Threat vectors…

American tourists dropping like flies in the Dominican Republic. Squeegie Kids attacking commuters in downtown Baltimore. Random violent acts in shopping malls and on the street. People generally behaving like assholes in every conceivable public space – some dangerous, some simply stupid beyond all comprehension. The average person spends their day surrounded by threat vectors without every really knowing it. It’s probably for the best. If most people really understood what a dangerous place the world was, I’d wonder how they managed to get through the day at all.

There’s a saying that I’ve often heard repeated, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” While I’ll admit this bit of received wisdom isn’t 100% accurate, experience tells me a whole lot of dumb and dangerous stuff happens between midnight and dawn – things that wouldn’t necessarily happen in the full light of day. I long ago adopted a corollary to this Midnight Rule, which says “That’s the kind of dumb shit you can avoid by not leaving the house.”

People look at me cross ways when I say it – perhaps too loudly and often. Yes, yes, I know that most accidental injuries happen in the home. Slicing your finger open with a kitchen knife or falling down in the shower are unfortunate to be sure, but can also largely be avoided by not getting too distracted from whatever task is at hand. The outside threat vectors, though, are far more difficult to control for – the disgruntled coworker, the squeegy kids, and all the great long laundry list of stupid people out there wandering around in the world at large. What all of those vectors have in common is that they are abso-fucking-lutly not in my house.

And that, friends, is in large part why I go places for the most part when it can’t be avoided, but am otherwise entirely happy to pass the time reasonably secure from the kind of jackassery you open yourself up to by going places and doing things. I like to think I’ve done reasonably well by sticking to the ideas that nothing good is happening after midnight and dumb shit can be be avoided by not leaving the house. I don’t suppose it works for everyone, but I’ve found it to be a sound basis for getting by.

A tempting target…

Back in April, Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Maggie Hassan of New asked the GAO to launch a study on “risks that fossil fuel stocks currently present” to those invested in the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The distinguished senators then go on to imply that the TSP should create funds that “incorporate climate change risk” as part of the 401-k style program’s offerings.

Part of the allure of the TSP is its remarkably small fee structure – it’s very cheap in comparison to many other funds. Fees are low, in part, because TSP is simple. It’s got five basic index funds and five “lifecycle funds” that automatically reallocate participant’s money based on target dates. It’s got an elegant simplicity that’s historically effective at creating wealth for its participants over their long careers.

Look, I accept that climate change is a real thing. I also don’t have any particular love of the energy sector – many leaders in the area are losing value. That’s my real issue with them, though. If we’re going to drop energy companies from a portfolio, do it because they’re not making us money – not because some holier-than-thou senator wants to score a few political points.

Congress never saw a big pot of money sitting around that it didn’t want to stick its whole hand into. With $500 billion in assets under management I can understand why the TSP is an awfully tempting target. That said, the very last thing I want to see is a good thing turned on its ear by driving TSP to respond to whatever political views happen to hold sway at any given moment. Treating retirement funds as just another political football is almost a guaranteed way to manage to take another slug of cash out of my pocket.

There are already fund options out there for just about any special interest that wants to play in the market – whether your “thing” is gender diversity, sustainable energy, human rights, or a laundry list of other causes. TSP should remain a broad-based set of fund options targeted at replicating the market overall and building wealth over time for the wide swath of federal employees. Catering to the few individuals who can’t seem to be satisfied with that just doesn’t make senses… unless of course you’re more interested in enforcing ideological purity than in making good financial decisions. Surely no member in the United States Senate could ever be accused of that.

People are weird…

So I get passed a lot in the morning on my way to the office. First, I’m usually driving a Jeep, which isn’t a vehicle anyone really associates with speed. Second, I’m driving to work. Why the hell would I be in any kind of rush? Ending up with a ticket on my way to work is the very definition of a situation that would just add insult to injury. A stead 60 in a 55 feels like laying on plenty enough speed for the occasion.

The reverse trip away from the office in the afternoon is something altogether different. That, you see, calls for every fraction of extra throttle that prevailing conditions allow. Interestingly enough, it’s during these afternoon drives when everyone else seems to be lackadaisically content with skittering around at or below the posted speed limit.

Maybe you can file this one as just another reason why I don’t really understand people or what motivates them. Given the option between racing to the office or racing home, I have no earthly idea why they’d choose the former over the latter. People are weird, man

Forty and one…

First off, let me say thank you to everyone who took a few minutes over the weekend to text, email, or post birthday wishes. I’m happy to report that the day arrived and passed quietly. As you might expect, fanfare, parties, and being the center of real world attention aren’t really my style.

I don’t think I’ve really “celebrated” a birthday since I turned 21. I’ve noted them, of course, and measured my progress against their passing. I use to hate birthdays, now I just kind of nod in acknowledgment as they pass. Simple. Dignified. And above all quiet.

I’ll admit that 41 lacked the gulping existential horror with which I faced 40. That one was hard to get my mind wrapped around. This latest iteration of the day, not so much. This one was (hopefully) just another waypoint en route to further destinations that are still over the horizon.

Looking not all that far down the line, fifty feels like it could be a real gut punch – though part of me thinks if you’re fortunate enough to hit that milestone maybe your outlook on birthdays starts improving. The “big one” after that is 57 – a long range goal way out in 2035 to be sure, but one that feels a lot closer than it use to. If all the Junes between now and that far off date are waypoints, I’m hoping all of them after that are gravy.

Maybe it sounds odd to spend time thinking about the 50th or 57th so soon after the 41st, but to me it feels like the perfect chance to do a little reflection on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to be headed in the future… and now that it’s out of my system for another year, we can get back to observing the passing world with boundless snark and cynicism.

Taking care of business…

I read an article this morning that indicated “studies report” a massive uptick in the number of people who are seeking mental health treatment because of issues ranging from “the world is spinning out of control” to “climate change is going to kill us all in the next 50 years.” These and similar Big Fears are apparently incapacitating an entire generation of people by filling them with existential dread.

Look, we live in interesting times, I get it. I’ve also studied enough history to know that everyone always thinks the world is ending. When the Soviet Union parked missiles in Cuba, the world was ending. When the German army marched on Paris in 1940, the world was ending. When the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was killed in 1914 and the Europe descended into war, the world was coming to an end.

The point is, we’re hardly the first generation to think the world is spinning off its axis. Although past performance isn’t a guarantee of future results, something tells me that we won’t be the last one to think that either. To our credit, I suspect humanity is far harder to kill off than we we’ve been led to believe.

I’m not going to blow sunshine up your ass and tell you every little thing is going to be alright, though. There’s more then enough shitshow to go around. The trick is, you’ve got to turn the news off occasionally. They’re telling the worst stories of the day because that’s what puts eyes on screens. I won’t claim to be immune to the news of the day… but I spend most of my effort looking at the small bits of it I might be able to influence in some way. Put another way, I take care of my business, keep my nose clean, and make sure me and mine are as able to ride out the inevitable storms as well as we can with the resources available.

You’ll find no end to problems in this old world of ours if you insist on looking for them. My advice is to try just focusing in on the ones where you can make a difference instead of the ones that almost seem designed to inflame and distract. Who knows, you might just save yourself a few sleepless night and tens of thousands of dollars in bills from the local head shrinker, so it’s a bit of a two-fer.

Comfort over style…

I’m old enough now that even the name of the process you go through to train a puppy not to piss all over the house has changed to something kinder and gentler. What we use to call housebreaking has transitioned to house training. I’m not sure the process is any different, but I suppose we’re all supposed to go along with the semantic shift where “breaking” is too fraught with negative overtones… or at least that’s how it seems on the internet.

In any case, the last week and a half has been all about housebreaking. Even though Jorah is six months old and rapidly headed towards seven, he’s effectively a brand new puppy when it comes to knowing the finer points of living in a home. That’s fine. We can deal with that. At least he’s got a six month old bladder and doesn’t need to go out every 30 minutes.

The biggest issue has been that we’re all effectively reduced to living in the kitchen – surrounded by easy to clean and sanitize hard surfaces to mitigate the inevitable accidents. It’s a fine arrangement if you’re a dog and have beds, food, water, and everything you might need. It’s less fine if you’re me and might want to sit down on something other than a hard wooden chair. 

Friday evening, in a fit of comfort over style, I moved my spare recliner into the kitchen. And yes, I just unabashedly admitted that I do, indeed, have a spare recliner. It’s not quite as comfortable as the one in the living room, but in comparison to sitting at the kitchen table it’s a blessed relief. 

It took me a few hours sitting in the kitchen on Friday night to realize the room I’m now complaining about being stuck in is easily twice the size of my entire first “adult” apartment in southern Maryland. Its two rooms and three quarters bath maybe accounted for something like 250 square feet. That’s probably a generous estimate through the rose-colored remembrance of times long passed.

Look, I’d still like to get to the point where I can safely use the living room again, but I appreciate the little bit of perspective reminding me that I’ve had it far worse, for much less payback.  

In which I oppose mandatory fun…

Mandatory fun is bad. I don’t mean it’s badly intentioned. I’m sure whatever powers that be inflict mandatory fun on the rest of us probably think they’re doing something positive, if not exactly something wonderful. It just seems to me that the forced joviality of people who work together pretending to be the best of friends feels awful in just about every possible way. Consider, if you will, when was the last time you had an unadulterated good time at the office Christmas party or the company picnic? For the record, I don’t consider going because you need to “make an appearance” or because it’s slightly better than spending those hours at your desk to qualify as fun in this instance.

Most people make at least some small effort to have a firewall between what they do for fun and what they do to make a living. Maybe there was a time long ago, before everyone was an easily offended, uptight stick in the mud, when these official organizational celebrations were good times. Today they mostly feel like a formality – just a small nod to that bygone era. Most people will go along with it, of course, because making waves is rarely the best tactic to endear yourself to whatever bosses you serve. Go along. Get along. It’s one of the oldest stories in the working world. 

If you insist on mandatory fun, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Make sure there’s lots of food, back up a beer truck, and maybe hire a band. Let people self-select with what and who they choose to engage. That’s probably about as good a situation as you’re likely to manufacture. There are ways to screw that up, though. You could overlay the lukewarm pay as you go food with several mandatory training events and dispense with the beer truck, thus ensuring that even the illusion of a “fun day away from the office” is shattered completely. 

It’s easy in cases like this to blame the planners… but I can reasonably assure you that they want to deliver a better product than the specified and implied guidance allows. Experience tells me that the real fault in these cases lies in the realm of leadership and the good idea fairies that dwell with them. I mean if someone really was all that interested in boosting my morale, all they’d have to do was give me a couple of hours off and point me towards the closest used book shop. I don’t expect there would be a line for that, but then again I don’t subscribe to the idea that a good time necessarily has to be a team activity.