What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Homecoming.” Last weekend some of the parents in my old stomping grounds appear to have held an unofficial homecoming dance for their kids. Social media treated me to pictures with a dozen of their little darlings posted up elbow to asshole – no masks, no distancing, just crowded in like the pictures we would have taken back in the 90s.  Look, I get it. I have incredibly fond memories of homecomings and proms and the fully array of school events, you want to make sure your kid has the same memories, or you get to relive your glory days through them, or whatever. But doing it as we sit here watching COVID-19 bleeding through the ranks of the White House senior staff for engaging in similar fuckery, I have to wonder what would possess anyone to think this was a good idea. Raise ‘em however you want, I guess… but stay the hell away from me.

2. Candidates. Having now watched “debates” between both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates representing our major political parties, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not actually the structural government that’s failed us, but rather the bi-polar choice we’re presented with every four years and our collective willingness to go along with it just because it’s what we’ve always done. Our “two party system” has coughed up once candidate who is demonstrably a bad human being and another who, if elected, will pursue a number of policies I’ve opposed my entire adult life. Constrained by a self-regulating system that claims there are only two options, either option is a betrayal… of course that pre-supposes you accept the proposition that there are only two option.

3. Grass. I’ve been trying to get grass to fill in one small section of the back yard for two years now. It’s the first bit of the yard you see when walking out the back door and I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many bags of grass and clover seeds I’ve thrown down in the process. At best, it’s currently half green and half mud… and then there’s the nearly perfect radius of totally bare dirt where the dogs make their turn to head out towards the far reaches of the yard in high speed pursuit of the resident squirrels. It would be easy to blame this state of affairs on at least one dog who enjoys the rough and tumble of outside a bit too much, but I think we all know that’s not the kind of person I am… so it’s clearly the fault of the grass and some bad seed.

Political drama…

When I’m tinkering around on the computer in the evenings I’ve gotten into the habit of running long since cancelled television shows as background noise. Currently I’m playing my way through season four of The West Wing… which after watching the utter jackassery of a real presidential debate last night reminds me how much more I’d rather live under a Sorkin scripted presidency. Even with some of his more unpleasant left-leaning tendencies.

I wish I had something more insightful to say on the topic of the real candidates, the actual debate, or the current state of American politics. Unfortunately there isn’t, so I’m stuck with dreaming of a world that resembles a nearly 20-year old political drama far more than it resembles our reality.

The great debate…

I’ve noticed that one of the major news networks is advertising tonight’s debate with the same style commercials that are usually reserved for the UFC fights or boxing matches. It’s good imagery… and as much as I’d like to sit here tonight and tell you that I’m not going to tune in, I just can’t bring myself to spin that yarn.

It’s going to be a great debate. I don’t, of course, mean that it’s going to rise to the standards set by Lincoln and Douglass, but rather I’m just assuming it’s going to be an epic shitshow worthy of the best (or worst) reality TV we’ve ever seen.

I don’t see how it can avoid being a train wreck. The only three scenarios I can envision are all equally bad. 1) Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump spend the whole night beating on each other; or 2) Mr. Trump spends the whole night perfecting his carnival barker routine while Secretary Clinton watches him implode; 3) Secretary Clinton collapses on stage while Mr. Trump dances around her like Apollo Creed at the beginning of Rocky IV. None of those, given these two candidates, bodes particularly well for the future of American democracy.

Most of the time I can take comfort in the fact that somehow, the Republic endures. These days even that feels like it could be more and more of a stretch.

Starting around 9PM I’ll be live tweeting the debate @jdtharp for as long as I can stomach it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Hard right. Since Mr. Trump has bailed out of the primary debate this week as part of his ongoing “strained relationship” with Fox News, I’ve been quite literally stunned with the number of times I’ve run across posts labeling Fox a part of the “left wing media establishment.” I get my news from a lot of sources, both domestic and international, and thinking of FNC as a lefty mouthpiece just boggles the mind. See, that’s the real problem with the current Republican party. If you’re not in lockstep on abortion, marriage equality, and Jesus, well there’s just no room in the party for you. Sorry gang, but I’m going to call bullshit on that. I’m a Republican the same way Reagan was a Republican. The same way Goldwater was a Republican. The same way Eisenhower was a Republican. What I’m not is a fanatic who assumes mine is the One True Way. I’m a Republican. We use to be a “big tent” party and we could be again, if only we the rest of us have the personal courage to stand up and tell the dogmatic hardliners to GTFO. Otherwise we might as well fold the tent and go on back to the house, because the days of expecting a platform of “be like me or else” winning at the national level are profoundly numbered.

2. Underutilization. There’s not many jobs I’d consider myself too proud to do. From slopping barns, to stacking hay, flipping burgers, dropping fries, parking cars, accounting for tarps and body bags, ordering hundreds of thousands of tons of ice, or managing 1000-person events. I’ve done all of them and too many more to bother listing. The point isn’t that I’m too proud to do any of these things. The point is that it makes absolutely no economic sense for me to some of them. There’s always an opportunity cost that no one takes into account. Because I’m schlepping buckets of rock salt, that means there are five or six other things that aren’t getting done in a timely manner – things that generally tend to require thought, analysis, and problem solving. With half a career’s worth of experience behind me, my services don’t come cheap. The all-in “fully burdened” cost of having me on the clock is something approaching $100 an hour. Whether that money is spent on turning ice into water or on making sure the uber-boss gets the information he wants is decided by someone else. I’ll go where and do what I’m told, but I’ll always wonder why we so rarely seem to take the time to match the skill set with the person instead of just grabbing the nearest body and making it fit.

3. Cities. Watching the news out of Baltimore all week and wondering how in seven hells they’ve managed to spend an entire week tinkering around with their plows and not give every street at least a courtesy pass with one of their trucks. Yes, cities are densely packed and often streets are narrow, but still. Come on. You’ve had a week to give everyone at least a fighting chance at getting out of their frozen prison. I live in a subdivision in what might charitably be called an out of the way location. By Sunday evening we’d had enough of a route cut that someone with 4-wheel drive could safely navigate out to our principle access road. By Monday night it was largely down to blacktop. I’m simply perplexed that a major American city – especially one prone to snow in the winter – has this much trouble figuring out what to do. I avoid Baltimore as much as humanly possible, but in this case I’m throughly annoyed by a city government that seems largely made up by the gang that can’t shoot straight.

The lesser of “who cares…”

It’s the 3,743rd and final Republican primary debate of 2015, where I will once more attempt to will myself into cheering on whatever candidate I can only describe as the lesser of “who cares?” Being a student of history, I can’t help but to compare and contrast the people on stage to the men who’ve filled the chair they seek. It seems to me that there was a time when presidents stood like giants on the national stage – Reagan, Nixon, LBJ, Kennedy, FDR. They were outsized men who used big words and challenged America and Americans to to great things. Watching these debates (on both sides) leaves me with a feeling that there isn’t a candidate out there who’s fit to carry water for any of the bunch.

I don’t for a moment believe America is broken, but I can’t get past the feeling that we’re simply meandering from pillar to post for want of any kind of meaningful leadership. History is replete with examples of the convergence of man and moment, but so very many of the options presented to us are precisely the wrong people at precisely the wrong moment.

In all likelihood in April I’m going to have to hold my nose and push a button for one of these chumps. I’m convinced that’s one of the real reasons so many people are utterly apathetic about politics. I’m informed and can barely get my pulse to register while watching any of the candidates. What chance does someone who only tunes in only a few days before an election have of making a connection – and paying attention long enough to see it through?

Sigh. Let me go tune in to tonight’s edition of Shut Up Jerkface, I’m Shouting Louder than You.

Assessing the competition…

I watched as much of the Democratic primary debate last night as I could manage. Based on an hour or so of direct observation, here’s the impression I came away with of the candidates:

1. Clinton. It doesn’t matter what she says, every time I see her all I can think of is the fact that I’d most likely be sitting in federal prison if I treated classified material the way she did. It’s not a matter of whether the candidates think the American people care or not, it’s a simple matter of personal integrity and standards of conduct that I expect of a senior leader, especially one that would be king.

2. Sanders. I oppose almost everything this guy stands for, but for the most part I find him to be consistent about his principles. His platform seems to be “Free Everything for Everyone.” That’s fine I guess, except it all has to be paid for eventually. Even if he crammed through a 100% tax on the 1% it’s a budget buster. I could never vote for him, but I can certainly admire the fight he brings to the campaign.

3. O’Malley. As a Maryland resident, one raised in the West, who lived in the great suburban belt between DC and Baltimore, and now resides on the upper reaches of the Eastern Shore, any time this guy talks about respecting the culture of rural Maryland I throw up a little in my mouth. He didn’t give a tinker’s damn about rural Maryland when he was in office as governor and if anyone thinks he’ll do rural America anything but dirty as president, well, you can’t fix stupid.

4. Chafee. The guy seems nice enough but he’s a two-legged sleeping pill. If his fate wasn’t sealed already, he was done when he essentially told the world that as a new Senator he voted on bills without any clear understanding of what he was doing. That rarely plays well on TV.

5. Webb. I’m not sure this one was even at the right debate. He sounded a lot like a Republican.

The unsurprising result of viewing the debate is that there is no apparent reason I would consider voting for one of these candidates. They don’t speak to many of my issues, and when they do they mostly take the “wrong” side. I’ll have to do my candidate shopping elsewhere.

What’s changed?

The great debate over the virtue of the Second Amendment rages today as loudly as ever. Both sides scream past each other, fearing that giving an inch of ground will inexorably lead to the tide running hard against them.

There have been firearms in the United States since before we were the United States. The first colonists to wade ashore in Jamestown brought ball and powder in equal parts to hunt on and defend the new world they intended to carve out of the American wilderness.

What you don’t hear about them doing is walking into a tavern or church and taking a pot shot at their neighbors. I’ve not done an exhaustive study on the topic, but I can’t think of a large number of historical example of what we’d commonly call random acts of “mass violence” in schools, businesses, and public places until the latter half of the last century. I have no doubt they happened, what with humans being a particularly violence prone species and all, but a quick look doesn’t point to seeing it happen with particularly great frequency.

So my question, then, is what’s changed? What makes the average American in 2015 more likely to walk into a church to unload both proverbial barrels than his counterpart in 1815 or 1915? Access to firearms isn’t a satisfactory answer. If anything, a gun was easier to get throughout most of American history than they are today. They hung on the mantle, were propped in the corner, or lived in bedside tables without benefit of trigger locks or gun safes. I’m old enough to remember a time when a rifle behind a truck’s bench seat in the school parking lot meant that hunting season was open, not that one of the students (or the teachers) was plotting mayhem and chaos.

What’s changed? Are we intrinsically worse human beings than our predecessors? Are we less able to judge the relationship between action and consequence? Or do we just tend more towards being batshit crazy than our saintly ancestors?

They’re not master debaters…

Tonight is the next in what promises to be a mind-numbingly endless series of Republican primary debates. Say what you may about the group of people who have ended up on that stage, but you don’t tend to rise to that level in American political life without convincing a fair number of people – and more than a few people with very deep pockets – that you’re The One.

One thing I know based on observing the last go around with this bunch, but none of them are master debaters. I didn’t see any sign of one of them being able to simply mop the floor with the others. I don’t expect any of them to land a knockout punch tonight. Hitting that hard just isn’t likely when you’re in the ring with that many other people. We’re still in the phase of the nominating process where death by a thousand cuts is most likely. I fully expect some of the old familiar faces will fall and a few new ones are yet to make an appearance before we get around to any real voting (or caucusing – Iowa, you freak).

This early in the game I’m not sure I even know what a “win” for tonight looks like. For some, it might be as simple as not wetting themselves on national television. For others it might be advancing a policy point or two. For Donald Trump it’s probably to say something outlandish enough to make sure none of the others get any coverage at all after the event.

All I know is we’re still one hell of a long way from Election Day 2016… and I’m not sure I can deal with watching these guys playing with themselves that long.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. National contrition. I had the great fortune to meet Brigadier General Paul Tibbets (retired) not many years before his death in 2007. He was speaking at the aviation museum in Richmond, Virginia that ended with a question and answer session. The first, inevitable, question – one that was probably posed to him every day since 1945 – was if he had any regrets about commanding the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His response, a single word, “No.” That’s sort of how I feel when I read articles telling me that we should apologize for dropping the bomb on Japan. America didn’t start the damned war, got sucker punched to bring us into it, and then the apologists want us to feel bad that to end it the full force and power of the American military came crashing down on the country that was then our enemy. Our job in August 1945 was to win the war with as few additional American casualties as possible. That’s what we did. So, no, I won’t apologize for that. Not now. Not ever.

2. Ten candidates. Later this evening the “top ten” Republican presidential candidates will engaged in what passes for a contemporary debate in this country. They’ll each have 3-5 minutes to pull off a sound bite they can use in their campaign material, but there won’t be time for a discussion of substance. There are lots of familiar faces from elections past going on stage tonight, but there is damned little sign of new blood in the arena. Most of the contenders couldn’t make it to the big game the last 2 or 3 times they tried. I’m not sure I see where much has changed. I don’t expect any of these ten to speak to my peculiar combination of important issues. Then again, I don’t expect anyone from either party to do that. Before this debate even gets started I’m already thinking that the best outcome from it would be for me to go to bed on time and at least try to get a good night’s sleep. That would be far more beneficial than anything we’re likely to hear on television tonight.

3. Cooking. I was away last weekend. I haven’t had a chance to get to the market this week to pick up more than the requisite salad for my tortoise and creamer for me. Being away also meant that I wasn’t able to do most of the week’s heavy cooking on Sunday afternoon. Which is how you end up needing to fiddle around the kitchen making a passable meal and not sitting down to eat until Wednesday night until after 7PM. That might be fine for you continental types who keep late hours, but for me on an average weeknight seven o’clock is closing in on the middle of the damned night. Maybe it’s just an artifact from childhood, but at my house 5PM is dinner time. Most weeknights I don’t quite make it, but I’m not usually far off – but then again I’m usually not coming up with something from scratch. So yes, currently as much as I usually enjoy it, I’m sick to death of cooking and the butterfly effect it’s having on the rest of the evening. I guess I should have grown up to have a job with a personal staff. More poor decision making on my part.

What good looks like…

I walked into the middle of an ongoing conversation today. That’s not unusual in a place where you find yourself wandering in and out of rooms all the time. What was unusual, however, was the topic – the riot in Baltimore, the use of the word thug, gun control, and general shitstorm state of society. It’s unusual because in my career I can count on less than five fingers the number of times a real discussion of politics has come up at the office. Most work conversations are an exercise in staying away from anything that might prove to be too sensitive – they tend towards talks about weekend plans, home improvement projects, what what’s for lunch. In other words the default setting is to avoid bringing up topics that anyone might in some way find offensive or objectionable.

What struck me this afternoon more than anything else, though, was how wildly divergent the politics and opinions of this small group of people I work with every day really was… and how quickly the tone escalated as the opposing viewpoints dug in to their respective corners. Every person in the room was reasonably well educated with a respectable amount of life experience behind them, but a “right” answer was nowhere in sight – and one that we could all agree on wasn’t on the continent, let alone in the same building.

I wonder, now that we’ve come to our collective senses and gone back to “safe” topics, if there is any real resolution to the issues that beset us. As long as we all remain intransigent, the answer to that is probably no. Compromise doesn’t feel like a satisfying solution – half a loaf (at best) – but with five smart people, having five different and equally strong opinions, I’m starkly aware that I have no idea what a good answer looks like.