What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Opinions. Having an opinion is a fine thing, but it’s helpful to remember that not all opinions are created equal. I don’t know at what point we decided the ideas of random cranks on social media carry equal value with the opinions of those who have spent a lifetime studying medicine and health policy, but here we are. It’s just the latest bit of the long thread of anti-intellectualism that weaves its way through American history. At some point, though, it would be really nice if we could hold dumbasses up to public ridicule and shame rather than lionizing them as telling secret truths “that no one wants us to know.” 

2. Joe Biden. In an interview this week, President Biden defensively maintained that there was no for American forces to get out of Afghanistan “without chaos ensuing.” Having spent a fair amount of my early career working in various emergency response activities, I’ll admit that they are often messy… but the heart and soul of managing through a crisis is having a sense of what to do after you get hit in the face with a shovel. The answer shouldn’t be telling American citizens to get to the airport while in the same breath warning them that the US Government has no plans to ensure their safe conduct to the airport from other locations in Kandahar – let alone any poor bastards stuck elsewhere in the country. That’s before we even get into a discussion about the responsibility we have for Afghan nationals who worked with and for us over the last two decades. The handling of this last gasp of American power in Afghanistan heaps shame and ignobility on the President of the United States, the State and Defense Departments, and the entirety of the United States of America.

3. Bandwidth. That’s it. That’s all the bandwidth I’ve got for this week. Between the continued rise of misguided opinion over verifiable fact and the absolute debacle in Afghanistan, I simply haven’t had room to process anything else this week. I’m sure there were a million other points of annoyance I walked right past, but there’s only so much anyone should be expected to process in a single sitting.

In our own hands…

I would never have the audacity to claim that I’m in any way attuned to the modern world. I’m generally more comfortable spending time somewhere between the Georgian era and the Eisenhower Administration. What passes for important news of the day mostly leaks in around the margins thanks to social media – and even then it tends to be the salacious bits that make it through to be rank as something to pay attention to.

I say all that only because it seems that over the weekend someone called Little Nasonex (?) set the world on fire. For me, the guy spending most of his current free time wading through the Napoleonic Wars, the whole spectacle more or less defied understanding. 

It’s bewildering, really. I’ve never quite understood people whose world flies off the rails because someone they’ve never met and who has no actual impact on their day-to-day life does something they don’t like. I have, however, gotten very good at ignoring those whose activities annoy me or otherwise make my life less pleasant. 

Giving any attention at all to someone flailing around screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” feels like it would be an exceptionally poor use of whatever limited time I manage to carve out of a day. Like people who don’t enjoy this or that television program or radio personality, the option to change the channel or not watch at all is literally in our own hands. It’s a pity more people don’t avail themselves of that option and let other people enjoy whatever it is they enjoy.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Algorithms. Facebook has recently decided that all of my personalized advertising should be focused on selling me condos in New York, Philadelphia, or DC. I’d be hard pressed to think of where I would want to live less than any of those places. I mean if there was property for sale in a Molokai at the leper colony, I’d be decidedly more interested in it than I am in East Coast city living. Chalk this one up to one of the small ways I know Big Tech still hasn’t completely figured me out.

2. Sport. If COVID-19 hasn’t done anything else, it’s at least muted the coverage of sports in America. With wall to wall coverage of the pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, and the presidential election, professional sports, even in the midst of their own protests, has largely been a below-the-fold story. It’s a pity it won’t stay there once the other stories run their course. Athletes, like the rest of us, are entirely entitled to have an opinion… but I remain under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to care what a bunch of grown adults who spent their time chasing a ball think about the topics of the day.

3. Baltimore. Fifty people were shot in Baltimore last week. It would be easy to blame that on guns – it’s what various Mayors and councilors of Baltimore have done for years. It’s always easier to blame the tool than blame the trigger-pulling constituents themselves. I wonder, though, how much of it is really do to what I have observed as the general ineptitude of city government throughout my adult lifetime. Currently the city can’t manage to keep up with the most basic services like trash collection. What hope, then, is there that the same august group of august leaders will stumble upon the secret sauce to bring violent crime under control? I have great faith that we can rely on them to keep doing what they’re doing while expecting different results.

Talking about “X”

I read with bemused interest a response to one of my Facebook posts this morning. The gist was something like “I didn’t see you say anything about Topic X, so you shouldn’t say anything about Topic Y.”

I had loads of opinions about Topic X. I said plenty about it electronically and in person when the issue was raised. Even with that being the case, I reject the premise of the assertion that if you don’t talk about X you can’t talk about Y.

See the thing is, I’m the one who gets to decide what topics I’m interested enough to speak about publicly. I don’t defer that decision to friends on social media, or the mob in the streets, or anyone posing as a tribunal of “appropriate thought.”

I have and will continue to think about, post, and discuss any topic I find interesting, annoying, or otherwise worth giving a bit of attention. For as long as I’ve had a presence on the internet I’ve allowed, if not always encouraged, differing opinions to chime in on my posts… but please don’t mistake that for ever believing I need to march in lockstep with the mob or seek anyone’s permission for holding my own opinions. Coming in to my “house” in an effort to play thought police is very rarely going to work out the way you hoped. You’re always welcome to your own opinion, but you’re never entitled to have mine too.

That’s a hill I’m absolutely willing to die on.

The great unfriending…

Yes, here we are in the depths of the Great Plague, but pandemics come and go. Partisan politics, however, is truly the show that never ends.

I was struck over the weekend by a friend’s short diatribe on Facebook. I should point out that I use the term “friend” here in the classical sense, meaning someone I know personally and whose company and biting wit I enjoy. 

The gist of the post was basically asking “Who have you unfriended” because they don’t share your political opinion?

Well, uh… No one.

You see, I don’t have a litmus test or demand purity of doctrine or thought from the people in my circle. Knowing people of every stripe, from true-believing Marxists to free-booting capitalists, not just makes my everyday conversations more interesting, but it helps me refine and better understand my own beliefs. Not being stuck in a one-sided echo chamber where only one “right” answer is allowed makes me a better, more reasonable human being. 

If the only way I can be your friend is to avoid any original thoughts and dedicate my waking hours to groupthink, I guess you’ll have to do what you have to do because I’m never, ever going to be that guy. The best I can promise is to agree where possible and respectfully disagree where not.

In any case, I’ll be the guy over here supporting independent thought – even (and perhaps especially) for those whose thoughts I find most disagreeable. 

Climate survey…

Every job I’ve ever had was driven, at least in part, by the recurring rhythms unique to the organization. Cycles are everywhere if you’re paying attention – fiscal year end, annual conferences, daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports… and my very favorite, changes of command.

One of the perks of working for our Big Bureaucratic Organization is that someone new ends up occupying the top spot every two or three years. When you’ve got a good one, the time goes a little faster, but when you have a bad one at least you know they won’t be there forever. In the age old tradition of the bureaucracy, when all else fails, bureaucrats know we can outlast even the worst of the worst in their tenure. The bureaucracy was here long before any individual leader and will endure long after any individual has departed. To quote Ronald Reagan, the bureaucracy “nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

As sure is night follows day and summer follow spring, a change up at the top of the org chart is followed by conducting a climate survey. It’s one of the tools by witch the new guy is supposed to “get to know” his organization – or at least what people are brave enough to say about it when they’ve been promised anonymity and non-attribution.

I’ve lost track of how many of these surveys I’ve responded to over the years, but I can count on not all the fingers of my left hand the number of things that have ever been improved in any meaningful as a result of them. Still, I play along, mostly because if the bosses are dumb enough to ask me how I really feel, I’m absolutely dumb enough to give them an honest answer. Since it might be the only chance during any particular boss’s tenure where I’m invited to tell truth to power, it feels like it’s just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Fortunately, after years of answering questions and very little changing I have built up quite a repository of stock responses that, after a bit of tweaking, are every bit as applicable today as they were the day I first wrote them… two, five,, seven years ago, or more. It’s just another in a increasingly long line of times when saving every scrap of previous work products as part of my Official Papers archive really pays dividends.

On art and the raving of lunatics…

Taylor Swift has apparently made a video.

The right wing is charging her with being overtly political. The left wing is accusing her of cashing in on the latest cause.

Maybe they’re both right… but they’re most assuredly both wrong too.

I’m old enough to remember the early days of music videos. The good ones were always edgy or outrageous. The best of them were incredibly controversial.

It seems to me that art in its many forms probably should be controversial. It should make you think. It should take your breath away. It should drive you to consider uncomfortable ideas.

Here’s the important part of today’s message, though… if people saying words makes you too uncomfortable, you always have the option of changing the station. In all my many years of life, no one has ever walked up to me, forced my eyes or ears open, and made me an unwilling participant in art. The artist chooses what to do, and I choose whether I’m going to engage with it.

Having a hissy fit because you don’t like a video makes you look and sound like a complete raving lunatic and guarantees that I can’t take you seriously as an adult human being.

Dog people of the internet…

So I was reading things on the internet. Yeah, I know I should just stop right there. For all the good that it can provide, the loudest voices on the internet seem to be those of judgmental twats who have nothing better to do than tell everyone exactly how they should be living and why they’re wrong if they don’t.

Hell, maybe I’m one of them, but at least I’m polite enough to keep my judgements safely locked up here so that people have to make an effort to get to them instead of just spewing myself all over Reddit.

It’s been over a decade since I had a puppy in the house. Most care and feeding issues are falling-off-a-log kind of things, but I wanted to get a better feel for how working adults take care of their new canine friends when they, you know, have to go to the job that pays the bills and buys the kibble.

According to a never ending list of sanctimonious asshats on Reddit, the only acceptable things for someone employed to do is to 1) Quit your job and stay home 24/7; 2) Move in with someone who is willing to stay home 24/7; 3) Hire a dog walker to come to your house twice a day for 30 minutes while you’re at work; or 4) Enroll your new dog in day care.

Any deviation from one of those four approved courses of action will find you condemned as a heretic and only slightly better than someone who raises fighting dogs for a living.

But, look, here’s the thing… I’m old enough to remember a time when dog wakers were a thing that only the rare city yuppies and the occasional actor or actress had. I’m old enough to remember a time when there was no such thing as “doggy daycare.” And I’m certainly old and experienced enough to know that having a job and having a dog is not mutually exclusive, regardless of what the dog people of the internet tell you.

There’s very little that I won’t do for my animals and I agree that in an ideal world, dogs would have their people with them all day every day and be able to come and go as they please. We, of course, live in the real world, where on average the dog who has to spend a little more time between bathroom breaks indoors instead of out is still far ahead of the one who spends months or years sitting in a shelter. The dog people of the internet, though, do seem to have an unhealthy fixation with the ideal.

It’s one of many cases where I am happy to invite the people of the internet to bugger right off.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Gender specific household chores. In the last week I’ve seen a literal shitload of social media posts boohooing that traditional “women’s work” is unappreciated in the household. Yes, I’m sure these posts are directed at a certain sub set of the population that largely includes households that consist of two adults and a few spawn, but honest to God my reaction is almost universally “Oh just shut the hell up.” If I don’t do the “girly” things like cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and making of doctor’s appointments those things don’t get done. If I don’t feed the dogs, cat, and tortoise they don’t get fed. Likewise if I don’t do the “manly” things like cut the grass, change the oil, clean the gutters, and do the other household maintenance, those things don’t get done. If I don’t drag my ass out of bed and into the office 40 hours a week, there’s no money to do any of the above mentioned activities. You see, I’m an adult. I do the things because that’s what being an adult means. There are days I’d love to have the luxury of dividing it vaguely near the middle and calling some of it someone else’s responsibility. The fact that somewhere out there many pairs of grown ass adult humans apparently can’t figure out how to each do approximately half the things I somehow manage to do on my own ranks somewhere between appalling and infuriating.

2. Pet owners who shouldn’t. If you need to be told to bring your pets inside during a hurricane you are an absolute fuckwit and would do the world a considerable favor by tying yourself to a bundle of cinder blocks and letting the storm surge have you. I’m willing to accept no excuse of stupidity, poverty, or unavoidable circumstance to justify your ineptitude to provide even the most basic level of care for a creature that relies solely on you to provide for it. In the benevolent reign of King Jeff you would be drug into the street, given a fair trial, and then summarily shot and left where you fall.

3. Internet experts. I love hurricane season because it’s when the internet experts in material acquisition and distribution logistics all come out of the woodwork with an “opinion” on how to a) get the right stuff and b) move it to the right place at the right time. I won’t go into my firm believe that these are the same experts who are personally challenged to execute their weekly trip to pick up family groceries and who’s greatest logistical achievement to date is packing the family truckster for a week long roadtrip to Wally World. My point is, it’s fine to have an opinion, you’re entitled to it… but it’s always best to try not to sound like a complete idiot while you’re having it.