Blackout…

One of the walls of the room wherein I’m trapped for eight hours a day features three large televisions. At any given time at least one of them shows a feed from the major cable news outlets shouting the current headlines at us. You don’t realize how little “new” news happens in a day until you spend months with rehashes and repeats washing over you every 30 minutes. It’s possible there’s a lot of news breaking out there somewhere, but it’s an awfully small portion that anyone is going to spend time talking about (and trying to monetize through advertising).

One of the better side effects of this 40-hour a week exposure is that my brain seems to have developed a basic self-preservation strategy of tuning almost all of it out. When someone asks “hey did you hear that?” I can usually respond honestly with, “no.” The other side effect I’ve noticed is that this constant stream of news has left me bereft of the desire to watch or seek out any news for the rest of the day.

With the exception of a few minutes of local weather and finding out the daily body count in Baltimore when I get home from work, the rest of the night is almost completely news free. I should show more of an interest, but I find this newfound disinterest to be a remarkably freeing experience. Sure, I still care what goes on in the world, but I’m becoming a hell of a lot more selective about what I want to burn an increasingly limited amount of mental bandwidth learning about or engaging on.

Some news is good for entertainment value (when bad things happen to stupid people), other bits are good to know because it impacts finances (business news and federal budget stuff), and finally there’s the space allocated to any news or information involving animals. Past that, maybe I should care, but I just don’t. Whatever intellectual energy I have left once I get home is far more effectively spent focused on the next spy novel or great thick books about war.

I intend this self-imposed (partial) news blackout to continue indefinitely.

Lights out…

Reports are that the lights are out in Puerto Rico. It’s not that some power is out or that sections of the grid are down. The whole damned island has apparently found itself relocated back to the 19th century. Let that sit with you for a minute. You can’t pilfer electricity from your neighbor. You can’t swing a few miles down the road to a motel that’s left the light on for you. You’re one a rock in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and the only places with power are the ones whose generator housings were hardened and high enough not to get flooded – and those small points of light in the darkness will only last until the fuel on hand runs out.

I’d bet that not one in 10,000 of us have a plan for what we’d do if the lights went out and didn’t come back. One night sitting in the dark was enough to convince me to run out and buy a generator – of course it only runs as long as someone is keeping the backyard fuel supply topped off. Running flat out 24/7 I might get ten or fourteen days out of it… assuming the set doesn’t need any service beyond basic maintenance.

I don’t know how long it takes to restore power to 3.5 million people living on a rock in the middle of the ocean, but I’m guessing it may take more than a week or two. Here on the continent it’s a fairly easy thing to stage thousands of men and trucks just outside the danger area and surge them in on their own wheels when the winds subside. It’s an order of magnitude more complicated when getting that support to the people who need it requires both the people and the equipment to arrive by either air or sea.

Although the coverage of our friends in the Caribbean are much on my mind this evening, the wheels are already turning on what more I can do to stave off the 1870s if the power ever well and truly goes out here at home.

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.

Unsettled…

One of the undeniable perks of working from home once a week is getting outside with the dogs at lunch time. Usually it’s about as close to a mid-day moment of zen as you’re ever likely to find around my place. Today, though, the only way I can describe it is that the whole outside felt unsettled.

It’s not that there was anything wrong with me, or the dogs, or the house but it felt very much like this little patch of woods was holding its breath – and waiting for something. There were no birds chirping and no small fuzzy creatures – or even large fuzzy ones for that matter. Aside from the steady wind in the upper reaches of the oaks, it was unnaturally quiet. I can’t say it made me nervous, but it definitely had the feeling of being something other than normal.

I’m not a fancy big city scientist, but if I had lay down a guess, it would have something to do with rapid changes in barometric pressure and “big weather” moving in. If it can make the old timer’s arthritis act up, I don’t see any reason not to believe the other creatures of the forest can sense the same thing since they’re the ones really living out in that mess. At least that’s my meager effort to explain today’s brush with the strange and unusual.

In any case, I’ll be happier when it all feels normal again. Like that’s a surprise.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Weather forecasts. I know weather is a complex “system of systems” but damn. If I were as often wrong at prediction and prognosticating results within 24 hours I’d get shitcanned for sure. Yet another example of where I’ve made poor career decisions overall.

2. Restorative days off. I’m a jealous guard of my time off. There is almost nothing I value more highly. I do my best to maximize the value of those days. I hate wasting them… which is why it’s so sad that the restorative effects of time off last no more than two hours into the first day back. It feels like it should take longer than that to slide back into a sea apathy and discontent. The operative word there being “should.”

3. Talk. People talk a lot. They talk and talk. They make promises and speak to high ideals. What almost none of them do, tough, is back that talk up with their actions. Talk is important. It speaks to our aspirations. Behavior, though, that’s what shows people how committed you are to getting there. If you can’t be bothered with the action part of the equation, it’s probably best to just shut the fuck up.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The Obvious. Headlines screaming “America in Deep Freeze,” or “Arctic Blast Cripples East Coast,” or “The Big Chill,” seem a bit superfluous at the moment. It’s mid-December here in the northern hemisphere. We’re right up against the winter solstice. For those who need it spelled out, that means for the next three months or so, cold is perfectly normal and should, generally, be expected. If for some reason the arrival of winter and cold weather have caught you off guard and unprepared, well, you’re an idiot. The fact that so many people are idiots, however, still does not make “it’s cold in the winter” a breaking news story.

2. Election Meddling. It’s cute that we’ve collectively decided that foreign powers meddling in a US election has raised the collective hackles of the press. Anyone familiar with their history over the last 200 years will tell you that we meddle every bit as much as the Russians. Ask the Iranians who ousted the Shah. Ask the Vietnamese about the Diem brothers. Ask any number of Latin American countries about our “helpful” deployment of Marines to ensure their elections turned out the way we wanted them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as angry about Russian interference as anyone, but for us to pretend we don’t do the exact same thing everywhere else on the planet is the height of hypocrisy.

3. Competing priorities. Given the lack of guidance I currently operate under, I’m put in a position where I have to make decisions about what problems get my attention and which ones don’t. I imagine I get it right more often than not (but that’s a complete guess since feedback is also something we don’t do). So when you stop me in the hall at the end of the day and wonder why I wasn’t in some meeting I was “supposed” to be in, there’s fair chance that time got allocated to one of the competing priorities that appeared to be more pressing. I’d be more than happy to work the issues in any order leadership sees fit if they’d just bother to tell me the flavor of the day. If they are going to leave me to my own devices, I’d mostly appreciate not getting blind sided in those rare moments when they choose to care.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Kars for Kids. I hear their two octaves too high jingle every morning at 5:45 AM. I know this because almost without fail it comes on the satellite radio station I’m listening to almost precisely when I’m starting to shave. Mercifully the throat it makes me want to slit is not my own. I have no idea what organization Kars fronts for nor do I know what portion of funds raised go to support their good cause of the day. It doesn’t really matter because with their deeply agitating icepick-in-the-ear method of early morning advertising if they were providing free food for life to every kid in America.

2. Getting wet. Spending two hours milling around a parking lot is bad enough by itself. Add a heavy does or rain and you to spend the rest of the day squishing around in sodden shoes. Here’s a pro tip for you – having a pair of dry socks is important, but dry socks don’t mean a damn think when you’re sticking them back into waterlogged boots. Lesson most definitely learned.

3. Thursday. Why on earth isn’t Thursday the day before the weekend starts. Instead, it’s mostly just Monday #4 and I hate it for that.