Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mitch McConnell: The New Dr. No

Thanks to last election day's capture of the senate by Republicans (with a lot of gratitude going towards the record low voting numbers), Mitch McConnell, Kentucky republican and distant relative of Kermit the Frog, became senate majority leader. While there is still some time in the current session of congress, McConnell has already taken the time to object to two of President Obama's recent policy announcements: the first being net neutrality, the second being the recent announcement of a climate agreement between the world's two largest polluters, the USA and China.

McConnell was quick to criticize the two as both being a stifling presence to 'innovation,' without going into much detail as to what that actually means, specifically criticizing the climate deal as being a hindrance to creating jobs in the country.

Regardless of whether or not he's right or wrong, McConnell is not being magnanimous in victory; instead, he's actively demonstrating that the next two years will become an endless row of soundbites and pointed fingers accusing the other side of an inability to compromise, all in preparation for the 2016 presidential election.

This plays into what McConnell perceives as a national swing towards Republicans: what they perceive from the election is momentum that they're going to try to ride into 2016 and unify the government under a Republican banner. So, McConnell will continue to tout that he and republicans are actively working to pass bills, but the president's intransigence stops them from passing. And thus, under a republican government, there can be efficiency, action, etc.

To him, this will put Obama in a poor light, as the two houses of congress are finally working in tandem to pass laws for the country. It is a plan, in essence, to turn Obama into a political liability and force democrats to tread carefully around issues that Obama championed in his presidential terms, especially in 2016.

This, of course, discounts the other 2/3 of Americans who simply didn't vote in 2014.

From now until the next presidential/house election, it is up to democrats to organize and reach out not just to the party base, but to independents and moderates. McConnell's soundbite, lame-duck government can be turned on the republicans to show that, while bills have been moving from house to senate only to be vetoed by the president, it is the contents of the bills that are unreasonable.

For instance, one of the main rallying points for republicans this past election was the repeal of the ACA (colloquially known as Obamacare), something that may be feasible under a united republican government. That would certainly be a shame, however, because the ACA dropped the uninsured rate in America to impressive levels. The list of topics will likely grow, given that questions regarding financial regulation and climate change will be swelling in the upcoming years.

Unfortunately for all, voter apathy, as demonstrated in the previous election, is at an all-time high. Democrats brought out nostalgic favorite Bill Clinton to run trump speeches all around the country in support for candidates, though the only problem with that is that you won't get much more than core democrats on to see old Bill speak.

Going forward, democrats have to posture themselves with candidates who can be perceived as not being beholden to business interests, who are outspoken and confident, and who can be seen as energetic personalities. This encapsulated Obama in his 2008 run, and is the aura of Senator Liz Warren, a party favorite.

But this won't happen. At least, it's not likely. After the past 6 years, with revelations about the NSA, drone strikes, financial regulation, et al that have come to light, many might perceive both parties as being equally bad, or one as being less bad than the other. It's the least ideal situation in politics, but with all the insurmountable walls that third parties are forced to climb, it's the inevitable spiral of winner-take-all.

So, for the next 2 years, when Obama says yes, McConnell will say no. He'll say it so much, in fact, that he'll start to understand the word better than anyone else. Every curve, every crevice, every cliff, he will be able to navigate its walls blindfolded, because that will be his phrase of choice for every policy that Obama takes. Perhaps we should fear the day that he says 'yes.'

That's all for now, 
Das Flüg

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Flutter of Dead Leaves

It begins at conception as an afterthought,
something unthinkable in the wake of glory
Watching over all things,
waiting for its time.

It is the shadow, the shuffle in the corner of your eye,
forever reaching but never grasping.
It whispers to them in the beginning, 'here I am,'
and the race begins.

For years we run, not daring to stumble
while it chases us at every turn.
Should we stumble and lose our footing,
or make a mistake without purpose,
then we lose all before we ever envisioned.

We wonder if there is dignity or triumph
in losing so early, in never reaching the end,
but we must accept the loss, and continue on.

Some will give up, and say the race is
too difficult, too tiring, too exasperating on the mind and soul,
and they choose to lose because they know it is inevitable
and they can run no further.

A chosen few will run the race, run far
until their muscles are naught but sinews and
their bones are paper, and they will carry the wisdom
that those who quit long before possessed,
but this is only one end for them.

For they know the race was fruitless,
that there was no victory to be had,
that all they knew would be whispers in the wind
on the fluttering of dead leaves,
but they ran it regardless, and every step,
every last breath,
was made to matter.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Life

Working life is an experiment in itself. It's odd to say that I'm now part of the workforce, taking the train every day to an office where I sit for my 8 hours, do my work quietly, and go home. In exchange for my eight hours of time, I'm given money. Cause and effect, cause and effect.

It's a strange juxtaposition to where I was a year ago, doing work for a master's degree, or even a few months ago, where I was writing articles from home while desperately searching for some form of lucrative employment. And now here I am, finding my days taken up by the glorious repetition of wake up, run errands, go to work, come home, sleep, lather, rinse, and never stop lathering.

From having time infinitum to the time on my days off or the weekends. Is this adulthood? Because, if so, I object.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pagliacci's Remorse

This week saw the passing of comedic legend Robin Williams at too young an age for the energy he always seemed to have. He took his own life, a victim of depression, something that turns away many eyes when brought up in conversation.

This is my honest take of it.

Depression is an unrare monster. It occurs briefly in some, and forever in others. Sometimes it sits and waits for the right moment to strike, gathering up strength for when one's defenses is weakest. Other times, it is an unwanted companion, invisible to all others, who hovers over you, taking away your life's energy like a dementor from Harry Potter. It is a disease to which no one is immune, and for which there are no symptoms, at least none that are glaringly obvious to the casual observer.
The term itself is a catch-all for a panoply of personal affectations that could be ascribed to a depressive state, but what it is to the person who is feeling it is a chain wrapped tightly around one's ankle, attached to an anchor at the bottom of the sea that slowly pulls on the person. It is the feeling of dreading the day because one has to keep suffering through life even though they are worthless, deadly, poisonous human beings who only infect those around them with the curse of their presence.
To someone who is depressed, they are not good, despite any evidence to the contrary. The ego is so low that the person is either cynical or ebullient, or jocular or defensive; there are a range of ways people deal with their affliction. They can appear to be the happiest, most energetic people of all, as Robin showed, or always masking themselves in off-the-cuff witty rejoinders, because a brief laugh is worth the high it brings to the person who is always low.
Because someone with depression is almost always at a low, the person most likely has an addictive personality. This high can come from anywhere: drugs, gambling, exercise, sex, comedy, etc.
For something like comedy, the high comes from making others laugh, which, in psychological terms, can be attributed to the looking glass self and self-perception theory, whereby one finds themselves making others feel good, which makes the first person feel good in turn. They do that momentary good, and they become good, for the moment.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, one cannot simply 'stop' being depressed. After one has been depressed for years, one would know of no other way of existing. It would be like pulling a fish out of water and expecting it to simply start breathing the rarefied air; maybe that change will happen over eons, but not overnight.
One who is depressed has the yearning to stop being so, but escape is difficult due to the cynical nature of the thing. After all, what is the point of trying to be better if one is already worthless? It's a catch-22 mired in quicksand.
What is the cause of depression? It's hard to say. Each case is so very different. This is not a disease in the traditional sense, like ebola, which is spread through bodily fluids, but an affliction of one's conscious and subconscious mind that cannot be controlled. It is as if one of your legs decided to not work as hard as the other because there simply was no point to working as hard as the other leg, and everything it did was meaningless. Certainly, you would not try to 'beat it out' of your leg, since that would only regress it further.
The only real way to mitigate the effects of depression is to speak with someone about it. Friends, family, strangers, your dog, etc. Josef Breuer's Talking Cure is very much a catharsis for many who have underlying depression, caused by past trauma or by other unattributed causes.
A kind ear is infinitely better than any pill. If you do feel depressed, then please, speak to someone about it. Even if it's something as anonymous as an Omegle chat, it's worth the time to take to really engage yourself in discovering what makes you, you.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Newton's Third Law

It's been a strange month or so. One might think that, given my general proclivity towards written verbiage, that I might have scrawled some half-baked idealism on my blog in the time between my previous post and this one. Not so. Happy belated American Independence Day and all that jazz.

What brought me to put finger to keyboard is the current re-escalation of tensions between Hamas and Israel in the never-ending saga of a dispute that stretches back to a time long before internal plumbing.
Both sides might be equally vile, but, as in every conflict, it's the innocent that suffer the most. The teenagers who were murdered on both sides are tragic, and only reveals the barbarity of those who believe this conflict to have a true purpose aside from settling a feud about land and religion that has existed for far too long in human history.
Right now, it is Israel that has the stranglehold over Palestine, but not too long ago, it was the Palestinians who controlled the land. However much that is unlikely to change is indeterminate, given that Israel has a highly developed military and economy, but one cannot anticipate the rogue variables of tomorrow.
The only actors with enough influence to end this conflict reside in Washington, D.C. and Brussels (and within the capitols of all the EU states). Israel, the main power broker of the area, relies heavily on trade to both, and Gaza depends on aid from the EU.
There are many steps that the US and the EU should take, but these should be the main ones:
  • Cessation of aid and trade to both countries until a general ceasefire can be agreed upon. 
  • Hold accountable those in both Israel and Gaza who have broken multiple ceasefires and have continually retaliated to the other's actions.
  • Draw up a two-state solution based on the previously agreed upon borders with exceptions:
    • First, the blockade around the Palestinian territories will be lifted. There will be no imposition of Israeli tax on goods sent to Palestine. There will also be a cessation of Israeli settlement-building, and any illegal settlements will be razed, its residents moved, and the land given back to the PLO.
    • Second, the PLO would be given a parole period during which it will have to clean up its governance within Gaza with the help of international observers, excepting Israel. Should a single rocket be fired from Gaza into Israel during the parole period, the treaty would be in abeyance. Israel can request transparency reports on progress.
    • Third, should any rocket fire fall into Israel and should Israel retaliate, then both the US and EU would impose economic sanctions on the region. This is obviously indiscriminate and punishes both for one's initial actions, but this clause looks to prevent escalation that so often creates out-of-control circumstances.
    • Fourth, all eligible voters in the Palestinian territories should be registered and a new election will be called, to be conducted by independent watchdogs from the UN, the EU, the OSCE, and the AU. As this is the creation of a formal new state, this is perfunctory.
It's not hard to get drawn into a laborious, protracted, vitriolic debate around this conflict, and it's honestly excruciating. I've seen friends become embittered acquaintances who merely tolerate each other simply because of this stupid conflict. Everyone deserves the right to self-determination and freedom from encumbering influences, including both Israel and Palestine. That's that.

That's all for now,
Das Flüg

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guns, Girls, Games

It's amazing to think that there have been 31 incidents of gun-related violence in or near schools in the United States in 2014. It's also strange, since these levels of violence should feel ghastly, horrific, etc., but in the end, it's just another day.
The most recent, at Reynolds High in Oregon, is the 11th this year with at least one fatality. The gunman reportedly was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Before that, it was the shooting at Seattle Pacific University, and before that, it was the rampage at Isla Vista in California, and before that, etc. etc. etc.
The NRA (also known as the Numbskull Rights Association) has stated and will probably continue to state that it was the lack of a presence of weapons on campus that caused the violence to get out of hand in the first place.
There's something utterly illogical and farcical about that statement, should one take the time to think on its meaning: somehow, the dearth of a weapon wasn't around to prevent death. Maybe if all students were allowed to openly carry guns, the school would have been safe to the point of utopia, due to the grand old theory of Mutually Assured Destruction, which worked so well during the Cold War.
It takes very little for someone to pull the trigger and end a life, which is why the NRA's consistent policy of 'guns fer errybody' makes very little sense. Should, in the view of the NRA, everyone have a gun? Sure, why not, but why should people who have demonstrated themselves to be mentally unfit be allowed to have a weapon that could potentially lay waste to a group of people?
I don't like guns. It's that simple. I don't feel safe seeing a cop with a weapon because there is no way to tell what in the world is going through his/her head. Giving someone the power to adjudicate life or death is too high a responsibility to dole out to someone who may not have even obtained a university degree.
In Finland (and many other European countries), police officers are required to have university degrees before they can enter into the force. Even then, most do not carry guns when out and about, simply because there is little need to: gun violence in most of Europe is extremely low. When there are situations where guns may be needed, only those who are trained in their use to the utmost are deployed.
Of course, in anarchy, one needs to acquiesce to anarchic standards in order to survive, at least according to Hobbesian logic. To hell with the social contract, right?

That's all for now,
Das Flüg

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Minutiae

Putting aside politics and literary aspirations and my usual garbage for a moment, I'd like to recount something that happened to me last week.

I was out bowling with some friends. Anyone who knows me would say that I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking, and even that would be exaggerating my alcohol-drinking abilities. I never liked the taste and I dislike the feeling of being tipsy/drunk, so I never made it a habit. Thus, I was the only one not drinking that night in the bowling alley.
Skipping past a ton of shenanigans, I was driving home at around 1:45 AM, absolutely exhausted from having been up since 7 AM. I'm not falling asleep at the wheel though, thanks to a good assortment of Bruce Springsteen on the radio. The night was foggy, exceedingly so; it was difficult to see around 100 feet in any direction. Regardless, as I knew the road I was on quite well, I kept up my usual pace of around 65. A red light approaches in front of me, so I stop. As soon as it's green, the red-blue glare of police lights shines in my rear-view mirror.
Of course, I pull over. The short, bald cop who looks like Mark Strong's genetically inferior brother asks for my license and all that good stuff. He shines his flashlight in my back seat, where I have a Chinese rice paddy hat, a George Bush mask, and a blue plastic bag from when I bought some clothes from the thrift shop. The light lingers on my backseat, and I sense that he wants nothing more than to see what's in the bag.
The first thing the cop asks me when he gets back to my car is not "where have you been tonight" or "do you know how fast you were going," but "how much have you had to drink tonight?" I, of course, tell him the honest answer of none. Zip. Zero. Zilch. He asks me to step out of the car. I do.
"Follow my pen with your eyes," he says. I do. It's not hard, though being absolutely sodden tired probably makes me look more ghoulish than I realize.
"Lean your head back, close your eyes," he then says, and I do. I realize that this position is just a bit too comfortable and that I might actually fall backwards just from the sheer amount of tired that's weighing down my brain. I'm only a minute or two away from home. Let me go.
"How much have you smoked today?"
My mind goes blank for a second. Smoked? I've never smoked anything in my entire life, except for maybe some steaks when I wasn't a vegetarian. I reply with the truth.
"When was the last time you smoked?"
 If I had actually been high, I probably would have started freaking out. I vehemently deny smoking anything, either that day or in my entire life. It's hard to be honest with someone when they believe you are absolutely lying to save your skin.
"Your car smells of weed and alcohol."
I know my car smells a bit. The floor carpets and kind of dirty, but weed? Seriously? Has this guy ever smelled either weed and/or alcohol before? I've never smoked in my life, but even I can tell the difference between weed and damp floor carpets.
I then said something stupid. Very stupid. While his partner was sniffing through my window, I suggested he search my car. I very ardently stated that he should, considering he would find nothing. It didn't strike me, in my positively knackered state, until the day after that I had seen the same cop cars a few miles back. They pulled other people over as well. They were likely filling their ticket quotas, and I basically invited them to probe around my car and possibly plant evidence. Granted, that thought is tinged with paranoia, but the fact that they were accusing me of being high and smelling of weed when I very clearly didn't wasn't something that registered to me immediately. Maybe I was high on bowling ball fumes, who knows.
There was a brief standoff where tiny Mark Strong and I stood, essentially just staring at each other. He eventually went to his car to confer with his partner, and I ended up getting an $85 speeding ticket for going fast through a construction zone (never mind the fact that it was foggy and pretty hard to see any speed signs).
The whole incident left a bitter taste in my mouth because I know that not all cops are bad. Not all of them try to reach quotas, not all beat protesters; a few years ago, when I was playing baseball with my friends, a cop car stopped at the field and one of the officers asked if he could take some swings. He then bludgeoned the pitcher with the bat upon striking out. (Joke, obviously)
It's still worrying that there are those who take the term 'upholding the law' to a ludicrous standard, or even simply believe themselves to 'be the law.'
It's easy to say that 'power corrupts,' but the real question is, how much does it take? And why does it have to?