Archive for December, 2010

Weinachten in Ichenheim III

December 28th, 2010 No comments

This is actually the fourth Christmas I’ve spent in Ichenheim, but only the third in a row. If you want to know what this one was like, you could basically just go back and read my account of last year’s Christmas or the one from the year before, as this was practically a carbon-copy of those other two with just a few slight differences. That’s the nature of tradition though, and it’s nice to do the same things every year in spite of the fact that it gets less and less interesting each time. I still feel obliged to record the events, but I’ll keep it brief and only highlight aspects in which this Christmas was different from the previous two.

Thursday the 23rd, I arrive in Offenburg in the early evening and am driven back to Ichenheim by Ralf and Myriam, who almost don’t recognize me with the short hair. We have a nice dinner and nice conversation until about 10:00 when we all go to bed.

Friday the 24th, we head to Hans and Gerlinda’s for Kaffee und Kuchen just like the last two years, and just like the last two Stefan and Evelyn are there with their daughter Analena who looks one year older and one year chubbier. When I’m not trying to follow the mostly incomprehensible conversation my mind is thinking about Lea, whom I just received an e-mail from before leaving. I’d just about given up hope on hearing from the woman I’d met the previous week on the plane, but she wrote to me after all and it put me in quite a good mood.

After a couple of hours and a few glasses of wine, we head back and have the traditional fondue dinner, the only difference this year being that we eat upstairs at Ralf and Myriam’s as opposed to downstairs at Ursela and Dieter’s. We don’t go out for a walk afterwards because it’s been snowing all day and the roads are covered. I’m glad I finally got to see Ichenheim in the snow, as this is the first year we’ve had a white Christmas that I’ve been here.

Saturday the 25th is almost completely uneventful except for the annual Christmas concert of the male voice choir that Hans is a part of. Last year they held it in the church which made for some really nice acoustics, but this year it’s back at the school (apparently there was some tension between the Catholics and Evangelicals). This was where I first noticed Elena two years ago but she doesn’t come tonight. I do, however, get a rare Tanja sighting. She now has short hair and she’s getting progressively chunkier, but she’s still got a really nice face. And she still either doesn’t remember me from the infamous Musik Club Offenburg night or she insists on acting like she doesn’t.

Also present is Lara of the infamous previous-two-New-Years’-Days, apparently still with the same boyfriend, the son of the obviously-gay man who is also in the choir. Because I won’t be around for this New Years’ (I’m going to a party in Hannover with Oliver and Lena instead) I know this will be the only time I see her this time around. As we’re leaving the school when everything is over we pass her and her boyfriend. I shake the boyfriend’s hand and wish him a “Schöne Weinachten” and Lara is looking at me while I do so I go up to her as well, take her hand and say, “Lara, Schöne Weinachten” and she wishes me one as well with that adorable smile of hers. I suck up all the appreciation of that pointless little moment as possible and head my merry way. I wonder if she processed the fact that I remembered her name and not her boyfriend’s, but I doubt it.

Sunday the 26th is the big day when Ralf’s parents and brother come over and we have a giant lunch of geese and mashed potatoes and red kraut. It’s all very delicious and all exactly the same as the previous two years. Only this time our post-lunch walk is out in the snow, which is especially beautiful now under a blue sky. After Ralf’s family leaves the rest of us remain upstairs and continue to drink wine and talk, followed by drinking beer and eating a small dinner, after which Dieter invites me to come out for another little walk. But instead of walking around he suggest we go into the local hotel bar for a beer and I don’t refuse. There are a few random people there and Dieter knows all of them. The bartendress is a very cute lady apparently the same age as Myriam, and when I ask how old this hotel is Dieter asks her and she informs us that it was established in 1775, which I remark makes it one year older than the United States.

Also there to pay someone a visit is Elena’s younger brother whom I’d previously mistaken for Lara’s boyfriend in a journal entry about Rheinfest (now privatized). I’d taken note of him because he also had a really beautiful girlfriend and I couldn’t believe such a scrawny acne-ridden guy could get such beautiful girlfriends. But apparently it was two separate scrawny acne-ridden guys with two separate beautiful girlfriends, so that cleared that up.

Monday the 27th there is absolutely nothing going on until the evening when Dieter, Ursela and I pay a visit to my grandmother’s sister Fannie because I won’t be around on New Years’ Day when we normally go. She’s happy to see me and we have a nice meal as my mind drifts between attempting and failing to understand the conversation and thinking about the e-mails I’ve been exchanging with Lea.

And today is Tuesday the 28th and there is also nothing going on today, nor will anything noteworthy happen tomorrow. I’ll head back to Hannover on the 30th so I’ll have a night to myself before the New Years’ Eve party on the 31st with Oliver, Lena, and a bunch of her socialist friends. I’m going to invite Lea to come but I assume she already has plans and won’t be able to. But I assume I’ll be able to see her again sometime soon, as she won’t be working at all this month.

Regarding Lea, I’ve learned that she is actually Russian, her family having returned to Germany in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She’s also an avid reader and likes to read true stories and biographies of famous people. She seems very interesting, and while I honestly don’t see any kind of relationship forming (I’m *probably* going to finally go Japan this year after all) it would be nice to make a new friend.

And that’s really all there is to write about for now. This may be my last journal entry of 2010. It’s been a mostly dull year with a few scattered notable events. Seeing Green Day, going to CeBIT, joining the anti-war protest with Lena in Hannover, and of course going back to visit America for the first time in two years. Finally topped off with that excellent weekend in London for the Japan job interview and meeting a couple of potential life-long friends. It wasn’t a wasted year by any means, but hopefully 2011 will be far more interesting.

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This Moment in American History

December 24th, 2010 No comments

We tend to take the conditions of the world during our short life-spans for granted. Unless we live through some kind of earth-shattering, world-changing event, we fall into the trap of believing—if only subconsciously—that things were always more or less the same as they are now.

I love the end of the year, as it’s a time when writers and journalists take a step back and try to put the year in a broader historical context. This year there will undoubtedly be a lot of talk about Obama’s fall from grace, the worsening conditions of the middle class, and the triumph of corporations and financial institutions over the threat of increased regulation. To really understand the significance of these things, one must look back not merely to the beginning of the current administration or even the last decade, but all the way back to the start of the previous century.

I’m about half-way through Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (which ought to be required reading for every high school student in America), and I’m struck by the parallels between the conditions of the working class at the turn of the 20th century and the direction things are heading in now. Back then, and indeed for the vast majority of American history, there was no ‘middle class’ to speak of. Everything was controlled by a handful of powerful business interests who had more wealth than the bottom 80% of Americans combined, and that bottom 80% worked for slave wages if they were lucky enough to even have a job.

The ‘middle class’ as we know it has really only existed for a brief shining moment following the New Deal and subsequent economic boom resulting from our making it through WWII without a scratch. Nearly everyone alive today has experienced what life in America was like with a relatively equitable distribution of wealth, and it seems unthinkable that the middle class could ever disappear. Our complacency is slowly allowing the same handful of powerful business interests who had a chokehold over the country for most of its history to regain their former position. The middle class is in its death pangs, and unless the people act it won’t be long before we slide back into what seems to be the natural state of affairs in a civilized society: a few enormously wealthy and powerful people at the top, a small class of moderately wealthy bankers, lawyers, and politicians who preserve the status quo, and the masses at the bottom suffering and toiling through their nasty, brutish and short lives.

But aside from the parallels between then and where we’re heading now, there are two important differences:

1- Things were much worse back then. We may think we have it bad now, but at least there is a minimum wage, an 8-hour workday with a 2-day weekend, strict safety regulations for dangerous occupations and legal recourse against negligent employers, and a social safety net for the unemployed (at least those who’ve been unemployed for fewer than 99 weeks). It’s horrifying to read about young women forced to work 16-hour days at a factory for bread-crumbs, only to be burned alive because the owner didn’t want to pay the cost of making the doors open outward. We may lose a handful of workers each year due to negligence (see Massey Energy, BP) but there was once a time when they were dying by the thousands. And while things like out-sourcing may drive our wages down now, at least most of us can still afford to buy things other than food and clothing.

Our taking such things for granted leads to the second major difference between then and now:

2- The people back then were willing to fight for better conditions. Every single major improvement in the lives of the lower classes had to be paid for with strikes, protests, and occasionally even blood. Factory owners didn’t agree to an 8-hour workday out of the goodness of their hearts. They didn’t start paying the extra cost to ensure their workers’ safety out of pure human compassion. Workers had to strike to get just a few of their demands met, and then strike again to get the rest. They had to join forces with workers of other industries and take to the streets to get the ruling class to treat them with basic human dignity. Most of the time, these protests were brutally suppressed and many brave men and women (as well as far too many children) paid the ultimate price for the cause. But gradually, the ruling class was forced to recognize that it could not get away with treating people like cattle, and small victory by small victory our ancestors transformed this country into the one we’ve always known.

It is this country—the country in which just about everyone has an equal shot at a good life, where hard work leads almost invariably to the rewards of a good home and healthy family, where the prosperity of the wealthy is shared with the workers who allow them to generate that wealth—that we were taught to be proud of as children. And it is something to be proud of. Our forefathers fought very hard for it, and many are still struggling to preserve it.

But we have to understand that this America did not always exist and there’s no guarantee that it always will. Things may not be nearly as bad as they were in the year 1900 but there’s nothing to stop us from returning to those conditions other than the sheer force of our combined will.

That means more than just going to the voting booth every 2-4 years. With the exception of FDR, not a single American president has ever used his position to truly fight the upper classes on behalf of the masses, and the current president has demonstrated that he won’t do so either. He is behaving like most presidents, attempting to balance the competing interests of the country’s various powers, his primary concern being the maintenance of the status quo.

Were things not trending so sharply downwards for the middle class, this would be perfectly acceptable. But we’re standing on the precipice of losing the ground that our forefathers fought so hard to gain, and maintaining course now is akin to class suicide.

I worry that current generations are too complacent, that we take our lives of relative comfort and luxury for granted, and that we therefore feel no compulsion to take to the streets the way our forefathers did. We circulate online petitions, call our representatives, make donations to political campaigns and so on, but all of these things are a poor substitute for genuine action.

To be fair, our ancestors did not have 24-hour cable news channels to compete with—entities that either serve to distract the American people from what’s most important, or (in the case of Fox News) actually hoodwink them into siding with the upper classes against their fellow citizens. But we still have the advantage of a free and open internet, at least for the time being.

Our ancestors also had the advantage of necessity. They had no choice—either take to the streets or starve. Demand more consideration from their employers or risk being burned alive.

We’ve heard of pre-emptive war. Can we have a pre-emptive revolution? Can we get enough Americans to recognize the danger of what might lie ahead for us to draw the proper lines in the sand and threaten to put the entire system in jeopardy unless pledges are made to preserve what our ancestors fought for? Hands off the minimum wage! Hands off Social Security! Hands off the inflation of financial bubbles! Hands off affordable housing! Hands off affordable education! Hands off patients’ rights! Hands off workers’ rights!

Perhaps we have to wait until we completely lose these things before the people stand up and fight for them again. Perhaps the pendulum needs to complete a full swing back in the other direction before it can start swinging back. We have the misfortune of living during the back-end of the swing. But we do have the power to stop it and drive it back the other way if we take a lesson from our ancestors and fight now before it’s too late. We have an obligation to them to preserve what they fought for. We have a responsibility to the next generations to prevent them from being worse off than we are.

I just hope we can recognize that before it’s too late.

The Longest Weekend

December 19th, 2010 No comments

I can not believe the weekend I just had. I just got home, 14 hours later than expected and much much happier than I could have dreamed. This weekend was by far the highlight of the year—the pinnacle—the point at which not just one but practically every single thread of my life over the past year came together in one epic climax.

I’m riding a high right now the likes of which I haven’t felt in years, and there’s nothing else for me to do now than to write a novella-length account of what happened so that I can re-live it whenever I want, and those who know me (and who have plenty of time to spare) can come as close as possible to sharing the experience without actually having been there. This could easily take me the entire afternoon and into the evening to write, but in spite of my extreme exhaustion from having slept only a total of 3 hours the entire time, this is something I simply must do right now while it’s still as fresh in my mind as it will ever be. So without further introduction, I give you my tale:

Prologue – The Diverging Road

I’ve been living in Hannover for two years and four months now. For the most part, I’ve been leading a very isolated lifestyle, keeping to myself and rarely approaching any strangers, be they beautiful women or just guys that I might get along with if I just had the wherewithal to overcome my natural shyness and approach them. In spite of this, it’s been a very enjoyable life and I’d be happy to stay on this path even longer if it weren’t for the fact that it clearly leads nowhere.

But this is not why I decided to embark on a career of overseas English teaching—I did it for adventure, to see the world, to expand my mind and grow as a person. I’ve lived long enough in Germany and for the entire year I’ve had my sights set on Japan as my next destination. The school that had been my first choice doesn’t seem to be hiring so rather than wait an indefinite amount of time for a shot at getting hired there, I decided to set my sights elsewhere.

About a month ago I got an e-mail from the TEFL website—a job alert for a company called Interac that hires assistant language teachers (ALTs) and places them in the public schools in Japan. I thought little of it when I went through the process of applying, and was actually rather surprised when I got a call from one of their recruiters asking to speak to me. When I returned the call I went through a little preliminary interview that I thought went okay but that I could have done a lot better. Still, I managed to do well enough to get me through the initial screening process, and we set a date of Friday the 17th of December for me to travel to their office in Oxford for a face-to-face interview.

When I got the details of the interview and what I’d need to prepare for it, I felt slightly overwhelmed. Not only did I need a whole slew of documents from college transcripts to a copy of my TEFL-certificate, but the interview itself would be more than just a normal Q & A type interview. I’d have to take a grammar test and a personality test, and conduct several tasks that would be videotaped and sent to Japan for scrutiny. Among these tasks were a one-minute introduction that I would give as though meeting a group of Japanese teachers for the first time, a 1.5-minute imaginary warm-up exercise for elementary school students, and a 3-minute demo lesson from materials they gave me that I’d have to teach.

Because Japan is a very conservative culture, I knew I’d finally have to get rid of the long hair if I were to have a decent chance of getting the job, so on Wednesday I went to the hairdressers in Hannover for the first time ever and did the deed. The students I saw on Thursday—including the lovely Mandy—were quite shocked by the radical change in my appearance to say the least, but it seemed that the reaction was good. Mandy certainly seemed to like it anyway, as she seemed warmer towards me than ever before.

On Thursday evening I decided to forego the usual routine and spent hours preparing, going to the Planeo office and printing out scripts of what I was going to say for the video-taped portions of the interview. For some reason the USB stick didn’t work on the computer there this time, so I had to actually go back to my flat and e-mail the documents to myself in order to get them printed out. I was feeling more stressed than I have in awhile, but also kind of enjoying it. It’s not too often that I am forced to really put my mind into something so obviously worthwhile. I practiced what I was going to say out loud in the Planeo office over and over again until I felt I finally had it down, but over the course of the evening and the entire time before the interview I kept going over it in my head again and again, convinced that I was going to choke and forget a line or mis-pronounce one of the Japanese phrases I learned when the time came.

I tried to go to bed early, but 10:00 was as early as I could make it. The interview was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. the next day, and it was a very long way from Hannover to Oxford.

Part One – Getting There

I had no way of knowing that the 5-6 hours of sleep I got on Thursday night was to be the most sleep I’d have all weekend, but when that alarm woke me up at 4 a.m. the adrenaline was right there with it, getting me to leap out of bed, take a shower, eat breakfast, and put on one of the suits my parents had bought for me when I was back in America. (Much to my delight, I still remembered how to tie a tie from working at the hotel for so long.)

I walked to the train station, appreciating pre-dawn central Hannover which I may have seen just once or twice during my entire time here. I’d just missed the S-Bahn to the airport but another one came twenty minutes later and I had plenty of time before the 7:00 flight.

I reached the Hannover airport with plenty of time to spare, and sat in the terminal reading my book until boarding. Because the ice had to be sprayed from the wings before takeoff, we started 20 minutes later than expected, but this was still within my safety margin.

I had a nice window seat close to the front of the plane which I booked in advance, and it just so happened that a very attractive girl was sitting right next to me. She looked like a young Claire Daines with dark brown hair. She was there with her family and spent most of the flight talking to her mother, so it would have been awkward to say anything. But I knew I would kick myself if I said nothing, and I didn’t want this weekend to get off to that kind of start. So after the plane had landed I turned and asked the both of them if they spoke English and when they said yes I asked, “What brings you to England?” The girl didn’t say anything—she seemed annoyed that I was speaking to them at all, but the mother replied politely that they were there for the weekend to go shopping and that was that. Nothing gained, but nothing lost.

I’d pre-booked tickets from Stansted through London to Oxford, and when I went to retrieve them from the automatic machine, only one card came out and it said “Not valid for travel”. I double-checked the machine and saw this was the only card that came out so I figured I’d just go with it. I thought nothing of it during the 45-minute train ride from Stansted to London Liverpool Street Station, but after arriving you have to put the card through a turnstile which didn’t let me through. There was a station worker letting some others through but when I showed him my card he very rudely said, “Look at the front of your card. What does it say?” And I tried to explain about the machine but he just told me to talk to one of the guys there wearing yellow vests with the words “Revenue Protection” on the back.

All of them were engaged in arguments with other people whose cards wouldn’t let them through, and at this point I knew I was running out of time. I originally had a solid 50 minutes to make it from Liverpool Station to Paddington Station via the tube, but the delay brought that down to 35 and now I had to wait for assistance. Luckily the guy I talked to was nice. I showed him the receipt for the ticket purchase I’d printed out from the internet and he let me through, but I still had to get this card thing sorted out or I’d never make it onto the tube let alone the train from Paddington to Oxford.

So I lost more time looking for the right desk to get help (lots of rude “Don’t talk to us, you need to talk to so-and-so”) along the way, but I finally just had to buy another couple of tickets. If I want a refund I have to write to the England rail services and request one.

By the time I got that sorted out I knew I was going to be cutting it dangerously close. I was originally slated to arrive at 10:48, giving me a comfortable 42 minutes to get from the Oxford station to the Interac office, but now my best shot was an 11:00 arrival. Unfortunately, I was at a loss for direction when I got to the underground trains and ended up going for one stop in the wrong direction. By the time I finally got my bearings I knew that my best shot was going to be an 11:18 arrival and that after all that hard work and preparation I was going to have to be late for this interview.

When I finally got to Paddington there was just enough time to exchange my currency and grab a bagel before having to rush to grab the train, leaving no time to find a payphone to call and let Interac know. Naturally, my German cell-phone didn’t work in England so I had no choice but to ask for help. I walked up and down the aisles looking for someone that I might feel comfortable approaching, and settled on the guy sitting directly across the aisle from me.

“Excuse me, are you from England?” I asked. Probably a strange-sounding question but when he said yes I quickly explained, quite conscious of the fact that I now had professional-looking hair and was wearing a formal business-suit: “I’ve got an 11:30 meeting that I’m going to be late for and my cell-phone is from Germany and it doesn’t work here. Could I possibly use yours?”

He turned out to be quite friendly and graciously let me make the call. The woman—the same woman who’d given me the preliminary interview—didn’t sound especially understanding but she didn’t sound too annoyed either. When I said I’d arrive at the station at 11:18 she assured me that the office was very close and I probably would be able to make it by 11:45 so it wouldn’t be much of a problem. Still, I hated having to make that my first impression before actually making the first impression.

When I arrived at Oxford I wasted no time in trying to figure out the bus situation and instead took a taxi (that was why I’d rushed to the currency exchange back at Paddington). The driver was also very friendly and helpful, even calling Interac to confirm their location when he couldn’t find it immediately. We got there at 11:40, and I gave him a nice tip and headed into the lion’s den for what I knew had the potential to be the most important job interview of my life.

Part Two – The Interview

Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. As soon as I got to the office, I could already feel my heart beating at an accelerated rate, making my mind sharper. Reception contacted the woman I’d spoken to earlier and she came out to greet me. I instantly felt much more comfortable, as she looked much friendlier face-to-face than she sounded on the phone. She greeted me warmly, seemed to approve of my appearance as she sized me up, then led me to a meeting room in the back where it would all take place.

She offered me some coffee or tea, and while I usually don’t take hot drinks I was happy to accept this time and asked for a tea. She brought it to me while we awaited her colleague who would be conducting the first part of the interview, which was just a presentation about Japan and about Interac. This woman was also quite friendly and put me at ease right away. She brought in a little lap-top and went through a power-point presentation, stopping frequently to ask me things, no doubt to get a sense of my intelligence and personality. The first question was “what do you know about Japanese culture?” and when I answered that they were much more group-focused as opposed to the individualistic nature of Westerners, it was clear that I’d given the best of all possible answers, as she explained that this was in fact the most essential difference.

The presentation gave me a lot more detail about the company and what I’d actually be doing there, as well as dispelling some of the myths about Japan such as it being a completely male-dominated culture. She explained that while it may appear that way on the surface, the women actually have a lot more power than people think because it’s the women who traditionally control the money and decide how much their husbands get to spend.

She also confirmed a few preconceptions, most notably that Japanese women are very much interested in Western men like myself, and that over there I’d be considered “exotic”. Naturally, that was very good to hear coming from someone who definitely knows what she’s talking about.

Overall, throughout the presentation and our intermittent conversation, I got the sense that she liked me and was impressed by me, which definitely helped with my confidence for the rest of the interview. She even told me not to worry about the video just as long as I was emotive enough, and that I definitely “looked the part.” She even said quite explicitly that the Japanese expect a certain appearance from teachers, and that I fit that appearance perfectly. So yeah…that was the most worthwhile haircut I’ve ever had.

Next came the difficult part, as she left to catch a flight and the first woman came in to conduct the actual interview. This time I was completely prepared, having gone over ahead of time exactly how I would answer the standard questions such as “what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” and “how do you handle stress?” My greatest strength as a teacher is that I’m very patient. My greatest strength as a person is how motivated I am—that when I set my mind on something I don’t give up until it’s done. My weakness is the flip-side of my greatest strength—being too patient can sometimes lead to time-management problems as I’ll spend too much time on one thing. As for stress, well I see it as a good thing. I enjoy having to put a lot of effort into accomplishing something.

All of this is completely true, so in spite of the fact that my answers were rehearsed I didn’t feel like I was being the least bit dishonest. When I had to take the personality-test, however, I may have exaggerated a bit as to how outgoing I am, but I justified this by telling myself that I am working on becoming more outgoing and that I will definitely force myself to be more outgoing in Japan where I’ll really have no choice. But when I tallied up the answers I found that of the four possible personality types I came out as an “Idealist” which was definitely spot-on.

As for the grammar test, it was a piece of cake except for a brief section on Active vs. Passive voice, but I was told that this is where most people screw up so not to worry much about it.

Then it was finally time for the video-taping. Much to my extreme relief, I was assured that if I screwed up we could just stop and take it again from the start. Now feeling much more at ease I even asked her for some help with pronouncing one of the phrases I’d learned for the interview: “Dozo Yoroshiko” (Nice to meet you) which when said properly actually sounds like “Do-yo-rosh-ko.”

The one-minute self introduction came first, the part I’d been going over in my head over and over again for the entire morning and previous evening. When she asked if I was ready I said I was, then as soon as she started rolling my mind drew a blank. I said, “actually I’m not ready, can we start again?” That she was more than happy to do that took the last of the remaining pressure off, and I went through my pre-planned script even more perfectly than I’d been doing in my head—as I would always forget something or phrase it wrong during my practice-takes. But having nailed the introduction, the rest was easy. I had to read a sample script, which I knew would be the easiest part because I’m quite good at speaking slowly and clearly and looking up from the page to make eye-contact with the camera.

Next was the part I was most nervous about—the elementary-school warm-up. Because we were encouraged to sing, I’d decided on singing a song I actually learned way way way way back in nursery school, only with a slight variation to make it more of an English-lesson sort of thing. It was somewhat elaborate and I kept screwing up during my practice-takes but I did it perfectly on the very first try. Finally, the sample lesson—after one minor screw-up initially—also went really well. She even told me afterwards that I’d done a great job.

The hard part over, all that was left was to fill out a little open-ended questionnaire. Once that was finished they had everything they needed. She gave me a very friendly goodbye along with a, “It was a pleasure to meet you” and I left there feeling like I had nailed it.

And I did nail it. I left there without any reservations about something I might have said or done wrong, about as certain as I could possibly be that I’d made a very good impression and that unless every other candidate is a super-genius fluent in Japanese, there’s no way I could possibly not be offered the job. Seriously, if I don’t get the job offer I will be shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

So you can imagine how great I was feeling during the bus-ride and subsequent walk to the train station, during which I busted out my I-pod and listened to Lacrimosa’s “Die Strasse der Zeit” while experiencing the ecstasy of having done what I came for and having done it extremely well, as well as the real solid sense for the first time since this whole process began that this road really is leading somewhere—that it’s now more likely than ever that I will be spending the next years of my life in motherfucking Japan!!!

Part Three – London Night-Life

All I had to do now was get back to London and find my hotel before I could officially go out and celebrate. I got to watch the sun set over the English countryside on the ride back, and it was twilight when I reached Paddington. I found an information desk and confirmed what I’d been hoping—that the hotel was within walking distance of the station. Of course getting there wasn’t so straightforward because I had no map. I tried to buy one from an automatic map-dispenser but it ate my £1 coin and didn’t give me anything. But I took advantage of the fact that I was in an English-speaking country and asked for directions from multiple people until I finally found my way to Norfolk Square where the St. George’s Hotel was located.

Normally when travelling I stay at youth hostels, but this time I really wanted a room to myself so I booked a hotel. A cheap hotel, of course, but it was still slightly more expensive than a hostel. The guy at reception wasn’t English—he looked kind of Arabic but sounded Russian—and he was extremely friendly and welcoming. After getting the key to my room, which was actually a 4-bed dormitory with its own bathroom that I had all to myself, I went inside, changed out of the suit, and lied down in the bed for a little while to recover some much-needed energy.

It was hunger more than anything else that got me out of bed, and I went off in search of some fish and chips and beer. Yes, this time I was planning to drink. The other two times I was in London I didn’t drink a drop, and while I had good reasons both of those times I’ve always regretted not getting a true sense of the night-life, something I fully intended to remedy now.

Right around the corner was a pub that sold fish and chips, but all of the tables were taken and there were no stools at the bar, and I hate standing up while eating. But right next to it was a little bistro specifically for fish and chips, and it even advertized the fact that it was seen on a BBC program called “In search of perfection.” No beer, but this must be where to go for some real, hardcore British fish and chips. So I ate there and probably would have enjoyed it more if that “perfection” idea hadn’t raised my expectations just a little too high.

After filling up my stomach I hopped over to the pub and ordered a beer. I already had a general sense of this area from wandering around in search of the hotel, and this seems to be the only pub around so unless it turned out to be really awesome I knew I’d have to take the tube to a more central part of town.

I looked around for possible groups of people I might feel comfortable approaching as I drank, but spotted none. As much of a confidence-boost as the interview had given me, I still wasn’t quite ready to go up to any strangers and hope for the best. This was just the first beer, after all, and after finishing it and getting a good sense of this place I knew I’d be better off heading further into town anyway.

I already had a destination in mind: good old Picadilly Circus, the “Broadway” of London. I remembered it clearly from the other two times I stayed in London, the first because it was where I saw Les Miserables and the second because it’s where my hostel was located during my epic Live 8 excursion. There was nothing you couldn’t find there. There were bound to be pubs.

Still without a map, I navigated the Underground easily enough (now I was finally getting the hang of it) and came out to Picadilly Circus expecting to see some awesome decked-outedness because of Christmas. One of the reasons I was looking forward to this trip was because I’ve only seen London in the Spring and Summer, but never the winter and I thought it would look especially unique during the holidays. But it was rather disappointing to see that aside from a few extra lights strung up here and there, there wasn’t much difference at all.

I walked for awhile before actually finding a pub that was strictly a pub. It was mostly theaters and restaurants and I thought I might actually have to go elsewhere to find the night-life, but I soon found a place called Max Connor’s that looked to be quite happening from the outside and I went in. This place was huge—three floors and two bars—and it was packed. I knew that there would be no avoiding that in central London on a Friday night, so I patiently endured the pushing and shoving and waiting for a long time to get a spot at the bar from which to order a beer. When I did I once again scanned the place for a group of people (or an attractive woman) I wouldn’t mind approaching, but I again came up empty.

The ratio of men to women here was staggering—about 15 to 1. It was mostly groups of three or more guys, usually bald or with buzzed haircuts and carrying on about sports (I listened in on many-a-conversation to try and gauge whom to approach) and the only women there were there with a boyfriend. (Incidentally, the ratio of men to attractive women was more like 50 to 1, meaning that there were only 3 good-looking women there in a crowd of about 150).

So I left that place without talking to anyone but now starting to feel the pressure. God fucking help me if I keep to myself the entire night. I just can’t let that happen, I was thinking.

The second place I went to—I forget the name—was slightly less crowded and they had Belgian beer, which I opted for instead of the local stuff I’d tried at the first two places and was underwhelmed by. Again I scanned the room and listened in on conversations, but still it felt that it would just be extremely unnatural to butt in on anyone out of the blue.

But when a group of youngish-looking guys who didn’t seem too intimidating carried their beers outside for a cigarette I sensed an opportunity. I followed them out, went up to them, and said, “Hey I saw you guys take your beers out here to smoke. I’m here all alone—would you mind if I join you for a cigarette?”

I could tell right away that I’d picked the right group. Not only were they very welcoming, but they were a far cry from the living stereotypes who had dominated the other place. We started off with the standard introductions as I told them why I was in town and asked them all about themselves. When the smoke was finished they invited me to come back in and continue drinking with them.

I gladly joined them and we spent the next hour or so chatting together about all kinds of things from the differences between American and British culture, awesome American TV shows, the problem with NFL football (too many commercials), and of course, politics. They were very upset with the party they’d supported in the last election—the Liberal-Democrats (did I pick the right group or what?)—for siding with the conservatives in raising tuition rates for English college students (I believe there were some riots about this issue very recently). They said how disillusioned they were that these politicians who supposedly supported the interests of the students and the working class would sell out so easily for the sake of short-term political gain. As you could imagine, I had a few things to say about the parallels between the Lib-Dems and Barack Obama.

Naturally, I took note of all of their names. There was a tall one with glasses named Nick who seemed the most interested in politics. There was a shorter one with a beard named Nat (Nathanial) who was telling me how much he loved the show The Wire. A half-Asian guy (who somehow looked a lot like Cenk Uygur) named Mike. And a younger guy named Harry who was the only one out of the five of us not born in 1984.

But as a completely unexpected added bonus, they had five tickets to a comedy show and one of their friends was apparently too drunk to leave his flat and join them, so I was welcome to take his place. I mean seriously—did I pick the right group or what?

So I found myself waiting outside of a theater with these guys, laughing and joking around with the others in line. Nat and I really had to piss, but apparently he had to go more than I did because he went and used this street-urinal thingy which is like an open-air port-o-potty if you can imagine such a thing. It’s basically a giant slab of thick plastic in the shape of a triangular pyramid with a hole for pissing at each end, obviously there to keep the public urination isolated to one spot instead of all over the street. I waited until we were inside to relieve myself.

They had really good seats—third row, stage right—and when I found them I discovered that they’d also bought a beer for me. Fucking love those guys.

The comedian was Jim Jeffries whom I was sure I’d seen on comedy central a long time ago but if I had he had a different routine this time because none of the jokes sounded familiar. I won’t recount the entire routine for you but it was well worth the free admission. There were a few parts that didn’t do anything for me—like his jokes about fucking women—but there were plenty of parts that had me in hysterics—like his jokes about struggling to masturbate while on drugs. He got a few hecklers, a couple of whom were seated right behind us, and he tore them apart like a master which was quite interesting because they seemed to really get a kick out of being ripped a new asshole.

During the intermission I bought one last round of beers—which turned out to be a mistake—and we had to leave slightly early because Nick doesn’t live in London and he had to catch the last train back to where he lives. We all said goodbye to each other with a solid recognition of the fact that we’ll never see each other again, but I thanked them all for a great evening. It wasn’t until then that I realized I really had to piss again, and wouldn’t you know it?—I ended up using the plastic-pyramid-thingy outside. After that, I went my merry way back to the hotel.

So far, both of my missions were accomplished and both went far better than I imagined. Nail the job interview? Big fat check-mark there. Have a great time drinking in London with other people? Check and double-check. Little did I know that the most incredible parts of the weekend were yet to come.

Part Four – Site Seeing

But it wasn’t all flowers and sunshine. The time between 1 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday morning was quite miserable. It started when I woke up around 4 a.m. with a mouth as dry as the Sahara, both from smoking too many cigarettes and having one beer too many. Even finishing off my whole bottle of water didn’t get it moisturized enough, so I had to re-fill it with tap water. Nasty, London tap-water. The tap-water in Germany has spoiled me greatly. This stuff was shite, but I really had no other choice but to drink it, worried as I was that it might make me sick.

And once I had to go through all of that my mind was alert again, alert enough to hear the people in the room next to me, apparently some group of freakishly-early-risers who were up before the dawn talking and laughing loudly.

I simply could not get back to sleep. My head was pounding. My mouth kept re-dehydrating. The neighbors kept laughing at irregular intervals. I moved to the bed on the other side of the room but it was to no avail. The mind simply refused to lose consciousness, and it didn’t for the rest of the morning. Those three hours would be all I was going to get.

I puked once, but only once. After that I decided I could no longer handle the tap water and I forced myself to go out and buy a big bottle of trusty brand-name water from the shop across the street (this was around 9 a.m.) and went back to lie in bed, hoping the headache would subside and the sickness in my stomach would go away. I showered, which made me feel a little better, then very slowly ate some of the breakfast that they brought to my room—just the yoghurt—and was careful not to lay down too flat lest it all come spewing back out before the vitamins could work their way into my system. Meanwhile, the noise kept coming as the walls here seemed paper-thin. I was extremely glad I’d opted for the hotel and not a hostel (having privacy while in this particular state was invaluable) but whatever was happening in the other room—whether it was people laughing or later on the staff cleaning—sounded like it was happening right there in my own room.

Check-out was at 11, and I stayed in bed until the exact moment came. I gave my key to the receptionist who didn’t have a problem with my having been a few minutes late in leaving and gave me a very warm goodbye including a happy Christmas.

The headache was thankfully subsiding now and the fresh air did me good. Within an hour I’d be feeling just fine. I spent that hour getting off and on the wrong subway cars until I finally reached my destination: Westminster Abbey.

Yes, if not experiencing the night-life was my Number Two regret about what I’d missed my first two times in London, not getting into Westminster Abbey was Number One—one that it was now my primary mission to rectify. The first time I was there, the Abbey was closed to the public. The second time, it was open but it cost £15 to get in and at that particular moment I had exactly 0 pounds and 0 pence. But this time it was open and I had money—albeit a rapidly dwindling supply.

So I finally got to see the one site in London that I’d missed that I’ve always regretted having missed. I won’t bore anyone with the details—if you’re interested in Westminster Abbey you probably know about what’s there already—but I will note how awesome it was to be literally standing near the actual buried remains of all of these famous English people, among the coolest being Queen Elisabeth, Queen Mary Queen of Scots, King Edward the Confessor and other various royals, as well as writers like Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Perhaps coolest of all to me personally was in the final room where two scientists are buried: Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. The audio-guide told me they were both buried there and while I found Darwin easily enough (seriously—how cool is it to be standing over the actual bones of Charles fucking Darwin?) I couldn’t find Newton so I approached one of the priests/guides there and asked him. After jibing me a bit with his slick British wit (for being from “New Joisy”) he led me into a sealed-off area and showed me the slab of rock underneath where the discoverer of gravity itself was buried. Gravity. I mean, come on.

Of course the most striking thing came at the very end where the unknown warrior is buried beneath a marble stone surrounded by poppies. It literally gave me chills to think about this guy—whoever he was—who lived a short life and died a horrible death in World War I never to have any inkling of an idea that his bones would be given such an honored place among England’s honored dead. Of course he only represents all of the unknown soldiers who’ve lost their lives in various wars, but you can’t help but wonder what his immortal soul—if it exists—must think of his fate. Would he feel honored? Or would he consider it an empty political gesture to paint over the ugliness of war?

At any rate, I left the Abbey feeling quite satisfied that I’d seen the last remaining site on my London check-list after a five-and-a-half year interval. I now had just an hour to kill before 15:00, the time I’d resolved to start heading back to Stansted to get there in time for my 18:30 flight.

So after passing Big Ben and taking an obligatory look at the Thames, I hopped back on the tube and rode it to Hyde Park. It’s important to mention that it was snowing pretty heavily when I went into the Abbey and the roads were covered with it when I came out. I was glad for it because it was the first and possibly last time I’ll ever see London in the snow, but it also caused some difficulty (a very deliberate understatement).

At first, it only meant that no one was driving so everyone was taking the tube. I had to take the Jubilee line one stop to the Picadilly line, and one stop from there to the Hyde Park Corner station. The trains were jam-packed and we had to wait for awhile before they got permission to move, so what should have been a ten-minute journey maximum became a twenty-five minute journey, which still left me with a solid thirty minutes to enjoy Hyde Park in the snow.

Hyde Park, of course, has a very special place in my heart because it’s where my life’s most intensely awesome experience took place in July of 2005 when I saw Pink Floyd perform there live at the Live 8 concert. I had no idea where in Hyde Park that spot was—it’s a very big park—and I would have no way of knowing if I saw it again because it would be barely recognizable under the snowy circumstances, so my only intention was to just walk around and not try to turn this into some kind of memory-lane type deal (tempting as that was). It was awesome enough being back in the same general area as the location of what remains to this day my life’s most memorable experience. It was hard to believe that it was over five years ago, but not because it felt like just yesterday but because it felt like that was in the distant, distant past of ancient memory. And here I was again.

The concert grounds were probably covered by the huge “Winter Wonderland” carnival they had going on there which I made sure to avoid. I just circled a lake while listening to Lacrimosa—“Kyrie” first, then “Sacrifice”. But in between those two songs I stopped in the middle of a bridge which marked the half-way point to appreciate the fact that the site-seeing was officially over and now the only remaining mission was to get back to Hannover and from there on out every step I took would be towards that purpose. The idea that I was standing on this bridge in Hyde Park right now but that tonight I would be back in my cozy little flat in Hannover struck me as somewhat incredible. That sentiment turned out to be quite literal: the idea that I was going to make it back to Hannover right on schedule was, in fact, not credible.

Part Five – Getting Back

I honestly thought that the most difficult part would be getting all the way across town to the Liverpool Street Station. And it was rather difficult. I tried at first to take the tube, but this time it was simply too jam-packed to even get on. My back-pack and I just wouldn’t physically be able to fit, and I had no desire to endure what was going to be two really long stretches of tube-riding while being crunched into such claustrophobically close quarters anyway. My only realistic choice was to take the bus, as I was now dangerously low on funds and a cab would have destroyed me.

I couldn’t make sense of the map at the bus stop so I asked the first driver to come along whether it would bring me closer to Liverpool Street. I apparently got the friendliest bus-driver on earth, because not only did he assure me that it would, he said he would give me a shout when we reached the spot where I should get off.

Actually, that’s a bit of an oversimplification of what happened, but there’s no purpose in recounting all of the details of this leg of the journey. Suffice it to say, it took three separate hoppings on-and-off of three separate busses until I finally reached my destination, but I did reach it with plenty of time to spare. Enough time, in fact, to grab a bite to eat before even going to buy my ticket to Stansted.

I got it from the machine, oblivious to what was going down all around me, then merrily checked the time-table to see that the next train was due to depart in five minutes. Perfect timing, I thought. Haha.

When I went to where the trains would be I started to get confused because there was nobody on the platforms—everyone was standing behind the turnstiles. Did I have the wrong spot? I asked a police officer where I could find the trains to Stansted.

“There are no trains to Stansted,” she said in exactly those words, giving me a chill before adding, “not at the moment.” Apparently the snow had caused some accidents and delays. Trains were being cancelled. Flights were being delayed or cancelled. It was all a big fucking mess, and all I could do was wait around and listen for the announcements.

So I went over to the turnstiles where I could see that there were in fact four “Stansted Express” trains right there but none of them going anywhere. A large crowd was gathered, staring up at the big board which just kept repeating the same message about an overturned lorry causing delays and that the situation would be fixed as soon as possible. But from the murmuring of the crowd it was clear that this could be anywhere from two minutes to two hours. I just had to stand there.

And stand there I did, as slowly the severity of the situation began to develop. The yellow-vested people behind the turnstiles would occasionally get off their walkie-talkies to inform the crowd first that they didn’t know when the trains would run again, and then that a couple of runways were closed at Stansted because of the snow and some flights were being cancelled. We should check with our airline.

Well, I had the phone number for Germanwings on the receipt for my ticket I’d printed out, but my cell-phone didn’t work. I found a payphone and dropped £1 coin in the slot, expecting to get at least four minutes to start off with because on the page next to the number it said “25p per minute.” But all I got was an automated message telling me to hold the line, and I watched my credit literally disappear by the second so that the entire pound was gone after only about ten seconds. I asked the information desk if there was internet access anywhere at the station but there wasn’t.

So I just went back to the turnstiles and waited. I figured I’d just go to the airport whenever the trains started again and find out what was going on once I got there. But very shortly after I resumed waiting, they announced that Stansted airport was now completely closed and no flights were taking off anymore.

What to do? I had exactly fifteen pounds left out of the hundred and fifty I’d brought. I have no idea where it all disappeared to but I know that’s what London does to you and I knew I couldn’t afford to spend another night there. Even the cost of a youth hostel would be pushing it, and then I’d still need to feed myself on top of that. But if the flight was cancelled and I went to the airport I might end up staying there all night. I had to approach someone who had a way of finding out what was going on.

Earlier I’d scanned the crowd listening for people speaking German—they were obviously the most likely to be using the Germanwings airline. There was a guy who’d been talking to someone in German I’d spotted earlier and he was still there. He seemed pissed off before—which was understandable given the circumstances but it still made me nervous about approaching him. If things had developed just a little bit differently I wouldn’t have approached him at all, but as it happened the moment took me and I just went for it.

“Entschuldigung,” I began, then switched immediately to English, “Are you German?” Yes, he is. “What airline are you taking?” Germanwings. “What flight?” He’s flying to Hannover on the 18:30 flight. Same as me, as luck would have it.

So I explained my predicament, from the cell-phone not working to being just about broke (seriously—between this trip, taxes, and a whole slew of other unexpected expenses in December I’m now at the lowest financial point I’ve been in all year) and that it would really help me out if he could keep me informed out about our flight.

He was in communication with someone back in Germany who was checking the internet for him, but for some reason not getting a clear answer. The flight was not officially cancelled but nor was there any delay time listed. He was also trying to decide whether to go to the airport or just give up and come back tomorrow, but he needed to know what was going on with Germanwings first. Much to my surprise, he offered to let me sleep at the place he was staying—the flat of a friend of his—if it turned out our flight was cancelled. I made sure to let him know how much I appreciated that.

The next moments were crucial. He got a call from his contact the moment the turnstiles opened up—apparently the train to Stansted was now clear for departure—but the fate of our flight was still far from clear. In a split-second decision, he decided to board the train and try his luck at the airport, and I followed. We made it on the train just in time and found a couple of empty seats next to each other. When the train started running it felt like we might be in luck—perhaps our flight would just be delayed for a few hours.

Along the way, we got to know each other a bit better. His name was Chris and he’s a techie guy, working on a team developing a new server for Nokia or something, some kind of big deal internet-related thing the details of which have escaped me. I of course gave him the run-down on myself regarding the English teaching, the job-interview for Japan, and why it is I chose to live in Germany. We had a little discussion about German culture, which he is apparently as tired of as I am of America. He currently lives in Lisbon with his Brazilian girlfriend and has no desire to move back to Germany any time soon.

[Unnecessary Grammatical Note: I’m switching to present tense now because it feels like the more natural way to tell the rest of the story.]

We get along surprisingly well and the conversation never falls flat during the entire train ride. Though there are plenty of periods of silence, one of us always breaks it with a joke. We have a similar sense of humor. At any rate, I’m glad I approached him because now I’m not completely on my own here. We’ll get to the airport together, figure out what’s going on together, and decide what to do next together.

The airport terminal is jam-packed with people, most of whom are apparently in line to try and collect a refund from Ryan Air, which has completely cancelled all of its flights for the rest of the night and into the morning. As for Germanwings, the big board says nothing but “Enquire Airline”.

We find an information desk and “enquire” about our flight. Now comes the news, both good and bad. Good news: the flight isn’t cancelled—it’s just been delayed. Bad news—it’s been delayed until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. The time is now 5 p.m.

We now have to make a terrible decision. Either we go through all the bullshit trouble of getting back to London and taking the tube to this flat and going through the whole damned process again super-early the next morning (with no guarantee that the trains will be running properly then either), OR…we could camp out here in the terminal. Spend the next 13 hours minimum in this fucking god-forsaken airport terminal. The information desk workers make it quite clear that all hotels are booked.

I lean towards going just because it would give us something to do, but he leans towards staying because he doesn’t want to have to deal with the process of getting here again. I understand his reasoning and ultimately agree. We’ve come this far. There’s no sense going backwards. Now we just have to endure this giant gaping hole of time that lies before us. “Hey, it’s not so bad,” he jokes to me, “It’ll be an experience we can tell our grandkids about!” That sounded silly at the time.

Part Six – Stranded

Were it not for Chris, it could have easily been one of the most excruciatingly boring nights of my life. Instead, it turned out to be one of the most interesting.

We spend the first hour or so just walking around, familiarizing ourselves with our new environment—what was to constitute our world for the night. We want to find out where the Germanwings desk is and what time they’re planning to start checking people in tomorrow morning, and after asking a few people we find out where it is and that it’ll open up at 6 a.m. But now we really need to find a spot to camp because spots are rapidly filling up.

We consider using the airport “chapel” which is just a tiny little room with some chairs and a table filled with religious texts including several different version of the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita. Aside from the plain old weirdness of the vibe, the sign on the door says it closes at 11:00 so we might be kicked out if we set up camp here, so instead we finally settle on a little space underneath a giant gray column the shape of a rounded square, each side about four meters in length with about a one meter overhang. Almost all of these little shaded locations are taken up by now, but this one isn’t, perhaps because it’s under a fire-extinguisher and emergency phone. Someone might kick us out of that spot as well, but we decide to take the chance and it’s there we set up camp.

We’ll walk around a bit later, but for now I just want to rest for a little bit. I use my jacket as a pillow and he offers me a pullover which makes it significantly more comfortable, and I lie there for awhile as he makes phone calls. While on the phone he notices an airport worker outside a nearby shop with a cart full of used cardboard boxes and points them out to me. I’m not sure what he’s getting at, but when he finishes the phone call he explains that if we lie on the cardboard instead of the floor, it’ll be slightly less uncomfortable and much less cold. “Survival training,” he says.

There’s a bit of an argument with the guy who’s bringing the used boxes to the recycling bin: “If I let you have them then everyone’s going to come get them and I’ll be blamed when they’re all over the floor tomorrow morning.” But there are a couple of boxes—luckily very big ones—that we can take because apparently these can’t be traced back to him. Whatever. They suit our purposes, and turn out to have been a fantastic idea on Chris’s part.

We lie down for a little while longer until he gets hungry and the meal I had at Liverpool station starts to wear off as well. We ask one of our “neighbors”, a Spanish-looking guy against the wall near our column, if he’ll be staying put for awhile and if he could watch our stuff. He kindly obliges.

We go off in search of a place to eat, and I learn that Chris is a vegetarian which naturally earns him many points in my book even though I fell off that wagon years ago. We settle on an Italian-buffet kind of place and we each get some pasta. Over dinner our conversation starts to take a turn towards the personal, as he asks me what I think of the German women and I honestly answer that they seem very arrogant and difficult. He agrees that this is exactly how they are generally speaking—that when a guy hits on them they tend to deliberately make it hard on him, and that when they actually are your girlfriend they tend to be controlling bitches. He says that going out with a Latina girl was something of a revelation for him.

The meal took the very last bit of money I had, but he offers to buy me some dessert and anything else I need (within reason) because he’s still got about 25 “quid” left. We grab some chocolate mousse and he gets a cappuccino as well from a place called “Pret” and we also acquire a couple of bottles of water from the shop closest to our “camp-site” as it begins to close down. But we also confirm that the little supermarket there stays open 24 hours a day, which I joke makes living in an airport actually more convenient than living in Germany.

Back at our spot, we finish our dessert and lie back down, commencing with the conversation which he himself starts to take in a much deeper direction. I can’t possibly recall exactly how we got on to certain topics or what exactly was said, but there was a very lengthy discussion about the meaning of life and fundamental nature of the universe and that sort of thing—you know, my favorite sort of thing. He wanted me to explain my whole philosophy on life, which I was more than happy to do, and I was just as interested to hear what he had to say.

Apparently he’s not just a vegetarian—he does yoga and meditates (or at least tries to) in the hope of eventually reaching a higher state of consciousness without the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, which he’s never done. He used to smoke but now he doesn’t take any sort of substance including alcohol, which along with the vegetarian thing is all part of a lifestyle of physical purity which I can’t help but admire even though I’m not exactly signing up for it.

So there’s a long discussion about whether we have immortal souls, how common life is in the universe, whether evolution is a product of some kind of fundamental impulse towards greater complexity built into existence and whether humanity will ever evolve to some kind of state of God-consciousness or if we’ll wipe ourselves out before even getting close. He’s a lot more optimistic about humanity than I am, believing that everyone basically wants to do good even though some people fail at it. I have to explain Ayn Rand’s philosophy of ethical egoism to him, which he finds astounding and, naturally, quite disturbing. I also launch into my whole “waking up in a dark room with no memory and starting to imagine universes of greater and greater complexity” theory of Existence, which he doesn’t totally accept but certainly finds interesting.

Of course I’m very much in my element throughout this whole discussion but I’m not absorbed in it enough to not notice the ridiculous amount of beautiful women and girls around. In addition to one sitting very close to us whom I imagine is listening to our conversation in awe until I realize she’s listening to an I-pod, they keep walking by every few minutes. Some I only see once, and some I see again and again to the point where I really start becoming infatuated. Like sweat-pants girl, cell-phone girl, blonde-girl-with-glasses, and a few others.

As if picking up on this subconsciously, Chris suddenly shifts the conversation back to women. I’d alluded to having problems with them earlier when we were talking about our families—I couldn’t help but mention the whole father-abandonment thing—and he asks me if I could explain it further. He says I don’t have to—he doesn’t want to pry—but I have no problem spilling my guts to complete strangers (hence this blog) so I go ahead and give him the entire thorough explanation of my problems with women, all the way from the fear of rejection tied up with emotions related to my father to the suicide attempts and subsequent hospitalizations in high school over unrequited love.

I admit that I’ve never had a relationship and I’m still a virgin, which prompts a conversation similar to many I’ve had in the past but which is very important this time simply because of the timing. I’ll do my best to recount the key part of this conversation in dialog form, though it’s only a very rough approximation of what was actually said:

“It’s just that whenever I’m around a woman I find attractive I get very tense and nervous and can’t act naturally,” I say.

“That’s really common,” he assures me. “We’re all afraid of being embarrassed and nobody likes rejection. But if a girl is a bitch to you it’s probably because she’s insecure about herself. She’s afraid that you will reject her so she acts that way.”


“Come on, you’ve never thought of that before?”

“I guess I have, but that’s usually not where my mind is when I’m in that situation. I just start feeling like I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve her, and I should stay away.”

“Well maybe you shouldn’t go for the really beautiful girls.”

“I’ve heard that from a lot of people,” I protest. “They say I should start with ugly girls because ugly girls are easier, but I’m not going to use someone I’m not attracted to just to work out my personal bullshit.”

“I don’t mean ugly girls,” he explains, “just…nice girls. Of course you should be attracted to them but a lot of the most beautiful girls are stuck-up bitches. You should find someone nice who won’t make you feel shitty. Someone you could feel comfortable with.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

It sounds like advice I’ve heard a million times, and in many ways it is, but the significance of it being said at this particular moment in time is what makes it sink in. This is no ordinary conversation with a friend. I’ve just met this guy and already we’re already bonding on this incredibly deep level and so I’m that much more receptive to it. Plus, I’m running on three hours of sleep and rather exhausted.

But one thing he says that I haven’t considered before is that nowadays you can just make your approach via the internet. Facebook, he explains, makes the job of guys like us much easier. You just compose your message and send it without having to deal with any of the sweaty-palm bullshit. I try to protest—that of course you need to do it in person, because…well, I can’t come up with a convincing reason. He assures me that there’s nothing wrong with that at all. That’s how he’s done it and that’s how lots of people do it and there’s nothing wrong with it. So that sticks in my mind as well.

Eventually the conversation comes to a lull, and I get up to go to the bathroom. When I come back he suggests we watch a movie. He busts out his lap-top and gives me a choice of two DVDs—a Jet Li movie or a George Clooney movie called “The American”. I’m way more in the mood for one of Clooney’s slow, contemplative pictures than any kind of Kung Fu deal, so that’s what we watch.

I notice a program called “MILF” on his desktop and he explains this is the name of the server his team is working on. The first was “Mama” and the second was “Big Mama” so “MILF” seemed like the next logical step in the progression (though his female co-workers aren’t too keen on it). I asked him if he also designs websites and he says that’s one of the shittiest things he has to do and only takes that work when there’s nothing else. I decide not to tell him about Revolution Earth.

So we watch the film which is quite good, and all the while I’m distracted by all the beautiful girls walking by. I start playing the game in my mind where I look straight at their eyes and wait for them to look at me. They almost always do, but the real trick is holding their gaze as they walk by. I find that more often than not, they also maintain eye-contact, which I don’t think is usual. Maybe it’s my lack of long hair. Maybe they’re just as tired as I am. I don’t know. But one of them holds my gaze long enough to actually smile at me and that feels fantastic.

Of course I let Chris know how distracted I am because this station is swarming with beautiful women and he says he noticed. He says that London is great because you’ve got all different kinds of women, and he’s right. There are blondes, brunettes, Asians, Indians, Arabs and Africans—all different shapes and sizes but somehow the ratio of attractive to non-attractive seems bizarrely skewed. I normally think only one out of every ten girls is attractive (one out of twenty are “beautiful”) but this seems like half-and-half, and they all look beautiful to me right now. Maybe it’s because they’re mostly younger women because older ones would have an easier time finding somewhere else to stay. Maybe it’s just my mind playing tricks on me because I’m so tired.

After the film we exchange a few words about it and talk about the meaning, but now we’re both exhausted He tells me later that he managed to get about 15 solid minutes of sleep but the best I could do is reach a point of semi-consciousness because the guys sitting near us won’t stop talking and there are some girls laughing and singing nearby, not to mention the frequent loudspeaker announcements asking so-and-so to come to the desk for such-and-such. Oh, and sleeping on a hard floor isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing in the world for your bones, even with a thin layer of cardboard separating it.

Anyway, 5 a.m. finally rolls around and we each get up, walk around, use the bathroom, etc. I’m left alone for a few minutes as he’s off somewhere doing yoga, and the group near us gets up to leave, including the girl I’d fancied had been listening in awe of our deep conversation earlier. Just before she walks away, to my complete surprise, she looks directly at me and smiles. But again, it could just be my mind playing tricks.

When Chris is done with the yoga it’s nearing 6:00 and we “pack up camp” and head over to the Germanwings desk. We wait in line and receive our boarding passes. I notice that my seat reservation is gone. I’d pre-booked a window-seat near the front of the plane, and now I’m in a much shittier seat and that pisses me off a little but at this point I don’t really care. Sure, I’m in seat 26E which means I’ll be at the back of the plane sandwiched between two strangers, but at this point all I care about is getting back on German soil.

Once equipped with our boarding passes, we go through security and leave the terminal, feeling ironically nostalgic about the whole thing. As we walk through the doors to the next part of the airport, he looks back towards our spot and says “I wish I’d taken a picture”.

Part Seven – The Culmination

As we sit in the terminal and I struggle to read my book without falling asleep, I can hardly believe we’ve made it. We actually waited for nearly thirteen hours and somehow it wasn’t even the least bit excruciating. In fact, it was almost downright enjoyable. I’m almost feeling like I’m glad the delay happened. That experience was one of the most unique I’ve ever had. And at this point I’m not even aware that it was actually leading to something.

I notice myself more open to the people around me as we sit in the terminal. There’s a German mother with two really little children sitting across from us and we frequently exchange glances and occasional comments whenever an announcement comes on the loudspeaker. There is an older German couple behind us who are clearing their throats constantly, to the point that it’s really getting on my nerves. But I handle the situation by busting out the lozenges I have in my back-pack and offering some to them. They each take one, both surprised and grateful, and the throat-clearing decreases significantly. It’s all about problem-solving, you see.

Our boarding passes say Gate 3 and we’re all very nervous that there’s going to be another really long delay because we don’t see a Germanwings plane outside (the sun rises while we’re sitting there) and a completely different airline is boarding at Gate 3. Finally a guy comes around and informs us that according to the big board, the flight to Hannover takes off from Gate 11.

We head on over there and are delighted to finally see our plane, ready and waiting to take us. At long last, the aircraft that will deliver us home!

Very shortly after that, they announce the boarding call. It seems surreal that it’s actually happening. I was sure that something else was going to wrong, and even as we board I comment to Chris that we’re not in the clear yet—we could be waiting on the tarmac for hours.

As we step on board the plane he takes out a pen and scribbles his e-mail address on the ticket stub because we have separate seats and this is the last we’ll see of each other. We give each other a very warm handshake and agree to stay in touch. And that’s the last I see of Chris.

But this story has one final major part before finally coming to an end. As I move farther and farther down the plane I eventually realize that row 26 is indeed the very last row, and that the stranger I’ll be sitting next to who has the window seat is an attractive girl. Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?

Oh, but I couldn’t have asked for a better circumstance. I don’t know exactly what it is—the exhaustion, the high from just having had an incredible weekend ending with a crazily unique experience, or some combination of those and other factors—but I don’t even think twice about giving the girl a warm hello and launching directly into a conversation after confirming that she speaks English.

It couldn’t be less awkward. After all, even though we hadn’t seen each other the whole night (she was not one of the walkers-by) we did share an experience because she too had been stranded at the airport the entire time as well. It’s the perfect thing to instantly bond over, plus our mutual excitement about finally being on the plane that will take us home is palpable.

It’s a very standard conversation, except that in between the “what do you do?” and “why were you in England?” stuff we make comments about how great it is to finally be going home and what the rest of the day has in store for us. She’s on her way to see her family in Minden, a town very close to Hannover. She just spent a month volunteering to work with disabled kids in England as a physical therapist but now she wants to switch careers and become a social worker in order to help people in a more meaningful way. Naturally I’m extremely impressed with her. What would be a good word to describe her? Oh yeah: “Nice”

Neither of us got any sleep at the airport and we express our intention to perhaps try and make up for it on the flight, which leads to a completely non-awkward flight in which we both have our eyes closed and aren’t talking. I’m listening to Lacrimosa (Lichtgestalt) and planning what I’m going to say after the landing. Remembering Chris’s words from earlier, I figure the easiest thing to do would be to just give her my e-mail address or my name so she can find me on Facebook if she so chooses. That way if she’s not interested she can just go ahead and not contact me and we can both imagine that maybe she just forgot about it and my feelings don’t have to get hurt. But that’s not really my main concern. Just doing it is far more important than the potential result. It would quite clearly be the perfect culmination to the entire airport ordeal—and in many ways to the entire weekend.

The plane begins its descent before we know it and hits some incredibly heavy turbulence. I notice the sound of children laughing and look to the other end of the row to see the same mother with her two kids from the terminal (yet another crazy coincidence) who seems just as pleasantly shocked by the fact that her little kids are enjoying this as I am. The attractive girl next to me looks over at them as well and we exchange a quick comment about how funny it is.

The plane lands safely and as though there were no 50-minute break at all we resume our conversation. I ask her if she’s ever had to wait that long in an airport before and she says no, that the worst was a few-hour delay from Rome, where she and a friend of hers had decided to go spontaneously. She asks me the same question, and I say that my worst delay was only four hours while flying from America. She asks me where in America I’m from and when I say New Jersey her eyes go wide with surprise.

No way! She was just there in October, spontaneously visiting her friend’s family that lives in New Jersey! That was the only time she’s ever been to America. What are the odds, she says, that of everywhere I could possibly be from it would be New Jersey!

We’re like…totally best friends now. So I ask her for her name, finally. It’s Lea. Or Lia. I’m not sure how it’s spelled. But I also quickly ask her if she’s living with her family in Minden and she explains that she will be living there for a few weeks while she looks for a place in Bielefeld, a town that is also in the Hannover region. The unstated significance of this? No boyfriend.

I whip out the receipt for my plane tickets I’d been carrying in the most easily-accessible chamber of my back-pack just as our row is standing up to leave (it’s a good thing we were last which gave us plenty of time for that chat) and announce that I’m giving her my e-mail address. Yeah, I don’t ask. I just tell her. She can do what she wants with it. I also ask her if she’s on Facebook and she says yes, so I circle where my name is written on the receipt so she can find me that way also if she chooses. Because I told her about the Japan interview, she asks me how long I’ll be around and I say if I get the job it won’t start until August, and she seems glad to hear that. Yeah. I know.

So when I’d played this scenario out in my head on the plane I imagined her feeling kind of awkward when I gave her my contact info and then me bidding her farewell to exit the plane triumphant. But she still sticks around, still making comments about how amazing it is that I’m from New Jersey. We chat for a bit about New York City. It’s all very smooth and comfortable.

We get to the counter where they check passports, and she goes through a little bit ahead of me while the guy checking mine takes an extra moment to type the number into his computer. When I emerge from the doors I see that she has been standing there waiting for me.

We walk to the baggage claim and because I have no baggage to claim, this is where I exit. I say, “It was very nice to meet you, Lea” and she says, “Yes, you too. And I will find you on Facebook.”

It remains to be seen whether that happens, but of course that’s almost a side issue at this point. It’ll be great if she does contact me but even if she doesn’t, that was quite a major victory on my part. And it came completely out of nowhere, right when I thought that the story was over.

I walk through the doors from the baggage claim area and towards the train platforms, feeling like it’s finally over. It’s 12:00 noon exactly. Had everything gone according to plan, I would have been back around 8 p.m. the previous evening. Now I’m sure of it—I am extremely glad things didn’t go according to plan.

Epilogue – The Longest Weekend

Naturally I rode back to Hannover in extremely high spirits which continue to this moment, about five hours after I began writing this entry. The musical accompaniment was the rest of Lichtgestalt: “Letzte Ausfahrt Leben” and “Hohelied der Liebe”, the latter of which sounded so perfectly perfect while riding through the snow-covered landscapes with spirit soaring. And when I got back to good old Hannover I put on “Die Strasse der Zeit” again for the walk home and really let myself indulge in the awesomeness of the feeling the weekend has left me with.

From what is probably the best performance I’ve ever given at a job interview, through my meeting some awesome guys with which to experience the London night-life, through standing over the bones of Sir Isaac Newton, walking through Hyde Park in the snow, spending the entire night stranded with an awesome guy at an airport and engaging in extremely deep and personal conversation, all topped off with what can only be described as an amazingly successful approach to a fantastic girl—this will go down in history as one of the greatest weekends of my life.

There must be something about London. The last time I went was the greatest weekend of my life. It will require some distance before I can look back on this one clearly but it obviously stands a very good chance of being second. And depending on what comes of my contact with Chris and with Lea (not to mention Japan) I may eventually look back on it as the best.

I still can’t believe all this happened. It’s amazing how much life can be jam-packed into a period of 56 hours, and these were packed to the brim. Whether or not I ultimately decide to consider this the ‘best’ weekend, I think it’s safe to say that in terms of the variety and quality of experiences, this was definitely the longest.

Time to Talk Primary

December 13th, 2010 No comments

I will try to make this as brief as possible because I want to increase the likelihood that people will read it. If you agree with my assessment, I hope you’ll spread this around the internet far and wide, because this is a conversation that needs to happen NOW if it happens at all. Running a progressive candidate against Barack Obama will require a year of fund-raising, and the Iowa caucus is a year away.

I never thought I’d advocate challenging Obama in the 2012 election, but I also never thought that after two years of a Democratic president with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, things would still be this bad.

Foreign policy-wise, the troops are still in Iraq and our presence in Afghanistan has escalated. The prisons at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Force Base are still open. The torturers have not been punished nor even investigated, and the president has now claimed the power to execute American citizens suspected of terrorism without due process of law.

Domestically, our government is still illegally spying on its citizens. Private health insurance companies still have no competition to prevent them from profiting by letting people die. Wall Street is continuing the practices that crashed the economy and unless more measures are taken it’s only a matter of time before the second crash comes. The climate change issue has gone completely unaddressed and Big Oil and Coal can continue to rake in record profits. And now, the national debt and deficit will continue to sky-rocket for a minimum of two years as the completely un-necessary and un-stimulative tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans are extended. Presumably, this decrease in revenue will be balanced by decreases in spending, and it looks like Social Security is first on the chopping block.

“But wait,” you might say, “didn’t he sign a measure strengthening registration and reporting requirements for lobbyists?” Yes, you can easily rattle off a long list of small-ball accomplishments that we could never have expected from a Republican president, but most of these things can be done or un-done with the stroke of a pen. When it comes to the fights that really count, the things that go to the heart of the broken system, this president has consistently maintained the status quo.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Obama’s advisors started talking about how the tax-cut deal he struck with Republicans would actually be good for the country. Fox News commentators are actually praising Obama for finally “admitting” that tax-cuts for the rich create jobs, and because Obama has now made Bush’s economic policy his own, he has no choice but to defend it. It’s absurd to think he’ll fight to let them expire in two years if he wasn’t willing to do that when he still had wide Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

The Democratic president will now be pushing for Republican policies and defending them with Republican talking points. Presumably, we’re going to start hearing him agree with his deficit commission that cuts need to be made to Social Security.

At this point, it has to be acknowledged that unless we issue a primary challenge to Obama, we will essentially have two Republican candidates in 2012.

The objection to this strategy is clear: A primary challenge is likely to fail and it will only weaken Obama and hurt his chances to win the general election. And wouldn’t a Republican president be worse?

Until last week I would have agreed with you. But then I asked myself this question, and I hope you’ll ask yourselves the same:

Which is worse for America? A Republican president who tries to implement Republican policies which progressives and the majority of Americans can rally against to stop those policies from going through? Or a Democratic president who acts as though he has no choice but to implement Republican policies, in which case the progressive movement is fractured and there is not enough unified opposition to prevent them from going through?

Ideally, a primary challenge would result in a true progressive in the White House who will finally draw lines in the sand and be willing to take sides with the American people and against the upper class. But if not, it’s beginning to look like a second Obama term would actually be worse for America than a Republican.

I Concede: Hillary Would Have Been Better

December 11th, 2010 No comments

It usually doesn’t pain me to admit when I’m wrong. Intellectual honesty is something I always strive for, and it demands that I concede things from time to time. But when I find that I was on the wrong side of a fence for a long period of time, making multiple arguments to support a position that I later discover was based on false beliefs, it can be especially difficult to own up to it.

But after this past week’s debacle over Obama’s cave-in to Republicans on extending the tax-cuts for the wealthy, I now have no choice but to admit what I’ve refused to acknowledge for the last two years: I backed the wrong horse in the 2008 primary. Hillary Clinton was not perfect, but I think she would have given us slightly more change, as she was ten times the fighter Obama will ever be.


Don’t get me wrong—I still think Obama deserved the nomination. The Obama campaign was a grassroots movement inspired by a message of hope; energized young people and re-energized old people coming together and fighting to achieve things long-considered impossible to achieve. However empty the candidate’s rhetoric ultimately turned out to be, it can’t be denied that those words reached people, inspired them, got them to believe that we could get the country back on the right track.

Conversely, the Clinton campaign was the epitome of the Washington establishment machine. It was run by Mark Penn, one of the biggest hacks in the business. Today Penn is the CEO of Burston-Marsteller, a PR firm that represents such fine upstanding clients as Philip-Morris and Blackwater. He just wrote a piece for the Huffington Post telling Democrats to stop engaging in “class-warfare” and get behind the Obama tax-cut deal. In it, he actually urges Obama to spend the next two years focusing on: “issues like the pursuit of deadbeat dads, protecting kids from internet stalking, personal privacy, and zero tolerance of drugs in schools.” Translation: don’t rock the boat. Don’t try to change anything. Just protect your image at all costs. That was the strategy behind the Clinton campaign and we had every reason to believe that this small-minded attitude towards governing would have carried over into her presidency.

So I don’t regret supporting Obama in 2008. I’m glad that the more high-minded, progressive candidate who promised to do big things beat the more small-minded, conservative candidate who promised little more than competence due to experience. Had she won the nomination the message from the voters would have been: “let’s just play it safe and not try to accomplish too much.” Instead we sent the right message: “let’s give real change a try”.

But it turned out that the candidate who inspired that message didn’t actually embrace it himself. Perhaps he did try at the very beginning (though the appointments of Geithner and Summers to top economic positions before he even took office would suggest otherwise) but it wasn’t long before he started behaving exactly as you’d expect him to if Mark Penn were advising him.

How different would a Hillary Clinton presidency have been? In terms of substance, I doubt there would be much difference at all. The health care legislation that Obama finally managed to pass was almost exactly what Hillary Clinton had been proposing on the campaign trail: a system based on an insurance exchange and mandates requiring coverage. The only thing that truly separated Obama’s plan from Clinton’s already corporate-friendly plan was the public option, but Obama tossed that out the window near the very beginning, along with his opposition to mandates.

So we would have got the same basic plan, but I’ll bet we would have got it much sooner. Hillary Clinton does not shy away from conflict—she proved that quite effectively by staying in the race long after the cause appeared hopeless—and she would not have sat idly by and enabled Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats to obstruct and delay the way Obama did. Obama barely raised a finger in protest to the underhanded tactics of the opposition, which stretched the fight out far longer than it needed to and had the extremely unfortunate side effect of giving the Tea Party the fuel it needed to fully entrench itself in American politics.

Would there be a Tea Party at all if Hillary were president? I suspect it would exist in some form, but I doubt it would be as strong as it is now. Though to be fair, a lot of the energy on the far right is a direct consequence of the color of the president’s skin and has nothing to do with his governing style. Hillary would have been accused of being a radical socialist terrorist-sympathizer too (Fox News would attach those labels to any Democratic president regardless of reality) but there probably wouldn’t be questions regarding her citizenship or religion.

A Hillary Clinton presidency would have looked about the same from the right as an Obama presidency, but things would look a lot different from the left. Simply by virtue of the magnitude of what Obama promised, he was bound to let his supporters down to some degree. That doesn’t mean I think no candidate should ever make lofty promises (provided they intend to at least try to follow through) but it’s obvious that expectations of Clinton would not have been as high. We knew she was relatively conservative from the very beginning, so the progressive base wouldn’t have felt so betrayed and demoralized from all of the compromises and concessions she would have made to Wall Street, Big Energy, and so on.

But would Hillary Clinton have agreed to extend the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans in exchange for virtually nothing without putting up the slightest hint of a fight? I deeply, seriously doubt that. Even those who make a living spewing out Washington conventional wisdom (with the exception of the hackiest hacks like Mark Penn and Mark Halperin) are aghast at the political ineptitude of Obama’s tax-cut deal. Here was a chance to fight the Republicans on an issue with overwhelming public support on your side—make the Republicans deprive struggling citizens of their unemployment checks during the winter in order to make the rich richer—and Obama just ignored it. He agreed to continue the economically disastrous tax-cuts and add $700 billion to the deficit just so he could continue to play nice with John Boehner.

Yes, his stated reason was that he didn’t want to see any “hostages” get hurt. You have to let the Republicans have their way if they threaten to financially harm the American people, right? Well then what’s to stop them from threatening to financially harm the American people over and over and over again?

I am clearly not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but I definitely think that she would have understood that and she would have fought them on this issue. Even if it was just a purely cynical political calculation to boost her popularity and hurt the other party, she would have made that move and the side-effect would have been a slight improvement of the country’s fiscal policy. Because Barack Obama is so horrendously averse to conflict, because he will do whatever it takes to avoid a fight at all costs and take the path of least resistance at every possible juncture, he bends over backwards to the Republicans whenever they so much as raise their voices, and directs all of his frustrations back at his own progressive supporters…more and more of whom are now becoming former supporters.

If I could go back in time and change the result of the 2008 primary, I still wouldn’t. I think the message of the Obama campaign transcends Obama the person and it was important to show the world that it was a message the American people supported wholeheartedly. But for all practical purposes, Hillary Clinton would have made a better president.

To Barack Obama I would say this (and I’m sure he reads what every single disenchanted liberal blogger has to say about him): we have remained true to the message of your campaign. You have not. You expect us to be loyal to you personally, but that increasingly requires disloyalty to the ideals you campaigned on. We supported you because you represented the Hope that things could Change, but you no longer represent those things and you should therefore not be surprised that we no longer support you.

If we’d wanted nothing but watered-down corporate-friendly legislation we would have given the nomination to Hillary Clinton. We picked you because you led us to believe you could do more, and instead you wound up doing less.

I’d rather see a real progressive run a primary challenge against you in 2012, but if Hillary Clinton shocked the world by deciding to run against you again, this time I would vote for her.

The Obama/Bush Tax-Cuts: Negotiating with Terrorists

December 8th, 2010 No comments

I’m not sure why, but even though everyone expected it, even though I called it a month ago, I’m still extremely angry about Obama’s decision to cave in to the Republicans on the Bush tax-cut issue. Perhaps I’d been holding out some hope until the very end. Perhaps it’s because no matter how angry you anticipate you’ll be when somebody does something you find despicable, you don’t fully feel the anger until they’ve actually done it.

I won’t spend too much time going into all of the reasons why extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans is a bad idea in terms of policy—I think most people already understand that trickle-down economics is bunk and that the more money we borrow from China the worse-off our country is—but it’s a far worse decision in terms of politics. In this case, the politics are more important than the policy because this sets the tone for the next two years and will thus have a significant impact on every policy to be addressed during that time.

First of all, it’s important to know what public opinion is on this issue. In a recent CBS news poll only 26% of responders said they believed the tax-cuts should continue for everyone. 53% said they should only continue for income under $250,000 a year, and 14% said they should all expire. If you add up the last two numbers, that’s 67% of Americans who want the tax-cuts for the wealthy to expire to just 26% who want them to continue. Public opinion is overwhelmingly against extending the tax-cuts for the rich (even just among Republicans, the numbers are 52% opposed to 46% in favor).

There are those who say that making a deal with Republicans was a political necessity. Obama did what he had to do. It was the responsible thing. The Republicans would have blocked unemployment benefits for people badly needing them unless Obama agreed to a two-year extension of the Bush tax-cuts. Obama used an appropriate metaphor, painting the Republicans as terrorists holding the middle class and the unemployed hostage. He said that while you shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, sometimes it’s necessary to prevent the hostages from being harmed.

But that’s only half the analogy. If you cave in to the terrorists’ demands they may release the hostages this time, but it only encourages more hostage taking in the future. The Republicans know exactly how to manipulate Obama. They’ve been doing it for the last two years and will continue to do it for the next two years unless Obama finally stands up to them. Sometimes you have to let the hostages get hurt to prevent harm to future hostages. Show the terrorists that taking hostages is not a winning strategy, and they’ll have to find a different one.

So what could Obama have done? It’s very simple, and it would have been a far better strategy than caving in:

Call the Republicans’ bluff. Make them filibuster. Make them hold up every single piece of legislation until the 111th Congress expires, and at the beginning of next year all taxes would go up across the board, for the rich and the middle class alike. Make it clear that it is the Republican Party that is responsible for taxes going up, that their obstruction is the reason the unemployed have stopped receiving benefits, that the START treaty hasn’t been ratified, and so on. Make it as clear as possible to the American people (most of whom are already on your side) that the Number One priority of the Republican Party is getting tax cuts for their rich friends, and that they’re willing to let the middle class, the unemployed, and national security suffer just to help out the people who are least in need of help.

At the very beginning of the next legislative session, introduce new tax-cut legislation completely separate from the Bush plan. Cut taxes for the bottom 98% of Americans if you must, but refuse to include any cuts for the top 2%. Include an extension of unemployment benefits along with compensation for whatever the unemployed had been deprived of thanks to Republican obstruction.

Dare the Republicans to filibuster this. They probably will at first. But how long do you think they’d be able to hold out? Every single night, even the least informed Americans will turn on the TV and hear about how their taxes have gone up and the unemployed aren’t getting the money they need to heat their homes because Republicans insist that the rich aren’t rich enough. Do you think the majority of Americans will blame the president for not caving in? Or will they blame the Republican leaders whose shrill cries of “but…but…but the job-creators!” will grow increasingly hollow as this drags on.

The media may even decide to look deeper into the issue—to research the impact of personal income-tax reduction for the wealthiest Americans and actually inform their viewers that it doesn’t create jobs! (Honestly, they’ll still probably be too afraid of accusations of bias that they won’t do it. If the facts come down solely on one side of a political argument, the media’s tendency is not to report those facts.)

But if the Republicans are pressed, they will fold. They’ll see which way the political winds are blowing, they’ll notice their approval ratings plummeting, they’ll hear from their staffers just how many angry calls they’re getting every day from people demanding to know why they can’t feed their children because the rich need more money, and they will end the filibuster and let the bill come to a vote.

Republicans are cowardly politicians just like the Democrats, and if someone stands up to them they will cave in. But Obama has yet to stand up to them.

If he actually did fight back and won this political victory, it would set a great the tone for the next two years. Republicans would know that they can no longer get away with blocking everything, and Democrats would know that if they’re willing to fight they can win.

Furthermore, Obama’s disaffected base would be completely re-energized. Hope would be resurrected. Change would be back on the table. Perhaps now would be the time to bring the public option back up for debate or to impose stricter regulations on Wall Street.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives may uniformly oppose these things, but if the people can clearly see which party is trying to get things done and which party wants to spend all of its time investigating the White House while the economy suffers, they’ll reward the party that’s fighting and punish the one that’s obstructing. Obama will get a second term and fresh congressional majorities in 2012 and he can become the Change president we all hoped he would be.

Oh, but it’s too late. The deal is done. Obama has decided to let the Bush tax-cuts continue, thus empowering the Republicans to get whatever they want for the next two years just by threatening to filibuster.

To make matters worse, the “Bush tax-cuts” will henceforth be known as the “Obama/Bush tax-cuts” and Obama will have no defense against the Republicans howling about the deficit in the next election. The tax-cuts will add an extra $700 billion to the deficit and the Republicans will put the responsibility squarely on Obama’s shoulders in spite of their hand in it.

Obama won’t be able to defend himself, because the responsibility was squarely on his shoulders, and he shirked it. He negotiated with the terrorists, compromised himself and the country, and when the terrorists come back and blame him for the harm to the country that they made him do, he’ll have no excuse. It’s over. The terrorists win.

Obama is dead. Long live Obama.

December 5th, 2010 No comments

For all practical purposes, the Obama presidency is over. I hope I’m way off-base but it seems to be the truth. The weeks following the mid-term elections have been so discouraging that I’ve barely been able to summon the motivation to write about them. After two years in which Change didn’t come fast enough, it now looks as though the plan for the next two years is to slow down significantly, and possibly even move back in the other direction.

In case any of you decided to tune out completely after the election, this is what’s been going on in the wake of the GOP’s electoral victory:

Obama gave up his campaign pledge to let the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans expire and signaled a willingness to extend them, thus adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit and validating the Republicans’ demonstrably false argument (just look at the last ten years) that tax cuts for the wealthy lead to jobs for middle-class Americans.

The Republicans wrote a letter to Obama threatening to filibuster any and all legislation until the tax-cut issue was addressed. Obama is now offering to extend the tax-cuts for the wealthy in exchange for allowing an extension of unemployment benefits. The rich are essentially holding the unemployed hostage, and Obama is playing along.

Some say he’s just doing what he has to. Well how about the bipartisan summit on Tuesday? Obama came out of a meeting with Republicans saying “Today we had the beginning of a new dialogue that I hope — and I’m sure most Americans hope — will help break through the noise and help produce gains.” In spite of all of the obstruction of the past two years and the open admission on the part of the Republican leadership that defeating Obama in 2012 is their Number One goal, Obama still wants to pretend that he can work with them.

Even before the meeting, Obama announced that he would freeze the salaries of federal employees for two years. He did this in exchange for nothing. The only upside was to boost his conservative credibility, the stated reason being that he wants to win back those independent voters who switched to the Republican side this election over concerns about the deficit. More on these elusive independent voters later.

And speaking of the deficit, a bipartisan commission appointed by Obama put forward a proposal to slash the deficit mainly by taking the money from programs that help the middle class such as Medicare and Social Security. Meanwhile they want to give more tax cuts to corporations. It’s less of a deficit-reduction plan than it is a wealth-redistribution plan to accelerate the funneling of money from the bottom to the top. Obama has refused to take a stand on protecting Social Security and he won’t make the argument that perhaps when the wealthy are doing extremely well and the middle class is suffering, it should be the wealthy who take on the larger share of the economic burden.

And as icing on the cake, it looks like the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of banning gay soldiers from serving openly in the military might actually remain on the books in spite of all of the promises and assurances Obama made that it would be repealed on his watch. Not only has he refused to lead on this issue, but his justice department has been actively fighting to keep the policy in place.

There are still a lot of people out there who will defend Obama no matter what, and while I think it’s necessary to have voices out there defending him (especially considering the volume and viciousness of attacks leveled at him from the right) I just don’t understand how anyone could honestly believe he’s doing the best he can.

To those of you who still support him I just want you to consider this: Is this really the best we could have hoped for?

But even more importantly, should we believe that this is the best we could have hoped for?

I’ve written before about the feeling I often get that what goes on in American politics is all a show that plays out according to a certain script. I’ve expressed my sneaking suspicion that Barack Obama is a part of that script, that he was the answer to the public’s frustration after eight years of blatant hard-right conservatism from the White House and that the power elites who really run the country decided to let him take the reins for a little while in order to pacify progressives.

If that’s the case, they’ve done a superb job of it. By making it look as though Change is practically impossible, he’s got us all convinced that there’s nothing more we can do. The conservative media has worked tirelessly to paint this president as the most far-left ideologue to ever occupy the White House, and even though progressives may not take Fox News seriously it could have had the subconscious effect of making us believe that this is as good a job as a progressive president could possibly do.

But I refuse to believe that’s true. Let me return to this idea of independent voters who supported Obama in 2008 but went to the GOP in 2010. The conventional wisdom is that what these voters most want to see is both parties working together in a bipartisan fashion. These are low-information voters who know only what they see on the nightly news (if they watch it), and in 2012 they’re supposedly going to go to the polls and pick the candidate who looks as centrist and moderate as possible and whose rhetoric of bipartisan cooperation is the most believable.

I don’t think these voters exist. Maybe I just never encounter them because I live overseas, but I just can’t imagine any actual person with a functioning human brain who doesn’t care about particular policies but votes solely based on what kind of happy “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbayaa” feeling they get from a candidate. “I don’t care about unemployment, I just want to see the parties working together.” Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

If Obama really believes that it was his promises of bi-partisan outreach that got him elected in 2008 and that continuing to offer concession after concession to the other side is what will get him re-elected in 2012, he’s either an idiot or just completely out-of-touch. I don’t believe he’s an idiot, so I have to believe his mind is just so full of beltway-media talking points that he can’t think straight. The only other alternative is that he’s completely dishonest

Progressives stayed home in 2010 because they didn’t feel the reforms he got passed in his first two years were strong enough. We can argue all day about whether or not they were, but one thing I think we can agree on is that he never really made a strong case for why these reforms were necessary. Perhaps it was because he knew that if he made people understand just how dire the health care and financial situations were in this country, people would expect far more drastic measures than he thought he’d be able to deliver.

But what we needed from the president was someone willing to aim higher than that, to shoot for more than what he believed he could deliver and only then, after a long and spirited battle to win public opinion, to make whatever compromises necessary to get the legislation passed. Obama’s strategy has been to compromise right at the very beginning, hope for the beltway media to pat him on the back for being such a good centrist, and then let the bill drift as far to the right as necessary for it to pass.

Nowhere in that strategy is there an attempt to make an argument, to shift public opinion in favor of reform and then use that public opinion as leverage to get your political opponents to vote for it.

Instead, Obama validates the opposing side’s dishonest arguments time and time again by attempting to meet them half-way. Everyone paying attention can see that the Republicans have no interest in helping anyone other than their rich friends—that they’re willing to let the unemployed suffer and even jeopardize national security just to fulfill their obligation to their campaign donors, but Obama would never even dream of pointing this out.

After Tuesday’s summit, this is what he said of his political opponents:

We have two parties for a reason. There are real philosophical differences, deeply held principles to which each party holds. Although the atmosphere in today’s meeting was extremely civil, there’s no doubt that those differences are going to remain no matter how many meetings we have…We understand these aren’t times for us to be playing games…I think there was a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to commit to work together and try to solve the problems.

This is the fundamental problem with Obama and it’s the reason why his presidency is likely to be considered a failure. Obama’s opponents are not honest actors but he continues to treat them that way.

Instead of calling them out for their obstructionism, instead of holding their feet to the fire and demanding that they explain to the American people why they’re going to block an extension of unemployment benefits for those who need it most in order to give tax cuts to those who need it least, he instead just wants to find “common ground.”

Instead of pointing out what corporate shills they are and explaining to the American people how their intentions have nothing to do with benefiting the country as a whole and everything to do with increasing the power of the already-powerful, he chalks up their behavior to honest “philosophical differences.”

This is a war. It’s being fought between the upper class and the middle and lower classes, and we need a general—someone in a position of great power fighting for our side. Barack Obama is not that general. He’s the colonel who always wants to negotiate a cease-fire before the battle is even fought. His dispirited troops left him on the battlefield in the 2010 mid-terms and those that remained weren’t enough to prevent the other side from gaining significant ground. And now instead of trying to reassemble his forces and find a real path to victory, he wants to negotiate a peace treaty on the other side’s terms.

The Obama of Hope and Change is dead. The Obama of appeasing the power-elites is what we’ll have for the remainder of his time in office, whether it’s for two years or six.

At least he won’t do as much damage to the country as someone from the other side. Long live Obama.

Planeo Christmas Party III

December 4th, 2010 No comments

Last night was my third and most-likely final Christmas Party with Planeo. I can’t be sure it was the last (I didn’t even expect I’d make it to two) but this time I really think it was. Unlike the first two parties, Amanda wasn’t there so it was far less fun for me—but just like the first two parties, Petra was there so there was some emotional significance.

Petra is one of the oldest women I’ve ever considered drop-dead fucking beautiful. She’s around 40, married and has kids, but her figure is still completely perfect (like…straight out of a model magazine perfect) and her face is utterly gorgeous. I was completely smitten by her at the party two years ago and while I didn’t speak to her much I let Amanda and Alan—then still with us—know about my desire. Then I didn’t see her again until last years’ party when she was all dressed up as part of the ridiculous crime-dinner thing we were doing and I also didn’t speak to her then but got drunk enough to let Tom—the only other American working for Planeo at the time—know about my desire.

So when I woke up yesterday morning I figured there was about a two-thirds chance that this would be one the of extremely rare days of my life in which I’d have a Petra sighting. I’ve been around for almost ten thousand days and will probably be around for tens of thousands more, but only three of those will ever have been days in which I see Petra. The rarity of the encounter is what makes it special to me. It’s not that I idolize her or think there’s no one more beautiful in the world (there are plenty) but she has a special place in my heart because she only comes around once a year and it’s always in a circumstance in which alcohol increases my emotional vulnerability.

I’ve recently been trying to overcome this emotional vulnerability, which I’ve characterized as a demon that turns me into a scared pussy whenever I’m around women I find attractive and which set up all of the right mental barriers so as to prevent me from speaking to them. I have no intentions towards Petra and never did and never will (I’d never in a million years try to fuck up somebody’s marriage) but I figured that if she was going to be around I’d have to at least try and speak to her in order to continue the forward-momentum I’ve been establishing since I first beat the demon several weeks ago.

The Christmas Party was in two stages. Everyone was going to meet outside a restaurant in a town called Devese on the outskirts of Hannover and then go out into the (now snow-covered) fields for a traditional German game called Boβeln involving two teams each trying to throw a ball a further distance than the other. If one team can’t get their ball past that of the other team, the other team gets a point and the losing side is supposed to drink. (Incidentally, this is what most Germans play when they go on a Grünkohlwanderung, so the one I went on last week was actually somewhat atypical.)

I had to take two busses to get there and the first one got stuck in traffic and I missed the second one, so I arrived late because I had to walk the last few kilometers of the journey. But Frank—the boss of Planeo who is generous enough to pay for these Christmas parties—told me how to find them and they weren’t too far along when I got there.

Naturally, I was hoping Petra wouldn’t be there so I wouldn’t have to deal with the demon tonight, but I spotted her right away from her hair, which is as black as a goddamn black hole and contrasts so well with her pale face, a face far too smooth for a 40-year-old mother of multiple children and which looks like a cross between two of the four major Love Interests of my life. She looked even better than I remembered her looking from last year, although the bottom half of her face was covered by a scarf so I couldn’t admire the whole thing.

It was a much smaller group of people than I expected, but it turned out that only half of the total number of people coming to the party had opted to participate the in the Boβeln game beforehand. Aside from Frank and Petra, also in attendance were the two secretaries who are both really friendly and helpful, a couple of other teachers whom I only see at meetings and/or Christmas parties, and Ron the other American who won major points with me when I first met him by revealing himself to be a huge Roger Waters fan.

So we proceeded with the game and I found myself on the team throwing the red ball, which was far superior to the team throwing the green ball (partially thanks to my strong-young-man arm). We scored about seven points and the green team only scored one (which I’m pretty sure was given to them deliberately as an act of mercy) but there was no forced drinking when one team lost a point. Frank was pulling a sled filled with mugs and Glühwein, and while a few of us drank some of that it was only at our own leisure and not related to the game at all. So technically we weren’t doing it right, and I was a little disappointed to see so few people drinking. This was a Christmas party, damn it.

As for Petra, she was one of the non-drinkers and that was just one of the many little things that made me hesitant about actually trying to speak to her. Another thing was her height—she’s slightly taller than me so I was looking up a little whenever I looked at her, and that’s just naturally intimidating. I already feel like she’s above me in terms of aesthetic beauty and that’s only augmented by the fact that she is quite literally above me in terms of height. Coupled with the age-factor, it brought about a feeling in me like I was a kid again having to tilt my head up while in the presence of a teacher or older relative. As such it felt like I’d never be able to speak to her in a smooth and confident manner.

But perhaps the biggest factor was that while most of us were switching between English and German she was only speaking German, and I wasn’t sure if it’s because she doesn’t speak English (Planeo teaches languages other than English) or simply doesn’t like to speak English. Plus, while her face and body looked vibrant and youthful her voice betrayed her true age. It was deep and mature and like her height, rather intimidating.

As an aside, I think I’m just going to have to stick to girls who are younger and shorter than me. I prefer younger, shorter women anyway so this isn’t a problem, but I hadn’t considered that it might actually be harder to bring myself to talk to women who actually don’t fit that preference.

So the game finished just as the last remaining brightness in the sky faded away and we all were walking back to the restaurant. I found myself trudging a few meters behind Frank and Petra who were engaged in conversation. There hadn’t been any kind of natural opening to talk to Petra yet and there wasn’t really one now, but I was already beginning to feel the inevitability of my failure to complete the night’s self-imposed task of talking to her. I felt that gnawing sensation in my stomach reminding me of what a loser I am and how fucking pathetic it is that I can’t even say two words to a beautiful woman because she’s too beautiful.

You have to understand that this is not an unpleasant feeling. It’s actually one of the most comfortable emotional states I ever experience. Because it used to be what I experienced every single day, it’s as familiar to me as an old best friend who still visits often. If it is a demon, it’s a friendly one. One that says, “Don’t worry about it. Just stay here and talk to me and we’ll ride it out together just like old times. Tonight we can go home and listen to sad music and remember all the other girls we weren’t confident enough to be with. We can think about death and what a fantastic relief it will be, taking solace in its inevitability.”

So I was already half-way down the downward spiral when we reached the restaurant. Frank handed me the box of Glühwein mugs and asked me to take it inside, and I followed Petra up the stairs and into the restaurant, the two of us being the first ones in.

If I was going to speak to her, now was the time. This was the only natural opening and depending on where we all ended up sitting at the dinner table it could easily be the last. But what to say?

“Hi, I’m Kyle. I’m from America”? No, that wouldn’t work. We’ve already been introduced even though it was two years ago and we haven’t spoken since. “How long have you been working for Planeo”? Okay, but that’s really lame. That’s the question I ask my students whenever we first meet: “How long have you been working for E.ON?”

Jeez, I have nothing in common with this woman at all. I’m a 26-year-old American who’s not only been single his whole life but is still a virgin, and she’s a 40-year-old German lady with a husband and children. Other than our employer, what the fuck kind of common ground could there possibly be with which to initiate a dialog?

We both have families from Germany…would that work? “So, where was your grandmother born? Germany? Wow, mine too!” No, that’s stupid.

We both breathe oxygen. “So, how about those trees, huh? They sure know how to convert carbon dioxide into the gas necessary for survival, don’t they?” No.

We both are residents of the Milky Way. “So, what do you think of our upcoming collision with the Andromeda galaxy in five billion years? That ought to be exciting.”

Other than that…nothing. Other than basic chemical composition and location in the universe, we have nothing in common at all.

And so the moment passes in the blink of an eye as the rest of the crowd comes in and I find myself no longer alone next to her. That had only been three seconds, which would have been enough for a normal person but I needed at least five seconds to come up with something.

Luckily for me, Tom was there when we got in which meant I’d get to talk to him this evening. When we all took our seats around the big table my first instinct was to try and sit across from Petra to give myself another opportunity, but Tom sat all the way at the end of the table and I decided that I’d rather sit by him and be comfortable than across from Petra and be radically nervous all night. This was a party. I might as well try to enjoy myself.

It was a Christmas party, but clearly not an American Christmas party. Aren’t people supposed to drink large quantities of alcohol at Christmas parties? When the waitress went around and took drink orders, half the people (Petra included) ordered non-alcoholic beverages. Lame. What the hell is the point of a Christmas party if it’s not to get drunk with your co-workers? And if we were all drinking there’d be a much higher likelihood of some kind of exchange-of-words with Petra. After all, I’ve only been able to bring myself to overcome the demon before when I’ve had some kind of buzz going.

But at least all of these thoughts quieted down once the meal commenced. Most of the people had Grühnkohl but because they cooked it in the juice from the pork and sausages you’re supposed to eat with it, I opted for the vegetarian meal of noodles and vegetable sauce instead (which was actually quite good). After the meal I chatted with Tom about politics and we explained to the Germans around us why Barack Obama is so pathetically weak and how Sarah Palin could realistically be the next president. As most Germans are still under the impression that Barack Obama is the greatest-guy-ever, this fascinated them to hear. As Tom admitted, there are few things American expatriates enjoy more than bashing our former country to outsiders.

After the meal I stepped out for a cigarette with a few people including Frank and Sue, who had organized last years’ crime-dinner and whom I’d told it was a stupid idea before discovering that the idea was hers. I’m not sure how much she still holds that against me because she’s a very friendly person on the surface and I can’t tell what she’s really feeling. But ironically I’d been thinking that I actually enjoyed the crime-dinner more than this. I was feeling awkward and out-of-place either way, but at least last year I had a lot of fun making snide sarcastic comments to Amanda and Tom the whole night.

Petra walked by on her way the bathroom while we were smoking. No opportunity there. If only she were a smoker as well. But she apparently has no vices whatsoever. (Unless you count eating the pork—the one solitary thing I could hold against her).

Back at the table, Ron joined Tom and I and the conversation shifted to Pink Floyd. Ron is a Roger Waters fan but Tom (who is himself an experimental musician) is a Syd Barrett fan who prefers the early Floyd stuff. It was agreed that I was the biggest fan out of all of them because I appreciate their whole career. We asked the Germans if they also liked Pink Floyd, and much to their credit they all did, although most admitted that they haven’t listened to them since their youth. Tom says he has 16 CDs worth of Pink Floyd bootlegs that he could copy for me and I say I was absolutely interested.

All this kept me nice and distracted from Petra’s presence way down the table. Throughout the evening I’d glance at her and do my whole “appreciation without desire” thing but it really wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t torturing myself over not having spoken to her. I was disappointed in myself but I knew it was all in my head. She’s married. She has kids. There was no reason to speak to her other than to score points against my imaginary demon. So the demon was to come out ahead tonight. You win some, you lose some.

Tom was leaving early because his girlfriend was having a visitor from China back at their apartment, and I wanted to get the hell out of there myself so I said I’d go with him. As he got up to go, however, I thought I might just try and ride it out and see where the night went. But Petra got up to leave at the exact same time, which reduced my reasons for being there to zero.

I got up to say thank you and goodbye to Frank, and Petra walked by me on her way out and said “tschüss” to which I replied “tschüss” and then she was gone. I had to smile internally at that. So we did speak to each other in the end…in the most superficial way possible. I suppose it’s appropriate that the last thing I’ll ever say to her—the only word we exchanged the whole time—was “bye”.

And so Tom and I began our journey back to our respective locations, sharing our frustrations about the downfall of America along the way. I bid him goodbye just one bus-stop before my own, then got in just shortly after 8:00 p.m. It honestly felt more like 2 a.m.

Even though I attempted to distract myself from my emotions by watching a couple episodes of Dexter, I was still feeling extremely low. I checked my e-mail later in the night and found a significant one from Corey who seemed to be feeling just as low as I was. So for the first time in many months I gave him a call and we ended up talking for almost an hour and had a really enjoyable conversation. He’s going through his own bullshit with women, and at one point expressed to me how he wished it could just be easy.

I said that we wouldn’t want it if it were easy. We had to make it a challenge or we wouldn’t appreciate it if we got it. If beautiful women just threw themselves at all us the time, we wouldn’t want them. He pointed out how fucked up that is and how it just goes to show that the human race is almost certainly doomed to extinction if this is the way our brains work. We both had a good laugh over the idea that even several hundred thousand years ago there must have been a caveman with the same thought, not wanting the woman he had but instead wanting the woman that the other caveman had and thinking of his species: “Yeah, this probably isn’t gonna work out.”

That’s our common ancestor.

Anyway, that’s the latest in my ongoing saga of the demon. It won the day yesterday and I’m feeling the negative emotional consequences of it. Today the sun is out, reflecting beautifully off the snow-covered rooftops and I just wish it would fucking go away. Not today, Mr. Sun. I obviously have to go outside and appreciate it a little bit, and there are going to be all these happy families out and about, parents pulling their cute little kids on sleighs everywhere I go. I probably wouldn’t even want a family if I didn’t feel like I’ll probably never be able to have one.

Yeah, this human race thing probably isn’t gonna work out, is it?

Revolution Earth: An Open Invitation

December 1st, 2010 No comments


I believe that we’re living at the most critical time in human history. In the past hundred years our technology has advanced to a point at which we are now capable of wiping out our entire species by rendering the Earth uninhabitable to us. Whether we can use our technology to transform our way of life to one of peace and sustainability or instead fall victim to our own short-sighted self-interests is the central question of our time.

I believe that conscious beings capable of thought and reflection are the most valuable beings in the universe. It is through beings like us that the universe becomes aware of itself.

I believe that life in the universe is rare and intelligent life even rarer. Among the few species who manage to the stage of technological civilization, I believe most of them perish before establishing a sustainable way of life that allows them to advance to a stage of interstellar exploration and colonization. The few that succeed at reaching this stage, because their fates are no longer tied to a single planet or solar system, are privileged to endure in the universe for time-scales many thousands of times longer than we’ve been around.

I believe that in spite of our violent history, humanity has much to offer the universe by the way in which we experience and appreciate it, both in terms of scientific and philosophical inquiry as well as artistic creativity. It would be a profound shame if all of our scientific discoveries and intellectual breakthroughs amount to naught, and all of our art and history lost to extinction, never to be appreciated by anyone again.

I believe that if we do want humanity to survive in the long-term, we each have a responsibility to work towards this goal in whichever way our experiences, skills, and life circumstances allow. This and the next few generations have the enormous burden of determining which path our species goes down.

I believe that the internet is the key to taking the right path, and if we can use this unprecedented technology to bring the various peoples and cultures of the world together under a common vision, we have a chance to transform the global power-structures so that they serve the interests of all of humanity and not just the already-powerful. Consider how radically advances such as the printing press and radio technology altered the global landscape, and consider how short a time the internet has been a force in the world.

I believe that if enough of us begin to use the power the internet gives us to communicate across cultures, share ideas, and enlist others in common causes, we may find ourselves on the cusp of a revolution the likes of which the world has never seen.

My skills and life circumstances have allowed me to create a website designed for this very purpose. An online forum dedicated to facilitating the kinds of important discussions and cross-cultural communication necessary to achieve such a revolution. It is currently nothing more than a forum and a blog, but given enough time and interest I believe it can grow into something much greater.

This is an open invitation to anyone reading to join me in this effort, register at Revolution Earth, and get involved in the discussion. If you are a blogger, consider cross-posting your entries to the site. Almost all topics are relevant, from politics to philosophy to meaningful personal stories. The only thing that doesn’t belong on the site is trivia (though a little levity will always be appreciated).

I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions and feedback. If you don’t like how the site looks or feels now, I’d love to hear how you would improve it.

If you like the idea but don’t feel you have time to contribute, perhaps you know somebody that might? Please invite any and all people you know who share similar thoughts and concerns about the fate of humanity to join the community. Word-of-mouth is the best hope this has to grow.

It may be a long time before our community is large enough to become a force on the world stage, but until that time we can take on smaller issues of local concern. Our members will determine which causes to get involved in, and as we grow the causes will grow broader. As I travel the world I’ll be recruiting as many people from various cultures as I can, and the site will become increasingly more international.

The road from here to Revolution may be a very long one, and we may never reach our destination. But it does absolutely no harm to try.