The occupant of the White House is a member of the Democratic Party. Members of the Democratic Party also constitute the majority, though a slim one, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This week they’ll be struggling mightily to pass monumentally large spending bills, not crash headlong into the debt ceiling, and keep the lights on at federal departments and agencies across the country.
One thing I think we’re going to have to give up now is the illusion that our legislative process is broken because one party or another is made up entirely of obstructionists who live to say “no.” When one of those parties holding all the reigns of power is still struggling or fails to get their agenda passed, the fiction of blaming the opposition party is awfully hard to sustain.
If the party in power fails to pass signature portions of their own president’s agenda or fails to gin up the votes for their own spending priorities, or can’t manage that most basic of Congressional functions – passing the federal budget – that tells me not only is the majority weak in size, but also weak in spirit. If the Congressional Democrats can’t get the job done when they hold all the reigns, they’re ripe to be picked off in the 2022 election cycle.
So as it turns out both of our dominate political parties are bad. One because it will cheerfully burn the republic to the ground if it means they get to hang on to power and the other because they can’t find the matches with both hands and a flashlight.
1. Pennsylvania roads. With a tax base that includes two of America’s biggest cities and metric shit tons of New York City commuters, I’m never entirely sure why the roads throughout the commonwealth are so utterly appalling. Maryland is a tax happy, liberal paradise, and as annoying as the endless road work throughout the state is, at least the worst of the pot holes get filled. I mean a bit of decent infrastructure feels like the minimum one should expect from a state government with their hands so deeply into everyone’s pocket… but not Pennsylvania, though. They seem determined to let even their biggest highways turn back into dirt tracks and cow paths.
2. Bait and switch. You lured us into accepting a meeting request with promises that “lunch will be provided,” but suddenly the day of the meeting it ends up moving to 9 AM and there is no food. In any other context that’s plainly a bait and switch tactic and illegal in many contexts. I’m not saying you should never trust management, but a bit of good, healthy skepticism is always in order.
3. In recognition of a newly annointed federal holiday scheduled for tomorrow and noting the 14 working days that the creation of this lawful public holiday slashes from the number of days I’ll be in the office during the balance of my career, there is no third thing that annoys me this week.
1. The algorithm. Every third ad Facebook has served me in the last couple of weeks is some variation of “Are you saving enough for retirement?” It’s a fine question and I’m almost laser focused on what I need to do to be able to walk out the door in 14 years and 18 days and never work again, but I promise you I’m not taking financial advice from the place I go to find dirty memes and posts about who got arrested in the area.
2. Timing. I’ve been plugging away for six years, putting a bit of money back here and there to correct the deficiencies in my master bathroom. Every time I got close to hitting my estimated budget number, some other critical project would come along and shave a few thousand dollars off that particular pile of cash. During the Great Plague, I managed to finally hit my number… and of course now the cost of building material has gone through the roof. I’ve gone ahead and put out the call for quotes to a couple of local builders, though. It seems my timing for this project is never going to be good… so the only thing left is to proceed. Doing otherwise feels like an open invitation to wake up one morning after another six years and realizing I’m still schlepping down the hall to take a shower.
3. Extortion. This week, one of the main oil pipelines servicing the east coast of the United States was held hostage. It’s owners reportedly paid $5 million to a vaguely described group of Russian or Eastern European cyber terrorists to regain control of their network. Here’s the thing… the Colonial Pipeline is, by definition, key infrastructure. We’ve seen the news reports of the chaos caused by this brief interruption. Setting aside that much of the panic was entirely self-inflicted by people rushing to fill every container they could find, our enemies have also seen the chaos a service disruption in one of our major pipelines can cause. Paying out millions of dollars was a business decision… but what I want to know is why we’re not now seeing reports of cruise missiles leveling the known and suspected safe harbors from which these and other cyber terrorists operate. If a country or non-state actor blew up a building or bridge, we’d come crashing down on their head like a mailed fist. I don’t make a relevant distinction between those who’d launch a kinetic attack and those who do their damage with keystrokes.
1. Surprise that hurricanes cause infrastructure damage. Reports this week say that “a lack of power and phone service in the areas of Florida flattened by Hurricane Michael last week was hindering efforts” to respond to and recover from the event. Well yeah. That happens in a natural disaster. That happens when one of the strongest storms to hit the United States in all of recorded history flattens everything resembling modern infrastructure that happened to be in its immediate path. FEMA, the media, local governments and anyone who knows anything about emergency preparedness has been screaming for years that people, individuals, need to do more to be ready when the unexpected happens (not that an approaching major hurricane is an “unexpected” happening here in the 21st century). If you insist on staying in or returning to what is, by its very definition, a disaster area before even basic power and communications infrastructure is available you’d damned well better be prepared to generate your own power or rely on battery backup and understand that winds that can knock down brick and mortar buildings can surely strip the bits and pieces off of a modern cell tower while it tears hard-wired communications networks asunder. Basic infrastructure like power and telephony took generations to build out. Screaming complaints that it hasn’t all been restored in a week or two is unrealistic and makes you sound like a idiot.
2. More chicken dreams. It’s not a sure thing, but I’d estimate that close to 50% of the time I eat a chicken-based dinner, I end up with wildly realistic dreams a few hours later. They’re not quite what the reading defines as “lucid” dreams and they’re not nightmares, but these chicken-fueled dreams are wildly realistic – in a Hollywood back lot kind of way. The most recent found me walking through a storefront I knew well as a kid into an interior that had hints of what “should” have been there but that was dominated by people and things that would have no business or reason for being there at all. I think I’m going to have to stop eating chicken for dinner. It’s not that I mind these dreams as I’d just rather not spend the time from 2:00-2:10 am laying awake wondering what the actual fuck is going on in my head.
3. People. Yes, people are a perennial target of my ire, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a consistent refrain because it’s so richly deserved. This week alone I’ve observed people walking out into traffic without looking, nearly sideswipe me on the highway (again without looking), (attempt to) jump into the checkout line as if there weren’t already three people standing in it, and generally moving about in the world as if oblivious to anything outside of their own arm’s reach. I really have no idea how more people aren’t apoplectically livid about their day to day interactions with people. Maybe you’re all just better adjusted than I am… or maybe you’re just too nice to say it out loud in public.
I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.
It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.
Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?
It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”
1. Meeting prep. It’s bad enough when someone wants me to sit in a meeting on a topic way outside my general area of expertise. If they could at least do a little prep work first, though, that would be terrific. Maybe get me the slides an hour or two in advance so I can speak on the topic like I have some semblance of a clue what’s going on. It doesn’t feel like that’s too much to ask before someone shows up asking a lot of questions about material I haven’t ever seen before. But if past experience is any kind of guide, it’s at least as hopeless as asking one of the dogs for the winning Powerball numbers.
2. Bridging the gap. I have to pass through one of those sleepy one stop light kind of towns on my way to and from work every day. The main route is bottlenecked by a bridge that has been in urgent need of repair for at least the last five years. Now that the state has finally gotten around to doing something with it, we’re met by the usual bane of construction everywhere. Before work started, the bridge was going to be open for the duration of the project. Shortly thereafter it was declared “worse than we thought” and promptly taken out of service – expected restoration time 4 weeks. Tomorrow is the end of the 4th week and the latest word is “wait two more weeks”. Then, maybe, we’ll be able to press one lane back into service for gods know how long. The detours, the improvised 4-way stops, the drivers who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground; those things would all be OK if in two weeks we had a good working bridge. Of course what we’re going to have instead is the end of the “preparation” for construction phase of the project and a bridge that will be open or closed on a completely unpredictable schedule for the foreseeable future. I get the distinct impression that I could be stuck in detours for the rest of my natural life.
3. Unknown callers. I’ve been receiving a call from an “unknown” number once or twice a night for the last three or four days. Is there someone out there who sees a number is unknown and answers anyway? I don’t. Hell, I don’t even bother to answer calls when a number comes up that isn’t associated with someone in my address book. Usually those are a one-time occurrence. No message. No repeat calls. Wrong number. It happens. But the unknowns, yeah, they just keep on calling. I’m sure they just want to sell me something so they could save themselves a whole lot of time by just leaving a message and then knocking it off. Messages I’ll at least listen to eventually. Spamming my phone with missed and rejected calls, though, that’s not going to get you anywhere. Sadly, I’m sure they only do it because some reasonably significant percentage of people they dial take the call and give these asshats the time of day. That makes those people just as guilty as the tools who are instigating the calls in the first place.
As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, it seems perversely fitting that million of our fellow citizens are sitting, literally, in the dark sweltering in the summer heat illuminated by the contemporary equivalent of candlelight. I mean it was good enough for the Founding Fathers, right? While I like irony as much as the next guy (maybe a little more), this should remind all of us of something we collectively never think about until it’s suddenly not working… The fact that we’re running a 21st century economy on top of 19th century infrastructure.
Overhead distribution lines probably worked well enough when all they were running was a few light bulbs in each house. When nearly every conceivable item in the modern house runs on electricity, though, thin copper cable strung on wooden poles seems like a less than ideal solution to delivering uninterrupted service to nearly every home in the country. If the way we distribute electricity isn’t hardened against falling tree limbs, I think it’s safe to assume that it would fare poorly against an actual person or group of people determined to bring the system down.
It’s probably cost prohibitive to bury every mile of every cable in the country, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a hard look in places where it makes sense (i.e. in areas of dense population, areas prone to severe storms, etc.). At some point, the cost of continually repairing outdated infrastructure surpasses the cost of, you know, replacing it with something better. Most people don’t drive the same car their great-grandparents bought in 1916, but we’re using the same distribution model they came up with back then. Infrastructure improvement across the board needs to be a national priority because as more people and new technology put increased demand on outdated utilities, the Great Power Outage of 2012 is probably just a preview of good times to come.
Yep, fixing the problem is going to be expensive, but just wait until your power is out for a week or two and tell me all about the cost of doing nothing.