Thursday, June 14, 2018

Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid in Dubai)

When working in an Islamic country, Ramadan means shorter hours in many occupations. At my work, dayshift runs from 7am to 3pm, which is pretty common across Dubai for the season. Even in the modern mechanized and computerized economy, it isn’t productive to work hungry and thirsty through the late afternoon. But for those straddling cultures, Ramadan might mean longer hours: Evening shift at the shipyard starts at 9pm, after breaking the fast with Iftar meal. As far as hunger and thirst and sweat, I observe that many of our workers are Hindu and Indian, as thus are not obliged to fast. (I have also worked with both Christian and Muslim Indians, too) 
 Five-day workweeks are lush; our workers get either Friday or Saturday off. When does the work stop? 12pm-4pm on Fridays. It’s mosque time. And a perfect time for independent contractors from France and England to get their work done without interference.
In the shipyard as with any big project, hemmed in by schedule demands, the objective is to hit to dock running like a rabbit. Essentially, start the big tasks and keep up the pace. When unforeseen circumstances arise: missing parts, extensive corrosion, it can be squeezed into the schedule. And when the project finishes on time, praise is heaped. Still have a month to go, though. 
As an expat during Ramadan, I go and come from work on dusty, empty streets with closed shops.  Which makes the “holiest month” appear drab in sunlight. One who eats or drinks during the day must do so behind a curtain. Social pressure- not co-workers, but the cultural norm- makes me lose appetite for lunch. After dinner, and a little recreation in the hotel, I tucker out in my room as the city wakes up. Ramadan means nocturnal. Sunset to sunrise, Dubai comes to life. I don’t like to work while tired, so I let the city go on without me. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Two hours to Ramadan

“Welcome to the parallel universe” they told me as I took the ship into Bayonne, New Jersey.
What was once a bustling terminal in New York Harbor for Uncle Sam’s cargo was now a small suburban outfit. Most everything went in and out of Norfolk, Virginia; jet fuel and Navy beans. In Nee Jersey, you did things differently. “Going downtown” meant a fast ferry ride to Manhattan, instead of a 15 minute drive south on Hampton Boulevard. Your Uber driver knows where “Naval Station Norfolk” is, but would be hard-pressed to find the government pier in New Jersey.

Such is the feeling that I approach my first Ramadan in the Middle East. We’ve made some accommodations to cultural necessities: When preparing lunch, we settled for chicken, since there were both Hindus and Muslims working on the team (no beef, no pork). Muslims traditionally abstain from food,beverage, and water during Ramadan’s sunlight hours. The temperature is 100 degrees, Fahrenheit. Abstaining from water flies in the face of every health lesson in hydration. Then I thought about it more:  before the days of desalination, water was a rare commodity in the Gulf States. Abstaining from water trains they body to do with less, a survival skill in harsh climates. I’m hesitant about it occurring in my workplace, though. Will see how it goes.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Can't You Hear a Poor Man's Cry?

Ever since Newt Gingrich bailed out Washington, DC in the mid 1990's, it is par for course for city councilmembers to place blame on congressional Republicans for the city’s woes. The optics of southern white congressmen deciding city matters harkened back to the pre-1973 era in the minds of older Washingtonians, when an unelected Board of Commissioners ruled the city with Dixiecrat fists. This sentiment covers all parts of the city, black, white and wonderfully integrated.

But the true red meat comes from Ward 8, commonly known as “Anacostia”. This district was once a proud, southern-tinged white working class community. Since the 1980’s, though, it’s been the dangerous neighborhood President Trump warned you about. In councilman Trayon White's words, he described the drugs and violence that surrounded his childhood. You haven’t heard this story in the national news. These are Forgotten Americans; predominately African-Americans. The average income in Ward 8 is half the city’s average. Unemployment and absentee fathers, early death and the other symptoms of poverty lurk in Anacostia.
"Improvement is around the corner": Home prices are buoyed by hopes of a turnaround. Houses sell for $250,000; technically unaffordable for the average neighborhood resident. In essence, prospect of gentrification adds insult to the decades-long injury in Anacostia for those residents who don't own their home.
Desperation breeds anger. Recently, Councilman White insisted that the Rothschilds control the weather, and are coming to gentrify. Taken by many as an anti-Semitic remark, Mr. White atoned for this statement at the city’s Holocaust Museum. As shocking as these comments are to the average person, Mr. White is well-regarded in his community for being upfront.
I am a fan of Greater Greater Washington, a civic blog that appeals to the "SWPL" demographic, named for the yuppie website. Commentators, many progressives among them,  make important talk of food deserts and educational equality. Yet they are grasping at straws on other topics, such as gentrification. Some unintentionally suggested denying community improvements, in an attempt to “keep neighborhoods affordable”. So as a fact, Mr. White is more of an authority on urban poverty than yuppie bloggers, even if his speech is not polished, eloquent, and politically correct.
Mr. White’s predecessor, former mayor Marion Barry, happened to quipped about Asian-American shopkeepers peddling unhealthy food while draining the community of its money. The sitting Mayor naturally condemned the statement, but the rhetoric coming from Ward 8 lends a cue to residents' frustration. Small-town and rural whites may be concerned about jobs and gun rights, but low-income African-Americans fear for their homes and their communities too. Anxiety sounds the same in any community.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My take on a quarter century

If you were born in the 1990s, when America stood alone as a world power, you came to believe anything was possible. 25 years going, the world has had a remarkable run.
Consumer technology advanced by leaps and bounds. The internet used to be tied to large, beige desktop computers. Now it is almost everywhere on laptops and cellphones. Patience was a virtue without Uber. We’re finally getting our self-driving cars. Fashion has changed, too. Large glasses and big sweaters are out. The religious right used to be an influence on national politics. Cigarettes went out of style, so did smoking areas inside restaurants and offices. Trump’s grim view of the inner city used to be the norm; many cities have rebounded. Borders care down between countries, especially in Europe and Asia, allowing more visa-free travel. While the post-Soviet 1990s were seen as an era of peace, there seems to be less genocide and low-level war is underdeveloped countries. One example is Djibouti, where I am writing from today.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Deeds, not just Words, for Maritime Agenda

Donald Trump may be the most un-presidential president. This outsider status is sometimes a benefit, for example, challenging foreign policy assumptions in other aspects. He appointed Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation; with deep maritime connections and family from Taiwan. In other ways, such as Trump’s dismissive references to developing nations, it’s humiliating to any American who has to defend himself in social circles overseas. Yet one thing Americans agree on is that President Trump means what he says, being a man of his word. 

He carried through on steel tariffs: In 20th century South Korea and Taiwan, led by slightly authoritarian governments, oversaw development of a middle class. These governments provided a wide social service net to its citizens, as a hedge against communist sympathies. This was reciprocated in the US with workplace safety laws, Medicare, and old-age social security benefits. The difference in competitiveness between the US and East Asia comes down to use of technology and workers’ attitudes. More recently, some nations have opened up their markets while providing little for workers’ rights. I do not understand why first-world nations must compete with the lowest denominator, mainland China and parts of Southeast Asia, in a game refereed by the World Trade Organization.

So with congressional approval to build training ship Empire State VII, Trump becomes the most supportive President to the maritime industry since Richard Nixon. Until Ronald Reagan, shipping companies received generous subsidies to build and operate ships in the United States, and the men and women who sailed the ships could receive free medical care from what are now Veteran’s Administration hospitals. Small stipends in the name of national security- the Maritime Security Program- were restored in 1996.

The Empire State VII will replace an Eisenhower-era, 60-year old steamship once known as the SS Oregon. Pro-Wall Street, free-trading Senator Chuck Schumer admitted that the Academy “churned out talented engineers by the boatload”. Staten Island, Long Island, and parts of Queens, which voted for hometown boy Mr. Trump in 2016, constitute a majority of the SUNY-Maritime student body. Graduates work as steam engineers in New York City’s infrastructure and large buildings- often unionized. Some sail on maintenance-intensive Nixon-era ships in the US Merchant fleet. Deckside graduates work in deep sea jobs, and within New York City’s extensive waterways.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Luck of the Silent Generation

In Dubai, an entire "Irish Village" was imported from the Emerald Isle. Within the walls that seclude Irish Village from a drab light industrial district, there are restaurants, a garden, and several gift shops. The world over, have you ever noticed that Irish pubs tend to look the same? According to The Grapevine, the Irish Pub Company has "designed more than 2,000 pubs and shipped them to 53 countries around the world". Now onto another type of luck: the year you were born.

A person born in 1911:
- Great Depression severely impacted early career.
- Drafted into the Army during their prime earning and family-building years, versus younger veterans of WWII.

A person born in 1930:
- Was under the working age during Great Depression
- Still in school during WWII
- If from the city, would likely graduate high school
- Was aged 20 - 23 during Korean War.
- Entered workforce during time of economic prosperity
- Those who entered white-collar work were at leading edge of shift towards an "information economy", lawyers and bankers to name two beneficiaries.
- Those in blue-collar work retained job security throughout their careers, and often union benefits.
- Thanks to Social Security, employer-paid benefits, and likely to strong age-discrimination laws- became first generation to retire with wealth (Strauss-Howe).
If you were a woman or racial minority, you had career and social opportunities post- WWII that your parents did not have.

-This Silent Generation has not produced a US President. Recently, we've had two presidents born in 1924 and three presidents born in 1946.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Right-Wing Civil Rights Act

How do you compel a retailer to sell guns to 18-year olds while allowing a baker to sell wedding cakes to straight couples only? I read on forums from many commenters. including a few members of the intellectual class. The right-wing answer is as follows: "Gays, rental cars and hotels are not mentioned in the Constitution. But guns are specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights".

In all practical matters, the decision of Dick's Sporting Goods to restrict gun sales to 21+ is a boon to local sportsman stores. (Walmart has come to the same conclusion, but read below for my verdict). These local stores presumably have regular contact with county law enforcement and support public safety while serving customers. This face-to-face contact is something large corporations cannot achieve, with directives from coming from headquarters from a state far away.  .

One might mention that hotels and car renters restrict to 21+. Often, a hotel will waive age stipulations if a company, especially the US Military, will foot the bill. Understandably,  a hotel is at stake if young Spring Break revelers trash the room. For car renters, an age of 21 can serve as a proxy for "five years of licensed driving experience". Indeed, inexperienced drivers are more likely to accumulate a claims bill! Requiring auto rentals at 18 would create an undue burden on car rental companies.  I went to college in New York and benefitted from the state's requirement of renting cars to 18 year-olds. (I'm a good driver, as everyone thinks they are). Now turn to guns: Due to the legal precedent in this nation, gun sellers do not face liability if their customers raise Cain with the products they sell.

I believe that discriminating against customers is sheer stupidity. I feel that African-American economic empowerment in WWII was a significant factor in securing equal rights under law.  Integration of the military was very important as it gave African-Americans buying power that they didn't have before. There was the "Don't buy where you can't work" movement in the 1940's, referred to in August Wilson's Fences. After WWII, Woolworth's and other interstate chains no longer had incentive to racially discriminate asides from local regressive laws. Indeed, I read that southern Woolworth's were encouraged to 'discriminate politely' so as to not offend the northern African-American market. BS.

In Virginia where I have bought a condo, since the same year interracial marriages were allowed, alcohol licenses have been issued to  restaurants, while taverns have been outlawed for 100 years. Notably, restaurants and hotels  are subject to more stringent anti-discrimination laws than other forms of privately-owned venues. Concealed-carry weapon owners have been able to carry in "bars", and the ability to create a 21+ environment is limited. Most often, age restrictions in alcohol-serving establishments will not apply until 9 or 10pm due to the fact that an establishment must function as a restaurant to qualify for a license. This is in a "commonwealth" which does not treat homosexuals as a protected class.

I suspect that Walmart's board of directors anticipates a letter from an "Attorney General of xx southern/western state". With that, they will "suspend efforts" to restrict gun purchases to 21+ in compliance with the law. As a further aside, posters on gun forums have commented that they didn't even know that Dick's sold guns. If so, they were overpriced. They should focus on selling "concussion causing" footballs to gym teachers.