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Archive for April, 2010

Papers please / Ausweis bitte

April 28th, 2010 No comments

In some of my more advanced English lessons, I occasionally like to mention the news of the day from the United States and see how my German students react. In most cases, even the most conservative students will have a viewpoint that would be considered quite liberal in the United States, as Europe has no equivalent to Fox News and the right isn’t being constantly led further and further to the right, but the reaction I got to the Arizona legislation requiring police to check the I.D. of anyone they suspect to be an illegal immigrant surprised me and made me reconsider my initial outrage.

The law doesn’t seem at all strange to the Germans, who have a similar policy themselves. People are supposed to carry I.D. with them at all times, and if the police suspect they might be in the country illegally they have the right to demand to see it. What’s so strange about this?

Indeed, the spirit of the Arizona law isn’t actually as far-out as many in the liberal media are framing it. However, the letter of the law definitely goes too far, and there’s a skin-color component that exists by default in America that is not so much the case in Europe.

The fact that the police are required to ask for I.D. if they have a reasonable suspicion that someone may be illegal is too much. German police are entitled to ask, but they are certainly not required, and the idea that an officer can be sued for not asking is a tad insane. In my mind, the strongest point made against this legislation is that Mexicans will no longer turn to law enforcement for anything out of the fear that they or someone they know will wind up deported. Crimes will almost certainly go unreported, and this is bad for everybody.

If you eliminated the requirement aspect and simply made enforcement of this law voluntary for police officers, you’d still have plenty of officers more than happy to enforce it. That in itself leads to the other problem, that of racial profiling. Defenders of the law are being completely ridiculous to suggest that it can be enforced without racial profiling. “You can tell someone is illegal by their behavior, how they dress, what shoes they wear, etc.” Give me a break. No one believes you—not even you.

Of course there’s going to be racial profiling. Illegal immigrants, by in large, tend to be Mexican. Many Mexicans—not all, but many—have darker skin. In Germany, illegal immigrants are just as likely to be white as dark-skinned. There is a significant population of Russian immigrants where I live, many of whom are illegal, and apparently they commit crimes at a higher percentage rate than other ethnicities (I have not attempted to verify this—it’s merely an assertion by one of my students that met with agreement from the others). So if an officer hears a group of people standing around and speaking Russian, he’s likely to ask for identification.

Police in Arizona don’t even need to listen for what language is being spoken—they can spot a Mexican even behind the wheel of a car. Overzealous police officers will almost certainly start pulling people over for the crime of driving while brown. If I were an Arab or an Indian, I’d definitely stay the hell out of Arizona.

Which brings me to the final thing about this legislation that makes it far less sensible than the German law—it’s exclusive to one state. At least in Germany, the law applies nationally. But Arizona has practically made itself into its own country by implementing this legislation on its own. You’ll need a passport just to drive through the state or you risk imprisonment.

What befuddles me most about all this is how the very same people who are always railing about the big intrusive government are the ones most in favor of this kind of law. But what could be more intrusive than giving agents of the government the power to demand identification papers and to throw you in jail if you can’t produce them? The only reason they support this law is because they don’t think they’ll be targeted. But just wait until a few of them find themselves pulled over and asked for I.D. while driving home from a BBQ at which they spent a little too much time in the sun…

Still, I don’t think it’s all that crazy to let police ask people for papers. I just think that if it’s going to be done at all, it should be nation-wide, and if enforcement is compulsory they should be forced to demand papers from everyone they encounter—not just the brown ones.

But finally, while this may reduce the population of illegal immigrants by a slight margin, it’s hardly a solution. Comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level is badly needed, but even that won’t really solve the problem. We can debate all we want about border security and a path to citizenship for those already here, but as long as we refuse to address the source of the problem, Mexican citizens are going to continue to enter the U.S. illegally as long as they can’t make a decent living in Mexico. Two things must be done to solve the problem. 1- Legalize drugs to cut off the source of income for drug cartels which have a stranglehold on the Mexican government. 2- Implement a Marshall-Plan style program to help Mexico improve its economy so that its citizens will no longer need to immigrate.

Of course, the people who complain about immigration the most are also the least likely to support drug legalization or giving money to the Mexican government. But if you won’t accept the only solution to the problem, it’s a bit like complaining that you have no food while refusing to go out and buy some.

The Myth of ‘Political Capital’

April 25th, 2010 No comments

One of my favorite political misnomers is the phrase ‘conventional wisdom’ as it’s usually the farthest thing from ‘wisdom’ you can find. I think ‘conventional bullshit’ would be a far more appropriate term. And my favorite piece of ‘conventional bullshit’ is this idea of ‘political capital’ which I would like to take a moment to rip to shreds.

When Bush was re-elected, he boasted about all the ‘political capital’ he had earned and how he intended to spend it. He was going to use this capital to privatize social security—and we all know how well that worked out for him.

When Obama first got into office riding that tidal wave of popular sentiment and hunger for change, all the talking heads—including a few of those I actually like—were talking about all the ‘political capital’ he had and how he should spend it. After passing the stimulus it was on to health care reform—and we all know how well that worked out for him.

Towards the end of the fight, when things looked the most grim, the pundits were speculating about how Obama had spent all his capital on the health care fight and would now have to spend the rest of his presidency only doing small things. Then when he got the bill passed, suddenly he had earned more political capital which he could use to take on financial reform. Presumably, he’ll earn more capital once this bill is passed.

Enough already. There is no such thing as ‘political capital’ and I think it’s high time some people in the media admitted it. The idea that there is some kind of ethereal, invisible currency that a politician earns and spends on policy initiatives is absurd. It’s like Toys R Us money—it’s only valid when you’re in the store. Political capital exists solely in the mind of Washington insiders and those who go on the talk shows to spout their ‘conventional wisdom’.

If a president wants to do something that has popular support, he can get it done no matter how much invisible Washington monopoly money he has in his pocket. It’s not as though average Americans are sitting at home and saying, “You know, I’m really in favor of this reform package but I’m not going to get involved unless the president has enough political capital to push it through.” It’s sheer nonsense.

Unfortunately, even bullshit ideas can take on a reality of their own if enough people believe them. Inside the Washington bubble, the idea of political capital is accepted as objective reality, so the president’s advisors might very well tell him to avoid certain fights because they’re not worth the cost in political capital. I’ve already read several articles on the upcoming Supreme Court nominee battle that warn Obama not to pick someone too liberal because he’ll need his political capital for more important fights that lie ahead.

Enough with this crap. There is not a limited supply of change you can bring. If you fight hard enough and get enough people on your side, you can win every battle. Not only that, but continuing to fight and win will actually build up a momentum of its own and make change easier. People will get behind a winner. They’re not so easily inspired by someone who will lose a few battles out of the nonsensical idea that it’ll somehow help him win fights in the future.

Analogy time:

I’m a racecar driver with a strategy based on the idea of ‘speed capital’. If I go really slow for a few laps, I’ll have more speed capital to spend on future laps when it may come in handy.

I’m a painter who knows how to spend my ‘artistic capital’. If I paint a few crappy pieces I can save up that artistic capital to paint some brilliant ones later on.

I’m a lion who hunts his prey on the basis of ‘predatory capital’. If I let a few antelopes get away today, I’ll have more predatory capital which I can use to more easily catch bigger antelope tomorrow.

I think you get the point. Let’s stop buying into this garbage and start calling bullshit whenever we hear it.

Change™

April 24th, 2010 No comments

The pattern of Obama’s method of governing is becoming clearer every day. He ran on a platform of Change, and does everything he can to appear to be delivering that change without actually changing anything. He tackles huge issues like health care and financial reform at home, and pursues lofty goals abroad such as the elimination of nuclear weapons and peace between Israel and Palestine. In each case, it’s easy to imagine that he is in fact making big changes—as long as you’re not paying close enough attention.

You’ve got people on the left who believe he really is delivering on the change he promised, and people on the right who believe that he is changing things so profoundly that America is becoming unrecognizable from what it used to be. Neither group would dispute that he is a transformative president—they only disagree on whether the transformation is positive or negative, and in the case of the tea-partiers, the most disastrous thing ever to happen in the history of America. I disagree with the whole premise. I don’t think he’s actually changing a damn thing.

Let’s start with health care reform, as this is the only major battle that is technically over and that we can speak about definitively. Judging by all the news coverage, particularly of all the tea-party protests of people absolutely furious over the bill, you’d think that Obama had completely altered the very foundation of America’s health care system. And people who don’t follow the news closely might really believe that everything will be different now. But what was really accomplished? I can’t put my finger on it. There’s going to be an insurance exchange set up in a few years, but it will only offer private insurance and will only be available to a small segment of the population. Insurance companies are technically no longer allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or to take away people’s coverage when they get sick, but there have been several stories in the news over the past few weeks about insurance companies continuing to do both things. Such practices may be illegal now—or they will be in a few years—but the penalty is less expensive than the crime, so they’ll just go on with business as usual.

Now we’re talking about financial reform that’s just as weak and watered-down as the health care bill. The biggest problem with Wall Street is the derivatives trading—selling bogus financial products and betting on them failing. This bill won’t even ban that—it will just force banks to make them public. As if everyone is paying close attention to how much money their banks have tied up in derivatives. At best, it’ll make it easier to see the next financial crisis coming when it does. It certainly won’t prevent it. Banks, like any corporation, have to make as much money as possible for their shareholders. As long as making these bets is permissible, someone is going to do it, and they’re going to make a lot of money from it. To compete, everyone else has to follow suit, even if they don’t want to. A banker might personally be dead-set against these practices but if he wants to keep his job, he has to go along with them. It doesn’t matter how transparent it is—if it’s permissible it will be done.

So ‘financial reform’ will likely be just as empty as health care reform. And now that republicans are beginning to indicate that a few of them might get on board, we can expect the bill to become even weaker. They can pass this slap-on-the-wrist legislation and pretend they all worked together to solve the problem, and in November they can claim that they stood up to Wall Street when in fact they just did exactly what Wall Street wanted them to do, save for a few minor bits and pieces that will be an inconvenience to the bankers at best. Obama can add another ‘legislative victory’ to his list of ‘accomplishments’ and go on posing as the Change president. People who don’t pay much attention will either believe he solved the problem, or in the case of the tea-partiers, that he made everything infinitely worse.

And what about his work on the global stage? For the most part, I’ve been very pleased with what he’s doing in terms of reaching out to the Muslim world and enlisting international cooperation to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, but how much actual change will come of it? I understand that eliminating nuclear weapons altogether is unrealistic and taking an incremental approach is the only way to go about it, but it just seems like taking on nuclear weapons is a mostly political calculation, as if Obama asked an advisor “What is the least controversial cause I can champion on the world stage and thus boost my international credibility and secure my legacy?” Obviously, reducing the threat of nuclear war isn’t going to draw a lot of criticism—unless of course you’re in the tea-party.

As for the Muslim world, I’m extremely pleased with the tone he’s taking—but we all know that rhetoric is by far the president’s strongest quality. In many cases—such as financial reform—words don’t matter half as much as what you actually do, but when it comes to Muslim perceptions of the United States, words matter a great deal, and Obama typically chooses the right ones. At least it’s a far departure from the previous president, who actually used the word “crusade” to describe our presence in the Middle East. But at the point where words end and actions begin, Obama hasn’t changed anything. Our troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan and there is no sign that they’ll be coming home any time soon. The war in Iraq was already winding down when Bush left office, so you can’t credit Obama with the troop withdrawal there. At best you can say that had McCain been president, the surge in Afghanistan might have been a little bigger. In any case, regarding military policy there is nothing this president has done that can legitimately be considered ‘Change’.

Obama is not the first president to run on a platform of Change. It’s actually one of the most frequently used political platforms of all time, as the desire for change is always present when the system is so imperfect. It just happened to catch fire in the 2008 elections because everything was so incredibly bad after eight years of Bush that it was inevitable that the candidate who could most credibly promise Change (and who wasn’t named Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinitch) would win. And Obama did more than just promise change—he personified it. A black president would, in itself, be a major change in terms of how we perceive ourselves and how the world perceives us.

To be sure, there has been a major change in the perception of the rest of the world towards us. I lived in Germany when Bush was re-elected, and I lived here again when Obama was elected, and the difference in how people reacted to me after each instance was substantial. In the same respect, the perception Americans have of their own country has also been altered dramatically, though mostly in the case of the tea-partiers who now see their country as some kind of nightmarish socialist dystopia.

But beyond that, nothing is changing. The powers-that-be who really controlled things under Bush are still very much in control under Obama, only now they have to make a few minor concessions here and there so Obama can continue to maintain the façade of a transformative leader. But those of us who are paying attention are not fooled. A president truly interested in change wouldn’t spend so much time talking about compromise and bipartisanship. He wouldn’t be saying that Wall Street and Main Street rise and fall together—he’d be going after Wall Street with fury, inviting their anger and hatred just as FDR did during the Great Depression.

Yes, we occasionally hear tough rhetoric, and when we do we think, “Is this the new Obama?” We wonder if maybe he learned his lesson and is now going to forget about this bipartisanship nonsense and fight for real change. But when he says that he’d rather have a strong bill than a bipartisan bill, it’s much more likely that this is calculated to placate progressives who have been calling bullshit on bipartisanship since the very beginning. Even the changes to his own rhetoric are purely for the sake of appearance.

When all is said and done, we have a president who is going to protect the establishment, and unfortunately there’s no alternative. Republicans also protect the establishment, only they get to do so more openly. Democrats have to walk a fine line between appearing to change things and not really changing anything at all. Obama is a master at this.

Of course I know the objection: “What do you expect? Be patient, he’s doing the best he can. Change has to come incrementally. He’s laying the groundwork for future changes that really will make a difference.” Well, I hope you’re right and I’m just being naïve. But all signs seem to indicate the contrary. I think we have a president more concerned with his own political image and his presidential legacy than actually doing the hard work America needs a president to do. If Obama’s method of governing is really “Change we can believe in” then Fox News’s method of reporting is really “Fair and balanced.”
His brand of Change is just that—a brand.

Conservative Cowardice

April 17th, 2010 No comments

I’m sick and tired of conservatives acting like their position on foreign policy is one of strength while Obama’s is one of weakness, when in fact it’s the exact opposite. They need to be called out for the despicable cowards that they are.

In my last piece, I wrote about the fundamental differences between liberalism and conservatism as attitudes towards the government’s role in society, and my analysis was very broad and not focused exclusively on the United States. I wanted to give conservatism fair treatment as my goal was to get both sides to recognize what common ground we might have. This week I’m going to focus on conservatives only in the United States and their attitudes on foreign policy, and I’m not going to be nearly as kind. My goal here is not to spark a dialog but merely to rant about something that’s been sticking in my craw since all those republicans started throwing a hissy-fit over Obama’s new nuclear policy last week.

For those of you who don’t know, Obama announced that Russia and the United States had both agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals by a third. Purely a diplomatic move, but enough for the republicans to jump all over it and claim that somehow only being able to destroy the world 66 times over instead of 100 makes us all less safe. But much more importantly, Obama declared that we would not use nuclear weapons to retaliate against a nation that attacks us if that nation does not itself have nuclear weapons and is in compliance with international treaties. So if Zimbabwe attacks us, we promise not to nuke them. As for the real threats—Iran and North Korea—we can still nuke them because they’re not in compliance with the treaties.

Of course the republicans are going to ignore those caveats and completely distort Obama’s position to the point of absurdity. Everyone from Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin was saying that Obama was somehow stripping this nation completely bare of its defenses. “He said he won’t retaliate if another country attacks us! He’s basically inviting other countries to attack the United States and telling them we won’t do anything in response!”

Actually—no, that’s not what he said, you unbelievable dipshits. He said we won’t use nuclear weapons to attack a country that complies with international nuclear treaties. In other words, you give countries an incentive to comply with those treaties, thus reducing the threat of nuclear war. He didn’t say we wouldn’t retaliate at all. But just ignore that. Sean Hannity insists that’s what he said—and Hannity would never misrepresent the president’s position.

All of this is stuff you already know if you follow the news. Plenty of ink has been spilled over the disingenuousness of republicans on this issue. They’ve chosen to go with their old narrative of “democrats are weak on defense” so they’ll pounce on anything that smells the least bit like weakness, including not reserving the right to drop H-bombs all over Zimbabwe if we feel like it.

But I feel like something very obvious has been largely ignored in all the analysis of this issue, and it goes far beyond the nuclear news of last week. I really wish republicans would get called out on this more often, because it strikes right at the heart of the image they like to present and completely undermines their posture of strength in the face of the president’s weakness: these people are cowards.

Last week I wrote about the underlying principles between conservatism and liberalism, but I left out the underlying emotions behind those attitudes. In terms of economic policy, liberals are motivated by compassion and conservatives by selfishness. In terms of foreign policy, liberals are also motivated by compassion (let’s not drop bombs on innocent civilians unless we absolutely have to) but conservatives are motivated by fear.

Obviously, Gingrich and Palin are just playing political games and I doubt they’re seriously afraid that Zimbabwe is going to invade, but the people who take them seriously do have such fears. There are a lot of brown people walking around in turbans on the other side of the world and they all spend their entire day plotting and planning the best way to slaughter Americans. You never know when a loose nuke or some kind of biological weapon is going to find its way to the Palookaville Wal-Mart and kill all your neighbors. The only reason the Wal-Mart is still standing is because George W. Bush kept us safe for so long—fighting them over there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here—but now Obama is doing everything he can to undo what Bush did. He is a secret Muslim, you know.

But even the conservatives who aren’t batshit crazy like that are still motivated by fear. Reasonable commentators like Bill O’Reilly have consistently supported things like water-boarding and other forms of torture, and there couldn’t possibly be a more cowardly position than that. Since the birth of our nation we’ve abided by certain principles and not torturing prisoners has been one of them. Liberals have remained true to this principle, saying first that torture doesn’t work but more importantly, even if it did work we’d rather maintain our honor and be slightly less safe than sinking to their level—going “to the dark side” as Dick Cheney so famously put it. Conservatives, on the other hand, have acted like frightened children. Please, torture them! Torture them all! He had a bomb in his underpants! He might know where more bombs are! How could you just read him his rights and give him a lawyer when there could be more underpants bombers on the way to the Wal-Mart as we speak?!!

It’s really pathetic, and they should be called out on it far more often than they are. Instead, we let them get away with acting as though they’re the strong ones, the ones who are willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect America. Newsflash: that’s not strength. That’s the definition of cowardice—to be willing to do whatever it takes to stay safe.

It’s like a soldier who grabs a civilian to use as a human shield against the bullets flying at him, and when the civilian dies he says, “See? I had the strength to do whatever I had to do to save myself. If an innocent person had to die, so be it. I’m still here. See how strong I am? Where’s my medal?”

So now they’re twisting it around and saying that Obama’s new nuclear policy is a sign of weakness, as though dropping nuclear bombs on a country with a fraction of our military power is the bravest thing in the world. No, you fucking assholes, that’s the most cowardly thing you could possibly do.

The strongest, bravest thing to do would be to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether and have a level playing field. Now, if you attack us, we have to fight you through conventional means. And it’s not like our conventional army isn’t the strongest in the world by far anyway. Do we really need nuclear weapons to fight Iran or North Korea? It took us about a week to march into Baghdad—it wouldn’t take too long to get to Tehran or Pyongyang either—no nukes necessary.

But Obama didn’t even say we wouldn’t use nukes against Iran or North Korea—his declaration was specifically designed to exclude those very countries from the exemption from nuclear retaliation. So what are you still screaming about? Calm the fuck down already. If Kim Jong Il really scares the piss out of you so much, you can still drop a nuclear bomb on his head.

You’d think we could all just agree that we shouldn’t use nukes on a country with no nuclear weapons, but apparently not. The conservatives are too scared to even concede to that. They want to reserve the right to nuke anybody and everybody, as anything less would be weakness.

For the last time—your position is the weak one. You are the cowards. You are the ones who want to bring a bazooka to a fist-fight. And if that’s not cowardice, I don’t know what is.

Future Into Focus

April 14th, 2010 No comments

I woke up yesterday morning to find two messages from Japan in my inbox. One was from Kathy at the James School, wanting to schedule an interview with me for 8:30 the following morning via Skype. The other was from Yuki, the Japanese girl I used to work with at the Doubletree in Santa Barbara and whom I’d contacted last week to try and get back in touch with to possible see her again once I go to Japan. Having not heard back from her I’d concluded that she must not have liked me very much and had no desire to be friends, which naturally depressed me a little because I was very fond of her. But she actually replied, and it seems she just doesn’t check her Facebook very often. Unfortunately she’s going to be leaving Japan this year and moving to her fiance’s home country, so I probably won’t see her, but it still felt nice that she bothered to respond.

The message from Yuki and the scheduled interview with the James School were enough to offset the melancholy of the past few days as well as the depression over the recent drama between Corey and his now ex-girlfriend with which I’ve been getting emotionally wrapped up. That is definitively over now—he called me last night to tell me he was boarding a plane back to Texas—so it’s really depressing to think about that, but luckily for me I’ve actually had my own life situation to focus on for a change.

I was in a relatively good mood all day yesterday, off-set only by a minor incident barely worth mentioning that happened during my jog. That girl I tried to talk to at the Maschsee that one day and whom I subsequently saw and smiled at on my jog the next day is apparently still around, and I’ve actually spotted her quite a few times without bothering to mention it here. But the last time I saw her jogging, I smiled at her and thought she smiled back, so when I saw her jogging in my direction yesterday I smiled and actually said “hello” but this time she completely ignored me and seemed to actually jog slightly further away from me as she passed by. So that kind of pissed me off, as there goes all my silly hope of somehow ending up with her by building familiarity through random sightings. Oh well.

It doesn’t matter now though, as this Japan thing is looking like more of a concrete possibility than ever. I just finished my interview with Kathy from the James School and while I may have stumbled a bit over a few of her questions, I think I presented myself well enough. Nothing is going be decided at this early stage, but she just wanted to meet me and get a better idea of who I was, as well as give me a lot more specific information about the James School and what teaching there would entail. It sounds even better to me now than it did before, as it seems I’d be teaching a wide variety of classes from really little kids to older retired people, as well as the kind of business-English lessons I’m doing now. It also seems Id’ be teaching about 20 hours a week, which is about what I’m doing now, only I’d actually be earning a salary instead of getting paid by-the-lesson. The most encouraging thing about it was to hear that the James School offers an interest-free loan for new teachers should they ask for one, so even if I haven’t saved up quite enough money by the time I move out there, I can still expect to be able to survive and just take less money from my paycheck from the first six months.

She’s going to send me some additional information and then contact me again in a few months once the situation for September/October looks clearer. Once she knows of a position opening up she’ll contact me again to see if I’m still interested (I will be) and at that point she’ll look deeper into my qualifications, ask for references and such. I’m quite sure Frank, the owner of Planeo, will be willing to provide her an excellent reference, unless he wants to sabotage me in order to keep me here. In any case, I think my chances are pretty good.

I’ll be looking at Hannover through slightly different eyes from now on, knowing that in all likelihood I won’t be here for much longer than half a year. This will almost certainly be my last spring and last summer. So rather than feel like I’m tired of this place and ready to leave, I’ll feel more inclined to appreciate it while I’m still here. And there’s certainly plenty about my present circumstances to appreciate. But the near future is also starting to look pretty good as well.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Present Meets Past in Antwerp

April 11th, 2010 No comments

My soul feels healthy again. There’s nothing like a good dose of travel to combat the feeling of emptiness that descends upon me very often in life. Life may be meaningless, but at least it can be filled with worthwhile experiences. I just returned from the train journey home, I’m extremely tired from having woken up at 5:30 to catch my early train, it’s cloudy and drizzling, and my mood is what I would describe as a gentle melancholy. The song in my head, Engima’s “Page of Cups” is the perfect expression of what I’m feeling now. This is not happiness—far from it—but it certainly feels like inner peace.

I haven’t seen Connie, a girl I used to live with during my craziest college year living at 12 Autumn Lane with seven other people, since I moved out almost six years ago. But there was something about that house that bonded us together, and when she learned through Facebook that I was living in Germany and told me she’d be in Antwerp on business for the week if I wanted to come for the weekend, I naturally decided to go.

So on Friday I began the six hour journey from Hannover to Antwerp with a thirty minute wait between trains in Cologne. Because the cathedral is right next to the train station I was able to go walk around inside it again—Europe’s biggest and possibly most beautiful cathedral. I hadn’t expected to go back after going there with Krissi, but since the chance presented itself I knew I had to take it. That put my mind back into travel mode for the first time since the adventures with Krissi last Fall.

There was another changeover in Brussels, and I would have liked to walk around there a bit because I’ve heard from a few people that it’s their favorite city, but I only had five minutes so I couldn’t leave the station. It was only a 45-minute ride from there to Antwerp, and I arrived there at 5:15. I spent the next hour trying to find my hostel, which was not an easy task. I started by going the wrong direction, then doubting myself and turning around back and forth a few times, wondering why the street names weren’t what they were supposed to be. I finally hopped on a tram and asked if it went to the stop I needed, and a really friendly guy told me everything I needed to know about how to get there. Even the tram driver made sure I got out and changed trams when I needed to. From the stop it was still a bit of an ordeal finding the street with the hostel, but I went into a Kiosk and the Moroccan guys there were also extremely friendly and helpful, even going so far as to pull out a GPS device and making sure they were sending me in the right direction. I finally found the hostel and checked in, the woman who owns the place with her husband giving me the run-down about the hostel and things to do and see in Antwerp—also extremely friendly. So my first impression of Antwerp was that the people were extraordinarily nice. It reminded me of the Midwest United States only this friendliness seemed even more genuine.

I got a call from Connie just as I got settled into my room, and she said she’d just finished work and would be going back to her hotel, a big Hilton near the town’s cathedral square. I told her I’d head over there and call her when I arrived, as it would be about a thirty minute walk and that was how much time she needed. As I walked the distance, I could feel my mood beginning to rise, the frustration of trying to find the hostel now behind me. Whenever I’m in a city I haven’t been to before I think of a commercial I saw once on CNN International, when they were promoting their network with a bunch of lines about how they understand the life of a business traveler. One of the lines was, “We understand that buzz you get when visiting a new city for the first time” and that stuck with me ever since because it’s really very true. There’s a special feeling you get when you’re in a new place. It’s like you’ve just added another part of the world to your range of experiences.

And Antwerp certainly seemed like a valuable part of the world to experience. I’d heard about how multicultural Brussels is, but Antwerp must be no less so. Just walking through the streets you could look around and find nearly every shade of color a human being can have. From blonde to black, Asian to Indian, burqa-clad Muslims and Hasidic Jews with their curls, it seemed nearly every race and culture on Earth was represented. It’s certainly the most diverse place I’ve ever been to.

So I was feeling really good when I reached the cathedral square and gave Connie a call, then walked around trying to find her until she finally spotted me. We hugged and headed off to a nearby restaurant, and right away it was like the last six years had gone by in a split second. Connie is a very talkative person and extremely easy to get along with, so I felt comfortable right away. We were both on the same page at that point and nearly the entire time I was there in terms of what we felt like doing, and the first thing we both wanted was a nice delicious Belgian beer. Connie had been there a few days already, and she’d been there on business before as well, so she not only knew where to go, but exactly what beer to order. I basically followed her lead the whole time, and of the dozen or so beers we ended up drinking in total, only one was less than spectacular and it was one she’d never tried before.

We sat outside at a restaurant near the cathedral and placed our order with the extremely friendly waitress. We had two beers there and split an order of penne pasta, and just sat and talked as the sun went down, getting each other caught up on what each of us has been doing these last six years. She’s currently working for a company called Greif that’s an industrial packaging company, and living in Columbus, Ohio where their headquarters are. She’s living in a condo there with a long-term boyfriend she’s known since she was a teenager and with whom she’s been on-again-off-again ever since, and it’s probably only a matter of time before they get married.

I also heard about a couple of the other Autumn Lane crew, mostly Kim because she was Connie’s closest friend out of all of us. I was always extremely fond of Kim, thinking she was exactly the kind of personality I’d want to marry if I were to marry, but I never tried anything with her because I never got the feeling she had any interest. She’d been a virgin in college too, which made me feel like less of a freak for being so, but that’s obviously no longer the case. She’s now been in a relationship with a big black man in his mid-thirties for several years, which is very odd to think about but I suppose I should be happy for her.

Once we finished the dinner and two beers we left in search of another place, and I suggested we leave the touristy area and try some of the places the woman at the hostel had recommended. We took the metro back over to the other side of town and stopped at the first place we came to which was a bit of a dive but naturally the beer was still good. From there we went back to the hostel just to check a map they had there with the locations of good bars clearly marked on the map. We had to walk about fifteen minutes south to get to the area where they would supposedly be, and although we eventually found a place I’m not sure it was what we were actually looking for as I couldn’t place any of the surrounding street names to the map.

This place was crowded but there was an open table outside which we took. We had two beers at that place while continuing to chat about whatever she was inclined to chat about, mostly her relationship and the relationships of other people she knows. She must have been very comfortable with me because she told me some deeply personal things—thing I wouldn’t dream of recounting in this journal—but it always feels good to be trusted enough to be told things like this. It was very pleasant overall, though whenever I’m in a conversation about relationships I frequently feel waves of profound sadness wash over me, as this is a dimension of life that has just never been open to me. Connie asked me if I’d ever had a long-term relationship and I confessed that I still hadn’t—that the issues I had in college were still very much with me today. She didn’t know what to say to that but I can hardly blame her, and the conversation shifted quickly anyway as it tended to happen with her quite frequently. I was quite glad that she was such a talkative person, as I’m very much not so she picked up all the slack that I normally leave. Of course I get much more talkative after a few beers, but so does she so most of the talking was done by her at all times. But I like listening, and everything she had to say was interesting.

After leaving that place we walked back towards the center of town and stopped into an Irish pub for what would be our last two beers of the night—the beers that would push us over the edge from buzzed to significantly drunk due to their size and strength. The conversation got a bit less coherent and a bit more emotional as tends to happen.

I remember well enough though, as my brain has a very high threshold when it comes to drunken memory loss, and while things certainly get blurry I almost never lose significant chunks of time. We were stumbling back in the direction of her hotel, as she offered to just let me crash there instead of having to go back and find my hostel. I couldn’t figure out where we were and I couldn’t read the names of the streets on my map because the text was just a black fuzz, but a taxi rolled by and we stopped it and got in. The driver, whom it was no surprise turned out to be—you guessed it—extremely friendly, took her back to her fancy Hilton and me back to my ghetto hostel. I stumbled back into my room where of course the other five beds were full of sleeping people (I always seem to be the last to get in and go to sleep at hostels) whom I’m sure I woke up when I came in.

I had to get up a couple of times to relieve my bladder and chug more water, my head throbbing badly each time and I knew I was in for a bad hangover. At one point I woke up and just couldn’t get back to sleep, having to endure the sound of snoring that one person in the room will inevitably do when sleeping at a hostel. It was almost amusing rather than annoying, as literally 100% of the time I’ve ever stayed at a hostel there has been one person snoring loudly—even if there was only one other person in the room. But luckily he woke up very soon and got his friends out of bed and before I knew it I was alone in the room.

I kept waiting for the sun to rise, but the room remained as dark as it was when I got in, and over the course of several hours it began to dawn on me that the window next to my bed didn’t actually go to the outside. I finally looked at the clock on my cellphone and say that it was 1:15 p.m. which blew my mind. I forced myself up and into the shower, then got my stuff together and headed out in search of an internet café.

I sent Connie an e-mail telling her to call me if she was awake and wanted to do something, then e-mailed some other people having to deal with the incredibly bizarre Belgian keyboard with nearly half the letters out of place, having to hit shift to make a period, and somehow no question mark to be found. I felt like I was ten years old again having to hunt and peck for each letter or punctuation mark.

Connie called me at 2:00, apparently having slept as long as I had and with an even worse hangover. We agreed to meet in front of the cathedral in an hour. Still completely zonked out, I got there and we found each other. We went to a nearby Italian place for a 3 p.m. pizza breakfast. All that bread and cheese soaked up the remaining toxins quite nicely, and I felt much better afterwards although still with a slight headache and waves of nausea. We agreed that the problem was not so much the quantity of beer we drank but the fact that we mixed up so many different types of beer. But whatever, we were in Belgium and there are so many different varieties of amazingly good beer so I didn’t regret mixing it up. I’d fully expected a hangover and a hangover is what I got. It could have been worse.

It was worse for Connie, who continued to suffer with a headache and bouts of nausea for the rest of the afternoon, which we spent just walking around and occasionally stopping somewhere to buy water or just sit down to rest. Connie had planned to go to a couple of museums today but she said she gets panic attacks when she goes to museums hung over. I thought that odd, but apparently there’s a history of panic attacks in her family and she started getting them often when she was hit by a car and badly injured during her first year of college. She’d been able to sue the guy and got a significant amount of money from it, but she always insisted that would trade all the money in a second to not have to go through that trauma. And the effects are still with her, as she’s got some kind of metal brace in her leg and her knee really started to hurt after a couple hours of walking.

We went to the zoo because it was supposedly very good, but we got there at 5 when it closed at 6 so it wouldn’t have been worth the entry fee, which at €31 might not have been worth it anyway even if we’d had the whole day. So we just continued to walk around. We walked down a road with dozens of jewelry shops which I think was part of some kind of diamond district as Antwerp or maybe all of Belgium is particularly involved in the diamond trade. I couldn’t help but think about all the Africans who died to bring those diamonds there.

We walked through a nice little park and then over to the river to look at a statue that had some significance I’d now forgotten, then back into town near the cathedral where we stopped at a café to begin drinking beer again, as it was now that time of day already. Just as we began our beer a street musician came and played his violin in front of the cathedral, and we both considered how quintessentially European this was. Sitting at a café outside a gothic cathedral, cobblestones as far as the eye can see, sipping on beer while a street musician performed—it couldn’t get any more European.

We took our sweet time enjoying that beer, then got up to go somewhere else. We stopped in a little gift shop so Connie could pick up some presents for people back home, and I was struck by a little statue in the entrance of a naked little boy holding his penis. That was odd enough, but I then noticed along the wall a bunch of mini-figurines of the same statue, only the penis extended out into a corkscrew. I said, “That is the most F-ed up wine opener I’ve ever seen” and the clerk smiled at me as just said, “It’s Belgium.” He must have Americans making remarks about that corkscrew all the time, what with our prudish sensibilities. I just wonder who buys that. Who wants to open their wine bottle with a little boy’s prick?

After that we found a bar she hadn’t been to before but which I think we both came to agree had the best atmosphere out of all of them. We stayed there for three beers and had a really nice conversation that involved my discovering that she also has a deep love for Pink Floyd, and I proudly imparted to her my story of getting to see them at Live8, and talking about how deeply that experience changed me. Whenever I tell that story I feel the residual echoes of the chills I got when I was actually there, so I always love to re-live the experience. As I told her, after that I could never be completely miserable. No matter what happens, my life will have been worth it because I got to have that experience.

When we left that place, the bill the waitress gave me had omitted the first beer we’d had there, and Connie said it was up to me whether to tell her. The waitress was—naturally—extremely nice, and we both really liked the place so I felt compelled to tell her about the other beer and she thanked me for my honesty. The feeling of having done the right thing was well worth the extra few euros.

We stopped at a nearby place that supposedly has the best French fries in Belgium, and Belgium supposedly has the best French fries in the world. I didn’t think they were too extraordinary—they were just fries. But Connie loves fries so I only picked at it while she ate most of them. Neither of us were all that hungry after having eaten that giant pizza so late in the day. But the conversation at the fry place was particularly notable, as it was the first time things got philosophical. I was telling her about why I studied philosophy and how I’m still reading and writing philosophical things and I hope to eventually become a professor but right now I’m just building up life experience which should be extraordinarily valuable to my future philosophical career. She not only approved of my life plan but seemed almost impressed with it, so naturally that felt good.

The last place we went was actually the same restaurant we’d begun at the previous day, thus bringing everything full circle. At that place the conversation got very political for the first and only time, as Connie is somewhat interested in politics but not enough to really follow the news, which she says is all biased anyway and she can never trust it. She definitely supported Obama, but she said she never thought he was going to fix everything and voted for him mostly because McCain and Palin would have been a disaster. I filled her in on everything Obama has been doing wrong, though we both agree that the criticism he gets from Fox News and the conservative media is way off-base.

Things got even deeper when we somehow got on the discussion of having kids vs. adopting, and I said if I were to ever have kids I’d insist on adoption because I wouldn’t want to bring another life into a world that seems headed for a huge crisis. She totally disagreed with my bleak assessment, saying that if we run out of one energy resource we’ll just find another one, and that humans are clever enough to keep civilization going pretty much indefinitely. I didn’t agree with her, but it was nice to hear that perspective as I don’t get it very often. Nobody likes to think about the unsustainable nature of industrial civilization, but whenever I get people to think about it almost everyone admits that we’re heading for a crisis of some kind. But she doesn’t think so. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

When the night was over, we parted ways. I got a couple hours of sleep and woke up at 5:45 to begin the long journey home. The train ride back went very smoothly with no trouble at all on the changeovers. It was even downright pleasant on the last leg of the journey, getting into Hannover under cloud and rain while listening to Enigma. I haven’t had much social interaction or unique experiences in awhile, so I feel very glad to have done that. We didn’t do much sight-seeing so it wasn’t like a typical travel experience, but even without seeing any particular sights I think I got a good feel for the city, and it’s definitely a really nice one. Between the multiculturalism, the pure aesthetics of the buildings, and the delightful friendliness of the people, I might even go so far as to put Antwerp on my short list of favorite cities ever.

As for Connie, it was just so nice to reconnect with someone from a former part of my life. It helps to illuminate all the ways I’ve changed and all the ways in which I’ve stayed exactly the same. But more than that, there’s just something deeply satisfying about bringing someone from a former life back into the current life for a moment. All the thousands of people I’ve known and the hundreds of people I’ve known well enough and liked enough to want to keep in touch with are scattered all across this tiny globe, but they’re all still here and you can never be sure who you might see again.

Liberal vs. Conservative: The Fundamentals

April 5th, 2010 No comments

Most of the debate among liberals and conservatives in the United States is over specific issues, but very little attention is given to the underlying ideals and principles behind these ideologies. We state our case to support or oppose this or that, and we argue with people who disagree, but we almost never bring the argument down to the underlying political attitudes behind our opinions. As such we often misunderstand or mischaracterize each others’ positions, and the result is deep political polarization and a virtual inability to find common ground with one another. I think that a discussion about the fundamental differences between liberalism and conservatism is well worth having.

First of all, we often seem to forget that the labels ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are more properly attached to opinions than to people. I have many liberal opinions and a few conservative opinions as well. I’m comfortable calling myself a ‘liberal’ because most of my opinions are liberal, but we should always keep in mind that a person’s identity goes far beyond his or her political views, and most people have elements of both.

Second of all, we have to recognize that neither ideology is correct or incorrect, and that these aren’t so much ideologies at all but merely attitudes. There is no logical argument that liberalism is right and conservatism is wrong or vice-versa. They are just different ways of looking at things, and it’s purely subjective as to which way is superior.

So let’s look at what lies behind these attitudes. Forgive me if I mischaracterize something or leave something out. I was once more conservative and now I’m more liberal so I feel I have a good grasp of both points of view, but I’m going to be making broad generalizations and as such I’ll probably say some things about conservatism that not all conservatives agree with and some things about liberals that not all liberals believe. These are just the things I see as basic to both viewpoints.

I believe that the core of conservatism is the principle of personal responsibility. I’ll do my thing and you do yours, and we should both accept the consequences. If I work hard and earn a decent living, I shouldn’t have to give anything to you. It’s not the government’s job to make sure everyone is taken care of—it’s everyone’s job to take care of themselves and the government should just stay out of it. In a capitalist society there are bound to be winners and losers and if you wind up a loser it’s your own fault. You’re free to try again and if you do it right, you might win this time. But the winners don’t owe anything to the losers. The rich don’t owe anything to the poor. Everyone has the potential to get rich, so the rich are perfectly entitled to reap the rewards that they’ve earned. If people are suffering, the rich can help of their own free will by contributing to charities they believe in, but they should not have their money taken from them and distributed to those that the government decides should have it.

This is a perfectly reasonable point of view and I think many liberals would agree with a good deal of it. It only really runs into problems when taken to the extreme—a point I’ll get to later.

As for liberalism, the core principle is social justice. We should all be free to do our own thing, but there ought to be some outside authority to make sure we’re operating on a level playing-field. If you have more, you ought to be willing to share what you have with the less fortunate. I may work very hard but that’s no guarantee I’ll earn a decent living, so there’s nothing wrong with the government stepping in to help out. There’s nothing wrong with reaping the rewards of success, but people shouldn’t be punished so harshly for failure. The rich were able to get rich because they are operating in a society that allowed them to do so, in which case they do owe that society something and if they aren’t willing to give a little back of their own free will, society has a right to take some. We can’t count on the good-nature of the rich to alleviate peoples’ suffering, as most of them seem primarily motivated by greed and won’t share any of their wealth unless they’re forced to. Ideally, the government is of the people and by the people, so it’s the people who determine how to distribute the wealth of a society in a fair and equitable way.

I’m willing to bet that most conservatives would agree with a few of these premises, and a few might even agree with the underlying principle.

Because my views are closer to the liberal position I’ll offer what I see as the strongest objections to liberalism first, knowing that there are probably stronger arguments out there. Conservative readers should feel free to offer theirs.

In my mind, a conservative simply doesn’t accept the premise that working hard doesn’t guarantee a decent living. If you’re not earning enough to support yourself and your family, you’re just not working hard enough. Find a job that pays better or quit complaining. Maybe we need to take care of people with true mental disabilities, but you don’t need to be a genius to get a decent job and if you’re capable of getting one there’s no reason the rest of us should take care of you.

Furthermore, if you take liberalism to its extreme you wind up with fascism or some form of communism. If you want to start handing over power to a central government to distribute it as it sees fit, you risk putting too much power into too few hands. Furthermore, you stifle the growth of a society by eliminating the incentive to work hard. If everyone is entitled to a decent living whether they work hard or not, then obviously not many people are going to work very hard. That’s the whole idea of a ‘nanny-state’ that conservatives are always railing against, as for those who consider themselves hard-workers who’ve earned every penny they have, the fact that so many people are getting theirs for free is infuriating.

I have to confess to experiencing some of that outrage myself. I currently live in Germany, where anyone unemployed goes on “Hartz-4” and lives off the government. It’s not much money but it’s enough to live on comfortably and completely waste your life doing nothing productive at all. When I walk by these kids on the street who are perfectly capable of working but are instead sitting outside drinking beer all day and asking for change from passersby, I get really mad. Of course I’m not going to give you any money! I worked for my money—and not only that but I’m already giving you money through the taxes they take from me! I bought that beer you’re drinking! As a non-citizen it’s even worse because if I lost my job I wouldn’t be eligible for Hartz-4, so I’m paying into a social safety-net that isn’t available to me.

So there are legitimate objections to liberalism, and liberals would do well to acknowledge them often, as many conservatives believe we actually want a nanny-state and would be perfectly happy if our nation’s wealth were distributed evenly to everyone regardless of how much they contribute to the society that takes care of them. This is not what most of us believe, and we should be clear about it.

Now, I believe that conservatism is more objectionable. I’m a huge fan of the principle of personal responsibility, but I also think that we have a larger responsibility to each other. A wealthy person doesn’t earn their money in a vacuum—they are able to accumulate wealth due to the structure of the society they live in, and as such they should give something back. The CEO of a large corporation doesn’t run the company all by his or herself—there are thousands of people doing the work at the ground level. If the company is successful, why shouldn’t they benefit from the success as well? I understand that the higher you are on the decision-making chain the greater your share of responsibility for the company’s success, so it’s reasonable to pay yourself more, but not thousands of times more than the lowest employees. If all your lowest-level employees quit, you’d have nothing, so they ought to be fairly compensated for their contribution.

If everyone were good and compassionate with a strong sense of fairness, we wouldn’t need any outside authority to step in and make things more equitable, but the fact is that greed drives the system. When pushed to its extreme, conservatism leads to fascism the same as liberalism, only with the power consolidated in the hands of major corporations as opposed to a central government. Given the choice I’d rather the balance of power be tipped towards the government, as at least in theory the government is of the people whereas corporations exist solely for profit. Would you rather have a nanny-state in which the government provides enough money to live on for all, or a corporate-driven state in which everyone earns as little as the corporations can get away with paying them? A state in which unemployed people can survive quite comfortably, or a state in which unemployed people are simply screwed with nowhere to turn? One violates one’s sense of fairness, but the other violates one’s sense of basic human decency.

So if I’m going to err, I’ll err on the side of liberalism. One can accuse liberals of being too compassionate for others, but I’d rather be guilty of that than of being too inconsiderate of others, which is the accusation made against conservatives and often justifiably so. When you get to the heart of the matter, conservatives care more about themselves than they do about others, which is why I find they’re usually less willing to compromise or consider other points of view. Not caring about whether others can earn a living goes hand in hand with not caring what others think, which is why you tend to find much more hate and vitriol in conservative media and on the conservative websites.

Finally, it should be acknowledged that everyone’s opinions change over time, and it does seem to be the case that generally speaking the older people are the more conservative they get. This is quite understandable, as older people have already played the game and found that it can be won. Therefore, young people can play and win too if they do it right, so they should stop complaining.

But older people in America today should recognize that the game isn’t what it used to be, and that the odds are far more stacked against you today than they were before. Sure, intelligent people can probably still make a good living if they try hard enough, but they’ll have to work harder and earn less of a reward. Liberals have every right to highlight the areas where the system is rigged and the game is unfair, and shouldn’t be branded as socialists just for demanding a little more equity.

We should all recognize the virtues of the opposing political attitude and the weaknesses of our own. Some of our differences may be irreconcilable, but I think we can meet each other half-way on most issues. I believe that America is not nearly as polarized as it seems on the surface—we just spend so much time talking at each other and not enough time talking to each other. So let’s talk.

Feeling Good for a Change

April 2nd, 2010 No comments

I ended my last personal blog entry by saying that nothing in my life really makes it worth living. That may still be true but I’m feeling much better about it now. Perhaps the fact that for the first time in what feels like years there’s not a cloud in the sky has something to do with it. But yesterday was cloudy, cold, and rainy, and I felt really good then too.

Things are still as uneventful as ever, but two very recent developments have given my overall mood a much-needed boost. The first is that I started cross-posting my political blog entries at “The Young Turks” website, where I became a member about a month ago because I really like the show and wanted to be able to download the whole thing. The host, Cenk Uygur, is probably more on the same page with me politically than anyone other than Corey, so I figured that by posting my thoughts on that website I’ll be reaching a handful of like-minded people, which is the audience I direct my writing towards.

I’d been feeling a little wary about the blog recently as nobody ever comments here and though I get about 60-80 hits after each new political post, I feel like nobody is reading it and it’s just a waste of time. But the day after posting my first entry to The Young Turks site I got 14 comments, from people who both agree and disagree, and the day after posting my second entry I got 20 comments, many of them very thoughtful and enjoyable to read, including those from people who disagreed with me. It felt great to know that at least a dozen people spent a portion of their day actually thinking about my ideas, that I may have had some teeny tiny influence. And a teeny tiny influence is certainly better than none at all. Once you drop those thoughts in the blogospheric ocean, they tend to spread. You just have to drop them somewhere from which it’s easier to spread. Huffington Post comments get the most readers but you’ve got a word-limit on what you can say. The Young Turks website is perfect for me for right now. And I’m glad conservatives go there too because it’s nice to finally get the other side’s perspective and respond to it directly. I suppose it’ll change my tone a bit as from now on I know I won’t just be writing for people who know me and who probably agree with me.

So that’s the blog thing. Feeling slightly less insignificant than I did a few days ago. Still, that’s kind of an abstract thing.

The other thing is of a much more concrete nature, as it has to do with Japan. Several weeks ago I applied to the James School of Northern Japan is it had the best website of any Japanese language schools I looked at by far and it’s definitely my first choice. I was told that selected applicants would be contacted for an interview, but after two weeks of hearing nothing I wrote a follow-up e-mail asking when I should expect to know if I’d been selected or not. The woman wrote back saying she was only interviewing for people who would be starting within the next three months, and that she wouldn’t know if there’d be any openings in September but didn’t think there would be because most teachers are renewing their contracts due to the economy. I wrote back saying that I didn’t have to start in September—this was just the earliest I could start—and I asked if it would be possible to work out some kind of arrangement whereby I’d just take the first position that opened up after September, even if it takes a few months. And yesterday she responded saying she’d like to set up an interview with me for next week via Skype and I should send her my schedule.

Naturally, that’s fantastic news. Getting an interview means I’m being considered, and that my offer to move there any time after September is feasible. As for the interview, I’m so confident that I might even be a little bit over-confident. I mean, why wouldn’t they hire me after talking to me? Not only am I a native English speaker with nearly two years of teaching experience, but I’ve got this whole bag of mad intellectual skills and whatnot that anyone who talks to me always picks up on. With one exception, I’ve been offered every single job I’ve ever interviewed for. The only slight doubt I have about this one is that I’m not too familiar with Japanese customs and cultural attitudes so I might inadvertently say something wrong, but I’m pretty sure the personnel woman I’ve been talking to—who’s name is Kathy—is not Japanese but a fellow expatriot. In any case, I’m damned good at job interviews so as much as I don’t want to jinx it I think there’s a pretty good chance this will work out in my favor.

And that’s where things stand right now. I’d still prefer a life involving a loving girlfriend and all that joy, but I’ll take what I can get. And if all I can get is a tiny morsel of influence within the political blogosphere and years of enlightening world-travel, that’ll have to do.