Monday, May 28, 2012

Culture Shock Oman: Modesty in the L

Culture Shock Oman: Modesty in the LR By Kevin Stoda, Dhofar Although I have traveled to or lived in more than 100 countries over the past 4 decades, I still run into culture shocks. (This is part-and-parcel of my personal lifelong learning project in any case. In short, I am committed to learning about new places, ways of life and different ways of thinking.) Culture shocks used to take me down—get me depressed for quite some time. However, nowadays, I usually try to take the bull by the horns and turn things around as fast as I can, i.e. chalking such “shocks” all up to experience and to the fact that the planet is filled with thousands of cultures. If we are all going to get along, we have to be tolerant and open to different ways of doing (and thinking about) many things. I want to share the following anecdote about an experience in a men’s locker rooms at a major international hotel chain, a hotel which is not far from where I live in Salalah, Oman. I do this—not because the incident in itself is all that profound--, but rather, it is how I responded and began to search for explanation behind the “culture shock” and how I sought to recover from it which are a model for what I suggest you follow when living and working abroad, especially in the Arab world. The Arab world is far from being a unified culture. This is something almost any guidebook will note. Such a situation is inevitable when one considers that there are some 22 countries which speak Arabic or Arabic dialects as their primary language of communication. Nonetheless, even though I have lived and worked in Arab countries most of the past 15 years, this diversity within the Arab world is something that I can forget or fail to take into context from time to time. I need to note that I have worked in Oman, Kuwait, and the UAE since 1999. In addition, I have traveled to other Arab speaking lands--as diverse as Syria, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Lebanon. I should also explain that in most of these countries, I have undertaken my favorite hobby: swimming. For various health reasons, I have undertaken swimming to relieve stress and to tone muscles. SWIMMING IN ARABIA Quite obviously, swimming procedures for females in the Arab world are certainly more proscribed than the procedures for males. In many of the stricter Islamic countries, women must swim fully clothed. Whereas, men can simply wear shorts in most places. On the other hand, bikini shorts are out in most any place for both genders and men often need to cover themselves with at least a robe or t-shirt when leaving the area of the pool or the beach. Of all the Arab lands I have swum in, the one where I swam in the most often was Kuwait. This is, naturally, because I lived in Kuwait the longest—five whole years. I swam year round there on the Persian Gulf—either at the sea or in the municipal public indoor/outdoor swimming pool in Salmiya. That particular public pool in Salmiya, by the way, had an enormous men’s locker room—where one could both shower and change. Within this particular locker room, life functioned as would be the case in most public locker rooms I had grown up in back in the USA, my homeland. An individual simply changed from one’s street clothes or swimshorts (and visa versa) in front of one’s own locker. In other words, there was no area for private locker space, e.g. with private doors for individuals to change or dress behind. Sadly, most Arab countries do not usually have public swimming pools, like Kuwait had. This is likely due to the modesty of dress and garb for which much of the Islamic world is renowned. SWIMMING IN OMAN On public beaches in Oman, the situation is quite similar to that found in Kuwait and other Gulf state Arab countries. However, the Dhofar region (where I live now) is known a bit more for its conservative and traditional rural lifestyle. Nonetheless, I, myself, from January through March of this year swam at Haffa Public Beach in Salalah. I would often bicycle 2km from my house wearing a swimsuit, t-shirt, and sandals to the sea. I should note that such behavior (of wearing shorts) is totally acceptable for Westerners living in this tourist city of 150,000. There have been enough foreign visitors, tourists, and workers over many decades to this part of the Dhofar region to create an acceptance for men wearing shorts—even away from the seaside and away from the football pitches. At the sea, other swimmers, even a few fisherman, and I would take off our shirts and swim in the waves at the Haffa from late October through March. More fully clothed women and children would occasionally swim, too. Alas, by April each year the waters around Dhofar begin to get rougher--and starting in late June people are no longer even permitted to swim in the sea due to safety concerns. This is due to the rise of Monsoons coming off the Indian Ocean. Finally, in late April, after getting beaten by the strong waves one-too-many-times, I decided or chose to become a member at the local Crown Plaza Resort. The offers a health club, pool, tennis and golf. This was the first time in nearly 25 years that I had decided to join a private health club, so I tried to watch what others were doing so as not make any faux pas. Nevertheless, one Friday evening this may, I was blindsided and almost became angry. A SHOCK OF MODESTY During the weekdays, I usually swim in the mornings (before work), and after my swim and shower I often found the men’s locker room all too myself. However, on weekends, I often came later in the day. On the fateful Friday night in question, I went swimming around 6:30pm and later found myself back in the men’s locker room. Initially, when I walked in, I was likely the one who should have been most upset or disturbed. This was because other members of the club—probably youthful ones who did not know any better—had hung up their underwear, clothing, and robes in front of the showers and not in the lockers nearby, i.e. as decorum would have them do. As I readied myself to shower, I went with my key to my locker and took out the resort’s towel which I had borrowed when I had arrived earlier in the evening. Next, I entered the shower area and pulled a curtain closed. At that point when I showered, I was still wearing my swim trunks. Meanwhile, I had left my towel hanging at my locker rather than across from the showers, i.e. because the inconsiderate youth had disgracefully left their belongings occupying that space. Upon finishing the shower, I was still wearing my swimwear. I walked a few yards back to my locker where now another man was standing. He was trying to put clothes on under a large brown-grey dishdasha (robe). I didn’t think anything about it at the time. I quickly began to dry off with the towel I had hung over my locker door a few minutes earlier. Next, I took off the swimwear in order to continue drying myself more thoroughly and in order to change relatively quickly into my street shorts. At that moment, another local Arab who had come into the small locker room turned and went out quickly. Within a single minute, I found myself confronted and attacked by a loud angry Arab, who was wearing blue squash shorts and shirt, yelling at me, “This is not your home. This is not allowed. It’s unacceptable.” He almost seemed to be wanting to hit me and wanting to grab me and throw me. This man had apparently been called in because he could speak some English. Neither of the two men worked for the health club. Despite my attempts at quiet protest at such a treatment, the loud Arab repeated his mantra four more times, “This is not your home. This is not allowed.” When I enquired with justification where and how I should change my clothes, the man had no insight to offer. He simply repeated, “This is not your home. This is not allowed.” I proffered the solution, “Perhaps I should change in the toilet stall.” However, the man did not condone this either. With the towel placed quickly over my waist, I put my shorts on—with the angry Arab man’s outrage ringing in my ears. Quite obviously, the man felt he was speaking for all Arab’s in the Health Club. I felt unfairly targeted and abused. HOW I PROCEEDED Initially, my anger almost got the better of me. I entertained thoughts of complaining and demanding my money back for my membership immediately. I proceeded with all my belongings to the check-in desk and asked to speak to the manager, who turned out not to be there. I then asked for a pen and paper and wrote up an “incident report” and asked the manager to call me back over the next few mornings. In the report, I asked the manager to look into what had happened and to take time to explain to me the cultural context of the verbal assault I had just faced. Moreover, the bottom-line for me would be “What did I need to do in order to change clothes and not feel like a donkey when I left the club each time?” At the reception, I also asked for the name of the manager, and I was informed that his name was Yosef. I asked whether he was from Oman and was told he was not. He is from Lebanon. A few days later, I finally received a phone call from the manager. By the time, I had finished that call with the Health Club Manager (Yosef), it was clear to me that culturally speaking, the Lebanese Arab was baffled by the behavior of the local Arabs. Yosef said he would look into the matter and get back to me. In the meantime, Yosef made the suggestion and provision that I change my clothes in the massage room area until the matter was cleared up. Interestingly, on my subsequent morning visit to the Health Club, I ran into Manager Yosef from Lebanon for the first time personally. After hearing my description, Yosef had to ponder and ask himself aloud, “How do the locals change?” It turns out that Yosef had only worked in Oman for 8 months and was not aware of any local locker room behaviors that were different from Lebanon and Oman, i.e. until the incident in the locker room occurred the week before. Next, we met with a long-term Omani staff member at Crown Plaza who came to the locker room and discussed locker room protocol with him. The local Arab explained that what I had done in the locker room was haram (forbidden) locally. Our next question was to ask how local Omanis change and use the locker room. I won’t go into any more details here but this process of interviewing a local person to become-in-the-know is someone that everyone needs to contact after one has experienced an incidence of culture shock. In conclusions, I just wish to suggest that next time you, too, experience any form of culture shock, try these steps: (1) Recognize that getting angry or emotional may only escalate stress and pain in the long term—as well as in the short term. In other words, fleeing or fighting are not your best choices. (2) Try to write down and rehearse exactly what happened so you can talk to others about it. Do this immediately after the incident or incidents so that you don’t get into the habit of collecting cultural stresses that will blow up later in unanticipated ways. (3) Decide what is most important for you to achieve some sort of closure or resolution to the stresses and shocks. For example, I decided to focus on three points in my initial letter to the manager and I stuck with them for several days until some sort of solution to my stress was found or achieved. These points were (a) inform the manage what occurred, (b) ask the manager to help me find a solution so I could continue to be a member and go swimming, and (c) find out what the underlying cultural assumption about behavior was. In the case referred to in this lengthy anecdote above), I discovered that the local definition of “Arab Modesty”, i.e. as defined by locals here in Dhofar, is quite different than in Kuwaiti or Lebanese locker rooms for men. In short, not all Arabs nor all Arab cultural practices are the same.

Monday, May 21, 2012

NATO has no Place in Our World in this Century

INTERVIEW from: BERNARDINE DOHRN:We’re deeply involved because NATO is a global secret cabal. It is the military arm of the global 1 percent. And really, I think NATO has become background to how we hear the news: "NATO forces, NATO bombings." And when you try to find out what NATO is, you realize that it is the largest global military alliance in human history and that its key elements are that it is about permanent war, it is about dirty war, it is about nuclear war, and it is about hot wars—really four of them right now. So we don’t really know what it is. They are secretive. And when I first went to look at a NATO website to see what it was, a dove floats across the screen on the first page of the official NATO website. By the end of the NATO website, it’s helicopters, fighter planes and drones. So, we, I think, are not made safer by NATO. It is secretive. And it is opposed to peace and to our future. So, a wide array of Chicagoans have come together in a coalition, meeting really for nine months, to stand up and ask for peace, to really say, "We don’t need NATO. We need an end to the war in Afghanistan. We need a complete end to the war in Iraq. We need to rethink what just happened in Libya and what’s going on every day in Pakistan." So there’s an array of events happening, beginning with a National Nurses Association rally, a permitted rally on Friday. I think the support of unions and workers, the support of African-American activists in the city and Latino and immigrant groups, a wide array of women’s and activist groups and Occupy and students, and, in a way, most importantly, the Iraqi and Afghan vets against the war, who will be leading the big demonstration on Sunday when NATO opens its meeting here. NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Bernadine Dohrn, what are the activists who are gathering in Chicago—what are they calling for NATO to do? How do they want the organization to become more accountable? BERNARDINE DOHRN: Well, we think that NATO should be meeting, you know, in an underground bunker or on a remote island. The idea that NATO has been invited to Chicago to have the kind of war games that have been going on here for the last six months and now accelerated this week, so that we have restricted zones, and we have the shutdown of universities and colleges, the shutdown of businesses, the closings of the major museums here, it is being treated as really a practice military zone. And we actually feel very strongly—I think the way Americans feel—that we want an end to these wars. These wars are hated by the American people. They don’t make us safer in any way. In fact, they jeopardize our safety. Bombing foreign countries, occupying other countries in the world does not make us safer. Killing civilians without any accountability makes people angry. And so, our resources, this enormous amount of money and resources, and suddenly we don’t have money here for mental—community mental health clinics. We don’t have money for public libraries or for schools. We don’t have money for public transportation. But somehow we have the millions of dollars necessary, or the mayor accessed the money, to hold this event right here in the city of Chicago. So we want peace and not this wars—permanent wars abroad and military war games and national security state at home. BILL AYERS: Yeah, we would like to see an end to NATO. And we would like to see—in every country, every member country of NATO, there’s a popular movement to ask its government to leave NATO. We want NATO disbanded. NATO is an instrument of war. And after 9/11, it transformed itself. I mean, its name is historical, you know, anomaly, but it’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But after 9/11, the Bush administration invoked Article 5, and it became the instrument of permanent war, pre-emptive war, and it really has no place in a free and peaceful and democratic world. AMY GOODMAN: Well, then, Bill Ayers, let me get your comment on Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of NATO, on why NATO continued to exist after the end of the Cold War. He recently wrote, quote, "NATO needed no external reasons to exist. Yet history would provide them soon enough. "In Bosnia and Kosovo, NATO intervened to stop massive human-rights violations. In Libya, we enforced a [United Nations] Security Council resolution to protect civilians. And in Afghanistan, we are denying a safe haven to extremists." Again, those are the comments of the head of NATO; those are the comments of Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Bill Ayers, your response? BILL AYERS: Yeah, I mean, the problem with all of those is that they’re rationales, and they’re self-affirming. They don’t have any transparency in the sense that people or governments can intervene and say, "No, this is wrong. We don’t want to be a part of that." In fact, I mean, Bernardine began by talking about these kind of four aspects: permanent war, dirty war, nuclear war/nuclear preparation, and then hot wars. What NATO does is it allows every government deniability. So the United States and every other country in NATO violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but they do it by saying, "It’s not us who are violating it, it’s NATO is doing it. It’s not U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe, it’s NATO bombs in Europe." Well, that’s just completely false. Afghanistan is a case in point: 90,000 American troops; the next largest force is Great Britain, 9,000. And that coalition is unraveling. The headlines in all the local papers are about the attempt of NATO to hold together through this summit. The election in France of the Socialist party gives new urgency to the fact that NATO is unraveling at the top. People are not in favor of these wars anywhere in the world. And in the United States, there’s only something like 27 percent of Americans support these wars, and yet the wars go on—a real crisis for democracy, a crisis for the peace movement. AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back— BERNARDINE DOHRN: I want to emphasize its secrecy, because this is a meeting that is not open— AMY GOODMAN: Bernardine, we’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We are joined by Bill Ayers, retired education professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, and Bernardine Dohrn, clinical professor at Northwestern Law School. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with them in a moment, and we’ll also be speaking with a soldier who served in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003 who will be returning his medals at the NATO protests this weekend. Stay with us. [break] AMY GOODMAN: Our guests in Chicago, who are preparing for mass NATO protests this weekend ahead of the largest-ever NATO summit—it’s happening in Chicago starting on Sunday—our guests are Bill Ayers, retired education professor at University of Illinois, Chicago, author of many books, including Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom, as well as Fugitive Days: A Memoir — we are also joined by Bernardine Dohrn, clinical professor at Northwestern Law school, founded Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center. They are two veteran activists, well known for their activism in the 1960s, from SDS to the Weather Underground, deeply involved in the NATO protests this weekend. Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch accused NATO of failing to properly investigate at least 72 civilian deaths in its bombing of Libya last year. In a new report, Human Rights Watch said seven out of the eight NATO bombing sites were found to lack clear military targets. Fred Abrahams authored the report. FRED ABRAHAMS: We have questions that NATO has not yet answered, and we’re calling for prompt, credible and thorough investigations to understand why these 72 civilians died. And until now, NATO has taken a position of denial. They refuse to acknowledge that civilians died. They refuse to give information about how they died. And they refuse to investigate. And it’s this lack of transparency that’s deeply troubling. And I think it will lead to unnecessary civilian deaths in the future, if NATO refuses to look at what went wrong and make corrections. AMY GOODMAN: As part of its investigation, Human Rights Watch interviewed survivors of the August 2011 bombing that killed 30 civilians east of the capital Tripoli. ALI HAMID GAFEZ: [translated] Why did they bomb me? The NATO forces came to fight in order to protect civilians. Because Libya is under satellite surveillance, it’s right in front of them. They can see everything. So we wonder, how is it possible that they could have bombed us? How could they bomb us?

The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America

The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America When workers drilling tunnels at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, began to die, Union Carbide had an answer. It hadn’t been taking adequate precautions against the inhalation of silica dust, a known danger to workers since the days of ancient Greece. Instead, in many cases, a company doctor would simply tell the families of the workers that they had died of “tunnelitis,” and a local undertaker would be paid $50 to dispose of each corpse. A few years later, in 1935, a congressional subcommittee discovered that approximately 700 workers had perished while drilling through Hawk’s Nest Mountain, many of them buried in unmarked graves at the side of the road just outside the tunnel. The subcommittee concluded that Union Carbide’s project had been accomplished through a “grave and inhuman disregard of all considerations for the health, lives and future of the employees." Despite the “Hawk’s Nest Incident” and thousands of Depression-era lawsuits against foundries, mines, and construction companies, silicosis never disappeared. In the decades since, as TomDispatch authors David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz have repeatedly demonstrated, industry worked tirelessly to label silicosis a “disease of the past,” even while ensuring that it would continue to be a disease of the present. By the late 1990s, the Columbia University researchers found that from New York to California, from Texas all the way back to West Virginia, millions of workers in foundries, shipyards, mines, and oil refineries, among other industries, were endangered by silica dust. Today, there’s a new silicosis scare on the horizon and a new eco-nightmare brewing in the far corners of rural America. Like the Hawk's Nest disaster it has flown under the radar -- until now. Once upon a time, mining companies tore open hills or bored through or chopped off mountain tops to get at vital resources inside. They were intent on creating quicker paths through nature’s obstacles, or (as at Gauley Bridge) diverting the flow of mighty rivers. Today, they’re doing it merely to find the raw materials -- so-called frac sand -- to use in an assault on land several states away. Multinational corporations are razing ancient hills of sandstone in the Midwest and shipping that silica off to other pastoral settings around the United States. There, America’s prehistoric patrimony is being used to devastating effect to fracture shale deposits deep within the earth -- they call it “hydraulic fracturing” -- and causing all manner of environmental havoc. Not everyone, however, is keen on this “sand rush” and coalitions of small-town farmers, environmentalists, and public health advocates are now beginning to stand firm against the big energy corporations running sand-mining operations in their communities. Ground zero in this frac-fight is the rural Wisconsin towns to which TomDispatch’s roving environmental reporter Ellen Cantarow traveled this spring to get the biggest domestic environmental story that nobody knows about. Walking the fields of family farms under siege and talking to the men and women resisting the corporations, Cantarow offers up a shocking report of vital interest. There’s a battle raging for America’s geological past and ecological future -- our fresh food and clean water supplies may hinge on who wins it. Nick Turse How Rural America Got Fracked The Environmental Nightmare You Know Nothing About By Ellen Cantarow If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out. As Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and misery) in sand -- and if you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep. Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Military Fights Global Warming

Military Fights Global Warming by Dominique Browning Is the Navy greener than California? As more polls show that a majority of Americans want action on carbon pollution and global warming, leadership on fighting climate change is coming from surprising places—starting with the military. At a recent reception held by Environmental Defense Fund in Washington D.C….Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave a speech in which he connected the dots between climate change, energy and security issues. He became the highest-ranking official in the Obama administration to do so. Panetta explained that his Department of Defense is facing a budget shortfall of more than $3 billion because of unexpected fuel costs. “I have a deep interest in more sustainable and efficient energy options,” he said. Secretary Panetta went on to describe how the U. S. military will be called on for humanitarian assistance in the face of rising seas, longer droughts, and more frequent and the severe natural disasters that are a result of global warming. Secretary Panetta was followed on the podium by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who has served since May 2009. In 1987, the Harvard-trained lawyer became the youngest governor in the nation when he won office in Mississippi. Mabus declared, in an inimitably rich Southern drawl: “We buy too much fossil fuel from the most volatile places on earth.” He emphasized that “drilling alone will never solve our national security concerns over foreign oil.” Mabus went on to announce that the Navy has made a commitment to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources, like biofuels, solar and wind, by 2025. That’s the most ambitious goal for renewable energy in the country—higher even than California’s! Mabus pointed out that the Navy has always led in pioneering new sources of fuel, whether it was from moving from sail to coal in the 1850s, to oil in the 20th century, and nuclear energy in the 1950s. “Every time, there were doubters and naysayers,” he said forcefully. “Every time. And every single time, they were wrong and they will be wrong again this time.” Mabus vigorously countered the argument that renewable energy is more expensive. “Well of course it is! Every new technology is more expensive. What if we hadn’t started using computers because they were more expensive than typewriters? What if we hadn’t started using cell phones because they were more expensive than land lines? Where would we be?” Both Panetta and Mabus are on the front lines again—in a battle that will help us curb carbon emissions and lead us to energy independence. Anyone want to join the notoriously craven science deniers at the Heartland Institute in their claim that any leader who fights global warming is no better than tyrants and killers like Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden and Unabomber Kacyznski? Go ahead. Make Secretary Mabus’ day. Photo: Pamela Davis Photography PLEASE TAKE ACTION WITH MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE: EPA COMMENT ON CARBON POLLUTION

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

May 8 and May 9: Sort of Bookends in Our Lives

May 8 and May 9: Sort of Bookends in My (Our) Life By Kevin Stoda It had been said, “Explaining a metaphor to someone is like chewing someone else’s food for them”. Nonetheless, when I claim to see May 8th and May 9th as bookends of important events in my life and of important events in modern world history, I do have to take time to explain. By the way, May 9th is my birth day and May 8th is the birthday of my one and only child. History—in the broad, abstract meaning of the term, as well as in the sense of personal history—looms large in my life (and should loom large in all our lives as we are part of a humongous narration dating back to before the creation of the stars). I felt impelled at an early age to view history as important while at the same time I was living constantly under the shadow of post-WWII nuclear annihilation that always swung like a the universe’s largest dagger over my planet Earth, i.e. through the end of the Cold War. In short, the End of History that the planet Earth faced in those years when the West and the East were at each others throats colored most of my living years, i.e. as our humanity was expected to be destroyed at the hands of a global winter created by both my homeland, the USA, and the Soviet Union. I was born in 1962—the year of the infamous October Nuclear Showdown between the USA and the Soviet Union over the position of nuclear missiles in Cuba. As noted above, I was born on May 9, which was and remains the day when the Russians and many in Eastern Europe celebrate the end of the continents bloodiest conflict. MAY 8TH IN RECENT GLOBAL HISTORY In short, the West celebrated VE-Day or Victory in Europe Day on May 8 and saw the war end on the European continent as ending at midnight on May 8, 1945 (Berlin Time), but since then the East has always celebrated it as occurring a day later—as the Moscow time zone is several hours ahead of Berlin’s. Hence, technically, the war against the Soviet Motherland had ended a day later in the East than in the West. Such is the relativity of history. Like two ying and yang bedfellows—or bookends--, a divided continent could not agree on the exact date for celebrating or recognizing the end of a catastrophe that had led to the death of 50 million peoples or more. It has now been well over half a century since the clocks in war-torn Europe ticked down for Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day). That was May 8th 1945. I should also note that Harry S. Truman, the then serving 33rd President of the United States (1945-1953), was born near Lamar, Missouri in Jasper County (only a few miles from where my own mother lives) on May 8, 1884. On his birthday in 1945, President Truman announced in a radio address that World War II had ended in Europe. Marshal Wilhelm Keitel surrendered to Marshal Zhukov. Germany surrendered and Victory in Europe was achieved by the allies. The May-8th-born Truman would permit the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan three months later. Those events would discolor the end-of-war celebrations for the next decades as a Cold-War Curtain of Distrust divided not only Europe—but the World for the next four and a half decades. Albert Einstein rightly complained that nuclear weapons—which should have ended all wars but failed to, in fact bring any lasting peace to our planet. Einstein stated, “The release of atom power has chan¬ged everything except our way of thinking…the solu¬tion to this pro¬blem lies in the heart of man¬kind.” Soon the nuclear arms race was on and people were having nightmares of global annihilation. This fear-fascination would create endless-war mobilization for my homeland and its people—the USA. For example, by May 8, 1950, the US Government had become officially convinced that neither national independence nor democratic evolution existed in any area dominated by Soviet imperialism. They considered the situation to be such as to warrant sending “economic aid and military equipment to the Associated State of Indochina and to France in order to assist them in restoring stability and permitting these states to pursue their peaceful and democratic development.” This decision and a series of decisions there-after would lead to what Americans came to know in the 1960s as the Vietnam War. By the way, on May 8, 1967, Boxer Muhammad Ali (b.1942) was indicted for refusing induction in US Army. He (and thousands of other Americans) refused to fight in the Vietnam War out of conscience. I should also add that on May 8, 1952, allied fighter-bombers staged the largest raid of the war on North Korea.) Then six years later, on May 8, 1958, Vice President Richard Nixon of the USA was shoved, stoned, booed and spat upon by anti-American protesters in Lima, Peru. This latter event demonstrated that American politics in the Cold War had lost the hearts and minds of many in the world—kind of like in our present decade—by using the CIA and other forces to overthrow elected leaders and manipulate other country’s politics around the world in the name of fighting an Endless War on Communism. Incidentally, twelve years later, on May 8, 1970, massive anti-war protests again took place across the United States and around the world—i.e. in the wake of the shooting of a number of unarmed protesting students at Kent State university a few days earlier. MAY 9TH and 1962 The ending of WWII in Europe on May 8th and 9th 1945 meant that Germany (and Europe) had been spared the dropping of Atomic bombs that were soon destined for Japan. In the states where I was to grow up (Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois) , the message was made clear. Winston S. Churchill arrived at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, 1946. There he stated, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Triest in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe.” In reply, the Missourian, President Harry S. Truman, responded in 1947, “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.” This Truman Doctrine would be expanded endlessly over the next half century—leading to entangling alliances and wars in almost every corner of the globe. One piece of good news for the word was the rise of rock n roll in the 1950s and other cultural revolutions in the 1960s. Later, on May 9, 1960, the world saw another earth-changing event. That was the day that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the pill Enovid as being safe for birth control use. The pill was made by G.D. Searle and Company of Chicago. “The Pill” created not only a sexual revolution across the globe but also changed the destiny’s of men, women and children alike forever. One woman has noted, “[B]esides the technology [of the Pill], it is[was] also a conceptual leap larger than the fall of communism, larger than the advances in communication that we hold so vital. Women were hitherto enslaved by biology; and suddenly we weren't.” Luckily, despite the presence in the USA of “the Pill”, I was born on May 9, 1962-- two years later—about 60 miles from Chicago and the location of the already famous and wealthy G.D. Searle company. 1962 was a turning point year for the world, too. “ The Cold War continued to worsen when the Russians placed Ballistic Missiles on Cuban land just 90 miles away from the coast of Florida in and JFK called the bluff by threatening war unless they were removed which they were but for a short time the world was on the brink of nuclear war and self destruction. The president then set a goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade and became more involved in politics in Southeast Asia by training South Vietnamese pilots.” 1962 became the first year that both the Soviet Union and the United States decided that M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) or brinkmanship was not necessarily the best strategy for the Cold War Arch Enemies in either the short or the long-term. May 8 and May 9 of 1945 had seen an end to war in western and central Europe, but the USSR and the USA would continually bring the shadow of nuclear holocaust back to that continent—while sharing the possibility of global destruction to others over the next thirty years. In many ways, the Cold War and the on-and-off nuclear arms race is simple to comprehend for the children of 2012. Th pre-1990 period in modern history saw the rise of a “Balance of Terror”—with nuclear weapons and destruction as the promised future for several generations. Things were so bad for me mentally as a child of the 1960s that I really thought or felt that with the simultaneous existence of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the interracial war at my home-front and the post-colonial wars everywhere, I really thought by my 3rd and 4th grade school years that the planet was in the midst of WWIII. Growing up, many adults had to explain to me that WWIII did not, in fact, already exist. Finally, in the early 1970s the USA bailed out of Vietnam and several African wars while signing détente with the Soviet Union. This provided my generation and I a breather before the massive Carter-Reagan-Brezhnev Arms build-ups of the late 1970s and early 1980s reversed the positive trends of my early teenage years. By 1983, I would join the Menschenkette and anti-Missile marches in Germany. My friends would march in massive demonstrations in New York and elsewhere. Similar to the ill-fated antiwar marches and protesters of 2003 in the run-up to George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion, many generations of peace-seekers were ignored by the politicians in early and mid-1980s in Europe and Latin America. The USA became once again the supreme global arms merchant and went after the heartland of the Soviet Union by gambling on its ability to outspend the Communists and bleed them to death in Afghanistan. Finally, people power began to win out in the late 1980s as many of the East European anti-nuke activists aligned themselves with democratic forces and toppled regimes across the region. Only starting in early 1990 could I—for the first time in my life—look forward to a future that would not be overshadowed full-time by nuclear winter. Interestingly, despite the rise of terrorism and the growing militarization of my homeland, the USA, I can look forward to a long future, which I am again celebrating this May 9, 2012 (for the 50th time). I was married four years ago and now have a daughter, who was born on May 8, 2010. I celebrate her birthday today with my lovely wife. My daughter and I are the bookends with my wife in the middle. We still have hope for the future—despite possible rise of nuclear attacks from Israel, Iran, Saudi, the USA or anywhere. I encourage you to get to know history and teach your children well the narration of their lives and how we—humanity—all fit into each others stories. NOTES Factoids are collected from this website for May 8 and May 9 More on history and fallout from the Atomic Bomb Decision is here:

Saturday, May 05, 2012


MISSING CLASSES by Kevin Stoda, Salalah, Oman According to Alexander Astin’s work on improving student involvement and his work towards a better theory of tertiary developmental education, “If an institution commits itself to achieving maximum student involvement, counselors and other student personnel workers will probably occupy a more important role in institutional operations. Because student personnel workers frequently operate on a one-to-one basis with students, they are in a unique position to monitor the involvement of their clients in the academic process and to work with individual clients in an attempt to increase that involvement. One of the challenges confronting student personnel workers these days is to find a ‘hook’ that will stimulate students to get more involved in the college experience: taking a different array of courses, changing residential situations, joining student organizations, participating in various kinds of extracurricular activities, or finding new peer groups.” Alas, in both paternalistic and traditional tribal societies of all kinds, the university and schools are not emphasized as places where students belong so much as a place where they simple must go to in order to obtain a diploma, which will buy them a rung in their next position in life. TEACHING IN SUCH SOCIETIES Since 1999, I have taught in 3 Middle Eastern countries. I have taught primarily at the tertiary level but have also taught at the primary and secondary levels. In every one of these locations—i.e., in Oman, in the UAE, and in Kuwait—one singular phenomenon has been the almost universal: This phenomenon involves problems of truancy from classes. As a professional in the field of international development in education, I have been concerned with this matter for several reasons. On the one hand, the problem of absenteeism limits the students’ foreign language acquisition. The one main reason for this deficit is that time-on-task undertaking ever-more-difficult exercises (or activities) is considered the number one variable in second language acquisition world-wide. (Krashen, 2003) On the other hand, the habits which one enquires in one’s youth often continue to dominate later in life. So, if I am not concerned with the short-term problems of absenteeism, the long-term results of absenteeism should be of my greatest concern. For example, absenteeism amongst Gulf nationals in Oman, Kuwait, and UAE personnel has been so high historically that foreign and national firms do not often like to hire them—and often give them jobs of few consequence because of the fear of high absenteeism and lack of commitment to being on the job when needed. Here is a headline story from Kuwait this past winter: “Kuwait's public sector operated with half of its staff after around 160,000 employees failed to show up for work on Tuesday following a four-day holiday. Excuses for the high-level absenteeism included trips abroad and sick leaves, local Arabic daily Al Jarida reported.” By the way, “The highest levels of absenteeism were recorded at the ministries of education and information, followed by higher education and health.” Interestingly, not all educational faculty, professors and administrators are equally concerned with the issues of either tardy-ism or absenteeism. Typical of these instructors is Dr. Ibrahim Inwa, head of the anatomy department at the Sultan Qaboos College of Medicine. In one recent newspaper interview, Dr. Inwa stated, “The causes of absenteeism that I usually hear included: I have overslept because I spent the whole night studying.[or ] I think I am not benefiting from the classes, or I have a problem with transportation. The most common cause I commonly hear from the student is we have an exam after the lecture and we are preparing for it.’” Dr. Inwa continues, “Inactive classes are really a serious problem for the instructor themselves. However, students shouldn’t be forced to attend the lecture. I believe attending the lecture shouldn’t even be compulsory and attending classes is directed by the way the student likes to learn in. There are so many different ways of learning and lectures are just one. The only solution is to make the classes more interactive and enjoyable. ‘Team based learning’ makes students attend classes and this was applied for the last two semesters in the course of “introduction to anatomy’ where the attendance was almost full.’” INSUFFICIENCY OF TEAMS WITHOUT ATTENDANCE While I agree that team-based learning which is combined with team-work (individual and group-work) evaluations can motivate students to attend classes, and through teamwork, they can become involved more in improving their own life-long learning habits. Nonetheless, short-term absentee issues can lead to long-term absenteeism in most any setting where students do not actually learn to study better or are not motivated to take charge of their own study habits or lives in any serious manner. I find it more than a bit cavalier in a developing land (or even in any so-called developed country) to assume that good study habits come by a sort of osmosis. It might be acceptable at the most elite colleges or school to assume that most every student comes into the classroom as sort of wind-up-machine which simply needs to be wound-up to operate properly. However, such an assumption is dangerously naïve concerning almost any other educational or developmental setting. Nonetheless, too many teachers, professors, and Middle Eastern students state through both voice-and-action that they, too, see no link between attendance and success in education. Concerned about this very issue, I have recently written two articles: The first is called Group Evaluations that Support and Clarify Professional Practices and Soft Skills for Students How important is Classroom Attendance for University Students? The second simply raised this attendance question for global discussion: How important is Classroom Attendance for University Students? Good study habits—just like good work habits—are often time-sensitive phenomena and need to be treated like that. This is true even as we simultaneously teach or train students on a daily and a weekly basi--while attempting to encourage them to see life as a life-long learning undertaking. When the first industrial revolution took place in the UK, clocks began to sprout up all over the place to help people to become a bit more aware of time and to see time as a commodity. According to one article concerning architecture in India, "The clock tower was devised in the aftermath of the industrial revolution because it highlighted the importance of time. This western concept was integrated in urban planning as an architectural landmark.” A similar phenomenon has occurred in Oman since it began its path to modernity some four decades ago. Every major road crossing has a famous clock placed at it. However, in Islam, telling time has always been important. That’s why prayer clocks had come into vogue throughout the Middle East long before clock towers had. Nowadays, every cell phone has a clock and many Omanis have more than one cell phone. In short, being conscious of time and place is not all that new a concept to the greater Middle East. WATCHES AND NO-WATCHES, TIME AND NO-TIME My own brother, Ronald Paul Stoda, who has been teaching math to others for well over 25 years in both in the Navy and the United States, has not worn a watch, and he seldom consults a cell-phone—unless he makes a phone call or answers one. He has his own inner clock that he had acquired over his formative student (and early work years. This is sufficient for him to work with others—i.e. focusing on their learning and personal needs, while usually trying not to be tied to the ticking sound of any particular far-off deadline or time clock. My brother adapts to new student’s needs and expectations as the years, decades and generations roll on. This does not require strict adherence to clocks, time nor attendance, but it does require time spent teaching and learning. Naturally, what my brother’s life illustrates for me is that becoming time-centered in one’s work or classroom does not mean one needs to be time-centered in all facets of one’s life. In a-sort-of-rebellion to our time-centeredness world and in order to divorce a positive focus on people from negative time-laden disciplines of our lives, many others of us have taken to not wearing watches nor using cell-phones for weeks, months or years at a time. “Why should we?” we ask. We can ask other people the time when we need to, can’t we? Meanwhile we focus on what is important and life-long learning is important. In order to keep on track, we need to focus our efforts not simply on time but on quality time. Don’t you agree? Through whatever means, an instructor or professor must enable his or her students to have a quality experience in the time they are assigned or allotted to work with students. However, if students enter the high school, the university or his work-world totally insensitive to school or workplace’s expectations of time, the need to develop and appreciate quality time should be sacrosanct. If we don’t both offer and participate in great learning moments—then we are doing everyone a disservice. Interestingly, even in developing countries or traditional societies, there has been a growing awareness that time-lost related to absenteeism or tardy-ism is detrimental to the total human development (which most of us our seeking in 2012). Dr. Rahma Al-Mahroqi, who is a professor in the English department at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in Muscat notes, “Students always have the same justification for their absenteeism. I think absenteeism could be a symptom for more serious problems, so it has to be dealt with. Those students who regularly are absent are wasting not only their time, but they also waste the money that the university spends for them.” Dr. Al-Mahroqi adds that the university administration and her department might share in the blame for continuing some instances of the lack of attendance in some classes. She says, “If it [lack of attendance] is done of our carelessness, it is a sign of disrespect for the teacher and for learning. . . .. Teachers can reduce the rate of absence in their classes simply by applying the clear SQU policies regarding absenteeism and students should be familiar with these rules. Teachers must design their classes with fun and enjoyment, so students would be motivated to attend these classes.” However, many students at Sultan Qaboos University (and other Omani universities and schools) need more support and stricter application of good attendance rules from staff and administrators, i.e. students and administrators should not just simply demanding more-interesting classes. For example, one student in the college of education, Salim Al-Shuraiqi, claims, “The high rate of absence among students happens because the policy of attending classes is not strongly emphasized and sometimes doctors do not follow it. Being sick or having accidents are the main causes for students to not attend their classes. The students will exploit their doctors if they do not deal with this issue strictly and they will keep missing classes. Students should be aware that being absent will affect them negatively.” Affecting them “Negatively” could mean the dropping of a student from a course—immediately after a few absences. Currently, the number of absences permitted in many Omani universities for students is well over 25% of all classes. No wonder attendance is not taken seriously! This contrasts with where I attended in the USA—where absenteeism of over 2, 3, or 5 percent of all classes was just not permitted. Moreover—I should note--, I had attended a small university in the USA and it was not uncommon for a student to regularly run into one’s instructor on a regular basis outside the classroom or outside his or her office hours. So, the teacher and student had a lot more opportunity through regular contact to build rapport and respect. This building of rapport and respect is what students, themselves, are eliminating as a possibility in their academic and university careers when they maintain approximately 25% or more absences in a term—simply because the current administrative system at a particular university (or their family obligations) encourages them to do so. Importantly, I should note that family obligations, such as “having to drive a sister to a hair salon or out shopping”, is currently enough in many Gulf State Arab societies fro administrators to forgive a student for missing several afternoon classes in a row. This reflects societal preferences of putting the family ahead of all-things or most-things educational. One other student at Sultan Qaboos University, Mana Al-Aufi explains, “ Students usually miss classes because there will be an exam after the missing class. I think that the acceptable excuses behind being absent are mainly medical or social ones [from the administration’s perspective]. I consider students’ attendance as an issue which is primarily controlled [though] by the student’s attitude For SQU students, I think missing classes will be a time and money consumed, especially if lectures and resources were already prepared for students to attend and very little students actually attend the classes.” Quite obviously, absences at work and at schools are not taken seriously because neither a carrot or stick is being used by society and administrators to maintain serious levels of attendance. This leads students and families to continue with a social attitude and set of behaviors that are disrespectful to the work place and the teachers who are seeking to build rapport or seeking to development motivating and interesting lessons. EXAMPLE Here is a concluding example of how many Middle Eastern students are not trained prior to arriving at universities to comprehend what the true costs and values of education are. Last Wednesday, I had painstakingly prepared a quiz for my two dozen students based upon a reading assigned as homework on Tuesday. At class time on Wednesday afternoon, only two students showed up for class. These more-serious students then noted—as usual—that unnamed classroom leaders had determined that the entire class should skip that day, i.e. with the hope of persuading either the teacher or the administration not to count that class period absent. Some excuses could be concocted at a later date for the absences when-and-where needed. This occurred exactly one day after both an administrator and counselor had come to talk to them about their behavior attendance and other issues. I tried in vain to get these two particular students to take their quiz for that day—for their own good. Moreover, I could then decide whether they had understood the material at home or not. (The quiz was a listening task that basically replicated the reading topic from the night before.) These students refused—knowing or believing that Omani group sense of respect and tribal pressures are more important than what a foreign teacher has to tell them. Finally, after it became clear that I would neither cancel the class nor cancel the quiz, these two male students said good-bye and went home. Later, I declared my consternation to my local administrator. He simply shrugged, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” In short, the administrator had already warned that particular group of students about the importance of attendance and of the importance of keeping up with assignments, which we are trying to instill in these students through the practice of continuous assessment. He wasn’t going to waste another word on them. I was left with no evidence of learning for the day. Hopefully, these students will get the message when their (low) marks for the term come around—because, in this society, they are quite likely to bamboozle their way out of any attendance warnings they receive. NOTES Astin, Alexander W. (1999) Student involvement: a developmental theory of higher education, Journal of College Student Personnel, 40 ( 5), 518-529. Krashen, Stephen D. (2003) Principles and Practices in Second Language Acquisition, University of Southern California,