Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Curious Ways Of The World

We had some friends over tonight for a perfectly pleasant evening of pizza and wine, and the conversation moved to money, or the lack of it. Our friends, college educated like ourselves, make less money than many entry level business jobs for new graduates and are now well into their forties and fifties. Neither are we that much better paid. I will read of people in their forties sniffily complaining that they are having a hard time coping on salaries in excess of $70,000 - more than we have seen in our lifetimes, and indeed may never see.

Yet we are comfortably off, own our own home outright and have zero debt. I never feel short of money. I have every thing I need already, and I am already accumulating too much stuff!

This got me thinking about salaries, relative worth, and people's perceptions of money. It's obvious to me that there are well-educated intelligent and good people making pennies compared to others; education is no guarantee of earning power. Yet it's also clear that many people with giant paychecks have no idea what to do with money, while blithely assuming that the dollar figure on the monthly paycheck is a measure of their true worth.

Obviously it is not, but why are so many people caught up in this fiction? At work I get sent a number of IT magazines even though my involvement with IT is not deep, and along with them come requests for salary surveys. Clearly for some in the business, the salary comparison game is important.

Why it is important? Because the work itself is not so. The horrible, jarring and shuddering truth is that almost all 'white collar' work is crushingly dull, irrelevant and unfulfilling. So chasing a few more dollars is a short cut to feeling good. Except that it doesn't work; you are still shackled to the same monotony even if you can afford, or think you can afford, a few more toys.

So the years pass, and what do you have to look back upon? Decades of paper pushing or something equivalently soul-destroying.

The job industry, just like the retail industry, survives by selling fantasies. When those fantasies are inevitably exposed as fakes, it offers a bigger and more seductive fantasy. Another illusion, and yet how many of us are suckered yet again?

It takes guts and no small amount of willpower to give the finger to this game. The people I hold in highest regard have done precisely that. It costs, but only in terms of expectations. Throw those aside and you can take control of your life on your terms. With that done, the passing years are not thrown away. They are lived.

With only one lifetime, that is exactly what you want to do.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Spirited Away

I love this film. It's not just that I can watch it over and over again and find ever deeper symbolic meaning and a cultural richness that is simply breathtaking. It's also a very affecting story of growth and redemption that resonates with the most noble of sentiments. It never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

Considering that it's an animation, on the surface not far removed from the infinitely more superrficial products of the Disney company (particularly the more recent offerings), the breathtaking depth evoked here is quite extraordinary. Part of the attraction is due to the strangeness of the concepts, deeply indebted as they are to Japanese religious symbolism, but director Hayao Miyazaki casts a far wider net than that, evoking imagery of the American deep South and making pointed commentary on the ubiquity of industrial pollution and rampant materialism.

The art work is simply breathtaking, with every scene a masterpiece of detail and balance. The colors are vibrant and beautiful, while the human characters are made far more believable than the plastic creations of much American animation, even as they use much the same techniques and have similar appearances.

All in all, a masterpiece.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Out of whack

Potent leading article in today's NYT detailing once again George Bush's out-of-control executive. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the balance between the three branches of power that sustains the government of the United States is being driven out of whack. This is bad news for the country, but it will probably not be sustained.

Firstly, Congress, albeit currently populated with unthinking conservative yes-men, is not going to take well to losing its innate power even if there is no shake-up as is likely after the 2006 elections.

Secondly, at some point, the general population is going to wake up to an issue that it has generally ignored up to now. This is most likely to be triggered by some egregious abuse of personal liberties that even the most compliant of citizens will find hard to blame solely on a small band of anti-American fanatics. Such what form this abuse will take is open to conjecture, but the current administration seems to have no inbuilt restraint, so it will happen.

Thirdly, the judiciary, that is now being stacked with a conservative group that is broadly out of synchronization with current mainstream values, will issue a series of rulings that really will get the majority's backs up. We'll then see democracy in action, and a change of government. The current government's greatest ally is apathy, some of it born out of the extraordinarily paralysis that come over the population post the World Trade Tower attack. But that has largely dissipated, and change is in the air, aided enormously by the demographic shifts I describe below.

So, rough times ahead but calmer seas beyond.

Friday, January 13, 2006

High tide for the boomers

Interesting article today in the NYT essentially restating the demographic reality that the white American majority's days are numbered. I find this comforting. It also goes a long way to explain the surge of conservatism in politics and law that currently is in the ascendant. I believe that what we are seeing, from Bush to Alito, is really no more than a final last attempt to lock power and influence in favor of the majority group. It will fail, just as all such attempts fail, as the demographic changes and new power alliances emerge.

Just what form those alliances will take is open to conjecture. Certainly, we are due for a resurgence of youthful activism and some generational conflict as the new boomlet - the children of the original baby boomers - moves to influence the social and political arenas. But more important than that will be the ethnic shift as immigrant groups and their descendents assume greater numbers and greater influence. Very interesting and exciting times ahead.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Severed Head

Just read Iris Murdoch's The Severed Head in two hours flat, a most surprising feat considering I normally get bogged down in her work. But this one just flew by, even though belief had to be somewhat suspended as Murdoch's Greek tragedy style of character interweaving stretched credulity to breaking point. Still, her observations on the state of human consciousness are succinct and accurate, and even though the situations seemed barely believable, the character's reactions to them did. Thus it suceeded as a novel, and even worked sufficiently well for you to care for the protaganists - none of whom are particularly likeable on the surface.

Perhaps her greatest gift is being able to convincingly relate the distortion in thought that accumulates through alcohol consumption. The climax of the book, a violent encounter between the central character and the woman with whom he will be poised to become a lover at the very end of the tale, is very effectively generated. The waves of ever increasing irrationality that drink liberates creep up inexorably towards their high point, and wash away afterwards with equally convincing remorse/self-justification. This alone would mark the book as exceptional.