The New Republic by Lionel Shriver. Satirical novel about a lawyer turned journalist, who becomes involved with terrorism while reporting on an independence movement.
I liked "We need to talk about Kevin" by this author a lot, but wasn't so keen on this one. The (pre-September-11) satire seems a bit weak. The plot seems implausible. The author was also consciously trying to write a novel about relationships between men, and they don't quite ring true. The straightforward hero-worship doesn't feel realistic: guys are generally too keen on taking each other down a peg, it doesn't really capture the ribbing and jostling with a group of male friends.
However, it's well-written, has a definite plot, and kept me interested. OK but not brilliant.
What I'm Watching
Finally got around to finishing the classic late Seventies BBC mini-series "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". Found it hard to get into the first time. It's achingly slow-moving by modern standards: most modern TV shows would get a couple of car chases into the time it takes for the characters here to sit down at a meeting table before anyone speaks.
Once you get into it though, it's very atmospheric and tense. Has a fantastic performance from Alec Guinness as George Smiley, who moves smoothly from puttering around like a charming retired grandfather to projecting instant menace through plastic-framed glasses.
Well worth watching if you think you can stretch your attention span back to pre-Internet lengths.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw "Iron Man 3" at the cinema. Good action movie. Liked the way they're actually moving on the plots in the Marvel universe: there are references and followups to the events in the Avengers movie. Much better than the habit of endless reboots and the same origin stories: DC seems worst but Marvel did it with Hulk and Spider-Man too.
It's scripted and directed by action movie legend Shane Black who does a good professional job of mixing up action with a story.
Also benefits from a good villain from Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin: very memorable scene when Tony Stark finally confronts him.
Well worth seeing, I'd say the best in the series so far.
What I'm Watching 3
Also saw "Star, Trek Into Darkness" at the cinema. Another good actiony sci-fi movie. Didn't think it was quite as good as Iron Man, but definitely good fun.
Not very original, but with a few obligatory callbacks to the TOS movies. Both these movies were in 3D. Haven't heard much from the Flattites lately, are they still going on about how 3D is just a fad? Are they actually using the same-lens-in-both-eyes trick to make 2D glasses?
Went to the mighty hulver & Mrs hulver's wedding reception. Great reception, lots of good food, great beer, everybody had a wonderful time. A+++ would attend again.
Went to the Husibeers at the Anchor last Saturday. Had a good time, good to see some people again. Also didn't end up as a mental drinking session, which was handy.
Random thought on economics
The demographic time bomb is less worrying than the gerontocratic time bomb.
Was thinking about this anyway when I saw "Goverbment spending is shifting towards healthcare & welfare (mostly pensions) & away from just about everything else". Now,much of the political economy of the West since 1945 has been dictated by the demographic power of the baby boomers. When they were college-age, there was a massive expansion of higher education. When they were working age, the Phillips Curve was used to keep them employed and their wages rising: 10-20% inflation was OK because while it wiped out the savings & investments of the Greatest Generation, it kept the boomers in work and wiped out the value of their mortgages. Now they're retiring, the Phillips curve must be used to keep inflation below 4-5% to protect Boomer retirement savings and house values, even if that means massive unemployment for the Millenials.
Maybe all that isn't so bad: greatest good of the greatest number and all that.
The problem is, we may be heading into a gerontocratic state where everything is devoted to keeping boomers OK until they die: at which point everything falls apart.
Higher education is contracting now the Boomers don't need it. In the UK fees and loans rise, grants fall. The US press is full of articles about dumb students thinking the world owes them a living. The benefits system is being radically squeezed for working-age people. There's relatively little investment in new infrastructure, and existing infrastructure is aging. But pensions remain high. Public healthcare spending for the elderly remains high.
What we're in danger of is a gerontacratic state, where all the resources of the state are dedicated to keeping the elderly healthy and provided for in retirement. Poor infrastructure, poor social safety net, poor education: but still with very high levels of taxation directed at the elderly. But by the time the last baby boomers die off, the remains of the nation will be massively taxed, undereducated young people rattling along choked, potholed roads; while international competitors kick our national arses.
Random thought on politics
Power tends to corrupt. Demographic power tends to corrupt demographically.
Core principles of Stoicism
There was some discussion on the ISF recently about defining the core principles of stoicism. I went early on for Jan Garret's list and it seemed churlish to change my mind, but after thinking about it, here are seven quotes/paraphrases that I think are significant.
1. "Live according to nature" - Zeno
2. "Human nature is very much like that of bees... intent on performing the common task of members of its species, to work and act together" - Musonius Rufus
3. "Each one of us is encompassed by many circles: self, family, neighbours, fellow-citizens, the human race... The task is to draw the circles towards the centre" - Hierocles
4. "The good or ill of man lies within his own will" - Epictetus
5. "Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion: whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command: whatever are not our own actions" - Epictetus
6. "People are disturbed not by things, but by opinions about things" - Epictetus
7. "Apply reason to difficulties; harsh circumstances can be softened, narrow limits can be widened, and burdensome things can be made to press less severely" - Seneca
After a few pints at the Husimeet, had a quick stagger round the temporary exhibitions at Tate Modern with toxicfur before it closed.
American artist Ellen Gallagher as quite interesting: some pretty groovy black-on-black paintings.
Not sure what to make of the elaborate collages where yellow paper hairstyles are put over the the haircuts of models in hairdresser style ads. Hair, and indeed fashion, are pretty much alien worlds to me. Did look quite nifty though. Also dashed around Saloua Raouda Choucair exhibition but wasn't sure what to make of it. Lots of squarish wooden sculptures, probably needs to be seen sober.
Socioeconomics. Mocking hipsters in the service of capital.
Sci/Tech. Windows 8 redesign planned.
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