those first two estates

I’ve been trying to follow the whole story this week about executive compensation in the financial sector. I’m having difficulty comprehending the mindset. Perhaps if I try to reason it all out, it will eventually make sense.

Ok, let’s say that I head a large multi-billion dollar bank. To do this, I’ve gotten a degree or two, worked in the trenches, networked like crazy, and gradually climbed up what Disraeli called “the greasy pole”. Theoretically, I know a thing or two about high finance, show generally good judgment, have a well-developed bullshit detector, know enough to gather good people around me, and challenge them to provide me with honest answers. If I am successful at all of this, I deserve to make a lot of money — and we’ll leave what “a lot” means as fuzzy — because my good leadership skills cultivate enthusiasm and loyalty throughout the organization, bring profit to the shareholders, and steer the bank away from unnecessary risk.

Sadly, this does not seem to be what being a bank president means. Being a bank president seems to involve climbing to the top of the “greasy pole” in part by having the gall to ask for a pay package bigger than what anyone else has asked for yet, hiring mercenary underlings who will only work for me if I offer them a base salary that is several times the median wage with guaranteed bonuses at three to five hundred percent of their base pay, and believing in the old mafia theory of betting: “I win, I collect; you win, I don’t pay.”

Why? Because only certain special people can do this job. People who can make the big decisions. People who are born to command. People who can still ask for big bonuses when they wreck the economy — because that’s all someone else’s fault and they’re playing great defense by keeping losses low… uh… low-ish… uh… less than the GDPs of most of the world’s nations… uh… combined.

Nope, I’m still not getting it. Didn’t some French people get together on a tennis court and decide to get rid of a bunch of people who thought that way?


Today was a “best laid plans of mice and men” day. Roadblocks popped up in multiple places despite earlier promising portents and signs. Nothing quite got finished, as a result.

An event at the end of the day indicates pretty much how the day went: my parents’ Nativity Set arrived today. Mrs. Geek has a small wood-carved set, that is kind of high on concept and low on detail. We decided this year that a new set was in order… just when my Mother was saying that she had little desire to use the set she bought in the early 1960’s — the set that sat atop my Mother’s Story & Clark baby grand piano in the living room all through my childhood. After a quick check with my sister (the agnostic non-practicing Catholic), the set was wrapped in bubble wrap, put in its box, encased in brown paper and shipped to us.

The set arrived broken. The stable building a had a couple loose nails and a split board or two. A shepherd boy with a lamb on his shoulders was split in two at the waist. One of the three astrologers has a hole in his knee. One the sheep had a cracked ear.

I called my parents to let them know that the set had arrived, and to find out if they knew what the figures were made of. When I finally spoke to my Mom, she kept saying “Oh, that’s too bad… do you think it will still look good enough? Maybe you can put it in a place where there isn’t a lot of direct light…” She didn’t know where exactly she’d purchased it, or what the figures were made of. I assured her that I could fix the set up and make it presentable.

Closer inspection revealed that the figures were likely some kind of paper mache or paper composition. So, some cabinet maker’s wood glue became the order of the day… both for the stable and figures… though that poor astrologer may never get his knee fixed. I think it may all come out ok… no low light required.

Though I have lived here almost as long as I lived in the Land of my Birth, I have very little of my childhood here with me. It’s all in boxes… in my parents’ attic or in a closet in my old bedroom. Almost all my memories here are “new” memories from the second half of my life… except now, this Nativity set. Do I think it will still look good enough? If I can help it, it will!