Tuesday, February 26, 2008



By Kevin A. Stoda, Kuwait

Sociologist Dr. Mark Olson at Gulf University in Kuwait recently published an article, “Kuwait’s Rich Man-Poor Man Syndrome”, on the need for the field of sociology to recognize a third definition of poverty.

For years a somewhat dichotomous pair of definitions have suffice in teaching incoming college freshman the distinction between (a) absolute poverty and (b) relative poverty.

Absolute poverty is illustrated through a vignette of his experiences in Africa some 3 decades ago as a Peace Corp volunteer, “Glancing out of a taxi on a gray overcast day in Addis Ababa, I saw a woman head bowed, as she was crossing the street, apparition-like. What was noticeable was that she was dressed in a garment completely made up of plastic sacks.”

Absolute poverty is noticeable by its obvious dimensions—or lack thereof.

When someone is living in absolute poverty she has nothing—or practically nothing to call her own. Moreover, absolute poverty can be marked by many untreated ailments, e.g. leprosy in a society which doesn’t have appropriate medical care, medicine, equipment or standards available. Olson shared of seeing such beggers with only stumps or partially missing appendages in his days in Ethiopia of the 1970s.

Olson turns to South America for his next example in order to illustrate relative poverty.

Olson explains, “Mention Colombia and thoughts come to mind of lush mountain jungles, guerillas in green fatigues, cocaine processing and fatalistic campesinos that plod along life’s rocky paths in sandals even as life speeds past them in caravans of expensive cars and SUVs.”

Olson adds, “These costly vehicles, usually out-fitted with smoke-tinted widows, are occupied by society’s elite, of both political and drug-trafficking origins. From the outside, the occupants are indistinguishable. Some might argue from the inside, as well.”

Because there are many classes, including a middle class, in Colombian society, poverty is referred to there often in terms of relative poverty in most instances. According to Olson, this preference in defining poverty (in terms of relative poverty) in describing Colombia is based upon the fact that “[t]hreats to life expectancy are more likely to come from the criminal elements or agents of state instead of poverty.”


Historically, Olson writes, “Whatever the imagery that poverty evokes, the point is that poverty has a face. What if, however, poverty fails to evoke a face? To the extent that poverty becomes faceless, should it also fall away as a category in reality?”

It is this manifestation of unmeasured, un-registered, or un-quantified poverty in a global context that Olson focuses on in the rest of his article. He finds inspiration for the concept all around him in the Gulf state of Kuwait, where he has researched and taught in recent years.

Olson continues, “What is remarkable about Kuwait is that [poverty’s face] it’s mostly unremarkable?”

This is partially a reflection of the many lacking official statistical measures of poverty in the less-than transparent Kuwait (member of WTO) society.

For example, most all national statistics focus on less than 33% of the country’s actual population. I.e., National statistics of any kind in Kuwait generally reflect only persons with a Kuwaiti citizenship.

These roughly 900,000 people (Kuwaiti citizens) out of over 3 million residents greatly skew the reality on the ground in Kuwait in terms of reliably measuring and observing poverty–or describe poverty in absolute or relative terms.

Furthermore, both the ghettoization of living space and work space also somewhat makes imaging poverty obscured from the reality or presence of the average student and researcher in sociology as well.

For example, Kuwait, as a social welfare state, on behalf of its citizens “collects 95% of its income from oil revenues”. This same rentier state has “a budgeted surplus of $23 billion or $23,000 for every Kuwaiti man women, and child. The trade surplus has doubled to $40billion. There are assets of $213 billion in reserves.”

Therefore, theoretically, “Kuwaiti citizens could live on the [current] income from the Reserve Fund for Future Generations at $20,000 per capita indefinitely.” This is a socialist’s dream economy!

However, Kuwait in reality may be interesting, but it is not the living dream of socialist values in many facets.

Olson notes that he has time-and-again met Kuwaiti students who on-the-face of it deny all the facts and realities of poverty around them and who adamantly claim poverty does not exist in Kuwait.

Olson remarks, “However, to the outside observer, student statements about poverty’s non-existence will seem ludicrous.”

“A drive through some sections of Kuwait will reveal crowded, often dilapidated structures, junk cars and dumpsters teaming with refuse.” Olson extrapolates, “These areas house the expatriate laborers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Philippines and other parts of Middle East and Asian.”

Most workers are so underpaid that many of their own governments are now holding back on permitting their citizens to work in Gulf states, such as Kuwait, until current laws are better enforced or legislation is developed to protect labor.

For example, India has temporarily stopped allowing many of its citizens to travel to the Gulf until better standard minimum contracts are negotiated for the thousands of maids in the petroleum rich countries of the Gulf. Some maids work 80 hours a week for as little as 100 to 120 dollars a month in Kuwait.

India’s Minister of Overseas Affairs, Vayalar Ravi, has recently noted that maids are the most exploited group of the many exploited laborers in the Gulf. The minister is cited as claiming that there are “frequent complaints of harassment, overwork and low wages from female domestic workers.”

Apparently, according to the Indian ministry, maids are not even covered by many Gulf government’s labor legislation at all.

Meanwhile, the presence of over 2million foreign workers who do 88% of the work in the private sector of Kuwait are not only ignored in terms of statistics and labor protection, but they are also often blamed for inflation and other evils in the country.

Worse still is the faceless-ness of their presence, and, therefore, the faceless-ness of their poverty in wealthy Kuwait.

Olson notes that foreigners, to a degree, have themselves to blame for keeping themselves off the radar of the average Kuwaiti--who as well appears to do his best to ignore the foreigner’s existence.

For example, some other foreign governments don’t actually do very much to support their own citizen laborers in the Gulf region because these governments fear that if they would complain too loudly, there is the possibility that all these nationals would be immediately shipped home. i.e. These laborer’s money’s will not be able to generate more economic strength at home.

Moreover, many of the newer and poorer countries on the planet (or older South Sea islands of the Pacific, such as Fiji) even have diplomatic representation in the region.

Olson continues, “Self-censorship by the workers also plays a role. Workers endure exploitation, unspeakable hardships and privation. They accept their misfortunes in the hopes that the exchange rates compensate their self-denial in the end.”

In Kuwait hundreds of thousands of laborers are expected this very 3-day National Holidays (24 to 26 February) to be forced to work throughout each holiday as the Kuwait’s celebrate the nation’s founding 47 years ago (on 25 February 1961) and mark the independence of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation on 26 February 1991.

In short, the day of rest law applies to Kuwaitis and some of their coworkers, but national law does not provide or enforce the masses from being forced to labor without holiday options or without being able to demand overtime.

This lack of recognition of the poorer masses who keep the country running on the most important national holidays in Kuwait symbolizes an endemic problem of “faceless worker-hood” and “faceless poverty” in Kuwait.


To tell the truth, faceless poverty and lack of recognition before the law by the poorest subject classes on a global stage (i.e. with all in search of work and existential realization of dreams) is not simply a Kuwaiti phenomenon.

Moreover, Kuwait actually apparently has better labor protection on the books than other countries—even if they are not often and vigorously applied in fact.

Meanwhile, in the UAE, i.e. the darling of the investment world for this past decade, the city state of Dubai has a worse reputation for treatment of its poor construction workers than does Kuwait.

Human Rights Watch has stated that even recent draft laws to protect laborers “fall far short of international standards for the rights of workers.”

Dubai’s courts marked the city’s February 2008 Shopping Festival ( big tourist draw in the Gulf) by sentencing 75 Indian laborers to 6-months in prison and expulsion from the country for striking in a land that doesn’t even allow any labor organization for its ill-treated foreign laborers.

To be fair, the phenomena of the migrating “faceless poor” is also somewhat common in North America and North American entities doing business abroad to some degree, too.

Olson reminds us, “Faceless poverty is not limited to any one country of origin. It is seen on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait where American military personnel leave their Taco Bell burrito wrappers and other refuse to be picked up by locally contracted Pakistani cleaning help. It is seen in the stockyards or on South 24 Street where groups of migrant workers wait to be picked up to cut lawns or remodel homes in Omaha, Nebraska.”

However, the source of the problem of the “faceless poor” isn’t only lack of statistics and lack of access to rights and justice.

According to Dr. Olson, the source of his concern with Kuwait’s approach to the poor and poverty, is the pervasive “reticence and self-denial [that] allow Kuwaiti society to go unchecked in absolving itself of any wrongdoing.”


In contrast with Dr. Olson, though, I personally believe the creation of America’s own faceless poverty, especially since the 1960s—i.e.. the last time America tried to build a great and better society--, has occurred, too, through our own lack of analysis of statistics over the years showing that from 1970 onwards poverty was creeping upwards, class divisions growing wider, and standards of living were shrinking.

Instead, we had people declare victory for the free market in the 1980s and again in the 1990s—while never looking at the facts on the ground.

Now in 2008 America has a chance to do better. America needs to move beyond reticence and take the bull-by the horn.

The wealthier halves of society in the U.S.A. also need to do what is needed of Kuwaiti’s today: a little self-denial of one’s own wealth and standing in society in order to see and get to know the poor around us and to do something about it.

Sadly, in February 2008 as Kuwait celebrates its most important national days with music, dancing and flair, all the headlines in the local newspapers indicate that Kuwaiti’s are facing only themselves, i.e. looking inward at individual needs and greed—demanding that all Kuwaiti Citizens get an increase of about 500 dollar a month allowance from the national government—while ignoring the poor and poorer peoples all around them.

It is the poorer non-Kuwait who is being more hurt by inflation and bad government spending than is the average Kuwaiti national.


On the front page of the 25 February 2008 (i.e. Kuwait’s National Day) the ARAB TIMES daily printed a remarkable piece by Reverend Andy Thompson of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Ahmadi, Kuwait.

The short article was simply entitled “Wizard of Oz” and at first glance seemed to be a cultural piece on the musicals, “Wizard of Oz” and the “Dream Dealer”, the reverend had seen performed the previous week.
However, the good reverend took his journalistic opportunity to ponder what the hidden meanings of these musical dramas were for the many residents of Kuwait.

Thompson writes, “At one point in the show when the principal characters had arrived at the fantastic land of Oz, we were serenaded by a clown, jumping African dancers, a Korean dance troupe, a group of multi-ethnic ballet dancers, disco dancing jitterbugs, a large choir and a marching brass band.”

For this viewer, “Surely the land of Oz represents Kuwait with her multitude of talented and skilled workers from all over the globe. The principle characters represent us. We are a motley crew of travelers arriving in Kuwait to seek security and fulfillment of dreams.”

Thompson adds that there are numerous possible candidates for the Wicked Witch of the West, but his preferred interpretation is “simply all those who seek to use terror and force to intimidate others.”

Suddenly, the reverend turns his writing sword on those so-called benefactors in Kuwait who capture their labor in Kuwait and don’t allow them to return home and/or without their full-pay and earnings in any timely manner.

The reverend emphasizes, “These include several hundred people who are held at the overcrowded detention center.”

Thompson then thanked one of the few active agencies for relief of poverty in Kuwait: “Social Work Society of Kuwait.” He indicated that the society has in the past enabled various workers to return home from Kuwait’s Oz of multiculturalism (and segregation in mind and poverty) to their homeland.

There is no place like home, but both our homelands and our Ozes can be much better if we don’t deny what it is around us and work for a better place in the weeks and month’s to come, long after the music and dancing of Kuwait’s National Day and Independence Days are behind us.


Al-Hajery, Khalid, Al-Enezi, Ayed, & Al-Ajmi, Hadi, “MPs to Fight for KD 150
Hike”, ARAB TIMES, 23 Feb. 2008, p.1,8.

“Delhi Mandates Minimum Wage for Maids Overseas”, ARAB TIMES, 23 Feb. 2008, p.1,8.

“Indian Workers Jailed in Dubai”, ARAB TIMES, 25 Feb. 2008, p. 9.

Olson, Mark, “Kuwit’s Rich Man-Poor Man Syndrome”, The Antelope Valley
Political Observer, February 2008.

Thompson, Andy, “Wizard of Oz” , ARAB TIMES, 25 Feb. 2008, p. 1, 8.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008



By Kevin Stoda, on-line (and tongue & cheek) candidate for Democratic and Republican parties for President of the United States

Last week, 18th of February 2008, I picked up the International Herald Tribune and noticed that the main IHT editorial was entitled: “Foreign Policy Questions for the Next President”. The editorialists wrote:

“President George W. Bush's mismanagement reaches far beyond Iraq. He has torn up international treaties, bullied and alienated old friends, and enabled old and new enemies. Before Americans choose a president they will need to know how he or she plans to rebuild America's military strength and its moral standing and address a host of difficult challenges around the world.” (p.8)

In all, the editorialists posed an in-exhaustive list of 11 questions for the USA presidential candidates.

The major question was obviously how the incoming president plans to handle the disastrous” ongoing war in Iraq.

The other foreign policy questions concern (1) America’s international leadership, (2) China, (3) Russia, (4) Iran, (4) North Korea, (5) the Middle East, (6) defense spending, (7) non-proliferation, (8) terrorism, and (9)American policy on use-of-force in the near future.

Since my campaign is a campaign of ideas and substance, I will try to answer these poignant foreign policy questions from the dining room table of my apartment in Kuwait, which overlooks the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, i.e. where muh of the world’s oil passes through on any one day.

First of all, besides being a progressive evangelical candidate, I need to note that as far as political science and research goes, I am a cognitivist—i.e. not a neo-con, conservative, neo-liberal, liberal, nor extreme left- nor right-winger.

Cognitivists don’t simply define global relations in terms of who has might as realists, neo-cons, conservatives and right wing hawks do.

Nor do cognivists assume the existence of potential creation of a global new order in terms of liberal political-economic theory.

Cognitivists come from both camps as well as the dated camps of dependency and interdependency theory. As well, they look much more at how the rules of the game or perceived rules of the game effect how international affairs are conducted.

In a nutshell, Cognitivists are holistic in how they deal with international affairs and approach domestic politics.


Cognitivists define regimes—whether these regimes are a single government, such as the USA or Russia, or an international regime, such as the European Union, NAFTA or the United Nations— not as simply state actors but as regimes consisting of how the rules of the international affairs are played in and cross societies where the regime is present. They also look at the social-civil, economic, developmental, and political forces under lying the actual behaviors of political actors and forces.

This means that regulations and acceptable behavior as defined (and carried out) by participants in a regime have just as much importance as who has the most money, weapons or propaganda instruments on hand.

This means that in terms of leadership on the world stage, any country, such as the United States must recognize what the acceptable rules of the game of international relations are somewhat stable and can usually only be changed or evolved over time.

Second, if change is needed in the regime and how the regime participants function, change is navigated and negotiated—but never demanded in the manner that a 3-year old demands his favorite toy or “desire of the day”. It is this form of U.S. foreign policy of the last decade that America must rid itself permanently. It is simply inappropriate and unhelpful for a superpower to be wandering about like a bull-dozer in a china warehouse.

It is because the George W. Bush Administration and so-called realists, neo-realists, conservative think tanks, and neo-liberals forgot these basic realities of international regime theory that America is where it is today—i.e. quasi isolated and poorer as a nation state, i.e. poorer politically, economically, socially, and spiritually.

American behaviors related to leadership on the global stage need to be underpinned by a recognition that terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon (how horrible they were) do not mean that it is time to throw the baby out with the bathwater on 225 years of American history and social development.

Use of force in Iraq without a good justification for war in 2003 was opposed by a majority of states on the planet—including longtime allies of ours on many continents. This invasion was opposed in the streets by nearly a million Americans and in their hearts by many more—including military personnel.

This invasion was also opposed by a great number of American churchmen who knew the attack on Iraq matched no known concept of Just-War theory taught traditionally in the West.

This invasion was also opposed by the United Nations, Mexico, and many European states, i.e. our closest allies. They, too, claimed that there was neither enough evidence to see Iraq as an imminent threat nor had an invasion much benefit in a war against terrorists like Osama Bin-Laden.

As a whole, American leadership did not listen to those many individuals who knew how the rules of international affairs needed to be played. Like some Bolshevik takeover of Washington, D.C. they steamrolled a vote in Congress on trumped up charges and committed American taxpayers to give some 3-plus trillion dollars in six years to support the War in Iraq and to take care of American soldiers & families when they returned home from such missions.

We did this against the opinion of so many in the international community and against the wishes of tens of millions of Americans.

This is not how a cognitivist government would approach global issues.


American leadership must apologize for this lack of recognition of the facts, rule-of-law among states, and research on the ground in relation to Iraq & turn our full attention to building real coalitions when moving forward and solving global problems in the 21st and 22nd centuries.

Apologizing is one of the good things that Bill Clinton did as president that brought reconciliation for so many generations. (No. I’m not talking about the apology to America given after his Monica Lewinski lies were uncovered.) I’m talking about his apologies to the thousands of Americans who were misused and treated as human guinea pigs throughout the Cold War.

Bill Clinton was not even president when those Cold War evils done-in-the-name-of-national-security began. Yet, he used his presidential podium to apologize and to seek to atone the victims, including many USA military personnel and their families who had become handicapped, diseased or even died as a result of A-Bomb and H-Bomb testing from the 1940s through the 1970s.

Clinton also apologized for the horrible Tuscaloosa experiments carried out on unsuspecting black males during the same period. In short, a leader needs to be able to get on his knee as the former West German President did in Warsaw after WWII, indicating a great sense of remorse and contrition by the German leadership at what had been done in Auschwitz and on the battlefields of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s under horrible German leadership. .


Coinciding with the apologies abroad, the next U.S. President (Republican or Democrat or whomever) must apologize also to all Americans for failing to oversee a better development of society and economy of the USA over the several past decades.

The policy or experiment of the Reagan-era to simply spend as much money on defense and cut taxes with no real social- and economic development by the beneficiaries of such cuts is a losing way to lead a country into a progressive era of development. Likewise, it doesn’t serve the USA well to finance war or revolution around the world and not follow through financially.

The spending habits of the current U.S. administration is a horrible model of og-term investment, spending, and savings for individual Americans of all ages.

If big-Papa Government can spend money as though he printed it himself (with little thought for tomorrow), how can the average American be encouraged to save and plan for his future any better than Americans are doing today?

In short, even though Americans don’t really want a paternalistic government who tells them how to save, invest, or spend money, they do want a government that tries at least to reflect some of the best qualities in saving, investment, and spending possible.

Americans hate cynics who say one thing and do another. The end of irresponsible foreign or domestic policies of spending (i.e. as thought there-is-no-tomorrow) must end.

Likewise, the holes in the NAFTA contract are wide open for all Americans, Mexicans, and Canadians to see. These holes in global and regional development must be stopped and better plans and agreements carried out to make North America and South America a powerhouse and bulwark to other regions of the world that are growing together more and more economically

Better and fairer development, in terms of equality and egalitarianism, in both North and South American countries must be demanded and supported through U.S.A. and international initiatives at the World Bank and elsewhere.

In some cases, a keynsian model is helpful. In other cases, a more free market approach may prove beneficial. At other times, a protectionist approach will be permitted for a longer time frame. However, in all cases, the people involved should be asked first how they wish to develop and how they would like their moneys and resources spent.

This is why the United States must support more actively agricultural and labor movements around the globe as well as big businesses in all countries--from north to south.

The more players at the table, the more important and differing voices can be heard. This should be part and parcel of America’s calls for democracy around the world. It is also fully a cognitivist view with an eye to democratic access to government.

In short, the USA cannot simply continue to define democracy in terms of fair elections any more. We need to recognize the salience between elections and freedom of a people to express themselves and steer their government and society towards greater development and prosperity.

If American foreign policy and foreign aid policy had had this two handed approach (rather than a two-fisted militaristic approach), we would be able to withstand most changes in politics in other countries without ever feeling threatened in every single instance (e.g. by Chavezism in Latin America) by unfounded fears of long-term instability in various regions around the globe.

That is, American policy and practices would develop long-term stable friendships by being a stable friend and partner with other state’s peoples directing their own development.


I’m not going to state that I saw 9-11 coming as it did.

I did have a feeling something like it would happen perhaps on a grander scale some time in the 21st Century. You see, I am a student of international development, world history, and global affairs. Once the fear of the nuclear showdown between the USSR and the USA had ended by the 1990s, the only major fear for our future would be between parts of the world with growing populations one day demanding a bigger part on the global stage.

The booming populations of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, India, and elsewhere made it inevitable that if development didn’t happen more equally soon, there would be a scramble for global resources and dominance of regions.

Sadly, as a lifelong educator, international developer, global traveler, and political scientist, I did note in the 1980s and 1990s that the USA’s approach towards the fastest growing populations on the planet were not heading towards building a more stable future for America and the OECD lands in the 21st Century.

One of the more detrimental facts of the great U.S.A. defense and security buildup of the 1980s was the inevitable crash it brought in the 1990s. All of these groupings from Nicaragua to Russia to Afghanistan and back to Yemen or Africa whom the Reagan and Bush Administration supported were suddenly out of work and without aid in developing their countries as the U.S. not only cut spending on the United Nations, but also cut USAID and other assistance around the globe.

In short, aspirations had risen only to see the U.S. bail out.

Naturally, whomever had the most money and political suasion in these different regions(from Afghanistan to Yemen to Zimbabwe and South America) of the world would take up the spoils when the U.S. washed its hands of the matter as it did of its many long term commitments around 1990 as the Cold War came to a close.

This, in a sense, was a changing of the rules of the game which has had a horrible effect on politics in our current decade.

In the era after Saddam Hussein was pushed out of Iraq, the Middle East’s most conservative and fanatical parties continued to get more and more votes and support from the burgeoning populaces while their autocratic or military leaders sought to put them down.

The same can be said of the masses in Latin America and in Africa today and there searches for an alternative to the same-old-autocrat.

American policymakers were telling the world that American tax payers wanted to keep their monies as a peace dividend or wanted to keep their money to help pay down debts from the 1970s and 1980s (and earlier). This was a good thing in many ways, but the fact is the peace dividend should have been used to build a lasting peace.

This was not happening.

Worse still, America added more duties and countries to its list of places on the planet to station troops—all without getting reciprocal monetary assistance and cooperation from many other major political powers on the planet.

The expansion of USA commitments over the past 15 years has been done at a humongous pace without Americans feeling more secure. In short, it has been partially a big waste of money.

The shooting down of the highly expensive U.S. military satellite last week is symptomatic of a defense budget that is out of control of American policymakers. (The costs of that defunct satellite and its shooting down are certainly in the billions of dollars.)

A strong “NO” must come from the White House at increasing military expenditures. Wise spending decisions and cooperation with other parties on expensive projects must become an absolute prerequisite for the next Commander-in-Chief.


Worse still, American representatives in the Senate were strongly against one of the major pieces of international legislation of the 1990s. Later the Bush-Cheney Administration took the same track in 2001. This legislation was related to the long-awaited passage of the Kyoto Convention in Global Warming.

I, myself, have a gambling streak. However, I always check up on what the odds of winning or being correct are. Therefore, when in the mid- 1990s, I began to read up on the overwhelming number of mathematical predictions and mathematical models that clearly implied that (1) global warming was a fact and that (2) global warming was a partially man-made phenomena, I couldn’t believe the denial from the U.S. Senate and later President Bush and Cheney.

The odds against their position being correct and that the temperatures were not rising was astronomical.

No investor in the insurance sector or business futurist has had such a luxury to ignore the daunting mathematical odds again them as these ornery Senators and White House personnel have been. By 1997 or 1998, as Kyoto became a signed agreement by much of the developed world, most of the world began to develop emissions trading schemes and insurers began to look at changing global weather phenomena and sea level rise issues..

No American leader can buck the odds any longer. Of all the major OECD nations in 2008, the USA is the only one that does not currently have foresighted and strategic thinkers who are working hand in hand with other states to do a better job of slowing down global warming on this planet.

With the icebergs in Antarctica now melting faster than predicted, the world cannot wait for American global leadership on this issue—but American leadership certainly would help in 2008 and beyond.

Importantly, we should see these climate issues as an opportunity to turn America’s reputation for the better in coming years as we finance energy plans and support energy related and fighting-high-tide projects around the world.


I believe that nothing will help cool down the heating planet Earth any faster than to (1) increase the usage of alternative fuels that don’t produce greenhouse gases, (2) recycle what energy we can e recycled by building better and more efficient power plants, and (3) reducing overall usage of greenhouse gas emitting energy sources.

Interestingly, the path to reducing dependence on foreign oil and fuel sources is the same as improving America’s image abroad and investing our tax moneys more wisely on projects that don’t destroy or blow things up (as military investments are targeted to do). This means that America’s investment in such technological leaps will reward us more than two-fold every step of the way.

Investments like these in the energy and development sector should become more appreciated by USA tax payers as well—and by all other peoples on the planet, as they too are stressed out by forecasts of coming global warming changes.

Think about how much money has been spent on wars related to fuels and energy in recent decades and how much the USA has wasted taxpayers savings on end-less wars!!!

An American government that leads to peace more than leads into battle will ensure a stronger America in the 21st Century.

Reinvesting some money from defense would certainly make Americans’ futures look brighter as the pressures from Iraq and Iran on their neighbors are made ever more distant by the lessening demand on foreign fuels from that region.

The fact is, Iran’s economy is a fairly poorly run affair with millions of youth jobless and the government only offering military or government service as an alternative to a few. A threat from Iran in the future is only likely if for some reason it gets its economic and socio-political house in order at home in the next decade. This does not appear likely—inflationary pressures are every where but few Iranis are gaining much from the oil moneys which are sending up the prices for all.

I would advise America to back off the pressure on Iran as a potential enemy and see what can be done to get U.S. military occupation presence in Iraq reduced over the short term. I.e. if Russia doesn’t fear Iran so much and sends it nuclear related materials, why should the USA invest any greater interest in the short and long term when it needs to be focused on getting out of two other wars.

Obviously, getting Iran into a regime with the USA on some negotiating tables at this time is more important than to keep it fairly isolated.


Meanwhile, China, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea could certainly benefit from joining the coalition of green house gas fighting nations if they see benefits in terms of technological transfers which also improve their economies.

Moreover, the West under America’s leadership should oversee other technological transfers over the next decades in order to create a safer planet for our children and grandchildren.

It is fairly important to get China on the USA side on international regimes anyways these days. For example, China is a key to settling all issues with North Korea, many issues with Burma-Myanmar, some issues in Darfur, and putting pressure on Russia in the long-term.

Good relations with China will benefit in reduced defense spending by the USA in the Pacific.

On the other hand, more needs to be done to support democratic trends in China and elsewhere in Asia. (Neither should America’s back be turned on democratic Taiwan.)

In short, as energy and development of greenhouse gas reducing technologies are more of a key to peace in the world community, it is quite likely that adversarial relationships between the Iran and Iraq and other nations will be decreased in the future if the USA and other world actors reduce their dependence on fossil fuels from Russia and the Middle East.

Moreover, the deserts of Iran and Iraq can also produce non-petroleum based energy sources. Jordan’s King Hussein recently begged the European Union to invest in its desert lands to produce solar power in the desert kingdom. The USA could step up to the plate where Europe fails to take advantage of the needs of highly populated desert states around the world.

As the nations of the world move off of the fossil fuel addiction of the past 300 years, these peoples and states around the planet need to be transitioning to new fuel and production elements in any case.


Russia today still has the possibility of returning more fully to the western fold as it sought to do initially some 15 to 20 years ago.

American Shock Doctrinist from the Chicago Schools most radical form of free-market economics helped spin Russia out of the European Union orbit some years ago, but that need not always to be the case.

Meanwhile, Russian leadership appears to be seeking to build up its own international regime of behaviors and underlying rules separate from the West.

In this situation, the West can only generally provide incentives for Russia to look westward once again to strengthen its ties.

Besides the threatening developments in fuel cartels and mafia-like businesses among former KGB actors in Russia today, there is the strong threat of fossil fuel which Russia holds over Europe and most of the rest of the planet.

This means Russia must be taken seriously.

At times, Russia’s aggressive behavior will need to be checked. Sometimes, the USA will support Europeans. At other times, the USA should be prepared to be more neutral or even conciliatory.

For example, when Putin offered to put USA military equipment in the Caucuses last year, the USA should have pursued it in discussions—not simply snubbed the offer.


As a cognitivist, I believe that building links and precedents for behavior are important for the future steps which can help a regime to evolve or change in a positive manner.

What would it have hurt if America had agreed to place missiles in the Caucuses close to Iran? A new open inspection system would have been opened immediately between the USA and Russia and an adversarial relationship could have been lessened. (By the time the project would be fully implemented, it is likely that the missiles would not be all that necessary or not even very up-to-date in any case.)


In summary, the current administration set out both to replicate the practices of the Reagan administration’s policy’s of (1) cutting social and environmental spending, (2) increasing defense and security spending, and (3) making tax cuts. In the meantime, no major changes in USA infrastructure and development were promised—i.e. no fast train systems to transport people, their cars, and goods from coast to coast as Germany, Japan, France, China and other nations have done in recent decades.

Thanks to these budgetary and poor investment and agrievous spending patterns, the USA is now seen in Europe and elsewhere as the “Sick Man of the Global Economy”. The BBC has reported several times in recent weeks that “whenever the U.S. economy wheezes or sneezes, Europe and the rest of the globe catches a cold.”

This perception of America as a “Sick Man” is a dangerous precedent. Never before in world history has the USA had such an image.

Another global image of America being a “Sick Man” exists in the foreign police and in defense in security—despite the USA having spent trillions of dollars in the last years to improve defense and security.

Most of the world views the American armed forces as overextended and the foreign policy as being very nearsighted in general.

When George W. Bush came into office and began tearing up arms treaties right and left, many Americans failed to take notice or praised the gun-slinger theatrics. The rest of the planet was aghast.
e.g. Why should America put nuclear weapons and other weapons in space when they were banned years ago?

The answers from Washington D.C. have always been inadequate: “We are afraid sometime that someone else will do it first.”

The same thing was said of the ICBM treaty and the conventions on torture, on human rights, & on habeas corpus.

A slippery slope was begun in 2001 and now the U.S. has made such a big mess on the global stage, it will now take decades to rectify the failed attempt by a single USA administration to rewrite all the underlying rules for dozens of regimes, e.g. climate control regimes, nuclear proliferation treaty regimes, arms control regimes, human rights regimes.

The new White House administration must begin by apologizing for this mess and start over with a great focus on building up and not tearing down.

I am willing to do that.

How about Obama, Clinton, Huckabee or McCain?


“Foreign Policy Questions for the Next President”, http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/17/opinion/edquestions.php

Mayer, Peter & Rittberger, Volke, REGIME THEORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, http://www.questia.com/library/book/regime-theory-and-international-relations-by-peter-mayer-volker-rittberger.jsp

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Saturday, February 23, 2008



By Kevin Anthony Stoda, Fahaheel, Kuwait

Children of America in the 1980s recall President Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist speech, in which Reagan attempted to create fear in the hearts of Americans that the country was facing a RED DAWN. That is, a communist takeover of America was in the wings.

In that oft-quoted and sometimes ridiculed speech, Reagan warned that the wars of Central America was just one day’s drive from Harlingen, Texas.

As I live in Kuwait only about an hour or two from Iraq’s Civil wars, I might ask myself with the same urgency: Do I feel safe?

I might, in turn, ask the hundreds of thousands of Americans, other expatriates, and Kuwaitis who live in Kuwait the same question, eh?


Last month, I spoke on the topic of “Sense of Safety and Awareness in Kuwait” at the AWARE Center in Surra.

Whenever I travel outside Kuwait, many people are amazed to hear me share with them that Kuwait is very much safer than perceived.

These listeners and distant observers wonder at how 3 million people living on the border with the infamous War-Zone Iraq (and so close to Iran and Saudi Arabia) can feel so relatively safe to many other peoples scattered around planet Earth.

In order to investigate whether my personal feelings about this subject of “safety in Kuwait” (1) have been correct and in order to (2) create a clearer picture for those living in and outside of Kuwait about what the “levels of relative and perceived safety” are in Kuwait, I have conducted an initial survey on the subject in January 2008.

I presented these findings at that meeting at the AWARE Center in Surra, Kuwait.

Prior to conducting the survey and interviewing a few other peoples from various lands, I also posited a hypothesis about sense of safety by individuals based upon their own cultural identity related to cultural “proxemics”.


As a western born male, my personal bias when carrying out any research in Kuwait is based on personal experience and is naturally a bit skewed and subjective, i.e. I am a large male with red hair & beard and, therefore, stand out like a sore thumb. My own opinions about safety also shift or depend on whether I have just finished driving on Kuwait’s high-speed roadways or not.

As I first came to live in Kuwait in February 2004 and earlier as I lived in the UAE in 1999-2000, I perceived that both countries appeared to not have much overt crime and observed little overt levels of violence or threats. For this reason, I agree with the findings revealed in the survey from adult western male reports that in the Gulf states, I am safer than living one’s homeland—in my case: the U.S.A.

Moreover, aside from my 2 years living in rural Japan in the 1990s, both Gulf States were indeed are probably safer than in any of a dozen other countries I have ever lived in or worked in, including France, Germany, Mexico, & Nicaragua.

Only living in rural Japan in the 1990s had I perceived a similar standard of personal safety & freedom to walk, live and travel about, i.e. not becoming too worried that:

(1) someone would break into my flat, that
(2) I would be abused by some bully or that
(3) I would be arrested arbitrarily or given a fine without fair treatment before the law.

In Japan of the early 1990s, I recall feeling radically free—at times even leaving my personal luggage on the platform of trains and going to coffee shops to have a bite to eat.

Similarly, in both the UAE and in Kuwait, I have felt comfortable taking long walks at night by myself at all hours of the day or night & in whatever grungy or ghetto-like neighborhood I was in.

However, within a few months of moving to Kuwait, my own sense of ease & safety began to diminish at moments, for example, as I went swimming off the beaches of Kuwait.

There on the seacoast and along the beaches it was quite obvious that jet skiers of all ages thought nothing of approaching a swimmer at 35 to 55 mph—just to have the fun of frightening others, me, and other watchers scattered around the waters or on the beach.

I observed that this did not occur simply because I was a foreigner.

This also happened to Arabs, South Asians, and anyone else on the seaside.

During my presentation at the AWARE Center last month , I learned from the audience that other residents in Kuwait were put un-at-ease and felt both a sense of urgency and danger in their free time—even when onshore or in boats on the Gulf due to the proximity of these reckless jet skiers.

Last August 2007 the FRIDAY TIMES presented a lengthy an article on the Gulf State phenomena endangering the lives of recreational swimmers and boaters:

In summary, my zone of comfort and sense of safety during my free time was became smaller and smaller every time I attempted to go swimming—which was 3 or more times a week during the hot hot summers here.

The same sense of spike in lack of a comfort zone occurred the next year (in 2005) as I purchased a old car and started driving around the cities of Kuwait on my own, i.e. instead of taking a taxi or public bus.

Since that date ( April 2005) , I have been hit by cars or have had cars jump in front of my own vehicle at high speed dozens of times. I have been involved in 7 collisions of one sort or another.

One of those collisions was even intentional and at done at 65 mph. This was when a tailgating red taxi had bumped me--simply because he thought I was going too slow at 65 mph.

More than ironically, less than 20 minutes prior to my speaking on “Sense of Safety in Kuwait” at the AWARE Center that January 22, a young Kuwaiti female driver hit my car from the U-turn lane side--from which she was turning-too-wide into my lane.


Before presenting the findings of the survey from this first stage of my research on “the sense of safety of Kuwaiti residents”, I need to note that I have posited a theory about the root causes of some of the growing perception of a lack of safety in some facets of the Kuwait experience.

This theory is that a greater awareness and wide-ranging societal dialogue about proxemics could lead to less insecurity in one’s comfort zone while living in and moving around Kuwait. Who knows? Perhaps a sound awareness campaign could reduce accidents and stress in Kuwait by 10 to 20 percent each year.

This analysis of the importance of proxemic awareness is based upon research on cross-cultural proxemics undertaken over the past three decades.

(a) Proxemics is part of non-verbal communication.

(b) Proxemics focuses on the distances between actors in a communicative or social events in context.

(c) Proxemics & kinesthetic research also includes touching, holding hands kissing, etc.

(d) From a Northern American or Northern European perspective proxemics in high context cultures of Latin America and Arab states are similar. Nonetheless, in Arab states distances are closer and generally still more exaggerated than in Latin America and much of Asia.

Currently in the area of video and computer simulation as well as in the domain of cognitive research & in research on artificial intelligience much research is taking place in terms of proxemics.

In an almost classic example, one set of researchers looked at audiences from the USA. In this set of experiments the viewers for the experiments were divided by ethnic group in observing the distance and relationships of characters or figures during a video or during a computer game simulation.

Arab and Latin American students were shown the computer simulation of a group of figures in a variety of activities together.

At this stage, both the Latin Americans and Arabs found the figures in the computer simulation to be appropriately close to one another. Meanwhile, the non-Arabs and non-Hispanic viewers perceived the figures as being unnaturally close to one another in the various manifestations of interpersonal interactions.

At the next level of research the Latin American or Hispanic audience was shown a set of computer simulations where the figures were interacting at a still closer range than they had been interacting before. At this point the Hispanics objected saying that the distances in such settings were too close or unreal.

This stage of the study also showed that the Arab viewers still maintained that the interpersonal distances between the figures or actors on the computer game simulation appeared to be natural in distance to them.

In summary, distances that even Latin Americans might fight unnatural or threatening were considered acceptable or tolerant to the Arab in viewing the same interactions of pair and group work activities among the computerized figures.

Sadly, despite widespread knowledge of this difference in proxemics among scientists and educators working in the areas of cognitive, social and computer linguistics, this difference in cultures is generally only taught intentionally in (a) “intercultural awareness” seminars, (b) to a few business people working in international business training workshops, or (c) to language educators.


An Egyptian colleague of mine, who was also a brigadier general in the Egyptian air force in a prior career, shared with me once a story which has brought home the importance of teaching proxemics and the need of all in a multicultural world to become more aware of cross-cultural proxemics.

Over a 15 years ago, this Egyptian officer was in an English teacher training course at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. There were other officers from various Arab states in the same classroom as he. On the day in question, one Kuwaiti officer met an American female instructor, and he began to try and talk to her about a problem he was having.

As the Kuwaiti officer talked to his teacher, that female instructor backed up.

Since in his culture such a setting required closer proximity, the Kuwaiti moved closer to her once again.

This repeated itself until the female instructor was backed up against the wall.

Suddenly, she then fled the classroom with a scream.

My Egyptian colleague shared then how the wise director of the English teacher training program realized what had gone on, in terms of miscommunication due to classroom proxemics across cultures.

This director then preceded to train both the students and the teacher on what the appropriate differences (proxemics) in different social distances were among the cultures in various communicative settings.

These settings and distances change depend on how many people are involved in the communication and which cultures are generally involved.

Going into the Iraqi occupation, it is quite likely that American coalition forces as a whole were unable to make good judgments about what was safe and what were not safe distances and safe social contexts to put themselves in.

This has led to a heightened set of fear and stress for American forces relating to Iraqi Arabs in the 2003 to 2008 period.

Naturally, in Kuwait itself, this has led to most of the U.S. military personnel being subjected to little leave-time from their own military barracks for weeks at a time during the same periods. (At most only a few dozen personnel out of thousands are allowed off the U.S. bases each day.)

My theory concerning proxemics and roadway dangers in Kuwait is that part of the problem with driving on Kuwait highways is certainly that distances that are appropriate between cars are also subject to cultural proxemics.

With drivers from different cultural backgrounds now unable to adjust in time to the distances that the OTHER perceives as acceptable leads daily to a tremendous amount of high speed collisions in Kuwait--where the population is made up of 30% Kuwaitis born-and-raised here, 25% Arabs not from Kuwait, 30% Asians, and 15% Western or southern African, or Latin American residents.

Likewise, differences in distances between males and females from Asian and Western cultures are sometimes observed by Arabs in restaraunts, malls and other public spaces. However, these differences are misused or misunderstood by Arabs, such as Arab policemen, creating a very threatening situation when Arabs attempt to imitate (or fail to properly imitate) these differences in proxemics in the wrong social and communicative context.

This leaves western females and Asian females feeling unduly followed and insecure about Arabs and others from different cultures hanging around too close to them.

As the results of the survey are discussed below, note how many of these levels of concern might be lessened by the creation of more common understanding of how to behave in public space takes shape sometime in Kuwait in the future once this need for awareness of proxemics becomes more understood in this fast changing Gulf State.


The initial survey on Safety in Kuwait entailed a broad variety of Kuwaiti resident respondents answering these open-ended set of questions.

(1) What is your general feeling about safety in Kuwait? Is it very safe? Only safe in certain areas and/or at certain times of day?

(2) At what times are you most concerned personally about safety?

(3) At what times are you most concerned about the safety of others, such as loved ones or family members?

(4) Do you have recommendations to make about safety to people who are new to Kuwait?

(5) Do you have any recommendation to the cities of Kuwait, to the national government, or to police about how to make Kuwait more safe?

The were respondents as young as 10 or 11 years old, teenagers and adults through their 50s or 60s.

Moreover, among those who responded to the small survey were single women, single men, married couples, high school students, young ex-pats and Kuwaiti nationals. There were also Saudis, Bedouin, Christians, Muslims, Filipinos, Africans, British, German, Egyptians and a large variety of other respondents.

Incidentally, for those readers now living outside of Kuwait, it will be surprising to learn that very few of any of these varied respondents mentioned any level of fear of war overflowing from Iraq or Iran in Kuwait.

This is likely because in the last 5 years only a few terrorist attacks, threats of attacks, or robberies have been reported in the press in Kuwait.

Therefore, it should be understandable that many other issues of safety are more important in the daily lives of the 3 million (mostly foreign born) residents who live in Kuwait. The wars or rumors of war abroad are reported but as Kuwait is not at war with Iraq and as Kuwait currently prohibits its citizens from participating in the current occupation of Iraq, the war seem light years away at times—even though in actuality it is only an hour or two away by car.


In response to the first question, these are some of the tremendous variety of responses:

(1) What is your general feeling about safety in Kuwait? Is it very safe? Only safe in certain areas and/or at certain times of day?

--“It seems safe.”
--“No place is safe here, but safer than in Philippines (homeland).”
--“Safe, concerning crime.”
--“I feel it is safer than some cities/or most cities in the U.S., but being so close to a ware zone, always need to be aware of surroundings.”
--“Yes, but in the desert there are dangers”, i.e. reckless boys on three wheel buggies, and some animals, like scorpions.
--“The cities are most safe, but some deserts are surrounded by bombs.”
--“Yes, Kuwait is a safe place to live in, however, residential areas of local Kuwaitis need improvement in safety measures. At noon or night it is not safe for peddlers (and commuters).”
--“Depends on other country(ies), Kuwait is very safe.”
--“Kuwait is safe at certain times of day.”
--“I think there are different places (that are safe)like at home, at school, at shops or supermarket.”
--“No, it is not safe. Well can’t say because every now and then there is problem everywhere. It’s mostly (unsafe) during the evenings.”

The overall variety of respondents felt that only location and time of day led to lack of comfort in moving about in Kuwait. Only a few males claimed that Kuwait was very safe.

In response to the second question, these are some of the tremendous variety of responses:

(2) At what times are you most concerned personally about safety?

--“At night.”
--“When I am driving at night.”
--“Rush hours (7 to 9am), (12-2pm), (5-7pm) & weekend and nights.”
--“When I’m not at home or in school.”
--“If I am alone in the mall.”
--“Riding in the bus because you can’t get out if there’s trouble.”
--“When a guy dies in front of you and you can’t do anything.”
--“When driving on the road (being driven) or as a pedestrian crossing the road.”
--“After 3am”, i.e. drag racing time scenes are around Kuwait in early mornings
--“Like I said, it’s only on the roads and highways and that has no particular time.”
--“When I ride a car with a bad driver.”
--“In the malls on weekends because of the fights.”

When discussing personal safety, the female respondents showed greater variety of fears for all locations and times in contrast to male respondents. Moreover, Asian respondents felt more fear more of the time than did either Arabs or Westerners.

In response to the third question, these are some of the tremendous variety of responses:

(3) At what times are you most concerned about the safety of others, such as loved ones or family members?

--“I am concerned about my big brother when he drives in big sand drifts.”
--“When they are out at night or when they are out without a visa.”
--“When driving in the desert” & “I’m afraid for my brother running into a bomb”
--“My spouse as he is an instructor for the Kuwaiti Air Force and this could be a possible target for attack.”
--“After midnight”
--“At night”
--“On the roads when driving”
--“When my father and grandpa go fishing at 3am.”
--“I’m concerned for the safety of western women at night, on public transport & when they are on their own.”
--“There is no specific time, however, driving is not safe in Kuwait at all times.”
--“At nights and noon.” & “Early evening and night.”, i.e. seemingly concerned with transportation

Asians and western women showed particular concern for family and others being out at night or in public spaces, like malls alone. Asians were more likely to be concerned about loved ones wandering about without visas and paperwork. (The Kuwaiti employers and government delay approval of visa and other documents for months on end.) It should be noted that youth are also very concerned about all of these same issues—worried about brothers, fathers, grandfathers, mothers, etc. on the roads or out and about in Kuwait.

In response to the fourth question, these are some of the variety responses:

(4) Do you have recommendations to make about safety to people who are new to Kuwait?

--“Explain to them about problems on highways and proximics including closeness and touching as well as warn them about the lack of good law enforcement.”
--“To respect the country’s traditions.”
--“Stay in a group. Be polite.”
--“For the women, I’d say don’t drive alone late at nights in isolated places. Don’t ever walk., otherwise only be extra careful when driving.”
--“Always use common sense while using taxis. Try not to travel alone in unfamiliar places.”
--“Keep a safe distance you talk to or question. Be alert at all times.”
--“When there is a fire. Save the others by calling the police. The number for police (and emergencies) is 777.”
--“New people need information regarding residency, money, and visa matters.”
--“Be careful on the roads. Only get into a car when you have to … maybe safer to use a bus.”
--“Warn them about the dangers to pedestrians.”

Most of these are directed towards women in Kuwait. Both male and female Asians as well as western women need to be aware of kidnappings and rapes as real possibilities in Kuwait—though possibly more of a fear level of awareness than in actual number of cases in a country of 3 million. However, kidnappings and forced prostitution are certainly also too prevalent in the secluded corners of some neighborhoods and ghettos.

In response to the fifth question, these are some of the variety responses:

(5) Do you have any recommendation to the cities of Kuwait, to the national government, or to police about how to make Kuwait more safe?

--“Police need to follow the laws, like when they knowingly arrest people who actually have their visas along with those who don’t. POLICE ARE FOR PROTECTION, NOT ABUSE. (Same goes in my country, the Philippines where some lesser problem prevails.) I’m scared when I see police here in Kuwait.”
--“The police should be available everywhere.”
--“Better and more police.”
--“They (the police) need to test (oversee) the desert and they need to come faster when they call them. They (the police) need to command the government to prohibit ATVs (three wheel buggies) in the street.”
--“Apply rules of traffic consistently and penalize accordingly.”
--“Teach and tell children not to play in the streets.”
--“To be more serious when dealing with people’s complaints at the police stations.”
--“Police are the worst offenders.”
--“Dangerous driving (must be stopped). Hooliganism on the main roads should have more severe consequences. FINES. Take away license. (Enforce) license age for drivers at 18+.”
--“Hire and empower safety engineers to transform the country, building bridges and tunnels (for pedestrians) and safety infrastructure. Hire police from Europe or USA or Japan.”
--“Police must be required to speak some English/learn some basic western/non-threatening body language.”

A comment from one teenager was that the police are the worst ones in the law enforcement system and actually promote lack of safety in Kuwait. This was reaffirmed by what some adults suggested.

Further, acculturation of western concepts and standards was demanded by almost every respondent. These reforms have been hard to reinforce or introduce in Kuwait where wasta, bribes, and the hiring of police from the most traditional and lower echelon of society has been prevalent for decades. I.e. the police are observed as extremely subservient to the wealthier, political (tribal) & economic powerful classes to a great degree in Kuwait.


Considering the variety of peoples from all over the world who make up both cosmopolitan and parochial Kuwait today, it is surprising that there can be a consensus on what they think and feel.

Nonetheless, this initial foray into the opinions of Kuwaiti residents of their perceptions on safety shows that they are not as multifaceted in terms of their concerns as one might expect.

(1) There is the prevalent need and desire to have standards enforced much better by police & at levels or standards of police performance expected in Northern Europe, Japan, or the United States.
(2) There is a consensus for the rule of law to dominate in terms of safety on the countries roadways and in public spaces. Buses, taxis, and poorly policed neighborhoods are of special concern.
(3) There is strong agreement that the roadways, parks, malls, deserts, and seaside need to be turned into a safer place for all to travel or holiday in.
(4) Remarkably, a common or prevailing perception is also that the level of safety for males in Kuwait is still commonly perceived as good as or better than in one’s home country.
(5) In contrast, women--especially western women and Asians-- feel that they soon may be under threat or constantly must remain ever-alert when out and about.
(6) Children and teenagers need more oversight and restrictions in public space. Some drive on highways at ages as young as 12 and 13—sometimes with off-road vehicles or in fast cars. Others run in gangs threatening expatriates at bus stops and in buses.

Alternatively, more organized after school activities might certainly help youth—as would awareness campaigns for parents as to the alternatives to running in gangs or getting caught up in fights or drug scenes.

Another sort of public awareness campaign would be one targeting cross-cultural communication in a multicultural society. I believe that as multinational societies form and reform all over the planet in coming decades each society will face similar trouble in defining themselves and proxemics & other non-verbal communication practices in a society will need to be thrashed out again and again.

The historical approach of pretending that expatriates are only a temporary phenomena in Kuwait needs to be ended.

This means that government and police need to be seen as working for the commonweal of the entire mass of people it has welcomed to inhabit the same space—making up the current country of Kuwait.

These so-called expatriates who make up the bulk of society people need to become part of regular government surveys on how to improve the country for all. Two million expatriates cannot be treated as the invisible people of the land any longer.

These expatriates, with their varying backgrounds, can make a lot of important suggestions to Kuwait and its leaders these days.

One important multi-national organization working for safety issues in Kuwait is the Kuwaiti Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers who recently gave a presentation at one of the schools I have been teaching in.

American Society of Safety Engineers. Kuwait Chapter http://www.assekuwait.org/

The society’s technical know-how, educational orientation, and multicultural insight are examples of what can be formed or created to improve any society located on the edge of Iraq’s civil war--and near Iran, whose government appears to be incapable of improving its economy and society, without picking fights around the region and globe.


The following is an example of a recent communication to U.S. citizens living in Kuwait. The contents or warning are not typical but are exemplary of the need to discuss safety in Kuwait.

“The (USA) Embassy would like to highlight two recent incidents in Kuwait and recommend how to handle similar situations:
Incident 1 - Recently, an American spouse was at the Carrefour store at the Avenues Mall when she was harassed by an Arab male making inappropriate comments. The spouse departed the store to avoid the harassment and was followed by the man to her vehicle who tried to enter it. The spouse was not hurt during the attempted vehicle entry and the she departed the area.”

“Recommended action: In a case as this, attempt to contact the store management or security personnel or go to an area where there are cashiers or other patrons. Do not go to a location where there are no other people (the parking garage) or lead the individual to your vehicle.”

“Incident 2 - An American observed what appeared to be an Arab male harassing females walking. The American stopped his car to assist the women, which enraged the Arab male, who then chased him with his vehicle. The American was cut off by the Arab male, at which time the American exited his vehicle to engage in conversation. The Arab male reversed his vehicle and drove over the American, breaking his leg.”

“Recommended Action: Although the American acted with a great degree of chivalry, there is no upside to getting involved in a situation like this. It is better to report the behavior and location to the authorities, stay in your vehicle, get a license plate number and physical description of the vehicle and driver, and never attempt to engage the other party.”
---from Warden Letter relaying report from US Embassy in December 2007.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Serendipity and a Journey to West Bali 2008

Serendipity and a Journey to West Bali 2008

Dear Friends and Family,

These past two weeks I returned to Bali for a vacation at a pair of resorts, each of special character, first South Bali and then in West Bali.

I had stayed in Kuta an Legian in South Bali several times before, but this time, I stayed in Tanjung Benoa at the Peninsula Resort for a week prior to moving out to West Bali and staying in the isolated Medewi Cottage Retreat near Pekutatan.

This latter resort in Medewi was so isolated it had neither internet nor telephone access. This Medewi Retreat is located amongst a village hidden off the main west-east roadway and with in walking distance from the black sand beaches of Medewi, where surfing and body surfing are among life’s simple pleasures.

Meanwhile, the hotel at Tanjung Benoa was special because from it, I had access to local bicycle journeys and boating journeys—including a rafting trip northeast of Denpasar one day.


I have been planning to stay at Medewi for several years—since I first bought property at its partner resort on Gili Meno island off the cost of Lombok in Indonesia. A year ago, on a day-trip I had visited the area near Negara to see the Bugi boats of the Muslims at Pengambangan village.

Those Bugi ships, originally from Salawasi three and arriving to Bali three centuries ago, are famous for their bright colors and the miniature mosques above their bows--and for the fact that the Bugi’s owners’ ancestors used to serve as pirates and protectors of the Bali Kingdom’s past.

The nearby and larger western town of Negara is the largest town in the West of Bali but still has wonderfully cute horse-drawn carriages serving as taxis.

Negara is situated between Medewi and the Islam communities of Pengambangan. For far and wide, Negara also has the only public internet service. The city and region has historically ignored by the greater Balinese society along with the leadership of Suharto of Java who dominated the politics of Indonesia till quite recently.

Only in the last five years or so, has Negara and West Bali received state-sponsored colleges and training centers of the level of educational offerings from Bali’s central government.


Although one of the oldest and most important Hindu temples and shrines, Pura Rambut Siwi, is located near Medewi, I believe that there are many more mosques to be observed along the west coast roads and villages of Bali than in many of the eastern and southern coast towns near the capital of Denpasar (or near the cultural centers of central Bali, like Ubud and Mas).

This year of 2008, I had planned to immerse myself in Christian books and relaxation in the West Coast of Bali. Prior to arriving in Bali this winter, I had only one excursion planned.

This was a pair of journeys I intended to make to the famed (or infamous) Christian settlements of West Bali: Palasari (Catholic) and Blimbingsari (Protestant).

Various guide books had explained to me long ago that under the Dutch colonial domination of the Indonesian archipelago, proselytizing was officially prohibited. Therefore, as Chinese and other Christians began to settle in and make conversions on the Hindu island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Dutch colonial government sided with Hindus who claimed “foul”.

In the late 1930s the Dutch colonial regime forced many Catholics and protestant Christians to make a very long trek to the rugged and underdeveloped western part of Bali in order to create and build a new home—i.e. out-of-sight and mind of the great majority of Hindu families and Balinese & Dutch officials who functioned in South, Central, and Eastern Bali.

From my perspective, it appears to have been a forced removal, whereby the Christians were forced to dig up the rocky soil and arid west hill country of Western Bali with the most rudimentary of tools, i.e. creating a sort of Bantustan for Protestants in one town—Blinbingsari—as well as another catholic town some kilometers away.

Here is the story of these Balinese Christians as shared in the Rough Guides: Bali & Lombok.

“While Muslims have long been welcomed into western Balinese society, Christians have historically had a frostier reception. When the Dutch gained full control over Balinese affairs in 1908, they extended their policy of undiluted cultural preservation to include barring all Christian missionaries from practicing on the island. But attentions relaxed over the next two decades, and by 1932 Tsang To Hang, a Chinese representative of the American Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), had made several hundred converts on Bali, mostly within Bali’s Chinese community but also some of ‘pure Balinese’ ethnicity. The CMA’s fundamentalist approach created hostility between the converts and their neighbors, however, as converts were encouraged to destroy Hindu temples and to question the iniquities of the entrenched Hindu caste system. Hindu leaders responded by forbidding Hindus from having any contact with Balinese Christians.” (p.359)

How did the European Colonial masters decide to make a peace?

“The Dutch soon banned the CMA, and in 1939 concluded that the best way to ease growing tensions between Balinese Christians and Hindus was to isolate the Christians in a remote, inhospitable area of uninhabitable jungle high up in the mountains of west Bali, some 30km northwest of Negara. Against massive odds and with an amazing pioneering spirit, the Protestants hacked the cross-shaped village of Blimbingsari out of the jungle and built a huge modern church at its core, the mother church for Bali’s entire Christian community. Some 5km southeast, the Catholics did the same for their community at Palasari.”(p.360)


For me, the most motivating reason for me to travel to observe happenings and life in Blimbingsari was a concept that the Rough Guide writers had shared about the structures and traditions of these two Christian enclaves in West Bali: This was the phenomena of “contextualization of faith”.

Namely, the founders of both these Christian communities appear to gone out of their ways to disprove the widely held belief that the Hinduism, its tenants, and practices cannot be separated from culture society on the island of Bali.

In both the Protestant and Catholic Christian township, “missions were founded on the principle of contextualization within Balinese Culture, so many elements of Balinese Christian practices have distinctly Balinese-Hindu roots, including church architecture, dress, and thanksgiving offerings . . . . Balinese music and dance, for example, are taught in Blimbingsari and Palasari, but the characters and stories are taken from the Bible rather than from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the churches . . . are quite astonishing , blending Balinese and Western European architecture to dramatic effect.”

Sadly, due to the same developmental problems that rural societies are facing all over the planet these days, both Palasari and Blimbingsari townships are facing the problems of aging and falling populations as generations young people are forced to move away from their hometowns to go to work or to continue at a university—and they are often unable to return to live in their hometowns later in life.

With all this information in mind, I had determined some time ago to visit these two villages on my trip to Bali in 2008 in order to get a taste of the villages and life there in those Protestant and Catholic enclaves before the sad transformation of small town societies leave further scars or gaps in community life there in West Bali.


As noted above, I had arrived in Bali on the 25th of January, 2008 with the intention of spending one week in South Bali and the second week in West Bali. On the second day of my stay in Tanjung Benoa I was picked up and taken to a partner church of my own congregation back in Kuwait.

It is simply known as the Bali Church of Christ and its membership reflects the face of Christianity on the island of Bali today where a more tolerant attitude towards Christianity on the island of Bali has apparently arisen over the years since the Dutch were kicked out--and in the period since both the Chinese and Balinese peoples were persecuted so severely under the early years of the Suharto dictatorship of Indonesia.

After fellowshipping with some members of this great church in Denpasar on that Sunday, I was re-invited back on Thursday night to give the contribution message.

Little did I know that soon I would be blessed with the opportunity of gaining two new friends and taking these same two fascinating visitors with me to see that partner church in Denpasar several nights before transferring my residence to Medewi out in Western Bali.


It all began as I strolled down the coast on Wednesday evening just to get some exercise and to stop occasionally to read a Christian book in preparation for my talk at church the subsequent evening.

After a bit I passed by the Conrad Hotel. By that time I had walked to the edge of neighboring Nusa Dua and was just about ready to turn back up the coast towards the Peninsula Hotel when I was greeted by a security man at the Conrad Hotel dressed in very traditional Balinese clothing—including headscarf and sarong.

The man was extremely friendly and forthcoming. He had seen me reading a book and had asked me about it. In this context, I mentioned the need to go to church the following night.

The young Balinese looked surprised and asked me, “Are you Christian?”

I indicated that I was.

Next, the man explained that his family was also Christian--although his family name, Agung, is associated with one of the palaces near Denpasar.

That is, Mr. Agung was both from a royal Balinese family line and his ancestors were among those who had converted to Christianity decades ago. They were those Balinese who had built Blimbingsari nearly 70 years ago.

In fact, this security official, named Agung, was born and raised with his siblings in Blimbingsari—my dream destination for this journey to Bali!

Talk about serendipitous!

I learned also that Agung had just gotten married through a series of three ceremonies in December 2007—two in Blimbingsari and one at the Agung family’s traditional palace near Denpasar.

Agung often attended a Christian fellowship in Nusa Dua, but he stated he would be happy to attend with me to my church the following night in Denpasar.

And what’s more!

Agung and his young bride both had two days off to visit Blimbingsari with me on the coming Saturday and Sunday--as this particular weekend was the weekend of the Hindu holiday which concludes the Balinese New Years’ celebration: The weekend is called Kunningan and Manis Kunningan.

Happily, the very next evening in Denpasar, I, in fact, found Agung and his wife waiting for me in the Bali Church of Christ in Denpasar the next night as I arrived. By the way, his wife had been Hindu before the marriage, so there is much that the new Mrs. Agung doesn’t know about the Christian world yet--but that she is getting to know about these days.

On Friday night, prior to my journey with Agung and his wife to Bimbingsari, Agung drove by my hotel in Tanjung Benoa and showed me the great variety of costumes at the three weddings which had taken place in December 2007 at the nearby palace of the Agung’s family and at the church in Blimbingsari.

At one point, Agung noted as we looked at the photo albums that his wife was sad because she was saying good-bye to her family Gods during one of the ceremonies.

I was touched by this and impressed by how love had combined people of two different faiths.

Interestingly, the marriage has enabled Agung to have greater insight into traditional Balinese holidays, like Kuningan as he now depends on his wife to occasionally transmit or relate cultural information to him. This information he can use in his job to pass on answers to guests’ queries at the Conrad Hotel. (Guests are always asking questions about the various Balinese customs, and Agung is not nearly so intimately familiar to these traditions as his wife is—as she grew up in a traditional Hindu Balinese household with its temples and ceremonies.)


On the 2nd of February 2008, with my driver from Tanjung Benoa (and who was also headed to West Bali to visit his family as part of the Balinese new Years’ celebrations of Kuningan), I picked up Agung and his wife in front of the Ubung Bus Station in Denpasar where they had parked his motorbike.

Agung was again dressed in his traditional Balinese finery. Although not a wealthy man as far as money goes, Agung takes pride in his clothing attire and sees to it that it reflects the best in ceremonial fashion for each occasion.

Agung does certainly have a wealth of siblings. He is one of 13 children and both his parents are still alive. Most of them live still in Bimblingsari.

Upon my arrival in his village some three hours west of Tanjung Benoa, Agung took me immediately to the town’s large and centralized church. (There is more than one church in the township these days.) Outside this church building, the entrance gates reflected similar designs and form to those found at any Hindu temple entrance in Bali--except that in Blimbingsari the red-earth-colored gate entranceway is decorated with crosses.

There were traditional garden ponds further inside the church complex along with a wonderful variety of flowers and plants.

To the left of the large open church was another structure for use by the church’s orchestra of traditional musical instruments found in Bali—and naturally also often found in similar structures next to temples at Balinese dance celebrations throughout the isle.

The subsequent Sunday in church , musicians—including Agung’s uncles and cousins—sat there under that same structure at the edge of the church and played kendang (drums), belagenjur (cymbols), gamelan, reyong and terompong, i.e these are different type of Balinese gongs and bamboo instruments creating sounds similar to marimbas and chimes. (These same Bimblingsari musicians would also play these instruments along with some Balinese and traditional church hymns.)

The roof of the church is reminiscent of the large open structures whereby some Hindu ceremonies take place in other parts of Bali, but there is a large cross and baptistery nearby as well. Also, where one might otherwise find carvings or images of dragons, elephants, and other gods in a Hindu structures, the only figures or creatures observed around this church were that of rooster or chicken, i.e. symbols used on protestant churches in Europe in order to distinguish the Lutheran from the Catholic structures..

All of us next drove to Agung’s humble home nearer to the main road. There I enjoyed coconuts, lychee, cocoa, and jellies—all of which came from the Agung family’s small and diversified garden--before heading back to Medewi for the night.


Unable to rent a driver for the next day at a decent price, I rented a motorcycle for (only)the second time in my entire life and drove it all the way back to Blimbingsari for 9a.m. church service the next morning.

The Gamelan Orchestra was playing as I arrived and everyone was wearing formal Balinese traditional clothing, headdresses, and other finery.

I was the only foreigner visiting that morning and the locals all tried to make me feel at home—even apologizing profusely that the service was carried out in Balinese and not in English.

Agung’s brother came over and sat by me in church, but he wasn’t able to translate much. Luckily, I had my Bible with me and I was able to decipher which 4 or 5 texts were discussed and when.

Finally, even though I don’t understand the Balinese words of their songs and hymns, I was able to sing along because the Indonesians and Balinese use the western writing system of English and Holland.

The Blimbingsari pastor dressed like a priest of Hindu tradition but gave a tough sermon on living out the words of the gospel and not simply trying to consider oneself as good because one comes from Blimbingsari or one feels he is lives what he is living out a better life than his neighbors, i.e. non-Christians.

The atmosphere at the service and the music there were even more enjoyable than I had expected—with a flowing fountain and stream situated behind the minister and other leaders of the church.

Later, on the back of the motorbike, I returned—with Agung’s brother at the helm of the motor bike—to Agung’s house.

I cannot emphasize enough that Agung’s home doesn’t look like the home of royalty. (The family did lose all right to inheriting property in Denpasar near the palace when Agung’s grandfather converted to Christianity decades ago. They have also had a hard time financially in recent years.)

Nonetheless, the Agung home is a joyful place. I enjoyed more fruits from their local garden as well coffee & conversation as Agung, himself, prepared a simple vegetarian lunch of Tapioca leaves and rice for our lunch.

I observed, too, as I was shown again around the small yard that the Agung family had several types of traditional medicinal plants growing here and there throughout the gardens.

The only livestock the family had were a few chickens running in and out the bare earth doorways.

Holes in the walls and in the roof need to be prepared.

Despite their lack of wealth, the Agung family is blessed and was a blessing to me.

Several children are already stars—one girl recently won a scholarship to study for free in Denpasar. Another younger boy has gone with other performing Balinese dancers to Singapore in recent years—not bad for a 14 year old, who dances to Christian tales normally—i.e. not the traditional myths of Hinduism.

The members of the Agung family apologized many times for their humble lifestyle but were just as gracious as hosts as one would expect of royalty or Bedouin tribes.

The Agungs indicated that they were pleased that I had arrived in time for church after coming 50 km on very winding roadways—and not getting lost along the way.

I explained, “I got here so fast because I really don’t know how to brake the motor bike well. This was only the second time I have driven a motorcycle and that first one was an automatic. This motor bike had gears that I had to shift with feet and hands—so learning to brake was just one of a number of things on my mind.”


I soon thanked my humble hosts and asked for them to pray that I wouldn’t kill myself motor biking back to Medewi. (It was particularly stressful as in Kuwait I drive on the right side of the road but in Indonesia one drives on the left. So, I not only had to worry about shifting gears and braking that Sunday on a motorbike, but I needed to make certain at all times that I didn’t suddenly head into oncoming traffic.)

On my way back to Negara, I saw the turnoff to Palasari, the Catholic village, so I headed back up towards the mountains.

Palasari is more on the tourist route than is Blimbingsari—probably because the community has successfully built an extensive irrigation system enabling more residents to reside there than in distant Blimbingsari.

Moreover, the fact is that the Catholic church building in Palasari stands out more on Bali as it is much more European in style. This large stone structure is more imposing and a greater contrast to the typical temple of worship on Bali. This means that the structure’s beauty and its different qualities from other places of worship can be observed from further away and from outside the building—i.e. when the building is closed & without having to actually attend a worship service as I did in Blimbingsari.

From a tourist perspective, thought, both churches and communities are remarkable. So, I encourage all long-time residents of Bali to get to know them. Their communities’ inceptions as villages dates to days when Bali was less tolerant and reminds one that peace is transient if a community, such as Bali which has been under Islamic terrorist threats for years, fails to continue to respond with tolerance to the visitors from around the world who comes to enjoy its beauty and diverse society.

On the other hand, the churches in these rural Bali towns, like Palisari and Blimblingsari also model the kind of positive development that is possible in any community, i.e. when a community sets out to create the best integration of multiple worlds and cultures for their children and future generations to enjoy.

After spending this past week in West Bali, I would have to agree to locals perceptions that the hostilities between Christian converts and Bali Hindus has long since subsided for those who live on the West coast of Bali.

This is a great example because elsewhere, such as in India today, where Hindu groups have led attacks on Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims in recent years, such interfaith tolerance is not witnessed nearly so readily as it should be these days.

Likewise, from China to Saudi Arabia to other corners of the globe, peoples of whatever faith are not always welcome. This makes the whole planet unsafe for us all.


Kevin A. Stoda
Back in Kuwait.


Saturday, February 02, 2008



By Kevin Anthony Stoda, On-line alternative to mediocrity in governance

I hope by now Americans are getting tired of candidates not talking about issues, like the Iraq War and how much it is costing U.S.A. tax payers each day. Amazingly, in both the USA and foreign press, the media has been hoodwinked from counting the costs of the current war in Iraq.


Other U.S.A. wars will have created a war debt of 65 trillion dollars by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the USA press is only focusing on the Primary campaigns and supposedly only on domestic politics.

Come on, America, look beyond the cash-cow media machine that runs American thinking these days!

There are nearly 170,000American soldiers in Iraq alone and hundreds of thousands of others waiting in line to go to Iraq, Afghanistan and other powder kegs around the world! This is the reality of 2008!!!!!

The “endless war on terror” is terrorizing the economy in the U.S. home front—just as the Vietnam War cost America its dreams to build a better society in the by soaking up American money and no-how at a super-rate—leading to Deflation and Recession in the USA for over a decade, i.e. throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

Don’t put up with the handful of neo-cons, neo-liberals, conservatives, pure libertarians et. al. who are so vested in the system that they can’t tell what is good for America, Americans, and American foreign relations, i.e. a sustainable American energy and a sustainable social network!


I will spend Super Tuesday looking at the world media and going over the best ideas of those progressive candidates who were forced to bow out of the U.S. presidential race. I am talking about platforms from Edwards, Kucinich, and Richardson. I am open to others suggestions.

Send suggestions for platform to this website!

At this time of recession-- and after so many years of misusage of tax funds in America--, progressives need to push the envelope of these campaigns in 2008 ( presidential and congressional campaigns) to the progressive ranks.

We are not going to be able to do this with the current field of Republican and Democratic frontrunners not talking about things like the COST OF WAR ON THE AMERICAN SOCIETY in this decade and decades to come.

Even China has already indicated it has no intention of following either the path of the USA or Japan of the 20th century and throwing so great a percentage of it’s country’s resources on the machinery of war.

Like the terrorists and CIA operatives of the World, most countries on planet Earth have learned from the 20th Century that guerrilla wars and low-cost attacks creating fear are far more efficient than the most up-to-date mega-million dollar war machine or billion dollar war instruments can put up with over the long haul.

This is why public diplomacy and lower cost products like shooting simple laser beams at satellites are cheaper than what the U.S. defense program has been trying to do—i.e. try and outspend (militarily) all other competing countries around the planet year after year.


Casualties in Iraq 2008, http://www.antiwar.com/casualties/

The Cost of War, http://www.afsc.org/cost/

Iraq War Costs could Top 2 Trillion Dollars, http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0110/dailyUpdate.html

The National Priority Project http://www.nationalpriorities.org/costofwar_home

Projected Iraq War Costs Soar, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/26/AR2006042601601.html