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. Training. A month or two ago I made a concerted effort to knock out all the mandatory online training I was supposed to get done this year. Generally, figuring out how to sign on to the system is far more difficult and time consuming than the actual training, but fine. Every week, though, some new ridiculous “important mandatory training requirement” gets added. Look, I’m a bureaucrat, I’ll waste an hour or two doing whatever the bosses decide is important, but could we at least pile all up so I can blast through it in a day or two instead of inflicting slow death by a thousand cuts?

2. “First Amendment” violations. I feel like I have to say this once every three months, but Facebook literally can’t infringe upon your First Amendment right to free speech. Facebook is a publicly traded company, not a branch of government. They’re free to do whatever they want on their platform – including flagging and deleting anything that doesn’t conform to the broadest possible interpretation of their established terms of service. No company is no more required to let you use their intellectual property as a soapbox than I am to let you stand on my front porch spouting nonsense. If you don’t like the terms under which Facebook lets you use their platform, the answer is to stop using it and find an alternative… because ranting and raving about Facebook violating your rights makes you sound like a moron.

3. Election 2020. We’re exactly two months away from the 2020 general election. I was occasionally checking in prior to the conventions, but with the ongoing tantrum throwing by candidates and surrogates, go ahead and color me uninterested. I haven’t missed voting in an election since I first registered in 1996 – and I have no intention of missing this one – but there’s absolutely nothing currently being bandied about across traditional, social, or alternative media that I find helpful in any way. Honestly, I can’t believe we’re paying good money for this abject fuckery.

Friendly reminder…

I don’t get too wrapped up in it, but I do keep a partial ear towards the ongoing coverage of this year’s election. I feel like I’m going to repeatedly deliver a reminder to everyone that despite what they may think they learned in their freshman civics class, we don’t have a national election for president in this country.

We have fifty state elections for president – or more technically we have 50 state elections to select the electors who will, in turn, vote for president. 

This is why I grit my teeth every time I see some news prognosticator talking about who’s up or down in national polls. How a candidate is playing across the vast sweep of the American continent is interesting to know, but mostly irrelevant to telling us who’s most likely to win election as president. 

The fact that election to the highest office in the land currently requires winning the majority of electors and not the majority of votes on election day is the crux of the argument for those who want to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct national vote for president. Those have been the “rules of the game” the dawn of the republic. While the average citizen may not be clear on that point, no one who seriously follows politics has any confusion about how the system works.

The Democratic Party managed to dominate elections through large swaths of the 20th century – while playing by those long-established rules of the game. In the 21st century their party platform has been structured in such a way as to consolidate strong support in costal and urban areas – while largely doing nothing to speak to their historic rural and rust belt bases of support. That runs the total number of votes up in these stronghold areas without broadening the base of support in any meaningful way. The Republican machine, not being operated by political idiots, crafted their message to pick up as many of those formerly Democratically leaning voters as possible. Republicans have had a decade or more of running the table in areas that would have been a no contest win for the average Democratic candidate of yore. 

So, here’s the thing. Instead of pitching a hissy fit that the same rules everyone has played under for more than 200 years are suddenly no longer fair, maybe take a look at the party platform and figure out why you’re mostly attracting voters along the coasts and in the big cities while finding little support in the other parts of the country. The problem isn’t the rules – it’s a failure to connect with voters “out there” in flyover country and to gather up some of the electors that go with them.

If the goal isn’t to win elections by appealing to a broad subset of voters then the crusade to abolish the Electoral College is far more about gaining power than it is about the sanctity of the electoral process. At least have the stones to admit it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. If you’re going to push out a metric shit-ton of new mandatory training and tell everyone in the universe they have to take it sometime in the next ten days, it seems to be that the first step might be to make sure the end users are in some way functional before it lands on hundreds of thousands of desks as a short notice must-do task. Maybe it’s just me, but proclaiming something must be done and then making it physically impossible to do feels like a pretty shit way of doing business… Not that I’m in any way surprised.

2. I’m trying to schedule someone to come out and give me a quote for three new window binds that approximately match what’s currently in the house. So far, one can’t be bothered to call back, the next wants me to dismount one of the existing blinds and bring it in so they can look at it, and the third really thinks I should consider getting new window coverings for the entire house. You wouldn’t think it would be this hard to get people to show up and take my money, but yet here we are.

3. Despite the story the media is intent on weaving, you really can decline to support a candidate for office because you have fundamental disagreements with their stated policy positions. To see the prevailing message of the day though, if you don’t support Joe and Kamala, it’s obviously because you’re racist. Feel free to bugger directly off with that fuckery. 

That’s not how any of this works…

This morning, President Trump suggested via tweet that the general election in November should be delayed. Dude, seriously. That’s not how any of this works.

The United States has held its regularly scheduled elections through the Civil War, through the depths of the Great Depression, through two globe-spanning world wars, and yes, through past pandemics. 

Notwithstanding the fact that suspending elections is not among the powers of the president, the suggestion that doing so is necessary or proper flies in the face of both history and common sense. Suggesting that we as a country are somehow incapable of electing a leader in times of adversity defies the reality of the American electoral experience.

Let us assume for a moment that the election is delayed (something that would require changing current law that establishes election day as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November”) – past November – past December – past January. Even in the absence of an election, an inauguration will take place on January 20th, so it’s not as if President Trump simply stays in office. His term expires on January 20th at noon. The office and powers of the presidency would then devolve to the next duly elected official in the line of succession – in this case that would most likely be the President pro tempore of the United States Senate since he’s in the middle of his term of office. We’ve skipped over the Speaker of the House of Representatives since her term would have expired along with President Trump’s on January 20th.

A suspended election doesn’t create an eternal Trump presidency, but it does make the creaking machinery of our Constitution work much harder than it needs to. Suggesting that such a thing is even a possibility belies both a tremendous lack of understanding of how elections in this country work and a fundamental disregard for the foundational institutions of the republic.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I’m about as freedom loving a libertarian leaning Republican as you’re likely to find. Smart people are telling me that covering my face holes with as simple piece of cloth is helpful in reducing the spread of a disease that’s currently wrecking the economy and killing some people. They’re not telling me that a mask is the cure. They’re not saying it will magically stop the spread of all airborne particles. They’re saying that in their best scientific estimate, a mask will reduce transmission if I wear one when I’m away from home and in proximity to other people.

Yep, it’s hot and uncomfortable. My glasses fog up and the four-month lack of barbering means my beard sticks out at the edges in a way resembling nothing so much as a 70s porn star wearing a bikini. I don’t like wearing a mask, but doing it because smart people say I should isn’t in any way infringing on my constitutional liberties. There’s no part of the Constitution that guarantees your right to make others look at your stupid face.

If you’re one of the people tempted to respond to this post arguing that “it’s just the flu” or “it’s the media” or “it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy,” just go ahead and shut the fuck up. This isn’t about politics. It’s a very simple matter of smart versus stupid… although it has gone a long way towards showing which mouth breathing yokels we should collectively avoid even when masks are no longer needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Embedded links. We have you a nice, prettied up agenda. We even tucked the event links into the text of the document so it wasn’t a three line line long ugly-assed URL. But that doesn’t stop several hundred of you from not reading for comprehension and emailing that you can’t find the URLs. I mean how the hell hard is it to either click the embedded link directly or to right click and copy the link to paste it in your browser? Given that two thirds of your contemporaries managed to get it done without our help, I’m forced to conclude that one third of the total are just total mouth breathing wastes of space.

2. Podcasts. I haven’t deleted any social media friends as a result of COVID-19, protests, riots, or political affiliation but in the last week I’ve dropped a shit ton of podcasts that have vered way the fuck off topic. Everyone’s entitled to their position and perfectly free to use their platform to do whatever they want, but if I show up expecting insights on contemporary television and find deep dives on politics and current events, I’m out. I’m headed to my podcast list to avoid the general fuckery on television, not to find more of it. Hard pass.

3. Steady working. So far during the Great Plague, I’ve been steady working. I’ve missed my scheduled vacation and now the couple of days I usually take off immediately following the massive organizational vanity exercise that I’m nominally charged with carrying off every year. Yes, I’ve been working from home… but it’s still very much working and having my head in that space continually. Physically being back “on campus” these last few days just feels like heaping insult atop injury and it’s got me moody as fuck. Plague or not I think I’m going to need to start burning some days off that sweet, sweet pile of vacation time sooner rather than later.

Mute…

I stated definitively that I would never “unfriend” someone on social media because of their political views. I’ll block you in a hot second if you can’t manage to be at least civil, but never because of views alone. I have to confess that there are more than a few people out there who are really putting my determination to keep my word to the test.

The simple fact is I mostly don’t care what your politics are. It’s not the basis on which I pick my friends. I do however, judge people who simply decide to abandon the best available science and the rigorous application of reason because those two elements don’t quite jive with whatever particular world view they’ve staked out.

Look, I’m not even going to argue we should blindly follow along in lock step with the pronouncements of the scientists and doctors. We should at least acknowledge that modern medicine has a pretty good track record of keeping most of us alive well past the age when our distance ancestors were food for worms. At the very least, our decisions should be informed by science – even if we just use it to acknowledge that there’s a price in lives to pay for rushing to return to business as usual – and no, I’m not making a judgement there, just admitting that it has to be part of the calculus.

I know no one ever likes the smartest kid in the class. That’s practically the classic American trope. I’m not saying you even have to like the scientists, but history tells me that we’ll ignore them at our peril. I’m not going to unfriend anyone because they want to trust in the blood of Jesus instead of the shot of antivirals… but you can bet your ass I’ve been muting people with wild abandon these last couple of weeks.

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. 

Maryland, my Maryland…

On March 25th, 1634, along the shores of the Potomac at St. Clement’s Island, subjects of the English crown first set foot in the Provence of Maryland.

No one loves to rant and rave about the government in Annapolis more than I do. Despite their never meeting a tax they didn’t want to levy and general disregard for the rights of citizens, I’ve always found myself drawn back to Maryland – to it’s shore, and its marshes, and its mountains. I never manage to stay away long. For all its political foibles, I simply do better when my feet are firmly connected to the good soil of my native country.

There’s more than enough going on in this old world of ours to keep me blogging every day for months. It would be incredibly easy to fall down that particular rabbit hole. It’s important during these times to remember that we’ve been doing what is hard here in this corner of the world for 386 years now. I don’t even want to guess how many “ends of the world” we Marylanders have endured in that time.

I’m a native son of Maryland and today I’m taking a break from the pandemic to celebrate it.