What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. A plastic bag. There’s a white plastic bag in the top branch of one of the trees in my front yard. It makes me unreasonably angry. Mostly because even with a ladder I don’t have any implements long enough to haul it down. So, I’ll have this damned plastic bag stuck in front of the house forever or until I cut the tree down, I guess. Just another reason why I hate people. This bag belonged to someone but because they are an irresponsible asshat, now I get to look at it indefinitely out the front window.

2. The days of the week. The only real trouble I’ve had in this long stretch of working from home, is that the days have a real tendency to bleed together. Monday is a lot like Thursday which is a lot like Saturday and on, and on, and on. Hey, I’m a creature of habit, I’m not really complaining… but it does lead to a lot of minor moments of crises that start off with “Oh shit, that was supposed to do that today.”

3. r/wallstreetbets. The Redditors of r/wallstreetbets were mad geniuses last week, executing a classic short squeeze and costing at least one hedge fund a couple of billion dollars. Everyone likes it when the scrappy upstart scores one against the big guys. I get it. The fun part was once things started happening the broader world thought, inexplicably, that everyone could ride GameStop shares to the moon. Now there are posts awash with disbelief that people have the audacity to sell shares and take some profit. Maybe the folks over on Reddit play by different rules, but expecting anyone to ride a stock as wildly overvalued as GameStop had become and then hold it there at its highs indefinitely as the knife started falling back to earth, feels like exactly the kind of wackiness I’ve come to expect from message board people. 

Quarantine fatigue…

The internet is rife with articles documenting the horrors of “quarantine fatigue.” That malady seems to be typified by people going out more frequently, governors rushing to open other-than-essential businesses, and random protests to open this or that state immediately. People have seen the reports that we “flattened the curve” and are now ready to get back to business as usual and spring sets in… even though those reports certainly don’t reflect the reality of every jurisdiction across the country. Here in Maryland, the rate of infection continues to increase – meaning we haven’t yet hit the peak, let along started down its far side.

Among the list of things I’m not is an infectious disease expert. There are, however, lots of smart people out there who are experts in this field – and they’re largely saying it’s way too soon to start having big groups of people congregated in the same place. I wouldn’t take their advice on logistics or operations so it seems reasonable that I shouldn’t try to second guess them when they’re opining about a topic they’ve spent a lifetime studying.

Ready or not, even if it’s against the best medical advice, people are going to reopen this economy. Even people who don’t need to leave, those who can readily work from home and haven’t had any issues of lost pay, seem on the cusp of giving up and trusting to fate out of the lack of ability to keep themselves entertained. You can already see the signs of it in the weekly statistical tracking of people who are out and moving around.

There’s a catch to quarantine fatigue, though. When, after a month or two of this initial experience when the masses insist on restoring “normal,” the Great Plague will spread at an even faster pace than it is now – the number of deaths will increase and we’ll find ourselves facing an even higher curve that needs mitigating. 1918-19 gives us a blueprint of how ugly a pandemic is once we collectively decide all is well and spend a few months forgetting about containment and mitigation. We’ll end up going into the fall and winter far worse off than we were back in March.

Sometimes human nature is painfully predictable.

My employer will, in all likelihood, force us back into non-socially distanced cubicles sooner rather than later. Being a guy who likes to be able to pay the bills, it’s not likely I can do much about that. Stores, bars, and beaches are going to open sooner rather than later and there’s going to be a monumental temptation for people to treat that moment as our “return to normalcy.” Mercifully, I don’t need Governor Hogan or Dr. Fauci to tell me that it’s best to avoid hanging out in those places for the foreseeable future.

I’ve always had philosophical issues with blanket “stay at home” orders. They reek of government overreach. Then again I’ve never needed the government to tell me I should be my own best advocate and look out for my own interests. So open anything you want to, I guess. It’ll be a good long time before I feel any need to sit down in a restaurant or movie theater, go to a concert, or let people through the front door here at Fortress Jeff. I don’t need Uncle Sam or Mother Maryland to tell me what does or doesn’t pass the common sense test. As for everyone else, I suppose y’all are on your own.

Let’s revisit this in about October and see where we are. Good luck.

A cause for celebration…

Ah, it’s Columbus Day again. The day of the year when revisionists and apologists whine most loudly that we should all be wearing ashes and rending our garments and begging forgiveness for because of things men did more than 500 years ago at a time we’re no longer supposed to call the Age of Exploration.

As always, I cheerfully encourage the apologists to bugger directly off with that nonsense. I don’t judge historical events or figures through 21st century morality. They were men of their own age, with strengths and weaknesses, who achieved greatly and committed grave sins.

The age of exploration was an age of heroes. We don’t remember them because they spent their often short lifetimes boohooing the world around them, but because they dared to do what was hard and dangerous. They’re derided in the modern world, I suspect, because so many now live lives that are unfathomably easy and safe based on any measure of historical precedent.

In this household, Columbus and all the men who set out in fragile wooden ships from the old world to explore the wonders of the new will always be celebrated.

Blank page…

Some days no matter how hard you squeeze, the old brain just doesn’t have anything to give. That’s when you end up with one of these rambling posts that doesn’t seem to say anything and ends without ever coming to a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe it’s not true for every blogger, but for me, I don’t think there’s any greater enemy than the blank page… except maybe when that blank page coincides with a completely empty bucket of ideas. Maybe I should just embrace the nightmare and take a day off every now and then, but I can’t shake the feeling that it would be cheating somehow. Even a habit as deeply engrained in my schedule as blogging every day enjoys a perilous place on my much-valued daily schedule. Miss it for a day, or two, or five and God only knows when I’ll get it back in the lineup. One of the many joys of being a creature of habit, I suppose.

So yeah, there’s plenty going on in the world, but to continue with what seems to be the theme of the week, the worse the news gets, the less I care about the world and the more I care about me and mine. Maybe that’s a character flaw… or maybe it’s a thousand generations of human history screaming that the best any of us can really do is making right by our own circle of family and friends. Then again, I’m just a half-assed blogger so you might want to take that with a grain of salt. I, on the other hand, will be taking it with a cool refreshing rum drink.

Welcome to Thunderdome…

We had a meeting a few days ago about what each of us would be doing in the event a major natural disaster hit while we were at the office. I think it’s sort of cute that the powers that be are planning on people staying at their desks for the first hour of a catastrophic event. Sure it would be nice to think that everyone was an automaton who would run the checklists, rationally assess the situation, and make good decisions based on available facts… but lets face it, you’re flying against the strong wind of human nature. In those first minutes, assuming the building hasn’t fallen on our heads, you’re going to see a mass exodus as people’s flight instinct kicks in. During times of real crisis, we’re hard wired to think to hearth and home, not the office and redundant backup. I wouldn’t want to be the brave and crazy soul who tried standing in the doorway blocking the flood tide of people on their way out. Getting trampled isn’t really my style.

I suppose it’s a good enough plan if you aren’t bothered by considerations such as reality and basic human nature. The best I can hope for in these meetings is that I’m sitting far enough back in the room that most people won’t see me rolling my eyes and sketching out my own plan to escape, evade, and recover from whatever big nasty event ultimately befalls us.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.