Social credit…

China is rolling out a system that assigns a “social credit score” to its citizens based on a wide number of factors, most of which are explicitly designed to influence citizen behavior. That is to say that the Chinese Communist Party wants to incentivize “proper” behavior and disincentivize whatever they decide is anti-social and intends to back it all up with the surveillance authority of the state. Their stated intend is to roll out a system “making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

It’s an interesting goal, to be sure. I mean who doesn’t want to live in a world where everyone is trustworthy and acts in a reasonable, controlled way? Even if the ends are somehow noble, the means should send a chill down all our backs – not just those of use who may for whatever reason find themselves traveling or doing business with China. Most of the major news sources I’ve seen are rightly calling the project Orwellian.

We’ve got plenty of surveillance going on right here at home of course. Most of us are willing participants in building out an extensive surveillance network of our very own. We all carry around a tracking device in our pockets, roll up and down the interstate with toll-paying transponders, and even stock our homes with security cameras. It’s not particularly hard or far fetched to imagine a day when we too are assessed a social credit score based on our level of compliance with the expectations of whatever powers may be at any given time.

I don’t think the future is necessarily some kind of dystopian hellscape where everyone we pass on the street can “down vote” us a la Black Mirror – although following the China model, such a world wouldn’t necessarily be difficult to achieve… and does give me at least a moment’s pause to wonder who’s watching me watch my cameras.

However, if this is the way we’re going, go ahead and put me down for a score of zero point zero because I absolutely do not have the time or patience for that level of douchebaggery.

Four months later…

Jorah will be rolling over the 11 month mark this week (with his official birthday designated as October 26th). It feels like a good time to assess where we are now that he’s had four months of learning how to fit into the household.

I’d like to say that the whole process has been seamless, but anyone who follows along with the day to day saga on Facebook would immediately know that’s a bald faced lie. Since Jorah was about six months old when he picked us out, he’d had plenty of time to learn a lot of bad habits at the shelter. It also meant I missed out on the early training window when most dogs learn how to act in civilized society. I’d never say that an older dog can’t learn new tricks, but getting those new ways of doing things through their fuzzy little heads is just going to take longer and require a lot more effort. Jorah’s a smart little dog, but he’s no exception to this. Teaching him any new behavior has felt like it’s taking far, far longer than it should. My overall experience has been that young pups are far more receptive to basic training. Winston and Maggie had their share of training issues, but didn’t go through months where I was legitimately concerned that they were never going to “get it.”

So four months on, where are we? Jorah is a dog who happily goes to his crate – as long as there’s a treat involved. He’s gone weeks now without randomly peeing on the kitchen floor or sneaking off to the laundry room to go. He’s started to have some self-awareness and there are fairly noticeable signs that he’s ready to go outside – noticeable at least when you’re paying a degree of attention. He still doesn’t love road trips, but he’s learning to tolerate them – even willingly walking out to the garage instead of having to be carried the whole way. He’s caught on (mostly) to what should and shouldn’t be chewed to oblivion.

Since his overall bladder control has shown marked improvement, he’s now even getting to spend time in the living room. Mostly it’s limited to an hour or two in the evenings and he’s still a long, long way from being a trusted agent able to enjoy the space unaccompanied, but it’s progress. After spending ten weeks confined to my own kitchen any progress on this front is cause fo great joy and celebration. You don’t realize how much you miss regular access to the big television and comfy seating until you don’t have it.

Progress has been slow, but hasn’t been equal across all fronts. Jorah is still peeing in his crate at night once or twice a week. We’ve mostly ruled out medical causes, which leaves me casting around to sort it out as another problematic behavior issue. For now, it’s restricting water in the evenings and pushing back my own bed time to try giving him less time overnight to have a problem. It’s not ideal, but the alternative of scheduling a 2AM bathroom break is even less appealing.

Realistically, I know he’s come a long way from the scared-of-his-own-shadow little dog that came home with me over Memorial Day weekend. I don’t know if I can realistically say that the worst is over just yet, but at this pace, Jorah might just be a tolerably well integrated member of the family by the time Christmas rolls around.

Rewarding bad behavior…

I worked through lunch today trying desperately to un-cluster a fuck that need not have been clustered to begin with. The cluster in question was entirely self inflicted – as are most of our most damaging wounds, really. Truly we have met the enemy…

See, the problem is that we’ve got a really dumb habit of rewarding bad behavior. See, how I always, naively, thought it should work was that you provide ample lead time, sufficient instruction, and a deadline. Then, being reasonably close approximations of adult human beings, we can get that assignment done. What really happens, of course, is you provide the lead time, instructions, and deadline and everyone waits patiently until the deadline expires to begin screaming about not having the time, the people, or the money to get it done. All the pitfalls are things that could have been rectified early in the process if only people paid just a little bit of attention.

They don’t do that, of course. It’s far easier to blow off a deadline and expect someone else to jump through their ass to bail you out than doing the thing to begin with would have been. Hoping that there might be some level of accountability – that “because you didn’t do X, you cannot now do Y” – is a pipe dream at best. It’s one of those words we like to talk about, but not do a thing to enforce because it means someone is going to have to have an awkward conversation.

Day in and day out we reward bad behavior and then wonder why every single goddamned thing turns into a world-class cluster fuck.

Fools and miscreants…

I’ve disagreed with politicians of every stripe over the years. Town, county, state, and federal officials have all heard from me by phone, email, and good old fashioned letter. I’ve expressed, in language as plain as possible, my opinion as their constituent.

What never occurred to me to do is show up at their home marching and chanting at all hours of the day and night. It never occur to me to show up where they’re eating a meal to harass them. It never occurred to me that I should find a microphone and instigate my followers to threaten them, because I disagreed with administration policy. It It never occurred to me that their wives, husbands, and children going about their lives were fair game because I as a grown ass adults can’t somehow manage to behave like adults and not a tantrum throwing toddler.

It seems that there’s very little we can do to keep out political “leaders” from acting like so many fools and miscreants. We have all the choice in the world, however, about how we choose to behave regardless of the example they set.

Time keeps on slippin’…

I think I’m beginning now to understand why old people always seem vaguely angry. The world I knew, the one of my youth, the one I was infinitely comfortable with, isn’t the world. The leaders have all gone. The stars are going. Even the countries aren’t the same and the maps have been remade. It’s disconcerting to realize that nation-states and their seeming permeance are anything but.

Society is far more open and tolerant than it was “where I come from.” I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In most things social, I’m mostly happy enough to let peopled do their own thing so long as they aren’t troubling anyone else. Activities and lifestyles that weren’t even mentioned, or only mentioned in whispers in early 80s are not just tolerated now but celebrated. In half a human lifetime I already find myself looking agog at the way the world has changed.

I’m enough of a student of history to know that the change is inevitable. People and institutions adapt… and those who refuse to adapt are swallowed up by the vast sweep of time. As those dark scientists in economic say, “in the long run we’re all dead.”

If you stick around long enough maybe you get to see everything you knew as true eventually turn out to be something else entirely. That would probably be the real curse of eternal life. The time and place I’m from didn’t get it all right, but it wasn’t all wrong either. New and different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but neither does old and tested. There’s a balance to be struck, but if I’m any judge of human behavior we’ll inevitable swing the pendulum too far in both directions simultaneously.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Your iPad is not a video camera. Just because it has that capability doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to whip out your tablet computer and start swinging it around trying to catch the perfect shot. They make small hand held devices specifically for that purpose. In a pinch, catching a quick video clip with your phone is even a perfectly acceptable solution in most cases. The only things that really happen when you hoist your iPad over your head to catch that unmissable moment are: 1) You get bad quality video and audio recording of an event that’s allegedly important to you; 2) People behind you can’t see what’s going on; and 3 (and I can’t stress this one enough) You look like a total douchenozzle. It’s still a relatively free country and I can’t stop you from doing it, but you just shouldn’t want to.

2. I’m not a wizard. As I’ve stated previously and often, I can do it all, but I cannot do it all at once. I like to think that’s more a simple function of the linear nature of time rather than a personal failing on my part. You, of course, are free to disagree with that assessment. With that being said, one of the things you need to know is if you give me something to do, then tell me that I am required to go sit in a four hour long meeting, the thing you wanted me to get done will not be complete 30 minutes after the end of that meeting. I’m many things, but a wizard is not one of them. That’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s unfortunately true. I would love to be all things to all people, but so long as I continue to be given the opportunity to spend half the day in meetings that preclude doing any actual productive work, I’m afraid that’s just not going to be possible. The decisions about where I go or what I’m focused on are largely out of my own control, so sorry I’m not sorry.

3. Climbing over people in the middle of a ceremony is not acceptable. If you arrive late to a ceremony or event and things are already underway when you wander in, there really are only two acceptable courses of action: 1) Stand quietly in the back and wait for an intermission or other pause in the action to take your seat; 2) Find an open seat somewhere on the periphery and put your ass in it. What you shouldn’t do is show up two thirds the way through the event and climb over top of people who have been sitting respectfully like decent fucking human beings to get to a spot “your people” have been “saving” for you since twenty minutes before things started. What you really, really shouldn’t do is then climb back out over top of these same people after your special snowflake has been recognized and interrupt everyone within earshot for the second time in ten minutes. You my dear, inconsiderate woman, like your friend with the iPad, are a total douchenozzle.

Body cameras…

I’m not sold on the idea that every cop in America needs to wear a body camera for the duration of his or her shift. I don’t think they should be a special exemption just for the sake of being police, but the whole concept of the body cam is one I find intensely problematic. If the police are the vanguard of this “always filmed” society, how long does it take until they’re standard issue in other sectors. Slap a cam on retail employees to make sure they’re being polite to customers. Check the vid feed from guy running the register to make sure he’s not handing out a free apple pie with that #3. Securing information is a breeze when everyone with access to it is required to wear a cam so the security guys can overwatch everything set in front of them.

There are plenty of supposed benefits to slapping a camera on everyone. For me, so far, the case hasn’t been sufficiently made. It feels wrong. It feels vaguely un-American. I’m just not sure that I want a camera hanging around my neck to film my next walk to the coffee stand, or to the restroom, poking through unread emails, or taking a loop around the courtyard while I’m trying to chew over a particularly troublesome issue.

Being filmed during the day from start to end feels incredibly intrusive – and while it would undoubtedly change some behaviors, I’m not at all sure it would make me a better employee. It would make me a more cautious and fearful employee, but that’s a long way from making me better. Maybe in this one thing my thinking is a relic of the last century, but the current obsession with getting it all down on film screams a vote of no confidence in your people to do the right thing more often than not. If your people are scumbags, the camera won’t fix that. If they’re not scumbags, no camera is necessary. I know which way I’d address the issue, but getting rid of the asshats up front is a lot harder than just buying some fancy new gear and calling the problem fixed.

If history is any guide, of course, we’ll continue to chase the easy solutions until all we’re left with are the hard ones. Some things never change.

Unglued…

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was as close to coming unglued today as I’ve been in at least four years. At one point around 2:30 this afternoon, email was hitting my inbox and I was taking on so much verbal guidance that I’m pretty sure I could see the code in the matrix. I wish I was joking. There was a minute there this afternoon when I’m almost positive that I could hear the synapses firing in my brain.

In the middle of my boss talking to me I squeezed my eyes shut and rubbed my temples, muttering something to the effect of “I think I’m losing my mind back here.” At least I think that’s what I said. Whatever it was that came out of my mouth in that moment must have been a doozy because the boss’ face was a decided mixture of curiosity and concern when I opened my eyes. It wasn’t my finest moment. Then again, it wasn’t anything close to a good day, so I don’t know why it would be.

I don’t mind hard work – physical, mental, it makes no difference to me. I’m the guy who comes home from his day job and spends another four hours at the keyboard chasing the dream of making a living and a life from the written word. I’m the guy who spends hours on the yard until it looks “just so” and order has been restored from the chaos. With that being said, I need to note that there’s only one of me. I can’t change one thing sixteen times and have any hope of keeping up with the two dozen other things people want. I wish I could tell you that I could. Hell, I wish I actually could do it all but there are limits… and I’m old enough to know better than to spend all day every day working beyond those limits. Nothing good comes from that.

So tomorrow I’m going into the day knowing that I’m already running close to max RPM. Some people are happy enough to rev the engine until it blows apart. I’m not one of them and will make decisions accordingly.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Last minute. It’s safe to say that we all know my feelings about almost every meeting I’ve ever sat through. For those who don’t, I generally find them to be enormous time-sucks from which there is no hope of escape. They’re the black hole of the “professional work environment” and I’m all for canceling them as often as possible. All that I ask is that when they are cancelled, the meeting organizer should probably give a fellow enough notice so that he doesn’t walk halfway across the county to find himself turned away at the door. Giving sufficient notice of changed plans is just good form, really. Although I’m glad to have the unscheduled free time in the middle of my calendar and all, a few minutes’ notice would by me have been appreciated.

2. Contempt of Congress. The fact that the House of Representatives has the unmitigated audacity to hold anyone in Contempt of Congress for any reason whatsoever is simply stunning. Now I think Lois Lerner and the IRS were probably up to some dirty tricks – one doesn’t tend to invoke the 5th Amendment when there are no skeletons lurking about – but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t consider Congress a particularly honest broker when it comes to issues of fact. The truth is, they’d probably have to level charges at most of the country if they wanted to root out everyone who currently holds Congress in contempt. God knows I find them the most contemptible band of thieves and charlatans currently not serving time in prison.

3. Tradition. The older I get, the worse “because it’s tradition” sounds as a justification for doing anything. I was always under the impression that most people become more traditional as they get older. I seem to be veering in the opposite direction. I’m never going to be a sandal-wearing hippy, but I do seem to take increasing amounts of joy from rousing rabble as often as possible. Maybe it’s just my inner cynic finding his voice and preparing for a long career as a grumpy old sonofabitch… but if you can’t give me a better reason to do something that “it’s tradition,” I’m afraid I’m probably going to invite you to bugger off at the first available opportunity.

Boorish…

I’m sure it was some touchy feely sociologist who first said that people only have the control over us that we allow them to have. That’s horseshit, of course. Some people have power over us because we were dumb enough to elect them and others because their block on the organizational chart is further towards the top of the page than ours. On the other hand, some people have power over us because the law says beating them to death with their own shoe is illegal and would result in us spending much of the next 20 years in prison.

Just slightly behind my abject fear of prison is the lesson drummed into my head as a child to be polite. Sadly, some people take a polite smile and nod as encouragement to continue doing whatever they’re doing while staying happily oblivious to the murderous glare you’re giving them at the same time. Eventually the thin veneer of civilization that separates us from the wild beasts is going to wear through just enough that any normal person can’t help but snap in response. Still, in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder what it’s like going through life oblivious to the normally accepted social signs that your behavior is boorish and disliked. I half suspect it’s a bit like being the eternally happy, but not very bright family dog.