Saturday, December 12, 2015

Used Cars of Unknown Merit: The Volvo XC90

We need a new car. Well, we need several new cars, which means it is time to test drive hundreds of rolling shitboxes in search of a few diamonds in the rough. We don't buy cars new because I refuse support most of the dreadful automotive monopolies here, I don't want to carry debt on a car, and also because I can't stand the thought of the write-down on value that occurs the moment I drive a new car off the lot. Buying used also means I can forgo comprehensive insurance, which saves us a lot off of our monthly budget as well. Anyway, here's the first in a recurring series on buying used cars in Muscat. 

 According to Wikipedia, Volvo means "I Roll" in Latin. Despite the awesome Latin meaning, Volvo to me sounds like a word for something from Ikea, or perhaps your genitalia or some sort of punctuation mark or maybe that dangly thing that hangs down at the back of your throat. Volvo. Not a sexy word, not a sexy car.

But I digress. Despite a name that sounds like it's referring to somebody's junk, Volvo has been making some damn fine cars for the last decade or so. A few slick sedans, A station wagon that doesn't too dreadful, a hot hatch that goes around corners really fast, and the XC90, a semi-luxury crossover designed to compete with the VW Touareg and the top of the line Subaru Outback. These are not your mother's Volvos. They are slick, competitively priced, well-engineered and carry on the legendary safety that Volvo is synonymous with. What they are not, is Boring. 

This brings us to today's Used Car Of Unknown Merit!  We will be reviewing a 2007 Volvo XC90 with 175kms on the clock.  Asking price is in the vicinity of 2,800 OMR. The XC90 came with three engine choices, and this car has the smallest, a 2.5 litre turbocharged petrol engine. The original owner went for all the bells and whistles, so the car has leather seats, power everything, DVD Player, Sunroof, and many other nice accessories which one can break, and then pay astonishingly exorbitant fees to have repaired at your local monopolistic dealership. Got it? On to the review!

Woah, look at that fabulous shade of Orange! 

You guys, I fucking LOVE this car. I cannot believe I had it in my heart to like, let alone love a Volvo, but I do. My love begins with the key, it's weighty, with big buttons you can find without looking, and contains inside it an actual key that you can stick into a real live ignition lock assembly and use to start the car.None of this push-button-start proximity sensor bullshit. You will never, ever, accidentally drop your keys in a parking lot and drive away without them, leaving yourself stranded 30 miles from your key fob thingy which, by the time you realize where you dropped it, has been run over 15 times and crushed into oblivion. Because you have to actually stick the keys in the ignition and turn them in order to go anywhere! Genius, I tell you. 

I am highly averse to cars with technology. I think power windows are the work of the Devil, and that any car should have the absolute minimum of accessories that can break. I do not want automatically retracting mirrors, adjustable headlights, heated massaging seats, dual climate control, or a button that gives me a Blow-Job. I want all the shit that worked when my car was brand new to still be working when my car has half a million kilometers on it. Hence, you can imagine my trepidation when I saw the laundry list of accessories that this car came loaded with. I was expecting mechanical and electrical gremlins galore, wiring harness issues, mysterious shorts, and broken power windows. To my astonishment, absolutely everything works as it should on this 8-year-old car. Stone remarked that even the cigarette lighter works, which is AMAZING, because neither he nor I can recall ever having a used car where the cigarette lighter still works. I would like to send the engineers at Volvo little gold stars for designing car accessories ALL that still work  8.5 years on. Bravo!

The console is well arranged, with no unnecessary buttons, and all the buttons are large and positioned to be easily accessible to the driver. The visibility from the cockpit is excellent, allowing you to see everything and everyone trying to kill you on the roads. The interior is quiet on the road, and the stock sound system lets you hear every note of the Abba Gold album you just purchased to accompany your Sweedish-Built car. (Sorry Stone!) The car seats seven, with the back two seats folding flat to allow for shit-tons of cargo space. Everybody has a cupholder, and when the car is configured for five, seats five Adults with generous legroom. 

The car has one of the highest safety ratings, even scoring well for pedestrian impacts. Everybody gets an airbag, seatbelt pre-tensioners, anti-roll technology, and a reinforced roof for when you do roll it over. It's a tank, but doesn't drive, look, or handle like one. 

The driving is fantastic, even with the smaller turbo-supported engine, the acceleration is sharp and aggressive. It has just enough power to get you out of trouble, and not quite enough power to get you into it. The engine is mated to a 5 speed Automatic with power distributed through front and rear differentials for full time all wheel drive. Despite the mileage and hot climate / difficult driving conditions the Turbo, transmission and differentials are still working flawlessly, with solid traction on any surface, and smooth up and down shifting and plenty of oomph when I put my foot down. That said, I would love to see one of these things with a V6 or a 3.5 litre turbo, as I still feel it is a bit underpowered with the 2.5. I wouldn't take this dune bashing, for example, or off road camping. I just don't trust that little engine to manage. 

The suspension is firm, but not too firm, giving the car really tight handling even on awkwardly banked curves. The firm suspension and stiff body mean you get very little body roll on corners, and can really attack the chicanes on the school run like the badass racer mommy you know you are. The steering is very positive, well dampened, and amazingly light. You don't need any muscle power whatsoever to turn the wheel, it's almost like you just think about turning and the car does it for you. Sadly, The front C/V joints are almost shot, which is a bit disappointing given that the car is still under 200,000 kms. That's going to be an expensive repair. 

The styling is lovely and doesn't look dated in the slightest. It's not a sexy car, but it's no pig, either. It looks like the sort of car a responsible executive would drive, and the styling is far better than what's available on similar cars from Subaru / VW/ Toyota etc... The leather seating has held up surprisingly well, but the head liner and other cloth or thin plastic interior finishes are showing their age. 

After having this thing for just 48 hours I am seriously considering buying three. One for me, One for Stone, and one to modify to use off road. I am going to go ahead and say that it's the best Used car I have ever had for a long test drive, and I am really impressed with the reliability shown at 8 years of age. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

this and that

More On Omanisation: 

A few months ago the CEO of some steel company in Oman had to resign for saying aloud what lots of bosses here say in private. I don't work for the company, so I have no idea if what he said was factual / fair/ unbiased/ bullshit/ or what. It WAS a bit weird that his apology was published as an advert in the papers. Was that because what he said was wrong, or was it because what he said was too close to the truth to make the powers that be happy? You guys tell me, I'm at a loss.

This leads into  an article in the Times of Oman titled

The first thing I thought when I read this (with a growing sense of rage and disbelief) was that I cannot believe that the OCCI has come out with an argument that holding one's employees hostage is fair practice and excellent labor policy. My second thought was that the OCCI is doing an outstanding job of serving their corporate masters protecting the interests of the businesses in Oman, who would clearly much rather hire a foreign worker than an Omani worker.

One need only look at the comments section at the times of Oman to get some idea of what a contentious issue this is for both sides. One also gets an inkling of the sort of intellectual horsepower employers are dealing with, and it is DIRE on both sides. Honestly, looking at the TOO comments section one would think that half the Omani and Expatriate population  have taken up competitive lead paint licking or undergone voluntary lobotomies. You get a real taste of what HR managers in the country are up against.

I have already written endlessly on the subject of Omanisation,

  1. Here,
  2. Here,
  3. Here,
  4. Here,
  5. Here,
  6. Here,
  7. And Here, 
So I think you guys know why I think the 2 year ban is not only not beneficial, but outright harmful to the Omani economy and our drive towards Omanisation, but one thing I failed to mention in previous RANTS articles is the importance of having a country where as many people as possible are really fucking good at what they do and are really fucking good to work with and for. The A-team, vs the B team, if you will.

As I mentioned before, a quick browse of the comments section at TOO should make it very clear that;

  1. We already have a lot of B-team expats and Locals. 
  2. These B-team individuals have opinions, and like the Tea Party in the USA, they won't let facts or data get in the way of a poorly articulated argument. 
  3. Some fuckwit has gone and given these morons internet and facebook accounts. 
  4. We need better people crafting our economic and labor policy.

Now that Expats, Omanis and the Chairman of the OCCI hate me equally, let's continue, shall we? 
  • For all the Expats out there saying "we are invaluable, and the country would fall apart without us" please remember that you can be replaced at the snap of a finger by someone more desperate for your job. You are not a special snowflake. 
  • For all the Omanis who are saying "If you don't like it, Leave" rest assured that the expats that will inevitably replace the existing ones will be even less talented, and have fewer options outside Oman, and will likely be even more desperate to hang onto their jobs at any cost. Don't expect an improvement in knowledge sharing or interest in the future of the country, much less the future of you or your fellow Omanis.  
  • There are expats that are good for the country, and expats that are bad for the country. We need our labour law to be designed to make the country and working conditions MORE attractive to the A-team foreigners. The two-year ban means we are less likely to attract top-notch foreign talent and instead get the B-team. 
  • We need to find a way to make it less attractive for companies to hire a foreigner, possibly using economic incentives, across the board minimum wages based on job classification,  and allowing foreigners to change jobs as easily as Omanis. 
  • We need a complete and total reform of the Omani Educational system so that it produces kids with the skills needed to enter the workplace, and some actual perspective on what entry-level work is like.   
  • We need a labour market that levels the playing field so Omanis and Expats can compete, based on performance and experience, for the same jobs, with the same benefits, without nationality coming into the equation. 
As it stands, nobody really wants to hire Omanis. And why would you, when all the labor laws make it so much more attractive to hire a foreigner?

Second, regarding current events over in neighbourly Yemen:
You would literally have to be dead to have not noticed the proxy war in Yemen, where the key players appear to be (in no particular order) Saudi, Iran, UAE, Bahrain, hired mercenaries, Houthis, Qatar, Al Qaeda, People who back Hadi, Dead women and children,  and Assorted Unfortunate Yemeni People. It is a complete shit-show.

Oman has the noble distinction of being the only sensible country in a 700-mile radius, and has smartly refused to participate in the GCC military offensive. We are not sending troops, and as far as I am aware, we are not allowing our airbases or naval ports to be used to support either side in the conflict. Whilst rumours indicate lots of grassroots and financial support for the Houthi faction coming from individual Omani citizens, the government has been admirable in their role as mediator and peacemaker in this conflict. I hope the Muscat Talks prove that we, as Arabs, can occasionally see the big picture. Well done, guys. The whole world should be proud of the example we are setting for diplomacy.

So here's the shit that really scares me stupid: There have been quite a few war casualties coming from the emirates and if you read the papers out of Abu Dhabi, the hyperbole is astonishing. 3 days of mourning, lots of quotes from important people calling these poor kids "martyrs" and stating outright that they died in Yemen "Defending the UAE" Just like the US soldiers in Iraq are "Defending America's Freedoms"

Bullshit. The UAE, Saudi, Qatar and the rest and  are sending our young men (and whatever hired mercenaries they can recruit from Africa / Pakistan) off to die for a political and religious war that has nothing whatsoever to do with "Protecting Freedoms", "Restoring the Democratically elected president" or "Defending the Sovereignty of the UAE".

No, really, stop laughing. These were actual quotes in the papers about how these autocratic Gulf Monarchies are "Defenders of Democracy!" Defenders. Of. Democracy. You can't make this shit up.

Our glorious GCC leadership is sending our young men off to die because we don't like Shias, We don't like Iran, and fuck those crazy Qat-Chewing Yemenis anyway.

The rhetoric coming out of the UAE and Saudi media sounds scarily like the rhetoric coming out of the Bush Administration circa 2004. Let us not be as stupid now, as America was then.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dhofari Gucci

Dhofari Gucci posted a brutally honest essay last week. Well worth the read if you have a minute.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How do you say "Do you want fries with that" in Arabic?

Guess what was in the papers yesterday? The Ministry of Manpower is going to allow our underproductive and somewhat entitled youth to work part-time jobs, paid by the hour! I cannot wait to be asked if I would like extra ketchup in Arabic! 
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Bakri, minister of manpower, issued a ministerial decision whereby employers can recruit workers on part-time basis on the following conditions including that part-time workers should not exceed 10 per cent of the specified Omanisation rate and their employment should be confined to private institutions.
This decision is AMAZEBALLS and should be applauded by everybody. Good Job M.O.M. It has the potential to be the thin end of the wedge that will eventually drive up competition in the job market as well as increase the quality of the pool of applicants we have to choose from. It has the potential to give all Omani's opportunities for casual or part time work. Bravo!

The limits on the new policy are extremely restrictive, and it only applies to kids between 16-18, but guys.... it's a start, and it's a great idea, which is all the more surprising because it came from a ministry more often known for terrible ideas, poorly executed.

I have been going on and on (and on and on and on) about Omanisation, and the underemployment of youth in the Sultanate since 2006, I think.  One of the things that consistantly boggled my mind was that we had no options for our youth to earn pocket money or learn basic practical job skills.

 Think about this for a minute: Your average middle class Omani Graduate, with a bachelor's degree from one of our astonishingly shitty private universities is unlikely to have any experience with any of the of the following:

  • Managing a household budget
  • Doing his own laundry
  • living outside of his parent's house. 
  • Ever having had a Job of any description, and has almost certainly never had a really really shitty job pumping gas or working in fast food or being a janitor. 
  • The absolute heartbreak of failure.
  • Having to admit to a superior that you don't know the answer, but will go find someone who does. 
  • being the lowest man on the totem pole, and working with assholes who hate you. 
  • Working a shitty job, and basically starving. Living off ramen noodles and samosas for 4 years while working through college. 
None of the above experiences are particularly fun, but they do build character and life skills such as empathy, time management, effective communication with assholes, and a genuine terror at the thought of ever being that poor again. 
Put yourself in the shoes of the people in HR then when these kids rock up with their Bachelor of Business management and expect to be made managers. 

I'm like, "friend, come back when you are not so fucking stupid to show up for an interview 2 hours late, with no C.V,  a half eaten chips oman sandwich in hand and three of your friends along for support.

It is little wonder that so many expats are quick to write off Omani's as feckless, lazy and dumb when in fact, much of that is simply a symptom of being wildly inexperienced with no life skills and perhaps a bit spoiled. It's not so much the fault of these kids, it's partially the fault of a government that has been too stupid to let them work, and a society that has coddled them for far too long. 

I'm very interested to see how this initiative is going to work out in reality, and if the M.O.M will back up businesses when they want to sack an underperforming hourly employee. 

More from here tomorrow, but I wanted to get this written down while it was fresh in my mind. Be good, Muscat. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A voice of reason falls silent.

If you have lived in Oman for any length of time, you have likely heard of Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry. If you are really lucky you might have talked to Sheikh Khalfan, or even had dinner or an iftar celebration with him. You might have listened to his Ramadhan radio show, attended a seminar on HSE led by him, or perhaps sought out his consultation on matters religious, political, cultural, small business staff development, or industrial safety. Jack of all trades does not come close to describing his skill set or his wide array of scholarly expertise. 

I knew Sheikh Khalfan from his time working for PDO. PDO put him in charge of corporate safety, and he did an admirable job of changing the safety culture of PDO from the fatalistic "If Allah Wills It, I will die" to "I will take all the motherfucking preventative measures possible to ensure safety, I will ensure that all my motherfucking colleagues work safe too, and only after that is it in the hands of Allah to protect me" 

Sheikh Khalfan occasionally hosted "Scary Arabs 101" or as PDO preferred to call it, "New Expat Orientation". If you were fortunate enough to attend one of those sessions, you will undoubtedly recall the side-splitting portion on "Our Amazing Omani Underwear!" It was priceless. Sheikh Khalfan's easy going attitude, humor, and willingness to discuss the "questions that white people wonder about but are afraid to ask" made a huge difference in the ability of new western expats to understand the culture they were living in, and to embrace it without fear or ignorance. 

Although it wasn't his profession, Sheikh Khalfan was a VERY highly respected religious scholar, and generally as well liked by the elites of Muscat, as the folks in the village. His sane, thoughtful, and outward looking thoughts on matters religious personified the Omani attitudes of tolerance, moderation, and self-determination. He is, perhaps, the only Religious scholar with whom a fallen heretic such as myself can agree on many, many things. Indeed, If I could find common ground with a man so esteemed, it is little wonder then that his messages resonated with Sunni and Shia alike, and youth as much as the old guard. 

Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry passed away yesterday after battling an illness for a year or so. Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Rajioon. 

With his passing, the country looses a respected moderate voice, a champion of reasoned dialogue, a force for safety and sanity, and a humble, hilarious, genuinely wonderful man. Sheikh Khalfan was to so many expatriates the embodiment of what an Omani was, and what makes our country so very different, and indeed better than anywhere else in the Middle East. 

I intend to honor his legacy today by making safe choices, Being deliberate in my actions instead of reactive, and showing thought and consideration, even to those I disagree with. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

empty quarter

WRT the latest in ineffective Oman government initiatives: I read that we have decided to require motorcycle riders to own the bike they test on in order to get a full motorcycle licence, and that in order to own a bike, one must already have a full motorcycle licence. Well done, chaps! Reminds me a little of the "no expats may own pickup trucks" thing. let me know how that works out?

Also, the great and the good of the Omani intellectual stratosphere (otherwise known as the Majlis Ashura) have come forward with the genius suggestion that all expat managers be replaced by Omanis. Fuck me, perhaps we all CAN be astronauts!

On the bright side, at least we don't live in the Emirates. I used to kiss the tarmac at MCT every time I returned from a business trip to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, so grateful to be back in Oman, where perhaps everything is completely fucked up, but so much less so, and in a much more pleasant way.

More on the unintentional comedic genius that is our government in a few days, but for now, let us talk about something even more important; Me, and what I've been up to. 

I was in Abu Dhabi for a couple weeks at the end of March, working this event I have worked since the early 2000's, and catching up with old friends. previous years, I worked for the orginisation or directly for the teams competing. It was pretty high stress, low sleep, no time to eat or think or do anything other than react to whatever the next disaster might be, and attempt to head it off, or minimise the disruption to the event.

When I say we worked hard, and spent days and nights preventing small disasters from becoming big ones, I am really not kidding. Each year, I would lose 5-10 kilos in 12 days from lack of food, stress, physical exertion, lack of sleep, and probably drinking too much gin. In the first few years I worked the event, it was headquartered somewhere rather remote, requiring that a temporary city for 1,500 people be built in the middle of fucking nowhere. generators, portacabins with toilets and showers, hundreds of tents, fire, ambulance, helicopter cover, search and rescue team, remote medical clinic, remote fueling sites, catering, communication via satellite phone, gsm, radios, and water trucked in by tanker truck from the nearest city, 80 kms away. It was AMAZING.

 A particularly tough first day of the race would see us getting up at 03:00, setting up the ceremonial start somewhere flashy, starting off 50 cars and a hundred or so bikes, packing up the start, dividing the essential paperwork and supplies we needed to run the event into two different cars, because if I die in a ball of flames and crushed metal, and my share of the paperwork gets burned up, the event can still run. Mad dash from the ceremonial start 200 kms into the desert to check on the real start, find lunches for the civil defence guys who are refusing to work without 5* catering, putting out an actual bike on fire, and then another 200k or so into the desert to the site of the event. set up comms, sort out a hundred thousand problems (no power, no diesel, tanker trucks are lost, sandstorm, so the helicopters can't fly, etc..) set up the office and administration in a portacabin. get organised for the nightly meeting. As the bikes and cars begin to trickle in after a day on the sand, track down lost time cards, resolve minor competitor violations, realise we are out of water for the second time that day and task someone to go find a water bowser before the toilets overflow with shit. run 60 kms into the nearest town to get the route amendments that the advance team faxed over to the local hotel. have someone translate them from french and make a ton of photocopies. prepare to hand out road books and amendments and get everything ready for the driver's briefing 19:00. help with the driver's briefing. find the lost survival rations and hand those out. attend a three-hour meeting covering the first day of the race, type and print minutes from the meeting, and file them into 12 identical folders. be interrupted every three minutes by someone with a question, or an urgent need. it is now 22:30 and you have missed dinner. have a beer. track down 13 different teams to find out if they retired or will start tomorrow. Have another beer. Fuel tanker is lost, grab a beer and drive out to meet them and have them follow you back in. Fuel tanker forgot their generator, find a generator, and borrow a mechanic from one of the teams competing to get the malfunctioning pump up and working. it's midnight. sit down and have a few beers with your favorite people in the world, and trade stories of the day. 02:00 am, and you are in bed, and someone is shining a flashlight on you saying the bathrooms have no water, and it's a literal shit-storm in there now. throw your clothes on, realise the bathroom situation DEFINITELY cannot wait, check the water tanks. they are empty. grab someone who speaks whatever it is the water tanker drivers speak, grab a beer, and head 60 kms to go find a dozen more water tankers at 02:30 am. beg. borrow, cajole, and steal all the water you can find. drive back in convoy. 04:30 am, and the water tanks are full again. go through the bathrooms flushing toilets where you can and shutting off all the taps that were left on when the water ran out. leave a note for the guy in charge of that so he knows to get the cleaners in there asap when they get trucked in tomorrow, and to order more water for tomorrow. 05:00 am, back in bed. 06:00, alarm. off to the start to start the bikes and cars for another day in the desert. do roughly the same thing for the next 5 days, and you get the idea. exhausting, but fun, and working in the company of (mostly) amazing people.

But this year... this year was different: This year, I was on the medical team.  Do you know what being on the medical team means?  7 hours of sleep a night, 3 square meals a day, practicing field medicine with some of the finest medics in the entire world, and  Motherfucking helicopters, that's what. 

this was the view from my office for the week. 

Yes, I am in the front seat in a helicopter. Yes, I did pee on myself a little bit. 

and spent a day dune bashing with the amazing drivers on the sweep team!

I don't need to tell you guys how wonderful it was, but I usually do a by the numbers roundup of this event so here it is. It is somewhat different than past years. 
  • numbers of kms driven by me: 30
  • number of kms flown: thousands
  • best car driven: International MXT
  • worst car driven: 2012 range rover
  • runner up for best car driven: 2015 VW Touareg.
  • ratio of days to showers: 1/1
  • hours slept each night, average: 7
  • number of weird American pilots with moustaches 0
  • number of Canadian pilots without moustaches, who's junk I may or may not have grabbed while making a drunken point about I don't remember what: 1 (Sorry, Mike!) 
  • very smart medical professionals who do seem to like me: 8
  • very smart medical professionals who don't seem to like me: 12
  • new best friends for life acquired:1
  • beers consumed: 24
  • bourbon consumed (in litres) 1.5
  • average number of meals eaten per day: 2.2
  • weight lost: 3 kg
  • Epic road trips with Sheikh Your Booty:1
  • wrong turns on above road trip: 7
  • Regrettable confessions regarding past lovers and weird one night stands on above road trip: 6 

So, on the whole, a pretty good time was had. more on the rally in a few days, as well as the latest from tht majlis ashura thing. hope you all are well, and kicking ass.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

March Blues

I took the kid out to dinner tonight. It's been bitterly cold here for two months, without a single day above 0c, (most days the High has not been above -20c!) and tonight is no exception. Indeed, my phone informs me that it is presently -15c outside once one factors in the windchill. I love winter, but I'm ready for spring. Anyway, we had an otherwise uneventful meal at the sushi place and departed for the three block walk back to the car. And my Kid, this gorgeous little child, my wingman, my partner in crime, nearly broke me, shattered my sanity into 10,000 little pieces, right there.

It took us 30 minutes (thirty motherfucking minutes!) to walk the three blocks as she unhurriedly drifted from one side of the sidewalk to the next, babbled away asking me questions she already knows the answer to, fucked about with icicles, made a snow angel, petted dogs, chatted up homeless guys, stared off into space, and basically did everything EXCEPT hustle her shit up and out of this insane cold. We were in the final 200 meters to the car, and I'm like half a block ahead and behind me I hear her singing the Sponge Bob Square Pants song except she has replaced all the words with "meow". and she's just standing there in the middle of the fucking sidewalk, staring off into space, meowing Sponge Bob.  Meow, meow, meow, meow...

What the shit, Kid? Are you incapable of feeling the cold? Have you no Goddamn sense of urgency?  Are you doing this deliberately to see if you can actually kill me through passive-aggressiveness? Do you not love me, the woman who just paid 9 bucks for your shrimp tempura in order to watch you eat exactly HALF a shrimp? What? Why do you hate me?

People say to treasure this because it will all be over too soon, but for 30 minutes tonight I was seriously contemplating mailing her to my parents and running for the Canadian border.

One of the things I miss the most about blogging (aside from the amaze-balls Omani Blogging community) is the emotional nourishment and release that comes with keeping a sort of diary of rants, raves and life events. Blogging really is therapeutic.Finding myself deep in the abyss of the March blues, I figured it was time to break out the laptop, uncap the bourbon, and treat myself to some intensive therapy. For whatever follows, I apologise.

There is so much that has been going on in Oman that is worth blogging about, or that I wanted to blog about, but couldn't find the time. I miss the old blogging community and all its warts, trolls, and weirdos. I miss reading actual opinions and insight into what is REALLY going on, what people REALLY think, and what. exactly, is pissing people off this week. You know it's a sad state of affairs when the blogs only report good news and the local print media are the people writing daring shit. A lot has changed in the last 15 years.

I am glad to see the local media has grown some teeth, even if they are baby teeth. Well done chaps, now grow some Balls.

One of the issues that I think deserves a bit of rational discussion is the ban on alcohol proposal from the cesspool of genius that is the Majlis Al Shura. (what ever happened with that, BTW?) If these guys gave even half a shit about the future of the country, they would be focusing instead on the terrible schools, the entitlement culture, the carnage on the roads, the exorbitant cost of getting married, the drug trafficking and addiction issues, and the everyday welfare and wellbeing of the citizens of Oman. This optimistic wishing on my part is, I know, an exercise in futility.

For me, the core issue comes down to this: There shall be no compulsion in religion. You smarter readers know where that particular quote comes from.  One of the most beautiful things about Oman is that for the most part, everybody is legally free to practice their religion as they wish. It is not the government's job to dictate to you how to live, dress, or think, because this shit is between you and the creator and at the end of the day, He's the one that's gonna judge you, not us. And to be honest, that's a pretty fucking enlightened position for the Omani Government to take, and we should all be proud of it.

When a government starts dictating how we live, and making decisions for us that should be between us and god, that's a slippery-ass slope. I talk a lot about the trickle-down Wahabi Islam that is infecting our beautiful country and I think this is another good example. You can climb to the rooftops and scream that we are all Ibadhi, and I clearly don't understand the difference between Wahabi and Ibadhi, and you would be completely right. Nobody is saying we are practicing Wahabi Islam, but we with initiatives like the ban on alcohol, we are certainly practicing contemporary Wahabi style governance.

My dad tells stories of back in Saudi, when I was a tiny girl, and the research university used to cut off the power to all the (primitive) computers 5 times a day to enforce prayer times. Friend, if your shit wasn't saved before the power cut you were in a world of hurt. I suppose this provided some sort of added benefit in that everybody's work was (hopefully) saved 5x a day, but it certainly didn't change the behaviors of the guys who were working. It's not like the screen shut off, they lost all their work and then they were all like " hell yeah! let's go pray!" the guys who WANTED to go pray at the appointed times were already going to go do that. the guys who were not, just took a nap instead. Totally pointless.

If you don't want to drink, don't drink. If you don't want to wear an abaya, then don't wear an abaya. If you love bacon, then eat it or don't because that's between you and Allah. it is critically important that as citizens we learn to make up our own minds about what is best for us as individuals. This is a critical life skill that everybody should have. Think your shit through, then make your own decision.

I am super worried about the health of His Majesty. He's been better to us than we deserve, that's for sure.

Are you guys reading the blog Oman Coast? You should. it's really good, if not a little sparse.

How are we? we are doing well here in the states. we lost our minds and bought a 107-year old mansion. What we paid for it would make you weep tears of envy. it's awesome, but needs a total gut job to all 5 bathrooms and many other astonishingly expensive updates. At any rate, we are enjoying slowly bankrupting ourselves.

I finally decided that maybe being a jack-of-all-trades high school drop out wasn't working for me anymore, went to college and discovered that I am not actually as stupid as I thought.

I own the most amazing 1991 GMC suburban. It makes me obscenely happy.

I miss you guys. I have a business trip to Abu Dhabi in two weeks, but won't get a chance to make it home for a visit. I'm hoping we will all be back later in the year.

That, I think, concludes this therapy session. I feel better already. Hope you all are well.