Twenty percent…

There’s a recent survey that shows 20% of those Americans polled believe the COVID-19 vaccine is being used to imbed a tracking chip in all who receive it. The “good” news is that only 5% said it was “definitely” true while 15% said it was only “probably” true. 

Twenty percent of our fellow Americans believe something that is patently absurd. That’s one in five people – a number that feels like it almost guarantees that we all know someone or possibly many people who are part of the 20%. Some of them may even be reading this blog right now.

I’m never entirely sure what bit of the brain has to be badly wired to convince people to buy into some of the more wild-assed conspiracy theories. What on earth would possess someone to think that the government (or new world order for that matter), would bother with something so pedestrian as implanting a chip… when we’ve pretty much all long ago agreed to carry one of the most advanced tracking devices in history in our pocket all day every day.

This 20% are among us, though. They’re our politicians, our teachers, our religious leaders, our lawyers, our firefighters, and pretty much anyone else you can imagine. That’s the thought that horrifies me far more than the idea of any kind of chip the big, bad virologists might have slipped me. 

With a song in my heart…

I remain, for now, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. How much longer that remains true depends largely on how Republicans respond in this moment. The decision now is simple, does the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Reagan continue to follow a disgraced carnival barker ex-president down the path towards its eventual destruction and historical irrelevancy, or does what’s left of the sane center manage to haul in the reigns and rebuild a Republican brand that’s focused on rolling back creeping socialism, confronting growing international threats, and presenting a clear-eyed conservative vision for the future of America.

The Republican Party can’t and shouldn’t survive a transition to standing only for “Trump good, everyone else bad.” A modern political party should have a vision of America’s future beyond perpetually rehashing the 2020 election while excluding such inconveniences as science, evidence, and basic common sense. 

With razor thin margins in both the House and Senate, Republicans stand a fighting chance of retaking one or both houses of Congress in 2022. History says it’s fairly likely. If those seats are filled by slavering conspiracy theorists, the long-term fate of the party could likely be set. Retaining Representative Liz Cheney as chair of the Republican Conference presented Republicans with an opportunity to save ourselves from the ascendency of the small, but vocal batshit crazy wing of the party. It could well be the last viable exit ramp and we’ve now put it squarely in the rear view mirror.

I don’t expect many of our elected representatives to have the personal courage to take that kind of stand. Going along with the lie is far easier than speaking out, standing up, and making yourself a target of lunatic outrage. To quote Liz Cheney, though, “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former President’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” 

I’ve served the republic nearly all of my adult life. If the price I pay for continuing to support it now in opposition to a loud and determined cult of personality is dirty looks, angry comments, and “unfriendings,” it’s an easy cost to bear – and even if we reach a point, perhaps during the 2022 election cycle, where I can no longer in good conscience do so under the banner of the Republican Party, I’ll pay it with a song in my heart.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Look, I never ask anyone to do anything on a whim. If I bother to send an email or pick up the phone it’s generally either to pass on a direct request from those at echelons higher than reality or something in general accord with some wild ass scheme of theirs. I don’t have the time or interest in creating requirements out of whole cloth – and as a matter of principle, I never make work just to make work. So, it would be incredibly helpful if people could just go ahead and do things instead of making me go 37 rounds on why. In the end, my rabbi has more suction than their rabbi and they’re going to end up doing it anyway, so why not save us both a few days of back and forth and just get on with it.

2. When I arrived back in Maryland almost a decade ago, I picked my primary doctor based on two factors. First, his office was ten minutes from where I’d be working and second, when the moment arrives that I need massive medical intervention for some reason, I want ready access to the combined expertise of providers and the advanced facilities available at Johns Hopkins. That’s all a fine thing… except, of course, in a plague year. In the before time, I could be there and back for an appointment in no longer than it took for a slightly extended lunch. These last few appointments, however, result in an 80-minute round trip and burning off 2-3 hours of sick leave. Sure, it’s still better than being in the office and having quick trip for appointments, but it’s bloody inconvenience.

3. I purged a fair number of people from my socials between the peak of Great Plague and the Capitol insurrection. I’ve always supported people’s right to say whatever they want… while maintaining my own right not to listen to whatever conspiracy fueled ranting they were on about. Just happening to know them twenty-five years ago, doesn’t create an eternal commitment on my part to listen to stark raving foolishness to the exclusion of all other topics. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a few of those exiles popping up as new “friend requests,” Yeah, that’s gonna be a hard no from me. I’d say it’s nothing personal, but well, I suppose it is.

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.

The half-armed crusade…

As I sit down to write today I’m running through the list of likely topics. That mostly means what ridiculous thing is sucking up all the oxygen in the worlds of politics or the Great Plague – although maybe that’s mostly the same topic now. I could rail against stupid people, always a favorite target here, but my self-imposed radical interpretation of remaining “safer at home” means I’m encountering very few of them these days. 

One potential topic I keep seeing trying to find air on social media points towards the approximately 67,000,000 children who are abducted or sold into sex slavery every year in America. I made that number up – largely because none of the memes I’ve seen seems able to agree on what that number is. They almost never cite a source and all appear to be written as if to cast an accusatory notion that “while you’ve been focused on COVID-19, you’ve been intentionally ignoring this thing over here.” At least in my small-ish social media circle I’ve observed that the people most often posting these jabs are the same ones who most likely to speculate that coronavirus is overblown / made up / a leftist plot. It’s not a 1:1 ratio but there’s a decided overlap. I’ll just say that it’s enough of a coincidence to tickle my inner skeptic and send me down my own minor internet rabbit hole.

My cursory look at the authoritative sources like National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the most recent public NCIC report doesn’t seem to support whatever numbers are being thrown out via social media. 

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t an underlying issue lurking here somewhere. I am, however, saying that getting all your information from social media and blogs (even this one) and then launching off half armed on whatever crusade has caught your fancy, could be problematic. By all means, take a look and make sure we’re not inexplicably losing track of those 67 million people a year – but also check your sources. Please, for the love of all the gods, check your sources. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I’m about as freedom loving a libertarian leaning Republican as you’re likely to find. Smart people are telling me that covering my face holes with as simple piece of cloth is helpful in reducing the spread of a disease that’s currently wrecking the economy and killing some people. They’re not telling me that a mask is the cure. They’re not saying it will magically stop the spread of all airborne particles. They’re saying that in their best scientific estimate, a mask will reduce transmission if I wear one when I’m away from home and in proximity to other people.

Yep, it’s hot and uncomfortable. My glasses fog up and the four-month lack of barbering means my beard sticks out at the edges in a way resembling nothing so much as a 70s porn star wearing a bikini. I don’t like wearing a mask, but doing it because smart people say I should isn’t in any way infringing on my constitutional liberties. There’s no part of the Constitution that guarantees your right to make others look at your stupid face.

If you’re one of the people tempted to respond to this post arguing that “it’s just the flu” or “it’s the media” or “it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy,” just go ahead and shut the fuck up. This isn’t about politics. It’s a very simple matter of smart versus stupid… although it has gone a long way towards showing which mouth breathing yokels we should collectively avoid even when masks are no longer needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Strategic” Amazon ordering. It used to be simple. I’d drop an order with Amazon and later that day I’d get a notice that the item has shipped. In the days of the Great Plague, shipping delays have revealed a problem I find more problematic than even the delayed ship times. Let’s say I order a 30-pound bag of dog food on Monday, a paperback on Tuesday, and some plastic kitchen implement on Wednesday. Those things use to ship separately. Now, more often than not they end up in the same box. Like the last one I received – with the kitchen utensil mangled, dog food bag ripped open, and the paperback folded, spindled, and mutilated. So now I keep a running list of things I need to order from Amazon and let each one clear all the way through shipping before ordering the next. It shouldn’t need to be this way, but it is.

2. Social media. In this age of plague, social media has revealed a lot more about some of our friends and family than most of us probably wanted to know. I did my level best to overlook some of the more wild-eyed speculations flowing through the tubes of the internet. Eventually, though, I capitulated and started the liberal application of the mute option. Getting the worst offenders from both sides out of my feed has done wonders for my blood pressure, so maybe the initial annoyance was worth it.

3. Historically I’ve had the ability to fall asleep pretty much the moment I close my eyes. I’m not complaining about missing out on the lying awake or tossing and turning that some people complain about. The last week or so, though, has been jam packed with tossing and turning or somehow thrashing around in my sleep.  I know this because when my brain stutters awake in the pre-dawn darkness, the comforter is halfway across the room, there’s a blanket piled up where the pillows should be, and my legs are utterly tangled in the top sheet. Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that, but I don’t feel any less rested than usual, so I guess it’s whatever.

What I learned this week…

There’s a whole subset of people out there who really think the government has come up with some far reaching, super-secret plan to take over the world / give all of us a tracking chip / cull the surplus population / some other wackadoodle idea that they’ve trolled up from the depths of the internet.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years working for the government that these nutjobs think is plotting the subjugation of the masses. Having worked in the belly of this particular beast let me just say from experience that most days it barely manages to keep the lights on.  

Sure, they’ve had a couple of good days – the Manhattan Project was mostly kept secret – but largely, the whole creaking apparatus leaks like sieve. At its very best the workforce is managed rather than led. Good luck getting the thousands of government employees needed to carry off such a far-reaching scheme, each with their own interests and petty empire to build, all lined up and moving in the same direction. Then remember that they’ll be orchestrating these devious plots using technology that the average Fortune 500 company would be embarrassed to have in their inventory. 

If there was some generation’s old plan for the Illuminati to seize control there’s not a chance it stays secret. If, in defiance of all logic and common sense, it did stay secret, the government would lack the leadership ability of basic infrastructure to see it through. Even if all that wasn’t true and there is a conspiracy of unprecedented scope and scale at work, what on earth would make someone believe that the whole house of cards depends on the “truth” not spewing out on YouTube? Surely if these shadow forces are crafty enough to circumvent all other checks and balances, they’re savvy enough to keep their tracks off social media, no?

Still, this week I learned that people who I personally considered reasonably sane and rational, educated, and thoughtful have dived down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole… and that’s just disappointing on so many different levels. 

It’s not the Illuminati (probably)…

You’d have to be living deep in the wilderness not to at least catch some of the reporting on the ongoing drama in Washington. I tune it in and out, mostly interested in keeping informed of the broad strokes of who’s up and who’s down. Even if you’re not paying attention, the coverage is hard to miss – no matter how hard you’re best to stay out of the day-to-day details.

Given the nature of of our representative republican form of government, the simple fact is the biggest chance I have to influence national-level policy direction and political questions happens every two years. Getting myself twisted around each news story doesn’t accomplish much other than raising my blood pressure. I have no interest in spending my days picking fights on social media or plotting to storm the damned barricades. We’re watching a political process unfold between the two political branches of our national government. Standing around waving a sign is about as influential as standing on the front porch waiving my fist. I’ll take a pass, thanks.

The one thing I know for sure is that the ongoing battle between the executive and legislative branch is sucking just about all the available oxygen out of the room. It makes the more cynical and jaded part of my brain wonder what’s not being reported. It makes the paranoid part wonder what slight of hand is being carried out while we’re all collectively busy following the drama that surrounds talk of impeachment.

I don’t think this is some grand Illuminati plot or anything, but stealing the lawn tractor out of the backyard shed is a hell of a lot easier when everyone is busy trying to figure out why there’s smoke coming out of the house. It would be a good time for all of us to remain vigilant.

AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.