Archive for January, 2010

Props to Obama

January 31st, 2010 No comments

It would be unfair of me only to blast Obama when he falls short of my expectations yet never offer any praise when he actually does something I find praiseworthy.

This is nothing major, but it was a brilliant political move that deserves some credit. On Friday, Obama met with House Republicans and absolutely bitch-slapped them all over the floor. Seeing as how I’m always whining about how he never seems to stand up and fight, it’s only appropriate that I give him some credit when he does fight, and when he does it so damned effectively that I actually experience a few fleeting moments of pride that this is the guy in charge. During the hour-long Q & A, he acted like the kind of president I’d hoped he would be during the campaign.

This is the most compelling political television I’ve seen since 2008, so if you haven’t seen it I’d say it’s well worth watching, far moreso than the State of the Union. Here’s the link if you’re interested.

No need to go into excessive detail about what was said. Basically, a Republican would stand up and launch into a talking-point-disguised-as-a-question, and Obama would rip him apart with a cold, calm, undeniably reasonable, rational response. Not only that, but he didn’t shy away from calling them out for their bullshit. For example, a Republican would get up and talk for three minutes about how much Obama is spending and finally ask, “So when are you going to stop spending so much and putting our grandchildren into debt?” and once the applause died down Obama would immediatley call him out for being disingenuous! My god, the man has some balls! He would then launch into his explanation for why he had to spend so much, followed by pointing out that A) he’s going to freeze spending next year and B) the republicans are monstrous hypocrites considering how much they spent under Bush.

Another Republican would get up and make a speech and ask, “Why are you shutting us out of the debate? When are you going to listen to our ideas and stop excluding us from the process?” Obama would then point out, in a confrontational but not argumentative tone, that he’s been taking Republican ideas and suggestions all year and not getting any credit for it. Why isn’t he adopting the Republican health care plan? Well, because the experts say the plan wouldn’t work! He takes the ideas that do work and incorporates them into his plan, but gets absolutely no cooperation from the other side. He pointed out that if you want to get anything done in Washington it can’t be all-or-nothing. A democratic president with a democratic majority isn’t just going to adopt 100% of the republican proposals, especially when those proposals don’t stand up to the test of whether they’d work in reality.

Most importantly, he very clearly pointed out the underlying reason nothing gets done, which is all the political posturing from the right that makes it impossible to compromise. When you demonize the other side, he said, you box yourself in and deny yourself the ability to negotiate. If you tell your constituents that the president is some kind of radical socialist ideologue who wants to hurt seniors (and Obama actually used this terminology) then you sure as hell can’t compromise with him or vote for anything he proposes. As a result, nothing gets done. You’re not running the country—you’re running for re-election.

Obama’s responses were devastating. Any reasonable, unbiased observer would come away from watching this event with a clear impression of the president as a strong, reasonable, rational, capable leader who was willing to work with the other side to accomplish positive things for the country, while the republicans are just playing petty short-term politics at the nation’s expense.

That’s probably why Fox News cut short the broadcast by 20 minutes. Apparently “Fair and Balanced” means not letting the president respond to direct criticism from the opposing party. They constantly lambaste the president for not listening to the other side, and when the other side gets a chance to confront him and he is forced to respond, this network decides it’s not really newsworthy. If there’s anything conservatives hate it’s being confronted with reasonable, rational counter-arguments to their paper-thin shallow talking points.

Now, to be fair, I’m still very disappointed with Obama overall and one little Q & A session isn’t going to reverse that. It is just rhetoric after all, and we already knew that Obama is a master rhetorician. But there are two important things about this. First—he didn’t use a teleprompter, so I hope we can put this nonsense that Obama is lost without his teleprompter to rest. Watching him speak off-the-cuff was way more compelling than seeing him read a pre-written and focus-tested speech. With regards to influencing peoples’ opinions I think this was way more effective than the State of the Union, though unfortunately less people are going to see this.

Second—this was an excellent tactical move on the administration’s part. The republicans didn’t want to let the cameras roll during the Q & A but the White House convinced them to let it happen. Somehow the republicans thought that they were going to tear him a new one on live television, forgetting the fact that they have no ammunition. None of their criticisms (he’s a socialist, he’s a radical, etc.) hold water in the light of day. By maneuvering so that the president would get to respond directly to all these criticisms and reveal how groundless and empty they are, he really delivered a heavy blow to the opposition.

And all the while he maintained his calm and presidential composure, completely believable in his insistence that he’s willing to work with the other side. Up until now that’s pissed me off, but he also made it clear that if the other side isn’t willing to work with him, there’s not much he can do. Apparently this is how Obama fights. It may not be the most emotionally satisfying style of fighting—I wanted to see him get up there and scold the opposition directly for their behavior—but this passive-aggressive approach was surprisingly effective and probably smarter politics.

So anyway, that’s my only pro-Obama blog post of the month. It may end up being my only one of the year.

Nothing Happening

January 31st, 2010 No comments

I’ve been going through all my online journal entries from last year to re-post them to the blog after a bit of reluctant self-censorship, and finding this work extremely tedious. Why did I have to write so much? Did I really need to make an entry out of that? Why include all these pointless details? And all the speculating about what might happen with regards to a particular situation when now in hindsight I know that nothing ever came of it at all anyway. It’s aggravating, to say the least.

So I haven’t been too motivated to write more personal entries, especially considering the fact that absolutely nothing worth writing about has happened in the last couple of weeks. I may have something worth mentioning this week, as a few people will hopefully come over on Tuesday night for my birthday, but that’s all I’ve got on the horizon.

As for the two major “initiatives” I’m undergoing, there are no developments on those fronts either. I’m still planning to apply to that school in Japan, but there’s really no hurry because I don’t want to start until the summer anyway so I’m holding off for right now. And as for the online dating, it just keeps revealing itself to be more and more of a useless waste of time. I discovered this week that I was only able to send an actual message (as opposed to the pre-written greetings you pick from a multiple choice menu) in a reply to another actual message someone sent me.

When I found a girl last weekend that I really wanted to talk to and tried to send her an actual message written by myself, I discovered that in order to do that I’d have to pay about €30 to become a “premium member” of this bullshit site. Well, what the fuck? Am I going to be serious about this, or am I just going to throw up my hands in defeat before I even seriously try to get anywhere? So I paid the damn fee and sent my little message. The girl was Asian and it said she speaks German and English but her native language was something else unspecified, so all I said was “You look lovely. Where are you from originally?” That was last weekend and I haven’t heard anything back. I also haven’t heard anything back from any of the less-attractive girls I sent pre-written greetings to.

This whole thing is absurd. “Hey, look at all these semi-decent-looking girls you might be willing to settle for. Just pay us thirty euros and you can be ignored by all of them!” Wunderbar.

And that’s where things stand right now. Other than moving all of my Wednesday classes to Tuesday and Thursday, thus earning myself an extra day off in the middle of the week without losing any classes, nothing has changed. But I’m glad. That means fewer pages of annoying personal bullshit I’ll have to get through when I go back and read these entries again.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Fine, Just Pass the Damn Bill

January 30th, 2010 No comments

I know I wrote before that the health care reform bill currently floating through congress shouldn’t be passed unless they remove the individual mandate, but at this point I’m leaning towards the position that they should just pass the thing in whatever horrible form it’s currently in and then work on tweaking it. I still wish they would remove the individual mandate, but it’s no longer a deal-breaker for me. The fact is, we need some kind of reform, if only for the sake of those people out there with pre-existing conditions or anyone else whose lives depend on passing the legislation.

But the election of Scott Brown to the Senate, thus giving Republicans a 41-out-of-100-seat-majority (that’s apparently how it works now) makes the chances of getting anything passed extremely slim. Signals are currently being sent from the White House via every liberal’s favorite chief-of-staff, Rahm Emmanuel, that health care is going to be put on the back-burner while they focus on jobs and energy. Senate “majority” leader Harry Reid has said recently that “health care can wait”. The fate of the reform that we spent the entire goddamn year working on and fighting for is now in more serious jeopardy than ever before. People are tired of talking about it, tired of thinking about it, tired of fighting over it. They just want it to go away and for nobody to think about it.

But the fact is, if they just drop the issue now, we aren’t going to forget. Just because Obama waited half-way through his State of the Union address to even mention health care reform doesn’t mean the sick and dying people of America will forget that they need reform in order to continue living. The changes on the table in Congress are by no means drastic, but they’re something. They will be of enormous help to at least some people. They will save at least some lives.

If the democrats think they can just quietly drop the issue now, cross their fingers and hope for the best in November, they’re even more clueless and pathetic than I thought. It’s almost like they’re deliberately trying to put republicans back into power because it’s so much easier politically to be in the opposition than to actually have to govern. The republicans are thriving now with their “just say no to everything” strategy, and maybe the democrats are a bit envious, longing for those easy days of the Bush presidency when all they had to do to win votes was oppose the administration. Or maybe it’s more sinister than that, and the powers-that-be who control both parties planned it this way from the very beginning just to make the people feel even more helpless and hopeless that they have any power to change things, and that they should therefore just give up and change the channel.

It was my opinion that if the health care bill was nothing more than a big fat gift to the insurance companies, we ought not to pass it. I am strongly opposed to rewarding corporate abuse, especially when that abuse means letting people die. But the fact that the insurance companies haven’t lifted a finger to try and save this bill in order to send millions of more customers their way tells me that to them, the status quo is still better than the reform bill despite the individual mandates.

Well, let’s do the opposite of what the insurance companies want us to do. If they wanted the reform, I’d still say kill it. But since they don’t seem to want it, let’s pass it.

Also, we have to keep in mind that because of the Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political candidates, it won’t be long before there is absolutely no hope whatsoever of passing any legislation that does any harm at all to big corporations like health insurance companies. If we wait to pass reform, it simply won’t be passed. There’s no longer any hope that we can somehow start over and come out with a better bill. The United States government is about to drown in a flood of corporate money, so let’s just pass whatever pitiful reforms we can manage while we can still manage to do anything at all.

“Liveblogging” the State of the Union

January 29th, 2010 No comments

An actual “Liveblog” is a running commentary of a major event as it happens. I can’t really do that because I live in Europe, and being 6 hours ahead of Washington I don’t really feel like waiting up until the wee hours of the morning to watch primetime events live. I just watch them online the next day, then write about them when I get a chance. I don’t have much to say overall about the President’s first state of the union speech, so I thought I’d simply have a little fun and do a running commentary of my own that can hopefully be enjoyed even by people who didn’t see the speech.

I’ll post noteworthy quotes when I feel an urge to respond to them, and when I’m responding to something visual (like Republicans applauding or not applauding) I’ll try to make that clear.

Full disclosure: I already watched the speech once and took in some commentary, so some of my opinions are influenced by other bloggers, pundits, and columnists. But in most cases I’m writing the immediate reaction I had the first time around.

[re: the stimulus] Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted, immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

You lie! Things may get better in the short term, but there’s just going to be another storm because you’re not doing anything to prevent it.

[re: the American spirit] It’s because of this spirit — this great decency and great strength — that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.

The first applause line. Apparently everybody loves hope.

Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit.

You lie! Yes we do. Have you never even watched cable news?

[re: the bank bailouts] But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary.

Then why don’t you?

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

Apparently republicans don’t like the idea of paying back taxpayers for rescuing the banks.

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

Apparently republicans don’t like tax cuts either. And Obama calls them out, saying “I thought I’d get some applause there.” John Boehner is amused.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Republicans are standing now. Everyone likes jobs. Or at least everyone likes pandering to the unemployed.

[re: job creation] We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.

Lifted directly from every one of Bush’s speeches. And Clinton’s. And Bush Sr.’s. And Reagan’s…actually every speech by every president in history.

[re: infrastructure] There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

You lie! There is a damn good reason—their governments actually do stuff.

And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.

Also lifted from every State of the Union address ever given.

[re: the jobs bill] Now, the House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same, and I know they will. They will.

You lie! They won’t, and they know it.

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place.

If these other nations jumped off a bridge, should we do that too?

The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.

Hah! You’ll sign anything they manage to deliver to you, and you know it. Luckily for you, they won’t be able to deliver anything.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.

Yeah! Drill baby drill! Clean coal (which is utter bullshit)! Wahoo!

[re: global warming] But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

Why? Why not let some other nation lead the global economy for awhile? Our recent track record hasn’t exactly been fantastic.

[re: free trade] And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

This time, only republicans are standing. That could only mean this is a bad idea.

To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.

Now the republicans are sitting on their hands. I guess they’re opposed to kids being able to afford college.

And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.

Republicans, as expected, are not in favor of health care reform…wait…oh now they’re standing. I guess someone finally realized how bad they’re making themselves look.

Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

You lie! You behaved exactly as though you were just trying to earn a legislative victory. Otherwise you would have actually fought to get a good bill.

And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Damn, there are some angry vibes coming from that woman. She really seems to hate her husband now. That was quick. I didn’t think Hillary started hating Bill until a few years into his presidency. Can’t blame her though. She knows more than anyone in that room just how empty his words are.

[re: health reform] Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.

Well, that’s music to my ears. But why aren’t you explaining it now? We’re listening.

But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. I’m eager to see it.

Actually, I think I remember a guy who had a much better approach than the one currently on the table in Congress. I think he ran for president back in 2008. What was his name? Oh yeah…Barack Obama.

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Republicans also hate being confronted with the fact that America existed before January 20, 2009.

[re: spending $1 trillion for economic recovery] I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year. Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years.

This is the stupidest idea in the speech, designed to pander to the uninformed independent who doesn’t understand the difference between a family budget and a government budget. The only way you get out of a recession is to spend your way out. A spending freeze didn’t work under Hoover, it didn’t work under FDR, and it didn’t work under any other president during any other recession. This is a cheap political gimmick that won’t have any positive effects.

It won’t win any republican support, as whenever the president moves to the right they just move the goal-posts. It certainly won’t help the economy recover. The only thing it will do is give the conservatives the ammunition they need to go on pretending that fiscal restraint is the right approach to an economic recession, in spite of all the economists who say otherwise and all the historical evidence to the contrary. Obama should have been explaining why the government needs to spend money in a recession, but instead he’s just conceded the argument to the side he knows is wrong, purely for the sake of a gimmick that won’t help him politically anyway.

I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger.

Some laughter in the chamber, which is appropriate. The economy may be a bit stronger next year but not enough to justify a spending freeze.

Oh, but they’re probably laughing because they think he should start the freeze this year. Obama responds with a “That’s how budgeting works.”

Even stronger laughter, though I’m not sure from whom or why. Are they democrats laughing back at the republicans who didn’t seem to understand that you plan a budget a year in advance? Or are they republicans laughing at how naïve that line made him seem? “Look mommy, I know how budgeting works!”

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let’s try common sense. A novel concept.

Did the president just give props to Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck?

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

You lie! Lobbyists are still writing policy. They wrote most of the health reform bill.

And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.

Okay, that was awesome at least. The president chastises the Supreme Court (rightly so) directly to their faces while they’re sitting a few feet away from him! I find out later that Justice Samuel Alito was mouthing the words “Simply not true” in quasi-Joe Wilson fashion!

Okay, Sam, it’s not true? What exactly is not true about it? Please, I’d like you to explain exactly why you aren’t responsible for handing the entire United States government over to giant profit-seeking corporations on a silver platter. I really want to hear you explain that to me.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform.

Pandering to the McCain voters now. Why didn’t we just vote for him?

Now, I am not naïve. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era.

You lie!

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.

Yes, absolutely. Look at the republicans sitting there smiling knowing that’s exactly what they’re doing and that they have no intention of stopping.

The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators.

The republicans are sitting on their hands to indicate that they are totally in favor of holding up the confirmation of well-qualified public servants for the sake of political grudges.

Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government. So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics.

And you will not stop failing miserably in doing so.

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.

Democrats applaud, apparently not in favor of running for the hills. This indicates a major shift in strategy for them.

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

Republicans remain seated to indicate that they are in favor of practicing short-term politics that serve their own ambitions at the expense of citizens. They get points for honesty.

[re: national security] So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.

That ought to convince Dick Cheney.

We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

You lie! Or to put it another way: Simply not true. Maybe most combat troops will come home but there will be troops there and military contractors for a long, long time.

[re: the troops] And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home.

Ooh, pandering to the troops. That’s politically risky.

That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

He’s channeling Bush again.

This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

You will? I’d like to see that. Honestly. Even if you are just pandering.

We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

Pandering to women and pandering to xenophobes in the space of two sentences!

Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values they’re living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.

Oh man. China called. They’re missing a Pander-Bear (zing).

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values.

You l…actually you’re totally right. I wonder why we’ve lost our faith…

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.

No shit. I guess this is the part of the speech that was focus-tested on disillusioned progressives like me.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

Thanks for explaining your strategy like that.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.

Man, you almost had me. I was almost ready to give you some credit and line up behind you to support your agenda. Then you went and turned it back into more ass-kissing of “the American people”.

[re: the American spirit again] It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

Does every president think every American is a small business owner?

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

Great, I’m ready. So what do we need to do? You told us what you want to do, but you still haven’t called on the people who supported your candidacy to get behind you and stand up and fight the powers-that-be. All you did was propose small-ball legislation that, if you keep governing as you’ve been governing, will end up getting so compromised and watered down as to be completely ineffective.

Most importantly, you’re still doing your whole “There are not Red States and Blue States” schtick, speaking the language of bi-partisanship even though you know full well that genuine, constructive bi-partisanship is hopeless in today’s political climate. You refuse to take a stand on anything that might make anyone angry (except Sam Alito) and try to keep winning with the same playbook that got you elected: be as vague as possible about your own convictions so that everyone can just project their own political beliefs onto you.

Well, that won’t work anymore. You really have to pick a position and fight for it. There was nothing in this speech to indicate that you would.

Don’t get me wrong—it was a brilliant speech from a rhetorical standpoint, and you delivered it masterfully. You’re a really likable guy, way more comfortable to watch than W and almost everything you say—also unlike W—is something I agree with. I just no longer believe that you have a real desire to back up these words with actions.

I could be wrong. Maybe you really are going to undergo a course-correction and really turn things around this year and start fighting. Then I’ll take back all my “You lie”s and start writing about what a great president you are.

But this speech sounded only like you have people working for you who watch the news, who read the blogs, who talk to people from across the political spectrum and know what they’re thinking, and speech-writers who know how to seamlessly blend the cares and concerns of everyone into one coherent message. On the one hand, I suppose that’s the nature of a State of the Union speech, so I can’t really blame you for that. But on the other hand, you ran on a platform of Change, so you have to expect to be called out when what you deliver is simply more of the same.

In conclusion, if you’re really telling me that Change is coming, that the economy is turning the corner and the middle-class will rise again, that health care reform will finally be delivered, that we’re going to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that we’re going to break the stranglehold of major financial institutions on our government, I have two words for you.
(Hint: one of those words begins with a Y, and the other with an L)

Can we have a revolution yet?

January 23rd, 2010 No comments

The most important American political news story of the year went by without much attention. The year is young, but it will probably remain the most important story, and even when its first effects begin to take hold during this Fall’s mid-term elections, the mainstream media still won’t be talking about it.

I’m referring to the Citizens United case recently brought before the Supreme Court in which it was left up to the nine justices to decide whether or not corporations should be allowed to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. In other words, should it be even easier for corporations to buy politicians? John Roberts and four other justices, in their infinite wisdom, decided that yes it should.

Well thank heaven! Those poor corporations have been left out of the political process for far too long. Constantly having their wishes overruled by the tyranny of the majority, the ignorant masses, the commoners, the street-rabble, the plebs…it’s been terribly unfair. All the corporations want to do is exercise their God-given right to maximize their profits at everyone else’s expense, but how are they supposed to do that when their hands are tied by lawmakers insisting that they can’t use their profits to buy the votes they need? Well, those dark days are over now. Corporations can finally have a seat at the table in Washington and hopefully get them to pass legislation that will allow them, once and for all, to do whatever they damn well please with no accountability. Just as God intended.

Obviously I think this is a horrible decision, the worst the Supreme Court has made since Bush v. Gore in 2000. That led to the eight most disastrous years in recent American history. This decision completely buries any hope we had (and to be fair, there wasn’t very much to begin with) of undoing the damage from within the existing system. That system is now effectively owned and operated by Corporate America. The U.S. Capitol is now officially the property of Goldman Sachs.

“But wasn’t Washington already owned by large financial institutions and corporate special interests before this decision?” one might ask. The answer is, to a large extent, yes it was. Corporations could still make campaign contributions and spend as much money as they wanted on political ads. The difference is that now they can spend unlimited amounts of money on ads either endorsing or attacking a particular candidate. It may be true that most of the lawmakers in Washington have been operating out of pure self-interest with no regard for the public good for quite some time, but there are at least enough honest, well-intentioned representatives in Congress to put up a fight. Now the corporations can systematically target every congressperson they don’t have in their pockets and inundate the airwaves with attack ads, manipulating the already heavily-manipulated electorate into voting against their own best interests.

We’ll basically see everything that’s already wrong with the political system start to magnify itself to absurd proportions. If you thought political candidates were little more than brand names before, wait until you see what happens now. Candidates will not merely be comparable to retail products, but they will actually be products, each virtually a registered trademark of whatever corporate industry offers the highest bid. That industry will then market them just as they market a product, all substance will be brushed aside and people will choose which candidates to vote for in the same way as they decide which laundry detergent to buy. Again, this is already happening now but thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision it will get exponentially worse as time goes on and non-corporate friendly candidates are gradually purged from Washington.

So what can we do about it? Well, we can sign petitions and call our representatives, but that won’t do any good. Is a politician really going to lift a finger to try and undo this decision? Almost nothing short of a constitutional amendment can undo a Supreme Court ruling, and how many members of congress are actually principled enough to stand up and fight this fight? Certainly not two-thirds. Most congressmen see this as a potential gold-mine. It certainly makes their lives much easier. Now they don’t need to bother going to the public for small donations a few hundred bucks at a time, but can simply find a corporate sponsor to provide them with everything they need to hold on to their seat, just as long as they do everything the corporation wants them to. Mark my words—this decision will never be undone from within Washington. The payoffs are too lopsided, and for an individual congressperson the strategy of going with the flow strongly dominates that of standing up against it. One thing we can count on is that things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

We have to step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s been happening to government for the past several decades. The Citizens United decision is merely the latest step in a long series of maneuvers on behalf of Corporate America to tilt the balance of power away from government and back towards private industry. The further that pendulum swings in favor of the corporations, the greater the gap becomes between rich and poor, the more eroded the middle class becomes financially, and the less power the people have to actually stand up and do anything about it. Certainly with the middle-class in as bad a shape as it’s currently in, you couldn’t possibly expect a candidate fueled purely by small donations from individual donors to compete with candidates bolstered by corporate money. The corporations have all the money right now. They have all the power, and they are using it to accumulate more and more.

Most importantly, the corporate powers have zero interest in helping restore the standard of living that average Americans used to enjoy. As long as unemployment is high, wages are low, and everyone is living in fear of the next financial blow to their already debt-ridden bank accounts, there will be a seething undercurrent of anger that the corporate powers can use to their advantage if they play it right. Major media outlets, themselves all owned by major corporations (who surprise surprise have not been paying much attention to this story at all) are quite adept at misdirecting this anger, pointing it away from private industry and at the federal government. The more the federal government is weakened by the corporate powers, the angrier people get at the federal government.

Meanwhile, by consistently presenting every issue in a right vs. left framework and focusing almost exclusively on left vs. right culture war issues like abortion and gay marriage, they block the only chance average people have of coming together to fight against the powers that are oppressing them. The tea-bagging right-wingers hate the government and the big banks, but not as much as they hate liberals. Whiny left-wing bloggers such as myself are profoundly disappointed in government and hate the big banks too, but most of us still spend a great deal of energy going after the tea-bagging wingnuts.

But almost nobody stops to point out that the whiny bloggers and the tea-bagging wingnuts aren’t actually separated by as wide an ideological gulf as it appears. We may have irreconcilable differences over issues like abortion and gay rights, but these issues can take a back-seat in the face of our common enemy, the enemy of all free people: the consolidation of power.

Misinformed conservatives believe that too much power is in the hands of the government, but many of them, angered by the bailouts and Wall Street bonuses, might be open to the idea that it’s actually corporations and not the federal government that has too much power. What they perceive as the evils of government are actually the evils of the corporations operating through government. They may insist that too strong a central government is a bad thing, but we don’t necessarily disagree with that. We’re against the consolidation of too much power wherever it might be, whether it’s in the hands of the federal government or private industry. We only disagree over the facts—that right now it’s private industry—not government—where the power is consolidated.

Certainly plenty of conservatives won’t be willing to listen and they’ll just go on believing whatever Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh tell them to believe. But I honestly think that there are enough reasonable conservatives out there who can be persuaded to lay down their arms for awhile and join forces with liberals to attack this problem that threatens all of us.

Every revolution begins with too much power in the hands of too few at the expense of too many. I’m waiting anxiously for the moment when the corporations—who will only continue to accumulate power at our expense because it’s in their very nature to do so—finally overplay their hand and the kettle finally boils over. The passion and fury of the tea-party conservatives, combined with the knowledge and insight of the left-wing intellectuals, would be a force that not even Corporate America could reckon with.

One thing is for sure—change only comes from the bottom up. Politicians spewing their rhetoric about hope and change will inevitably bend to the will of those who run the system, and the system will never be changed from within. The Supreme Court’s decision this week only solidified that truth. How much longer are we going to wait while politicians lie to us and the media manipulates us? When are we going to finally take to the streets and demand that they return the power they’ve taken from us? If not now, when? What are we waiting for?

Still Sailing

January 23rd, 2010 No comments

People often use driving as a metaphor for life. There are many roads available to and you choose those that will take you to your destination. The type of person you are determines which destinations you pick, as well as whether you choose the scenic route or the fastest, most direct path to get there.

When it comes to my life, I think sailing is much a more accurate metaphor. I have no destination in mind. I’m not following any particular path. I simply put up my sails and let the wind blow me where it may. I choose the general direction in which to head—for me it’s the accumulation of unique experiences and hopefully some wisdom to go along with them—and I choose which sails to put up. I’m currently using English teaching as my mainsail, and it seems to have the potential to take me very far, though there’s no final destination in sight. I turn the wheel as needed in my day to day decisions, but the larger course is determined mostly by the sail configuration and the strength and direction of the wind.

One of my sails is this website, and recently a powerful wind came up right against that sail and sent me spinning around momentarily. Someone I had really hoped would never read the personal information I put out on the site found it and read everything, and I thought it might completely ruin our relationship. But after a brief exchange it seems that everything is okay, the damage is not so severe, and while I may not have his blessing I can continue on the course I’d decided upon. Only I’ll be changing the configuration of that sail so that the next time that kind of wind blows, the same thing won’t happen.

Another sail I just recently put up, one which I know has the potential to alter my course significantly, is this online dating thing. After one week of sailing these strange waters, I can see what an enormous maze they are, like a corral reef you have to carefully navigate through in order to get to shore. Apparently you don’t just look at pictures, read profiles, and send messages. The website I found because it seemed like the biggest in Germany, makes things way more complicated. You only see a certain amount of a person’s profile at first and they let you see more and more as they decide. And you don’t have to contact them in words of your own—the first contacts are generally chosen from a multiple-choice list of things to say to the other (all in German) such as “I like your picture”, “I’m interested in learning more about you”, or “I’m sending you a kiss.” You get the pre-chosen greeting and respond with a pre-chosen greeting of your own. You always have the option of sending a real message, but it’s impossible to know what to say when you know just about nothing about the person “flirting” with you other than things like their favorite color and whether or not they smoke. So far, my pre-chosen greetings have generated one pre-chosen response and my actual messages written by myself have been ignored. I’m not sure I can reach this shore. I may soon decide to turn around and head back in the direction I’m more motivated to go anyway—moving to Japan.

Finally, the friends I choose are a significant sail when raised (when I hang out with them) and last night I had all three. Of course, the strongest friend I have is a sail all to himself, and he knows how important he is to me so I won’t bother writing about it here. As for my friends here in Germany—Amanda, Oliver, and Lena—they’re a great group of people and I had a nice time last night hanging out with them for dinner at Amanda’s place. Knowing Lena’s interest in politics due to our previous discussions of her involvement in the communist party, I informed her of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let corporations contribute unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. She thought it was just as horrible as I was, and we spoke at length about the issue of corporate power vs. public power for awhile as Amanda and Oliver spoke amongst themselves. I figured they weren’t as interested in politics. But Amanda started talking to Lena about communism—how she things it’s probably the best system of government but it could never work in the real world because of human nature—and the two got into a very interesting debate/discussion about these issues. One things that really surprised me is that Lena said there has never been a real communist state after Stalin, and when Amanda pointed out the fact that Stalin was a mass-murdering asshole just as bad as Hitler, Lena challenged that idea and said this is just what we’ve been told and there’s no evidence of that. I’d heard of Holocaust denial before but I’d never heard anyone raise doubts about whether Stalin was in fact the brutal fascist fuckhead I’ve always understood him to be. Amanda insisted that she’d been to Khazakstan and seen the labor camps herself, so Lena had no hope of convincing her, but she was open-minded enough that Amanda actually got her to reconsider her own ideas and what she’d been told about Stalin. They were speaking in German most of the time but being familiar with the topic I was able to understand just about everything they were saying, and it was quite an interesting discussion. Mostly it was just nice to see two people maintain such a friendly tone while disagreeing over political issues, each respecting the others’ point of view, each open to the possibility that they might be wrong. If only all political discourse were like that.

It was a pleasant evening in that harbor, but as always I picked up the anchor and headed back home for another weekend of sailing solo. Feeling relatively good. Eyes on the horizon. Willing to be blown off course for awhile if I am, as I’ve no real destination anyway. My only objective is to enjoy the sail.

Thank You, Massachusetts

January 20th, 2010 No comments

So the tea-party Republican candidate beats the Democratic candidate for the open senate seat in Massachusetts and now the 60-seat “filibuster-proof” majority enjoyed by the democrats in the senate has been reduced to a puny, measley, miserable 59-seats, with which Obama and the democrats can’t possibly get anything done.

Oh wait, they couldn’t get anything done before even with 60 seats. It’s just that now there’s one more person on Capitol Hill to stand up against the Health Care reform bill so they’ll have to make it even less progressive and even more of a gift to the private insurance industry. Huzzah for democracy!

Seriously though, what changed? Not a damned thing except for the political narrative. Those on the right claim that their gain is due to the fact that Obama is too liberal. Those on the left claim that their loss is due to the fact that Obama is too conservative.

Well, anyone paying attention can see that Obama is not “too liberal”. Signing back-room deals with big business, proposing paltry, in-name-only regulations to the financial industry, pressuring democrats to drop the public option in order to win the vote of Joe Lieberman without even attempting to pressure Lieberman—you’d have to be living in an alternate reality to honestly believe that Obama’s problem is that he’s a radical leftist.

But most of the media will probably accept this narrative. It’s much easier than the narrative coming from the left, which is the more reasonable one—disillusioned democrats stayed home in this election because Obama has lost credibility with them by showing too much deference to the powers-that-be that he promised to fight. This narrative is just too complex and nuanced for the mainstream media.

But if somehow you get enough pundits and talking heads to at least acknowledge the possibility that this is a legitimate interpretation of the election results, it could be a blessing in disguise, which is why I’m glad the democrats lost the seat. They’ve been taking way too much for granted so far. Obama has assumed that because his republican opponents are getting crazier and more ridiculous by the minute, the voters will have no choice but to give him and his party their support at the polls because the alternative is obviously so much worse.

Hopefully this election result will be something of a wake-up call. It’s a simple lesson in Game Theory, which I’ve been recently been studying and finding rather fascinating. They did a study in which they had hundreds of people play a simple, two-player “ultimatum game”: Player A and Player B get $10. Player A decides how to split the money between them and Player B either decides to accept the offer or decline, and if he declines, neither player gets any money.

The results of the ultimatum game go right to the heart of what’s happening in the political arena today. When Player A decides to evenly split the money ($5 and $5 or even $6 and $4), Player B almost always accepts the deal. But whenever Player A splits the money too unevenly ($9 and $1 or $9.99 and $0.01), Player B almost always refuses, even to his own detriment. It may be the case that a dollar or even one cent is better than nothing, but it’s more important to Player B to punish unfairness than to accept the paltry offer.

Since he took office, Obama has been offering $1 to his supporters while giving the other $9 to the corporations and other entrenched interests. By staying home, Massachusetts democrats have rejected the dollar, and rightly so.

There are those who say we should just accept whatever compromises the democrats are able to get for us, which may serve everyone best in the short-term. But I’m a long-term guy, and I’d advocate this strategy of “altruistic punishment” whereby we sacrifice a greater payoff for the sake of principle. Adopting this strategy may lead to more republican gains in the short-term, but it’s the only way the democrats will get the message that if they want to keep control, they’d better start offering more.

New Misery, Part 2

January 19th, 2010 No comments

Continuing with my journal entry, the first part of which is kept private:

When I’m not trying to confront the misery and self-loathing and come to terms with it, I’m trying to distract myself from it. There’s the standard slew of computer games, Star Trek (best distraction known to man), and whatever else, but I also spent a great deal of the weekend online looking for a job in Japan and for a girlfriend in Hannover. I found a really promising school in Japan that I have every intention of applying to, but the online dating thing is causing me to hold back on that front for at least a week. Because as soon as I apply for the job, I’m setting myself on an un-alterable course. As soon as I get hired, I will be leaving this year, and of course that’s exactly when some wonderful girl is going to magically appear in my life and make me regret the plans to leave.

But at least that doesn’t look like it has the slightest chance of happening. The whole process of setting up a profile and taking the personality test was long and tedious, especially because this is Germany so if you want to use an online dating service, surprise surprise, it’s all in German. I had to translate each question one by one. I gave all my answers in English of course because I can’t waste time trying to get to know someone if they don’t speak English. My German is good enough for simple bullshit conversations but I’m not going to want a relationship in which I can’t really communicate with the other person. The problem is, German girls feel the same way. Most of them speak some English, but very few of them are confident enough in their own abilities to try and pursue a relationship with someone who isn’t proficient in their native language.

And of course there’s no way of telling from these girls’ profiles how good their English is or if they even speak English at all. Since setting up my profile on Saturday I haven’t got a message from anyone. I’ve got a few messages saying: “Suchandsuch looked at your profile. Would you like to send Suchandsuch a message?” You can go and view their profile, but it doesn’t tell you much of anything. For one thing, they blur out all the pictures, which pisses me off. I mean, I understand that you want to give ugly people a chance by forcing everyone to talk a little bit before revealing what they look like, but what about shallow bastards like me? It would be one thing if I desperately needed someone to connect with, but I don’t even really want a girlfriend so I’m not going to waste my time with someone I think is ugly. All you’re doing is forcing me to reject them after I’ve already gotten to know them, which is just cruel to both of us.

Even so, if somebody really seemed to have such a shining personality that I’d want to be their friend even if I wasn’t romantically interested, there would be no way to tell from the profile. You mostly just get bullshit things like what their hobbies are and five words (German words, of course) they use to describe themselves. They do tell you how closely the results of your personality test match with them—that’s how they determine whom to suggest you contact in the first place—but what does “71% compatible” really mean?

Anyway, the whole thing is even more bullshitty than I expected, which is saying a lot. I won’t give up on it that easily (I am sending out messages) but I can’t honestly say I expect any success. The odds are infinitesimal. Too many requirements have to be met. First, she has to be willing to go out with a guy who doesn’t speak her native language, which eliminates the vast majority of people right off the bat. But even if she is willing, we have to be compatible, which eliminates the vast majority of anyone who remains because, after all, my personality isn’t really compatible with very many people if any. Finally, even if she does speak English and even if I do like her personality, I have to at least find her somewhat attractive if it’s going to work romantically. The best that can happen otherwise is I meet another casual acquaintance to occasionally hang out with. That would be a good thing, but hardly what I’m looking for. I have enough casual acquaintances already, and even though I really like them I still prefer being alone.

My whole empty, meaningless life stretches out before me, and right now I just don’t feel like living it. I just want to go to sleep and wake up when I’m 80 years old and it’s almost over. Whatever interesting stuff I manage to do in between now and then may be interesting, may even be downright fun, but it will be pointless. I am pointless.

Pat Robertson’s God

January 16th, 2010 No comments

This past week an intense earthquake completely devastated the nation of Haiti, killing perhaps hundreds of thousands of people and destroying millions of lives. The scope of the horror is overwhelming. It’s completely impossible to wrap your head around, like the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean five years ago killing millions. Such a mind-blowing tragedy, pain and suffering impossible to quantify, and absolutely nobody to blame.

Unless you’re Pat Robertson or any of his followers, who place the blame squarely on the people of Haiti who apparently were asking for it. Everyone probably already knows what he said, but here it is again:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.

Much has been said and written expressing outrage over these comments, understandably so. Like many people I tune in to the news not just because I believe it’s important to be informed but also because it almost always invokes my favorite emotion—righteous indignation. No matter what the story is, the media can always find someone to be outraged by, and since there’s nobody to blame for the Haiti earthquake, we can focus our ire on buffoons like Robertson and Rush Limbaugh for exploiting the tragedy.

But rather than engage in one of my typical rants, I’d like to focus on the deeper implications of what Robertson actually said. It’s a very simple theological argument.

1- Everything that happens is God’s plan.
2- God is just.
3- Therefore, everything that happens is just.

Not all Christians accept this reasoning, but Fundamentalists do. And when a person accepts this argument, a lot of terrible conclusions follow. Because if everything that happens is just, and suffering happens, that means suffering is just. It means that anyone who is suffering must somehow deserve it. If tragedy befalls you, it must be your fault.

Needless to say, the world would be a pretty horrific place if everybody thought this way. The fact that so many people already think this way is one of the biggest problems facing humanity today. People with this kind of worldview who take it to its logical conclusion and live their lives accordingly won’t do anything to mitigate suffering or prevent tragedy. Certainly natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake couldn’t be prevented but we can at least donate to the relief effort now that it has happened. But if all great tragedies are God’s plan then it’s not our place to get involved. Let the cursed endure their curse. It wasn’t us. God favors us.

The ideas of grace and damnation have been one of the worst aspects of Christianity since St. Augustine conceived of them and embedded them in Church Doctrine. The conception of God as a Divine Judge who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked is what has turned many people away from religion over the centuries, myself included. I simply can’t accept that the creative force behind the entire universe could be such a petty and loathsome character.

Consider the kind of God that Pat Robertson and his followers actually worship. This is a man (remember—their God is anthropomorphic) who sits on His throne in Heaven keeping the score of a game He has created for all His children. All people are His children but among them are those He favors and those He disfavors. (Those He disfavors, coincidentally, usually tend to have darker skin.) His opponent in this game is Satan, whom he lets manipulate His children at will so that He can punish those children accordingly. And when He decides to dole out punishment, He makes sure there can be no question as to His capacity for wrath. It’s not just the actual guilty parties He punishes, but their children, their grandchildren, and all their descendants through many generations. Two thousand years ago some Jews called for the execution of Jesus, so He cursed all Jews to oppression and persecution for centuries, even letting millions of them be rounded into camps and exterminated. Millions of the killed were small children, completely incapable of understanding the crime of their ancestors for which they are being punished, but because God is responsible for everything and God is just, the brutal murder of millions of children must be just.

And now here we have this devastating earthquake in Haiti which has killed millions—left wives without husbands, parents without children, children without parents—every horror you can imagine, and this was God’s will as well. And what was their crime? Two hundred years ago they rose up against slavery and tossed out the French. Apparently God endorsed their brutal treatment as slaves, and He was Divinely Pissed Off when they broke free of their shackles. He resolved to condemn them to centuries of poverty and then, when they least suspected it, to kill hundreds of thousands of their descendants who had absolutely nothing to do with the revolt. That’ll show ‘em. That’ll teach them to desire freedom.

It boggles my mind that anyone could have such a conception of God and still worship him. Seriously, if there is a God and He is really like that—he merits no worship at all. Why would you worship such an enormous prick? It seems that the only reason is fear—the fear that if you don’t suck God’s ass continuously, He will fuck you up too. You and your children. Better to worship a tyrant than get on his bad side.

Well, I don’t think God is exempt from moral judgment. And if God really is responsible for the earthquake in Haiti and the reason really is that their ancestors didn’t want to be slaves—God is an awful, awful person. I would rather burn in Hell for all eternity than to worship such a piece of shit.

To be clear, I’m only talking about God as conceived by Christian Fundamentalists. There are many ways to deal with the problem of evil—you can say that God exists but is not an interventionist, that He allows natural evils such as tsunamis and earthquakes because such things nurture the long-term growth of the human spirit, that God is not a He but an It that is so vast and incomprehensible that what happens on the tiny little rock called Earth is insignificant, and on and on—but to say that the reason evil exists is because people get what they deserve is profoundly ignorant and extraordinarily harmful to humanity as a whole.

I suppose I should thank Pat Robertson for being the one legitimate target of righteous indignation in this grave tragedy. But let’s get beyond the pure outrage and really consider where he’s coming from to actually believe what he said. If humanity is to have any hope as a species we have to take responsibility for what we are and what we do. We must confront the philosophy that says everything is God’s responsibility and we are merely passive observers. Only after purging ourselves of this way of thinking can we hope to improve our lot and the lot of everyone with whom we share this world.

Psych–Another Online Post

January 15th, 2010 No comments

So I overreacted and hastily deleted every last personal entry on this blog, but after a couple of days I realized that I still want to keep my journals up and post personal entries online. There are a few problems that remain with this so I’ll have to go through and see which entries I’m comfortable having on the site and which should, for practical reasons, remain private. There’s also the matter of knowing that the people I don’t want to be reading this journal now know of its existence and might be reading each entry, so I’m going to be way more self-conscious about what I write. But I will say to those people—if reading this does nothing but make you upset, then do both of us a favor and stop reading it.

Nothing too interesting happened this week. The only event came last night when Oliver invited me to something called capoeira, some sort of Brazilian dance/martial arts thing, which I declined to go to because it didn’t sound like my kind of thing at all, but afterwards he was going to see some band I’d never heard of called The Busters and I was welcome to meet up with him at the club. Figuring I could use a little social interaction and since live music is usually always nice, I decided to go.

I was still pretty depressed and miserable from what happened earlier this week, but I thought this would be a nice distraction, and at around 9:30 I made my way to the music club, a place in Linden I’d never been to before called The Faust. It was a bit tricky to find until I realized that I actually jog alongside the back of it all the time, as the back is right along the river. I finally found my way around back and went inside.

Hmmm…this music is totally not fitting my mood. I’d just been listening to Marilyn Manson on the journey over and this up-beat Ska music is quite the juxtaposition. But whatever, at least I’m out among the living.

I wonder where Oliver is. There are a lot of people here, it’s dark and extremely loud. I suppose I’ll text him. Oh, and there he is! We give each other a hug, say happy new year because it’s the first time we’ve seen each other this year, then go up to the bar and buy a beer.

He takes me around to the side of the room where Lena and four other people are watching the band and dancing. I give Lena a hug and then Oliver introduces me to each of the four other people. The first is a very attractive girl and I try to get her name—Anja? Anka? Whatever, I can’t hear a damn thing. The three other people are a fat guy, fat girl, and fat guy respectively. Didn’t hear any of their names and I wouldn’t remember even if I did.

So we stand there, I bob my head a bit, and every now and then Oliver leans over and shouts something in my ear, to which I think of some sort of response. I’m still quite miserable but I’m determined to hide it, and possibly to stop thinking about it and maybe, just maybe, enjoy myself.

After awhile we move down toward the dance floor and the music starts to sound a little better. I start to dance a little more because I’m right next to Lena and she’s really getting into it so I kind of feel obliged to get into it too. The attractive girl is on the other side of me but I barely notice or care. I’m still just trying to think about something other than what certain people know about me now that they’ve read all my journals. It’s not easy, as new things keep popping into my head all the time—oh shit, apparently they know that now too. And that. And that. And on and on. Sheer mental torture.

I would be trying to drink myself silly but I have to get up early tomorrow morning for work and I’d really rather not be hungover. So I just stand there trying to dance and whenever Lena looks at me I smile to pretend like I’m really enjoying myself. It’s not that this isn’t somewhat enjoyable—the music is growing on me with every new song they play—I’m just in the wrong frame of mind completely.

About an hour after I get my first beer, I finish it and slip to the back of the room to get another one, where I run into Oliver. He invites me to go to the back room with him for a smoke. I say I have no desire to smoke (my lungs are still hurting from the two I already had today) but I’ll join him anyway, and we head to the smoke-filled but far less loud back room.

He asks me if I was depressed earlier in the week because he read my little “Kyle sucks at life” Facebook post. I do my best to say just enough to half-way explain what happened without getting into any details. He asks me if it’s resolved now and I honestly reply that it’s not, but I’m sure time will take care of it. Of course, time will never undo the damage but it will put enough distance between me and the moment of learning of the damage that I’ll gradually think about it less and less until finally the day will come when I don’t even think about it at all.

As we’re talking, some hot blonde chick comes up to Oliver and asks him something in German and he replies and the two of them talk and smoke and laugh and talk while I just stand there not even bothering to try and translate what they’re saying. Awkward. Hot chick flirting with Oliver, never even making eye contact with me. Damn, she has a nice face. I wouldn’t mind staring at that face for long periods of time. But whatever. Don’t care right now.

When Oliver has finished his cigarette we go back to the main room and find Lena and the others once again standing at the side of the room. After a few minutes talking to another friend, Oliver turns back to me and talks to me about capoeira, saying I should just try it once because it’s a good place to meet people. He seems to really want me to do it, so I figure what the hell and agree to try it out next week. Who knows—maybe I will meet someone. But I certainly can’t imagine actually enjoying it.

Shortly after that we all go back to the dance floor and by now I’m finally liking the music enough to just dance and forget about all the bullshit for a few minutes here and there. That attractive girl is dancing really close to me and I’m slightly affected by her presence but too depressed to care. Certainly not in any kind of mindset to attempt to talk to her, especially because she doesn’t seem to speak any English and you can’t hear a damn thing anyway.

When my beer is finished I decide I’m done drinking, and now that it’s after 11:00 I’ll try to get out of here when the opportunity arises. The band plays a particularly awesome closing number and then says goodnight, but all the Germans in the club are going wild and clapping and calling for more and it’s not even two minutes before they all come out for an encore which also sounds quite good. And when that’s over they walk off the stage again but the lights still haven’t come up and everyone is demanding another encore. I see my chance to leave now that it’s quiet enough for Oliver to hear me when I say goodbye and I’ll see him next week, and I say goodbye to Lena as well and get out of there.

I decide to take the jogging route home, which means walking along an empty snow-laden path along the river. I put some beautiful, melancholy music in my ears via my I-pod and enjoy the hell out of the walk which actually turns out to be the best part of the entire evening.

So that was last night. Fast forward to this afternoon, when I’m on my way home from teaching the lessons in Helmstedt. I have to change over in Braunschweig and the train is pretty crowded so rather than look for the ideal seat I just have to take what I can get. One of the little cabins is relatively empty and I see one of the window seats isn’t reserved so I enter and sit across from a girl whom I notice is quite beautiful. A few minutes later an old couple enters and because they’ve reserved the seat where the girl is sitting she scoots over and sits next to me.

I think nothing of it at first—just another lovely girl on a train—until I glance over at the book she’s reading and see it’s in English. Suddenly there’s this voice in my head that starts saying, “Hey look, a beautiful girl who you know for a fact understands English. If she lives in Hannover you have absolutely no excuse not to ask her out.”

I know this is true, and I resolve to do just that if she in fact gets off the train in Hannover. So for the next thirty minutes I’m overwhelmed by this horrible anxious, nervous feeling, planning out what to say and how to say it over and over again, knowing damned well that if she rejects me I won’t give a shit—that it would actually be a good thing because I’d have something other than this journal crap to brood about—but still feeling incredibly nervous about it. This confuses me because I thought I was incapable of feeling feelings anymore. Even the misery I’ve been feeling over the journal business has been relatively tame and mild. Incredibly annoying and thought-consuming, but not nearly as emotionally devastating as I had thought it would be at first.

Anyway, the train finally starts pulling into the station, I stop my I-pod in preparation for speaking to this girl, the old couple exits the cabin and I wait another minute to see if this girl is going to get up but she doesn’t. Well, what a huge relief that is. She doesn’t live in Hannover, she’s just passing through. Therefore no relationship is possible anyway. Therefore I’m completely off the hook of having to talk to her. At least I know in my mind that I totally would have…I think…I’m pretty sure.

But after thirty minutes of picturing our potential relationship I’m finally feeling like maybe giving the online dating thing a try. Not this afternoon, of course. I have other things to take care of—things I am, alas, no longer comfortable writing about in this journal—but if I still feel this way tomorrow I’ll set aside some time for it and see what happens.

So that’s where I’m at now. I’m ready for another weekend of self-imposed isolation, now feeling like I’ve earned it because I went to that club last night. One social situation every two weeks seems to be enough for me. Perhaps that’s not the way some people feel I should be living my life. Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing about this online at all. But there is an intangible psychological benefit I get from documenting the events of my life online, and while it may be wise to rethink the way in which I do it, I’m not going to stop now because some people don’t like what they read.