What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Just talking. I occasionally find myself in the position of “just talking,” or “hanging out” with women I have, for one reason or another, found preliminarily interesting. Most recently, I was involved in a conversation that led to the statement that she “like adventuring.” Honest to God, I’m a reasonably well-educated man, but I have no idea what the fuck that even means. Are you telling me you enjoy raising the jolly roger and raiding the Spanish Main, hiring up a party a Sherpas and summiting Everest, or free diving with great whites? In any case, I’m not sure exact meanings are important. Unless your definition of adventuring involves endless rooms of books, 2 o’clock tea, dinner served promptly at 5 PM, and to bed absolutely no later than 10 o’clock, I’m fairly sure I’m going to take a pass. But feel free to go on enjoying whatever hoodrat shit you’re up to with my best wishes for your continued success.

2. Gas. Thanks to the “safer at home” mandates and my own hermetical nature, I bought very little gasoline over the last 18 months. Now that safer at home has been replaced by “get your ass back to the office” mandates, that budget line has gotten entirely too big. I mean not big enough that I’d consider switching to something small and fuel efficient, but more than I want to pay in full knowledge that I’m doing so only because someone’s vision of a workplace fantasy involves full cube farms. It’s just a bit of insult to injury.

3. Masks. The Biden Administration is talking about bringing back mask requirements for vaccinated people. Look, I was in full support of masks in the early days of the Great Plague. They were the best defense we had against a new and unknown threat. Now, we have wide availability of three vaccines that are proven to be effective at preventing the vast majority serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Now severe illness and death is back on the rise precisely because some portion of the population refuses to take advantage of one of the scientific marvels of the 21st century. In the early days, we wore masks to protect on another – the presence of vaccination on demand makes that unnecessary. It’s time that we inconvenience those who want to pretend science isn’t a real thing rather than whose who have done the responsible thing all along. Being a dumbass should be painful. It should be inconvenient. Let them bear the burden of their own intransigence – and let the rest of us get on with it.

Twenty percent…

There’s a recent survey that shows 20% of those Americans polled believe the COVID-19 vaccine is being used to imbed a tracking chip in all who receive it. The “good” news is that only 5% said it was “definitely” true while 15% said it was only “probably” true. 

Twenty percent of our fellow Americans believe something that is patently absurd. That’s one in five people – a number that feels like it almost guarantees that we all know someone or possibly many people who are part of the 20%. Some of them may even be reading this blog right now.

I’m never entirely sure what bit of the brain has to be badly wired to convince people to buy into some of the more wild-assed conspiracy theories. What on earth would possess someone to think that the government (or new world order for that matter), would bother with something so pedestrian as implanting a chip… when we’ve pretty much all long ago agreed to carry one of the most advanced tracking devices in history in our pocket all day every day.

This 20% are among us, though. They’re our politicians, our teachers, our religious leaders, our lawyers, our firefighters, and pretty much anyone else you can imagine. That’s the thought that horrifies me far more than the idea of any kind of chip the big, bad virologists might have slipped me. 

The new, new normal…

Back in the heyday of the Great Plague, there was a lot of talk about the “new normal.” Adjusting to it, living in it, surviving it. It was the phrase people used when they had no idea what else to say.

I’ve made no secret that I loved life in the new normal. Staying home and avoiding people was the kind of world I was built to inhabit. Sure, there was death, chaos, and economic turmoil, but beyond a nagging fear of dropping dead due to unseen and seemingly un-fightable forces, it wasn’t just a case of surviving in the new normal, or even living in it. It was sixteen months of absolutely thriving – or living my best life as the damned kids these days insist on saying.

This week, I’ve started back into the new, new normal. It’s slightly less problematic than Old Normal, but nowhere near as good as I found life in New Normal. This New, New Normal is far more about just living – maybe “enduring” would be the more descriptive. Returning to the land ruled by extroverts after a year and a half in which the attributes of the introvert were ascendant is just plain hard and I’m not a fan.

It was a golden age…

I don’t suppose there will be any official notification. No proclamations. No drums or trumpets. There’s likely to be nothing but my own angst and deep disappointment to mark the passage of what I’ll always consider a golden age.

You see, by the time I get back from taking a bit of time off next week, we’ll have already passed out of the era of “maximum telework” and begun phasing back towards “normal” operations. As it turns out, we’re opting not to observe any of the lessons of 2020 and making preparations to restore things to precisely what they were before the Great Plague. Passing on this literal once in a lifetime opportunity to create a better way to work, we’re going to take a knee… because our particular Olympian god doesn’t get a warm fuzzy unless he sees asses in seats. It would be laughable if the outcome wasn’t so utterly predictable.

After 18 and a half years on the job and with 14 years left to go, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that the best, most rewarding fifteen months of my career are about to be over. It’s hard to imagine a circumstance more suited to my personal and professional temperament than the one we just worked through. Watching what worked so well being garroted to suit one man’s vision is damned near heartbreaking.

If there’s ever a time in the next 14 years where you think I’m sounding bitter about a stark refusal to embrace new modes and methods of “accomplishing the mission,” there will be a good reason for that… because I don’t plan on passing up an opportunity to continue agitating for a workplace that isn’t mired somewhere in the land of the gray flannel suit when it comes to their philosophy and practice of management.

It won’t make me the most popular kid in class, but fortunately I’ve had a lifetime of experience in knowing how to carry that role. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lip reading. Until everyone started wearing masks, I had no idea how much lip reading I do. Short conversations are ok – checking out with groceries or picking up a carryout order – but anything longer, and certainly conversations that involve any level of detail, are just harder when I can’t see someone’s mouth moving. I find myself asking for repeats way more often than would seem to be necessary… and yet here we are. I suppose it’s good practice for when the years of loud radio playing and Jeep noise catch up to me in earnest.

2. CNN. God love them, CNN seems to take a special delight in painting surging home prices as the worst thing ever. Sorry. What? I’m supposed to be upset that I’m building fantastic amounts of equity while simultaneously having a place to live? If nothing else, home ownership through this moment is an excellent hedge against the creeping inflation that CNN also likes to wring their hands over. Yep, it’s hard to be a buyer right now. In other markets at other times, it was hard to be a seller. Trying to pretend the real estate market can or should be static is a bad take for an alleged source of financial news.

3. Waiting. I’m just about a week shy of kicking off Summer Vacation Part I. It’s not decamping for the islands for a week or anything, but it is the first stretch of uninterrupted days off I’ll have had since the new year started. Five months into 2021 and it’s safe to say I’m ready for the break… beyond ready. Eager is probably a better description. Perhaps you could even say I’m giddy with anticipation of 11 days without email, Teams, ringing phones, door buzzers, meetings, or network problems. That’s the issue, really. Slogging through another week when my head is desperately fleeing into vacation mode is going to be exhausting. 

The honor system…

According to the Centers for Disease Control, those who have been fully vaccinated are more or less free to unmask and get on up in each other’s personal space again. It’s a decision that certainly speaks to their growing confidence that the vaccine is very nearly bulletproof. Yes, if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still contract COVID-19, but the research they referenced yesterday seems to conclude that the instance of becoming truly sick from it is negligible. Likewise, the risk of a vaccinated person spreading COVID-19 is next to nil. 

Those who aren’t vaccinated, which by this point is largely a group of people who do not want to be vaccinated, are supposed to keep wearing their masks. There’s a catch, of course… and that’s this is largely the same group of people who have been violently opposed to something as simple as wearing a mask at the height of the Great Plague.

There’s no way of looking at someone and telling whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. Our friends from the CDC basically say we’ll be on our honor as to whether we’ve been vaccinated or not and behave accordingly. Personally, I hear that as a very polite way of saying “We’ve saved as many of you who want saving as possible and from here on out, if you want to go out and catch the bug, you’re on your own.” Put another way, if you’re part of the minority who refuses to acknowledge science, the immortal words of Ivan Drago can be your valedictory: If he dies, he dies. 

It’s not an elegant solution, but at some point it’s important to accept that you simply can’t protect people from themselves. According to the CDC, at least, we’ve arrived at that point. Now all that remains to be seen is how state and local governments and businesses respond. 

My personal prediction is that we’ll make every bit as much of a hash of exiting the Great Plague experience as we did getting into it in the first place. We’ll soon see, I expect, a country that isn’t so much divided between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated as between those who are vaccinated and those who are infected.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

Another Tharp and Associates Production…

It’s the most ridiculous week of the year.

I spent most of the morning updating slides that were allegedly “final” three weeks ago. There’s always one more opportunity to swap out “glad” for “happy” for the 36th time, I suppose.

I should probably be happy. The inertia of large events is about to take control of this one and guide it down the slipway towards “mission complete” on Thursday afternoon. The only promise I ever make in the days before a Tharp and Associates Production is “Some things will go well. Some things will go badly. And a week after it’s over, no one will care except that it means we’ve checked that particular box for another circuit around the sun.”

This is the second year in a row that we’ve been forced to do everything “remotely.” Despite it being infinitely more manageable and cost effective, I can’t imagine that COVID-enforced way of doing things being allowed to persist in a post- COVID world. Before you know it, I’ll be back to talking to caterers, circus tent rental companies, stage and lighting designers, and the gaggle of other vendors you need to deal with to make sure every year is just a little bit bigger and more extravagant than the one before.

There are loads of future dates and activities that I look forward to, but I try not to make a habit of wishing my life away. All the same, if I were to go to sleep tonight and somehow wake up on Friday morning, I wouldn’t raise a word of protest.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.