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.

The price of power…

Apparently in Texas you can sign up for a “wholesale” electricity plan. Just like a loan with a floating interest rate, it could be a real benefit to the consumer when rates are low. The catch is, the interest rate for loans or the wholesale cost of electricity changes over time. Sometimes it changes both dramatically and quickly.

Signing up for the “wholesale” plan makes eminent sense when gas and oil is flowing and prices are low. All it takes, though, is a single unexpected event to make such a decision catastrophically wrong. It’s the inherent risk of pinning your plans on a floating rate that’s governed entirely on the vagaries of supply and demand in a potentially volatile marketplace.

While I feel badly for the people who woke up this week to a $16,000 bill for electricity, I presume the contract they signed included a pretty large warning that price moved both up and down and often does so with great rapidity. I felt sorry, too, for people who signed up for zero percent mortgages only to realize that when their mortgages rest to the “real” rate they couldn’t afford both the principle and the interest.

In both cases, these are people who willingly bypassed traditional service agreements or mortgages in favor of “exotic” options. The low up-front cost of exotic options, even if no other explicit warning is made, should be a clear indication to the average consumer that they are assuming a greater than normal degree of personal risk. Both are just one step better than walking in to the local casino and putting your month’s mortgage or rent payment on red and hoping for the best.

Though I feel sorry for both groups, I don’t feel any more sense of personal responsibility to bail out electricity consumers who made bad choices than I did for bailing out homeowners who took on unreasonable levels of debt. Expecting to enjoy all the benefits of low prices without encountering the corresponding negative possibilities smacks of immature thinking. Constantly protecting people from the natural consequences of their own actions clearly hasn’t done us any favors, as it seems no one has taken any of the lessons to heart. 

Now because I’m not a complete bastard, I could be convinced that low-interests emergency loans for those needing relief is a reasonable idea, but simply wiping out legitimate debt because it’s politically expedient sends an appalling message. Mine won’t be the popular opinion, of course, since no one wants to be responsible for themselves and politicians don’t win votes in this modern world of ours by expecting anyone to live up to their personal obligations when a billion dollar bailout is available. So, really, those whole post is about nothing more than yelling into the void.

Lack of substance…

I’ve long been in favor of informed debate over just about any issue you could name. Note carefully that I didn’t say argument. I also didn’t say just “debate.” In context, “informed” is the operative part of this sentence. I’m in favor of informed debate.

This means you need to know actual facts and use them to support your asserted position. 

“I disagree” isn’t a debate point.

“You’re stupid” isn’t a debate point. It’s even less of a debate point when it’s “Your stupid.”

“That’s dumb” isn’t a debate point.

If you want to support your position, you need to assert statements of fact. Say something like “X happened on Y date and these three things happened as a result.” I’m always happy to consider new information. It’s historically how we as a species learn things.

Asserting that “If you don’t believe X, Y, and Z, you kick puppies and hate America” isn’t a statement of fact. More than likely it’s a mindless regurgitation of some less than reputable cable television talking head or “internet personality.”

I’m up for just about any debate on the modern political landscape that you’d like to have, but I’m not going to pretend that I have to lend any credibility to people who flail their arms, stomp their feet, and pretend they’re defending a well-reasoned and intelligent position. 

We could be having a great national debate on the merits of the issues that confront our republic. We won’t, though, because throwing a tantrum on national television or social media is easier and creates a better five second clip to use so you can get many, many likes. 

I’ve finished with pretending adults who can’t behave like grown-ups are worth the time and effort it takes to engage with either in the real world or across the universe of social media platforms. I welcome a debate. I welcome learning new things… but statistically speaking, I’ve burned through a little more than half of my allotted time on this rock, so I no longer welcome ideas or people wholly lacking in substance. I have neither the time for, nor interest in entertaining them.

Maybe it’s more of a “you” problem…

There are a few things that make my eyes roll harder than the idea that women are held back in the world because they have to cook, do laundry, and tend to the basic chores of running the household while implying that men somehow don’t need to do those same things.

For most of the last twenty years, of my own volition, I’ve been breadwinner, cook, bottle washer, launderer, housekeeper, maintenance technician, armorer, groundskeeper, appointment maker, shopper-in-chief, and animal care officer. Somehow, I’ve managed to do those things while exerting the effort to reach a wide array of personal and professional goals.

Whatever perceived “male privilege” with respect to basic household management some seem to think accrues due to having a penis hasn’t shed its divine grace on how we do things here at Fortress Jeff. If it had, I clearly wouldn’t be typing this with one ear cocked to hear the buzz of the dryer or while casting the occasional thought towards what to make for dinner tonight.

So, when someone tells me I don’t understand that “Nobody cooks for her…,” honest to God, I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. As a fully formed human adult, I possess the ability to do all of those things for myself – and I do them, because I like to eat and wear clean clothes. Since setting up housekeeping on my own twenty years ago, I’ve never expected anyone to manage those things on my behalf.

If you’re not happy with whatever domestic arrangement you’ve created for yourself, I struggle to think of it as a structural issue rather than a “you” problem. To the best of my knowledge there’s no Constitutional amendment, executive order, or holy writ codifying that ovaries are required to operate the damned stove or to take something out of the washing machine.

We live and die with the choices we make and the things we decide are acceptable or not. If someone or something is standing between you and the life you think you should be living, the onus is on you to find a way over, under, or through them… or just post funny, funny memes on the internet.

That probably works too. 

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

  1. Facebook. For good or bad, Facebook loves showing you memories every day. I keep noticing that there are posts from years ago that indicate having two or three comments, but in some cases only one of those comments may be showing. I’m assuming that means these  comments were made by someone long ago and far away who has either left Facebook or has otherwise exited my online circle of friends… which begs the question of why Facebook is even bothering showing you a notification of something I can’t actually see?
  2. Thanksgiving apologists. Some sections of social media will spend this week telling us that celebrating Thanksgiving is wrong and a mark of “privilege.” To those people, I will only offer words of wisdom from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s very own Spike, who reminded us with fair historical accuracy that, “I just can’t take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians… You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That’s what conquering nations do. It’s what Caesar did, and he’s not goin’ around saying, ‘I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it.’ The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.” If you’re looking for someone to apologize for Thanksgiving and for American history writ large, boy did you come to the wrong place. 
  3. Social media experts. According to “experts” social media makes us sad, or angry, depressed, homicidal, suicidal, or any of a hundred other descriptors. The thing is social media doesn’t really “make” us any of those things. We humans, with our fancy pants free will, allow social media to have an impact on what we think or feel. If you’re using a completely optional product that causes you so much angst, it feels a little bit like a good time to exercise a little self determination instead of casting around for something or someone else to blame for your own problems. Then again, personal responsibility is never going to be cool or sexy, so just go ahead and carry on blaming social media I guess.

By 35…

I’d never really thought of MarketWatch as a leading newsmaker, but after their social media post noting that “By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts.” They’ve experienced their 15 minutes and then some.

The thing is, if you’re contemplating what it takes to achieve a “normal” retirement at the “normal” age in the “normal” way, their post isn’t broadly off the mark. Their point, beyond being something that seems to beggar belief to millennials, is that if you ever want to retire in the traditional sense of the word, you need to plan for it… and more importantly you need to save for it. Only you know for sure what right number – 2x, 10x, or 50x your annual salary invested – is going to meet your needs at any given time along your glide path.

“But,” you say, “Everything is so expensive. I have loans, and bills, and kids, and a master’s degree in advanced basketweaving. I can’t save anything.”

That’s fine. In many cases those expenses came along with decisions you made. That means you placed a premium on those other options rather than building a stable platform for retirement. It means you’re going to have to work past the traditional retirement age or contemplate a significant lifestyle change in order to realign you financial priorities. In some cases, especially for those who decide the whole long-range planning things is just too hard, you may have to accept that there’s a good chance you’re going to die in harness.

I got my first “grown up” job at 22. Making about $30K a year, paying rent, a car note, household bills, buying groceries, and all the other expenses that come along with being a grown ass man. It sucked. Money was always short, but before I saw a nickel of it in my checking account $25 of every check that first year went into my retirement account. Let me be clear on this – to me, back then, $50 was a shit ton of money to “do without” from month to month. There were a lot of things I could have spent that cash on to make life a little more civilized and comfortable that first year. The thing is, even at 22, when I still believed I was on my way to a long and fulfilling teaching career, I knew I didn’t want to still be touching America’s youth when I was in my 70s.

Here’s the kicker: Life isn’t easy. It’s full of hard decision, medical emergencies, and events that don’t work out quite as you had planned. Take it from a guy who changed careers, lived through five regional or cross country moves in 18 years to follow better opportunities, and then took a bath on a house he bought at the height of the real estate bubble. I know this shit isn’t easy.

There are precisely 300 million websites out there that can help you develop the mindset and skills that make retirement a thing that’s possible. But it means you’re going to have to do more hard work and educate yourself on the topics and the tools available. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to do it for you while shitposting on Twitter, well, I guess you’re right – retirement is definitely never going to happen.