Monthly Archives: October 2012

Country matters

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Recently I have become better at geography. Bodies of water, capitals, terrains, and anthropologies are still well beyond my ken, but I can name all the countries and find them on a map. Can you?

I’ll explain why I’ve recently decided to become less ignorant, but first we need some bulleted lists and maybe some pictures.

Number of countries in the world:

  • Approximately 196
  • 193 recognized by the United Nations
  • 3 countries that aren’t in the UN: Vatican City, Kosovo, and Taiwan

Size extremes:

  • The smallest is Nauru, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, about one tenth the mass of Washington, D.C., with a perimeter of 30 kilometers. You could do a lap around the whole thing, à la The Little Prince, in an afternoon.
  • The largest country, of course, is Russia, with a landmass equally about one sixth of the surface of the moon.
Hi, I'm Nauru

Hi, I’m Nauru

Hi, I’m 814,000 times bigger than Nauru.

Places I mistakenly thought were countries:

  • Greenland
  • England
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Palestine
  • Chechnya

Selected changes since Mr. Pack’s seventh-grade Social Studies class:

  • Zaire is no longer a country
  • Eritrea split off from Ethiopia
  • Palau (sort of near itty-bitty Nauru) became a country
  • So did Montenegro and South Sudan

Countries that I swear I’d never heard of before:

  • Kiribati
  • Andorra
  • San Marino
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu
  • Tonga
  • Timor-Leste
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Comoros
  • Sao Tome and Principe

Country that sounds like a doo-wop group:

  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The reason for my newfound interest in geography is that I’ve come up with a career plan. Isn’t it neat how I’m dropping that bombshell in the middle of a blog post? Anyhow, at the goading hectoring urging of a friend of mine, now retired from his own globe-trotting career, I am investigating the possibility of joining the Foreign Service.

Of human Bondage

This has basically nothing to do with the Foreign Service.

Foreign Service officers work in embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world. The pay is decent, the benefits are excellent, and the government picks up the tab for housing and travel. It is extremely competitive and my chances of succeeding are slim. I do not speak a foreign language and I do not have overseas experience. Those are two significant handicaps right there.

But what the hell. I’m going to take the Foreign Service Officer test in February. Between now and then I am going to study the bejeesus out of history, government, economics, and current events. I probably won’t pass the test, but at least I’ll be better informed.

In the unlikely event that I do pass the February test, I have to pass other tests: a personal narrative, an oral interview, and a background check.

In the likely event that I do not pass the test, I will implement Plan B: applying for the Peace Corps. This would involve giving up income for two years, but when you consider the paltry sum I’ve earned so far this year, it’s not so bad. Actually I think I’d come out ahead, because the government would pay for my medical and dental coverage, my travel expenses, and my housing — and I’d learn a foreign language and pick up some fancy lines for my résumé, which right now is effectively worthless.

The Peace Corps is competitive, too. I don’t know for sure that they’d take me, but I’m going to give it a shot, if the paid gig doesn’t pan out.

I have in the past rejected the notion of joining the Peace Corps. Of all my concerns, the biggest was the kitties: what would I do with them? But now I have an answer for that. I’d leave them with my boyfriend.

Who would then become my ex-boyfriend. The problem with moving overseas is that I’d be leaving people, places, and kitties I love. I do not want to be the sort of person who chooses money over the important things in life.

Mr. Burns

I am the 1%.

But I do need food and shelter. I need something other than the free clinic to provide for my health needs. And though it is not necessary to sustain life, I very much want to do something relevant with my existence.

Perhaps the Foreign Service and the Peace Corps will reject my applications. Rejecting my applications is a popular trend among employers. I might not have to choose between parents/boyfriend/kitties or career. And even if things go well, these are processes that take a lot of time. Nothing is going to be decided overnight, or even this year.

I’ve got a possible way forward, though, and that’s something I’ve been lacking for ages — this past year since I left the library, sure, but even prior to my departure I was hunting for je ne sais quois.  At the very, very least, I can now find Brunei on the map.

I’ve got some studying to do now. And if you have recommendations for books on history, civics, government, politics, etc., etc., send them on.

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Wolfe, revised and updated

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One year ago today I moved back to western North Carolina. Apart from the job insecurity and the huge cut in pay — my income this year is in the four-figures range — it seems to have been the right choice. It is becoming apparent that it will not be a forever choice. I can’t abide here indefinitely without a living wage. But Thomas Wolfe (buried just up the road) was mistaken in thinking you can’t go home again. You can go home again, only you’ll have to leave because you’re not cut out for waiting tables, and that’s about the only job to be had in these parts.

On one point, it is incontestable that I am living in the best place ever. Other locations may rival western NC for scenic beauty, but nobody can top this:

This picture, taken two days ago and featured on Romantic Asheville, is part of why living here is great. Doesn’t matter how broke I am, all I have to do is look out a window and there’s going to be something like this to see. The fall leaves are in the process of turning glorious, but even when they’re merely pretty, there’s always the interplay of the clouds and the sunlight/moonlight/starlight to change things up. Or no, that’s not quite accurate. The scenery around here sucks when it’s nighttime with heavy cloud cover. But that’s true everywhere.

Another cool thing about Asheville: we seem to attract people in the national spotlight. Mitt Romney’s in town today, and last week, Joe Biden was here. “Vice Presidents Eat Free” said the marquee at the barbecue place just up the street. Which is a different just-up-the-street than the just-up-the-street where Mr. Wolfe is buried. Deceased authors are not an ingredient at the barbecue place, as far as I know. Though it would be locally sourced.

The Vice Presidential debate is coming up in half an hour. I’ll watch it, under protest, because it’s important to be an informed citizen. But I just hate watching politicians bicker, and honestly — and I never thought I’d say this — I kind of miss Sarah Palin. Now that she’s no longer a threat, I can afford to wax nostalgic for her. Or maybe it’s Tina Fey I’m missing.

So: twenty-nine minutes remain for me to get around to put my spin on politics. About the presidential elections I’ll say only this: since neither candidate is making a big deal out of Issue Numero Uno, climate change, I’ll fall back to my second big issue, class, which means I’ll be voting for Obama. Romney’s disdain and contempt for poor and working-class folks, as evidenced by his 47% message, is reprehensible.

More food for political thought: when it comes to personal liberties, I can sometimes pass for Libertarian rather than Classic Liberal. The marriage issue in particular is a sticking point. The sex of the person I marry should not concern the government.

But what about whether I get married at all? The government offers tax breaks to married people — and in a way I can see this, even if I don’t like it. The government has an interest in promoting stability among its people, and marriage used to be a way to do that, before the divorce rate happened.

Even when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was still a stigma against children born out of wedlock. (Does anyone remember reading Cynthia Voight? Her Young Adult problem novels are now hopelessly dated.) This stigma has now flown completely out the window. Like it or not, marriage has now become entirely optional for reproduction.

So: should the government still be giving tax breaks to married folks? I think the time for that particular incentive has passed — though for me, the bigger issue is not that these tax breaks exist, but that these tax breaks exist for straight couples but not queer couples.

Time now for my civic duty.