What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Good help. I’ve been trying to get a downspout cleaned now for the last 6 weeks. It’s the company I’ve been using for years without complaint or problem, but for this they “lost” my first appointment and now I’m told “Oh, the guy was out there about two weeks ago.” A couple of things there: 1) I’ve been home almost continuously at any time they could have been here and I’m fairly sure I’d have noticed ladders and someone stomping around on my roof; 2) Even if for some reason I missed them, the cameras wouldn’t have; 3) In the past, their guy has always left a bill either in the mailbox or suck in the front door; and 4) The goddamned gutter is still overflowing every time there’s more than a drizzle. I’ve had these guys out here twice a year for the last three or four years with no complaints or problems, so I have no idea why they’ve suddenly turned into a shitshow. I’m out of patience, but expect someone else will be happy to take my money.

2. Assumed representation. Twitter is full of posts that start with “I speak for all Americans when I say…“ Let me be clear – No the fuck you do not. Not one person who has ever led off with that phrase has ever spoken for me even when I happened to agree with what they said. I’m a grown ass adult. The only words put in my mouth are the ones I decide to speak on my own. The presumption that you can or should speak for me or anyone else is makes you sound like an absolute gibbering idiot.

3. Balloons. A couple of times a year I have to schlep out into my woods with a pole saw and attempt to recover a mylar party balloon that’s caught up in the trees. People who see balloon releases as the high point of an event rank somewhere in my estimation below the ones who think fireworks are the height of entertainment. There’s literally no reason to let balloons go “into the wild.” Your message didn’t get to Jesus or your dead grammy or anyone else. It ends up in the woods or in the water or in the fields and stays there forever unless someone happens to find it and clean up your goddamned mess – like mommy use to follow you around wiping your nose and tidying up after you. So maybe try being a responsible adult and holding a memorial, or an awareness raising event, or photo op that doesn’t end with your trash becoming someone else’s problem.  

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Alex Jones. Since he broke into popular consciousness, Alex Jones has been a bloviating douche canoe. I can only assume he was one long before anyone ever heard of him. He’s a living example of being able to fool some of the people all of the time. Now, not all of that is exactly his fault. You’d have to be particularly weak minded to buy into the absolute bullshit he peddles on a regular basis. Watching this cowardly twatwaffle get absolutely bitchslapped around the courtroom, trapped like a rat, has been an absolute treat. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. 

2. Republican spin. Whether they admit it or not, Republicans were shocked by Kansans voting by a large margin to retain abortion rights as part of their state constitution. Kansas is supposed to be a rock-ribbed, ruby red bastion of conservatism. Their two key takeaways should be: 1) Not all conservatives are cheerfully going along with the religio-fascist wing of the party and 2) The majority of voters in general oppose them to the point that brings them out in unexpectedly large numbers. I’m under no illusions that Republicans won’t win some of these votes in other places, but Kansas was absolutely a warning shot put across their bow… no matter how hard they try to spin it as something else.

3. Brittney Griner. The media is tangentially focused on the ongoing arrest, trial, and sentencing of Brittney Griner. While I share their general feeling that I’d want to be just about anywhere other than a Russian jail, it’s one of those issues I can’t quite bring myself to rend my garments over. As a traveler, I’ve always considered it my responsibility to obey the laws of the country I happened to be in at the time. At sixteen, I found myself somehow in the middle of a protest march working its way through the streets of Mexico City. Somewhere there’s a picture of me looking entirely perplexed about what was going on around me. I have no idea if it’s illegal in Mexico or not, but even as a child, I had a decent understanding that I, as an American citizen, had no business in the middle of a Mexican protest. We beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel. If I can sort that much out at 16, expecting a 30-year-old woman to not carry substances known to be illegal in the country where she’ll be traveling doesn’t feel like it should be a big ask. If it does happen to be too much to trouble yourself with, well, I suppose you have to accept that you’ve rolled the dice and may have to accept the consequences. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Root causes. What the actual fuck is wrong with people? Twenty-six years ago, when most of my cronies and I were about 18, we had ready access to both rifles and handguns. We weren’t particularly well supervised back then and yet we somehow managed not to seed our world with chaos and mass murder. Back there and back then, it was the sort of event that was a true rarity. It’s why I struggle with the idea of blaming the tools people use when it happens now. The first semi-automatic rifle made its appearance in 1779. They became widely available on the consumer market in the closing years of the 19th century. It wasn’t until well into the back half of the 20th century where the commonly described “mass shooting” starts to become a thing that happens. That history is also why I struggle with laying the blame for these events at the foot of the gun. The technology hasn’t changed. It was as readily available in 1930 or 1960 as it is this afternoon. A basic semi-auto was more easily available then given the lack of background checks, permitting, and laws governing who can and can’t possess a firearm that came into vogue in the 80s and 90s. If we assume it’s not access that’s changed, we’re left to consider what factors have changed that lead to these events taking place now more than ever before. That’s a conversation that requires nuance – and since that’s not something that comes in a form of a good soundbite, we’re not likely to see from the political class, the media, the pros, or the antis.

2. Age of adulthood.  One of the first things I read on Twitter this morning was a call to raise the age at which one can purchase a long gun. I saw multiple tweets calling for the age to increase from 18 to something else. Suggestions were 21, 25, 26. Fine. We already declare other “adult” decisions out of bounds for 18-year-olds. If we’re going to be intellectually consistent, though, we need to go further. Eighteen should no longer be considered the age of majority across the board. Raise the age to buy a car, rent an apartment, or sign any kind of contract. Raise the age for enlisting for military service.  Raise the age to sign up for credit or a loan. Raise the age of sexual consent. And for God’s sake, raise the voting age. If those between the ages of 18 and twenty-whatever are too chowderheaded to make responsible adult decisions then just go ahead and delay all the rights, privileges, and opportunities of the adult citizen. Let adulthood start at 45 or whatever other arbitrary age we collectively decide is the right one. We seem to already have a generation that can’t manage to “adult” until they’re in their 30s, so just codify it already.

3. First reports. There’s an old saying about first reports always being wrong. When complex, fast moving events are happening I just assume that all of the details are bogus beyond the basics of where and what. Expecting a second-to-second timeline as events are unfolding is a fool’s errand. I’ve got at least one news feed running in the house pretty much from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed and how often the first details are wrong is pretty much an article of faith here. I’ll cheerfully call out Texas public safety officials if it proves out that they failed to follow local policy or in some way failed to respond appropriately, but I won’t sit at the keyboard and condemn them based on early reports and what people think they know. I’ll be swapping over to financial news until the story – and the reporters – get past the breathless, “breaking news” phase.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Forty minutes. I overslept by 40 minutes. I know that doesn’t sound like much – and it isn’t in this work from home environment where I regularly climb out of bed two hours before I need to sign on for the day. It is, however, just enough time shaved off the morning to make me feel like I’m running behind for the rest of the day. So, sure, I’m marginally more rested but carrying around loads of extra angst while spending the day trying to shave minutes and seconds off everything and get back to baseline so I don’t feel like I’ve squandered the day when it comes time to lay my head down again.

2. Reminders. I have an appointment with my doctor on Friday. I know I have this appointment because when I made it, I tapped it into my calendar and set a reminder. To the best of my knowledge, even in the time before electronic, handheld calendars when everything was written on paper, I never missed or even found myself late for an appointment with my doctor. I’d even be comfortable extending that to pretty much any appointment I’ve ever made as a grown adult. If I tell you I’m going to be there, I’ll be there. On the rare occasion where it hasn’t been possible to keep an appointment, I’ve cancelled as soon as I knew there was an unavoidable conflict. My doctor’s office, however, seems to think I’m the most ragingly incompetent adult who has every shuffled through life. So far in the last seven days I’ve received three text messages and an email imploring me to remember that I have this appointment. I’m trying to remember that this is probably just a reflection of the general public being barely able to dress and feed themselves without assistance. Honestly, I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse about the situation.

3. The Gas Rebate Act of 2022. Proposed before the U.S. House of Representatives is the Gas Rebate Act of 2022. As proposed, it would send $100 to every American (plus an additional $100 per dependent) each month that the price of gasoline exceeds $4.00 a gallon. Maybe I truly am just one of the olds now, but I distinctly remember a time in America where we expected to need to pay our own way in life. That seems to have gone out of fashion with the bailout of homeowners who over-mortgaged themselves in the early 2000s and has only accelerated in the Plague Era when rent and mortgage payments could be suspended completely while Uncle sent out round after round of cash money “just because.” I increasingly feel like a real sucker – over here paying my own bills and seeing the obscene amount of money being taxed away every year so I can pay for other people’s goddamned gasoline too. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Parity. Part of my job this week was calling around and talking to people from other organizations who are saddled with their own version of my favorite dog and pony show. It’s no surprise that everyone I spoke to runs theirs a little differently. I didn’t uncover anything unexpected or particularly helpful, but I did discover that everywhere else, the person these other offices put in charge of their annual spectacular is at least graded out as a deputy director. Put another way they are all, a minimum of one good pay grade or two notches on the org chart higher than me. Yeah, that was a feel-good moment right there.

2. Inflation alarm. The federal government poured vast amounts of money into the economy over the last eighteen months in the form of direct payments via enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments and the Paycheck Protection Program. People, as they tend to do when they have money in their pockets, went on a buying binge. Stocks, houses, and consumer goods were all in the crosshairs of people with cash to spend. We spent so hard we overwhelmed the supply side’s ability to keep up with demand. And now, the headlines are screaming that we’re supposed to be shocked that inflation has taken hold and the price of good and services is increasing. Beyond the few classes I had to take as part of a social science major, I’m not a student of economics… even so, the results of increasing demand, limited supply, and boatloads of money in circulation is almost entirely predictable, no?

3. The waiting. Here I sit. About seven hours after getting the COVID-19 booster jammed into my arm. I feel fine, with barely even a sore arm to show for my trouble. What I do have, though, is the uncomfortable period of waiting. My first COVID shot was a non event. After getting my second Moderna shot way back in March, I had a bit of an aching arm, but went to bed and woke up the next morning feeling fine. Exactly twenty-four hours after the jab, though, I got to experience the unpleasant hit-by-a-bus feeling advertised as a potential side effect – chills, aches, lethargy – pretty much the full list with the merciful exception of nausea. That one skipped me, somehow. In any case, I’m sitting here, waiting to see what things look like around lunchtime tomorrow. Prevention is worth a pound of cure and all that, but I’m trying to mentally prepare for another lost day.

A trusted professional…

I am a professional bureaucrat. Not the best pusher of paper that ever lived, but there aren’t many cases where I have trouble holding my own.

In that role, one of the things you are faced with is that while you can be an advisor – a voice of reason – you’re not in any way to confuse your position as being that of a decision maker. That function is performed by others. It’s a fact that you either accept fairly early in your career or it slowly drives you towards a special kind of madness.

I’ve come to terms with it.

I’ll give the very best advice my seven years of running certain projects can provide. It will generally be insightful and guided by the experience of having been there and tried that at some point in the past. I can tell you where the bodies are buried, why certain ideas have never worked, and the kind of feedback we’re likely to get if you follow any specific course of action. What I can’t do is force you, as the decision maker, to follow the best path. That part is wholly out of my hands – and often beyond my ability to influence.

I can only promise that I’ll always give you my fair and honest estimate of what should be done, the resources it needs, and how to avoid the foreseeable pitfalls… but don’t think for a moment that means I won’t be right there cheerfully dispensing a loud and hearty “I told you so” when the thing turns into a barely mitigated shitshow because you wanted to go your own way.

I might be a trusted professional, but don’t think for a moment I’m above gloating even when the cock up means I’m doing 5x more work than we’d have needed to if we did things the right way from the start.

More news from our stupid century…

I saw an article a couple of days ago from a nominally reputable news source, published under the headline “Retailers urged to re-think police calls for low-level crimes.”

Unsurprisingly, I fall into the camp that would take the exact opposite approach. As long as people are rewarded, or at a minimum not punished for criminal behavior, there’s no disincentive at all against continuing to engage in that behavior. I’m no sociologist, but it feels like a reasonable assumption that if I get away with some number of these “low-level” crimes, at some point I may be tempted to escalate towards criminal actions that aren’t minor. That’s pure speculation based on my estimation of basic human behavior, of course.

I’d hoped we could all agree on something as basic as stating “crime is bad.” Apparently here in the 21st century even that is a bridge too far.

While I’m perfectly willing to concede that some crimes are worse than others, I’m nowhere close to the idea that we shouldn’t enforce the law, deter would be criminals, and punish those who choose to live outside the law. I’d go so far as to say there should be more arrests and prosecutions for criminal activities rather than fewer. Otherwise, have the courage to change the laws so everyone has an equal opportunity to pass counterfeit notes, shoplift, or engage in whatever other petty criminal behavior strikes their fancy in a guilt free environment.

Retailers may be willing to look the other way, but catering to a criminal element by condoning or enabling bad behavior feels like precisely the opposite of the actions we need to be taking to discourage and penalize criminal activity.

Lessons from Texas…

There are lots of lessons about the debacle of the Texas electric grid.

The biggest, for me at least, is the confirmation that energy independence isn’t just about making the fuel we consume right here in the good ol’ U S of A, but also in having a bare minimum ability to produce some power or heat separate and apart from whatever grid happens to service your region.

For the average homeowner or renter, even a tiny, portable generator could power a modest electric heater – enough to keep a room warm and a lamp on as a shelter of last resort. For an apartment dweller the calculus is a bit different. Even so, there are indoor use options powered by propane or denatured alcohol that would provide welcome heating in a survival situation. The catch to all of those alternatives, though, if you need to have thought them through a bit before the “oh shit” moment arrives.

I’ll be the first to tell you that even the best generators aren’t foolproof. They need regular service and rely on a steady supply of your fuel of choice. Here at Fortress Jeff, that fuel source is a 500 gallon propane tank buried in the backyard. At best, on the day it’s filled, that tank will contain 400 gallons of propane – or a little more than six days of 24/7 run time for the average sized generator. Since most days that tank is sitting somewhere between full and “empty,” I work from the assumption that I can keep things fully up and running for half that time and maybe even less since the water heater and furnace both draw from the same tank. If it looks like a long duration outage, off and on cycling will buy me a few more days of keeping the place at least habitable.

Beyond that point, we’re at the mercy of the delivery service and the expectation that both the generator and HVAC systems keep working as advertised. That is to say, it’s not a zero risk plan that I put together. There are certainly scenarios where a deep snow or ice, and downed trees could prevent delivery or repair should an event drag into multiple days or some component fail. I assess the relative risk of that happening as being fairly low based on the historical record for the geographic area I currently occupy.

Even feeling fairly secure in my ability to operate independently from the grid for days if necessary, when the time comes to replace the current 21 years old tank, I’m planning to upgrade to a 1000 gallon model. When it comes to fuel on hand, I firmly believe the old logistician’s motto that “more is better.” On days I’m feeling particularly aggressive about my own personal energy independence, the thought of adding a wood stove also sounds awfully appealing. Without a fireplace of any kind in the house, it’s more of an undertaking than I’d really like to get involved with just now, but it’s on the radar for sure.

As for Texas, well, it’s just one more reminder than when shit really gets dicey, you’d better have a plan to get yourself through the worst of it, because the cavalry isn’t always going to ride over the hill and rescue you in the nick of time.

Working for it (just a little)…

I’m not a stranger to staking out unpopular opinions. It’s why I’ve never fit comfortably in such descriptive categories as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. I take a bit from each, apply my own logic and analysis, and come up with a position that makes purists in all categories somewhat uncomfortable. I’m fine with their discomfort.

It shouldn’t be surprising that I also have what I’m sure will be an internet-unpopular take on voting.

I simply believe that requiring a bit of effort to exercise the vote isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Republic. 

There. I said it. I don’t think voting should be turned into a sacred quest, but participating in an election should require at least a minimal amount of work. Showing up on the appointed day and time or needing to request a ballot isn’t a high bar to cross, but it does demonstrate personal commitment to the process. It’s a small, perhaps only symbolic gesture that someone is taking their role of citizen seriously… and we put a much higher burden on exercising other essential liberties.

Needing to work for it, if even just a little bit, implies a level of commitment to the idea that your vote is the matters not just to the process, but also to you as an individual… and that doesn’t sound like the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Homecoming.” Last weekend some of the parents in my old stomping grounds appear to have held an unofficial homecoming dance for their kids. Social media treated me to pictures with a dozen of their little darlings posted up elbow to asshole – no masks, no distancing, just crowded in like the pictures we would have taken back in the 90s.  Look, I get it. I have incredibly fond memories of homecomings and proms and the fully array of school events, you want to make sure your kid has the same memories, or you get to relive your glory days through them, or whatever. But doing it as we sit here watching COVID-19 bleeding through the ranks of the White House senior staff for engaging in similar fuckery, I have to wonder what would possess anyone to think this was a good idea. Raise ‘em however you want, I guess… but stay the hell away from me.

2. Candidates. Having now watched “debates” between both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates representing our major political parties, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not actually the structural government that’s failed us, but rather the bi-polar choice we’re presented with every four years and our collective willingness to go along with it just because it’s what we’ve always done. Our “two party system” has coughed up once candidate who is demonstrably a bad human being and another who, if elected, will pursue a number of policies I’ve opposed my entire adult life. Constrained by a self-regulating system that claims there are only two options, either option is a betrayal… of course that pre-supposes you accept the proposition that there are only two option.

3. Grass. I’ve been trying to get grass to fill in one small section of the back yard for two years now. It’s the first bit of the yard you see when walking out the back door and I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many bags of grass and clover seeds I’ve thrown down in the process. At best, it’s currently half green and half mud… and then there’s the nearly perfect radius of totally bare dirt where the dogs make their turn to head out towards the far reaches of the yard in high speed pursuit of the resident squirrels. It would be easy to blame this state of affairs on at least one dog who enjoys the rough and tumble of outside a bit too much, but I think we all know that’s not the kind of person I am… so it’s clearly the fault of the grass and some bad seed.