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
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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

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

I should stop listening to beautiful music. I should stop letting my mind wander whenever I see a pretty girl. I should stop imagining just how well our hands would fit like two long-since-lost pieces of the same puzzle. I should stop concerning myself with the future. I should stop worrying about whether I'll have a place to live in a year. I should stop worrying about whether or not I'll go bald. I should stop worrying about whether or not I'll lose my teeth. I should stop worrying about finding something to do that is emotionally fulfilling. I should stop worrying about international turmoil. I should stop worrying about whether my writing is good or whether it's only suitable for the mentally handicapped. I should stop worrying about whether or not I'll ever craft something wonderful out of this exercise in sculpting that we live every single day. I should stop worrying about my feelings. I should stop worrying about drowning. I should stop worrying. Don't worry. Never worry.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What is a writer's job?

            Many writers (myself included) would contend that their jobs are to remain relatively impoverished while toiling away at something they love. Others might say that their job is channeling their hearts through their fingers, whittling away the page until it contains darkened indents the same color as our souls. A more grandiose writer might say that he is the purveyor of a singular truth, whether it is personal, political, historical, or satirical; that, deep between the letters, lays a meaning unperceived to the most superficial reading of the words. In my least humble of opinions, the previous are just over-complications of something both intrinsic to deep-seated to every person: a writer is someone who presents what they know and feel.
What they know and how they feel is dependent upon years of experience, years of toil, years of joy, years of sense, or an eon of life. In all this perception, a writer finds his or her being transcribed into words, but never can these words be objective. A Nouriel Roubini will never see the economic world the same way as a Milton Friedman, nor will an Ernest Hemingway perceive the same reality as a Stephanie Meyer.
In this sense, a writer then writes their colored reality in the hope that there are those who share a modicum of that reality. It is the job of the writer to connect with the reader on a level of understanding that the reader isn’t aware of, to inform the reader of a perception outside that which they had held.
To speak in less philosophical or metaphysical terms, a writer, whether he or she is a columnist, an author, a blogger, et al., is there to create a new contextual lens through which the reader can view an issue. For example, a person of a moderate political mind would ideally read positions and ideas from various political ideologies in order to better understand the panoply of different views that can exist on a particular issue. The writers from all sides are able to present their issue-areas through their own understanding of an issue, whether it’s something as divisive as abortion or something as mundane as whether or not people should say ‘merry Christmas’ or ‘happy holidays’ during the appropriate time of the season.
Alternatively, it is a writer’s job to lie- after all, fiction stories are naught but entertaining lies. They are fake stories of fake people who only exist because someone thought that they should exist only in terms of pen and paper. They tell us nothing explicit about global politics, or current news, or why the potholes in the street haven’t been fixed yet, etc. etc. etc.
Even these lies, however, hold some modicum of truth that each person who reads them can understand. F. Scott Fitzgerald would argue that one cannot live within a memory and hope to resurrect one’s life as it once was, or Gatsby would do so for him; Orwell would tell you vehemently that some are more equal than others, or he would allow Animal Farm to convey that message; Oscar Wilde would say that the divide between absolute morality and licentious hedonism is blurred, but Dorian Grey could demonstrate that aptly enough.
A writer’s job will always be one of subjective honesty, one of truth in story, whether it comes in a political message, a fictional story, a press release, a piece of journalism, or whatever the medium may be. There is no absolute definition of in what form this ‘job’ will take, as many writers would argue that it comes with not enough money to get a quick burrito; the one absolute is that writing is a job not easily done, as being honest with both oneself and with others is never an easy task.
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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Next Great Political Revolution in the West

'Revolution' is a funny word. For all intents and purposes, it fulfills one request only: as a measure of significance for a country's historicity. 'Historicity' is another funny word: in the pragmatic sense, it deals solely with the facts of history and whether or not they are nonpartisan, objective, verifiable, etc. Essentially, historicity deals with what can be deemed as 'true.'

But then, what's true? Is a revolution just a government's insurrection, or is it a terrorist's ideal? The term 'revolution' is one that should always be taken with two grains of salt, because we must always ask ourselves, whose revolution was it anyway? Did the terrorist become a saint, or did the beneficent leader become a tyrant?

Some believe that we, in this 21st century full of instant communication from anywhere around the world, will have a revolution soon to come in our insulated western world: whether it's working-class over rich, a revolution in democracy, an Islamic revolution, etc. etc. etc. A revolution is only as good as the (inevitably) minority movement that follows through with it and the leaders who give it direction; without one or the other, there is only a small sect of disgruntled citizens, or anarchy.

How can we test where the seeds of 'revolution' might sprout? The most recent revolutions occurred in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where leader after leader either resigned or was deposed from their position of power, demonstrating the power of the people and the prevalence of democracy!

Or so we'd like to think. Egypt has largely turned into a stratocracy, where the former democratically elected power, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the Egyptian military. Syria is still in the midst of a bloody civil war that shows only stalemate. Libya is still unstable.

Closer to home, with the revelations of NSA spying and the discussions over cutting welfare for millions of people, some say that we require a 'revolution' in order to truly become democratic and egalitarian and what have you. But then, why would there be a revolution in the western world? In terms of peaceful revolution, one can elect a 'radical' to office to change existing structures of government, but in the end, is there any way to completely ensure that this 'radical' will change anything at all? Is 'revolution' for the western world more than just trust in voting?

The last real revolution in politics, specifically in America, came with Ronald Reagan: he cut taxes on both the rich and companies to their lowest levels since the Great Depression (though he raised them as well), cut benefits for many, deregulated portions of the financial and banking industry (see the Savings and Loan crisis), and he removed the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed in the White House (not exactly hard-hitting, but symbolic nonetheless). He restarted the Cold War in a way that had everyone once again fearing that their lives could be ended in the next 30 minutes. Some hold him as a mythical Republican hero, some hold him as a right-wing corporatist villain, but either way, he was 'revolutionary.'

(Some would say the Bush administration was revolutionary as well, in the terms of changing how the US comported with the world and how the government acted domestically with regard to the constitution and its citizens. This is true, and should not be taken lightly: everything we see in the international stage today is a result of Bush administration policies, from rendition to wiretapping to Iran to Israel, etc. etc. etc. However, his administration was much more secretive, and the legacy of his administration's impact has yet to fully be assessed.)

Personally, I'd argue that the policies of Reagan and his ilk, such as Thatcher, set western civilization back a few pegs: instead of ensuring wealth for all, it was only wealth for some; instead of maintaining a solid industrial base, it was shipped away to China or Mexico or another country whose standard of work allowed companies to pay workers cents per day.

So then what is the next great revolution in the west? It seems that we've reached our nadir in terms of political activism. After all, it's hard to live in this current society without a 9-to-5, 40 hour a week job that pays just enough for rent and food. It's not as if we can guarantee a higher minimum wage, or a basic salary for all adults between the ages of 18 and 65, or free or subsidized education without the future weight of loans, or an egalitarian tax code, or basic health care for all regardless of income or employment, or paid maternity leave, or paid paternity leave, or an efficient means of public transport throughout the entirety of the US, or the basic necessities of food and water to all, or the reasonable assumption that we can retain the privacy of our opinions within the company of those whom we trust, or that our food, water, and air are clean to eat, drink, and breathe, or that we are reasonably able to provide shelter and accommodation to anyone who may need it. No, we cannot guarantee any of that.

Perhaps when these are enacted, we can say that we lived through the great revolution in the west, or, more specifically, America, because then all will have benefited from the actions of the few, and historicity will deem it so. Fact will no longer be fiction, and the fiction that so many vehemently defend will no longer be fact.

That's all for now, 
Das Flüg
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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

 Before the clock strikes 12,
remember to remember your grievances and gripes,
your pitfalls and pains,
your sores and sorrows,
because there will be many more to come.

Before the clock passes 12,
realize where you are,
and where you came from,
because it is not you.
What you are,
what makes you is your smile,
your cheer, the twirl of your hair,
the gleam of joy in your eyes
when you see what makes you happy.

Resolve for nothing but what tickles you,
what pulls you, what drives you,
because there is nothing else that you need.
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Sunday, December 29, 2013

If those who impose rules on others cannot abide by those same rules, then the rule-maker has no place making rules. It might seems intuitive, but it most certainly isn't for too many.
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