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. 

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.