where people are trying to make a difference. In the end, i decided i could, in my small way, bear witness to what was happening and work towards small positive changes that i think i can impact. i would ask that you consider joining me in my New Year’s resolution.

Every year, Jamie Mackinnon, a friend from my Cuso Nigeria days sends out a “Noel News” missive. This year he opined,

“Historical analysis seems to show that, over the millennia (beginning with the rise of the state) and more so in recent decades, violence has been declining globally, and the dignity of the human individual (as seen through the prism of human rights) has been increasing.”

As i read that i reflected on 2011 and what i had witnessed either in real life or through the words and pictures of friends, acquaintances and colleagues. i decided i had to beg to differ with Jamie. i feel that violence is increasing, partly because, at 7 billion and counting, there are more of us human beings around and partly because we are becoming inured to violence, both casual and causal. Violent action and rhetoric are, it seems to me, constantly being ratcheted up in attempts to hold off change and secure the status quo.

Here in Sohar we experienced the worst aspects of the Arab Spring when a citizen was shot and killed as he photographed the nascent movement for change. my workplace was closed for a week while our students demonstrated for change. 

In Cairo twitter friend Mona Eltahawy had her left arm and right hand broken by military security forces while they sexually assaulted her. Mona writes of her experience in detail here.

Also from Cairo came this graphic image of a woman being singled out for gross abuse by the military. She was in the streets demonstrating for an end to rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. If ever a picture told a thousand words this was that occasion. The full story behind the picture can be read here. What is not told is the story of the Coptic Christian who attempted to save this Muslim demonstrator from the beating she was getting. He ended up being shot in the knee for his efforts.

In North America the quotidian use of violence against peaceful, non-violent demonstrators is best summed up by this now infamous picture of one sworn to protect and serve disabusing all and sundry of his role in life. Violence has become banal and utilized indiscriminately by authorities around the world to either maintain their power or the status quo. TIME magazine’s Person Of The Year issue featured The Protester; very fitting but the cover story missed several important protest actions in the MENA region and elsewhere.

If one thing has become crystal clear it’s that money talks. The upcoming election in the USA is up for grabs to the highest bidder. Occupiers are slowly changing the focus away from the 1% who control the pocketbooks to the 99% who should be controlling the streets.

At this time and place in my life i’ve decided that i can best effect change by watching how i spend my money. Going out on the streets while i have four kids in school isn’t a good idea. i won’t be able to help them if i’m occupying the inside of a jail cell.

As my New Year’s resolution i’m revisiting and renewing several of my long-standing consumer boycotts:

Nestlé because they are still illegally promoting their infant formulas as better than mother’s milk. i’ve been boycotting Nestlé ever since i was working in Nigeria in the late ’70s and i heard of their deadly practice which actually leads to mothers in developing countries inadvertently killing their infants. Maggi is also a Nestlé subsidiary and should be avoided like the plague.

Union Carbide since 1985 because they still haven’t paid full reparations for the Bhopal disaster.

Shell Oil since 1988 when i first started buy petrol/gasoline for their ongoing lousy environmental record in the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria.

i’ve been boycotting Kraft the longest, since 1973, when i attended a Perth County Conspiracy concert. Band members railed against this food processing behemoth which consistently twists the arms of its supplier farmers in its pursuit of profit. There are better quality foods from a host of other more socially responsibly producers.

McDonalds ever since i worked there in 1974. They serve a product; they do not serve food. Nutritional value? Forget it.  Working there, behind the grill, was eye-opening and disgusting.

Just two days ago i decided to add Chik-fil-A when i discovered that they are promoting homophobia. Not that there is any chance of my ever darkening their doors as my wife Kim and i decided to become vegetarians over a year and a half ago. It was, plainly put, the right thing to do, for ourselves and the environment. Meat production utilizes far too much resources.

So while you may feel there is nothing you can do there is. Occupy your wallet, spend your money where it won’t hurt others. Support a political party or politician whose views you agree with. Late last year i finally became a registered member of a Canadian political party despite never being either able or allowed to engage in the Federal political process through the ballot box in my home and native land. i’m now a proud member of the Green Party of Canada and will do what i can, from a distance, to see that we gain more seats in Parliament.

Stephen Harpy, his policies and his politics are the greatest threat to the Canada that i knew and loved growing up in the ’50s and ’60s. So i’ll rage against him and his, in this blog, on twitter and on a ballot if i’m ever allowed to vote as a non-resident Canadian citizen.

No i’ve not changed my stance on controlled substances nor did i find myself afoul of the law here in Oman. i had a 2.3 cm long vesical calculus (stone) lodged in my bladder caused apparently by a slightly enlarged prostate. The stone was causing discomfort and haematuria (blood in urine).

So i spent five days in Sohar General Hospital recently. It was an adventure i would sooner have avoided but, apa boleh buat? (What to do?). Went in last Friday evening for pre-op observation and to ensure that i did not eat or drink anything in the half a day before the procedure.

Dr Joseph, a urologist, told me he would remove the stone and possibly remove my prostrate if need be, the decision for the latter would be taken “on the table”. Saturday morning i woke up to find breakfast waiting for me (the catering staff hadn’t been told i shouldn’t eat). i was a good lad and avoided eating.

i was wheeled into the OR at 11:25 and a spinal was administered. i noted three young trainee doctors there to observe the procedure, i figured why not? i train teachers so why not let student doctors observe me being worked on?

crushed bits of my bladder stone after removal

A green curtain was put up and Dr Joseph entered quietly and immediately got to work. He told me later that the stone was difficult to remove as it was large and the center was very hard.

While he was in there he decided to do an endoscopic resection of my prostate because he felt it was what had caused the stone in the first place. So i’ve kept most of my prostate which is good.

While resectioning my prostate the good Dr found many small stones which he also removed (the smaller bits in the above photo). Then came the insertion of the catheter. This was painless as i was still under the spinal despite already being able to move my feet at this point. The anesthesiologist had done a wonderful job of estimating how much to give me so i would feel what was going on.

After a very short while in the recovery room i was wheeled back to the male surgical ward where i spent the next few days hooked up to a drip into my bladder to help wash the wound. The removal of the catheter was a totally new experience that doesn’t bear repeating. i was rather amazed at how long it was… 30 cm of the 40.5 cm length had been inserted up my yazoo. When the nurse took it out he told me to take a deep breath, i ended up having to take two deep breaths. The coins are the same size as a quarter dollar.

So now i’m supposed to take it easy for the next several weeks, no straining, lifting or bonking allowed… apa boleh buat?

What did i learn? Well Pete Townsend’s “hope I die before I get old” dictum wears thin after fifty. i’m thinking i’m definitely no longer “young” so i guess i must be getting old or at least older. i’ve also learned that good medical care is priceless. The surgeries cost about OR630 (you do the exchange). Gary, my American colleague said it was a fraction of what it would cost back in the States. my employer provided healthcare should cover most or all of it. Alhumduillah!

i’ve also learned that there are stark differences between Omani culture and ours. Kim’s students couldn’t understand why she wasn’t at the hospital all the time this week; she told them she had to work. Omani families in their hordes descend upon the hospital when one of their members is ill, some even staying over night. Kim came once a day while i was recovering, during the posted visiting hours. It was more than enough.

When i was 13 (in 1968) i clearly recall a friend’s father getting angry at his son when the lad switched the needle on their portable, battery powered, record player from mono to stereo when he put a 45 rpm single on the platter. Dad knew that singles were only issued in mono and that to use the diamond stereo needle which was only for LPs (long play records) on a mono recording would needlessly wear out the more expensive stylus. my friend’s Dad blew his cool but then had to quickly climb down off his high horse when his son showed him that the recently released Beatles single had been released in stereo. (The picture shows the setting for an LP, flip the lever 180 degrees and you get the mono needle.)

i learned a lesson that day: never argue about technological change, especially with a teenager. Change happens so fast that it seems the older generation just can’t keep up.

Recently we moved house and attempted to connect our wireless base station to our iMac desktop and our two Macbook Pro laptops. Last year when i lived in Sohar alone, i connected my Macbook Pro directly to the Nawras modem connected to the microwave roof-mounted receiver. Two weeks ago when i was unpacking our iMac i tried to connect it directly to the internet in the same fashion, i was unable to. i then tried to connect the modem to our wireless base station. i found that my MacBook Pro could connect but that the iMac could not, would not and didn’t care. (it connected to the base station but couldn’t connect to the internet).

At this point i spent quality time on the phone with Nawras technicians at their call center located in either Muscat or New Delhi (you guess). These qualified personel were flummoxed by the Apple OS, they took notes and said they’d be back in touch. True to their word they did get back in touch with someone who supposedly could rectify the problem. He didn’t.

Yesterday afternoon my 14 year old son Rining was able to solve the problem. He managed to trouble-shoot something or other and within minutes of our coming home had us all on the internet via the base station. i bow to his fearless ability to solve a technical problem which had confounded paid professionals!

Luddites, you have nothing to fear with technological change. You only need worry about your inability to keep pace with it.

Born This Way

[Intro]

This is the manifesto of Mother Monster:

On GOAT, a government owned territory in space, a birth of magnificent and magical proportions took place. But the birth was not finite, it was infinite. As the wombs numbered and the mitosis of the future began it was perceived that this infamous moment in life is not temporal, it is eternal. And thus began the beginning of the new race; a race within the race of humanity; a race which bears no prejudice, no judgment but boundless freedom. But on that same day as the eternal Mother hovered in the multiverse another, more terrifying, birth took place: the birth of evil.

And as she, herself, split into two, rotating in agony between two ultimate forces, the pendulum of choice began its dance. It seems easy, you imagine, to gravitate, instantly and unwaveringly, towards good but she wondered, “How can I protect something so perfect without evil?”

It doesn’t matter if you love him,
Or capital H-I-M (M, M, M, M)
Just put your paws up
’cause you were born this way, baby

[Verse 1]
My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir
“there’s nothin wrong with lovin who you are”
She said, “’cause He made you perfect, babe”
“so hold your head up girl and you’ll go far,
Listen to me when I say”

[Chorus]
I’m beautiful in my way
’cause god makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way (born this way)

[Post-chorus]
Ooo there ain’t no other way
Baby I was born this way
Baby I was born this way (born this way)
Ooo there ain’t no other way
Baby I was born-
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way

Don’t be a drag – just be a queen
Don’t be a drag – just be a queen
Don’t be a drag – just be a queen
Don’t be! (Don’t be! Don’t be!)

[Verse 2]
Give yourself prudence
And love your friends
Subway kid, rejoice your truth
In the religion of the insecure
I must be myself, respect my youth

A different lover is not a sin
Believe capital h-i-m (hey, hey, hey)
I love my life I love this record and
Mi amore vole fe yah (my love wants faith)

[Repeat Chorus & Post Chorus]

[Bridge]
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to be brave

[Repeat Chorus]

[Outro]
I was born this way hey!
I was born this way hey!
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way hey!

I was born this way hey!
I was born this way hey!
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way hey!

Same DNA, I’m born this way. Same DNA, I’m born this way.

2011 Lady Gaga; Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta




Following events in Libya from a distance and listening to the political discourse surrounding the dire situation one can only wonder, worry and pray that the remaining citizens of that country will soon be rid of their dictator. Recent statements from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN Security Council make it very clear that no real action will be taken aside from alternately verbally urging and condemning Loony Tunes Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi to stop killing his citizens.

Listening to political pundits discuss the situation via various media a theme has arisen repeatedly. Commentators suggest the UN is impotent. Obviously our UN representatives need to “man-up” and take some political viagra so that the UN can insert itself into this egregious situation. If they go in without Ghadaffi’s permission will it be political rape? i don’t think so. He and his son are the only ones still suffering from delusions of grandeur. The citzens of Libya will welcome UN peacekeepers with open arms.

Libya needs blue helmets. That is the real blue pill that needs to be prescribed for this situation. Our leaders need to take action before more of our Libyan brothers and sisters become statistics. You need to contact your politicians/leaders and the UN and implore them to take action before Ghadaffi’s crimes against humanity shred the Lions of Libya.

i read with interest that today is the United Nations World Day of Social Justice. How apropos especially given all the people around the world striving for social justice, freedom and dignity in their lives.

i’m really wondering at what point the international community steps up and takes action when a member state systematically denies civil rights to its citizens and how many people have to die in the streets of the world’s cities before politicians take note. Do we need situations reach  Darfur and Bosnia levels before we take action? Where is the international Peace Keeping community when supposed leaders of nations are hanging on to power by brazenly killing their populations (and blaming foreign agitators and journalists)?

i would sooner see blue helmeted UN peacekeepers in the streets than dead and dying.

The blood on the streets of Egyptian cities isn’t even dry yet the naysayers and doubting Thomases are already coming out of the wormwood. What Khalaf Al Habtoor’s op-ed piece in today’s Gulf News lacks in accuracy it gains in paranoid delusions.

Al Habtoor initially praises the “young, educated” people who started the ball rolling by calling for a public demonstration on January 25th. He fails to mention that Asmaa Mahfouz, the vlogger who originally posted the call to rise up, is currently under virtual house arrest having been warned that if she goes out she’ll be taken by security services. He also does not discuss that Wael Ghonim, the blogger who started the We are all Khaled Said facebook page, is currently being detained by secret police at and undisclosed location and is presumably being tortured.

Al Habtoor correctly states that Mubarak has “maintained stability” but he does not detail at what cost: hundreds, if not thousands, of political dissenters imprisoned; rampant corruption and a hugh disparity in income distribution. The climate for foreign investment he “cultivated” is one which investors knew they only had to pay a 20% cut to the powers that be.  Al Habtoor disingenuously claims that Mubarak wasn’t aware that those around him were enriching themselves. This is laughable. Recent conservative estimates put the value of his family’s wealth in land, investments and cash at over US$40 billion held in offshore holdings and secret accounts.

While he does detail the recent evidence of lawlessness in Egypt, Al Habtoor does not properly accredit it to Mubarak, a dictator clinging to power with the only tools he knows: police brutality and overt violence directed at peaceful demonstrators. That Mubarak withdrew police off the streets and simultaneously emptying four prisons is indisputable. At the same time bands of thugs (many with police identification or poor people who admitted to being paid the equivalent of US$75 by NDP party hacks) came on the scene and chaos erupted. This was not a coincidence.

It is also not a coincidence that the military were brought in once the police had been beaten off the streets. Unfortunately for Mubarak they lacked the stomach to do the dirty work that he wanted them to do. After several days of watching the protests, however, they effectively turned a blind eye and deaf ear on the NDP thugs and secret police who tried, once more, to defeat the citizens of Egypt and silence the journalists there to record history in the making.  This resulted in the over 48 hours of unparalleled bloodshed on the streets on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.

Ridiculously Al Habtoor states that Mubarak “immediately responded to protestors demands”.  Either Al Habtoor has problems with short-term memory or he wasn’t watching events on the ground in Egypt over the past 13 days. Mubarak only spoke to the Egyptian people from the secure confines of his Presidential Palace on the morning of Day 5 of the popular uprising. By then the initial demands were a thing of the past. Having endured days of attacks by thousands state security police, countless rounds of tear-gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition the ante had been seriously upped: the Egyptian people demanded his immediate ouster. Al Habtoor claims Mubarak has fulfilled their demands. This simply is not the case. Changing one crew of thugs for another is hardly the sweeping constitutional and legal change that Egyptians are demanding. They want basics freedoms and dignity: the rights to assemble, freely associate and elect a democratically representative government. Under the current one party state and constitution they get no such guarantees.

Al Habtoor claims the youth uprising has been hijacked. He fails to flesh out his accusation with any names or substantiation. He insinuates that Islamic fundamentalists will be out to suborn what ever democracy comes out of the revolution. He states that the Muslim Brotherhood should be excluded from the political equation. He fails to realize that in a democracy everyone is equal: everyone has one vote. Halas.

Tellingly, Al Habtoor calls the ignition of democratic ideals in the MENA region a “contagion” and warns of it spreading. He then uses the royal “we” when discussing what he does and doesn’t want. One can’t be sure who he is referring to but it’s probably himself and the rest of the well heeled board members of the Al Habtoor Group since his essay was originally posted on his company’s website the day before being published in the Gulf News. i’m sure the spreading of democracy in the region’s collection of paternalist autocracies shakes the very foundations of their privileged positions.

At the end of the day what matters is not what Al Habtoor wants but what the people of Egypt want or don’t want. It is patently obvious that they want a new constitution, one that allows fundamental freedoms recorded in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. The current Egyptian constitution needs to be torn up and a new one written. It is also patently obvious the Egyptian people do not want Mubarak. A return to stability will be best engendered by Mubarak’s immediate departure to one of his posh properties elsewhere in the world.

i was just contacted by a former colleague who asked why i hadn’t posted anything about the situation in the MENA region. This is my response:

Hi P,

the problem with blogging about it; state agencies can target you if you do:

https://www.eff.org/wp/surveillance-self-defense-international  

i know that in Syria and Iran the state has used blog and social media postings to target activists. So i’m trying to keep a bit of a low profile. i track my twitter feed and feel overwhelmed. 

security here is Oman is up: yesterday, for the first time ever i’ve seen, armed soldiers with fully automatic weapons in the guard towers around the Sultan’s farm that i cycle past every day… i wave and flash the peace sign, they wave back.
things are happening bizarrely quickly and won’t happen here or there in the UAE, count on it.
In Oman the Sultan is genuinely revered. In his 40 years in power, since he told his father to stay home, he’s single handedly brought Oman from a 3 primary school state to a nation which now has universal primary and secondary education. There are several public and private universities which Ss are able to attend many on full govt scholarships. About the only thing i hear Ss complain about is internet access: how expensive it is; how slow it is; and how VOIP services like Skype and Gtalk are all blocked. i’ve been trying to teach them how to use the internet to improve their writing and teaching skills and it’s been an uphill battle as getting a steady internet connection on campus is a daily struggle.
In the UAE, Emiratis make up only about 20% of the population; all the expats, from the lowly paid labourers to the fat-cat expat executives are all there for the pay check. They’re not about to rock the boat.  And virtually every Emirati family has at least one family member earning a fat government salary and perks like a free house when they marry another Emirati so they don’t have anything to gain by tipping over the canoe either.
Things i do know about what is currently happening in Egypt:
It is not Islamist in nature; the Muslim Brotherhood came to the party late and have been shouted down by crowds when they try and get people chanting their slogans. So the crap on Fox News by O’Reilly is a total paranoid appeal aimed at getting the rednecks in the Ozarks scared about the Islamic boogyman.
The looting, featured in western media reports: much of it is being carried out by “thugs” police officers dressed as civilians (who first attacked protesters) and prisoners released from prisons yesterday to sow chaos. People are defending themselves and their neighbourhoods with the help of some honest police and military.
The people that have the most to worry about by events in Egypt are the Israelis. If the protesters succeed the status quo that has kept the population of Gaza bottled up will be gone. It will be a whole new ball game.
What will happen next? As i write this it is apparent that the protesters are settling in for the duration, if need be. A general strike has been called and is happening; the Cairo Stock Exchange has been closed indefinitely. Men are taking the night shift, manning road blocks, protecting museums and neighbourhoods and in the public squares. Women have decided they will take the day shift while their men rest. Women are an integral part of this popular uprising, they want a real future for their children.
the best view of what’s happening i’ve read is by an Egyptian twitter friend:
i’ve a couple of colleagues living and working in Cairo and haven’t been able to get in touch with them since the internet was cut there. i hope and pray they are ok.
interesting that many of Egypt’s fat cats fled to Dubai yesterday. i can imagine the parking lot at the end of the runway is now crowded with their private jets.
i’ll leave you with this video:
stay well
pax et amare,
rob
On 30 January 2011 08:30, P wrote: 

Hi Rob,
i just checked your blog to see what you’ve to say about recent events in Egypt.  I was disappointed not to read a well articulated analysis.  K says you’ve been following events closely.  Hope you’re well,
P

In 1985 i shared a house on the SMK Lawas, Sarawak school compound with a Buddhist colleague. During that year i was a vegetarian save for the occasional FishHead Curry when ever Swee Hiang scored a spare fish head from the school’s kitchen.  At the end of that year i went into the interior, to Ba’Kelalan to celebrate Christmas. On Christmas day they were serving a communal dinner in the SIB (Borneo Evangelical Church) church in the kampung and a big feature was 5 cm cubes of pork fat (kinda like the Inuit eating beluga fat). i just could not manage the cubes of pork fat…

Fast forward to Christmas 2009 when Santa left a copy of J.S. Foer’s EATING ANIMALS under our Christmas tree in Ajman. i read it over 3 weeks. It then took Kim more than 3 months to read. She’d read a page or a paragraph and have to put it down. While she was reading it we discussed our diet and about the idea of changing it. At the same time, January 2010 we became members of PETA and watched the kentuckyfriedcruelty.com video on the horrors of being a Kentucky Fried frier. Prior to viewing that video i’d buy KFC once a year when travelling. Quick and convenient but, now i know unspeakably cruel. So a year ago i determined i would never darken the doors of a KFC again.

Once Kim had finished reading Foer’s book we decided to become vegetarian. Becoming vegan isn’t an option as Kim’s lupus means she does need some forms of animal protein so we still eat eggs and dairy products. The transition was fairly smooth; we didn’t eat all that much meat anyway in the normal course of a week. Once the decision was reached we just stopped buying meat and slowly emptied our freezer.

Going back to Kuching for the summer was interesting.  Our new diet causing a bit of a stir amongst our friends who wondered what they could serve us for meals when they invited us over. And Kim’s dad’s idea of vegetarian cooking did not preclude sneaking in minced pork or prawns… We actually managed to order a totally vegetarian meal at the Sarawak Club when we hosted a meal for friends and family. Took a parley with the chef but it was successful and even Kim’s mum said it was OK.  We also discovered a delightful vegetarian stall in one of Kuching’s food courts that serves up vegie versions of all the trad hawker food treats like quay teow and laksa so we were in vegie heaven.

do i miss eating meat? Yes and no. Christmas minus the turkey was novel but then so were the pumpkin and mushroom in sage potpies that we served up as the alternative. They were scrumptious. i guess i miss not cooking the traditional Quebecois fare of Tortiere and Cretons also but i can live without them, no problem.  Both Kim and i have lost weight so there is also that bonus.