Radical Second Things

"Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea." +Elder Sophrony of Essex

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Nix and the Science of a Great Novel

I recently finished The Nix, a novel by up and coming novelist Nathan Hill, which fits all the standards for a really great novel. Great novels, despite the fluidity of good literature, do tend to follow a formula - a formula that a great artist (and writing is an art) is able to adept to and mold in to his own creation.

A great novel is sweeping. Sweeping or sprawling. These are descriptions you often hear of great books. Benjamin Percy described The Nix as "culturally relevant, politically charged, historically sweeping, sad, full of yearning, sometimes dark, but mostly hilarious." This is something that could also be described with another great American novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which one critic refered to as a novel with "epic sweep."

Chabon's book swept through roughly three decades - the three protagonists met in the 1930s and only resolved their problems and tensions in the 1950s. Nathan Hill's characters range in storytelling from the late 1960s in to the 2010s, with one character, Faye, depicted from her teenage years in to her late adulthood.

The tensions that set the book are set up in the 1970s and, interestingly enough, do not boil over until our times. Alot of people have said that the Obama years were a return not only to a domestic social climate a hell of alot like the 1970s but a world climate much the same. Hill's book illustrates that this may be true almost to a T. He describes race and gender driven riots that adeptly reflect the tensions in American society today nearly to a T. National Guardsmen are depicted as cheering on the Russian invasion of Prague, reflecting modern conservative reverence for Russian president Vladimir Putin's leadership, while one passage told of conservative viewers of Walter Kronkite turning on him as he started to sound more and more lefty, something that made me think quite a bit of the strange exodus from the right that once conservative zealot Glenn Beck seems to be enduring.

I don't want to spoil this book too much for you - it's really quite good. I read it after To the Finland Station, a sweeping historical account written in the form of a novel back in 1940. While the topics were much different, Finland Station was an account of historical Marxism, both books illustrated that there may actually be a pretty simple formula to writing a great novel - albeit a formula that you have to have talent to deliver on. Nathan Hill has that talent.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

No More Rev

So I was working as a transcribor for Rev for the last four months. I stayed on despite a few very bad ratings. Over the last few weeks, my ratings were on point, regularly getting 5/5 and bringing home 3 figures each week.

I got great ratings this week and then abruptly, tonight, I got this message sent to me: 

Unfortunately, we can no longer keep your transcription specific account open. This is due to your accuracy and quality being below our acceptable average. Your transcription account is being deactivated today. If you have any other account type with us, that will remain open. This decision is final.

You will be compensated for all completed work. Here are your performance metrics for August 6 to October 5.

So, given that message, I would assume that it's time to school my self-esteem, right? I'm obviously not fit for this line of work. Well not quite. Look at the metrics they sent me:

MetricYouRevver TargetRevver+ Target
% On-time submission100%75%90%
Commitment Ratio *9815
Volume (minutes)967-400
The Rev Team

According to this graph, I was actually above average in many respects. The abruptness of this message, combined with a graph that actually complemented my abilities, just tells me something internal went wrong. 

If you're thinking of working for them, I won't stop you but I guess just keep my experience in mind.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Obama, Putin and the Prospect of Being Wrong About Everything

Due to colonialism and world events leading in to World War II, including the rise and fall of fascism and then the Civil Rights era in the United States have solidified a notion in most people's head, even if it is not outwardly expressed - persecution and oppression is a fault of white men, with "people of color" always the oppressed.

This assumption of how the world works is so deeply ingrained in the minds of many that it takes on religious proportions. As a transitionary global conflict seems to engulf most of the world, violence between the black community and the larger US community (and it needs to be remembered that it is both groups who perpetuate it) is amplified and politicized while other groups caught in whatever it is going on get not nearly as much attention given to them. It's an act of hanging on to a fading narrative as the world transforms and re-aligns itself on a level that could be even more dramatic than the second world war.

Unfortunately, that narrative just doesn't apply. It's not "white men" that are scaring the crap out of the world and using the tools of genocide to dominate and instill fear in 2016 (at least not in the sense of what Americans seem to think of as "white," as many Muslims probably are technically "white," if white really is even a thing). It's Islamists, who from Orlando to Paris to Aleppo, are carrying on a path of genocide like nothing seen since WW2.

And on their side, making the whole job easier, is a political class of neoliberals - the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and neoconservatives like George W. Bush and his camp before them. An implied belief of "post-racialism" and diversity engulfed all three of them, even if they seemed seperate from one another in US politics. What would happen if this class of American and European leaders became historically tied, through oafishness and greed, to the rise and acceleration of one of history's abominations?

Imagine the last two American presidents tied in history as helping to coddle, create the environment for and then even defend radical Islam. Then imagine Vladimir Putin in the role of a historical hero - a Russian Dwight Eisenhower or George S. Patton - who has helped to sweep ISIS and Islamism from the world with the harshness that requires. The current contrast between Russian and American behavior could not be more stark. The United States allows terrorists to gain weapons domestically to kill its own people while then bombing the Syrian Army, which is fighting ISIS. On the other hand, Russia clears towns of ISIS and then holds Bach concerts for survivors. Who is really the civilized country?

If Russia, with its "sovereign democracy," and a host of authoritarian but socially stable countries, often with senses of national identity that would seem bigoted by US progressives, in tow came out from this current crisis relatively unscathed, how would that change how we perceive this world? I'm not sure how we would but I'm confident that such a result, which seems to be what we're headed for, would absolutely devastate the social assumptions that American and other western progressives have taken as a given. The world simply is not like they think it is and it is proving it every day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How The New Silk Road is Flattening the World

Hey everybody,

For the last month or so, I have been working steadily with the Blue Ocean Network, a Chinese based content provider. I have the sense that the east is the future and it has been a great pleasure to write for Chinese publication after so much time spent in the US publishing world. Please check out my work for them, "How The New Silk Road Is Flattening The World:"
"Knowledge and innovation are key factors in economic growth and poverty reduction." - The World Bank

The growth and development of China's economy over the last forty years has been unprecedented. The opening and reform of the nation began with western powers, such as the United States, reaching out in hopes the struggling Asian country would be a good client for its brand. The game has flipped.  America is nowhere close to the sort of superpower it was when President Richard Nixon met with Chairman Mao and China is the undisputed global manufacturing leader, making nearly a quarter of the world's goods.With such output comes integration, to ensure Chinese goods can reach every corner of the world, including traditionally underserved regions. The most audacious act of Chinese infrastructure is certainly the reconvening of China's ancient Silk Road which, in today's context, is a series of freight and transit lines binding China with the former Soviet Union, Europe and the Middle East. 


Drivers on a block train in China's less developed interiorThe Silk Road takes its name from an economic infrastructure established two millennia ago. The creation of it precipitated an era in which Asian and Middle Eastern empires, from the spread of Islam to the Mongol empire, ruled the world. The recreation of the Silk Road may represent a new pivot toward the East after centuries of Western dominance.The most diversified element of the initiative is arguably the Zhengzhou-Hamburg rail line, crossing from the heart of China all the way into the lungs of Europe, with a detour through the outer regions of the former Soviet Union.


The block trains from Zhengzhou pass through the steppes of Kazakhstan

These underserved regions include the former Soviet republics, many of which – due to their role in the outskirts of the Soviet empire – are very new to the game of global capitalism. One prominent country that could benefit from this is Kazakhstan, the country whose perceived backwardness was famously mocked by Sacha Baron Cohen in his hit film Borat.The Zhengzhou-Hamburg rail line crosses into the former capital of Almaty, an urban center of almost 2 million people. I can attest from experience how valued the goods this new Silk Road will be to many of those. A friend of mine from the Ukraine (also a post-Soviet state) was sure to make the most of a Chinese-made computer he acquired when he arrived in the United States. This equipment allowed Sergei access to his Russian based bank from Portland, Oregon and to buy specialized products such as survival food for his extensive bike trips through the United States.Laptop ownership is almost ubiquitous in the United States but far from it in many parts of the world.The website of The World Bank, an organization dedicated to relieving poverty in developing countries, is a huge repository of information on such projects as the ambitiously titled One Laptop Per Child and their own work in the development of technology commercialization within the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan through a program set up with the country's Ministry of Education and Science. The cooperation led to several developmental research projects through Nazarbayev University, including one aimed at creating filtration nanostructures that would help curb bacteria and viruses before they spread.Nazarbayev_University_in_Astana_Kazakhstan.jpg

Nazarbayev University in Astana, KazakhstanA recent BON video took me further west along the New Silk Road to a terminal in Hamburg where Samir Turkovic, a young crane operator, talks of his appreciation of Chinese economic integration and the small role he plays helping freight containers on their journey between China to Germany. Speaking of his job, Samir says,

"With the train, I see what China is for this world.”

What that is, of course, is still very much the world's workshop, but with an intriguing new element of the ability for that workshop to drop its goods off at your front door, and perhaps even rebalance the cultural world order.Laptops and electronics will remain significant for the Zhengzhou region – companies such as Sony and Hewlett Packard, mentioned prior, intend to maintain large levels of their supply on the freight. Hewlett Packard has even been called a pioneer of the route that other companies are following.Easy access to a supply of cheaply produced laptops would give Kazakhs and others from the former USSR economic leverage traditionally not afforded to them. The "global flattening" from this kind of supply chain disruption will be familiar to readers of Thomas FriedmanBut the benefit of greater integration is not simply afforded to the developing countries surrounding China. Labor costs in China's eastern cities have surged in the last decade, so manufacturers are trying to reduce costs by moving production west to the nation's interior. Trucking products from the new inland factories to coastal ports is costly and slow. In fact, China is so big it is in the process of flattening itself.  That is, the poorer, interior regions are also now benefitting from the New Silk Road in the same way as Kazakhstan.

"China is so big it is flattening itself."

In the midst of China's economic growth comes the threat of enmity and prejudice. I currently live in Berkeley, California. The city enjoys a flood of Chinese students and investors who provide a great deal of energy and new thought in otherwise stale and decaying American social and economic climate. I have overheard Americans speak with disdain at the new-found leverage that Chinese have in Northern California. As China increases in power, size and influence, I expect this to continue.China's growth and development is a double-edged sword. It's a blessing to countries like Kazakhstan to be able to own computers and equipment usually afforded to a sliver of the world's population. However, China will have enormous, possibly unprecedented leverage due to its economic infrastructure, possibly retarding the economic development and redevelopment of much of the world. There is, for instance, nothing even close to the Silk Road in development or even proposed in North or South America or Africa. Hopefully, as more countries benefit from China's integration effort, they make efforts of their own.
Author description Michael Orion Powell–Deschamps has been writing professionally since he was a teenager. Born in Seattle, Washington, he started at the newspaper for Roosevelt High School, graduated to the local Pacific Publishing Company, the San Francisco Examiner and on to the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. Currently most of his time has been dedicated to writing for the political website Dagblog, his own website Radical Second Things, and contributing to Asian themed websites.