Smart people…

Believe it or not, there was a time when I was (slightly) less judgmental. I was mostly happy to let people go on about their business while I went about mine. That arrangement is perfectly serviceable until “their business” starts to conflict with what’s going on over here in my lane. Once that happens, I’m all too happy to act as a jealous guardian of my own interests.

I like to think that over the years I’ve managed to excise most of the truly stupid people from my life. Not being a particularly social creature, my circle has always been relatively small. Following a season of elections, protests, and plagues, though, that circle has grown smaller still… though I wonder if it’s not about to get culled even further.

See, the thing is, I’m starting to see people who I always assumed were reasonably intelligent unpacking whole steamer trunks of batshit crazy. That’s ok, I guess, when done in the privacy of their own home where no one can see their ass showing, but when you’re doing it loudly and in public, well, that’s a different animal altogether.

I could say it’s something I’m just seeing from my right wing friends, but it’s not. Some of the lefties are absolutely determined to get themselves out there on the lunatic fringe too. If the last 18 months has taught me anything it’s that I’m just not sure I’ve got the patience or the temperament to be tolerant of people saying or doing patently dumb shit on a regular basis.

I’m self-aware enough to know I’m not the smartest guy in the room. I’m certainly able to my fair share of dumb shit… but I try to make it a limited experience rather than basing my entire personality around it. It turns out that’s not universally true.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Look, I never ask anyone to do anything on a whim. If I bother to send an email or pick up the phone it’s generally either to pass on a direct request from those at echelons higher than reality or something in general accord with some wild ass scheme of theirs. I don’t have the time or interest in creating requirements out of whole cloth – and as a matter of principle, I never make work just to make work. So, it would be incredibly helpful if people could just go ahead and do things instead of making me go 37 rounds on why. In the end, my rabbi has more suction than their rabbi and they’re going to end up doing it anyway, so why not save us both a few days of back and forth and just get on with it.

2. When I arrived back in Maryland almost a decade ago, I picked my primary doctor based on two factors. First, his office was ten minutes from where I’d be working and second, when the moment arrives that I need massive medical intervention for some reason, I want ready access to the combined expertise of providers and the advanced facilities available at Johns Hopkins. That’s all a fine thing… except, of course, in a plague year. In the before time, I could be there and back for an appointment in no longer than it took for a slightly extended lunch. These last few appointments, however, result in an 80-minute round trip and burning off 2-3 hours of sick leave. Sure, it’s still better than being in the office and having quick trip for appointments, but it’s bloody inconvenience.

3. I purged a fair number of people from my socials between the peak of Great Plague and the Capitol insurrection. I’ve always supported people’s right to say whatever they want… while maintaining my own right not to listen to whatever conspiracy fueled ranting they were on about. Just happening to know them twenty-five years ago, doesn’t create an eternal commitment on my part to listen to stark raving foolishness to the exclusion of all other topics. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a few of those exiles popping up as new “friend requests,” Yeah, that’s gonna be a hard no from me. I’d say it’s nothing personal, but well, I suppose it is.

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Shady book shops. I’m not generally the kind of guy who walks around expecting something for nothing, but when I spy a deal, I like to snap it up… Which is what leads to the frustration of online booksellers who don’t realize they’ve underpriced a particular volume by about 2/3s of its actual retail price until someone comes along and tries to buy it. At least they were nice enough to immediately repost it for sale at a much higher price. That’ll be a hard pass from me. I’ll buy it from a competitor and even pay a bit more for the privilege since they’re not doing shady shit.

2. For reasons surpassing my limited efforts at understanding, my Twitter feed this week has been filled with posts saying something like “Stop doing x thing that makes y people feel uncomfortable.” Ok, I guess, except that in this little passion project of theirs we find that “X” is an absolutely normal, everyday activity and “Y” is some random bunch of wackjobs with perpetually hurt feelings. I assure you, if you’re planning to go through life expecting everyone to make you “comfortable,” you’re in for a great deal of both butt hurt and disappointment. But hey, good luck with that.

3. Friends. Friends are good things to have, I suppose. The simple fact of being a friend doesn’t, however, make you immune from criticism. At least it hasn’t in my experience. Some of my closest friends are the first to tell me when I’m heading off the rails. It’s not always a fun experience, but getting a third-party perspective has often served to be awfully instructive to me. If you’re looking for someone who will be nice just to be nice or who wants to go along to get along, I might not be the one for you… and that’s OK, too.

Purge…

I’ve been quietly purging my Instagram follows for the last few days. It was a more monumental task that I expected. It turns out that years of indiscriminate adding anyone that catches your attention will eventually stack up to be something entirely unwieldy.

I’ll make no apologies for the number of scantily clad e-girls, Insta models, cam girls, and porn stars who still pepper the feed. The Puritans left us with a centuries old sense of shame when confronting anything that even hints at nudity, let alone confronts that notion of humans as fundamentally sexual creatures – so much so that I even question the wisdom of saying this out loud here on my own platform. Fortunately, the amount of shame I feel about anything is inversely proportional to my age… and I appear to be reaching the stage of life where I have almost no shame at all. 

I hadn’t really set out today to write a post about my appreciation for the partially clothed human form, but here we are.

Instead of getting too focused on that, let me just say I’m sorry if anyone I actually know in the real world has or gets caught up in my ruthless sweep of the “following” list. It absolutely wasn’t intentional so feel free to send me a nudge to add you back.

A voice from the past…

I got the rare chance to spend an hour talking to one of my oldest friends last night. We text and drop facebook comments regularly, but actual conversations are exceptions to the rule… and that’s ok, because we’ve known each other so long now that we can basically pick up exactly where we left off no matter how much intervening time is involved.

Because we are who we are, the conversation almost immediately turned to politics. Even though he’s somewhere left of center and I’m somewhere to the right, we somehow managed to talk about the most divisive topics of the day without the whole thing devolving into a shouting match. It’s how I remember people talking about politics when we were young and dinosaurs roamed the earth. It’s what adults use to be able to do.

It turns out it’s still possible when you’re not keeping score or determined to get in one more zinger. It’s literally possible for two grown adults with differing opinions to talk like decent human beings and still like one another at the end of the conversation. You’d never know that from much of the discourse taking place in the social and professional media.

That state of the world may have been the topic of the day yesterday, but the conversation really could have been about anything… or nothing at all. As nice as it was to have a conversation about the world that wasn’t being shouted at full volume, sometimes, especially on a hard day, the more important thing is just hearing a voice from the past.

Mute…

I stated definitively that I would never “unfriend” someone on social media because of their political views. I’ll block you in a hot second if you can’t manage to be at least civil, but never because of views alone. I have to confess that there are more than a few people out there who are really putting my determination to keep my word to the test.

The simple fact is I mostly don’t care what your politics are. It’s not the basis on which I pick my friends. I do however, judge people who simply decide to abandon the best available science and the rigorous application of reason because those two elements don’t quite jive with whatever particular world view they’ve staked out.

Look, I’m not even going to argue we should blindly follow along in lock step with the pronouncements of the scientists and doctors. We should at least acknowledge that modern medicine has a pretty good track record of keeping most of us alive well past the age when our distance ancestors were food for worms. At the very least, our decisions should be informed by science – even if we just use it to acknowledge that there’s a price in lives to pay for rushing to return to business as usual – and no, I’m not making a judgement there, just admitting that it has to be part of the calculus.

I know no one ever likes the smartest kid in the class. That’s practically the classic American trope. I’m not saying you even have to like the scientists, but history tells me that we’ll ignore them at our peril. I’m not going to unfriend anyone because they want to trust in the blood of Jesus instead of the shot of antivirals… but you can bet your ass I’ve been muting people with wild abandon these last couple of weeks.

The great unfriending…

Yes, here we are in the depths of the Great Plague, but pandemics come and go. Partisan politics, however, is truly the show that never ends.

I was struck over the weekend by a friend’s short diatribe on Facebook. I should point out that I use the term “friend” here in the classical sense, meaning someone I know personally and whose company and biting wit I enjoy. 

The gist of the post was basically asking “Who have you unfriended” because they don’t share your political opinion?

Well, uh… No one.

You see, I don’t have a litmus test or demand purity of doctrine or thought from the people in my circle. Knowing people of every stripe, from true-believing Marxists to free-booting capitalists, not just makes my everyday conversations more interesting, but it helps me refine and better understand my own beliefs. Not being stuck in a one-sided echo chamber where only one “right” answer is allowed makes me a better, more reasonable human being. 

If the only way I can be your friend is to avoid any original thoughts and dedicate my waking hours to groupthink, I guess you’ll have to do what you have to do because I’m never, ever going to be that guy. The best I can promise is to agree where possible and respectfully disagree where not.

In any case, I’ll be the guy over here supporting independent thought – even (and perhaps especially) for those whose thoughts I find most disagreeable. 

On losing the patience to argue…

I was going to write a bit today about guns and violence or maybe about the Dow taking a 700-ish point stumble. I’ve covered it all before. It’s well trod ground and I’m not sure I have any particularly new insights to offer up for the discussion.

Then again, I don’t suppose having new information or insight is what having an opinion on the internet is about. It seems too be about determining who can shout the loudest and gin up the most favorable ratio. Mercifully I was born into a world where I don’t rise and fall based on my ratio and it’s not what drives my positions. If it were, God knows, I’d tighten up the focus around here instead of letting it just be a free flowing blast of whatever’s knocking around my head four afternoons each week.

I have friends on nearly every side of every policy position. As hard as some might find this to believe, I’m a bit like Switzerland. When it comes to who I choose to be friends with, I’m the soul of indifference about their politics, who else is in their circle of friends, or most any other discriminator that people use to decide who they want to spend time with. It’s historically also why I would never even consider putting more than about three of my friends in the same room at the same time. It feels like a brawl would be just about inevitable.

So here I sit, comfortable in my on positions, but always willing to entertain new evidence and adjust as needed – without feeling any need to jump up and down, screaming about whatever the new issue of the day is. As I’ve gotten older, the need to convince other people of my rightness or their wrongness has diminished considerably. It’s not so much that I’m not passionate about certain issues as it is not being interested in expending the energy necessary to cover the same ground three or four dozen times.

It turns out, in my advancing middle age, I rarely have the patience to argue… but don’t let that fool you into believing I’ve changed my spots or that I won’t rise like a sleeping giant in defense of my principles if needed.

What Chicken-Fueled Dreams May Come…

I’m going to have to stop eating chicken. Every time I’ve had chicken for dinner in the last six months I’ve had these bizarrely realistic dreams. Realistic in that they feature almost entirely people that I know in the real world and bizarre in that the situations range from mildly entertaining to something just shy of horrifying.

Last night’s edition of What Chicken-Fueled Dreams May Come featured a long time friend of mine standing high on a rock outcropping overlooking a ten story building that disappeared into the darkness on either end of the dream frame. Flicking her wrist, snarling “fuck them,” the building collapsed in on itself, bursting into flame from the center out. The wind swirled in, feeding the growing conflagration. Her face danced, colored alternately in darkness in bright flicking oranges and yellows, while I stood gape jawed staring at the destruction.

I turn, my own fury rising, shouting over the now howling wind, “What did you do? What the fuck did you…”

Then she kissed me. Not the soft peck of a years long friend, but more a full body porn star quality kiss. Sure, I just dream-watched one of my oldest friends lay waste to everything in my field of view, but that part at least didn’t suck so much.

Then I woke up, safe in my own bed, and not watching the world around me collapse into flame and chaos.

Living in my head is awfully strange sometimes… but obviously chicken turns it into a raging dumpster fire. Good times.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. UPS. I’d hate to think how much business I’ve pushed through UPS over the years. But gigging me for $5 to change the date a package arrives feels a little bit cheap on their part. Sure, it’s only $5 but I’m not sure what the difference is between delivering it “for free” on Friday or delivering it on Monday when I’ll actually be home to receive it – which is only an issue because *you* require an ink signature. I guess they do offer a free option of letting me pick up the package at a location an hour round trip drive away was supposed to be a helpful concession so maybe you’re letting me off easy. I don’t mind paying for a service, but I resent the hell out of getting nickel and dimed.

2. Disappointment. I know a lot of people, but there are only a handful that I would count among my closest of friends – the ones I’d go to the mat for with no questions asked or burn down whole cities for if they asked. You think you know most of what there is to know about them. But then there’s the day you realize you know nothing. It’s equal parts unnerving and sad and disappointing because though they may well go on being your friend, you’ll never see them with the same undiluted affection. Given enough time everything changes, though I wonder why it so rarely seems to change for the better.

3. Windows 10. Sometime in the dead of night Windows 10 was smuggled on to my work computer and promptly went about wrecking everything from my wifi connection to my email archives to my screen configuration and any number of small tweaks that I’ve made over time to make the archaic POS computer a little more usable day-to-day. Some things I’ve been able to fix on my own through the day. Other things can’t be resolved by anyone locally and must be corrected by the great network help desk in the sky… which means I might see resolution sometime around March 2019. Just once I’d like to get one of these official “upgrades” that didn’t end up giving me less capability and require me to spend inordinate amounts of time fixing things that it broke.