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?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

In the Hot Seat

It's amazing how easy it is to feel uncomfortable in a place. The place might not even be the cause of the discomfort: maybe it's the people, maybe it's one's job, wanderlust, or a sense of unfulfilled desire. Maybe some just have misplaced notions of how great another place is in comparison to where the dreamer is now; after all, it's easy to imagine a paradise based on snippets of hand-picked bits of knowledge.
At the same time, the discomfort might be warranted. I haven't known a person (well, maybe a few) who was comfortable remaining in the same place for their entire lives, though perhaps that's just American/'western' culture. After all, we're continually told that the bird must leave the nest sometime. We've all got to spread our wings and fly, become 'adults,' whatever that may be.
My generation is entering the 'quarter-life crisis' phase, typically characterized by an uncertainty about what it is we're supposed to do now that we're no longer in school or living at home. There's a certain sense of ennui that befalls those of us not lucky enough to be born into wealth; wake up, go to work, come home, lather, rinse, repeat every day except for the weekends and Friday nights. Some of us will go out, try to have fun with the even more limited time we have, while others will do whatever it is that they enjoy. That might be writing a book, or simply doing nothing; really, though, is this a devolution?
I can't help but think that the utter necessity to earn an income to support oneself (which isn't as easy as it sounds, sadly enough) is a stagnant bit of garbage that has remained as the last vestige of the Industrial Revolution.
But, DF, people need to work in order for the economy to run!
Yeah, that is true. Without earned incomes, there aren't any taxes, thus lesser government income (unless they've got gas money, bling bling), thus fewer police and public works projects and general anarchy because government can't afford to do, well, anything. But at the same time, how much do most companies actually contribute to the mythos of humanity?
(I'm starting to sound preachy and acerbic. This might be the point at which you stop reading, close your browser, make a cuppa tea, and read the evening news. What comes after this has no statistical basis in fact, there are no numbers, no citations, so...beware, I guess.)
What do we consider as human knowledge? The creation of financial assets? Market trading? Graphic design? Social media development? Soap?
I suppose we'd have to get down to the base of what can constitute 'human knowledge'- that which would be learned by a new generation in a post-apocalyptic cataclysm. So, one day, everyone on Earth is gone in a poof, and a few million years roll by, and the octopi sucker up onto land and become the dominant species. They start using tools, living in groups, developing agriculture, city-states, maybe even war with other city-states, kings, magnates, dictators, democracy, plagues, religion, etc. Maybe they'll have a god with a million tentacles.
The point is, what would they learn as the dominant species, supposing that all of human knowledge, all books, internet knowledge, disappeared forever?
The obvious answer is, first, science. No matter what, science will be true, whether it's biology, astronomy, etc. The laws are there for discovery, and no doubt, the great octopus philosopher Octomedes will be the first to discover that all heavenly bodies move in a rigid pattern.
But what else is there? Would they develop concepts of money? Or even of religion? Or how to code in CSS?
This comes back to my original point: how much of what we do in life actually impacts the gross sum of human experience? Will anyone in 1000 years care whether or not Goldman Sachs made a record profit last quarter? (I hope not, but this is assuming that Goldman Sachs doesn't engage in a monopolistic autocratic rule of the planet.)
So... I actually don't have a point. Never mind.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

One of Them Days

It's easy to feel uncertain about being your 20s. For most of us, it's our first real step out of childhood, the time when we become responsible for ourselves and our wellbeing. Sometimes, we even become responsible for the lives of others, whether it's by choice or otherwise. Sure, maybe ten years down the road, we'll all look back on our 20s, thinking about how carefree and young and beautiful we were, how we had it so easy, how we didn't know how tedious life gets, etc.

Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20- it's perfectly easy and completely ignorant to say that life was easier in the past, because with every phase of our lives that passes, the contexts of our troubles and issues changes dramatically. From exams to finding a job, from rent to paying a mortgage, from trying to get sleep while your newborn wakes up at midnight to trying to save enough money for your child's university expenses, it all changes. That does not, however, diminish the importance of each issue.

That's why, when we look back on our past selves and think, 'man, the living was fun,' maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. It's easier to remember the times that brought us joy and purpose rather than the times we were excessively stressed; it's also easier to look back on stressful times, like pulling all-nighters for exams or sequestering oneself in order to study, and feel nostalgic; it's a simplicity of purpose, and in ambiguous times, simplicity is precisely that for which we yearn. Knowing that one's ultimate goal is acing a class is clear; finding oneself unemployed and without many job options leaves one wishing for something simpler, because anything is better than uncertainty.

Unfortunately, it's easier than ever to become frazzled in your 20s. Facebook lets us keep track of our peers, and even if we haven't spoken to them since high school, we still get to keep track of their life's progress, and implicitly, we compare it to our own. Imagine that you see that your ex-girlfriend got a great job at a large bank, whereas you're still working part-time scanning food at the A&P and trying to find something elsewhere full-time with a decent starting salary and healthcare; how would you feel? Jealous? It's OK to admit it- we all look at those who are doing better in similar situations and wish we could be them.

It's not uncommon to hear people say that 'everything will work out,' even when, to you, it seems like nothing will. And honestly, it's better not to listen to them, because it's hard to tell if everything will work out, which is why you have to make it work out. No magical panacea is going to get dropped into your lap. If you're not actively trying to change things, then nothing ever will change, no matter how long you wait.

That's all for now, 
Das Flüg
Share |

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Post-hoc

I've been a bit neglectful of my blog of late, and I'm hoping that it is for two not unworthy reasons: the first is that I've been interning with a small nonprofit three days a week, and also I have been searching for a full-time job that can pay me a livable wage; the second is that I've been rewriting the second book I wrote and finished last year, and preliminarily, I find it to be better than the previous version. Will I shop it around to agents? Eventually, though I'm not sure how 'commercial' my work is.

On a more important note, Ukraine. Over the past month, it's exploded into a Cold War-esque geopolitical nightmare for the west. Russian troops (in unmarked uniforms for the plausible deniability) occupy Crimea, which has voted to secede from the Ukraine and become a part of Russia. Vladimir Putin, the all-but-a-sultan of Russia, has stated that the recent ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych posed a threat to the ethnically Russian people living in Crimea; thus, the intervention, even though Putin has also said that there is no way to tell if those are really Russian troops. (Confusing, I know)
There needs to be a brief bit of background on this whole issue:
  • the first point of note is that, before the protests in Kiev began, Ukraine was preparing to enter the EU by making the standard array of changes (see Copenhagen Criteria).
  • President Yanukovych was renowned among leaders for his corruption, and quickly accepted money from Russia, turning his back on the Copenhagen Criteria and the EU, which was supported by a majority of the Ukrainian population.
  • Russia supplies around 1/3 of all gas imported in the EU. 
  • Half of all Russian gas that enters the EU goes through Ukraine.
  • A 1994 agreement between the US and Ukraine recognizes the border of the then-new state of the Ukraine.
  • Russia maintains a naval base in Crimea, which would likely no longer be leased to the Russians should Ukraine enter the EU. The base maintains a strategic Cold War position as the place of first strike against the west in case of an all-out war.
The US has been more than happy to step up and present sanctions as the solution against Russia, though with a caveat: they begin exporting American-mined gas (through fracking, which faces much resistance globally) to Europe, tackling a huge, profitable market.
The costs for that, however, would be large. The shipping, tariff, and import duties, not to mention the establishment of transit areas through which the gas can be safely delivered to Eastern Europe would likely cost more than the current Gazprom pipeline setup. Thus, the EU hasn't implemented the pernicious sanctions that it could; at least, not yet.
This is Europe's trump card over Russia: cutting off Russia from all gas imports would cause the Russian stock market and economy to take a nosedive due to the estimated loss of profits, and the ruble would drop internationally. 60% of Russia's state income comes from export of gas and oil, and the EU is its largest customer. It is the one pressure point the west has on Putin, and they are hesitant to use it.
One should hope, however, that the EU is willing to take the dramatic step in terms of international presence and make a stand against Russia's incursion into Ukraine. This entire debacle raises ghosts of the 1990s, when the incipient EU found itself impotent in the face of the Balkans crisis; one would think that, in light of those confusing and tumultuous times, the EU would be able to make the difficult, yet right, decision.
Of course, then there are the business interests. One shouldn't be surprised that David Cameron's government is espousing pro-business, anti-EU positions; honestly, would anyone expect anything less? In this situation, however, even Germany, which receives 40% of its gas imports from Russia, has been hesitant in taking a strong stand against Russia.
The EU Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the EU High Representative, etc. etc. etc.; they were all established in order to create a prominence for Europe in international affairs. One preening windbag (or the preening windbags in his party) shouldn't be enough to stop what is the only reasonable course of action for the EU: impose trade sanctions on Russia, targeting gas imports. With a united voice, the EU can deescalate the situation. After all, the European economy can be recovered, but the people who fought and died against Yanukovych's crackdown in the Maidan cannot.

That's all for now,
Das Flüg

Share |