Sweet emotion…

I read a lot of financial news, but I’m the furthest thing from an expert in the field. I do it because I have a basic interest in how that part of the world works. When a guy says you should do X instead of Y, I like to have some basic understanding of the “why” behind the statement. If nothing else, I like to be able to ask intelligent questions when I don’t quite understand why things are the way they are.

Much of what I’ve been reading over the last few months is hammering the notion of fear in the market and the various behaviors that are being driven by it. It’s academically interesting enough, I suppose, but I feel like the discussion could be taken a step further. Emotion, not just fear, drives the market. I suspect it drives far more than that – and often enough it points people in a direction that isn’t particularly helpful.

I’m sure there are those out there who say they don’t feel emotions. I can only assume that a large percentage of them are lying, sociopathic, or a combination of both. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with feeling the emotion – whether it’s fear, lust, joy – but people seem to get themselves into a world of trouble when they never get past the feeling stage. They dwell in it until whatever it is they’re feeling causes some kind of mental paralysis.  

There’s nothing wrong with feeling the full range of emotions. It’s inherently human, but I see very little good that comes from them being the master rather than just elements that serve the whole. Control is illusory, but I do think it’s entirely possible to manage your emotions, despite what the clips of people having public meltdowns on TikTok want us to believe.

Look, I’m not saying everyone needs to be an automaton, but maybe finding a way to channel some of the good and the bad into more reasoned and less knee-jerky responses to outside stimuli would be just a little bit helpful in going about the day. Not everyone needs to be a philosopher king, but swinging from pillar to post based on the market, the news, or life events feels like a damnably bad way to run a railroad.

What I learned this week…

There’s a whole subset of people out there who really think the government has come up with some far reaching, super-secret plan to take over the world / give all of us a tracking chip / cull the surplus population / some other wackadoodle idea that they’ve trolled up from the depths of the internet.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years working for the government that these nutjobs think is plotting the subjugation of the masses. Having worked in the belly of this particular beast let me just say from experience that most days it barely manages to keep the lights on.  

Sure, they’ve had a couple of good days – the Manhattan Project was mostly kept secret – but largely, the whole creaking apparatus leaks like sieve. At its very best the workforce is managed rather than led. Good luck getting the thousands of government employees needed to carry off such a far-reaching scheme, each with their own interests and petty empire to build, all lined up and moving in the same direction. Then remember that they’ll be orchestrating these devious plots using technology that the average Fortune 500 company would be embarrassed to have in their inventory. 

If there was some generation’s old plan for the Illuminati to seize control there’s not a chance it stays secret. If, in defiance of all logic and common sense, it did stay secret, the government would lack the leadership ability of basic infrastructure to see it through. Even if all that wasn’t true and there is a conspiracy of unprecedented scope and scale at work, what on earth would make someone believe that the whole house of cards depends on the “truth” not spewing out on YouTube? Surely if these shadow forces are crafty enough to circumvent all other checks and balances, they’re savvy enough to keep their tracks off social media, no?

Still, this week I learned that people who I personally considered reasonably sane and rational, educated, and thoughtful have dived down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole… and that’s just disappointing on so many different levels. 

Across eight versions and two weeks…

I’ll let you in on a secret: 95% of what I do on a daily basis isn’t particularly difficult, challenging, or hard to do. Mostly it involves reading for understanding and synthasizing separate ideas into a coherent thread so that someone slightly further up the food chain can use and/or ignore at his or her convenience. Just about everything else is really a supporting requirement.

In a world that operates on basic logic, it should all be mind numbingly easy to do. Of course no one has ever accused Uncle of running his universe based on any kind of rational system. As often as not it’s living in a state of just barely organized chaos in which that slim thread of organization is threatening to split apart without warning at any time.

Nothing I do should be particularly hard to do. And yet somehow it is. Today for instances I revised a bit of written work so that version eight bears a striking resemblance to version one – that I put together more than two weeks and six versions ago.

Now if I were doing something like drafting whole sections of the State of the Union Address I could almost understand the fine tuning of happy to glad. In this instance, you’ll just have to imagine that what I’m working on is more than several rungs lower on the scale of importance than that. Many, many, many rungs lower.

This shouldn’t be so goddamned hard to do. And yet you’ll have to excuse me because I’m off to punch up version nine with a few more “recommended changes.”

Rolling my eyes at emotional arguments since 1978…

Here’s the thing: I’m not an overtly emotional guy. I’ve been known to be sentimental at times, but I’m not going to be the one who cries with you over pretty much anything. If you’re trying to convince me of the right-ness of your argument, coming at me with an sales pitch full of emotional tugs upon my heart is 100% the wrong way to win me over to your cause.

Like Captain Renault with Rick’s gun pointed at his chest in the dramatic final scene of Casablanca, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you “that is my least vulnerable spot.” It’s not so much that I don’t have a heart, I simply try to minimize its use as the basis for sound decision making. Long life experience tells me doing so doesn’t generally end well. I’ve had significantly more success by letting my head take the lead in making the hard decisions.

Since so many of my countrymen seem determined to be lead about by the heartstrings, though, I’ve taken the liberty of noggining through a modest proposal that would at first blush defuse both the border security hawks and those shrieking “won’t somebody please think of the children.”

What I’ve come up with, in broad strokes, is that Homeland Security should lease space on the Mexican side of the southern border in which to conduct investigations and process those seeking entry into the United States. Those seeking lawful entry wouldn’t risk being detained or separated from family members as they hadn’t crossed into the United States or broken any federal law. Their location in Mexico relieves the US Government from the need for housing, feeding, and providing medical care on site – although we could always throw some money at Mexico to help offset their increased costs. As those seeking entry are vetted and processed, they could be admitted through the designated port of entry or denied entry for cause – all nice an neat without the troubles associated with letting them first set foot on US soil and then starting the process.

This system could be put in effect at every designated port of entry from the Pacific straight across to the Gulf of Mexico. Effectively, the carrot is that families can stay together while their case is heard and disposition made. The stick, because there always has to be a stick, is that anyone found crossing illegally and opting not to avail themselves of the designated processes, would be ejected forthwith from the United States to their country of origin or the nearest country that will grant them asylum and be barred from seeking further admittance to the United States.

Sure, it’s just a quick thought exercise on what right might look like, but that feels more productive than sitting around wringing my hands, gnashing my teeth, and crying bitter, bitter tears.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Last minute. It’s safe to say that we all know my feelings about almost every meeting I’ve ever sat through. For those who don’t, I generally find them to be enormous time-sucks from which there is no hope of escape. They’re the black hole of the “professional work environment” and I’m all for canceling them as often as possible. All that I ask is that when they are cancelled, the meeting organizer should probably give a fellow enough notice so that he doesn’t walk halfway across the county to find himself turned away at the door. Giving sufficient notice of changed plans is just good form, really. Although I’m glad to have the unscheduled free time in the middle of my calendar and all, a few minutes’ notice would by me have been appreciated.

2. Contempt of Congress. The fact that the House of Representatives has the unmitigated audacity to hold anyone in Contempt of Congress for any reason whatsoever is simply stunning. Now I think Lois Lerner and the IRS were probably up to some dirty tricks – one doesn’t tend to invoke the 5th Amendment when there are no skeletons lurking about – but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t consider Congress a particularly honest broker when it comes to issues of fact. The truth is, they’d probably have to level charges at most of the country if they wanted to root out everyone who currently holds Congress in contempt. God knows I find them the most contemptible band of thieves and charlatans currently not serving time in prison.

3. Tradition. The older I get, the worse “because it’s tradition” sounds as a justification for doing anything. I was always under the impression that most people become more traditional as they get older. I seem to be veering in the opposite direction. I’m never going to be a sandal-wearing hippy, but I do seem to take increasing amounts of joy from rousing rabble as often as possible. Maybe it’s just my inner cynic finding his voice and preparing for a long career as a grumpy old sonofabitch… but if you can’t give me a better reason to do something that “it’s tradition,” I’m afraid I’m probably going to invite you to bugger off at the first available opportunity.

What separates us from the primates…

Authors note: This is not directed at any individual, living or dead. It is based on a series of observations over the last week. The use of the word “you” does not refer necessarily to “you” the reader, but more general “you” directed at the general public.

I’ve had two separate people tell me over the course of the last week some variation of the phrase, “you can’t always lead with your head.” I call bullshit. I call bullshit on the people who stumble blindly through life from one thing to the next because they’re “following their heart.” I call bullshit on people who turn left instead of right because “they have a feeling.” I call bullshit on a society that values luck over skill and mediocrity over greatness.

People, listen up, because your Uncle Jeff is only gonna go over this material one time. And yes, before someone asks, it will be on the test. Look in the mirror. Do you see that great big melon-looking rock sitting atop your neck? That’s your head. It’s where your brain lives. Your brain is useful for completing all sorts of tasks like addition, breathing, and general problem solving. Your brain, unlike that of say, a swallow, is well developed and provides you with the ability, when used correctly, to apply reason and intellect to even the most difficult of situations. The human brain has developed over millions of years to protect the rest of the body from writing checks that are too expensive to cash.

The ability to apply reason is what separates us from our primate cousins. It’s why we have built civilizations while they pick fleas off one another. I’m not saying that the heart or the spleen or the liver can’t be the point of inspiration, but it’s up to the brain to take that inspiration and flesh it out. It’s through reason that we come to understand the inspiration and impulses for what they are. It’s our intellect and our ability to make the hard decisions without getting waylaid that fundamentally makes us human.

Use your heart, or your intuition, or your ESP for all I care. But at the end of the day, try running things through your brain first before you declare the decision making process to be at an end. Try leading with your head for a change. You might be surprised.