Category Archives: western lifestyle

the almighty dollar – part 1

There is nothing quite like the smell and feel of American money. It’s soft in your hand because it’s mixed with cotton and natural materials. It can be crisp and sharp or soft and crumpled, almost mushy. The smell is something you can recall in memory, a sour earthy smell, but very real and almost alive. I was four years old when I first had a dollar. My great-grandfather gave it to me for my birthday. It slid out when I opened the card and fell in my lap, light as a feather. Suddenly it felt as though I was a human being, something that was able to handle money – almost an adult.

I learned math as many did – through currency denominations. My teachers would ask me: what does it mean when you have two quarters, two dimes, and a nickel? Well, that was one quarter short of a dollar – seventy five cents. Ten dimes equaled a dollar, five nickels equaled a quarter and a penny was worthless. My parents, encouraging me to be an entrepreneurial child, helped me build a lemonade stand. I stuffed the nickles and dimes away in a cigar box until I could cash them in for the soft green bills that could buy whatever I wanted.

Nostalgia goes hand in hand with cash. We remember the jobs we made cash in. Cash makes a difference. Who can forget when we lost some? I can almost relieve the physical sensation of despair as I sat in the bathroom stall of a restaurant, sobbing into a tissue because a fifty had slipped out of my waitress billfold and set me back eight hours of work. From the fancy thing we covet in our early years, cash becomes a cold reality in adulthood. Without it, food is bland and nights are cold, clothes have holes in them and cars must be pushed to the gas station.

An Israeli told me something so correct: money is the most violent and dangerous religion in the world. Nobody will kill anybody faster than for money. Whole civilizations are laid waste for it. We cling to it and try and please its priest class to escape its wrath, rather, the absence of money is to some the absence of the divine life-giver-comforter-sleep-at-night-provider.

Yet it is a false god, sustained by the fear-mongering of the priest class. It is possible that once, the American dollar meant something. Now it is something we can speculate about. The speculation makes it dangerous. Suddenly, money grows for no reason and it can expand and contract without warning. Lines on a chart will assure the continued existence of the dollar, but if a priest steps out of line and claims it is a lie, the line plummets to the dismay of millions who have that child-like attachment to something that isn’t real past its smell and feel in your hands.

To remake the world, this false god must be brought down. So many sell books on the foolishness of believing in a monotheistic God, or to even believe in the supernatural, and yet nobody is being invited to speak in front of universities about the greatest delusion of all. What is a dollar but a vestige of a society that is untouched by globalization? The dollar is interchangeable and expendable. The priest class is learning this and playing the most fantastic games at the end, telling me my glass of lemonade I’m hawking on the corner is suddenly worth 500 billion dollars and that everyone should rush to invest likewise. I’m pocketing the 5% share they just bought in my business because it seems like a good idea, but what does this say about reality?

It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m not an economist. All I can do is stand by while the priest class shuffles their cards and makes a new game. It used to be that the American dollar bought a day’s work or a pound of meat, but now it is used to buy other, much more ephemeral things. The inbred priest class holed up in Connecticut has started to fancy they live outside of the real world. Keep playing the game with food prices, housing values, war machines… all the things that keep us enthrall and all the most powerful things that can make us kill. Yet when bread riots and desert dust start to clog up the gears, how will they flush the human blood out of the system? It’s time to keep telling each other how much it’s worth, start to make the bubble bigger and yet bigger still lest we see how foolish it really is.

Part II of this series on the American Dollar can be found here.

the rich feast on the dead flesh of americans, how long will we stand by?

“It’s going to a cause a lot of panic on Wall Street,” said Richard Stein of Global Sage, an executive search firm. “Everybody is talking about it, but they’re actually concerned about it becoming public. I would not want to be head of compensation at a Wall Street firm right now.”

In some ways, a zero bonus should not come as a surprise to many bankers. As a result of the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and banks like Citigroup raised base pay substantially in 2009 and 2010. They were seeking to placate regulators who had argued that bonuses based on performance encouraged excessive risk.

At Goldman, for instance, the base salary for managing directors rose to $500,000 from $300,000, while at Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse it jumped to $400,000 from $200,000.

Even though employees will receive roughly the same amount of money, the psychological blow of not getting a bonus is substantial, especially in a Wall Street culture that has long equated success and prestige with bonus size. So there are sure to be plenty of long faces on employees across the financial sector who have come to expect a bonus on top of their base pay. Wall Streeters typically find out what their bonuses will be in January, with the payout coming in February.

From NYTimes

Senator Bernie Sanders (I) from Vermont stood on the floor of the Senate two Fridays ago and spoke for nine hours on the situation in America. He spoke frankly and convincingly, using charts, graphs, and real-life examples. He was joined by other senators who also brought their perspectives. The message was simple: The rich are feasting on us. The economic and social policies ushered in by war criminal Ronald Reagan have boosted the rich to a position of power unprecedented in American society since the end of slavery.  They’ve grown so large that they’ve sprouted wings and flown away to places like Bangladesh, where workers earn .23 cents an hour. When things falter in their search to expand, as capital always must, they return to America to suck more blood from the heartland and then redouble their efforts in smashing up the rest of the world. Capital flies on the wings of the American military and in the hallways of world banking institutions. What wings do the poor fly on?

Despite the situation worsening in America, the poor stay mainly silent. Drug use is rife, the prisons are packed, and more and more young people are graduating with debt with college degrees that mean close to nothing. Senator Sanders pointed out that we have little to inherit from our parents. Indeed, some of them are moving abroad – those who can afford it.

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico — The new Starbucks on the corner of the main plaza is bustling. The local library has an impressive selection of English-language romance titles. The bulletin board at the arts center touts ads for tai chi, West African dance, textile instruction and more.

And hey! Isn’t that Martha Stewart strolling through the plaza? It is indeed. She’s here for the star-studded unveiling of an American-owned hotel.

Despite its gringo trappings, this lovely 17th-century city appears quintessentially Mexican, fromits jardín (or garden, as the plaza is called) to the rosy luminescence of La Parroquia, its iconic neo-gothic church.

But it’s also home to a large community of North Americans, many of whom have come to stretch their retirement nest eggs in a tranquil setting that boasts most of the comforts of home—and then some.

“San Miguel is summer camp for Baby Boomers,” declares Marjorie Pope, 64, who arrived here from Atlanta with her husband, Mike, five years ago.

As the first wave of 79 million Baby Boomers turns 65 in 2011, many will be spending their Social Security checks in far-flung locales, from Boquete, Panama, to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Though numbers are mere conjecture, some estimates say 1 million American retirees already live abroad.

From USAToday

Is it too painful for the baby boomers to watch their children struggle in the world they created for them? Or is it simply too difficult to live in the United States on the amount of money they’ve set aside for retirement? Outsourcing retirement also means tax money such as social security will be spent outside of the United States.

The question is really how long the next generation will stand for such distractions at the expense of their livelihood. Will we continue to be sucked into two-party politics and reality television, or can we stand up and fight against the system that brought us into being? We are the product of a time when things seemed plentiful and peaceful, but as we come to understand at what cost, we must be wary of falling into the same traps as the previous generations.

What is needed is a ground-up effort to rebuild our country on real wealth and capital. As Senator Sanders said, there was a time when a man working a factory job in Detroit could afford to support a family of three and send a child or two to college. This framework has not evaporated. It is not forgotten. The question is, does a generation raised on instant gratification have the guts to roll up our sleeves and do real work for a change? Raised on promises that “You can do anything”, are we prepared to settle for decent before we slide into a lifetime of denial?

have fun in ramallah or die in gaza

There is another article is out about Ramallah, this time in the Jerusalem Post. Entitled “Palestine’s New Bride”, we glimpse a view of the thumping nightlife of Orjwan, value real estate prices, and a new Swedish luxury hotel. What kind of child thinks these are valid, positive economic indicators and not instead revealing of a class crisis in Palestine? After all, unemployment remains up to 40% in some parts of the West Bank, checkpoints are still manned by private security forces and Israeli teenagers, and kids are dragged out of bed in the dead of night without charges. The Jpost article doesn’t mention this, it just talks about how less corrupt the new Palestinian government is to be able to foster this “economic development”.

Surprisingly, it’s the only source I’ve seen so far that offers a perspective so often left out of other write-ups.

“Whether we like it or not, Ramallah has become the real capital of Palestine,” said Munir Hamdan, a local businessman and Fatah operative. “The president and prime minister have their offices here. So do the parliament and all the government ministries.”

Hamdan and other Palestinians accused the Palestinian Authority of “collusion” with Israel in turning Ramallah into the political and financial capital of the Palestinians. The latest project to build a government complex in Ramallah has left many residents here wondering whether their leadership has abandoned the dream to turn Jerusalem into their capital.

“If they are building a new government compound here, that means they have no plans to be based in Jerusalem,” complained Hatem Abdel Kader, a Fatah legislator from Jerusalem. “Unfortunately, the Palestinian government of Salam Fayyad has abandoned Jerusalem in favor of Ramallah.”

Abdel Kader is perhaps one of the few people who know what they are talking about when it comes to Jerusalem. About two years ago Fayyad appointed him as minister for Jerusalem affairs.

However, Abdel Kader resigned a few weeks later, saying he had discovered that his ministry did not even have enough money to buy a desk and a chair for him.

“I have to be honest with you and tell you that we have lost the battle for Jerusalem,” Abdel Kader lamented. “One of the reasons is because the Palestinian government doesn’t really care about Jerusalem.”

Two stark examples for the kids in the villages: Gaza and Ramallah. In Gaza, the government cares about Jerusalem. In Ramallah, the government doesn’t. Examine the differences between the locations. Losing Jerusalem is hardly a material loss – it was lost a long time ago – but losing the hope for Jerusalem indicates a loss of heart, which means Orjwan will be doing good business in the upcoming months. Really, a great investment opportunity for anyone who’s interested.

In the new world, we don’t have to worry about victory

Today the last combat soldiers are leaving Iraq. What an empty feeling! 56,000 soldiers are left behind to intervene at the behest of the Iraqi government or to fire their guns in self defense. Once we’ve thrown International Law out the window, why bother on reporting on such events at all? There were no ticker-tape parades on 5th Avenue and no cheering in the streets of Baghdad. Except for a few murmurs here and there in the press, it might not have happened.

After all, what changes? A large scale civilian force remains, protected by thousands of mercenaries. Iraq remains in tatters. Sectarian hit jobs are a fact of life and the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad is nearly complete. The universities and hospitals are not bustling with pride as they were in the seventies and unemployment is staggering. Women are being slaughtered where they used to be judges and doctors and teachers. The oil is flowing. The economy is in pieces, even moreso than the sanction era. We’ve left in the darkness of night and there is no dawn breaking at the horizon. Iraqis are not freer or healthier or happier than when we first got there. There are just a lot more of them dead.

Since Vietnam there has been no signing of treaties with enemies, only Status of Forces Agreements with puppet governments. There have been no victories, nothing worth a parade or a kiss for the camera. Just a lot of crying mothers and a lumbering war machine that keeps going, getting fatter and more sluggish with each binge on blood and oil. You’ve forgotten Iraq already and the millions dead will just fertilize the fields of a brave new world of bitter tears, clenched fists, and hanging heads. No need to even look her in the eye, America, just keep going.

commodification and facebook

What does it take to dehumanize the enemy? Eden Abergil might know something about it. Ha’aretz might know something too, since they blurred out her face in the above photo, but not her captives.

It’s hard to say where the Geneva Conventions would fall on this, especially since Israel operates (like the United States) so outside the realm of traditional warfare. Either way, it’s a disgusting example of how to further dehumanize the enemy. Unlike the war photos of old, with  soldiers standing smiling over mutilated corpses, these photos do not find their way into Dad’s dusty old shoebox in the back of the closet. Instead, they are publicized on Facebook.

Some are making the case that this is akin to Abu Ghraib, but I would disagree. After all, while what happened in Abu Ghraib was beyond the pale in terms of human decency, the photos taken of soldiers jeering next to naked prisoners were never intended for public viewing on Facebook. Even now, Eden Abergil has locked her macabre mementos up behind a privacy wall, and there is no proof that she shows remorse or has even removed them from her personal galleries. Has the internet enabled us to further dehumanize the enemy by rationalizing that posting such things is “OK”? Or are we all  becoming more and more commodified by publicizing every detail of ourselves online, making these abused and violated Palestinians as just “window dressing” in the background of our internal lives? We’ve commodified our family, friends,  romantic relationships, personal interests, and our appearances in order to take part in this new world of socialization – why not commodify the POWs as well?

“That looks really sexy for you,” says a comment posted by one of Abergil’s friends on the social networking site, alongside a picture or the soldier smiling in front of two blindfold men.

Abergil’s repose, posted below, reads: “I wonder if he is on Facebook too – I’ll have to tag him in the photo.”

from Ha’aretz

conspiracies no. 2

“Just watch, now that you have more advertising in the West Bank, you’re going to see this message creeping in: ‘You deserve it.’ It’s not about community, it’s about you. That’s the death knell for the society. That will finally drive the wedge between the Palestinians and their community. When people are out for “me, me, me”, it’s over. The community is the only thing holding them together. What the Israelis may not understand -or maybe they do and what’s happening is intentional- is that the biggest barrier they face is the tie that binds the Palestinians together, the glue that solidifies their protest. The fact that the neighbors bring over food. The men sitting out back singing old Palestinian folk songs late into the night. Once they destroy that sense of community the population is finally anesthetized, an anesthetized population doesn’t have the energy or the desire to resist the occupation. They buy into it, pun intended.”

Ramallah Syndrome

– Munir:
I wrote an article about Ramallah and Gaza. I said: Gaza is being destroyed form outside and the main tool is the Israeli army, Ramallah is being destroyed from the inside, and the main tool is the World Bank – which is the consumption. The consumption pattern is really getting inside of us, our thinking and our perceptions; and our relationships etc. are decided totally by this pattern.

All the talk about Gaza is about how can we ruin it from the inside. The idea of ‘help’ and paying money and reconstruction and so on, is actually to finish Gaza from the inside. As long as the destruction is only from the outside, Gaza is safe. Ramallah is not safe. Because on the outside it looks like everything is fine and everything is flourishing, so I feel… development projects change the city in ways that are much worse than sometimes destroying a few buildings here and there.

I want to say something about the word resistance. When an army invades you resist the army. When consumption invades you resist consumption. Ramallah is not resisting consumption.

– Manal:
What do you mean by consumption?

– Munir:
The number of workshops in Ramallah is consumption beyond belief, for example. Another one is the rise of the banks – Ramallah it is becoming the hub…

– Manal:
This is happening everywhere…!

– Munir:
We have to resist the pattern of living is being imposed on us but very sweetly … but this is how the world has been conquered.

– Manal:
I see consumption everywhere, not only in Ramallah. It’s the mentality of societies everywhere. In Damascus – an unoccupied place – consumption is everywhere. It is a world plan. I want you not to just collect the issues and see them in Ramallah…don’t just condense everything in Ramallah.

– Nasser:
But what’s interesting in Ramallah, what’s specific about it, is that the creation of a regime of consumption is precisely linked to the occupation by army Munir was talking about. Actually there is not such a split between occupation through consumption and occupation through army, they are two intertwined and interlinked things. It is about the creation of new subjectivities, people think differently, you are reconstituting subjects, reconfiguring people…the radicality of the situation here positions this in a much wider process of fragmentation and bantustanization; it means that here consumption cannot be separated from the colonial regime.

[Extracts from conversation No. 5]

I saw the first sign at Snobar and the second one today at Prontos. “Who is Celebrating Ramallah?” today’s sign asks. The signs are only in English and seem to be geared towards the audience of expats or those blessed to know today’s global lingua franca. I met with a friend in Jerusalem yesterday who is going north to watch checkpoints with EAPPI for a while. She just couldn’t believe what I was telling her about Ramallah. Wait’ll you see, I told her. Wait’ll you see. I tried to find out more about “Ramallah Syndrome”, and though the signs are new, their website hasn’t been updated in nearly a year. It’s delightfully surreal because I feel like I’ve been talking to a brick wall the whole time I’ve been in this city. These signs sit on walls like angels on my shoulders. If anyone knows where I can find them, please let me know.

Ramallah Majnoona: “a mirror city of Tel Aviv”

First, you should know that I’m a Debbie Downer. I get strange looks wherever I go in life because no matter how happy any one group of people wants to be for any reason, I’m always there to hoist a wet blanket over everyone’s shoulders and tell them why they should be miserable instead. That said: there’s a lot of reason to be depressed in the West Bank. This is the land of refugee camps and suicide bombs, of weekly protest marches against the wall being violently dispersed by tear gas canisters and live ammunition. And yet Ramallah is no place for a Debbie Downer like myself.

Reading the recent articles in the BBC and New York Times about nightlife in Ramallah, you might assume Ramallah is the new Beirut of the Middle East or something, described in the NYT article as a “a mirror city of Tel Aviv.” Go to a place like Orjwan on a Thursday night and you can see the who’s-who of East Jerusalem high society home from school abroad for the summer and mingling with attractive international aid workers. I can tell you I’d never be let into a place like this in the states, but by virtue of my international stature will be ushered to the front of the line at Orjwan and allowed in before a whole throng of locals who scraped together enough shekels to make it out. The fact of the matter is that if you’re an international you can go wherever you want in Ramallah. You’re VIP royalty. Ignore your college buddies in West Jerusalem who say you’ll get stabbed or whatever. Look around you at Sangria’s or Orjwan and tell me this is the development trajectory the refugees in Balata are happy with.

After all, the truth of the matter is that because of this kind of New York Times write up, Palestinians can hardly afford rent in Ramallah nowadays. Foreigners with a 5k per month job here think $500 per month for an apartment is a real steal, but this is practically impossible for most people. Great amenities, All within walking distance of a refugee camp.  Jobs and apartments are offered to “Internationals only”. I wonder if any of these internationals driving BMWs around Ramallah have ever read Wretched of the Earth, if they realize they’re just a new class of missionaries selling beautification to a place that still has to pay with shekels.

Sorry, there I go being a Debbie Downer again. These guys just want to have a fun time and here I go raining on their parade. Who am I to tell Palestinians how to live or what kind of businesses to run? Unlike Thomas Friedman who comes in the dead of night to meet with the top crooks in the PA or BBC reporters at Snobar, I’ve talked to Palestinians who don’t particularly care for this cosmopolitan vibe emerging in Ramallah. It ends up drawing newspaper ink away from the issues that Palestinians really care about: land, justice, and peace. Pushing all the international money and offices and values into Ramallah makes people pretty suspicious that they’ll never see a capitol in Jerusalem. Plus, the importation of westerners imports western tastes, something Palestinians aren’t all particularly happy about. After all, a culture of removal from reality like one in the West results in overwhelming political apathy, like we have in the West.

Like a Palestinian told me, “these Palestinians, how are they fighting for their land?” Sure, we can write travel pieces about clubs, pizza, and women, but the New York Times has forgotten to examine other new cultural values being imported into Ramallah like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Mothers tearfully wring their hands when their boys say they want to move to Ramallah, and with good reason. Ramallah is the tube being shoved down the throat of the Palestinians, funneling Western tastes and interests into their stomachs. Ramallah would be what some experts on colonization would call a “port city”, creating a safe haven for foreigners and fostering an elite Palestinian class that will be much more inspired to guard their comfortable lifestyles than support a popular resistance movement that may result in undue hardship from the Israelis. After all, isn’t the globalization mantra “why do it yourself when you can pay someone to do it for you for less money”?

Movie Review: Budrus

Budrus (2009, Julie Bacha) is a film about the village of Budrus and its struggle against the apartheid wall cutting through 300 acres of its land. The film follows three people, a Fatah member, a Hamas member, and a young woman who is the daughter of the Fatah member. The viewer explores the unique situation of Budrus, how it was the first village to exercise inclusive non-violent protests against the confiscation of land. It shows the brutality of the IOF perfectly as the filmmaker captures IOF soldiers beating the fellaheen with sticks and shooting at them with live ammunition. The film emphasized the people of the village and their bravery admirably, however, there were a few criticisms I must mention.

In Budrus, the filmmaker uses the rather neutral term “barrier” when referring to the wall. In addition, by the end of the film one is unclear if the filmmaker is for or against the wall, as it seems by the end that the villagers have earned a victory by forcing the Israelis to build closer to the green line (1967 borders). I think the film would have been better if it had taken a stronger stand against the wall. However, seeing as the film also took great lengths to illustrate the bravery of the Israeli leftists who joined the protests and saught to humanize one of the soldiers who was captured on film beating Palestinians, I suppose there must be a desire to reach a broad audience. Unfortunately, when one seeks to capture a broad audience they fail to accurately portray the truth, the truth being that the wall is a disgusting blight on humanity and will hopefully be seen one day in the same light (popularly) as the Berlin Wall.

I watched this movie at the Ramallah Cultural Palace with a 50/50 mix of Palestinians and foreigners. Queen Noor of Jordan was also in attendance, and it seemed many were more keen on getting a photo of her than sticking around for the question and answer session afterward. Although the main characters and filmmaker were present on stage after the showing, the woman MCing the event had to appeal to the audience to  stay for Q&A instead of rushing out to watch the World Cup match. Indeed, nobody stayed. There were only a handful left seated for the Q&A and the rest rushed off to chatter excitedly about the match while hustling to one of the Ramallah clubs to watch.

“Come on, guys! This is more important than a football match!” she pleaded.

The foreigners and Palestinians begged to differ.

Americana 2010

This morning I woke up to my second Fourth of July in Nablus. Last night I’d jerked awake to the sound of dogs barking and a smattering of sharp sounds. I recalled, tense in my bed, the first night I slept in Nablus last year to wake up to dogs barking, gunfire, and sound grenades. Fajr came on just as the racket stopped and lulled me back to sleep.

So this morning I thought a lot about my last time here and how my feelings changed about America since I last posted on the Fourth of July. I knew going back to America would be hard when I boarded the plane last time, but I hadn’t any idea how difficult it would actually be. I felt a lot less shy about airing my feelings and opinions in public and the response was sharp and dismissive in return. I stopped being able to stomach a lot of the activities and social events I used to enjoy and the response was a lot more loneliness and isolation. My first outing back, people would drunkenly ask me how Pakistan was, or wasn’t I in Germany or something? What’s a Palestinian? Going out and seeing my fellow citizens get in on in the clubs instilled great feelings of loathing and pain in me as I could still see the kids in the villages and the damaged buildings, the sallowness of a corpse’s face when I closed my eyes.

I watched when Nablus came under direct attack in December of 2009 and two men were murdered in their beds. The television showed the streets I’d walked every day in Nablus with tanks and kids and stones. “I’d hate to be there, those terrorists would chop my head right off!” a woman said next to me. American taxpayer commentary. Your ignorance and racism paid for those tanks, those bullets, that wall, those bodies. It keeps the wheels turning.

I don’t want to make it seem like nobody cared or listened to me when I got home, but a lot of people I expected to didn’t. Not my problem, not your problem, so let’s get over it. Get back to whatever. And now even as millions of gallons of oil stains my backyard a dead black people still don’t care. A nation of sleeping fat babies.  I only wish that our high-flautin ideals we brag about on t-shirts – freedom, liberty, self-determination, independence – were still ideals we were willing to fight and die for. I took them so seriously as a child, sitting at my grandpa’s knee and listening to him explain the great responsibility of being an American. Now, at 25, I get the feeling I wasn’t supposed to take it all so seriously. Perhaps for the majority it’s easier to just accept living life one day at a time instead of focusing on all the evil done in our name. Maybe it’s too much to bear. Maybe we just don’t know. I’d like to dedicate the rest of my life to trying to inform others, but it’s hard when people seem so disinterested in listening.

I’m not afraid to say I don’t feel any sense of celebration on the Fourth of July anymore. When I think about what this nation was founded upon and what it eats for dinner and how it makes a living, I feel sick to my stomach. Today’s the day everyone wants to hear it the least, but it’s also the day I feel it’s most important to reaffirm my position and my ideals. I’d like to assert I feel the same way everyone should about things like liberty and freedom and justice, I just don’t feel like being an American and celebrating America’s continued existence (234 years of the same old game) represents those anymore.