Panic, correction, and why it doesn’t necessarily suck…

Anyone following the markets this week already knows that they took a beating. Global stock markets are down across the board, a fact mostly attributable to at least some level of panic about what coronavirus will mean to the overall global economy. Markets hate uncertainty and that seems to be what we’ve had from all directions for the last few days.

Because I do want to retire some day, I’m not immune to keeping one eye on the business channels throughout the day. Days when I’m tempted to panic I find it helpful to remember a couple of things: 1) In the short term stock markets always move in two directions; 2) Trading based on emotion is stupid; and 3) Over the long term, the market has never moved in any direction but up.

Sure, when you’re sitting around watching tens of thousands of dollars of savings disappear, there’s an undeniable instinct to try to save whatever you’ve got left. That’s the emotional response. The logical response, of course, is not making those losses permeant by selling into the teeth of such large moves.

I’ve got fifteen years left before I’ll need to touch anything that’s currently subject to the vagaries of the stock market. The sane, rational part of my brain knows full well that fifteen years from now the prices today are going to look like an absolute fire sale compared to where they will be then. I’ll keep plugging my cash into a well balanced mutual fund every two weeks and let history be my guide. If I were planning to retire at close of business today, of course, I’d probably be a bit more wild-eyed in my estimates, but I like to think even then I’d manage to let sanity prevail.

The day I start betting against America and against the long track record of capitalism creating real wealth over time, you might as well put a fork in me. I’ve bought the ticket and I’m taking the ride.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Wanting it bad. There’s an old saw when it comes to government work that says “If you want it bad, you’ll get it bad.” Put another way, if you want to shove something out the door fast, don’t be surprised when quality suffers. I’ll be the first to say that not every project needs to take months and years to come to fruition, but there are times when you’d be far better off and deliver a far more refined product if you’d just take a few extra days to put just a little bit of polish on the final effort… but if you demand a rush job, don’t be surprised when the result is one ugly-assed example of “good enough.”

2. FCC complainers. I didn’t see the Superbowl halftime show this year, but I did see clips of it. According to complaints received by the FCC it was “a x-rated display like you’d see at a strip club.” All I keep thinking is that the poor person who wrote that complaint couldn’t possible have ever been to a strip club or actually seen porn. I almost feel sorry for these puritanical douche canoes who are clearly too uptight about the human body to ever really enjoy any sexytime.

3. Lack of motivation. By Thursday whatever motivation I could manage to scrape together to kick off the week is well and truly spent. While I’m mostly focused on keeping my ducks more or less in line and getting across the Friday afternoon line of demarcation, there’s always someone rolling into the last third of the week with boundless energy, optimism, the desire to do great things. While I’m sure these people are well intentioned and may even be organizational rock stars, the only thing I really want to do with them is kick them directly in the junk. Because it’s Thursday and I’m expending every ounce of available energy to keep my eyes from rolling out of my skull. If I can put anything more than that on the table at this late stage of the week, it’s a bonus, but really shouldn’t in any way be expected.

That thing I do…

I’ve never really liked the term “loner.” It has connotations of wild eyed Unibomber wearing rags and shitting in the woods that doesn’t feel fitting. That said, for most of my adult life I’ve had a natural inclination towards running a one man show. Relying on other people to get through the day to day basics always feels problematic to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is no matter how well intentioned others may be, you’re the only one who’s going to be with you 24/7.

From the time I was a kid, my natural instinct has always been to turn inwards when shit gets stupid and dig down into an inner wellspring of resolve. The worse the external force, the stronger my desire to hunker down becomes. It’s not so much turning ostrich and sticking my head in the sand as going tortoise, dropping my center of mass, and relying on strong personal armor to ride out the danger. It’s just one of the things I do to navigate the world.

That’s all a long way of saying I recognize that I’ve been doing a shitty job these last couple of months keeping up with people or getting back to them in anything like a timely manner. As they say, it’s not you, it’s me. The short term outlook calls for more of the same, though I’m expecting May Day 2020 to be a significant inflection point where after it’ll feel a bit less like me versus the universe.

What to watch…

There are maybe half a score of people whose judgement about “must see” TV I trust. Being that we live in the golden age of at home entertainment, they do their best to keep me well advised about what’s new, exciting, and generally worth the investment of time to see. Sure, most of the fandoms I subscribe to are well into their second or third decade now, but, I appreciate others proselytizing programming that I probably wouldn’t even consider otherwise.

The thing is, I’m quite sure I’m letting most of these people down. They always sound just a little bit crestfallen when I admit that no, I haven’t watched whatever show they recommended a few weeks ago. I promise, friends, it’s not you, it’s me.

Yes, if I’m awake and at home, the TV is almost always on… sometimes more than one of them. It’s usually tuned into something that passes for news or edutainment. Most of the time it’s purely there to be a dull hum in the background while go about doing other things. With the exception of whatever is featuring in the evenings when I sit down for dinner and actually focus in on a program, I’m rarely actually watching the television at all – and often enough that dinner hour watching is given over to old favorites like Buffy, West Wing, or Seaquest (Shut up. Don’t judge me).

There’s a wealth of television worth watching out there right now. I’m slowly getting through some of it, one or two episodes at a time. The simple fact is that when I do have long stretches of free time at my disposal, I’d rather allocate that most limited resource to sticking my nose in a book than binging whatever the cool new show is. I’ll see a good portion of them eventually – one episode at a time scattered over a period of weeks or months – but the chance of me sitting down and charging through eight or ten episodes at a time is hugely limited except under some pretty exceptional circumstrances.

The list maker…

I’m a list maker. I’ve got a list for groceries, a list of projects that needs done around the house, a list of books I want to read, and countless others of varying lengths.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started keeping what feels like it could be the most dangerous list of all. No, it’s not an enemies list. I’ve earned a few of those over the years, but I don’t consider my enemies in any way dangerous enough to need to keep the little shits on a list. This new list that has been evolving lives on my phone under the heading of “Things I want to Learn More About.” It’s a deceptively simple title for what’s threatening to become a weighty issue.

My reading, especially in history, has long suffered because of my habit of allowing myself to fall down research rabbit holes either because of footnotes or random tidbits that caught my interest but were only tangentially related to the main theme of whatever I happened to be reading. I’d often find myself stopping to google something and then spend half an hour or more picking up the basics. Interesting as it is, that methodology is a hard way to get through a book.

So, for the last few weeks I’ve been making a conscious decision to just take a note of the people, places, or things that warranted further reading. It’s hard to say for sure, but I feel like my reading pace and retention rate are both at least a little better off for this new way of conducting myself.

The down side, because of course there’s always a down side, is that I seem to be adding an innumerable amount of topics to my already lengthy reading list. Just from the past weekend’s reading of Arsenal of Democracy, I want to dig in to a) The transfer of power at Ford Motor Company from Henry to his grandson; b) Henry’s Fair Lane estate; c) General Motors early corporate history; d) Bill Knudsen, biography; e) Alfred P. Slone, biography.

There’s no particular reason I need to know any of these things other than having a curious mind and an interest spurred on by some passing references in what I was reading. It’s only a problem when each new book leads to four or five other things and you realize, as always, that time is a limited and non-renewable resource. If I’m lucky, my thirst can be slaked for most topics with a quick read through a Wikipedia article. Others, though, will deserve full books in their own right and each one of those will lead to its own list of more things I want to know.

There are times I wonder if it wouldn’t be altogether more satisfying to be a little bit stupid. It feels like it would certainly save me a great deal of time and effort… and probably reduce the number of items on all my lists significantly.

Saturday, in the morning…

It’s Saturday. By now it shouldn’t be a suspense to anyone that I have a plan for that. Even in the absence of a plan I’d have a routine to surely keep myself in track.

Wake up. Do dog stuff. Shit, shower, and shave. Coffee. Pay bills, check finances, etc. then my favorite part – after establishing that the household will be on a sound financial footing for at least the next week – the 90 or so minutes of calm and quiet before launching out to get groceries and run the other errands necessary to keep the homestead functioning.

Its probably the most singularly peaceful block of time in my entire week and I love it for that.

What I learned this week…

After you’ve been almost twenty years a bureaucrat, you think you know all the tricks in the book. With that kind of experience, one might be forgiven for thinking they’ve seen it all before. Even so, I’ve learned an important new skill this week that is sure to improve my abilities as a professional bureaucrat going forward.

Like the very best skills in every field, this technique seems deceptively simple. All you have to do to start is say “I agree with everything you’ve just proposed.” Then follow that statement with the qualifier, “with the following changes” and proceed to list half a dozen ways in which you’re going to change the proposal you’ve just nominally agreed with.

For a moment, the poor unsuspecting fool you’re dealing with might even think they’ve gotten the approval that they need to move something forward. Only later once they’ve digested the proposed changes will they realize their proposal may have been changed root and stem.

The good news is that this approach doesn’t have to be a one-and-done. You can keep on agreeing with the thing you just changed while proposing further changes through endless iterations. It’s the bureaucratic gift that keeps on giving. If you’re confident enough, you can keep this self licking ice cream cone rolling on for days or weeks, maybe even months under the right circumstances.

A lesser man might be enraged when realizing he’s been played by such a smooth operator. Not being a lesser man, I’ll just consider it a lesson learned and a new skill I’ll very quickly adopt for my own kit bag.