The Empty Promise of Web Sites

Most of the Internet is a terrific waste of time, full of hot air, cluttered with catchy yet meaningless tripe. It gives the illusion of being content-rich and full of possibility, but it’s the shallow hype of lifestyle sections in a poorly-written newspaper, at best. It’s the colorful variety of supermarket coupons. It’s random postings on a giant bulletin board.

And what’s with the sudden proliferation of exclamation points? Now, that gimmick of advertising has infected even the most casual of comments.  You can’t just “like” that picture of a cute kitten, you have to write “So Cute!” And then it’s time to pat yourself on the back for the productive use of your computer, of being a content-provider, a member of that vast crowd of prosumers who are changing the nature of popular discourse.

We turn to the computer for the same reason we used to turn to the television, for diversion. How else to fill the empty hours? As I look out the window at the teams of Pakistani and Bangladeshi men in purple jumpsuits who labor twelve hours a day building the apartment building across the street, I realize they would love to have the option to dawdle for hours on Facebook, clicking “like” on pictures that divert them. I guess it’s one step removed fro recreational shopping, and God knows enough of us have used the computer for that, as well. Just look at eBay.


Do my desires make me happy? If not, why do I try so hard to satisfy them?

Just because I like bananas for breakfast doesn’t mean if I move to a banana republic I’ll be happier than where I am now. Right now in Iowa, there’s snow on the ground and it gets below zero at night. In such an environment, it would be normal to dream of a sunny beach, but such a beach isn’t guaranteed to change my mood in the long run, or for longer than it takes to take a swim and dry off. After all, it’s just a beach.

As I write this, I’m on a stretch of sand much greater than any beach. The weather is pleasant, but I’m not particularly happy at this moment. I’m restless and discontent. I’m in Dubai, and I keep thinking I ought to be somewhere else, somewhere I’ve never been before.

Far more important than quickly reacting whenever I get a hankering or an urge, would be to sit still long enough to process the emotion, and figure out if change is even called for. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe the best, if most difficult thing to do is nothing at all. Stay where I am. Deal with it.

Don’t Shoot the Geezers!

With all the aging baby boomers from America getting ready to split for more affordable and warmer climes, foreign countries would do well not to kill retirees. Shoot anybody else, but not geezers abroad.

Recently, all the members of a band  were found dead, having been dumped into a well in Northern Mexico. They had been executed, probably by a drug cartel. This is not good publicity for Mexico as a retirement paradise. See:

Developing economies of the world take note!  If you want to benefit from the income retirees will bring, you have to market your brand in a credible way. Cost of living is only one parameter. Not being shot in the head and dumped in a well in another.

This Ex-Patriate Life Teaches You Something

I’ve been abroad for over a year now, and it’s a fundamentally different experience than I enjoyed coming and going on two or three-week vacations. After this long away from America, I finally get the fact that these funny-talking foreigners are just as smart as we are. I’ve been able to feel their mixed appreciation and resentment of how we Americans have conducted ourselves. And I realize that everybody knows it’s only a matter of time before China becomes the major power in the world.

Western Europe seems to have grown out of its tendency to wage war. For seventy years now, they have lived in peace. We Americans are getting awfully tired of bombing the countries that displease us. We realize that there are no “surgical strikes,” that there is no quick and easy in and out when it comes to invading sovereign nations. So maybe we’re done with war, too.

But what can be done about the rest of the world? That was the question that brought about the creation of the United Nations. We Americans don’t much care for or respect the UN, even though it’s headquartered right here, in Manhattan. The Love It Or Leave It crowd are the main critics of the UN, because Internationalism is the opposite of American Exceptionalism.  But what if the relative peace much of the world has enjoyed can somehow be credited to the existence of the UN?  Could it be that the UN deserves our respect and attention? Maybe we need to take a leading role in reorganizing it, so that it provides a true democratic voice for all nations.

The window of opportunity for us to take this leadership role in supporting and fixing the UN is closing fast. In twenty years, we will no longer be the biggest gorilla, the one who sits down wherever he pleases. We will be overshadowed by India and China, who will set the agenda as they please. So maybe now is the time for us to act in true leadership and humility and fix somewhat broken but nevertheless enduring United Nations while we still can.

Watching American Movies in Dubai

I’ve seen two movies in at the nearby cinema this week. The first, Zero Dark Thirty, was about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. It involved the torture of many Arabs, and finally the execution of Arab men and women. I was watching this in a movie theater in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Men and women in Arab dress sat in the theater with me. I must say I wondered how they felt seeing people who dressed and spoke like them tortured and shot by Americans.  The second movie we saw was Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s latest super-violent cartoon about slavery. The audience seemed to enjoy it, laughing at several points, even though they were probably reading the subtitles in either French or Arabic. The movie is set in 1858, in America, but oddly enough slavery was only outlawed here in 1962. In Hatta, near the border of Oman, less than an hour’s drive from Dubai, there is a tree under which African slaves were sold just fifty years ago.


I’m sick of watching BBC and Al Jazeera

When we watch the news as a source of entertainment, it is chronically disappointing, for unfolding real events are not plotted dramatically. Civil wars and famines have a timeline of their own, and lack the familiar dramatic arc leading to crisis followed by denouement. Instead, they just drag on and on. At least in certain familiar stories, like the baby trapped in a well, death will mercifully step in the end the story if rescue cannot, but those kinds of self-contained dramas are rare in the real world, which is the source of news.

The rapid rise and proliferation of news as entertainment lies in its cost benefit. It’s cheaper to eliminate the writers, directors and actors demanded by theater, and there is an assumed seriousness and relevance in the “reality” of news that the fabrication of drama lacks.

Finally, the very act of watching anything on television is nothing most people are proud of, so watching news gives them the justification of self-education. “I’m not just wasting time, I’m watching the news.”



The Search for a Better Place

All travel writing is based on the concept that some places are better or at least more interesting than others, and that there are a few certain places that are absolutely fabulous, and if you could only visit them you would never be unhappy again. At some level we all know that’s nonsense, but that doesn’t stop people from dreaming that such places exist.

Those of us who spend the greater portion of our disposable income on travel, find that photographs are notoriously unreliable when it comes to really capturing the essence of a place, and what it does and doesn’t have to offer either the casual visitor or the permanent resident. But a photograph, with its predictable boundary, does offer a tiny window into a greater world, a world fleshed out and filled in by the viewer’s imagination.

If we look back on our lives, golden moments we cherish haven’t depended so much on where we were as what we were doing and whom we were with at the time. But activity and people are harder to summon than an image. So, for the sake of expediency, we confuse adventure with its visual representation.

I value travel photography for the fact that it gives me something to do when I travel. Armed with my trusty camera, I face each day with an objective, to take an interesting picture. The more I practice, the better I get. So my camera is like a musical instrument, and what I take pictures of are like the musical scores I practice until I can play.

here is a link to some photos I shot one morning here in Dubai

Finally Went Inside and Up Burj Khalifa – world’s tallest building

Some friends live there and they invited us to visit. Better than going with the tourist crowd, after paying $15 to $30, because you get to go to different places than just the top. After about fifty floors up, it doesn’t get any more impressive, just higher. But the swimming pool and hot tub on the 43rd floor was really nice.  And our friends made us high tea.

The security at the building was impressive. So many people hired to filter out the rogue photographer. I suppose they’re also there to stop terrorists. When you have the “world’s ___est” anything, you attract them, I suppose.

Listening to Marvin Gaye in Dubai in 2013

I’m listening to one of my favorite albums ever, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?” on Youtube, thanks to my great Internet connection here in our apartment in Silicon Oasis, Dubai. It’s chillly out tonight. I remember being really absorbed by this album back in 1972. I had a jazz show on the University of Missouri’s public radio station in Columbia, Missouri, and I found this album in the stacks. Jazz flautist Herbie Mann had written a note in the liner notes of his album of about the same time, praising What’s Goin’ On. So I played it on the air, then bought it, moved to Iowa City, and wrote a lot of my first plays listening to it. That was forty-one years ago. I’m still alive, but Marvin isn’t. I went to his wake, at Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles, standing in line with about a hundred thousand people to file by his casket in a little chapel.

Strange to think it’s the same planet, the same me, now perched at the top of an apartment building surrounded by thousands of square miles of cold sand. I’m only a hundred miles from Iran! And still, I’m able to listen to my musical memories piped on command from the Youtube server in America, because somebody else loved Marvin Gaye, too and uploaded my favorite album.

A New Play I’ve Written

It’s called The Sunny Side of the Street.  Has roles for three women and two men. Running time about 70 minutes. If you mount a production, and your theater company pays royalties, please send me your standard royalty. How much do you spend when you produce the Odd Couple or Our Town? C’mon, don’t be cheap. And tell me how it went over.

Please click below to access a word document

the sunny side of the street