Monday, February 28, 2011

Ah, the internet.

Artist Ahmad Sabbagh has his own take on Muammar Qaddafi's claim that he and Queen Elizabeth II are just two peas in a pod.

"To avoid complications, she never kept the same address. In conversation, she spoke just like a baroness." (incidentally, Queen was the first rock band whose music was permitted in Iran. Sometimes the world just hands it to you [and yes, I just put a link in a caption {and a set of brackets inside of parentheses}. What of it?], you know?)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A message from this blog.

Something's changed around here. According to the Google tracker, my traffic's gone up in recent weeks. In fact, it's gone up dramatically in the past few days. And since I mostly stare in dumb amusement at the map showing where my readers check in from, what I'm struck most by is how geographically dispersed this new readership is. I've got readers in Texas! China! Russia! Belgium! Egypt!

What can it all mean? Are you new readers interested in anecdotes about time spent in North Africa? Do you want to know what I think of labor disputes in Wisconsin? Perhaps you'd like to read one of my few attempts to act like an academic blog.

Oh, God. I hope you're not here to mock! I mean, what if you're reading this right now and snickering at my prose, guffawing at the reductive simplicity of my ideas, the lack of originality in my design? Maybe that's what it is! Perhaps you came here just to see how bad a blog I really am!

Or maybe...

Give me validation!
Maybe you like me. Maybe, right now, you like me. Maybe you really like me!

In any case, I'd love to hear your feedback.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The writing on the wall.

Traveling around Portugal and southern Spain this past summer was at times like wandering around an open-air live-in art gallery. In some areas, entire neighborhoods were covered in elaborate graffiti by world-renowned artists splashing color on Porto's urban decay or providing some sardonic commentary on the state of Sevillan culture.

Some of my favorite pieces, though, weren't really full pieces at all. Small stenciled messages on national monuments in Lisbon caught my eye throughout my time in the city. Some are especially resonant with the current state of events around the world.

“Nem todos que vão à guerra são soldados.”
 “Not all who go to war are soldiers.”
Castelo de São Jorge.

“A fome faz sair o lobo do mato.”
“Hunger brings the wolf out of the forest.”
Parliament building.

"A fome faz sair o lobo do mato."

This wall in Granada--apparently a giant notepad for anarchists--gets honorable mention for its rumination on revolutionary aesthetics.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Midwest, Middle East...Madison, Tripoli...whatever.

Gentle reader, to borrow a line from one Mos Def, we are alive in amazing times. 

By way of context, and for the benefit of our future selves carelessly clicking through blog archives whilst avoiding more productive work, it's important to consider what filled the news cycle during this penultimate week of February 2011.

Qaddafi will likely be deposed.
A few days ago, longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, in a defiant speech extolling his regime and condemning pro-democracy demonstrations in his oil-rich nation, claimed that anti-government protesters were high on hallucinogens. That's why they're protesting, as he continues to claim, and their actions are punishable by death.

To that end, he's imported foreign mercenaries to sniff out and kill anyone seemingly unsympathetic to his regime, while continuing to blame the ensuing chaos and violence on pro-democracy demonstrators. He's ordered airstrikes and heavy artillery turned on his own people, and has openly vowed to kill anyone who questions his rule. To date, some estimates have the death toll topping 1,000 (the lowest estimates exceed 300), homes have been ransacked, and rape and theft are rampant.

* * *

Walker might be impeached.
Stateside, in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has proposed to eliminate collective bargaining rights for union-protected public employees, prompting angry demonstrations even from his former supporters (like the police union) and sending the state into a political tailspin. Unions have gone so far as to agree to all of the governor's proposed fiscal concessions, and yet--under the aegis of balancing the budget--Walker has rejected their proposals and decided to resort to unabashed union-busting.

Some Midwestern authorities have gone so far as to suggest that force--even deadly force--be used to break up peaceful protests in Wisconsin, and Governor Walker himself was caught on tape (thinking he was talking to one of his patrons in the Koch clan) considering employing "troublemakers" to taint the demonstrations, but lamenting that it's just so darned risky. 

* * *

Is it clear yet why these two stories make for useful juxtaposition? Good, because into this shit-storm has now stepped the crown prince of foot-mouth himself, Rick "The Ick" Santorum, likening Wisconsin's union-represented public employees to addicts "acting like their drug is being taken away from them."
Santorum will remain a choad.
See what he did there?

Never mind the idiotic insensitivity of such a statement and the cluelessness it reveals about both the issue at hand and the concerns of working Americans: how the hell does a career politician like this even make such phenomenal blunders? Does he not watch the news, does he not realize what he's aligned himself with rhetorically? Does he not understand the comparisons this invites, especially for someone as detestable as himself?

Maybe he doesn't. After all, the man has shown time and again that reality makes his brain hurt.

What makes my brain hurt is trying to understand how this guy is still considered a contender for the presidency. I mean, really, dear reader, if you're one of the five people I know to be following this blog, you're probably a pinko-commie-Nazi-homo-Muslim just like me, but appeal to your conservative friends and relatives and ask how such a thing is possible.

And if I do have any Republican readers, two things:

First, from me to you, as a person who disagrees with your ideology but respects your intelligence: how do people like Rick Santorum continue to loudly represent your party?

Second, from me to you, as a person largely dissatisfied with the Obama administration but who still considers it the least horrifying of all electable options for 2012: please nominate Rick Santorum for president. Please put all your support behind him, stick all the corporate-pandering and fear-mongering resources you can muster in his coffers, dedicate your party machinery to blasting his barbaric yawp over every roof and into every gutter as loudly as possible, give him Michelle Bachmann as a running mate, support their ticket with Sarah Palin rallies and Newt Gingrich interviews and Glen Beck chalkboard syllogisms...

I'm serious. Let Rick Santorum speak. The nation should hear what this dude has to say.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Good morning, revolution, or good evening, revolution"

I slept like a log in El Mahalla El Kubra. That's notable because I'm a light sleeper everywhere else and Mahalla's possibly the noisiest place I've ever visited. When we arrived at the apartment that first night it was 3:30 am and one of the neighbors was using a mechanical grinder downstairs. He ground metal until around 4:15 when somebody finally demanded that he stop. It bought the neighborhood a couple of hours of silence before the fajr adhan, when every imam in every mosque in the crowded and densely-mosqued neighborhood of Ghamorheya took up a microphone and sounded his call over the rooftops for early morning prayers.

Ghamorheya, El Mahalla El Kubra, Egypt. August 18, 2010.
But most could sleep through that. The tuk-tuks and their incessant Arabic pop music were another matter entirely, as were the taxis with their customized horns, and by the time the propane salesmen came out banging on tanks with wrenches to compete with the calls of fish and fruit mongers, well, the streets were awake.

But I slept through it all somehow, and did so every day until well into the afternoon despite blistering heat and stifling humidity. Maybe I was just exhausted, or maybe the constant barrage of noise wove itself into the perfect texture so that all was just background and nothing really disruptive could ever break through. Or maybe I was poisoned by the dirty air.

In any case, I slept well in Mahalla. Better than I'd slept on the entire trip. Better than I usually sleep at home.

Still, the night terrors happened. Not that I would have known had nobody witnessed it, but about a week in, as I stuffed some foul and cucumber into a pita bread for lunch, Amo Abdalla cautiously asked, "Brian, what did you dream about that night?"

"What night?"

"The first night you were here. You jumped out of bed screaming."

Real concern, suppressed for a week, peeked through his notorious deadpan. Suddenly it hit me: it had happened that first night.

When we'd arrived Wesam had claimed the couch, insisting that he wouldn't let a guest not take bed, so I had ended up rooming with Amo Abdalla. I fell asleep quickly, but at some point one of my dreams had gripped me. I had probably felt a tickle in my throat from the bubbling of acid reflux due to the fact that I'd recently run out of Omeprazole. That's all it really takes. Most people cough in the night--I wake up thinking I'm choking to death.

Whatever the cause, I jumped out of bed screaming and awoke Amo Abdalla. He asked if I was ok and if I needed anything. I asked for a glass of water, and he obliged. I drank the water in a quick gulp and went right back to sleep as though nothing had happened, and Amo waited a week for the right moment to assuage his concern because he didn't want to embarrass me or make me feel uncomfortable.

I recently talked to someone about these persistent nightmares that have knocked me out of bed since I was a teenager. They're not nearly as persistent as they once were, and I have a handful of theories as to why that might be. I was told that I shouldn't read the news before going to bed because it makes me agitated. That might be so.

Recently the news I've watched and read has nearly all been about the goings-on in Egypt. It was nerve-racking at the end of January, and at points downright horrifying. Then it became hopeful, joyous, and inspiring. I don't think I've been having night terrors, but maybe someone will correct me in a week.

So as a compromise between my penchant for current events and my apparent need for less depressing fare, here's a touching video of Amo Abdalla paying tribute to his people. This keeps me tuned in and makes me smile.

Good night.

To Egypt: Abdalla's Address from Wesam Nassar on Vimeo.

Or good morning.