What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Losing my mind. Any time I leave the house I carry my wallet, a wristwatch, and a pocket knife. Stopping to pick them up on my way out the door happens just by force of habit. When I come home, I set them down in exactly the same place every single time. It’s a usually foolproof system that works for me. Except for the one day when it don’t. Walking out of the house “unarmed” isn’t life altering. I could have gone to the local bank branch for cash in a real pinch. It’s mostly the inconvenience of it. Plus, knowing that for some reason i deviated from what should be a perfectly repetitive routine makes me wonder what else I missed…. and that bugs the hell out of me.

2. George R. R. Martin. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to give George R. R. Martin another nickel until he gave us the next proper installment of the Song of Ice and Fire series by delivering The Winds of Winter. Of course my resistance caved immediately when Amazon put the option to pre-order Blood and Fire directly in front of my face while I was looking for something totally unrelated.

3. Cecil County Public Works Department. The CCPWD took the last three months turning what was once a tree-canopied country road into my neighborhood into what looks like a 1/2 scale model of Route 40. Sure, the old road lacked a shoulder, two full sized pickup trucks could barely pass in opposite directions without rubbing mirrors, and getting distracted meant running into the ditch or driving headlong into a tree. It was the thoroughly un-modern counterpart to what I’m sure is a well-designed and engineered modern road. It also lacks 100% of the soul and beauty of the road it replaced, which is part of the reason I moved way the hell down here to the end of the peninsula to begin with.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Date night. Ever been on a date where you spend the entire time waiting for a polite interval to pass so you can extract yourself from what was clearly one of the more serious mistakes you’ve made in months without seeming like a total ass? Because I have. It’s the kind of experience that makes me a) appreciate the quiet companionship of a good dog; b) regret missing the first half of Maryland Farm and Harvest on public television; and c) wish I hadn’t worried about seeming like an ass and saved the cost of the drinks for better purpose – like setting the cash aflame or throwing it directly into the Elk River. Every single time I leave the house I’m just that little bit more sure that I should do it as little as humanly possible.

2. Leaving the country. For my entire adult life I’ve heard people bitch and complain and definitively assure the world around them that “if that happens I’ll leave the country.” If your love of country is made of such delicate stuff, then I urge you to go now, pack a bag, and enjoy your trip. I’m comfortable telling you that it is entirely possible to love your country without loving its leaders – or even most of the people in it. At any given time half the country is going to viscerally loath the person we elect in November. That’s the nature of the politics we’ve made for ourselves. People who would never dare speak a civil word of President Bush are the same ones who immediate condemn even the slightest criticism of President Obama. Likewise, those who long ago supported President Bush turn almost the exact tired arguments against President Obama. There’s plenty enough reasons to dislike all of these people without falling back into a trap where the world can only exist in black and white – or where the only acceptable outcomes are total victory or taking your ball and going (to a new) home. We should be smarter than that. America is my country – it’s yours too – even when she’s being a bit bi-polar, but if it’s all too much for you to bear, I urge you to go ahead and run off to join the foreign legion at the first available opportunity. Perhaps your exit can help free up some space for those with a thicker skin.

3. Raise. After a pay freeze that lasted for about a quarter of my career, it’s safe to say I was underwhelmed with the prospect of the whopping 1% raise we received this year. The actual cash value, after taxes, fees, and insurance premiums, works out to a staggering $55.30 a month or something like $.32 an hour. I get to keep a whole 47.3% of this new found windfall. I’ll try not to spend it all in one place, but if I go anywhere other than the Dollar Tree that goal could prove seriously difficult to achieve.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Note: Usually this space is reserved every Thursday for three of the week’s petty annoyances. Breaking with that tradition, tonight’s post features the one big annoyance we should all be feeling. Tonight I want to talk directly to the blogiverse about the problem with claiming victory.

I’ve seen a lot of articles, Facebook posts, and general commentary claiming last night’s vote to raise the debt ceiling and restart those parts of the government that remained shuttered as a victory. Some say it was a victory for Democrats, others the Tea Party, others hail it as a personal victory for Senator Cruz. They’re all wrong. Last night was no victory. All sides who claim victory are celebrating over ashes – the ashes of dysfunctional Congress, the ashes of a more than $17 trillion national debt, and the ashes of our apparent inability of the great American people to govern themselves at all, let alone do it effectively. Last night’s vote was a failure of our politics, not a victory.

Eventually there will be an unavoidable reckoning that government can no longer afford to do all things for all people. The sooner we make the hard decisions about entitlements, government overreach, and a bloated defense budget, the sooner we’ll have a real victory… but that will never be achieved by men and women who are satisfied holding their breath, stomping their feet, and congratulating themselves when they simply manage to turn the lights back on and kick the hard decisions down the road for another few months.

There must be a grand discussion of national priorities – and nothing can be held off the table. The sacred cows of the left and right must be equally available for slaughter. We, as a country, need to evaluate the role we want government to play in our lives and in the world and then budget and spend accordingly. In his message to Congress on December 1, 1862, Lincoln states, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Lincoln didn’t save the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Tea Party, or the Toga Party. He saved the country. That’s serious work for serious people, not the work of the raving ideologs on the lunatic extremes. Still, it’s work that needs done. It’s work we must demand of those who claim to represent the people. It’s work that every American voice should cry out for today… that is unless we’re collectively satisfied with increasingly hollow victories and the slow descent of the nation to the status of a second tier power.