Amman: the Gray City

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Amman is a beautiful city in its own right. Sure she has plenty of problems, but if you step back and squint a bit, it all looks pretty good. It’s in the details where Amman as a city falls short.

I’m going to ignore the blatant traffic problems, lack of efficient transportation, poor city layout and planning, poor sidewalk design, limited parking infrastructure, lack of control over signage pollution, poor waste management and lack of efficient water supply for the time being. (Can you tell that I used to work for and architectural and engineering firm that dealt with city planning?) My gripe at the moment has to do with the fact that if you’re going to build building with white stone, you should require that the exteriors be cleaned from time to time.

Amman is truly unique in that the majority of the buildings are constructed with a white stone façade. I personally prefer a bit of color, but there is a certain charm and Middle Eastern flair in the design style. The lack of color is hell for tourists or newcomers when it comes to finding their way around, but you get used to it after a while.

From a practical design standpoint, the white stone does wonders when it comes to reflecting the extremely harsh sunlight off of the buildings. From a maintenance standpoint, however, it really ends up being a mess, as there are no requirements or local precedence for maintaining a clean exterior. It doesn’t take long for the dust and pollution to muddy up a beautiful white façade, turning it to a grungy, streaky gray.

If the city developers want to continue to build using white stone construction, fine. I just wish the municipality would enforce some sort of system to maintain a clean appearance. Grungy, dirty buildings are just another of the mediocre oversights that keeps Amman from reaching its full potential.

Fasting and Holiness

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I was intrigued by the thoughts and comments on Samer Marzouq’s blog in her blog entry titled, “Is Ramadan Losing Its Holiness in Jordan?”. The question that is implied is whether Islamic rules of fasting should be imposed on those who are non-Muslim during the month of Ramadan? Oddly enough, I was discussing this topic with a friend yesterday so rather than post a comment on Samer’s blog, I decided to address the issue here.

A Personal Choice
Or is it? The reason for fasting and for celebrating the month of Ramadan is for man to become closer to God. If that is the case, it should be my personal choice whether I want to become closer to God or not. And why is it someone else’s matter whether I go to Paradise or not? Can anyone force me into Paradise? If not, why twist my arm into performing a bunch of religious rituals that may or may not secure my destiny? Conclusions lead me to believe that this is not a personal choice, as some would have me believe, but rather a religious community choice.

So if true religion is between individuals and God, why enforce and regulate who fasts? Is it man’s job to make sure that others are conforming to God’s commands? Is God not powerful enough to do the job Himself? All it would take is for God to smite a few people with lightning and we would all become extremely devout, fasting as if our lives depended on it.

Secondly, why should fasting be enforced on non-Muslims? Not only does a policy of enforcement (complete with consequences) go against the whole “religion of peace and tolerance” mentality, but it also implies an attitude of weakness. If a non-Muslim eating during Ramadan is enough of a temptation to cause a Muslim to stumble, how strong is the faith in the first place?

Losing Holiness
While I come across many devout Muslims who are actively pursuing a strict regimen of fasting, there are just as many who cheat during the month of Ramadan. Many Muslims will eat, drink and smoke throughout the day, especially when no one is looking. In an honor-based society, these actions are acceptable as long as you don’t get caught. But why would someone do that if God is watching? What this tells me is that the opinions of the community outweigh the commands of God.

A Matter of Respect
Some of have brought up the idea that non-Muslims should not eat or drink in public as a matter of respect for the Muslim holy month. Such an argument can easily be reversed by saying that Muslims should have enough respect for non-Muslims as to abstain them from fasting requirements (or the appearance of fasting, at least). The door swings both ways on this one. I personally don’t eat and drink in public during Ramadan as an act of respect, but it’s my choice not to do so and should not be forced upon me by religious bludgeoning.

A Caveat
These thoughts were not written to enflame (although some may become quite irate after reading this), but rather to honestly question the logic and motivation behind the religious attitudes that affect our day-to-day lives. Some would have you believe that questioning one’s religious beliefs is wrong; I tend to disagree.

Products of the West, We Welcome You!

Monday, September 25, 2006

In the past six months, a surge of Western grocery products have been flocking to the shelves in many grocery stores such as Safeway and Cosmo. While most of these products are priced extremely high, especially compared to standard American pricing, as they become more common-place, the prices will drop.

Just in the past week, a new wave of food products has found its way to the shelves of local supermarkets. Delicious breakfast foods such as Pop Tarts have dropped down to a reasonable cost. Other fantastic foods and condiments are suddenly available, such as Ranch flavor salad dressing, instance rice, Rold Gold Pretzels (which are far better than the crappy Turkish pretzels), and a variety of “new” sauces and candies. Other toiletry products are now available, such as Ivory soap and Right Guard deodorant. (I need to purchase some of this deodorant for my local dukaan owner; he stinks big time.)

Some may object to the amount of Westernization that Jordan has experienced over the past several decades, but I don’t see too many people protesting the use of satellite television, mobile phones, or DVD players. And where are the people burning their blue jeans? Trust me, the variety of grocery and other products that are on the way can only make life better. I admit that I am a bit biased, but I welcome our new Western overlords.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Two famous movie stars that everyone seems to think are gorgeous and I think they're dogs: Sarah Michelle Gellar and Katie Holmes.

Reason Flies Right Out the Window (Again)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Islamic world is in an uproar about comments made by Pope Benedict XVI concerning the prophet Mohammad and Islam, and are calling for an apology. The Pope quoted a book recounting a conversation between 14th Century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian interlocutor during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402. In the book, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The following portion of the speech is what has many Muslims so inflamed.

The emperor must have known that surah 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.

How shall I address this? First of all, allow me the disclaimer of saying that the Pope and his position as "the highest and most sacred Christian reference in the World" (as some have put it) is absolute rubbish. I don’t buy the idea that this man is any more holy than I am, let alone the lead spokesperson for the “Christian” world.

Secondly, based on many of the statements that are issued from the Catholic Church, I sometimes highly doubt the "divine wisdom" of Catholicism, including its knowledge of the Bible. I have met too many Catholics who don’t know a whit about their own belief system, which really doesn’t make a bit of sense when you begin to think about it logically. (To be fair, I have met just as many Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus that don’t have much of an idea about their own religious beliefs, apart from what religious leaders have force-fed them.) In short, I generally have very little respect for the Catholic Church.

Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, I believe that the Pope used a historically factual conversation in a tactless example about the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is contrary to God's nature. After all, if anyone should be completely aware of the sins of the past, especially in light of the abominable religious fiasco that were the Crusades, it is the Pope. While I believe the Pope's intentions were honorable and not malicious, I believe he was unaware of the response from easily outraged Muslim clerics that are constantly on the watch for yet another issue to light up the fires of hate and violence throughout the Muslim world.

The premise of the speech—the spreading of religion by peaceful means and not by violence and threats—can be agreed upon by both most Christians and Muslims (I say "most" because there are plenty of nut jobs on both sides that can prove otherwise). Those of the Muslim faith, however, have a big problem with anything negative spoken against the prophet Mohammad (I refer you to the reaction against the prophet Mohammad cartoons). The response to the inference that Islam is a religion that encourages violence towards "non-believers" is that Muslims around the world are proving the point!

Does this make any sense? Muslims around the world are reacting violently to a lecture on faith, reason, and the condemnation of violence. If one is truly peaceful and tolerant and condemns violence, how can one respond violently? Where's the logic in that? (The Black Iris takes a similar position, not really seeing the sense in protesting against an accusation of violence by using violence.)

Media sources aren’t helping to quell the issue. Today's Jordan Times headline states Pope's Attack on Islam Sparks Anger, with a callout that insinuates that the Pope personally made the quote rather than repeating a portion of a 600-year-old conversation. Most media sources will skew the story; most people will receive—and base their actions—on a small portion of the information; many Muslim clerics will take advantage of ignorance in an effort to use this lack of information to fuel their modern-day crusade against "the West".

The end result will be that the Vatican offers an "official apology" towards Islam which will go largely ignored by radical Muslim clerics who will continue to encourage actions against the "infidels". CNN will continue to broadcast the public outcry by Muslims, including violence and rioting by "peace-loving Arabs", at which point Europeans and Americans will shrug their shoulders and admit that it appears that the Pope’s comments weren't too far off base, after all.

Got Blood?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A friend of mine has a liver disease. Recently, his liver failed and he required an immediate blood transfusion. For some reason, the hospital required that his family go down to the blood bank to retrieve the necessary blood for the operation. Once they arrived, the blood bank informed them that they couldn’t take blood until they give it. Now what kind of system is that?

Seriously folks, I’m not just talking about donating blood once a quarter as an act of goodwill. In this situation, my friend’s family could not remove 36 pints* of blood from the blood bank until they donated 36 pints of blood in return. So at 3:00 in the morning, my friends had to make phone calls to all their family members to try to get them to donate enough blood so that they could save a life.

After they finally managed to donated the proper amount of blood, the blood bank handed them the pints in a Safeway bag and said, “See ya later.” I’m not sure the Jordanian blood bank is firing on all cylinders, if you know what I mean.

*I’m not sure how many pints of blood they needed. I’m just throwing figures out.

Fight the Heat: Plant Trees

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The city of Sacramento, California is planting trees to help fight global warming. Officials of Sacramento's “shade crusade” have planted 375,000 shade trees over the past 16 years with plans to plant at least 4 million more.

American federal research has shown that carefully planted trees can lower summertime temperatures in cities, significantly reduce air-conditioning bills and trap greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

So the question is this: why can’t we pull it together in Jordan to plant more trees? And why are money-hungry developers allowed to bulldoze trees in order to construct rows of claustrophobic concrete buildings?

I love living in Jabal Amman simply because of the amount of trees that are still standing. When it comes to excess foliage, however, the rest of the city is a disaster. And those lousy little trees that the government plants in the middle of the sidewalk aren’t helping.

Shooting Yourself In The Foot

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

We’ve all seen the news: some fanatical wacko decides to take a couple of pot shots at a group of foreigners, killing 1 and injuring 6 more, including a local policeman.

This is the worst kind of news for Jordan, since it strikes at the heart of the country’s most viable economic resource: tourism. Some guy thinks he’s making a bold statement against the West when, in all actuality, he is simply hurting his own country. Way to go, moron.


Monday, September 04, 2006

I've been away in Europe for a couple of months. During that time, I've decided to take it easy, focus on other activities, and take a break from blogging.

Now that I've returned, however, I'm ready to start up again. Consider yourself warned!