It could be a reset, but “great,” not so much…

Over the weekend I read an article predicting that after the plague we’d see increasing population density in cities, people abandoning rural and suburban living, and abandoning the whole idea of home ownership in favor of multi-year leases on “semi-customizable” apartments.

These would be futurists foresee a “great reset” in consumerism and the rise of free public transportation, socialized healthcare, higher taxes across the board supporting more “free” at the point of use services, and generally adoption of ideas I’d generously call “the golden age of socialism.”

Who knows. Maybe the authors are right. Maybe the masses are just sucker enough to give up on capitalism. I’ve rarely been far wrong when I expect the worst from large groups of people in the past and I don’t see any reason that wouldn’t continue to be true in the future.

It’s a change program I’ll fight tooth and nail, of course. The capitalist economy took a kid from down the Crick, let him climb the property ladder, live what in any generation would be consider a good life of providing for myself and all the resident animals, and build a respectable retirement savings along the way.

I could be an outlier, I suppose, as I tend to want the exact opposite of what this particular author calls for in his vision of the utopian social order brought about by a Great Reset. If the plague has taught me anything it’s that I can’t wait to double down on home ownership – although maybe I’ll opt for a little less house next time in favor of a lot more land. Never once during the plague did I find myself wishing I was stuck in a 600 square foot box with minimal access to outdoor space, so I admit I have questions about their logic here. Likewise, I can’t remember a time when I wish there was just a little more bureaucracy in anything I was trying to do. The whole idea feels deeply counterintuitive.

The idea of living asshole to elbow with a thousand other people in some concrete and steel tower is my version of hell. If it works for you, have at it, I guess… though I’d appreciate someone explaining to me why it’s anyone else’s responsibility to fund your deluxe apartment in the sky, though that’s probably fodder for a different blog post.

If they’re right and I really am an outlier, I suppose all it really means is in fifteen years or so there’s going to be a hell of a lot of rural land ready to be bought cheap… assuming the wannabe Marxists haven’t managed to strip away all pretense of private property. The article’s authors were happy to hint around at that particular vision of the future, but lacked the academic fortitude to say it directly.

You’re welcome to your workers’ paradise, but I’ll be over here fighting it every step of the way. Call me old fashioned, but I’m still in the corner of the system I’ve seen working for me over the last 42 years rather than the one that’s brought us such interesting moments in history as the collapse of the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s frittering away of a king’s ransom in petro-dollars, and starvation rations under the panned economy of North Korea.

The news cycle has its priorities, and I have mine…

So… What do you want to talk about today?

The screaming banner headlines on every new site in the western world say the topic is tax returns. Maybe it’s tomorrow’s presidential debate if you read the more subtle, non-72 point font headlines a bit further down the page. Maybe it’s another day to rage about COVID-19, or Russia, or protests turned riot.

Any one of them could, theoretically, be a good enough topic to meet my word quota for today’s post. They’d fill the gap… and my eyes would likely roll completely out of my skull even before I added the final period.

I’m increasingly aware of the limits of my span of control, or at least on those things where I can exert some level of actual influence. If it doesn’t take place wholly within the confines of the woods and lawn of Fortress Jeff, that kind of control is just about non-existent and any pretense of influence is shaky at the very best.

I was first attracted to this phrase years ago when I heard it on the series finale of The Tudors – when an ailing Duke of Suffolk declines to intervene among those jockeying to take advantage of Henry’s quickly approaching death. The duke, in one of his most pragmatic moments says, “I’m not sure if this is any answer, my Lord Hertford, but I’ve always been drawn to a phrase used by the French peasants: ‘Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.’

I’m not a particularly religious man. My praise and prayers, to the best of my knowledge, have always gone unheeded, so I can’t speak to that bit, but the rest seems to make perfect sense in its simplicity. The older I get, the more I see of people and politics and the world, the more convinced I am of the wisdom of taking care of my own, spending money for the good gin, and letting the rest of the world bugger directly off.

I’m sure that’s not at all what the talking heads want me paying attention to at the moment, but the desires of pols, activists, and news readers plays a more and more insignificant role in setting my agenda these days. It may be a decade or more off yet, but spending my time keeping an eye on large acreage plots coming available and working on my perfect floor plan feel like a far better use of time than anything CNN or Fox could possibly spew in my direction.

The Supremes…

The Supreme Court is getting one of its periodic moments in the sun and I’d be foolish not to take advantage of that built in level of audience engagement to talk about nominations to the high court.

So, here’s the thing about Supreme Court nominations…

Presidents can have a short list of nominees that scratch every itch and check off the right boxes proving their conservative or liberal credentials. The talking heads can know with perfect certainty what the nominee will do once they’re confirmed by the Senate.

The catch is, once a Justice takes the bench, with a lifetime appoint to the last job they’re ever going to have, well, what we think we know means absolutely nothing.

Sandra Day O’Conner was nominated by Ronald Reagan and was supposed to be a vaguely right of center anchor for the Court who became a regular swing vote. Eisenhower nominated Earl Warren as Chief Justice and the Warren Court became one of the most liberal incarnations of the Supreme Court in American history. Harry Blackmun was a Nixon nominee who went on to write the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade.

The story of Supreme Court nominees turned Justices is filled with disappointed presidents who didn’t get what they expected.

I’m not in any way pretending that a nominee’s history of jurisprudence is irrelevant, but I am saying that past is not always prologue. Justices sit on the bench for decades. Expecting their judicial philosophy to remain static over twenty or thirty years is patently ridiculous. How many of your own beliefs have grown, been refined, changed, or moderated over the last twenty years? 

The story of the Supreme Court is filled with men and women on both ideological sides who “grew into” their position at the pinnacle of the Judicial Branch. I can’t imagine why future nominees would be any less “surprising” once they’ve been seated.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Context. “Eisenhower wasn’t a great general because I’ve recently learned he was *very* anti-LGBT.” Uh. Well. He held supreme command in the 1940s. Context is king, people. Expecting a man born in 1890 to somehow embody the all the woke-ist 21st century sensibilities is, in a word, stupid. It’s like saying Charlamagne wasn’t a great commander because he refused to go vegan. 

2. Auto Save. I had a perfectly nice little post mostly written for Tuesday. I was wrapping up a final thought right before the power stuttered just enough to cause my computer to shut down. Historically the Mac auto-saves before it dies, but in this case everything just disappeared into the ether.  It’s the sort of thing generally prevented by the uninterruptible power supply… which also is apparently no longer working. So it’s a bit of a bad week for the home computer set up all around, really.

3. Numbers. Either I’m wrong or the spreadsheet is… and I’m pretty sure it’s not me. Or maybe it is. The real lesson here is that I should never be allowed to do work that involves large columns of numbers without close adult supervision. It very rarely ends well. Although I’ll make sure it at least ends “close,” so there’s that.

The smell of summer…

There’s a certain smell in the summer. Maybe in my mind it’s actually the smell of summer. 

It’s a smell of damp wood, sun-scorched earth, brackish water, salt marsh, and the slightest hint of creosote. It’s strongest, most potent in the high summer, just after the sun sets, maybe around 8:30 or 9:00. It’s a unique smell I only catch somewhere near the Bay after a blisteringly hot day with high humidity. On days when the weather is just right, you can feel it in the air as much as smell it.

This is the time of year I can smell it here at near the head of the Bay. I could smell it from the patio of my one-bedroom bunker in St Mary’s County, too. But the first place I smelled it was in Tracy’s Landing. It was a million years ago when I was a kid and summer was defined by “long” trips to my aunt and uncle’s house. It wasn’t more than three hours from home, but the drive then felt like it took forever. The flatlands of tidal Ann Arundel County might as well have been another planet from the ridges and valleys of far western Maryland.

It feels like that was lifetimes ago, now. More than anywhere else it was on these summer trips that I learned to love the Bay and the critters that dwell in, on, and near it. Those summer days were filled with buckets of corn distributed at a waterfowl sanctuary in Shady Side, picking fossils out of the creek out on the “back 40,” feeding Stormy and Hazy, the resident horses, gathering up vegetables for the night’s dinner out of the deep garden plots just a few hours before they were on the plate, trot lining blue crabs in the West River in a hand-made skiff, or chasing rockfish out on the “blue water” Bay in a proper work boat. There too, innumerable family events unfolded – back before family got too damned weird.

All these years later and I remember it all with stunning clarity thanks to something as completely ephemeral as a smell I can’t quite describe.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. One Day Shipping. I have no idea why Amazon even pretends to offer items for “one day shipping” any more. Of the last three items I’ve purchased that touted this speedy service, exactly none of them arrived when “expected.” When I’ve been lucky, the items may have shipped by the expected arrival date… although one of those never arrived at all and had to be reshipped, arriving a full week after I ordered it. At one time, Amazon was practically synonymous with “logistics,” but mostly now I think they just make shit up as they go along.

2. Anti-intellectualism. America has a long history of anti-intellectualism. I could give you someone examples, but since we’re currently living through one of them, I’ll save you the trip down our collective memory lane and hope that you’ll just accept that I’m telling you the truth. Maybe the space program in the 60s was an exception, but I suspect that was more because those with the right stuff were billed as test pilots rather than engineers – though in many cases they were both. I know the historical backstory of why Americans have a long tradition of hating the smart people in the room, but I’ll never quite understand why we can’t get the hell over it. 

3. Peak savings days. Local electric companies are quick to hand out a few pennies savings for those who are willing to swelter a bit as afternoon temperatures hover in the mid-90s. All that really tells me is that increasingly, the local electric grid hasn’t been built out to meet actual demand for its product. Personally, I’d prefer to pay them a few pennies more during off-peak times so they can build a bit of excess capacity rather than sweating all the way through high summer. A little personal comfort feels like something well worth paying for, but maybe that’s just me.

Popular opinion is stupid…

America has a long history of rushing to judgment atop a wave of “popular” opinion. 

Witness the fiasco of NASCAR leading the charge against person or persons unknown who allegedly hung a noose in the pit area. There was a popular outcry, a swift investigation by the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, a hue and cry from talking heads across the spectrum that racism in that business must be plucked root and stem. Of course it turned out to be nothing more than a knot in a rope pull that had been there for at least a year. It was the very definition of nothing to see here, but it was hopped on by the professional and social media as the great scourge of the age. Talk about a lie getting, ‘round the world before the truth manages to get out of bed. 

At least we’re behaving true to form. Far better to commit to a spectacular, emotional response up front and early than to take the time to do the work of evaluating what’s really happening and decide on a practical, dispassionate response. 

It seems that if left to our own devices, we have a collective tendency to see enemies under ever bed – and respond in an emotional furor. As far back as the late 1600s, we were committed to knee-jerk reactions under pressure from the mob. Back there and back then something on the order of twenty men and women (and several dogs, if memory serves) were executed for practicing witchcraft. 

In the 1950s we were fond of seeing Reds around every corner. The coercive power of and individual destruction wrought by the House Un-American Activities Committee still stands as a testament to the utterly misguided means deployed when emotion, rather than logic serves as the basis of action. 

Here we are in 2020 once again revisiting past practice and seeing perceived evil at every turn. Because emotion is running at a fever pitch – drummed up by those who benefit most from chaos – we revert to a form older even than our republic. Then again, tearing down has always been easier than building – and the emotion of the mob will always be more appealing than putting in the dispassionate effort to determined how to get there from here.

We’ve been at it now for over three centuries later, for all our advancement, I sometimes wonder if we’ve really learned a damned thing.

What I learned this week…

I’ve never picked up a book that I didn’t learn something from it. One of the most unexpected things I’m learning due to my enormous “to be read” pile is how much more I enjoy reading history written in the 20th century than I do many of the modern reinterpretations. That probably shouldn’t be surprising given my general intolerance for most aspects of the 21st century. I’m fortunate though to have a keen interest in topics – the world wars, the Roman republic and empire, England from prehistory to the present – that have already been extensively plumbed by some of the true giants in those areas.

While I’ll pick up some of the new releases, I don’t find myself particularly enjoying many of them – or the modern historian’s penchant for wanting us to believe that everyone who ever carved their name into the historical record is evil and we should all feel badly about it. It makes me wildly appreciative of having such a wide selection of the older works that don’t nearly as often read like someone’s effort at forcing the past into a mold that supports the social agenda flavor of the week. I like my history a little less preachy.

I welcome and encourage everyone to read what interests them, but I’ll stick with delving into the saga of great men and great deeds. I guess it’s my own variation of dancing with the one that brung ya.

Maryland, my Maryland…

On March 25th, 1634, along the shores of the Potomac at St. Clement’s Island, subjects of the English crown first set foot in the Provence of Maryland.

No one loves to rant and rave about the government in Annapolis more than I do. Despite their never meeting a tax they didn’t want to levy and general disregard for the rights of citizens, I’ve always found myself drawn back to Maryland – to it’s shore, and its marshes, and its mountains. I never manage to stay away long. For all its political foibles, I simply do better when my feet are firmly connected to the good soil of my native country.

There’s more than enough going on in this old world of ours to keep me blogging every day for months. It would be incredibly easy to fall down that particular rabbit hole. It’s important during these times to remember that we’ve been doing what is hard here in this corner of the world for 386 years now. I don’t even want to guess how many “ends of the world” we Marylanders have endured in that time.

I’m a native son of Maryland and today I’m taking a break from the pandemic to celebrate it.

Taking it on the chin…

A few months ago I, somewhat tongue in cheek, told a coworker the best thing that could happen for my hopes of eventual retirement would be a few years of a bear market to suppress prices and let me “back up the truck” to buy shares at deep discount prices. As long as I can keep working and manage not to drop dead of the Andromeda Strain or whatever the appropriate name for this bug is, I suppose I’m technically not wrong… but boy is it a great big case of be careful what you fucking ask for.

The US economy is currently suffering through a system-level shock the likes of which almost no one alive has personally experienced. For those of us above a certain age, the closest we’ve come is listening to grandparents or family elders tell their stories – and wonder uncomprehending about why all those years later they still saved their soap slivers in a mason jar or insisted on getting three cups of tea out of each bag.

I like to think this isn’t the start of Great Depression 2.0. The fact that the economy was roaring along at breakneck speeds just a couple of weeks ago gives me enormous faith that it can be resuscitated… eventually. Once they’ve exhausted all other options, Congress will push through bailout plans to pour trillions of dollars through the front door of the Treasury. The Federal Reserve has committed to buying government debt with reckless abandon.

Even with herculean efforts, a host of businesses will fail. No economic recover package ever passed through government can prevent that. Cash flow is the life’s blood of business and with that flow stopped, even temporarily, many won’t have the deep reserves it will take to emerge once we’ve arrived at the new normal. The best we can manage in the moment is likely following a “harm reduction” strategy – of propping up what we can and finding as soft a landing as possible for those in the workforce who are displaced.

It seems that President Trump is determined to take a short cut through the amount of time science says we need to keep the clamps on the economy. That’s a foolish and stupid take, but in some ways, I can understand the instinct. Even those who get through the pandemic with little or no ill effects will feel the unnatural consequences of an economy gone to hell in a handbag.

There’s a point where declaring business as usual will make sense. I don’t think that’s this week. I don’t think it will be next week. If you believe science, and you should, it’s not even likely to be in the next month.

As you know, I despise the media obsession with calling this the “war against COVID-19.” Even so, I take a degree of comfort in knowing that historically, the United States almost always loses the first battle of every war we’ve ever been in. We take a punch right to the chin, get knocked down, and then get up off the ground angry and looking for payback.

Today we’re still on the ground, but we’re going to get up, and when we do, we’re going to be collectively pissed the hell off and ready to do what needs to be done.