Thursday, June 23, 2011

Winning Trends

Prof Dr. Ali Alattar, Vice-Chancellor, Basrah University, has already concluded research agreements with the University of Oklahoma and Oregon State, and is currently in talks with us here at the University of South Carolina. In this video, he summarizes emerging trends in research and US -Iraqi collaboration - stressing the overwhelming importance of water, water supplies, and water pollution mitigation.  As is clear from this video, the faculty and senior administrators at Iraqi institutions are dedicated, capable, articulate, and determined to raise their standards back up to those of wold-class institutions. That's me holding up the podium.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Houses and Assemblies

The Autonomous Republic of Kurdistan, composing northeastern Iraq, is roughly the same geographical size as South Carolina, or central California, and is governed by its own President and Parliament. Like  our own state legislature, that body comprises a House and a Senate.  Also like ours, their House has a Speaker. There, however, at least as compared to my own state, the analogy ends. The Parliament is fiercely dedicated to improving education, and in demonstration of that, he requested that our delegation meet with him. That's me unseen behind the camera; him in the center; IIE President and CEO Allan Goodman on the left, and on the right, the Speaker's chief aid and foreign  policy advisor - a returned Fulbright scholar. She was one of several extremely capable, talented, intelligent, and well-educated young women I met who have been appointed to positions of real responsibility. The second, we-the-faculty (myself and two others), met in a follow-up meeting: she was an elected member-of-parliament, held the education portfolio, and wanted our advisory input on draft legislation regarding private for-profit universities. Indeed, a full 35% of the legislature are women. (We could learn something from that example). Without distinguishing between private for-profit and private non-profit institutions, they'd trusted the "private sector" to help them rapidly expand higher education, and had been badly burned. They provided land grants, tax-free status, and mountains of other incentives. The for-profits grabbed the money and ran within a year, leaving buildings empty and students stranded without degrees. So diploma mills be forewarned: you'll get no further traction in Kurdistan.  When these people say they want higher education, they mean it, and they know what that is. And now they also know the meaning of genuine accreditation.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dawn in Erbil (Arbil, Irbil)

A view from the Erbil International Hotel. There have been a lot of conferences in Iraq since 2003, but this one, sponsored by the Institute of International Education, promises to have the kind of impact that extends across generations. "Models and Trends in Contemporary Education," a conference and training workshop will provide an overview of the contemporary higher education landscape, covering topics that include modern university governance, leadership and administration, financing, and institutional and program quality. Approximately 100 participants, including senior Iraqi scholars, university presidents, and deans will attend. Our goal? Rebuild bridges. Among Iraqi scholars; between Iraqi scholars and American scholars; among institutions. Wish us luck.

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New Arrivals

In 2003, the Erbil airstrip abutted pastureland. The only flight in was on a Beechcraft operated by Airserv, which spiralled down to a bumpy landing and rolled up to a temporary trailer that served as customs, immigration, and flight operations rolled together. Your security team would hang out at a little tea cafe just outside the perimeter, awaiting the buzz of the inbound engine before roaring up in a boil of dust to meet you. Erbil now sports a brand-new, shiny, international airport, "the world's gateway to Kurdistan," with all mod cons, professional staff, and regular flights from Munich, Istanbul, Amman, and Dubai. And, thankfully, frigid air conditioning.  Royal Jordanian still arrives from Amman at the ungodly hour of  3:00 a.m.; the crisp arrival is a wakeful blessing. The second blessing is the automatic 10-day visa granted all Americans on landing. The third is the low traffic volume at that hour: dashing to passport control, we realize that we needn't have bothered. We were it, and it took, well, as long as it took for two passport agents to scan and stamp us on our merry way. Tea?

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Queen Alia Int'l Airport Makes My List...

...of airports that are actually pleasant to transit. In 2003, there was one (bad) Pizza Hut, horrid, hard plastic seating, clouds of smoke, and a restroom attendant so unaccustomed to international travellers that, misinterpreting my short hair and slacks, she nearly suffered apoplexy when I attempted to enter the Ladies'. There's now a lovely array of cafes and shops, and I don't just mean the horrid Marlboro-and-Glenlivet Duty Free variety.
From my well-padded perch in "World News Cafe," I espy sumptuously tempting displays of  Jordanian sweets and both Middle Eastern and Euro-style bistros. And yes, American fast food, for the KFC-and-pizza deprived. I have free wireless, and the smokers have been banished to an unfurnished room across from the toilets. At the cheerfully functioning foreign exchange desk,  I swapped a handful of leftover bills in various currencies for enough Jordanian Dinars to indulge in a cappucino,  perfectly-pulled by a Tunesian barrista, and a pressed chicken tikka sandwich. Given Amman's explosive growth, none of this is especially shocking. What I did find amazing was the New Dress Code. Its been shifting westward for awhile now, but never, in all my days, did I expect to see - wait for it - Arabic Men Wearing Shorts. In Their Own Home Country.  It's like seeing adults wandering about the streets in their pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Oh, wait, I forgot. That's something we do see every day now, back on our home campus. Times are a-changin' all around.

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Safe in Erbil. Beautiful airport, gorgeous hotel, no hassles.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Royal Jordanian Baby Boom

There are always a lot of kids on flights to Jordan. It is, after all, a kid-friendly society. But this trip was as densely packed as a public playground. A veritable caravan of strollers, orbited by an asteroid field of wild-eyed small boys clamoring for one another's attention, awash in a neon halo of small girls in day-glo pink. So many, in fact, that "pre-boarding" had to be called by rows.
Amazingly, after the initial ear-splitting settling in it was quiet flight. Breast-fed babies dropped straight to sleep; their good-humored older siblings entertained themselves with a variety of electronic gadgets. Then, after dinner, the whole planeload settled in for communal slumber. A sort of aero-village, more entertaining than the crap videos on offer.


Radio Hotspot

Here's a view of five guys squashed into the cockpit trying to fix the navigator's radio. After a half hour of box-swapping, the diagnosis is: oops - broken wire. Hmm. So, did they land like that? Or did it vaporize while we boarded? In this heat, I'm guessing the latter.
- J. R. Pournelle. Posted from my iPhone.


Friday, June 17, 2011

First in Phones

Inexplicably, instead of prepping or packing, I find myself rather obsessed with integrating "social technologies." The easily-imagined dream of writing once and posting everywhere is, in set-up at least, a harsher reality. I'm rather astounded to realize that I now spend more time writing on my phone than talking on it. For better or worse, this post verifies that I can now do with my phone what in 2004 I could only do with - well, with my HP Pocket PC. And an expandable keyboard. And a SIM card. But back then, it wasn't cool, just nerdy. Sigh. I really miss my pocket word processor. Guess I better see if there's an app for that...

- J. R. Pournelle. Posted from my iPhone.

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Postholes Redux: Promises Kept, Albeit Delayed

Half a decade and several trips later, I am prepping for another trip to Iraq. Last Fall, we pioneered the return of American archaeologists to southern Iraq. My latest outing? Filming with National Geographic Television in the Iraq Marshes! Stay tuned - that episode should air in August. Now, it's off to Erbil for a conference. About time I reinvigorated this blog, eh?

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