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.

At the risk of drawing the wrath of the wokes…

I couldn’t help but notice that Chicago was the latest city seemingly brought to its knees by what their behavior indicates is a semi-organized criminal element. Large retailers as well as small businesses and restaurants were the target of looting throughout the downtown section of Chicago on Sunday night into Monday morning. The Tribune reports that some of the criminals responsible were seen loading their loot into the back of waiting rental trucks and other large vehicles. That hardly sounds like a spontaneous protest of social-minded reformers. A hundred looters, a small minority of those the video clips show participating in the pillaging, were arrested.

Last night, Black Lives Matter Chicago held a rally supporting those who were arrested… if one can use the word “rally” to describe the act of surrounding a police station and threatening violence if the group’s demands aren’t met. One of that organization’s leaders noted that the ongoing looting was simply “reparations,” further asserting that “Anything they wanted it take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.” So, it turns out that theft and destruction are just fine as long as you call them something else.

The incident was triggered when a 20-year old suspect opened fire on the police, who had the unmitigated audacity to return fire when fired upon. Shocking. That particular detail was, of course, buried well down below the lead in most of the sources I read this morning.

I don’t know how long we’re collectively supposed to pretend that violent criminals are in possession of the insurmountable moral high ground in these incidents. At least a few media outlets are starting to report on these events more objectively rather than trying to sell the story of saintly and peaceful protestors versus the wicked and evil police. 

Look, you want to protest, sing your songs, clap your hands, wave your signs, whatever it is that legitimately peaceful protestors spend their time doing, fine. I’m happy for you. Do your thing. Whatever. The moment you use that platform as a cover for violence and criminal behavior, any credibility you may have had with moderate observers is pretty much null and void.

I’m sure this post runs the risk of drawing down the wrath of the internet wokes and getting me cancelled for having the temerity to break with their received truth. As long as it’s my name up there on the masthead, though, you can always trust that I’ll keep saying what I think rather than what’s simply in fashion.

The words we use…

If anyone ever wonders why I have a fairly jaundiced view of the narratives offered up by mainline media organizations, here are two headlines from local television news websites from the last 24 hours:

“Baltimore protestors tear down Christopher Columbus statue.” – WJZ Baltimore (CBS affiliate)

“Frederick Douglass statue vandalized in New York park” – WBAL Baltimore (NBC affiliate)

As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, words have meaning. What the words that are used to describe these two events tells me is that the mass media is taking a position on events rather than simply reporting on them. If you damage statue of Columbus, you’ll be described as a protestor (implying that your activities are in some way virtuous), but if you dismount a statue of Douglass, you are a vandal (implying the act is criminal in nature).

Here’s the thing: Both acts are criminal. Those involved in both are vandals committing wanton acts of destruction. None are entitled to a pass for acting like spoiled children intent on throwing a temper tantrum at public expense.

I’d love to say it’s hard to believe I need to say such a thing in the 21st century – worse yet that it will be a controversial sentiment. Yet here we are, twenty years deep into our particularly stupid century.

You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

Popular opinion is stupid…

America has a long history of rushing to judgment atop a wave of “popular” opinion. 

Witness the fiasco of NASCAR leading the charge against person or persons unknown who allegedly hung a noose in the pit area. There was a popular outcry, a swift investigation by the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, a hue and cry from talking heads across the spectrum that racism in that business must be plucked root and stem. Of course it turned out to be nothing more than a knot in a rope pull that had been there for at least a year. It was the very definition of nothing to see here, but it was hopped on by the professional and social media as the great scourge of the age. Talk about a lie getting, ‘round the world before the truth manages to get out of bed. 

At least we’re behaving true to form. Far better to commit to a spectacular, emotional response up front and early than to take the time to do the work of evaluating what’s really happening and decide on a practical, dispassionate response. 

It seems that if left to our own devices, we have a collective tendency to see enemies under ever bed – and respond in an emotional furor. As far back as the late 1600s, we were committed to knee-jerk reactions under pressure from the mob. Back there and back then something on the order of twenty men and women (and several dogs, if memory serves) were executed for practicing witchcraft. 

In the 1950s we were fond of seeing Reds around every corner. The coercive power of and individual destruction wrought by the House Un-American Activities Committee still stands as a testament to the utterly misguided means deployed when emotion, rather than logic serves as the basis of action. 

Here we are in 2020 once again revisiting past practice and seeing perceived evil at every turn. Because emotion is running at a fever pitch – drummed up by those who benefit most from chaos – we revert to a form older even than our republic. Then again, tearing down has always been easier than building – and the emotion of the mob will always be more appealing than putting in the dispassionate effort to determined how to get there from here.

We’ve been at it now for over three centuries later, for all our advancement, I sometimes wonder if we’ve really learned a damned thing.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

In a time of global pandemic, impending financial doom, and the collapse of civilization, you might be tempted to think I wouldn’t find any day-to-day petty grievances to air. You, of course, would be exactly wrong. It may be the end of the world as we know it, but it’s far from the end of me being agitated. With that said, let’s get into it…

1. The news. The minute by minute drumbeat of the news is impossible to miss. Crisis, contagion, collapse… It can absorb you if you let it, and I, unfortunately, was letting it for the last few days. The trouble with being monopolized by the news is that it was getting in the way of my reading. So I’ll be making a conscious effort to step back and start ignoring it again. Beyond don’t leave the house unless you need to, I’m not sure what the news is going to tell me at this point that I might find personally useful. I mean if the apocalypse really comes, someone will beep me, right?

2. Bailouts. I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the various vast bailout proposals being kicked around with what fees like very little discussion or analysis other than politicians wish to be seen doing something immediately. Then again I didn’t support what eventually became the sweeping bank bailouts in 2007, government backed loans to the auto industry, or home mortgage “forgiveness.” I’d never be so bold to claim that government doesn’t have a role to play in shoring up the economy, particularly for those businesses shuttered and employees thrown out of work by executive fiat. My concern is mostly that everything I’m seeing reported on the news this week reeks of “lets throw money at it and hope it goes away” being the primary planning principle. A trillion dollars is a shit ton of money, I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking that maybe spending it should involve a bit more analysis than we’ve seen thus far.

3. Planning. Way back in 2005-ish I was involved in some preliminary “pandemic flu” planning. The end result was a plan and supporting documentation, the density of which would stun a team of oxen in their tracks. Pandemics aren’t something new. History could certainly be a guide here even if there wasn’t an actual plan. Everything I’ve seen thus far makes me wonder if anyone even bothered to read or even just dust off the damned thing from way back when.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Three things at once. At several points during the day I found myself trying to do three things at once – something on the right screen, something, on the left screen, and something on a paper copy between the two. Technically it might have even been four things if you count attempting to vaguely pay attention to the conversations swirling around the room or to the occasional person asking me a direct question. I won’t testify to the quality of any of the things I did, but I’m quite certain none of them were getting the kind of attention they probably should have received. My powers of multi-tasking are just fine as long as no one is expecting any level of attention to detail.

2. Roadwork at rush hour. Seriously, there’s nothing you can do to that goddamned overhead sign at 4pm on a Thursday that couldn’t have been done at a time when people were less apt to need to use the road. One might be forgiven for speculating that the State Highway Administration didn’t put a lick of academic rigor into their planning process. 

3a. Information. Ok, look. My general hatred of the 21st century is public knowledge, but it does have a single redeeming quality – the availaity it original source information which one could use form imreasonably informed opinions. So please, before you fake news this or impeach that can you please take a few minutes and read the source documents. They might just be more informative that the interpretation you’re getting processed through your favored news outlet.

3b. Impeachment. It’s not a synonym for removal from office no matter how many news sites use it that way. Read the Constitution. It’s the damned owners manual. When it comes down to a fist fight between the political branches of the government, knowing what the words mean would serve us all well.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Listening to US news outlets talk about UK elections. This past Monday Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party. He was not, as every cable news program I watched was want to tell me, elected the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Now in every likelihood as the newly installed leader of the majority, he will become the next PM, but that won’t happen until he’s formally invited by Her Majesty to form a government in the Queen’s name. Pedantic? Yes. A technicality? Yes. But details matter when your stated aim is to inform the public about the news of the day… or at least they should.

2. The common cold. It’s the 13th day of dealing with the immediate or after effects of having my latest round of summer crud. I’m fortunate that whatever bug it is usually only catches up with me every couple of years. Even so, I’m left to wonder how the hell, fifty years after we landed men on the moon, we don’t have a better curative for the common cold than rest and drink plenty of water. If I’m paying $15 for ten days worth of decongestants and $9 for cough syrup, it feels like someone could reasonably charge five times as much for a product that actually made you feel better… although at this point, I’d cheerfully pay ten times as much.

3. Hydration. This bit is really a corollary to this week’s second annoyance, but one that feels like it deserves it’s own space. Since “drink plenty of fluids” is part of the generically accepted treatment for the common cold, I’ve been doing my best to follow that guidance. I’ve been drinking easily two or three times my usual daily amount of water (and substituting with something like Gatorade when one more glass of water sounds like the most disgusting and repulsive idea ever). The problem is that drinking plenty of fluids is only the input. For every extra ounce of liquid taken onboard, there is a corresponding increase in the amount of “output” once the body has processed it… which creates a need to get up two or three times through the night to take a damned leak. My position is that the guidance to drink lots of fluids directly contravenes the commonly accompanying requirement to get plenty of rest. Doing the former guarantees that I will not be able to do the latter.

Taking care of business…

I read an article this morning that indicated “studies report” a massive uptick in the number of people who are seeking mental health treatment because of issues ranging from “the world is spinning out of control” to “climate change is going to kill us all in the next 50 years.” These and similar Big Fears are apparently incapacitating an entire generation of people by filling them with existential dread.

Look, we live in interesting times, I get it. I’ve also studied enough history to know that everyone always thinks the world is ending. When the Soviet Union parked missiles in Cuba, the world was ending. When the German army marched on Paris in 1940, the world was ending. When the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was killed in 1914 and the Europe descended into war, the world was coming to an end.

The point is, we’re hardly the first generation to think the world is spinning off its axis. Although past performance isn’t a guarantee of future results, something tells me that we won’t be the last one to think that either. To our credit, I suspect humanity is far harder to kill off than we we’ve been led to believe.

I’m not going to blow sunshine up your ass and tell you every little thing is going to be alright, though. There’s more then enough shitshow to go around. The trick is, you’ve got to turn the news off occasionally. They’re telling the worst stories of the day because that’s what puts eyes on screens. I won’t claim to be immune to the news of the day… but I spend most of my effort looking at the small bits of it I might be able to influence in some way. Put another way, I take care of my business, keep my nose clean, and make sure me and mine are as able to ride out the inevitable storms as well as we can with the resources available.

You’ll find no end to problems in this old world of ours if you insist on looking for them. My advice is to try just focusing in on the ones where you can make a difference instead of the ones that almost seem designed to inflame and distract. Who knows, you might just save yourself a few sleepless night and tens of thousands of dollars in bills from the local head shrinker, so it’s a bit of a two-fer.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Telework. This time of year, the slow choking off of my coveted weekly telework day in inevitable. This week, I moved my regular day to accommodate a meeting that ended up getting cancelled. Another meeting was scheduled creating a conflict with the day I moved it to, so slipped it to a third day and now another meeting has cropped up. I fully expect this third meeting will be cancelled or reschedule around the time I show up in the office tomorrow. My day for next week already conflicts with a meeting request. Everywhere I go I’m often met with an, “Oh, I can’t meet that day because I’m on an alternate work schedule” or “I’ll have to call in because I’m working from home that day.” I’ve clearly got “sucker” stamped on my forehead in giant block letters. I know this time of year it’s inevitable, but I was really hoping to squeeze in one more decent week before the shit began overwhelming the fan.

Voicemail. On Wednesday I got two voicemails in a row that indicated they were from my dentist. One of them was, in fact, from the dentist. The other was from a vendor I’m working with on the current party planning extravaganza… except when I called him back he said he hadn’t called my cell in weeks. So, thanks Verizon, I guess, for delivering the message both late and from the wrong source entirely. This should just serve as a reminder to everyone that voicemail is archaic and really need not be used in the modern era.

Facebook activists. I saw several posts this week decrying the fact that former Vice President Biden was being pilloried by the popular media for being a little handsy on the campaign trail. The argument was something along the lines of “why is the media talking about Biden when Trump is grabbing ’em by the pussy.” I could be wrong here, but I seem to remember the mass media making a fairly large story about that particular quote from then private citizen Trump. In fact they still trot it out from time to time. I’m pretty sure the media isn’t ignoring it… the bigger issue, perhaps, is that large swaths of the population think the job of the media is to tell them only what they want to hear and go apoplectic when it doesn’t.


What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Breaking my word. I swore a strong oath many years ago when paywalls erupted across internet news sites. It would be a cold day in Hell before I started paying for something that was available for free. I could get along just fine with Drudge and Google News and the devil could have the rest. Of course it helped that the Washington Post, political rag though it may be, remained free to those punching in from a government IP address. After years of getting by, though, I’m going to admit here before God, the internet, and everyone that I’ve gone back on my word and conceded that based on my evolving news consumption habits a subscription was inevitable and probably past due. So, now that I’m an oathbreaker anyway, at least I’m free to enjoy the full Sunday edition of The Times of London without running into their ridiculous 2 article a week limit.  In retrospect £5.00 a month doesn’t feel completely usurious even if does still feel just a little bit wrong. And so my transition to a curmudgeonly old Englishman continues apace.

2. Logistics. It turns out one of the big logistics companies (I’m looking at you here UPS) is currently having a challenging time differentiating between 03 and 13 and delivering what seems to be half of what my neighbor is ordering for Christmas to my front door. I’m friendly enough with my neighbors that I make sure theirs ends up in the right place, but it feels like something the average person really shouldn’t need to do if they’re paying for shipping to their home versus paying to have something shipped vaguely into their neighborhood. The internet is full of apologists urging everyone to remember that this is a very busy time of year for shippers and that “hey, mistakes happen.” I’m sure they do, but the same one should rarely happen more than once.  Of course I’m a simple old subject matter expert in distribution logistics, supply, and transportation so what the hell could I possibly know on the subject anyway.

3. Things are worse now. The talking heads of the media and the man on the street both seem equally willing to jump into a discussion that “<insert any topic here> is worse now that its ever been before.” It may be true of an individual issue or two, but overall I just find that the sentiment shows an overall lack of academic rigor and a woeful knowledge of basic history. The Civil War, the Spanish Flu of 1918, pretty much the entire decade of the 1970s, an global total war from 1939-1945, and Members of Congress physically fighting each other on the House floor are all things that happened in the not particularly distant past. Today, what “things are worse now,” mostly seems to focus on the fact that someone may have said something mean to somebody else. In the great sweep of human history asserting now that we’re living now in the worst of all possible times makes you sound like an idiot.