Egyptian Government Shuts Down The Entire Internet

This is a pretty amazing graph showing the total internet traffic coming in and out of Egypt. The Government took the unprecedented step of cutting the entire country off from the internet. More information located at the following article:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10702767

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Al Jazeera: Muhammad al-Barad’i: “Husni Mubarak’s Regime is Teetering”

Note: As the protests in Egypt continue into their second day, I decided to post these remarks from the leading Egyptian opposition figure, Muhammad al-Barad’i. Egypt has had many opposition leaders over the years, but none have had such a highly respected and global presence as al-Barad’i, who was the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997-2009. He is most well-known for his work with Hans Blix on the WMD inspection teams that were in Iraq until the American invasion in 2003, as well as the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. He also won the Nobel Peace prize in 2005. After leaving the IAEA in 2009, there has been much speculation as to whether or not he might run for President in 2011 as he is an Egyptian citizen by birth.

Historically Husni Mubarak has been able to squash any opponents using physical intimidation and wide-spread corruption at polling centers but al-Barad’i’s international visibility would make it much harder for Mubarak to pull off such a campaign and harder for Western governments to ignore. (Of course we did pretty good job of ignoring Afghanistan President Karzai’s ballsy act of rigging the 2010 elections in his favor, so who knows?) It remains to be seen whether or not the events of the past few days will lead to a full-scale revolution like the one in Tunisia last week, or if it will just be a short-lived outburst like the massive protests in Iran after the 2009 elections.

I also included the following links with more updates on the situation in Egypt:

The New York Times – Protesters in Egypt Defy Ban as Government Cracks Down

Foreign Policy – Will the Arab Revolutions Spread?, Day of Rage (Pictures), You’re So Vain, You Probably Think These Protests are About You

al-Jazeera (عربية) – Egyptians Break Through the Barrier of Fear, Protests Continue in Egypt as the Death Toll Rises, Internet is Blocked in Egypt and Websites are Taken Down

-David

http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/1B8CD42F-3A3F-4023-8CC0-59B54EBFDA03.htm

al-Barad'i: "The Muslim Brotherhood has distanced themselves from violence for half a century and have focused on reforms and changes instead of focusing on gaining power."
The Egyptian opposition leader and former General Secretary for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad al-Barad’i stated that, “The time for change by way of the ballot box has to come an end in Egypt as Husni Mubarak has closed all the doors to reform and a peaceful transfer of authority. As such, taking to the street is the only way now to realize the aspirations of the people.”

al-Barad’i told the German weekly, Der Spiegel, that Egyptians have been protesting in greater numbers for the first time, “As a result of the collapse of the “culture of fear” that President Husni Mubarak’s regime has kept alive his entire time in power.” He expressed that the increasing protests in Egypt are an indication of a historic turning point, “As Egyptians come to realize that their fate is in their own hands and not in anyone else’s.”

He added, “The Egyptian regime has refused in the past and continues to refuse all calls for reform, they are completely disconnected from the reality their people are living in and can’t even look [around them] or hear [the pleas for reform]. I have warned Mubarak of the consequences of waiting for these issues to come to a head … the time has come for him to pay the price.”

Conditions for Success

al-Barad’i likened the recent Egyptian protests to an unstoppable snowball rolling down and gaining momentum. He added, “Husni Mubarak’s regime is teetering and is extremely fearful and tense in light of the recent events in Tunisia, while it simultaneously tries to portray indifference to the Egyptians that have recently committed self-immolation protesting their living conditions in all areas of life.

al-Barad’i indicated that, “The only way for the Egyptian regime to stay alive and rescue itself from a fate like the one that befell its counterpart in Tunis is for Mubarak to remove himself from nomination for a new term as President, to issue a new constitution, to call for new free elections, and to cancel the “State of Emergency” that has been imposed on the country for the past 29 years.
He holds the view that the revolution in Tunis represented a precursor to the possibility of a “spring of change” in the Arab world in which Egypt plays a leading role. In al-Barad’i’s opinion, Egyptians’ requests for bread and more individual rights is only natural in a country where 40% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

He pointed out that, “The main difference between the conditions in Tunis and the conditions in Egypt is the presence of a broad middle class in Tunis which Egypt doesn’t have. Poverty and anger will play a main role in any possibly popular uprising.”

Defending the Muslim Brotherhood

al-Barad’i stated that it is possible that Egypt now stands on the precipice of a coming phase of instability, and he called on Mubarak and his security apparatus to respect the people’s universal right to protest, saying that, “Change is coming and no one will be able to stop it.”

He also responded to a question about his opinion on Israel’s fear of a collapse of the situation in Egypt and many Israeli’s concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood would gain power and launch a war on the Jewish state. [al-Barad’i] called for, “An end to the demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood and the [false] idea of a choice between either the oppression of Husni Mubarak’s regime or the chaos of a narrow-minded religious government.

He went on to clarify that the Muslim Brotherhood has distanced themselves from violence for half a century and have focused on reforms and changes instead of focusing on gaining power. He added, “If we want to establish a free, democratic system, in Egypt, then we must include the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process instead of distancing them from it.”

Al Jazeera: Demonstrations break out in Egypt on a “day of anger”

http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/018633CB-3A98-453E-B33E-2C692E0568B4.htm?GoogleStatID=1

Demonstrators were out in dozens of places in Cairo and Egypt's biggest cities
Responding to calls by activists on the social networking site “Facebook”, demonstrations and marches broke out in the capital city of Cairo and a number of [Egyptian] provinces in what is being called “a day of anger” coinciding with the celebration of Police Day, a [national] holiday.

In an event that hasn’t happened for more that three decades, hundreds of protestors from various areas in Cairo began to [march] and were joined by thousands of people in protests that have rocked dozens of different cities across Egypt.

In downtown Cairo, a crowd of thousands of protestors broke through the security barriers and marched in past the Supreme Court building as they headed towards the main Tahrir square. Amongst the protestors were tens of former members of parliament who echoed chants against the Egyptian regime.

Other demonstrations broke out in Ruksi square in the neighborhood of New Cairo, as well as in front of the headquarters of the Doctors’ and Lawyers’ professional unions. At the same time, other demonstrations from other areas were moving towards Tahrir square in the heart of Cairo where it was [estimated] that more than 20,000 people were protesting by the afternoon.

The Reuters news agency said that protestors in front of the Supreme Court building in Cairo were calling for the fall of President Husni Mubarak. They echoed chants aimed at [Mubarak’s] son, Gamal, saying: “Hey Gamal, tell your dad, ‘All of the people hate you’.”

[Reuters] added that the protests today represented a test of how effective activists can be in transforming their messages on the internet into a reality in the street.

The youth of the “April 6th” [group], who played a large role in calling for the demonstration, said that security forces arrested a number of activists and journalists who were covering the demonstrations that have extended to a number of areas outside of Cairo, especially in Alexandria, Asyut, al-Mansurah, and al-Mahallah al-Kubra.

Security Presence

One of the organizers of the demonstrations stated that security forces arrested 15 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were waiting for a signal to go and demonstrate.

Various areas [within Cairo] have been under a thick security presence while other cities such as al-Muhallah al-Kubra, an industrial city that has been the scene of a number of the most prominent protests over the past years, have seen beefed up checkpoints at the entrances and exits to the city. [These measures] seek to prevent the arrival of activists who intended to lead the protests there.

The National Assembly for Change has already issued a report for this occasion in which it says that today the Egyptian populace is knocking on the door of freedom, dignity, and justice. It [also] expressed that it was sorry that Police Day had come and that the [security] apparatus had been transformed into, “A private police force whose mission is limited to using oppression and torture to protect those in the government as well as their families and attendants.”

The report noted that the Tunisian populace rose up under similar circumstances and proved that any governing regime that uses violence, oppression, and intimidation [to maintain control], as well as one that places severe restrictions on the freedom of expression, will collapse the moment that there is an outburst of public anger.

Rescuing Egypt

The National Assembly for Change emphasized that, “The only way to rescue Egypt from a future fraught with great danger is to meet the desires of the people and respond immediately to their requests which are: Rescind emergency law, dissolve the rigged parliamentary councils, and hold free and fair elections according to international standards to form a transitional government until the time that the constitution can be amended.”

Likewise, [another] Egyptian movement for change, “Kafayah”, issued a report saying that it, “Senses the seriousness of what may result from Egypt’s conditions … from political gridlock, social congestion, corruption that destroys the country’s wealth, to forgery of the [legitimacy?] of the authorities, tyranny that crushes basic freedoms and brutalizes the poor, unemployed, and sick.” It went on to call for all efforts to be directed at continuing the public’s struggle and advancing towards a peaceful civil disobedience and revolution.
Kafayah enumerated its demand to shut down the current government and get rid of resident Husni Mubarak and his regime, as well as to dissolve the rigged parliamentary councils and clear the way for a transitional government with a new president and national unity coalition.

They also called for an end to the state of emergency, the dissolution of the National Security apparatus called the “Mubahath”, the immediate release of all political prisoners and detainees, the liberation of journalists and political entities as well as the unions and assemblies, the guarantee to allow society the freedom of demonstrate and protest peacefully, the guarantee of independence for all judges, the [1m] of all phases and types of elections and general referendums, and prosecution of those responsible for crimes of forgery and torture.

In that regard, Kafayah called for a halt to the privatization program, and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, as well as for a stop to exports of oil to Israel and a cancellation of Egypt’s peace agreement with [Israel].

Note: Here are some Arabic links to the two Egyptian reform movements listed in the article as well as the Facebook page mentioned in the article. I also included a link to a a few English articles with more information regarding the events in Egypt.

National Assembly for Change (Arabic) – http://www.taghyeer.net/

Kafayah (Arabic) – http://www.harakamasria.org/

Facebook (Arabic) – Day of Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption, and Unemployment

New York Times – Broad Protests Across Egypt Focus Fury on Mubarak

Boing Boing – Protests inspired by Tunisia and fanned by social media break out all over

Andrew Sullivan – Social Networking Strikes Again, An Arab Tipping Point?, Egypt Erupting

-David

Days 6 & 7: Joshua Tree National Park, California (Happy New Year!)

Self-portrait courtesy of our Honda's tilted hood.

We woke up Saturday morning and headed over to listen to a chat about coyotes after I whipped up some gourmet instant oatmeal for breakfast. The park ranger chatted for an hour or so and then we left for a moderate hike up to Mastadon Peak, with an optional rock scramble up to the summit. It was a fun trail that wandered through all sorts of funky rock formations, dry creek beds, and even an old gold ore mine. We then meandered down to an oasis called Cottonwood Springs that was full of these massive towering palm trees crowding around a small spring. Wandering around in the desert, even on a relatively safe blazed trail, the lack of water is disconcerting. Asides from the one spring and some water fountains at the welcome center, there is absolutely no water, anywhere. You crave water just staring at the unending waves of brown brush and sand.
Holly trekking through a desert wash.

There she is again, I think she is following me.

Minecraft, lulz. (This will make sense to very few people.)

Mastadon Peak. The scramble to the summit follows the broken rock up to the right.

Looking out over the high desert.

Cottonwood Springs Oasis.

Yet another dry creek bed.

Campsite 13B, Cottonwood Campgrounds. Our home away from home!

Zoom Zoom. Most of Los Angelas' eastbound flights pass over Joshua Tree, the sky is constantly crisscrossed with jet contrails.

Later that day we headed over to the northwest corner of the park where most of the rock-climbing the park is famous for is located, along with the park’s namesake tree, the Joshua Tree.
The ever-present Joshua Tree.

It's hard to make out, but there are some rock climbers rappelling off the small rock spire to the center-right.

After stargazing last night, we got up this morning and packed up our camp to move closer to the rock-climbing area to do some easy bouldering tomorrow, weather permitting. We spent today doing laundry and getting showers in town and hanging out at some of the local quirky joints, like the Crossroads Cafe.

Mileage: ~2300 miles driven.

Day 5: Arizona, California!

Gooooooood morning Arizona.

One detail we missed on our late-night drive into Arizona was how beautiful the Arizona mountains are. They would be a constant companion with us as we drove up through Tuscon and Pheonix over to California, and they were quite stunning. On a random sidenote, Willcox, AZ has the most quirky, eclectic, and hip radio station we’ve listened to our whole trip. It was literally the only radio station we could get, so it’s good that it was worth listening to.

I’ll be honest, we didn’t pay much attention to Arizona as we were looking forward to crossing into California too much. It passed by as we listened to quite a few This American Life episodes on NPR, and before we could believe it we were crossing into the Pacific Time Zone and California!
California doesn't have a welcome center, just a place to inspect your fruit and veggies. There is a joke in there somewhere.

Eastern California is pretty barren.

We pulled off to chillax for a bit and tighten down webbing that had started to flap noisily on the bike rack.

From there it was off to Joshua Tree National Park, where we would spend the next few days in the high desert doing some camping and hiking.
Setting up the tent.

Holly decorated our tent in preparation for the evening festivities.

We were pretty zonked, so we ended up celebrating the east coast’s new years at 9pm PST and then promptly went to sleep. The temperatures dropped into freezing during the night so there wasn’t much incentive to get out of our toasty sleeping bags at midnight.

Mileage: ~2250 miles driven.

Day 4: New Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona.

Southeastern New Mexico.

This day was quite a doozy even though we started it with the best of intentions. The plan was simple; visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and then head down to Guadalupe Mountain National Park to camp and hike up Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,751 feet. Carlsbad Caverns National Park was amazing. I had only vaguely heard of it before, and so there were very little expectations as to what we would run into.
The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

It is hard to really capture what was so amazing about the caverns, and it was almost impossible to take a quality picture. The one posted below was the only one that came out alright, and it is still pretty dinky compared to the real thing. The spaces underground were massive and it felt like you were walking through some sort of discarded set from a science fiction movie.
Is this for real?


We took the elevator down 800 feet, walked around through what is called the “Big Room”, and then walked back out through the natural entrance, which is how the first explorer, Jim White, came down into the cave at the end of the 1800’s. It emerges into a massive opening that somehow blends into the rolling desert hills around it.
The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns.

Looking out over southeastern New Mexico.

After we left Carlsbad Caverns, we took off for the short drive back down into Texas to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, situated two hours east of El Paso. Once again, I refer you back to my previous “Texas is big” diatribe. Our plan was to camp out in the park, but when we arrived the campground was getting hammered with a consistant 40mph wind that was gusting as high as 70mph. We might have been able to keep the tent up but it would have been a miserable night. After chatting with the park rangers we decided to keep moving to El Paso, TX and then back up into western New Mexico. I made some coffee on our little camp stove and then we pushed on.
"Welcome to Texas." Wait, what? Didn't we already leave Texas?

The Guadalupe Mountains are somewhere behind that dust cloud kicked up by the ferocious winds.

A handy dandy cup of coffee is a brewin'.

At that point, the weather really started to deteriorate. What had just been a strong wind turned into a blowing rain, and then before we knew it we were in full-on blizzard conditions. Fortunately, the ground was still warm and none of the snow was sticking to the ground but visibility was very limited. We spent almost 3 hours driving the 100 miles from the Guadalupe Mountains to El Paso, before pulling off at a gas station to fuel up. The snow just kept howling around us non-stop, so we pulled off at a Starbucks and spent an hour sipping coffee and checking different weather forecasts on the internet. The storm looked like it was dying out, and so we hit the road for Las Cruces, NM, 40 miles away.
Brrrrrrrrrr.

Gassing up in El Paso, TX.

By the time we got to Las Cruces, NM the storm was gone, the roads were clear, and we were feeling good, so we decided to push on for another hour west to Deming, NM. This would prove to be a bad mood, as we discovered upon arrival in Deming that almost all the east and west-bound traffic on I-10 had pulled off and sought shelter on this stretch of the road when the storm was rolling through western New Mexico hours earlier. There wasn’t a single hotel room available in Deming, or in Lordsburg, yet another hour of driving westward. We ended up having to drive almost two more hours to Willcox, AZ and didn’t get in until 1:30am. We literally got the last room at the Holiday Inn Express in Willcox, and promptly dragged ourselves upstairs and went to sleep. It was a bit more driving than we bargained for at the beginning of the day!

Mileage: ~1800 miles driven.

Day 3: Texas, Texas, Texas, and…. New Mexico.

There are clouds in this picture.

Texas is big.

Texas is really big.

When you enter Texas from Louisiana on I-20, you are 637 miles from the where I-20 merges with I-10. From that point, you are still 186 miles from where I-10 enters New Mexico. When we reach Monterey, we will have spent a little under 1/3 of our driving time in Texas. That is ridiculous. The scenery throughout Texas is beautiful, but it is fairly barren and remote, especially when you get into the backcountry of the western part of the state. We took I-20 until we hit Big Springs, TX, and then hopped onto a one-lane highway heading west towards Carlsbad, NM. From Big Springs until we hit the Texas-New Mexico border we passed through nonstop oilfields. As the sun set, you could look out for miles over flat land and see the dim glow of countless drilling rigs at work 24/7. Life on the drilling rigs is a rough, dangerous existence, and it was sobering to see the economic destitution of the area.

Texas also has a distinct sense of place. There is something about the state that draws you in, even if you don’t think of yourself as a Texas sort of dude or dudette. I don’t normally listen to country music, but listening to it while driving through Texas seems perfectly normal, if almost mandatory. The state oozes this rugged swagger regardless of where you are.

Big Springs oil refinery, west Texas.

Our car pulled off on SR 176.

State Road 176, Western Texas.

Oil "grasshoppers" at work 24/7 in western Texas. These things dotted the landscape all over the place.

Abandoned home out in the middle of nowhere.

We pulled into Carlsbad, NM at around 7pm and went to bed right after a lovely meal at a quaint little restaurant named “Sonic: American’s Drive In”.

Day 2: Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Republic of Texas

Vicksburg National Military Park

Welcome from the Louisiana-Mississippi border! On the advice of our friend, Eddie, we spent our morning in Vicksburg, MS at the Vicksburg National Military Park. The park contains most of the fighting positions the Union and Confederate Army held during the Siege of Vicksburg in the Civil War. The park had a palpable solemnity to it that reminded me of Gettysburg and Valley Forge back in Pennsylvania. The mood was amplified by the gloomy overcast skies that stuck with us from Mississippi all the way to Texas. For more on the Siege of Vicksburg, here is the Wiki page on the battle.
I spotted a Holly over the hill.

A Union cannon overlooking the Confederate hill in the distance.

Illinois' memorial to its troops that fought at Vicksburg.

One of the many plaques on the interior of the Illinois memorial.

After the park, we gassed up, hit the road, and were quickly into Louisiana. There isn’t much to say about the northern stretch of Louisiana. Their welcome center was closed and in a embarrassable state of disrepair. We stopped in Monroe, LA, and bought some groceries from probably the most foul-smelling Walmart we’ve seen. Why Walmart? Because in the middle of a massive shopping area, we couldn’t find a single person who knew where a grocery store might be.

Holly: Hello! Do you know where the nearest grocery store is?
Gas Station Clerk: Grocery store? (Furrows his brow and looks concerned)
Holly: Yes, a grocery store.
Gas Station Clerk: Man, I have no idea. Do you mean Walmart?

Louisiana's welcome sign above the Mississippi River.

Welcome to Louisiana! Keep on moving.

Our Walmart lunch wasn't actually that bad.

We chugged along and soon enough we crossed into Texas! Their welcome center was actually somewhat strange, it was this massive hulk of concrete and steel in a funky design that looked more like a high-end prison or high school (same thing?) than a welcome center. It was later brought to our attention that this was because it is built to act as a tornado shelter in the event of inclement weather. We didn’t have any tornados, but it rained nonstop for our last 3-4 hours of driving to Dallas.
The Great Republic of Texas.

Holly in Texas with the uber-secure welcome center behind her.

Stare at this image for 4 hours and you have our journey through eastern Texas in a nutshell.

Once in Dallas we headed south, to Midlothian, TX to stay with our friend Eddie’s sister, Amanda, and her family. We managed to navigate our way through some windy roads in the rain/fog to arrive at their house at around 8pm CST. Amanda whipped up an amazing homecooked southern meal of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and freshly baked biscuits with homemade plum jam. Welcome to Texas, indeed! We’ll be off the grid tomorrow camping at Guadalupe Mountain National Park, but should have another update in a few days!
This doggie came up to us at a random gas station south of Dallas.

I talk with my hands and chow down at the end of the day.

Day 1: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi

Holly is just so happy, she loves packing so much.

It wouldn’t be a true David Dennis trip without starting two to three hours later than I intended, and I didn’t disappoint on this trip. We rolled out of my parent’s drive way at around 10:45ish EST and hit the road after a quick stop at the local Dunkin’ Donuts.
On the road, y'all.

We cruised into Georgia after only about 45 minutes of driving and stopped shortly before we got to Atlanta for an improvised lunch of turkey and provolone sammiches at Walmart. Grand total: $3.42.
Georgia. Land of peaches and some embarrassingly bad driving in the Augusta area.

HOTlanta which was actually dusted in snow.

We cruised along after Atlanta and were at the Georgia/Alabama border in no time. Not much to say, this part of the country isn’t much of a looker. We listened to a few episodes of This American Life from NPR and then popped in our first audiobook, A Walk In The Woods, about author Bill Bryson’s experience hiking the Appalachian Trail. It seemed fitting for this part of the country.
Apparently Alabama Welcomes Us. Thanks, Alabama, that's so kind of you.

I'm not sure if Holly was waving or trying to get the sun out of her eyes.

Alabama's welcome center. It was truly memorable. We spent almost a full ten minutes there.

See! I told you we were listening to Bill Bryson.

We blasted into Mississippi at around 8 o’clock CST and stopped for a short break at a local establishment called “Chick-Fil-A”. It was pretty delicious, I think they have something on their hands there. Maybe they can start a franchise? We hopped back on the road and decided to press on to Vicksburg, MS as our stopping point based off the advice of Eddie Downey. It was a wise decision as we were making great time and wide awake. Might as well cram in as much driving before the vast flatness of west Texas and New Mexico saps our will to drive. We stopped at a hotel and are planning on visiting the National Military Park in Vicksburg before heading onwards to Dallas. Lone Star State here we come!
Me in M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.

I guess Holly was more excited than I was.

Mileage: 581 miles driven, ~2100 to go.
States we are so over with: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, most of Mississippi.
Most awkward gas station moment: Knoxville, AL’s impromptu hunting convention at 8pm on a Monday evening. We were the only people not in hunting camo =(

A White Christmas in Greenville

The bestest friends in the world.
The bestest friends in the world.

My wife and I spent our last week on the east coast celebrating Christmas at my parent’s house in Greenville, SC. The night of the 18th, we drove up from Augusta with the Downeys and Mr. Evan Robbins and we spent a final night of just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company before they had to return to Augusta. Goodbyes are always painful, and this one was no exception.

C5TRSP
Cabin Five, Table Rock State Park

The next day, my family and Holly and I went up to spent a few days at a cabin in nearby Table Rock State Park, which is one of my most favorite places to hike in this neck of the woods. It is such a grand mountain in the middle of nowhere. As you can see, there wasn’t much of view from our porch.

Not much going on here. Some rocks, some trees.

We spent our time out hiking and inside playing card games, building puzzles, and reading. It was a great way to spend the last week with our family.

Good times.
Table Rock in all its glory.
The fam after a hike.

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas with an Egyptian Fulbright student named Yosri who is studying at a local college. My parents act as a sort of mentor/liaison/guide to help him make the adjustment to life in America during his year here. He even got his own stocking full of candy and fatty snack foods, you can’t get more American than that.

Opening presents for the epic win.
Holly's dominos hand all lined up.
The Brothers Dennis