Fell Off

There are a few people I consistently think of and fail to contact. There are a few ideas rattling around in my head that I consistently fail to write down. Part of me is hopeful that I will get my graphomanic mojo working again after the school year ends. The rest of me knows that isn’t likely.

But the school year will be ending soon – June 13, to be precise, and then I go back to my day job. Mouse will soon finish 10th grade. TeenBot was accepted into Americorps and is off repairing buildings at a summer camp somewhere north of Minneapolis. Soldatik is Armying in Georgia. Dino Spouse and Babushka remain much as they have been. The Protosaurs live in West Virginia now, except for my younger brother, and my Papaw died (may he rest in peace).

 

 

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And So It Begins

I’m furloughed, which at least coincides with the semester break at NDU. I spent the first week of Lapse-mas eating and sleeping, making merry with my kin, and replacing all the contents of my wallet, which was stolen on Christmas Eve during my final grocery outing. Mouse and I went to visit my parents in West Virginia for a couple of days. I latch-hooked half of a Christmas wreath while watching “Serenity” and “Solo” with my dad. Then we came home. I read novels with vampires and witches in them and spent three days in the house in my jammies. I subsequently worked my way into Russian New Year’s cooking, Regency romances, and even getting dressed to go outside. Ideally, I will be totally recharged by the time Congress sees fit to reopen my agency; hopefully that will coincide with the beginning of my next semester of school.

My challenge for the rest of the academic year is learning how to plan and write academic papers in an organized manner. Fall semester went pretty well, only my writing was almost entirely done in desperate overnight bursts. That wasn’t a problem when I was 18, but I found it painful as a 48 year-old. There will be more writing this semester, and I would like to suffer less. I also suspect that I might be more professionally effective in general if I could unlock the secrets of time management. Suggestions welcome.

Free the People 2018

In December 2017, Mariame Kaba (brilliant poet/activist who tweets as @prisonculture) spontaneously organized #FreeThePeopleDay and called on people to donate the cost of a drink on New Year’s Eve to their local community bail or bond fund. The idea is to donate the cost of one NYE drink to fund that bails people without means out of jail while they wait for trial. I’ve got some links below that you can use to donate, but first some thoughts:
* Bail Bonds (quick loans people use to get loved ones released pending trial) are right up there with payday loans when it comes to preying on the desperate and broke.
* Community bail funds are a critical resource in ensuring that parents can stay with their families while they await trail and keep providing for them.
* I know a lot of my friends are facing economic uncertainty with the current federal shut down. If you can’t give now, maybe donate the cost of a latte later?
Where to Give:
DC: The District of Columbia changed its bail rules a while back, so there don’t seem to be local bail funds for city jails. Check out the National Bail Fund Network or The Bail Project, or consider giving to funds in Virginia, Maryland, or (if you’re not from the DMV) wherever else you consider home.
VIRGINIA: The National Bail Fund Network will match all funds raised on December 31 by the Cville Immigrant Bond Fund, which helps with bond funding for immigrants in detention in the Charlottesville area. The Richmond Community Bail Fund also needs help to bail out people held in area jails.
MARYLAND: Maryland also changed its bail rules, but so far it sounds like that’s just resulting in more people being held without bond. The organization I found is Baltimore Action Legal Team.
MASSACHUSETTS: The National Bail Fund Network will match all funds raised on December 31 by the Beyond Bond and Legal Defense Fund.
MICHIGAN: In the Detroit area, The Bail Project is working with the Detroit Justice Center to establish a large-scale revolving bail fund for Michigan. An alternative is the Kent County I-Bond Fund, which assists with immigration bond funding in Western Michigan.
WEST VIRGINIA: I couldn’t find a local organization, so please consider giving to the National Bail Fund Network or The Bail Project.

Surprise

Unexpectedly TeenBot is home from Marine boot camp. He had an unexpected health issue pop up and was discharged to come home and deal with it. It’s treatable – he should even be eligible to enlist in the military again after six months with a medical waiver, if that’s what he wants to do. But it’s rough on him, coming home without a clear path forward just when most of his friends are heading off to college. I will say no more, since it’s not my tale to tell – but there it is.

Prom Night

Silly Pre-Prom Picture

 

We launched TeenBot off to his senior prom tonight. That was one of the day’s three main events and definitely the most photogenic. The other two highlights were bleaching the bejeezus out of the shower and drafting my first post as a Featured Contributor on GovLoop.

On the latter point, it has been six years or so since the last time I wrote anything for an actual publication. I hope that I will get the hang of it again quickly, seeing as how I’m supposed to produce one post each week for the next couple of months. I also hope I’ll figure out how “focus keywords” and “SEO titles” work (unless, of course, the nice editors at GovLoop wind up taking care of all that).

On the former, I will spare you the before and after pictures. My landlord’s interior maintenance is maybe not the best thing about where we live.

Wolves and Weirdos, or Skin in the Game for Bureaucrats

One of the books I downloaded during my recent convalescence was Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’ve been a fan of his work since I first encountered The Black Swan in my local library back in 2008. His books show up variously under “business,” “finance,” “systems,” and “self-help” in bookstores, but basically he’s a philosopher, complete with his own collection of aphorisms. His prose puts me in mind of Camille Paglia in her Sexual Personae days, only he’s writing/lucidly ranting about financial markets, probability, ethics, and the many wrongs of academia instead of writing/lucidly ranting about literature, aesthetics, sexuality, and the many wrongs of academia. (Paglia and Taleb are also loosely connected in my mind by their their pugnacity and their Mediterranean cultural frames of reference – his Lebanon/Phoenecia, hers the Italy of her grandparents and Greco-Roman antiquity. Also, I find myself alternately relishing their wisdom and wanting to argue with the conclusions they draw from it. But arguing with famous people on the internet when one is not famous has always struck me as a pointless activity.)

Skin in the Game (SITG) is heady stuff. Taleb’s invective is learned, literate, and fun to read. His descriptions of meals make me hungry. His excoriation of the ways that conventional wisdom fails in recognizing and responding to extremes and rare occurrences is downright invigorating.  Then it occurs to me that I’ve long since forgotten how to read the equations in his books and that I bear more than a superficial resemblance to one of his Intellectual Yet Idiot foils. I deflate.

Still and dialogue from Beavis and Butthead

Indeed, what skin in the game can a Salary Mom (or Taleb’s latter-day Salary Man, the “Company Person”) actually have? That was the main problem that preoccupied me after I finished reading SITG. I understand the Maestro to be saying that, in purely economic terms, we People of the Paycheck are somewhere between debt peons in the counting houses of antiquity and landless vassals who give fealty to a particular House (or Constitution or a corporate mission statement) and do homage to the Sovereign or CEO in hopes that we will be rewarded with modest lands and sufficient means to educate our children for their own eventual service at Court.

Juxtaposed info about medieval fealty oath with ad for federal employee training

So let us say I take my oath seriously* and try to make myself a better vassal by improving my understanding of Real World Risk. I read Taleb’s books and adjust my physical fitness regimen.** To my horror, I come to the conclusion that I am adding to the ultimate fragility of the U.S. Government just by showing up for work. If I consciously try to simplify processes, by David Graeber’s Iron Law of Liberalism (not in SITG, merely a connection in my brain), I will ultimately wind up creating more bureaucracy and hence more fragility. In the event that I achieve anything significant, it will likely lead to counter-productive consequences. On the other hand, if I go Bartleby and refrain from further work, I could lose my livelihood. Quit smirking, this does actually happen sometimes in federal government.

(A couple of years ago I asked Taleb on Twitter what a self-identified IYI should do to avoid causing harm. He suggested taking a relaxing job with lots of free time. That sounds like more fun than taking extended periods of sick leave every couple of years to birth children or remove/repair body parts! but I think the net impact winds up being similar.)

In SITG Taleb speaks of wolves among the dogs***, Company Persons who signal their independence from organizational mind-lock with unorthodox behavior or dress at risk of their “corridor reputations.” His examples of this tendency include temperamental geniuses whose contribution to a corporate bottom line makes them irreplaceable, people who curse a lot, and – in a separate discussion – people who do not look the part of whatever it is they are supposed to be doing (surgeons who do not look like surgeons).  The idea is that these Company Werepersons put their skin in the game by inviting scrutiny or blame for their actions, having made themselves too unpleasant or just plain weird to blend in with the rest of the dogs and debt peons. In this, at least, I can see where my skin in the game is beyond just earning my keep. I am good at “plain weird.” But to what purpose if everything I touch supports an inherently counter-productive enterprise?

My father is a long-retired Salary Man who spent his career working for utility and transportation companies and trying unsuccessfully to make engineers out of his children. Early on in my professional life, he told me two things about working in a bureaucracy: first, that middle managers exist for the purpose of absorbing the resentment and fear of their subordinates and their bosses, and second, that the purpose of a bureaucracy is to prevent stupid things from making their way out of an organization and into the world. I guess that this via negativa winds up being the name of the game for the Company Person and his or her skin. So the true end of all worthwhile bureaucromancy is apophatocracy, or the attempt through selective application of institutional rules to prevent the institution from loosing bullsh*t upon the world as it performs its stated purpose. I wonder what Taleb would think.

NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS

* Have some disclaimers with that.

** Taleb’s thoughts on physical fitness (spelled out in Antifragile) are persuasive. That being said, after birthing three human kettleballs and failing to maintain core strength for years thereafter, I have no intention of deadlifting anything any time soon. Using my son’s barbels did make my time on crutches much easier, though, so I’m sticking with getting better at that.

*** I see where the wolf metaphor applies in terms of differentiating between the run of Company Persons and the rarer individuals who can hunt their own game in the wild even after years of organizational captivity. But what dog doesn’t see himself as a wolf? Howling, scowling, and marking the carpet tile are empty signals in an organization without a mandate to turn profits or a real likelihood of failure. Real wolves do not lurk the halls of such institutions, by and large. You want something done in a dog-ocracy? Find a vulture or a raccoon.