Return to Qatar: A Second Qatari Travelogue



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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109 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    I’m going to subtitle this, “In which Jaybird takes steps towards becoming a communist.” [Little ‘c’.]

    A few more trips to Qatar and you’ll be one of us. Gooble gobble.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

      Hey, I’m just saying “If P Then Q”. I’m not saying anything about my preferences for either P or Q.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Jaybird says:

        @chris, I would note that @jaybird has been unequally yoked to a Canadian socialist for… 17 years now (well, as of tomorrow, which will be the 17th anniversary of me immigrating). It seems unlikely that a few plane trips will turn him when years of someone pointing out what’s all around us already hasn’t done the trick.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Maribou says:

          First, congratulations to both of you. My son is 17 and even he thinks that’s way too much time to have spent with me, so I am impressed and envious.

          Second, this is your chance! His faith has been shaken by a shock to his world-view. Reel him in!Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

      It could also be JeffersonIan Agrarianism (in the ideal, not as actually practiced) (the latter being closer to how Gulf States operate these days)Report

    • Avatar Zac in reply to Chris says:

      A few more trips to Qatar and you’ll be one of us.

      One of us! One of us!Report

  2. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    This was really great.

    This is likely a product of me being raised by my father, but this entire setup sounds hellish to me. Especially for the Qatari people. To not work because there is nothing to do sounds bad enough to my ears. But to not work because you are importing everyone to do things for you sounds soul-crushing.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Thank you.

      It would be easy to see how Qatar is one of the nicer parts of Hell.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      @tod-kelly Your comment (and @jaybird’s comment about being 14 in the OP) made me wonder specifically about Qatari teenagers. I’ll be reading more later but so far I’ve found out that half the people living in Qatar are under the age of 20, and that nearly half of Qatari youth suffer from mental illness.

      Here are a couple of dang interesting links, from which I garnered the above statistics:
      A UN/Qatari joint effort entitled Expanding the Capacities of Qatari Youth

      A website that seems to be more or less Huffpo-like, albeit with a far more youthful and more religious demographic: JustHere Qatar (“JustHere covers everything that is of interest to those who live in Qatar, and call it home be it for a year or a lifetime. It looks deeper into issues that affects the residents and provides commentary and triggers debate. Its rich and original editorial content, and interesting take on life in Qatar, makes it a one-of-its-kind portal in the country.” )

      Fascinating stuff.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    There is probably an interesting story in having clean and limitless energy sources being created and what it does to Oil Rich countries like Qatar where everyone gets money from it. The money would dry up overnight as you say.

    Parents tend to be split on whether they want their children to follow in their career footsteps. My parents are pleased that I became a lawyer like dad. My parents thought I could make a good teacher but did not want me to become one for a variety of reasons. Among blue-collar trades, I’ve noticed the same thing. “I don’t want my kid to do back-breaking labor like I do” and “Being a steel worker/dry waller/painter/whatever is good enough for me, it is good enough for my kid” in equal measure.

    I question whether anyone really wants to dig dirt. People dug dirt because it is better than starving and/or they were told that digging dirt is your lot in life. I question your national church version of unity. It seems to me that a national church can do something more like “You were born to dig dirt and work the fields. This is your lot. You will be rewarded in the next life for all the back-breaking done on earth.”

    Outgroups might need to be created for their to be ingroups. Conservatives would need to create liberals if liberals did not exist and vice-versa. Part of something that creates group adhesiveness is being able to point and say “We hate those other guys.”

    Another thing a national church might need is a serious dislike of any sort of pleasure. Boston has a lot of wealthy people but it is considered more tacky to show off that wealth than any in New York. Boston could never produce a Donald Trump. Perhaps a reason for this is Boston is still influenced by the Puritan and Quaker strains that worshipped profit but abhorred consumption. Boston is very much rooted in old ideas of inherited furniture and worn tweed jackets and wealthy people driving old Volvos to and from their estates worth millions of dollars.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I question your national church version of unity. It seems to me that a national church can do something more like “You were born to dig dirt and work the fields. This is your lot. You will be rewarded in the next life for all the back-breaking done on earth.”

      Perhaps so. Without automated dirt digging, however, you’re stuck with having people do it.

      How to deal with these people? Are they “your” people? If so, isn’t it better to have them know that they’re digging dirt as part of their lot in life and that they will be rewarded, if not in this life, the next, for dirt digging?

      Would you rather import people to dig dirt? That way you don’t have to give them any strokes at all. Just money.

      Boston has a lot of wealthy people but it is considered more tacky to show off that wealth than any in New York.

      Ostentatious wealth would do a good job of invoking envy in others not as fortunate. If you consider your neighbors to be one of you, you’d probably want to make sure that they don’t resent you. Don’t be a tall poppy. Don’t show off your star prominently.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t think serfs were ever treated very well except in a few locations. Look at the recollections of people who worked downstairs during the Downton Abbey era. A lot of them talk about a rage at being treated as a second-class human. Here foreign staff might have been treated better because they were more skilled and sort of a form of consumption since it was considered smart to have a French chef and what not. Or Foreign tutors and nannies for the children.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Serfs aren’t treated particularly well in any part of the world even today.

          That said, being a valued part of the community is better than being part of the outgroup.

          And, in Qatar anyway, the ones who work in the fields under the hot sun aren’t 2nd class citizens. They’re 4th class citizens.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        I am also not sure I buy the second paragraph.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          The one about gridlock? The one about people having to do stuff that isn’t automated?Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

            Last paragraph rather ostentatious wealth.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              What’s your explanation behind the cultural disapproval of ostentation? (“Tacky” needs to be unpacked, here.)Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:


                I am not sure how many cultures and societies truly disliked ostentatious displays of wealth. There were sumptuary laws in many countries and cultures but people found ways around them. Japan during the Shogunate and sumptuary laws but common people just wore silk on the inside of their clothing instead of the outside.

                The United States has largely gone away from decrying ostentatious displays of wealth. If anything, we largely relish in it. One theory about Trump’s popularity is that he is rather ostentatious with his wealth, none of the tasteful minimalism that is done by urban liberals. Hip-Hop is largely about boasting on your ostentatious wealth as far as I can tell. Bottle service at clubs is about ostentatious displays of wealth.

                Even in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, women wear very fashionable and potentially tight and skimpy clothing underneath their burquas. Eye make-up is popular.

                I think you would need severe totalitarianism to clamp down on ostentatious wealth.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                I think you would need severe totalitarianism to clamp down on ostentatious wealth.

                Not at all. Just look at Boston.

                Which is the example that you provided.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

                Have you ever been to Boston? 😉Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

                More seriously, I think Boston still has Blue Laws which severely limit the sale of alcohol on Sundays or it did until recently. There are a lot of places in the Northeast which close a lot of retail on Sunday still. This is a sort of paternalism that I think your libertarian side would rebel against. New Yorkers complain about how lots of stuff closes early in San Francisco. IIRC things shut down even earlier in Boston-metro.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                This is a sort of paternalism that I think your libertarian side would rebel against.

                Whether or not I would rebel against it is besides the point, it seems to me.

                What seems relevant is under what circumstances it would work and whether those circumstances are attainable.

                If we want a society with high levels of equality, trust, and collaboration, we need those things to exist organically and not imposed from the top down. (Because, out of those three, you pretty much can only impose equality.)

                It seems that they exist in Boston.Report

  4. The souk had a falconry district. Shops filled with perches and perches filled with falcons. 20, 30 birds, all hooded.

    A while district full of those? That’s falcon ridiculous.Report

  5. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    Glad your back, was wondering how you were getting along.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Joe Sal says:

      I am still waking up at 3:30 in the morning but there is nothing to make you love being at home in your own basement with your own wife and your own cats and your own fuzzy clothing than going nine time zones away for a couple of weeks.Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    Fascinating stuff Jay, truly fascinating.

    It makes an interesting bit of grist for GBI proponents to mull over. The significant difference, of course, being that GBI posits that we’ve got some sort of tech, robots or huge efficiency increasing devices, that makes a very small number of people capable of fulfilling a very large number of people’s needs.. So that ameliorates the biggest problem you describe which is the back bent laboring underclass. It also eliminates the soap bubble aspect of this in that feeling that this isn’t capable of lasting.

    Did you hear anything about oil prices in Qatar? I’d assume with them so low the Qatari are feeling the pinch?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to North says:

      an interesting bit of grist for GBI proponents to mull over

      Not just GBI, but also strong proponents of aggressive income equality, since

      14% of the country are millionaires. No one lives below the poverty line. There is less than 1% unemployment.

      ….that’s some income equality, right there, yet according to Maribou above,

      nearly half of Qatari youth suffer from mental illness

      – the linked paper talks about things like risk-taking behavior etc.

      Correlation, causation, yadda yadda, but…every Qatari being pretty equally-rich-and-not-poor doesn’t sound like it’s necessarily making everybody happy.

      the biggest problem you describe which is the back bent laboring underclass.

      Again given Maribou’s comment I’m not sure it’s the biggest problem; but it is a big problem, and perhaps troubling as we think of all the Mexicans Here To Do Jobs That Americans Won’t Do (TM).

      a very small number of people capable of fulfilling a very large number of people’s needs…It also eliminates the soap bubble aspect of this in that feeling that this isn’t capable of lasting.

      These two things seem bound to contradict and then conflict in the long run, given human nature, since:

      A.) A majority often tends to abuse a minority, because they can.
      B.) A minority that has something the majority needs (in this case, the expertise or manpower to keep the majority gravy train running), may try to use that as leverage, to gain concessions from the majority; if they are very successful, de facto minority rule with the attendant historical ugliness; if they fail, GOTO A, since majorities who feel that minorities are taking advantage of them tend towards the ‘scapegoat and pogrom’ program.

      I’m also thinking about the presupposed non-bubble nature of a post-scarcity society; things happen in fits and starts and backslides, and the future arrives in waves…people that THINK they are living in a fully-post-scarcity society, which then suffers some shock or setback or recession or burst-bubble due to [massive solar storm EMP/geomagnetic reversal/rare mineral or ore shortage/other X factor], are going to be in a lot of trouble.

      Anyway, yeah. Lots to chew on. A possible future.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North says:

      Did you hear anything about oil prices in Qatar? I’d assume with them so low the Qatari are feeling the pinch?

      Last time I was there, the news alternated between “Israel, Israel, Israel, America, Israel” and “The Emir sent a congratulatory telegraph to the Crown Prince of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan on his country’s 230th anniversary of its independence.”

      When I flew out there this time, I did what I could to pay attention to the newspapers and, the first couple of days I flew out there, the front page was *FULL* of fnords. Israel this, Palestine that, the 3rd Intifada, how America is screwing up everything… I was stuck wondering what in the heck was going on and what they were trying to distract me from.

      By the time that I left, the front pages were all boring as heck and full of sports scores and precious little “distraction” kinda stories.

      I have no idea what happened in the time between.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

      The GBI proposals I’m familiar with include a minimal income; it keeps body and soul together, but anyone who wants more will need to work for it. Six figures a year for life is quite a different kettle of fish.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    The exact relationship between cultural or ethnic homogeneity and equality, trust and collaboration is not exactly clear. I think that the high levels of homogeneity during most of the 19th and 20th centuries is one reason why the Nordic model developed. However, the much more stratified and culturally diverse United Kingdom also developed a vigorous socialist movement and one where the social democratic party remained committed to the idea of national ownership of the means of production much longer than any social democratic party in a Nordic Country. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea are ethnically homogenous countries with high degrees of trust and collaboration but did not really get into social democracy at all.

    There has to be something more than a homogenous culture or a national church when it comes to developing the Nordic model. A vigorous democracy and some form of class conflict is also necessary. Its a combination of homogeneous culture, democracy, and class conflict that created the Nordic model.Report

    • Avatar aarondavid in reply to LeeEsq says:

      One of the reasons that England was able to build that level of social support network was that it had just had the ever loving piss beat out of it. WWII created a level of social trust in GB that WWI did not, mostly due to being seriously attacked (blitz, U-boats destroying convoys of supplies, etc.) That created a We Are All In This Together feeling in the country.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to aarondavid says:

        It worked this way in the United States to an extent. We weren’t flattened but the Great Depression and the shared effort during World War II did allow for a certain amount of welfare measures like the GI Bill to get passed. Than a old bugbear of race came quickly along.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

          It’s a mistake to consider the GI Bill ‘welfare benefits’ in the context your describing. First, because it’s not at all universal (of course). But second, because the US federal government’s main spending priority for nearly a century before WW2 was veterans benefits. The back and forth of politics between the end of the Grant administration and the start of McKinley’s Denali’s was a) how much do we spend of veterans benefits and b) how high can we raise taxes (i.e. tariffs) to do so. Then we had another, shorter go around with this battle after WW1 with the bonus army and such.

          But all that is substantially different than the idea of the New Deal, which on paper was universal, and, moreover, had large chunks cast off and discontinued as WW2 reinvigorated the economy. There was the second go around in the Great Society, as Johnson took advantage of a unique and temporary political alignment. (and again, independent of any war. In fact, *despite* the war that he was also fighting).Report

  8. Avatar krogerfoot says:

    This was great. I hope you have a chance to visit Japan sometime, for a view of a society that is (for better or worse) about diametrically opposed, equality-wise, to Qatar. It’s an interesting argument where American society generally sits in between and which way it’s moving.

    She said that she thought that we must be Americans because we were very friendly and we talked a lot. She was gracious enough to fail to mention that each of us at the table had also achieved a certain weight class.

    I have often said “I can tell those guys are American—they’re dressed like giant 8-year olds.”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to krogerfoot says:

      Have sympathy for people who need to dress like grownups in 105 degree weather.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to krogerfoot says:

      I don’t know that my job will ever have me go to Japan (whenever we do something in Eastern/Southeastern Asia, my boss tends to end up going).

      In the absence of that, what sort of observations have you made from there?

      Are there huge amounts of equality in Japan? Everything I’ve heard is that there are all kinds of qualifiers for names and the wives of salarymen have to periodically go through transitions when one of the husbands gets a promotion because the honorifics and terms of endearment need to be modified.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Jaybird says:

        Japanese culture is pretty opaque from outside, but it’s an interesting parallel universe from which to view your own culture. Vis-a-vis inequality in Japan and the U.S., it’s kind of like the comparative differences in public safety. You may not feel like you live in an urban combat zone back home, but after a week or so in Tokyo, Americans start to notice that a lot of facets of Japanese culture are made possible by the absence of fear of crime—people sleep on public transportation, carry cash, let little kids run around on their own, etc.

        It’s like that with social inequality. Japan doesn’t immediately seem like an egalitarian utopia—they have a literal noble caste, after all, even if it’s basically invisible and irrelevant. But describing U.S. society to Japanese people sometimes feels like describing an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs. I realize that I frame a lot of the discussion on a class structure that I wasn’t really aware of in the States. Telling people your school was crappy because it was in a poor neighborhood, for example, or explaining that you pretty much have to have a car to avoid being at the mercy of the local bus system (so if you can’t afford a car, you’re screwed)—Japanese people have to use their imagination to grasp this stuff, since here, rich or poor, there’s a general feeling of being in the same boat, or on the same crowded train, at least.

        And when they use their imagination, it can be uncomfortable. They interpret what they see in U.S. popular culture alternately like Fox news pundits and Oberlin faculty.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to krogerfoot says:

          Dave Barry described it as–here I paraphrase–“Japanese society is like being a member of a club. You might not know the person sitting next to you on the bus, but they aren’t really a stranger–they’re a member of the club. And so it’s not really strange to be polite and helpful to that person, any more than it would be strange for two Elks members from different lodges to be cordial and helpful to one another.”Report

  9. Avatar guy says:

    In the course of a 10 minute conversation in which he asked me about my cats and I asked him about his children, we went from being two members of the outgroup to being two members of an ingroup.

    There is so much in this sentence, and the section it comes from.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to guy says:

      It involved the last thing that I had to do before going home, so when I left, I gave him an additional tip of the rest of the Qatari money in my wallet. (Probably amounted to little more than 10 bucks, all told.)Report

  10. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Now if the Qatari were smart, and were reading the writings on the wall, they’d be pushing money heavily into R&D for all manner of energy storage & generation. I imagine in that part of the world, Solar power is quite lucrative, and I can think of a few ways to take advantage of the extreme temperature differentials to create power. If you then have a way to store & transport that energy, you can still keep the economy running when the wells or the demand for their output runs dry.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    A healthy society that seeks to rise above poverty needs to conduct a balancing act: enough economic equality that neither jealousy nor stratification causes the basic ethics of the culture to erode, but also sufficient economic opportunity for the generation and enjoyment of wealth to exist that people continue to work, become educated, and contribute whether intentionally or inadvertently to the commonweal.

    We’re not the first to notice that a sociologically sudden influx of massive money causes significant problems even as poverty seems to alleviate. Corruption, indolence, decadence, disengagement, discrimination, and overload of infrastructure are only the easy things to identify from nations like, well, the Qatar described here, where petrowealth has eroded something valuable out from the interior of a culture even as it creates a glittering shell around where that culture used to be.Report

  12. Avatar Chris says:

    By the way, was that building in the Qatari skyline in the front page image intentionally built to look like a giant inflated orange condom, or is it just me?Report

  13. Avatar Glyph says:

    Ahmed moving to Qatar.

    As a wag in the comments to that piece points out, moving from Texas to a sandy, heavily-religious desert petrostate seems like a lateral move at best.Report