1. Texas. For a hundred years, the Republican Party celebrated the states as testbeds of democracy – where we could experiment to discover new and innovative solutions to problems the country faced, without defaulting to top-down directives imposed as the One True Way as dictated by the general government in Washington. I have to admit it took a remarkable amount of testicular fortitude for Texas, 18 other states, and in excess of 100 members of the House of Representatives to so publicly abandon that position by attempting to force Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to do whatever Texas thinks they should do. It took a tremendous amount of fortitude and made each and every person associated with trying to bring that case before the Supreme Court look like an absolute fucking idiot.
2. Tea. The problem with tea is first you have to wait for the water to boil. Then wait again while it steeps. When you need a good caffein charge it feels like it takes something just short of forever. I love a good cuppa, but there’s something to be said for coffee that heats and brews at the same time.
3. Existential crisis. According to the internet “A new survey finds nearly eight in 10 Americans say 2020 caused an existential crisis for the country.” I’d submit that the headline would have been more accurate had it claimed that the survey found that almost 8 in 10 Americans was woefully unaware of their own national history and lacked a fundamental understanding of just how bad historical “bad times” were in comparison to what we face in 2020. Sure, it seems bad in the moment, but that’s mostly because we’re the ones living through it. Ask the same people if they’d like to trade their life in 2020 for an all-expense paid trip to 1918 or 1864 or 1777. There, perhaps, they’d learn the true definition of an “existential crisis.”
Back when I was a young, still wet behind the years bureaucrat, I thought I wanted to be a professional emergency manager. You may remember me from such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina, when I spent two months learning more about the bottled water, ice, and refrigerated trucking industry than is strictly reasonable.
You might be wondering what that has to do with what I learned this week… Well, it’s mostly that it seems so very little has changed in that world. Reports will never be on time. No one will read them when they are published. And the numbers being reported will never ever match.
I also learned that emergency management is probably a young man’s game. Things I once would have savored now regularly leave me trying to hold back a disgusted cry of “What is this fuckery?” and “What ignorant sonofabitch thought this was a good idea?”
Maybe that last part hasn’t really changed so much, though. I vaguely remember a whole lot of eye rolling during Katrina too.
I had three things all laid out for today. But all three of them combined don’t hold a candle to the one big thing that has been absolutely crazymaking this week… and that’s waiting until the last fucking minute to decide to pay attention to the onrushing train bearing down on you.
It’s not that I have a philosophical problem with needing to do things at the last minutes in and of itself. Sometimes a crisis really is a crisis, something that arrived by surprise and was otherwise unavoidable. However, what we here treat as a crisis is almost always something that we’ve seen coming for months, but have elected to ignore until it shows up on the front stoop like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. That is to say that nearly all of the chaos brought on by suddenly engaging at the last minute is completely self inflicted.
If there’s nothing else I’ve learned in my 16+ years here in the heart of the Great American Bureaucracy it’s that no amount of planning I can do that will offset late-in-the-cycle visits from the Executive Good Idea Fairy. No amount of anticipating needs, or prep work, or casting entrails will ever get you ready for things that should have been mentioned three months ago but show up with less than three weeks to go.
So Wednesday has now come and mostly gone. I could say that something significant happened – that there was some high or low point that distinguished the day. I could say that, but I won’t. That’s mostly because when you stack today up against every other it was probably within spitting distance of perfectly average.
I should probably be celebrating that it wasn’t a crisis every 37 minutes, but the best I can manage is a solid “meh.” Believe me when I tell you that there is no one happier that the wheels didn’t happen to come flying off today than I am. I’m also realist enough to know that just because today was perfectly average and my lunch was not eaten by some unplanned and intensely problematical event, there’s no reason to believe that tomorrow will be more of the same.
Living day to day in a place that manages by whatever happens to be the crisis of the hour, seems to breed a cynicism that’s deep and probably fundamentally unhealthy. It leads the average days to feel like bad ones and the good ones – those days when you walk away feeling like you’ve accomplished something in spite of the system become almost mystically non-existent. They’re spread so far apart that they couldn’t possibly be real, but rather just a figment of our collective imagination.
It was a perfectly average day and should probably be glad of that… but in the back of my mind I’m stuck wondering what fresh hell is gaining strength unseen somewhere in the Land of Tomorrow.
1. Clowns. Ok, some people have irrational fear of clowns. Got it. But I’m not entirely sure why a handful of them standing along the roadside is being covered as a national crisis. I don’t see how they’re substantively any different than anyone else just milling around. Like those other non-clown idlers, as long as they’re not standing in my back yard or at my door, I’m not sure why I should care. Here in a few weeks millions of otherwise reasonable adults are going to get dressed up for Halloween and turn themselves loose on our highways and neighborhood streets. Just because the exploding population of “evil clowns” doesn’t do it under cover of a sanctioned holiday makes very little difference in my mind.
2. The level of discourse. I generally tend to shy away from political discussion on social media. I make an occasional post that reflects my opinion and leave it be. There are a few people however, with whom I can manage to have an actual discussion without turning on one another like slobbering idiots. Today I had one of those discussions with someone who I both respect and like very much as a person. We’re miles apart on many of the big issues of the day. When it comes to politics I think she’s a bleeding heart socialist do-gooder and she probably think’s I’m a hard hearted gun-toting redneck. We still find a way to talk. We’re still friends after all these years. That’s what the discourse in this country should look like. But it doesn’t. And that’s annoying as hell.
3. Seven millions of people. Seven million is the current estimate of people who could be without power as a result of Hurricane Matthew dragging himself up the East Coast. That’s well over and above the 2 million people who have been ordered to evacuate their homes. I won’t get into a discussion about the virtue of following evacuation orders, because frankly I’m not at all sure I’d be willing to just walk away from home and hope for the best under the same circumstances. That said, I seems very unlikely that there are seven million people out there well prepared for what’s coming for them. It’s going to be a rough couple of days… and for some of them a long couple of weeks or months if we have to figure out how to turn the east coast power grid back on.
1. Someone I’ve never met. The human mind is a curious thing. I’ve been given a lot of thought to how amazing it is that I can feel such visceral dislike towards someone I’ve never met, talked to, or interacted with in any way. In all likelihood I wouldn’t recognized them if we passed on the street. But in my heart of hearts I’ve wished all manner of misfortune to come crashing down on their head… purely because of circumstances. I’m utterly ambivalent about most things, but this is just one of those times where every nerve seems to get aggravated. Every now and then, though, maybe you need a little malice in your heart just to know you’re alive. I’m not sure if that makes me a bad human being or just a normal one.
2. Lack of planning. When you’ve been told that shit’s going to get real but choose to ignore that reality rather than committing resources against it, you shouldn’t be surprised or think it’s a crisis when shit actually gets real. I’ll do what I can with the time and resources I’m given, but you can damned good and well know that the days of beating myself bloody from the effort of filling a five pound bag with ten pounds of work are a long way gone and they’re never coming back.
3. Glasses. I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when the bridge of my 6 month old glasses frame just gave up. I’m not exactly hard on glasses. They go on my face at the beginning of the day and then just sit there until it’s lights out. Should be a pretty stress free existence. But hey, at least the shop where I got them can get me replacement frames under warranty in “probably 8 or 9 days.” They did offer to tape up my old frames if I wanted them to. I declined politely while resisting the temptation to cleanse their cute little shop with the purifying goodness of fire.
1. Greece. What’s the problem? You ginned up a mountain of bills and now suddenly don’t want to pay because it’s too hard. It’s unfair. The big countries are picking on you. God it sounds so familiar – like exactly what happened when so many people in this country found themselves in homes they couldn’t afford “through no fault of their own.” Except see, there is fault. There is definite fault when you spend other people’s money without any reasonably expectation of ever being able to pay it back. Putting your financial house in order is painful. It sucks. All the free stuff people thought they were entitled too is suddenly not free – or not there because you can’t afford it. And the only way the economy keeps on working is if people who loan money can expect to get that money back. It’s a loan, not a gift after all. I feel ever more strongly that the US is headed in a similar direction to our Greek friends. $18 Trillion in loans aren’t going to pay back themselves – and they’re certainly not going to get paid while we continue to add more debt to the pile. If Greece’s gnashing of teeth is any indicator of the howl that will go up when the US realizes we can’t afford to be all things to all people, we’re in for one hell of a rough ride.
2. Negotiating with terrorists. According to the US government it’s now OK for our fellow citizens to negotiate with terrorists. While I won’t pretend to imagine the nightmare that is having a family member or loved one in the hands of ISIS, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want my family to be responsible for providing aid and comfort to the enemy in the form of a substantial cash donation on my behalf. What I would like, on the other hand, is for the armored fist of the most powerful nation in the world to come crashing through the terrorist’s front door in an effort to a)rescue me and b) eradicate the terrorists who believe kidnapping an American citizen will end well for them. If Option A and Option B are mutually exclusive, please feel free to exercise Option B with as much lethality as necessary to get the job done. And then drop a few more 1000-pound bombs just to stir up the dust and make the rubble bounce a bit for good measure.
3. The joys of home ownership. Don’t get me wrong, I love the house. It crossed off just about every feature I had on my list. Having been in it now for three months, though, some of its warts are showing… and by warts I’m referring to the perpetually moist basement / piss poor foundation grading and drainage / sieve-like window well combination that I’ve been fighting since spring time turned into Maryland’s version monsoon season. Between the landscape contractors looking at fixes to my own modest efforts at improving the around-the-house drainage situation trying to get a grip on the underside of this not so old house has become something of a second job. Now I know it’s mostly just a function of sealing up the window well, correcting the drainage, and adding on a secondary source of electricity to keep the pumps chugging along… but just now, with another couple of days of rain in the forecast, my patience – something never know to be in vast supply – is wearing even more thin than usual.
1. Self-Inflicted Crisis. It’s hackneyed because it’s true: A failure to adequately plan on the part of someone else, does not in any way constitute a crisis on my part. Screwing around with something all week and then dropping it in someone else’s lap at the last minute hoping they’re going to drop everything and fix it over the weekend does not constitute a plan. At best it constitutes hope… and hope, as we all know, is not generally considered a sound planning methodology.
2. Sharing the “wealth”. If you’re hacking up a lung and sound more or less like you could drop dead at any moment, do the world a favor and take a sick day. I don’t care if you’re saving sick days for little Scotty’s tonsillectomy or planning to take a few mental health days later in the month, show a little consideration for the people forced to sit within ten feet of you for eight hours a day and go the hell home. Trust me, you’re not showing anyone how dedicated you are. Even if you’re perfectly willing to drop dead in harness at your desk, no one breathing the same air is interested in your misguided sacrifice on the altar of the workday.
3. Christmas Shopping. Sure, 95% of my Christmas gifts are going to be given in the form of small rectangular plastic cards, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that it’s getting to the point where I can no longer blissfully ignore the impending arrival of the holiday. At some point, probably this weekend, I’m going to have to break down and do what passes for my version of Christmas shopping. Loosely translated, that means picking up a few quality bottles of hooch at the local liquor store and then hitting up a few other places to pick up gift cards. Come to think of it, there may yet be time to order all the gift cards online and have them sent to the house… then all I need to do for the weekend is stop at the liquor store. That’s a Christmas task that even I can get behind.
Watching the nightly news or reading the newspaper headlines is something of a lesson in dysfunction. If the two major political parties that have run the country for the last 100 odd years can’t come to grips with the fact that the thought of the US Government defaulting on its debt should be unthinkable, perhaps it’s time to consider the value of having either of those parties around. The men who founded this republic literally risked their lives just by signing a document proclaiming themselves free from Great Britain. Today’s politicians, both Republican and Democrat, are so entrenched in ideology and in playing to their base that they seem willing to let the ship of state sink with all flags flying and their hands around each other’s throat. So much for heroics. So much for for their obligation to the republic they were elected to serve.
I’m not a mathematician, but the formula seems obvious. For the staggering debt this country labors under to come down, spending must decrease and revenue must increase. Yes, some social programs will go away and that will hurt some people. Yes, some taxes will go up and that will hurt some people also. It’s going to be painful for many of us to adjust to a world more austere than then one we think we’re entitled to. It was painful for our grandparents, too, when they went though the “economic adjustment” of the Great Depression, but they emerged from it and worse to be recognized as our greatest generation.
Where are our great leaders today? Where’s our FDR with his Hundred Days? Where’s this generation’s Reagan standing toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union? Where’s our Kennedy calling on men to reach the moon? Where’s our Nixon opening China? Maybe such men don’t even exist anymore. Today’s politicians aren’t fit to carry the water for those giants of the 20th century and shouldn’t be in the same history books with the leaders of our distant past like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.
This current crisis doesn’t have to end in catastrophe, but only if the men and women we’ve elected start behaving more like statesmen and less like common street thugs. How optimistic are you?