What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. New food. I’ve got maybe 18 or 20 basic meals that I can make with my eyes closed. They’re reliably tasty and lead to plenty of leftovers. The trouble is, at some point, a guy gets tired of eating the same 20 basic meals and then tries to branch out with new recipes. In and of itself that’s not a bad thing. The real injury comes after the cooking, when you sit down and the dinner table and realize that although the meal may be nutritious and even edible, you just don’t like it. I think the biggest reason I keep falling back on the tried-and-true meals that I’m a bit burned out on is that the other side of the coin is that two out of three new meals attempted turns out being something I’ll choke down because it’s hot and ready, but the remainder of which ends up being tossed into the woods when I clean out the refrigerator. With the cost of groceries and the time investment to actually cook, new and different increasingly feels like a high-risk venture.

2. Alternative Pay. The president has issued his alternative pay proposal for fiscal year 2023. At 4.6%, it’s the biggest yearly raise I’ve seen in 19 years of service. It’s a number that would feel impressive if it weren’t just half of what the official rate of inflation was this year. Having lived through the years of furlough and pay freezes, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but given the prevailing circumstances of the overall economic situation, I’m also not going to hire a brass band to celebrate the “generosity” of the Biden administration.

3. Bicyclists. I don’t have any intrinsic problem with bicycles. Some of the people who ride them, however, are deeply suspect. The two who decided to cross the Susquehanna River at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon obviously had no regard for their own health and safety. Yes, what they did was nominally legal, but it seems to me it’s a case of knowing the difference between the things you can do and the things you should do. Taking up a full lane of a heavily traveled and narrow bridge during peak commuting time was patently dangerous to them and to everyone who had to unexpectedly try to avoid them. The only positive I could see from when I finally managed to shift lanes and get around them, is that the look on their faces made it abundantly clear they were aware of having made a seriously questionable life choice.

That was predictable…

Back at the beginning of the Great Plague many animal shelters and rescues couldn’t meet the demand of people wanting to bring a dog, cart, or other small animal into their homes. That’s a great problem to have if you’re in the business of trying to get animals off the street or out of hoarding situations. Even as it was happening, I imagined what the inevitable downstream consequences would look like. Based on a couple of online reports I’ve read, we have now arrived “downstream.”

The animals adopted en mass over the last few years are now being abandoned to shelters at growing rate. It was perfectly predictable if you operate from the assumption that human beings are the literal worst. Sure, people will want to blame going back to their in-person jobs and not having time. Others will blame inflation. Others will dream up whatever excuse allows them to sleep better at night after abandoning a creature that was entirely dependent on them for food, shelter, and protection.

Look, no one knows better than I do that situations change. Eleven years ago, I was hurtling towards Maryland one day ahead of my belongings with two dogs in the back seat and no housing locked in because most landlords didn’t want to rent to someone with pets. It was damned stressful, but putting Maggie and Winston out on the side of the road was never going to be an option. If that meant I had to drive further or pay more, that was just the price of doing business. 

I’m damned if I’m going to be lectured by anyone about vet bills being expensive. More than once I had to take out a loan to pay for treatment I couldn’t afford out of pocket. Conservatively, I’d estimate I’ve paid out $30,000 in vet bills and medication over the last decade. That’s before even figuring in the day-to-day costs like food, toys, and treats. I didn’t always pay the bill with a song in my heart, but I found a way to get it done even if that mean sacrificing other things I wanted or needed. 

I struggle mightily to think of a situation where I’d hand over one of these animals or where I wouldn’t go without or change my living situation if that’s what it took to make sure I was able to look after them. Hell, if I drop dead tomorrow there are provisions in place to make sure Jorah, Hershel, and George can live out their days in comfort and get whatever care they need for the rest of their natural lives. That’s the unspoken compact I made with them when I brought them home.

If you’re the kind of person who would just dump them off on the local shelter or rescue, hope someone else will do the hard work for you, and then wash your hands of the whole sorry state of affairs, well then Jesus… I don’t even want to know you.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Conflicting reports. I watched back-to-back news report earlier this week that focused on aspects of the current economy. The first story railed about inflation, average pay being too low, and mulling the idea of eternal bailouts for everyone/universal basic income. The very next story went on to report that Maryland’s casinos had their most profitable month ever. I’m not saying those stories are mutually exclusive, but I’m going to need a bit more in depth analysis before I accept that the economy is collapsing while the citizens of our fair state have allocated so much of their disposable income to packing the local casinos to the rafters.

2. Door-to-door sales. Does anyone really hire a pest service on their front stoop at 7 PM on Wednesday evening? I just can’t believe it’s the kind of thing that’s an effective business model in 2022. And yet they keep on coming, so I guess someone must be buying. I honestly can’t remember anything I’ve ever bought based on random people showing up at my front door, with the possible exception of Girl Scouts pushing cookies. I truly believe the world would be a better place if we all agreed that it’s time to end the era of door-to-door peddlers. The only thing they’ve ever done for me is drive the resident animals into a high state of agitation and that’s not a good look for someone who wants me to give them money.

3. Florida. This week a Florida court decided that a 16-year-old girl was not “sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.” The logical extension of that argument, therefore, is that the court believes the teen is sufficiently mature to have and raise a baby, which strikes me as a complete inversion of basic common sense. I’ve, fortunately, never needed to raise a baby into a functional human, but it seems to me that it’s the kind of activity that would benefit from an over-abundance of maturity and responsibility to be done properly. I might go so far as to posit that the state has a vested interest in encouraging the most responsible and mature of their citizens to have children rather than the other way around. Here’s the State of Florida, though, cleaving to the lesser, ass-backward standard. I won’t even pretend to be surprised.

This time it’s different…

History doesn’t repeat. Sometimes it doesn’t even rhyme. There are, however, in my estimation, any number of trends we see again and again. Often, though, those trends flow across such long sweeps of time that there’s little or no “generational memory” of the last time they happened. 

COVID-19 was a great example. Confronting widespread plague or communicable disease isn’t something that was fresh and new for 2020. Humans have been dealing with pandemics since the rise of civilization. The last time we faced a pandemic of such scope and scale was a hundred years previously with the Great Influenza of 1918. Given the hundred-year interval, it was an event that had nearly passed out of living memory. Although civilization had seen pandemic many times before, “this time is different.”

The major stock market indexes are down 20% from their highs in 2021. Business reporters and talking heads are wringing their hands about wealth destruction, there being no floor, and the end of capitalism. They’re obviously ignoring the fact that bear markets are a normal part of the economic cycle. In fact, we’ve seen 14 bear markets since 1945. It generally takes about two years for markets to regain their previous high-water mark. We’ve been there and done that, but “this time is different.”

Currently, the United Sates is experiencing a year over year rate of inflation of 8.6%. It’s driving prices of all manner of goods and services higher at the fastest pace we’ve seen since 1981. Many of us are too young to remember anything from 1981, but there it is, right there in the recent history books. In all likelihood the Federal Reserve will crank up interest rates to and a little beyond the pain threshold, pull money out of circulation, and inflation will cool to a manageable level. You can already hear the cries that “this time is different.”

I hate to throw cold water on the almost gleeful panic, but the only thing different this time is that we’re the grown ass adults who happen to be the ones experiencing these events rather than our parents or grandparents. Nothing that’s currently dominating the news is new. It’s the same shit different day that people have been dealing with as best they can for hundreds of years – it’s just that our lifespan is too short to effectively pull back and see the whole board. It’s far easier to believe we’re living through special and unique circumstances that could happen only to us.

Let’s all come back in about 30 months and check my work. 

That math can’t be right…

My Tundra is 12 years old. It’s in fine mechanical shape. Aside from a few chips and minor scratches the body looks great. It’s been in one major and one minor incident. Thanks, most likely, to fanatical devotion to preventative maintenance, it still runs like a top even as it closes in on 140,000 miles on the clock. At some point, though, I know I’m going to need to buy a new truck.

Just out of sheer curiosity, I recently used the Toyota website to price out what more or less replicating exactly the truck I currently own would cost if I were in the market right now. It came out to $61,103… before taxes. So, we’ll figure a nice round $65,000 all-in cost for a middle of the range Tundra here in 2022. 

I’m sorry. What?

Part of the trouble, I know, is it’s been 12 years since I bought a truck… and back then it was in the middle of “all time high” gas prices and they were almost begging people to take the big V8s off the lot. Add in 12 years of inflation, plague related supply shortage, and the general growth in popularity for the pickup form factor. Intellectually there’s no reason I should be surprised at where the price points are now.

Emotionally, though, I’m stunned. Maybe some of it is just age. I’m old enough now to remember when $60,000 was the price of some of the most luxurious vehicles then widely available on the market. Way back in 1995, my used ’91 Chevy Cavalier cost the princely sum of $5,700. Sixty grand would have put me into a brand-new Cadillac Deville with $20,000 to spare. It would have put me in a C-class Mercedes and still left me with $5,000 or $10,000 in change.

I’m having trouble getting my head wrapped around it. Sure, I mean I could buy something that isn’t a truck or look for something coming off a lease, which leads to many other considerations… or maybe I’ll just keep Big Red on the road until the wheels fall off and the floorboards rust through. I damn near bought a whole house in 2001 for what a new truck would cost me 20 years later and just the thought of it is making my brain hurt.

Be not afraid…

It’s hard to miss all the current reporting on the growing impact of inflation on the overall economy. Even without the reporting, rapidly rising prices for petrol, food, and other consumer goods, the impact of our inflationary economy would be hard to miss. 

Most of the major news outlets paint a worrying picture – particularly for retirees, anyone sitting on a lot of cash (in a savings account or in certificates of deposit, for instance), or those who loaded up on variable rate debt (like your average credit card). That’s a fair concern, but it’s only part of the bigger picture.

If you happen to be a homeowner – especially one who locked in a mortgage when fixed interest rates drifted down under 3% – inflation gives you the bonus of paying back your loan on an appreciating asset with devalued dollars. If you happen to be holding equities as opposed to cash (including things like 401k, IRA, and other retirement savings vehicles), values should largely increase as the cash value of the underlying companies is inflated. All of that, of course, presupposes that your income also paces the rate of inflation, or at least doesn’t entirely stagnate during a period of sustained inflationary pressure.

I’m obviously not calling for a return to the bad old days of inflation, sky high interest rates, and 10% unemployment… but by read is that there are things out there a hell of a lot more frightening than a little pop of inflation every now and then, so for the time being my motto is “be not afraid.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Parity. Part of my job this week was calling around and talking to people from other organizations who are saddled with their own version of my favorite dog and pony show. It’s no surprise that everyone I spoke to runs theirs a little differently. I didn’t uncover anything unexpected or particularly helpful, but I did discover that everywhere else, the person these other offices put in charge of their annual spectacular is at least graded out as a deputy director. Put another way they are all, a minimum of one good pay grade or two notches on the org chart higher than me. Yeah, that was a feel-good moment right there.

2. Inflation alarm. The federal government poured vast amounts of money into the economy over the last eighteen months in the form of direct payments via enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments and the Paycheck Protection Program. People, as they tend to do when they have money in their pockets, went on a buying binge. Stocks, houses, and consumer goods were all in the crosshairs of people with cash to spend. We spent so hard we overwhelmed the supply side’s ability to keep up with demand. And now, the headlines are screaming that we’re supposed to be shocked that inflation has taken hold and the price of good and services is increasing. Beyond the few classes I had to take as part of a social science major, I’m not a student of economics… even so, the results of increasing demand, limited supply, and boatloads of money in circulation is almost entirely predictable, no?

3. The waiting. Here I sit. About seven hours after getting the COVID-19 booster jammed into my arm. I feel fine, with barely even a sore arm to show for my trouble. What I do have, though, is the uncomfortable period of waiting. My first COVID shot was a non event. After getting my second Moderna shot way back in March, I had a bit of an aching arm, but went to bed and woke up the next morning feeling fine. Exactly twenty-four hours after the jab, though, I got to experience the unpleasant hit-by-a-bus feeling advertised as a potential side effect – chills, aches, lethargy – pretty much the full list with the merciful exception of nausea. That one skipped me, somehow. In any case, I’m sitting here, waiting to see what things look like around lunchtime tomorrow. Prevention is worth a pound of cure and all that, but I’m trying to mentally prepare for another lost day.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Facebook. If you’re looking at a meme I post and think to yourself “By god, ol’ Jeff is right. It is my Constitutional right to stick a fork in this power outlet,” I’m not sure Facebook should even try to save you from yourself. Similarly, Facebook needs to refine its sarcasm detector, because this is some ridiculous content to spend a lot of time trying to eradicate from everyone’s precious feed. Lighten up, Francis. 

2. Updates. At some time during the weekend, my home computer updated itself automagically. As part of this helpful update, “dark mode” was turned on by default for all my Microsoft Office products. Look, I get that software updates are necessary inconvenience. Some of them are downright critical. Still, it would be helpful if changes I didn’t request or expect wouldn’t randomly change the settings I’ve left alone since basically the dawn of personal computing. Then again, I wouldn’t get the opportunity to spend 20 minutes trying to diagnose why my computer was going off the rails.

3. Sizes. I’m going to need food and beverage companies to just stop fucking with product sizes. I suppose the theory is that as long as the price stays the same, people will never notice they’re getting less and less of whatever product they’re purchasing. I’m old enough to remember when coffee was still sold in one-pound packages. Now it’s 12 ounces if you’re lucky. Most packaged products seem to be going the same way. What is now selling as “large” or “jumbo” is what a decade or two ago was just the regular size. But hey, if I need sixteen ounces of something for a recipe it’s definitely better to buy two 14-ounce cans, take a scoop out of one of them and then toss the remainder. Maybe I’ll start mailing these leftover ingredients destined to go bad in the fridge back to their corporate offices. I’m a generally reasonable human being who understands inflation happens over time and price increases are the inevitable consequence. How about just passing along that increase instead of adopting slick marketing gimmicks?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lip reading. Until everyone started wearing masks, I had no idea how much lip reading I do. Short conversations are ok – checking out with groceries or picking up a carryout order – but anything longer, and certainly conversations that involve any level of detail, are just harder when I can’t see someone’s mouth moving. I find myself asking for repeats way more often than would seem to be necessary… and yet here we are. I suppose it’s good practice for when the years of loud radio playing and Jeep noise catch up to me in earnest.

2. CNN. God love them, CNN seems to take a special delight in painting surging home prices as the worst thing ever. Sorry. What? I’m supposed to be upset that I’m building fantastic amounts of equity while simultaneously having a place to live? If nothing else, home ownership through this moment is an excellent hedge against the creeping inflation that CNN also likes to wring their hands over. Yep, it’s hard to be a buyer right now. In other markets at other times, it was hard to be a seller. Trying to pretend the real estate market can or should be static is a bad take for an alleged source of financial news.

3. Waiting. I’m just about a week shy of kicking off Summer Vacation Part I. It’s not decamping for the islands for a week or anything, but it is the first stretch of uninterrupted days off I’ll have had since the new year started. Five months into 2021 and it’s safe to say I’m ready for the break… beyond ready. Eager is probably a better description. Perhaps you could even say I’m giddy with anticipation of 11 days without email, Teams, ringing phones, door buzzers, meetings, or network problems. That’s the issue, really. Slogging through another week when my head is desperately fleeing into vacation mode is going to be exhausting. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Meticulous devotion to the speed limit. OK, we get it. You’re an upright citizen, an honest taxpayer, and love your mother and apple pie. Those are all fine and good qualities to have, but it would be just terrific if you could move 20 feet to your right and have them somewhere other than puttering along in the passing lane. I know I’m a scofflaw and dangerous hoodlum, but Lord God Almighty just move your ass and let the rest of us get on with our day.

2. The definition of common knowledge. Any internet site that offers “12 things you didn’t know about X” is almost certain to involve more clicks than reading their article is worth. I usually avoid them to the maximum extent possible. Occasionally, though, some click bait is too tempting to resist. That usually involves the ones promising to teach me something new. Unfortunately, I read, I pay attention to details, and in general I’m aware of my surroundings. I also have a genuinely curious mind that thrives on the acquisition of new knowledge… So if you could go beyond general knowledge when creating your links to “things you don’t know about” that would be great

3. The incredible shrinking TP. I’m quite sure I didn’t suddenly start using more Charmin. I played along when they made the rolls narrower. Now it seems they’re putting less on each roll. The price, of course, is the same as it ever was. Maybe it would be ok to just plus up the price a few cents to keep up with inflation and stop fucking with it. Honest to god, I’m going to have to start researching where to get what use to be standard sized rolls of toilet paper. Then I’ll rent a warehouse and stockpile the damned stuff