The agitating present…

Having spent the last week and a half taking in a steady diet of new from the UK, I tried this morning to adjust back to information from sources closer to home. It wasn’t a particularly happy reunion.

Aside from the local weather forecast, I’d be hard pressed to tell you about a single story covered my go-to station out of Baltimore that I could gin up any interest in at all. Murder, mayhem, hints of corruption – nothing new under the sun. Switching over to CNN it was the predictable drumbeat of catastrophic weather, rerunning the election of 2020 and the general fuckery surrounding it, and all manner of talking heads I’m increasingly convinced don’t have the first idea about what’s happening or why. 

I’m sure there are a host of things I should be interested in, or that I should at least have a bit of general knowledge about, but friends I’m here to tell you that I just don’t. Maybe it’s simply news overload. Maybe it’s too many sources peddling a decidedly weak product. Whatever the cause, I’m far more interested in reading analysis of what happened a continent away 500 years ago than I am in lending my eyes and ears to what happened yesterday thirty miles from home.

I’m sure once the midterm election gets a little closer or the case against the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice ever gets a bit of traction, I’ll tune back in – or at least gin up a modicum of interest. For the immediate future, if it’s not coming through BBC, The Times, or one of the news aggregators I glance at in the morning, I’m going to be ok not paying attention.

If something legitimately important happens, I’m sure it will break through the static. Until then, I’ll be perfectly content studying the past rather than being thoroughly agitated by the present.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Root causes. What the actual fuck is wrong with people? Twenty-six years ago, when most of my cronies and I were about 18, we had ready access to both rifles and handguns. We weren’t particularly well supervised back then and yet we somehow managed not to seed our world with chaos and mass murder. Back there and back then, it was the sort of event that was a true rarity. It’s why I struggle with the idea of blaming the tools people use when it happens now. The first semi-automatic rifle made its appearance in 1779. They became widely available on the consumer market in the closing years of the 19th century. It wasn’t until well into the back half of the 20th century where the commonly described “mass shooting” starts to become a thing that happens. That history is also why I struggle with laying the blame for these events at the foot of the gun. The technology hasn’t changed. It was as readily available in 1930 or 1960 as it is this afternoon. A basic semi-auto was more easily available then given the lack of background checks, permitting, and laws governing who can and can’t possess a firearm that came into vogue in the 80s and 90s. If we assume it’s not access that’s changed, we’re left to consider what factors have changed that lead to these events taking place now more than ever before. That’s a conversation that requires nuance – and since that’s not something that comes in a form of a good soundbite, we’re not likely to see from the political class, the media, the pros, or the antis.

2. Age of adulthood.  One of the first things I read on Twitter this morning was a call to raise the age at which one can purchase a long gun. I saw multiple tweets calling for the age to increase from 18 to something else. Suggestions were 21, 25, 26. Fine. We already declare other “adult” decisions out of bounds for 18-year-olds. If we’re going to be intellectually consistent, though, we need to go further. Eighteen should no longer be considered the age of majority across the board. Raise the age to buy a car, rent an apartment, or sign any kind of contract. Raise the age for enlisting for military service.  Raise the age to sign up for credit or a loan. Raise the age of sexual consent. And for God’s sake, raise the voting age. If those between the ages of 18 and twenty-whatever are too chowderheaded to make responsible adult decisions then just go ahead and delay all the rights, privileges, and opportunities of the adult citizen. Let adulthood start at 45 or whatever other arbitrary age we collectively decide is the right one. We seem to already have a generation that can’t manage to “adult” until they’re in their 30s, so just codify it already.

3. First reports. There’s an old saying about first reports always being wrong. When complex, fast moving events are happening I just assume that all of the details are bogus beyond the basics of where and what. Expecting a second-to-second timeline as events are unfolding is a fool’s errand. I’ve got at least one news feed running in the house pretty much from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed and how often the first details are wrong is pretty much an article of faith here. I’ll cheerfully call out Texas public safety officials if it proves out that they failed to follow local policy or in some way failed to respond appropriately, but I won’t sit at the keyboard and condemn them based on early reports and what people think they know. I’ll be swapping over to financial news until the story – and the reporters – get past the breathless, “breaking news” phase.

Be not afraid…

It’s hard to miss all the current reporting on the growing impact of inflation on the overall economy. Even without the reporting, rapidly rising prices for petrol, food, and other consumer goods, the impact of our inflationary economy would be hard to miss. 

Most of the major news outlets paint a worrying picture – particularly for retirees, anyone sitting on a lot of cash (in a savings account or in certificates of deposit, for instance), or those who loaded up on variable rate debt (like your average credit card). That’s a fair concern, but it’s only part of the bigger picture.

If you happen to be a homeowner – especially one who locked in a mortgage when fixed interest rates drifted down under 3% – inflation gives you the bonus of paying back your loan on an appreciating asset with devalued dollars. If you happen to be holding equities as opposed to cash (including things like 401k, IRA, and other retirement savings vehicles), values should largely increase as the cash value of the underlying companies is inflated. All of that, of course, presupposes that your income also paces the rate of inflation, or at least doesn’t entirely stagnate during a period of sustained inflationary pressure.

I’m obviously not calling for a return to the bad old days of inflation, sky high interest rates, and 10% unemployment… but by read is that there are things out there a hell of a lot more frightening than a little pop of inflation every now and then, so for the time being my motto is “be not afraid.”

Project Poseidon?

It’s a Friday before a long holiday weekend. I won’t say that there was nothing to do today, but the pacing of what there was left a fair amount of time for just pondering.

What’s on my mind today, because coverage of one sort or another is almost inescapable, is the “megadrought” gripping the American west. Stories of lowering reservoirs, wells running dry, rivers too low to support wildlife, let alone the ability to be drawn down for irrigation, and the inevitable increasing number of wildfires that will go along with it all seem to be everywhere.

So far, what I’ve seen is a lot of speculation and discussion about conserving. While that’s well and good, reducing the amount of water being used doesn’t ultimately get after the problem of there not being enough water. The chances of us going after the whole climate change thing also seems fairly slim.

So, if we assume for purposes of this post that the amount of water available is going to continue to diminish over time, demand will continue to increase over time, and we’re not going to significantly change human behavior in the short or medium term, what’s left? I think that’s where the discussion on the topic is lacking. What can we do in the next five years to radically increase the amount of water available to the western third of the United States?

It always surprises me that there isn’t at least one crackpot agitating for a crash program of building a string of massive desalination plants from San Diego to Seattle along the Pacific Coast. Without any background in hydrology, wildlife management, or public infrastructure, I respectfully submit that what we need is a Moon Shot – a Project Apollo for rewatering the west.

It would be monumentally expensive. Environmentalists would scream bloody murder at the very idea of building such massive industrial facilities on the coast. Everyone would hate it – except, probably, all the people who actually need the water.

Even if we can’t meet the demand of water intensive agricultural interests, leaving river water in the rivers in an effort to prop up wildlife while providing potable water for the human population feels like a reasonable investment in the future. It’s certainly a better option than abandoning whole stretches of the west, seeing depopulation and mass migration out of cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, and just accepting that the region is going to be an arid dead zone .

If 2020 taught us nothing else, it’s that printing money to order apparently no longer causes economic problems. Personally, I’d rather see it put towards good works than another round of pay everyone to sit at home watching Netflix… but that’s probably a tale for another time.

The story they won’t cover…

At 5:00 this past Sunday morning, Cpl. Keith Heacook of the Delmar Police Department responded to a call for an assault in progress. An elderly couple was being beaten and this officer put himself between them and their attacker. According to reports, Cpl. Heacook was then violently attacked, overpowered, and kicked in the head repeatedly until he fell unconscious. 

A quick search shows that the “person” arrested in connection to this murder has a criminal record dating back to 2010, when he was 19 years old. Thirty-six items returned in a search of his involvement with criminal court cases paint quite a picture… although I’m sure great effort will be expended to portray him as victim of the system, result of a bad childhood, a young man who just needed a hug, or whatever touchy feely excuse for people who choose a life outside the law is in vogue today.

You won’t hear hours of reporting every day dedicated to the murder of Keith Heacook. You won’t see protests in the street or riots and looting of local downtown business districts. His death at the hands of a known criminal doesn’t match the popular narrative of violent police officers. It will be downplayed and ignored in favor of those reports that highlight only the story of race and policing the media is determined to sell. 

We’ll know the truth, though. Keith Heacook, a badged and sworn police officer, laid down his life in service to his community and in an attempt to protect the vulnerable. There’s no truer definition of hero.

Plague economics…

I can’t tell you how many times in the last 6 months I’ve heard or read someone say “Wall Street isn’t Main Street” or “the stock market isn’t the economy.”

That’s usually shorthand for telling your readers or viewers you want them to ignore record setting highs in the market in favor of focusing on more gritty, personal stories about small businesses. Those businesses are important. No one loves their small, local book shops more than I do, but I’m not going to sit here pretending that how the market does is irrelevant to the overall health of the economy or that it’s only “the 1%” who take advantage of its magical power of wealth creation.

Despite the popular press narrative that most people aren’t impacted by the stock market, the opposite is really the case. According to an article released by Pew Research in March 2020, “a majority (52%) have some level of investment in the market. Most of this comes in the form of retirement accounts such as 401(k)s.” If something north of half the people having a vested interest in Wall Street doesn’t count as having a deep influence on Main Street, I don’t know what would.

Yes, how “invested” someone is depends on many factors – age, race, and income, among others – but you really sound like an idiot when you write an article trying to convince me that I should feel badly that the market is booming. I’m never going to be upset by a story that tells me real money is being made by real people. Even when it’s painted as a story of winners and losers, I’d reminded them that there are winners and losers in ever field of endeavor – none of the great -isms of history have managed to change that beyond shifting a bit of who gets what. The wheel turns, but some group is always on top at any given moment – princes of the church, members of the politburo, or heirs to the House of Morgan – and they reap the reward of being in the right seat at the right time. I’ve never felt the need to hate them for that.

The two streets measure (mostly) different aspects of the economy. While I’ve made an effort to support local businesses with my spending during the Great Plague, I won’t for a moment feel bad about seeing growing equity prices. Both sides of the economy are important and while I’d love to see both go like gangbusters in an endless bull market, having half a loaf in this plague-ravaged environment is something to celebrate.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The yawning gap in medical care. I’ve blown off most of my own medical appointments since March but the animals have all hit theirs on time or as needed. That probably says more about me as a person, or at least my priorities, than I’d really like to think about. It’s probably a function of simplicity, too. I can pull up to the vet, hand off the critters for a bit of the old poke and prod, and find a nice shady spot to wait. My doc, on the other hand, wants me to schlep into an office, sit in a socially distanced chair, and wait around with other people who have God knows what plague spewing from their face holes. I’m sure it’s completely irrational, but I’d have to be quite near death’s door myself before I thought that was a good idea.

2. Failure to communicate. I’ve long suspected that the biggest problem faced in dealing with Great Plague is one of basic communication. Given the patchwork nature of our republic (combined with a relentless 24-hour news cycle desperate for things to fill air time), the public is presented with as many as fifty different, often conflicting bits of advice on mask wearing, the benefits of social distancing, and what businesses can be open and how many people they can service. There’s also the discomfiture when schools must close, but bars and restaurants can be open. There may well be fine, scientific reasons for why this is perfectly reasonable, but on its face, it’s a position that feels like it defies common sense.  Add in the fact that science, by definition, isn’t a static and recommendations change based on new data and it’s a recipe for public confusion. Frankly, I’m not even sure that cohesive national-level messaging and policy would do much in the face of how much conflicting “information” is available through every website that proports to carry the latest news or medical advice.

3. America’s Mayor. In September 2001 Rudy Giuliani was lionized as “Americas Mayor” for his grit and determination in leading New York City through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. His steady hand on the tiller and regular presence at press conferences, exuded a calm that almost none of us felt at the time. Fast forward almost twenty years and it’s hard to believe we’re even seeing the same person. From his presser live from the parking lot at Four Seasons Total Landscaping to his performance yesterday in federal court, where he seemed to forget the name of both the presiding judge and the opposing counsel, the mayor appears to be a poor shadow of himself. For those of us old enough to remember him as a masterful leader when we most needed one, it’s an awfully hard thing to watch.

Beyond the big show…

It’s election day in America – or rather it’s the last day of voting season in a presidential election year. 

What people seem to forget is that the election, the physical act of voting is just part of the process. The act of citizenship isn’t a one and done. Casting a ballot is the big, showy event, but the governing that comes after is where it matters – and where people generally lose interest unless the issues involved directly impact them in some way.

It’s a fine thing for your party of candidate to win an election, but what do you do after that? Do you stay engaged? Do you show up at council meetings, call your elected representatives, donate to your favored causes? Do you keep fighting for your ideas, how you think the country should be run, or your vision for the proper role of government in the 21stcentury? Do you tune out until the media starts beating the drum for the next big election?

Tonight (and probably for the next couple of nights) we’re going to count the votes. There will, eventually, be a winner. Some will celebrate. Others will look into the camera with that thousand-yard stare wondering how their candidate could possibly lose. Elections, even more so those in the media age, are moments of high national drama. It’s easy to get so caught up in that drama that you forget there’s a tomorrow, and a day after that, and a day after that one.

What we do with those days after is at least as important in the small role we played in the big show on election day. Having voted Libertarian, I know even before the counting starts that my preferred candidate isn’t going to win when the final votes are counted. That’s ok. I won’t be taking to the streets later howling for blood or at least hoping to loot the local Best Buy. 

Instead of rending my garments, I’ll spend tomorrow and all the days after doing what I do every day – I’ll talk about the issues that are important to me. I’ll advocate for more severe penalties for animal abuse. I’ll lend my name and occasionally some cash to organizations fighting to preserve the 2nd Amendment. I’ll call and email my county commissioners and state representatives when local and state government get a little too open handed with our tax dollars. In short, I’ll continue to be an engaged citizen.

For tonight, though, I’ll sit back, keep a stiff drink close at hand, and see how the big show plays out.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Interesting times. People always say they want an adventure, or value new experience. They throw it all over social media, on their dating profiles, or bring it up any time they have introduce themselves. Now all you seem to hear is gnashing of teeth because someone isn’t getting an “authentic” high school experience or their long-awaited vacation was cancelled or their favorite holiday will look a little less Currier and Ives. They’ve landed smack in the middle of a once in a century pandemic and an election cycle like no one currently living has ever experienced… but that’s apparently not the “interesting times” they had in mind. It turns out what people really mean is they wanted entertainment and the illusion of adventure because the real thing is much harder to wrap your head around.

2. The Midwest. Talking heads keep yammering on about midwestern states “like Pennsylvania.” Buy a goddamned map. I know you’re using midwest as shorthand to mean “post-industrial” rust belt states, but you sound like an idiot somehow implying that Pennsylvania isn’t right here on the east coast. I suppose expecting nuance and detailed analysis from the professional media is far too much of an ask in this era of short attention span theater.

3. Election month. Back in my day, elections were held in on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. If you couldn’t make it to the polls on that day you could send in an absentee ballot. It seems to work well enough. I don’t know when exactly we started moving to having first an “election week” and now something more like an “election month,” but I’m not sure we’ve done much more than make what should be a simple proposition far more complicated than it needs to be.  And for the love of God don’t get me started on the people who are stomping around wanting to count mail in votes that arrive six and a half weeks after “Election Day.” If it’s really important to you, you wouldn’t have dawdled and would have had your shit in order well before the deadline. Personal responsibility matters.

A voice from the past…

I got the rare chance to spend an hour talking to one of my oldest friends last night. We text and drop facebook comments regularly, but actual conversations are exceptions to the rule… and that’s ok, because we’ve known each other so long now that we can basically pick up exactly where we left off no matter how much intervening time is involved.

Because we are who we are, the conversation almost immediately turned to politics. Even though he’s somewhere left of center and I’m somewhere to the right, we somehow managed to talk about the most divisive topics of the day without the whole thing devolving into a shouting match. It’s how I remember people talking about politics when we were young and dinosaurs roamed the earth. It’s what adults use to be able to do.

It turns out it’s still possible when you’re not keeping score or determined to get in one more zinger. It’s literally possible for two grown adults with differing opinions to talk like decent human beings and still like one another at the end of the conversation. You’d never know that from much of the discourse taking place in the social and professional media.

That state of the world may have been the topic of the day yesterday, but the conversation really could have been about anything… or nothing at all. As nice as it was to have a conversation about the world that wasn’t being shouted at full volume, sometimes, especially on a hard day, the more important thing is just hearing a voice from the past.