Syria`s participation in the world gathering is to test the seriousness of the US Administration towards peace-making in the region and to ascertain that Israel has never worked for a just and comprehensive peace and is not apt to achieve this pressing end.
The Arab people in Syria and other countries in the Arab homeland are not so optimistic about the conference and they don`t pin much hope on the gathering.
The Syrian attitude has always been clear and fair. Syria has repeatedly asked for the resumption of peace talks on this track starting from the point the two sides reached at the Wyeplantation talks where the Israelis deposited the aforementioned pledge with the Clinton administration. It is illogical and unfair to begin from scratch.
Annapolis meeting is suspicious as it apparently intends among other things to separate the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian peace tracks, validate Israel`s occupation of the Arab territories, force some Arabs to normalize ties with Israel before peace is attained, by-pass core issues of the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict and torpedo basic peace obligations as termed in UN resolutions and the internationally-approved "land for peace" principle.
The meeting also intends to further divide the Arabs, bring more chaos, foment sedition and subsequently impose US-Israeli hegemony on the entire Arab region.
That last--particularly full-throated, editorial appeared before Syria decided to attend the meeting. Anyway, I have no larger point in running these snippets. Just giving a view of what's being printed around these parts.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. prison camps in Iraq said he wants to cut the number of Iraqis in his custody by around two thirds by the end of 2008 as part of a wider counter-insurgency plan to bring down violence.
Major-General Douglas Stone, head of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, said on Tuesday he had given a proposal to the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to sharply cut the detainee population in U.S. custody by the end of 2008.
"We are looking at a number that is in the sub-10,000 or 8,000 level for real difficult, challenged guys. The rest of them we think we can work through and get out," Stone told Reuters at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, the U.S. military's largest detention camp in the country.
This really is good news. But let's see what if anything happens with his idea. Also, if the guy in charge of U.S. prisons in Iraq thinks two-thirds of the detainees can be let out without a problem, what's that tell you about how the system has operated so far?
A United Nations survey released last week, of 110 Iraqi families leaving Syria, also seemed to dispute the contentions of officials in Iraq that people are returning primarily because they feel safer.
The survey found that 46 percent were leaving because they could not afford to stay; 25 percent said they fell victim to a stricter Syrian visa policy; and only 14 percent said they were returning because they had heard about improved security.
During my tutoring session today, I properly a conjugated an irregular verb or some-such, to the surprise of my teacher.
“Ana mo kitter ghubi”—“I’m not that stupid,” I said.
“Never talk that way,” replied my teacher, suddenly very serious. “You must always be positive. Never, ever talk about yourself negatively. Don’t you watch Dr. Phil? You have to listen to what he says.”
The thing is, I do watch Dr. Phil. Not in the U.S. but here, where he’s on every day. I have no idea why, but Mr. Phil is quite a hit here. And for what it’s worth I’ve also heard that Oprah is one of the most popular programs in Iraq.
One of life's small annoyances that has always gotten to me is having to deal with cellphone voicemail.
You call somebody, they are not there and then you have sit through their message and then Verizon or whomever's message advising you--for perhaps the 100,125 time--about how to leave a message.
Retrieving a message is no fun either:
They might as well add, "We....are...making....you...burn...your...minutes."
Maybe I'm being a dramatizing. But I will say that the system is just more pleasant.
So how do they do it here? Easy: No voicemail! If you call somebody and they're not there, they get a "missed call" just like the U.S. That missed call signal conveys with great efficiency, the crux of probably 90 percent of voicemail messages--namely, "I would like to speak to you. Please call me." No fuss, no muss, and no slow-talking robot.
P.S. And if you want to send a more detailed message, type a text message--which around these parts is cheaper than chatting.
U.N. refugee officials estimate that 45,000 Iraqis returned from Syria last month, while Iraqi officials say 1,000 are arriving each day.
There are lots of qualifiers to add this to this. There is still a huge amount of violence in Iraq. And I'm not sure whether there's a net influx of refugees. (The latest estimates I've come across--albeit a year old-- put the number of Iraqis fleeing 100,000 per month.)
But still, the returns are encouraging. Also,one personal observation: When Sara and I along with our friend Pam went to Palmyra last month, we took the road that continues on to Baghdad. And as were were driving we saw a few dozen Iraqi taxis--nearly all GMCs Suburbans. Almost every single one was on there way to Iraq.
We weren't sure what to make of it at the time. I already knew that there's a fleet of "border" taxis, who go from the Baghdad-to-Damascus. And they have to get back somehow, so I didn't what to make any assumptions about the reverse flow was. In retrospect, it now seems we were seeing some of the returns in progress.
As I’ve mentioned before, my conversations with taxi drivers usually start off with them asking me where I’m from. I tell them America and almost inevitably, they respond with a “Ahla wa Sahla.” (Welcome!) On my way back from class today, the driver kicked it up a notch.
“America?!? My brother lived in America!” he said (in Arabic). “You must talk to him.” Then he took out his cellphone—dialing with one hand, shifting gears with another and steering I’m not quite how.
When he brother answered, the driver handed the phone to me. “Here!”
After we played hot potato for a moment with the cellphone—and the driver introduced me, “There’s a foreigner in my car! He’s from New York!”—the brother and I had a brief, pleasant chat. There’s only so much you can talk about with a lawyer from Delaware you’ve never met.
An often discussed reason for tensions between this part of the world and the West is a lack of understanding of each other's culture. I don't know how much that argument holds water, but as an avid watcher of English-language satellite TV, it's very easy to see why America is often seen as a vapid, materialistic soulless society.
On any given day on the MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corp.) channels, one can catch such cultural gems as America's Got Talent, a reality/game show produced by the good people at NBC where contestants make total asses in front of talent icons David Hasselhoff and Brandy (of Moesha fame). Then there's Wicked Wicked Games, starring Tatum O'Neal, a primetime soap so indescribably bad that it airs on a cable channel in the U.S. I've never even heard of (MNT?).
Also airing every night: Abbey and Janice: Beauty and the Best , another 'reality' show where a young woman trains to become a model with Janice Dickinson, who bills herself as the world's first supermodel but is now so surgically altered she resembles a bad drag queen.
The list of bad American TV aired here goes on and on, but fortunately, my TV addiction is nurtured with Oprah, Seinfeld and Friends reruns, and my new favorite, Prison Break. However, I think the damage done by the other dreck is irreparable, and for Middle Easterners who don't personally know Americans and haven't traveled there (or maybe some that have), we look like fat, face-lifted, talentless morons. Maybe our friends at State would do better at winning hearts and minds in this part of the world if they helped export more of our cultural highlights...
Last week, Sara and I returned to our apartment from a dinner with friends and noticed our front door had been jimmied open. There were wood chips in the hallway—wood that had once belonged to our door. We walked inside and then noticed our two Mac laptops were missing.
I’ll be writing about this more later. But for now the short version is that the police came right over in force—about a dozen of them. They dusted our door for fingerprints; they dusted our fridge. (“Maybe the robber was thirsty.”) They did not dust the coffee table where the laptops had been sitting.
The next morning we went to the police station in order to basically introduce ourselves to the local police commander and explain that we loved our laptops very much. Most of the time there was spent in a general’s office, where we were asked a few questions about the crime and far more questions about how our Arabic studying was going. At one point, the general, who sported an impressive moustache and the terminal stages of a comb-over, ordered me over to his desk. He wanted me to show him my Arabic homework.
That’s when he discovered I had been learning dirty words. Then I told him some jokes I know in Arabic. (“A guy is walking with a monkey. Along comes a hash-addict….”) When I finished, he sat stone-faced for a moment. Then he burst our laughing.
“I like this man!” he said, pinching my cheeks.
After I exhausted my jokes and after they exhausted their curiosity about the crime, a brief silence fell over the room.
“Is there anything else we are waiting for?” my landlord asked the general.
“Yes,” said the general. “We are waiting for Mr. Eric to finish his tea.” I did, earning a goodbye hug and kiss from Mr. General.
A few hours later, our computers were back, though it wasn’t the police who got ‘em.
Again, the short version: It turns out there is only one computer guy in Damascus who services Macs. Our friend—and fellow Mac owner—Rasha gave him a call. In turn, Mr. Mac called the few computer stores in town that buy/sell Apples and alerted them to two MacBooks on the loose. Minutes later, he got a call back from a store owner saying that one of his employees had just bought two Macs just like ours.
The serial numbers matched and a few hours later, the computers were brought back to our house by Mr. Mac. They were in the backpack they were first taken in. (And my computer files had never been accessed.)
I would post photos of it all—if only our digital camera hadn’t been stolen too.
P.S. We now have a much heavier lock on our door. Also, using the deadbolt the first time around would have been a good idea.