All-time Favorite Cover Songs (Pt II)

It’s been a while since I posted my first list of cover songs, and since then I’ve heard a bunch that blow those other ones completely out of the water. In no particular order:


Obadiah Parker – Hey Ya

I love the original by Outkast, but this cover is on a whole different level. No, I can’t dance to it, but I can actually hear the amazing lyrics.


Sinead O’Connor – War

This is considerably less controversial now that we know that she was right about chronic child abuse within the priesthood. If she hadn’t torn up that picture of the pope, people would have been talking about her haunting rendition of a great Bob Marley song the next day instead of how evil that bald Irish lady was.


Ray LaMontagne – Crazy

Amazing. The original track is good, but this is just incredible.


To be continued…


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“Due Date” is tons of fun, but unoriginal


I didn't know that was what they were calling the Hangover sequel...


There are road trips taken with strangers and then there are road trips taken with strangers who happen to be Zach Galifianakis. If given the chance, I’d probably pick the first option, but I would send a friend with Zach so I could hear the hilarious details later on.

Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is a nervous father-to-be trying to get to his wife in time for the birth of their first child when Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor, comes crashing into his life. After an incident involving switched baggage, drug paraphernalia and an air marshal, both men are put on the no-fly list and Peter has no other option but to drive cross country with Ethan – or, more accurately, with Ethan, his bulldog Sunny, and the remains of Ethan’s father kept conveniently in a coffee can. Hilarity ensues.

Caught in a bad bromance...

And I do mean hilarity. Ethan is an optimistic, fun-loving guy who claims to have survived the last 23 years on sheer luck. This becomes easier to believe as their trip progresses and Ethan, with no effort on his own part, comes ever closer to killing his travel companion. It does not become easier to believe that Galifianakis is 23 years old. And while Downey mostly plays straight man to Galifianakis’ particular brand of crazy, he is not just there to feed him jokes. Peter’s got his own issues, including a serious anger management problem, making him the kind of anti-hero that is easy to root against. No matter what hijinks Ethan got the pair of them into, I didn’t feel bad for Peter; I cheered against him. It’s more fun that way.

Due Date is not the kind of movie that demands repeated viewings. There are a lot of cheap jokes, most of which rely on shock value and would probably feel stale the second time around. There are also a lot that are just not funny. Thankfully, not all of the best jokes were featured in the trailer, and there are plenty of other laugh-out-loud moments throughout. Downey does a great job portraying an extraordinary amount of sarcasm and condescension and Galifianakis never fails to deliver the laughs. He has a perm, for crying out loud.

Right below the slap-stick surface, there is the vaguest inkling of a question about fatherhood and what it really means; Peter doesn’t know his father, but Ethan keeps his close, talking about his dad’s life and fondly patting the coffee can where his remains now reside. But there wasn’t really time to embrace that theme; there were one-liners to deliver and sardonic comments to be returned! There were also miles and miles to cover, with most of the time spent in the car accompanied by great music. Due Date’s soundtrack, including tracks from Sam and Dave, Neil Young and Wolfmother, would be a great addition to any road trip, with or without Galifianakis.

Pictured: Funny

Due Date is episodic, hopping along from one far-fetched situation to the next. The problem is not that the events are unrealistic; suspending disbelief is part of the cinema experience. No, the problem is that there is nothing to make the audience care whether or not Peter gets home in time for his wife’s cesarean. We see nothing of their relationship to make us worry about its success; come to think of it, there’s no real justification for why Peter is so far from home so close to the scheduled birth. The pregnant wife seems more like a plot device, there to provide an arbitrary deadline to this impromptu road trip, than a real character.

That baby has great fashion sense.

Based on the trailer, I predicted Due Date to be a slightly less funny version of The Hangover, and I can honestly say that the movie was exactly what I expected. Same director, same lead actor and same basic premise: weird guy makes regular road trip into crazy adventure. I had been wondering how many more jokes there could be on the subject, but truthfully, there were a lot of good ones. If you enjoyed The Hangover, then you’ll like Due Date. If you didn’t enjoy The Hangover, then I don’t understand your sense of humor.

There are two possible ways to look at this spin-off that isn’t supposed to be a spin-off. Either Galifianakis has been typecast as the quirky, socially inept travel partner, or “road trips with Galifianakis” has become its own comedic sub-genre on par with “Seth Rogen stoner flicks” and other strangely specific recurrent roles. Either way, Due Date is funny. It doesn’t demand a watch, but it is worth one.


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Getting aid while under blockade

Taken from

For such a small piece of land, the Gaza Strip sure has seen a lot of heartache.

The 139-square-mile sliver of territory is bordered by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, and, for the last 61 years, has been handed off from one ruling power to another like a hot potato. In 2007, it was Hamas’s turn, and since then the strip has been on lockdown. A blockade, enforced by both Egypt and Israel, has kept goods from going in or coming out of Gaza without Israeli permission, creating a society dependent on humanitarian aid and smuggled goods.

The stated goal of the blockade is to keep weapons from ending up in the hands of Hamas, a vocally anti-Israel group, categorized by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization. This policy, however, has also had a profound impact on 1.6 million citizens of Gaza, almost half of whom are below the age of 14 and 70 percent of whom are refugees under the care of UN agencies.

The effect of the blockade became more profound in December 2008, when the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel fell apart, culminating in a three week Israeli offensive that left 13 Israelis and more than 1,400 Palestinians dead. Palestinian homes, schools, universities and hospitals were destroyed and, because of the inability to import construction materials, have largely remained destroyed.

In May 2010, a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations organized an aid flotilla which planned to defy the naval blockade and deliver supplies, including the prohibited cement, directly to the Gaza Strip. Instead, Israel Defense Forces boarded the boats at sea, and nine people aboard the Turkish-commissioned Mavi Marmara were killed. Both the IDF and the ship’s passengers claim that the other party instigated the fighting, but either way, what motivated the boat’s passengers to take such a risk? Is there no better way to get supplies into Gaza?

Trucks of Humanitarian Aid

There are three main ways Gaza receives supplies, but only one of which Israel approves. Humanitarian aid, dispatched by the truckload, regularly leaves Jordan for the Gaza Strip, and with Israel’s permission. “We send food, money and medical supplies,” said Abdullah Sarhan, an employee with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization. The JHCO has sent over 300 aid convoys to the Gaza Strip since the end of the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive, the most recent of which was dispatched on May 30 and consisted of 20 trucks of supplies.  Much of the supplies are donated by Jordanian civil societies and charities, but the JHCO has also dispatched goods supplied by other countries, such as Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait.

“We don’t send anything we know is forbidden [to enter the Strip],” Sarhan said, but when it comes to the Gaza blockade, what is forbidden can change from one day to the next. Israeli authorities have not publically declared what items are prohibited from entering the Strip, but, according to a list compiled by Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit, banned goods, which include weapons and construction materials, also include jam, vinegar, fresh meat, fishing rods, newspapers, and A4 paper. “Dates aren’t allowed either,” Sarhan added.

There is “neither rhyme nor reason” to it, said Peter Ford, representative of UNRWA’s commissioner-general in Amman.  UNRWA, the United Nations agency concerned with Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries, is responsible for collecting and distributing the incoming aid in the Gaza Strip.  The JHCO hires a shipping company to drive its convoys from Jordan to Gaza, passing through Israel along the way. “The aid is inspected twice,” said Ford. “First at the Jordan-Israel border and again at Erez crossing prior to entering Gaza.”  Inspections are carried out by Israeli customs and security personnel, who sometimes bar trucks from entering without making the reasons for their decisions known. For example, a Human Rights Watch report states that, as of October 2009, 11 truckloads of stationery had been held up in Israel for more than a year, denied access to the Gaza Strip. The only other way for Gazans to get their hands on basic school supplies that season was to smuggle them in.

Smuggling Tunnels

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza has been closed for most of the three years that Hamas has been in control of the coastal enclave. That, however, has not been enough to keep Egyptian goods out of Gazan hands. An extensive system of tunnels that used to be used primarily to smuggle weapons has now become the source of at least 80 percent of Gaza’s imports, according to World Bank statistics.

International media, from the Christian Science Monitor to Germany’s Spiegel magazine, have reported that the tunnels are used to smuggle all kinds of goods, such as fuel, light bulbs, rice and even sheep. The tunnels have become so widespread that Hamas has reportedly begun to regulate them, forcing tunnel owners to pay taxes on the goods they bring in. But while owning a tunnel may now be a relatively risk-free enterprise in the Gaza Strip, the fates of those who dig and operate the tunnels are less certain.

Besides the dangers posed by collapsing tunnels, tunnel diggers have also been killed by Israeli air strikes and Egyptian explosions. In April 2010, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri reportedly told that at least 40 smugglers had been poisoned by toxic gases since the blockade was first established in 2007. In January 2010, Egyptian authorities announced plans to construct a steel wall along the Egyptian-Gaza border that will descend 100 feet below ground. This attempt to shut down the smuggling industry may lead to increased resourcefulness on the part of Gazan smugglers, or it may sever the Gaza Strip’s only dependable lifeline to the outside world.

Aid from Activists

The deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara may have garnered the most international attention, but the passengers aboard the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla were not the first foreign activists to attempt to defy the naval blockade. Eight previous attempts to bring humanitarian aid have occurred since the siege on Gaza began, three of which were organized by Viva Palestina, a registered British charity. In December 2009, Nicholas Hall, a sixty-year-old man from York, departed with the organization’s third convoy to the Gaza Strip. Hall rode with the 150-vehicle convoy in a fully-stocked ambulance across ten countries spanning two continents, ending up in Aqaba, Jordan’s port to the Red Sea.

According to Hall, bringing the aid in this way had three purposes. “One is [raising] political awareness throughout the countries that we were traveling through. The second is actually delivering the aid, and the third is breaking the isolation.” After arriving in Aqaba, Egyptian authorities informed the activists that they would have to enter the Gaza Strip not by sea, but through the Egyptian city of Al Arish. Once all of the people and goods had arrived, Al Arish authorities demanded 59 vehicles be handed over to Israel, which the activists refused. Peaceful demonstrations turned into violent clashes, and, according to convoy members, about 20 activists required hospitalization.

By the time the aid convoy successfully entered the Gaza Strip, Hall had been forced to return to York due to personal obligations. A former town planner and therapeutic gardening enthusiast, Hall has no real ties to Palestine. In fact, part of what has motivated him to get involved in the pro-Palestine movement is the role his British forefathers played in the establishment of Israel in the Middle East. “All of the insecurity we’ve got, all the terrorism that we’ve experienced and all of the loss of civil liberties,” he said. “It’s all traceable back to the injustice of 1948.” He also credits the sense that he had been “conned” for much of his life. “For 30 years, [I was hearing] all this stuff about Israel as the victim when actually they were oppressors and I didn’t know. And that really makes me…” he paused, searching for the right word. “Cross.”

Changes to Come?

Although the Mavi Marmara failed to deliver its cargo directly to Gaza, it has managed to draw attention to the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip. In response to international outcry, Egypt has reopened the Rafah border crossing to some civilian traffic, and Israel has announced its intention to loosen restrictions on the coastal enclave. However, it is easy to remain cynical. “The situation is very fluid,” said Ford of UNRWA. “Speaking from experience, we can’t assume there will be an agreement on easing the blockade or, if there was an agreement, that it would be implemented.”

“We’re not expecting a breakthrough any time soon.”


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Smoking ban drags its heels into reality… Maybe.

From the moment visitors step outside of the airport and onto a Jordanian sidewalk, they are greeted with the sight of a row of taxi drivers, chain smoking their way through the tedium of the day. It almost doesn’t matter where they ask the driver to take them; cigarette smoke is inescapable, from coffee shops to hotel lobbies, from public buses to public bathrooms. Spending a few hours running errands in Amman, Jordan, you’re as likely to see men, women and teenagers smoking as you are to see no-smoking signs. Perhaps it is this blatant disregard for privately-imposed policies that makes people skeptical that the newly-enforced legal ban on smoking in public places will ever really take hold.

“I don’t see a ban working here,” said G.K., 21, a recent University of West England graduate. “In England, they’re used to obeying rules and regulations. Here, the first time that someone tells a guy he can’t smoke, the man will probably pick a fight and hit him.”

The amended Public Health Law, which was ratified in late 2008, has certainly been slow to gain traction. It was not enforced at all before March 2009, when the Ministry of Health announced that violating the all but ignored no-smoking signs in the nation’s airports and malls would now constitute a legal offence, resulting in either a 15-25 JD fine or up to a month in prison. Three months later, the ban was implemented in fast food restaurants, and on May 25, 2010, more than a year after the law was originally endorsed by parliament, the Ministry announced that the smoking ban would now be enforced in all indoor, public places. At least, that was until the Ministry decided to grant a grace period to restaurant owners for them to adjust to the ban. The ban is now supposed to have been enforced in full starting July 1.

Smoking ban: info

Although he has his doubts about the nation’s ability to enforce the ban, G.K. says that he supports the decision to prohibit smoking in public buildings. “Even though I smoke, I know how it feels to have someone blowing smoke in your face.” He does not agree, however, with the ministry’s decision to include hookah smoking in the ban. The hookah, otherwise known as hubbly bubbly, is a cultural staple of social gatherings and is commonly smoked in restaurants. In fact, the promise of a good hookah, which can be flavored using different syrup-tobacco combos, is often enough to attract crowds of customers. “Cigarette smoke sticks to your clothes, but hookah smoke can smell good. It’s less harmful to the people around the smoker.” G.K. also touts the hookah as a tourist attraction. “It’s an experience just to try it.”

But what Jordan gains in tourism is probably not enough to offset the heavy costs of smoking to the nation. According to Ministry of Health figures, Jordanians spend 360 million JDs a year on tobacco, as well as almost the same amount on treating smoking-related diseases. This is not surprising, considering that, according to a survey conducted by the National Jordanian Anti-Smoking Society last April, about 21 percent of students aged 13 to 18 smoke either cigarettes or hookah, despite the fact that neither can be legally sold to children below the age of 18.

“The main objective of the ban is to maintain public health,” said Health Ministry Spokesperson Hatem Azruie. “Non-smokers have the right to breathe clean air.” However, he also says that living in a non-smoking country will help people to smoke less. “When you work eight hour days as an employee at the ministry, for example, where there is no area where smoking is permitted, this automatically helps you to quit or to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke in a day.”

In its efforts to curb smoking, the ministry has also begun offering free consultations and nicotine substitutes to smokers who are trying to kick the habit. According to Azruie, the ministry plans to establish more locations to help smokers quit throughout the Kingdom in the near future. The first step, however, is admitting that you have a problem.

F.M., 20, who goes from smoking a hookah up to three times a week in the summer to almost never in the winter, doesn’t know if she considers herself a smoker or not. She is sure, however, that a ban on indoor hookah smoking will not be successful. “If 90 percent of the people in a country smoke, it will be impossible for [a public smoking ban] to work out.” She is against implementing the ban, particularly where the hookah is concerned. “I don’t always like to sit outside when I smoke hookah so that everyone can see me.” Although hookah cafes are filled with female customers, there are still some cultural taboos surrounding women and smoking.

“It’s not feminine at all,” said X.R., 26, assistant director of finance at the Sheraton. X.R., a non-smoker herself, supports the idea of banning smoking, in Jordan and beyond. “People who smoke are selfish and they don’t care about people with sensitivity to the smoke, “said X.R.. “It’s your own fault if you want to suffocate yourself; why should you suffocate me along with you?”

According to Azruie, since life was breathed anew into the public smoking ban last May, about 50 violators of the law have been referred to the court. Meanwhile, the Jordan Restaurants Association has been pushing for more leeway. On June 20, representatives of the JRA reportedly met with ministry officials to ask for more time before the implementation of the ban, but their request was denied. Bassam Hijjawi, director of the ministry’s primary healthcare directorate, reiterated that, as of July 1, the ministry of health will “no longer excuse restaurants that fail to implement the smoking ban and will refer violators to court,” the Jordan Times reported on Wednesday.

It’s impossible to say whether or not the ban will stick this time around. As of July 2, restaurant’s are still allowing indoor smoking.

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Ali and Hussein: Picture Perfect

All interviews were conducted in Arabic and then translated (imperfectly) by me. And a picture of their work will be added tomorrow!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Ali and Hussein: Picture Perfect

In many ways, Hussein Dawoud is like any average 12-year-old. He plays football and computer games. His favorite school subject is English. He enjoys spending time with his best friend. But he and his older brother Ali attract an above-average crowd every Friday at Souk Jara by simply doing what they do best: creating works of art.

Painted scenes of Bedouin camps, crowded marketplaces and green meadows are propped up against a wall behind Ali, 13 and his brother Hussein, 12, as they paint on black velvet on the outskirts of Souk Jara. Here they can be found every Friday, accompanied by their father, who is also an artist.  The children are not there to buy trinkets or cotton candy like other people their age. They are there to work.

“It really stops you in your tracks,” said Hayat Abu Hijleh, 19, in response to the boys’ artwork. “Looking at their paintings, you’d never guess they were done by a 12-year old or a 13-year-old.  You’d think they were done by someone who had been in the business for a long time. “

According to Ali and Hussein, however, they were both born into the business. “It was inherited,” said Ali, putting the finishing touches on a natural landscape. Both of their parents draw, and their paternal uncles, grandfather and great-grandfather have all made their living as painters in Baghdad.

“My grandfather opened the first gallery in Baghdad,” said the boys’ father, Muhhnad Abu Ali. “A lot of people ask me what school they learned to draw in,” he added, “But it wasn’t a school, it was all from me.”

The boys’ schooling was interrupted when the family left Baghdad in 2006. “I’m going into seventh grade, but I’m supposed to be going into eighth,” said Ali. “When we first came to Jordan, Iraqis couldn’t go to school without a residency permit.”

The boys are now enrolled in a school in Sweileh near their home, where the family of painters sells their work. “Mostly we draw nature, camels… depending on what’s in demand, said Hussein. Although art has become a profession for them, both boys still like to draw in their free time.

When asked who the better artist is, Ali does not hesitate. “I am. I’ve been drawing for longer and have tried more things than he has.” Hussein does not disagree with his older brother. Last year he may have received 95 per cent in art class, but Ali scored a 99.

“Besides,” adds Ali, “there is a saying that says a day older is like a year older.”

Ali and Hussein’s little sister does not draw. “Not yet,” said Ali, laughing. “She’s only four.” Then again, Ali and Hussein started drawing when they were five and six years old respectively. Both boys say they would “of course” want to grow up to be painters and cannot think of anything else they would want to do.

“I congratulate and give my respects to their father,” said Nicholas Khouri, who sells accessories at a booth in Souk Jara. Every Friday, Khouri takes some time to watch Ali and Hussein at work. “I watch this 12 year old and I feel bad because I’m 23 years old and I still don’t know what I want or what I can do. But at least they know.”

“Of course, I’m very proud of them,” said their father, gesturing with his paint brush. “I’m proud of them and I’m proud of myself for raising such boys. Every father like me should be proud of his children.”


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Catching up and looking ahead

Hello again, my hypothetical readers!

After an extremely stressful past two weeks, today I suddenly realized that I have free time… and I thought to myself, oh yeah, haven’t you been meaning to write something on your blog? You’re already on WordPress every day checking out your stats; you might as well make your presence known. So, to anybody who may be reading, I say HI! I’ve noticed that my blog is getting more hits than I’ve earned (There was one day when I hit 10! OMG!), particularly the posting on niqab. I have to admit, it’s pretty gratifying to see that queries on whether or not women are forced to wear niqab are leading people here. So thanks for stopping by, and thank you both to the people who left comments and to those who didn’t. Come back anytime.

I haven’t really talked much here about who I am, or at least how I would describe the small-talk me. I’m a 20-year-old woman  living in Amman, Jordan. My dad’s Palestinian, my mom’s American, and I’m a middle child. I’m studying English Literature at a local university, but I’m also working towards a degree in Journalism. I love to read, but writing is my passion and, despite the stress it causes me, journalism fits me like a glove. I obsessively check news sites and love to get into pointless online debates with people who disagree with me on politics, religion or anything else. Actually, “love” is probably not the best word. What do you call it when you know something is bad for you and you try to stay away but, in moments of weakness, you find yourself crawling back for a fix? Oh yeah, addiction, I’m addicted to pointless online debates.

When I originally created this blog, I planned on using it to post some of the articles that I have worked on for classes throughout the last couple of years… and then I promptly forgot and started blabbering about cover songs! But now that I have remembered, I’m going to be posting a few here within a week, the first one, in honor of the return of summer, a profile on two awesome kids I met at Souk Jara last year.

Peace out ❤

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Women’s rights and Niqab

A woman, out and about, doing her thing.

I’ve basically just been using this blog as a place to post random thoughts, but today I feel compelled to make this post.

Tuesday, the Jordan Times featured an editorial on the French niqab ban called “Avoiding Controversy.” Never have I read a piece with a more unintentionally ironic headline. The piece applauds France’s decision to talk to its Muslim population about why it wants to prohibit the niqab, otherwise known as a face veil or a burqa, before enforcing the ban. This is said to be the “right thing to do” in order to “avoid any unnecessary controversy and friction between the government of France and its Muslim residents.” While it would make more sense for France to talk to its Muslim population BEFORE deciding to ban the niqab in the first place, just to make sure they actually did feel oppressed, I was not surprised by this kind of shortsightedness.

This, however, is where I draw the line:

The French government also maintains that Muslim scholars in France agree with the interpretation that the Holy Koran does not in fact call for the wearing of a full face cover, which leaves women with no identity or personality of their own.

These are not the words of a man who knows women who wear niqab. These are not the words of a man who respects a woman’s ability to make her own religious choices. Here is my response, which I sent to the Jordan Times but am not really expecting to be printed (for its length as well as its content):


I am a Muslim woman who does not wear niqab, nor do I consider it obligatory under the teachings of Islam. I do, however, believe that, as long as it does not violate anyone else’s rights, women’s clothing (as well as men’s) should not be regulated by law. If a woman wants to cover her face, that is her right, and if she wants to wear shorts and a tank top, that is also her right. In countries like Jordan, these freedoms are guaranteed and our society has not suffered for it. We have all kinds of people, and, as a nation, Jordan accepts them equally.

I was therefore frustrated to read Tuesday’s editorial on France’s impending niqab ban, “Avoiding controversy,” in which the niqab was said to leave “women with no identity or personality of their own” and to prevent women from being “active members of the Muslim nation.” Is this to say that women in niqab are not contributing to our society? Clearly, you have not visited the Kingdom’s universities lately, which are teeming with strong, intelligent and confident women, who choose to cover their faces, but express themselves through their words and actions. If you cannot see them, it is because you look away. They are there and they are active members of our society.

As long as a woman chooses to wear niqab on her own and is not being forced into it, there is nothing inherently oppressive about a face veil. The problem with these European bans on niqab is that they completely ignore the possibility that a woman would choose to wear such a thing. But even if you assume that women who cover their face are being oppressed, what does banning the niqab get you? The women who really were being forced to wear them have now effectively been put on house arrest. They won’t be allowed to leave their homes, to get an education, or to become active members of their own countries. Let us not pretend, therefore, that this ban has anything to do with the rights of Muslim women. This ban is about saving France from being forced to look at these unsightly people, draped in black and conjuring up images of the desert.

It is bad enough that the French have chosen to look away from women in niqab. Let’s not follow in their example.


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