What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I missed out on the mortgage and rent relief in 2008 and 2020 because I pay my bills and don’t over extend my line of credit. I missed out on stimulus because I spent a decade from age 23-33 moving around the country following jobs that increased my take home pay. I missed Maryland’s vaccine incentive lottery because I got my jab from the first available source – directly from the feds. Now, the Biden Administration wants to give a fresh new hundred-dollar bill to any of the holdouts that show up to get their shot. My question is: At what point, if ever, will doing the right things and making good decisions be specially rewarded? I only ask because the underlying message I’m seeing pretty consistently is “You’ve made good choices and done the right stuff… so sit down, shut the fuck up, and cheerfully fork over those tax dollars so we can pay out and reward people that didn’t.”

2. Personal liberty. I’m a big believer in personal liberty. My position is often best explained in the notion that my rights are inviolate right up to the point where they violate the rights of someone else. Put more colloquially, my right to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose. I suppose that’s why I’m confused by so many Republicans and Libertarians who are intent on decrying vaccinations, particularly mandated vaccination, as some kind of violation of their personal liberty. My understanding, and I’m quite sure the logic of the Constitution will bear me out on this, is that we have no protected individual right to spread communicable disease while there is a compelling government interest in reducing the spread of an illness that has proven to be a clear and present threat to public health, the overall economy, and body politic at large. To argue that we do have such a right makes you sound like a goddamned idiot.

3. The World Health Organization. The WHO has decided that America shouldn’t even consider giving anyone COVID-19 booster shots; demanding instead that all doses be funneled out of the country. I don’t mean to put too fine a point on this, but since the WHO dropped the ball back in the early days of the Great Plague by not demanding full disclosure from Communist China, I don’t feel like we need to put all that much stock in what the choose to demand now. Americans are a generous people for the most part. We’re exporting hundreds of millions of doses of the various vaccines – every one of which the American taxpayer footed the bill to research, develop, and produce. We rented the hall and engaged the band, so I have no earthly idea what gives the people from the WHO the absolute stones to think they should be calling the tunes.

Personal power…

I’m sure I say this early every summer, when the Mid-Atlantic is thrashed by heavy rain, high winds, but my god do I love my generator. The lights go out, I count to ten or maybe twelve, and everything turns back on. It’s the briefest possible interruption short of devising a truly uninterruptible power supply for the entire house.

Being able to power everything from lights, pumps, furnace, AC, stove, clothes dryer, sun lamps, and every other bit of electronics in the house almost simultaneously, there’s no question the thing is oversized for what I really “need.” If pressed, I might have to pick two between running the air conditioning flat out, cooking a full dinner, and doing laundry. I’m sure I could have made due with something smaller or more efficient, but given the difference in price point, picking limited circuits instead of running it all felt like a bad trade off. The freedom to not have to pick is, in a word, delightful in that it lets you just get on with the day instead of adding additional layers of complication.

Scratching together the cash to get it installed when I was house poor was a bugger. The thing’s got a bit of a never-ending logistics tail in demanding regular maintenance. But in a week where trees kept falling across the power lines here in Elk Neck, I was reminded at least three times that peace of mind and a steady supply of electricity has been worth every penny.

Good as they may be at getting issues resolved relatively quickly, at this point I think I’d be hard pressed to go back to living solely at the mercy of the power company’s service restoration timetables.

The price of power…

Apparently in Texas you can sign up for a “wholesale” electricity plan. Just like a loan with a floating interest rate, it could be a real benefit to the consumer when rates are low. The catch is, the interest rate for loans or the wholesale cost of electricity changes over time. Sometimes it changes both dramatically and quickly.

Signing up for the “wholesale” plan makes eminent sense when gas and oil is flowing and prices are low. All it takes, though, is a single unexpected event to make such a decision catastrophically wrong. It’s the inherent risk of pinning your plans on a floating rate that’s governed entirely on the vagaries of supply and demand in a potentially volatile marketplace.

While I feel badly for the people who woke up this week to a $16,000 bill for electricity, I presume the contract they signed included a pretty large warning that price moved both up and down and often does so with great rapidity. I felt sorry, too, for people who signed up for zero percent mortgages only to realize that when their mortgages rest to the “real” rate they couldn’t afford both the principle and the interest.

In both cases, these are people who willingly bypassed traditional service agreements or mortgages in favor of “exotic” options. The low up-front cost of exotic options, even if no other explicit warning is made, should be a clear indication to the average consumer that they are assuming a greater than normal degree of personal risk. Both are just one step better than walking in to the local casino and putting your month’s mortgage or rent payment on red and hoping for the best.

Though I feel sorry for both groups, I don’t feel any more sense of personal responsibility to bail out electricity consumers who made bad choices than I did for bailing out homeowners who took on unreasonable levels of debt. Expecting to enjoy all the benefits of low prices without encountering the corresponding negative possibilities smacks of immature thinking. Constantly protecting people from the natural consequences of their own actions clearly hasn’t done us any favors, as it seems no one has taken any of the lessons to heart. 

Now because I’m not a complete bastard, I could be convinced that low-interests emergency loans for those needing relief is a reasonable idea, but simply wiping out legitimate debt because it’s politically expedient sends an appalling message. Mine won’t be the popular opinion, of course, since no one wants to be responsible for themselves and politicians don’t win votes in this modern world of ours by expecting anyone to live up to their personal obligations when a billion dollar bailout is available. So, really, those whole post is about nothing more than yelling into the void.

Maybe it’s more of a “you” problem…

There are a few things that make my eyes roll harder than the idea that women are held back in the world because they have to cook, do laundry, and tend to the basic chores of running the household while implying that men somehow don’t need to do those same things.

For most of the last twenty years, of my own volition, I’ve been breadwinner, cook, bottle washer, launderer, housekeeper, maintenance technician, armorer, groundskeeper, appointment maker, shopper-in-chief, and animal care officer. Somehow, I’ve managed to do those things while exerting the effort to reach a wide array of personal and professional goals.

Whatever perceived “male privilege” with respect to basic household management some seem to think accrues due to having a penis hasn’t shed its divine grace on how we do things here at Fortress Jeff. If it had, I clearly wouldn’t be typing this with one ear cocked to hear the buzz of the dryer or while casting the occasional thought towards what to make for dinner tonight.

So, when someone tells me I don’t understand that “Nobody cooks for her…,” honest to God, I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. As a fully formed human adult, I possess the ability to do all of those things for myself – and I do them, because I like to eat and wear clean clothes. Since setting up housekeeping on my own twenty years ago, I’ve never expected anyone to manage those things on my behalf.

If you’re not happy with whatever domestic arrangement you’ve created for yourself, I struggle to think of it as a structural issue rather than a “you” problem. To the best of my knowledge there’s no Constitutional amendment, executive order, or holy writ codifying that ovaries are required to operate the damned stove or to take something out of the washing machine.

We live and die with the choices we make and the things we decide are acceptable or not. If someone or something is standing between you and the life you think you should be living, the onus is on you to find a way over, under, or through them… or just post funny, funny memes on the internet.

That probably works too. 

When dentistry is the lesser evil…

I’m not a fan of the dentist. Being a responsible adult I try not to let time drag out too long between visits… but given half an excuse, I’ll almost always opt to kick my appointment down the road for a few weeks before showing up.

Today I had ample opportunity to dodge my scheduled time in the chair. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Give the tenor of the week so far dentistry felt like the lesser of the two awful ways to spend an afternoon.

The fact that I’d rather face the drill than another afternoon of meetings probably says a lot about the head space I’m occupying currently. When days have a tendency to roll on with a grinding certainty, any deviation towards something different is a relative bright point. That fact that it’s true even with that “something different” is a couple people jamming sharp objects in your mouth should probably be more alarming than it currently feels.

May 4th or: On having no regrets…

Five years have come and gone since I was sitting in a West Tennessee cubicle and received a call from Mother Maryland that it was, at long last, time to come home. I will always celebrate it as one of my personal high holy days – the beginning of the end of a particularly troublesome personal and professional period otherwise known as my late twenties and early thirties.

Somehow it feels like it was a lot further away than just five years ago. The transition came with its own set of pains and problems, of course. The rental and eventual sale of a decidedly underwater house, footing the bill for dragging my gear a third of the way across the country, renting a house here sight unseen, the drug addict neighbor, the property manager who wouldn’t, and finding that the grass on the other side of the fence is still just grass no matter how green it may appear.

Every minute of that slog was worth it. It would have been worth the cost at twice the price. Even with the incumbent ups and downs, it’s one of those rarest of moments that I can look back on and say without sarcastic intent, that I regret nothing.

(Temporarily) Embracing my inner slacker…

This is one of those days where I’m reminded just how limited a scope of interest I currently seem to have. I could regale you with another in the latest round of stories about why the office is a shitshow. I could rant about any number of celebrities, political figures, policy decisions, or current events. In a pinch I could even bang out another about the alleged joy of home ownership. What I can’t do at the moment is give you a fresh and interesting take on any of those things. They seem to have become the background hum of every day.

I’m not an escapist by nature, but I find myself spending more and more evenings cramming my nose into a book and trying hard to ignore all the other noise. I don’t want to think about work. I’ve already had it up to my eyeballs with politics. I don’t have it in me to further ponder the expensive mud pit I’m about to have commissioned in the back yard. So for the moment, maybe I’m being a little more escapist than usual. Even so, spending the evening with a decent drink and a good story doesn’t sound particularly awful.

Conveniently I don’t have an inner adrenalin junky to satisfy or I’d probably be off signing up for sky diving lessons, so that seems like what it’s going to be for the time being – or at least until the other bits and pieces settled down a bit and are, on the whole, a little less exhausting. I’m usually inclined to try doing it all at once, but this one time I think it best to let my inner slacker lead the way for a while.

The things we sacrifice…

I’m reminded tonight of that which we give up in order to get the other things we want. As I recall, in economics, this idea of tradeoffs is partially defended as opportunity cost; the cost of the thing we forgo to achieve the next best option. Life is a tradeoff for all of us. Making one decision influences and determines what other decisions we will have the opportunity to make in the future; way piles on to way and what is lost is why we headed down our particular path in the first place.

Do you suppose we ever go so far in one direction that other options are closed off forever? The opportunity cost for our actions becoming an absolute? Is there some great moment of realization where each of our false steps is illuminated? Is there room for contrition? Or will self-recriminations and doubt end in the light of day?