No idea…

I have no idea what’s happening in the world. That’s not an exaggeration. At the moment, anything that is happening outside my immediate line of site might as well be an undiscovered country. I’m assuming the North Koreans haven’t bombed California and Donald Trump is still president because those are the kinds of stories that would have made Facebook explode.

I didn’t set out to cut myself off these last few days from global events, but I find that I don’t regret it all that much either. I find increasingly that if I’m busy tending to me and mine, the amount of time available to be all that interested decreases dramatically. I’m mostly OK with that… which is easy to say as I sit here in the fading light of this grand sweep of days off. Tomorrow is going to bring be back to wall to wall televisions spewing what passes for news all day long. I’m guessing it will take me about 24 minutes to get all caught up on whatever it is I missed.

I’ve heard it said that ignorance is bliss. That may or may not be the case, but it seems that I’m a happier and probably more sane individual when my consumption of current events is held to a bare minimum.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Looking busy. During an average year there are plenty enough times when the number of requirements arriving over the side are large and numerous enough to swamp you before you ever get a chance to close them out. The few days before Christmas are not, generally, one of those times. The real issue now is no matter how important the thing is, the people you need to provide the answers, aren’t around. Sure, you’ll make an effort to close out those things that can be closed out without needing a lot of outside input, but with that done, you’re left largely with either make work projects or simply trying to make yourself look busy. At least when I get back after the first of the year, I’ll have a beautifully set up file system already built for all of those new 2018 emails. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

2. CNN. The day after a bill passed out of Congress giving most Americans an income tax cut, CNN’s website lead off with the banner headline “Enjoy your tax cuts while they last.” They go on to concede that “a lot of households… will see a lower tax bill in the next several years.” The article largely focuses on the expiration of many of these individual cuts by 2027 – a decade hence. The thing is, though, Congress can pretty much do whatever it wants. Tomorrow they can pass a bill making these cuts permanent. The next day they can pass a bill that changes the date they expire to a week from Tuesday. Sure, I would have loved to see the individual tax reduction provisions made permanent in the original bill, but I’m damned if I’ll reject a reduction now when balanced by what might be a decade in the future. A decade is a hell of a long time in politics – more than enough time to apply maximum pressure to our duly elected representatives to ensure the cuts they’ve made now are made permanent or replaced by better alternatives… and bird in the hand and whatnot.

3. The shortest day. We have the solstice over with now, but it’s a long, dark climb back to a point when we don’t exist as a race of mole people, traversing to and from home each day in utter darkness. I’m sure some people will wax poetic about the majesty of the shifting seasons, but I’d be happy enough stuck on high summer with its ready supply of daytime in big, beautiful 15 hour blocks.

Blackout…

One of the walls of the room wherein I’m trapped for eight hours a day features three large televisions. At any given time at least one of them shows a feed from the major cable news outlets shouting the current headlines at us. You don’t realize how little “new” news happens in a day until you spend months with rehashes and repeats washing over you every 30 minutes. It’s possible there’s a lot of news breaking out there somewhere, but it’s an awfully small portion that anyone is going to spend time talking about (and trying to monetize through advertising).

One of the better side effects of this 40-hour a week exposure is that my brain seems to have developed a basic self-preservation strategy of tuning almost all of it out. When someone asks “hey did you hear that?” I can usually respond honestly with, “no.” The other side effect I’ve noticed is that this constant stream of news has left me bereft of the desire to watch or seek out any news for the rest of the day.

With the exception of a few minutes of local weather and finding out the daily body count in Baltimore when I get home from work, the rest of the night is almost completely news free. I should show more of an interest, but I find this newfound disinterest to be a remarkably freeing experience. Sure, I still care what goes on in the world, but I’m becoming a hell of a lot more selective about what I want to burn an increasingly limited amount of mental bandwidth learning about or engaging on.

Some news is good for entertainment value (when bad things happen to stupid people), other bits are good to know because it impacts finances (business news and federal budget stuff), and finally there’s the space allocated to any news or information involving animals. Past that, maybe I should care, but I just don’t. Whatever intellectual energy I have left once I get home is far more effectively spent focused on the next spy novel or great thick books about war.

I intend this self-imposed (partial) news blackout to continue indefinitely.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The “Help Desk.” I converted to Windows 10 a week ago. I immediately filed a “trouble ticket” with the great big national help desk in the sky to address issues that were obvious immediately – I can’t use two monitors, file encryption prevents me from editing and saving documents, and using my computer to project a briefing onto a screen is problematic at best. Fortunately I’m not an information sector employee who uses his computer to generate and manipulate information into a coherent format to be used by others in decision making. Thank sweet merciful Jesus that the ticket has been “assigned to a local technician.” Now if after only a week someone could actually work on fixing the damned infernal machine and make it work properly we’d be all set.

2. News cycle. We have a TV in our office that runs all day every day on one of the major news networks. Being situationally aware is all well and good, but except for a rare moment of actual breaking news, what you find very quickly is the news at 9AM sounds a lot like news at 11 AM which sound a lot like the news at 2PM… and round and round we go. I’m all for some kind of background noise, but by the time I get out of that room I don’t care how compelling a news day it has been, I’ve utterly and completely stopped caring about what’s going on in the world. It seems to me a sane person can only hear the same thing repeated three or four hundred times before it starts doing bad things to their head.

3. Paying by credit card. Every website on the planet wants you to “save your credit card on file so they can auto renew your service next year.” That makes perfect sense for services that I use on a recurring basis. It’s a good theory. In a world where credit card providers have their networks being breached on a quarterly basis, though, in some cases I have three new card numbers assigned long before the yearly subscription runs out and it’s time to auto-renew. So really what I need all these companies to do is to stop giving me the option of saving my account / automatically renewing my subscriptions because we both know I’m still going to have to come back and enter all that shit on your page again since it’s all changed anyway.

Election Eve in America, or I’ll never see the day…

Well, it’s once again election eve in America. The importance of election day as a single day of civic duty has been mitigated somewhat by new laws that allow early voting. In many places, the election has been on us for weeks now already. I’ve voted absentee from time to time, but whenever it has been in any way feasible, I make an effort to vote on the day itself. It’s just one of those quirky ways that the traditionalist in me makes itself known, I suppose.

I overhead someone today commenting that they were glad that it was about to be over. “Not even close,” I thought to myself. Even if there aren’t month long recounts, challenges in the courts, and general electoral dysfunction, we’re simply setting stage for four years of of political infighting as vicious as any we’ve seen in living memory. The extreme left won’t be happy until we’ve dug ourselves into a Socialist Worker’s Paradise. The extreme right, in the same vein, hasn’t shown any indication of giving up the fight to reset our clocks to 1856. There are a litany of means and methods determined minority on either side can forestall any movement within the creaking machinery of government. Now if that determined minority exists on both flanks, well, the stage is set for things to get awfully interesting… or awfully frustrating depending on how objective you’re willing to be as an outside observer.

Throw away the polls. Ignore the prognosticators. The only thing that anyone knows for sure is that when the last of tomorrow’s presidential votes is tabulated the party that’s left on the outside looking in while resist mightily at every step. That’s the nature of the beast we’ve created – and as long as we as an electorate steadfastly refuse to accept any more than two major political parties it’s the beast we’re stuck with.

The good news is that there aren’t likely to be tanks in the streets tomorrow night. Cities probably aren’t going to burn. The bad news is that we’re going to finish the night even more divided than ever. The pol who figures out a way to crack the code on that is going to roll into office with a mandate like no other… but I’m not holding my breath on seeing that day.

Water rights…

Most days I watch the local morning news out of Baltimore. During the week, mostly I’m keeping an ear open for the traffic reports and weather forecast. On the weekends, I imagine it’s just force of habit more than anything else. In any case, I should probably change that habit, because as often as not, Baltimore news just agitates the hell out of me.

Take this morning, for instance – when one report was covering the continuing deterioration of the city’s water system and proposal that rates be increased 9% a year over each of the next 3 years. Municipal water systems are almost the working definition of the kind of services one might expect a city to provide, but of course much of the utility network undergirding Baltimore has been buried for more than a century. That’s long past the time even the most ambitious of engineers would have imagined their work staying in service. If you defer maintenance on such a system long enough all manner of bad things will tend to happen to it. That’s the situation Baltimore is facing.

Maintenance, of course, takes money and that’s one of those things that Baltimore never seems to have. It’s one of those pesky consequences of making policy decisions that chase your tax base out of the city and into the county. But this morning, the story focused on a “local activist” who opposed this “vicious rate increase” even while admitting that he knew the system needed upgrades almost city-wide.

I suppose my real question is, if the those who use the water – the people and businesses served by the municipal water system – aren’t responsible for paying to keep the system running, who is he proposing foot the bill? For some reason I’m catching the scent of another Baltimore City boondoggle the cost of which the city is going to try to pass along to the more than 5 million Marylanders who don’t use the city’s water. I’m also more than a little curious as to how I can tap into that alternate payment source if they day ever comes when I need to replace my well.

I mean if water is a right and should be provided for “free,” someone else should pay for it… or maybe that’s only true as long as the cash flows one way: from everywhere else in the state towards the Inner Harbor.

A picture and a paragraph…

 

More and more often I’m running into links on “news” sites that dump you off at a video rather than at an article. For me at least, if I’m interested enough to click on a link, I’m interested enough to learn more than whatever can be offered up in a 13 second video clip. Call me a curmudgeon but I like my news stories to have a little bit of depth, maybe some background, and even a touch of analysis if the editors are feeling a little froggy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of digital media, but there’s a big part of me that still likes getting my news in the written word format. I’m not advocating for an immediate return to running newspapers in a morning and evening edition, but I don’t think it’s too big an ask to expect generally reputable news sources to include a little more meat on the bone. Then again, maybe that’s just another art form dying in the modern age.

With that said, a few weeks ago a friend turned me on to a site that specializes in collecting a sort of “best of” series of long form articles from across the web. Longform.org tends to be a bit eclectic in its offerings. It’s certainly not all the news that’s fit to print. What it lacks in width on a day to day basis, it almost always makes up for in depth. Right now on the main page articles range from campus activism to nursing to Swiss banking. I check in a few times a week when I’m feeling myself fall into the normal routine of things being a thousand feet wide but only three inches deep. It’s a helpful reminder if nothing else that somewhere, someone is practicing some deep thinking skills – even when I reject their premise or conclusions.

Sometimes a picture and a paragraph just aren’t enough. Mercifully there is at least a small group of people on the internet who agree.