Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An Ode to Life in America

This is the picture of my new home that was to be for the next three years; and it won't.

On the eve of Persian New Year, sitting on my bed, looking out at the dark midday skies over Washington DC, from a window with one of the "most patriotic" views in the country: looking down onto the Capitol Hill, and Washington monument and even Pentagon if I stretch myself a bit, with the Marine Corp graves at walking distance, and the war-supplying BAE systems not too far.

I am posting it because this freshly decorated house was just set up two hours after I received the official letter of my termination from a job that I did not even start. Hubby and I decided to have the little furniture pieces I bought two weeks ago shipped, so I can enjoy a normal home for a few months, vacationing in DC as a tourist.

This is why I call this particular act an ode to life.

We all know life doesn't last for good. We just try to make it decent as long as we live it. And why waste a chance to live a new life for a month as the spring arrives?

My 4-week ordeals in America have been educational and to have joined the American health-care workforce was a great experience (although financially costly and hassling):

Lesson 1: There is no freedom of speech in America!
Lesson 2: Corporates in America are criminal!
Lesson 3: The health-care market in America is scammed by insurance industry!
Lesson 4: American workers are prisoners to corporations, self-censoring, ratting on each other, scared and timid to ask, to question, to challenge anything that is ordered to them from above.

No one even takes a CHANCE with dissent, not even in Academia. Not even when the main objective of a job is to do frontier work.

I was terminated after 25 days--and despite the fact (and perhaps because of it) that I showed promise to many principle investigators whom I met and greeted over the first 20 days and who proposed potential collaborations.


I met an American for the first time. He asked what I was doing in DC?  "I came to do research and was just fired". He chuckled: "why, did you try to change something?"

I did.

For instance, having arrived from a happy North European country, I tried to change the culture of the lab from lack of socialization and collaboration. I tried to get colleagues take their lunch breaks at the Cafeteria instead of at their desks. I tried to joke and say a happy "good morning" every morning I arrived, articulating the "good" part with emphasis!

I told them (and my bosses) how the freedom I enjoyed in Europe made me creative, hardworking and dedicated. (To be "free in research" was the promise that lured me to the American job.)

Or, I tried to get people to work together and talk to each other about how to make their individual projects find a common goal, so working together becomes more efficient, fun and productive.

I checked on students who were assigned datasets that they did not know how to analyse (and I tried to provide them the guidance that no one else was technically apt to do). The graduate students were ecstatic that finally someone was there that they could count on. (I was told that I was too negative, by the boss, who never was there except the one time he came to introduce me at my talk, and the next time she came to terminate me!)

I checked on the data acquisition and alerted the responsible person that they were collecting white noise instead of meaningful signals and started proposing to them how to go about fixing that.

I checked on individuals who were delaying the delivery of quickly-doable projects, and provided them with concrete objectives.

I found the lab that I arrived in, in scientific disarray, and I hoped to fulfill the role I was promised: a grownup research associate to mend the technical and the medical aspect of the research together.

I was happy to take the burden off the shoulders of the supervisor who had just delivered a baby (without having told me that she was pregnant when she recruited me for the job. In fact, she asked me to apply--I didn't beg this job.) And despite several disappointments upon arrival, I shielded her out of concern for her peace with a newborn.

And then there was the old-aunti side of me.

I lovingly protested to the pregnant woman in the lab who drank buckets of coca cola every day and tried to console and encourage her to get a doctors note instead of undergoing a dubious safety practice that involved getting sprayed with strange material in the mouth, to learn what to do in the case of a pandemic. I joked that before the pandemic, the stress and anxiety about the hospital "policies" would kill us. After all, I have done a PhD on the load of Stress: allostatic load!

I harshly protested to a technical guy who was handling a little newborn for an experiment, despite the fact that he was complaining of flu-like symptoms all day. He chuckled: "oh this baby has perhaps worse things". The nurse cried, "this is a healthy control". And then, I cried in my office, wondering to myself: "would I be able to survive this methodological disregard for innocent naive defenseless human life?"

And I was shocked to realize, that in a hospital whose mantra is: "watch each other, and report on each other if you think safety is at risk", technicians and nurses were timid to speak up.

Soon, I learned why!

These are the lessons I learned in America.

The final exam, I passed too.

I challenged the limits of freedom in America and realized that if you are independent, do well, and have an opinion that endangers the status quo, you are plucked. As easy as that! No explanation offered other than: "you don't fit our expectations". No compensation to be offered (irrespective of the fact that the recruitment had taken months and that the hospital has spent on lawyers to get me H1B visa, and that I had uprooted me from home to be an alien-worker in America based on my unique qualifications.

It seems that  the corporates in America have set a standard called employment-at-will. You can quit or get terminated any time for no reason, with no recourse. (There is legal recourse of course, if you have evidence that the employer violated the H1B visa term, or dismissed you for whistle-blowing; but only if you are willing to spend time and energy on lawyers. The corruption is so deep, that you need to find alternative ways of seeking justice. Writing research articles and newspaper columns maybe more effective that settling vendetta.)

The ONLY reason why I could afford to challenge the illusion of freedom, was because I was confident of my skills and values, and I had the financial freedom to not be scared if I got sacked. As an Iranian, I also have grown up with the readiness  to die and go to prison and exile to defend JUSTICE and my rights. I did. Test passed!

Of course, in the letter of termination, my boss did not mention that she had told me: "we are firing you because you are arrogant"! The letter of termination also did not mention that I was resisting to be roped into science fiction, resisting the employer's violation of the terms of my H1B visa. Nor did she mention WHO exactly has been "observing" my "disruptive" attitude. She was on maternity leave the entire time I was there. I was helping and motivating everyone. And our only communications were over emails, in which she promised me glory, grace to my demonstrated qualifications and her hopes for me as a potential independent investigator. Would any supervisor with such objective tell people who call for collaboration that "our objective is to shelter naj from distraction so she focuses 100% on a [fictive] method"?

Her support stopped when I raised issues about being sheltered from other scientists, and "restricted" to an unattainable project--and provided technical and scientific justifications for my objection, while providing a workable solution to what I felt was more urgent and essential to do. The tables turned only when I protested to the scientific cage she painted for me--despite the early promise that sky was the limit.

Lesson 5: mediocrity is an asset. And with all "arrogance", in that currency, I declare myself poor.
Lesson 6: you are absolutely FREE to shop and to drive a car. I shopped freely, sometimes going to stores at 11:00 PM! And I have been bombarded by car-salesman telefone calls, when I visited a Volvo site out of curiosity.

This freedom to shop is the reason why freedom to talk is taken away.

People stick to abusive work relations because they need to afford to drive to work, and save for medical care, or save for potential unemployment when they need maternity or sick leave. This is the case of the reasonable ones. The unreasonable ones have credit card balances, mortgages, and car and student loans. The slavery system is well and alive. (and from what I noticed, it is adhered too and dearly respected by immigrants who have come from lesser fortunes and consider the freedom to vacation and get sick a luxury). So of course, a little northerner who starts telling people "freedom fighters, at least ask to read the label of the chemicals they put in your lungs", becomes a non-fit.

Freedom is also restricted because there is a general "always in a military stance" culture that dominates the nation. I consider it a consequence of having established a country on genocidally occupied territory; and on the history of slavery. Countries with dark ghosts in the closet cannot relax, cannot help being paranoid. This is why this is such a gun touting nation.

Frankly, is THIS the America that is going to liberate Iranians?

Is this female freedom, that if a woman gives birth without having accumulated enough vacation and sick-leave days, she will have to go back to work immediately?

Is this freedom that the hospital workers are forced to take flu vaccine, and have to sign a consent form that states: "we have been fully informed of the risks and benefits of flu vaccine and REQUEST to receive it", but if they refuse, they are fired due to violation of the hospital policy? And I focus on flu vaccine in particular because study after study is showing it is NOT a 100% defensive mechanism, and that its benefits are certain for only one group: the pharmaceutical industry. And I refused (out of principle that it was not on my contract) and finally signed a non-consent form, and got the shot to get health clearance, while the nurses who did my shot told me how unhappy they were, and how they wished they had the freedom to dare to raise their voice like I did. How can nurses who feel oppressed and disrespected truly care for patients?

Is this freedom that people have to own a car and drive to work, for 1.5 hours in the traffic, each way, and be allowed no more than 250$/month for public-transportation tax-exemption?

I am already enjoying the freedom from a workplace that by all accounts fits the definition of an old fascist state. I hope it is a singular case. That UAE king has funded this backward organization is telling.

Spring is around the corner. I have set up a nice vacation home and I am going to be a tourist for a while and live in my self-furnished hotel: 70$/night.

This is perhaps what America can learn from an Iranian: we take FREEDOM far more seriously than you do! FREEDOM is an asset we carry in our heart, in our spirits, and we FIGHT for it with our blood as history has witnessed. In fact, if you would have started to protest like we do/did, your establishments will not have responded to you much kinder than do our draconian ones.

I am wrong? Check the history of police brutality.

My New Year resolution: do something about the academic abuse of power.

Happy 1392!


Gene said...

I've just been reading some background information on Nowruz, which brought nice thoughts about you to the surface. So here I am.

I am sorry about your ordeals in the States, but as implied in your post, not all is lost: much has been learned.

I would so like to see you on Twitter. I rather hate Facebook, which I find too intrusive and not at all honest as an organisation. I don't feel the same with Twitter (not wrongly, I hope).

I wish for you to find a good path to follow this year, career-wise.

Happy Nowruz, Naj!

Anthony said...

Hey Naj! I'm so sorry this happened to you and that this stuff happens to Americans (mostly ex-pats and future ex-pats) constantly. I would like to say that AMERICA IS HUGE! and it's not like this everywhere. Unfortunately, you were not in a more open environment. But alas - you're still alive, and this is what's most important. Continue to live!

Naj said...

My dear Gene,

How I miss my old blogging buddies. This facebook and twitter have corrupted us, haven't they?

Thank you for thinking of me.

Yes I am sorry for my bad experience in the US. To be in Washington invokes a very strange feeling: on the one hand, I want to love this country that has a population with a genuine sense of goodness, wo are kind, who are generous, who are warm and embracing when they find you crying in a corner. I have not received so much kindness from unknown individuals anywhere else in the world. But on the other hand, walking around the government buildings or on the train, I get a sense of being surrounded with spies, agents, secret killers, lawyers, liars, dressed-up crooks, opportunists, lobbyists, paranoids, militarists ...
The terror people feel in their private conduct in DC is palpable. I feel even my cousins shun me for my outspokenness. To be associated with someone who uses her voice to raise issues is dangerous to those whose lives depend on DoD or CiA or etc.
It is sad.
I want to come home, I so badly badly want to come home.

Naj said...


Welcome to Neoresistance. It has been such a long time I have had a comment from a new visitor; so long since I blogged.

I agree with you, America is huge and I have not seen most of it, through the eyes of a resident. My observations are through the lenses of friends in NYC, Boston, Seattle, LA, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Orlando, Tampa and DC. I know there has to be more to America than health-providers, hollywood, military industry complex, car manufacturers and energy demons.

You know how DC car plates have a slogan "taxation without representation"? It is that kind of a state, a disembodied one. A very sad kind of a city (unless when you go to the ghetto-like areas, where humanity behaves a bit more naturally)

Mariana said...

Hi there Naj:
I´ve been reading your blog, because I find it interesting to know about different points of view from people.
My name is Mariana,from Argentina and hold a Bsc in Political Science (currently orientated in ME countries, but especially Iran).
Sometimes it´s difficult to believe that people who come from a magnificent culture and history, could be such critical with a goverment which stands for the nation, by defending their internal issues and policies, in order to protect iranians from the evil global capitalism and its cruel consequences.
Do you really think you all would be happier if Hijab / Chador are aboiled from daily life? Is that the freedom you are looking forward to achieve?
Do you think there´s any sign of democracy in the US, Europe, Israel, and rest of the countries that follows the american model (not only in the economical field but also in foreign affairs, social and political matters, for instance)?
I live in a country which is a servant, a puppet of the yankee empire and will never recover from that, because we don´t have real patriots like Mr. Ahmadinejad, to stand and fight for us (in a diplomatic way I mean), and we´ll never know about independence...
But of course, we can manage FB, twitter and stuff, and wear such western clothes and so on...

I write this message because if I were iranian, I´d be proud of my president and my country.
Just my 2 cents.

Hope you don´t mind for all these thoughts that I expressed, everyone is etitled to have their one opinion.

Salam !


Naj said...

Dear Mariana,
Thank you for your comment.

I believe if you have read my blog fully, then you would not be asking the question you did.

In fact, you left this comment on a post in which I am questioning the concept of democracy in the USA.

However, if you are of the opinion that Ahmadinejad is a TRUE patriot who is defending the nation against globalism, you are slightly mistaken. I understand that he is idolized in South America. I know that when reading and listening to him, he sounds like a charming anti-globalist. And, I personally wish what he said was true. Except that it is not!

A true anti-globalist does not break the law in the country; does not break the banking system, does not bankrupt the country and sell it to China and Indis for peanuts.

The resistance against Ahmadinejad's clan in Iran is not about Hijab and western dress and facebook, it is about the havoc he has wreaked in the political, economic and the cultural fabric of the government. It is about ruining universities and having them run by THUGS. It is about stealing money from the country, imprisoning labour unionists, and promoting a culture of deception and coercion.

If you believe Mr Ahmadinejad is elected "democratically" you are mistaken too. He was appointed after a bloody contest over the vote count. To ensure the vote will not be counter in a fair process, reporters, political analysis, financial and economic analysis, nationalists, labor unionists, women activists, artists, human rights activists AND their lawyers were imprisoned. A country that jails lawyers of human-right defenders is not to be considered democratic. Is it?

Naj said...

By the way,

"Salam" is what we put at the start of a letter.
When we end a letter, persians say "khoda hafez".

Mariana said...

Dear Naj

Thank you for replying to my comment.

As I wrote earlier, everyone is entitled to have an opinion. The reason why I left a thought on to that post, is mostly to reforce the fail of the so called american "democracy".
I don´t think Dr. Ahmadinejad is idolized, like you said, in South America. Perhaps the correct term might be "admired". Unfortunately, for so many years we were known as the back yard of the United States, and none foreign authority had recognized us as a great important zone. But that is one of the several reasons I can list to explain why he inspires our sincere respect.
Of course I do want to believe that the resistance against Ahmadinejad's clan in Iran is not about Hijab and western dress and facebook. You said that Dr. Ahmadinejad rules Iran with coercion of oposition and individual rights. And you also remark the corruption and intevention in Universities, etc.
And the fact of the 69 percent of the iranian people are youngsters, maybe because of it, are demanding freedom of speach (which I think it does exist)and more democracy in all aspects of their life.
You have a theocratic democracy just because you wanted to, to save your country from the western abuse (USA in particular), and the glorious revolution serves as an example to other nations in search of freedom and self-determination.
You said that they´re stealing money from your country. As far as I´m concerned, this brave man was and is fighting against corruption since 2003 (in public scenario I mean),only receives his salary as lecturer in the University and leads a simple life. Also, monitoring the accounts of any government official.
EU, US have imposed tough sanctions to Teheran, which obviously injured the internal economy, with the excuse of the nuclear weapons. So that, the iranian president had to invest in Latin America to face the crisis provoked by the imperialist countries.
Now that you mentioned that many human rights lawyers and activists are in jail, let me think that a "civilized" country like Spain has expelled the Judge Garzón due to an investigation on Franco and the Spanish dictatorship. Is it democracy as well?
USA has put my region on the knees, with their economical & political doctrine, from people like Milton Friedman, and we´re trying to recover now.

Thanks for your Farsi Lesson, I really appreciate it.

Long live Iran ! Peace and love to all of you.

Naj said...

Dear Mariana,

At a time that my country is under attack and pressure by the international criminal which is the united states, your kind words about my country are heart warming.

However, I wish your assessments were in fact the truth. I am amused to see how well Ahmadinejad's propaganda in South America has been working. His populist, revolutionary rhetoric! I sympathize with you, it is all appealing and confidence inspiring IF you do not read the IRanian press (from inside Iran), if you do not have family who live and work and struggle in Iran, if you are not affected by the system.

Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion; but when someone points out at soured milk; and tells me "in my opinion that is just delicious yogourt", then I am bound to tell them NO, don't eat it, it is poison! It is not an opinion that matters in that instance, it is the fact of the experience that matters.

I can see you have fallen for the populist propaganda of Ahmadinejad. And in some ways, it is good, because I prefer my country to have friends at a time that the powers of the world are squeezing it to take life out of it.

I also have to inform you that the problem of Iran is not Ahmadinejad, just as he is not the savior of Iran either. I also need to correct you that Iranians did NOT choose a theocracy--they voted for an Islamic republic, they did not vote for a theotratic kingdom run by the sole power of the supreme leader. On the surface, all the Iranian rulers live modest lives. However, they have their hands in every single major contract, major industry, major port, major export; with their children, their relatives and their croney's benefitting from the wealth of the nation, while the rest struggle with the mess the sanctions have created.

In any case, feel free to roam NeoResistance. I hope you will find this an interesting experience.

And remember, even the best of Iranian intellectual elite is not capable of understanding the Iranian society and politics--it is COMPLEX, multifaceted and exotic. Don't buy the simple version, neither from the pro- nor from the anti-regime voices. The truth is somewhere in between.