What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Loaded Thursdays. A few weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea if I loaded Thursday from top to bottom with meetings. Getting them out of the way, having the bulk of the week to prep for them, and generally ruining as few days of the week as possible running hither and yon to these sessions really felt like I was on to a winner. Compressing meetings onto one date should free up time and be efficient. Maybe it is, but in my planning I forgot the First Rule of the Bureaucracy: The Bureaucracy must expand to consume all available time and resources. I now have more meetings and less prep time than I did before arranging this new wonder schedule. If someone could step in and hit me in the face with a shovel the next time I have a good idea it would be incredibly helpful.

2. Common sense. If you log on to social media and call for common sense legislation on any topic, but then call anyone who disagrees with you on any point an idiot, a terrorist, or worse, you’re pretty much the reason we can’t have an effective dialog in this country about anything. On issues of social policy, thinking people can have wildly differing opinions about the whole array of ends, ways, and means. Refusing to so much as discuss any idea that differs from your own forecloses any possible avenue for progress. In a republic of free people, what may be “common sense” to you, may well be nonsense to another. There’s no hope of finding a scrap of common ground without the conversation, though.

3. I’m not the decider. Look, I gave up an dreams I ever had of being a professional decision maker a long time ago. I can advise, I can recommend, I can object strenuously, and I can present information in any format and order it needs to form a coherent platform from which to base decisions. What I can’t do is fight city hall. I won’t be the guy who’s tilting at windmills. Let someone else take on the burden of making a decision based on the best data and analysis I can provide them. I don’t want it. But for the love of Pete, once that decision is made can we all agree to shut up and move out smartly? No? Fine. Let’s all just sit around and piss and moan that we think it should be different. That’ll do the trick.

Who you want running the apocalypse…

I’ve taken a couple days to sleep on it and have concluded that the hard truth many Walking Dead fans need to face is that a year or two after civilization has collapsed, it’s guys like Negan who are most likely going to be running the show. Rick and his crew, our main protagonists, are nice enough folks, always thinking that their key to safety and survival is joining up with the next group of survivors, fortifying a prison, negotiating, and hoping for the best. Every time their hopes get dashed when someone proves to be dishonest, there’s a little bit of cannibalism, or their neighbor drives a tank through Negan.jpgtheir front door. Through it all, despite what they say, Rick’s crew seems desperate to want to believe the best about people. It’s constantly their undoing – and precisely why guys like Negan will triumph in the post-apocalypse.

Like any number of tribal chieftains of old, Negan maintains his rule and the stability of his followers through brutally enforced discipline. While this may seem abhorrent to us sitting comfortably in our homes tonight, it’s nothing new for most of human history. In fact, under the circumstances, it’s probably the group of survivors most likely to thrive in the face of the brave new world we’ve met yet in the Walking Dead universe.

Ponder for a moment if you will that Negan’s followers are highly organized and able to defend and expand their territory through better communications and tactics than those employed by Rick’s group. They’re well fed, clothed, and supplied, which indicates a relatively sophisticated economy based on the imperial model of commodity goods flowing towards the “mother country,” and finished goods and protection being furnished to the colonies. Unlike Rick, Negan doesn’t seem to shy away from his role as leader. As a result the command and control structure of his organization is very clear. He’s at the top, but he also indicated in this week’s premier that he has trusted lieutenants who he depends on. He may delight in dispensing rough justice, but his actions shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, he told our friends from Alexandria that bad behavior would be punished and then when they behaved badly he responded exactly as he said he would in order to establish a clear correlation between cause and effect.

I wouldn’t vote for Negan if he were running for president, but as a post-apocalyptic warlord, I think I’d quickly see the value of joining a group like his. This world they’ve created full of walking dead and the even more dangerous living is a violent place. The fact that violent men rise up to establish some kind of order shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was done like that in this world for a lot longer than we’ve been trying to master such societal niceties as peaceful transfers of power.

What’s changed?

The great debate over the virtue of the Second Amendment rages today as loudly as ever. Both sides scream past each other, fearing that giving an inch of ground will inexorably lead to the tide running hard against them.

There have been firearms in the United States since before we were the United States. The first colonists to wade ashore in Jamestown brought ball and powder in equal parts to hunt on and defend the new world they intended to carve out of the American wilderness.

What you don’t hear about them doing is walking into a tavern or church and taking a pot shot at their neighbors. I’ve not done an exhaustive study on the topic, but I can’t think of a large number of historical example of what we’d commonly call random acts of “mass violence” in schools, businesses, and public places until the latter half of the last century. I have no doubt they happened, what with humans being a particularly violence prone species and all, but a quick look doesn’t point to seeing it happen with particularly great frequency.

So my question, then, is what’s changed? What makes the average American in 2015 more likely to walk into a church to unload both proverbial barrels than his counterpart in 1815 or 1915? Access to firearms isn’t a satisfactory answer. If anything, a gun was easier to get throughout most of American history than they are today. They hung on the mantle, were propped in the corner, or lived in bedside tables without benefit of trigger locks or gun safes. I’m old enough to remember a time when a rifle behind a truck’s bench seat in the school parking lot meant that hunting season was open, not that one of the students (or the teachers) was plotting mayhem and chaos.

What’s changed? Are we intrinsically worse human beings than our predecessors? Are we less able to judge the relationship between action and consequence? Or do we just tend more towards being batshit crazy than our saintly ancestors?

Credibility…

baltimore-peaceful-protestingThis isn’t generally a self-help kind of blog, but I thought it might be a good idea to pass along some ideas to the “people” of Baltimore who decided destroying cars, breaking windows, setting trash cans on fire, and throwing rocks at the police was a good way to communicate their message to the rest of the world. First off, nothing derails your credibility as a “peaceful protest” faster than going on a violent and destructive rampage. It’s generally considered bad form and all but guarantees that people who might otherwise be sympathetic will end up taking a dim view of whatever it is that you’re about.

Second, everyone from Baltimore’s mayor to the local newscasters took great pains to tell us all that “95%” of the protestors were peaceful. That might be true and if it is, why didn’t that 95% overwhelm the 5% who were violent with sheer weight of numbers? A little self policing within the group would go a long way towards preventing the actual police from stepping in and handling things the Western District Way. Unless, of course, what you really want from all of this is for the police to start banging heads in order to justify more criminal behavior.

Admittedly, I’m not a march or shout kind of protestor. I tend to register my displeasure with people and situations at the ballot box or cash register. It simply has never occurred to me that going to downtown Elkton and smashing the windows out of someone’s car would be a more effective means of getting my point across. Maybe I’ll give that a try next time. All I’d need to do is find 19 other people to stand by and be peaceful and that would make my shitty behavior A-OK on the eyes of the mayor and media, no?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lack of purpose. I work in a place full of engineers. They can be a socially awkward group – not that I have a lot of room to talk. What I’ve noticed in my travels in and around the building is that it seems like none of them are even walking anywhere with a sense of purpose. No one walks like they have anywhere to go. They’re slouching down the halls, staying close to the wall, hands jammed in their pockets, avoiding eye contact at all costs, and generally unaware of anyone in motion around them. To those grown men and women I say pick your head up. Be aware of what’s around you. I assure you that your feet are going to remain right there at the end of your legs even if you take your eyes off them for a few steps. They’re not going to escape. However, it’s going to do you (and me) a world of good if you start walking around like you have some sense of purpose in life. In the meantime, I’m going to continue walking down the middle of the hallway, head on a swivel, and making you painfully uncomfortable in passing.

2. Violence. If there’s anything likely to stir debate in this country it’s the nature of the gun and the rights and responsibilities that go along with it. What I’ve never been quite comfortable with is how many people single out the gun as the problem without a moment’s pause to look at the real issue – violence. It’s fine to say that you’re sick of gun violence, but doesn’t that kind of statement imply by omission that you’re not sick of other types of violence? I’m not sure it would matter much to me if I were killed by a gun, a knife, a hammer, or a pointy stick as the end result is the same. Violence is violence. It’s my humble estimation that dividing violence by the category of tool used to carry it out is not only a bit naïve but also simply treats the symptoms rather than getting after root causes.

3. Office 2013. The productivity software on my work computer was “upgraded” to Office 2013 this week. I’m not a nuts and bolts software guy but it seems to me that upgrades should somehow be based on actually improving on the design and functionality of what came before. Instead what we apparently have is a new piece of kit that makes it harder to do the “normal” workhorse stuff, adds a few flashy “so what” kind of capabilities, and looks absolutely dreadful no matter whether you opt for a layout in “gray” or a vaguely more tinted “dark gray”. Oh I’m sure it still has the capacity to do everything I want it to do, but it doesn’t perform those tasks the way I want them performed – or at least not in a way that doesn’t require minute-by-minute consultations with the help menu and Google.

Sunday drama…

As we all know by now, I’m a creature of habit. In the spring one of those habits is enjoying Game of Thrones as each new episode airs on Sunday nights. Sunday night dramas have been part of the routine since The Soprano’s was the highest rated show on HBO, so let’s just go with the assumption that the 9PM timeslot on Sundays is a very well established and sacrosanct part of my weekly schedule – the parting shot signaling the end of the weekend.

Game-of-Thrones-2011-wallpaper-Iron-ThroneNow anyone who has seen the show or read the books knows that when they sit down to watch an episode they’re signing up for 54 minutes of greed, sex, violence, and dragons. Given the show’s ratings, it seems to be a pretty popular Sunday night pastime for a great many people. As I learned this past weekend, my mother is most decidedly not among that legion of devoted fans.

Rather than watch last weekend’s episode, I mostly cringed through it under a barrage of commentary ranging from “I don’t know why anyone would watch this” to “this is stupid” to silent painfully obvious eye rolling. I’d say it was probably a demographic problem, but there’s the tricky fact that George R.R. Martin is himself part of mom’s age group. It’s more likely just a case of widely divergent opinions on what constitutes great television… and possibly a leading reason why I need to seriously consider adding a second cable box to the household and avoid the awkward Sunday drama.

I don’t think mom will be running out to get a subscription to HBO any time in the near future… but maybe she’ll change her mind when she sees Boardwalk Empire this summer.

Politics as usual…

First, let me say up front and for the record that the actions of this small excuse for a man are absolutely abhorrent to every right thinking person. I had hoped that we could collectively take at least 24 hours before turning tragedy into something political. Looking around Facebook, Twitter, and the major news sites that clearly was overly optimistic. Instead of focusing on the demented actions of a single coward, many in the amateur and professional electronic media this afternoon rushed to the “guns are bad” banner.

Plenty of smart people, many of my friends included, believe that to be the case. I think they’re wrong, but today still isn’t the moment for that debate. I’ll only leave you today with a single thought: No gun law in existence here or anywhere else on the planet can prevent bad men from performing evil deeds. I’m sure to be roundly criticized for saying it, but the root of our problems isn’t an inanimate object, whether that object is a gun, or a knife, or lead pipe. Deal with the underlying causes, and the profoundly unfortunate effects will largely go away.

Though he was writing specifically about the history and use of rifles, a quote from Jeff Cooper‘s The Art of the Rifle seems particularly relevant to the inevitable discussion of what happens when people and firearms intersect. On days like today, I’m reminded that “The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”