1. The algorithm. Every third ad Facebook has served me in the last couple of weeks is some variation of “Are you saving enough for retirement?” It’s a fine question and I’m almost laser focused on what I need to do to be able to walk out the door in 14 years and 18 days and never work again, but I promise you I’m not taking financial advice from the place I go to find dirty memes and posts about who got arrested in the area.
2. Timing. I’ve been plugging away for six years, putting a bit of money back here and there to correct the deficiencies in my master bathroom. Every time I got close to hitting my estimated budget number, some other critical project would come along and shave a few thousand dollars off that particular pile of cash. During the Great Plague, I managed to finally hit my number… and of course now the cost of building material has gone through the roof. I’ve gone ahead and put out the call for quotes to a couple of local builders, though. It seems my timing for this project is never going to be good… so the only thing left is to proceed. Doing otherwise feels like an open invitation to wake up one morning after another six years and realizing I’m still schlepping down the hall to take a shower.
3. Extortion. This week, one of the main oil pipelines servicing the east coast of the United States was held hostage. It’s owners reportedly paid $5 million to a vaguely described group of Russian or Eastern European cyber terrorists to regain control of their network. Here’s the thing… the Colonial Pipeline is, by definition, key infrastructure. We’ve seen the news reports of the chaos caused by this brief interruption. Setting aside that much of the panic was entirely self-inflicted by people rushing to fill every container they could find, our enemies have also seen the chaos a service disruption in one of our major pipelines can cause. Paying out millions of dollars was a business decision… but what I want to know is why we’re not now seeing reports of cruise missiles leveling the known and suspected safe harbors from which these and other cyber terrorists operate. If a country or non-state actor blew up a building or bridge, we’d come crashing down on their head like a mailed fist. I don’t make a relevant distinction between those who’d launch a kinetic attack and those who do their damage with keystrokes.
1. Workforce “recovery.” This week I’ve started hearing the first rumbles that planning is picking up for the inevitable “return to work” phase of the Great Plague experience. It’s part of the workforce recovery plan that’s lain more or less dormant for the last year. The bosses will talk about it in grand terms of “bringing people home” to the office or of the supposed productive benefits of stacking thousands of people into 6×8 foot cubicles. They’ll talk of being “better together,” of having team synergy, or a hundred other phrases that mean, more or less, nothing. That’s the story they’ll tell themselves. Some people, I suppose, will even believe it. Me? Well, I’ll know from fourteen months experience that there’s almost no part of my job that requires being in a specific place during specific hours. I won’t have the audacity to say everything I do could be done from somewhere else… but I will say my time sitting in a cubicle could be limited to, like the old National Guard slogan, two days a month and two weeks a year – and every lick of my work would keep getting done on time and to standard.
2. Intellectual property. In a press release yesterday from the White House, the Biden Administration announced that it supports waiving intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. Patent protection is among the most important functions we expect from government. It creates a safe and secure environment for innovation. While the federal government, through its expenditures supporting Operation Warp Speed, has a vested interest in vaccine development and distribution, the more rational course of action would seem to be continuing to ramp up domestic production of vaccines for export and cooperation with a few foreign manufacturers as trusted agents rather than handing over the keys to the kingdom without sufficient safeguards protecting the monumental intellectual effort that went into creating these vaccines.
3. Schedule. I had some maintenance scheduled here on the homestead this week. The day before they were to do the work, their office confirmed that “Yep, they’ll be there at 8:00.” Perfect. I like and appreciate early hours. The catch, because there’s always a catch, is the crew didn’t actually roll into my driveway until 9:05. Had the arrival time been given as “between 8 and 10,” I’d have been fine with it. I’d have even give at least partial credit for a call letting me know they were running behind. Yes, I know I’m more a fanatical devotee to staying on schedule than most. I tend to leave so far ahead of my projected arrival time that I’ve been known to tuck in to a nearby shop’s parking lot for a few minutes to avoid arriving obscenely early to appointments. I don’t necessarily expect that from other people… but if you say you’ll be somewhere at 8:00, being there at 9-something tells me you’re not even trying.
1. Look, I never ask anyone to do anything on a whim. If I bother to send an email or pick up the phone it’s generally either to pass on a direct request from those at echelons higher than reality or something in general accord with some wild ass scheme of theirs. I don’t have the time or interest in creating requirements out of whole cloth – and as a matter of principle, I never make work just to make work. So, it would be incredibly helpful if people could just go ahead and do things instead of making me go 37 rounds on why. In the end, my rabbi has more suction than their rabbi and they’re going to end up doing it anyway, so why not save us both a few days of back and forth and just get on with it.
2. When I arrived back in Maryland almost a decade ago, I picked my primary doctor based on two factors. First, his office was ten minutes from where I’d be working and second, when the moment arrives that I need massive medical intervention for some reason, I want ready access to the combined expertise of providers and the advanced facilities available at Johns Hopkins. That’s all a fine thing… except, of course, in a plague year. In the before time, I could be there and back for an appointment in no longer than it took for a slightly extended lunch. These last few appointments, however, result in an 80-minute round trip and burning off 2-3 hours of sick leave. Sure, it’s still better than being in the office and having quick trip for appointments, but it’s bloody inconvenience.
3. I purged a fair number of people from my socials between the peak of Great Plague and the Capitol insurrection. I’ve always supported people’s right to say whatever they want… while maintaining my own right not to listen to whatever conspiracy fueled ranting they were on about. Just happening to know them twenty-five years ago, doesn’t create an eternal commitment on my part to listen to stark raving foolishness to the exclusion of all other topics. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a few of those exiles popping up as new “friend requests,” Yeah, that’s gonna be a hard no from me. I’d say it’s nothing personal, but well, I suppose it is.
1. Maxine Waters. I called out Donald Trump when he used his official position as an elected official to incite violence, so it only feels fair that Maxine Waters gets the same treatment. Using threats of violence to score political points with her base is precisely the activity that she scorned Trump and Republicans for doing over the last four years shows clearly that she’s a politician in precisely the same mold. Her calls to “get more confrontational,” should be as roundly condemned as were Trump’s words… but they won’t be in the prevailing media environment. In my books, though, a demagogue is a demagogue regardless of having an (R) or (D) after their name.
2. Excess savings. A CNN article this week blazed a headline that globally, “Consumers have $5.4 Trillion in Excess Savings” and positing that we’re about to see a boom in consumer spending. I only mention it because CNN also likes to run articles highlighting how bad we Americans are at saving for retirement or even just saving in general. The American portion of this “excess savings” is estimated (again by CNN) to be $2.6 Trillion. It feels like a perfect (and passed up) opportunity to encourage our countrymen to do something radical like open a retirement account, hold that cash as an emergency fund, or otherwise think beyond going on a buying binge as soon as the plague is over. I suppose soon enough we’ll be back to the inevitable stories about how no one is saving for retirement or can’t afford a $37 dollar emergency.
3. Reading for comprehension. I’ve responded to approximately 200 emails from people who “can’t find the schedule” for this week’s event. Look, numbnuts. You literally had to scroll past the schedule to find the group email address that lands stupid questions in my inbox. If reading for comprehension is a measure of how qualified companies or individuals are to provide services under contract, I’ve got an impressive list of them that should be rejected out of hand as not meeting minimum quality standards.
1. Twitter. Like so many other sites I’ve already abandoned, Twitter is quickly climbing the list of platforms that aren’t improving my life in any meaningful way. In fact, over the last few days I’ve noticed that I’m happier at the end of the day when I don’t check in periodically with Twitter. As always, the far right wants me to be outraged over A, B, and C while the leftists want me to be outraged by D, E, and F. I’m left to sift through the ginned-up outrage to find the nuggets of history, books, and sundry other content that I’m interested in. I really do like the concept of Twitter, but I’m increasingly less interest in endless social outrage and those who seem to thrive on it that are cluttering the space.
2. Anti-vax. I would love to see a Venn diagram of people who vocally won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 because “who knows what it’ll do to my body” on one side and people who smoke, drink, or use/sell “nutritional” supplements and essential oils on the other. I don’t think It would be a perfect circle, but I have a hunch there would be some considerable overlap.
3. Court packing. It seems there’s legislation drifting around the halls of Congress that would add four seats to the Supreme Court. I have to ask, if this new court packing scheme is allowed to move forward, what’s to stop the next Republican administration and Congress from adding four more… and then four more the next time Democrats hold power, and so on indefinitely into the future? Aside from the obvious – that it’s a blatant attempt by Congressional Democrats to change the rules purely because they don’t like who the previous administration nominated – it sets a dumb precedent based on the assumption that their party is going to hold all the levers of power forever. Based on the historical record, is a patently ridiculous assumption. I suspect that once the consequences of treating the size of the high court as something that should be changed at will are fully realized, we’ll find that this legislation, if passed into law, simply created another battlefield where the issue will never fully be settled and there will be no end to the self-inflicted turmoil that ensues.
1. Objections. You know when the best time is to raise objections to something? Before it happens, that’s when. You know, during the weeks you’ve had to review it while it’s passing through the Byzantine approval process that involves you and 67 other people and organizations. There’s plenty of time to fix things while they’re trundling towards final approval. The time not to raise objections is a day after the thing is published for public consumption… when making a fix involves absolutely herculean efforts for everyone else involved. Whoever originated the phrase “better late than never,” was an absolute moron.
2. Facebook. Facebook keeps telling me that various people and organizations have scheduled events that “you may be interested in.” I have no idea what kind of impression I’ve given Facebook over the years, but I just can’t believe that it would include that I’m the sort of person who’s interested in events. I didn’t like crowds in the Before Time. I certainly didn’t do events in the Plague Year. Now that the world is waking up, I have no idea what would have given Facebook the notion that I’d suddenly be the kind of person who was chomping at the bit to go places and do things. I can take some comfort, I suppose, in knowing that despite all their efforts at data collection, big tech still doesn’t get me at all.
3. Executive Orders. Thanks to the Biden Administration, I’m out of pocket for membership in two more pro-Second Amendment organizations as of this afternoon. No, I can’t outspend the federal government as it attempts to further tighten the screws on those who legally own and use firearms, but I can damned well put my money where my mouth is and make sure I’m at least in the fight.
1. Grass seed. One of the inevitable spring and fall tasks here, thanks to the resident dogs, is regularly reseeding the back yard to patch up half a year of wear and tear. Everyone likes to pretend we’re oh so advanced sitting here in the 21st century. If we’re so damned advanced here in the future, why is it I still have to wait between 14-21 days to find out if I’ve grown grass or just created a deeper mud pit?
2. The Biden “infrastructure” plan. Mentioning a few roads and bridges in a bill doesn’t make it a bill about infrastructure… especially when those features account for a minority of the overall appropriation. What the president has really given us is the first of two absurdly large revenue bills – a plan not so much about infrastructure as about jamming the federal government as deeply as possible into all manner of economic areas… and, of course, finding new streams of revenue to feed its insatiable maw. There are already hints that the administration will back off their promise that no one making under $400,000 a year in taxable income will see a penny of new federal taxes due. But, I suppose, telling people up front that in your first 60 days in office you’ll be proposing a massive bill to raise taxes isn’t really something advised by the successful politician’s handbook. So, call it an infrastructure plan, of course, because everyone likes infrastructure. Call it French toast if you must, but you and I will both know it’s a tax by any other name… and this administration’s hunger for more tax dollars is just getting warmed up.
3. Anticipation. This Friday is going to be the first day I’ve taken off since the glorious two-week weekend stretching across Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to various federal holidays it won’t be the first long weekend of the year, but it feels like the first one in months… which it is. With every hour that ticks by, it’s in increasing distraction to even thinking about getting productive work done… and though I’ve got no defined plans, the anticipation is absolutely killing me.
1. Shady book shops. I’m not generally the kind of guy who walks around expecting something for nothing, but when I spy a deal, I like to snap it up… Which is what leads to the frustration of online booksellers who don’t realize they’ve underpriced a particular volume by about 2/3s of its actual retail price until someone comes along and tries to buy it. At least they were nice enough to immediately repost it for sale at a much higher price. That’ll be a hard pass from me. I’ll buy it from a competitor and even pay a bit more for the privilege since they’re not doing shady shit.
2. For reasons surpassing my limited efforts at understanding, my Twitter feed this week has been filled with posts saying something like “Stop doing x thing that makes y people feel uncomfortable.” Ok, I guess, except that in this little passion project of theirs we find that “X” is an absolutely normal, everyday activity and “Y” is some random bunch of wackjobs with perpetually hurt feelings. I assure you, if you’re planning to go through life expecting everyone to make you “comfortable,” you’re in for a great deal of both butt hurt and disappointment. But hey, good luck with that.
3. Friends. Friends are good things to have, I suppose. The simple fact of being a friend doesn’t, however, make you immune from criticism. At least it hasn’t in my experience. Some of my closest friends are the first to tell me when I’m heading off the rails. It’s not always a fun experience, but getting a third-party perspective has often served to be awfully instructive to me. If you’re looking for someone who will be nice just to be nice or who wants to go along to get along, I might not be the one for you… and that’s OK, too.
1. Tucker Carlson. Tucker staked out a patently absurd position on his Fox evening entertainment program last week. I know, I know. I should be more specific because most of his positions come across somewhere on the absurdity spectrum. I know it was absurd because some of the most serious thinkers in DoD responded more or less instantly to rebut Tucker’s asshattery. They’re not generally people who feel compelled to stake out public positions, except in this case, ol’ Tuck decided to opine about things that are, by definition, these particular leader’s area of expertise. No one “attacked” Tucker. They simply had the audacity to tell him that he’s a moron and explain why that’s the case. No one violated the damned Hatch Act. Having a professional opinion doesn’t undermine civilian control of the military. Differing opinions are only dangerous when you’re so thin skinned or your position is so badly placed that you can’t defend it rationally. In this case, it seems Tuck and his supporters fall into both categories. As usual, the “leading lights” of right wing kook media have left me embarrassed to be an actual, practicing conservative.
2. Higher taxes. They say Joe is working on a new tax bill and it’s likely to be the largest tax increase since 1993. I see lots of people saying they don’t mind paying more taxes. Good on them. With or without a higher tax rate imposed by the government, they’re free to send as big a check as they want over to the treasury. They can do that. No one would stop them. But it seems what people mean when they say they don’t mind paying more tax is they don’t mind so you should pay more too. “But,” they’ll argue, “it only applies to people who make more than $400,000 a year – the ‘absurdly rich.’” Right, I think, because every tax that ever was started out as a tax on “just the wealthy” until our political machine needed a few more dollars over time and the “absurdly wealthy” became most every working sucker in the country. So, please, write as big a check to Uncle as you’d like. Feel free to give of your own income until it hurts. That’s your right and privilege. I’ll be over here fighting tooth and nail to keep every penny I’ve earned and distribute it how I see fit.
3. I spent today doing exactly the same things that I did yesterday. I answered emails, entered information in a fancy database, and generally moved electrons around from Point A to Point B as needed. The only difference between today and yesterday was where I was physically sitting when I did those things. Yesterday I was parked in the sun room with two dogs snoring in the background and today I was in my designated cube with seven or eight conversations humming in the background. Plus, today added an extra 80 minutes to the day since I had to drive to my cube and back to do exactly the same things I did yesterday from the comfort of my home office. “But we need to have a presence in the building,” is the most patently farcical reason I can think of to justify the construction, maintenance, and daily running cost associated with a modern office building. The argument against remote working forever is effectively that we need to have people in a special geographic spot because we happen to have a special geographic spot. As far as I can tell it has absolutely nothing to do with productivity or whether the work in any way depends on unique geographic positioning.
1. Twitter. I follow a pretty eclectic mix of personalities on Twitter – celebrities, politicians, news outlets, historic buildings, porn stars, military thinkers, military do-ers, and government organizations. With few exceptions, the dumpster fire that is Twitter has turned both more dumpster-y and more fiery over the last weeks and months. It’s become considerably less fun. It may be time to clear out the ol’ Twitter feed with a chain saw to see if we can correct that issue before deciding whether or not platform is hopelessly beyond redemption.
2. Government spending. The only time the US Government spent more money than it is right now, we were fighting a war of national survival against Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Now I don’t mean to imply that the Great Plague and its fallout haven’t been bad, but I’m not sure it has been end of western civilization bad. That won’t stop us from collectively throwing absolutely shit tons of money at it though. We seem to have gotten use to throwing around dollar amounts denominated in trillions over the last year, but the reality is the amount of debt we’re collectively financing to pay for short term stimulus versus long term growth is simply staggering. If it’s true that we ended the Cold War, in part, because we spent the USSR into oblivion, I don’t have a hard time imagining the day when we, too, reach the upper limit of our national line of credit. It’ll make what we currently think of as hard times feel like the most welcoming Spring day.
3. Walkers. The warm weather this week, as it does every spring, has brought out the neighborhood walkers in force. This fine. Good on them for wanting to be out stretching their legs at bit. Personally, I prefer taking the air in my own yard and woods, but to each their own. People wandering past all afternoon doesn’t particularly bother me. I’m tucked in to the back of the house with better views than out to the street. The problem, because of course there’s a problem, is that as much as I don’t mind, at least one of my canine residents minds terribly… and shows it by frantically barking at every single thing that moves anywhere within his line of sight. I can’t stop people from walking, but I am strongly considering bricking up every window on the front of the house.