Maybe I could offend everyone…

For the last few weeks I’ve been pondering on the idea of a new limited series of posts. Maybe six or twelve posts here, expanding on my view of all the controversial stuff that seems to preoccupy our every waking moment.

I’m thinking here of abortion, voting and voting rights, free speech, LGBTQ issues, the Second Amendment, the environment, healthcare and the social safety net, and fiscal responsibility (or lack thereof). I’m sure offhand I’m missing some of the key topics that make people do the crazy.

It feels like good mental exercise to a) Refine my own thinking a bit and b) Likely offend, anger, annoy, or otherwise agitate every single person who reads the blog or follows me on social media over the course of two or three months. I mean with goals like that, what could really go wrong?

So, aside from anything I’ve already thrown out, what are the other grand controversies of the day just begging to be given the once over?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Friday afternoon. Once upon a time, I actually enjoyed Fridays. They were a day full of promise. Now, of course, Fridays are just the day the Good Idea Fairy makes its rounds or people remember shit they should have done earlier in the week and try to jam it through so they can claim it got wrapped up before close of business. I can only urge you not to be that guy. Don’t wait until Friday afternoon. I promise you, deep down in places professionals aren’t supposed to talk about, no one give a shit at 3:30 on Friday how good an idea you’re having or whether something gets done or not. Maybe there’s an exception for immediate threats to life and safety, but otherwise all anyone on the line cares about on Friday is getting the hell away from cubicle hell for a few days. I know the uberbosses, enthroned high on Olympus, have forgotten their days lower down on the org chart and truly believe that everyone wants to (or at least should) give 300% 24 hours a day, but the heights of Olympus aren’t a reflection of any kind of universal reality. Sometimes those memos are just going to linger over the weekend… and I’m perfectly fine with that.

2. Paper cups. I know it’s saving the world or whatever, but I miss Chick-fil-a’s Styrofoam cups. In its new, socially responsible paper cups, the lemonade gets watered down on the ride between drive-thru and office. It’s just disappointing.

3. Heating and cooling season. So here we are well into autumn. It’s a special time of year where I fire up the furnace each morning to knock the chill off the house and then a few hours later when passive solar heating has sent the indoor temperature well into the 70s, switch the air conditioner back on to get the place back down to a reasonable sleeping temperature. At least in this part of the world this mixed season doesn’t usually last long. While it’s here though, I spend an unreasonable amount of time pondering the time, effort, and cash it takes to maintain a steady 68 degrees. 

Lunch date…

For all my ranting and raving, I have a loose policy of not really talking too much here about my personal life. Often enough that’s because I’m not sure it would make for particularly dynamic reading. Plus, there’s the bit about the internet not needing to know absolutely everything I’m up to. Occasionally, though, there’s a little bit of a story that just too good not to share.

You see, I had a lunch date Sunday afternoon. Low pressure, low key, and the first time I’ve sat down in a restaurant since December 2019, when the rumors of plague started rumbling out of China. 

No, I obviously won’t name names, but she’s a lovely girl – charming, articulate, and a keeper of cats with at least a polite interest in books. I’d be hard pressed to remember when two hours in the presence of other people passed quite so pleasantly.

There’s a catch, of course – and not, probably, an obvious one. You see, in what I can only assume is typical of her fellow Millennials, there was a bit of a rant about capitalism, “the system,” and a Bernie-esq flavor of wishing to bring about a brave new socialist world. 

Look, I’m all for people being engaged, involved, and having informed opinions. I’m even up for the discussion should anyone want to have it. But it was hard not to chuckle a bit at the mental gymnastics it takes to talk about burning down the system while drinking $15 sangrias paid for by someone who earns their living by actively working to advance the system and prop up the military-industrial complex. Unless your plan is to dismantle the system one drink at a time, in which case then I suppose the revolution is now.

I’m not sure there will be a second date, but the first one was worth having if only for the pure entertainment value. 

The eighth time around…

This morning I was granted official permission from the gods on Olympus to begin preliminary planning for the annually reoccurring piece of this job that I hate the most. Yay.

Putting a six month long planning process that stretches across a dozen different organizations, nearly a hundred separate contacts, and relies on offering a happy, welcoming face to our partners from the private sector into the hands of a well known introvert and misanthrope feels like the height of bureaucratic folly. It’s the kind of thing I’d intuitively want to give to someone who didn’t unflinchingly use the phrases “wedding planner,” “circus roustabout,”, and “welcoming the great unwashed masses” to describe his role even to the most senior of leaders.

But here we are. This year will be my eighth as wedding planner in charge of this particular effort. Years ago the bosses promised “just one more year” and we’ll get someone else to do it. They don’t even bother with those lies now… so I guess it’s eight down and thirteen more to go… unless I manage to cock it up in some truly spectacular and unanticipated manner. I’m not one to go in for sabotage, but I’m told that accidents happen, so a boy can dream.

That happy dream notwithstanding, I’ll get it done on time and to standard, but don’t think for a moment that I’ll be enjoying any of what I must do these next six months. It’ll be a product not done for love or pride of a job well handled, but purely because I enjoy getting paid every two weeks and would like nothing to interfere with that continuing well into the future. Nothing more, nothing less.

One of my best friends from college had a simple sign in his dorm room. It said “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” On such words, whole careers are built.

The best ten weeks…

Here we are in mid-October, I’m comfortable saying I’ve mostly adjusted to the diminishing daylight and have started into one of my favorite times of year. Sure, it’s about to be the “holiday season” or whatever, but that’s not really it. Not directly, anyway.

I’ve long made a habit of mostly hoarding vacation time through the first 2/3 of the year. With the arrival of October, though, it’s time to start letting those days spool out. For me, that means the next two and a half months look something like this:

Three-day weekend… Work for two weeks… Five day weekend… Work for a week… Four day weekend… Work for three weeks… and finally the last, glorious Fifteen day weekend capping off the year.

The annual burning off of vacation time is a real thing of beauty. This annual rite of autumn is made easier in my case by not having to burn time during the rest of the year to tend to sick offspring or in accommodating spousal wishes. I sprinkle days through the rest of the year to get a quick breather when necessary, but it’s here in the fall where I really get my head right.

In a few months the new year starts and with it a new round of hoarding time off begins… with the promise of another fall filled with days not spent dwelling under fluorescent lighting. For now, though, I’ll happily celebrate the best ten weeks of the year,

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. At least twice this week, as I drifted off to sleep, I thought of something and noted that it would be a good blog topic. Yep. I’ll write about that tomorrow. Of course by morning the thought had completely evaporated without hope of recovery. All I’m left with is the ghost of an interesting idea and no ink on the page.  I’m going to need the ideas to start coming before that instant when consciousness blinks out of the night while I’ve still got a fighting chance of making some notes.

2. There’s a day next week I wasn’t scheduled to be in the office. Now I am. Not because of some bureaucratic fuckery, but because I opened my own stupid mouth and volunteered. After almost 19 years you’d think I would know better. Sure, it’s one of my few “high profile” projects, but there’s absolutely nothing I can add in person that I couldn’t have added in a video call. But there I’ll be, failing to strike a blow for the power or remote work. Let the record show I’m able to annoy myself just as much if not more than other people can manage to achieve.

3. I’ve been using my original Gmail address since back in the olden days when the service was “by invitation only.” Yes, I’m well aware of how much of my “personal information” Google is sweeping up in their net by providing this otherwise free service, but it has been an absolute workhorse over the years. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone to check my email and found it unavailable. I’ve been using the account for everything, for so long now, that it’s almost starting to choke on the not-quite-spam – or the random marketing emails sent by companies I legitimately do business with. They’re companies I don’t necessarily want caught in the spam filter because I like getting receipts, bills, and  the other bits of information I need,.. but getting 20-30 messages a day that are close to but not quite spam feels like way too much. I could probably spend a little while tightening up my filters, but I definitely wanted to bitch about it first.

Controversial, unpopular, or downright offensive…

I took a little heat about that Columbus post a few days ago, but overall, the ratio ran more in my favor than not. That’s nice, but my opinions don’t generally tend to be informed by what I think the ratio will be. Being at heart a traditionalist who also happens to have some decidedly non-traditional beliefs will do that to you. If I were worried about what anyone thinks, I’d keep my mouth shut… and I certainly wouldn’t be sending it out to the internet, where ideas go to live forever.

There are, of course, plenty of topic I chose not to talk about here. I don’t think any of them are particularly wild or outlandish, but a few would certainly be controversial, unpopular, or downright offensive depending on your individual point of view. So, for now, it’s in my best interest to leave them unsaid and unwritten.

The day I’m no longer dependent on earning an outside source of income, however, all bets are off. It should be an awfully interesting day around here when all the filters come off. So, really, this post is just a request for patience. Perhaps extreme patience… but maybe some of those extraordinary rants to come will be worth the wait. Check back in 14 years or so and we’ll all know for sure.

Next across the block…

The catalog for the next big prop auction just hit the streets this morning. The good news is that there’s nothing Buffy headed across the block next month, so there’s no reason to look into loan sharks or selling plasma to raise funds. 

There are, though, two items of interest – Eliot Ness’ badge from The Untouchables and a small trinket from a non-Buffy vampire franchise – that I wouldn’t mind making a home for if they stay somewhere in line with the pre-auction estimate. I’ll be keeping an eye out for how much interest the garner before the live portion of the auction kicks off.

Either one would be a treat to own, but fortunately neither will leave me obsessing for hours like the stake that got away. 

Exploration, conquest, and modernity…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, we studied something then called the Age of Discovery, or if you were feeling particularly froggy, the Age of Conquest. This was the period in history from the 15th through the 17th centuries when Europeans set out on a global search for faster trade routes, wealth, personal glory. It corresponded with a then unprecedented explosion in knowledge about the natural world. 

I’ve watched a number of reports over the last few days condemning Columbus as a genocidal maniac and all I can do is shake my head in frustration. I will never understand why educated people insist on applying 21st century morality to 15th century actions. If we “discovered” an unknown continent tomorrow, we wouldn’t approach it the same way that Columbus did in the 1490s. We wouldn’t approach it the same way the Great Powers of Europe approached Africa in the 19th century, either. We would approach it using our best judgment based on 21st century understanding of peoples and our modern sensibilities. Half a millennia from now, we would surely be criticized for our actions because they were not how some future observers would have managed the affair.

“But, but,” they say, “He killed all those nice natives.” Yeah, he did. Can’t deny it. What seems to be forgotten in the discussion is Europe in the 1400s was a regular charnel house. Between plague, pestilence, disease, and the Hundred Years’ War, sudden, violent death in the New World most likely didn’t strike anyone as an unnatural state of affairs. All of our contemporary assessments of Columbus come from a 21st century perspective that is at least a full lifetime removed from any real concept of mass die-offs caused by war and pestilence. The dying related to COVID-19 doesn’t hold a candle to what was experienced historically during times of social upheaval.

We lack a personal frame of reference for what “normal” was in the late 15th century. In a very real way, the past is a foreign country. Even as a student of history, I always had a problem with those in the business who feel the need to apply contemporary morality to historical events. History is all about subtlety and context… and both are completely lacking when we try to hold Columbus to the standards of modernity.

During the Age of Conquest, as the name implies, some nations and civilizations did the conquering and others were vanquished. It’s happened since the dawn of recorded time and was happening long before we bothered writing the stories down. As often happens with the vanquished, we don’t hear much about their history. Now as a student of history myself, I’m all about understanding their story, but I’m not about rewriting the entire age of exploration into an overly simple victim narrative just to make someone feel better. Likewise, I’m under no illusion that Columbus or those that followed were demigods. History is a more complex animal than that.

Hundreds of millions of people lived and died during the three centuries of the Age of Discovery. Aside from kings and princes, we remember very few of them by name… and for those few we don’t remember them because they spent their often-short lifetimes boohooing the world around them, but because they dared to do what was hard and dangerous. They’re derided in the modern world, I suspect, because so many now live lives that are unfathomably easy and safe based on any measure of historical precedent. 

In this household, Columbus and all the men who set out in fragile wooden ships from the Old World to lay claim to the New will always be celebrated.