Friday, March 11, 2005

March in Madison: looking out the window at night

signs of spring? not really... Posted by Hello

The gloom factor

I am a baby-boomer. Our cohort has been variously described, but no one has yet given us this ancillary label which I do believe is apt: we are a generation of baby-anti-gloomers.

Are we unique in this way? Oh yes. I cannot even recall how many boomers have told me of parents who spread the message of anti-joy. What was it with that generation? Why does it want to instill caution in us, to the point where it seems that’s all it wants to instill? Be careful, don’t be happy! Sacrifice, don’t seek pleasure! Your body will age, your mind will atrophy! We are not happy in our lives, they tell us again and again, and neither should you expect to be, you na├»ve and innocent young one (this said to an almost 52-year old?), just you wait.

And so we rebel. I was pedaling away at the gym with a friend at dawn today (fighting atrophy?). She is my age. What struck me was how sensibly cheerful she was in her reactions to my stories, and how much she believed that her own (grown) children should be able to search for the joy that she herself routinely finds. The woman is so damn happy, even at the times when life (and a parent) presses her to be exactly the opposite.

I want several bumper stickers for my car: The pursuit of pleasure is not a sin. Those who find life fantastically rewarding are not, by definition, hurting others. Looking forward to better times is better than looking backward at bad times. And so on. The anti-gloomers are forging a quiet revolution, ripping to shreds the signposts of gloom. You’re welcome, you young ones after us. We blaze endless trails for you – know how lucky you are that this is one of them!

The word of the year in 2004: blog. The word of the year in 2005: privatization

Americans are unconvinced about the need to privatize Social Security. Good. So am I. But catching the debate on privatization on the other side of the ocean really caused me to sigh (in a resigned life-is-tough-and-I-can’t-do-anything-about-it sort of way) because it says so much about the Poland of yesterday and the conflicted Poland of today. Here’s the story: Yesterday, Polish coal miners participated in a referendum on whether to privatize coal mines. 100,000 voted (75% of those eligible). 97% were opposed to privatization.

This does not surprise me: Of course they voted no! Coal mining under communism was a lucrative profession. You held on to your job, your salary was on the high end of the Polish scale and the mines remained opened, regardless of market pressures on the industry.

We are looking these days at a more conflicted Poland: a nation that says yes to market capitalism, on the condition that it does nothing to disturb the nobler aspects of Life As It Was Back Then.

In the meantime, those outside the industry are bitterly watching the vote come in and their reactions are less than magnanimous. I read in the News chat rooms: why should the miners remain privileged while the rest of us suffer the risks of an unstable market?! What a sick referendum! Why ask only them? The mines “belong” to all of us! We, the taxpayers*, should decide how they should be run.

Worry not, readers who think privatization is the way to go in all walks of life. The mines are doomed. Their transfer into private hands is already underway. The referendum is like a last little voice coming from these gloomy dark caves that were once as close to diamonds as anyone in Poland was likely to get. A few more jobs lost, a few more security blankets ripped from the hands of those who want to cling on, because for a (small? not so small?) number of them, it was better then, even as it is not so bad now, what with all the stores showing all those wonderful things that the employed can, every now and then, purchase. The tricky part is to remain employed**.

* this is fascinating since Polish taxes are new, low, and not evenly collected.

** Poland’s unemployment rose to 19.1% in December; it is significantly higher outside the major cities.