Shush

I’ve spent a good bit of this morning wading through some of the commentary about the impeachment trial vote. That went pretty much exactly as predicted. I don’t know that I have much to add there except to say that the constitution is pretty much broken in that regard. I don’t really know what the solution is. A public referendum? Push it all over to the supreme court? Some sort of bi-partisan panel? I don’t know. I just know that I’m hard pressed to think of any actions that might convince members of one’s own party to vote against them especially if the outcome can be used to paint that party as a whole in a negative light or interpreted as a rejection of your party.

It’s also, yet another, indictment of the party system in general. Any solution to which is a long way down the road if it happens at all. A couple of really good solutions are out there. Jungle primaries and ranked choice voting basically. With widespread adoption of those two things then we should see the election of more centrist and less polarizing candidates which might be less beholden to party. Or at least a little more willing to put duty to the country above pure partisanship. Maybe not much but just a nudge in the right direction would go a long way I think. Perhaps Newton’s first law could take over once momentum were shifted just that little bit. I believe Alaska has recently implemented something like this so it’ll be interesting to see the sort of candidates it produces there.

There’s a lot of chatter about third parties right now but I don’t see it getting very far. At the end of the day survival is more important than anything as illustrated by the impeachment vote. My guess, assuming that something shiny doesn’t distract us before the next election, would be sort sort of center right caucus within in the Republican party. For now Kodos and Kang are the choices unless there are some significant changes in election systems, like Alaska, or even less likely, a change in the attitudes of the electorate. Everyone knows that you can’t elect third party candidates which is why you can’t elect third party candidates.

In any case, now that the trial is over, it would be nice if politics could at least become boring again for just a little while. I don’t expect it will, sadly. That new normal that everyone’s been talking about since the pandemic began is more likely to eventually refer to what passes as political discourse than anything else.

Pause

Tomorrow will mark three months since I began what I’m calling a career hiatus. This is what I’m calling it lately anyway. Or just now really. It has been a pause, break, sabbatical, semi-retirement, probably some other things that I can’t remember but what it boils down to is that I’ve not written any software or really even opened Xcode in nearly 3 months and I still don’t know if I ever want to again.

I’ve been hesitant to write about this because I don’t want it to misinterpreted in a way that it reflects poorly on my former employer. I really enjoyed working with the people there. Really I’ve been fortunate that most of the people I worked with throughout my career have been very nice people for the most part. Also all my stuff is still in my desk back in the office so I’ll still need to be able to get in and get that once the office opens back up again. Though I am also holding a laptop for ransom.

Yesterday I was contacted not once but twice by friends on the lookout for developers to add to their rosters. This isn’t the first time that’s happened and it is nice to feel that I have a reputation as not being a complete idiot when it comes to writing software. And it kind of got me thinking again about where I stand and how I got to this point. I’m still no closer to understanding. Last year was certainly a year of years and maybe a psychiatrist could help me puzzle it all out and understand what role, if any, the events that have unfolded since November of 2019 and perhaps earlier, had to play in all of this.

It may simply be that I’m done because I’m wired that way and that’s that. That’s what my wife says anyway. She says it’s just how I am. When I’m done with something, that’s it I just move onto the next thing. This is true. I can rattle off a list of things, some of them that required a good deal of effort to get into, which simply stopped once I reached a certain point. Flying airplanes is one example that comes to mind. At some point I apparently reached a goal I didn’t realize I’d set for myself, stopped flying and never went back.

It seemed like software was always a little different that my other interests. I’ve been writing software in one way or another since 1982. Nearly 40 years! Although no one bothered to pay me for it until 1990. But development isn’t just writing “a software” and then you write that same thing over and over again. Each project is like a brand new puzzle to assemble which will likely have some missing pieces that you’ll have to create yourself once you have enough information to determine their shapes. Especially during the early days you were simple handed that box with the picture of what it was supposed to look like when it was done and assemble it in whatever way seemed best. There are some that claim that these were the bad old days of our profession and maybe they were from a management point of view but from a creative point of view, which is something I very much enjoy, it was wonderful.

To continue the puzzle analogy sometimes today it can feel like you’ve got a group of people over your shoulder advising you which way to rotate each piece or wonder why you’re not working on this section over here. Why would you assemble the edges first and not work from the middle out? And every week we’re going to talk about how many pieces remain in the puzzle and guess how long it will take to locate and place each one. Well this is a bit of sky so that piece make be a bit harder so we’ll can it an “8” and we’re missing a corner piece here so that’s surely a “1”. I mean maybe, who knows? Perhaps that piece has gone missing. And after you’re done placing each piece you need to get a couple people to confirm that it does indeed fit correctly or wonder if another piece over here might be a better fit. Worse yet you may encounter someone who insists you place a piece that very obviously does not fit correctly. Then another person to make sure that the rest of the puzzle didn’t explode as the most recent piece was added and then fill out some paperwork. Fun! In extreme situations it can become hard to continue care whether the puzzle works out the way it should and instead just focus on making sure you meet your quota of pieces.

It’s a bit of a conundrum because some of the process junk is definitely necessary because ultimately someone is trying to run a business and fashion some sort of plan. But I think human nature almost guarantees that eventually process itself become the most important part and the actual work secondary. Note the salaries of those whose job it is to track which puzzle pieces are being worked on as compared to those actually putting the puzzle together to get a sense of which is deemed more valuable. Kind of like HOAs maybe. What starts as making sure the neighbors front yard isn’t littered with dilapidated cars up on blocks turns into people roaming the neighborhood with clipboards and rulers making sure lawns are mowed to the proper length.

Again I want to make clear this isn’t my last employer but a general industry wide trend, at least from my point of view. In fact my last employer was quite good at trying to remove as many distractions as possible and allow their developers to focus on the work. And I don’t even know if that trend factors in my decision to take a break. Because, despite this, there are still plenty of those moments that we’ve all experienced (or at least I hope you have, if not consider another career), hopefully with some regularity, where the thing you’ve been working on with fingers crossed compiles and actually does exactly what you wanted it to on the first try. Those “holy shit it worked!” moments. Bonus points on those occasions where a co-worker remarks that’s pretty freakin’ cool. So even with the bureaucratic bits today there is still plenty of joy to be found in software development.

I’m not sure where I was going with all this except to say that, while the desire to write hasn’t yet returned, I sometimes find myself thinking that I know it’s what I was built to do and wonder if I’m not squandering a gift that I was so fortunate to be given.

A Weary World

A few days ago I was passing through the living room where the television had been left on. Willy Wonka was on and it was getting close to the end. It was right where Willy Wonka was about to say “I SAID GOOD DAY!” so I had to stop and watch that bit. After this I started to walk away as Charlie lays the Everlasting Gobstopper on Willy Wonka’s desk, or half desk really. Then, as Wonka places his and over it, he says to himself: “So shines a good deed in a weary world”. I did not remember that line but it stopped me.

A weary world.

Exactly that. I, and I’m sure millions of others, are just weary. Just want everything to stop. Just for a minute. I’m tempted to try and cut off my connections to the outside world and just pretend. In the meantime, while I resist that temptation, try to remember just how much illumination the smallest of good deeds give off in this weary world and see if there aren’t some I’m able to do.

Nothing Matters

The reaction to the latest brouhaha resulting from the publication of the article in The Atlantic alleging that Trump referred to Americans who died in war as losers and suckers has gone pretty much as I imagined. My immediate reaction was shock but not really surprise. While it seems clear there is little in his past to indicate he has any heartfelt admiration for those who serve and multiple news organizations, including Fox (I guess Trump is demanding Fox fire that reporter), have confirmed much of the story, I figured it would immediately be dismissed as fake news and of course it was. But I am surprised that there are still those that believe this, or anything else, will have any real effect on his supporters. At this point even if there were a recording or other concrete evidence, I’m confident that some narrative would be spun to justify it.

If the news that Trump is seemingly unconcerned by intelligence reports that Russia is offering bounties to the Taliban to kill our soldier didn’t have an effect why would this?

  • 109 soldiers diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after the Iranian attack in January he said were just headaches. Didn’t matter.
  • Pulled funds intended for military schools and housing to be used to pay for the wall. Didn’t matter.
  • Also redirected $224 million from a military retirement program to pay for the wall. Whatever.
  • Children of troops serving their country born overseas will no longer automatically be considered US citizen. No one cared.
  • Attacked Gold Star families. Didn’t matter.
  • He suggested that veterans that get PTSD are not strong. Didn’t matter.

When James Mattis, by all accounts an honorable and highly respected Marine Corps general and Trump’s former Secretary of Defense wrote the following:

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

Trump responded by saying he was glad he had the honor of firing Mattis calling him the world’s most overrated general, dismissing a lifetime spent in service to his country. Another lie (throw it in the pile) as Mattis actually resigned. John Kelly, another Marine Corps general and Trump’s former chief of staff had the audacity to support Mattis and so Trump turned on him as well.

And of course he has been famously critical of John McCain. Calling him a loser, saying the only reason he was a hero is because he was captured and saying he likes people that weren’t captured. Even going so far as to disallow sailors from the destroyer John S McCain to attend a Memorial Day speech. When McCain was captured he was bound and beaten every two hours until eventually those beatings were reduced to only a few times a week. All of this after he was offered a chance to be released early because his father’s position as commander but McCain refused unless the other men captured with him were released as well. McCain spent five and a half years of his life as a POW while Trump was busy receiving 5 deferments on account of his “bone spurs”. Trump said that dating and avoiding STDs was the equivalent of being a soldier in Vietnam.

For me, Trump’s treatment of McCain alone was reason enough to disqualify Trump as any sort of leader. I very much admired Senator McCain and his sacrifice for our country. While I didn’t see eye to eye with every policy decision I’m hard pressed to think of any politician that I’ve agreed with completely. McCain was the last prominent Republican politician that I can think of that was seemingly (for the most part) guided by the courage of his convictions. I suppose Romney is the closest I can think of in today’s Republican party. In writing this I went back again and watched that town hall McCain had where a woman claims that Obama is an Arab and McCain takes the microphone from her saying: “No ma’am, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man that I just happen to have disagreements with”. Gotta be honest, watching that video chokes me up remembering back to a time when it was still possible to disagree about policy without resorting to the claim that the other side hates America. I very much miss Senator McCain’s voice and I wish that more Republicans today had his courage.

But I Repeat Myself

The passing of John Lewis and a recent tweet once again brought to mind The Highlander Folk School which began in Grundy County, midway between Monteagle and Tracy City. I’ve written before how it struck me as unlikely epicenter of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. I’ve not always been what you call a student of history and I’m not sure I’d qualify as one now, but you wouldn’t think that a requirement to know that less that a mile from where you lived there was a place that helped instruct the likes of Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King, Jr., in the ways of non-violent protest. I had no idea until I read Parting The Waters.

John Lewis had this to say about Highlander:

“I was a young adult, but I had never eaten a meal in the company of Black and white diners,” the congressman wrote. “Highlander was the place,” he continued, “that Rosa Parks witnessed a demonstration of equality that helped inspire her to keep her seat on a Montgomery bus, just a few weeks after her first visit. She saw Septima Clark, a legendary black educator, teaching side-by-side with (Highlander founder Myles) Horton. For her it was revolutionary. She had never seen an integrated team of equals working together, and it inspired her.”

But what happened to Highlander? Well from the Tennessee Encyclopedia:

As Highlander became more prominent in the struggle for racial justice, outraged southern white segregationists launched a sustained assault against what they described as a “Communist training school.” … Following a headline-grabbing investigation by state legislators, a police raid, and two dramatic trials, the state of Tennessee revoked Highlander’s charter and confiscated its property in 1962.

It had been awhile since McCarthy was smacked down after being asked “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” but the Red Scare was still alive and an easy enough dog whistle to blow to help bring down a place on such a radical mission as advocating for equal rights.

They say that history doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes. Today the bogeyman isn’t communism but radical socialism. Whatever that is. I’m sure most that toss that label around pay little attention to what it really means. Doesn’t really matter. It’s just a thing that you can say like you don’t want a socialist hellscape do you!? And people are like oh God no not that! Never mind the fact that Social Security and Medicare are socialist programs that seem to be quite popular (if you are adamantly opposed to Social Security by all means send your checks to me). Then, especially here locally, we have the Tennessee Valley Authority which electrified rural areas, provided flood control, oh and created a lot of jobs. And the interstate highway system championed by that well known commie Dwight D. Eisenhower. I could go on, but the point is we’re already quite socialist.

Despite this, those trying to bend the long arc of the moral universe towards justice are labeled as “radical socialists” or enemies of “law and order”. Those that see clearly know what’s these labels really mean just as they did years ago when Highlander was labeled a communist training ground. I keep hoping another Joseph Welch will appear to snap people out of this trance. In the meantime I have to be content in the belief that history will eventually look back favorably on those more interested in advancing humanity than whatever this is masquerading as law and order.