It counts for a lot…

It’s that time of year again when officially sanctioned near-mandatory fun events lurk around every corner. The annual office Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon, a team building pot luck lunch, the rush to decorate the door in a manner to acknowledge the holiday season but also ensure that there’s no way anyone might accidentally be offended by anything on it. They’re all on my mind as we rush headlong into December. There isn’t one of these things that sounds like either a good idea or something I’d enjoy. Those two categories are not mutually exclusive, of course, knowing full well that there are plenty of things that are a bad idea, but that I find perfectly delightful.

That being said, I know I can’t stop anyone from making me attend town hall meetings or award ceremonies. I know full well that I can’t waive off just because of my fundamental distrust of anyone who calls a meeting that isn’t absolutely necessary. I also know that there’s no requirement that I cook or otherwise prepare food for my colleagues. I can’t be mandated to attend the Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon and pretend to be rapt by small talk with strangers and feigning an interest in the ugly sweater contest. As a former boss of mine so eloquently put it on so many occasions, “Look Jeff, I can be friendly, but that doesn’t mean I have to be your friend.”

Some people would surely find that offensive. I found it refreshing. Maybe some people come to the office to get their social fix. Maybe their life outside cube farm walls is devoid of other human interaction. Me? Well, I’ve got a Facebook, a blog, and unlimited text messages so there’s 90% of whatever interaction I’m looking for most days. There’s also the same bunch of friends I’ve had largely for the last 15 or 20 years… and they never ask me to pay $20 to pretend to enjoy a lukewarm lunch while surrounded by people I don’t know… and that counts for a lot.


Thanks to Amazon, my Kindle is now happily stocked with what could well be months of reading material – ranging from the Battle of Jutland to the reign of Richard III to fiction of a decidedly pulp variety. It makes me happier than it probably should.

I’ll admit that I was a holdout during the formative years of the e-reader, but I’ve come to appreciate it all the more as time goes by. While I miss the more frequent binge visits to the book store, there’s something deeply satisfying about having the preponderance of whatever you may want to read available at the stroke of a few keys.

I suppose I have to grudgingly admit that the pre-Cyber Monday sales from Amazon where good for something after all. I’ve heard it said that you can’t buy happiness, but as long as you can buy books, I’m not at all sure that’s true.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “American genocide.” Every year at this time there are a flurry of opinion pieces telling us that we’re supposed to feel guilty about the arrival of Europeans on America’s shores. Since I wasn’t there at the time, I have no intention of feeling guilty about it – and I certainly won’t pretend to feel badly about my lack of guilt. You see, back in the 16th century, there was a principle called the right of conquest, which meant if you were strong enough to occupy and hold a territory, it was yours to govern. Under the banner of the many of the crowned heads of Europe, those early arrivals during the colonial period did just that. They occupied and then they governed under the well-established rules of the day. I don’t feel any more guilt over that than I do the Norman conquest of England in 1066 AD or the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC.

2. Just unfriend me. If your response to an opposing viewpoint on social media is something like, “If you think X, just go ahead and unfriend me,” chances are we probably shouldn’t be friends anyway. See, I value the debate, the discussion of ideas, more so than I value the “rightness” of my own opinion over all others. I think there should be loud and voluminous debate about important issues of the day. An approach of “just unfriend me” cuts that off and ensures that neither side of the debate can never be fully informed. I don’t pick my friends because I happen to agree with all of their politics, but if that’s what you expect of me, maybe you should go ahead and unfriend me after all. And if at some point in the heat of a moment I’ve ever thrown down that gauntlet, I abjectly beg your indulgence and forgiveness.

3. Working the holiday. Over the last 20 years I’ve had many jobs. Some of those jobs required I work nights, or weekends, or holidays, or be prepared for “call outs” on short notice. Because I liked getting paid, that means there were many family parties, weddings, funerals, and yes, even holidays I missed because I needed to be at the office. I’ve enjoyed traditional Thanksgivings around the family table and I’ve celebrated them with a turkey sandwich on the clock. I don’t expect anyone to be out there doing the job because they love it, but if holidays and weekends are part of the position description, it pretty much is what it is.

The laughing of a dead Prussian…

Watching the news this morning, I was glad to not be one of the thousands sitting bumper to bumper on the Baltimore Beltway. Or last night on I-70. Or later today on I-95 in either direction. I’ll roll the dice at some point, of course, and hope to slip through the migrating herd before most of them get a start on their day.

The rabid instance on having a weekly Wednesday staff meeting today, however, forced me to rethink if sitting in a nice warm truck with the radio on inching down the interstate would really have been the worst of the two possibilities. A good leader might not acknowledge it in so many words, but he would certainly have known that although there are plenty of seats being filled today, those filling them are present in body, but long gone in spirit. To a person, we’ve all have our faces set in that far away, somewhere else I’d rather be look – eyes glazed over, lips slightly parted, the occasional deep sigh or eye roll. It’s a look I know well if only because I have worn it so very often.

Still, we dutifully held this middle-of-the-day meeting. Because it’s Wednesday, if not because there was any actual important information to share. Despite any application of reason to the contrary we clung to the battle rhythm on this day before Thanksgiving… and I can’t shake the feeling that somewhere there is a dead Prussian staff officer laughing at us.

The last gasp…

Under last night’s onslaught of sub-freezing weather the last of the summer’s potted plants gave up the ghost. It was dollied through the back gate and unceremoniously dumped in the woods at dusk without even the courtesy of a shallow grave. I feel like I should have done more to mark the indisputable passing of warm weather for the year. That was the last gasp of the summer that was – and Casa de Jeff is now fully winterized and rigged for the coming unpleasantness.

Between inhabiting a world that’s only lit during business hours and the arrival of Thanksgiving in a few days, it’s just another in a long string of reminders that we’ll soon be hunkered down till spring. It’s not quite the Starving Time, but it’s frankly as close as I have any interesting in getting.

I regret the (temporary) dying of the light. I’ll even miss the yard work for the next few months. There’s something about freezing your ass off blowing snow that’s just not nearly as satisfying to me as keeping a well trimmed yard.

Slow week…

With Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday, it’s bound to be a slow week. Even the people who are in the office are generally not going out of their way to find new projects to get jammed up with. I won’t say there’s an effort to run out the clock on the week, but damned few are out roaming the halls looking for trouble.

All of that means I’m basically tinkering around at my desk tending to odds and ends that never make it to the top of the to do list at any other time of the year. Basically I’ve got plenty of time to work on whatever comes along and to be honest, I don’t mind any distraction that might help the day move along.

When that distraction lands on my desk at 3:49 and has to be wrapped up by “close of business”, however, I’m mostly going to look at it, mutter WTF, and wonder what I can to to push that paper down the line as quickly as humanly possible. I’m sure whatever it was is very, very important, but not so important than anyone started worrying about it until everyone was headed home for the day.

There were 7 hours and 49 previous minutes in the day when this little project could have found its way to me. At any point on that spectrum it would likely have been treated as a serious activity. Arriving as it did, though, it was just the one major inconvenience standing between me and a quiet evening with the dogs… and even in a slow week that’s a bad place to be.

Missing the big picture…

I like to have background noise in the house while I’m going about my daily chores. Usually that means the TV is parked on a news station, the Food Network, or HGTV – basically something that I’m most likely not to get overly distracted by, but might accidentally hear something vaguely interesting. I made the mistake, during a lull in the day’s activities, of getting sucked into part of an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters.”

Over the span of about ten minutes I heard the wife wine three times that whatever house they were looking at didn’t have chair rails and the husband pout that the lot wasn’t large enough for him to buy a “big tractor.” By this point I was actively yelling at the television and rooting for the porch roof to collapse on both of these individuals so they wouldn’t have the chance to further corrupt an already questionable gene pool.

Those few minutes have stuck with me most of the afternoon and into the evening. I wonder if maybe it isn’t just the perfect reminder that so many people have a tendency to focus on the truly insignificant details at the expense of seeing the big picture.

Not a sermon, just a thought…

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Single points of failure. If you can avoid it, the thing you never want to become is a single point of failure in any system. You don’t want to make yourself so indispensable in any position that without you nothing gets done. That’s true for two reasons. The first, is if they can’t function without you, you’ll never get to leave. The second, and more important, if you’re every not around and shit comes off the rails, everyone is going to know it’s your fault. Better to share your knowledge – and share the inevitable blame. As it is, if you’re the one toad in the road that’s holding up my progress and making me look like an idiot, don’t be surprised if I show up at your desk, pull up a chair, and then sit there making your day awkward until things start happening as they should have a week ago.

2. The primaries. In a speech at Georgetown today Senator Sanders laid out “what democratic socialism means to me.” I guess that’s red meat for his base. It would have to be, because sending up signal flares of appeal to the legacy of FDR, of an every expansive government, and ever higher taxes can only send every Republican and libertarian moderate screaming away from him at all possible speed. I can only assume the senator’s words hit my ear the same way an appeal to righteousness of the Regan legacy sounds to my friends on the left. When the preliminary contest demands we run as far to the extreme as possible, it’s hardly a wonder that the opposing sides never again find a middle ground.

3. Temperature control. Big buildings are notoriously difficult to manage when it comes to heating and cooling. Intellectually I understand that. That being said when you spend a week sitting at your desk wearing a coat and hat while the other end of the room has a bunch of fans running, it’s probably time to go ahead think about reworking how things “work.” Unless the plan, of course, it to slowly introduce us to into a cryogenic deep freeze so we can be broken out if the staff in a far distant future needs a superior PowerPoint presentation or has a conference that needs planning.

Tear jerker…

Ok friends, first off, let me say up front that this post is likely going to offend approximately 50% of people who read it. That’s fine. It might even be good if that offense turns into anything like a discussion or even a moment to think through the issue at hand.

One of the meme’s I’ve seen online over the last few days really leaves me with a head scratching moment every time it comes along.  I’m a reasonably well educated man, but I stand utterly agape when I see someone post that “We have to let everyone into the country because the Statue of Liberty says so.”

Now I have no ill feeling for Lady Liberty. She’s a fine monument. I think that back in the mid-1980s our elementary school even had a fundraiser to help her along through a renovation.

The thing I really want to know from those who would see the spigot cranked wide open, though, is how many of the “huddled masses” are they personally willing to stand surety? For how many will they personally provide food, clothing, and ensure prompt medical care? For how many are they personally willing to assume responsibility? How many can come over and crash in their spare bedroom? Will they let them use the family car or make them catch the bus?

If the answer is “none,” or “the government should do that,” I’m afraid I find your support for the tear jerker of the moment less than convincing. It’s awfully easy to say “oh dear, someone should help those poor people,” but if you feel so strongly that we should take all comers regardless of cost and regardless of risk, this is probably going to be one of those cases where your actions speak louder than your words.

Or just go ahead and post another meme with Liberty in the background. Either way.

Strange bedfellows…

I find myself in the awkward position of wanting to congratulate Anonymous for their first salvo against ISIS. By the initial reports 5000 or so Twitter accounts linked to terror groups have suddenly found themselves disabled. It’s not a sweeping victory, but anything that negatively impacts the terrorist’s ability to exercise command and control, recruit, or otherwise get their message out is absolutely welcome.

I can’t help but think of the vagaries of this Global War on Terror we find ourselves in and what strange bedfellows it makes. Nevertheless, well done lads, keep pouring it on. While you do that, we’ll keep prodding our own “leaders” to do something that feels like more than lip service.