Election Eve in America, or I’ll never see the day…

Well, it’s once again election eve in America. The importance of election day as a single day of civic duty has been mitigated somewhat by new laws that allow early voting. In many places, the election has been on us for weeks now already. I’ve voted absentee from time to time, but whenever it has been in any way feasible, I make an effort to vote on the day itself. It’s just one of those quirky ways that the traditionalist in me makes itself known, I suppose.

I overhead someone today commenting that they were glad that it was about to be over. “Not even close,” I thought to myself. Even if there aren’t month long recounts, challenges in the courts, and general electoral dysfunction, we’re simply setting stage for four years of of political infighting as vicious as any we’ve seen in living memory. The extreme left won’t be happy until we’ve dug ourselves into a Socialist Worker’s Paradise. The extreme right, in the same vein, hasn’t shown any indication of giving up the fight to reset our clocks to 1856. There are a litany of means and methods determined minority on either side can forestall any movement within the creaking machinery of government. Now if that determined minority exists on both flanks, well, the stage is set for things to get awfully interesting… or awfully frustrating depending on how objective you’re willing to be as an outside observer.

Throw away the polls. Ignore the prognosticators. The only thing that anyone knows for sure is that when the last of tomorrow’s presidential votes is tabulated the party that’s left on the outside looking in while resist mightily at every step. That’s the nature of the beast we’ve created – and as long as we as an electorate steadfastly refuse to accept any more than two major political parties it’s the beast we’re stuck with.

The good news is that there aren’t likely to be tanks in the streets tomorrow night. Cities probably aren’t going to burn. The bad news is that we’re going to finish the night even more divided than ever. The pol who figures out a way to crack the code on that is going to roll into office with a mandate like no other… but I’m not holding my breath on seeing that day.

Water rights…

Most days I watch the local morning news out of Baltimore. During the week, mostly I’m keeping an ear open for the traffic reports and weather forecast. On the weekends, I imagine it’s just force of habit more than anything else. In any case, I should probably change that habit, because as often as not, Baltimore news just agitates the hell out of me.

Take this morning, for instance – when one report was covering the continuing deterioration of the city’s water system and proposal that rates be increased 9% a year over each of the next 3 years. Municipal water systems are almost the working definition of the kind of services one might expect a city to provide, but of course much of the utility network undergirding Baltimore has been buried for more than a century. That’s long past the time even the most ambitious of engineers would have imagined their work staying in service. If you defer maintenance on such a system long enough all manner of bad things will tend to happen to it. That’s the situation Baltimore is facing.

Maintenance, of course, takes money and that’s one of those things that Baltimore never seems to have. It’s one of those pesky consequences of making policy decisions that chase your tax base out of the city and into the county. But this morning, the story focused on a “local activist” who opposed this “vicious rate increase” even while admitting that he knew the system needed upgrades almost city-wide.

I suppose my real question is, if the those who use the water – the people and businesses served by the municipal water system – aren’t responsible for paying to keep the system running, who is he proposing foot the bill? For some reason I’m catching the scent of another Baltimore City boondoggle the cost of which the city is going to try to pass along to the more than 5 million Marylanders who don’t use the city’s water. I’m also more than a little curious as to how I can tap into that alternate payment source if they day ever comes when I need to replace my well.

I mean if water is a right and should be provided for “free,” someone else should pay for it… or maybe that’s only true as long as the cash flows one way: from everywhere else in the state towards the Inner Harbor.

A picture and a paragraph…

 

More and more often I’m running into links on “news” sites that dump you off at a video rather than at an article. For me at least, if I’m interested enough to click on a link, I’m interested enough to learn more than whatever can be offered up in a 13 second video clip. Call me a curmudgeon but I like my news stories to have a little bit of depth, maybe some background, and even a touch of analysis if the editors are feeling a little froggy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of digital media, but there’s a big part of me that still likes getting my news in the written word format. I’m not advocating for an immediate return to running newspapers in a morning and evening edition, but I don’t think it’s too big an ask to expect generally reputable news sources to include a little more meat on the bone. Then again, maybe that’s just another art form dying in the modern age.

With that said, a few weeks ago a friend turned me on to a site that specializes in collecting a sort of “best of” series of long form articles from across the web. Longform.org tends to be a bit eclectic in its offerings. It’s certainly not all the news that’s fit to print. What it lacks in width on a day to day basis, it almost always makes up for in depth. Right now on the main page articles range from campus activism to nursing to Swiss banking. I check in a few times a week when I’m feeling myself fall into the normal routine of things being a thousand feet wide but only three inches deep. It’s a helpful reminder if nothing else that somewhere, someone is practicing some deep thinking skills – even when I reject their premise or conclusions.

Sometimes a picture and a paragraph just aren’t enough. Mercifully there is at least a small group of people on the internet who agree.

Contested…

Looking at the results of last night’s primary vote in Wisconsin, it’s becoming more and more likely that the Republican Party is headed for a nomination knife fight in Cleveland this summer. The talking heads are calling it a “contested convention,” but the reality of the thing is if none of the potential candidates arrive with enough delegates for a coronation, the convention floor is going to be a blood-soaked mess… metaphorically, of course. Probably.

Since my undergrad work was in political science, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m fascinated at the prospect of seeing a convention nominate a candidate the “old fashioned way.” It’s not something I’ve seen in my lifetime. While it will certainly solve a certain academic curiosity of mine, the process is going to leave the eventual candidate bludgeoned if not broken on his way to the stage. You could have that kind of intra-party conflict in the days before television, and camera phones, and twitter and charge out of a convention to win the general. I’m not at all sure a contested convention aired live in the 24-hour news cycle and covered to death on social media is good for anyone involved… other than the media, of course. People can always be counted on to turn in to watch a circus.

It’s a long way to slog through to July and I won’t even speculate on any number of fiascoes that could transpire between now and then. The only thing I’m willing to concede with any certainty is things are about to go even more stupid than usual.

Something between tragedy and farce…

I disengage from the news over the weekend and apparently even the Klan has decided to make an endorsement in this election. Sigh. It’s the one time Maryland’s late-in-the-season primary is a blessing. The only time I see this noise is when I start reengaging with the world on Sunday night or when I stumble across something let lying about on Facebook.

Tonight I’m mostly thinking about what Republican stalwarts like Eisenhower, Taft, Dewey, and Goldwater would make of the shambles we’ve created out of the party they built us. There was some incredibly incendiary infighting between the wings of the party in their day too, but they managed to make it work without dragging the whole body politic down into the flames. Maybe that’s just business as usual now.

This election increasingly feels like a race towards the bottom between neo-socialism and proto-fascism – something between tragedy and farce. If these are the choices we’ve made, perhaps the whole self-government thing was a terrible, terrible mistake.

Is it too late to cast a write in vote for a candidate from the House of Hanover to reign in glory?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Hate speech. Here’s a fun fact, just because you happen to disagree with something someone says, that doesn’t make it “hate speech.” If that were the hight of the bar it needed to cross, damned near everyone I talk to on a daily basis would have to be considered a hate-spewing douchcanoe. As it is, these people generally just happen to have opinions with which I disagree. I suspect the key difference is being able to tell the difference between getting your little feelings hurt and someone who actually says something threatening. Many can’t seem to make the distinction, or maybe they’re too deep entrenched in their “safe space” hiding from the scary words to be able to tell the difference.

2. The new, new boss. I’ve only just formally met the new boss a few hours ago. He seems like a decent enough human being. He’s the third boss our office has had inside the last 12 months. I have no idea if that says more about us or them, not that it matters. It’s just another dash of mayhem in the day while he learns our names and we learn how he likes his PowerPoint charts and whether he wants one space or two after a period in written communication.

3. Ash and trash. The problem with relying on the media to give you information is that regardless of your source, it’s almost always going to be slanted by bias either intentionally or unintentionally. Like when you see Huffington blazing forth with the headline “The Middle Class is Dying.” While that makes a fine headline and all, they don’t dwell much on the actual meat of the Pew survey they’re referencing. What almost none of the stories I read based on that survey tell you is that while the percentage of middle income earners is decreasing, more of that decrease (as a percentage) is attributable to people moving into the ranks of higher income earners than because they are dropping into the range of lower income earners. You actually have to look at the Pew report to see that “Notably, the 7 percentage point increase in the share at the top is nearly double the 4 percentage point increase at the bottom.” Since that factoid doesn’t fit nicely into the narrative the media wants to sell, you don’t see it unless you dig a bit deeper. Sadly that’s just another example of why we need to be our own fact checkers when it comes to the ash and trash slung out by professional “news” sources.

4. The unmitigated asshat who decided rush hour was a good time to try taking his two-lane wide load across a two-lane wide bridge. Believe me when I tell you that it should not take 40 minutes to navigate the 4.6 miles between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, but it did tonight thanks to one misguided driver and the parade of state and local police who forced him to see the error of his ways. If I wanted to deal with that kind of traffic buffoonery I would have taken the job at Ft. McNair when I had the chance.

The laughing of a dead Prussian…

Watching the news this morning, I was glad to not be one of the thousands sitting bumper to bumper on the Baltimore Beltway. Or last night on I-70. Or later today on I-95 in either direction. I’ll roll the dice at some point, of course, and hope to slip through the migrating herd before most of them get a start on their day.

The rabid instance on having a weekly Wednesday staff meeting today, however, forced me to rethink if sitting in a nice warm truck with the radio on inching down the interstate would really have been the worst of the two possibilities. A good leader might not acknowledge it in so many words, but he would certainly have known that although there are plenty of seats being filled today, those filling them are present in body, but long gone in spirit. To a person, we’ve all have our faces set in that far away, somewhere else I’d rather be look – eyes glazed over, lips slightly parted, the occasional deep sigh or eye roll. It’s a look I know well if only because I have worn it so very often.

Still, we dutifully held this middle-of-the-day meeting. Because it’s Wednesday, if not because there was any actual important information to share. Despite any application of reason to the contrary we clung to the battle rhythm on this day before Thanksgiving… and I can’t shake the feeling that somewhere there is a dead Prussian staff officer laughing at us.