Monday, March 25, 2013

The heart of dystopia, WASHINGTON DC

(c) Naj Neoresistance
My Persian new year Sun rose in Washington DC
My newyear sun rose on Washington DC; the city where I moved to because of first curiousity and next the promise of "sky is the limit". Those who knew me, warned me that I was not the sort to find happiness in America. they were right. I am leaving, in a hurry, there is too much WAR in this city for me to survive it sane or healthy. I must leave.

This city is depressing me. Not because my "free-speaking" led to my prompt termination based on the "employment-at-will" law of DC; but because in every corner of this capital city I look, I am reminded of  WAR.

Two days ago, I conjured the courage to walk up to the Lincoln Memorial. Hoping to hear a bit of trivia I lined up to listen to the park ranger who started by engaging the audience with: "So, have you guys ever been in a fight?" A few raised their hands. I got stomach-sick over the word "fight" and ran away with my camera to find stones to capture in contrasting lights. My husband explained later that the reason why he started his presentation with the word "fight" was because he wanted to mention that the memorial was to symbolize peace after the civil wars, which ironically was fought over the North/South arguments on "freedom to own slaves". And it was on the stairs of this mausoleum that Martin Luther King delivered his dream for JOB AND EQUALITY of the 'slaves', 100 years after they had been 'freed'. And yet, 60 years later, America is still in war, and jobs are tied to the war economy.

We had parked the car a block away in front of The Institute of Peace, the congress-generated organization for peaceful resolution of the world conflicts--I suppose in oil-free nations!

Perhaps it is this little "peace" hypocrisy that makes Washington DC so intolerable for me, the architecture as grand as it may be, is soulless, and fake. I cannot "photograph" it with the same passion I would in the other genocidal capital of the world, Berlin. Germanic architecture (pre-war) doesn't "fake" peace.

I had read that the most spectacular of the Smithsonian's collection would be the Air and Space one. Soon I learned why. In a space that was much too small for the amount and the diversity of "flying objects" on display, nuclear missiles, Mars rovers, German bombers, spy planes, space shuttles, and passenger carriers, crammed together with the Oliver/Wilbur Wright inventions and drawings--much  like a breakfast dish at iHops or any other American deli, where nutrients of little culinary relevance (e.g. pancakes, and scrambled eggs and beans and fruit salad and fried potatoes and bacon) are piled on top of each other to impress the customer with American "generosity".

Impressed, I was, with the foolishness of my kind to find a MARKET for any great invention of mankind: the best market for air and space pioneering, for electronics and communications has been the war industry. For it to thrive, it has been essential to create an unsafe climate, and a sense of patriotic fear (of Iran, Russia, China, American-enabled-Al-Quaeda, even little-Cuba), that would justify pouring more and more of our human and earthly and heavenly wills into making and buying faster, better, bigger killer machines.

Wars make little jobs for little people, and big profits for the big bosses! I admire all of those 'hobos' who have refused to be part of this machinery. And I resent war profiteering, be it for little or big people.

When we finally left the museum (with me in tears, and shortly after, sick with a fever), we noticed a building that looked like Canada's Museum of Civilization. Except that this one was "The American Indian Museum". "Indian"??, we asked! Is it politically correct to use the word Indian? In Canada, they call the 'indians' "The first nation", or "aboriginals", or call them by the name of the tribe or the territories. But they are never called "Canadian-Indian", this would be an insult. But perhaps it is because the Canadian settlers did not quite massacre the aboriginals as did the American settlers. Perhaps because the winters forced them to work with the first nation. Perhaps the survivors of the massacred people would be pleased to be called "American" and postfixed as "Indian". Certainly, I don't know.

But I do often wonder, whether this fascination and obsession of America with weaponry comes from feeling insecure about being in occupied territory; or from all these different wars that America has fought.

There are mass-graves everywhere around DC: the dead of Vietnam, First world war, Second one, Korean, Iraq, Afghanistan ... ghosts everywhere, sacrificial territories everywhere, particularly in Virginia that engulfs DC and houses its Pentagon and CIA ...

America always fights these "JUSTICE" wars, at least as far as the popular consumption goes or the drafting ads suggest. Along the notion of justice comes the machinery of law and order. I have started to understand why "LAW" enforcement in America is such a big business as well.

I learned, through the ordeal at my job, that what I would take fore granted as a simple labor right elsewhere, is nonexistent here. That a hospital like the one employing me, and boasting about a one-time 150 million dollars given to it by Sheikh of Abu Dhabi (his name and not so flattering portrait hanging everywhere in the Hospital) to set up a research center to "focus on pain elimination for children" is spending 40 million dollars/year on legal fees. From what I am gathering on internet, my ex-employers have quite a reputation for getting in trouble with Unlawful Termination. Through my ordeal, more than once have I heard the American-born human resource department employees "apologize" to me for what I am put through, and express desire to move to Canada! That perhaps explains those big weaponed scary guards in front of the hospital door.

In fact the firm of one of the best labor lawyers of this city suggested that I have a high chance to take legal pursuit seriously. She stated that their firm "was intimately familiar with X hospital's labor practices" and suggested their top-lawyer, who would talk to me for 500$/hour, be consulted. Interestingly, although jobless, I do not qualify for legal aid, nor for free medicine (because of the Salary I was promised). To receive any social service in America I need to be on drugs and abjectly poor. This bizarre mechanism explains why the middle-class in America feels so squeezed, and acts so petty when someone talks of social services. Not only do they carry the highest burden of taxes, they are not entitled to any benefits. I now understand the root of tax-resentment in America. It is used to make America GREAT by funding WARs. The average persons like me are left to fend off for themselves, whether they need social, legal or medical care--and we are discardable if we don't play the game. 

40 million dollars/year in LEGAL fees is a little over 25% of the one-time donation amount solicited from some Arab Sheikh, with recorded SLAVERY in his mini-country. But, if hospitals don't mess up, how are the lawyers to make big money? So why would the lawyers help clarifying/fixing the laws of the nation? And if people don't get sick of chronic stress about jobs and wars and bad eating and living habit, or from post traumatic stresses of wars, then how would the insurance and medical practices make big money? So why fix broken systems that keep feeding the populace and create jobs?

I keep asking: where is the common sense?

To make the matters worse for my own depression, I also watched a season of the netflix hit,  "House of Cards", the American version, after I had watched "Upside Down". In the past, I would not have any tolerance for such political thrillers, or dystopic fantasies. I would find them too dramatized, too cartoonish, with agents and officials speaking a certain tone which I assumed was to theatrical or too robotic to believe.

That changed too, ever since I started my life in DC. Dystopia has now a real tone for me, after spending a lot of time talking to various government offices, with people introducing themselves with their agent-code and speaking to me in a tone that has made me pause in a few occasion to ask: sorry is this a human or a voice-robot. No, I am not kidding.

In Washington DC, the hub of the WAR industry, the heart of the "country of the free", I am learning that those who "would NEVER live under the Iranian dictatorship",  would also not risk losing their livelihood that is tied to DoD, Pentagon, CIA or the Hill. For there is this thing in DC called "employment at will", that enables those in the upper food chain, to just fire those below without really needing to explain much. Association with a "careless" "opinionated" person like me might be too impudent for someone's income. It is an illusion perhaps, but it is a strong illusion, one that makes you pathologically paranoid, and forces me to be in the "offensive" and "defensive" simultaneously--it is making me into a fighter, the wrong kind though.

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!