What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. There are a few topics where I could probably claim expert level knowledge. There are far more in which I am reasonably conversant. There are many in which I can fake competence if conversations don’t last too long. The secret to successfully using my big ol’ brain box is to turn me loose on something in one of those first two broadly defined areas. Setting me loose in the third and expecting expert level performance is just going to result in you being disappointed and me being even more annoyed… especially when there are any number of individuals within spitting distance whose baseline knowledge on the subject exceed my own in every possible way.

2. It’s good to see so many people caught up in the history of #DDay75… but my inner history geek wishes some of them would pay attention to history a little more closely when it’s not the anniversary of monumental events. They’d be amazed at what it could teach them… and maybe they’d even gain a little insight about why nine times out of ten I’m mostly sitting around muttering that “they’re really going to try that again.” In my heart of hearts I really do think if given half an education in history people would be stunned by how little new there is under the sun.

3. OK, so here’s the thing… When I lay out a process for you that’s guaranteed to work correctly 100% of the time and you opt to not follow that process and create your own circuitous route from Point A to Point B, don’t then call me whining because it didn’t work. What happened there isn’t a process problem. It was a pure failure to follow fucking directions problem and that puts it squarely in your lane rather than mine. Good luck with it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Work issued computers. Sure, the bosses want to to be ultra productive and focused on executing key tasks and achieving objectives… but when it comes to giving you a computer that’s worth a damn, that’s obviously the bridge too far. If I were permitted by the great hardware and software manager in the sky to have some basic administrator rights on my machine, I feel confident I could correct a large percentage of what normally goes awry… but since I am a lowly user, all I can really do is call the help desk, put in a ticket, and then tell anyone who asks for something that I’d love to help but my piece of shit computer is broken again and they should check back in 3-5 business days to see if the “help desk” has gotten around do doing anything with my ticket. 

2. First reports. News outlets live and die by being the first to report on a breaking story… which is why what you hear as “breaking news” on any given day is almost always refined into something that could be completely different as facts are checked and the truth is revealed. Of course fact check, authoritative stories aren’t sexy and usually don’t come with their own theme music on cable news channels, so no one waits around to see what the real story is before launching something, anything, into the airwaves or onto social media. And that’s how we’ve become a culture that prefers being immediately outraged to one that would rather be informed or educated.

3. Holy crusaders. Over the long span of my career I’ve worked with a lot of people. Most of them are a decent enough sort. Some of them though, are crusaders, determined against all contrary evidence to believe their memos or PowerPoint charts are destined to save the republic. If I’m honest, I can report that I have worked on a handful of projects that were legitimately important or that made someone’s life better in some way when we finished. The rest were mostly some degree of vanity exercises in which we expended vast resources to make sure someone got a fancy sticker on their next performance appraisal. I’m all for showing a sense of urgency when urgency is called for, but nothing in my education, experience, or temperament makes me suited to pretending urgency over something that doesn’t make a damned bit of real difference to anyone.

Stupid hillbilly…

As a fiscal conservative with mostly libertarian social leanings, I’m regularly amused/annoyed by the classic liberal argument that runs along the lines of “conservatives are stupid hillbillies who have never picked up a book.” I can only assume when I hear that that what they really mean is “Mine is the only opinion that matters and if you disagree with me you are Satan/Hitler and I’m going to put my fingers in my ears so I’m not forced to listen to or attempt to comprehend dissenting opinions so I can go on trying to make myself look big by making others look small.”

Yes, I am a moderately conservative American raised in Appalachia. I suppose that, in and of itself, earns me the “stupid hillbilly” title in some eyes. You should know, thought, that I’ve also read Plato, Locke, and Rousseau. I’ve read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. I’ve read Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, too, and the Bible, and more biographies of great leaders of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries than I want to list. My economics shelf covers everything from Smith’s Wealth of Nations to Marx’s Capital. History? Yeah, those shelves are groaning under the weight of volumes ranged from ancient Greece and Rome, the religious wars of Europe, to the space race that I’ve read and synthesized to help inform my view of the world. I won’t bother to deep dive the fiction that’s passed through my hands over the years. Suffice to say that Dickens, Twain, and a couple hundred others are on the list.

I say all that to say this: If you want to have a frank discussion on policy or the proper role of government, I’m usually all in. If you come at me with some version on “All Republicans are…”, well you should feel free to immediately go fuck yourself. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the social media shitposting that would inevitably follow. It’s enough for me to know that by insisting in dealing in absolutes and arguments that rely on painting “all” of one group or another with a particular brush, you are far bigger part of the problem with the social discourse in this country than this stupid hillbilly could ever be.

Checking boxes…

I got my annual reminder today that I had successfully completed almost none of my mandatory online training for 2016. Training is important, or so we’ve been told. It’s so important that in at least one instance I successfully completed the exact same training module once a year from 2007-2016. Yay Constitution Day Training!

I spent two years earning a teaching degree and another two and a half years actually doing it. I’m a voracious reader and self-educate on any number of topics. You don’t need to convince me of the importance of training or education. With that being said, if you want me to think of it as a priority, perhaps you might consider changing up your program of instruction once or twice in a decade. No matter how fine a narrative I consider a book like Team of Rivals, it ceases to become informative if I read it every year and can predict with near 100% accuracy what’s going to appear on the next page.

On the other hand, if the intent is to simply make sure that one of the multitude of annual training requirement boxes is checked off before time expires, well the powers that be are doing a fine job of course development and instruction. When I know that’s the goal, I can box check with the best of them.

Sex Ed: 2015 Edition

Every year, my employer requires me to attend several classes, the message of which seems to consist solely of “Rape Bad.” Now we could go in to the somewhat faulty logic of believing I didn’t know rape was bad until sometime during the 247 times I’ve sat through the training, but that’s an old story.

The only redeeming quality this training really has is that I get to sit in an auditorium with a large group of my peers and watch them get very, very uncomfortable every time any word even remotely adjacent to sex is mentioned. It never fails to entertain me to see how many middle age adults, who have all presumably had sex at one point or another, are utterly flustered by the topic.

This year’s version of the training consisted of two presenters whose variation of the content was a little more racy than usual. Parts of their schtick included having the group yell out words we use for a woman who has a lot of sex. You can probably guess most of what ended up on the list. Then we repeated the exercise by listing out the names we use for oversexed men. Likewise, the list was predictable. That wasn’t the best part, though.

The very best thing was perfectly unexpected and came about while the assembled group was listing off all the euphemisms for “having sex.” Hooking up, bumping uglies, doing it, greasing the weasel; it was a reasonable list. Then one of the younger people in the crowd – one of the few, I should note – shouted out the inevitable “Netflix and chill.”

And that’s when time stopped for a moment and a room full of middle age folks looked vaguely perplexed and then, slowly, some of the looks became decidedly horrified. Knowing the average age of the crowd, I can only presume that look of abject horror came on because many of them would have children in the age range where Netflix and chill is a phrase in common usage – and perhaps one that’s been slid past them when they ask little Johnny or Suzy what they’re doing on date night.

It made an awfully large group of people awfully uncomfortable… and that made me laugh. This mandatory sex ed stuff isn’t so bad if you just come to it in the right frame of mind. The more you know, indeed.

A matter of opinion…

Yesterday I saw several social media posts decrying the administration of the current president as the “most out of control and corrupt government in history.” Now it’s fair to say I don’t agree with many of the administration’s policies, but I also know that “in 621_356_history_of_the_world_part_onehistory” covers a lot of ground and a lot of really, really bad governments.

Take for example the Soviet Union under Stalin, who purged somewhere between 1 and ten million of his own people. That’s pretty bad governance. Hitler, that other bookend of 20th century dictatorial madness had a large hand in starting a war that killed 60 million people – or a little more than 2% of the world’s population at the time. Like Stalin, that’s not a great track record. Fast forward a few years and you have Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the killing fields of another 1.5 million. The drug wars raged across Columbia in the 80s and 90s, with politicians being bought or killed by the cartels. Not the recipe you’d want for successful democratic government. The Afghani Taliban made it their mission in life to suppress dissent, create a permanent underclass based on gender, and wipe out two thousand years years of cultural history. And those are just examples from the last hundred years.

Step back to the French Revolution, the Roman Empire, the Mongols, the unification of China and you’re going to see government that behaved in ways our sensitive souls can’t really fathom. Bad as the Obama administration might seem, I think laying the mantle of “most out of control and corrupt” in the vast sweep of history might just be a touch hyperbolic. Sure, it makes a good enough sound bite, but it really discounts the fact that history goes back a long, long way.

We’re all welcomed to our own opinions, but I do wish people would limit their appeals to the blessing of history until they inform themselves on what they’re actually talking about… Otherwise you just end up sounding like an idiot to those happy few of us who didn’t fall asleep in Into to World History.

Reliability…

One of the aspects of life in memphis you learn to respect (or at least expect) is that the tension between city and county government is going to, at the very least, be entertaining. Last week, the city’s elected school board gave up in disgust and handed in their charter to operate to the city. In theory, that means that the responsibility to educate the former city school student should fall to the Shelby County Board of Education. Of course dumping 150K+ urban students into the happily suburban school board’s lap was something they wanted no part of. Enter the State of Tennessee in the form of the legislature that swiftly passed a law postponing any actual changes. The assembled wise men of the legislature were followed by the lawyers – which almost guarantees that the issue could continue to provide almost limitless opportunities for entertainment for the foreseeable future.

I bust on Memphis alot, which as a taxpayer I consider both a right and a duty, but I suspect the issues at work here are less about Memphis as itself and more about the urban/suburban/exurban dynamic at play in cities across the country. I won’t even pretend at knowing the answer to those issues, but I think recognizing them is at least a starting point. Memphis is the classic city that still thinks of itself as a small town on the edge of the river, the cycles of agricultural boom and bust gave way to industrialization, which is sliding sideways into the post-industrial era without much of a plan or even a sense of itself as a city. This is going to get ugly, but it should be fun to watch. Memphis is reliable like that.