Earlier Thoughts

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I told my psychiatrist...

“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous - everyone hasn't met me yet.”

Rodney Dangerfield, 1921 - 2004

I remember seeing Rodney Dangerfield on the television in the 1960s and recall very clearly his signature line, “I don’t get no respect.”   His sense of timing and self-deprecating humor was clearly what made him enduring and damn funny.  But, it is his one-liners, always a bit on the dark side of humor, that ring true for me.  Today, about seven years after his death and still more years after his career peaked, Rodney is staring at me in the mirror and there is a crowd of expatriates staring back.
The Middle East has been in open unrest during the last four months.  Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, and Libya have witnessed the people revolting against their governments, demanding change.  Not all of these peoples have a clear view of what the desired end-state would look like at the end of the current revolt.  The violent actions of governments to suppress the people continue to cause injury and death.  The leaders in this part of the world are scared and willing to do anything to retain power.  A lot of promises have been made by the involved governments that hope to bribe their way out of the current situation.  It appears that most of these promises have yet to be fulfilled. Will the people wear out before meaningful change occurs? 
King Abdullah returned home to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia earlier this year after a prolonged absence during which he received medical care for illness in the United States, and then took a bit of time to recover at his villa in Europe.  His return was received with celebration and expression of caring for this 87-year-old monarch.  People here seem to genuinely like and support King Abdullah.  Yet, the pressure to reform the Kingdom’s business and political practices are very real.  Religious differences between Shia Muslims in the northeast of Saudi and the rest of the country have resulted in visible though minor protests.  Press coverage here, which is subject to censorship, has carried the story of the Shia as a minor matter driven by a small number of radicals and even outsiders from Iran who may be here to disrupt the stability of Saudi Arabia.  Rightfully, the Kingdom’s leaders launched a number of initiatives to satisfy citizens and take energy out of public expressions of dissatisfaction:  Decrees have been issued to improve access to housing loans, raise wages, provide promotions for military personnel,  and institute new public social benefits, such as the first-ever payments for Saudis suffering from unemployment.  Still further, the Ministry of the Interior has committed to hiring 60,000 college-educated people into new jobs.  Over 350 billion Saudi Riyals ($1 = 3.75 Riyals) have been pledged to fund these 20 royal decrees. And the frosting on this sugar cookie is a bonus for all government and military employees equal to two months of “basic” salary.  Wow, a lot of money. 
At the food market, prices for most items were up by 20 to 30 percent.  The flood of money in these royal acts and a budget committing a new 135 billion Riyals to development work is putting tremendous inflationary pressure on the economy.  The government can certainly afford to spend these monies because oil is at or above $100/barrel, so a few extra days of pumping crude will pay off the latest stimulus.  But as oil prices are driving worldwide production costs up, oil-based products at correspondingly inflated prices are entering the local market.  The short-term joy over the salary bonuses has inflated prices that impact upon all people living here in Saudi Arabia.  So, why am I thinking that expats “don’t get no respect?”  Because the 4 million expats working for the military and government didn’t get the bonus payments and we too are being impacted upon by price increases.  Rodney was right when he said: “At 20, a man is full of fight and hope. He wants to reform the world. When he is seventy he still wants to reform the world, but he knows he can't.”


  1. We saw Rodney at the Tropicana in the 70s. Top of his game. I suspect the Arab Spring is long from over. US foreign policy is up in the air. Best to do nothing and wait and see. Rodney knows. here is a link to a website about the "tie tugger."


  2. Keeping economic fluctuations in check is a science that took Americans so many years to learn, mostly thru trial and error.
    The fact that there's even SOME change in the Arab world after all these years is a miracle.
    You are so close to the epicenter of it all. Very very unique time. Thanks for your reports from the trenches.

  3. What? Irish Spring? Oh yes. Made for a man, but I like it too. What?