What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Firewalls. I’m perfectly well aware of the need for network security. Keeping China out of our computer system is a worthy goal. That being said, it feels like there should be some kind of reasonable middle ground that would not also block me from accessing large swaths of the interwebs that I need to do my actual job. For the country that put a man on the moon using a ship with less computing horsepower than a TI graphing calculator, it really doesn’t feel like it should be that much of a stretch.

2. Risk mitigation. Hawaii is a beautiful part of the world. I was lucky early in my career to have everyone pay for me to spend a fair amount of time out there. After reading all the news reports of homes being destroyed and residents being left penniless because their property wasn’t insured, all I can do is shake my head and wonder what the fuck they were thinking. It’s very clear from the first time you fly into the airport on the Big Island that you are treading on the upper reaches of a volcano – one that you know is active because it’s been spewing lava into the ocean for a couple of decades now. Building or buying a house sitting on top of an active volcano and then opting not to hedge your bet, feels awfully foolish. When I lived deep in the heart of the New Madrid Seismic Zone the likelihood of the house falling down on my head was small, but the severity if it did happen was catastrophic. You can bet your last puka bead that I threw down the extra scratch to tack on an earthquake rider to my policy. I’m not saying I don’t feel bad for the people who gabled and lost, but living in paradise doesn’t negate the need cover your own ass.

3. Death to America. I don’t agree with every policy position set out by the Trump Administration. Not by a long shot. However, when the religio-extremists governing Iran are sending their people into the streets to chant “death to America,” I’ve always thought there’s a good chance we’re doing something right.

Who to blame or, Bad intentions…

I have a very simple rule here at Fortress Jeff: When bad things happen as a result of piss poor decision making, the buck stops with me. I get the credit for the good stuff so it’s only fair that I take the blame when my decisions go awry.

When I was 20 years old and walked into the cave-like bar in the basement of the Hotel Gunter, I knew damned well and good I was under the legal drinking age. I also knew they’d serve me. When the local constabulary arrived asking to see everyone’s papers, I wasn’t the victim of a totalitarian police state. I was the victim of being a stupid 20 year old making my own bad decisions.

Four years later, when my beloved Jeep was broken into. The slash and grab cost me a few hundred dollars of CDs and an ashtray full of change. Yes, I blame the criminal for breaking into a locked vehicle, but I share the burden of blame because I left an easy target sitting in plain sight. If there hadn’t been something of obvious value in clear view I wonder if he’d have passed on to the next target of opportunity.

If nothing else, social media has shown me that we live in a world where people think we should just all love one another and there are butterflies and peppermint sticks at every turn. The reality is that we live in a world where bad things happen and where there are natural consequences that accompany every action. When you play stupid games, there’s a strong probability that you will win stupid prizes. No amount of wishing it different will change that.

I’m not here to shame any victims or absolve the fault of any criminals, but I am here to say that we’re all responsible for our own behaviors and actions. Bad things happen to good people all the time. The very best thing we can do as individuals is to understand the important relationship between action and consequence and the do our best to mitigate our personal risk factors. One awfully easy way of reducing the number of bad things that could happen to you is to give it some thought before you walk down a dark alley alone, or leave your computer laying on the back seat of your car, or drink until you’re blind drunk. People with bad intentions are out there already and they may do horrible things anyway, but it damned well doesn’t mean we should make ourselves an easy mark because we think we’ll be untouched by other people’s bad decisions and immune to the consequences of our own.

What Jeff Likes this Week

OrionOrion. It’s really that simple. I like Orion and the fact that for the first time since the early 1970s, the United States of America hurtled a man made object out beyond low earth orbit.

I like Orion because it represents the next in an unbroken series of exploratory and evolutionary steps that have carried humanity out of the Great Rift Valley, across and under oceans, and to the moon. It’s the only thing that makes sense after we’ve hunted and gathered our way across the surface of the entire planet – learning how to live in every inhospitable environment this world can throw at us. It’s what must be next because leaving this fragile blue planet is the last, best hope that human civilization will endure should we ever be dumb enough to destroy ourselves here on earth.

Of course leaving the planet is also the best chance that we’ll run into an aggressive space traveling civilization, microbes against which humanity has not natural defense, or give us the capability to militarize deep space and kill off civilization in entirely new and interesting ways… so it’s kind of a double edged sword.

Still, it’s worth every penny and every risk.

Note: This is the 3rd entry in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. History. Throw the date June 6th out there and ask the average man in the street what the significance is, I’m willing to bet the dollar in my pocket that maybe one in ten could tell you that it’s the anniversary of the day America and Great Britain launched the liberation of continental Europe. I won’t even give you odds on them knowing that much of Italy had already been liberated by the time the Normandy landings took place. I’m a history guy, so the nitnoid facts and trivia have always been important to me, but I weep that for so many the pinnacle of American achievement is Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the vastness of our shopping malls.

2. Vaccinations. I’m not a parent. Baring some kind of catastrophic misfire on the range, I never will be. I intellectually understand that when it comes to issues of the health and welfare of their child, a parent is very nearly sovereign. However, in a world where polio, measles, and a host of other diseases that we collectively obliterated in the last century start popping up again, I’m forced to draw at least a tentative connection between those illnesses reemerging and the small but vocal group of parents who have decided that vaccines are bad. It just strikes me that as bad as the adverse reaction to a vaccine can be, getting the actual disease it prevents is quite probably worse. We take our lives in our hands every morning when we get out of bed… I just wish more people would realize that a risk assessment needs to account for both the probably of something happening as well as the severity of the negative impact if that thing does happen. Then again that assumes people operate from a place of reason. Fat chance of that happening any time soon.

3. Bergdahl. What he did or did not do while in captivity is a matter of open dispute. That’s fine. However, I tend to agree with General McChrystal, who stated it most clearly: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.” SGT Bergdahl is an American soldier. He was held by a foreign power and now he’s not. If there is legitimate evidence he violated his oath or otherwise broke the law, then by all means, drag him before a court martial and try the case. We don’t leave Americans behind. Period. That should be a sacred trust between the government and the people both in and out of uniform. There’s plenty of room for honest and frank discussion, but I have a hard time arguing that getting an American citizen back is ever the wrong thing to do. If he’s guilty, lock him away and lose the key, but if he’s innocent, thank the young man for his service and let him get on with his life.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Yesterday you made a big deal about wanting someone in the room to flip your slides while you gave the new employee briefing. Today you threw that person out of the room once they got their computer set up (I won’t mention that employee then didn’t have a computer to use for, you know, work, for the next 90 minutes). Then you threw out the other “witnesses” in the room who were in a position to argue with what you were about to say to the poor unfortunate new guy.

Is it possible that you were going to weave him a web of lies and that the presence of informed people might undermine that? Are your lies so unbalanced now that you can only tell them behind closed doors? Maybe it’s that you’ve told so many that people are catching on and comparing notes now. Better not to risk having too many people in one place these days. Paranoia is a classy look.

Oh Uberboss, you may have the title, but you’ll never have what you really want. Forget about the respect of your peers. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in this building that even likes you as a human being.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Doing stupid…

I like to rant about stupid people. Anyone who’s read more than a post or two knows that. For the most part, I’m fussing about people who either a) don’t know they’re stupid, b) don’t care they are stupid, or c) some combination of the previous two. There’s another category that I don’t rail against nearly as often. Mostly because I have a tendency to be one of them.

There is, from time to time, the opportunity for someone who is otherwise intelligent to get up a head of steam and run headlong into a giant wall of stupid. Not because he doesn’t know the wall is there or because he thinks the wall will move, but out of a much more deep seeded desire to do stupid because somewhere in the middle of it, there’s probably going to be a good time involved. Usually doing stupid doesn’t involve more than a passing level of risk to health or welfare, and never involves anything approaching illegal, but like everything else we do, we assume some degree of risk when agreeing to take the ride.

There’s a fair chance that I’ll spend some part of the coming weekend heavily engaged in doing stupid. There’s an equal and opposite chance that it’s going to be a good time. But just in case, if I haven’t checked in over the next couple of days, send guns and money.

Seriously.

Deal breaker…

A few days ago, I was asked why I was so intransigent about not wanting kids and invited to come up with a post expounding on my view of what has been described more than once as a deal breaking issue. At an age when nearly all of my friends have settled in to the routine of child manufacturing and upkeep, it’s a fair question. It’s also a question I approached with some trepidation, because of the inherent risk of causing unintentional offense as I refine and clarify my own thinking on the issue.

While these may not be the best or most altruistic reasons, they are mine… at least my top five.

• People seem hard wired to think babies – their own, ones they pass on the street, any babies really – are adorable. That gene seems to have skipped me. My response is more along the lines of “Ohhhh look… a small scrunched up human.”

• I’ve heard my entire life “having a child will change everything”. That’s great and all, but I like my life. I like the things that are important to me now and I want them to continue to be important to me in the future.

• Having dogs has meant giving up a certain degree of freedom to travel and do things on short notice – but I can lock them in a cage for a few hours and go do what I need to do or drop them off at the kennel for a few days and fly off to whatever tropical place interests me. With a baby, that’s apparently considered “neglect.”

• It sounds selfish, and it undeniably is, but I’m my own highest priority. I’m not wild about the thought of completely subsuming my goals, wants, and priorities to a small human for the next 18-25 years.

• Kids are crazy expensive. I bitch about $200 vet bills and $50 a bag dog food. Want to guess how I’d react to a $500 stroller or thousands a year in private school tuition?

I’m not a militant kid-hater (unless they’re crying in a movie theatre or throwing food at a restaurant). I’m a three time Godfather. My friends’ kids are awesome. But when the end of the day rolls around, I’m not the one with the responsibility for clothing, feeding, and educating said friends’ kids and I’ll be going home to a house not strewn with toys, without crayon on the wall, grape juice stains on the carpet, or crumbs on the couch. Being Uncle Jeff is great like that. It’s having all of the perks without any of the drawbacks.

I just don’t see how this can be a point of compromise. It’s a binary sort of thing – unless there’s a lease-purchase arrangement that could be worked out – maybe two days a week and every third weekend. If there’s any uncertainly at all about the desire to procreate, it seems best to err on the side of caution. I don’t want to spend the rest of my days resenting the hell out a child or its mother for finding myself living a life I was never sure I really wanted. Maybe in my declining years, I’ll wonder “what if I had….” But those thoughts for a few years in my dotage seems like a far better option than spending the next 30 years wondering, “what if I hadn’t”.

For me at least, it’s about risk management. I’m mostly happy with the life I’ve got. As much as I love a good day at the casino, I’m not about to give up a sure thing now to roll the dice on the long shot that I’m wrong about all this. If that’s a deal breaker, I guess it is what it is.