Saturday, November 29, 2008

Back in Beirut

Dear Blog,
I'm sorry I haven't given you the attention you deserve as of late.  You have been a truly wonderful friend for the past several months, and you don't deserve the neglect you've received lately.  I have arrived in Beirut safe and sound after the shortest and most turbulent flight of my life - 25 minutes from Larnaca to Beirut.  They served us orange juice boxes that I squeezed the hell out of as our plane blipped up and down, left and right.  Also, I chewed the pin stripes out of the juice box straw.   

Now I am living with my grandmother in Beirut, trying to keep my energy high despite her occasionally morose attitude.  A balancing act between celebrating life, and lamenting the passage of time.  And I'm caught somewhere in between.

People here think I look like an Israeli.  That can be a problem.  A big problem.  They say it because I have a lot of hair, wear a straw hat from Portugal, puffy side burns, a goatee, look Middle Eastern, and cannot speak proper Arabic.  Being different can be fun - I always get stares of curiosity and interest from women, and squints of suspicion and exclusion from most men.  Even my hairy friend Jaques says I look suspicious in my hat.  I would say that I look rather innocent - wouldn't you say??

In case you were wondering: yes, I now exist in four, multi-colored dimensions.  

I've found that one appreciates people and places far more if they know they cannot easily access them.  We quickly take for granted the things that grow in significance as time passes.  If we increase the distance discrepancy between one's self and places & people of importance, the same effect can be achieved.  

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Writer's Dilemma

Talk too much about your writing, and your harvest will wither.
Keep your mouth shut and your pen moving: your harvest will be bountiful.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Barcelona's Storefront Graffiti

Barcelona is a visually and artistically captivating city.  To me, it is an "alternative" city, a place where mainstream ideas of beauty and expression are brushed aside for less conventional methods of expression.  This can be found in the myriad street performances that take place every day.  Despite strict government regulations on how, when, and where these performances take place, they still find a way to stun. 

One form of "alternative art" I found particularly inspiring was the ubiquitous graffiti painted onto the garage doors that get slid down once the stores close.  But I wouldn't necessarily call it graffiti.  To me graffiti implies making one's name or one's group's name the centerpiece of the work.  The "alternative graffiti" I found on these garage doors throughout the city, however, depicted all sorts of odd scenes from other-universes.  Just walk through Barcelona at night and look at the garage doors.  You'll feel like you're walking in a museum of modern art.  So below I am including a collection of photographs I took of these pieces scattered throughout the city.

Monday, November 10, 2008

i have mono

This is a new level of pain.  Shallow breaths.  Daggers digging into my throat.  Every time I swallow I grunt like a schoolboy getting pummeled by the bully.  Then my body jerks to deal with the pain.  To try to distribute it more evenly.  But there is no even here.  There is no fare.  There is a micro man with a machete standing right behind my uvula.  He is the most ill-tempered tyrant you’ll know.  Whatever necessity I must pass his way – water, soup, yogurt, halls, saliva, life force – he lashes out against them all.  He swings his weapon against my tonsil, where there’s now a white cist just sitting there, just throbbing, just consuming me with pain.  The size of a crumb, the force of an anvil. 
I can’t even sleep.  When I lie down, the mucus builds up.  If I swallow, it hurts like hell, but it lubricates my throat and makes it hurt just a bit less for the next swallow.  But there is so much my inclination is just to spit it out.  And once I spit, the flood ensues.  First me, then the deluge.  It just keeps building and building, and I can’t swallow fast enough to keep up with my salivary glands.  And if I tried, I am sure I would be on the ground jerking and contorting everywhichway, yelping gnarled, obscured obscenities not said for the effect, but to try and capture the sheer misery of it.  Then my throat would melt down into my stomach and I would be finished.
If I do manage to lay down and shut my eyes, then the strangest thoughts dribble around my mind.  Lately it’s been all politics.  Last night, in my sorry state, the predominant thought on the forefront of my mind was: Who will Obama select for his cabinet?  It is a moderately interesting question, but not one I want to deal with in bed whilst I’m trying to sleep.  Considering all of the different possibilities genuinely generates this anxiety inside of me that keeps me from truly relaxing.  Then I put on some music and that helps momentarily, but then I start spitting again and all is lost.  When I do get some bits of sleep, it is by pure accident, always unanticipated.  Usually, they are about 30 minute chunks of bliss, of escape.  I’ve recently taken to reading a Psychology text book to induce exhaustion.  This doesn't work too well though b/c the book is very interesting.  
In the mornings the pain is the worst because my throat is at its least lubricated state.  Every swallow is death by throat-stab.  I have to swallow saliva so I can eat food.  I have to swallow food so I can take medicine.  I have to swallow medicine so the pain subsides temporarily.  Then repeat.  

Fixing A Hole in Nicosia

Hi Everybody.

I have mononucleosis and feel miserable, but am happy to report that I finished and uploaded another song to

I have recorded all parts of these songs using Garageband and my dinky backpacker's guitar.  


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Election Night Coverage

Part of me wished that I was back in America on election night 2008 to join the celebrations and have a closer encounter with the sense of a new era dawning. Call me a nerd, but I was nevertheless quite content with the situation I found myself in – comparing election night coverage between three major broadcasters: CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera.

I have a friend who works as a journalist, and when I asked him his opinion about Al Jazeera, he was rather harsh and upset about the supposed anti-American slant they bring to their news. I noticed nothing of the sort as I watched their brilliant, yes brilliant, coverage. By the end of the election, my objections with CNN’s approach to media was affirmed. Here is a list of things that struck me about Al Jazeera and CNN’s coverage:

1. Did anyone notice that CNN aired at the Obama rally in Grant Park? I first noticed it when I saw beer ads running on the enormous screens at the rally. Then the unmistakable CNN = Politics slogan flashed on the screen, and I was sure. What is the connection there? And why did CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley get to be among the selected few reporters to ask Barack a question at his first press conference as President Elect?

2. Al Jazeera interviewed Robert Fisk. Fisk’s hallmark is honest and critical dialogue on controversial issues I have never seen Fisk interviewed on any news network. Then they interviewed Jesse Jackson AND JJ Jr. at Obama’s rally. The round table discussion were equally fascinating – notably one with a rapper called “Son of a Nun” from Baltimore, and other interesting roundtables in Kabul and Tehran.

3. No commercials aired during Al Jazeera’s coverage of election night. Absolutely incredible.

4. Al Jazeera stationed reporters throughout the world on election night to capture in real time the world’s reaction to the unfolding election. Correspondents reported from Kabul, Moscow, Kenya, Albania, Germany, Iran, Brazil, China, Zimbabwe, Canada, and many other nations. CNN followed its strict formula of studio, rally, and various city shots. CNN has a tendency to overanalyze the little things and does not strive to capture a global reaction to how events, especially the election, unfold. Al Jazeera did brilliant work in this respect, really capturing honest footage on how regular people around the world were reacting. My favorite piece of info was from the village of Obama’s father in Kenya, where two cows were slaughtered in honor of their native son’s historic victory.

5. What’s up with CNN’s slogan? CNN = Politics?  Are we really such a short-tempered and mathematically inept viewership that we need an A = B formula to tell us why we watch CNN?  I think it has something to do with the increasing impatience we are seeing in our media-frenzied universe, where it is becoming more apparent that if you can’t hook a viewer with a sexy slogan, then you lose them. Quality dissolves as a result, but it’s not CNN’s fault. They just perpetuate the system.  Al Jazeera's election night coverage sans commercial at least indicates to me that it enjoys a reasonable amount of journalistic integrity.

What a silly thing to write about.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

One More Day!

I cannot believe that after almost two years of campaigning, the US presidential election of 2008 will finally end tomorrow. I am about 95% sure that Obama will be our 44th president. It is an exciting moment in history. We’ll either have the oldest president, or the first black president. We are finally sensing the end of GW Bush’s reign of tyranny, hatred, and international crime. I am shocked that he was reelected, and it is a grim indication that in general, Americans are easily duped into believing that questionable individuals can carry out the dramatic reform they seem to promise. Whoever wins, it will be hard for anybody to do worse than Bush, so in that sense, the next president won’t have a hard time winning the heart of Americans who are eager for a new man in the White House. Nevertheless, a mountain of issues awaits the next commander-in-chief.

Recession, rampant corporate and political corruption, bitter bipartisan warfare, a broken healthcare system, a narrow political discourse, a shattered international image abroad, a war we must leave, failing energy policies, a backwards election system, and an obsessive “rock star politics” fueled by a media-frenzied society have eroded the quality, reliability, and straightforwardness of American politics. Yes, we need change. But neither of the two major candidates have proposed truly creative reforms that would turn this country around. They have stuck to the stump, reading the scripts that we have heard many times before from candidates of the past. This round, it’s the same story with different faces.

Whoever wins, let’s not forget some of America’s consistent policies and objectives that won’t be forgotten by either of the two candidates. While both candidates guarantee their own unique brand of “change” that they insist differs from their opponent’s, the media, the candidates, their parties, and the people seem to overlook what won’t change about America, regardless of who enters the White House. 1) America is a hegemony. Puerto Rico is an annexed territory. So is Midway Island, and Guam, to name a few. Throw Hawaii in there while we are at it. Who profits from the tariffs collected from the elephantine traffic sailing through the Panama Canal? Uncle Sam. Regardless of who wins the election, there is an unspoken understanding that this individual is responsible for maintaining America’s role as the world’s great empire. But we are seeing America’s power gradually slip, as powers like Brazil, China, Iran, and Russia rise. Military conflict with one of these three might be in our future. And why does America chastise Iran? On the surface level we are told, as we were about Iraq, that they could develop nuclear weapons to attack America, or our ally Israel. Recently, someone asked me why Iran does not like Israel. I meandered about the question before discovering what I think is the answer. Well, there seems to very little that Iran could objectively dislike about Israel. I have never heard Iran use narrow-minded, bigoted explanations that they abhor Israel because of their cuisine, music, or the way they look. No, Iran’s anti-Israeli slant promotes, I believe, Iran’s regional power in the Middle East. In the Middle East, there is a strong divide among nations with Shii and Sunni majorities. Sunnis are the majority, while the only nations with Shii majorities (and correct me if I am wrong) are Syria and Iran. This religious and ideological divide has prevented overwhelming unity for a very powerful region. But in this sea of Islam, there is one issue that transcends the Shii/Sunni split. It is Israel. In spearheading an aggressive anti-Israeli campaign, Iran indicates a strong bid for regional power through anti-Semitism. Iran realizes that opposing Israel has little to do with which sect of Islam one comes from. Leading this anti-Israeli campaign seems to be less about tangible action against Israel and more about rallying support across the Middle East. Then why does America speak out so vehemently against Iran and so strongly in favor of Israel? (Disclaimer to my response: what I am about to write is not anti-Semitic or racist as many of my best friends are Israeli and Jewish. The reason I put this disclaimer is that I believe there are pockets of Jewish communities across the world who have brainwashed their followers into believing that politically speaking out against Israel is tantamount to racism. And I wouldn’t believe this if I hadn’t come face to face with such perspectives. I have been accused of being racist and anti-Semitic for making the following suggestions, which clearly do not fit the definition of racism or anti-Semitism.) Might it have something to do with the power of the Jewish vote in America? America’s Jewish population is extremely well-organized, well-financed, and influential. A few months ago, both John and Barack spoke at the center for America’s Israel Lobby, pledging to always stand by Israel. Further, American foreign policy still maintains, after nearly two decades, that Russia is still poses a grave threat to American interests. America still holds a strong anti-Russian bent. Again, we must ask why? While we are showered with tales of police brutality, KGB’s, and limits on expression (all of which America is also guilty of), we are not told how Russia’s economic and diplomatic strength can pose a direct (non-military) threat to America’s position as the world superpower. Russia is still very much on America’s radar screen though not so much in its newspapers.

Popularity contest. It’s interesting to notice how the media, which, thanks to networks like facebook, now belongs both to the big companies and us small individuals with blogs and facbeook accounts, has launched a massive hagiography campaign to associate Obama with all things beautiful, righteous, and fair. Obama probably doesn’t buy half the coverage swirled up about him in the media, but he would never speak out against such exaggerated sentiments since they are the ones that have propelled him to this position. Obama seems to have become more of a symbol rather than a politician. It is a typical (American) attribute to focus more on what an individual represents rather than what he/she actually is. These representations get adapted by people into their personalities, and because of the unhealthy focus media shines on a single individual so that we have a system where millions of individuals focus on one (as opposed to a more, truly democratized form of “media” where all individuals focus on one another), people start living vicariously through these media stars. Of course, political parties, corporations, and clever entrepreneurs who pick up on these trends, profit off this media frenzy, and use their resources to promote this lop-sided system to sustain their own wealth.

Regardless of what happens, I believe that we are seeing the gradual decline of America’s role as the word superpower. All empires of the world have risen and fallen. They follow the natural cycles of the earth, surging and receding like a wave. The Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, French Empire, British Empire, the Soviet Union, etc etc., they have all surged, soared, receded, and fell back into mediocrity, waiting for the next opportunity to rise again. I just don’t understand this underlying obsession with power that everybody is after. Power is temporary, ephemeral. It might last the course of one’s lifetime, but it is not sustainable because the effectiveness of power relies on the weakness of others. And when others are weak, they become destabilized, marginalized, and disenfranchised of a standard living afforded those who live in the power sphere. These tensions generate wars, genocides, mass starvation and disease, and extreme poverty and inequality. Simultaneously, superpowers typically claim to promote ideals of just humanity, equality, and righteousness, but rarely practice such ideals themselves.

We need to reconsider how we run our world. What I’m talking about is a complete overhaul of a broken global system where wealth and power are not the primary objectives. I feel we are so entrenched in the way things are that we may never see the sun of a new way. What if we redrew the maps of the world and required that every country had to be the same exact size? Then, we took away all the weapons of this world, and stored them underground in one of these countries, and had guards to make sure nobody tried to sneak in and take them away. We could have a world governing council that ensured an equal distribution of resources for all countries. This would include supplies necessary to maintain quality health, education, transportation, sustainable energy alternatives (solar and wind first and foremost), and a high standard of quality housing. Dilapidated residences would be rebuilt, and overall, we would build this new model atop already existing structures.

Will it every happen? No. But is it dangerous to stop imagining the possibilities? Very.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Found Poetry

The infinite number of tourists milling around Florence inspired me to experiment with a new form of poetry where I simply sit down in a crowded area, and write down all the snippets of conversation I here. Nothing is filtered. Everything is included. I call this "found poetry". It is beautiful to see the interconnections between the words of strangers that can only dance together on the found poet's page.

The process is long and requires a lot of patience, but I think there is a lot of great potential for this idea. I would say it would take about a month of dedicated work, sitting in the field and recording all snippets meticulously, to really produce a truthful collection of found poetry. Here is my first one.

Found Poetry # 1, 10/14/2008. Florence, Italy

Yea, because that's the wrong bus stop
An aquarium down here?
All around the windows and above the windows
This is scary.
Where? Oh. Up ahead.
Anne, your shoe's untied.
I love it
See that?
Where we going from here?
Fourteen euro; could spend a couple hours there
With the - ah - tombs
Let's go back this way.
Broncos! Hahaha - Kansas City Chiefs.
Your things
Ahhhh - I'll never get up.
Did you see the one? That nazionale?
They scorned her
Oh my god. Oh my god.
Do you want to go to the museum and see if we can get in before 4?
Wait. What are we doing?
There's a little Italian band
Oh my god
There's where I want to go.
Bless you.
We'll stop on the way back
Something - um - maybe a music teacher.
Alright, Harvey. Let's go.
You know what we should do?
How long you been there?
Five minutes.
Aw, sorry.
It's ok. It's ok.

© All rights reserved. Raffi Wartanian and his discovery of found poetry.
Do these copyright symbols really do anything anyway? I highly doubt it.