Monday, June 19, 2006

Oil Dependence: A double edged sword?

I've always been a little uncomfortable with the whole oil dependency discussion. As

Of course I'm against US 'national interests' translating into death and oppression in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and I really don't have a problem with people paying $5/gallon in gas (I've heard this over and over as the final justification for war with Iraq). On the other hand, Libya is an oil producing country--and while, I personally am not benefiting from this, I realize that others are (not just the Q-dude though he & company benefit exponentially more than most).

I was reading Unfettered Swallow's post on Bush's state of the union in February and it got me thinking again.... What would be the best balance for both worlds?

On the one hand, petroleum is tainted--often called black gold or the black curse. And it is a curse of sorts in that it allows for an easy government source of income that really subverts a government's need to establish a healthy relationship with its citizens, far less invasive than a system of broad citizen taxation.

On the other hand, governments are able to use the revenue to subsidize some of the basic needs of people, such as food, housing, or medical treatment. Few things depress me more than seeing so many homeless people on the streets--and, yes, I realize that San Francisco has more than most places, but it depresses me nonetheless that there are SO MANY! I won't even go into health care, except to say I believe that petroleum production revenue does generally translate into a more universal health care system (although I can't say much about access). And it makes me happy to think no one is starving, too.

I know the economic answer would be something about a diverse portfolio or comparative advantage, but if the portfolio benefits a minority and the comparative advantage isn't quite clear, then what?

If oil dependency translates into interference of a political process and freaky politics as we've seen thus far, then that's not desirable.

However, what does oil independence translate into for petroleum producing states like Libya?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Il wsa’a fil galb

I think my mind has hijacked my heart. I’ve been told that the downfall of women is our hearts so I trust my mind more though my heart is screaming. I hear you, I assure it. My mind tells it to calm down and give the move a chance, to give me a little time to adjust.

But my chest tightens when I walk towards this place and I choke when I walk in. I don’t see myself anywhere here. The walls are so bare and white that I feel like painting for the first time in my life. Even the heater is painted white and I miss the chipped paint and the rust and the dust and the noise of our old one. It clanked when it was turning on as though a miniature handy man was wrenching a bolt and hammering on the inside of the metal walls of the columns fixing something, and then it hissed through the night like he left something loose. The clank, clank, clanking began every night at 6:30 pm to the minute, frustrating me when the weather was cold and the sun was no longer coming through the windows.

Above the heater is where we hung the spatially inaccurate painting of a traditional Libyan tea setting. A blue tea-pot sits steaming on a canoon. A box of red tea--Sha’i Seelan—is painted into the upper left corner and a metallic sugar container on the right. A box of Riyath cigarettes and Libyan produced matches lie in front of the canoon, just below the small tea glass and the awkwardly painted glass of water. And while this not a perfect specimen of artistry, I find my eyes resting on it quite a bit. I’ve always imagined a 60-something year old Libyan man sitting under the shade on a hot afternoon. The peachy-grey background could easily be the outside wall of a store on the bottom floor of a building on Omar Al-Mukhtar Street or on the side-walk of an apartment building on one of the residential streets nearby. Other times I think he’s sitting outside his home on one of the farms outside the city, taking in the serene solitude of rural Libya. Where ever I imagine him, I know that he’s alone and neither expecting nor inviting company because there’s only one tea glass.

I made tea in a blue tea pot like that one, except the lid on ours was unhinged. I had to use a kitchen towel when lifting the lid to see whether the water was boiling. I scooped sugar from a silver tin a little larger than the one in the painting, but of the same design down to the grooves on the lid. I made Sha’i Seelan every afternoon when my mother and grandmother woke up from their naps, again ready to talk and nibble. And I tasted the dusty tobacco of Riyath cigarettes when I stole a couple from whatever box I found laying around. I wouldn’t buy cigarettes because no one could know of my secrete midnight ritual in the corner of our roof under the moon and a sky full of stars. And everyone used those matches to light gas stoves and candles when the electricity went out.

I miss the corner the heater was in and I don’t like this one in this milky corner of this new room. My heater was bigger and warmer.

And the windows aren’t facing the sun either. A view of the private Catholic high-school campus with wealthy urban teenagers replaces my city sky-line and the horridly revamped Oasis hotel across the street. Not that I’ll miss the bright yellow, orange, and purple window frames lined up behind the dimly lit green and white awning of the hotel across the street. O-A-S-I-S: each bubble letter imprinted on a separate green cube. But I will miss looking out at tree-lined Willow alley between the hotel and the well kept brick apartment building that I can enjoy at least until the ‘Big One’ hits. And I will miss the brown and golden dome of City Hall peeking above the building on the southern corner, and seeing the city turn pink in the magic hour.

I have strangely sinister associations with private Catholic high schools and teenagers, but I know these are irrational. Perhaps I’ll learn to like them—or at least render them back-ground noise like I have the daily sirens of ambulances and fire engines driving through to yet another emergency.

The noise never bothered me, but the new silence is daunting. My ears are accustomed to the humming of car engines driving by and the blaring talk radio. I would lie on the couch at noon-time on Saturdays, listening to This American Life and the back-ground music of motors and the not so occasional Harley cruising by. Sometimes, I would drown out the traffic with Arabic music and dance like people do when they’re alone.

Now, listening to the radio will be my new secret ritual. The new sound of my life will be cool calmness, rustling in the kitchen, and creative fingers typing away at stories and poems that I will read and re-read until I dream of letters and words. The new back-ground music is the bickering between my heart and my mind.

And though we’ve hardly moved in, the space feels cluttered and tight. I can hardly imagine two people living here without going at least slightly mad. I laugh when I think of having lived for years in an even smaller space with Dia and of the family visits that turned the apartment into a mini-refugee camp with sleeping bodies and pillows covering the entire floor. And I cry when I realize how natural and easy it felt in comparison.

Most of all, missing from these white walls and the heater and the corner is my best friend and brother. It’s always been us against the world and the world never had a chance because we laughed or charmed it out of existence. We would comment about nothing and everything and never tire of each other. Our sense of humor was branded in childhood when his room was the safe haven we camped in while the grown ups quarreled in a tension-filled living room. He let me look over his shoulder while he was doing Algebra homework and met my curiosity about the tiny x’s and y’s with clear explanations that I was still too young to understand.

He could tickle me from across the room. He was my sanity when chaos broke out and my breath of air when the world was suffocating me. His was the only shoulder I cried on when baba’s soul left his body and his voice was the only one my heart listened to. I trust him when he tells me things will be okay because they will be—not because anything in particular will happen but because he is there and as long as he is there, I can stand anything.

I don’t see him in the ceiling either when I lie down and don’t expect him to walk in with another strange trinket that will take up space on one of the counters or someone’s extra furniture that he thinks we might use one day when we buy the castle we would need to fit everything in. No more piles of wrinkled receipts pulled from his pockets and forgotten on the coffee table until I make mention of them. No singing in the mornings and no stumbling over gym bags and tennis shoes or staying up until 4am talking because time stopped mattering and waking up tired was worth the chat.

Il was’a fil galb means space is in your heart. When your heart is happy, a jail cell can seem gigantic. With time, I hope my heart will grow to accept this new arrangement that my mind decided on. And I hope my mind will learn to listen to my heart more, too.