AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

What great looks like…

A while back I ran one of my occasional “You Ask It, I’ll Answer It” special features. Last night while trying to bring some semblance of coherence to my notes I discovered a leftover question that was asked but apparently not yet answered. I aim to remedy that oversight this evening, but I beg to be allowed some creative license with the question. As written, it asks “What makes an excellent boss?” That’s probably about as subjective a question as you could ask of any employee, but I’m going to take a swing at answering it by way of talking about a guy I use to work for – and wish I could again.

It was a long time ago. I was twenty five and three years out of college. A refugee from an abortive career as a professional educator, Uncle Sam offered to take me in, train me, and let me stay a civilian – as long as I was willing to go wherever he told me to go at the end of the initial six month training program. When the bosses at the schoolhouse asked if I was ok going to DC, I was thrilled. As it turns out, being a low-graded employee in the imperial city doesn’t make it a location at the top of too many people’s dream sheets.

The guy I worked for in DC was probably as close to a perfect boss as I could have hoped to find on my arrival. He’d been everywhere, done everything, and seemed to know everyone no matter where you went. He’d get you a place in meetings half a dozen levels above your pay grade and then put you on the spot to offer an opinion as an expert in your field. Nothing was off limits and any door you wanted to open was opened. Every day with this guy was not just a master class in the profession, but also in the politics of the office.

Professional growth comes with mistakes. While he was happy enough to let you flail around finding a solution, I never managed to screw something up so badly that he couldn’t fix it with a couple of phone calls. I did my time, put in the work, and he made sure the promotions and raises followed. He took care of his people and that counts for far more than I realized at the time. Despite the dissent from an old guard he was determined that his organization was going to be infused thoroughly with new blood. The more seasoned I become the more I appreciate just how far he was sticking his neck out to make that happen.

I can’t even speculate what turns my career may have taken if I had landed in Washington and found a hidebound boss too concerned with grade, or structure, or process. God knows in the years that followed, I’ve run into enough of them to compile volumes of what it is to work for an assortment of bad bosses. There have been some damned good ones in the mix too. You almost always here about the bad ones, but there are still bosses out there who at least try to do the right thing.

My experience, though, has been that the really great ones only show up once in a career – and that’s largely dependent on being in the right place at the right time. It seems more likely to spend 30 years bumping along with bosses that fall somewhere towards the middle of the bell curve. I was fortunate to have one really impressive boss experience right out of the gate in this career… but taking the bad with the good it also means my mental achievement bar for what it means to be great is set almost impossibly high.

Living the dream…

Picture it. Appalachia. 1984. If you asked the average five or six year old in that time and place what he or she wanted to be when grown, the answers you’d hear would probably be something like fireman, cop, nurse, baseball player, a teacher, or vet. My answer was pretty much always that I wanted to be a senator when I grew up. Even from a young age I had a sense that high office was pretty damned good work if you could get it.

Today, by contrast, I wouldn’t want to be a senator for 10 times the salary. I’m not sure I could spend the day dealing with sycophants and lobbyists, the right wing crackpots like Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, or left wing ideologues like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I don’t know that any amount of senatorial decorum could stop me from carrying out my deep desire to heave the whole lot of them into the Potomac. At least now I know what I don’t want to do.

What I do want to do – what I’d consider my dream job today – is a little harder to pin down. I know I’d want to write, but not all day every day. I’d like to have an unlimited amount of time to sit on a sunny porch in the morning and drink good coffee. I’d like to walk through the woods, ride 4-wheelers, and shoot guns. I’d like to really take the time to learn how to brew beer and distill whiskey.

As far as I can tell, my dream job is essentially being a PowerBall jackpot winner and having the financial freedom to pursue whatever happens to interest me in the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m compensated well for the time I spend in the office, but it doesn’t take too many days of playing “Who Has the Key to the Mysterious Locked Equipment Room” or “1001 Ways to Make Your PowerPoint Better” to make a guy wonder if there’s something more out there.

I’m not Thoreau and this place certainly isn’t Walden, but it keeps me off the streets. That’s probably as much as a reasonable person could want… but I’ve never claimed to be the model of reasonableness. So the answer to the “dream job” question really is, “it depends.” It depends on the day and hour you ask. For me it’s always been something of a moving target.

This is the second of three answers “By Request.” Thanks, Chrissie!

The best and the worst…

First I’d like to thank Chrissie for letting me off the hook to coming up with a new idea tonight. Since she asked three questions, I’ll do my best to take them one at a time. The first, and not just because I’m waiting for what’s cooking away in the stove is a response to (and I’m paraphrasing here) “the best and worst meal I ever ate.”

The best I’ve ever had makes it a bit of a loaded question as I’m not a foodie, per se. My tastes tend to run a bit towards the traditional. No surprise there I’m sure. I could tell you about the half dozen out of the way local crab houses on both sides of the Chesapeake between St. Mary’s County and Crisfield that are all in the running for best crab cakes and/or blue crabs I’ve ever had. I could tell you about a remarkable slice of beef served at the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. I could tell you about the world’s most perfect cheeseburger, french fries with brown gravy, and strawberry milkshake combination that came from the kitchen of a health code violating former county sheriff in my home town. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve had dreams about that one.

With all that said, the best meal I ever had was actually a regular occurrence throughout my formative years. The local chapter of the Loyal Order of Moose had a steak feed once a month. They packed people in shoulder to shoulder at paper covered tables and served us the biggest bowl of buffet-style house salad I’ve still ever seen in person, a t-bone steak, and a potato. It was a monthly staple. It wasn’t the best cut of steak I’ve ever had (although they weren’t bad), but it was the company that made the meal. Steak at the Moose was one of the few times you could count on the entire extended family being together in one place. That was before my grandparent’s generation passed and the whole thing split into warring camps, before a couple of decades of hurt feelings and animosity. I’ve had better meals purely in terms of technical excellence, but I’ve rarely dined in better or more entertaining company.

The worst meal? In a world full of really appalling fast food options that’s a little more difficult to pinpoint. The only one that really stands out in my mind is more because it’s a meal I regret than it was because the chow was bad. The award belongs to some long forgotten Ethiopian restaurant in Adams Morgan. I was a college freshman in the city on a school-sponsored trip to get us hillbillies some culture in the form of dinner and a show. I liked the show well enough – I think maybe it was Rent – but I wasn’t quite evolved enough just yet to appreciate the virtue of truly ethnic food. The flavors were strange, the service was different, and I wasn’t a fan of everyone around me just diving in with their bare hands and some spongy bread. Between the end of the meal and when the time the bus showed up to deliver us across town, I managed to get a get across the street and wolf down a quarter pounder… and that’s what and why it ranks as my worst meal even though it says far more about 18 year old me than it does about the quality of the food.

Books…

One of the first things I do at the start of every move is box up the contents of two large bookshelves. They’re the “quick hit” to get the process started and they’re not going to be something I can’t live without for the month or so it’s going to take me to get them unboxed and back into their proper place. As part of my current “ask the blogger” segment, someone asked what the books were and why I’d bothered hauling them around across 10,000 road miles and 15 years. There’s a story there, but I’m not sure it’s a particularly interesting one.

I’ve never counted the exact number of physical books I still have – at 13 boxes I’d guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 175-200. Measured by weight it’s got to be something on the order of 3,729 metric tonnes. Since I’ve loved books since long before the Kindle came along, they’re something I’ve acquired over a lifetime of reading. I’ve purged the collection before many moves and seem to have it down to a core group that I just can’t bring myself to part with. They’re mostly biographies and histories – covering everything from Cicero to the Iraq War. There’s a much smaller mix of historical fiction and the occasional “classic” a la Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, and 1984.

As someone pointed out there are these buildings called libraries where large volumes of books live permenantly. Theoretically I should love libraries, but I’ve always had a hard time with the idea of giving a book back once I was done with it, especially the once I’ve found interesting or meaningful. The habit has gotten easier since the rise of the e-reader, but that doesn’t do anything about the stack of bound paper I already have.

I have a tendency to hold on to them for the usual reasons – maybe I’ll need to reference them some day (which I actually have done for more than a few blog posts and while I was working on my last short story). In all likelihood I know the only time most titles will ever leave the shelf is the next time I move. Still, I like the idea of having them. I like the way they look on the shelf. I like the way a room full of books smells. I like the way they feel in my hand.

Plus there’s the one I never talk about – the fact that the furniture has changed, the clothes of changed, the critters I have around change, the locations change, but the books stay the same. Maybe they’re the touchstone; the hearth at the center of what whatever house I happen to be in whenever I get where I’m going.

Posts on demand…

Since this blog has taken on the feeling of a full time discussion of the trials and tribulations of home buying, I’m going to fall back on an a tried and true method of ginning up some new ideas for those periods when my brain is churning through some house related issue about which you likely have little to no actual interest.

That’s right! For a limited time only I’m opening the request line and offering up my take on the topic or topics of your choice.

I won’t make an “I’ll answer everything” promise as there are still a few bits of life I don’t think belong on the internet, but for the most part the field is wide open to your ideas – so go ahead and leave a comment, send me a message on Facebook, a direct message on Twitter, email, text, of whatever method you prefer. I always like these little exercise because they get me outside whatever is going on in my head at any given moment. Hopefully that keeps things a little more interested for everyone out there, too.

So yeah, go ahead and help me help you, ok?

What Jeff Likes this Week

For the final offering of this six-post series, you might think I would have planned to end on a high note. Given that the week just past featured all manner of goodness and joy in the spirit of the Christmas season, the list of likely targets is extraordinarily large. However, since this is me we’re talking about and not some nancy-boy, cry at the drop of a hat, sensitive, new age man, all I can tell you is this: What I like this week is mostly the fact that I’m back at the rental house, two dogs are happily snoring in their beds, and that I am fully in control of the television, thermostat, and meal preperation.

Be it every so humble, temporary, ill designed, and poorly insulated, there’s no place like wherever it is you happen to hang your hat. It may not be “home” but it’s at least filled will all your own stuff and sometimes that’s just as good.

Note: This is the 6th and final entry in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.