Monday, January 30, 2006

A Clear Day In Cairo

This only happens once in a blue moon.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Library Of Alexandria

The IMAX Theatre at the front of the library
with a view of the Mediterranean

The following blog post has a great aerial shot of the library.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Day On The Mediterranean

Using a visit with family as a much needed excuse get out of Cairo, my uncle, two cousins and I had a relaxing day in Alexandria. Alex is beautiful, clean, right on the Mediterranean and less crowded. After getting sick from the pollution and deluge of smokers in Cairo, I needed a one day reprieve to breath fresh air. It was windy cold, but worth every breath. Seriously, next time you hear some whackjob complain about "eco-Nazis", please put him or her on a plane to Cairo. One ride in traffic will do the trick. It is a testament to the strength of Egyptians that the entire population has not dropped dead of lung cancer. But I digress.

After the two-hour train ride from Cairo to Alex, we headed straight to the new Alexandria library. I heard about it a while back, but had no idea what to expect. Unfortunately, my aunt's computer is so ancient there is no USB port, but I will post photos when I get to my grandmother's house tomorrow. The ancient Library of Alexandria, if it really existed, burned down centuries ago, but the new one is worthy of its predecessor. Indeed, it is probably the most impressive thing Egyptians have built since the pyramids.


Cairo is so densely populated, the government is spearheading massive development projects, including the construction of new cities on the outskirts of Cairo. The English language channel had a program the other night that described the 27 cities that have already been built and the 41 that are underway.

One of my cousins bought a house in one of the new neighborhoods and it is impressive. Cairo is like NY City, in that people live in high rises, not in houses. In contrast, the new cities are modeled after the tracked homes of the west coast, with swimming pools, golf courses, etc. Office parks, universities and clubs will join the homes in the new parts of Cairo in an effort to move traffic away from the center of town. Egyptians have to do something, because the pace of population growth is not manageable.


The African Cup finals are the buzz here in Cairo. Egypt tied Morocco 0-0 last night. Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast are the teams to beat, although my uncle says Tunisia is making an impressive showing. I asked if we could go to a game, but no one was interested. Apparently, the traffic and lack of parking are enough to deter sensible people from going anywhere near the stadiums.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Photos to follow when I can find a high-speed connection. Dial-up blows.

Oh how so much can happen in 24 hours. Left Paris Saturday morning, arrived in Cairo in the afternoon, got my hairdone by 9:00 Saturday evening, went to the club Sunday afternoon, attempted to go to the Cairo Tower after the club, and ended up going shopping for souveneirs instead.

A little about Egypt.

The hairdressers here are the best in the world. Ok, maybe I haven't been to every hairdresser in the world, but the coiffures here work some real magic. And with the exchange rate, it's cheaper than back home.

Since much of Cairo is urban, concrete, desert jungle, there are sporting clubs in every suburb. They are the equivalent of country clubs, with swimming pools, tennis courts, tracks, soccer fields, etc. Most of the middle and upper classes belong to clubs and you can determine one's status in society by the club in which she is a member. We had lunch today at one of the most prestigious clubs, called the Gezireh Club. The British created the club when they colonized Egypt and had a sign outside the club that read "no dogs or Egyptians". As soon as the British left, the snooty, elitist Egyptians took over the club and there is an invisible sign that now reads "no dogs or poor Egyptians". Amazing how people are quick to dish out the ill treatment they once received.

Perhaps it is some flaw in my character, but going to the Gezireh Club makes me sick. These elitist, classist, corrupt hypocrites sit in the oasis of their club and pretend that the heartbreaking poverty throughout the country is somehow acceptable. They are the ambassadors and ministers of the government who eat french fries and talk about their vacations to Paris while the nation rots from the inside. It's sickening. There was a table of high society ladies, all wearing their Gucci sunglasses and one of those bitches was wearing a mink coat. It's 70 f'ing degrees outside and she's wearing a mink coat. Where's PETA when you need them?

Don't get me wrong. My family is part of that hypocrisy. My cousin and I walked with my aunt in the club, when my aunt asked if we wanted to join her at the mosque for the afternoon prayer. I said that I could not because I did not bring my headscarf and, thus, could not pray. When she said she had an extra one, I realized how unbecoming it is to make up stupid excuses. So I fessed up. I don't pray, I am not religious and I am happy to stand outside and wait until she was done. She didn't care.

Something I have figured out. It's okay to be non-religious in this Islamic society. It's not okay to be an atheist. The Arabic word for infidel is kafir. It does not mean non-Muslim, it means atheist. Even if you don't pray, cover your hair, go to Mecca, or whatever, it is cool. But to say you are an atheist is the equivalent of saying you are a Satan worshipper who tortures puppies for kicks. It is an easy way to get shunned. Be a Christian, be a Jew, but you can't be an atheist here. So I temper my irreverence for religion.

Another peculiar feature of Egyptian society is the separate price classes for Egyptians and foreigners. Egyptians who speak English are defined as foreigners as I learned today. My cousin and I walked over to the Cairo Tower to go up and take pictures of the city. She bought two Egyptian tickets for us for 15 Egyptian pounds each (appx $2.50). When the guard looked at our tickets, he looked at me and asked if I am Egyptian. I responded in Arabic that I am, but my pathetic accent belied our efforts to be sneaky. He refused to let me in and demanded that I go buy the 60 pound foreigner ticket. It wasn't the money, but the principle. My cousin was so offended, she demanded a refund and we left. So much for getting aerial shots of the city. So, we went shopping.

In Egyptian tradition, a family gathers 40 days after someone passes away. Although it's two days late, tomorrow is the gathering for my mother. I am excited to see my family, but anxious about the intense emotional experience it is sure to be.

Friday, January 20, 2006

It's Pretty, But I'll Take Greed And Capitalism Anyday

Tur de Eiffel

Sacre Couer
We were greeted by blue skies when we departed the apartment in the morning and were chased home by the rain in the afternoon. But not before I had the chance to get a few cool pictures.
A few words on socialism in action.
Customer service here sucks. Actually, it would have to exist to suck so it is more accurate to say it is non-existent here. It is probably because the laws here are so outrageously pro-worker that you cannot get fired even if you are a retarded imbecile who does not work at work. So there is no incentive to smile, be nice or lift a finger for anyone who walks into your store. They do not take returns at stores and the lady at the grocery store got pissed off when we decided not to buy the wine after she scanned it.
If a business is going to shut down, it has to get permission from the government and prove that it does not have the means to pay the workers anymore before it can fire anyone. If it fires workers without government approval, the business will be legally liable to pay those salaries. Essentially, businesses exist as charitable institutions for workers. I have no idea how this economy survives. Did I mention the mandatory 5 weeks of vacation (I think I remember this correctly, but I might be wrong) and 35-hour work week? It is a miracle anything gets done here.
A few words on the French/American love-hate relationship.
I think it has to do with meeting your match. Imagine a discussion between the average American nitwhit and French dumbdumb. "We're the greatest in the world and our culture is superior to everyone else's". "No, you're wrong, we are the greatest, most superior people in the world." Arrogant assholes who think they are better than everyone else do not generally like competition. The French invented the principle of manifest destiny and America continues to be inspired by Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden". Two sides of the same coin.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bon Jour

Paris at night is breathtaking.
This is the River Seine with the tip of the Eiffel Tower sticking up in the background.

The courtyard in front of the Louvre

The glass pyramid in front of the Louvre is behind the arc

University of Paris II Pantheon-Assas
My friend who lives in Paris is attending law school here. Although she is already
licensed to practice in two states, she is an incredible over-achiever who
is fluent in French and wanted the license to handle French legal matters.

I have been here less than 12 hours and we have already walked everywhere. Fortunately, the weather is not as bad as it looks so the brisk walks through this timeless city have been awe-inspiring. There are so many options for activities tomorrow, including roller-blading through the city (many streets are shut down every Friday night for the thousands of bike-riders and rollerbladers who hit the streets en masse), heading up to Sacre Coeuer if the weather is good for aerial shots of the city or a relaxing stroll to the Eiffel Tower.

Random fact - every year during this time, the government requires all businesses to put their goods on sale, so this is the ideal time for shopping in Paris if I am so inclined.

Bon jour, bon soir, bon nuit, s'il vous plaît, and I can count from 1-5. That pretty much exhausts my knowledge of French. Peace out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stay Tuned...

My flight leaves in a few hours. Stay tuned for pictures and tales from two fascinating cities.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Conservative Index

Not that anyone with half a brain did not already know this, but it turns out that Republicans aren't conservatives. Indeed, some of them, like Tom DeLey, are raging socialists.

Just ask Laurence Vance. He wrote an excellent piece analyzing what the pesky Republican-controlled 109th Congress has been up to with our money. After describing much of the frivolous legislation that the Congress passed to swell the already behemoth government, Vance reviewed the The Conservative Index, published in The New American, which "rates congressmen based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, to fiscal responsibility, to national sovereignty, and to a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements."

The votes cast by congressmen on certain key issues are assigned a plus (good) or a minus (bad) by the publishers of the Index. Scores from 1 to 100 are determined by dividing a congressman’s plus votes by the total number of votes cast and multiplying by 100. Thus, the higher the number, the stronger the congressman’s commitment to the constitutional principles just mentioned. The overall average score for the two indexes prepared thus far for the 109th Congress is also given. [this article and post only deal with the current index, the score from which is in the left column]

Here are the highlights from the Index that Vance found worth mentioning.
  • The average score in the House was only 30. The average score in the Senate was even worse – 21. Once again, the high score in the House (100) was made by Ron Paul (R-TX). The high score (if you can call it that) in the Senate (60) was once again made by John Ensign (R-NV), who was tied this time by James Inhofe (R-OK). Several representatives and senators were tied for the lowest score – 0.
  • The Republican leaders in the Senate (Majority Leader Bill Frist [R-TN] & Majority Whip Mitch McConnell [R-KY]) both scored higher than their Democratic counterparts (Harry Reid [D-NV] & Dick Durbin [D-IL]), but what kind of conservatism does it take to score a 30? Ted Kennedy has scored higher than that before.
  • The Republican House leadership did not fare as well. Outgoing Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) scored a 22, while Majority Whip Roy Blunt only managed a 20.
  • The Democratic leaders in the House are ultra-right wingers compared to the Republican leaders. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) each scored a 40, as did the socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT). How many thousands of hours did you say that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Neal Boortz have wasted railing against the "evil" Democrats?

The House of Representatives is really bad. Check out Arkansas. All three House Democrats scored higher than the Republican from the State. The Mississippi Republicans are bigger communists than that state's Democrats; same with Nevada. Why do Nebraska and New Hampshire even bother calling themselves Republican when they are sending socialists to Congress? And you have to check out New York, the eternal Blue State. The Democrats are out-right-winging the Republicans.

An astute blogger posted a comment elsewhere that says it best -- "I think our '2' party system, is actually a '1' party system with 2 divisions: conservative and liberal. They don't even bother to cover it up: both parties operate exactly the same."

Vance's article and the Conservative Index only confirm this reality.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Republican Garden Of Eden

The Great Wall of China, May 2005
From reading Republican bloggers and the redundant talking points from their pundits that they blindly parrot, it seems that, if they had their way, the Republican dream for America would be a nation with
  • a one-party state
  • a media controlled by the ruling party
  • morality defined by the ruling party
  • an all powerful head of the party who answers to no one
  • the ruling party defining the rights of all people
  • no constitution and a rubber-stamp judiciary
  • no dissent
  • an emphasis on militarism and a lust for war
  • businesses having greater rights than individuals
  • no protection for workers
  • no environmental controls, where toxins can be poured in the water and contaminants can be released into the air with reckless abandon

Well, it turns out that the Republican Garden of Eden does exist on earth. It's called China.

I took the photo at the top of this post when I was in China last May. The lack of clarity of the sections of the Great Wall in the background has nothing to do with my camera. Nor is it a marine layer similar to those we get here in Los Angeles (since the Great Wall is inland).

Nope, it is pollution. Pollution allowed by a government that puts business profits and economic growth above individual health; a government that says that, although the skies are shared by everyone, they can serve as the trash receptable of the chosen few; a government that refuses to acknowledge we all drink water from the same sources in order to turn a blind eye to its friends who dump toxins into the rivers.

I often wonder when will enough be enough? When is it okay to have a year that the economy maintains instead of grows? When will it be okay for share price to stay steady? When will it be okay to acknowledge that the air we breathe is an inherently public commodity that cannot be privatized for use as a trash dump? Must we wait until the part of the Great Wall that is clear in the foreground of the photo is equally obscured by pollution?

China is the future of America, literally and figuratively. We are looking at a crystal ball, but the pollution clouds the image.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wishful Thinking

Although there are many horrible things I could say about Ariel Sharon, there are also many good things, including his loyalty and lifelong dedication to his people. It is a shame that it now appears that he is out of the political game because I had high hopes for the guy. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but I was hoping Sharon would recover from the stroke with flying colors and come to the U.S. to beat the snot out of Pat Robertson for running his foul, evil mouth. There is no doubt who would emerge victorious in that showdown.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Too Many Bad Movies And TV Shows

There are three primary ways we learn things. Auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Most people use a combination of these methods, but one is usually dominant. Personally, I am a heavily visual thinker and learner with a photographic memory that got me through the dreaded California Bar Exam. As a visual/kinesthetic learner, it is difficult for me to grasp something if I cannot visualize it.

In order to visualize something new, visual learners typically compare the new data to things we already know. We search our brain databases for analogous situations, combing through the places we have been, the people we have known, the books we have read and movies we have seen. Once a match is made, the new information can be added with ease.

Nowhere is this simple psychological concept of learning more apparent than in the inane arguments the reichers offer to justify their king's wiretapping of American citizens' telephones. The newspapers who leaked the story, according to them, are undermining the war on terror because now the "terrorists" know the government's strategy. On another blog, a reicher commented that "[w]e're dealing with an enemy that moves swiftly and silently (which is why these wiretaps were done in the first place), and now that the enemy knows what's going on, they're going to shift their tactics so that it is harder for us to catch them. Nice work."

I am sure many of you have read similar arguments.

To enter into the action hero fantasyland in which this guy lives, you have to believe that the people who masterminded 9/11 believed that their phone lines were secure, spoke openly about their plans, are now shocked to find out that the government might be listening in on their phone calls and, as we speak, are "swiftly" moving and finding new means of communication. I personally find it hard to believe that the "terrorists" who our CIA trained to dodge and defeat the Russians would be so naive to believe their phone calls are secure. Then again, I don't watch Alias or 24.

Well, I watched Alias once. Stopping in for a visit to friends on a Sunday night, I found them glued to the television, following Sydney's dogged pursuit of standard Hollywood evildoers. It was the most predictable, cliche, wannabe James Bond bunch of crap I have seen in a long time, but they loved it. And it is no wonder they are among those who believe it is okay that the behemoth government wiretap our phones to catch "terrorists". That tactic worked for Sydney. And it probably worked for Jack Whatever His Name Is in 24 too. And what's good for Sydney and Jack is good for America.

If you watch any American action movie or tv show, you will learn that all evildoers are smart enough to implement schemes to take over the world, but are stupid enough to discuss the details of their plans without regard to being overheard. You will also discover that all good-doers are pure of heart, honest, trustworthy and selfless. Die Hard, Mission Impossible, Alias, 24, Zorro, all James Bond films, and the list goes on. Villain says something that is overheard by the characteristically selfless hero who wants nothing more than to protect the world from the evildoers' dastardly scheme. Sound familiar?

For those of us who live in that damn reality-based community, our government is trying to convince us that "terrorists" in America move so quickly that police should not be required to get a warrant, but move slowly enough to be eavesdropped upon. Also, we are supposed to believe that warrantless wiretapping of 250 million people yields results. Even if one percent of Americans (25,000) falls within the definition of "terrorist", the random wiretapping of phone lines is not a wise use of resources. If there is time to narrow the scope of the investigation and focus on a target, there is time to get a FISA warrant.

The government's so-called "war on terror" has been a comic failure and surrendering more of our Constitutionally guaranteed liberties is not going to reverse that. The reality-based community conceptualizes the principles and liberties of the Constitution. The others conceptualize fiction and fantasy they glean from too many bad movies and television shows.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Check These Out

A couple bloggers are on a roll this week so, instead of re-inventing the wheel, I am going to link to their great stuff.

Crankboy has hit the bullseye twice in a row. The first is about crazy Pat Robertson running his (oops, I mean God's) mouth about Sharon's stroke. I am waiting for the Christian community to step up to the plate for some credibility and decry the insanity of this lunatic once and for all. If Robertson wasn't rich, he'd be in a straightjacket singing Sweet Home Alabama by now.

The second post from Cranky is, of course, about the Emperor. This priceless quote from His Highness, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator" sums up all that is going on these days.

Did you hear about the Baptist minister in Oklahoma who got busted for propositioning a cop for a quickie BJ? Oh yeah, two important facts. The minister is a man and the cop he propositioned was a man. Isn't it always the people who yell the loudest about homosexuality who secretly dream of finding out the truth about Tom Cruise?

Captain Fogg reminds us of the government's broad powers to declare martial law.

And JJ rounds it out with a whole lot that must be read.

Happy Weekend.

Patriotism lies not in blind obedience to authority
but in the desire to search for the truth.

Ramman Kenoun

Monday, January 02, 2006

Religion Pimps

Photo: Courtesy of Stalin The Shark

When Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton shows up at an event, you know something related to "race" has transpired and they are capitalizing on someone's misfortune to stroke their own egos. Many Republican bloggers have a name for these guys -- "race pimps" and "race baiters". Presumably, they use these terms to describe those who pimp the race card for personal gain. With respect to Jackson and Sharpton, the description is appropriate. They are slime. They transform serious tragedies into public spectacles.

The problem I find with those who slap the "race pimp" label on Jackson and Sharpton is their broad willingness to affix that derogatory label to any person who suggests that racial animus is at play in a given incident, whether it was the shameful response to Hurricane Katrina or the Rodney King beating. According to the labelers, nothing in America has to do with race and anyone who suggests otherwise is a race baiter.

The response to Hurricane Katrina had nothing to do with the fact that the worst flooded areas were the poorest, blackest areas. When a tourist in New Orleans filmed police beating the snot out of a Black man on Bourbon Street for no apparent reason, the labelers sighed in relief that the victim did not suggest that the police were racist. On to the more mundane, Star Wars I was defended against claims of racism notwithstanding the fact that everyone evil or stupid had an accent and all others spoke properly. Nope. Americans are not racist. That was a long time ago. Get over it. Move on. Stop race baiting.

Strangely enough, however, the labelers who deny that anyone in America has a racist bone in his body are convinced that Christians are being persecuted by atheists in America. Atheists are currently persecuting Christians in America, as the nonsensical story goes, by saying happy holidays, by suggesting that intelligent design is not science and by not allowing a plaque of the Ten Commandments inside a courthouse. Let's summarize. Whites, who are holding onto majority status by the skin of their teeth, have no racists among them, especially no racial animus toward Blacks who make up approximately 12 percent of the population. Atheists, a maximum of four percent of the population (but probably much less) are successfully persecuting the 96 percent of America who are Christians.

I have a name for this stupidity -- "religion pimping" -- those who pimp the religion card for personal gain.

Undoubtedly, there are instances where Christians are offended by someone or something somewhere in the nation, but it is bewildering to comprehend the irrationality behind the suggestion that Christians are being persecuted in a nation that is 96 percent Christian (the percentage varies depending on who you talk to). Persecution is defined as "punishment or harassment usually of a severe nature on the basis of race, religion, or political opinion." Ask a Jew from Germany, Russia or Poland what persecution is. I guarantee you it will sound nothing like what the preppy, self-indulgent, bags of hot air on Faux News are whining about.

Stripping the veneer of religious pimpology, you will see nothing more than a group of people claiming persecution because they are not getting their way (the image of an unruly 5-year-old in a sandbox comes to mind). Sorry religion pimps, but not getting your way is not severe punishment or harassment, even if it feels like that. Not being allowed to reconstitute intelligent design as science is not part of the definition. Not banning gays from getting married is not punishment. And saying happy f'ing holidays is not persecution!

Last I checked, holiday means holy day. Holidays plural means more than one holy day. Since Christmas and Hanukkah generally fall within the same two-week period and since both are commercialized shadows of events that once resembled religion, one can only assume that the holidays (plural) to which Target, Wal-Mart and various cards refer when saying "Happy Holidays" are Christmas and Hanukkah. I have yet to understand how it is persecution to acknowledge Hanukkah? Why don't the religion pimps admit they hate Jews and get it over with? If they had an ounce of sincerity about all that Judeo-Christian heritage, we-love-Israel crap they babble about, the religion pimps would be the ones demanding that everyone else say Happy Holidays in order to bond with their Jewish brothers and sisters in their shared heritage of commercialized holidays. But, alas, that is not the case.

If you find persecution of Christians in a happy holidays card, click here to become a member of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. I am sure they will be more than happy to add religion pimps to their ranks of race pimps.