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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lip reading. Until everyone started wearing masks, I had no idea how much lip reading I do. Short conversations are ok – checking out with groceries or picking up a carryout order – but anything longer, and certainly conversations that involve any level of detail, are just harder when I can’t see someone’s mouth moving. I find myself asking for repeats way more often than would seem to be necessary… and yet here we are. I suppose it’s good practice for when the years of loud radio playing and Jeep noise catch up to me in earnest.

2. CNN. God love them, CNN seems to take a special delight in painting surging home prices as the worst thing ever. Sorry. What? I’m supposed to be upset that I’m building fantastic amounts of equity while simultaneously having a place to live? If nothing else, home ownership through this moment is an excellent hedge against the creeping inflation that CNN also likes to wring their hands over. Yep, it’s hard to be a buyer right now. In other markets at other times, it was hard to be a seller. Trying to pretend the real estate market can or should be static is a bad take for an alleged source of financial news.

3. Waiting. I’m just about a week shy of kicking off Summer Vacation Part I. It’s not decamping for the islands for a week or anything, but it is the first stretch of uninterrupted days off I’ll have had since the new year started. Five months into 2021 and it’s safe to say I’m ready for the break… beyond ready. Eager is probably a better description. Perhaps you could even say I’m giddy with anticipation of 11 days without email, Teams, ringing phones, door buzzers, meetings, or network problems. That’s the issue, really. Slogging through another week when my head is desperately fleeing into vacation mode is going to be exhausting. 

More news from our stupid century…

I saw an article a couple of days ago from a nominally reputable news source, published under the headline “Retailers urged to re-think police calls for low-level crimes.”

Unsurprisingly, I fall into the camp that would take the exact opposite approach. As long as people are rewarded, or at a minimum not punished for criminal behavior, there’s no disincentive at all against continuing to engage in that behavior. I’m no sociologist, but it feels like a reasonable assumption that if I get away with some number of these “low-level” crimes, at some point I may be tempted to escalate towards criminal actions that aren’t minor. That’s pure speculation based on my estimation of basic human behavior, of course.

I’d hoped we could all agree on something as basic as stating “crime is bad.” Apparently here in the 21st century even that is a bridge too far.

While I’m perfectly willing to concede that some crimes are worse than others, I’m nowhere close to the idea that we shouldn’t enforce the law, deter would be criminals, and punish those who choose to live outside the law. I’d go so far as to say there should be more arrests and prosecutions for criminal activities rather than fewer. Otherwise, have the courage to change the laws so everyone has an equal opportunity to pass counterfeit notes, shoplift, or engage in whatever other petty criminal behavior strikes their fancy in a guilt free environment.

Retailers may be willing to look the other way, but catering to a criminal element by condoning or enabling bad behavior feels like precisely the opposite of the actions we need to be taking to discourage and penalize criminal activity.

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.

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.

Breaking news or: What puts eyes on screens…

The President of the United States has contracted the Great Plague.

There’s very little I can say about that that hasn’t been pummeled to death by the media in the last sixteen hours. What I am interested in, though, is the approach to covering this news story. I very quickly lost track of how many “below the fold” stories, tweets, and talking heads were taking great pains to spin it not so much as a health or politics story, but as a “national security crisis.” 

Yeah, about that. 

Look, I know that makes for sexy, sexy headline, but let’s not pretend this is a Cuban missile crisis or Berlin blockade. It’s not a foreign decapitation strike that knocked out the first 47 people in the line of succession. It’s not a cyber-attack against our critical infrastructure. It’s an old man who’s come down with a nasty bug. 

Yes, that means we dust off the succession planning and continuity of government documents. It might even mean we hustle someone off to set up housekeeping at Dick Cheney’s secure, undisclosed location. It could even mean ginning up the military to conduct a few small display of strength exercises as a reminder that we don’t turn off the lights just because the current occupant of the Oval Office has the sniffles, has heart surgery, or even gets shot.

The president having COVID-19 is a legitimate news story, but it hardly heralds the collapse of the institution of the presidency let alone causes the entire executive branch to seize up… but I don’t suppose that kind of story fills column inches or puts eyes on screens.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Training. A month or two ago I made a concerted effort to knock out all the mandatory online training I was supposed to get done this year. Generally, figuring out how to sign on to the system is far more difficult and time consuming than the actual training, but fine. Every week, though, some new ridiculous “important mandatory training requirement” gets added. Look, I’m a bureaucrat, I’ll waste an hour or two doing whatever the bosses decide is important, but could we at least pile all up so I can blast through it in a day or two instead of inflicting slow death by a thousand cuts?

2. “First Amendment” violations. I feel like I have to say this once every three months, but Facebook literally can’t infringe upon your First Amendment right to free speech. Facebook is a publicly traded company, not a branch of government. They’re free to do whatever they want on their platform – including flagging and deleting anything that doesn’t conform to the broadest possible interpretation of their established terms of service. No company is no more required to let you use their intellectual property as a soapbox than I am to let you stand on my front porch spouting nonsense. If you don’t like the terms under which Facebook lets you use their platform, the answer is to stop using it and find an alternative… because ranting and raving about Facebook violating your rights makes you sound like a moron.

3. Election 2020. We’re exactly two months away from the 2020 general election. I was occasionally checking in prior to the conventions, but with the ongoing tantrum throwing by candidates and surrogates, go ahead and color me uninterested. I haven’t missed voting in an election since I first registered in 1996 – and I have no intention of missing this one – but there’s absolutely nothing currently being bandied about across traditional, social, or alternative media that I find helpful in any way. Honestly, I can’t believe we’re paying good money for this abject fuckery.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

In a time of global pandemic, impending financial doom, and the collapse of civilization, you might be tempted to think I wouldn’t find any day-to-day petty grievances to air. You, of course, would be exactly wrong. It may be the end of the world as we know it, but it’s far from the end of me being agitated. With that said, let’s get into it…

1. The news. The minute by minute drumbeat of the news is impossible to miss. Crisis, contagion, collapse… It can absorb you if you let it, and I, unfortunately, was letting it for the last few days. The trouble with being monopolized by the news is that it was getting in the way of my reading. So I’ll be making a conscious effort to step back and start ignoring it again. Beyond don’t leave the house unless you need to, I’m not sure what the news is going to tell me at this point that I might find personally useful. I mean if the apocalypse really comes, someone will beep me, right?

2. Bailouts. I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the various vast bailout proposals being kicked around with what fees like very little discussion or analysis other than politicians wish to be seen doing something immediately. Then again I didn’t support what eventually became the sweeping bank bailouts in 2007, government backed loans to the auto industry, or home mortgage “forgiveness.” I’d never be so bold to claim that government doesn’t have a role to play in shoring up the economy, particularly for those businesses shuttered and employees thrown out of work by executive fiat. My concern is mostly that everything I’m seeing reported on the news this week reeks of “lets throw money at it and hope it goes away” being the primary planning principle. A trillion dollars is a shit ton of money, I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking that maybe spending it should involve a bit more analysis than we’ve seen thus far.

3. Planning. Way back in 2005-ish I was involved in some preliminary “pandemic flu” planning. The end result was a plan and supporting documentation, the density of which would stun a team of oxen in their tracks. Pandemics aren’t something new. History could certainly be a guide here even if there wasn’t an actual plan. Everything I’ve seen thus far makes me wonder if anyone even bothered to read or even just dust off the damned thing from way back when.

The vine and fig…

It occurs to me that part of the reason weekends are so much better than weekdays is I pay virtually no attention to the news on Saturday or Sunday. Of course I catch bits in dribs and drabs from Facebook posts, whatever is trending on Twitter, or what the BBC pushes out in alerts, but I don’t make a conscious effort to seek out news during those 48 hours blocks.

Maybe some would say it makes me a bad citizen, but it makes me a more sane human being. It’s probably worth the trade off. I think I’ll continue trying to keep the shitshow of events entirely outside my own sphere of influence confined to the 5 days of the week that are already dicked up by other factors. Two days of willful disengagement out of seven days in a week don’t feel like an outrageously big ask. 

I’m left to wonder if we might not all be better off if everyone spent more time tending to the things that are within their own span of control and less tuned in to Big Events over which no one has any real control. It’s a pipe dream, of course. There are too many people too tied in who seem like they might just get off on soaking in the drama. 

As for me and mine, we’ll double down and take a page from General Washington to increasingly strive to be the kind of man who seeks mainly to  “sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”