Twenty percent…

There’s a recent survey that shows 20% of those Americans polled believe the COVID-19 vaccine is being used to imbed a tracking chip in all who receive it. The “good” news is that only 5% said it was “definitely” true while 15% said it was only “probably” true. 

Twenty percent of our fellow Americans believe something that is patently absurd. That’s one in five people – a number that feels like it almost guarantees that we all know someone or possibly many people who are part of the 20%. Some of them may even be reading this blog right now.

I’m never entirely sure what bit of the brain has to be badly wired to convince people to buy into some of the more wild-assed conspiracy theories. What on earth would possess someone to think that the government (or new world order for that matter), would bother with something so pedestrian as implanting a chip… when we’ve pretty much all long ago agreed to carry one of the most advanced tracking devices in history in our pocket all day every day.

This 20% are among us, though. They’re our politicians, our teachers, our religious leaders, our lawyers, our firefighters, and pretty much anyone else you can imagine. That’s the thought that horrifies me far more than the idea of any kind of chip the big, bad virologists might have slipped me. 

Sir Richard…

The social media response to Sir Richard Branson, astronaut, is nothing if not predictable. He’s an evil billionaire trying to escape earth because he’s destroyed it. He should be taxed into the stone age so we could give everyone in the world three pencils and a timeshare goat or whatever.

It’s done nothing but reinforce my opinion that the kind of lefties who are active on social media are more about controlling what people do or don’t do, how we spend our money and live our lives, and keeping perfect credit with whoever is tracking the approved “social justice” buzzwords of the day.

Branson is the kind of guy we use to tell people they should admire. Starting his own, relatively unremarkable business at the age of 16, over the next five decades he parlayed that small initial success into a corporate juggernaut. He made himself rich beyond the dreams of avarice in the process… and then used that money to fund a project that use to be the sole province of nation states. I’d love to understand how space travel and exploration is somehow less democratic now that it’s not purely a state-sponsored endeavor. 

Yesterday, a self-made man used his own fortune to heave himself into space and open another avenue to travel and explore beyond the bounds of earth. 

I’m here for it.

If the wags on social media can’t or won’t see past their obsession and abject jealousy of who has what, I almost feel sorry for their lack of vision. Sir Richard is making history while the social media set is, at best, scoring points with those in their echo chamber. 

Project Poseidon?

It’s a Friday before a long holiday weekend. I won’t say that there was nothing to do today, but the pacing of what there was left a fair amount of time for just pondering.

What’s on my mind today, because coverage of one sort or another is almost inescapable, is the “megadrought” gripping the American west. Stories of lowering reservoirs, wells running dry, rivers too low to support wildlife, let alone the ability to be drawn down for irrigation, and the inevitable increasing number of wildfires that will go along with it all seem to be everywhere.

So far, what I’ve seen is a lot of speculation and discussion about conserving. While that’s well and good, reducing the amount of water being used doesn’t ultimately get after the problem of there not being enough water. The chances of us going after the whole climate change thing also seems fairly slim.

So, if we assume for purposes of this post that the amount of water available is going to continue to diminish over time, demand will continue to increase over time, and we’re not going to significantly change human behavior in the short or medium term, what’s left? I think that’s where the discussion on the topic is lacking. What can we do in the next five years to radically increase the amount of water available to the western third of the United States?

It always surprises me that there isn’t at least one crackpot agitating for a crash program of building a string of massive desalination plants from San Diego to Seattle along the Pacific Coast. Without any background in hydrology, wildlife management, or public infrastructure, I respectfully submit that what we need is a Moon Shot – a Project Apollo for rewatering the west.

It would be monumentally expensive. Environmentalists would scream bloody murder at the very idea of building such massive industrial facilities on the coast. Everyone would hate it – except, probably, all the people who actually need the water.

Even if we can’t meet the demand of water intensive agricultural interests, leaving river water in the rivers in an effort to prop up wildlife while providing potable water for the human population feels like a reasonable investment in the future. It’s certainly a better option than abandoning whole stretches of the west, seeing depopulation and mass migration out of cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, and just accepting that the region is going to be an arid dead zone .

If 2020 taught us nothing else, it’s that printing money to order apparently no longer causes economic problems. Personally, I’d rather see it put towards good works than another round of pay everyone to sit at home watching Netflix… but that’s probably a tale for another time.

The honor system…

According to the Centers for Disease Control, those who have been fully vaccinated are more or less free to unmask and get on up in each other’s personal space again. It’s a decision that certainly speaks to their growing confidence that the vaccine is very nearly bulletproof. Yes, if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still contract COVID-19, but the research they referenced yesterday seems to conclude that the instance of becoming truly sick from it is negligible. Likewise, the risk of a vaccinated person spreading COVID-19 is next to nil. 

Those who aren’t vaccinated, which by this point is largely a group of people who do not want to be vaccinated, are supposed to keep wearing their masks. There’s a catch, of course… and that’s this is largely the same group of people who have been violently opposed to something as simple as wearing a mask at the height of the Great Plague.

There’s no way of looking at someone and telling whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. Our friends from the CDC basically say we’ll be on our honor as to whether we’ve been vaccinated or not and behave accordingly. Personally, I hear that as a very polite way of saying “We’ve saved as many of you who want saving as possible and from here on out, if you want to go out and catch the bug, you’re on your own.” Put another way, if you’re part of the minority who refuses to acknowledge science, the immortal words of Ivan Drago can be your valedictory: If he dies, he dies. 

It’s not an elegant solution, but at some point it’s important to accept that you simply can’t protect people from themselves. According to the CDC, at least, we’ve arrived at that point. Now all that remains to be seen is how state and local governments and businesses respond. 

My personal prediction is that we’ll make every bit as much of a hash of exiting the Great Plague experience as we did getting into it in the first place. We’ll soon see, I expect, a country that isn’t so much divided between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated as between those who are vaccinated and those who are infected.

The story they won’t cover…

At 5:00 this past Sunday morning, Cpl. Keith Heacook of the Delmar Police Department responded to a call for an assault in progress. An elderly couple was being beaten and this officer put himself between them and their attacker. According to reports, Cpl. Heacook was then violently attacked, overpowered, and kicked in the head repeatedly until he fell unconscious. 

A quick search shows that the “person” arrested in connection to this murder has a criminal record dating back to 2010, when he was 19 years old. Thirty-six items returned in a search of his involvement with criminal court cases paint quite a picture… although I’m sure great effort will be expended to portray him as victim of the system, result of a bad childhood, a young man who just needed a hug, or whatever touchy feely excuse for people who choose a life outside the law is in vogue today.

You won’t hear hours of reporting every day dedicated to the murder of Keith Heacook. You won’t see protests in the street or riots and looting of local downtown business districts. His death at the hands of a known criminal doesn’t match the popular narrative of violent police officers. It will be downplayed and ignored in favor of those reports that highlight only the story of race and policing the media is determined to sell. 

We’ll know the truth, though. Keith Heacook, a badged and sworn police officer, laid down his life in service to his community and in an attempt to protect the vulnerable. There’s no truer definition of hero.

Back in the world…

I know plenty of people have been far more risk tolerant than I’ve been over the last year. Some have been far less risk tolerant than me. I hope, as usual, I managed to fall somewhere in the middle of the curve – not too indifferent, but not too paranoid. 

Even when the Great Plague started, I didn’t fully sequester myself. I managed to complete regular trips out for groceries, carryout, and whatever I couldn’t live without from Lowe’s. I largely made sure to do those things at times other people would consider “inconvenient.” As often as not, I had entire stores almost completely to myself. 

In making my first trip back into the broader world this weekend, I’m not sure what I was expecting beyond it feeling somehow “different.”

As it turns out, the world is still as full of people as it was in the Before Time… and that makes everything just awful. 

I managed to lose the crowd, or most of it, while I was wandering the stacks peering at books, but as soon as I popped out the end of a row, there they were, slack jawed and milling around aimlessly in the aisles, in the parking lots, and on the roads.

I’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I can tell you now in complete sincerity, the absence of large groups of people in my daily, weekly, and monthly routine has not made me any more fond of them in any way. If anything, the absence of people has had the exact opposite effect on me. 

As the world schlepps on towards returning to “normal,” I’ll be over here coming up with new and creative ways to keep on avoiding the other returnees.  

Fake snow…

There’s a segment of the population that has decided the storm a few weeks ago that drove Texas to its knees was all part of a vast and continuing conspiracy that somehow features “fake snow” delivered on target by the government or Bill Gates. I remain a bit unclear on that last bit.

Every time I think my countrymen couldn’t possibly be more ridiculous, we go ahead and set the bar just a little bit lower. I’d love to say I’m surprised that some significant portion of the people living in the United States are complete morons, but pretty much every time I’m forced to go out and interact with the general public confirms it. Is it possible that the dumbing of America is picking up speed?

I’m constantly reminded that the average person probably does ok. They handle their business and get through life without being completely derailed by obviously fictitious shit. Then I remember that at least half the population is, by definition, below average. These are the people you interact with who leave you wondering who laces up their shoes in the morning or how they can possibly survive on their own “in the wild” without competent supervision.

As much as I wish I could be surprised that so many people are convinced Texas was coated in fake snow, or the lizard people are controlling the media, or there was an unimaginably complex plot to steal the 2020 election, I’m really not. I don’t understand what seems to be a compulsion to believe the most patently absurd, farcical ideas versus the far more mundane and plausible reality. Are people really so bored in their daily life that they have some need to create wild fictional scenarios? 

I’m all in favor of a little escapism now and then. I’ve got the movies and books to prove it. What I’ll never understand is how so damned many people decided that constructing and living in their own alternate reality is in any way a beneficial way to spend their time. 

If anyone would like to present actual evidence that one of these wild ass conspiracies is true, the comments section is always wide open… but bear in mind, “evidence” does not consist of random stuff you’ve pulled from your favorite conspiracy theorist website or “video proof” you discovered on YouTube. If you send me that shit, I’ll absolutely laugh and mock you without mercy.

Lessons from Texas…

There are lots of lessons about the debacle of the Texas electric grid.

The biggest, for me at least, is the confirmation that energy independence isn’t just about making the fuel we consume right here in the good ol’ U S of A, but also in having a bare minimum ability to produce some power or heat separate and apart from whatever grid happens to service your region.

For the average homeowner or renter, even a tiny, portable generator could power a modest electric heater – enough to keep a room warm and a lamp on as a shelter of last resort. For an apartment dweller the calculus is a bit different. Even so, there are indoor use options powered by propane or denatured alcohol that would provide welcome heating in a survival situation. The catch to all of those alternatives, though, if you need to have thought them through a bit before the “oh shit” moment arrives.

I’ll be the first to tell you that even the best generators aren’t foolproof. They need regular service and rely on a steady supply of your fuel of choice. Here at Fortress Jeff, that fuel source is a 500 gallon propane tank buried in the backyard. At best, on the day it’s filled, that tank will contain 400 gallons of propane – or a little more than six days of 24/7 run time for the average sized generator. Since most days that tank is sitting somewhere between full and “empty,” I work from the assumption that I can keep things fully up and running for half that time and maybe even less since the water heater and furnace both draw from the same tank. If it looks like a long duration outage, off and on cycling will buy me a few more days of keeping the place at least habitable.

Beyond that point, we’re at the mercy of the delivery service and the expectation that both the generator and HVAC systems keep working as advertised. That is to say, it’s not a zero risk plan that I put together. There are certainly scenarios where a deep snow or ice, and downed trees could prevent delivery or repair should an event drag into multiple days or some component fail. I assess the relative risk of that happening as being fairly low based on the historical record for the geographic area I currently occupy.

Even feeling fairly secure in my ability to operate independently from the grid for days if necessary, when the time comes to replace the current 21 years old tank, I’m planning to upgrade to a 1000 gallon model. When it comes to fuel on hand, I firmly believe the old logistician’s motto that “more is better.” On days I’m feeling particularly aggressive about my own personal energy independence, the thought of adding a wood stove also sounds awfully appealing. Without a fireplace of any kind in the house, it’s more of an undertaking than I’d really like to get involved with just now, but it’s on the radar for sure.

As for Texas, well, it’s just one more reminder than when shit really gets dicey, you’d better have a plan to get yourself through the worst of it, because the cavalry isn’t always going to ride over the hill and rescue you in the nick of time.

Dumbass…

So, some dumbass sprays their hair into place with goddamned Gorilla Glue, putzes around for a month trying to get it out, and manages to raise $17,000 in donations to help her unstick herself. 

I wish I could say I don’t have words to describe what I was feeling as I read this story. I do have the words though. Most of them are foul. Many of them are no more than four letters.

Some things are true accidents, cases of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of what we call accidents, though, are the result of people either actually being stupid or momentarily acting stupidly. These are the people who shoot themselves while cleaning their firearm or who wipe out their entire family because they decided to run a portable generator indoors. 

Here we have a case of someone who looked at a bottle of spray adhesive, clearly labeled, and covered, I’m presuming, with warnings about proper use, and who made a conscious decision that it would be a fine substitute for Aqua Net. 

I don’t get it. I don’t even want to get it.

Being a dumbass should be painful. If it takes getting your damned hair stuck to your head to learn that lesson, so be it. At least your existence could serve as a valuable learning opportunity for others. 

I’m in no way surprised that someone was stupid enough to try using spray glue as hair spray… but I have no idea what to make of the people who decided to make de-adhering her hair their philanthropic cause of choice. Good money after bad, I suppose.

Thoughts on the death of a pipeline…

I was raised in coal country. My childhood memories are punctuated with the sound of a CSX locomotive and open coal cars rumbling through the center of town. I don’t have to tax my memory to recall its whistle screaming as the engine pulled its load across the level crossing at Union Street. Those trains were as much a part of town as any of the buildings that stood overlooking the tracks. Still, they haven’t run coal south through Midland in a long time. Then again, a lot of those old buildings are gone now, too. 

My home town’s entire reason for being was to support the men who went down the mines in the 19th and 20th centuries. I grew up riding bikes in the shadow of draglines and immense tailings piles carted out of the deep mines a hundred years before I was born. Even those “coal banks,” pressed hard against the backs of the town’s two churches, are long gone following a spate of reclamation and restoration efforts made a decade or two ago. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that, for good or bad, we’re living in the closing era of the coal industry. Government – and the people – are going to demand “clean” energy options going forward.

You can rage against it all you want.  There’s no silk weaving mill in Coney anymore because it didn’t make economic sense in 1957. There’s no Kelly-Springfield plant in Cumberland because it didn’t make economic sense in 1987. There’s no Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore because it didn’t make economic sense in 2012. Maybe you see where I’m going with this line of thought.

Sure, hang on grimly to your plant or pipeline. Get out of it whatever you can in the time it has left. The oil is still going to flow – by rail or truck or one of the hundred other pipelines crisscrossing the continent. A few mines may hang on for decades yet, but the battle is over. Coal from western Maryland will never again fuel the ships of the Great White Fleet. Oil, over the next few decades, is going to be phased out. The future is ugly ass wind turbines marring every mountaintop and offshore vista and acres of solar panels where there use to be open fields.

The economy has always been built on creative destruction. It sucks when you’re on the “destruction” side of the equation. Ask the men who built wagons what happened after Henry made the car affordable to the masses. I take no pleasure in acknowledging this, because the end of this type of industry is going to have real and lasting negative impacts on my old home town and the people I know there. Pretending it’s not going to happen, or that we can somehow reverse the inexorable march towards the future isn’t going to help them, though. 

Times change. Technology evolves. King Canute couldn’t order the tide to go out and we’ll fare no better trying to resuscitate dead and dying industries and ordering the future to be an exacting continuation of the past. 

That’ll be an unpopular opinion where I’m from, but as a lifelong holder of unpopular or controversial opinions, I’m ok with that.