Ink & Paper

Friday, June 24, 2005

BBC reports....

The US military has defended the role of doctors in refining the coercive interrogation tactics being used on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The Pentagon said no inquiry had produced "credible evidence" physicians had taken part in the "inhumane treatment of detainees".

But it admitted "behavioural science consultants" were helping interrogators exploit prisoners' weaknesses.

Authors of a report in the New England Journal of Medicine say that since late 2002, psychiatrists and psychologists have been part of a programme designed to increase fear and distress among prisoners as a means to getting intelligence.

They say there are "strong indications" that Behavioural Science Consultation Teams - known as "biscuit" teams - have had access to detainees' personal health information.

"Wholesale rejection of clinical confidentiality at Guantanamo also runs contrary to settled ethical precepts," their report notes.

In one example, interrogators were told that a detainee's medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways that could be manipulated to induce him to co-operate, the newspaper reported.

I am not too familiar with the
Hippocratic Oath, but I am pretty sure that what is going on in Gitmo with regards to the use (and you can't spell abuse without 'use') of detainee medical records is so far beyond the guidelines that this little powderkeg could be the next thing to blow up in the face of the US government.

The hometown US picture of doctors is one of reliability, honesty, good ethics, and empathy. Mix 'ER' with your typical small town American doctor and you get a good picture of how the public views the medical profession. I think the US people have come to accept the fact that their soldiers are doing some pretty nasty things in Iraq and Gitmo, as well as having come to accept the fact that the government lied to them. The public is even going so far as to uneasily keep quiet as the body count rises. But one wonders if this sullying of the pinnacle of professions is going to pass by as quietly.

Now you may say that a few turned off lights during an interrogation, or another type of psychological tweak, might not seem so bad. But keep in mind that what we hear is usually just the tip of a still-fairly-secretive process. So I wonder what is really going on, in the 'basement' of Gitmo, if you will.

And a last quote, to show you just how sensitive the US government is to the illegal imprisonment of scores of people, I must only turn to the beloved anti-Christ quote machine, Dick Cheney...

Meanwhile, US Vice-President Dick Cheney on Thursday defended the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.

He said they were well treated, well fed and "living in the tropics".


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The Saga: Epilogue

I don't have too much to say about the Saga that I haven't said before. Overall I found the administration's dealings with us to be in very poor taste, especially in the last two weeks. I think what worried me the most as I saw this whole story develop and grow was the thought that if anything went wrong (i.e. car crash, apartment collapse, etc) was the idea that the skool had all but washed their hands of us. Frankly it felt like our needs/demands were seen as a chore to be dealt with instead of an obligation to be honored.

Now I will not say that teachers acted without fault. For sure there are administration blogs out there about all the shitty things that teachers did. But I don't know if a few teachers misbehaviours would honestly compete with the power that admin had over us, especially as the year came to a close and big paychecks hung in the air. Nor did the sarcasm help matters much.

I have been home in Canada for just a shade over a week now. And I don't miss Kuwait at all. In fact, I find that it is fading from memory very quickly. Aside from the friends I met there (yes that includes Kneal too) the year was a struggle for the most part. I won't go into any more detail about it, as I am frankly ready to forget it and move on. Nor would you be wanting to read consistently negative things for the next week or two.

One of the teachers said, over 7am beers in Frankfurt, that I was a new Jay. Yea, I probably am. Certainly my mood had improved by Frankfurt and it only got better once I got settled here in Red Deer. Anyway, aside from an essay here and there about certain aspects about Kuwaiti society that intrigued me, I think I am pretty much done with the rehashing of negative memories. It just isn't healthy, as entertaining as it might be for you to read.

So that is that. Have a good weekend. Enjoy a green park. I don't take them for granted anymore.

Music playing now: Beck - Guero

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

MSNBC reports....

The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches.

The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

"The purpose of the system . . . Is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service," according to the official notice of the program.

Some information on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country.

"Using multiple sources allows the compilation of a more complete list of eligible candidates to join the military," according to written statements provided by Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke in response to questions. "This program is important because it helps bolster the effectiveness of all the services' recruiting and retention efforts."

The system also gives the Pentagon the right, without notifying citizens, to share the data for numerous uses outside the military, including with law enforcement, state tax authorities and Congress.

Let's put aside the obvious privacy issues here. Let's put aside the idea that holding school boards hostage to their future funding in order to get them to comply is underhanded. Let's not talk about the stomach-turning idea of targeting children as future soldiers, future body bags. I want to focus on another issue.

I was surprised that throughout the entire article the focus was on the privacy issues of having a private company manage the information. Maybe I am a little paranoid, but the centralization of information by a government agency of 16-18 year olds during a time of ongoing war tweaks my mind to the possibility of the draft being reinstated.

To be truthful, I haven't heard much about the draft idea in the last few months. I had heard about it in the run up to the election in November, but who knows what to believe during those confetti months. But with the insurgency still kicking ass in Iraq, mutating into a new threat, all the while watching the White House deny anything is wrong, one wonders just how long this insanity is going to continue. And with military recruitment in the US dropping off rapidly, the idea of reinstating the draft is bound to gain some momentum as the summer drags on.

Keep in mind that bush doesn't have to win a re-election in 2008. The scary thing about that is he pretty much can do whatever he wants. He doesn't seem to be aware of the legacy he is leaving, so I wouldn't be surprised if the draft comes along and is installed, as the political fallout for him personally might be seen as a moot point.

The draft was last used in Vietnam and among all the comparisons one could draw between the two wars, I think the most telling is the overall idea of an unjust war being run on the backs of an increasingly skeptical public. We know of the anger that surrounded the Vietnam war in the late 60s and early 70s, an anger borne out of a public feeling that they were not getting the whole story and that the war was pointless at best, immoral at worst.

The tide of public opinion in the US is turning right now. bush's approval rating for his handling of the war was recently measured at 41%, the lowest ever. Like the government(s) of the Vietnam era, bush and co. seem to have a problem remembering just how big the sleeping giant of public passion can become when roused. The blinders are firmly in place with this administration, ladies and gentlemen.

Am I predicting a draft? Yes, but it won't be officially called that. Something more like "mandatory optional enrollment." But we will see it, especially as the numbers of dead soldiers (now at 1700+) continue to climb. The government won't want to pull out of Iraq and leave it in chaos, as that would be political egg on their face. They are trying to install a puppet government there now, but the insurgency is really doing a bang-up job of preventing any sense of normalcy from emerging. The US government is trapped, plain and simple.

But because the public tide is turning against the war, so too will the media's portrayal of the events. "Stars and Stripes" aren't selling so well, so I predict a media shift to the "body count" strategy of covering the war. This, of course, will have a direct impact on those true volunteers that are considering enlisting. Before this media shift, the war was portrayed as a cake walk, the high tech US military machine whup-assing on a few peasants with pitchforks. But now, as the body count climbs, Junior may reconsider voluntarily enlisting.

This leaves the US government in a bind. They need more soldiers as the war drags on and they can't be re-deploying battalions over and over again. They need fresh legs and if the fresh legs aren't going to come willingly, then they will need to be forced. I don't think this administration is above using force to get their way, if history is any indication.

So buckle up and hold on. The draft is a coming. And you can't have a draft without protests, riots, and all the other special things that make democracy (this version of it anyway) putter along through the pages of history.

Thanks to the Glorious Mr. T for the link. A smart guy in a sexy package.

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Part #4 of The Saga. Please read Parts #1-3 before this one, or you'll be as useless as a hairdresser at a Kojak convention.

Part #4- Staggering to the end.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Today is payday! We are supposed to get our hard copy checks and then presumably we can go to the bank to cash/email/bank draft them home.

Firstly, the bank (NBK) hours today are as follows: 900am-100pm, closed from 1-5pm, then open again from 500pm until 730pm. I leave Kuwait late Thursday night.

At 8am we find out that the checks will not arrive until 1pm. Look at the above bank hours and tell me what is wrong with this picture. Exactly. We will get the checks and not be able to cash them until late in the evening. If anything goes wrong, as things sometimes do here, we are still under the gun regarding our departure times and banking. We had asked to have the payday moved back to Tuesday to allow us some breathing room. But this barely leaves us enough room to gasp.

So thus begins the steady stream of people into Paul's office. Various rumors start to fly as no official word is released. Mme. Raja is not in the building.

It would have been perfect to have the checks to us by 9am. IPE has known exactly how much they owe each of us for a week now, as we signed off on our individual paycheck approval forms over a week ago, agreeing to whatever amount they owed us. To claim that IPE needs until 1pm to finalize our checks makes us a little wary.

If we had got the checks at 9am then we could have gone to the bank (no students in the skool) and dealt with this issue. And if any problems came up, we could have an extra 4 hours to fix them. Considering that the bank is only open for a total of 16 hours between Tuesday morning and the time I leave, 4 extra hours becomes rather important.

But for whatever reason, be it control over teachers, inept planning, or what have you, the checks won't arrive until 1pm, thus ensuring that nothing will get done at the bank until 5pm if not Wednesday. Keep in mind people are packing, having movers showing up etc.

Fine. So we sit around all morning. I have nothing to do; I have tied up all the loose ends. I blog, chat, drink coffee, and basically wander about aimlessly. Soon the rumor starts that the checks are in the skool and they are simply holding them in an effort to prevent a mass exodus of teachers. Where this rumor comes from, no one knows, but at this stage in the game rumors are the only form of communication we really have.

I go to Paul, ask him just what is going on. He says nothing is arriving until 1pm. Now he has promised to not only be at the bank to use his 'influence' with the manager if problems arise, but also to provide transportation to the bank. This was last week and none of us expect to see a bank bus pull up to the front of the skool. Paul's word is worth nothing to us at this point.

I say to him that I think it would be best if he were at the bank tonight at 5. He says he will be there from 5-6pm, no longer "because I don’t want to be standing around there all night long." Yeah, don't want to inconvenience you here Paul, that wouldn't be fair.

Good, I say, I'll see you there.

"I'll be there with bells on," he says. I will elaborate on his flippant attitude in a second. A fellow teacher standing there with me is livid, but walks away.

So the fellow teacher goes to the front office, where the accountant's office is to wait for the check. It is now noon. She waits there until 1245pm when they start releasing the checks. She says, and I believe her, that no one came to the accountant's office between 12 noon and 1245pm. Then the checks begin to be handed out. The only conclusion is that the checks were there for at least three quarters of an hour ahead of time, an hour that could have been used to go to the bank. I sound like a detective here.

Perhaps the checks were there a lot longer, the rumor mill having been correct. At this point in the game the teachers have been sitting in the staff room, doing nothing all morning and have grown kind of negative, if it was possible to become more so. The one form of consistency is that we all have been told by Paul or other members of admin that the checks would not arrive until 100pm. We are feeling lied to, frankly. If you have never been in a staff room, they can mimic an angry snowball rolling down a hill of negativity. Ours is like this.

So we all run to the accountant's office and get in line. Some of my teacher/friends were first in line and are running (literarily) to the car to try to get to the bank before it closes. It is 1255pm. The roomie and I tell them to just go, we'll wait until 5. Might as well get some of our pay dealt with even if it wasn't our own.

The wife of the couple who were and still are having passport/residency issues for them and their children, is in line in front of us. She has been at the skool waiting all morning while her husband has been running from bureaucracy to bureaucracy trying to beat the clock in time for their flight on Thursday. He has been doing this all week.

She goes into the office and comes out again, to tell us that they do not have their respective checks there. The accountant claims to not know where the checks are and sends her back to the secretary, who basically has no power. The wife could have been told this hours ago (as she had asked Paul what was going on earlier in the morning) and gotten it dealt with. But now, when time is more of the essence than ever, especially for this young family, she has wasted the entire morning, despite triple checking to make sure at least this part would go smoothly. I can't tell if she wants to cry or burn the place down. Maybe both.

I go in and get my check. As I am reading the release form, Paul comes into the office. I am hunched over the papers and I reach for the calculator to double check the math. English guys have to do this on occasion, you know. Anyway, I am stabbing at buttons on the accountant's calculator, pissed off that I have to wait until 5pm to go to the bank, even more pissed because I could have started the whole banking procedure at least a half hour ago. I'm a little frazzled.

As I am frantically stabbing at buttons, I mutter to myself: "How do you turn this damn thing on?"

Paul pipes in: "Probably by hitting the 'on' button."

I honestly just about hit him in his smart-ass mouth. I was soooooo close. Now while I rant and rave about shit on the blog, usually I am more intellectually mad than physically. I am a pretty calm guy, or so I like to think. I certainly don't have a hair-trigger temper. But man, I was so fucking close to busting him one in the mouth that I actually remember clenching my left fist.

I didn't though thankfully. I confirmed the numbers, brushed past Paul with a hard look and emerged into the lobby to have the roomie tell me that the group of teachers that had just squealed off to the bank was sending someone back to get us, as the bank has agreed to stay open late for us. Finally a break.

Two seconds later, one of the teachers comes roaring into the parking lot. The bank is only about 2 minutes drive away, another thing to be thankful for. We hop in and drive far too recklessly out of the skool parking lot. We get to the bank and see the security guard holding the door open for us.

This is a rare thing in Kuwait, to keep something open late on account of some westerners. I praised Allah as best I knew how and slipped into the bank. One of the teachers told me that she convinced the manager to keep the bank open for all of us by saying that "there are teachers trapped at the skool." She wasn't so far off.

Now my original plan was to convert my check to Canadian cash and carry it with me. I asked if this was possible and was told that they couldn't do it. I thought about asking for US funds but that would mean I get dinged twice on the exchange fees, once from dinar to US dollars and again to Canadian dollars. So cash was quickly ruled out.

I decided to deposit it to my Kuwaiti account and then email it home, as I have been doing all year without an issue. This means that I will be chasing my money across the planet on Thursday/Friday, as it won't be in either bank account for a period of about 3 days. This is normal, but because it is a fair bit more than I usually send home, I was a little reluctant, especially seeing as how I will be out of Kuwait and be limited to phone calls to NBK should anything go wrong in cyberspace.

But beggars (and I was feeling like a beggar by this point) can't be choosers, so I decided to email it home. We went back to school to collect some stuff, then went to the Hilton to relax after this chaotic day. Roomie saw the young married couple in Paul's office as he was collecting his stuff and he said he could tell from their body language as they walked out of Paul's office than not much had been resolved. I'm sure I'll hear about it tomorrow. It is hard to feel happy that things are finally coming together when some good friends are still in a much more high stakes limbo, being that their kids are involved.

But, if I am lucky, the money will land in my Canadian bank account on Friday before I land in Edmonton. I have my fingers crossed.

The school still owes me about $1000 pending a successful evaluation of our apartment. We should get this early Thursday morning.

Oh, and the internet at the school was shut down/offline today. Now that all the teachers are full-on conspiracy theorists, the idea is that once the marks were entered (via the internet program we use) the skool shut down the internet. I dunno if this theory holds water, as it leaves some of the admin high and dry, but then again, as one friend put it "perhaps they are cutting off the nose to spite the face." Could be. If the internet is down for Wednesday (tomorrow) it might be hard for teachers who don't have internet at home to send money home. I think you can see now why teachers are more than a little jumpy and ready to point fingers. We aren't exactly feeling loved or appreciated right now.

We'll see what tomorrow brings. At least this big step, the paycheck issue, got dealt with today.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Today was a slacker day. Everything I needed to get done was done and I just needed to get some last signatures for some paperwork we have to hand in at the end of the year.

Now I have had the paperwork done for the past 3 days or so. Basically the paperwork is a hard copy of all the curriculum covered this year for my G10 boys, as well as a the Quarter One plans for the upcoming September, to let the incoming English teachers hit the ground running. Routine stuff, mostly a copy and paste of my previous records.

The reason I waited until the last working day to hand this in was because another English teacher, doing the same thing for a different grade, tried to hand her copies in on Sunday. They were rejected as being 'inadequate.' Whether they were or not, I don't know. But I knew that mine were accurate and solid and that, after all this pay fiasco garbage, I was feeling a little petty and certainly in no mood to re-do my plans.

So I printed them off and held on to them. Maybe this unprofessional, but monkey see monkey do.

So the day passed uneventfully, stuffing report cards and drinking coffee. The internet was working again (so much for a massive conspiracy) and I put up a blog for my loyal and much valued readers, the bloggies.

Finally, after handing out the report cards to those kids that showed up, I went down to get the last three signatures from Paul. He has to sign off on my curriculum covered pages and my Quarter One plans. Then he has to sign the whole document off. I had already completed all the other jobs I had to do, and got the respective authorities to sign off each little section, so the sheet is complete, save for Paul's three signatures.

I walk into his office, sheets in hand. He looks busy, so I wait. After yesterday's gong show, I have decided that the high road is the easiest and cleanest one to take, so I resolve myself the bare minimum of communication. This is verbatim, as near as I can remember.

Jay: "Here are the sheets for your signatures."

Paul: "Well maybe I don't feel like signing them."

Jay: (thinking to himself) What are we, 6 years old?

Jay: "Here is the curriculum covered for the year and…"

Paul: "Probably nothing."

Jay: "....and the Quarter one plans."

Paul then takes a super brief look at them, signs the paper. He doesn't sign the final "all-clear" line, so I ask him to.

Paul: "I don't have time for this."

Jay: "Just sign the goddamn paper."

He signs and tells me to give it to my principal. I turn and walk out of his office and go hand in the all-clear paper.

I go home and am remarkably uncomfortable. I think it is because of the fact that in the space of a 1-minute conversation he managed to call into question my entire years worth of work. Now I made mistakes this year, all first year teachers do. But I was (so I have been told) one of the best teachers in the high school. Now this is a joke of a school, so I don't know if that means anything, but I like to think I did a good job. My principal, whom I do respect, told me this morning that her son (whom I taught) asked her why they couldn't keep the good teachers "like Mr. Jay."

I don't lie on this blog, and when I do lie, I make it a point to be so over the top that any monkey could see that I was joking. I also don't have a huge ego. I'm great, don't get me wrong, but I rarely run around telling people I don't know about how awesome I am. With all that in mind, I think that I did a good job this year.

So I was not upset, just rather, I don't know, deflated when I came home on my last night in Kuwait. I know it means nothing, I know that Paul is a grade-A asshole, but I don't have particularly thick skin, especially when someone destructively criticizes my work ethic, which is almost always solid and has been all year.

So that was the end of the day, the year. Tomorrow is the farewell breakfast, and I am predicting some self-congratulating and gloss-over speeches. Then I am going to the Hilton one last time, then to the airport around 10pm. The last two hurdles that remain is the apartment inspection tomorrow morning and the fingers-crossed exit from Kuwait. More to come, I'm sure. I'm exhausted by this whole spectacle.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Today is the last day in Kuwait, finally. The inspection guy shows up at 7am, does a quick peek at the apartment and hands me and the roomie our damage deposits. The reason that we are inspected so early is that the roomie is leaving in the early afternoon and needs to be present for the inspection. I was secretly hoping for a toilet & washing machine explosion at 705am, but no dice.

So I am homeless at 730am. I lug my luggage over to another teacher's apartment, drop it off and go with the roomie and another teacher to exchange the money into US funds. No problems here, and off we go to the breakfast.

The breakfast is relatively painless, save for Mme. Raja forgetting a few of the departing teacher's names, where they were going, or in a few cases struggling to identify them in a unique manner. Me, well I was singled out for my "quiet classroom." The two engaged teachers who read this blog wholeheartedly support this declaration. Just kidding, it was an empty compliment, but I'll take what I can get.

We listened to some speeches, including one from Paul telling us how difficult next year was going to be. Made me glad to be leaving. Not the best "send off" speech I've ever heard. Oh, and Louise almost took her pants off. Ha ha.

Then we had breakfast, an informal, wander around affair. It was good. The one thing I noticed was that save for my principal, all the admin left without eating. I'll let you draw your own conclusions here about staff cohesiveness.

Then I went to the Hilton from 12-430pm, drinking coffee, reading etc. I was sitting with another teacher when his phone rang. Paul on the line, saying "a superintendent's job is never done" before announcing that the flight tonight is overbooked and we had best get there very early.

At this point I am almost asleep on my feet, the only thing keeping me going is the thought that I will be out of the country in less that 12 hours. I am not pleased to hear this, but am too tired to care. We stress a little (okay, I stressed a lot) for the rest of the day, but get to the airport by 9. No problems getting on the plane. Paul, to his credit, shows up just in case. But as far as I know, nothing went wrong and at 145am I let out a little sigh as the plane took off. I also prayed to Allah that if the plane crashed at all in the next 26 hours, I was going to be kicking ass once I got to the pearly gates (if Islam has them, whatever).

Epilogue to The Saga lands Friday. Yes, it is almost done, quit yer bitchin'.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Saga Part #3. Again, if you haven't read parts #1 & #2, scan down and read them first, then come on back for part #3.

Part #3: The Beginning of the End

Saturday, June 11

Not too much news today. My Dean of English is scheduled to fly out today and as such was given her paycheck to cash on the past Wednesday. She took it to the NBK, where she banks and everything went smoothly except that IPE (the skool's parent company) didn't stamp it properly, so it took an hour at the bank to get it all figured out. But it got cashed.

I asked Paul if this non-stamping thing was going to be an issue this upcoming Tuesday, when the rest of us get paid. He said no, it was because Dean of English's check was written early and the rest of ours have the stamp. Hope so. That is what is Paul told the Dean of English when she asked him this morning, so at least he said it twice. Fingers crossed.

The Dean of English is leaving a week early to be with her family. Now our contracts stipulate that we are to be paid for June, July, and August. This is standard among teaching contracts in North America as well. But IPE deducted one weeks and one weekends (which are included in our monthly salaries) from her paycheck, on account that she was leaving a 4 days ahead of schedule.

Now I'm not going to argue whether this is good accounting or not, as I don't know enough about our pay, scheduling etc. to be able to say one way or the other. But after 3 years of service to the skool, the last year seeing her get thrust into a Deanship that she never wanted in the first place, it seems that knocking a weeks pay off her final paycheck is a rather rude thing to do.

She did far more than was expected of her, especially in this last semester. She didn't want the Dean's job but took it because she also didn't want to see the English department flounder. She went to a crazy amount of meetings, got all her marking in before she left, and generally saved the sinking ship that was the English department after Suzanne was canned. It just leaves yet another bad taste in one's mouth when considering how much we are valued here.

In other news we had a couple of teachers on their spare time put together a CD of pictures of students. They then burned the CD a few thousand times and handed one out to all the Middle and High school teachers, kind of a yearbook of sorts. This was last week and took a lot of man-hours to get done. Well today one of the teachers that worked on the CD was told by the powers that be that all the CDs had to be collected back from the teachers and handed in, as this was inappropriate. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't but it sure left yet another bitter taste in the mouths of the teachers who put so much effort into a project that was good-hearted from the start. To be told that it is inappropriate just added another little cut to the thousands we have endured as "lowly" teachers.

There is another ongoing, bad-taste saga that is ripping around the skool as I type, but I think I will leave that alone for now, as it affects some people that I consider friends as well as fellow teachers. So you can ask me about it sometime later. It is more disturbing than this stuff.

The kids wrote their last exam today, so the next four days (the last four days) are just clean up and paperwork. There is an amazing amount of ill-will and stress going around the skool, making for a very tense environment. I don't think this is normal end-of-the-year stress. One teacher put it well when she had a run in with Norma (of memo-hostage fame) over what she chose to wear to skool. It was a non-issue but Norma decided to make it one. It was simply put that it feels as though admin is trying to pick fights with us. I think that pretty much sums up the past few weeks here. Just when the goal should be a smooth ending to the year we have been taken down a very bumpy road where the directions are vague at best, hostile at worst.

Sunday June 12, 2005

No news.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Today was the day before we are supposed to get paid. In the morning some people were saying that they checked their accounts online and found that they had been paid for all three months (June, July, August) as stipulated in our contract. The money was deposited into their accounts automatically, just like it has been done since Day 1.

This seemed odd until we realized that the only people who had been paid this way were the (few) teachers who are returning next year. Its not a big deal, but one wonders why they were auto-paid while the ones like me have to get a check and physically go to the bank. It could have been done so easily. But that would be too logical, I know that by now.

It is even a little more weird/scary when you consider that everyone was told they would be getting a hard copy check, not just the teachers who were leaving. Then all of a sudden, wham, auto-deposit for some of us. Methinks that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, or perhaps even if there is a right hand at all. Whatever.

Now I don't have a phone here, so I gave another teacher's cell number as my contact info for the bank way back in September and promptly forgot about it. He finds me today to say that someone from NBK called looking for me, wanting to know if I was leaving for good or staying for another year. Not a real serious question, but because I didn't talk to the guy I have no idea why it he is calling me at this stage in the game. After the entire bank freezing gong show I am a little panicky when the bank calls me 80 hours before I leave forever. I tried calling them back but couldn't get a straight answer about anything.

So I went to an ATM and took out some money, just to make sure that my account wasn't frozen for god knows what reason. It was fine, so I am relieved tonight. I told the other teacher that if the bank calls again to just tell them not to do anything and that I would be in on Tuesday (tomorrow).

It is a pretty innocent question that the bank asked, but after all the shitshow that has been going on, plus this mysterious and unannounced auto-deposit, plus the fact that this is the debt destruction paycheck I am waiting for, I am a little high strung right now. Hopefully things go smoothly tomorrow. I have about 4 separate plans that should get my money home, so hopefully one of them works. We'll see.

The end of The Saga lands on Thursday. Do tune in.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

CBC reports...

Lawmakers in the United States were scheduled to vote on Monday to approve $45 billion US in additional funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, making the recent Middle East foray more expensive than the entire Korean War.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress has approved $350 billion, mostly for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The amount, which includes $82 billion approved last month, is equal to the total amount in today's dollars spent on the Korean conflict from 1950-53.

The latest tap on the war chest comes when support for the war continues to dip: 60 per cent favour at least a partial pullout of U.S. forces, according to a Gallup poll.

An Associated Press-Ipsos Reid poll put support for President George W. Bush's handling of the war at 41 per cent, a new low.

The war in Iraq has killed 1,720 U.S. troops and wounded more than 12,000.

War is a costly business. I mean financially costly. I just wonder what improvements could have been made to the US education system, the health care system, the Social Security program, if ideologues had not decided that it was time for another Super Bowl-War to rally the masses. Cue the fancy graphics and laser sounds.

Perhaps American citizens are finally waking up to the fact that $350 billion spent on the destruction (and don't believe that reconstruction mumbojumbo) of foreign countries may not be the best way to improve the roads that they drive to work on every day in Lubbock, Texas. Nor will $350 billion spent overseas buy a whole lot of textbooks, nor a lot of social workers here at home, where apple pie is cooling on the windowsill.

And you add to that the fact that before Christmas we will most likely see the number of dead soldiers top 2,000, and we may (finally) begin to see the turning of the tide when it comes to public opinion.

I have just one question: Why didn't people see this coming in October of 2004?

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 12:29 PM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

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This is Part #2 of The Saga. If you have yet to read Part #1, for shame. Scan down and read Part #1 first, then read Part #2.

Part #2- I am living in Paul's Office

Monday, June 6

A teacher went to talk with Mme. Raja today. The teacher asked (politely) what was being done, then proceeded to explain why the late paycheck delivery date cause problems for some of the staff. It becomes impossible to email money home, for instance, and ensure that the money has arrived before you leave Kuwait. This is true and a main concern as people feels uncomfortable with $10 000 on their person for 3-5 days before they leave (as some are flying out the 21st, not the 17th).

Apparently the date, according to Mme. Raja is now the 14th, the Tuesday. The teacher asked if this would be in the morning and was assured that it would be. You'll excuse me if I have some doubts. This has yet to be put into writing.

A few days ago I mentioned that I had said "no" to an offered 350KD advance. I got the advance anyway. Apparently they didn't believe my "NOOOOO"

Paul: Jay do you need a 350KD advance?
Jay: No.

Days later

Paul: Your 350 KD is in the accountant's office.
Jay looks confused.

So now I am walking around with about $1400Cdn in my pocket. Hooray. It is rather amazing that this skool cannot manage to release our checks a week before we leave but can afford to start handing out 350KD to every departing western teacher (22 in total), regardless of whether they wanted it or not in the first place.

In other skool news...

- Teacher B was teaching her elementary class when Brian, the middle school principal came to her and in a secretive tone said "Child A is not permitted to leave no matter what, even if her parent comes to pick her up." Teacher B nods, not quite understanding why we need to keep this child as a hostage. But since the mother has never shown up early yet this year, Teacher B lets it go and continues teaching.

Ten minutes later, of course, the mother shows up and demands her child. Teacher B is in the bewildering position of telling the parent that they cannot take their child and that the mom must go see Norma, the elementary principal.

Norma (who a certain teacher could write a trilogy on, entitled "Erratic Behavior in Administration" comes storming into Teacher B's class ten minutes after mom stormed off. Norma, flustered and red-faced, says: "Where is Child A? Why wasn't Child A allowed to go with their mother????" Teacher B, who still has a class mind you, simply hands Norma the memo she had received from Brian 20 minutes ago. Students begin to go wild. Life continues on at my skool.

- Apparently the CEO Dr. Ibrahim, who doesn't "give a shit" about my apartment conditions, held a meeting for teachers that are returning next year. He told them that they needed to love the students more and not bring their personal issues into the classroom. The fact that living in staff housing that is situated right beside a massive construction project that goes all night long every night (true, not my building though) might contribute to crabby teachers apparently escapes notice and has no relevance.

Dr. I then says that he is trying to change the contracts that the Arabic staff has already signed for next year. The Arabic staff currently earns about 1/2 to 2/3 of what a comparable western teacher does already. The change is the addition of a proposed appendix that would require the Arabic staff to only speak "pure" Arabic. Thus a teacher who is from Egypt for example, who is caught speaking Egyptian, would be breaking this proposed rule.

The punishment?

Teacher is fired.

This apparently seems like a good idea in the upper echelons of administration. Not only is it not remotely enforceable without a KGB-esque snitching society of teachers, if this was enforced with vigor it would create (along with a ton of ill will) a massive shortage of teachers in the Arabic department. This is such an absurd idea that we simply found ourselves laughing at the thought of it. But then again, we're all leaving next year, so maybe it's easier for us to laugh.

- Marc, my roomie, just announced that he looked at the toilet in his bathroom the wrong way and now it's plugged. So he has to get the plumber. But not until 4:00pm, as that is when the plumber is back on duty.

And that was June 6, 2005 at my skool. Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, June 7

Nothing much during the day. I went to the bank and deposited my "new" $1400 into my account and then emailed it home. Hopefully it gets there by Friday.

At the end of the day my dean of English (who by the way is waaaay better than batshit-crazy Susan of semester one firing fame) came into the staff room. Dean of English had her account frozen which was a really bad thing for her, as she has to leave even earlier (June 11, Sat) for Canada on account of family medical issues. So she's been running around like crazy, trying wrap up the year, get her funds unfrozen, and get on an earlier flight.

She called IPE and spoke with Abu Rami, who is the CFO there. He said that the checks we are to be issued next week (June 14???) would be made out from Gulf Bank, not the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK). Why is this an issue?

- Some teachers have bank accounts with NBK
- A check from Gulf Bank will take 2-3 working days to clear into out NBK accounts, meaning that if we get them on Tuesday and deposit them that day, they won't appear until Thursday morning at the earliest, if they appear before Sunday at all. (Banks are open here Sun-Wed, half day Thurs). Reminder, we fly out late Thursday night.
- We may or may not be able to cash the checks directly with Gulf Bank, depending on who you ask.
- We may also need our Civil I.D. to cash a check with Gulf Bank. We don't have our Civil ID on account that they were taken with our passports 5 weeks ago in order to cancel our residency (and presumably our ID as well)

If we want a NBK check, we need to call some guy at IPE named Tarek and request it specially done up. When I asked Paul (a few days ago) if the check were made out via NBK he said, and I quote: "That's what I've been led to believe." A politician answer if I ever heard one.

A teacher also asked Mme. Raja in their meeting about NBK checks and Raja said that NBK checks were for sure. Whether she meant just for that teacher or the whole skool, I don't know.

So tomorrow is Wed, June 8 (the last day of the week here) and I am going to Paul and Raja first thing to demand some answers. Enough of this PC crap, the only way things get done is with demands. Still, it's probably good that I sleep on it tonight. My stomach is killing me, fucking stress.

Passports tomorrow, Wednesday. Inshallah. (God willing)

God better be willing to get me my passport tomorrow or there will be hell to pay.


Wednesday, June 8

This is the last day of our week; Thursday and Friday are the weekend here. So with this in mind I went walking into Paul's office at 720am and asked what, if any, progress had been made in the last few days.

He says that he is in the middle of writing up a memo. I tell him "some communication, after three days of silence, would do and awful lot to slow the rumor mill." I'm past being polite.

But the ball is rolling as a few hours later a maid hands me a pink slip. Immediately I figure I have been fired, but no. Could it be? No. But yes, it is! Hallelujah in a Muslim country!! My passport has returned!!

I handed my passport in around May 4 as they needed to cancel my residency. Since then I have been without any ID at all except for my photocopy of my passport. But now it has returned. As I write this it is in my pocket and I am happy about that.

Then about an hour later I get another memo that says the following:

- Payday will be Tuesday, June 14, which is 2.5 working days (if we get the money in the morning) before we depart.
- The checks will be drawn from the bank where you have an account. This has been confirmed, according to the memo. So my check should come from NBK and thus I should be able to cash it on the Tuesday. This is acceptable.

The last note on the memo probably shouldn't affect me, as I have no drivers license or phone line/contract. It reads something like this:

- Apparently there is a list at the airport of people who will not be allowed to leave Kuwait because of fines/tickets etc. Paul is going to try to find out if any teachers are on this list.

You can draw your own pictures here, but it is possible that someone could not be allowed on a plane because they have a parking ticket from November that they were unaware of. I am not sure if one can pay off any fines etc at the airport.

Tickets getting lost in the shuffle would not surprise anyone who has lived here. Again, this should not affect me, but it is a nice little reminder that Kuwait has you firmly bent over the barrel until they damn well finish with you. We will see, I am sure of that.

No mention was made in the memo of the frozen bank accounts. I assume that this means the skool has washed their hands of the matter. I am sure that this means morale is at an all time high. Again, I am thankful that this does not affect me.

But still, this was a good day in terms of progress being made and promises being written down. I will sleep a little easier this weekend and hopefully have no issues next week when I go to cash my check.

Part #3 debuts Wednesday. If you miss it people will laugh at you. For Jeff, this is normal.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 12:15 AM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Monday, June 20, 2005

As promised, The Saga. I will be posting an account that I kept on a daily basis during the last 2 weeks of chaos that was my skool. I will be posting a new segment every day until all is done. Names are real, although some have been omitted to protect the innocent. All writing is unchanged from the original, save for grammar and spelling edits.

Saga part 1: I Cannot Believe my Ears.
June 1, 2005
Hey all

Sometime this June I am supposed to receive my last paycheck form the skool. It will be three months salary, plus my indemnity, so it is pretty big and is slated for debt destruction.

Well today a teacher called the head of the Institute for Private Education (IPE), our parent company, and asked when we would be getting our final paycheck, as people are needing to make arrangements to send money home or to other bank accounts and thus need a few days to get things in order before they leave Kuwait.

Currently when I get paid each month it is by auto-deposit to my bank account, much like in Canada.

Buddy at IPE says that we are scheduled to get our final pay CHECK (yes a hard copy check that needs to be deposited or cashed) on June 16. This is a problem for the following reasons....

1. I ,along with 70% of the western staff, fly out the night of June 16
2. June 16 is a Thursday and banks are open until 1pm and then closed until Sunday.
3. You cannot deposit a cheque in an atm here, you need to physically go into the bank.
4. It can take up to 3 working days for the cheque to clear into my Kuwait account.
5. It would take another 3-5 days for that money to (hopefully) be shipped via the net (as I have done all year) into my Royal Bank account.

I would already be back in Canada before my check even cleared my Kuwait account, assuming I get to the bank Thursday before 1pm anyway. If I don't get to the bank before then, well that becomes a different story now doesn't it?

I could cash the cheque, assuming I made it to the bank in time, but then I would be carrying a tonne of cash on my body, which I would prefer not to do.

Or if I do get to the bank but there is an internet issue, it becomes a real headache to deal with all the way from Canada.

Obviously this is unacceptable. Teachers went to Paul (the deputy superintendent and our main conduit to IPE) and demanded a meeting, saying that there were some very unhappy teachers. Paul promised to get to the bottom of it, and promised again after I told him in front of 10 teachers that this was "appalling treatment."

I think he will get this fixed and if not people will raise hell. Time will tell, hopefully get some answers by Sunday.

In other bank related news, people have had their accounts frozen if they had money owing on their Kuwait credit cards. We were told, by Paul, that we could keep our cards, no problem, over 3 weeks ago.

About a week after that meeting, we were asked to photocopy our bankcards for "confirmation." Fishy, but we did it. Then some accounts were frozen. I had paid off my cards and cancelled them a long time ago, so I remain unaffected. But some people cannot access their accounts, or had their account balances lowered (without their knowledge) to pay off their credit cards, leaving them in a bind until we get our next paycheck.

No one has gotten a straight answer about whether we can or cannot keep our accounts or credit cards. Some people called the bank and asked who had authorized the account freezings. The bank said, to 3 or 4 different teachers who called 2-3 different branches, that the skool had authorized the freezing, in order to assure that the skool would not be stuck with anyone's credit card debt in the future.

Paul denies this. He said, and I quote "IPE has nothing to do with the account freezing. Nothing."

Kuwait is such a mind boggling bureaucracy that to imagine that the cancellation of our residencies (currently ongoing, I still don't have my passport back yet, next week hopefully) triggered a phone call(s) to the bank to determine potential credit/debt issues for over 80 staff is beyond all reasonable expectations. It simply could not happen, the bureaucracy could not handle such coordination. Thus it leaves little doubt that IPE is involved somehow, especially when one considers the odd request that they "verify" our account information after having paid us for 9 problem-free months.

Yet we are told, by Paul, that IPE has nothing to do with this. While I doubt the bank is a flawless entity, I have yet to have a problem with them as they are well thought of.

Anyway, while I do think that this will get resolved in the end, it is a little late in the game to be dropping misinformation/confusion into the teacher rumour mill, especially when the teachers are exhausted at the end of the year. The kids were wild today (last day of classes), making things even more fun.

But I do think it will get fixed, otherwise people will be pissed right off. I plan on making myself an increasing nuisance until I get my passport and my money issues resolved. I am angry, but will cool off over the weekend. Again, this should get resolved, if not I am already working on Plan B. But this gives you an idea of the lunacy that has been my normal life here for the past 9 months. I jokingly say that it is a good thing there is no alcohol otherwise I would be a raging lush by now. But I'm not joking. I'm stressed right out, pissed right off, and frankly have had it with this experience.

I'll keep you all posted as things develop next week.

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Had a meeting at 715am this morning with Paul and about 20-25 leaving staff. He claimed that IPE did not know/request our banking information and thus has nothing to do with this new policy that NBK instituted re: freezing of accounts.

We remain skeptical of this as we question the efficiency that would allow the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) to coordinate such freezings without prior notification. According to Paul this same event, the freezing of accounts, has occurred in other skools, but I have not had this confirmed.

Although the account freezing does not affect me, it certainly affects some members of our staff including:

- The couple who have 2 kids under the age of 2. They have no money and need to pay for their children to get on the plane in 12 days.
- The teacher who had all of 2KD ($8 Cdn) in their pocket when the account was frozen and has been tutoring to be able to buy groceries.
- The teacher who is unable to pay for the shipping of her household goods to Pakistan, where she will be teaching next year.

I am sure that there are many other stories, but these paint a good enough picture. People were very upset at this meeting, as we were expecting some progress, yet received very little. People were outright angry, on teacher even going so far as to eloquently call Paul a liar, and by association, call IPE a vastly unsympathetic organization. One person said: "I don't think that IPE realizes that making decisions on a whim affects not only their banking but people's lives."

What came across in this brief meeting was a sense that both IPE and Paul are not empathetic at all when it comes to teacher issues. This is not news to most of us, but remains hard to swallow when time is running out. Paul's boss, Mme. Raja (who has a fair bit more power than Paul when it comes to dealing with IPE) stuck her head into the meeting for about 2 seconds, gave a dismissive wave, and left looking offended. It is scary to wonder what her opinion of us is.

Regarding the pay date scheme: As it stands now, June 4, IPE has shifted the pay date from the 16th (the day I fly out) to the 15th. This is somewhat better, although we are still getting paid by check, thus leaving us only marginally more time to run around and get things cashed, hopefully without any hiccups that will cause this to crash and burn.

Paul has promised to provide transportation to the bank on the 15th and that he will use his connection with the bank manager to ensure everything goes smoothly. This is a good beginning but many people are unwilling to cash cheques worth up to $20, 000 Cdn into cash and have that money on their person. Understandably they have asked for the pay date to be moved back to the Saturday or Sunday, allowing them to wire/internet transfer the money to accounts overseas before they leave Kuwait.

As well, Paul did come around today offering an advance of KD 350 ($1400Cdn) for those on staff who have been affected by the account freezing. I said that I do not need this advance. This is a small step in the right direction, but it is far too little to make things right, if they can be made right at all.

Additional News: A few weeks ago I had taken some pictures of our paint peeling walls. For those of you who do not know, the roommate and I have watched paint literally fall off of our wall in the living room, leaving a significant amount of cement showing. This was like this when we moved in and has only gotten worse. We brought this to Paul's attention in September, then in January, and finally again in May with the pictures. Our main concern is not that we live in a dump but that we not be charged for this paint issue at the end of June.

Anyway, via a teacher who is close to Paul (and whom I also trust) I heard this today regarding our paint issue (not verbatim, obviously)

Paul to Dr. Ibrahim, the head of IPE
: Have you decided what to do about the paint issue?
Dr. Ibrahim: Do bother me with this garbage.

Apparently that was how Dr. Ibrahim responded to Paul's query. I am not surprised, had IPE cared at all about our housing conditions there would never have been a paint issue in the first place, as it would have been fixed. But I think this is yet another example of the value IPE puts on its western teaching staff. I'm not hurt/upset, just illustrating the quality of care exercised by the parent company.

More info regarding pay/accounts to come as this develops.

Sunday, June 5
No progress or news today. Passports still MIA. Maybe Wednesday.

Saga part #2 debuts Tuesday. Tune in and watch it all get a little more wacky.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 1:18 AM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Sunday, June 19, 2005

I am having a little trouble adjusting to Canada again. It seems so normally abnormal and I find I am up and down like a trabampoline. It's weird and I don't like it.

I am also super tired. I can't sleep past 430am yet and am stressing about finding a job. I know, not a big deal (yet) but I hate feeling like I am idle.

On the plus side, I am loving the fact that my internet is super fast, loads the page every time, and I don't have to connect and disconnect the ethernet cable in hopes of getting a better "feed."

I am also loving having CKUA on all the time. My CDs were getting old and fast.

Anyway, this week is dedicated to getting my ass into a job so I don't go bonkers. I should be resting and relaxing, but that just ain't my style. I'm sure I'll pay for it eventually.

Anyway, glad to be back. Tired, but glad.

Oh and Monday is officially Megan's dog now. It must be a female thing....

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 5:58 PM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


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