What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Political (and non-political) violence. The halls of Congress, school, the workplace, the local supermarket, and nearly everywhere has always been filled with people who make me want to crack skulls. Somehow, I’ve always managed to resist the temptation to threaten or carry such notions into action. I’ve never found it particularly hard to avail myself of that restraint. Increasingly, issuing threats, tantrum throwing, and violent outbursts seems to be turning into the default setting. I’ll never for the life of me really understand why this section of the population can’t glom on to the notion that there are always going to be people doing shit they don’t like and the best solution is to just go home, have a highball, and remember that 99.99% of what anyone else does has absolutely no impact on their daily life. For the other .01% of the time, hire a lawyer and let them fight it out instead of acting like some kind of bloody ill-bred yokel.

Door-to-door sales. As a 44-year-old man, I can honestly say that I’ve never purchased anything (Girl Scout cookies excluded), from someone shilling their wares from door to door. There’s a long and storied tradition of this type of marketing, but this is the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two and I can order almost anything I can imagine for two-day delivery directly to my doorstep without the add inconvenience of needing to tell an over-eager salesman no. I appreciate that everyone needs to work, but I’m not looking for a drive-by power washing any more than I’m looking for a new selection of Fuller Brush products or a set of encyclopedias.

Magically appearing new rights. Food is a right. College is a right. Healthcare is a right. A house is a right. Transportation is a right. This is a right. That is a right. Every damned thing you can think of is suddenly a right and should be provided to people at no cost to them. Except, of course, someone is always going to have to pay. Usually they mean “the government” should pay for it, but which they mean that whatever they’d decided is a right today should be paid for by those of us who are a) Paying the local, state, and federal income taxes the government will use to pay these things and b) Already paying for our own food, college, healthcare, house, and transportation. If I wanted to support a local family of four, I’d have had one of my own by now. You know what I see very little discussion of when people talk about their “right” to other people’s money? If you guessed getting a job and being responsible for yourself, your actions, your decisions, and your future, you’re a spot-on guesser. Well done.

On litter and trashy people…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

Any time I’m forced out of the house on such mundane errands as going to work or picking up groceries, I can’t help but notice just about every road I travel is hopelessly trashed with anything small enough to fit through the window of the average passenger car. There are a few predictable spots where a couple times a month you can count on finding a couch, a mattress, tires, or other large items that “feel off the back” of someone’s truck. 

The average person seems to go out of their way to avoid actually using trash cans even where they’re readily available. They’re satisfied with throwing whatever’s at hand directly on the ground in the parking lot, on the sidewalk, or wherever they happen to be when they have something to discard. 

That people can’t collectively be trusted to do something as basic as not throw an entire bag of McDonald’s wrappers out their car window isn’t surprising, but it’s a sad commentary on exactly how low the bar of expectation really is. It would make me wonder what the conditions are in people’s homes. Given that they can’t or won’t keep things clean when they’re in public, I can only assume they live in utter filth in private where there’s no one at all to judge them.

Based on the sheer volume of trash that’s piled up alongside the road over the winter, I can only speculate that it’s the result of a sizable minority of the population who just well and truly doesn’t give one single shit about anyone or anything around them. Since there are already laws that “prevent” littering, I don’t suppose we can legislate our way into making people any less slovenly. We could, however, enforce the hell out of the laws already on the books – fine people into oblivion, throw some of the worst offenders directly into jail, or hey, maybe even seize the vehicles that were used in the commission of the crime.

Until being an absolute shitbird is made prohibitively painful, I don’t see any other means of getting after yet another issue that stems from a complete lack of personal responsibility and non-existent consequences.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Return to work. I’m starting to see emails pinging around discussing the plan to “return to work.” What they’re really talking about is bringing people back to the office, which, if you’ve been paying attention for the last two years is not synonymous with “returning to work.” I won’t speak for anyone else out there, but for me, work has been work and the geographic area I’ve occupied while doing it has made effectively no difference in the end product I’ve churned out. Frankly, calling it “return to work” strikes me as wildly insulting. If you’ve got a shitbird who doesn’t do anything in the office, you’ll have a shitbird who won’t do anything while working from home. If you find you have a bunch of people sitting around not doing a damned thing, what you’ve got is a management and supervision problem, not a “working from home” problem. Of course that’s not the kind of answer that will satisfy those who are obsessed with seeing asses in cubicles. 

2. Failure to plan. So, here’s the thing… If some tells you that they need Thing A by the 6th in order for Thing B to happen by the 12th, you really don’t have any standing to act surprised when you send Thing A in on the 12thand Thing B cannot simultaneously happen on that day. That’s not how this works. It’s not how it should work. When there have been monthly and then weekly warnings of the dates involved over the last six months, you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not overwhelmed by feeling like I need to jump through my own ass. I feel like there’s a very telling old saying about your failure to plan not being an emergency for other people that’s very pertinent here.

3. Situational awareness. It costs absolutely nothing to pay attention to what’s going on around you. It’s a freebie and I have no idea why so many people insist on not taking advantage of it. In the approximately 14.4-mile round trip from home to physical therapy today, I had to take evasive action three times to avoid being driven into by another driver. There’s the truck speeding out of the shopping center aisle into my travel lane without looking, the car who decided to drive in through a one-way exit, and the minivan who was fully in my lane coming around a turn on a winding country road. The only reason I avoided two T-bones and a head on today as because I happened to have just a touch of goddamned awareness of anything happening outside my own vehicle. 

Free markets and free people…

According to an article published in the Daily Mail, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has claimed that capitalism “is not a redeemable system for us.” 

Sitting here as someone who 20 years ago had a negative net worth of tens of thousands of dollars and now finds himself in ready striking distance of using two commas in the balance column, I honestly have no idea what the distinguished representative from the New York is talking about.

Way back in the year 2000, I was making just a touch over $30,000 as a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree. If you’re playing along at home, that’s in the neighborhood of $17 an hour or $1,154 per pay period. I started putting $25 every two weeks into a retirement account. That’s something like 2% of my salary at the time. As I changed careers, picked up raises, and got promotions over the years, the very first thing I did was increase that amount. If I got a 2% salary bump, at least 1% went towards invested savings. It got to be a habit – one that I still practice. 

Plenty of times there were (and are) wants and needs I’d rather spend that cash on. There are a lot of things I have to pass on or defer to later because saving for the future is a priority. The tradeoff is that over the intervening two decades, that account I started with $25 has grown into something that a kid from “down the crick” could have never imagined possible. 

I’ll never rank with the likes of Musk, Gates, Buffett, or the Koch brothers, but don’t think for a moment that capitalism somehow doesn’t work for “regular people.” I’m the son of a cop and a school teacher from a town in the middle of Maryland’s coal country. My parents divorced when I was a kid. I got my first formal job at 16 and had a laundry list of what today would be called side hustles to pick up extra cash long before that. No one talked about investments or savings or retiring before 65 back there and back then. That sounds just about as “regular” as anyone could be in this life.

In my estimation, capitalism has raised more people out of poverty in the last century than any other economic system devised by the mind of man. It’s what let me build the foundation for a future I couldn’t have dreamed of twenty years ago. Somehow, I doubt that whatever workers’ paradise Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has in mind to replace American capitalism would leave me in any way better off over the same time period.

The congresswoman is free to think whatever she wants, but I’ll keep standing with free markets and free people.

More toxic than Facebook…

The same people I see commenting that Facebook (or all of social media) is toxic are the same ones plugging away, sharing memes, articles, and generally being fully immersed social media day in and day out. That’s the catch. No one is making you, me, or anyone else use Facebook. No one is forced to have the app on their phone. Not one single person is mandated to log in everyday and participate in the electronic circus.

It seems to me that if social media is the electronic equivalent of having lead paint, asbestos insulation, and sewer gas filling your home, there’s a simple step any one of us could take to avoid it. We could just not use it. We could delete our accounts or not sign on. 

That, of course, demands a level of personal responsibility and being accountable for our own decisions. It’s far easier to go ahead and blame Zuck for something we individually control with no ifs, ands, or buts.

It’s the same story for the inevitable subset that gnash their teeth over violent television, profanity on radio, or pornography. The easiest thing in the world is to just change the channel, find a different station, or not look. “I saw something I don’t like, so I changed the channel” doesn’t make for a particularly engaging story, though.

My problem has never been with content on television, radio, or the internet. The far more nefarious problem is this group of people who want to enforce their particular brand of morality on everyone else like some kind of half-assed digital Taliban. 

I’d like to say I’m perplexed about how and why so many struggle with simply turning off whatever it is they find objectionable… but it seems all too obvious that they would much rather have the issue to worry themselves (and the rest of us) over than to find an actual solution to their troubles.

I find that far more toxic than anything Facebook can throw at me.

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.