Social credit…

China is rolling out a system that assigns a “social credit score” to its citizens based on a wide number of factors, most of which are explicitly designed to influence citizen behavior. That is to say that the Chinese Communist Party wants to incentivize “proper” behavior and disincentivize whatever they decide is anti-social and intends to back it all up with the surveillance authority of the state. Their stated intend is to roll out a system “making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

It’s an interesting goal, to be sure. I mean who doesn’t want to live in a world where everyone is trustworthy and acts in a reasonable, controlled way? Even if the ends are somehow noble, the means should send a chill down all our backs – not just those of use who may for whatever reason find themselves traveling or doing business with China. Most of the major news sources I’ve seen are rightly calling the project Orwellian.

We’ve got plenty of surveillance going on right here at home of course. Most of us are willing participants in building out an extensive surveillance network of our very own. We all carry around a tracking device in our pockets, roll up and down the interstate with toll-paying transponders, and even stock our homes with security cameras. It’s not particularly hard or far fetched to imagine a day when we too are assessed a social credit score based on our level of compliance with the expectations of whatever powers may be at any given time.

I don’t think the future is necessarily some kind of dystopian hellscape where everyone we pass on the street can “down vote” us a la Black Mirror – although following the China model, such a world wouldn’t necessarily be difficult to achieve… and does give me at least a moment’s pause to wonder who’s watching me watch my cameras.

However, if this is the way we’re going, go ahead and put me down for a score of zero point zero because I absolutely do not have the time or patience for that level of douchebaggery.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

IMG_7893.JPG1. Canned goods. The media is currently filled with pictures from Texas of shoppers with carts piled high with canned goods, cases of water, and the usual list of hurricane supplies. I’m always struck when I see these pictures that so many people who live in an area historically frequented by natural disasters don’t have a week’s supply of food and water already laid on. Keeping a few extra cans of beans around for just such an occasion feels like something you should just do automatically even if you’re not in an area prone to high winds and water. Keeping yourself and your household alive in the immediate aftermath of whatever very bad thing hits your community feels a lot like something that you should take on as a personal responsibility instead of waiting for the Weather Channel to tell you you’re going to need water… and then bitching about the government not getting to you fast enough after the storm passes.

2. Powerball. Some woman in Massachusetts won my $758.7 million jackpot.

3. Suffering fools. We live in a polite society where it’s considered inappropriate to look someone in the eyes and ask them directly if they’ve always been stupid or if they have just been struck in the head by a blunt object. The result is no matter how stupid someone is, we’re not supposed to call them out on it. Look, I’m not expecting everyone to be a rising Einstein, I’m more than aware of the moments when my brain has locked up when trying to do or comprehend things that should be simple… but honest to God when the sum total of human knowledge is available to everyone on the device they spend most of their day staring at, there’s just no excuse for so many people to be so incredibly dumb.

Time keeps on slippin’…

I think I’m beginning now to understand why old people always seem vaguely angry. The world I knew, the one of my youth, the one I was infinitely comfortable with, isn’t the world. The leaders have all gone. The stars are going. Even the countries aren’t the same and the maps have been remade. It’s disconcerting to realize that nation-states and their seeming permeance are anything but.

Society is far more open and tolerant than it was “where I come from.” I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In most things social, I’m mostly happy enough to let peopled do their own thing so long as they aren’t troubling anyone else. Activities and lifestyles that weren’t even mentioned, or only mentioned in whispers in early 80s are not just tolerated now but celebrated. In half a human lifetime I already find myself looking agog at the way the world has changed.

I’m enough of a student of history to know that the change is inevitable. People and institutions adapt… and those who refuse to adapt are swallowed up by the vast sweep of time. As those dark scientists in economic say, “in the long run we’re all dead.”

If you stick around long enough maybe you get to see everything you knew as true eventually turn out to be something else entirely. That would probably be the real curse of eternal life. The time and place I’m from didn’t get it all right, but it wasn’t all wrong either. New and different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but neither does old and tested. There’s a balance to be struck, but if I’m any judge of human behavior we’ll inevitable swing the pendulum too far in both directions simultaneously.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Things I already did. If it’s three weeks after you asked me to do something and you’re feeling the temptation to ask where it is and why it’s late, that’s probably a good place to slow down and check yourself. Sort your inbox by name. Find mine. Then look very closely through the ones that are unread. Based on my observation, that will constitute most of them. Somewhere in that stack of unread messages, perhaps time stamped 37 minutes after your original request to me, you will find the information you seek. The lesson here is you’ve asked me for something, told me when you need it, and I’m not suffering from a debilitating illness of some sort, you’ll have it on time and to standard. The fact that you just can’t find it feels like less of my problem.

2. Surprise. The fact that any of the gods on Olympus are surprised that they can’t seem to find anyone interested in started their day at 10am and sticking around the office until 6PM or later is just staggering. There’s just no amount of cajoling that will ever make me think that’s a cherry schedule. Most of the rest of us just want to get the day started and ended as quickly as possible. I know for those who have climbed the heights there’s no greater calling than whatever petty bullshit is going on inside the office walls at 6:30 at night, but for the rest of us that’s the part of the day where actual life happens.

3. Safe spaces. As best I can tell, we’re really only entitled to one “safe space.” That space would be our own home. See, once I’m outside the kingdom that I am able to rule with an iron fist, I’m stuck with observing most of the social niceties, not telling people what idiots they are, and more or less accepting that there are ideas other than my own which may be valid. Home, my safe space, however, is where I keep my books and my writing and my fuzzy (and scaled) critters. It’s a space protected by lights and alarms and powder and lead. It’s where I can emote to my heart’s content without expecting my employer, school, or local businesses to accommodate my “need” to sit down and have a good cry.

The Starbucks Entitlement, or Give Me Free Shit…

The internet (or at least Twitter) lit up briefly this morning when Starbucks announced that they are going to change the way customers earn loyalty program points. Customers were outraged that the company was changing how various “elite” status levels are reached and how much money they would have to spend before they qualified to “get something free.”

Since I moved to the sticks and don’t drive past half a dozen Starbucks locations on my daily commute maybe I feel this change a little less acutely than the average overpriced coffee drinker. Or maybe it’s just a beautifully wrapped case-in-point of everything that is wrong with America today… because customers, presumably regular customers who enjoy Starbucks products and services, are now up in arms because the company is making it just a little bit harder to get free shit.

Let that idea sit with you for a while. Starbucks, a business that exists for the purpose of making money through the sale of coffee and related ephemera, actually wants its customers to spend a little more money before getting something for nothing. I’ll even take it a step further and directly question when we as a society decided that it was our God given right to expect people and business to give their products away. Somehow we’ve managed to take a gesture of goodwill and thanks – a free cup of coffee – and twist it into some kind of entitlement.

I learned from a young age that sometimes life is tough. The world doesn’t owe you a damned thing besides the chance to work hard, scrape, and make something for and of yourself. Past that, you’re not entitled to a thin dime – or a $5 cup of coffee – from anyone else. So when you do get something for nothing, be appreciative instead of immediately taking to the internet to cry that it’s just not enough.

If you think you’re getting a raw deal from Starbucks take your business elsewhere. There are hundreds of businesses that would be happy enough to take your money. Better yet, go get yourself a nice Italian coffee machine so you can cut out the middle man and *gasp* learn to brew your very own java. You’ll save a lot more money doing that than you’ll earn back through any customer loyalty program.

As always, not a sermon, just a though.

30 hours and counting…

It’s been about 30 hours since I’ve had any direct, face-to-face contact with anyone. Some people might find that unnerving, but It’s been pretty much dreamy. Sure, I’ve been pretty much in regular contact with the The Hermitworld through email, text, Facebook, Twitter, and Insta, but if you can avoid all of the awkward, annoying, and generally tiresome interacting with the general public, why wouldn’t you?

I have no idea of the furthest extent of my capability for hermiting. I think the longest stretch I can remember was four days. Generally I’m forced out of the house in search of fresh tortoise food or the need to work for a living long before the desire to actually leave ever crops up. If sustenance for the critters living under this roof weren’t a factor, I dare say I could hole up for months without incurring any significant trauma or anguish.

Alas, all good things must come to an end so if anyone needs me I’ll be over here getting myself into a mental space where I can pretend to be an engaged and productive member of society. Wish me luck.

Hello Caitlyn…

Half my friends and family are probably appalled that the olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner is now called Caitlyn. Abomination in the eyes of God, blah, blah, blah. The other half of my friends are celebrating Caitlyn as a hero for the 21st century. Such bravery in the face of certain criticism and hate, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Color me ambivalent. Disinterested. Nonplussed. If Bruce wants to be Caitlyn, as in all things that don’t infringe on the free exercise of my liberty, I say God bless and have a good life. It’s a short one – far too short to go about wringing your hands and gnashing your teeth because someone somewhere doesn’t live their lives the way you think they should.

Don’t like pornography? Don’t look at it. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t have one. Don’t like booze? Don’t drink. Don’t like the way someone is talking to God? Don’t listen. Don’t like that Caitlyn Jenner is on the cover of a magazine? Don’t look. No one is forcing a damned thing down your throat. You’re free to take it or leave it – but when you fixate on it, when it becomes an all consuming irritant in your life, when you want to cram everyone else on the planet into your narrow minded mold, don’t be surprised when I think you’re a crate of AK-47s away from being the damned Taliban.

Go live your life. Let other people live theirs. Put on a dress. Put on a track suit. Get out there and allow your friends and neighbors to enjoy the same freedom of conscience you expect them to give you. You’ll save yourself a lot of angst and anguish that way.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Human interaction. Some people don’t get subtly. They don’t pick up on the social cues that the rest of us understand naturally. Occasionally that means you have to do things that under any other circumstances would make you seem and feel like a jackass… but when someone isn’t getting the message, sometimes that’s all that’s left. If that means I have to stand up and walk away from you mid-sentence, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to feel bad about it. I’m not going to apologize for it. As much as I’d rather handle it like a normal human being, I’m perfectly willing to be an asshole in the service of my own sanity.

2. The canonization of John Stewart. Stewart is a funny guy. I like the Daily Show. But I don’t get the left wing lionizing him for his take on Fox News. I mean does anyone not know they trend towards the right wing? I’m not sure that’s even a serious discussion. Like every media outlet, they have an agenda or an ax to grind. CNN, MSNBC, Sky, they all have their own brand of slant, but Stewart singles out Fox with glee as if they were the only ones pushing an ideology. It’s a case that could be just as easily made about just about every organization, everywhere. Then again, I guess it doesn’t hurt that the Daily Show’s viewers skew left… I suppose Mr. Stewart, too, knows how his bread is buttered.

3. Lunch. Turkey sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly. Ham sandwich. Turkey sandwich. Salad. Turkey Sandwich. Meatball sub. Turkey sandwich. Turkey sandwich. Salad. Ham sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly. As a cost cutting measure back in the dark days of the furlough I started packing my own lunch… but honest to God if I keep opening my bag and seeing nothing but deli sandwiches, salads, and wraps I might have to burn my cubicle to the ground. There simply has to be a better lunch than sandwiches, microwave “meals”, and leftovers. If there isn’t, the terrorists have already won.

What good looks like…

I walked into the middle of an ongoing conversation today. That’s not unusual in a place where you find yourself wandering in and out of rooms all the time. What was unusual, however, was the topic – the riot in Baltimore, the use of the word thug, gun control, and general shitstorm state of society. It’s unusual because in my career I can count on less than five fingers the number of times a real discussion of politics has come up at the office. Most work conversations are an exercise in staying away from anything that might prove to be too sensitive – they tend towards talks about weekend plans, home improvement projects, what what’s for lunch. In other words the default setting is to avoid bringing up topics that anyone might in some way find offensive or objectionable.

What struck me this afternoon more than anything else, though, was how wildly divergent the politics and opinions of this small group of people I work with every day really was… and how quickly the tone escalated as the opposing viewpoints dug in to their respective corners. Every person in the room was reasonably well educated with a respectable amount of life experience behind them, but a “right” answer was nowhere in sight – and one that we could all agree on wasn’t on the continent, let alone in the same building.

I wonder, now that we’ve come to our collective senses and gone back to “safe” topics, if there is any real resolution to the issues that beset us. As long as we all remain intransigent, the answer to that is probably no. Compromise doesn’t feel like a satisfying solution – half a loaf (at best) – but with five smart people, having five different and equally strong opinions, I’m starkly aware that I have no idea what a good answer looks like.

Mood…

Here as the week slides into the halfway point, I find myself in what I can only describe as “a mood.” It is most assuredly not a happy place, but it’s made worse because I can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is.

Actually, that’s a lie. A falsehood. A fabrication. I can identify with great precision the source of the vast majority of my angst and ill feeling. Except, of course, we’re not allowed to say things like that out loud. As part of our social contract, we’ve all agreed that we won’t call out bullshit when we see it. We’ll go along to get along and maintain the illusion of happiness with our little fictions. We won’t say anything that might upset the balance because we fear the consequences. I’m as guilty of it as anyone, maybe even more so because I can feel the truth physically twisting at my insides wanting out, but I hold my tongue for the sake of keeping the peace and preserving the status quo.

The whole illusion gnaws at me. Day in, day out, pretending that batshit crazy is perfectly normal and counting the years, months, days, and hours until you aren’t compelled to do it any more. Just one time I’d like to stand up, open my mouth, and let the truth fly out. Unvarnished, impolite, brutal honesty.

Good God, but couldn’t the world use a big heavy dose of that?

But we live in a world where words have consequences. So I swallow that honesty one more time. Push it back down into that place where it comes from. And pray to whatever gods are interested in such things for the power and good graces to let me smile and nod and not launch into a raving diatribe at inappropriate moments – knowing, as I do, that no good would come of it.

Ah, see? I feel better just for getting that small rant out in the open. My safety valve of a blog once again saved my soul.