September 29, 2004
Political Update from Oman
Mucscat, Oman – On behalf of the Command Post, I have been asking for local opinions about the American involvement in Iraq while I am working in Oman. Most residents, and the local press, use the term intervention when discussing the situation. I have only heard a few folks call it the liberation of Iraq and I have yet to hear anyone call it an invasion, but that may be out of politeness to me (I'm obviously from an Anglicized country even if they do not know which one. I would have thought my speech patterns would give it away, but people have incorrectly guessed England, Australia, Canada, and South Africa as my point of origin as well as some correctly guessing America).

I believe my observations are only generalizable for white collar Omanis and possibly just those in the capital city of Oman (Muscat). In terms of population, Oman is a small country with roughly 2 million citizens and 600,000 expatriates (people from other countries that are brought in to work). The expatriates are either treated very well (mostly the white collar and oil professionals) or as common laborers (who do the hard physical labor that the Omanis do not want to do themselves). Keep in mind that my observations may or may not be generalizable to the greater Arabian culture. I expect that these observations are fairly generalizable to business professionals throughout Arabia, but probably do not represent the opinions of the main population.

Omanis and the local expatriates who have been here a while (most of the expatriates with whom I spoke have been working in various Middle Eastern countries for six to twelve years) think the removal of Saddam was a very good thing. Most of the Arabs have very mixed feelings about it. They are delighted with Saddam's downfall, but not happy that the Americans had to do it. This seems to have its roots in both suspicion of American motives, but also in their native pride. They are embarrassed that the Arabian nations could not do this themselves and that they let the situation get so bad that America finally stepped in, like a mature adult finally putting a stop to squabbling children when things get out of hand. Even those who fully support the coalition's efforts and intellectually know the coalition has good intentions have stated that the presence of the coalition hurts their pride.

As one might expect, there is a wide range of opinion about what should be done next and how things are getting done. However, I have found two fairly universal themes. Virtually all those with whom I spoke, both Omani and white-collar expatriates, see the Iraqi intervention in terms of American strength or weakness and as a looming problem.

First, this is seen as a test of America's strength. The prevailing attitude seems to be that America's command of the skies approaches the supernatural and America's command of the seas is not far behind, but America has nothing special when it comes to holding territory and using ground forces. Should Americans write off Iraq and flee as they are perceived to have done with Vietnam and other local incidents, it will greatly reinforce this negative opinion of American military power. The current uprisings in Iraq are seen as a military problem and they are watching to see if America and its friends are up to the task.

There are various opinions on whether or not America would stay the course. Most thought the US would and others thought the US would not. The forthcoming elections also played a role. Many thought the US would run away if Kerry were elected while others thought Kerry would have no choice but to stay and protect the reputation of the United States. Interesting enough, those who thought that Kerry would run away were pro-Bush. Those who thought Kerry would stay were split on the issue of Bush vs. Kerry. In addition, this latter camp didn't really care – the Omanis are very focused on developing their country and in providing a comfortable living for their families. Their preferences aside, the common expectation is that Bush will win.

The second point of consensus was that the situation in Iraq was getting worse. I pressed for details and this common opinion is not just based on media reports (thus shattering one vain hope of mine). Many people had second- or third-hand knowledge from friends who had visited Iraq and one person had visited Iraq himself multiple times since the fall of Saddam - yet another phrase for the American intervention.

Other Observations

One British expatriate who had been in the region for the last six years was both quite opinionated and informed. As a British citizen, he and his wife have freely traveled through most of the Arabian countries, including two recent trips to Iran. He was critical of Bush, but his complaints were that Bush was not being strong enough with the military. He thinks that Bush should send more troops and use them much more. Strength is appreciated in Arabian culture. After hearing this, I expected my British interviewee to be rooting for Kerry when I asked him if he had a preference in our presidential election. He emphatically said Bush because he thought Kerry would be a disaster for the Middle East if he were elected president.

Interestingly enough, there is more speculation about the Australian election than the American election. While the local consensus is that President Bush will win in the US, the fate of John Howard is less certain. Rightly or wrongly, the locals firmly believe that the terrorists scared the Spanish voters into bringing down their pro-American government. Many believe the Australians are just as cowardly as the Spanish and the terrorists will succeed in toppling John Howard as well. In a similar vein, many expect the British to be the primary terrorist target after the Australian elections in an attempt to topple Tony Blair.

This has been the experience of one visitor to Oman.

September 25, 2004
Omani-American Free Trade Negotiations
The Omani people are very happy that they have just signed an investment framework agreement with the US to develop a free trade agreement. This should be developed rather quickly and the local Omanis hope the free trade agreement can be developed, passed, and ratified in 2005. This is rather small news for the US (with a population of under 3 million people, facilitating access to the Omani market is not going to greatly impact the States), but major news here (improved access to the largest market in the world is obviously big news).

The Omanis currently do not have much to export other than oil, natural gas, silver, and spices (such as frankincense and myrrh). However, they want this agreement for two reasons. They are both looking to the future and they want to keep up with the Jones. This is very important in Arabian culture and the Omanis are well aware that Bahrain has already signed a free trade agreement with the States.

Women in Arabia
I have been pleasantly surprised by the respect given to women in Oman. They may drive by themselves (although they usually travel in groups, I have seen a number of women driving by themselves, or with children). They own property in their own name, they may walk around with their head uncovered (the majority wear the traditional garb, but even these are not too concerned with keeping their head coverings on). I have only seen a small handful walk around with the traditional veil; almost every woman walks around with her face uncovered. Not that this is a good thing, but Omani woman are just as free as their men to smoke, and a fair number do.

However, some of their neighbors still have a way to go.

Surprising Tidbits from Oman
As part of the Muzac the permeates my hotel lobby, I periodically hear a Muzac version of Amazing Grace.

Sesame Street seems weird and annoying in Arabic.

A concert was on the hotel property along the beach. The band was The Bootleg Doors. As their name implies, they mimic The Doors. The concert was quite loud and the lead singer was quite suggestive in many of his comments to the crowd. Even though this was audible for quite a distance from the hotel (it was quite loud from inside my fourth floor room), it was apparently acceptable. Despite the volume, I fell asleep within minutes of returning to my room at 11:00 - so I do not know how long the concert lasted.

September 22, 2004
Arabian Attention Given to International Arms
The local news pays much attention to arms dealing. The other day, there was a detailed report about how Pakistan is becoming a major arms merchant, specializing in dependable goods. For example, Pakistanis have recently developed a new fighter that is probably based upon the American fighters they own, but costs much less. This is my greatest point of disagreement with President Bush's international policies (I have many problems with the manner in which President Bush implements some of his international policies, but I approve of most of his intentions). I hope President Bush is right about placing some trust in Pakistan, but I fear we'll regret this in the future. One of the lessons I learned from the cold war was that it is a mistake to ally with tyrants just because we share an enemy.

Today the local paper mentioned that Israel was negotiating with Washington to buy some of our "bunker busters" – bombs that could destroy Iran's heavily-fortified nuclear reactor. It doesn't take a political analyst to understand how seriously Israel perceives the Iranian nuclear threat. Now this would be a great question to ask Bush & Kerry in the debates. Knowing that if we sell these bombs to Israel, there is a high probability they will be used against Iran, should we sell them? I would love to hear both candidates discuss why they would or would not support the sale of these bombs to Israel.

Hot and Warm Water
If anyone wanted to make some money, they could develop and market a cold water chiller to Arabs. Currently, the "cold" water tap dispenses water that is at least body temperature, probably well over 100 degrees F (over 37 C). I've only turned on the "hot" water tap for shaving and find myself missing cool water. Any entrepreneur considering this idea should also remember that there is ample solar energy here – having a cold water chiller powered by the sun (so it would be available when needed most) would probably do quite well.

Bacon and Sausage in Oman
It is said that travel is broadening and I agree. Although I wonder if the sentiment has a dual meaning; I may be gaining weight on this trip by trying so much of the local cuisine.

Naming Conventions for Single Arabian Women
Young ladies typically have five parts to their formal names. For example, let's use this hypothetical name as an example: Asma Rashid Naseer Al-Wahibi. Her first name is Asma and uniquely identifies her apart from any full-blooded sisters. Her second name and third names describe her paternal lineage with Rashid being the first name of her father and Naseer being the first name of her grandfather. The "Al" is an honorific that confers an idea of "from" a family branch. Finally, the Wahibi is equivalent to Western surnames, signifying the family or tribe to which a person belongs. Thus, Asma Rashid Naseer Al-Wahibi, literally means Asma, daughter of Rashid, son of Naseer, of the Wahibi tribe. If young Asma had the opportunity to study in the West she might use her full five-part name or she may westernize it and simply use Asma Wahibi.

September 20, 2004
Indian Prime Minister Visits US President
The hotel in which I am staying serves guests from all over the world and their television channel offerings represents this. I had an Indian channel on this morning as I dressed. (I found it interesting that their news is broadcast in English while the commercials were in some other language, presumably Hindi. When the news is not on, most of their regular content is in this other language).

The major Indian story of the week is the upcoming visit of the Indian prime minister to the White House. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is currently visiting in the UK, yet that was a minor part of the story. The focus was on visit with President George W. Bush. The Indian press was very happy with Bush's decision to lift export controls on high tech equipment for India, specifically equipment for India's nuclear and space industries. In turn, India agreed to address Bush's concerns about nuclear proliferation.

As an American, I am sometimes oblivious to the international influence wielded by our president. I take for granted that whoever holds our presidency is "the most powerful man in the world" without realizing the impact this has on the citizens of other great powers such as India.

This visit between Singh and Bush is important news and I hope some of my fellow bloggers can take time from discussing our November election to cover this story. I have long believed that India and the US should be close allies since we share so much in common (e.g., we both have democratic forms of government, our law has a common British heritage, etc.). Yet, the politics of the cold war (where India became firm friends with the Soviets) and the war on terror (where Indians are dismayed that we are improving relations with Pakistan) have kept the relationship cooler than it should be. I hope that this visit is another large step toward much closer relations between our countries.

A Visit to the US Embassy
I had the opportunity to visit the US Embassy in Oman during my trip. I am happy to report that it is a very secure facility. I will not discuss any of the details, but everyone seemed on the ball, especially the few marines that I could spot.

There were a few very interesting points that I will share. Only official vehicles were allowed in the embassy parking lot, so we had to park across the street at the embassy of country W. While this tactic would not help against suicide drivers, it does prevent terrorists from parking a car bomb near the embassy. If anyone were so dumb to attempt such a thing, they would only damage the embassy of country W.

Some Notes on the Local Omani Culture
According to the local Omanis, the Arabs in the Gulf area have a distinct culture within the greater Arabic community. In general, people accept jobs near their families. The majority of those who accept jobs away from their families still stay within the Gulf region and visit family at least once per week. Omanis are very willing to pursue an education abroad; however, the norm upon graduation is to return to their original province upon graduation.

Despite some Western misimpressions, the low divorce rates in many Arabian countries is not due to their religion.

Safe in the Third World
After a 27 hour journey, I made it safely from small town America to Muscat, Oman. Too bad there isn't a direct flight from the States to Oman, I had layovers in London and UAE.

Internet access is not reliable here, so posting will be erratic. From what I've seen, Americans are treated very well by Omanis. I've been taking notes on my experience, and what I've learned, as I go and I'll post them when I can.

September 15, 2004
Middle East or Bust
I'll be offline for about 48 hours or so. I fly to a Middle Eastern country tomorrow for a two-week business trip. It is my first trip to this part of the world and I'm looking forward to it. I'm a bit anxious too, but statistically I'm probably just as safe there as I am driving here.

I'll provide more details later (hint: I'm visiting a country that borders Saudi Arabia). In my free time, I hope to have to opportunity to interview some Middle Eastern citizens about their perspective on certain issues. If any of my readers has any particular questions they would like asked, speak up and I'll see what I can do.

September 14, 2004
Are You an Idiot Like Me?
Last week my intelligence was questioned by both the extreme left and right. From the loony left, my intelligence was insulted, along with that of many millions of other Americans, when John Kerry's wife stated:
"only an idiot" would fail to support the health care plan proposed by her husband, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Teresa, I don't want you raising my taxes to provide more health care subsidies. If history is any judge, most of these taxes would be wasted on administration instead of going to help us pay high medical bills. Instead, let's reduce our high medical bills by simply protecting them from trial lawyers like John Edwards.

At the same time Teresa Kerry was attacking my intelligence, a professor on the right also called me an idiot if I could answer yes to even one of his twenty-five questions. Unlike Teresa, Mike Adams was using humor to make a point. However, I think he was also serious. I must admit, some of his questions would probably serve their stated purpose. But then he blew it.

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Category: Domestic Politics , Category: Entertainment , Category: General , Category: Humor
Guidelines for Comments
Now that I've resumed writing, I'm getting a mix of readers. Some of my old regulars have realized I'm back and some new readers have swung by (probably thanks to Dean Esmay's link). So, I thought it might be useful to post my guidelines for comments at Admiral Quixote's Roundtable.

September 12, 2004
Intelligent Bidding
If you use Priceline to bid on hotels, you may wonder what is a reasonable amount to bid. I just found another site where bidders may post their successful bids. These amounts should be the most you should bid. So if you use Priceline, or are thinking about it, you may also want to check out BiddingForTravel.

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Category: Economics , Category: Entertainment , Category: General
Jewish Religious Law and Abortion
I've previously spoken on what the Scriptures say about abortion and even wrote a white paper on the subject. In an age when people debate the meaning of the word "is", you are not going to find 100% agreement on anything in the Scriptures. But if you talk to enough people, you start seeing patterns.

For instance, I've noticed that the rabbis and priests who take their Scriptures literally are usually the ones that believe their religious texts are very clear - abortion is murder. Likewise, those priests and rabbis who think the Scriptures are "guidance" and "suggestions" tend to think abortion should be legal. In general, this bulk of this group also believes gay marriage and the Scriptures are easily reconciled. These folks are the ones who strain interpretations, but they have the advantage of being politically correct. And if you believe that Scripture is just guidance, there is no reason to follow it too carefully.

Calling abortion for the murder it is, is very politically incorrect and brings out attacks from many – sometimes where one least expects it. Thus, many people are reluctant to do so which reduces the availability of this information. This may explain why some well-read folks have trouble even believing that the Scriptures are even pertinent to this issue.

For example, the inspiration for this post comes from a discussion I've been having with Dean Esmay. When I agree with others that the Scriptures are clear that abortion is murder, I get responses such as:

September 09, 2004
Defending Alan Keyes
Alan Keyes has been taking much flack recently over a comment he made about his opponent's pro-abortion position. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.

Why is this even controversial? It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of those who believe the Jewish and Christian Scriptures are pro-life. The Scriptures are very clear that abortion is wrong. In my own case, this is why I tend to vote Republican even though I am an independent. I disagree with many Republican policies (e.g., I despise handouts to large businesses). However, I have never knowingly voted for a candidate who supports abortion and never shall. And since the Democrats rarely nominate a pro-life candidate, I rarely vote for a Democrat even though I agree with some of their other policies (e.g., our prison policy needs to be completely revamped – incarcerating our people should not be a growth industry).

Keyes has plenty of problems (e.g., he called Hillary Clinton a carpetbagger for running as a NY Senator and now he is doing the same thing in Illinois), but the recent vehement attacks on Keyes are without merit. Keyes apparently hit a nerve with those who wish people would hide their religious beliefs and ignore them when they vote. Tough. I strongly encourage everyone to consider their beliefs and ethics when voting. If your beliefs do not even matter when you are helping determine the future of your country, when do they matter?

September 08, 2004
8,311 Email Messages
Hello everyone. Now that it is September, I am about to resume blogging on a regular basis. I had a wonderful and productive summer and I'll share some of that in the next few weeks. I've also been bookmarking some interesting sites and discussions that I look forward to discuss. I am also anticipate some interesting political debates as we approach the November elections.

If you have emailed me over the summer, I will try to get back to you this month. However, today my mailbox had 8,311 email messages in it. A large portion of this was junk mail, but after running these through my filters, I still had almost a thousand emails remaining. So if I don't respond by the end of September, it means my filters inadvertently trashed your emails too and you should try again.