Personal

A little bit of democracy: Election Season

A few weeks ago, I participated in the Berlin elections. Because Berlin is a city-state, this election was the equivalent of a US state election. I had received my voters invitation in the mail back in August. In the meantime, I watched how the city became smothered in campaign posters, each more eye-catching than the last. Every few days, volunteers for the parties would hand out fliers and pens or free cloth shopping bags to lure people into considering their party. Perhaps, because one does a lot more moving around the city in Berlin, one sees a lot more people and posters. It also helps that Germany has a thriving multi-party system. Unlike the US, with its winner-gets-it-all system, Germany’s national and state parliaments  are made up proportionally by the number of votes a party gets. There are certain rules, like you have to get more than 5% of the vote to get in- a rule put in place since WWII that may have prevented the Nazis from getting into parliament in 1932. However, the system means that even if you don’t vote for the popular party, your vote isn’t wasted. Unfortunately, that’s how many voters in the US feel, which is why we can’t get out of our stupid Republican/Democrat binary.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns in Germany either. Interestingly, German campaign posters almost always include a representative’s profile picture, as if how the person looks will affect if they are voted for (unfortunately, it kind of does work that way). There’s also a rising right-wing party that can actually get power in this country and white supremacists and nationalists get a voice again in a country where it shouldn’t happen again. In the name of democracy, we are supposed to let them have a voice too… so that’s also an issue.

However, the voting process itself was a neat process. Despite all the parties, it’s not as complicated as one imagines. In fact, the ballots are about just as long as in the US. The difference is that one doesn’t ignore everyone beyond the first two lines. Libertarians get considered, conservative nature lovers get considered, socialists exist and get considered… it’s a very diverse ballot for which citizens actually have to prepare themselves and inform themselves. That’s not to say that many people still don’t vote the two largest parties- Christian Democratic and Social Democratic, but these parties rarely get the majority of the vote at the state or national level, and that’s a good thing!

So, when I went to vote (and voting happens on Sunday in Germany, giving everyone- even people with 10-hour jobs- the chance to vote!), I parked my bike outside a historic music school, got in line with the other voters of my district, and pulled out a book. I had a bit of a wait, but soon enough I got to hand over y ID and voting invite for inspection, and then I was in a voting booth with my papers and a pen. I guess I was surprised that the ballots were not electronic, and I didn’t expect that I would be voting for my district representative as well. I was also amused that when voting for the representative, a little note of advice happens below the representative’s name saying: suggested vote: (insert representative’s party name here). I won’t say who or what part(ies) I voted for, but I will say that I was able to vote two different parties at the state and district level and feel good about it. I think that the German systems allows for more representation of all the different values a person can have… and I’m a happy voter in Germany. I can’t really say the same about the upcoming presidential election in the US.

Now starts a part of my post where I’m going to add my two cents to the discussion about those up for election in November. For those who have had enough of this, I understand if you don’t want to continue reading. For those mildly curious for what a 25 year old with degrees in literature has to say, I promise I’ve put thought into this post and I’m reasonable, someone who looks for compromise rather than antagonism.

Let me start off with a fun fact. I grew up in a bipartisan household. One parent carries a Republican voting card, the other a Democratic one. How does this work, you wonder? How can they have been married for more than 25 years? A lot of it has to do with the ability to find compromise, and that the basic values upheld by both my parents are the same.

One of my favorite philosophers is Kwame Anthony Appiah. I’ve written about him before in this blog, but his famous book Cosmopolitanism outlines what he believes should be a global philosophy: that we respect other people’s values and beliefs enough to listen to them and consider them. While the ability to communicate is inherent to this philosophy to work, I believe it is a good philosophy. Often, though, as I see in my own home, this communication often goes astray. One party has a harder time expressing why they do things or value things a certain way. There will always be one group who is louder, more articulate, or more logical. Still, as Appiah outlines in his chapter “The Primacy of Practice,”

Conversation doesn’t have to lead to consensus about anything, especially not values; it is enough that it helps people get used to one another.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve been engaging in conversation with me about Germans and US Americans. I try to share my observations about both countries, often working hard to keep my personal bias and upbringing out of it. I’ve never suggested that one country is the better of the two – such a vast generalization would be absurd, and I can only emphasize how Germans live and love living in the US and vice versa, without having to give up the cultural beliefs or habits they brought with them.

So, if the daily life of a person can be satisfactory, despite constant exposure to difference, why can’t we listen more to each other talking about politics? What happened to constructive debate?

Yes… of course I set up a segue to last night’s presidential debate, which I found less than satisfactory. Spectators are saying that Clinton won that debate, but only because she as able to keep her cool while Trump was revealed for being the incoherent, ill-prepared, narcissist he’s been for most of the campaign. Maybe this means Trump should not be head of state. Even if he supports the values of most Republicans, he’s not ready for the position. Can you imagine the state dinners with Trump at the head of the table? Do people really think the man knows how to be a diplomat? Money is power, and Trump has money. But he has none of the tact, intelligence, or basic human sympathy that we need in our political leaders.

So, that puts the US in an awful position, because while many Republicans of the US can’t vote Hillary Clinton out of principle inspired by their belief in honesty, good character, and following rules, they can’t vote Trump either. Many of these Republicans would also rather see the Republican Party in power, because even if it’s headed by Trump, at least their values will be represented. I understand their wishes for freedom, financial security, and less interference from government in their personal lives.

The funny thing is, I also understand the Democrat’s wish for security and less interference from government in their lives. After all, anti-abortion laws are government interference. Health-care and other “socialist” endeavors are endeavors for financial security for citizens of the US- that’s just addressing the obvious. There are many subtle ways in which the goals of all US Americans are the same- upholding basic human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s how we practice these rights that changes.

In the end, democrats have to compromise with republicans and republicans with democrats, lobbyists put their hand in the pot, and we end up with pretty much the same measures, regardless of who is the main man or woman in charge. What we can choose, however, is the first representative of our country.

Now, I return to the beautiful multiparty system, and ask, why can’t the US get out of its stupid binary? Why is the presidential debate only held between two people? Let’s not forget, there’s the Libertarian Gary Johnson. There will be more than three names on the presidential ballot in November. There’s always the write-in possibility (but, that’s a bit of a misnomer, since the possibility is so small).

My final note will maybe satisfy what those of you who did continue reading were waiting to see: where do I stand? Well, out of my upbringing, education, and beliefs, I think it is my responsibility to help all groups in society have equal access to opportunity and resources. The US party I believe comes closest to supporting this endeavor is the democratic one. However, I struggle with voting Clinton. It is hard to deny that there is something wrong about using personal email servers for state business. Every employee is able to separate the private and professional email. Why couldn’t she? There must be something wrong in her character to do this, and then not want to open up her personal correspondences as well as state correspondence for scrutiny. Right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. Retired army officer M. Thomas Davis (former Republican voter, I’ll bet) wrote a column I personally find convincing, but know has received its share of backlash: “Don’t let Clinton emails dominate debates.”

From here on out, until the election, I’m going to try and leave previous bias against either runner behind, and consider what each of the candidates have to say in response to direct questions about policies, how they will handle national and international security, education and health care reforms, and climate change. I encourage you to do the same with the issues you find important.

Just saying. Those were my two cents.

Cheers,

Dorothea

 

Shaky streaming quality for a while- on my relationship with WordPress

Before I address the content implied by my title, I offer this video as small mice-present-left-by-cat-on-doorstep. I think it’s a form of showing my affection for readers. 🙂 :

I like to show this video to my students, and to view it myself as a reminder one should be invested in the effects words may have.

Interesting linguistic note: “Sorry” is widely used in Germany right now as an expression of excuse without the same sentiment of culpability the German equivalent “Entschuldigung”carries. “Entschulding” is an expression that asks the target at whom the phrase is directed to relieve the speaker of the guilt s/he feels or should feel for whatever transgression s/he committed. I have a feeling, if our word had the root “guilt” in it, we would want to replace it, too.

But I do mean it. I am sorry that I stopped being very active on my blogs without at least providing a “pause” message. What I really want to apologize for, though, is for suddenly disappearing from other people’s posts. I was very active for a very long time in communicating with my small blogging community, and then, from one day to the next, I just stopped.

I would like to explain this.

I have a bad track-record with social media. I know that the millennials run on social media, and many of us spend an hour or more on social media sites posting, editing, updating, commenting, whatever. I’m not one of them. I got Facebook two years after all my friends did, and then quit it sophomore year of college. I haven’t looked back. I had MyFitnessPal for a while, and used it as my social media site for a while too, until I recognized similar patterns in myself that I had with Facebook. WordPress became a new start. Initially, I used it purely to get my ideas out, and that was it. After a month or so, I noticed though, that one way of getting more interaction was reading, “liking,” following and commenting on other people’s posts. So I did it. I became very active on WordPress because a) it was a great way to procrastinate on daily school/house work, b) I thought I was being a good community member, and c) I started to become addicted to the feedback I got in my comments and on my posts.

See, while we all say that we post for ourselves and would write whether we are read or not, a part of us does feel good when we see people react to what we write. Even the small “like” is a mini-high that, like with any other addictive substance, we look for more and more. What happens when no “like” appears? Some of us end up doubting the value of what we post, especially when we see how much feedback other bloggers get.

I can’t speak for everyone, nor do I mean to. I suppose there are people out there who really don’t care whether someone reads their posts or not. I mean, they really. don’t. care. However, a lot of us share our work for a reason, and we do want our writing to make a difference, somehow, even if it just prompts someone to think a millisecond longer about something that they otherwise would not have. Then, we also want to know about it.

Still, my issue really lies more with the way I participate in the blogging community. WordPress is a great idea. Bloggers can read each other’s blogs, find new ones to read, see what’s “Freshly Pressed,” and so forth. Then, though, one can follow a blogger and be updated on all his/her posts. One can “like” and comment. Through this, one gets to know the blogger, is updated on his/her ups and down and the cool things he/she is doing (most of us don’t blog about the bad things). I got to know other bloggers more and created a social network that’s not as easy to check out of as when I decide to stop reading the Washington Post for a little while. Thus, while 108  days of not posting on my main blog site is something I feel bad about, I feel even more guilty when I don’t hold up the communicating I do with other bloggers. It gets to the point that I’ll read a few posts, but be afraid to “like” or comment on any, because I won’t comment on all, and I worry that someone who reads the same blog I do, someone on whose blog I usually comment, will wonder why I commented on blog “A” but not his/hers.

It would be easier to run a blog site that has no “like” or “comments” section, and then just keep writing and posting. However, I am someone who feels a responsibility about my presence on the internet and to my readers, and I like the interaction and support fellow bloggers give. But sometimes, I need to check-out, and so that’s what I did. The good news is, unlike Facebook or MyFitnessPal, I feel more invested in my writing on my blog than I did with my shorter communications with friends or fitness mates, so I can’t just delete my blog. Recognizing my weakness, I am going to take a few leaves out of the books of fellow bloggers and not feel bad for reading without “liking” or “commenting.” If, in the future, you notice that I’m not being active again, it’s not that I don’t read your posts or like what you write. It’s just that I think it goes without saying that I was intrigued by your title and enjoyed the post. I hope this makes sense. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but because I feel this way, I also felt like I had to write this post.

Thanks for reading this far!

In other news, for a while, I really was too busy to keep up with WordPress. While I read my Reader at least once a day for almost seven months, I just didn’t have time to even log-on at the end of April; end of semester grading papers, my own finals to prepare for and pass, and then cleaning up a semester’s worth of crap on my computer and in my room took care of life through the middle of May. I also got a pretty cool mini-job assessing student’s writing and helping to evaluate my university’s writing program.

Then, I had to start preparing… packing, collecting all my research notes and info from and about books that I can’t justify lugging thousands of miles, all my doctor’s check-ups, etc.

Soon, I’m heading back to Germany, first for vacation, and then to start my PhD at the Freie Universitaet zu Berlin. It’s one of Berlin’s three main universities and the only one where I can pursue a PhD in comparative literature the way I’d like. I’m excited, but also  feel some trepidation about the project and being able to afford it (and then there’s all the self-doubt I’ll spare you from reading about). For now, I have minimal support from the university and scholarships, so until I can reapply for a better position and/or scholarships, I’m living off savings and whatever small job I can get. I know the situation will be improved by January, but right now, things don’t look rosy-pink. STILL, I’m excited and super ready to do the project.

I’ll also have more to post about, again.

After I arrive in Germany until mid-August, though, I’ll have sporadic internet access and likely won’t use it to be on WordPress a lot. This time, I hope I’m giving you enough fair warning about my “shaky streaming quality” so that you stay-tuned for when I get back! I have a few people who regularly read my blogs, and I hope you continue to want to when I’m regularly posting again.

Thanks for reading, and hope you have a great summer,

Dorothea

 

 

Thoughts on-air: heroes

Today, my mother asked me if I was in love. Answering would have been a good opportunity to tell her, if it were the case, about the boy I had just met. Unfortunately, my only answer could be “no, I’m not,” because the real reason for my sudden insecurity about my purpose in life and questioning my goals is actually too embarrassing to admit to her. Clearly, though, the world wide web seems like the appropriate forum…

Basically, I’ve proven once again that I am only a mere mortal and not immune to the prospects of binge-watching a show on Netflix. This happened despite my ego watching over my shoulder, telling me that I will indeed regret waking up three hours later, having to function as a normal, rational being whose mind is not filled with images of awesome fight choreography and strategic plans (those must be formulated while the hero is doing laundry or cooking eggs, because I can’t imagine he has much time otherwise). I think my ego has too much fun watching the show himself  to be much help in these matters.

I have discovered that I am obsessed with heroes. The first hero I can remember admiring was Han Solo, because after he undergoes torture and melting out of his frozen state, he continues as handsome and charming as ever, even if he spends a short while being blind. Then, my next real obsession came with Ralph Fienne’s character in The Constant Gardener, for a different kind of heroism. High school and the revamping of the Superman franchise made me wonder how a hero can continue being a hero even if there’s no one there to help him carry out the task he laid upon himself (i.e. taking a huge mass of maliciously self-multiplying rock-land and creating a meteorite for, assuredly an Earth in a parallel universe), the task nearly kills him and still he goes on, and then came Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil.

A few things hit me in-between, for example, Sherlock as embodied by Benedict Cumberbatch… the first character I bought a t-shirt celebrating, and of course Frodo, Sam and Aragorn in the books and  movies, but it’s Daredevil, embodied by the actor Charlie Cox, who made my mom ask if I am in love. Is it possible to have a crush on a fictional character? Well, duh… But I think the problem is more that these men (mostly men, because even Jessica Jones hasn’t convinced me of a woman’s power in doing this*…) embody traits that I would like to see in myself. But then, reality sets in that it’s fiction and not the reality of the life I lead, and that fact depresses me more than anything after watching any hero show. There’s enough research out there about how superhero movies (and movies in general) act like a drug- one is high (watching episode after episode, because Netflix so conveniently has a continuous play-mode) and then stone-cold sober (like at 6 AM) a short period of time later. I don’t pretend that I can add to this body of research.

However, since there’s no point in hoping for Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock to come walking through the door, asking me to be his sidekick (being a girlfriend would come in as close second), I have to think about some of the positive benefits of having this show, this role model, and others like it, in my life. After that, I have to move on.

Until I went through the thought-process that made me write this post, one of my main concerns about my obsession was that it could be entirely unhealthy. Basically, I recognized that a character (with a strong sense of justice and moral code) needs to get in some dire straits (preferably life-threatening) for him or her to be interesting to me. Usually there is some pain involved with lingering shots of the hero’s body presenting a canvas of the pain that is inflicted on him or her.

I suppose the reasons for this should be obvious. I recognize that what I admire is not the hero in pain (that would be rather sadistic, right?) but his/her ability to recover from it and bravely face the next source of pain. Rather, s/he returns “as strong as ever,” perhaps with even more resolution. The bravery is enhanced by the fact that the hero has experienced a taste of the consequences, and is willing to risk those again to carry out the task. He or she returns as confident and life-defying as ever.

As someone (again, remember I am a mere mortal) who faces insecurity and doubt every single day, from what I wear to the way I respond to teachers or students in the classroom, to the things I write online, I, and likely all the other mortals like me, appreciate the reminder that it is commendable to be at the bottom of our mental and/or physical strength, take the time to recover, and then enter the foray again despite the risk that we end up in the same state or worse.

Yet the tasks presented to me and most** of my species are not as life-threatening and the powers we have are equally admirable as supersonic senses, flight, super strength, et al, but not as cool. This (and read carefully, because this is where my “questioning my purpose in life” comes in) is what depresses me. They say that most people are ordinary, and that the extraordinary things they do make them heroic; I know this. However, I also want to be fighting for good everyday, not just when the opportunity presents itself.  Unlike the thousands of professions where people actually make a positive difference in someone’s life at the risk of their own: fire fighter, police officer, soldier, freedom fighter/pacifist, to mention a few, I don’t think I’m pursuing a heroic line of work. However, if one considers the positive things doctors, psychologists, lawyers, do at the expense of their time, physical energy, and emotional energies like  compassion, then the options for being a hero are a much longer list. This list includes research and teaching.

An admitted oversimplification of the work of research would be that it provides us with the theories to explain the phenomena in our inner and outer lives and, where necessary, provides us with cures to continue living; teaching these theories allows those who master them to find even more knowledge. Both are done at the expense of time, energy, risk of fulfilling personal needs, and hence, both are meritorious.

That last statement is both self-serving and open for debate, though (as per self-serving aspect) I’m inclined to agree. These guys do too. 

Still, the bottom line should remain that our powers, our talents, can all be empowering with identification and training, and they can help dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people. Does it help to reflect on this from time to time? Especially in moments of doubt when we think we’re not doing enough (wait, is that just me)? Most definitely. It’s useful to remember that the phase after the nearly-dying part in most super-hero movies (if it’s worth it’s salt in box-office collections) features some sort of reflection or considerations of the work s/he is doing.

This reflecting part just happened for me for the third time in these past six months since I finished my Masters and returned from Germany, so I guess it’s symptomatic of my anxiety as I wait for the next phase of my life to begin with news of my PhD applications. Thankfully though, there’s no near-dying involved and I guess I’m doing some good in this world in the meantime, even if there’s no bad-guy versus good-guy involved. I think I should do less binge-watching though… that lack of sleep is probably affecting my mood more than anything.

If you’ve actually read through this, thanks for reading! I debated putting it online, and if it’s been interesting, I’m glad I posted.

*I’m actually a fan of women superheroes… just not the ones that I’ve come across so far. A quick search tells me though, that I should look into Buffy, the Vampire Slayer to help fix this problem… and I’m partial to Katniss Everdeen as well, so I guess I just have to look harder outside of the Marvel/DC comics to find my fix. I’m also impressed at the caliber of some of the women in the comic industry. Maybe there’s another calling for me after I’ve filled my commitment (at least for the next three years) to academia.
Part of my difficulty with Jessica Jones has to do with another aspect altogether, the fact that it’s too close to reality, as Dave Gonzales at geek.com points out. “Jessica Jones has relateable stakes” and “[v]iewers aren’t likely to know the scientist who invents shrinking or live to see a sentient robot lift a European city out of the ground, they’re not going to box their way to a crime boss to save their city or meet an alien claiming to be a norse god — but they know someone who has suffered from some form of abuse. That makes Jessica Jones not only relatable, but maybe the first Marvel Cinematic Universe entry that actually has something to say about the real world.”
Thanks, Mr. Gonzales. Maybe I like my escapis pastimes to be such without making me think too much about how actual lives are affected by similar things to what I see on screen… but then again, being a philosophical mouse man, I doubt such a thing exists for me anyway. So, I guess I’ll continue watching JJ. At least I’m not tempted to binge-watch.

** I am hyper-aware that there are thousands of people who risk their lives, freedoms, and security for what they believe is right. I support them in thought and prayer. And, should the opportunity present itself, in action. Just putting that out there

 

Frohe Weihnachten und guten Rutsch

Hi everyone!

Wow. It’s been a long time (and not in the Boston “it’s been such a long time…” way; looking at it again, though, maybe).

Anyway, it’s fair enough to say that since getting back from Germany, blogging about anything (but especially Germany) has taken the backseat.

Still, I have hundreds of feather-light memories that I have time to get lost in everyone in a while, when someone shakes the snow globe of my life, and then I get pulled back to Germany and my life there. This has been happening a lot more during the Christmas season. As you may recall (if you’ve stuck with me through these quiet times!), I‘ve posted about Germany’s customs before.

This year, the semester didn’t really end for me until Dec. 18th, even though classes were out on Nov. 25th. Still, I’ve managed to get into the Christmas spirit a little with Advent every Sunday, baking cookies, going downtown Delray and looking at the 100 ft. tree, and getting Christmas cards out (yup. still do those).

I’m really excited about tomorrow, but more so about what happens after all the guests are gone (if you recall, Germans have two days of Christmas, so we have guests through Saturday) when it’s just me and my family again. I have a grad school application to submit by the 31st, which is the worst time for a deadline, if you ask me (though I could of course always have been more disciplined and already been done with it), but there’s also time for catching up on e-mails, Christmas letters (from the other dinosaurs who still do them) and lots of card playing.

I hope everyone was able to prepare enough for tomorrow that it’s a relaxing start into a glorious three day weekend, that there’s moments of peace in the festive atmosphere, and that everyone arrives healthy into the new year.

I also hope to figure out a new way to use this blog effectively, so that it’s not filling up unnecessary cyberspace for the next year, so please stay tuned!

Tschüß!- Dorothea

reblogged: 21 Days Without Sugar Experiment

In this article, Joe English does better work explaining the difficulty of cutting out sugar than I can, and since I’ve been meaning to write a similar post for a while now (though I did a year-long experiment), I will take advantage of the opportunity to have someone write the post for me.
As someone who has had (and I would argue, continues to have, despite cutting sugar out) a sweet-tooth, I will say that it is very difficult for someone like me. I think sweet-tooth is a cover-up for “sugar addiction,” and trying to cut out something I’ve been chemically and psychologically dependent on is an ongoing process that can take years.
You may ask, “is it worth it?” Joe English didn’t get into this yet, but besides feeling satisfied for much longer, and having a feeling of reliable energy, other foods (like vegetables and nuts) have much more intense tastes, and one can sense the sweetness in anything including meats, nuts, and cheeses.
Another benefit has been that other stimulants (like coffee) are no longer as necessary to get me going or keep me going, but they help when a craving comes on. The danger of cutting out sugar is that it can be replaced by another addiction (like alcohol, tobacco), but having the will-power to cut out sugar (especially if you have a sweet-tooth like me) can assure you that you’ll be able to control any other addiction as well.
I don’t want to trivialize serious addictions that result in alcohol and drug abuse, but I also don’t want the addiction to sugar trivialized either. I think if people can be more aware of how pervasive it is as an additive, and how much control it has over what we consider “tastes good,” then one step towards combating obesity and its related diseases will be taken.

Running Advice and News

running-advice-bugThere seems to be tremendous interest right now in the health effects of sugar in our diets. Many people say that it is sugar, rather than fat, that is leading people to be overweight. Documentaries like “Fed Up” talk about both the addictive nature of sugar and how the idea of “eating better and exercising more” makes little sense when the environment makes it practically impossible to eliminate sugar additives from your diet in the first place. No matter how hard you try, the deck is simply stacked against you, so the thinking goes.

SugarSo 21 days ago I set out to see if it was possible: could I eliminate sugars from my diet and what would be the impact on my behavior and general sense of well-being? I didn’t go into this trying to fix some specific problem or to lose weight. Rather in the end I learned a…

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