“Outraging My True Nature”

The eminent English writer George Orwell wrote an essay called “Why I Write,” which you can read on this semi-sketchy Russian website. (Just kidding, it doesn’t look sketchy at all. It’s just so random that there’s a site with a Russian domain devoted to an English-language writer.) In the beginning, he says something that I have been thinking about for several months now. The emphasis is mine.

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

Now, I cannot take credit for discovering this wonderful quote. It was actually in a book my mom read called Excellent Sheep, on page 98. You may have heard of it: it’s a screed against the Ivy League written by a former Ivy League professor who is, I believe, himself a graduate of an Ivy League school.

That book is not the point of this post, though. I want to go back to Orwell’s phrasing: “outraging my true nature.” It’s kind of a funny turn of the phrase, but when I read it, I knew exactly what he meant by it. You see, dear readers, a part me feels like I have been outraging my true nature, off and on, since mid-2013 or so. I admit, I didn’t particularly enjoy graduate school, and I often do not enjoy working at The Bank. I am not sure if the specific place I work at is the problem, or the banking industry as a whole, or even the broader category of financial services in general is the problem. All I know is it’s really high time I admitted this: my true nature feels outraged!

I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is. Yes, finding a new job is the obvious first step. But a new job doing what? The same thing I’m doing, but at a different company? Something financial but not at a financial services firm? I used to think that going back to school for a PhD was the answer, but now I’m not so sure I would enjoy that, either.

At least when Orwell’s true nature was outraged, he knew what he had to do to solve it. Granted, it wasn’t easy, but at least he knew the solution. I remain unsure of the solution to my problem.

At least I have admitted it, though. Now I can begin to search for a solution and hopefully solve it in 2015.

Book Rant: ‘Moscow Sting’

There’s a novel called Red to Black by Alex Dryden. (It’s only $0.99 on Kindle so you should read it.) It’s extremely anti-Russia but contains some elements of truth. Most importantly, it’s an intriguing story that is well-written. I’ve read it several times and although I actually dislike the two main characters rather intensely, I thoroughly enjoy reading the book every time I pick it up.

Moscow Sting. Now how would you translate that into Russian?
Moscow Sting. Now how would you translate that into Russian?

I found out recently that this book spawned a whole series. I downloaded the next three books in the series and finished the second one, Moscow Sting, last night. And wow, the different between this book and Red to Black was like night and day. Red to Black is told from a first person point of view. Chronologically, it jumps around a lot, but not in a confusing way. The story is masterfully framed: the one character reads a bunch of papers—a journal of sorts—left behind by another character in addition to telling her own story. It may sound strange, but it’s very well done.

Moscow Sting is completely different. A lot of new characters are introduced and I didn’t really like them. The main character from the prior novel, Anna, is perhaps even more off-putting. One thing that bothered me in Red to Black is how she treats Vladimir, a fellow intelligence officer who loves her very much. I understand that she sees him more as a friend, but she is unnecessarily cruel to him in the first novel, and unfortunately her bad treatment of him continues in Moscow Sting. After seeing what she does to him, it was impossible for me to sympathize with her at all.

So yes, I did finish the book. And complaining aside, I’m glad I read it. I like spy thrillers and reading them makes me think and gives me ideas for my own fiction. I must admit, the whole situation was rather strange: the entire time I was reading the book, I wasn’t rooting for the “good guys” (the Americans and the British, mainly) to win—I was actually rooting for all the pro-Kremlin forces to win because at least they were working against the characters I didn’t like very much!

In case you’re wondering, I’ve started the third book in the series—The Blind Spy. I do intend to read it, even though it’s shaping up to be more like Moscow Sting and less like Red to Black. Why? Because, as I said, spy thrillers make me think, plus The Blind Spy is about Ukraine. To be exact, it takes place during the Ukrainian presidential election in 2010, which I followed avidly on my old blog. (You’ll recall that Viktor Yanukovych won that election.) Several real-life people have made their way into The Blind Spy so far (Putin and Medvedev). I absolutely must find out if Yanukovych will make an appearance, too.

Do you think it is essential for the main character in a novel to be sympathetic? Why or why not?

Young People Don’t Save (No Surprises There)

Warning: rant against financial stupidity ahead!

Apparently it’s news that young people aren’t saving their money. In fact, they have a savings rate of negative 2%, which means they’re using up their assets and/or going into debt.

Now, as a young person who spends my days with other young people, this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Listen to what one of the foolish young women mentioned in the article spends her money on:

“I’ve been saving almost exclusively in my mind,” said 26-year-old Emily Turner, a 2010 graduate of Villanova University who lives in southern Maryland. Most of her paycheck from the digital consulting and web-design firm she works for “doesn’t even make it to a conventional bank account. I’ve certainly not had the opportunity to invest in stocks or anything.”

The money mostly went to her social life and travel, she says: a trip to Central America, a wedding in Southern California, a bachelorette party in Austin, Texas, trips to Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., to see friends, another bachelorette party in Austin.

Here’s a tip, sweetheart: the trips are unnecessary. There are few things in life that are as useless and stupid as a bachelorette party. (Especially the destination ones where the foolish bride and her friends drop a fortune on plane tickets, hotels, and various assorted crap.) The wedding may have been unnecessary: unless it was for a best friend, there’s no shame in gracefully declining the invitation and sending a nice gift in the mail. (Gifts can be expensive but not as much as plane tickets and hotels!) And I’m all about going to see friends who don’t live close to you—but if it cuts into your ability to actually save money and even puts you in debt, then I say stick to Skype for now.

“But Natasha,” you say, “you’re no fun at all! You sound like some bad-tempered old person railing against the young generation.” Well, yes, I guess I am railing a bit. I’m not old though, nor bad-tempered (and let me say that I don’t think older people are, as a rule, bad-tempered, just to be clear). I’m just all about fiscal responsibility. Let us examine what Ms. Turner’s financial situation is, as described at the end of the article.

For Ms. Turner, debts include $5,000 in student loans, $3,000 on credit cards and $6,000 borrowed from family. “There’s no formal note for that, but it resides in my psyche that I will pay it back at some point,” she said.

“I know I shouldn’t have accepted credit so freely,” she said. “But part of youth, the wiring of a young person, is the focus on really short-term gratification.”

Compared to what some people owe, $5,000 in student loans isn’t bad. But $3,000 in credit card debt? Are you joking? I can’t even imagine. Does she not know how high those interest rates are? Does she not know how to calculate the incredibly large amount of interest she’ll pay? If she doesn’t, someone at would be more than willing to show her the calculation, I’m sure.

Let me just put it this way: if you have $3,000 in credit card debt, you should not be traveling until you’ve paid it off. It’s as simple as that.

And people wonder why the country is in such a crappy situation politically. Though the answer to that is complex, part of it is because people like Ms. Turner, who possess absolutely no common sense whatsoever, are voting in our elections. Apparently the lack of common sense extends to politics.

Seriously, if you don’t know how to save money, I am going to give you my main tip for doing so. Keep in mind that I can save money like nobody’s business. Are you ready? Here is the single most important thing you can do to keep more of your paycheck in your bank account:

Stop spending money on alcohol.

I observe what my coworkers and friends spend their money on and that is the single biggest drain on their finances. Alcohol is really expensive. And buying it adds up really, really quickly, especially when you go out for drinks three or four nights every single week. (Don’t believe me? Read this blog entry in which a young woman keeps track of what she spends her money on for a week. Yes, I know she lives in New York, but the amount spent on alcoholic drinks is just insane. Food is a close second, though.)

Of course, people are free to spend their money on what they want. If you love going out on the weekends, by all means do so. But don’t go around whining when your bank account has no money in it, you’re up to your ears in credit card debt, the debt collection agencies are harassing you at all hours of the day, and you just got denied at that new apartment complex you want to live in because your credit score is in the toilet.

The Most Important Cultural Event Of The 21st Century

I will NEVER put a photo of The Band That Must Not Be Named on my blog, so here's a photo of the lovely cathedral they offensively desecrated instead!
I will NEVER put a photo of The Band That Must Not Be Named on my blog, so here’s a photo of the lovely cathedral they offensively desecrated instead!

My friends, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Read the following excerpt I found in an advice column in the vaunted academic publication, Chronicle of Higher Education. As an ardent once-aspiring academic (who am I kidding—half of my day is usually spent contemplating my return to academia), I like keeping up with what’s going on in the academic world, especially in the humanities and social sciences. But I won’t bore you with my pontification anymore—on to the single most hilarious advice-seeking letter ever published. The emphasis is mine.

I’m tussling with my committee about my dissertation topic. I want to do something new, different, and interesting to me and others in my age cohort.

Specifically, I want to write about Pussy Riot, because they’re the most important cultural event of the 21st century. My committee’s mostly older people, over 50, and they don’t know or appreciate what I’m talking about. They disapprove. They cringe.

But I want to write for the future, not live in the past. How can I persuade them to let me do my dissertation on Pussy Riot?

Ah, yes. How fascinating. We are a mere fourteen years into the twenty-first century, my friends, yet the most important cultural event has already happened! We all should be bowing down and thanking this Future Academic Superstar for her benevolence in informing us of this. No matter what happens in the future years of the twenty-first century—all eighty-five of them!—that “performance” by those immature, offensive, ungrateful, and just plain stupid young women of The Band That Must Not Be Named will forever remain the most important cultural event of this century.

Oddly enough, the genial advice-giving professor who writes the column gives the same advice I would give: don’t touch that topic with a ten-foot pole. Admittedly, her reasons are much different from mine and mainly focus on the topic being much too recent and developing (as in, by the time the dissertation is finished, it may be already out of date). Though I suppose I should be grateful for small favors that her advice leads to the outcome I prefer (specifically, no dissertation on The Band That Must Not Be Named).

Photo credit: спасибо Википедии

No September 11 Post

I used to write a memorial post on September 11. You can read one here. I haven’t for the past two years, though, and I am not going to this year.

The reason why is that I’m disgusted. September 11, 2001 wasn’t that long ago in the whole scheme of things. Yet, everyone seems to have forgotten about it. It bothers me that in my generation, what should have been a turning point and seminal event is just viewed as history now, and something that can’t (and won’t) happen again.

So instead, I am going to work on my novel, then go read for a bit, then go to bed. I’m not going to spend time trying to convince people that the events of September 11, 2001 are more important today than ever before. (Have you read the news about the Middle East lately?) It’s not worth my time and honestly, I really don’t know if I care about persuading people anymore.

Murdered Journalists, Hypocritical Liberals, And Soviet Nuclear Threats

By now you’ve probably heard the horrible news that yet another American has died at the hands of the disgusting Islamic terrorists commonly known as the “Islamic State.” The BBC article I linked to seems to think that the murder of these journalists is proof that American airstrikes are hurting the Islamic State; I’m not sure I agree, but that isn’t the point of this post.

The first point is this: it’s amazing that for years, starting in 2003 or so, the liberals in the United States parroted the stupid rhyme that “Bush lied, people died.” People did die when Bush was president (but show me a president with a truly bloodless tenure and I’ll show you a cat with wings). People are also dying with Obama as president and I haven’t heard a peep out of these allegedly “humanitarian” liberals so concerned with human rights in the third world (and the occasional American soldier, when it suits them). (Realize I’m not just talking about Americans dying now: there are a ton of innocent people dying in Iraq from that stupid Islamic State. Somehow that doesn’t seem to bother the liberals much anymore, though.)

The second, and more important, point is: what the hell is the American government doing letting all this happen? The only duty a government has is to protect its people from external threats—and considering the taxes taken out of each of my paychecks, we Americans deserve a lot of protection! Instead of actually saying something of substance to the Islamic State—say, stop it or we’ll nuke you—all the president says (through his mouthpiece, the White House spokesman John Earnest, of course) that we are “thinking” of the murdered journalists. I’m sure all those thoughts are doing Steven Sotloff and James Foley a whole lot of good right now… not.

What, threats of nuclear annihilation don’t work, you say? I beg to differ: they can be quite effective. Observe the following passage from John R. Schindler’s Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad, pages 135-36.

…Only rarely did Mughniyah slip up. One operation that didn’t go according to plan was the October 1985 kidnapping of four Soviet diplomats in Beirut—a political attaché, the embassy’s doctor, and two KGB officers. Mughniyah miscalculated as the Soviets weren’t inclined to use wait-and-see tactics when its representatives were taken hostage. After one Soviet was executed, the KGB retaliated in Beirut and reportedly threatened that a nuclear bomb would be dropped on the Iranian holy city of Qom if the remaining hostages weren’t at once. Israeli intelligence intercepted encrypted messages between Hizballah and Tehran that revealed Iranian control of the operation—and that Moscow’s threat worked. The Soviet officials were released without further harm.

I don’t like the Soviet Union one bit, but I can’t help but admire such an effective show of strength. (Note: this is one reason why I wish the US and Russia were close allies. I want such rhetoric from someone on my side, not an enemy.)

And I also want the government to stand up for all Americans, no matter where they are in the world. Is it really asking too much for my fellow citizens to elect someone who isn’t a spineless coward? I suppose it is, unfortunately.

Tired

Today was a not-so-exciting day at work. So unexciting, in fact, that while thinking it over in the shower, I thought, “And why am I doing this again?!?” We’re doing a whole bunch of training right now and dang, is it boring. A little part of me dies inside every time I’m forced to listen to a lecture on something I already know. Case in point: I know what an inverted yield curve is, I know when and why it occurs, and what I don’t need is an hour-long lecture on the subject that does not contribute to my knowledge on the matter whatsoever. Just saying.