1. Timing. The 76 billion cicadas camping in my back yard are fine – aside from the dogs wanting to eat all of them. I generally don’t get freaked out by bugs. Their early morning screeching is what I’d charitably describe as “troublesome.” It’s made my favorite pastime of sitting on the patio for an hour each morning with coffee and a good book decidedly unpleasant. I know they’re temporary, but the little bastards are stepping all over the last days of full-time working from home. That’s just exquisitely bad timing… and I hate them for that.
2. Eligibility requirements. Marylanders who received the COVID-19 vaccination are eligible for daily drawings for $40,000… unless you’re one of the Marylanders who got the “federal” vaccine instead of the state jab. That puts me out of the running. Would I have waited a few more weeks to get the vaccine if I knew I could win a sweepstakes? Maybe. I suppose the world will never know… but I want my damned money.
3. Good intentions. The people who control the Thrift Savings Plan, the federal government’s version of a 401(k) retirement plan are being pressured to make two significant changes to how the fund is managed. The first would see the TSP divest from fossil fuel securities, with an eye towards, supposedly, making the investment funds “environmentally conscious.” The second major change would be driven by proposed congressional legislation to prohibit TSP from investing an any company based in China. Maybe both of those are admirable objectives and people should feel free to target their own money in whatever fashion they want… but for the TSP in general, which bears the lion’s share of responsibility to secure federal employees’ retirement. Personally, I want fund managers laser focused on driving down costs and maximizing return on investment… while keeping the “good intentions” of socially crusading politicians as far away as humanly possible
I didn’t vote for Joe Biden (Don’t worry, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump either). Say what you want about the president, but I’m finding him a refreshing throwback to the era when I had a vague understanding about how politics worked in this country. For the last 60-ish days is been chasing the same basic policies that mainline Democrats went after from 1980-2000. I don’t support the lion’s share of those policy ambitions, but they’re predictable and after four years of the Trump administration, I’ve come to appreciate that kind of predictability in a politician.
The throwback goes even further than domestic policy, though. We’re back to antagonizing China and the USS… errrr…. Russia. I mean the Russians are so annoyed they recalled their ambassador. For a cold war kid, it’s the kind of international fidgeting that feels almost like home.
Over the last four years we managed to forget one of the few truisms of our political culture – that although we treat it as a life and death endeavor, a single presidential term is long enough only to tinker around the margins and the results will be nowhere near as good as we hoped or as bad as we feared. Sure, at some point the administration is going to start poking at something I’m personally interested in and I’m going to have to get my dander up. Just now, though, I’m happy to spend a few months being only tangentially interested in politics and appreciating the renewed interest in poking about in international affairs.
China is rolling out a system that assigns a “social credit score” to its citizens based on a wide number of factors, most of which are explicitly designed to influence citizen behavior. That is to say that the Chinese Communist Party wants to incentivize “proper” behavior and disincentivize whatever they decide is anti-social and intends to back it all up with the surveillance authority of the state. Their stated intend is to roll out a system “making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
It’s an interesting goal, to be sure. I mean who doesn’t want to live in a world where everyone is trustworthy and acts in a reasonable, controlled way? Even if the ends are somehow noble, the means should send a chill down all our backs – not just those of use who may for whatever reason find themselves traveling or doing business with China. Most of the major news sources I’ve seen are rightly calling the project Orwellian.
We’ve got plenty of surveillance going on right here at home of course. Most of us are willing participants in building out an extensive surveillance network of our very own. We all carry around a tracking device in our pockets, roll up and down the interstate with toll-paying transponders, and even stock our homes with security cameras. It’s not particularly hard or far fetched to imagine a day when we too are assessed a social credit score based on our level of compliance with the expectations of whatever powers may be at any given time.
I don’t think the future is necessarily some kind of dystopian hellscape where everyone we pass on the street can “down vote” us a la Black Mirror – although following the China model, such a world wouldn’t necessarily be difficult to achieve… and does give me at least a moment’s pause to wonder who’s watching me watch my cameras.
However, if this is the way we’re going, go ahead and put me down for a score of zero point zero because I absolutely do not have the time or patience for that level of douchebaggery.
1. Surprise. In between reports on Epstein’s guards being arrested, the impeachment hearings, and the weekly report on a random husband who killed his family, there are a few reports this week of China finally cracking skulls in Hong Kong. What coverage it is getting is the standard breathless, hand wringing that we’ve come to expect in reporting on bad things that are happening internationally. Mostly I’m just over here thinking that China is just being China. Given its track record from the late 1980s to today, I have no idea why anyone would be surprised that a student protest would be brought to a sudden, violent halt. There’s a track record there. You don’t have to look a lot further than the formation of the Chinese Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution to see how dissent is handled sooner or later. History may not tell you exactly what will happen in the future, but it leaves plenty enough clues if you bother to look.
2. What I can’t say. I can tick off a list of at least five things off the top of my head that I’d desperately like to write about this week. Each and every one of them would be fertile ground for its own post… and all of them remain firmly embargoed indefinitely because there’s no good way to change the names to protect the guilty or obfuscate the origins of the tale. The “maybe someday” file got a bit thicker this week, that’s something, but not something that’s helping me out here and now.
3. Cashless tolls. It’s not the cashless tolls I hate, so much as I hate the other people driving through the cashless toll system. Removing the option for people to stop and fish through their pockets, purse, and ashtray for toll money, the State of Maryland opted to make the Hatem Bridge a E-Z-Pass or video toll only facility. It should have radically sped up the throughput at a particularly constricted stretch of Route 40. What no one took into account, though, is the people who can’t seem to grasp that the tolls are now taken (by overhead scanner and camera) at the west side of the bridge rather than on the east side where the toll booths are being slowly deconstructed. It’s been more than a month and these asshats are still stutter-stepping or doing the slow crawl through the place that’s distinguished by empty brackets where the scanners use to be and where there is currently no reason to slow down below the posted limit. No reason aside from people who wander through life without noticing a goddamned thing happening around them.
1. Priorities. I don’t know that I’ll ever get use to something that was a earth-shatteringly critical issue yesterday being completely irrelevant today. Look, I completely understand that focus changes and priorities shift, but maybe it would be ok to give a guy some advanced notice before he spends eight hours working on something that will never actually see the light of day. Hard to believe anyone ever accuses us of being inefficient.
2. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Since December we’ve been listening to Dear Leader: Part III lead a veritable chorus of batshit crazy tirades about attacking both the US and South Korea. Sure, everyone on the planet, including the Dear Leader’s biggest boosters in China think he’s taking his unique brand of nuts way out past the edge of reasonable saber rattling, but no one seems to know quite how to deal with him at this point. I’m a simple man, really. When someone is standing on my front porch with a lit match and a gallon of gasoline talking a lot of smack about burning down my house, I don’t just stand there waiting for him to add one plus one. It’s one of those occasional times in life that calls for swift and decisive action, rather than another six months of handwringing and hoping we can just “hug it out.” It’s all a lot of talk right up to the point where it isn’t. For once I’d like my country not to be on the receiving end of a sucker punch to spur us out of complacency.
3. Evolution. As an apex predator, humans have evolved over millions of years right along to the various flora and fauna that inhabit the earth. Over that vast amount of time, you’d think our species would have evolved some kind of general ability to deal with pollen and other allergens in the air – beyond getting a clogged nose, watery eyes, and scratchy throat. I think it’s high time we expect more out of evolution… and for that matter we should expect a hell of a lot more from science in general – because the allergy medications it’s come up with pretty much suck.
For the last couple of centuries companies that provide goods and services to the royal households of Europe were permitted to advertise themselves as Royal Warrant holders. Basically that means they get to slap a royal coat of arms on their letterhead and let everyone and their brother know that they are the official purveyor of some product to the sovereign. That probably ment more three centuries ago than it does today. As usual, though, that’s not really the point.
When I moved in here at Rental Casa de Jeff I inherited a US flag that had been flying from a bracket on the deck for God knows how long. It was faded, but serviceable and survived a hurricane and whatever other weather northeastern Maryland threw at it. After the most recent round of storms, though, the frayed ends graduated to full fledged tears and it was time to retire the old girl. This finally brings us to the point of the day’s post.
The Flag Shop in North East, Maryland occupies probably 100 square feet in the corner of a building at the southern end of Main Street. As far as I can tell they’re open mostly at random times and the only employee is the old guy who owns the place. After trying to sell me on the virtue of the 15-star, 15-stripe “War of 1812” flag, I picked up a more conventional 50-star variety. Let’s just say that the prices aren’t exactly competitive with Amazon. Still, there’s just something about the place that I like. It might have been that he reminded me that the VFW down the street would take my old, worn flag for proper disposal or that he knocked a buck off the price because I paid cash. I’m going to go ahead and proclaim The Flag Shop my official purveyor of flag and flag-related accessories, if for no other reason than I like having the option of walking into a place that’s not Walmart and buying a flag that wasn’t made in China.
I got up at 2:45 on Friday morning to order a cell phone that not one living consumer has actually gotten a chance to hold in their grubby little hand yet. Websites ground to a crawl, crashed, reloaded, and then crawled again, but I stuck with it for almost four hours. Some people might call that obsession, but I like to think of it as dedication to the task at hand. Sticking with it was better than the alternative of getting up the following Friday to go stand in line at an Apple Store or AT&T retailer in the hopes of getting one on the first day of release, like I have the other four iterations of the iPhone.
My precious, precious iPhone 4S is, even as I write this, sitting on a pallet somewhere in Eastern China waiting to be loaded onto a Fedex jet and flown to Alaska to clear Customs, then on to the Memphis hub for sorting, and then into Philadelphia for local routing. Not that I’ve looked into how this usually works or anything. Assuming there are no hiccups with Fedex getting from there to here, I should have my shiny new bauble delivered right to my door around noon next Friday. From manufacturing plant to consumer on the other side of the world in a week and all synchronized to happen the fay the item is first available in stores. You’ve got to admit that’s pretty slick. Who says international commerce doesn’t work?
Maybe it’s just one more addiction I’ve gotten myself into. Fortunately it’s mostly harmless to everyone else and doesn’t leave that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach the same way putting $500 on red tends to do. So yeah, after 16 months of waiting for the next great thing, I’m just a few days from getting a fix to carry me through another year. Then I’ll be after the next big thing. When you’re feeding addiction, that’s just the way it goes.
Before drifting off to dreamland last night, I was flipping through the channels and landed on one of the NBC stations showing the Olympics. Not what I’d normally watch, but all I was really looking for was some background noise, so no worries… Until I heard the color commentary refer to the sport I was listening to as “race walking.” Even in my addled state of near-sleep, I was conscious enough to realize that made as much sense to me as “speed sleeping” or “ass sitting.” So, I just had to see this Olympic sport in all its late-night televised glory.
Sure enough, it lived up to its billing. The contestants were walking rapidly around the track… out of the building and around the block… for 20 kilometers. All I can say to that is WTF? Is there some kind of massive movement afoot to launch speed walking as a major sporting event or was this just the ChiCom’s plot to leave us utterly confused and defenseless? I’m not saying I could do what they were doing as I’m fairly sure my knees don’t bend that way, but still, is race walking really what we need in a sporting event that’s going to be beamed around the world?