What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. No paper towels. I’m all for environmental responsibility where it makes sense. I recycle. I’m replacing all the light bulbs in my house with LEDs. The new water heater I installed is ridiculously efficient (and has the price tag to match). Some things, though, are beyond the pale. I know that keeping old fashioned paper towels in your public restrooms is a hassle. They’re expensive, they end up all over the floor, and they become bags and bags of trash to be disposed of… even knowing that, I just don’t care. All I want to do after taking a wiz is wash my hands and be able to dry them. The underpowered, barely functional “hot air dryer” just doesn’t cut it since I don’t have 43 minutes to thoroughly dry my hands each time I used the facilities. Public restrooms are an unfortunate necessity. I don’t expect them to be gold plated but for the love of Pete, I’d like to be able to dry my hands.

2. The demand side. Given my predisposition towards fairly conservative economic principles I can safely be called something of a supply sider. Watching the US Coast Guard show off the nearly half billion dollars wort of cocaine and heroin interdicted last month, though, I’m not sure the who “drug thing” is something that we can fight principally from the supply side. As long as there’s a demand, the suppliers are going to find a means and method of supplying that demand – at an increasingly high cost on both sides. I’m not enough of a libertarian to think that flat out legalization of everything is a good idea, but it increasingly strikes me that to get after the issue with drugs means going after it on the demand side. Pouring increasingly large amounts of money into chasing the supply would seem to only garner continuingly middling results. I have no idea what the answer to the demand side is – treatment, sure, that will work in some cases. Start letting the addicts drop dead, or what I like to cheerily think of as letting Darwin have his due? OK, maybe it’s hard medicine but perhaps best in the long run if it means that subset of the population is no longer thieving and whoring and begging, which might help alleviate the impression that every city and small town in the country is well along the process of turning into a filth ridden hell hole.

3. The NFL. Stories are popping up on a number of news sites about the ratings hit the NFL has taken this year. Some sources are blaming the weather, others the rise of “activist” players. As someone who hasn’t watched a professional football game from start to finish since the late 1990s, I don’t really have a dog in the fight, but I can make a few observations. First and foremost, the NFL is a ratings driver. It’s not in danger of going out of business any time soon. With that said, the league would be well served to remember that despite the outward appearance of a nation of fierce team loyalists, the product they offer is entertainment and it’s subject to the same market forces that influence every other competitor out there trying to put their hands on viewer’s wallets. There has probably never been a time when there are more and better entertainment options available to the average American consumer than we have today. The fact that a game run by billionaires, played by millionaires, and marketed to the great swath of Americans who think of themselves as middle class is losing some of its grip on the market shouldn’t in any way be surprising. A good first step in bringing fans back into the fold would seem to be to making sure the paid performers don’t offend their viewers by dragging politics into what would otherwise be a nice mindless Sunday’s entertainment. Don’t put a stick in the eye of the people who you want to hand over enormous sums of money feels like it should be Rule #1.

Training my life away…

I’m not a procrastinator by nature. I tend to want to jump in and get shit done just as soon as possible. The grand exception to this rule is the laundry list of online annual mandatory training opportunities that Uncle has decided are important. Many of them don’t change from year to year. The old ones never drop off and new ones are always being added by some good idea fairy lurking in the depths of the five sided lunatic asylum on the banks of the Potomac.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve put off doing this online training hell right up until the last possible minute. Usually that means sequestering myself for a few days before the end of the year to click through everything just before the end of the fiscal year and clear my name off the training officer’s naughty list.

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and using part of my telework days to plow through these interminable classes two at a time. I don’t have a rhyme or reason for which ones I take other than working the list from top to bottom… but today turned out to be “drug and alcohol awareness day” at the online training farm.

After two hours of checking this particular box, I’m left to wonder how these dumbass training requirements don’t send us all down the path of reckless drug and alcohol use.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Coat blowing. I dearly love my ever-loyal, if somewhat ditzy, chocolate labrador. She is the operative definition of a kind and loving soul. But honest to whatever God there is in heaven if she doesn’t stop blowing her winter coat soon I’m going to lose what small slivers of sanity I have managed to hang on to lo these many years. It’s like the whole bleeding house is covered in a fine, slightly fluffy film of dog.

2. The other email. Without delving into any specific details, I have an alternate email address that occasionally gets used for work. In part it’s annoying because I can’t access this account from my desk. Fortunately, almost no one ever uses that address so it’s not completely inconvenient. That being said, if you don’t log into the damned thing about once a week, you start getting nasty messages from the Great Email Monitor threatening to cut off your access. Once they do that you’ve got to start from scratch setting up a new account, which could take as long as 247 work days to complete. Since I really do need this account for about one message ever 8-10 weeks it effectively just creates a barely essential pain in the ass that requires me to set up a calendar reminder to schlep next door once a week to log in, look at an empty inbox, and ensure that the account stays active for another week. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for being only slightly vexed (but not at all surprised) by such a patently inefficient process.

3. Acting surprised. A major musician has died under unclear or suspicious circumstances. I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised that a music superstar might have succumbed to the effects of legal and/or illegal medications. It’s not like this is the first time music and drugs march down the same road. It’s the fact that anyone from fans to media pontificators can pretend such events are anything other than “as expected” that’s farcical. A man is dead and that’s sad enough in its own right, but when it’s self-inflicted I have a hard time finding it an outright tragedy.

Darwin’s price…

My news feed has been flooded for the last couple of weeks with the “news” that a heroin epidemic has broken out. Well, I don’t suppose that’s news really. HBO built a pretty popular television franchise by telling the story of heroin almost a decade and a half ago. It’s not exactly a new problem, even if it has taken on new faces and occupied new territories – territories that were once largely the traditional province of prescription drugs and methamphetamine.

A local county here in Maryland reported twenty heroin overdoses in the first two weeks of February this year. Now hang on to your hats, because what I’m about to say will probably annoy a large number of people and might even cost me a few friends. Still, though, I think it needs saying – if only because the currently popular discussion of mass treatment versus mass incarceration seems to continually miss the target.

Maybe it’s time to just accept that there are a certain subset of people who have accepted death as a risk of what they’re doing. If people want help, by all means give it to them, but if their actions demonstrate clearly that they’ve resolved to die in a ditch no matter how much help is available to them, well, it seems like the problem will sort itself out fairly quickly. At what point is it just stupid to save someone who’ll be on the street knocking over a liquor store or stealing from their former friends and neighbors to fund their next fix as soon as they’re out of the hospital or jail. It might be a kindness to allow Darwin to extract his price sooner rather than later.

Now before someone comes screaming at me that addiction is just like any other treatable disease, let’s remember that even though I’m diabetic I may be killing myself slowly with my dinner options, but I’m not breaking into anyone’s house to steal pie and I’m not out working the corner to raise cash for my next Snickers. It’s not just a difference of semantics.

I know there isn’t a chance in hell of my shell of a plan ever being adopted. For the most part people are entirely too softhearted to allow natural consequence to take its course. The point is, what we’ve been trying clearly isn’t getting the job done, so what’s next?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Big Pharma Guy. Despite the public outcry it’s actually not the physical embodiment of Big Pharma that bothers me about someone who ramps up the price of their product from $13 to $750. The dude might be an MBA, but he clearly wasn’t paying attention in the “shaping public opinion” part of class. Sure, it was a douche move, but hey, I’m going to tell you to go out there and charge whatever the market will tolerate for your product. The fact that he’s been so quick to backpedal gives me a pretty strong indication that he didn’t think things through all the way to their logical conclusion. What annoys me more than anything though, is that I’ve never had the foresight to buy the patent on some widget I can make for less than a dollar and turn around and sell to a willing marketplace for thousands of percentage points in mark up.

2. Volkswagen. Someone established tough standards and then someone else found a way to lie in order to beat the standard. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked. While I agree that Volkswagen did a very bad thing, I’m not sure why anyone is reacting with surprise. People, almost as if by nature, look for the loophole that lets them do whatever they wanted to do with the least amount of trouble. In this case, jiggering with the onboard computer was the path of least resistance. A test is only as good as the way it’s validated, or as a wise old Warrant Officer once told me, “You don’t do what the boss don’t check.” If you’re going to insist on having regulations, at least then insist that someone is responsible for making sure the testing mechanism works. I don’t blame Volkswagen for following their own self interest so much as I blame a system that was put in place that let them get away with it for the better part of a decade.

3. Delayed interest. When I’ve been working on something for months, there is no conceivable way I can bring you up to speed on the intricacies of each bit and piece of the puzzle 37 seconds before that particular thing is done. Thirty seven seconds may be an exaggeration, but only a minor one. At some point when I tell you something needs signed it’s going to have to be ok in believing that I know what I’m doing. At least we can put that dirty rumor that we’re trusted professionals to rest now.

More of the same…

The White House announced a new Heroin Response Strategy today. This new initiative will roll up initiatives already underway in five separate hot spots, including Maryland’s beloved Baltimore. Our elected officials were quick to trumpet this new program, which isn’t surprising considering how badly handled the war on drugs in this country has been in general – and let’s be perfectly realistic here for a minute – how shockingly incompetent it’s been at crushing the heroin trade in particular.

I’ve always been of the school of thought that says the moment you ban something, you make it more attractive to a certain subset of the population. You also make the banned substance more expensive. Criminal enterprises spring up to fill the newly created market niche… and then federal and state money pours into fix a problem that they created in the first place. Still, the nature and efficacy of prohibition isn’t really the point here.

My point is it’s damned near impossible to legislate yourself out of moral or medical “problems.” The 18th Amendment raised up men like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. I’m not sure why we thought alcohol was a special case. The war on drugs features a different substance, but the same approach, and has garnered much the same result. I would never dare march under the banner of outright legalization of any and all comers, but expecting the new Heroin Response Strategy to do any better than the “more of the same” that has come before it is futile at best.

Perhaps it’s time to focus on the criminal acts rather than the substances themselves. Does society care if you get high as a kite and drop dead in your bathroom with a needle in your arm? Maybe a little, but not enough to do much about it. Now if you get high and then proceed to rape, rob, or steal, well then society has a problem. We can’t have the addicts running around bothering the mostly nice, mostly law-abiding civilians. If we can’t manage to address the root cause of addiction, perhaps we can at least mitigate the symptoms society has determined are most unpleasant… because if I’m bluntly honest, I don’t much care if Jane Junky ruins her life right up to the point where my television, a laptop, and the window she broke to get in the house become collateral damage to her addiction.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. There’s no law banning heart disease (although there are some laws encouraging more healthful behaviors). If beating a heart attack were as simple as passing a law criminalizing it, well Congress would be full of heroes – and prisons would be full of middle age men who had one too many cheeseburgers. Instead of criminalizing heart attacks, we’ve build an entire medical establishment around saving people from the consequence of a high fat, high cholesterol diet.

Surely our friend Big Pharma would love to find itself with another readymade customer base. It would be good for the taxpayer, good for shareholders, and dare I say it, good to Jane Junky too. Even if that’s not true on all counts, it could hardly be worse than what we’ve been trying for the last fifty years.

Distinctions…

I saw a Facebook post this morning that mentioned a “lethal mix of heroin” making it’s way around some part of the country. Now I’m a simple guy and try not to use 20 words when ten would do, so it strikes me that saying lethal mix of heroin economizes words about as much as saying toxic nuclear waste. Regardless of how you phrase it, what you’re trying to say is “if you ingest this shit, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up dead.” Easy peasy, no?

The second thing that occurred to me, is basically so what? I’m not sure why I care that some locality is inundated with this “lethal mix of heroin.” I’ve always sort of figured that if you’re loading something into your bloodstream that you bought in an alley, you’re reasonably well aware of the potential risks you’re facing. Knowing the average heroin user has a higher propensity to drop dead versus the average Joe Sixpack goes with the territory. You make your decisions and you take your risks. If every now and then a bad batch makes its way through to distribution, that’s in the nature of the business.

Addiction is a hell of a thing and while I feel bad for those who are impacted by it, that sympathy doesn’t extend far enough to make a distinction between a good dose and a bad one. Personally, I’d rather see the police rolling up the distribution channels than running “no questions asked” turn ins in an effort to get the Really Really Bad version off the street in favor of the Really Bad variety. It feels a little disingenuous to try making that type of distinction.