Pen and ink…

This weekend I visited the Maryland Board of Elections website and applied for a general election absentee ballot. I know, I know, my hard right friends will be sure I’m throwing my ballot into a swampy morass of leftist vote rigging. My leftist friends will be offended that I had to actually apply for the ballot instead of them being airdropped from one end of the state to the other. When both sides are pissed off, I generally feel like I’m getting something right.

Due to circumstances, I’ve voted absentee in presidential elections at least twice previously. Licking a stamp doesn’t give me the same warm fuzzy that I got from walking into the old-fashioned voting booths, throwing the lever, and closing the curtain behind me, but then again neither does the little scantron forms used with “modern” voting machines. Still, when possible, I like voting in person when it’s possible. It makes me feel like I’ve done something a little more important than sending in a rebate or paying the phone bill.

Look, you’re free to do whatever you want, but the idea of standing around for half an hour or more with several hundred of my closest neighbors, touching all the same things they touch, breathing in the recirculated air, and watching them argue for their “right not to wear a mask” has very little appeal. That’s especially when there’s a simple and effective alternative – although how effective it will be across each of the 49 other states remains to be seen. This feels like a good time to remind everyone that we don’t have national elections in this country – but rather a host of state elections by which we decide who represents us and forms that national government. 

Frankly, influencing an election to determine who makes up that government by hacking into an electronic machine feels a lot more likely to than doing so via pen and ink ballots, so I’m a little perplexed at why it’s even a thing we’re supposed to worry about. Then again, everything has to fit someone’s narrative so I’m sure there will be plenty of coverage about how both options are awful and we’re all doomed.

Going online…

I had a pretty normal undergraduate experience – 4 years, a couple of summer or winter classes, and done. I managed to earn a full academic scholarship at least for tuition, so fortunately I didn’t have to pay the freight for that education. I won’t say I loved every minute of it, but I look back very fondly on those four years.

In the early stages of my federal career I was on the road more weeks than not and opted for an online MBA. I don’t know what the fees for such a thing are now, but back then I was paying $1,850 per six week class, for a total of $24,050 by the time I earned my degree. My impression of online education, based on that MBA experience, is that you could get as much or as little out of it as you were willing to put into it. It wasn’t hard to slip through doing the minimum, but to really learn the subject you needed to put in extra hours beyond the homework and discussion boards. I didn’t love it, but I ended up learning a lot and it served its purpose for a guy whose schedule wouldn’t have otherwise supported getting a degree. 

I’m seeing articles indicating that brick and mortar schools largely plan on charging full tuition for their slate of online classes for the fall semester. I fully realize that these schools have sunk costs that they need to keep paying regardless of how instruction is delivered, but at the same time I can’t fathom by what logic an entering freshman would pay full price for severely reduced services. Better I’d think to take your intro level classes from the local community college, save your money, and transfer them on when your school of choice opens back up for learning in the flesh. Under the circumstances, I’d even argue a gap year could be a better investment of time and resources.

Pretending that you’re completely justified in charging full price for the undergrad college experience while providing significantly reduced service feels distinctly like perpetrating a fraud… although if you have a large enough group of people willing to unquestioningly pay the bill, I suppose you can take every cent they’ll willingly hand over. 

Who wants to learn new stuff anyway?

OK. I’ve arrived at an executive decision. Keeping up a weekly feature highlighting “what I learned this week” just isn’t working for me. Call it a victim of COVID-19.

Yes, my home state of Maryland is continuing to open up. I could go eat at a restaurant, do some in-person shopping at local retail establishments, or do many of the other things that people did to amuse themselves in the before time. The catch, of course, is that I didn’t spend a lot of time doing those things back then – and I lack all motivation to do them now. 

Curtailing my primary interests to whatever is happening on my woodsy acre means less opportunity to see something truly new and different that also passes for interesting to a broader audience. I’m still learning plenty, but won’t pretend that finding the perfect mix of herbs and spices for my meat sauce or investigating what’s killing off some of the local pine trees makes for particularly enthralling Friday reading. Likewise, regaling you with what I consider interesting tidbits from whatever books I’m currently reading doesn’t feel like something that would get all that much attention.

For the foreseeable future, I’m putting Friday back into the normal posting rotation. No theme, no special emphasis, just whatever ridiculous shiny bauble happens to have my attention that day. 

Do not resuscitate…

One of the convenient features of the Great Plague is that more places will just email you things that usually have to be filled out in their office so you can take care of them at home. Anything that removes that human to human interface is a net good overall in my book. Look, I know some of you out there thrive on this human contact foolishness, but in a lot of ways I feel like I’m over here living my best life in a world finally designed for avoiding people.

The joy of being able to dispense with a bit of one-on-one human interaction this morning was tempered somewhat because I was filling out Maggie’s pre-surgery paperwork. The 4-page packet included basics like my contact information, what medication she’s currently on, and a summary of the procedure and expected costs for my initials.

This particular pre-surgical packet also included, what I can only think of as “advance directive for dogs.” The vet wants to know just how heroic the measures should get if something goes horrendously wrong during the procedure. The forms I’ve seen in the past include everything from the standard do not resuscitate, to providing CPR, to using electrical defibrillators and even more invasive options. Since this surgery is being taken care of at the local vet’s office rather than one of the big emergency clinics we frequent, we were limited to DNR or performing basic CPR.

I’ve probably filled out a dozen or two of these forms over the years – mostly for myself, but more than a few for the animals. My own advanced directive is relatively straight forward and I’ve passed it out to a slew of doctors over the years – CPR is fine. Machines are fine. But the moment we hit the point where my big beautiful brain is damaged or I’m alive only by virtue of the machines, go ahead and pull the plug. I’d like to hold out for the point where the techies can download my consciousness into a computer, but if that’s not an option feel free to let me go. 

With the animals, though, the temptation for me is to keep them with me at all costs using whatever tools veterinary medicine can bring to bear. I always resist the strong temptation to tell the vet to be heroic, though. It’s not the easy choice, but it’s the right one. 

Getting cleaned…

Google reminded me this morning that I have a dental cleaning appointment in two weeks. 

Through the sweep of the last four months living under plague conditions, I haven’t done anything that made me particularly nervous. Going for groceries didn’t bother me. Stopping off at Asian Garden for a carryout order of General Tso’s and some egg rolls didn’t feel particularly threatening. Even a quick pop into one of my favorite book shops, depopulated of customers, was fine. 

The idea of sitting calmly, unmasked, while someone hovers inches from my face while prodding, poking, scraping, and kicking up the dreaded aerosolized droplets, and “defenseless” against whatever the patient before me kicked up, leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable. Score one for my highly developed sense of self preservation, I guess.

I’m sure my dentist is following whatever protocols are required to make the experience reasonably safe… which does nothing to eliminate that nagging, and probably completely unreasonable thought that it feels like some kind of high-risk maneuver best avoided at the moment.

At the moment, I’m leaning soft no, but with two weeks to go you can count on me to spend an inordinate amount of time overthinking the situation and creating entire universes of arguments in favor and against. That gives me room to change my mind twenty or thirty times before it really matters.

Some thoughts from an ex-teacher…

The last time I set foot in a classroom was December 2002 as I departed to begin what promised to be a far more remunerative career as a small cog in my uncle’s vast war machine. I’m sure I’ve repressed plenty of the memories of those two and a half years attempting to educate the youth of America. One thing I remember quite clearly, though, is that the place was a petri dish. I’ve never been sick as often as I was during those 30 months.

The idea that a month from now most schools can open for business as usual strikes me as absolutely farcical. Even if we accept the premise, which I don’t, that “kids don’t get it,” I’m trying to understand what the plan will be when teachers start falling out. Even under average conditions twenty years ago we couldn’t hire enough substitute teachers on a day to day basis. What they’re going to do when some significant percentage of the staff starts falling out for weeks or months at a time isn’t something I’ve seen anyone address.

I suppose if all we’re collectively interested in doing is attempting to keep up the illusion that education is happening, it might just be possible to open schools as usual. I suspect at the very best, some districts will be able to warehouse students for six or seven hours a day – at least for a little while, until the reality of jamming large numbers of people into a confined, poorly ventilated space set in. 

I won’t pretend that I have a good alternative. Distance learning, tele-education, whatever you want to call it, has obvious limitations and drawbacks – particularly in the early grade levels. I’m pretty sure I could have still done an AP US History lecture via Zoom, but I have no earthly idea what the average first grade teacher would be up against. All of that is before we even account for the subset of people who need schools open so they can go to jobs that don’t lend themselves to working remotely. I won’t pretend to understand that particular pressure, but I certainly acknowledge it’s there.

Admittedly, my interest here is largely an academic one… or maybe it’s the same kind of interest with which we look on the six-car pileup on the interstate. Watching a bunch of grown adults grapple with mass psychosis and intent on their goals in defiance of all medical and scientific realities, is really something to see. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I’m about as freedom loving a libertarian leaning Republican as you’re likely to find. Smart people are telling me that covering my face holes with as simple piece of cloth is helpful in reducing the spread of a disease that’s currently wrecking the economy and killing some people. They’re not telling me that a mask is the cure. They’re not saying it will magically stop the spread of all airborne particles. They’re saying that in their best scientific estimate, a mask will reduce transmission if I wear one when I’m away from home and in proximity to other people.

Yep, it’s hot and uncomfortable. My glasses fog up and the four-month lack of barbering means my beard sticks out at the edges in a way resembling nothing so much as a 70s porn star wearing a bikini. I don’t like wearing a mask, but doing it because smart people say I should isn’t in any way infringing on my constitutional liberties. There’s no part of the Constitution that guarantees your right to make others look at your stupid face.

If you’re one of the people tempted to respond to this post arguing that “it’s just the flu” or “it’s the media” or “it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy,” just go ahead and shut the fuck up. This isn’t about politics. It’s a very simple matter of smart versus stupid… although it has gone a long way towards showing which mouth breathing yokels we should collectively avoid even when masks are no longer needed.

What I learned this week…

What I learned this week is that my mind is apparently easily changeable and subject to being driven miles off course. For the last five years I’ve been squirreling money away for the day when I can finally get after renovating the master bathroom disappointment that almost kept me from buying this house. I was expecting to pull the trigger on that project this spring. Then, of course, the Great Plague happened and the idea of having a bunch of strangers schlepping around inside the house fills me with more disgust that it would even under normal circumstances… and honestly even under the best possible circumstance it’s an idea I wouldn’t easily warm to.

Instead of continuing to tinker with ideas of fit and finish for the future master bath, what I’ve found myself doing is periodically this week is glancing out the window and thinking how nice it would be to have a small pool over in that sunny corner of the yard where the birdbath resides.

It’s an absurd idea. I’m just now getting the back yard mostly recovered from all of the drainage and grading that needed done when I moved in. There are 80 foot tall oaks that overhang that entire part of the yard and I’m certainly not willing to sacrifice those. I live in a part of the world where, at best, pool season lasts four months. That’s before even considering that the whole idea would conservatively run 2-3x what I was budgeting for that bathroom. Again, it’s an absurd idea.

But when the humidity is up and the afternoon sun is hitting just right, it doesn’t sound like the craziest thing that’s ever crossed my mind. 

EndEx…

Some will say I’m wrong, but for my money the happiest word in the English language, at least today, is EndEx.

Twelve months of bashing my head against the wall is now concluded – more with a whimper than with a bang. I’m fine with that. It means whatever cockups happened were transparent to anyone who didn’t know what should have happened. Ignorance truly is bliss for an audience.

So the big show is over for another year. Now we’ll unpack it, look at what didn’t work, and make recommendations for next year that we’ll all later ignore. The heavy lift is finished, but I’ve still got a few weeks of living left to do with it’s corpse.

Once it’s well and truly in the ground, it’ll be time to start planning for 2021. That effort usually kicks off in June – delayed this year because the Great Plague has delayed everything.

Every year someone cheerfully says, “Oh, we’ll tag someone else with this next year.” It’s a happy fiction, but organizational dynamics tell me that I won’t be relieved of this particular opportunity to excel except by retirement, resignation, or death. So I’ve got that to look forward to in the next few weeks too.

But today is EndEx for Big Event 2020. I’ll be savoring the moment for the next twelve hour or so before schlepping back to the office to deal with whatever fresh hell Outlook brought me overnight.

At the risk of falling victim to internet outrage…

In the age of financial panic, COVID-19, and riots in the streets, my day to day experiences bear very little resemblance to what I’ve been watching on the nightly news. It’s very much like watching the whole thing unfold like an oddly scripted TV series where facts are made up and the plot is almost entirely nonsensical.

I’m getting up, feeding the animals, going to work, making dinner, and doing those million things a week that keep a household running. I think the so what here is that for every criminal cop, every window smashing rioter, and every grasping politician there are millions of people who are basically like me – focused more on whatever it is they do to get through their own day than whatever it is the news broadcasts and social media channels are spewing.

You’ll never see pictures of that, because people getting on with life isn’t flashy. It’s not newsworthy. It is, though, just about the most common thing in the world.

So if you want to hang your social media in black bunting, go for it. You want to imagine yourself a daring revolutionary standing tall among the barricades, that’s fine. Want to rend your garments because you hate wearing a face mask? It’s your funeral.

Just know that outside the echo chambers of social media and the news outlets there’s a vast swath of America that’s sick to death of fuckery in all the forms 2020 has decided to present to us… and it’s not that we don’t care about what’s happening so much as it is that while everyone else in the country seems to be able to spend weeks on end rallying or marching, a couple of us are still working and trying to manage the day-to-day.

Maybe some people won’t say it for fear of drawing the ire of the interwebs, but I’ve never posted anything for fans, or clout, or praise, but just because it’s what happened to be rattling around my head on any given day. Why should today be any different?