100% American…

Look, so here’s the thing about Senator Warren and President Trump… I just don’t care. Arguing the finer points of an Ancestry.com DNA test makes you both look even more ridiculous than usual. That’s no small task given the two pols in question and yet the two of them have managed to yet again exceed exceptions… or is it that they found a way to nudge the bar just a little bit lower?

It doesn’t matter a lick to me if you’re 1/2 Sub-Saharan African, or 1/3 Anglo-Saxon, or 1/4 Pacific Islander, or 1/1024 Native American. Sure, I guess those are all fun factoids to trot out at parties but beyond that they’re mostly irrelevant. It’s the kind of differentiation that feeds into my general eye-rolling when someone defines themselves as Irish-American, or African-American, or Japanese-American. While interesting from the historian’s perspective, or for those who study mass migration, knowing where your 12x great grandparents came from is largely a “so what” kind of declaration. Congrats, your ancestors were Welsh shepherds. Here’s a cookie.

If you say you want to live in a country where people don’t judge or make assumptions based on your background, heritage, skin color, or ancestral place of origin, trying being “just” a plain old American. No hyphen needed. No percentage necessary. Just tell me you are an American and that’s all I need to know.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Air conditioning. If reports out of central Maryland are to be believed, we are now living in the midst of the worst rash of human rights violations in the history of the state. I wish I’d have known back in the 80s and 90s that air conditioning in schools was a civil right. It turns out mine were violated regularly between about 1989 and 1996 when I and my classmates were forced to endure education without the benefit of air conditioning with only the comforting whir of dozens of box fans stirring the broiling air inside our classrooms. Since these long-dormant childhood injuries have now been pulled to the surface by an insensitive media establishment, I’m left wondering which state office we need to file with to receive our settlement for emotional trauma and discomfort?

2. Cowardice. Courage isn’t hiding behind a brick wall of anonymity saying mean things for fun and profit while trying to make sure you don’t lose your job. If you’re a member of the administration, outraged by it’s behavior and feel that you have no recourse but to speak out against it, the only legitimate option available to you is to resign your position. Then you are free to speak out and avail yourself of every other opportunity afforded to you. When I have an opinion, unpopular or not, I post it here and make sure my name is one it. To make your stand anonymously from a position of safety protected from public scrutiny isn’t an act of bravery, but a self-serving act of personal cowardice.

3. Thursday dinner. I loath and dispise needing to cook a full meal when I get home from work. Mostly I solve that problem by over-making Sunday dinner and crock-potting something on Monday. Juicy leftover goodness is the dispensed for lunch and dinner for the next three days. By Thursday, though, the options box starts looking a little bare… and by a little bare, I mean selecting between frozen burritos, Spaghettio’s, or a tasty bowl of Corn Flakes. Sure, I could order up something for delivery, but that involves someone coming to the house, so it’s a less desirable option. I could, of course, give in, and prepare an actual meal. That option, too, feels unlikely. If it’s Thursday and you’re reading this, chances are Corn Flakes has ended up being what’s for dinner.

AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Note: I usually let each edition of WAJTW stretch broadly across three topic areas. On rare occasions, I feel compelled to focus in on just one. This is one of those weeks.

Because I refuse to let my social media feeds descend into a single ideology echo chamber, I’m seeing a lot of posts screaming that Justice Kennedy is a “bad man” or has “betrayed the country” buy announcing his retirement. While everyone is entitled to have and voice their opinion, the simple act of having or voicing that opinion doesn’t necessarily make you right.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is 82 years old. He was first appointed to the federal bench by President Gerald Ford. Take a breath and let that sink in. He was appointed to the US Court of Appeals in 1975 and elevated to the Supreme Court in 1988. Take another breath. That means he has been serving his country as a judge for more than 40 years – longer than I’ve been alive and certainly longer than the angsty millennials who seem to make up the largest block of those calling him a “traitor” have been around.

I don’t always agree with Justice Kennedy’s reading of the law, but after entering his 9th decade and serving 43 years on the federal bench, I’d say he’s entitled to move off into retirement any damned time he wants to. If you think an 82 year old man wanting to retire is an act of political cowardice, I suspect you’re the one who has a particularly craven view of politics.

Here’s a pro tip – if you can’t somehow manage to see life through any lens other than politics, go outside for a while, or pick up a book, or watch a movie, or do whatever you need to do to get your head a little unfucked. Seriously. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

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 heard 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.

Diplomacy…

I’m not, either by training or disposition, suited for the world of diplomacy. There they use find words and polite phrases to make even the simplest issues sound complex. The complex issues, well, they make sound too difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend. Certainly not all people will ever grasp the detail of policy but the brad strokes don’t feel like they should be out of reach.

While I can’t in good conscience support all of the activities on the world stage of our current president, I do have something of a gut feeling that an occasional shake up in the polite world of diplomacy might actually be a net good overall. Turning the polite, made-for-tv photo op frippery of international diplomacy on its ear makes a dark little corner of my heart just a little bit happy.

With the G7 conference left in a tizzy, I’m waiting with great interest to see what news comes from Singapore. I fully expect the hand wringing of the international media, talking heads, the left here at home to be something worth seeing – even if only for its entertainment value.

No, I don’t want to watch the world burn, but I don’t mind at all seeing it dragged out of its comfort zone from time to time.

Like I said, I’d well and truly suck as a diplomat.

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.