American Fiction

This page written circa 10 February, 2024.

I received a request to come to an appointment at the Ministry of Social Development, which is the NZ office that deals with employment, pensions, etc. No reason stated. The time was right on top of a doctor's appointment. I tried to reschedule via their web site, but the request was never acknowledged. I tried by phone, but the waits were 30 and 80 minutes. Eventually I got the automatic callback sorted, and I rescheduled. Next I got TXT messages saying the person was not available, and moving the appointment. I got so many, I figured there were now two appointments in their calendar. Eventually I arrived at my first-rescheduled time, and all was well. The lady I met had no idea why I was there either. We figured it might have been triggered by my change of status to "single, sharing" from "married". She was perfectly kind and sensible once we actually met in person.

American Fiction has been nominated for various Academy Awards. It is a clever story, deep in character and emotion. It becomes self-referential so as to offer multiple example endings. The theme ridicules what sells in the modern literary market, and (closer to my heart) ridicules the process of assessing entries to (literary) awards through unwise selection of shallow and unfocused judges, who are to be distinguished from good writers producing unworthy but popular books. Definitely worth the Best Picture and Best Screenplay nominations!

It took me some time to realise what had so irritated me about the MSD appointment fiasco. They wanted an appointment, and in a civilised world that means contacting the person and asking if such-and-such a time was convenient. The MSD no longer has the time for such politeness. They are getting squeezed just like everybody else. Too few staff, too much neoliberal red tape.

I flew to Hamilton for February to help with the final writing of our MBIE proposal. The proposal is for $8M to commercialise the battery health work developed over the past decade. It now seems that there will not be enough time to complete everything that has to happen. Recent resignations and already too few staff cause my colleagues to be submerged in teaching. The university people who help such proposals are overstretched. The work did not start early enough. I take their point, we are way behind, but I fancy everybody else has the same issues. We know of cases where a grant succeeded despite being written at the last minute by "pulling an all-nighter". The reviewers of this grant will be as mixed a bunch as the literary award judges in American Fiction, so the assessment will be a crap shoot anyway. They are as squeezed as we are.

Why do we have such incompetent people in charge of so much stuff in the world? I recently read "Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders" (TED talk) by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. In a nutshell, we are very bad at differentiating between confidence and competence, competence is not usually exciting, and narcissistic tendencies correlate with confidence but cause bad leadership decisions.

I have a choice.
I could work tirelessly to throw the proposal together, just using my best guesses, and convince my colleagues to give it a shot. Brian believes this would harm a 2025 shot. We certainly have no chance in 2024 if we let this opportunity pass. If unfunded, patents may lapse.
I could give up and go home early. This would upset a lot of people. I am chairman of the body corporate here and the AGM is scheduled at the end of the month. I have prescription glasses to pick up in two more weeks. There is a long lunch scheduled near the end with education colleagues. There is a lot of work to be done on this apartment. I am getting the dishwasher repaired after it failed under warranty. Edwin and I are relearning the art of hand washing up the crockery and cutlery. I have put up shelves, removed a lot of rubbish, installed coat racks, and fitted magnetic flyscreens. We need to paint the bathroom ceiling and wall. Looking forward to unlinking myself from trade work... but it will not all happen by tomorrow. I have a railway to dismantle. Plus, merely changing the dates of my flights would cost more than their original price.
The default will be to go along with whatever my colleagues decide on the proposal, presumably leaving me with little to do, and able to concentrate with less stress on the peripheral tasks, and return home as planned. I rarely allow my life to default.

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