Category Archives: Economy

Your Intifada was Made in China: Commodity Fetishism Killing Palestine

A version of this is up at Mother Jones, but this one is too hard for the homepage.


Oh the keffiyeh. How long have I waited, in vain, for you to die? Before it was the emblem of the hipster generation, the keffiyeh (spelled many ways but worn only one) was the preferred and only headdress for PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and the symbol of Palestinian nationalism. What fatigues were to Fidel, the oragamied scarf was to Arafat.

Thanks to an late aughts explosion of popuarity, the symbol of intifada is now second only to the Che t-shirt for its global ubiquity and collegiate rebel chic. Today, you can buy this fashion juggernaut from half of all street vendors on Earth for a cool five bucks. There are in existance people who are “too cool” for the keffiyeh, but in all my wanderings through Williamsburg, the Mission and Silverlake, I haven’t met them. If Urban Outfitters and Rachel Ray couldn’t kill it, it seemed as though nothing could.

For all of you who were waiting on the “I told you so” moment, here it is.

According to a heart-wrenchingly earnest video by web-magazine Monocle, the global keffiyeh craze  is about to force Mr. Hirbawi, 76, the last keffiyeh factory owner in Palestine, out of business.

That’s because the one you’re wearing (and, increasingly, they ones they’re wearing) are made in China. Ironically, global support for Palestinian-statehood-as-fashion-accessory has put yet another nail in the coffin of the Occupied Territories’ beleaguered economy.

Here’s how it happened: Back in ’87, during the first intifada, intifadniks couldn’t get enough of Mr. Hirbawi’s $25 scarves. Looser export restricitons meant that Israelis could rep them too, and slowly but surely the scarf and its emblematic pattern began appearing in the West. By the time the second intifada rolled around in 2000,  hardcore activists and the super cool already had them. Somewhere between then and now, the keffiyeh reached its tipping point, and hipsters’ insatiable lust for the scarf lured Chinese manufactures into the gig. Being the Chinese, they were able to undercut the Palestinians by an order of magnitide, and out-export them at every turn. Fast forward about a decade, and globalization killed the keffiyeh.

Is it yet another case of globalization ruining the world, or are Chinese keffiyehs just a natural outgrowth of Marx’s commodity fetishism? After all, what can’t be commodified these days?


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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Brooklyn, Eastside, Economy, Israel, Palestine

Daily Oddities: Monday World Edition

There’s a lot to talk about in the World today, so lets jump right into it. You know about Tehran and you know about Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech, so we’re skipping that and getting straight down into the stuff you didn’t hear.


More than a billion people go hungry, says the World  Food Program. That’s about as many people who will contract malaria this year, a statistic that’s broken down masterfully by the country in a multi-part feature for the Global Post. Check out India. As long as we’re chatting about weird statistics, who knew that traffic was hazardous to your health? Well, ok, everybody, but who had a study to scientifically prove it’s hazardous to your health? The World Health Organization, that’s WHO. (hahahaha). Finally, a UN commissioned study with empirical evidence that climate change is effecting human migration. Which, if you’ve never heard of Tuvalu, might be news.
In other global news, the Cuban Five, whose pictures were emblazoned across whitewashed walls of local groceries and in the posh lobbies of upscale hotels when I visited Cuba in 2003-04 will not have another day in court, after what is at least five years (one for each of them!) of trying. The five stand accused of spying for Havana.
On the opposite side of the earth (and also in Brooklyn) the Guardian has a retrospective of female suicide bombers, more coverage of the refugees post-Tiger surrender and The New York Times has 4 Brooklynites (none of them M.I.A.) arrested and convicted of sponsoring the Tamil Tigers to the tune of millions. From Flushing or Staten Island, we might have expected…but this!
Some interesting stuff out of Russia: Global Post notices absurdly ostentatious oligarches reining it back. John Vinocur at the Times has some advice for Obama in Moscow next month. In sum: your shit will not work with the Russians, Mr. Smiley Pants President.
Finally, China still defies explanation, US Asians hate girls and Al Gore is once again the butt of a hilarious joke. (Guest Apperance by Rahm Emanuel.  Continue reading

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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, California, Coney Island, Daily Oddities, Economy, Immigration, India, Los Angeles, Russia, Sri Lanka, Taxis, United Nations

The Absolute Cheapest Fro-Yo there IS

Every bit better than Pinkberry/Red Mango/KiwiBerri/Papamingo/TuttiMelon (notice how YogurtLand wasn’t in that list? That’s because YogurtLand is still better), Quickly’s new take on Korean Fro-Yo is so cheap, you’ll do a double take. And again. Whaaa?


What makes Quickly (globally ubiquitous purveyor of Boba) ahead of the game here is 80/20 pricing to quality. While they still beat more boutique yogurt with their fluffy not-too-frozen texture, they’re beating the pants off market leaders like Pinkberry (now synonymous with Korean yogurt) with their price. Not only do they offer a 5 oz yogurt for 89 cents (reduced to 59 on Special), for another 99 cents, you get unlimited toppings. UNLIMITED TOPPINGS.

Now, anyone who knows the current Korean fro-yo craze knows that rub in the “natural” frozen yogurt  market has always been the toppings—an assortment of fresh fruits, nuts and a colorful and healthy-ish selection of bite-sized treats. The yogurt itself is good, but the toppings are what sets it apart, and what attracts the deep-pocketed health conscious consumer who has helped launch this product into the stratosphere. Put fruit on anything, and you are garunteed to snare the health nuts.

But really, toppings is where fro-yo pushers make their rent. For half again the price of a small at Pinkberry, you can get exactly one ounce of one topping. As someone who’s worked in the Frozen Yogurt industry (pre-Pinkberry), I can promise you this much hasn’t changed.

Before you were enjoying it, your yogurt was a huge frozen block (if you’re lucky—otherwise it was a powder), and when you factor in the cost of shipping said blocks, plus the cost and maintanence for the machines that make it into that stuff you so love to eat, the chains aren’t turning  a profit on the juice itself (which is why you will notice Pinkberry employees weighing out each cup before they give it to you). No, toppings, like concessions at a movie theater, is where the real money is. Which is why “tart” yogurt is so genius, because nobody’s going to eat that shit plain.

Which is precisely why Quickly’s fro-yo scheme is so delicious. They can pull the rug out from under their competition without risking any real financial loss. I suggest we all go get one right now.

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Daily Oddities, June 9th/10th

We’re starting this round of Daily Oddities with something everybody wants–a job! Today’s odd job listings include counting bees in New York City and catelouging controlled substances for the NYPD. Awesome much?

Now that you’re gainfully employed, lets take a quick gander around the globe.

GLOBE: Things are getting ridiculous in Russia, where the racing collapse of the post-Soviet economy (again) is producing the largest anti-Putin uprising ever, as even Russians admit Medvyedev has nothing to do with it. In other news, is this the fattest crime reporter you’ve ever seen? Is Moscow the best place ever to major in police blotter?

In India, small time farmers may soon be eligible for micro-insurance policies protecting against climate change. After much whining in at the UN, Sri Lanka has some revised numbers of this year’s war dead (cue streamers). It’s a lite news week for Mexico, where only one horrific, deadly event seems to be capturing headlines. Finally, even more  weirdness emerges on the Cuba front: today, we learn that a US couple in their 70s has been spying on the US for Havana for the past  several decades, before they were duped by American intelligence with Cuban cigars. Really? Continue reading

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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Bibliomania, Brighton Beach, California, Coney Island, Eastside, Economy, Immigration, India, Los Angeles, Mexico, Sri Lanka

NYC Keeping it Real: Marriage Equality All About the Benjamins

Subhead: Civil Rights Fail

Well, it’s official folks: the California Supreme Court upheld voters’ ban on same  sex marriage in the Golden State, though it ruled to recognize those marriages performed before the ban took effect in November. A dumb but expected move, leading all my gay friends to simultaneously update their facebook status to 😦

On the Right Coast,  the New York City comptroller announced that legalizing gay marriage in New York would net the local economy some $210 million over the next 5 years (adjusted down to $178m if the economy hits the gay dream wedding market harder than expected).

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Roma vs. Gypsy: NYT Copy Fail



3rdWorldImagineer is back today with another instalment of ‘why language matters’. For the record, I am not a PC fascist, but I do think it’s critical to examine how we talk about certain subjects, particularly ones gaining steam in the media. Hence, my semi-annual beef with the AP Stylebook.

For the uninitiated, the AP Stylebook is the vanguard of American newswriting style. Most publications write their own additions, but few deviate markedly from the BOOK.  Hence, the press dictates everything from what to capitalize to which country/city/state name is preferred (as in Mumbai/Bombay, Burma/Myanmar) and is NOTORIOUSLY adverse to change. In the words of TJK, one of the book’s overlords, “we don’t want to have to change it back.” 

The stylebook’s aim is a noble one: to take the world’s most widely spoken and written language–the lingua franca for news–and standardize it. Doing so requires a certain degree of rigidity, but sometimes conservative (and condecending) attitudes about the intelligence and adaptibility of readers block changes that are long overdue. Case in Point: Roma vs. Gypsy

The Roma, once called Gypsies (gitano or tzigan in most Euro languages),  are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. I had written a whole graph about it, but suffice it to say, their various plights in the post-Soviet era make them probably the unluckiest ethnic minority in the world right now (trust me, nobody knows how to brutalize like the Euros). To quote the Guardian:

The evictions underline the plight of Europe’s 8 million Roma as the continent’s most downtrodden minority. Subject to entrenched harassment, discrimination, and ghettoisation, the Roma are liberty’s losers in the transformation wrought by recent free elections and free markets

Given all that, you’d be forgiven for asking what’s  in a name. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot. 

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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Bibliomania, Economy, India, MUMBAI, The Liberal Media, United Nations

There’s Something About Top Ramen

I’ve just resurfaced from the deep web to find my darkest suspicions confirmed: there’s something sinister afoot with Top Ramen. Not inside the package itself, I suspect—personally, I haven’t eaten one in about a decade and wouldn’t start now, what with Passover and all—if the dehydrated noodles and apocalypse-proof bouillon formula ain’t broke, why fix it?

No, whatever dark evil even has set down roots in the first quarter of what will in all reasonable likelihood be the first full year of a long depression, its fruit is most certainly Top Ramen. Suddenly, on Twitter and Facebook and Google Zeitgeist, the noodles of destruction are all people can talk about. 


The correlation is clear. At between 5c and 25c a package, recessions and Ramen are as natural a pair as April showers and May flowers.  But for the love of G-d, could our renewed love of Ramen come at a worse moment? At the yet untold height of our obesity epidemic and under the added burden of limitless healthcare costs, the last thing we should be doing is stocking up on Styrofoam cups whose net contents include your entire daily value of sodium.  If you gotta go noodles, make it Maggi 2-Minute Noodles, the preferred recession snack of those who know.

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