What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Things from the Before Time. People are returning to the office. What I’ve noticed, particularly among a certain set of semi-senior or management types, is a quiet, unspoken determination to do things the way they were done in the Before Time. There’s a willful effort at suspending disbelief and denying the reality of the Great Plague. The fact that people aren’t quietly going along with their fervent wish to roll the clock back to February 2020 almost hits them as a surprise… as if they want to wish away the fact that over the last 30 months, the people didn’t find a better way to work and arguably a more rewarding way to live. But here they are, shocked and surprised that most of their colleagues aren’t thrilled and excited to commute, spend eight hours a day siting in florescent hell, or pile into a charter bus packed elbow to asshole with 53 of their new closest friends to take a two-hour ride. The powers at echelons higher than reality can make people return to cubicle land, but their expectation that anyone will do it with a smile in their heart is going to be sorely disappointed. 

Hurricane coverage. I’ve never really understood why networks make their anchors stand in the rain looking like drowned rats for their newscast. I know television is a visual medium, but I think everyone watching has had enough experience with rain to know what it looks like when you get caught in a downpour. Sure, show the aftermath. That’s probably newsworthy at some level. During the storm itself, though, there’s honestly just not that much to see that can’t be caught through a window or from under some minimal level of shelter. Sending grown ass adults to stand outside to demonstrate that it’s raining and windy, doesn’t feel particularly useful to my understanding of the coverage.

Being a dollar short and three months late. The plumbing company I had originally planned to use to install and new and improved water filtration system (more than two months ago) called rather sheepishly on Monday morning. The voicemail went a little something like “Oh, hey Mr. Tharp… We, uh, have a plan here for your filter system… We, uh, must have put it in someone else’s file and, uh, wanted to schedule a time to come out and get started on that work.” I appreciate the level of audacity it must take to make that call, particularly after I spent a month calling weekly to see where the plan was and when they were going to get started, before giving up and handing the project to a company that came out, drafted the plan, and did the work all within a week’s time. Mistakes, I’m told, happen. This, however, is one that could have been avoided at any of five or six points along the way if they had responded to a customer’s efforts to make contact. I encourage this company to go, and I can’t emphasize this enough, fuck themselves. 

Global wealth, exceptionalism, and mediocrity… 

According to an article in The Guardian, in 2021 the number of millionaires in the United States increased by 2.5 million, bringing the total of millionaires in the US to 24.5 million. Put another way, approximately 7% of the people living in this country have a net worth of at least one million dollars. That number is so high compared to historical levels that according to the article “the number of millionaires was becoming so large that it was becoming ‘an increasingly irrelevant measure of wealth.’” 

In my mind, having 39% of the world’s millionaires knocking around the country is a good news story. It speaks to the unprecedented level of wealth creation the American economy and global trade have fostered. We’re creating wealth in greater amounts and more quickly than ever before in history and it’s a testament to what’s still possible with brains, effort, and a bit of luck.

The Guardian, of course, takes pains to point out that the largess of the global economy hasn’t been fairly distributed. As if anything in the world has ever been distributed fairly. Natural resources aren’t sprinkled evenly across the world. Intellect isn’t awarded equally at birth. Gnashing your teeth over issues of equity is, of course, the trendy take, but it’s not how the universe works. 

Personally, I’m far happier knowing it’s possible to be exceptional, somewhere towards the right end of the bell curve, than knowing for a certainty that we can all look forward to an equal share of mediocrity.

The agitating present…

Having spent the last week and a half taking in a steady diet of new from the UK, I tried this morning to adjust back to information from sources closer to home. It wasn’t a particularly happy reunion.

Aside from the local weather forecast, I’d be hard pressed to tell you about a single story covered my go-to station out of Baltimore that I could gin up any interest in at all. Murder, mayhem, hints of corruption – nothing new under the sun. Switching over to CNN it was the predictable drumbeat of catastrophic weather, rerunning the election of 2020 and the general fuckery surrounding it, and all manner of talking heads I’m increasingly convinced don’t have the first idea about what’s happening or why. 

I’m sure there are a host of things I should be interested in, or that I should at least have a bit of general knowledge about, but friends I’m here to tell you that I just don’t. Maybe it’s simply news overload. Maybe it’s too many sources peddling a decidedly weak product. Whatever the cause, I’m far more interested in reading analysis of what happened a continent away 500 years ago than I am in lending my eyes and ears to what happened yesterday thirty miles from home.

I’m sure once the midterm election gets a little closer or the case against the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice ever gets a bit of traction, I’ll tune back in – or at least gin up a modicum of interest. For the immediate future, if it’s not coming through BBC, The Times, or one of the news aggregators I glance at in the morning, I’m going to be ok not paying attention.

If something legitimately important happens, I’m sure it will break through the static. Until then, I’ll be perfectly content studying the past rather than being thoroughly agitated by the present.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Estimates. Over the course of the last two days, I’ve tried to come to terms with how bad we are at estimating in complex situations. Starting Tuesday night, the “estimated” time to have power back on 9PM, then 11PM, then unknown, then 3 PM Wednesday, then unknown again, then 11:30 PM, and then finally 11:30 PM Thursday. Grid power came back around midnight on Thursday, so I have no idea where that final estimate came from. This all transpired over the course of 30 hours. I mean wouldn’t it be better to just say we don’t have any fucking idea when things will happen than engage in wildly over optimistic dart throwing? 

2. Connectivity. It’s not the fact that the power is out that’s the problem. In a pinch, I can always make my own. The larger issue is that when the power does happen to go out, I lose nearly all connectivity. Despite Verizon showing that I have two solid bars of LTE coverage, the best I can manage are text messages and some highly garbled phone calls. It’s a $1000 smart phone reduced to less capability than I had from my old Nokia 3310. It’s almost like those “service bars” are a marketing gimmick and have no actual relationship to your actual signal strength. 

3. Social media. You don’t realize how much time you waste on social media until you can’t waste time on social media. Unfortunately, that largely seems to happen when you have nothing but time in front of you. Fortunately, I have a finely honed ability to entertain myself indefinitely, but in a warped and twisted way I did miss being able to have news and world events beamed directly into my eye holes 24/7 via Twitter. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Thrift Savings Plan. One of the non-salary benefits that makes federal employment at least nominally attractive is access to the Thrift Savings Plan, a low-fee 401(k) style defined contribution retirement plan. The TSP website has always been a little bit clunky, but with only five basic funds and five target date funds to manage, it didn’t need to be particularly complicated. And that’s where the Thrift Savings Board, the fine people who run the plan, decided to revamp everything. The transition to a new web interface and record keeping system started in May and by the 26th the process was far enough along that users were effectively locked out “until the first week of June.” Well, as predictable as it is, the rollout of these “new and improved features has proven to be absolute hot garbage. I’m one of the lucky ones that managed to set up a new log in without causing the system to crash… even though I still can’t do anything once I’ve signed on. With millions of account holders and $750 Billion under management, you might be tempted to think there would be an incentive to get this rollout right. You would, of course, have been 100% wrong. The Thrift Board and whatever contractor the picked to develop this wonder-system have delivered up a complete and total turd.

Inspection. My bathroom remodel contractor has spent the last week and a half working great guns to stay on schedule. They left around lunch time yesterday and aren’t here at all today because work is at a dead stop until the county inspector comes by to do his or her thing. That might be tomorrow. It might be next week. Per the project manager and a call to the county office, “There’s no way of knowing.” I’m sure these county inspectors are doing God’s own work, but letting bureaucracy grind a project to a stop without giving a date-certain when they’ll even bother to consider giving approval for more work to get done is infuriating on just about every level. It’s the kind of thing that leads people to decide government is the problem rather than being part of the solution.

The BBC. First off, let me say I love the BBC. They’re one of my top two or three go-to news sources and provide the lion’s share of what television I actually still watch. I use to be able to stream some limited live events from their website. Apparently, I can no longer do that, being met by a banner that says “This content is not available in your location.” By my location, I assume they mean across the waters in the United States. Hey, look, I know the Beeb has its own bills to pay. I’d be happy to sign up for a subscription or a pay a license fee or whatever. I know there are ways to circumvent all that, but I’d rather just hit an easy button, pay a few dollars, and get on with it on the up and up.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Root causes. What the actual fuck is wrong with people? Twenty-six years ago, when most of my cronies and I were about 18, we had ready access to both rifles and handguns. We weren’t particularly well supervised back then and yet we somehow managed not to seed our world with chaos and mass murder. Back there and back then, it was the sort of event that was a true rarity. It’s why I struggle with the idea of blaming the tools people use when it happens now. The first semi-automatic rifle made its appearance in 1779. They became widely available on the consumer market in the closing years of the 19th century. It wasn’t until well into the back half of the 20th century where the commonly described “mass shooting” starts to become a thing that happens. That history is also why I struggle with laying the blame for these events at the foot of the gun. The technology hasn’t changed. It was as readily available in 1930 or 1960 as it is this afternoon. A basic semi-auto was more easily available then given the lack of background checks, permitting, and laws governing who can and can’t possess a firearm that came into vogue in the 80s and 90s. If we assume it’s not access that’s changed, we’re left to consider what factors have changed that lead to these events taking place now more than ever before. That’s a conversation that requires nuance – and since that’s not something that comes in a form of a good soundbite, we’re not likely to see from the political class, the media, the pros, or the antis.

2. Age of adulthood.  One of the first things I read on Twitter this morning was a call to raise the age at which one can purchase a long gun. I saw multiple tweets calling for the age to increase from 18 to something else. Suggestions were 21, 25, 26. Fine. We already declare other “adult” decisions out of bounds for 18-year-olds. If we’re going to be intellectually consistent, though, we need to go further. Eighteen should no longer be considered the age of majority across the board. Raise the age to buy a car, rent an apartment, or sign any kind of contract. Raise the age for enlisting for military service.  Raise the age to sign up for credit or a loan. Raise the age of sexual consent. And for God’s sake, raise the voting age. If those between the ages of 18 and twenty-whatever are too chowderheaded to make responsible adult decisions then just go ahead and delay all the rights, privileges, and opportunities of the adult citizen. Let adulthood start at 45 or whatever other arbitrary age we collectively decide is the right one. We seem to already have a generation that can’t manage to “adult” until they’re in their 30s, so just codify it already.

3. First reports. There’s an old saying about first reports always being wrong. When complex, fast moving events are happening I just assume that all of the details are bogus beyond the basics of where and what. Expecting a second-to-second timeline as events are unfolding is a fool’s errand. I’ve got at least one news feed running in the house pretty much from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed and how often the first details are wrong is pretty much an article of faith here. I’ll cheerfully call out Texas public safety officials if it proves out that they failed to follow local policy or in some way failed to respond appropriately, but I won’t sit at the keyboard and condemn them based on early reports and what people think they know. I’ll be swapping over to financial news until the story – and the reporters – get past the breathless, “breaking news” phase.

A needed pause…

I’ve been swallowing news in big gulps since Vlad the Invader sent his wanna-be Red Army across the Ukrainian boarder. Cable, streaming, social media, and blogs, I’ve been trolling all of them for snippets of new and interesting information. 

That’s one of the dangers of being a history guy… and one that’s spent a fair amount of his time concentrating on a combination of general war in Europe and the cold war. Throw in a hefty dollop of defense policy and global strategy and, well, it can be downright hard to tear your eyes away, for fear of missing whatever news happens to break while you’re looking somewhere else.

I won’t deny being keyed up by the flow of information available in the open-source environment. I’ve lost track of the number of “holy shit” moments. It would be entirely too easy to follow the rabbit hole down into something not entirely healthy. 

Knowing that about myself, I’m going to try to step away a bit – even if it’s just for tonight. I’ll be doing my best to stay the hell off Facebook and Twitter and all the other sites and slip into a comfy chair with a good book. It’s 100% an effort to blow out a week’s worth of accumulated gunk from the darker corners of my head. 

Taking a night off from the war is a luxury our friends in Ukraine don’t have. I might be tuning out the news for a few hours, but I’m sure it, and the overall state of this old, beshitted world of ours, won’t be out of my thoughts for very long. 

Beijing and other asshattery…

It won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been reading these posts regularly that I haven’t been watching the Olympics. Whatever the gene is that drives people to watch sports on television is one I just don’t have. I don’t hate them, it’s more like I don’t even think of them at all when left to my own devices. It’s impossible, of course, to avoid the coverage that the Olympics and other sporting events get in the media. I mostly tune those out, but occasionally something seeps through.

What little I’ve picked up about the Beijing games doesn’t fill me with regret for my general indifference to the sporting world. A winter Olympics with no snow. Athletes falling out with the Great Plague. The inevitable doping scandals. Participants using burner phones… and China just generally being China. It all reads more like bad reality television than something worth spending much brainpower on.

Based on the amount of breathless coverage everything in Beijing is getting, my opinion clearly isn’t shared by many… or maybe the Olympics are a convenient excuse not to have wall-to-wall coverage about the deteriorating state of the world and divisions at home. That’s more observation than accusation. There’s plenty enough shitshow to go around whether you want to watch the Olympics or any of the other asshattery filling the airwaves and webpages of 2022.

Joe who?

Let me say up front that I wouldn’t recognize Joe Rogan if he happened to be sitting right next to me while I’m typing this. I don’t have any idea what his background is or why an apparently large number of people seem to listen to his podcast and believe whatever it is he says. I’m not even intrigued enough about him to bother doing the Google search that would inevitably provide me with that information. 

So, with my understanding that Joe is “some guy with a podcast,” let me dive in with some basic thoughts:

1. Celebrity =/= Knowledgeable. I don’t get my medical advice from Kylie Jenner or my financial advice from random TicTokers. I’m not at all sure why there seems to be a popular correlation between someone being well known and the need to give their opinion any more weight than that given to any other random stranger from the internet.

2. The “Lincoln” Principle. One of the quotes most often attributed to Abraham Lincoln (without, interestingly, any supporting contemporary evidence) is, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” If people, in mass, are fool enough to be taken in by whatever internet huckster happens to be popular in the moment, there’s really not much to be done to protect them from themselves. In this country, we’re generally free to be just as stupid as we want to be.

3. There is no “standard” standard for responding to bad behavior. Whoopi Goldberg got suspended by her parent corporation over making a decidedly ill-advised comment about the Holocaust. Joe Rogan, in contrast, is free to pump out buckets full of misinformation to an apparently gullible audience with little or no oversight or consequence from his corporate host. 

Is one worse than the other? That’s hard to say since what the standard of what constitutes bad behavior is nearly impossible to define in a way that’s universally acceptable.

I use to watch Fox News back when they were just the outlet that reported news from a right of center perspective. As their content shifted increasingly away from news towards commentary and hyper-partisan propaganda, I switched them off in favor of other news sources. I think, perhaps, our individual ability to choose is the real point here. None of us are under any personal obligation to watch or listen to content from any specific source. Expecting “big business” to protect our delicate eyes and ears from words and images we don’t personally agree with doesn’t feel like a solution that goes anywhere we’d really want to be by the time it’s finished.

The wild west of podcast, blogs, and electronic media overall has given us an embarrassing wealth of resources representing every political and social stripe. The catch is, this degree of choice means that every individual has to make a choice about what media they consume – and what sources they believe. We can collectively encourage listening or watching content into which some academic rigor has been put, but we can’t, in the end, fix stupid.