Spam poetry 1

I have recently been getting some hilariously written adult dating spam messages. I am also, for whatever reason, subscribed to Donald Trump’s campaign emails. His emails are quite desperate and even, at times, feel like they could have been written by the same author of the adult dating spam. This inspired me…


What if Donald Trump wrote honest campaign emails in the style of adult dating spam?  I think the product approaches poetry; I hope you enjoy!

The original Spam message:

I’m Alyssa23. I’m so exhausted, and I want to get a new feelings: my boyfriend does not interested in my thirsty body. All I require – is a major licking. I have had a really hard weeks, even my new boobs do not make me smile. Give me a hope. Help me a little bit! My photos you can view in my dating profile. Ready for you!

A message to you, from your dear leader:

I’m Donald Trump. I’m so broke(n), and I want to get a new donation: my country does not interested in my thirsty vitriol. All I require – is a major licking. I have had a really hard weeks, even my new walls do not make me smile. Give me a hope. Help me a little bit! My scruples you can view in my twitter profile. Ready for you!

Poem: “The Movement”

the modern day warrior, fights the cause

struggling for good, without a pause

advocating, not only, advancing too

pushing ideas, new, through to you


oops! too fast, lost coherency

all your theory, is a mystery

but you’re the expert, self proclaimed

the papal of wisdom, in echo-chamber ordained


so many the path, of best intentions go

yet positive history, goes to show

don’t give up, we come to learn

that knowledge and wisdom, come in turn

This poem was inspired by my own experiences and by some people in my social sphere.

Rejecting nihilism and proclaiming “our lives can have meaning!”

I think it is correct to say that an act is meaningful or significant when it gives substantial realizable betterment to people or the community at large.

Donny:                   Are these the Nazis, Walter?
Walter Sobchak:  No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Donny:                  Are they gonna hurt us, Walter?
Walter Sobchak: No, Donny. These men are cowards.

The Big Lebowski (1998)


A colleague of mine recently made the claim that “all of our lives are insignificant and meaningless and have a zero percent chance of gaining significance”. When they said it, it struck me as overly cynical and I felt that it wasn’t necessarily true. I found my reaction strange because I have been telling people for years that “our lives are ultimately insignificant”. Reflecting now it seems that my outlook on this matter has been changing, but because it was without my conscious knowledge it took me by surprise.  In this post I wanted to elaborate a bit on what I feel gives life significance, and why our lives don’t have to be meaningless. (Note: I will only discuss positive significance here. There is no shortage in opportunity, philosophically or materially, to be ill spirited, and I do not think that people who strive in this direction need any encouragement to do so.)

I can think of just two ways someone can impact the world: inventing or discovering something useful (Nikola Tesla, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin) or they somehow bettered a problematic aspect of their culture. Again, I will focus on the latter here as I think humanity is not lacking new technologies to better or save ourselves, but is rather more suffering from problematic aspects of culture. So assuming this to be the case let’s look at how to one’s life can be significant.

The pursuit to making life significant in life is, as ever, an issue of scale (in time and space).

In one way, my opinion has not changed from the start. I still believe that once the sun has exploded and the biological experiment we call life on Earth has come to an end that everything humans, or any other earthly life form, ever did will not matter anymore. But that’s an excessively large scale to consider, and I find it rather uninteresting and useless. I only mention it because it is where a lot of people (including my past self) get caught up. (Note: I imagine religious and spiritual people just rolled their eyes, which is fine. I think it is great that you all have something you believe in which you feel gives your life significance already. However a growing number of us who don’t jibe well in those philosophies do have a tendency to succumb to nihilism. Either way, I hope the following article will be interesting for all thinking people.)

On a smaller scale, there is the history of humankind. Few people make a memorable, beneficial contribution to this level, although a few names do spring to mind (a spattering of ancient and modern philosophers, eastern and western, religious leaders and so called ´prophets´, various inventors, and some politicians). This is the level I think my colleague was referring to when they made their claim, and I still largely agree with that. There is very little chance that the average person will be the next Socrates, Mohammad, Mother Teresa, or Nelson Mandela.

As we move to each smaller scale it becomes clear that one has a greater and greater chance (read: opportunity) to make a significant impact and bestow some significant meaning to their time on Earth. Individual levels of scale aren’t clearly demarcated, but I would like to focus my discussion on the level of community- country (CC), as this is where I feel that most people have an opportunity to make a significant impact. At this scale I think it is correct to say that an act is meaningful or significant when it gives substantial realizable betterment to people or the community at large.

The CC scale is an ideal ground for cultural change because it is so rife with problems, while also workable due to our intimate involvement with it. There are obvious problems, such as racism, misogyny, and inequality, to name a few. But there are also meta-problems, such as widespread political apathy in the face of injustice or the issue of how to organize our future society in the best way, and convince people of it while deconstructing deeply engrained cultural norms which leave them recalcitrant to this much needed advancement. We humans are quite unique in our ability to forward plan, set goals, and organize the people around us and our time in pursuit of those goals, and there is realistically very little that makes this process inherently impossible for most people. In the West most people are symptomatically lulled by the comfort of the status quo, be it political or cultural, and therefore don’t want to challenge it. However, and this is the crux, they could.

In this way many people who lead lives they feel are meaningless only do so on their own will. If only these people would more frequently step out of the comfort of the status quo and take some meaningful action to better the situation of their community or country. I recently read the autobiography of Malcolm X, and I think he is the utmost example of this. Malcolm X, or at that time Malcolm Little, grew up in segregated USA. His life developed intimately with, and he often suffered from, the cultural issues that plague black-white and inter-black community relations. Later in life he became a leading force for change, the likes of which the country, or even the world, has seldom seen before or since. Over 50 years after his death his ideas still permeate discussions around race and society and his memory serves as an inspiration for all who reject the toxic cultural status quo and seek a better tomorrow.


Closer to home I have a good friend who works incredibly hard to change the opinion of society regarding political movements, human rights, and the refugee crisis, all as a volunteer in their free time at home. This person has saved many lives of refugees both in a direct way (by pulling them out of the freezing water as their boats crash ashore), and though giving legal aid to people desperately trying to complete the asylum process to begin life anew away from their war-torn homes. This person has helped people avoid the fate of so many who are victims of human trafficking, as well as was (probably) instrumental in preventing a terrorist attack due to their connection in underground information networks. This person has dedicated their life to the pursuit of goodness and does significant, meaningful work every day.

In conclusion I roundly reject the nihilist position that our lives are inherently and unalterably meaningless and I instead grant meaningfulness to actions that better the current situation of the world, even on smaller scales.

Thoughts inspired by Kendi (Part II)

We need to understand the way our cultural practices may nonchalantly inflict harm on ourselves and others.

[This post is a part II, click here to see Part I.]

In part I of this development I discussed Kendi’s understanding that racism comes from self interest. Below are the relevant quotes from an article/interview with him that I shared in the previous post, just to refresh your memory.
““We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi’s book] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.””

“Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.

Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.

You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi.” (Bolding by me)

(If you didn’t already read the whole of the article I linked about Kendi that goes a bit more into this idea and his new book that explains it, I really suggest you do so as I won’t repeat all that he said, but will expand upon it.)

While I totally agree with Kendi’s analysis, I do think that his insight can be applied to other areas of oppression in society, so for today’s post I want to expand these ideas to misogyny. After all, isn’t male supremacy and the systemic oppression of women based on a similar culture of privilege and self interest? It may not be exactly the same, but I think Kendi’s insight applies here. Like my struggles with understanding racism, I have wondered for a long time how so many men who I would not consider to outwardly hate women could be so content with, and even proud of, their misogynist habits.

The modern culture of male dominance and misogyny is profound. I won’t dredge it all up, but will just focus my extension here to one sub-section of it: pornography. First of all, I know that some people will find it controversial that I casually state that porn is inherently misogynistic. Well, it is, it is, it really is, it is, and maybe it isn’t, just kidding it is. But one is forgiven for not understanding the damaging nature of porn on women, men, and consequently society as a whole. Just like there are the assimilationists in Kendi’s understanding of racism, there are many people in society who are analogue “assimilationists” for misogyny.

As a 20-something male living a modern European-American life I am immersed in porn culture. I see the objectification and hyper sexualization of women in TV shows, TV advertisements, street advertisements, music videos, and nearly everything else where someone wants to get my attention. Further to this, I seem to be surrounded by people who like to casually, and at times proudly, discuss and joke about their porn habits and preferences. However, nothing in what these men say, or in what this media tells me is overtly about explicitly wanting to harm or promote hate for women, even if that is exactly what it does.

Men have a tremendous self interest in maintaining the male dominated status quo and porn habits reinforce this male dominated power structure. While the images in porn commonly depict men being dominate over, degrading, and even violent towards women, the very act of consuming porn gives men subconscious encouragement to support this paradigm and a sense of entitlement that their throwaway pleasure is all that is needed to justify this injustice. Secondly, maintaining women at the status of ‘object’ gives men the carefree opportunity to ridicule, attack, trade, or penetrate and then casually disregard women because they crave the power it gives them (even unconsciously) or simply because they find the process fun.

It is so common for men to reject these rather simple observational truths about their behavior. After all, there is more for them to lose than I have already stated. Porn consumption and male dominance form an integral part of many men’s masculinity and identity as men, just as white supremacy is inseparable from modern white culture. If you were to confront a man with these facts and remove porn from his consumption patterns it would leave a noticeable void (I know first hand). This void is extremely uncomfortable on a deep psychological level. Just like I had to confront my own racism in the first part of this post, I can personally speak about the difficulties of giving up this harm-causing self interested habit and mentality.

Just like white people who do not outwardly hate people of color supporting racist power structures in society, many men who do not outwardly hate women eagerly support anti-women power structures, and for the same reasons. Both groups’ cultures are built upon the domination of the other, and both groups will face so much to discomfort and loss of ‘normalcy’ in the event of justice. But again, it is so important that we endeavor to learn about our privileges and strive to understand the way our seemingly harmless cultural practices may override our internal sense of right and wrong and allow us to nonchalantly inflict undue harm to ourselves and others.

Thank you Ibram Kendi for these transformation inspiring illuminations.

Thanks for reading.

Thoughts inspired by Kendi (Part I)

I have been struggling over the past, well, years actually with understanding the nature and persistence of oppression in society. That struggle is far from over, but I have gained some understandings which I think are useful to get out into discussion. Before I start I entirely admit that the catalyst of this post, and the interconnection of these ideas is from the new piece I just read about Ibram Kendi (link opens in a new tab).

Kendi dropped some serious truth that I feel expands far further than the context in which he said it:
““We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi’s book] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.”” (bolding done by me)

“Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.

Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.

“You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi.”


(If you didn’t already read the whole of the article I linked about Kendi that goes a bit more into this idea and his new book that explains it, I really suggest you do so as I won’t repeat all that he said, but will expand upon it.)

Kendi illuminates that racism comes from self interest and in so doing answered a question I have been struggling to answer for a long time: How can so many people who don’t outwardly hate black people, who recoil in disgust at the thought of overtly racist ideologies, eagerly support racism in their everyday lives? Kendi’s understanding about selfish nature of racism captures the answer. The answer lies in a culture of privilege.

The type of people Kendi refers to as assimilationists are actually, in my experience and full understanding, the vast majority of Americans (including myself!). We are raised in a culture of racism and we so often don’t know it. It is so part of our reality that we cannot, and many times refuse, to see it. White assimilationists may even reach out to learn something about racism, and try to address individual acts of racism but they will never attack the core of the issue as they rest upon it to maintain their life styles (all of this possibly unbeknownst to the assimilationist).

To give a concrete example I will draw on recent protest events in the US. When people of color peacefully protest they are so often met with dehumanization (“Look at those BLM animals/thugs blocking the road again”), disdain (think of the reaction to Kaepernick silently protesting for two minutes once a week), and violence (think of Standing Rock NODAPL protests, think of legislators in frequent protest states who want to make killing protesters with your vehicles legal). However when white people use the same means of protest, or even more violent ones (think of the militia men who were acquitted of an armed take over of a government building) they are granted sympathy by the media and by much of the public who tend to stretch, even for the “right” of neo-nazis to incite genocide, to see it from their side. I am personally disgusted when I see this type of thing, but I was recently strongly confronted by the shocking news that Trump has apologized to Erdogan for the indictment of his security forces who attacked peaceful protesters leaving 9 hospitalized. An attack which was incited by, in their own words, “The protesters were insulting us, and they were screaming and shouting. The police failed to intervene properly.” Trump loves to cozy up to the likes of Erdogan and Duterte, but to really let it sink in that Trump condones the beating of peaceful protesters who oppose his ideas no matter their race is a scary one.

Re-read that last sentence. It’s pretty racist, right? I take it for granted that I can go out and protest peacefully for the things that I care about in the safety of my own country, and I rely on that ability in order to be an active citizen; that’s my privilege that I did not realize I had. I have known for a long time that these types of things are common to happen to people of color, but I only felt really, truly scared when I realized that now they can happen to me too. It is things like these that remind me how important it is to not only try and recognize my privilege where ever it is, but to also realize that I can never understand what it is like to be a person of color in a white supremacist society no matter how much I think I know about it.

Anyway, now I am processing this feeling of fear and vulnerability that Trump has given me, and how I can learn from it to become a better advocate of justice. Furthermore, I am trying to integrate this situation into my understanding of my own deeply ingrained racism.

Anyway, I think this is long enough for one post. Click here to see Part II of this post as I extend this idea to male misogyny.

Thanks for reading!

Entering a new era

It’s been a while since I wrote, but as this blog is meant to be an outlet for an over-pouring mind I suppose this is the perfect day to come back to it.

I’ve never really liked it when people say “America is the greatest country in the world”, however; I normally come around to granting a concession in my scathing reply which is that in many ways it is one of the greatest countries in the world in which to live. Though now I see, given the events of the past few months, that America is going to be a lot worse place to be from this day forward.

At the head, we have a leader who is an expert at riling people around him in fear and petty hatred. With him we are witnessing the degradation of critical thought and reasoned analysis. But this is what he needs, as else no one could follow him if they really considered what he says. For example, he is yet to release his tax returns. The only excuse he ever gives is an oblivious irrelevancy, and it only serves to obscure more important matters. From the start we were concerned that maybe he was not as rich as he claims, and that he would be shown to be a big fake or that he had in fact not paid taxes in 20 years (both have a very high probability of being true), but now there is another dimension being thrust into the spotlight: ethical conflicts of interest.

In fact, one thing that Trump seems to have done incredibly well is create a writhing cesspool of cabinet appointments with all sorts of ethical problems. You have his Housing and Urban Development pick refusing to say that he will not siphon money into projects in which Trump is invested, which is kind strange because we would almost never know anyway as Trump won’t tell us where his investments are. But as he has chosen a neurosurgeon with no relevant experience to lead HUD who really only has a political reputation of being a complete laughable moron, it seems that HUD may turn into a nice siphon of money from your taxes into the president’s coffers.

Then we have his education pick. She has been getting a lot of press recently with her senate interviews where they have figured out that she knows nothing about current issues in education reform and thinks that bear attacks are a relevant threat to everyday American school children. More troubling is that she lied to the senate (a federal offense that should immediately end her appointment) about not sitting on the board of her parent’s company which is a registered hate group at the Southern Poverty Law Center for its position against homosexuality which they specifically lobby to be taught to children! When confronted with this fact with 990 tax forms she doubled down on her lie and said that the forms were are 12 year running clerical error. This is not to even mention that she is the sister of a very shady mercenary who is creeping closer and closer to Trump’s ear and has made his fortune off of privatizing and intensifying warfare.

Next there is SOS pick, the recently CEO of Exxon Mobile, a man who received the “award of friendship” from Vlad Putin for doing good oil deals with Russia, whose old company (Exxon Mobile) has billions of dollars more in drilling deals waiting to go through with Russia once regulations are lifted. You have his General Mattis pick, which violates the law which states that the head of the CIA needs to be filled by a civilian to ensure that the entirety of defense thinking does not go straight through the military arm of power. Then there is his top policy advisor, who is a known and outspoken white supremacist. Donald has also appointed his son in law to a top position, likely breaking anti-nepotism laws in the process.

So, what does this all have to do with making America a worse place to live? Aside from the horror of what these people believe in, and what actions are being supported by our government across the country, we are establishing a further shift in politics where we normalize brazen ethics violations and corruption. The people in power are trusting more and more power with themselves while taking it away from the people. There is a famous quote that the people should not fear the government, but that the government should fear the people. Well, this only works if the people have the means to speak out against and check government power. With the further militarization of the police, attacks on journalists, and anti-protest laws coming down the pipe across the country (really, please read that one if you even want to pretend to care about the constitution) it seems the teeth are being taken away from the people and it will be the government who instead does the biting. It won’t be nice to live in the crushing jaws of authoritarianism, in a state where the powerful are lawless and the common person lives under lash and chain.

As ever, thanks for reading.

A revolutionary notion of justice

Anshin passed me this idea, and I think it is the most revolutionary form of justice I have ever heard of…

To start, thank you to my wonderful 3rd cousin, Anshin, for putting this idea into my head through lengthy discussions. It may have morphed a bit from the original, but hopefully I tell it well.

Our society currently looks at justice in terms of punishment. When someone does something illegal or harmful they are to be punished, so they will suffer their bad deed. Perhaps they will learn their lesson, perhaps not; the point here is the suffering of their bad deed. The criminal justice system/prison system in the USA is set up, to my understanding, to deprive people of their freedom and inclusion in society in punishment for their crimes. I don’t disagree that this cannot be done properly, after a few changes in principles. However, in our current society prison means terrible conditions, frequent acts of violence, rape, homicides, literal slavery, abuse by guards, and unfathomable times served in solitary confinement in some cases. This is not justice, I don’t care what you did. If you raped or murdered it is not justice for you to be sent to a prison where you will be raped or murdered. The rape situation is particularly appalling because people seem so quick to joke about or condone prison rape, as if just because you have been sentenced to prison for whatever reason you deserve to be raped. Yet somehow people seem to look upon our prison system and rationalize the horrific conditions within in the name of justice. Further, our prison and justice system is so twisted that many people go to prison and learn to become criminals even if they weren’t one to begin with. Where is the justice here? It’s not.

Anshin passed me this idea, and I think it is the most revolutionary form of justice I have ever heard of: heal the wound. When a harmful act is done it not only causes a wound, but the very act itself can be traced back to a wound. There are many ways to heal the wound done by the individual harmful act, but I’m not going into that in this post. I am concerned here with the wound that caused the harmful act.

If you follow this blog then you’ll be familiar with my position that people are victims of their culture. Our culture morphs our perception of reality, our thoughts, and our behaviors form a young age. This can be in good or bad ways; when bad things result from cultural influence, but are normalized by culture in society, then the person who posses those bad traits is a victim of their culture. So how do we find justice here? We should not put so much energy into punishing the person, but the culture itself. We need to be critical, we need to deconstruct the culture that gave rise to such bad acts, if it did indeed do so. If we find our culture guilty of pulling people away from actions and thoughts which move our society toward a condition of peace and love then we need to work actively as a society to change these aspects of culture.

Of course, people are responsible for their actions. If a person commits a crime directed by their culture and is a danger to society, they should be given treatment for their condition and society should be protected from them in the mean time. This treatment, however, should in no way be an expression of any notion of punishment, but an expression of a pure intention of healing the wound that their culture has inflicted upon them.

This is just one of many applications of the notion of ‘healing the wound’. There are many wounds existing within society that are not causing people to commit ‘criminal’ acts, but rather wounds that directly induce intolerance, hate,  and violence in people who practice such cultures. My assertion is that any time someone acts in a way that is violent or hateful we need to examine the areas of culture that might have given rise to such an act and address them at the source, instead of just punishing people for something they are taught to be normal.

In this way we can move our condition of society towards peace, and towards love.

This post is intentionally vague. I hope to write more specific examples in the future, but I just wanted to get the idea out there now. Thanks for reading, and, as ever, for thinking!!!

My chat with a 16yo Syrian refugee at a bus stop in Zwolle

I’m living in The Netherlands now, so normally I don’t count my new experiences as ‘travel’, but today was different as I had to go to a city further south, Zwolle, to do some immigration things.

Zwolle struck me as a very nice and chilled out place. The streets were calm and quiet despite it being a Friday afternoon, kids were playing in the parks, and everyone was, as usual, riding around on their bikes. I was moving across the city because I had to take a Blabla Car back to Groningen to avoid paying the outrageous train fare. I arrived to the meeting place for my ride when a young man approached me and asked me for a light of his cigarette.

After I told him, in English, that I didn’t have a lighter, he promptly introduced himself and invited me for a smoke. He asked me where I was from and seemed really excited to learn that I was from the US. “I’ve always wanted to meet someone from the USA”, he told me, “I don’t get a chance to meet people from the USA here”. I asked him where he was from and he told me Syria. I asked him what he was doing in The Netherlands and he was quick to tell me he was a refugee. He said he was studying now, but that he had come to the Netherlands a year earlier, by illegal means, to escape impending danger in his home city of Damascus. We ended up speaking for about an hour, in which time I learned a lot of things. Some of which you would expect to learn from a 16 year old, like how to ask his friend if he smoked too much weed in Arabic, how to introduce myself in Dutch, and that his favorite subject in school is biology.

The rest of what he told me I found much more interesting, however. He agreed to let me ask him questions about his experiences as a refugee in The Netherlands. He said he came by illegal means, but I never asked how. He said that as soon as he arrived he went right to the police and turned himself in as a minor refugee. He told me that his first 5 months were living in a refugee housing facility. He remembered that life there was really nice, which is a stark contrast to the horrific reports coming from refugee housing facilities in other supposedly helpful nations like Australia and the USA. He said while living there he had lots of parties and that life was good inside the place. I asked him how he felt about the way the media and people in Europe/USA talk about refugees (ie. they are terrorists or people who want to see the destruction of the country they are going to). He told me something really interesting here. He said that there were some criminals in the refugee houses, people who had done terrible things back in Syria, usually in war. But he said that these people were looking to escape that old life and start new, he said that there aren’t any terrorists coming over but just people looking to escape their old situation and continue their lives.

He told me that once he got out of the refugee center he got moved into a place with another refugee roommate. He told me that he is living off of an actually sufficient government stipend; he is never hungry, always has his roof, and is even able to stay plenty warm in the winter! He had nothing but good things to say about the Dutch government, only that it could only be better if he made it to Canada! I asked him more about his life here, like if he ever experienced racism or discrimination. “Never”, he told me, “not once have I been in a racist situation”. This genuinely surprised me as I know the far right is gaining popularity in Europe at large and in particular in The Netherlands. He told me that sometimes people are cautious with him for about a minute when they first meet, but he said that “after only a minute or two talking to me they realize who I really am and are totally fine”. I couldn’t help but imagine what kind of a reception he would be likely to receive in my “country of immigrants”.

He had some good news for me. His family has obtained visas to come live in The Netherlands with him! I asked him if this was made easy because he was here and he told me that yes, especially because he was still considered a child. Near the end of this month will be the first time in over a year that he has seen his father or his sister. I asked him if he or his family were religious, he said that they weren’t. Further to this, he said that most people in his city were not very religious, and that many people even outside major cities were not so religious in Syria. He said that there were a lot of Christians in Damascus, but that there was nearly no religious tension or problems there among the people.

The most surprising thing I heard him say was support for the USA. It wasn’t absolute, he seemed to recognize that the USA was not a wonderful force overall in the region, but he expressed happiness that the USA was supporting the Kurds in their fight against IS. I don’t think his excitement to meet an American was based in this, but more about new perspectives and meeting different types of people. He was a pretty open guy and seemed to just want to meet all different types of people. He told me that he really wanted to shake the hand of a Jewish person because he had never met a Jewish person before.

As our talk was nearing an end I told him that I thought it was such an important thing to express the human side of the situation, and to spread individuals’ stories to inject some -much needed- humanity into the increasingly un-human storm. He totally agreed, so I hope he won’t mind me telling you all what he told me today.

De Kale Kip (Pino squat) vegan experience Groningen!

From to a wonderful evening of vegan food and great people in a new city!

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Pino squat no longer exists 😦 however, the squatting community in Groningen is still going strong and there are plenty of other events around, just just need to know where to look!

Back to the vegan side of blogging, and my first post since I have moved to Groningen. I come with good news! Tonight me and 13 of my best friends here in Groningen went out to a once weekly vegan dinner that I found on the happy cow website. If you don’t know happy cow it is a great resource to find veggie and vegan things happening just about anywhere! Here is a story where it has pulled through with such great success once again 😀

It was a rainy afternoon as we pushed off on our bikes from our student housing toward the place we would come to learn is called the “Pino squat” -after the pizza place that used to occupy this space. I was nervous because I was going to what seemed to be an unstable pop-up vegan restaurant with an international crowd of picky eaters and non-veggies. Upon arrival we were greeted with a slurry of good smells and lots of laughter and smiles in a rapidly filling small dining space. Our 14 person arrival came as quite a surprise to the volunteer staff, but we were warmly welcomed nonetheless. After we set up the chairs that they had to pull from the back for us we got served our soup course.

The soup was good, quite plain, but perfect to warm up from the cool rainy bike ride we had to get there. Carrot, tomato, and cabbage. We sat around talking for a little bit when one of the volunteer staff came over and ‘reminded’ us that we had to do our own dishes. Did I mention it was a 3 course menu for 4 euros each? Yeah, so there we go. Doing your own dishes is a small price to pay; and between 13 of us the workload was quite light for most 😀

The second course was (I think) a seitan product cooked in a dark rich savory sauce served with course mashed potatoes. It was really excellent, I could have eaten about 3. As implied, the potions were not huge, but sufficient for most. After we finished these dishes the dessert came out. It was a heavily spiced mixture of freshly cooked fruit on top of a pancake. It was too strong for many in my group, but I really loved it. Consequently I ended up eating about 4 of them! Great stuff! My initial nervousness quickly subsided as the evening progressed as I saw all my friends happily chatting and eating their food. It was really the best situation that I could imagine for the evening, better even!

The ambiance was really special as well, plenty of great spirited and smiling people among a subtly lit room of stickered, posterd, and graffitied walls. We were constantly getting wafts of different herbs coming, not only from the kitchen, but also from others’ cigarettes as well. There was a rotating display in one corner full of information about local protests, small concerts, local vegan activities and much more!

I managed to catch a few of the volunteers for a bit more information about what the place is and what they do. They apparently run a “bike kitchen” as well (sounds familiar <3). I hope to get involved when I can and get my hands greasy! They are beginning to host more activities that I hope to get involved with as well, particularly “chill Mondays”, which I am sure I will be needing during this masters course. They really emphasized to me that people are really free to organize what ever they want to do with the space.  I am so happy that I have discovered this place so early in my time here; I hope to enjoy it much more for the rest of my time in Groningen!

All of the good that america does…

Get ready for another of my extended metaphors…

I have been brooding over this post for quite a while after someone criticized my blog by saying that I should not forget all the good that America does. There is no doubt that America does some good things around the world. We give aid when countries are hit by natural disasters, we sometimes give aid to other countries in times of dire need, we have attempted governmental overthrow in some countries in the name of ‘the good of the people’ and in the process taken some very bad people out of power. The aid we give for natural disasters is great, if only we gave more. That’s all I can say about that, no real criticism. However, the rest of it is a different story.

Imagine you tie someone to a chair, light them on fire, wait a minute or two before putting out the fire, then apply burn cream to the wound (it does not escape my attention that burn cream is universally denounced by medical professionals, thus it is fitting for this analogy). This scenario is similar to what the USA (and the UK) does to many countries in the world that we are “helping”. We light them on fire -sometimes literally-, wait until there is a gaping wound, and then we apply a semi or ineffective treatment to make it seem like we care what’s going on while ignoring that we maliciously lit them on fire and left them to burn in the first place.

Let’s look at a few examples:

The USA took Saddam Hussein out of power. Saddam Hussein was a corrupt, murderous thug. Seems like he was a bad guy right to the core. We took him out, and even semi-staged a statue tear-down propaganda film to show how great we are and how happy the people were to receive our aid.  A Development Fund for Iraq was set up using money seized from the corrupt regime. We can look past the fact that this fund has undergone multiple audits for dodgy management practices. Using the money from this fund we did manage to accomplish a nice change for the Iraqi people, but a better PR show, of taking Saddam’s face off the currency.  Above is the bit where we put out the fire and applied the burn cream, however let’s not forget that the USA and the UK are largely responsible for Saddam’s rise to power. Here is a good compilation of the evidence leading to that conclusion. We paid him, we trained his regime, we armed him with guns and chemical weapons, we installed him into power, then we acted surprised when everything went to hell and acted like heroes when we went in and deposed him.

(I’m here struggling to think of more good things we have done. I asked a friend of mine and they replied “I don’t know…….. literature?” Yeah, Americans have written some really good books. Anyway…)

There is USAID or, U.S. Agency for International Development. If you go to their webpage it is full of a lot of really nice stuff. I remember from my time in Perú being in some reserves and national parks where there was an occasional USAID emblem in the corner of a research display or on a donor wall. These parks and reserves are very important for protecting what’s left of the natural and cultural heritage of Perú. I am sure such indications of USAID’s involvement in other nice projects could be found all over the global south. This all being said, USAID is just about the closest thing that you can get to the figurative burn cream that we apply to the world. Right there in the name, “International Development” comes a multitude of issues. From the get-go, the USA helping other nations to develop is really mostly done so there can be new developing markets for our businesses to exploit. I mean, the “bettering” of people’s lives probably plays a big factor in the motivation behind this action, but it is no secret that undeveloped or struggling economies are not good for international economics and a primary goal of the USA is to improve the international economic situation in their own favor. However, this “development” often comes at huge losses to local cultures and environments. Check out Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh by Helena Norberg-Hodge (1991) for how this can be, or her organization website. (This reference and link is largely unrelated to USA international relations, but more about how “development” can be detrimental to  local communities.) In addition, look into Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano (1971) for an extensive review of how US-given “aid” has “helped” Latin America over the years. In short, the aid we give to countries often is either loaded with stipulations that end up creating a dependency on US trade (see: obligatory economic restructuring in the economic philosophy of comparative advantage), or only really goes to benefit the developing pro-US business upper-middle and elite classes within the country, leaving the poor behind to endlessly toil in a country where rampant inequality rips apart the fabric of their society and their lives.

Further to this issue we have the fact that so many of the problems that USAID is trying to remedy have been caused by the USA and USA corporations. For example, I clicked on the first header of the “What we do” section of their website which is “Agriculture and food security”, and I found the following paragraph.
“A spike in world food prices in 2008 hurt economies across the world and led to destabilizing riots in over 30 countries. In order to feed a population expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, the world will have to double its current food production, all while climate change increases droughts and leads to less predictable rains.” -USAID website 16 Aug 2016

Ok, right, fuck off. A world economic crisis in 2008 largely caused by US banks in the name of high-risk private profit with a publicly funded safety net which was OK because they knew they were “too big to fail”. The world does not need to double its food output, we currently produce more than enough food to feed the world. As the linked article rightly pointed out the issue is not scarcity of food, but poverty of people. This poverty is directly caused by the globalized economic system which has been forced upon people, one which the USA is a very strong proponent and endorser. In fact, I am pretty comfortable saying that over the past, at least 100 years, we have been a dominant, if not THE dominant, influencer in global food markets. For a more in-depth analysis check out The End of Food by Paul Roberts (2008). And finally, climate change. Do I even have to write about how the majority of our government rejects current science on climate change, how the US government time and again refuses to sign into binding climate change mitigating treaties due to their potential impacts on business, how the USA is constantly in the top 2 countries driving climate change and shows no intention to slow down, and how we are being left behind in the world in our pseudo-debate over climate change with an angry and stupefied populace who believes what they hear from a Koch Industries representative on Fox News? No, I don’t, I hope. And this is just my comments from one paragraph of one topic on one page of the site. Clearly we are applying a USbandAID to problems we caused, or are doing nothing to challenge the root of said problems.

I could go on. We fight terrorists (I could write a whole post just about this), we support international democracy (I have written posts about this), we defend the world from the terrors of socialism and communism (I have a post in the works about this). To conclude, the USA does do some good things internationally, but these things are really just simple, largely ineffective patches for problems we caused in the first place.

Did I miss something great that the USA does in the post? Do you know of things other than disaster relief that the USA helps with that it didn’t, at least indirectly, cause?  Please let me know and I will add them.

As ever, if you want to look into any of the books I mentioned then check out your local libraries or your local alternative bookstores. Thanks for reading and for thinking!