July 24, 2010

How to Stop Sasha Cohen from Making Fun of Kazakhstan

The government of Kazakhstan is up in arms. A man in remote England is making fun of them by posing as a Kazakh journalist. He has set up a site in broken English, and is ridiculing the country and its people right and left. They feel insulted and are trying everything possible to stop him, but to no avail.

You see, Kazakhstan is a newly independent country that most Britons know very little about. Britain had never colonized it, so there is no large Kazakh community in the UK or anywhere in the English-speaking world to protest the mockery that the nation has had to endure because of Mr. Cohen’s nefarious activities. And what’s more, just to show you how ignorant the British public can be, he is now filming a movie about Kazakhstan in Romania of all places. Don’t the Brits know that Romanians look nothing like Kazakhs? Kazakhs are relatives of Mongolians, and Romanians are arguably related to Italians. They obviously do not know such a simple detail because there has been, in fact, another British movie about Kazakhstan that I saw on TV once although I can’t remember its name. It portrayed a British commando who went to that country to help them overthrow a despotic government and to set up a new pro-Western democracy. The movie was filmed in Bulgaria of all places. Why didn’t they go to Mongolia to film it? It would have looked more credible then. Bulgarians look nothing like Kazakhs, but Mongolians do. But the movie created no uproar even from the most educated and liberally minded Brits who would be fuming if someone showed, say, an African country- by filming a movie about it in Cambodia. There would be angry comments in the press and the studio would be pelted with eggs. So, why is there no outcry about pseudo- journalistic antics of the new anti-Kazakh burletta?

I will tell you why. Because very few people outside of that area- especially those in Britain- know where the country is, what the people there look like and how things there are. There is little trade between the two countries so damage from a Kazakh boycott of British goods is not likely to be significant. Too bad for the poor Kazakhstanis! They are now a laughing stock of the entire world. With total impunity on the part of the perpetrator- the witty and caustic Sasha Cohen, a.k.a. Mr. Borat. A person who is building a career out of disparaging someone’s beloved motherland.

The Kazakh government is not amused at all. Their culture, political system and way of life are being poked fun of in the most shameless and disrespectful fashion. They are lodging protests in all possible places and expressing their indignation to the international organs of the media, political bodies, and governments, but to no avail. They can’t fight the freedom of speech in Western countries even if it is being abused to make them look like backwater savages from some remote desert kingdom.

However, there is a sure way to stop this slander even though they still have not figured it out. The Freedom of Speech in the West has limits that the Kazakhs still don’t know about. All you have to do is use the modern political correct weaponry to silence Mr. Cohen. Namely: just call him a bigot. You may have, undoubtedly, noticed that Cohen is not making a show about Pakistan or India or China. He would be taken off the air in about five minutes if he ever tried to do so. And his show would be called discriminatory, bigoted, and most of all, racist. And once that nasty word creeps into the collection of adjectives that people use to describe you, there is no arguing back. If you are ‘white’ and you make fun of a protected country that is ‘not white’, even if you have a reason to poke fun of their politics, you get called “a racist”. And it is just like calling someone a heretic in the 16th century- how can you argue with that? Once you are a witch, you are done for! You get burned big time.

Yup, if he started posing as a Pakistani journalist, that would be the end of the show and his career. And I would not be surprised if his very life would not be threatened after that, and he would not be afraid to step out of his house and onto the street. But he was smart- he has chosen someone far more removed from the Western life and is now picking on the weak guy- the jumping off country of Kazakhstan. Now where on earth would that be?

I am sure that very few Brits know it, but Kazakhstan is, in fact, an Asian country whose native population is about as Asian as one can get. Sure, there are some 120 other ethnicities there, but the true Kazakhs are of the pure central Asian stock. And Mr. Cohen is, in modern Western terms, a Caucasian, a white man, making fun of Asians. This makes him what? That’s right! A racist! So, the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan as well as all its organs that are unhappy about the continuing harlequinade, had better learn how to scream “Racist!, Racist!”, so that they could keep up with the rest of the world. Send a few thousands of letters to the studio and hire some sandwich men to stand outside it with the placards “Racist Show!” “Down With Racist Bigots!” hanging from their necks. Claim openly that he is being racist towards Asian people. You will see how quickly Borat’s Show will collapse and he will go the way Benny Hill went when he was accused of being sexist and insulting to women.

Too bad the Kazakhs are too innocent to ever have heard of political correctness the same way as most Brits do not even know what Kazakhstan is. Someone had better contact the Kazakh authorities and quickly recommend they follow that route. I mean, they need to do it pronto! They will be surprised how swiftly and effectively they will be able to deal with the issue and how soon Borat’s show will meet its demise. It is just like spraying DDT upon a worm. It curls up and dies. So, spray some PC DDT upon Sasha. Call him a racist, please! Do it quickly before it’s too late and the reputation of the country is totally ruined.

Kazakhs have the Baikonur cosmodrome, and have been launching rockets into space for decades. If they are such good rocket scientists, surely launching a PC rocket straight into Borat’s Show should be a breeze for them.


July 9, 2010

Free Speech vs. Common Decency

As the government of Kazakhstan is hating Borat more and more for making a movie and TV series in which their country is shown to be a backward East European backwater and a poor Third World jumping off place, and in the aftermath of the cartoon riots, many Muslims around the world are steel reeling under the weight of the controversy, many Western media leaders are citing the right of free speech in their defense.

Many are saying that a movie is not real life, and a cartoon is just a cartoon. However, how do you know about the effects that such movies or cartoons will have on people in real lives? People’s reputations can be ruined. They can be mocked. They can be refused jobs and apartments. They will be shut out of social lives. It’s been known to happen. Who is reading such newspapers or watching such movies? It is mostly working-class people the majority of whom aren’t that sophisticated and who, while realizing that a movie was made at a studio, will still form harmful subliminal associations in their minds which in the future will only increase bigotry and discrimination against various groups. So, while free speech is allowing you to make funny movies and caricatures, keep in mind that you are harming many people’s lives in the process.

I keep hearing things like- well, most people know it is really nothing serious, just a parody. But most people, even in the West are not necessarily open-minded, international, politically correct PhD holders with majors in Intercultural Communications. Landlords and employers are watching such movies and seeing such cartoons. And next time a Muslim or a Kazakh comes to apply for a job or to rent living space, they stand a bigger chance of being rejected than before such things have been put into the organs of the media. In social situations people will be ridiculed- "Hey, I saw a show about Kazakhstan- it looks like a very poor, third world dung hole (Kazakhstan is an oil rich country that is almost on par with Brazil in GDP. A normal middle-income country, that's what it is.) I have even seen comments on the Internet stating that Kazakhstan was a “small” Third World country- hey, when was the last time you looked at the world map-the country is about the size of the entire Western Europe!

Such irresponsible journalism and movie making is creating a very harmful effect. Think about one thing, for example: it is called "word association". People are asked to give the first other word that comes to mind when a certain word is uttered. Teachers in classrooms would give an exercise to students quite often when I was younger. Say the first word that comes to mind if I say “Italy”, for example. What are you going to say if you have been seeing movies on TV that show Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo? You will probably say “Art”. If you always see articles about Italian food, you will think of spaghetti and pizza.

However, if the media keep churning out one movie about Mafia after another, you will associate Italy with Mafia. So, next time an Italian applies for a job, even if you are an open minded person, such an association will flash through your mind. Now, what will happen if you are not an open-minded person but just an average Joe? Most probably you will transfer these associations into your dealings with that person. You may, if angry, call him names and defame him. He may even be passed for a promotion and refused various social interactions.

In such a way, organs of the media are, with total impunity, sowing seeds of poison by planning one negative stereotype after another in the common people’s minds.

Granted, Italians are now quite well accepted in America, or other “Anglo-Saxon” countries, but the media, under the umbrella of “free speech” still keeps slandering other groups while arguing that they have the right to do it, and “it is just a movie”. However, by constantly portraying other groups in a negative or ludicrous light they besmirch the reputation of such groups and destroy their right to live with dignity and self-respect. This way, a Kazakh will become associated with a “poor, third world fool” and a Muslim with terrorism. Then, people will start reporting more cases of work-place harassment, losses of friendship and rejections of all kinds in society. Or most noticeably, as a member of such groups, one will simply not be respected.

Sure, there will be some very cosmopolitan individuals who will not form such stereotypes, but how about store owners? Hotel owners? Supervisors at work? Friends? Neighbors? Who are they going to treat members of such groups after the nearly hypnotic associations of such groups with various contemptful and negative things have been inserted into people’s minds?

Media should not take the very sacred right of free speech as a license to slander entire groups and, in process, virtually ruin their lives. Free speech is there to expose true evil, not sow tribal scorn and hatred. So, please have some decency, media people. We cannot legislate decency, only suggest it to you. Think about all those who may be affected by your gross and false generalizations and by the associations you are repeatedly inserting into the minds of the common working public worldwide in the name of 'free speech' and the Almighty Dollar.


White Bums in Sydney- the End of the Western Civilization?

I am in the middle of Sydney, Australia. It is a cool, wintry day in August. The skyscrapers around and above me are filled with light , and a huge moon hangs over the city as the lazy puffs of vapor, coming out of the chimneys and exhaust outlets, rise into the crisp, southern skies.

I look around me and I see what I did not quite expect to see in Australia ( maybe because I had been watching too many re-runs of Crocodile Dundee)- I see many people jostling around, but they do not look like Paul Hogan; most of them have Asian faces, that is. They appear well dressed and happy, their clothes are crisp and stylish, the expressions on their smiling faces seem to show deep satisfaction with their lives. Around me, there are stores and restaurants selling mostly Chinese and Korean foods. They are all full, and there is no place to sit. There is only one word to describe downtown Sydney- prosperity, and it is Asian prosperity. I, in fact, feel that I am in Seoul or Hong Kong. Except that here I do not see nervous people or hustlers. They all look relaxed and rich, or at least, very comfortable.

A young Asian couple, hand in hand, a pretty girl and a bespectacled young man, stroll purposefully past me. They have that successful and confident-of-their-future look as they animatedly gaze at, and discuss various expensive items in display windows. I watch them go into a store. I walk in after them and check out the prices. A silk tie is Au$175?! That is about $140 US. For a tie? In many places in Asia you can by a similar tie for just a few bucks! Most customers, who are Asian, look enthusiastic, and I see no shock on their faces as they carry shopping bags full of the outrageously priced items out the doors of these ultra expensive, glitzy stores. I am a traveler on a $100 a day budget which includes my small hostel room, so I watch those shoppers with envy, and sigh at my own small expense account as I walk down to the rail station, since I think it would be too expensive for me to take a taxi.

All of a sudden, I hear a voice with a Crocodile Dundee accent - “G’d evenin’ mate, ( “mate” is pronounced as ‘mite’) woudj’u by aynee chance be ible t’spare two dollars? “ and I see my first Caucasian face in a long time. He looks like a typical Outback Aussie, with a weathered countenance and a shuck of gray hair. I‘d say he is in his early sixties. His clothes are old and worn, and the expression on his face is wistful- the same that I would see on the visages of poor Bangladeshis working in the Middle East. He looks at me sheepishly, while laughing Asian passer-bys give him a wide birth. “Jis’ two bloody dollars, please, mite” he looks at me again, while crouching as if expecting me to hit him.

The Australian $2 coin is one of the smallest, so, I guess, local beggars prefer to ask for those rather than for the one-dollar ones. If in the US, they ask you for a quarter; here, there are no quarters, only 20c coins. Everything is rather expensive, too, and the 20c and one dollar denominations are larger in size, plus their purchasing power is not that great. Thus, the beggars have discovered that the $2 coins were the easiest and the most sensible ones to try to get from the people they ask for money.

I give him $2, he thanks me and walks away feebly into the throngs of briskly walking East Asian pedestrians who, upon seeing him, shun away again and speed up as if they saw cholera. As I myself walk away, I hear more “Good evenin’ mite‘s” being uttered by the hobo towards the smooth flowing torrents of gallant and well -groomed Asian shoppers. “ Wou’j’yah spare two dollars, mite? I need t’ get t’ Canberra!” Eventually, his piteous figure disappears into the dynamic and wealthy-looking sea of the Asian pedestrians.

“It’s pathetic!“ ,I mumble to myself and decide to postpone my return to the hostel. I take another look around. At the corner, I see another “Paul Hogan“, sitting on the asphalt of the street corner, with cardboard signs around him asking for small sums of money. A relatively short distance away, there is yet another one- this one looks like one of those Scottish warriors from the movie “Braveheart“. He is looking up at the affluent Asian crowds above him with the wet eyes of a puppy asking to be petted. As he is ignored, he lowers his gaze in the shame and resignation of defeat. I throw him a coin and he gives me a look of unbelieving gratitude. “Thanks, mite!”

It does look like the precursor of things to come- the “Caucasian race” turning into sorry-looking beggars as vibrant Asians stride confidently towards the future of material comfort, professional success and happiness, leaving the pitiful Caucasians behind to beg on the streets of Sydney, Auckland, and many other “formerly” Western cities. Is this the end of the Western civilization as we know it?

It may sure look like it in Sydney, and if I were an Australian who does not travel, I would probably get that same impression. However, I am a traveler, plus I do read the news and do quite a bit of research on the Web. This is an illusion. The thing is, the Australian government does not want poor or uneducated, unskilled Asian people in the country. Or any other poor and unskilled people there for that matter. The only Asians ( or non-Asians) that are allowed to move or travel to Oz are the ones who are either wealthy or professional. Or tourists with money. No bums, Asian or otherwise, from other countries are allowed in, as a rule. Hence, the only beggars there can be the poor, bummed out locals, and these end up in the downtown areas because that is where the crowds are. Downtown locales are popular with tourists and recent immigrants, but not so much with the natives or those who have been in the country for a while, for these have long ago moved on to the wealthier, and more comfortable, suburbs.

But even in Blacktown, a largely immigrant suburban enclave on the outskirts of Sydney, bristling with vivacious and enthusiastic crowds of Indians, Filipinos, Sudanese, Fijians and Samoans, all briskly going about their business with self-assured expressions of purpose and gusto on their faces, I eventually come upon a pale face of a young Caucasian beggar who comes out at me from the shadows of the bushes near the station.
“Couj’yah spare two dollars, mite? I need t’get t’ Sydney”.

I guess they all stake out places where there are the biggest crowds no matter what their ethnic composition is. Those beggars are something else! And the impression they make on the visitor to Australia is both comical and tragic. But most of all, they do give you the wrong impression of the demise of the Western world which may be exploited by quite of few propagandists for dubious purposes. I do, therefore, wish the Australians would import a few beggars from Asia just to be fair.


Oil Rich Countries

Aah! What prosperity and abundance awaits so many of us who end up in the countries where wealth comes from the ground! One does not realize that instead of an economy based on credit or taxes or hard work and discipline as in most of the West, the wealth seems to be jetting forth constantly from the ground, like from the horn of plenty. One soon notices that everything is cheap but salaries are the same or bigger with no taxes. Soon one’s savings account starts growing without one sacrificing his/her lifestyle. Then, services are also dirt cheap. Soon, one stops budgeting, since one still spends as one would at home, but one still can put away decent chunks of money into one’s bank account.

There are drawbacks, though. While services are, in fact, cheap, they are not of such high quality as back home. Many employees are not as motivated and will not get fired if they do not give you excellent treatment. Many are completely incompetent. Travel agents make mistakes that would cost them their careers in the West; repair shops do not repair items on time, people promise to have an item or a service ready for you on a certain day only to fail to deliver, costing you hours of lost time. The employees are either sullen and unfriendly, or smiley and friendly, but still not able to serve you properly. Many things are simply not available and if you ask them when they arrive, they will give you a date, but even on that date, the goods are still not there. The companies will not go out of business because oil money will keep them as well as the entire economy afloat. Everybody will have some kind of income whether the customer gets served well or not, so why try too hard?

Quality control on imports is very poor. I once bought a pair of sneakers in the Middle East that looked great and felt very comfortable on my feet, however, when I took them to Sydney, the soles fell off after a few hours of walking. I had to limp around until I located a store selling glue and later, had to sit on the street gluing the soles to the shoes in plain view of everybody. It was very embarrassing, and it was even more enlightening when I realized that the glue that I bought to glue those soles back on cost more than the shoes themselves. Eventually, I had to throw them out.

Many of the natives are so rich and so protected by local employment laws that they can live the lives of complete security no matter how badly they fare at work. They can show up late, leave early, screw up all they want and still be better off than you. None of the principles of personal responsibility that are so highly valued in the West apply to them. The world, in fact, owes and provides them with an excellent living that spurts from the ground in jets of black gold. The economic system for nationals of such countries can rightfully be termed Petro-Socialism and it is probably the only types of socialism that works, primarily because money generated by the oil comes from all the Western capitalists that have helped to develop the system to begin with.

It can sometimes drive you nuts, though. Hey, take a chill pill. That is the price you have to pay for living in such naturally prosperous countries and being able to put so much cash away. It still irritates me occasionally, but I have learned to take those things in stride as part of my overall petrodollar experience.


Duty Free, etc.

You know, duty free may be a good deal in Western Europe, Japan or the US, but for the life of me, I have no idea why anyone would want to buy anything except only a few items in the duty free areas in most of the world countries.

Take souvenirs, for example. Why would you want to buy them in the duty free section if you can get those three or four or five times cheaper outside the airport, in town? The same goes for bags. Gee, why would you want to buy a bargain $200 bag at the Duty Free if so many stores in town will sell it to you for $30 or less. Admittedly, it may not be exactly the same bag, but it will be pretty darn close and you can then use it for the same purpose as you would have used the more expensive ones.

Electronics for some reason do not look so cheap, either. You can scout the Internet and get them much cheaper. The only good thing the Duty Frees are good for is items that are simply not available anywhere near where you are heading to. For example, caviar may not be available in many places in the Middle East or SE Asia. Plus it ‘will’ be cheaper if you buy it there. Some famous alcoholic items will be cheaper, for example Black Label- it is, in fact, cheaper. Chewing tobacco or snuff can be unavailable in many countries except in some big duty frees. However, outside of those items, I do not see much benefit in the Duty Free sections.

By the way, neither Australia not New Zealand seem to have chewing tobacco or snuff as they simply do not form part of the culture there and will not have a market. Dubai and Bahrain Duty Frees, on the other hand, are excellent for such items as well as for caviar.

Caviar needs to be declared when you come out as it falls under “food” but chewing tobacco is not considered ‘plant product’ by many customs. I have, on numerous occasions asked customs officers about that, but it’s still worth asking when you go through the customs. You never know what they have in mind.

Anyway, outside the occasions when I wanted to buy those items, I do not spend much time in Duty Free sections. And, by and large, I would not buy anything since often I would see huge lines in the Goods to Declare lines formed by those who had bought something in those.

By the way, on several occasions Custom Declaration forms seemed to be confusing. When I was in Australia this year, I checked “yes” on the form where it asked me if I acquired certain items abroad over a certain sum of money. I can’t recall how much it was, but I was worried about my gold jewelry which was in access of US$ 1000. Would I have to pay duty on it? It turned out that since I was going there as a tourist and was not going to keep it in Oz, I did not have to declare it in the first place. Then, also, when I was going through the New Zealand customs the form asked me something to the effect whether I had been near animals or in rural areas recently. Well, I had been, as a matter of fact. I was in a national park in Oz and then I was in contact with kangaroos and koalas- yes, I petted them. When I put ‘yes’ on the form and talked to the NZ customs officer, he began to smirk, asked me to show him the soles of my shoes and let me through, changing the ‘yes’ on the form to ‘no’. Go figure what they have in mind. Weren’t those rural areas and animals respectively?


Expats Cheating Other Expats

Very often one gets cheated in a foreign country by someone who is another foreigner and who is often from either your country or the one near yours. As a matter of fact, in many places it is far more common for expats to be cheated by another foreigner than by a native. After all a native often feels guilty about cheating a guest while a foreigner living there rarely feels guilty about cheating another foreigner. Would a German in Thailand be guilty about cheating an American? Or would one American feel guilty about cheating another in a far away land? Not always. Watch out for “business offers” coming from mealy-mouthed foreign residents who had been in the country longer than you. They may be trying to take you to the cleaners.