With a birthday fast approaching, the time to contemplate my collected wisdom thus far might be ripe. However, instead of going through the catalogue of over-used pearls, I’d like to concentrate on one little gem in particular that only recently clicked with me.

The saying goes like this:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I used to think that only jaded pessimists who failed to acknowledge the efforts of others would trot this out in order to belittle them. Perhaps this is how it is intended some of the time, but now I recognise there is a much broader application of this wisdom, especially if a healthy dose of cynicism is added.

This worn, old adage can be applied to any and every aspect of life and will always ring true. It’s almost spooky. From the personal to the political, the social to the scientific, it always applies. Don’t believe me? Allow me to expound…

How many times in your own experience have you thought you were making a situation better only to learn that, in fact, you were making it worse? More likely than not, quite often, right? Sometimes our instincts are just plain wrong and we end up putting more fuel on the fire. Our well-meaning nature might drudge up stuff that was better left buried, or our well-intentioned advice could cause a whole new debacle to present itself. Sound familiar?

What about this scenario? Imagine any public, government-run service that has ever existed and then add „reform“ to it. Need more of an explaination than that? Let’s examine education. Public schools in most western countries are in a sorry state by all standards. With their roots in centuries-old educational doctrine, schools consistently fail to implement the latest findings to optimise learning. Instead, politicians propose band-aids to fix the problems. A little well-meant reform here, a dash of legislation there, some budget changes and presto! It never works, though, because fixing the holes in the roof of the factory isn’t going to help sustain the out-dated means of production under that roof.

It’s sad, but true. Good intentions are oftentimes misguided and that’s how we end up on the road to hell. Sometimes the road is narrow and winding and other times we find ourselves on the super-highway to Dante’s Inferno.

Global politics would currently find itself on the latter. The Doomsday Clock, for example, was recently updated for 2018 to show it is currently two minutes to midnight, the most precarious position it has been in for decades. Trump, trade wars, WMDs, and mainstream media are factors that keep us on course for disaster.

The hopey-changey promise of the internet, which has been a force for much good in the world, has also been commandeered to serve as a platform for distributing misinformation, causing confusion and manipulating our minds. The good intentions that paved the way for the early web to open communication and the free exchange of information across the world have taken a dark turn and made us into meta-data-producing, social media-consuming slaves and addicts.

Had enough yet? I could go on. It seems the older I get, the more perceptive I become (or maybe I’m just increasingly cynical). Identifying how good ideas that should benefit humanity are constantly being abused and misappropriated in order to inflict damage of one kind or another has evolved into a sport for me. At the personal level, we never intend to cause harm with our well-meaningness (unless, of course, we are sociopaths). However, when I look at the how the world is run and the current state of affairs, I recognise that a lot of it is deliberate. I guess some folks enjoy being on the highway to hell. I would prefer to be on the path to enlightenment.

 

The decision whether to sign up for an online learning platform, perhaps to pursue another degree, has been weighing on my mind for months. I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately, and it seems a shame to waste a golden opportunity to expand my horizons and add to my resumé.

Today, by chance, I took another glance at the UK Open University website and realized the deadline for registration for the next course offerings is tomorrow. Half in a panic, I spent hours contemplating what my options were. Just this past autumn, I chickened-out of enrolling with the excuse that I couldn’t really afford to join a degree program. After picking through the Open University website, I have since learned there are several other online course and certification platforms out there which are quite affordable and interesting.

I discovered FutureLearn, where there are myriad courses across all subjects to engage the mind and pad the CV. There are free classes to appeal to your interests and hobbies, as well as certificate coursework for continuing education; there’s even the possibility to have certain courses assessed to earn UK university credit. OpenLearn, a free learning platform offered by the Open University, is also chock full of opportunities to hone your skills and gain new knowledge. Some of the classes only take two weeks, while others span eight or more. Certain courses are mostly passive learning, but others are more rigorous and involve testing.

Education is an extremely important topic in many respects. It is essential to civilisation, the economy, and personal development. Every individual is born craving knowledge. However, much can go awry in the pursuit of education. Society pressures us to obtain as much of it as possible, but degrees and titles are only awarded to those who can invest the time and money required to reach those goals. Faced with the dilemma of financing a degree, I think it is fantastic that there are now so many online platforms that offer paths to higher learning which are easily obtainable by a broad spectrum of people from around the world. The amount of courses and programs available for very little money was actually overwhelming.

So, whether or not I decide to go for an online degree program right now or not, I am at least going to try one of these platforms. The University of Glasgow has a course starting on FutureLearn in February called „Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime“, which grabbed my attention immediately, even if it’s not a CV enhancer for me per se. As the saying goes, you have to start somewhere, so I guess I’ll dip my toes into the web-learning pool by trying out a course that interests me and without any pressure. If that goes well, then maybe it will be on to bigger and more expensive things – like a degree. It’s probably better to test the water on a freebie, though, before getting in over my head and drowning in a sea of obligation. A three-week art class is as good a place to start as any. Let the enrollment begin!

Recently I read that our state of mind is one of our greatest assets. The blogpost that it appeared in mostly discussed how perpetually distracted people tend to be nowadays and deep concentration is a rare skill to be treasured. Whereas I agree with the author’s premise when it comes to our personal choices on how and when to employ media, there are other, external factors at work influencing our attention spans and devouring our most productive times.

Society in general is structured to demand our concentration all throughout the day. Personal preference is never considered, despite, in some cases, mounds of scientific evidence illustrating the benefits changing a given standard would have. The best example of this, in my opinion, is school starting times. It has been proven many times over that teenagers should begin school later because their brains are „asleep“ until at least mid morning, so it is pointless for them to have any lessons before nine or ten o’clock. My own experience and observation of my teenage daughter confirms this, too, but still, nothing changes. The long summer break is another thing that could be done away with since none of the kids I’ve ever dealt with – in my own childhood or my daughter’s – have ever needed to help out with the harvest, the original purpose of summer holidays. One could easily balance out the school year and create a schedule much more conducive to adolescent learning if the time was used efficiently. As a result, the students AND teachers would be much happier, while enjoying a higher level of job satisfaction as well.

The world is also set up to serve the early birds, albeit this has, in recent times, become easier to circumvent. Online shopping, tele-working and flexi-time are just a few examples of how late-risers manage to be equally-contributing members of society. There are, unfortunately, enough other aspects that can make life miserable for the night owls, such as doctors who only have hours from seven to eleven; government offices that are just open before noon; and even mail or package delivery that arrives at the crack of dawn. Anyone going to bed after midnight will not feel like waking up at six because it is some kind of societal norm.

Establishing a universal timetable when it comes to individual personal efficiency will remain elusive, if not impossible. I, for one, stumble around like a clumsy oaf after waking and am not remotely near peak performance for at least a couple of hours. That’s why, for me, the time after getting up is best used for routine tasks which require little brain power, but, even then, I occasionally catch myself grabbing my toothbrush to comb my hair! In the end, I feel it is the night owls like myself who get a raw deal when it comes to attaining a state of deep concentration. Self-imposed sources of distraction are more easily addressed than the ones civilised society has constructed. Being a night owl might even be one of my greatest, unrecognised assets, and give me great presence of mind – if it weren’t for that delivery van every morning at 5:30…. sigh.

I cannot help myself when it comes this topic. It’s one of my triggers – meaning it triggers a flood of emotions and a cascade of choice words.

American expats familiar with the US tax code, citizenship-based taxation, high compliance costs and FATCA will know exactly what I’m talking about. Especially the long-term expats, like me, who left the US for love, feel like they’ve been hung out to dry by their homeland. And you know what? It’s a real romance killer. Nothing puts more strain on a relationship than financial woes and the IRS excels at shattering wedded bliss for America’s diaspora.

Recently Prince Harry proposed to the queen of his heart, Meghan Markle. Oh, what a fairy tale! The prince and the star-spangled actress to be wed in a storybook ceremony, chock full of romantic kitsch, celebrities, and flowing frocks – BUT WAIT! It actually didn’t take long for the press to pick up on the fact that Miss Markle’s citizenship was capable of infiltrating the royal finances. At least several outlets reported on the awkward situation the prince’s proposal proffered. The novel news was short-lived, however, and the royal PR pros promptly issued a statement confirming that Meghan would receive expedited British citizenship, while simultaneously downplaying the impending relinquishment of her US one and the Certificate of Loss of Nationality (CLN) that entails. One day a film will be made about this couple and they will be sure to leave out the sexy discussions they must have had about US tax compliance and how it was nipping at their heels like one of the Queen’s pesky corgis.

Nevertheless, the dream of many an American girl (woman?) to be swept off her feet by a charming foreign prince from a delightful old country dotted with castles remains a perennial tale in the collective psyche of dime-store novelists and filmmakers. Case in point: last night I was perusing the options on Netflix and landed on „A Christmas Prince“, the storyline of which you can probably guess. My husband and I amused ourselves by filling in the missing bits of dialogue such as, „This tutoring job won’t pay enough to cover my expat tax advisor!“ and, „No, I can’t marry you because then I’ll be forced to file as ‚married-filing-separately‘!“ As I stated before, once you’re aware of the tax situation, the IRS presence will likely let any romantic notions you may harbour shrivel up and die, or at the very least, mutate into scathing sarcasm.

Mundane pragmatism must rule the heart… unless Santa brings you a CLN.

Welcome to my blog!

As of this first post, there is no real plan for what to write about, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out as I go. This avid reader, news junkie, rabid googler, and fact-checker is going to take a stab at op-ed blogging.
Some possible ideas for topics are:

  • daily grind pieces
  • Austrian news
  • US commentary
  • expat matters…

With a bit of effort, I might turn out to be decent at it and you’ll be interested in my take on things – whether they matter or are of little consequence!
This will be my pet project for 2018. My New Year’s resolution is to blog regulary, so I’m starting early to get ahead of the curve.
Please bear with me while I find my groove, hone my style and whittle down my subject matter. It won’t happen overnight, however, it WILL happen eventually; so give me the benefit of the doubt and come witness my growth as a writer while I bring you my distinct perspective on the unique issues I deal with on a daily basis as well as the stories that feed my thought processes.

Watch this space for my next blog post on…? (cliffhanger ending!)