The snow day that wasn’t…

I’m smart enough to understand that what I know about meteorology wouldn’t take the first day of class to teach at a halfway responsible university. Being a simple man, I try to leave the prognostication to the professionals and satisfy myself that whatever it’s doing when I take the dogs outside in the morning is a reasonably good indicator of what it’s going to be like for the next 8 hours or so. Being a complex system, of course, the weather doesn’t always cooperate with that assessment. That’s why keeping an umbrella and a dry pair of socks in the truck is always a good idea.

I rely on my simple approach to weather because I don’t have a multi-billion dollar array of radar stations, geosynchronous satellites, supercomputer powered models, and highly trained meteorologists pouring over data moment by moment. The good news is apparently you don’t need any of those things to make a go of it… because using that wide array of resources, you’re just as apt to get it as wrong as I am by simply sticking my head outside to see if it gets wet.

Still, if you can convince an entire metropolitan area that you know what you’re doing and make a damned good living while getting it sort of right and sort of wrong, well, then my hat is off to you. All I wanted was a damned snow day today. I’d have settled for a few hours early release. But no. That was a bridge too far, because here between Philly and Baltimore, it was the snow day that wasn’t. I think from now on I’ll just stick with the personal observation method and maybe pick up a barometer at the next flea market I visit. Then I’d say my predictions should be about on par with the professionals.

With no apologies…

One of my younger sisters was working at The Mall in Columbia yesterday morning when an as yet unidentified douchebag walked into a shop on the second floor and started shooting. That’s my way of saying that this one is something close to home and not simply an academic exercise in which I take my beliefs out for a walk. Yesterday, she did what she was supposed to do – sought cover and concealment, made sure her people were safe, and waited. Knowing our shared family traits, I would never go so far as to say “waited patiently.”

On any average day the vast majority of law abiding citizens of Maryland go through their day with nothing standing between them and the violent acts of a few than the tacit social compact that says the state should have a monopoly on violence. By extension, when you find yourself in harm’s way, the only course of action is waiting for the machinery of the state to come to your defense. While someone is committing the most violent of crimes even a few yards away, the state wants you to sit quietly and wait for them to take action on your behalf. That’s not a criticism of the Howard County Police Department, Maryland State Police, FBI, or any of the others who, by all accounts, were on scene incredibly quickly and did yeomen’s work to secure the area. It is a criticism, however, of a system that expects and encourages people look to the organs of the state to clothe, house, and protect them.

Despite the quick response of law enforcement, there were a few minutes – even if it were only one or two – where the first, last, and only line of defense was a locked door, patience, and hoping for the best. That’s not acceptable level of self defense to me – and shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone, really. I wish Maryland recognized the right of its citizens to defend themselves in equal and opposite measure to the force being brought to bear against them. In a world where only criminals have access to firearms, only criminals will use them – leaving the average person in the street beholden to the state entirely to provide for their personal defense. Some people – perhaps the majority in Maryland – are perfectly happy deferring their self defense requirements to the state. I’m not one of them.

Yesterday’s events hit close to home. I’m convinced now more than ever and with no apologies that free men and women must be allowed (and prepared) to defend themselves with all possible force at a moment’s notice. Sadly, I’m sure the leadership here in the great state of Maryland will politicize Columbia and use this as another excuse to lay even more onerous restrictions on those of us who try to live inside the bounds of the law.

Cold, colder, coldest…

The media have made a great story out of the grave menace to our way of life posed by the Polar Vortex of Doom. Rightly so, I suppose. It is cold out there after all. But there’s gohomearcticyouredrunksomething that’s been nagging at me since the early hours of this morning. I mean aside from vaguely wondering if I shouldn’t have left a faucet running while I was at work.

It was cold last night – somewhere in the low teens when I took the dogs out for last call around 10PM. A little after 6 this morning, I took them out again and discovered that it was still cold. It was still cold to the tune of about 3 degrees. The wind felt like it was blowing at more or less the same speed from more or less the same direction. On both occasions, I was more than well aware that it was, by my own definition, cold as blue hell. However, I can’t say that 3 degrees at 6AM felt substantively colder than 13 degrees at 10PM. This all leads me to believe at some level cold is simply cold.

There’s probably some very scientific method of proving that people sense degrees of coldness in different ways, but based on my purely unscientific experience over the last 24 hours, I’d be hard pressed to confirm that. I’m willing to go ahead and make a concession that I would probably be able to tell -30 from 10, but in a narrower range, it all just feels like worse than average cold to me. Then again, I’m not a devotee of cold weather. At best I consider the cold something to be avoided, hidden from, and beaten back using all the home heating weapons at your disposal… but really, unless I’m going to be stuck in it for hours on end, I don’t need gradations of cold. Unless there’s a tragic accident, I’m not going to be in it long enough to do more than notice that “sweet baby Jesus it’s cold out here.” That makes discussions of cold, colder, and coldest pretty much academic by my standards.

Ten thousand generations of evolution…

I’m a cynic. I’ve learned to embrace it. That’s probably why the very first words out of my mouth when the initial report came across the air that there had been gunfire at the Capitol yesterday was “Wow… I’m surprised it took three days for someone to shoot the place up.” I’ll admit that might be a pretty dim view of people and the world in general, but I stand by the assessment. Frankly, given the tenor of the political debate in this country for the last decade, I’m a more than a little surprised it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. That we don’t generally see armed assaults on our government institutions is more a tribute to the forbearance of the average American than it is any sign of respect for how well our institutions fulfill their obligations.

It seems that yesterday was the final desperate act of a crazy woman, but it should remind us all the world we live in is covered only by the thinnest veneer of civilization. When people are pushed to the wall, or when they think they are, we can’t act surprised when their response is all out of proportion to what’s considered the norms of civilized behavior. Ten thousand generations of evolution has taught us to fight or run when we’re threatened. That instinct doesn’t go away because we drive a Lexus or put on a neck tie when we go to work. Just under that veneer of civilization is just another apex predator capable of both great acts of kindness, but equally susceptible to moments of inconceivable madness.


Well, this is embarrassing. It seems that the American political system is precisely as dysfunctional as I’ve been afraid it was. Remind me to never to use the “world’s oldest operating democratic republic” line again, will you?
Today’s plan of attack:

1. Drive to work and get handed my official furlough notice. (Yes, for reasons that bugger the imagination, sending that to us in an email and saving everyone an unnecessary trip to and from the office is something that’s apparently too hard to do.)

2. Apply for unemployment benefits from the State of Maryland.

3. Update my resume on Monster and begin applying for jobs.

4. Spend some time writing something that I may be able to sell for profit and bidding on freelance writing jobs.

5. Call Representative Andy Harris, Senator Ben Cardin, and Senator Barbara Mikulski and leave a voice message expressing my absolute disgust with our elected “leaders.” (Since most congressional staffers are also non-essential, the chance of anyone ever getting that message are somewhere between slim and none.)

6. Write a blog post that hides the fact that I am stark raving furious about the disfunction of our political masters under a thin veneer of snark and sarcasm.

So that’s what I’ll be doing instead of the job that Uncle Sam has spent a great deal of time and money training me to do and which I have demonstrated award-winning skill in carrying out. I thought I had a career, but apparently it’s only a job. I’ll adjust my expectations and level of dedication accordingly.

What I would have told BBC Radio 5…

I had the chance a few minutes ago to speak to a producer from BBC Radio 5. He wanted me to come on air tonight and talk briefly about the budget, the impending shutdown, and what if feels like to be a federal employee under the circumstances. Now I dearly love the BBC and have since I was lucky enough to visit England in 1996, but the part of me that handles self preservation seemed to instinctively know that I my right to free speech is more protected here on my blog than it would be if I were speaking about anything remotely work-related to a foreign-owned radio network. That’s a pity, because I really, really was tempted to just do it BBC Radio 5and damn the consequences. Being the online attention whore than I am, I think everyone can understand why I would want to spend a few minutes talking to the friggin’ BBC, right? I mean just think of the untapped potential audience just there for the taking. Sadly, I opted not to go on air and talk about being furloughed for fear that I would say something that would end up getting me completely terminated. How’s that for irony?

At any rate, if I had gone on air, here’s what I’d have told the fine people listening to BBC Radio 5 Live this evening:

It’s been said that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Unfortunately the great voice of the American people, that wide swath of moderation that flows through this country like a river, is being drowned out by the extremists on the left and right wings. Both sides are equally bent on winning the argument on their own terms and both sides are equally wrong, equally damaging, and equally deserving of the scorn, ridicule, and eternal damnation of their countrymen.

Our republic has all outward signs of slipping hopelessly into dysfunction. It is no longer responsive or accountable to the people. It no longer has the consent of the governed. Tonight, I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat.

I’m an American. I love my country. And I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed by the government that claims to represent me. 

I wish I would have had the courage to do the damned interview, because I have yet to hear a single public voice calling for moderation and compromise. I don’t imagine that mine is much a public voice, but for God’s sake someone, somewhere has to stand up and scream that this madness has gone far enough and must go no further.


What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. iOS 7. I’m not the kind of guy who’s exactly comfortable with change… and for good or ill, iOS 7 represents a pretty radical level of change in the Apple ecosystem. Maybe not so much in how your device now behaves (most of the same old functions – and some new ones are right there), but it’s certainly looks different while it’s performing all of those magical functions. It looks different to the point where an explosion of the Crayola factory wouldn’t quite be out of place. Soon enough it’ll blend into the background and just be “what is,” but first impressions left me feeling like the new iOS was too bright, to candy colored, and just too un-Apple.

2. Television “experts.” If you want to be taken seriously as a professional commentator on issues that involve firearms, it’s best to actually have some experience with putting lead downrange. For instance when you’re a national news organization and report that a suspect is using an “AR15 shotgun,” well, you sound like an idiot to anyone who actually knows the difference between a suppressor and a stacking swivel. Maybe it’s best to report facts instead of random wild-ass theories, rumors, or things you just make up on the fly. When you don’t stick to the facts you lose credibility… which I suppose is only relevant if being a credible news source if important to you.

3. Knowing what I’m in for. Sometimes not know what’s about to happen is better. But knowing that you’re about to stand out in the cold, without enough caffeine, and needing to pee for at least several hours in the middle of the night is just one of those things you’re better off not knowing until you’re in the middle of doing it. I’m old enough to know a bad option when I see it heading in my direction… but I’m also geek enough to know that if I’ve got the opportunity to have the latest toy in my hand tomorrow morning and pass it up for the ease and comfort of sleeping until 5AM, I’ll regret it. And that would annoy me even more than getting up in the dead of night and standing in line.

P.S. And yes, I fully recognize the irony of waking up in the middle of the night to stand in line for a phone whose OS I’m not enamored with… Can’t a guy be conflicted?

First line of defense…

There’s no good or diplomatic way to talk about what happened in Washington this morning. Good men and women, faithful servants of the republic, and their families are hurting tonight because of the brazen acts of cowardly few. The discussion will be made political soon enough, but that part of the discussion won’t start here. Not tonight.

Tonight’s post is my simple reminder that no matter how secure we think we are, there’s no substitute for vigilance when it comes to keeping yourself and those around you safe.

– Be aware of your surroundings and remember if something doesn’t look right, it’s not right. Trust your self-preservation instincts.

– Whether you’re in a restaurant, your office, or a driving down a street in your neighborhood, know more than one way out of wherever you are. You never know when Plan B will need to become Plan A.

– Find concealment or cover when it’s called for; Run when it’s called for; Stand and fight when it’s called for. You should know which situation you’re facing and act accordingly.

The world is the world and bad things happen to good people every day. That means it’s up to each one if us to be aware of our surroundings, learn to recognize and react to what looks or feels out of place, and acknowledge that we’re all our own first line of defense when it comes to our health, welfare, and safety.

The Syria question…

So, it would seem that the Syrians are chunking chemical weapons at each other. The good news is that if they are busy beating the snot out of factions within their own country, they’re not busy chunking the same weapons at us or our allies in the region. Of course there’s a fair chance that will change as soon as the Western allies start lobbing cruise missiles at Damascus. It’s a game changer and makes the US and our allies legitimate combatants. I’m not saying I don’t like our odds in a general engagement with the Syrian army, but we should walk into this thing knowing full well that it’s going to be a shit storm from the minute we light the candle.

Politics and the 24-hour news cycle prevent us from going to war the same way we did in the first half of the 20th century. I might even be inclined to argue those are two of the contributing factors for why our latest wars have had declared “endings” rather than ending in substantive and actual victory. If CNN’s cameras had been around to film Dresden burning or the blood on the sand of Okinawa, I wonder if World War II would have gone into the win column or if we’d have collectively settled for an unsatisfying and counterproductive draw.

I have no compunction about England and the US leading the world on this latest Mid-East escapade. It’s probably the morally right thing to do and we seem to be the only countries around with the stones to do it even if the world will immediately crucify us for it. We just need to remember that in throwing our lot in with the Syrian rebels, there’s going to be a price to pay in blood, treasure, or more likely in both. The stakes of the game are the lives of the men and women who serve and we damned well better be playing with loaded dies before we decide to give them a roll.

If I thought we were going to storm the beaches, stamp the flame of radicalism out using any means necessary, establish a working and legitimate democracy, and stay there for 50 years to make sure the peace is secure, I’d be more inclined to say it’s a good idea. That’s the model that worked in Japan and Germany. If we follow the model used in Iraq and Afghanistan of political half measures hog tying military expediency, or worse yet, fire off a couple dozen cruise missiles and hope for the best, all we’re doing is creating more trouble than we already have – and a mess that we can’t avoid ten or twenty years from now.

Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…

I’ve never been to Oklahoma, but if it’s anything like my perception of it, things have been boring there for a long time. If I had to put a date on it, I’d certainly say it’s been boring at least since we closed the frontier in the 1880s or at the latest during the oil booms of the early 20th century. The Old West and boom towns are full of stories about people being gunned down – for cheating at cards, rustling cattle, robbing banks, running liquor, and sleeping with the wrong man’s wife. What the old timey stories aren’t full of are examples of ass clowns who decided to shoot the place up because they were bored.

Seriously? They. Were. Bored. When I was a teenager back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth I’m not sure any of us would have even had the passing thought of running outside and shooting whoever happened to jog past the house. We had plenty of guns between us – and even used them to entertain ourselves by plinking bottles and aluminum cans – but gunning down someone for just wandering past never figured into the plan. Mostly, we entertained ourselves riding four wheelers, shooting pool, swimming, listening to music, exploring the just-born internet, playing the original game consoles, or what we generally called “hanging out.”

I’m already reading about how the shooting of Christopher Lane is a failure of society, about how these three turd burglars had difficult childhoods, and the hundred and one other excuses people have when their kids turn out to be assholes. Sorry mom. Sorry dad. You failed your kids, not me, not the government, not society, but you. Maybe if you had put a book in your kids’ hands at some point or sent them to music lessons or gotten them involved in sports they’d have turned out differently. Now you get to live with the consequences of your kids gunning an innocent in cold blood. Their actions are the result of your collective failure as parents.

It’s going to be up to the good people of Oklahoma to hand down the appropriate justice. I seem to recall them being the last bastion of the old fashioned firing squad in these United States. Let’s hope they put that tried and true method of sweeping the scum from the earth to good use.

This post is the third installment of “You Ask, I write.” Want an opinion on the news of the day? Feel free to leave a comment and I will opine.