Rolling back the clock…

For the duration of the Great Plague thus far, I’ve been even more of a recluse than normal. Avoiding places where people congregate is a decided lifestyle choice and hasn’t felt like much of a burden. 

During this last week, I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up on some errands I’ve been putting off. I almost wish I wouldn’t have done that. What I observed out in the world does not fill me with confidence. While some are making concerted efforts, at least as many seem to have decided that masks, and distancing, and… basic hygiene rules of any kind don’t really need to be observed. 

Seeing the virus come roaring back across Europe as they’ve loosened their restrictions – and yes, watching the infection rate surge here in the US over the last couple of weeks, it’s become painfully obvious that no one anywhere really has a firm grip on how to be open and doing it safely.

So, with that, I’m rolling back the clock. From here at Fortress Jeff, we’ll be leaving the homestead for essential business only. All of you are more than welcome to go sit in your favorite bars or restaurants, wander around Walmart to your heart’s content, forgo your mask, or bunch up in any crowded place that strikes your interest. I don’t want any part of it.

I’ve always thought I had a reasonably well developed self-preservation instinct. Smart people are telling me there is a problem and have offered remarkably simple ways to avoid it. If you can’t be bothered to follow their bare minimum advice or recommendations, I truly don’t have any desire or interest in sharing space with you for the foreseeable future. I can’t control what anyone else does, of course, but I bloody well can control what I do as a result. 

If anyone needs me, stand at the end of the driveway and shout loudly, I guess. 

Why I plan ahead…

Back in March, people we shocked when a global pandemic hit and grocery store shelves were stripped bare of bread, milk, eggs, meat, toilet paper, canned goods, and a host of other products we deem essential. 

I was watching reports of this new virus in January – and made my last “stocking up” trip to market sometime in the last half of February. I’m not claiming any particularly deep insight, but a lifetime of pondering what ifs and worst cases and a bit of professional training in emergency management gave me a bit of a head start on seeing what was coming along and the short term results we were likely to see.

This week the virus is seeing a resurgence in Europe, while we here in America have never fully been able to get our arms around the problem. It’s obvious from seeing how people are acting that we’ve already collectively grown tired of even the minimal restrictions we managed to put in place. Smart people are telling us that the results of this behavior will be, in a word, bad. We here in America, of course, have a long and storied history of not believing what smart people tell us.

Why am I bothering to mention any of this?

I think there’s a significantly larger than zero percent chance that prevailing conditions could adversely impact long-standing and traditional holiday travel plans over the next two months. With that in mind, I’ve started laying in the essentials to make myself a proper Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, should staying put at Fortress Jeff be a more rational option than traveling out into the plague lands.

I hope it’s not necessary, but just like in February, I’d rather have everything I might need on hand and discover I didn’t need it after all. I’d don’t want to have to fight it out for the last can of sweet potatoes or friend onions when the masses realize they won’t be travelling over the river and through the woods because granny caught the damned ‘rona and is in isolation.

Panic buying for “safer at home” was unpleasant. Panic buying for Thanksgiving would be its very own mini apocalypse.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Homecoming.” Last weekend some of the parents in my old stomping grounds appear to have held an unofficial homecoming dance for their kids. Social media treated me to pictures with a dozen of their little darlings posted up elbow to asshole – no masks, no distancing, just crowded in like the pictures we would have taken back in the 90s.  Look, I get it. I have incredibly fond memories of homecomings and proms and the fully array of school events, you want to make sure your kid has the same memories, or you get to relive your glory days through them, or whatever. But doing it as we sit here watching COVID-19 bleeding through the ranks of the White House senior staff for engaging in similar fuckery, I have to wonder what would possess anyone to think this was a good idea. Raise ‘em however you want, I guess… but stay the hell away from me.

2. Candidates. Having now watched “debates” between both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates representing our major political parties, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not actually the structural government that’s failed us, but rather the bi-polar choice we’re presented with every four years and our collective willingness to go along with it just because it’s what we’ve always done. Our “two party system” has coughed up once candidate who is demonstrably a bad human being and another who, if elected, will pursue a number of policies I’ve opposed my entire adult life. Constrained by a self-regulating system that claims there are only two options, either option is a betrayal… of course that pre-supposes you accept the proposition that there are only two option.

3. Grass. I’ve been trying to get grass to fill in one small section of the back yard for two years now. It’s the first bit of the yard you see when walking out the back door and I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many bags of grass and clover seeds I’ve thrown down in the process. At best, it’s currently half green and half mud… and then there’s the nearly perfect radius of totally bare dirt where the dogs make their turn to head out towards the far reaches of the yard in high speed pursuit of the resident squirrels. It would be easy to blame this state of affairs on at least one dog who enjoys the rough and tumble of outside a bit too much, but I think we all know that’s not the kind of person I am… so it’s clearly the fault of the grass and some bad seed.

Not the first, nor the last…

Politics is one of those wonderful lands where how it looks is far, far more important than what it really is. As much as we like to think of our presidents as paragons of health and virtue, our history is filled with examples of dire medical conditions that were kept from the public because admitting the seriousness of their various conditions would have been an admission of weakness. 

President Trump’s forging ahead to return to the White House despite ongoing treatment for COVID-19 is hardly an exception to the age-old rules of American politics. Wilson’s debilitating stroke was hidden from the public through the last year of his presidency. While campaigning for a 3rd term, Theodore Roosevelt was literally shot in the chest, but refused to surrender the podium. Jack Kennedy was regularly jammed full of painkillers to relieve a chronic backache. Franklin Roosevelt was dying of heart disease when he was elected to his 4th term. 

There’s nothing new going on here, with the obvious exception of 24-hour professional and social media coverage that the American president receives day in and day out. Donald Trump might like to sell himself as the businessman president, but in the end he’s as much just another professional politician as the rest of them now… and in the last 30 days of an election, in a tight race, you’d be hard pressed to find a professional politician who wouldn’t rather die on the trail than stay in the hospital.

This isn’t the first time a president has pushed their health way past the breaking point in pursuit of their brass ring and I dare say it won’t be the last.

Breaking news or: What puts eyes on screens…

The President of the United States has contracted the Great Plague.

There’s very little I can say about that that hasn’t been pummeled to death by the media in the last sixteen hours. What I am interested in, though, is the approach to covering this news story. I very quickly lost track of how many “below the fold” stories, tweets, and talking heads were taking great pains to spin it not so much as a health or politics story, but as a “national security crisis.” 

Yeah, about that. 

Look, I know that makes for sexy, sexy headline, but let’s not pretend this is a Cuban missile crisis or Berlin blockade. It’s not a foreign decapitation strike that knocked out the first 47 people in the line of succession. It’s not a cyber-attack against our critical infrastructure. It’s an old man who’s come down with a nasty bug. 

Yes, that means we dust off the succession planning and continuity of government documents. It might even mean we hustle someone off to set up housekeeping at Dick Cheney’s secure, undisclosed location. It could even mean ginning up the military to conduct a few small display of strength exercises as a reminder that we don’t turn off the lights just because the current occupant of the Oval Office has the sniffles, has heart surgery, or even gets shot.

The president having COVID-19 is a legitimate news story, but it hardly heralds the collapse of the institution of the presidency let alone causes the entire executive branch to seize up… but I don’t suppose that kind of story fills column inches or puts eyes on screens.

A wasted opportunity…

I’ve got no interest in being a “digital nomad.” I don’t want to work from a different far-flung location every month, schlepping my life around in a suitcase. I sampled that life enough when I was young, ambitious, and living in hotels to know that being home with the animals and all my stuff is really where it’s at. That I can do with almost no limitations thanks to the amount of technology being brought to bear to make the old school office a bit anachronistic.

In its ongoing coverage of the world in the Great Plague era, National Geographic asks, “Is this the end of the office?”

As much as I’d like to think the answer is an unreserved “yes,” I’ve been bureaucrating long enough to know better. When you hear comments like “I don’t know how anyone works from home” or “I don’t think anyone gets anything done from home,” or a more general “I hate it,” from those in a position to make decisions on whether work takes place from anywhere other than the belly of cubicle hell, well, it’s a pretty clear indicator of what the actual future will look like. Evidence to the contrary won’t, in my professional estimation, be a factor when such things are decided.

It’s a shame, really. This should have been an opportunity to overhaul the way we thing about and do our work – and a way to create a distributed workforce that doesn’t rely on a single point of failure (ex. a big concrete and steel building) to get the job done. Instead, at the earliest possible moment, we’re likely to roll the clock back, and pretend that everything must be just as it was during the before time.

I had hoped that I was settled in to the place where I was going to ride out the last third of my career, but of that means a return to being judged by physical presence rather than output, I’ll likely need to reconsider that thought. I’m not sure I’ll be able to content myself to a world that goes back to valuing asses in cubes as its key metric for success.

Don’t go breakin’ my heart…

My home state of Maryland is moving swiftly towards ending the last of the COVID-19 related business closures. Now we’ll be able to go to the movies and concerts in addition to bars, restaurants, and retail establishments. It’s surely good news if you’re dependent on any of those businesses to make your living. Personally, it’ll still be a good, long time before I take advantage of most of these reborn opportunities.

I’ve never been what one might call “social,” but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less during a plague year than sit in a movie theater for a few hours, belly up to the local bar, or go out for a long, lingering meal at a neighborhood restaurant. I wasn’t terribly keen on it in the before time and I’m even less so now that as many as one in twenty could be walking around blowing the plague out of their face holes.

Other people, I’m sure, will be happy to do those things. They’re welcome to it… as long as they keep the hell away from me afterwards. Though I don’t suppose that’s much of a break from my usual approach on interacting with people.

Fortunately, the bookstores and junk shops that I tend to haunt aren’t generally hotbeds of activity. Their few, but loyal clientele are well versed in avoiding other consumers. We were doing it well before anyone was worried about the Great Plague. Who knows, maybe while everyone else is busy going to movies and loading in to bars and restaurants during this long holiday weekend, I may even try to sneak in a visit to pick out a few new (old) books or find a hidden gem buried among shelves of junk… or I could just make a pre-dawn supply run and head on back to the house for four days on interrupted peace and quiet. Neither course of action would break my heart.

Give it a lick…

For most of my career I’ve been a jackass of all trades – a circus roustabout thrown at whatever needed doing at the time. Sometimes that keeps life from getting dull… but then sometimes you show relative competence in doing that which no one else wants to do and it becomes attached to you permanently. One of those perennial problem children raised its ugly head again this morning.

You see, it all started as a small conference that grew over time to include tents, a technology exposition, food trucks, and a weekend carnival before radically shrinking down to a simple online “event” under the weight of the Great Plague. 

Today I was dragooned into a meeting based on the threat that the Gods on Olympus are dreaming up ways to reinflate the demandable thing in a new and potentially painful way. 

It’s disheartening to discover that we’ve learned nothing in the last five months – that the plague hasn’t managed to kill off the whole idea of professional conferences / boondoggles as monumental wastes of money. The beginning of the plague year held so much promise of losing the old ways in favor of methods that don’t involve dragging hundreds of people around the country, jamming them all in the same room, and putting 20,000 square feet of parking lot under roof.

As always, even in a plague year, the bureaucracy often exists simply to lick its own ice cream cone.

Yummy.

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. 

Pen and ink…

This weekend I visited the Maryland Board of Elections website and applied for a general election absentee ballot. I know, I know, my hard right friends will be sure I’m throwing my ballot into a swampy morass of leftist vote rigging. My leftist friends will be offended that I had to actually apply for the ballot instead of them being airdropped from one end of the state to the other. When both sides are pissed off, I generally feel like I’m getting something right.

Due to circumstances, I’ve voted absentee in presidential elections at least twice previously. Licking a stamp doesn’t give me the same warm fuzzy that I got from walking into the old-fashioned voting booths, throwing the lever, and closing the curtain behind me, but then again neither does the little scantron forms used with “modern” voting machines. Still, when possible, I like voting in person when it’s possible. It makes me feel like I’ve done something a little more important than sending in a rebate or paying the phone bill.

Look, you’re free to do whatever you want, but the idea of standing around for half an hour or more with several hundred of my closest neighbors, touching all the same things they touch, breathing in the recirculated air, and watching them argue for their “right not to wear a mask” has very little appeal. That’s especially when there’s a simple and effective alternative – although how effective it will be across each of the 49 other states remains to be seen. This feels like a good time to remind everyone that we don’t have national elections in this country – but rather a host of state elections by which we decide who represents us and forms that national government. 

Frankly, influencing an election to determine who makes up that government by hacking into an electronic machine feels a lot more likely to than doing so via pen and ink ballots, so I’m a little perplexed at why it’s even a thing we’re supposed to worry about. Then again, everything has to fit someone’s narrative so I’m sure there will be plenty of coverage about how both options are awful and we’re all doomed.