Grains of truth…

I live in a reliably Republican voting county in a blue-voting state. Being one part interested in what’s happening in the community and one-part nosy bastard, I’m a member of several “community based” Facebook groups. Nowhere I visit online is more politically charged than most of these groups. Both the free shit for everyone lefties and Trump is the best president in history crowd are well represented. I think both sides there are idiots, but that’s not my point here.

If you’re anywhere on social media it’s probably impossible to miss the people who are rabidly clamoring to “open now.” Their argument almost universally is centered around some variation of “Well, if you don’t feel safe just stay home” and/or “Small businesses need to start making money.” Take away the vitriol with which those sentiments are spewed across the internet and I fully understand the argument. 

Small businesses, having largely been shuttered for two months, are absolutely in danger of never opening their doors again. The “open now” crowd wants desperately to believe proclaiming businesses open will restore the world to the way it was in February. When the doors to all these businesses finally fly open, this sub-section of people will, I’m sure, crowd in. The other, and I presume larger percentage of people, will not be part of the swarm. This second group are those who don’t feel safe and, on the advice of the first group, have opted to “just stay home.” Sure, they may loosen their self-imposed restrictions a bit, but it won’t be with the free-for-all, madcap, devil-may-care embrace that the “open now” crew advocates. 

Even here in reliably red Cecil County, I have a hard time imagining businesses small and large filled anywhere even close to capacity again any time soon. Business can be all the open they want to be and if people don’t show up in mass, they still won’t make their margin. No one wants to hear this nugget, but my take is that whether open or closed here in last third of May, hundreds of thousands of businesses that were going concerns at Christmastime will be shuttered permanently by Independence Day… and there’s virtually nothing that’s going to stop it from happening.

I don’t take any pleasure in even thinking it because there’s a laundry list of businesses, both small and large, that I patronize, or I use to patronize, fairly regularly. I may be tempted back to a few of the used book shops sooner rather than later – as often enough I’ve had those places to myself even before the Great Plague. But sitting down in a restaurant, packing in shoulder to shoulder at a concert, or even wandering the aisles at the average retail establishment? Yeah, that’s a no from me for the foreseeable future. 

The grain of truth in the “open now” argument is that yes, I will do my own risk assessment and keep my ass at home until I determine (based on the advice of scientists and not politicians) that it’s reasonably safe to do otherwise. Then again, no one has ever had to encourage me to stay home, so maybe I simply lack the impulse that inspires other people to need to pull up a stool to their favorite bar in defiance of basic logic and common sense.

Across eight versions and two weeks…

I’ll let you in on a secret: 95% of what I do on a daily basis isn’t particularly difficult, challenging, or hard to do. Mostly it involves reading for understanding and synthasizing separate ideas into a coherent thread so that someone slightly further up the food chain can use and/or ignore at his or her convenience. Just about everything else is really a supporting requirement.

In a world that operates on basic logic, it should all be mind numbingly easy to do. Of course no one has ever accused Uncle of running his universe based on any kind of rational system. As often as not it’s living in a state of just barely organized chaos in which that slim thread of organization is threatening to split apart without warning at any time.

Nothing I do should be particularly hard to do. And yet somehow it is. Today for instances I revised a bit of written work so that version eight bears a striking resemblance to version one – that I put together more than two weeks and six versions ago.

Now if I were doing something like drafting whole sections of the State of the Union Address I could almost understand the fine tuning of happy to glad. In this instance, you’ll just have to imagine that what I’m working on is more than several rungs lower on the scale of importance than that. Many, many, many rungs lower.

This shouldn’t be so goddamned hard to do. And yet you’ll have to excuse me because I’m off to punch up version nine with a few more “recommended changes.”

Rolling my eyes at emotional arguments since 1978…

Here’s the thing: I’m not an overtly emotional guy. I’ve been known to be sentimental at times, but I’m not going to be the one who cries with you over pretty much anything. If you’re trying to convince me of the right-ness of your argument, coming at me with an sales pitch full of emotional tugs upon my heart is 100% the wrong way to win me over to your cause.

Like Captain Renault with Rick’s gun pointed at his chest in the dramatic final scene of Casablanca, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you “that is my least vulnerable spot.” It’s not so much that I don’t have a heart, I simply try to minimize its use as the basis for sound decision making. Long life experience tells me doing so doesn’t generally end well. I’ve had significantly more success by letting my head take the lead in making the heard decisions.

Since so many of my countrymen seem determined to be lead about by the heartstrings, though, I’ve taken the liberty of noggining through a modest proposal that would at first blush defuse both the border security hawks and those shrieking “won’t somebody please think of the children.”

What I’ve come up with, in broad strokes, is that Homeland Security should lease space on the Mexican side of the southern border in which to conduct investigations and process those seeking entry into the United States. Those seeking lawful entry wouldn’t risk being detained or separated from family members as they hadn’t crossed into the United States or broken any federal law. Their location in Mexico relieves the US Government from the need for housing, feeding, and providing medical care on site – although we could always throw some money at Mexico to help offset their increased costs. As those seeking entry are vetted and processed, they could be admitted through the designated port of entry or denied entry for cause – all nice an neat without the troubles associated with letting them first set foot on US soil and then starting the process.

This system could be put in effect at every designated port of entry from the Pacific straight across to the Gulf of Mexico. Effectively, the carrot is that families can stay together while their case is heard and disposition made. The stick, because there always has to be a stick, is that anyone found crossing illegally and opting not to avail themselves of the designated processes, would be ejected forthwith from the United States to their country of origin or the nearest country that will grant them asylum and be barred from seeking further admittance to the United States.

Sure, it’s just a quick thought exercise on what right might look like, but that feels more productive than sitting around wringing my hands, gnashing my teeth, and crying bitter, bitter tears.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Intellectual inconsistency. As recently as a few weeks ago, the popular narrative was of police brutality, cops shooting unarmed citizens, and the racist tendencies of police departments across the country. This week the news is full of those arguing that only the police should have semi-automatic weapons. It stands to reason that if you think the police are a bunch of trigger happy racist jerks, they’re precisely the group of people you don’t want to have armed with “sophisticated weapons of war.” Then again, intellectual inconsistency isn’t so much of a big deal when your argument stems largely from a place of emotion rather than from logic, so there’s that.

2. Any given day. On any given day there’s no real way to tell what might be considered a priority by echelons higher than reality. There’s no reliable to plan for it, no way to prepare in advance for all possible topics of interest, and really no gauge for whether that particular thing will continue to be important the next business day. It makes for some interesting conversations with people going on for minutes sometimes without realizing they’re discussing too different things, but what it doesn’t do is make a good platform for getting anything done.

3. Office space. If you’re going to want to hold meetings about every single thing every single day, it might have been a good idea to plan on having more than two or three conference rooms for the thousand plus people you’ve poured into this fancy new building. At a bare minimum you should at least make sure your meetings end on time so the people showing up for the one scheduled to start immediately after yours doesn’t end up playing Tetris on their phones for thirty minutes while they wait for you to wrap up “just one more thing.”

Tools of the Devil (Part I)…

PowerPoint is a tool of the devil. This is apparently obvious to the casual observer after a long week of slogging through slides changing “happy” to “glad” and making sure that every bullet is lined up within +/- one micron. Apparently there’s nothing that makes a senior manager feistier than an ever-so-slightly misaligned bullet. Better for key content to be left out than to risk it violating the sanctity of the holy format. I’ve been doing this a long time now and I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the hours of obsession that some men can pour into finessing their slides so they’re juuuusssssssst right. I remember reading somewhere that perfect is the enemy of the good. In an imperfect world, I’ve always been happy when I find myself in the neighborhood of good. Apparently that is a very lonesome neighborhood.

I like to think that if we lived in some bizarro universe and I were a senior leader, I’d be more concerned with the content over how it happens to be displayed as long as it was in some semblance of logical order. Then again, maybe that’s the part of the brain you give up upon being elevated to echelons above reality. There’s not much chance of my ever finding out for myself, so I’m left once again to ponder the importance of issues of style over substance.

I’m reminded of the Army colonel who was relieved because of this epic rant against PowerPoint. As it turns out, the Army would probably have been better served to promote the guy rather than tossing him out.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Logic…

I like keeping my phone on a belt clip. It’s geeky and will never be a fashion-correct approach, but it’s convenient and that trumps either of those other considerations. I’m also finicky about the clip and case combination I use. It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I like things precisely the way I like them… and pretty much no other way. This past weekend, the clip caught on something and broke so I’ve been attempting to make due sans clip for the time being. That’s not going particularly well given the combination of pen knife, keys, and other random ephemera that ends up in my pockets.

Having dropped my phone more in the last four days than I’ve dropped any phone over the last four years, I’m forced to concede a change is in order. There’s a method to my madness, of course. Things here seldom happen without there being some underlying logic to them. Even if it’s logic that only makes sense between my own ears.

In a herculean fit of warped reasoning, it occurred to me that spending $30 on a clip to fit a phone I’m due to replace any time now is kind of like putting new tires on a car you’re about to trade in. In my mind, addled as it is by years of accounting for money in those special ways that only Uncle Sam can fathom, the more logical thing to do was to go ahead and buy a new phone and a new clip now instead of waiting another month or two. Let that percolate for a moment if you will. Somewhere in my head it sounded perfectly reasonable to spend $900 on a new phone and then $60 on a new case and clip than it did to spent $30 for a replacement clip to keep the old phone in operation a bit longer.

If anyone wants to know the exact date and time I realized I’ve spent too long working for the government it was Saturday, November 19th, 2016 around 2PM… When I decided spending $960 to save $30 somehow made sense. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed for the time being… though I still don’t have an acceptable or convenient way to keep my phone tethered to me at all times so the whole experience has been decidedly unsatisfying for all involved.

Mixed signals…

I grew up in a part of Maryland where it’s possible to stand in one spot and see well into both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Inter-state rivalries were common and a “mixed” relationship could easily mean one part of a couple was a WVU fan and one cheered for UMD. Most people are (reasonably) good natured about it.

Confederate_Rebel_FlagWhile I was home, though, I saw something I couldn’t bring myself to reconcile – Flying side by side from someone’s shed were the West Virginia state flag and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (or what the internet is determined to call the “Confederate Flag”).

I don’t mind state pride (even though this individual was flying the WV flag over the sovereign soil of the great state of Maryland). Flying the battle flag doesn’t bother me (even thought, again, we happened to be standing in a part of the country that was never even tangentially represented by that flag). What annoyed me to no end, of course, was that the West Virginia flag and any flag representing forces of the Confederate Flag_of_West_VirginiaStates of America are, historically speaking, mutually exclusive. They’re so mutually exclusive that the entire state of West Virginia was created in order to make that fact absolutely clear to everyone who may have been confused.

The voice in my head who just wants everyone to have some semblance of logic supporting what they do urged me in the strongest possible way to pull over just to ask the guy in the driveway what, exactly, was the point he thought he was making. The other part of my brain, the one given over to self preservation and not wanting to get my ass kicked by a redneck yokel told me to just keep moving… so I did… but I’m dying to know what kind of tortured logic is banging around that guy’s head.