Another Victory Gin, please

1984 Signet Classic1 175x300I’ve just finished reading George Orwell’s 1984, and without giving away the end, I’ll say forthright that the ending is exactly as it should be. It might be silly to point that out first, but so many books & films have ruined themselves through predictably lame endings that such sublime endings are in short supply.

The story is already familiar, thanks to decades of imitation, spin-off and parody. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is under the boot of a totalitarian state. Crime is committed by thought, rather than by a tangible act. Government surveillance is ubiquitous. Doublespeak exists, so that people can tell lies and wholly believe in them.

Come to think of it, there’s another reason the story is familiar: the dystopia Orwell so cleverly imagined is not unlike our own. While Thoughtcrime doesn’t formally exist, citizens of all nation can be taken at the will of the American government and locked away indefinitely in secret prisons. And government surveillance: if you’re uncertain whether the U.S. government is spying on you, take our handy quiz:

Have you ever:

1. Made a phone call to someone outside the United States?

2. Had contact with known terrorist organizations?

3. Used the Internet since 2003?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re under government surveillance. And Doublespeak? Wikipedia has a page for Doublespeak, but I prefer a more concrete example.

And Victory Gin*…… Bud Light.

Fortunately, my situation is not as extreme as that of Winston Smith, and I live in a country which allows p0litical discourse to take place freely (which does not happen frequently enough, as far as I’m concerned).

Political bandying aside, it’s an interesting book. Orwell does not display any amazing talent with dialogue (which may be intentional, given the nature of the book). Instead, Orwell describes the mental development/disintegration of the protagonist with profound clarity, and therein lies the real pleasure of the novel.

Even though I enjoyed the novel immensely, I don’t agree with the premise upon which Orwell builds the totalitarian regime which dominates the story. He seems to suggest (perhaps genuinely, perhaps artificially) that the human spirit can be extinguished, or at least reduced to nearly nothing, through a number of convincing techniques (victory gin notwithstanding). This premise strikes me as fundamentally wrong, for reasons that have nothing to do with 1984, totalitarians or anything of the sort. I can’t put my finger on why (yet), but I’m certain that a man deprived of human spirit would die, voluntarily or not….

More on this to come; for now, one last victory gin and then it’s off to bed.

*Victory Gin: The alcoholic beverage drunk by Outer Party members–it is colorless, oily, tastes like nitric acid and has a sickly smell. Drinking it causes an effect like being hit on the back of the head with a rubber club. It is the only product in Oceania that is both cheap and easy to find.

Cache in my chips

It looks like the time has come to upgrade at last.  Hrothgar, my trusty desktop for four long years, is on life support.  I now spend more time coaxing the computer to turn on than fulfilling my browsing habits.  This is an untenable situation.

Unfortunately, Hrothgar’s next of kin will set me back a pretty penny.  Normally I would be able to budget an expense of this magnitude easily, but bathroom renovation is expensive (even for do-it-yourself types).  So I have to make a few decisions I’d prefer not to make, such as ‘how fast does my computer really need to be?’ and ‘what can I cut back on to afford this?’.  The previous question is more difficult than the latter (in this case), but it makes me wonder whether or not this type of problem is becoming more common for the swath of humanity known vaguely as the middle class.

I’m quite fortunate that my budget is tightened by tangible luxuries, rather than the rising cost of (insert noun).  Others have much grimmer prospects, choosing between healthcare & transportation or the choice of Nintendo & Playstation 3.  The one common thread that I detect is the disheartening realization that we (in a generational sense) will not live as comfortably as our parents did.

This revelation is not the end of the world, but it certainly is a smack in the face.  From the time we can tie our shoes, we’ve been led to believe that hard work & a good education are as good as gold (maybe even better!).  With those two feathers in your cap, success is guaranteed*.

*Maybe I just didn’t read the fine print?

These days, hard-working well-educated Americans are defaulting on their mortgages and stealing gas.  Things have gotten so bad the the government is giving money away, hoping that people will spend it on something (rather than save or pay off debt).  There are a million (plus or minus) reasons why this has happened.  Since the effects are so much easier to pin down, I’ll stay away from the causes for now.

An especially perverse effect is the shrinkage of the middle class.  By my own definition, the middle class must possess the financial wherewithal to purchase the things they want without depriving themselves of the things they need.  People who once lived at the fringes of this definition have now descended into the lower class, which provides only for the things needs or deems necessary (like expanded cable).

Where do I fall?  I’m likely still in the middle class, but ostensibly because of my lifestyle (some optimistically call it voluntary simplicity), not because of my salary. I sometimes imagine my life lived as a typical suburban existence- I’d drive more, get cable, have a gas mower, a new(ish) home to live in, etc.  All of those things add up to an obscene amount, which increases much more frequently than salaries do.  I don’t think I could afford that life, and I’d slip into the lower class as well.

So what’s the solution?  There isn’t one.  Things are looking shitty, and they might get shittier.  The good news is that this country survived one Depression (did they call it a recession at that time, too?), and it made us resourceful in tough times.  Can we do it again?

First thing off the shopping list…..$300 F@#$()@! for Microsoft Office.

The Ghost of February Past

Bad weather here. Lots of it. I haven’t had much time to think lately, work’s been demanding.

One thing that’s been on my mind lately is consumerism. Like so many others, I oscillate between conscientious citizen and capricious capitalist. There doesn’t seem to be any distinct pattern, aside from when payday rolls around. On that glorious Friday, my modest liberry pittance is electromagically transferred into my checking account, leaving me with a moral obligation.

An obligation to what though? I could save it, get rich slowly, as they say, but my income only allows for modest savings, which is further nibbled away by the cost of living, a black hole of financial burden. Whatever money remains could in fact be saved. Let’s do a math problem, using the ING Direct financial calculatrix:


This formula assumes a $5000 initial investment over one year, 15% federal income tax, 5% state income tax, and 3% inflation.

The result?

Screenshot 1

Congratulations! You’ve lost $4. Yes, saving money will, in fact, lose money.

The only other choice is to spend like the a french king. It has an immediate payoff, and the circumstances won’t change with the whims of the economy.

Why would anybody be dumb enough to save in our economic climate? Our financial system punishes income (which includes savings) with a 15-25% income tax, but only charges ~7.5% for sales tax. It doesn’t take an astronaut to figure out which choice is more sensible.