The dam…

According to local news reports over the last day or so, the State of Maryland wants the energy company that operates the Conowingo Dam to pick up the tab for cleaning debris that washed down stream into the Chesapeake following two weeks of heavy rains. It’s a fine thing to blame the dam for causing this. The dam, hundreds of feet of concrete 2880px-Conowingo_Dam_and_Power_House,_near_Bel_Air_and_Havre_de_Grace,_Md_(73856)standing astride the Susquehanna is a large and convenient target for the ire of politicians and activists. Blaming the dam, though, misses the point entirely.

Since it was put into service in 1928 the Conowingo bought about 90 years of reduced sediment flowing into the Bay, trapping decades of pollution behind its imposing concrete walls. The fact is that without the dam, every bit of that debris, silt, and chemical contamination would already be laying on the Bay’s floor or washed up on its shores. That’s 90 years’ worth of accumulation versus the two weeks’ worth that was washed through the spill gates last month. Sediment reduction wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye in the 1920s, but it has been a fortunate consequence of having the dam managing water flow downstream to the Bay.

Of course now that the Conowingo pool has reached or at least gotten close to the maximum amount of sediment it can impound upstream we’re seeing debris washed more frequently downstream into the Bay we’re identifying it as an emergency. I’ve been back now seven years and for at least that long the state and federal government have been wringing their hands on this issue without giving any real sense that they have a clue what to do. Even assuming for a moment that they do know what to do, they seem utterly flummoxed by deciding who’s going to pay the bill.

That’s all a long way of saying that I don’t blame the dam. It’s doing exactly what a dam is designed and built to do. I blame generations of regulators, legislators, governors, government officials, and corporate board members who let the situation develop and then fester. I blame the states up stream for not adopting practices and policies that would reduce their impact on the river and Bay.

If you were new to the world of environmental discussions about Chesapeake Bay, you might think the time is now ripe to launch the long needed effort to dredge the sediment impounded behind the Conowingo, haul it away, and prepare the dam for another 90 years of service. Since, of course, this is taking place in my beloved home state of Maryland, though, I know what’s really going to happen is that we’re going to have another blue ribbon panel, commission another study, and call in dozens of experts to tell us that which we already know to be the case.

I’d almost dared to hope that a raft of storm tossed debris driven ashore at the foot of the statehouse might garner some action on getting on with the job that needs doing. Shame on me for being so optimistic in the face of our political masters in Annapolis.

Enclosed spaces…

The world is currently in the grips of a minor fascination with the rescue of a Thai soccer team that managed to get themselves trapped in a cave. The situation feels ripe for a comment about going considerably out of our way to prevent Darwin from protecting the gene pool, but I’ll let that go for now.

Maybe I’ve just led a charmed life, but I can’t remember a single time when I looked at a hole in the earth and thought, “Self, what you need to do is grab a flashlight and climb down.” That’s especially true when I have no special knowledge, skills, or abilities that would in any way prepare me for leading or participating in such an activity. Hell, I mean I don’t particularly like being in a small room – in a building above ground. While my record of doing dumb shit as a kid is not spotless, we managed to keep away from the biggies – like falling down a well or getting trapped in a flooded cave. There but for the grace? Maybe, but it also feels like maybe they were not paying nearly enough attention to the quiet voice of self preservation.

It is well that the latest global human interest story seems to be trundling towards its end, but it hasn’t yet answered the question about why anyone thought dragging a bunch of kids into an enclosed space was a good idea in the first place.

Rolling my eyes at emotional arguments since 1978…

Here’s the thing: I’m not an overtly emotional guy. I’ve been known to be sentimental at times, but I’m not going to be the one who cries with you over pretty much anything. If you’re trying to convince me of the right-ness of your argument, coming at me with an sales pitch full of emotional tugs upon my heart is 100% the wrong way to win me over to your cause.

Like Captain Renault with Rick’s gun pointed at his chest in the dramatic final scene of Casablanca, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you “that is my least vulnerable spot.” It’s not so much that I don’t have a heart, I simply try to minimize its use as the basis for sound decision making. Long life experience tells me doing so doesn’t generally end well. I’ve had significantly more success by letting my head take the lead in making the heard decisions.

Since so many of my countrymen seem determined to be lead about by the heartstrings, though, I’ve taken the liberty of noggining through a modest proposal that would at first blush defuse both the border security hawks and those shrieking “won’t somebody please think of the children.”

What I’ve come up with, in broad strokes, is that Homeland Security should lease space on the Mexican side of the southern border in which to conduct investigations and process those seeking entry into the United States. Those seeking lawful entry wouldn’t risk being detained or separated from family members as they hadn’t crossed into the United States or broken any federal law. Their location in Mexico relieves the US Government from the need for housing, feeding, and providing medical care on site – although we could always throw some money at Mexico to help offset their increased costs. As those seeking entry are vetted and processed, they could be admitted through the designated port of entry or denied entry for cause – all nice an neat without the troubles associated with letting them first set foot on US soil and then starting the process.

This system could be put in effect at every designated port of entry from the Pacific straight across to the Gulf of Mexico. Effectively, the carrot is that families can stay together while their case is heard and disposition made. The stick, because there always has to be a stick, is that anyone found crossing illegally and opting not to avail themselves of the designated processes, would be ejected forthwith from the United States to their country of origin or the nearest country that will grant them asylum and be barred from seeking further admittance to the United States.

Sure, it’s just a quick thought exercise on what right might look like, but that feels more productive than sitting around wringing my hands, gnashing my teeth, and crying bitter, bitter tears.

Diminishing bubble of concern…

​I started writing this post three times already. Each one of the three things that came pouring from my fingertips made it to about two sentences in length before I realized that they were all topics that more appropriately belonged in an edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Being the good and disciplined writer I am, I copied and pasted them over into that file awaiting the right moment for them to come out into the light of day.

I could tell you that I have a massive backlog of ideas here, but the reality is I’m sitting on a stockpile of thoughts that’s rapidly approaching zero. I can only assume that’s because I’m paying increasingly less attention to “the world” over time. I’m sick to death of Trump is a shitshow, Democrats are all socialists, keeping track of who OD’ed, and so on ad infinitum.

Maybe I should care more, but the fact is I just don’t. I know my own reality. The one where I grew up, studied hard, went to work and now have grown ass responsibilities to be concerned about. Maybe that makes me not sympathetic enough. Whatever. I have my own garden to tend and my own troubles. If more people grabbed their own personal bull by the horns, I’ve always reckoned there would be a lot fewer problems left for society in general to sort out on their behalf.

Yeah, I’d probably have more things to write about if my heart were the bleeding kind, but as it is, all I really want to do is keep the house looking nice, play with the animals, and read a good book. Making sure those things can continue to happen on a consistent basis is just about as far as my bubble of concern extends at this point.

Blackout…

One of the walls of the room wherein I’m trapped for eight hours a day features three large televisions. At any given time at least one of them shows a feed from the major cable news outlets shouting the current headlines at us. You don’t realize how little “new” news happens in a day until you spend months with rehashes and repeats washing over you every 30 minutes. It’s possible there’s a lot of news breaking out there somewhere, but it’s an awfully small portion that anyone is going to spend time talking about (and trying to monetize through advertising).

One of the better side effects of this 40-hour a week exposure is that my brain seems to have developed a basic self-preservation strategy of tuning almost all of it out. When someone asks “hey did you hear that?” I can usually respond honestly with, “no.” The other side effect I’ve noticed is that this constant stream of news has left me bereft of the desire to watch or seek out any news for the rest of the day.

With the exception of a few minutes of local weather and finding out the daily body count in Baltimore when I get home from work, the rest of the night is almost completely news free. I should show more of an interest, but I find this newfound disinterest to be a remarkably freeing experience. Sure, I still care what goes on in the world, but I’m becoming a hell of a lot more selective about what I want to burn an increasingly limited amount of mental bandwidth learning about or engaging on.

Some news is good for entertainment value (when bad things happen to stupid people), other bits are good to know because it impacts finances (business news and federal budget stuff), and finally there’s the space allocated to any news or information involving animals. Past that, maybe I should care, but I just don’t. Whatever intellectual energy I have left once I get home is far more effectively spent focused on the next spy novel or great thick books about war.

I intend this self-imposed (partial) news blackout to continue indefinitely.

Someone to vote for…

I did something stupid this evening. I waded into the middle of a Facebook post in which the basic premise is “If you don’t hate Trump you’re a filthy bastard.” Normally I don’t weigh in, but despite the lead in, most of the comments were reasonable and well considered. Of course we’ll see how long that lasts now that I’ve showed up.

To revises and expand on my comment there, let me start by saying I didn’t love candidate Trump nor am I a dyed in the wool fan of President Trump. Still, I voted for him. It’s a statement of fact that I wont hide from or be ashamed of.

In a discussion that swirled around the topic of “how did this happen, I offer offered this thought:

The real issue is’t just in President Trump. The issue is with the whole slate of candidates. If the best we can put up here in a country of 300 million citizens was reflected in this past election I don’t know how to go about fixing the root of the matter.

I’m a Republican who has voted across party lines for local, state, and federal offices when I thought the Democrats had a better candidate. In my mind, then and now, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were never candidates I would be able to get behind.

If you want better results give us better candidates.

Put up a Kennedy Democrat who isn’t threatening to tax more money out of my pocket or repeal the Second Amendment and I’ll give them every chance to earn my vote. As long as both parties are trying to swing themselves the extreme edges, there’s a vast unrepresented swath in the middle that’s crying out for someone to vote for instead of turning out to voting against.

On United and the Doctor…

Once upon a time I use to travel a lot for work. Useless hours in airports and tens of thousands of miles in the air wasn’t uncommon hopping between Memphis and DC, Chicago, Fort Worth, and Baltimore. This was almost a decade ago, but I can tell you from that experience, overbooking a flight isn’t exactly something that airlines just started doing this week. If you’re going to fly, overbooking is just one of the more obnoxious facts of life.

Finding out at the last minute that you aren’t getting where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there sucks. It happened to me on more than one occasion even when I was flying on full-fare tickets. I pocketed anywhere from $500-1000 for my trouble, stayed in the airport hotel, and got on the first flight out the next morning. Inconvenient, yes, but not life-alteringly terrible.

The thing I didn’t do in those circumstances was dig in my heels, make excuses for why I was a snowflake more important than any of the others and couldn’t be bumped, and then refused to give way. A lot has been made by the media about this guy being a doctor rushing home to get back to his practice. Fellow passengers were “outraged,” but I didn’t see any of them rushing to give up their seat so the good doctor could continue on his mission of mercy so their opinions, while interesting, are not relevant.

Look, I agree that United made a whole series of bad decisions, but their contract of carriage (which everyone agrees to when they purchase a ticket) pretty clearly spells out what happens when a flight is oversold and you’re bumped. Sitting in your seat and pretending that those rules don’t apply to you strikes me as the trigger that made the whole series of unpleasant events possible.