Stupid hillbilly…

As a fiscal conservative with mostly libertarian social leanings, I’m regularly amused/annoyed by the classic liberal argument that runs along the lines of “conservatives are stupid hillbillies who have never picked up a book.” I can only assume when I hear that that what they really mean is “Mine is the only opinion that matters and if you disagree with me you are Satan/Hitler and I’m going to put my fingers in my ears so I’m not forced to listen to or attempt to comprehend dissenting opinions so I can go on trying to make myself look big by making others look small.”

Yes, I am a moderately conservative American raised in Appalachia. I suppose that, in and of itself, earns me the “stupid hillbilly” title in some eyes. You should know, thought, that I’ve also read Plato, Locke, and Rousseau. I’ve read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. I’ve read Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, too, and the Bible, and more biographies of great leaders of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries than I want to list. My economics shelf covers everything from Smith’s Wealth of Nations to Marx’s Capital. History? Yeah, those shelves are groaning under the weight of volumes ranged from ancient Greece and Rome, the religious wars of Europe, to the space race that I’ve read and synthesized to help inform my view of the world. I won’t bother to deep dive the fiction that’s passed through my hands over the years. Suffice to say that Dickens, Twain, and a couple hundred others are on the list.

I say all that to say this: If you want to have a frank discussion on policy or the proper role of government, I’m usually all in. If you come at me with some version on “All Republicans are…”, well you should feel free to immediately go fuck yourself. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the social media shitposting that would inevitably follow. It’s enough for me to know that by insisting in dealing in absolutes and arguments that rely on painting “all” of one group or another with a particular brush, you are far bigger part of the problem with the social discourse in this country than this stupid hillbilly could ever be.

Swinging the ban hammer…

I follow a lot of really dissimilar people on Twitter. Politicians, comedians, real life friends, actors, talking heads, meme accounts, porn stars, bakers, and candlestick makers are all on the list. I follow them because I find them either entertaining, informative, or fun to look at. For me, Twitter is the electronic equivalent of walking down the street and hearing snippets of the conversations taking place around you. It has the decided advantage of not requiring you to be out walking an actual street interacting with actual people.

What so many of these seemingly dissimilar individuals appear to have in common is the swift and violent reaction to any comment or re-tweet with which they happen to disagree. I saw at least three posts this morning before 6AM that had some variation of “come at me, I’m itching to hit the block button.”

Sure, you’re perfectly free to block or unfollow someone at any time for any reason under the sun or for no reason at all. I post what I want, like what I want, and almost always give everyone else as wide a berth as possible to do the same. More and more, though, it feels like net denizens are just roving their feed looking for either a fight or an excuse to display how offended they are. Hey, feel free to swing that ban hammer till your heart’s content. It just seems to me there are better and more entertaining and productive uses for social media.

But I’m just a guy sitting here, so do whatever I guess.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Perception. Working for our Uncle lo these many years has given me an odd relationship with money, particularly with my perception of what constitutes a “large amount” of it. Sure, in my personal life $100,000 is a big number. It’s almost twice what I paid for my first place. In my professional capacity, though, throwing out round numbers in the tens and hundreds of millions is the rule rather than the exception. That’s why having long drawn out conversations about spending $100k makes perfect sense to my tax paying soul, but drives my professional self to madness. In the overall scope of the budget it’s barely a rounding error and I’d just like to get on with other stuff.

2. Facebook. I secretly suspect that we all have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It turns out due to a recent policy change, my blog, hosted on WordPress, is no longer allowed to communicate directly with my Facebook profile. What I use to be able to do with one click can now conveniently be done with about twelve. I do love it when technology is used to make simple tasks even harder to do. I also enjoy it when the solution to having a handful of bad actors exploit a feature is to terminate that feature for all users. Look, I know Facebook is a “free” platform and they can do what they want, but honest to God at some points their tweaks and “features” are going to drive one to ask if it isn’t just easier to interact with the other platform instead.

3. The Privilege Police. I have a bad habit of browsing the comments when I read news articles or opinion pieces. I’d probably be far less agitated by the news if I’d stop doing that. On one recent article, every 3rd comment was some variation on “this was so written from a place of privilege,” as if that were somehow sufficient reason to invalidate someone’s opinion or personal experience as detailed in an article written from their point of view. It feels patently ridiculous to assume every American, living and, dead has had the same American Experience. I feel not one ounce of shame about where or who I’ve come from and will continue to tell my story from my perspective no matter the gnashing or teeth and rending of garments it may cause the Privilege Police. After all, they are perfectly free to write an article addressing the same topic or experience from their point of view. Apparently creating original content is harder than just sitting at the keyboard being offended by every damned thing.

It’s pointy sticks for Wordpress…

It’s come to my attention over the last several days that the bit of technology that connects my WordPress account to Facebook to provide a helpful little notification that there’s something new to read seems to be not working as it should do.

Having been in at the creation of the internet, spending my formative technological years in newsgroups and chat rooms before moving on to more modern offerings like Classmates, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. I only mention it to establish my credibility as one who is steeped well in the art of screaming into the online void. The fact that nothing happens to be screaming back at any particular moment isn’t particularly surprising. The void is a big place after all. However, that little notice that “Hey, Jeff published something new” is something I looked forward to five nights a week.

The beauty of the basic WordPress account is that it works just about flawlessly 999 days out of 1000. There’s not that much administrative work to keep up with unless you have a deep desire to figure out what all the switches and buttons do. Mostly it just sits there and runs itself based on whatever selections you made when first setting up the account. I’ve stayed firmly rooted to this platform because it has required so little in the way of upkeep over the years.

There are, of course, there’s the odd day when something behaves oddly and you have to climb down into the engine compartment and start poking things with pointy sticks until it starts working again. That’s what it’ll feel like anyway, because I’ve very clearly lost touch with how anything deeper than the surface layer of technology works.

Worse than hot takes…

I was thrilled today to see much of the North Korea hot takes that filled my newsfeed over the last few days giving way to the funny animal posts and random memes that I’ve come to rely on social media to deliver.

Unfortunately, my feed was equally crammed with a third category of post that I could have really done without. Instead of making me laugh or teaching me something new, apparently the internet decided that today I needed to learn about every dog available for adoption between New Jersey and central Virginia. Believe me when I say it was 100% information I’d have been happy doing without.

On a typical day I wander through life with a generic sense of wanting all the animals. When the internet uses its communicative powers to give each of those animals form and substance, though, all rational arguments like, vet bills, food, training, and not turning into an animal hoarder flow directly out the window.

So it turns out I’m going to need a break from the internet because not because the news of the day is so upsetting, but because animals are just so damned amazing and I want to bring all of them home.

The happy dream of the future…

It’s another day after an extended weekend and another day where I have very little on my mind. Spending a maximum amount of time at home tending the yard, tending the animals, sunk deeply into a book, or just generally avoiding people is clearly good for calming my brain even at the cost of having anything scathing to write about. It’s probably worth the trade off.

Before giving a mighty shrug of indifference I considered a number of topics for today – North Korea, border security, Starbucks, social media, and a few others. It really comes down to not being able to gin up much of an interest in any of them. That might be when the real truth hit me – although I have a passing interest in wide swath of topic areas, there are only a handful I actually give a damn about on a regular basis. That number gets even smaller when you whittle the time down to any individual day.

That’s all a round about way of saying that when it comes right down to it, I simply lack the bandwidth or interest to care about most issues. I don’t and won’t judge someone for what they choose to care about, but I’ll save my outrage and effort for the ones that are important to me. It’s not personal, just the reality of having limited time and resources and wanting to allocate them in a way that best serves my own interests.

There is something deeply appealing to me about pulling up the drawbridge and applying the focusing exclusively on whatever is of interest in the moment. That version of my reality is a number of years off yet, but it’s the happy dream of the future that sustains me.

By 35…

I’d never really thought of MarketWatch as a leading newsmaker, but after their social media post noting that “By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts.” They’ve experienced their 15 minutes and then some.

The thing is, if you’re contemplating what it takes to achieve a “normal” retirement at the “normal” age in the “normal” way, their post isn’t broadly off the mark. Their point, beyond being something that seems to beggar belief to millennials, is that if you ever want to retire in the traditional sense of the word, you need to plan for it… and more importantly you need to save for it. Only you know for sure what right number – 2x, 10x, or 50x your annual salary invested – is going to meet your needs at any given time along your glide path.

“But,” you say, “Everything is so expensive. I have loans, and bills, and kids, and a master’s degree in advanced basketweaving. I can’t save anything.”

That’s fine. In many cases those expenses came along with decisions you made. That means you placed a premium on those other options rather than building a stable platform for retirement. It means you’re going to have to work past the traditional retirement age or contemplate a significant lifestyle change in order to realign you financial priorities. In some cases, especially for those who decide the whole long-range planning things is just too hard, you may have to accept that there’s a good chance you’re going to die in harness.

I got my first “grown up” job at 22. Making about $30K a year, paying rent, a car note, household bills, buying groceries, and all the other expenses that come along with being a grown ass man. It sucked. Money was always short, but before I saw a nickel of it in my checking account $25 of every check that first year went into my retirement account. Let me be clear on this – to me, back then, $50 was a shit ton of money to “do without” from month to month. There were a lot of things I could have spent that cash on to make life a little more civilized and comfortable that first year. The thing is, even at 22, when I still believed I was on my way to a long and fulfilling teaching career, I knew I didn’t want to still be touching America’s youth when I was in my 70s.

Here’s the kicker: Life isn’t easy. It’s full of hard decision, medical emergencies, and events that don’t work out quite as you had planned. Take it from a guy who changed careers, lived through five regional or cross country moves in 18 years to follow better opportunities, and then took a bath on a house he bought at the height of the real estate bubble. I know this shit isn’t easy.

There are precisely 300 million websites out there that can help you develop the mindset and skills that make retirement a thing that’s possible. But it means you’re going to have to do more hard work and educate yourself on the topics and the tools available. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to do it for you while shitposting on Twitter, well, I guess you’re right – retirement is definitely never going to happen.