Saturday, December 20, 2008

Clearing the mental bins

I'm sure I got vodka from the shelf, but when I unloaded the car, I had brandy. I checked the receipt. Yes, I had bought brandy. The bottles aren't even close to similar, not even the same colour.

So I reached for vodka and came away with brandy. I didn't want brandy, wouldn't even subconsciously have preferred it to vodka. I do not know why I have brandy.

I do drink brandy, and I enjoy it, but I have some at home already, and I don't drink it often enough to need more.

Did I get vodka in another universe? Is it possible that I was sure enough of what I was doing that I looked away for an instant and ended up missing my aim by a few inches?


I also mislaid a bottle of red wine. I simply don't remember drinking it. It's possible I did, but I don't recall it at all. I've been mostly drinking beer recently and I think I would remember this wine: it was Wrattonbully, and even though it was cheap, I should remember my impression of it, because I was expecting it to be decent.

Should I be worried that I'm losing my mind, or should I welcome it?


I watched Reservation Road last night. It was terrible. About halfway through, I said to Mrs Zen, this is really bad. And it then got worse. The acting was atrocious: they were aiming for stagey but hit wooden pretty hard. That's if you can consider high emoting wooden, but I can't think of a better word. If you are imagining wooden puppets with their mouths going clack clack clack and a highpitched shrieking noise emanating from their persons, you have it right.

I was openmouthed at some points, just astonished that the director had been satisfied with it. Its main problem is lack of narrative drive. Things happen, but there is no plot as such. There is a premise and a sort of unravelling, but that's the sum of it. (Okay, there's a twist but one so predictable, so leadenly foreshadowed, that it feels like it isn't even there.) At least an hour of its two hours is wasted on scenes that add practically nothing, if anything at all, to the story, to character development (well, let's be honest, nothing develops here: the characters are as static as the film).

Joaquin Phoenix is bad and Mark Ruffalo seriously miscast, but they are both topped by Jennifer Connelly, who struggles with a terrible part, which sells her very short, to the point where you want to beat her agent with a stick. Actually, the screenwriting is awful: the dialogue creaks and strains, often feeling underwritten.

Also, the death of children is never really watchable in a film. So I don't recommend it.


So Bush predictably robbed TARP to pay the automakers. I think that the American political establishment is between a rock and a hard place with the car industry, and it's somewhat reminiscent of the decline of British Leyland. Obviously, American automakers aren't making products that people want to buy, and should, in a free market, go to the wall. But that would mean a lot of people out of work (it's not just the guys who make the cars, it's people like the rubber firm that makes the trim for Ford cars: probably, over time, it will have shed other clients, so that now its whole capacity goes to Ford).

I note that Bush attached strings: exactly the kind of punitive treatment of carworkers that the Repugnicunts tried to stick the Dems with in Congress. The union says it will try to have Obama rewrite the agreement but I simply wouldn't expect him to: it's better with him to write your expectations down to, say, 1% better than Bush, and hope to be surprised.


Anonymous Don said...

The only *moral* obligation is to the stockholders, who risked a part of their world on your venture. So even if you are indifferent to your own success, you owe them an honest effort to reward their trust. You owe the best conditions, opportunities, and compensation you can provide to your workers, without whom the venture is dead. If you don't, you will lose them to other companies who compete better for their talents and energy, and end up with a workforce made up of folks who have no other option. A workforce like that does not drive a world class product to market. The most sensible thing therefore is to provide compensation that is competitive with others in your industry and adjust other factors such that they prefer to stay with you. The value of the unions was in forcing the demonstration that factory labor that is treated well does in fact contribute to product quality and profit. They put the pistol to the head of ancient attitudes that separated people into classes. They also became a power center, and now, as a power center that does not produce wealth, they are in some ways a liability to the overall system. For ex, even though me and my colleagues feel underpaid, it would never be in our interest to unionize, because the insertion of a power center that does not produce between us and our higher executives would weigh down the entire enterprise such that it would lose competitiveness. This is part of the problem with GM et al. The Big Three are in fact doing all right overseas. Their problems were made worse by arbitrary fuel efficiency rules (that is to say, imposed rather than customer-required) and the burden of paying for all the union entitlements (through which for ex the skilled labor that builds an SUV has a great retirement while I, as part of the truly competitive tech community, have virtually none). The foreign auto companies who hire American workers are doing just fine without those rules. I'd like to see them continue to do fine. I'd also like to see the big dead trees of GM and Chrysler burnt out of the way so Tesla Motors and the like can get some sunshine. Ford didn't take the loan, so if I were in the market for a new car or truck I would absolutely place Ford at the top of my list of American manufacturers. The others *should* go to the wall. The supply chain will go lax, but after a few years of readjustment, retooling, retraining, the people will find work again. One of the things with an open economy is that talent doesn't long go to waste -- barring artifices, of course, union-made or otherwise, of which we have a surfeit. The problem with characterizing a union-busting deal as ignoring the workers is that it requires you picture workers as indentured to the factory. In a healthy country (which ours is not, alas), the released workforce will stand up like all our ancestors did and look at what else as individuals they can do about it. Life is about change. The unions perform a great positive service by collectivizing the workers into a force to bargain with. But when they lose sight of the strategic interests of their own industry, as they have done years since, then they need a little scaling down. This entire proceeding illustrates how the US, and Britain before her, evolved such that they could no longer compete. I'm afraid we're just prolonging, and worsening, the process towards grand-scale failure by being afraid of the small-scale failures that make us stronger.

December 21, 2008 at 3:01 AM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

Don, you're an idiot, and nearly every word you wrote is wrong. You have clearly never visited a one-industry town when that industry goes into decline. Your free-market fantasy balloon would quickly be deflated if you did.

December 21, 2008 at 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

And the notion that firms only have a "moral" obligation to stockholders is so wrong that I'm surprised even you are stupid enough to say it. It's the opposite of the truth.

Firms only have a "legal" obligation to their shareholders in the US (not so in some other countries, as you'd know were you not completely ignorant of other countries and how they work), but it is perfectly possible to see industry as having other goals than simply enriching its owners, and particularly easy to describe those goals in moral terms.

December 21, 2008 at 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

Should I be worried that I'm losing my mind, or should I welcome it?

Welcome to the club. ;-)

I remember how freaked out I got when it started happening to me. I was seriously afraid for a while. It only bugs me now when I do something detrimental, like a recent bank transaction gone awry. Luckily, the bank was able to reverse it or we would be hurting this Christmas.

What's hard, though, is you say you did a thing, someone else says you didn't, you're sure you did, and yet, there's that niggle of possibility that maybe you really didn't because you can't trust yourself any more. For someone who was always able to trust her memory, it's been quite humbling.

December 21, 2008 at 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

Like now. I just checked my email to find a note from my mom saying they're leaving early in the morning.

Leaving early in the morning? !#$*#$?!?

I KNOW she told me that they were leaving Monday morning and would get here Tuesday. I KNOW she did.

I think.

December 21, 2008 at 6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

"Should I be worried that I'm losing my mind, or should I welcome it?"

I said goodbye to sanity nearly a decade ago after it had shown itself to be detrimental to my ability to function. Good fucking riddance sez me.

December 22, 2008 at 12:12 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

a one-industry town when that industry goes into decline

Duh, it's obvious what happens. And it's obvious people need to shoulder the inevitable and move on. I'm not sure how you so consistently miss the obvious. But please tell me, in a one-industry town whose industry has gone into decline, what is the moral and correct thing for the various players to do?

December 23, 2008 at 2:57 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

Zen, the moral obligation to stockholders comes from the universal moral directive to honor trust. The law upholds that as well, but of course inconsistently, because as you travel the world you find that the law and moral rightness are not closely coupled.

My model for proper behavior is my own employer, and our stock price has been moribund since the mid 90s. They / we spend a lot of treasure on charity work, healthcare R&D, endowments to schools, and so on. Now we won't get raises next year because they want to stress job retention in the downturn. And this is appropriate.

I think my rambling fails to communicate the depth and complexity of my understanding. I like to think the same of yours, because I'm charitable like that.

it is perfectly possible to see industry as having other goals than simply enriching its owners, and particularly easy to describe those goals in moral terms.

I absolutely agree. But are those other goals a *moral* imperative and thus inescapable, or just good business and good human living?

IOW I said "moral" because it is not wrong to deny my employees' benefits if they can just go work somewhere else. It is not wrong to not give to charity if I choose not to. It is not wrong to strive for a 60% profit margin if the market will bear it.

But it *is* wrong to take investors' money and steal it, i.e. tell them I will do one thing with it and then turn and do something else (buy a corporate jet instead of refit the factory etc).

*Sigh* Not editing the above, out of time, have a Happy Christmas down there.

December 23, 2008 at 3:23 AM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

It's one of the great triumphs of the rich that they managed to invent a pseudo-ideology sufficiently compelling to get fuckwits like you to shill for them, Don.

December 23, 2008 at 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

A devastatingly unanswerable response, as usual.

I would, I admit, be a shill for the philosophies that enable me to get rich (as if). I believe everyone should have the chance at wealth. The universal sharing of the impoverished ideas of profit-less industry don't appeal much.

December 24, 2008 at 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

It's impossible for "everyone" to be rich. It's possible for everyone to be wealthy though.

I think you are incapable of distinguishing the two.

December 24, 2008 at 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Looney said...

To address the most important issue here, I think it was simply an innate good taste that made your hand drift to the bottle of brandy. Vodka, meh, who needs it? Only good with other crap, where a decent brandy... ahhhhhh...

Actually, if you get some 80 proof Vodka and some 100 proof vodka and some lemon rinds... Mmmmmmm...

Maybe you ought to go back for that vodka after all :-)

December 30, 2008 at 2:56 AM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

boots' reading list?

January 5, 2009 at 8:12 PM  

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