You can do both…

I spent a lot of this summer calling out lefty “protests” that descended into the looting and burning of American cities as violent insurrection that should be put down swiftly with great force.

I’ve spent a lot of the last few days calling out MAGA “protests” that resulted in storming the Capitol and the attempted subversion of the Constitution as violent insurrection that should be put down with great force.

What we have here is a case of two different things being simultaneously true. I can oppose leftist anarchy at the same time I oppose right-wing sedition. The world is not a binary system where if something is 1 it cannot also be 0. The world, as it turns out, is a complex system. It’s filled with extraordinarily few great absolutes and enormous gradients of gray everywhere else.

The number of people who want to excuse “their” side as being justified or righteous would be horrifying if it weren’t so tiringly predictable. If you’re so blinded by your “side” and its rightness, so steeped in your side’s talking points that you can’t apply a single shred of independent thought, or God forbid, analytical rigor, then we probably don’t have much to say to each other.

As for me, I feel an inherent moral obligation to oppose extreme fuckery it all its many forms from both the left and the right, so I’ll keep calling the balls and strikes just as I see them. 

Capital and lower-case…

Internet pundits have been quick to point out that what we saw yesterday wasn’t a coup because it didn’t involve the military. Pedantry aside, what we witnessed was a violent insurrection carried out at the behest of the President of the United States in order to undermine Constitution, government, and the lawful, peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next. The fact that this president still occupies the Oval Office more than 24 hours since attempting to overthrow the government is a mark of moral cowardice on every Executive Branch official who has the power to do something about it and has failed to act decisively. At a minimum, each and every cabinet secretary should have, by now, called on the president to resign to his everlasting disgrace.

I have even less use for these right wing insurrectionists than I did for the lefties who burned and rioted their way through the summer. I hold them to a higher standard because when and where I come from, “conservative” implies rational, thoughtful decision-making of the head rather than zooming off in whatever direction the heart demands. Republicans very recently claimed to be the party that supported the police – the party of law and order. It’s hard to give credit for “backing the blue” when you’re in the streets and in the halls of Congress swinging on them.

I’m a Republican (capital “R”) and a republican (lower-case “r”). I believe in the virtue of small government and lower taxes, of free people and free markets. I am never going to get next to this strain of contemporary MAGA-ism that rejects science (because they don’t understand it) or rejects election results (because they don’t like who won). I’m never going to get next to the idea that we should be embarrassed by being in some way intellectual. I’m never going to get behind the idea of twisting the Constitution with wild contortionistic abandon, throwing over 232 years of precedent, to suit the aims of a single man. I’m never going to understand a group of people who want to buy whole cloth into whatever blatant lies and wild-ass conspiracy theory the internet spits out, because believing the patently unbelievable is more comforting than dealing with hard realities of the actual world.

More importantly, I will never stand with those who seek to subvert the Constitution by force or otherwise. These insurrectionists, with the President of the United States as their leader, and with the support of sitting senators and members of the House of Representatives, betrayed of not just our history and our laws, but also the spirit of America. Those who participated in, agitated for, support, condone, or in any way provide aid and comfort to them are treasonous bastards who deserve all the scorn and derision we can heap upon them and to should prosecuted to the fullest possible extent of the law.

Christmas pud…

Christmas pudding, or plum pudding as it’s always been called around my family table, as far as I’m concerned, is the definitive flavor of Christmas. It’s the treat that’s topped off every Christmas night for as long as I can remember.

It’s a dish so rich and tasty that the regicide Puritan and traitor Oliver Cromwell banned it in the 1650s. It’s dessert made with beef fat and a host of other sweet and savories, so you know it’s bound to be good, right?

I’ve mostly come to terms with the idea that I won’t be making my traditional Christmas trip home. Schlepping across the plague lands to a place that’s recently made it into the New York Times as having one of the highest positivity rates in the country feels like a bad idea, regardless of the justification. It’s a tradition I care deeply about, but when pitted directly against my instinct for self-preservation doesn’t really stand a chance. 

While I’ve settled myself on the idea not being home for Christmas, I realized quite late in the game that I don’t have the skill (or time) to make a proper pud on my own. Having a plum pudding to serve up on Christmas night, though, is a tradition I simply am not willing to forego even in the face of global plague. Fortunately, our friends across the water in the mother country are happy to drop one in the post and have it flown over. If the tracking is to be believed, it should be here tonight or tomorrow.

Now all I’ll have to do is manage the vanilla sauce and some semblance of proper Christmas tradition can proceed uninterrupted in spite of taking place in an alternate venue. For 2020, that’s probably doing alright. 

Light a candle…

I’ve often noted that I’d happily drive over a line of people to help and animal in distress. I don’t suppose it would surprise anyone to find that the charities I choose to support are nearly exclusively devoted to “animal causes,” although the bent towards environmental awareness and protection will certainly surprise some.

If you find yourself in a giving mood after the gluttony of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, I heartily recommend sending a few dollars towards any one of these worthy causes:

Delaware SPCA. Delaware SPCA, the state’s first animal welfare organization, has provided shelter, veterinary care, and adoption services for over a century. Last year, Delaware SPCA placed more than 1,000 animals into loving homes, many of whom required urgent care and medical attention when they came to us. We are also a leading provider of low cost spay/neuter services, have a state-of-the-art wellness clinic for community pets, and offer regular, low-cost vaccination clinics. This organization was also responsible for bringing Jorah (then Sonny) from from a high kill shelter in Tennessee to be adopted.

Cecil County Animal Services. CCAS is the county animal control authority serving Cecil County Maryland. The staff and volunteers are doing yeoman’s work maintaining a no-kill philosophy here in a largely rural community that remains somewhat behind the times in terms of promoting animal care and welfare. Hershel was a CCAS bottle baby and supporting their continued good works is a cause near and dear to my heart.

International Fund for Animal Welfare. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish.

Chesapeake Bay FoundationServing as a watchdog, we fight for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Our motto, “Save the Bay,” is a regional rallying cry for pollution reduction throughout the Chesapeake’s six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to more than 18 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals.

World Wildlife FundOur mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

I’ve heard it said that the coming months could be the bleakest in living memory, but doing your bit for the creatures and places that have no voice other than what we give them feels like a good way to light a candle instead of cursing the damned darkness.

It could be a reset, but “great,” not so much…

Over the weekend I read an article predicting that after the plague we’d see increasing population density in cities, people abandoning rural and suburban living, and abandoning the whole idea of home ownership in favor of multi-year leases on “semi-customizable” apartments.

These would be futurists foresee a “great reset” in consumerism and the rise of free public transportation, socialized healthcare, higher taxes across the board supporting more “free” at the point of use services, and generally adoption of ideas I’d generously call “the golden age of socialism.”

Who knows. Maybe the authors are right. Maybe the masses are just sucker enough to give up on capitalism. I’ve rarely been far wrong when I expect the worst from large groups of people in the past and I don’t see any reason that wouldn’t continue to be true in the future.

It’s a change program I’ll fight tooth and nail, of course. The capitalist economy took a kid from down the Crick, let him climb the property ladder, live what in any generation would be consider a good life of providing for myself and all the resident animals, and build a respectable retirement savings along the way.

I could be an outlier, I suppose, as I tend to want the exact opposite of what this particular author calls for in his vision of the utopian social order brought about by a Great Reset. If the plague has taught me anything it’s that I can’t wait to double down on home ownership – although maybe I’ll opt for a little less house next time in favor of a lot more land. Never once during the plague did I find myself wishing I was stuck in a 600 square foot box with minimal access to outdoor space, so I admit I have questions about their logic here. Likewise, I can’t remember a time when I wish there was just a little more bureaucracy in anything I was trying to do. The whole idea feels deeply counterintuitive.

The idea of living asshole to elbow with a thousand other people in some concrete and steel tower is my version of hell. If it works for you, have at it, I guess… though I’d appreciate someone explaining to me why it’s anyone else’s responsibility to fund your deluxe apartment in the sky, though that’s probably fodder for a different blog post.

If they’re right and I really am an outlier, I suppose all it really means is in fifteen years or so there’s going to be a hell of a lot of rural land ready to be bought cheap… assuming the wannabe Marxists haven’t managed to strip away all pretense of private property. The article’s authors were happy to hint around at that particular vision of the future, but lacked the academic fortitude to say it directly.

You’re welcome to your workers’ paradise, but I’ll be over here fighting it every step of the way. Call me old fashioned, but I’m still in the corner of the system I’ve seen working for me over the last 42 years rather than the one that’s brought us such interesting moments in history as the collapse of the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s frittering away of a king’s ransom in petro-dollars, and starvation rations under the panned economy of North Korea.

Rolling back the clock…

For the duration of the Great Plague thus far, I’ve been even more of a recluse than normal. Avoiding places where people congregate is a decided lifestyle choice and hasn’t felt like much of a burden. 

During this last week, I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up on some errands I’ve been putting off. I almost wish I wouldn’t have done that. What I observed out in the world does not fill me with confidence. While some are making concerted efforts, at least as many seem to have decided that masks, and distancing, and… basic hygiene rules of any kind don’t really need to be observed. 

Seeing the virus come roaring back across Europe as they’ve loosened their restrictions – and yes, watching the infection rate surge here in the US over the last couple of weeks, it’s become painfully obvious that no one anywhere really has a firm grip on how to be open and doing it safely.

So, with that, I’m rolling back the clock. From here at Fortress Jeff, we’ll be leaving the homestead for essential business only. All of you are more than welcome to go sit in your favorite bars or restaurants, wander around Walmart to your heart’s content, forgo your mask, or bunch up in any crowded place that strikes your interest. I don’t want any part of it.

I’ve always thought I had a reasonably well developed self-preservation instinct. Smart people are telling me there is a problem and have offered remarkably simple ways to avoid it. If you can’t be bothered to follow their bare minimum advice or recommendations, I truly don’t have any desire or interest in sharing space with you for the foreseeable future. I can’t control what anyone else does, of course, but I bloody well can control what I do as a result. 

If anyone needs me, stand at the end of the driveway and shout loudly, I guess. 

The news cycle has its priorities, and I have mine…

So… What do you want to talk about today?

The screaming banner headlines on every new site in the western world say the topic is tax returns. Maybe it’s tomorrow’s presidential debate if you read the more subtle, non-72 point font headlines a bit further down the page. Maybe it’s another day to rage about COVID-19, or Russia, or protests turned riot.

Any one of them could, theoretically, be a good enough topic to meet my word quota for today’s post. They’d fill the gap… and my eyes would likely roll completely out of my skull even before I added the final period.

I’m increasingly aware of the limits of my span of control, or at least on those things where I can exert some level of actual influence. If it doesn’t take place wholly within the confines of the woods and lawn of Fortress Jeff, that kind of control is just about non-existent and any pretense of influence is shaky at the very best.

I was first attracted to this phrase years ago when I heard it on the series finale of The Tudors – when an ailing Duke of Suffolk declines to intervene among those jockeying to take advantage of Henry’s quickly approaching death. The duke, in one of his most pragmatic moments says, “I’m not sure if this is any answer, my Lord Hertford, but I’ve always been drawn to a phrase used by the French peasants: ‘Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.’

I’m not a particularly religious man. My praise and prayers, to the best of my knowledge, have always gone unheeded, so I can’t speak to that bit, but the rest seems to make perfect sense in its simplicity. The older I get, the more I see of people and politics and the world, the more convinced I am of the wisdom of taking care of my own, spending money for the good gin, and letting the rest of the world bugger directly off.

I’m sure that’s not at all what the talking heads want me paying attention to at the moment, but the desires of pols, activists, and news readers plays a more and more insignificant role in setting my agenda these days. It may be a decade or more off yet, but spending my time keeping an eye on large acreage plots coming available and working on my perfect floor plan feel like a far better use of time than anything CNN or Fox could possibly spew in my direction.

Some thoughts from an ex-teacher…

The last time I set foot in a classroom was December 2002 as I departed to begin what promised to be a far more remunerative career as a small cog in my uncle’s vast war machine. I’m sure I’ve repressed plenty of the memories of those two and a half years attempting to educate the youth of America. One thing I remember quite clearly, though, is that the place was a petri dish. I’ve never been sick as often as I was during those 30 months.

The idea that a month from now most schools can open for business as usual strikes me as absolutely farcical. Even if we accept the premise, which I don’t, that “kids don’t get it,” I’m trying to understand what the plan will be when teachers start falling out. Even under average conditions twenty years ago we couldn’t hire enough substitute teachers on a day to day basis. What they’re going to do when some significant percentage of the staff starts falling out for weeks or months at a time isn’t something I’ve seen anyone address.

I suppose if all we’re collectively interested in doing is attempting to keep up the illusion that education is happening, it might just be possible to open schools as usual. I suspect at the very best, some districts will be able to warehouse students for six or seven hours a day – at least for a little while, until the reality of jamming large numbers of people into a confined, poorly ventilated space set in. 

I won’t pretend that I have a good alternative. Distance learning, tele-education, whatever you want to call it, has obvious limitations and drawbacks – particularly in the early grade levels. I’m pretty sure I could have still done an AP US History lecture via Zoom, but I have no earthly idea what the average first grade teacher would be up against. All of that is before we even account for the subset of people who need schools open so they can go to jobs that don’t lend themselves to working remotely. I won’t pretend to understand that particular pressure, but I certainly acknowledge it’s there.

Admittedly, my interest here is largely an academic one… or maybe it’s the same kind of interest with which we look on the six-car pileup on the interstate. Watching a bunch of grown adults grapple with mass psychosis and intent on their goals in defiance of all medical and scientific realities, is really something to see. 

The words we use…

If anyone ever wonders why I have a fairly jaundiced view of the narratives offered up by mainline media organizations, here are two headlines from local television news websites from the last 24 hours:

“Baltimore protestors tear down Christopher Columbus statue.” – WJZ Baltimore (CBS affiliate)

“Frederick Douglass statue vandalized in New York park” – WBAL Baltimore (NBC affiliate)

As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, words have meaning. What the words that are used to describe these two events tells me is that the mass media is taking a position on events rather than simply reporting on them. If you damage statue of Columbus, you’ll be described as a protestor (implying that your activities are in some way virtuous), but if you dismount a statue of Douglass, you are a vandal (implying the act is criminal in nature).

Here’s the thing: Both acts are criminal. Those involved in both are vandals committing wanton acts of destruction. None are entitled to a pass for acting like spoiled children intent on throwing a temper tantrum at public expense.

I’d love to say it’s hard to believe I need to say such a thing in the 21st century – worse yet that it will be a controversial sentiment. Yet here we are, twenty years deep into our particularly stupid century.

You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

Popular opinion is stupid…

America has a long history of rushing to judgment atop a wave of “popular” opinion. 

Witness the fiasco of NASCAR leading the charge against person or persons unknown who allegedly hung a noose in the pit area. There was a popular outcry, a swift investigation by the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, a hue and cry from talking heads across the spectrum that racism in that business must be plucked root and stem. Of course it turned out to be nothing more than a knot in a rope pull that had been there for at least a year. It was the very definition of nothing to see here, but it was hopped on by the professional and social media as the great scourge of the age. Talk about a lie getting, ‘round the world before the truth manages to get out of bed. 

At least we’re behaving true to form. Far better to commit to a spectacular, emotional response up front and early than to take the time to do the work of evaluating what’s really happening and decide on a practical, dispassionate response. 

It seems that if left to our own devices, we have a collective tendency to see enemies under ever bed – and respond in an emotional furor. As far back as the late 1600s, we were committed to knee-jerk reactions under pressure from the mob. Back there and back then something on the order of twenty men and women (and several dogs, if memory serves) were executed for practicing witchcraft. 

In the 1950s we were fond of seeing Reds around every corner. The coercive power of and individual destruction wrought by the House Un-American Activities Committee still stands as a testament to the utterly misguided means deployed when emotion, rather than logic serves as the basis of action. 

Here we are in 2020 once again revisiting past practice and seeing perceived evil at every turn. Because emotion is running at a fever pitch – drummed up by those who benefit most from chaos – we revert to a form older even than our republic. Then again, tearing down has always been easier than building – and the emotion of the mob will always be more appealing than putting in the dispassionate effort to determined how to get there from here.

We’ve been at it now for over three centuries later, for all our advancement, I sometimes wonder if we’ve really learned a damned thing.