Making monuments…​

Occasionally you open your mouth and say something that should be patently ridiculous to every person in the room. The mere suggestion should be met with mocking, rolled eyes, and sighs of disbelief. Mostly you do it when you’re a little bored or just want to see what kind of rise you can get out of someone. You’d never in a million years think anyone would take any of it as an actual suggestion.

Then, of course, you are brought crashing back to the real world with a comment about “how relevant” your suggestion is.

No. Please, just no. These words were not meant to be taken seriously. They were meant as biting critique of our penchant for creating monuments out of things that should be sandcastles. I’m not sure I remember what #winning looks like, but I’m reasonably certain we’re doing it wrong.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being polite. I realize the social convention that tells us it’s bad to walk around punching people in the face exists to protect all of us from each other. God knows there are probably of plenty people out there who would like nothing more than the opportunity to slug me with no repercussions, but still, there’s something infuriating about being in a position day-in-and-day-out of being annoyed to your wits end and not being able to say or do anything about it because it would be considered rude. The people who don’t get typical social cues shouldn’t be covered by normal social conventions. When I’ve turned my back to you and you keep talking, I should be allowed to punch you in the face. Invade my personal bubble? Punch in the face. Have no clue that others aren’t interested in a monolog about your top five worst medical problems? Punch in the face. Twice. You get the point. When someone lives outside society’s norms, maybe they shouldn’t be protected by those norms. If your feelings get hurt and your nose gets bloodied in the process, well, maybe that’s just a lesson learned… and yet for some reason when you tell someone they’re being an obnoxious douchecanoe, you’re suddenly the asshat. There is no justice.

2. Celebrities. You know the funny thing about celebrities behaving badly? Their asshattery is only covered by the news outlets because we all tune in. Justin Bieber getting a DUI? News. Brittany Spears flashing her hoohaw. News. Kim and Kanye doing anything? News. Except the thing is, it’s not news. People get DUI’s, show their lady parts, and are generally stupid every day of the year without it being the lead story on every website and newspaper in the country. Celebrities get the attention they do not because they behave badly, but simply because we allow it to be so. It’s the classic example of ignore it and they will go away. Or at least they’ll continue to get into trouble, but do it more or less in anonymity and without it becoming a spectacle. It’s a crying shame that we all can’t just agree to ignore these tools until they stop getting the ink they so desperately want.

3. Policy. As a rule, policy is something I’ve always considered a guideline. It’s the user’s manual version of how to do things – 98.9% of the time, policy coverers just about everything you’ll deal with on a regular basis. Conveniently, though, policy very rarely has the force of something more codified, say like a regulation or a law. That means there’s almost always a way to get an exception to policy (or in more extreme circumstances just ignore the policy because it doesn’t pass the common sense test within the context of new or extenuating circumstances). No one is doing themselves a service when the blindly follow something just because “that’s how it’s done” or “that’s the policy.” You see, the problem with blind adherence to anything is that it so often comes with unintended consequences… and those so very rarely end well for anyone.

In the streets…

I was a kid when the Berlin Wall fell. I watched it, like the rest of the world, from on the living room television on the still new medium of 24-hour cable news. A few years later, on Christmas Day 1991, I watched the red banner of the Soviet Union lowered atop the Kremlin for the last time and the Evil Empire vote itself out of existence. It was supposed to be the “end of history” and a new era of peace and prosperity as the cold war between superpowers ended with a wimper and not a bang. And it seemed that way. For a while.

With the benefit of hindsight, we all know now that history was mostly just taking a breather. An operational pause if you will. Instead of stable, peaceful, and decidedly American, we discovered that without the weight of two competing superpowers, the world was a complex and and downright messy. The price of winning the Cold War was learning to live in a much less certain world full of unintended consequences.

I’m once again watching unimaginable events beamed from space into the comfort of my own living room. Twenty years have passed, the names and places have changed, but it’s the same old story. A change is gonna come. In Egypt. In Libya. Perhaps in Saudi Arabia and across the whole Middle East the world is proving, once again, that it’s still a complicated place. After all, we’re still America and it’s our long-held obligation to midwife democracy wherever in the world it might take root. We must, together, stand with these people who are rising up against decades of ruthless tyranny – not to dominate them – but to help them on the path to real and lasting democracy crafted to suit the particular needs of their country and their culture.

We have a moment, and just a moment, where history hangs in the balance. We’ve proved our mettle in two grinding wars to defeat a ruthless enemy on the battlefield. Now let us show our mettle as peacemakers and diplomats to take away the very chaos, instability, and hatred that sustain our enemies.