Saturday, December 22, 2018

The History of Hey Joe



Over at Financial Times, writer Ian Gittins wrote an awesome history of the classic rock song "Hey Joe". Made famous by Jimi Hendrix, "Hey Joe" was actually sung by a few bands prior to Jimi making it his own.

After Jimi, a few more bands tried to rock "Hey Joe", but they paled in comparison to Jimi's version.

Check out the history of "Hey Joe" here:

Hey Joe — a song with murky origins gave rise to one of the great cover versions

And another great history of the song by Noel Murray at AV/Music:

“Hey Joe” didn’t start or end with Jimi Hendrix - 7/14/2015

Sunday, December 16, 2018

No Grassroots in the Desert



For most of 2018 I lived in Doha, Qatar. Life in Doha was an amazing experience, full of cultural and culinary exploration. Doha is a beautiful city and a melting pot of various cultures and people.

But something was missing. Despite the beautiful skyline, expansive malls, and elaborate museums, sometimes Doha seemed fake, manufactured, and prefabricated, especially in entertainment. In my 9 months there, I only twice saw signs of an underground scene. I don't mean a subway, metro, or tube - Doha is building an extensive underground metro that will connect the city and possibly reduce traffic. What I am talking about is local entertainment. Especially entertainment that takes a stand and talks about struggle.

Like most Arabic cultures, Doha imports a lot of entertainment. There are DJs, dance clubs, and top 40 radio stations. International performers are brought in for concerts and performances.

EDM doesn't talk about the struggle. Top 40 rarely talks about the struggle - often quite the opposite. Very few English-speaking songs played in Qatar talk about the plight of the working class, although I was surprised one morning when the English Qatar National Radio played Dolly Parton's "9 to 5", a song about a woman's grind in the labor force that contains lyrics such as "It's a rich man's game / No matter what they call it / And you spend your life / Putting money in his wallet."

The closest I found to underground, anti-establishment entertainment was a local comedy show where comics poked fun at Qatari culture and a local rock concert. Both of these occurred in international hotels, where non-Qataris can congregate and enjoy alcohol and other things forbidden under Sharia Law. Of the two events, the rock concert was the most counter-culture, especially when a group of Filipinos covered songs from Rage Against the Machine. I did not expect that at all and I wonder if their selection was noticed by management.

While popular Qatari entertainment avoids stories of the lower class, many laborers in Qatar live in squalor, in poor neglected ghettos where men are packed in until their multi-year labor contracts expire. Amnesty International and other watchdogs occasionally publish reports on the conditions of immigrant workers and are usually the only outlets that broadcast their stories.

I would be very curious to know how many of the immigrant workers in Qatar's Industrial Zones are musically inclined. I wonder how many have instruments. Are they singing about their plight? Are they composing rap songs or poetry describing their conditions? It will be interesting to hear if Qatar's new Asian-speaking radio stations play any songs of struggle.

Coming from America, I found the lack of struggle in popular entertainment in Qatar very odd. American music is often full of struggle, from folk to punk to blues to hip-hop. For the first 100 years of American commercial broadcast, the struggle sold. It was music people could identify with, as America is a land of overcoming odds, rolling sleeves up, and the pursuing happiness.

Singing about struggle is an American tradition. According to an article by the US Library of Congress, 19th century Chinese migrant workers who worked on the US railroad sang songs about their experiences. As well, African slave music in the US has been well documented and is the foundation of much of America's current popular music.

Perhaps Qatar doesn't want people to hear the plight of workers or the lower class. Perhaps the government - specifically the Cultural Ministry - only wants people to see a crown jewel of the Middle East. They want Qatar to shine. Perhaps the powers that be in Qatar are scared that if enough people hear songs about the lower class, they will grow apathetic to their plight, or there may even be social change. Monarchies don't like social change unless they can control it.

That's why there is no underground in the desert. Because the underground has the potential to rise, and when it does, it often conflicts with power.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Month 9 in Qatar - To New Beginnings




Dear All,

My apologies for being a few days late on this letter. It has been a very busy week. It has been the week I returned to the US after 9 months living in Doha, Qatar.

Before I summarize my adventure, here are the high points of my final month abroad:

It rained. A lot. A few weeks before I left, Doha had its biggest thunderstorm in years. Unfortunately, with rain rare in Qatar, drainage is minimal or non-existent in the buildings or roads.

Although for Florida, the rain would not be a big deal, for Qatar, the rain made a mess. Roads were completely impassable; debris from construction sites floated into intersections; and parking garages were flooded. The rain even made its way into my apartment, causing puddles in my living room and bedroom.

A few days after the great flood, I visited the Mall of Qatar. As I’ve mentioned before, Qatar is huge on mall culture. Their malls are cultural gathering centers and celebrations of commercialism. Bigger than many airports, the Mall of Qatar is the biggest mall of them all. It is extravagant. During my visit, I ate at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant because nothing screams local Qatari culture more than a Texas-themed chain restaurant.

The next weekend, I finally did sightseeing at The Pearl, Qatar’s giant man-made residential islands. Very little at The Pearl is genuinely Qatari. The buildings are made to look like European architecture to attract European residents. But the prices at The Pearl are so high only senior level personnel or the Qataris themselves can afford to live there. But the architecture and development is very impressive. Not my type of neighborhood, but impressive nonetheless. And the food is delicious.

During my final weeks, I met three international professional basketball players. They were American, new to Qatar, and preparing to play in the Qatari National Basketball League. While probably not good enough to play in the NBA, they were still fulfilling their dreams of playing professional basketball and seeing the world one basketball season at a time. How cool is that?

Concluding my final days in Qatar, I saw another symphony performance, this time at the Islamic Museum of Art. The museum oversees the city skyline, so as you can see in the link below, I was able to get some more great pictures.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/grFU2O0ku7jsJwOt2 

Then it was off to the airport for my return home. It was a long flight, but I watched several in-flight movies and was even able to get some sleep.

It is weird for me to say I headed “home” as I made Qatar my home for 9 months. But Florida is home, even if I don’t have my own place to rest my head at the moment. I am working on that.

Overall, this was an experience I will not soon forget. I did a lot in 9 months. I saw the sights (over 500 pictures!), ate awesome food, made great friends, and met many amazing people. Living overseas was something I had always wanted to do and I embraced the experience. Given the right opportunity, I would definitely do it again. But for now, I’m back. Time to see family and friends, find another job and another place to live, and enjoy the holidays.

Again, many thanks to everyone who followed along. Thanks for reading, replying, and staying in touch.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Awesome article about being a working comic



Several years ago, I tried my hand at stand-up comedy. I enjoyed it a lot, however life's instability got in the way. I had to go to Afghanistan, did a horrible set there, and have only been on stage a few times since.

I miss doing comedy. Although I don't necessarily miss performing - which I was my weakest part - I miss the creative process. I miss the challenge of writing humor.

Hopefully one day, when I get settled again somewhere, I will pull out the comedy books, throw away the Jersey Shore jokes, and get back on stage.

In the meantime, I still enjoy reading about comedy. And recently I found an article that caught my eye and peaked my interest. Written by road comic Chad Zumock, Tales From a Road Comic is a list of tips and tricks to survive in an underpaid industry of 557 billion participants.

Zumock gives some great advice, and I don't want to be hack and steal his thunder. The link is in the above paragraph and if you are interested, you should give it a click.

If you don't want to, I will list the four most important points. Consider this the cliffnotes.
  1. Always follow up

  2. Send weekly avails

  3. Never get too comfortable

  4. Handling down time
Number 4 could also be called "Stay active". Which I thought described the section better.

The best advice Zumock gave was "Stay organized and focused", which I think is great advice for any endeavor.

All of Zumock's advice is also applicable for a job hunt, and being an unrepresented comic basically is a 24/7/365 job hunt. It is a hustle. You have to hustle.

Maybe that is the cause of my dilemma. When I started comedy I had a stable job. In the last few years, however, my career has taken me across the world, back to school, bouncing in and out of hotels, and floating through spare bedrooms. Finding a steady job has been my hustle. I don't have time for another hustle right now. And besides, the stress of finding a new job kills my creative process. It is tough to write funny when I know I should be on LinkedIn or a job hunting website.

Maybe I should say screw the 9-5 and push my chips to the middle of the table and take a chance at being a road comic. I've already got the hustle down.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Month 8 in Qatar – Michael is Coming



Hurricane Michael is trying to steal my thunder.

For all my friends in the Florida Panhandle, stay safe. I will visit Tallahassee soon and I promise the next Michael arrival will be a lot less stressful.

It is hard to believe, but I will be returning to the US in less than 30 days. In less than 4 weeks, my time here in Qatar will be done and I will trying to reset my life wherever I find my next job. Which yes, I still haven’t found.

In a recent phone call, my mother asked if I am excited to go home. Of course, I had to tell my mother I am excited to see her after nine months – and I am – but in reality, that’s tough to answer. I am excited to see friends and family again, absolutely. But when I get back, it is back to instability. It is back to not knowing where I am going to be living and where I am going to make money. Those are both important and I don’t have either figured out yet.

Here I have both a place to live and a job – although my company is sending my replacement out here and when she arrives, it is no longer my job to do and without a job the company won’t pay for me to live in an apartment they are paying for. My company likes to say I am being “rotated”, but without a job to “rotate” back to, I like to say I am being “replaced”.

(Sorry if this letter is a bit depressing. I will get to the cool stuff, I promise!)

But I will figure out my next step soon. I’ve been known to land on my feet, even if it takes a while. And I should have a few weeks of vacation pay coming, so I will be fine. With no bills and no rent/mortgage, it might be my best opportunity to drive around America for a few weeks. Maybe I can get back into stand-up comedy and appear in a night club near you.

When I get back, I have a lot of roads I can go, both figuratively and literally.

As far as what I have done this month, it has been slow. I’ve haven’t really gone out much, except to the movies. My big event of the month was to see American hip-hop artist Fat Joe in concert. He was the first American artist to perform in Qatar since I have been here. I am familiar with several of his songs so that was a very cool experience. Like being back home.

There are still a few places I have yet to go that I need to see in my final few weekends here - mostly landmarks. Perhaps I will find another exotic restaurant. Or maybe, as the weather is beginning to cool a bit (topping at 95 degrees!), there will be food or art festivals to go to. I definitely want to end with a good time, even if I have a lot of planning to do over the next 30 days.

But anyway, I am looking forward to being back in the states. Qatar has been an amazing experience. To quote the movie Joe Dirt, “I’ve met some cool people, had some good times, cranked some tunes”. And since I write these after the month milestone is reached, my next letter will be written from the good ol’ USA.

Thanks for reading, following along, and in many cases, responding. It’s been fun.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What I learned downloading my Facebook information



Facebook is a super social net.

Facebook is a super irresponsible social net. And every so often it is a good idea to check what the biggest social media company in the world has on you.

Downloading your Facebook information is easy. You get all the facts you have inputted into Facebook since you opened the account. What you don't see is the mega-web of connections your presence has. But you can get a small scope by exploring your footprint and then realizing Facebook has data on everything you have interacted with as well as your facial information.

A few things about my Facebook activity:
  • I have been on Facebook since May 2009.

  • My birth year on Facebook is 1905.

  • I have been slowly removing old posts off Facebook since 2012.

  • I don't post many pictures.

  • I have had 400-500 friends for at least the last 5 years.

  • I had Facebook on my phone from 2010-2012. I have not had Facebook on my phone since. I log on via laptop and log off, just as I would an email platform such as gmail.

  • I have an Instagram account that is not linked to my Facebook account. I use two different names, two different email addresses, and Instagram is only my phone.
So here is what I learned by downloading all my Facebook information on Sept 29, 2018:
  • I posted pics on a few pages I don't follow anymore. A good time to delete those. No need for my face to be in places where I don't visit.

  • It is weird to see I requested to be friends with someone in 2014 who I have no idea who they are in 2018.

  • Facebook claims I have interacted with 10 ads in the last 2 months - all on Instagram. However, when I click Facebook's ad preferences webpage, no interactions are shown. Sneaky Facebook. Very sneaky. How are they linking the accounts? My guess is facial recognition.

  • Advertisers running ads on Facebook that have my email address are 99% US automotive dealerships. Hundreds of them. Surely my email went into a marketing network somewhere. Not sure how they received my email address, but that is interesting.

  • Facebook thinks I have clicked on a lot of ads. I never click ads.

  • Facebook thinks I am into Parenting and Children. Probably because of my age and the social status of my friend connections.

  • I hadn't cleared my Search bar since 2016. I might want to do that more frequently.

  • I have removed 247 friends off my friends list since 2009. My high year for removing "friends" was 2011, when I removed 53 people from my friends list.

  • Doesn't the fact that Facebook can tell me who I removed from my friends list in 2010 mean they still consider us a connection? Just because I am not "connected" in view, doesn't mean the database doesn't still see the relationship.

  • Although my friends list says 451, Facebook says I have added 435 friends.

  • These lists do not include people who have removed me from their friends list. Those people do not show on the added nor the removed list.
I made this chart from my friend list data.

Friends chart


I was actually quite surprised to see 2016 so high. From the data and looking at the names I removed, this was probably not due to politics at all. It seems I cleaned out my friends list early in 2016 and removed people I didn't interact with.

My goal is to eventually clear all but a year's worth of posts off Facebook. I'd like to keep the posts, but maybe copy them on to my blog, or maybe into a pdf file, and maybe even print them out into a diary type book. It will be a long effort, but I think it would be worth it. As a writer, it is inevitable that I will continue to create and interact, but with privacy concerns at all-time high, my words are better off with me than with Facebook.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

7 Months in Qatar – The Autumn of my Journey



We are now in September, my 7th month of nine in Qatar is complete. It is starting to cool down here. The weather has dropped from 100 degrees at night to only 95. Despite the respite from the heat, a stifling humidity has moved in. For my Florida family and friends, the weather at night here feels like summertime Florida at 3pm, but without the rain.

Thank goodness for air conditioning.

Jobwise, things have picked up. I am working on some great projects that will lead me until my departure. There is increased focus on my work recently and that’s a good thing. Interestingly enough, the same projects I am doing here are very similar in structure to those I have done in non-defense jobs. Creating presentations and briefing insights to executives is the same whether they are in suits or uniforms.

But yet, as I mentioned in previous emails, once I return to the states, there is no job on this assignment. As I told my team lead, it is like the training wheels are off and I am being told to get off the bicycle.

As for my next move, I am still not sure. I am looking at many options. Some in Florida – where my stuff is in storage – and some not. I would prefer Florida, especially Tampa, but I am open to great opportunities if they present themselves. I would like to spend the holidays near family and friends first.

Outside of work, this has been a fun month. First and foremost, I attended the Qatar Comedy Festival starring Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias. If you have never seen Fluffy, he is hilarious and highly recommended. He and two other comics put on a great show. I was curious how political or vice (sex, drugs, alcohol, etc) the comedy would be. There was a bit, (Fluffy talked about smoking weed with Snoop Dogg), but overall it was a very clean show. Which was not surprising as these entertainment shows are put on by the very conservative Qatari government.

I also think it is interesting that when they want to be entertained, Qatar brings in internationally recognized talent. There is very little local Qatari comedy. There was a local show I went to a few months ago, and there was a show recently that I missed, but the local scenes for popular culture arts are rare. I am not sure the cause of that – perhaps because it is easier to pay for entertainment (adds to the appearance of status), or because it is easier to control the voices if they are imported and paid handsomely.

Along the same lines, I also visited the Modern Arabic Art Museum. This museum is near the universities in the education district. The Modern Art museum is very different from the Islamic Museum I visited a few months ago. As a friend pointed out, “Islamic art is decorative, Arab art is about the society”. From my visit to the museum, I think that is very true. There was art about society, about revolution, about suffering, about growth, and about how modernity has merged with traditional cultures.

Of course I took dozens of pictures. Half the fun of visiting museums is taking cool pictures.

Here is the link to all my Qatar pictures. Again, please start from the bottom as there are over 400 total.

CLICK HERE FOR PICS

Hopefully, this coming month the weather should be a bit cooler. I’ve heard in September and October is when the festivals and social events start happening again in the city. I also want to make a drive to the fishing towns outside of the city before November.

But that’s all for Month 7. Thanks for reading and I hope to see many of you in a few months.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Remembering the Great Star Wars Drought



Finally taking a moment to write about one of the best Star Wars articles I have ever read: FiveThirtyEight's 2016 "Star Wars Killed a Universe to Save a Galaxy" and to comment on the above chart.

See that depression from 1987 to 1993? I remember that well. It was a dark time for Star Wars fans.

I was born the year Star Wars hit theaters - the far left of the above chart. It was just "Star Wars" back then - no one called it "A New Hope". Hope wasn't the word, phenomenon was. Star Wars was the biggest phenomenon on the planet, smashing cinema records across the globe.

By the early 1980s, I was growing up in a Star Wars world. The Empire Strikes Back was one of the first movies I saw in the theater. I don't remember it, but it set off a cascade of Star Wars commercialism and fandom. Within the next few years, I had action figures, space ships, magazines, patches, shirts, bed sheets, lunchboxes, place mats, plates,  cups, birthday cakes, desk lamps, books, LPs, cassettes, breakfast cereal, Halloween costumes, and dozens of the old Marvel Star Wars comic books.

I saw Return of the Jedi opening day. I had The Ewok Adventure and Battle for Endor on VHS, and watched the Droids and Ewoks cartoons.

Although I had some GI Joe and some He-Man, I was all into Star Wars.

By the mid-1980s, however, Star Wars began to fade in popular culture. And in my suburban Long Island town, the New York Mets were the big thing. They had Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and were World Series champs. Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca took a back seat to playing pick up baseball and following the Mets. The Mets were cool and Star Wars was old news.

When I moved to Florida in 1987, I bonded with kids over baseball. No one liked Star Wars. Star Wars was yesterday's movies, a trilogy that had run its course in pop culture. It was during this time that I put my fandom in carbonite.

A few years ago, I wrote about how deep froze my fandom was for over 10 years.
All through junior high, high school, and my four years in the military I suppressed my Star Wars fandom for what could only be called “the sake of fitting in”. Like most people who struggle with social acceptance in junior high and high school, I definitely didn’t want to be an outcast. In the military, with it’s alpha-male heirarchy, sci-movie geekdom is not looked highly upon – although I did hang with some folks who were fans and we did wait in line for three hours to see Episode 1 the night it opened.
Junior High to my military days were 1993 to 2000. After I bought the Timothy Zahn novels and the Dark Empire and Old Republic comics, played X-Wing, Tie Fighter, and Dark Forces on the PC, and had other toys and media.

But the Star Wars drought (1987-1993) was at a weird time for me. A time when social circle mattered, when sports and girls took precedence, and despite a few books and a few video games, there really wasn't much out there to invigorate my fandom.

It was a dark time for the Rebellion.

This is one of my "in my day, we trudged the ridges of Hoth barefoot, uphill both ways" stories. I am glad Star Wars is so tremendously huge these days. I am glad the galaxy is so big, so many people can find their niche and create more stories. I am glad I can share my fandom with the next (and even next after that) generation.

I will be very curious to see if Star Wars ever goes through another 10 year drought. I seriously doubt so, at least during my lifetime. Star Wars is now in company with older mythology in universe creation. Star Wars my be owned by Disney, but it is bigger than Disney. It may even be bigger than Greek or Roman myths in regards to popularity. There may be times when people dust off the Original Trilogy because they haven't watched the Skywalker story in decades. There may be a time when the Skywalker Saga is just one of many different chapters in a grand epic collective story of a galaxy far, far, away.

And when human civilization dies off, and real aliens discover Earth, and uncover our myths and legends, I wonder what they will think of our imaginations.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

6 Months in Qatar – The Adventure Continues a little bit longer



As many of you know, when I took this job and originally planned this trip, it was supposed to be for 6 months. As I have mentioned in previous posts, circumstances out of my control changed. When the position they said would be in Tampa disappeared, I began considering staying in Qatar a little longer. Not quite a year, but a bit more than 6 months.

That extension has officially turned into November – nine months from my departure date. But home for the holidays and the end of college football season – one of which may be more important than the other.

This is a far different extension than my previous times working with the military. As I mentioned, I live in downtown Doha, a city of 3 million people. I visit museums, eat at new restaurants, see shows and events, and have new friends in the city. I am a temporary expat staying a little longer to save some money for my next career move.

I have 3 months to find a new job – either with my company or a new company. Time to update the resume and see what catches my eye. My goal is to either have something secured or close to secured by the time I leave Qatar. Long distance interviews may be tough, but that’s what Skype is for.

But enough of what I need to do to pay the bills, here is what I have been up to over the last month:

In late July, I visited the Katara Art District. Qatar has a lavish, well-built art district with an opera house, theater, art exhibits, and an amphitheater. And it is on the coast of the city. I spent an entire afternoon there taking pictures.

The next week, I returned to the Islamic Museum of Art I visited a few months ago. At that time, a sandstorm was covering the city. This time I was able to get a few outside pictures. It too is on the water, leading to some very scenic shots.

Here is the link to all my pictures. As usual, start at the bottom. There are now over 300 pictures from my trip.

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES

Last but not least, I started driving. I received my license last month and have been taking to the roads. Once you get the hang of it, aggressive driving isn’t really intimidating. You just have to act fast.

Although I didn’t sightsee much this month – I have a few plans upcoming – I did see something that absolutely made my month: I found real Florida Orange Juice in a grocery store. Global imports are a great thing. Qatari orange juice is ok, but it is not Florida Orange Juice. I was so excited, I bought two bottles. And I will definitely be back for more of a taste of home.

Well, that wraps up another month in Qatar. As the old school hip hop song said, I’ll be gone till November. Meanwhile, the hot months are almost over and soon events will be happening in Qatar again. And I will keep writing.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

5 Months in Qatar: The Adventure Continues



Greetings,

I am now in month number five. By the original plan of January to June, I would have been home by now. By the first adjusted plan of February to August, I would have less than a month left. Now I am looking at October 1st. Or maybe home for the holidays.

There are a few things I am missing back home. Particularly family and friends. But life is good here.

In my last letter, I wrote about Ramadan. Ramadan ended in mid-June, and immediately after, the World Cup began. I’m not the biggest soccer fan, but watching the World Cup among an international audience is awesome. It is great to see people from different countries cheer on their country. And soccer is so global, everyone knows the teams and players.

That said, Qatar is hosting the World Cup in 2022. Qatar is way too small of a country and if traffic is bad now, it will be downright immobile with thousands of soccer tourists.

Speaking of driving, I recently got my Qatari driver’s license. I am now eligible to partake in the chaos.

Of course, my travels also continued this month. I visited the Qatar National Library. It is part library and part literature and culture museum. I was very impressed.

Pictures of the library and all my other photos are here. PLEASE start at the bottom.

Finally, I want to share a link with all of you about living in Qatar. This is a really good article about the different sides of Qatar. My experience is a little different as I work on a military base and live in a working middle class international neighborhood, but I see the class division and the social privilege of the rich and powerful. Behind the beautiful buildings and shiny veneer is the Qatar they don’t put in the travel brochures.

The Moral Conflict of Living and Working in Qatar

I might write more about that someday when I get home. Whenever that may be.

Anyway, again thank you for reading.

Take care. Until next month.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Current Reading of Man, The State, and War by Kenneth Waltz



(As previously published on my Medium.com page.)

As a former International Affairs scholar, I accumulated a lot of political theory books. Some I've read, some I hope to, and some I may never get to. But they look good on my bookshelves.

One of the books I have always been interested in reading and recently finished is Man, The State, and War by Kenneth Waltz. Waltz was a giant in International Affairs according to his obituary in the New York Times and Man, The State, and War was his first major work. What started as his doctoral dissertation became one of the premier books for explaining how nation states interact with each other.

According to the price tag on the used copy I have, I either bought it for $1 or I acquired it from the shelves of my mother’s since closed used book store. Or maybe I bought it from her for a dollar.

Unlike other art, we don’t price books based on their relevance to society. $1 for a book that helped form an entire line of modern political thought. Although some who oppose the multi-national approach the world has taken in the last 60 years may feel $1 or even less is appropriate.

That’s my goal here: to publish my thoughts on Man, The State, and War and look at Waltz through the spectrum of what is currently happening internationally in 2018.

First and foremost, Man, The State, and War is a look at individuals, intra-national, and international relations. For Waltz, “structured realism” rules when it comes to international affairs. Waltz writes that nation states are the top negotiator of power at the international level.

That is true if one only looks at wars between nations. One nation’s military power versus another nation’s military power.

But that perspective is simplistic on a few levels.
  1. Nations engage in military operations versus powerful international organizations quite often. Al Qaeda, violent extremist organizations, or even crime syndicates have a say in the defense and security of nations. In many cases, these supranational organizations have has much capabilities as nations. But while they operate on a low-cost, high-impact strategy, for Waltz, you have to pay the high-cost to be the boss.

  2. Militarily isn’t the only way nations engage. Although Waltz writes a bit on trade and tariffs, the book’s focus is on war, but doesn’t mention any of the other platforms of conflict.

  3. Since the book was written, international arbiters have grown. NATO, the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, and a list of trade blocs have worked to mitigate conflict between nations. Waltz even gets into the benefits of a European bloc before the European Union was formed.
Nation versus nation — the realist perspective — is important and valuable in the same way Clausewitz’s “total war” is important: as an easy-to-digest default setting. Once you understand checkers, you can move to chess. Once you understand chess, you can move to three dimensional, four dimensional, or multi-dimensional chess.

Of course, Man, The State, and War is a product of its time. Although Waltz’s research is deep, it is primarily focused on Western nations or the Soviet Union, as those were the main blocs of power immediately following World War II. He writes little of Asian or Middle Eastern relations. Is their perspective on individual, interstate, or intrastate relationships the same?

Without understanding different cultures, values, and individuals and the philosophical underpinnings of their relationships with their states, it is difficult to understand how they will interact internationally. If nations are a reflection of the human condition, what if the human condition is different in different regions? Not every region shares the same value set.

(Here we won’t get into tribalism tearing the fabric of states apart. But I will say our state-creating individual agreements are getting weaker.)

Waltz concludes with the idea that international organizations are very important, as they minimize the chaos of self-interested nations acting as humans in chaos would. They create a bargaining mechanism to reduce conflict.

While we had decades of building these international systems following World War II, they have been under attack in the last few years. What would Waltz have thought of the pushback of MAGA-based nationalism, which is an extension of Brexit-based “go it alone bilateralism”? I would love to see an educated debate by people on both sides: modern nationalism versus classic international philosophy, which attempts to minimize Hobbesian chaos-led conflict.

On one hand, I am far from a financial expert or an economist, but isn’t the goal to minimize risk in the long term? These modern social movements may actually increase risk of conflict. Perhaps the economic structure has effectively detached itself from the social structure and from their perspective, bilateralism is not a bad idea. Social ideals will sort themselves out. Just vote for the person who makes the best economic sense.

I am not sure Waltz would agree.

On the other hand, Waltz describes collaborative mechanisms as a way to temper the aspirations of nations, as states and agreed upon laws temper the aspirations of man. What happens when other nations are free riders in an alliance? What if a nation wants to redraw from an international organization not because it wants to conquer its neighbors, but because it is tired of paying for the bad decisions of the neighbors it once agreed to work with?

Do the nations rewrite the agreements or does the international structure break apart? Is war a necessary cleansing agent for ill-performing international agreements?

Perhaps chaos is the default and man’s occasional pauses of peace and agreements are socio-economic experiments he has to keep working out until he finds a model that accounts for all aspects of human and state behavior — from overly aggressive to overly lazy.

Maybe we are at the cusp of another inflection point.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Three months and counting in Qatar



Greetings,

I am entering my fourth month here in Qatar, which means I just concluded my third month, which should be halfway. Maybe. More on that later.

Month three was good. Work has picked up and I am working with a new team of military folks. One of the exciting things about these kind of jobs as a civilian working with the military is due to their orders, the military personnel don't stay very long. Or I will be on a different arrival/departure schedule as the military personnel. So I work with two or more completely different teams of people. There is a great reason why military people are so good at handling change. It happens very often.

So we are busy and things are good in the workplace. And outside of work, I have been out and about in Doha again this month.
  • I joined a boat ride in the gulf to do some rafting and swimming. It was the saltiest water I have ever accidentally tasted.

  • I went to a going away party at an upscale Qatari nightclub on the water.

  • I did some sightseeing downtown and walked the 3 mile Corniche, a giant sidewalk along the bay with a great view of the skyline.

  • I saw a stand-up comedy show. For those who remember, I did stand-up for a spell in Tampa. I even got on stage and performed in Afghanistan. That experience did not go well. Maybe I will give international comedy another try in Qatar.
As usual, my pictures for my trip are at this link - scroll to the bottom to see the latest:

QATAR PICTURES

Now for the not so great news. I might not be coming back to the US in August as I originally thought. (Actually, originally, this job was supposed to be from January to July, but it was delayed a month.) There is a possibility my job might need me out here until October. And there is a chance if I came back in August, I might not have a job back in the states, whereas a job might be there in October. Maybe. It is all unsure, but I am planning for October. So I am 35% through my trip, not yet 50%.

Pro-tip: If looking for stability, I would not recommend a career in government contracting. Uncertainty is the norm. And uncertainty does get old quick.

But while I am here, I am still going to enjoy myself, try new things, do a good job, and save money for a house and a new TV.

So that's what's new. Hope all is well where you are.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Qatari Two Month Milestone



So it has been two months already. Month two flew by. I am still in Qatar, still doing well. Still trying new things.

Work has been good. I am working with an Army team. My past military experience has been a great way to connect. I talk to the senior leaders about shared experiences in Bosnia, etc and have provided advice to a few young soldiers. It is a very different environment from my most recent jobs, but it's a good group.

Socially, I have ventured out a bit more in the last month. I did some things with the military folks, some things on my own, and some with new local friends.

  • Attended a performance from a symphony orchestra from Kazakhstan - a complete first as it was my first symphony orchestra and the first time seeing music from Kazakhstan.

  • Attended the Qatar International Food Festival and saw Chef Wolfgang Puck.

  • Rode the sand dunes of Qatar and spent the evening at a coastal beach camp. So much fun. Sort of like an airboat ride on sand.

  • Ate dinner at Gordon Ramsey's 5-star restaurant. The salmon was amazing and the desert was fantastic.

  • Saw a local rock band and had my first two overpriced beers of my trip.

  • Spent a day at Doha's main market (Souq Wakif).
As before, pictures from my trip can be found at the link here (Suggestion: the most recent pictures are on the bottom, so start at the bottom and scroll up if you have already seen some of these.)

https://photos.app.goo.gl/grFU2O0ku7jsJwOt2

And for anyone might have missed it, my sports business research was discussed in an article on USAToday.com on the Tampa Bay Rays. I stopped writing about sports since I left, but that was a surprise I was not expecting.

https://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/02/tampa-bay-rays-lightning-attendance-average-relocation-firesale-mlb

Two months in, this is still a great experience. There is so much more I have yet to do and see. And I have four months left.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A White Middle Class Dude's Take on Joyner Lucas's "I'm Not Racist"

A few months ago, rapper Joyner Lucas dropped a video for his song "I'm Not Racist". The video was a viral sensation, stimulating discussion in hip-hop circles and in the mainstream, to include CNN.

If you haven't seen it, here:



It is definitely a provoking video, touching many third rails. It should make you think. I've been thinking abut it for a while, and am finally writing about it now.

As provoking as it is, in many hip-hop circles, many thought Joyner Lucas didn't express the black side hard enough. On the blog VerySmartBrothas, writer Damon Young wrote that because American racism was originally a white invention, there should be no video. Young writes that white people should just stop using race as a way to divide.
The only conversation that can do that is white people talking to other white people to try to find a way to be less awful to black people

That makes sense if you understand that the entire global capitalist system we live in is a white culture invention. For centuries, global leaders were white and did things in the interests of their more powerful kingdoms and countries. Leaders of non-white countries weren't even part of the conversation.

Along with Damon Young, other rappers wrote their own verses for Joyner Lucas's black man, expressing what they though he should have said. Rapper Mysonne's was perhaps the most viewed and impressive.



Mysonne has some strong points here, although I think they are less effective to the white audience he is trying to talk to.

There is no way for me to speak for all white people here. I can't do it. I won't do it. But what I can do is describe how I feel about the issues based on my background and influences and attempt to describe some of the people around me and why they feel the way they do. And then conclude with why I think Joyner Lucas's spoonfed approach is better than Mysonne's hammer.

I embraced hip-hop in the early 1990s. Hip-hop was growing, it was fresh, it was different. It was also thought provoking. I was feeling stagnated in my predominantly white Florida suburb and knew it wasn't the place for me. My town was great for families and some of my friends, but I didn't see a future there. I listened repeatedly to songs about getting out of the ghetto like my white suburban town was my personal ghetto.

Right after high school, I joined the military. That adventure led me to college, then to city life,
and then to a job that required world travel. My career path has forced me to open my mind academically and socially. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Unfortunately, not all my white friends and family have had those experiences. Some stick to the rivers and the lakes they are used to.

A few years ago for example, I had a white friend drunkenly say "I wish I was black for a day, just to see what it's like."

Even though I had been drinking as well, that statement sobered me up and stopped me in my tracks. Cold. I wasn't about to get into a deep philosophical discussion with her about why what she said was the most white privilege thing she could ever say or why it was horribly ignorant. After a day's worth of drinking, nothing good could have happened from that. So I let it be. But years later, it still bothers me.

I don't wish to be any of my friends. Be they black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, man, woman, tall, or small. I might wonder what it's like to have a wife, a minivan, and a house full of children, but that's a lifestyle, not a born condition.

Back in the wonderfully innocent 1980s, there was a movie entitled "Soul Man" starring C. Thomas Howell. In the movie, Howell's character dyes his skin and he acts "black" in order to win a scholarship to Harvard. Although the movie is full of awkward hijinks and social commentary, the most powerful part is at the finale when Howell's character has a conversation with James Earl Jones' character about the black experience.

"I don't really know what it feels like, sir. If I didn't like it, I could always get out."



The closest I ever came to experiencing systematic discrimination was while I was in Afghanistan. Work culture on military bases in Afghanistan is very hierarchical. US Military personnel are on top, foreign military personnel are second, followed by US contractors, then foreign contractors. As a US contractor, I couldn't take the US military bus around the base, I couldn't use the better military doctors unless there was a life-threatening injury, and I couldn't eat at the dining facility at the same time. All because of my label.

I didn't like that very much. I didn't have the freedom to eat when I wanted or see the doctor I wanted. I had to use the facility that was for "my people". Perhaps it was "separate but equal", but the separation was not something I was used to.

Fortunately, when my time in Afghanistan was over, like C. Thomas Howell's Soul Man, I could return to my white American comfort zone.

Also in Afghanistan, I would often speak with one of our translators, a young member of the Hazara tribe of Afghanistan. The Hazaras are among the most persecuted people in Afghanistan. Both ethnic Pashtuns and the Taliban targeted the Hazaras and attempted to "ethnically cleanse" the group.

During one conversation, my translator friend told me one of the most eye-opening things I have ever heard. He said the election of President Obama in 2008 gave hope to the Hazara people. According to him, the Hazara felt that if a black man could become President of the United States, then perhaps one day a Hazara could become president of Afghanistan.

That is the type of social advancement and trailblazing America should be doing. We should be empowering not only our own people, but we should be an inspiration for the discriminated and downtrodden around the globe. America should be the land of opportunity, where your potential is determined by your input, not where you were born, the color of your skin, your religion, or the school system you are near.

Of course, a country as wide and diverse as America will always have different points of view. We will never be unified in thought. Some of us prefer a day on the farm and some prefer a day at the beach. Some want to live a life of quiet solitude and others want to be knee-deep in the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. What we do for fun and what media we consume typically aligns with that lifestyle.

And that brings me back to Joyner Lucas and his video. For those who are comfortable in our society, media that expresses views that society is not acceptable for everyone is upsetting. It is easier for those who are comfortable to listen to music that celebrates their comfort status. That's what country music does. It celebrates the present - the small town, the pretty girl, the pick-up truck, and the complacent country lifestyle. Country music is very conservative. It does not aspire for progress.

That's why many white people like it so much.

Counter-culture music requires upsetting thought. Be it punk, hip-hop, metal, or folk music. Counter-culture requires unpacking and seeing things from other perspectives. Not every white American wants to be challenged to do that. Hence sometimes media that slowly opens up conversation is a better way to inspire change, kinda like hiding a pill in ice cream.

Joyner Lucas's song is safe and easy to digest. It takes elementary school social understanding. Mysonne's verse, while important, requires grad school level social understanding. A lot of white culture is not ready to have that conversation, no matter how many non-white people scream they need to.

Unfortunately, when scared, white people can retreat to their bubble. They can go back to listening to country music and hanging out in an all-white world. As a white person, let me tell you, it is easy to do. It is also lazy. White people should do better.

There are a lot of great things in America. But there is a lot our predominant culture still needs to work on. We need to keep moving forward and we need to understand each other. "Others" are not going away. If understanding them requires baby steps, then take baby steps. If that means jumping into deep philosophical literature, then do that.

But while you are here, listen to Joyner Lucas's "I'm Not Racist". Understand his point of view. Listen to Mysonne's remix. Understand his contribution and point of view. If you need help, ask a friend. Have a conversation. It's easy if you try.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

One Month in Qatar – Settling In and Going Out



Try new things and be healthy.

That was the advice I gave my 10-year old nephew before I began my adventure to Qatar. I am always encouraging him to be more adventurous and more active.

After my first month in Qatar, I realized the same advice applies to me.

Unlike other times I have worked with the military, this is trip is less “deployment” and more “business trip”. I am living on the local economy and riding to the base every day for my daily shift. I shop at the local grocery stores, eat at the local restaurants, and peruse the local markets.

I do work. I work 50+ hours a week, 6 days a week, and have Sundays off. On Sunday, I try to explore – either sight-see or eat somewhere new. So far outside of my neighborhood, I have been to the main souq (market) and to The Pearl, a high-end residential and shopping district on a man-made island slightly off the coast of Qatar.

I am trying new things.

I am also trying to take a lot of pictures; you can find them here:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/grFU2O0ku7jsJwOt2

Recently, a friend mentioned that Doha sorta resembles Miami. I think that is a fair comparison. Both are large affluent coastal cities with splashy new buildings and a heavy ethnic influence.

While there are some similarities to places in the States, there are definitely some differences. First and foremost is the government. Qatar is governed by the al-Thani family. An image of the Emir is on almost every building and on bumper stickers, walls, and fences. His face is everywhere.

Another huge difference is driving. Thousands of cars in a small area with construction everywhere makes for very congested streets. Although hearing horns, seeing people get cut off, and witnessing accidents are regular occurrence, I have yet to see any acts of road rage. No yelling, no middle fingers, no fights. It’s like they all understand offensive driving.

The third difference is the lack of alcohol. While there is alcohol allowed in Qatar, it is restricted to those with permits or to international hotel bars. Since I don’t have a permit nor have been to an international hotel, I haven’t had a drink in a month.

And that brings me to my other piece of advice: Be healthy.

My goal out here is to eat healthier (when not tasting local fare) and develop a regular gym schedule, something I struggle with in the States. I am down a few pounds already.

There are still a lot of things I have yet to do out here. I haven’t visited any of the museums or cultural areas, I haven't driven on the sand dunes, and I haven’t explored the City Center. But with settling in and getting out a bit, I am definitely calling the first month in Qatar a success.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Leaving for Qatar: A New Adventure Begins



Today I leave for six months in Qatar. Another overseas adventure. This adventure shouldn't be as stressful environmentally as my positions in Afghanistan or Bosnia, but it will still be six months away from family, friends, and home.

I've known about this trip for about two months. In early December 2017, I was hired for a new job. A job I didn't originally think I was going to take, even though I applied for it. But the offer was too good and as Al Pacino said in Godfather 3: "Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!"

I am doing government contract work again, supporting military operations headquartered in Tampa. This job has more responsibilities than my previous positions, will look really good on my resume, and should open doors for me in the future. Those are the biggest reasons I took the job (the higher pay and benefits are also a plus). As well, I hope to save some of my income over the next 6 months for a down payment on a house.

I've been to Qatar before. In 2009, I supported government operations for two months. It was a short trip, but I did get to see a bit of the surrounding areas. I visited the Islamic Museum of Art and several local shops. Qatar is a very western-friendly country and foreigners are treated well. Especially those working high end jobs.

Over the last few weeks, I have been learning about my new job. It has been weird returning to supporting government work. While training, I returned to a building on MacDill Air Force Base that I had not been in in 5 years. I saw people I hadn't seen in almost 7 years, including one of my first bosses. Most people who recognized me asked the same question: "Where have you been?"

"Well, after getting laid off twice in 2011, I went to Afghanistan for a year. Then went back to grad school for a master's degree in business. I was living by the University of South Florida and met some amazing people there. I got involved in my local FSU alumni organization and local Veterans groups. I was a researcher and case study writer for military courses on Syria and Iraq. And last but definitely not least, I worked in downtown Tampa at the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation."

Not the typical answer for someone with a background in national defense work. Then again, I haven't had a typical career.

And then I tell them I am leaving again.

Granted, six months is not long. It is, but it is not. It is not a whole sports season in any of the four major US sports. It is barely a semester and a half on the academic calendar.

But it is long enough to miss family and friends and home.

Over the last month, I have done my best to spend time with as many family and friends as possible. I couldn't see all of them, but as many as I could. I grabbed a beer, dinner, lunch, coffee, or just swung by their work to say hi. Six months isn't long, but it is a while to not have the capability to physically say hello.

I am lucky enough to count a lot of groups as family. There is of course my actual, biological family. They are important to me and I hope we can get the video chat up and running from Qatar soon.

Then there is my FSU family. Whether in Tampa or Tallahassee, FSU is always my second home. I met some of my best friends at FSU and those friends have become family. That won't change and we should get the video chat working there as well.

A big portion of my FSU family is my involvement with the Tampa Bay Seminole Club. Since I returned from Afghanistan, I have put in a lot of work for my local alumni organization, raising awareness, better connecting alumni, and creating opportunities for perspective students. I will miss being involved. (On the other hand, I should be back in time for our big block party.)

There are my many friends in Tampa's hip-hop community. Through a few articles and an ongoing project on Tampa's first hip-hop DJ, Tampa's hip-hop scene has given me much love and support. I'll definitely be rocking some Tampa hip-hop in Qatar. They don't know about that.

There is also my Tampa Veterans network. Also since my return from Afghanistan, I have met and worked with many Veterans looking to improve the lives and opportunities of fellow Veterans in the Tampa Bay area. The Veterans network in Tampa Bay is strong and growing, and it is awesome to be part of that.

Last but definitely not least, my pro wrestling family. Even though my brother is the veteran of the squared circle, the folks I have met in the pro wrestling community have been awesome. That was reaffirmed last weekend when I hung out with wXw Wrestling, run by wrestling's Anoa'i Family. The Anoa'is treat me as more than just the goofy guy with a 3-foot afro wig who heckles wrestlers, they treat me as a member of their large family. I'll definitely be keeping up with wXw and everyone there via Facebook and other social media.

Anyway, this is getting long and it is getting late. I have a flight to catch tomorrow.

As I did in Afghanistan, I will write again soon. Hopefully I'll attach some great pictures of my travels.

Let's stay in touch.

PS: To my comedy friends, I promise I will see you more often when I get back. I will start writing comedy again and I will get back on stage. Maybe this international trip will be the impetus for some interesting perspectives on life. Although the last time I was overseas, comedy didn't work out too well. I think I might still be suffering from a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stand-up disappointment).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Finding my bologna poem on the internet

I have been writing online since 2006. I've written serious things, comedy things, sports things, and some music things.

But the writing that appears in the oddest places has been my poem about eating a bologna sandwich that I wrote in 2009.

I found it on someone's DeviantArt page. They took my name off it and I filed a copyright claim.

I found it on a poetry website. The poetry teachers I took during my English degree would be proud.




I found it on a foreign language site detailing how to steal text from an image.





Here is the text translated.




I am not sure why someone would want to steal my bologna poem. Or where they got the image. Or what they intend on doing with the text of my bologna poem.

I guess my poetry skills are international.

Despite my career in serious government and business work, I will not stop being creative. It is important to me in order to keep the brain juices flowing. I have to don my silly afro wig and write weird poems about bologna. The cat is out of the bag and Pandora has opened her box.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Assumptions before The Last Jedi

(Total Star Wars post. You've been warned.)

I saw The Last Jedi a few weeks ago. Before I write any analysis on the movie, and there will be a lot, I wanted to finally write down my thoughts following The Force Awakens. Some of these happened, some didn't.

(Note: these were also written before Carrie Fisher died in December 2017.)

Episode VIII Pre-Thoughts

Rey's character progress was inevitable. Fans clamoring for her development would have their questions answered. She is the main protagonist. The strength of Episode 8 will rely on the development, storylines, and interactions of other characters.

  1. Kylo Ren needs to get stronger. Kylo's growth needs to be faster than Anakin's. He needs a need to be badder. He cannot be a weak antagonist.

  2. Who is in charge of the galaxy? We need a Coruscant scene. Maybe Leia addressing the Senate as Amidala did in the prequels.

  3. Finn needs a win. In Episode 7, Finn is a sidekick. He needs to lead or he becomes as relevant as Jar Jar Binks.

  4. Leia needs to be focus  against Kylo Ren. Mothers don't play a big role in the Star Wars saga. It is time to change that.

  5. Luke needs to fall. Unless the final battle is Luke versus Snoke - which might not be climatic unless Snoke wins - Luke needs to fall. Luke is too strong of a character. Luke is a legend. Unless Luke has amnesia, which is doubtful.

  6. Lando needs a cameo.

  7. Chewie needs retribution. His best friend was killed. A Kylo Ren versus Chewie confrontation would be very interesting.