Sunday, 9 December 2012

The chickencast: Media and censorship in the context of DJs' prank call, Kate Middleton and Jacintha Saldanha's death

Dear listeners,

In the light of the recent events surrounding the prank phone call of the two radio DJs to Kate Middleton's nurses, and the subsequent death of the nurse, I have something to say.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The chickencast: Career as self-realisation

I am proud to present to you... The Pountchline 2.0! Welcome to my first, ever, digitally remastered blog!
Enjoy, share and comment. Here it is:
Podcast: Career as self-realisation

Friday, 21 September 2012

Why did the chicken run across the road? It was chasing its happiness. Yet, the more it chased, the farther away happiness seemed.

Happiness is the most unpredictable thing of all. It's not without reason that people often recite the saying "Be careful what you wish for", and it is not just because sometimes what you wish for comes to you but in a shape and form you never expected. It is even more disappointing when your dreams come true, as you wished them to be, and they disappoint you, it hits you hard because of the discrepancy between how you thought you would feel and how you feel in reality. Even if factually what you wanted and what you got is exactly the same.

A flaw in human psychology or perhaps a fundamental misunderstanding of our own psychology is the reason  for unhappiness. If given the option, we would wrongly prefer to have more choice, more options, more money, when in fact being limited is the core predicament of happiness.  Choice confuses our circuits, it causes doubt, it occupies our brain with endless analysis of all possible outcomes, and an ultimate discontent that we can't have everything. Of course, having everything would lead to more discontent for the same reason. Did you know that a year after the event, a parapalegiac and a lottery winner report the same level of happiness? Absurd, perhaps. But we assume that the intensity and longevity of our emotions, both good and bad ones, will be much higher than they are in reality.

I personally have been happiest when swamped with work, when I had to optimise my time and my efforts. Those were the times I worked hard and played hard, and I believe in some way, the best thing you can do to make yourself happy is to make yourself busy. The reverse leads to apathy. Working hard means that you have to play hard to counteract the work, and you have to work hard to earn the play. On a more superficial level, I was happy because I felt I was being productive, that what I did mattered (even if only a little), it made an impact, it was necessary. The explanation on a more psychological level stems from the setting and achieving of goals. Humans, proven, function very well when they have a day-to-day plan, when there are many but small goals in sight- a course work every week means that my brain is constantly occupied with simple, doable tasks. The reason why 5 year plans worked so well for Russia was because Stalin understood that. It worked so well because Stalin understood that a plan for the development of Russia in the next 50 years would have simply been inconceivable for the average person. Where do you start, even? Thanks to his understanding of this, Russia was able to compete in the Space Race at all in the 50's and 60's,  and thanks to him, Russia is a world power even today, when, before his rule the country was absolutely destroyed.

What makes short-term goals such a positive reinforcement is that rewards are visible quickly, it's a Pavlovian scheme of operant conditioning that motivates us to achieve more and better next time... but on a small level. It extracts the best, it motivates and enhances, mostly because we feel that our work is rewarded and appreciated. Even more pivotal to the success of short-term goals is that we feel we have deserved this success. In the army, it is much more difficult to be promoted to a higher rank than it is in the air force. Yet, studies have shown that members of the military are considerably happier with their promotions, albeit much less often because the air force know that they have been promoted because somebody died, not because of their own merits. They don't feel that they have deserved it. They also get habituated to getting promoted and the frequency lowers their enjoyment and appreciation of the event.

What makes us happy very often is something we didn't expect or wish for. Why? Because we had no expectations that could be unmet, and because, unfortunately, what we wish for does not make us happy, it makes us miserable. We wish for choice, money and fame, but those will confuse us more than they will make us smile. The greed is not material, the desire for material possessions is only a physical manifestation of greed on a psychological level. Greed is particularly emphasised in societies with an individualistic centre. It is hardly surprising that some of the most capitalistic, individualistic societies are the most secular societies, the cult of a god has moved towards a cult of things and individuals, but it is only a recent realisation that people are most unhappy when they live in individualistic societies. The highest suicide rates are there.

I am secular but that does not prevent me from seeing that religion is simply a function of our human psychology. Ultimately, very subconsciously, even our predecessors whose brain was 1/3rd of our mass, understood that we need to be limited in order to prosper, both as individuals and as a collective. That is why they created religions and gods, because we can fear them, we can rely on them, we can pray to them, and finally, they give us a sense of perspective- there are things that gods can do that we are no capable of. Unfortunately, and it hurts me deeply, religion is pivotal to human success and happiness. This is the most developed that any of us have ever been, so much is available to us and we want more because now there are no limits to our dreams, supposedly. Yet we end up wishing for more power and more money, resulting in confusion on what to do with such disproportionate amounts of it; it leads to fear that we will lose our money and power, which in turn leads to aggression and/ or escapism- drugs, alcohol, shopping, entertaining TV shows with yet more competition.

What will happen? The most developed, those who are leading us into this towards the top of the ladder will collapse first. It will be a total annihilation, to the very core- the economy, their belief system, their social system. Has it not happened already with the Economic crisis? This crisis happened also in 1929 for the same reason- a success too rapid is unstable, it was too good to be true. I personally believe that, very much like a Pheonix, we will rise and rebuild our societies and ourselves. Stupidity was defined by Einstein as repeating the same action and expecting different results each time. Unfortunately, the human race is stupid. Fortunately, ignorance is bliss.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Whether the chicken crossed the road or not, we can no longer tell because the chicken updated its security settings.

“Goodbye, said the fox. And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

Privacy often comes up when we discuss the relationships between large corporations, usually Google or Apple, and their customers. Let's call it macro-privacy. What never seems to be addressed, or I have been perpetually missing it, is micro-privacy: what are the boundaries in our daily routine, how easy is it to cross them? What are the repercussions and who do I really hurt if I cross that boundary? Who will know, if I do? Maybe, and that is what really concerns me, how often do we know that we've crossed that boundary?

The questions are too many for this to just be a hypothetical discussion, indeed. A particular incident happened a few days ago and it stuck with me, it is marinating in my mind, my brain has been trying to simultaneously forget it and understand it. 

Violence doesn't have to be physical to be tangible. Symbolic violence, though usually a reserved guest to feminist theologians (among others), is a curious concept that can be felt and that can confuse just as much as a slap in the face. If I get slapped in the face, I'd probably at least know where it came from. 

An early train ride towards the airport had me leaning on the window. The slow rocking of the train, perhaps reminiscent of a cradle, got me drifting off. I was day dreaming, snoozing, feeling my eye lids heavy and sleeping, and waking up again. I opened my eyes, for no real reason, and I saw a man with a his phone aimed  at me, taking a photo. He saw me open my eyes and immediately, quickly, swiftly and soundlessly walked away. That is it. That is all that happened.

Did he think it was funny I was asleep at 5 am on the train and wanted to post it online with a funny tagline underneath? Did he think I was cute while I was sleeping? I've been told that before but I never thought it was worthy of a photo. Maybe it wasn't the sleeping bit... so I looked at my reflection in the window which had, until seconds ago, provided me with a resting place and given space to my dreams; but no, I wasn't wearing any interesting clothes, didn't have any make-up smeared on my face. I still don't know why this stranger felt the need to take a picture of a sleeping person on a train at 5 am. 

I get the feeling that there was no purpose to it, though. This is where privacy comes in. He felt it was OK for him to do it, yet not OK enough that he would be arrogant about it: me waking up snapped him out of it and he left, ashamed, perhaps. Where does the boundary come in, when you have a camera phone, when you can upload photos instantly and share them, literally, with the other side of the planet? I think, because technology allows us to do something, it is easy to assume that it grants a moral and social permission too. I ask myself questions too: why was I so taken aback by this? What was the worst that could happen, really, I thought to myself. Some strangers may see me sleeping. I don't even think you could see my face and I wasn't drooling... Yet, it was a very clear violation, it felt as strong as a punch in the chest.

To answer my questions:
1. it is incredibly easy to cross micro-boundaries because they are so subjective. There is a discrepancy, what we can physically accomplish has surpassed our development psychologically on an individual level, let alone the social one.We may be able to do something but that doesn't mean that we should or we are allowed to. Perceptions change slowly. I am not even disputing whether they should change, whether some opinions are better off "un-evolved". 
2.usually, if you cross a boundary, in the cases of micro-privacy anyway, it won't be a major problem. Sure, the victim may tell you off or punch you (if you chat up someone's girlfriend in a bar, for example) but there rarely would be great consequences. It mostly tells something about you and your character. 
3. the issue is that you may not know you've crossed a boundary. Because we're talking about such small moments that only last a second, sometimes without any witnesses or time for reaction, you may not feel that anything has happened. And if that's the case, returning to Question 2, mostly, it hurts the perpetrator, not the victim. 

Ultimately, trust your instincts. And if you hear a silence, then that's more telling than the loudest scream. But just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should. And frankly, I feel this ending to be a bit false, a bit unstable. This is my attempt at concluding a story which doesn't have a natural ending. This is just my brain, doing what it's made to do- trying to solve a puzzle and have closure.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Which roads does an American chicken with wet dreams cross? Only the ones in the greatest country in the world, of course. (I should be able to come up with a better title)

I'm ill at home, so I've had even more free time, which means more internet and movies. I don't usually engage in movie criticisms- like the Russians cleverly say: на вкуса и цвет, товарищей нет.
I am not a fan of super-hero movies but recently I've been craving them a little. A craving just as bizarre and inexplicable as my other recent one- salads. However, if something is worth doing, it's worth overdoing, so I sat down to watch Avengers, which everybody, fan of the genre or not, has been telling me is great and the best one of them all. OK. I am 42 mins in and my opinion is

This movie is great!

It's so indescribably BAD, that you're guaranteed 2h 17 mins of laughter!

The dialogue is clumsy, predictable, self-entitled and taking itself seriously, uses every cliché in the book, and it's an insult to the intelligence of anyone above the age of 12. When Samuel Jackson drops voice and "super"-seriously says "As of right now, we are at war!", I did actually laugh out loud, despite the fact that every movement I make causes much pain to my whole body. It was still worth it. Second favourite moment so far was the alien sequence with Loki about 29 mins in, the set is as bad as what I've seen from Star Wars and Indiana Jones...the old ones. To be fair, that is just called sticking to a genre. Ah, of course, the bad guy is English. [EDIT: I have removed my rant about Loki- I don't find him neither charismatic, no handsome, and a bad guy should be at least one but I've been told he is. I suppose he grows on you by the end]

This article was inspired by the movie but the movie is not the pivotal point in it. [NOTE: This paragraph has been edited in order to clarify that, as comments showed me that there was confusion] I am sure that those who like it have their reasons but I want to address a particular kind of audience: those who feed on such films to support their deluded fantasies of greatness. There's plenty good that has come from the US, and a silly little Bulgarian would need a lot more arrogance than I could ever muster to deny that. I don't hate Americans either, some of the best people I know are from there. The problem comes from the ones with very little knowledge of the world around them, who, however, are aggressive with their ignorance.

I do hate their indescribable ignorance, which inevitably goes hand in hand with their arrogance and self-praising. Of course you love it when Samuel Jackson so passionately delivers his line "We are at war", you fuckin' loved it 10 or so years ago, when this joke of a person told you "Either you're with us or against us". You cried that your soldiers were getting killed but you fucking loved it because you were playing the victim and the hero. And you love to see "Captain America" go fix it all, whether somebody asked you to or not. Cast an English bloke to play the bad guy, make a pitiful impression of Russia where the letters don't spell out anything but are random characters from the Cyrillic alphabet (which, btw, is not Russian, it's created by two Bulgarian brothers who studied in Thessaloniki). The you show all the main characters in random impoverished countries, where the location doesn't serve the plot, it serves to make the movie "exotic" in your twisted fantasies, where a few good US guys  abroad speak a couple of phrases in this foreign language, you look up to them because you think they are all that. I can see your pants drip. Unlike most, I think there's nothing wrong with being arrogant, there's just one catch though: you must be able to pull it off. So many are under the impression that "America is the greatest country in the world". Now, there's no such thing as best country in the world, first. Second, Aaron Sorkin, via Will McAvoy, explains:

"Hey you, sorority girl. Just in case you ever walk into a voting booth, there's some things you need to know and one of them is there's absolutely no evidence to support the statement that America is the greatest country in the world. We're 7th in literacy, 27 in maths, 22 in science, 49 in infant expectancy, 178th in infant mortality [...] We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries, combined. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20 year old college student but you are, without a doubt, a member of the worst.generation.ever. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world... I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!"

Maybe a little over the top, Sorkin style, but makes the excellent point. There is nothing wrong with being stupid. What gets me to fly off the handle is being unapologetic about it and aggressively stupid. If you don't know that Europe is not a country or that France is, that's sad,  but you can learn. But don't expect me to find you ignorance fucking cute and endearing.

How can you think you are the greatest country in the world, when the vast majority (between 75%-93%, depending on different statistics) don't even hold a passport, thus haven't been to any other country? It's a vicious cycle- you assume you're the greatest country in the world because you'll eat up anything the media feeds you, and I won't even make an obesity reference here, only hint at one. Then you decide not to travel. Then you have even less information at your disposal to make such decision, reinforcing your idea that you are, indeed, the greatest country in the world.

OK, I'll go finish that movie now, maybe now that I've gotten my fristrations out, I can find something enjoyable in it. In the mean time, go play with yourself, I see you've got an erection.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Which road did the chicken cross? It doesn't matter- they all lead to Rome...where Rome stands for change.

Sometimes simple intensity can bring you to tears, where the reason for them is irrelevant. Things are changing so fast- every day is a day of surprises, news, change, goodbyes and hello's, I am left with an intense emotion but deciphering it would be near impossible.
Let's recap.

Two of the best people I know are moving. M&L have been together for over 4 years now, and just looking at them can simultaneously teach you so much, yet make you question everything you thought you knew about relationships. They will grow old together. They are the couple, in my life, who is my example couple- you look up to them, when you start a new relationship, and you measure your relationship against theirs, in the hope to resemble them and to be as happy as they are. They are moving to a country far away, and probably for good. I've just come back home after attending their good-bye party: they "sold" so much of their clothes, bags, shoes, books, all the way down to the plates and mugs, all for the symbolic price of 1 Lev (a.k.a. 0.5 Euro). They are really going and I couldn't be happier for them. I believe even fate has their back- they may be leaving in just 10 days and so much is yet to be figured out, including where they'll live, but every day they have news (tomorrow, I believe, they're selling the car) and it will all work out. I saw their life, both as a couple and as the lovely individuals that they are, disappear in 4 hours, everything they've built in this city, I saw it going to people who felt happy to be included in their story. I feel proud to be able to wear a couple of shirts, the sentiment behind which will warm me up while they are beginning their new life. I do wish them all the best but it's confusing to think I may not see them for a long long time....and that's good- if you love someone, you wish them what is best for them, right?
Seeing them, however, only makes me realise how far I am from where I want to be. The fact that they are 6 years ahead of me only gives me some comfort. The fact of the matter is, they are incredibly lucky but have worked so hard to get here and, even more than sadness I feel inspiration to keep going. Some do get a fairy tale ending, or so it seems. When you know the story, you know that they have built their happiness. Bon voyage!

Also in the news today, a close relative, I was informed today by the "Grandma international" news agency, is expecting her first child. Early days but at this point I can only wish her a great deal of health, patience and love. It's crazy- I've known her since we were kids, and she's having a baby?

A buddy of mine just got married, apparently, after only knowing his girl for about 8-9 months. Congrats, but I do wish you luck. Confusing.

A friend of mine just gave birth to their second child, she's a year older than me... no need for luck there, when you know her, you know it makes sense for them.

I've been having an existential crisis in the past months, which may be at its peak now, and it's a daily struggle. Some hours are great, happy, fulfilled, enjoyed, and others slither by so slowly. Yesterday started off shit- in depression and questioning, apathy and guilt. It ended at 4am, in McDonald's after a fantastic night out, with people who make me feel good. What is it about pool parties that makes me think "Daaaamn, I've still got it!!" Excellent feeling. It is this excellent feeling and that dormant thirst for life, which is hiding oh-so-well under a thick, reminiscent-of-winter-coat, layer of denial and apathy, that has pushed me to a point of "Yes". I have made the active decision to say "YES" to practically any suggestion that one may have (anything short of "Jump off the building"). Ever wanted to make me do something? Now is your time, go ahead. Test me, see if I mind. I may go camping at the seaside.

I have lost some friendships, I've questioned a few and found others in a strange place.

I am finishing my Master's degree in a couple of weeks, and I've never felt so intensely. I feel intensely: I experience events an a way which leaves a mark. I Need to find a job, I need to find a country to live in. But for all the questions that I have, I have a few answers too: I have realised that I really do have something unique about me, I respect myself in many ways; I know that as soon as I get a stable job, a few pay checks later I will get a dog, a Cocker Spaniel. I know I want to help people, so working for an NGO is now very much a possibility. I know that, after this growth period, about a year from now, I will be the person I want to be, and roughly where I want to be. I feel it like I feel the craving for coffee when i've been caffeine-abstinent for weeks: it's undeniable. About that: some battles you fight, some you let go. I am accepting caffeine as my only real vice and source of self-destruction, for, if you deny yourself the little pleasures of self-destruction, you destruct in much worse ways.

A year from now, I will be happy. I also do have some doubts that finally, as far as my sexuality, I may have arrived where I wanted to be, although this matter is at the same stage as my relative's baby- too early to tell what the sex is. I'll keep you posted. And....hey! If you hear of a job I may be able to do, in practically any country, give me a shout!